Sue Young Histories

William Rathbone Greg 1809 - 1881

September 20, 2008

William Rathbone Greg 1809 - 1881 was an English essayist.

Greg wrote for John Chapman’s _Westminster Review_ and he was a friend of Matthew Arnold, Charles Darwin,

The _Westminster Review_ was founded in 1823 by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill as a quarterly journal for philosophical radicals, and was published from 1824 to 1914.

In 1851 the journal was acquired by John Chapman based at 142 the Strand, London, a publisher who originally had medical training.

The then unknown Mary Ann Evans, later better known by her pen name of George Eliot, had brought together his authors, including Francis William Newman, William Rathbone Greg, Harriet Martineau and the young journalist Herbert Spencer who had been working and living cheaply in the offices of The Economist opposite John Chapman’s house.

These authors met during that summer to give their support to this flagship of freethought and reform, joined by others including John Stuart Mill, William Benjamin Carpenter, Robert Chambers and George Jacob Holyoake. They were later joined by Thomas Henry Huxley, an ambitious young ship’s surgeon determined to become a naturalist.

Born in Manchester, the son of Samuel Greg, the creator of Quarry Bank Mill, William Rathbone Greg was brother to Robert Hyde Greg and the junior Samuel Greg.

He was educated at the University of Edinburgh. For a time, he managed a mill of his father’s at Bury, and in 1832 began business on his own account. He entered the struggle for free trade, and obtained in 1842 the prize offered by the Anti-Corn Law League for the best essay on Agriculture and the Corn Laws.

He was too busy with political, economical and theological speculations to give undivided attention to his business, which he gave up in 1850 to devote himself to writing.

His Creed of Christendom was published in 1851, and in 1852 he contributed no less than twelve articles to four leading quarterlies. Benjamin Disraeli praised him. George Cornewall Lewis bestowed a Commissionership of Customs on him in 1856. In 1864 he was made Comptroller of the Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

He became a member of the Metaphysical Society. (alongside William Benjamin Carpenter, James Hinton, Thomas Henry Huxley, James Anthony Froude, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Gladstone, John Ruskin and many others).

Besides contributions to periodicals he produced several volumes of essays on political and social philosophy. The general spirit of these is indicated by the titles of two of the best known, The Enigmas of Life (1872) and Rocks Ahead (1874). They represent a reaction from the high hopes of the author’s youth, when wise legislation was assumed to be a remedy for every public ill.

Greg was a man of deep moral earnestness of character and was interested in many philanthropic works.

He died at Wimbledon, London.

One son, Percy Greg, was also a writer; another, Walter Wilson Greg, was a leading bibliographer of Renaissance drama.


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