Leslie Stephen

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Faith has to do with fiction, and reason with fact.

Sir Leslie Stephen KCB (28 November 183222 February 1904) was an English writer on philosophy and literary history. He was also one of the leading British mountaineers of his generation, the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, Thackeray's son-in-law and Virginia Woolf's father.


  • He who sees only what is before his eyes sees the worst part of every view.
    • The Playground of Europe (1871; London: Longmans, Green, 1899) p. 131
  • The division between faith and reason is a half-measure, till it is frankly admitted that faith has to do with fiction, and reason with fact.
  • Why, when no honest man will deny in private that every ultimate problem is wrapped in the profoundest mystery, do honest men proclaim in pulpits that unhesitating certainty is the duty of the most foolish and ignorant? Is it not a spectacle to make the angels laugh?
  • Philistine – a word which I understand properly to denote indifference to the higher intellectual interests. The word may also be defined, however, as the name applied by prigs to the rest of their species.
    • The Cornhill Magazine, vol. 33 (1876) p. 574
  • A good talker, even more than a good orator, implies a good audience. Modern society is too vast and too restless to give a conversationalist a fair chance.
    • Samuel Johnson (1878), repr. In John Morley (ed.) English Men of Letters (New York: Harper, 1894) vol. 6, p. 60
  • If atheism is to be used to express the state of mind in which God is identified with the unknowable, and theology is pronounced to be a collection of meaningless words about unintelligible chimeras, then I have no doubt, and I think few people doubt, that atheists are as plentiful as blackberries.
    • The Fortnightly Review, vol. 34 (1880) p. 177
  • The doctrine of toleration requires a positive as well as a negative statement. It is not only wrong to burn a man on account of his creed, but it is right to encourage the open avowal and defence of every opinion sincerely maintained. Every man who says frankly and fully what he thinks is so far doing a public service. We should be grateful to him for attacking most unsparingly our most cherished opinions.
  • Walking is the natural recreation for a man who desires not absolutely to suppress his intellect but to turn it out to play for a season.
    • Studies of a Biographer: Second Series (London: Duckworth, 1902) vol. 3, p. 261
  • If you wish at once to do nothing and to be respectable now-a-days, the best pretext is to be at work on some profound study.
  • The fool who does not know his own folly may be doing nothing, and the philosopher who is trying to darken knowledge may be doing worse than nothing; but every sincere attempt to grapple with real difficulties made by a man not utterly incompetent has its value.
    • The Science of Ethics (1882), Preface
  • We can no longer be content with refuting our opponents; we are also bound to explain them. The vitality of any doctrine supposed to be erroneous proves that it cannot be entirely erroneous.
    • The Science of Ethics (1882), p. 2


  • The poet should touch our heart by showing his own
    • Quote by Thomas Hardy from The life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1928 by Florence Emily Hardy ASIN: B0027MJJSI Macmillan (1 Jan 1962)

Quotes about Leslie Stephen

  • He called individuals the tissue of society and stated that they are only relatively independent of the social body. Morality is distorted by social pressure and does not consider, first of all, the interests of the individual. Stephen claimed that pleasure must be accounted for by the conditions which make acts pleasant in specific cases. Survival in the evolutionary process, Stephen wrote, is more ultimate than pleasure, though men do not consciously realize this fact.
    • Albert Edwin Avey, Handbook in the History of Philosophy. New York: Barnes & Noble. 1954. p. 214. 
  • Although Stephen was apt to be too apologetic for intruding his opinions upon readers who were anxious to hear them, it is proper that every man should apologise for writing about Shakespeare. ... But it would have been a great loss to all lovers of good literature if Stephen had not, at the close of his life, overcome his diffidence and given us his forty-four pages on 'Shakespeare as a Man.'
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