World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

James Martineau

Article Id: WHEBN0000206995
Reproduction Date:

Title: James Martineau  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Harriet Martineau, List of philosophy anniversaries, Unitarianism, People by year/Reports/No other categories/2, Caroline Bartlett Crane
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

James Martineau

James Martineau
Born (1805-04-21)21 April 1805
Norwich, England
Died 11 January 1900(1900-01-11) (aged 94)
London, England
Nationality British
Alma mater Manchester College, York
Notable work The Rationale of Religious Inquiry (1836)
The Seat of Authority in Religion (1890)
Religion Unitarianism
Region British Unitarianism
Institutions Manchester New College

James Martineau (; 21 April 1805 – 11 January 1900)[1] was an English religious philosopher influential in the history of Unitarianism.

For 45 years he was Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy in Manchester New College, the principal training college for British Unitarianism.

Many portraits of Martineau, including one painted by National Portrait Gallery. In 2014, the gallery revealed that its patron, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, was related to Martineau. The Duchess' great-great-grandfather, Francis Martineau Lupton, was Dr James Martineau's grandnephew.[2][3] The gallery also holds written correspondence between Martineau and Poet Laureate, Alfred, Lord Tennyson - who records that he "regarded Martineau as the master mind of all the remarkable company with whom he engaged". Prime Minister Gladstone said of Martineau; "he is beyond question the greatest of living thinkers".[4]


  • Early life 1
  • Education and early years 2
  • Work and writings 3
  • Life and thought 4
    • Early years 4.1
    • Transcendentalism 4.2
  • Bibliography 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9

Early life

The seventh of eight children, James Martineau was born in Norwich, England, where his father Thomas (1764–1826) was a cloth manufacturer and merchant. His mother, Elizabeth Rankin, was the eldest daughter of a sugar refiner and a grocer. The Martineau family were descended from Gaston Martineau, a Huguenot surgeon and refugee, who married Marie Pierre in 1693, and settled in Norwich. His son and grandson—respectively the great-grandfather and grandfather of James Martineau—were surgeons in the same city. Many of the family were active in Unitarian causes, so much so that a room in Essex Hall, the headquarters of British Unitarianism, was eventually named after them. The Martineaus were socially and politically prominent Unitarians in both Norwich and Birmingham; other elite Unitarian families in Birmingham were the Kenricks, Nettlefolds and the Chamberlains with much intermarriage between these families taking place.[5][6][7] Essex Hall held a statue of Martineau,[8] whose niece was Frances Lupton, who had worked to open up educational opportunities for women.

Education and early years

James Martineau at a younger age.

James was educated at Edward Valpy, as good a scholar as his better-known brother Richard, but proved too sensitive for school.[9] He was sent to Bristol to the private academy of Dr. Lant Carpenter, under whom he studied for two years. On leaving he was apprenticed to a civil engineer at Derby, where he acquired "a store of exclusively scientific conceptions," but also began to look to religion for mental stimulation.

Martineau's conversion followed, and in 1822 he entered the dissenting academy Manchester College, then at York. Here he "woke up to the interest of moral and metaphysical speculations." Of his teachers, one, the Rev. Charles Wellbeloved, was, Martineau said, "a master of the true Lardner type, candid and catholic, simple and thorough, humanly fond indeed of the counsels of peace, but piously serving every bidding of sacred truth." The other, the Rev. John Kenrick, he described as a man so learned as to be placed by Dean Stanley "in the same line with Blomfield and Thirlwall," and as "so far above the level of either vanity or dogmatism, that cynicism itself could not think of them in his presence." On leaving the college in 1827 Martineau returned to Bristol to teach in the school of Lant Carpenter; but in the following year he was ordained for a [10] Unitarian church in Dublin, whose senior minister was a relative of his.

Martineau's ministerial career was suddenly cut short in 1832 by difficulties growing out of the "regium donum", which had on the death of the senior minister fallen to him. He conceived it as "a religious monopoly" to which "the nation at large contributes," while "Presbyterians alone receive," and which placed him in "a relation to the state" so "seriously objectionable" as to be "impossible to hold." The invidious distinction it drew between Presbyterians on the one hand, and Catholics, members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), other nonconformists, unbelievers, and Jews on the other, who were compelled to support a ministry they conscientiously disapproved, offended his conscience. His conscience did, however, allow him to attend both the Coronation of Queen Victoria and the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. A year prior to the coronation, at St James Palace, Martineau had "kissed the hand" of the queen at the Deputation of British Presbyterians ministers.[11]

Work and writings

From Dublin, he was called to Liverpool. He lodged in a house owned by Joseph Williamson. It was during his 25 years in Liverpool that he published his first work, Rationale of Religious Enquiry, which caught the attention of many religious and philosophical figures.

In 1840 Martineau was appointed Professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Political Economy in Manchester New College, the seminary in which he had been educated, and which had now moved from York back to Manchester. This position, and the principalship (1869-1885), he held for 45 years.[12] In 1853 the college moved to London, and four years later he followed it there. In 1858 he combined this work with preaching at the pulpit of Little Portland Street Chapel in London, which for the first two years he shared with John James Tayler (who was also his colleague in the college), and then for twelve years as its only minister.

In 1866, the Chair of the Philosophy of Mind and Logic at Leiden in 1874, D.D. of Edinburgh in 1884, D.C.L. of Oxford in 1888 and D. Litt. of Dublin in 1891.

Life and thought

Martineau described some of the changes he underwent; how he had "carried into logical and ethical problems the maxims and postulates of physical knowledge," and had moved within narrow lines "interpreting human phenomena by the analogy of external nature"; and how in a period of "second education" at Humboldt University in Berlin, with Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg, he experienced "a new intellectual birth". It made him, however, no more of a theist than he had been before, and he developed Transcendentalist views, which became a significant current within Unitarianism.[13]

Early years

James Martineau by Elliott & Fry, circa 1860s

Martineau was in his early life a preacher. Although he did not believe in the Incarnation, he held deity to be manifest in humanity; man underwent an apotheosis, and all life was touched with the dignity and the grace which it owed to its source. His preaching led to works that built up his reputation:Endeavours after the Christian Life, 1st series, 1843; 2nd series, 1847; Hours of Thought, 1st series, 1876; 2nd series, 1879; the various hymn-books he issued at Dublin in 1831, at Liverpool in 1840, in London in 1873; and the Home Prayers in 1891.

In 1839 Martineau came to the defence of Unitarian doctrine, under attack by Liverpool clergymen including Fielding Ould and Hugh Boyd M‘Neile. In the controversy, Martineau published five discourses, in which he discussed "the Bible as the great autobiography of human nature from its infancy to its perfection," "the Deity of Christ," "Vicarious Redemption," "Evil," and "Christianity without Priest and without Ritual."

In Martineau's earliest book, The Rationale of Religious Enquiry, published in 1836, he placed the authority of reason above that of Scripture; and he assessed the New Testament as "uninspired, but truthful; sincere, able, vigorous, but fallible."[14] The book marked him down, among older British Unitarians, as a dangerous radical, and his ideas were the catalyst for a pamphlet war in America between Andrews Norton. Despite his belief that the Bible was fallible, Martineau continued to hold the view that "in no intelligible sense can any one who denies the supernatural origin of the religion of Christ be termed a Christian," which term, he explained, was used not as "a name of praise," but simply as " a designation of belief." He censured the German rationalists "for having preferred, by convulsive efforts of interpretation, to compress the memoirs of Christ and His apostles into the dimensions of ordinary life, rather than admit the operation of miracle on the one hand, or proclaim their abandonment of Christianity on the other."


James Martineau - Replica (National Portrait Galley) by George Frederic Watts, 1873

Martineau came to know German philosophy and criticism, especially the criticism of Ferdinand Christian Baur and the Tübingen school, which affected his construction of Christian history. French influences were Ernest Renan and the Strassburg theologians. The rise of evolution compelled him to reformulate his theism. He addressed the public, as editor and contributor, in the Monthly Repository, the Christian Reformer, the Prospective Review, the Westminster Review and the National Review. Later he was a frequent contributor to the literary monthlies. More systematic expositions came in Types of Ethical Theory and The Study of Religion, and, partly, in The Seat of Authority in Religion (1885, 1888 and 1890). What did Jesus signify? This was the problem which Martineau attempted to deal with in The Seat of Authority in Religion.

Memorial to Martineau, near Aviemore, Scotland

Martineau's theory of the religious society or church was that of an idealist. He propounded a scheme, which was not taken up, that would have removed the church from the hands of a clerical order, and allowed the coordination of sects or churches under the state. Eclectic by nature, he gathered ideas from any source that appealed. Stopford Brooke once asked A. P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster, "if the Church of England would broaden sufficiently to allow James Martineau to be made Archbishop of Canterbury".[15]

Although he had opposed the removal (1889) of Manchester New College to Oxford, Martineau took part in the opening of the new buildings, conducting the communion service (19 October 1893) in the chapel of what is today Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford.[16] A wide circle of friends mourned his death on 11 January 1900 — Oscar Wilde references him in his prose.[17]


  • Endeavours after the Christian Life (1843);
  • Miscellanies 1852;
  • The Rationale of Religious Enquiry: or, The question stated of reason, the Bible, and the church; in six lectures (1853);
  • Studies of Christianity : a series of papers (1858);
  • A Study of Spinoza (1882)

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ (Rowe 1959, chpt. 6)
  8. ^ (Rowe 1959, chpt. 8)
  9. ^
  10. ^ (Rowe 1959, chpt. 1)
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Tiffany K. Wayne Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism 2006 p. 179
  14. ^ James Martineau, The Rationale of Religious Enquiry (London, 1836), p. 17.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^


  • J. Hunt, Religious Thought in England in the 19th Century (1896) pages 246-250;
  • A. W. Jackson, James Martineau, a Biography and a Study (Boston, 1900);
  • J. Drummond and C. B. Upton, Life and Letters (2 volumes, 1901);
  • Henry Sidgwick, Lectures on the Ethics of Green, Spencer and Martineau (1902);
  • A. H. Craufurd, Recollections of James Martineau (1903);
  • J. E. Carpenter, James Martineau, Theologian and Teacher (1905);
  • C. B. Upton, Dr. Martineau's philosophy, a survey (1905);
  • Rowe, Mortimer, B.A., D.D. The History of Essex Hall. London:Lindsey Press, (1959) full text reproduced here;
  • Frank Schulman, James Martineau: This Conscience-Intoxicated Unitarian (2002).
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.