Stephen, Sir Leslie

Stephen, Sir Leslie,

1832–1904, English author and critic. The first serious critic of the novel, he was also editor of the great Dictionary of National Biography from its beginning in 1882 until 1891. In 1859 he was ordained a minister. As a tutor at Cambridge his philosophical readings led him to skepticism, and later he relinquished his holy orders. He wrote several essays defending his agnostic position, notably Essays on Free Thinking and Plain Speaking (1873). He moved from Cambridge to London in 1864 and three years later married Harriet Marian, younger daughter of ThackerayThackeray, William Makepeace
, 1811–63, English novelist, b. Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. He is important not only as a great novelist but also as a brilliant satirist. In 1830, Thackeray left Cambridge without a degree and later entered the Middle Temple to study law.
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. Some of the essays and sketches Stephen wrote for various periodicals were collected in Hours in a Library (1874–79). From 1871 to 1882 he was editor of Cornhill Magazine; during this time he encouraged such authors as Thomas HardyHardy, Thomas,
1840–1928, English novelist and poet, b. near Dorchester, one of the great English writers of the 19th cent.

The son of a stonemason, he derived a love of music from his father and a devotion to literature from his mother.
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, Robert Louis StevensonStevenson, Robert Louis,
1850–94, Scottish novelist, poet, and essayist, b. Edinburgh. Handicapped from youth by delicate health, he struggled all his life against tuberculosis. He studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1875, but he never practiced.
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, and Henry JamesJames, Henry,
1843–1916, American novelist and critic, b. New York City. A master of the psychological novel, James was an innovator in technique and one of the most distinctive prose stylists in English.

He was the son of Henry James, Sr.
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. Throughout his life Stephen was a prominent athlete and mountaineer. He wrote numerous articles on the subject of mountain climbing, many of which were collected in The Playground of Europe (1871). His major works include History of English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876); biographies of Johnson (1878), Pope (1880), Swift (1882), George Eliot (1902), and Hobbes (1904), all written for the "English Men of Letters" series; Science of Ethics (1882), which attempted to combine ethics with Darwin's theory of evolution; Studies of a Biographer (1898–1902); and The English Utilitarians (1900). Virginia WoolfWoolf, Virginia (Stephen),
1882–1941, English novelist and essayist; daughter of Sir Leslie Stephen. A successful innovator in the form of the novel, she is considered a significant force in 20th-century fiction.
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 was the younger of his two daughters by his second wife, Julia Jackson.


See biography by F. W. Maitland (1906, repr. 1968); studies by N. G. Annan (1951) and D. D. Zink (1972).