Leslie Stephen

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Leslie Stephen (photo by George Charles Beresford , 1902)
Leslie Stephen about 1860

Sir Leslie Stephen , KCB (born November 28, 1832 in London , † February 22, 1904 in Kensington , London) was a British historian , man of letters and mountaineer . He was the father of the writer Virginia Woolf and the painter Vanessa Bell .


Virginia became world famous as the writer Virginia Woolf
(Photo by GC Beresford)

Leslie Stephen was the son of Sir James Stephen , a Colonial Under-Secretary of State and at times Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge. His brother was the lawyer James Fitzjames Stephen . His first marriage was to Harriet Marian Thackeray, a daughter of the writer Thackeray , who died in 1875. The marriage had a mentally handicapped child, Laura.

His second wife Julia Jackson Duckworth (1846–1895) brought three children with her from her first marriage to Herbert Duckworth: George, Stella and Gerald. The marriage to Leslie Stephen gave birth to four more children who were about ten years younger: Vanessa , Thoby, Virginia and Adrian.

When Julia Stephen also died in 1895, Leslie Stephen fell into a persistent depression. He locked himself in his study during the day. First Stella Duckworth ran the household, then Vanessa Stephen. When Vanessa fell out with her father, Virginia was the main point of contact. After nearly two years of suffering, Leslie Stephen died of abdominal cancer in February 1904.


Stephens' History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century , published in 1876, was a great success and has been reprinted until very recently (most recently in 2005). Stephen was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography . In addition to the 378 contributions that he wrote for this lexicon, he wrote seven different biographies. From 1871 to 1882 he also published the literary magazine Cornhill . As the successor to Tennyson , he became President of the London Library . Stephen was an avowed agnostic , which he established in his book An Agnostic's Apology . But although Stephen's belief in a righteous God was at odds with the continued suffering of mankind, he did not see himself as an atheist . In 1888 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences . In its founding year 1902 he became a member of the British Academy . On June 26, 1902, he was appointed Knight Commander of the Bath .

Athletic performance

Leslie Stephen with the mountain guide Melchior Anderegg, circa 1870

Stephen was a great runner and rower while studying at Cambridge. In the so-called golden age of alpinism, he was the first to climb some of the most demanding high peaks in the Alps (including Bietschhorn , Schreckhorn , Monte Disgrazia and Zinalrothorn ) and for several years was president of the Alpine Club , which he co-founded.

First ascents

Stephen mostly climbed with the Swiss mountain guide Melchior Anderegg :

  • Wildstrubel - September 11, 1858 with TW Hinchliff and Melchior Anderegg
  • Bietschhorn - August 13, 1859 with Joseph Siegen, Johann Siegen and Joseph Ebener
  • Rimpfischhorn - September 9, 1859 with Robert Liveing, Melchior Anderegg and Johannes Zumtaugwald
  • Alphubel - August 9, 1860 with TW Hinchliff, Melchior Anderegg and Peter Perren
  • Blüemlisalphorn - August 27, 1860 with Robert Liveing, Melchior Anderegg, F. Ogi, P. Simond and JK Stone
  • Schreckhorn - August 16, 1861 with Ulrich Kaufmann, Christian Michel and Peter Michel
  • Monte Disgrazia - 23 August 1862 with ES Kennedy, Thomas Cox and Melchior Anderegg
  • Zinalrothorn - August 22, 1864 with Florence Crauford Grove , Jakob Anderegg and Melchior Anderegg
  • Mont Mallet - September 4, 1871 with G. Loppe, FA Wallroth, Melchior Anderegg, Ch. And A. Tournier


Own works (selection)

Further literature

  • Leslie Stephen, Mark A. Reger, John W. Bicknell (Eds.): Selected Letters of Leslie Stephen: 1882-1904: 002 . Oxford University Press, 1996, ISBN 0-8142-0691-3 .
  • Brian D. Stenfors: Signs of the Times: Leslie Stephen's Letters to The Nation from 1866–1873 (American University Studies Series IV, English Language and Literature). Peter Lang, New York 1996, ISBN 0-8204-1885-4 .

Web links

Commons : Leslie Stephen  - Collection of Images, Videos and Audio Files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fellows: Sir Leslie Stephen. British Academy, accessed August 2, 2020 .
  2. Andreas Lesti: Tea time on the summit . In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung . February 11, 2010, ISSN  0376-6829 ( nzz.ch [accessed December 31, 2018]).