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Metaphysical Society

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Title: Metaphysical Society  
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Subject: Matthew Piers Watt Boulton, William Rathbone Greg, The Nineteenth Century (periodical), Shadworth Hodgson, John Dobree Dalgairns
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Metaphysical Society

The Metaphysical Society was a British society, founded in 1869 by James Knowles. Many of its members were prominent clergymen.

Papers were read and discussed at meetings on such subjects as the ultimate grounds of belief in the objective and moral sciences, the immortality of the soul, etc. A description of one of the meetings was given by Magee (then Bishop of Peterborough) in a letter of February 13, 1873:

Archbishop Manning in the chair was flanked by two Protestant bishops right and left; on my right was Rev. Ward, and earliest of the perverts to Rome; then Greg, author of The Creed of Christendom, a Deist; then Froude, the historian, once a deacon in our Church, now a Deist; then Roden Noël, an actual Atheist and red republican, and looking very like one! Lastly Ruskin, who read a paper on miracles, which we discussed for an hour and a half! Nothing could be calmer, fairer, or even, on the whole, more reverent than the discussion. In my opinion, we, the Christians, had much the best of it. Dalgairns, the priest, was very masterly; Manning, clever and precise and weighty; Froude, very acute, and so was Greg. We only wanted a Jew and a Muslim to make our Religious Museum complete (Life, i. 284).

The last meeting of the society was held on May 16, 1880 and it was dissolved later in November of that year.[1] Huxley said that it died "of too much love"; Tennyson, "because after ten years of strenuous effort no one had succeeded in even defining metaphysics." According to Dean Stanley, "We all meant the same thing if we only knew it."


The members from first to last were as follows:[2]



  1. ^ Christopher A. Kent, "Metaphysical Society (act. 1869–1880)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, ( , 2004. Retrieved 15 April 2013.
  2. ^ "The Metaphysical Society. A Reminiscence" by R. H. Hutton, published in 1885 in The Nineteenth Century magazine.


  • Brown, Alan Willard The Metaphysical Society: Victorian Minds in Crisis, 1869-1880. New York: Columbia U.P., 1947

Further reading

  • Hajdenko-Marshall, Catherine. Believing After Darwin: The Debates of the Metaphysical Society (1869–1880), Cahiers victoriens et édouardien online, Vol. 76, Autumn, 2012, published online 20 April 2013, p. 69–83.
  • Hutton, R. H. "The Metaphysical Society: a reminiscence", The Nineteenth Century magazine, 18 August 1885, pp. 177–196.
  • Metcalf, P. "James Knowles: Victorian editor and architect", 1980.
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