Frederick Denison Maurice

Frederick Denison Maurice

Frederick Denison Maurice was born in Normanstone near Lowestoft on 29th August, 1805. His father, Michael Maurice, worked with Joseph Priestley, as a Unitarian minister in Hackney in London.

Frederick was educated by his father and was introduced to books such as The History of the Puritans at an early age. Michael Maurice also took his son to meetings of the Anti-Slavery Society and the Bible Society. Encouraged by his father, Frederick idolized social reformers such as Sir Francis Burdett, Henry Brougham and Joseph Hume.

Maurice began his studies at Trinity College, at the University of Cambridge in 1823. While at university he edited the Metropolitan Quarterly Magazine where he praised the work of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, Robert Southey and Walter Scott. Maurice also contributed to the Westminster Review in 1827 and 1828 and joined the debating group led by John Stuart Mill. In 1828 Maurice was appointed editor of the highly regarded journal, Athenaeum.

In March 1831 Maurice became a member of the Church of England. After studying at University of Oxford, he was ordained in January, 1834 and became a curate at Bubbenhall, near Leamington. Two years later he was appointed chaplain to Guy's Hospital.

Influenced by the ideas of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Maurice wrote The Kingdom of Christ (1838). In the book Maurice argued that politics and religion are inseparable and that the church should be involved in addressing social questions. Maurice rejected individualism, with its competition and selfishness, and suggested a socialist alternative to the economic principles of laissez faire.

Maurice was attracted to the socialist and educational ideas of Robert Owen. These political views were expressed in the Educational Magazine, a journal he began editing in 1839. The journal ceased publication when Maurice was appointed Professor of Literature at King's College in 1840. In 1848 Maurice and a small group of tutors at King's College established Queen's College in Harley Street. The first group of students to attend this new training school for teachers included Dorothea Beale, Sophia Jex-Blake and Francis Mary Buss.

Maurice was a supporter of Chartism and after the decision by the House of Commons to reject the recent Chartist Petition in 1848, he joined with Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes to form the Christian Socialist movement. The group published two journals, Politics of the People (1848-1849) and The Christian Socialist (1850-51) and a series of pamphlets under the title Tracts on Christian Socialism.

His biographer, Bernard Reardon, has argued: "In 1850 Maurice publicly accepted the designation Christian socialist for his movement.... He disliked competition as fundamentally unchristian, and wished to see it, at the social level, replaced by co-operation, as expressive of Christian brotherhood... Maurice held Bible classes and addressed meetings attended by working men who, although his words carried less of social and political guidance than moral edification, were invariably impressed by the speaker. But the actual means by which the competitiveness of the prevailing economic system was to be mitigated was judged to be the creation of co-operative societies."

In 1853 Maurice published his book, Theological Essays. The principal of King's College was deeply shocked by the religious views expressed in the book. He brought the issue before the council of the college and on 27 October, 1853, it was announced that it had been decided that Maurice's "doctrines were dangerous" and that he been asked to resign from his post as Professor of Theology.

Frederick Denison Maurice by Lowes Cato Dickinson (1860)
Frederick Denison Maurice by Lowes Cato Dickinson (c. 1860)

Maurice now concentrated on the reform of education. In February 1854 Maurice drew up a scheme for a Working Men's College. On 30th October 1854 Maurice delivered an inaugural address at St. Martin's Hall and the college started with over 130 students in a building in Red Lion Square. Maurice became principal and guest lecturers at the college included Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes.

In 1866 Maurice became Professor of Moral Philosophy at University of Cambridge. However, he continued to run the Working Men's College in London. While at Cambridge Maurice wrote two influential books, Social Morality (1869) and Moral and Metaphysical Philosophy (1871).

Frederick Denison Maurice died at 6 Bolton Row, Piccadilly, on 1st April 1872.

Primary Sources

(1) In 1848 Frederick Denison Maurice became the first head of Queen's College in Harley Street, a new training school for women teachers. The first group of students included Dorothea Beale, Sophia Jex-Blake and Frances Mary Buss. In his inaugural lecture he explained his ideas on teaching.

The vocation of a teacher is an awful one… she will do others unspeakable harm if she is not aware of its usefulness… How can you give a woman self-respect, how can you win for her the respect of others… Watch closely the first utterances of infancy, the first dawnings of intelligence; how thoughts spring into acts, how acts pass into habits. The study is not worth much if it is not busy about the roots of things.

(2) Rev. Roden Noel, Christianity and Social Advance (1893)

Surely that man or woman is no Christian at all, except in name, in so far as he or she remains indifferent to the awful abyss that yarns between rich and poor; to the insufficiency of the share in our immense wealth which falls to the lot of those who produce it.

(3) Brooke Foss Westcott, Bishop of Durham, speech as President of the Christian Social Union (1890)

Socialism is co-operation, the method of Individualism is competition. The one regards man as working with man for a common end, the other regards man as working against man for private gain. The aim of Socialism is the fulfillment of service, the aim of Individualism is the attainment of some personal advantage, riches, or place of fame. socialism seeks such an organisation of life as shall secure for every one the most complete development of his power. Individualism seeks primarily the satisfaction of the particular wants of each one in the hope that the pursuit of private interests will in the end secure public welfare.