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F. D. Maurice - a life at King's

'Christian Socialism' and growing tensions with the College

A picture of the front cover of the Special Committee book for the years FIND. The book has a red spine with green circular patterns and an imprinted title.Frontcover of the Special Committee bookWhilst at King’s, Maurice also began his involvement with Christian Socialism, for which he is perhaps best known. It was this involvement that also created the first cracks in his relationship with the university.

Christian Socialism was a response to the challenges faced by the Church in the middle of the 19th century. With fierce debates raging over the relationship between the Church and State, the sense of impending moral and religious crisis was heightened by the socio-economic disruption of the Industrial Revolution.

1848 was also a time of deep political unrest across Europe, unrest that deeply worried Maurice. It was in this context that Maurice, alongside likes of Charles Kingsley (a parson, novelist, and publicist) and John Malcolm Ludlow (a barrister) launched the Christian Socialism movement.

As Maurice wrote, ‘Christian Socialism is the only title which will define our object, and will commit us at once to the conflict we must engage in sooner or later with the Unsocial Christians and the Unchristian Socialists.

Although ultimately Maurice would split from the movement in 1854, his involvement caused sharp tensions with the King’s religious establishment. In 1851, a Special Committee was appointed to enquire into Maurice’s religious views following some concern over his publications.

Meeting on 14 November, they concluded that it was not necessary ‘to call for any animadversion on the part of the council’ and went as far as to praise the ‘earnest zeal’ with which Maurice had discharged his duties and the ‘beneficial influence’ he had over the Students of the Theological Department.

With regards to the Christian Socialism movement, they concluded that Maurice had carried out the scheme ‘under a deep sense of his responsibility to the Church’ and ‘in a spirit of genuine Christian philanthropy.’

An extract from the handwritten report entered into the Special Committee book in 1851. The extract covers the third resolution of the committee, which expresses its regret at Maurice getting mixed up with publications of a ‘questionable tendencyExtract from the Special CommitteeHowever, some tensions were clear: Christian Socialism was a ‘designation in their opinion not happily chosen’ and although Maurice’s writings had been free from censure, the Committee expressed its ‘regret at finding that Professor Maurice has been mixed up with Publications on the same subject which [were considered] to be of a very questionable tendency.’

In the same month, Dr Jelf, the Principal of the College, expressed his concerns more forcefully:

‘I see nothing in any writing avowedly your own inconsistent with your position as professor of divinity in this College … I wish I could speak in similar terms of Mr. Kingsley’s writings, but I confess I have rarely met with a more reckless and dangerous writer. It is to be hoped that you will openly disavow Mr. Kingsley. Otherwise it may be said justly “Mr. Maurice is identified with Mr. Kingsley, and Mr. Kingsley is identified with My Holyoake, and Mr. Holyoake is identified with Tom Paine…” Thus there are only three links between King’s College and the author of The Rights of Man.'

In many ways this discontent was not of complete shock to Maurice.

In a letter to Georgiana Hare in 1848 he had noted that his position at the university might not be very secure in ‘this age of distrust and fear.’ Indeed, any clergyman who ‘thinks and speaks strongly, and not exactly in the prescribed mode of thinking and speaking … must be ready for kicks and cuffs.’

More ‘kicks and cuffs’ were to come in 1853.

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