Leslie Stephen by: George Frederic Watts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Leslie Stephen was born in 1832, the same year as Louisa May Alcott (Little Women) and Lewis Carroll (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) just to give you a little perspective and context.
Leslie was ‘ a man of letters’ but what is that exactly?
Well, a man of letters is a man who is devoted to literary or scholarly activities. Put another way, he is an intellectual, he is very well educated and has progressive ideas. He will likely earn a living from writing intellectually (not creatively). Leslie was certainly ‘A Great Victorian’. He started out as a clergyman, he taught maths, he was a journalist, editor, writer, author, critic, historian, biographer, a member of the intellectual aristocracy and ……. mountaineer.
Leslie was educated at Eton from the age of ten. He then went to King’s College, London and to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He edited The Cornhill ( a Victorian Literary magazine) and the Dictionary of National Biography, for which he was paid the equivalent of around £88k. He was also a leading agnostic, neither a believer nor a non-believer in God, despite coming from a very religious family and starting working life as a Clergyman.
Leslie’s first wife was Harriet, the daughter of William Makepeace Thackeray (Vanity Fair). They had a daughter, Laura, who was born prematurely and suffered with what was likely to be Downs. His second wife was Julia Duckworth who was the mother of Virginia Woolf.
Leslie spent his spare time participating in athletics, rowing and mountaineering. He had great skill and made difficult climbs in the Alps, which were his ‘playground’. Among other major peaks he climbed Mont Blanc in 1861. Leslie was president of the Alpine Club and as editor of the Alpine Journal. He also published The Playground of Europe ; a mountaineering classic.
Leslie lost his second wife, Julia, to rheumatic fever in 1895 and struggled to comes to terms to life without her. He was diagnosed with cancer in 1902 and died in 1904.