Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Green, Thomas Hill
GREEN, THOMAS HILL (1836–1882), philosopher, youngest of four children (two sons and two daughters) of Valentine Green, rector of Birkin, Yorkshire, was born at Birkin, 7 April 1836. His mother was the eldest daughter of Edward Thomas Vaughan, vicar of St. Martin and All Saints, Leicester, by a daughter of Daniel Thomas Hill of Aylesbury. His mother's uncle, Archdeacon Hill of Derby, gave the living of Birkin to his father. His mother died when he was a year old, and he was educated by his father till, at the age of fourteen, he was sent to Rugby, then under Dr. Goulburn. He had not been a precocious child, and was a shy, awkward, and rather indolent schoolboy. He showed power, however, on occasion, especially by gaining the prize (in 1855) for a Latin translation from the 'Areopagitica.' He impressed a few intimate friends by his thoughtfulness and independence of character. In October 1855 he entered Balliol College, Oxford, as a pupil of Mr. Jowett. He obtained only a second class in moderations, but in 1859 was in the first class in literæ humaniores afterwards obtaining a third class in the school of law and modern history. In 1860 he became a lecturer upon ancient and modern history in Balliol during the absence of Mr. W.L. Newman, and in November was elected fellow of his college. He attributed much of his progress as an undergraduate to the influence of his older friends, especially Mr. Jowett, John Conington [q. v.], and Mr. C.S. Parker. He was not widely known except by an occasional forcible speech at the Union, and by a few essays read to a society called the Old Mortality. His political views coincided with those of Bright and Cobden, though he defended them upon idealist principles. In 1862 he gained the chancellor's prize for an essay upon novels. Besides lectures at his college, he took a few private pupils, chiefly in philosophy. He desired to become independent, but wavered for a time between a college life, journalism, and an educational appointment. His religious views made him unwilling to take orders, though after some hesitation he signed the Thirty-nine Articles upon taking his M.A. degree. He began to translate F.C. Baur's 'History of the Christian Church,' which suggested an essay upon Christian dogma. He prepared for, but ultimately abandoned, an edition of Aristotle's 'Ethics.' In 1864 he was an unsuccessful candidate for the chair of moral philosophy at the university of St. Andrews. In December of that year he accepted an appointment as assistant-commissioner to the royal commission upon middle-class schools. He took a deep interest in this work, which occupied him during great part of 1865 and in the second quarter of 1866. He wrote a report (published in 1868 by the commission), suggesting a better organisation of the schools, in general agreement with the views adopted by the commissioners. He was elected as the teachers' representative on the governing body of King Edward's Schools in Birmingham (on which he had reported in 1868), and took ever afterwards an active part in their proceedings.
He was appointed to a vacancy in the teaching staff of Balliol on the death of James Riddell in September 1866. In 1867 he stood unsuccessfully for the Waynflete professorship of moral and metaphysical philosophy. In 1870 the Rev. Edwin Palmer (now archdeacon of Oxford) resigned his tutorship, and Mr. Jowett became master of the college. Green, as tutor, had now the 'whole subordinate management of the college.' Although lacking some of the more superficial talents for winning popularity, his simplicity, power, and earnestness commanded respect. He soon grew to be on easier terms with his pupils, and from 1868 usually took some of them as companions in the vacation. He lectured upon Aristotle and the early Greek philosophy, and especially upon the English thinkers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At this period the writings of J.S. Mill exercised the most potent intellectual influence in Oxford. Green became the leading exponent of the principles of Kant and Hegel, and attracted many able followers. His introduction to a new edition of Hume's works in 1874-5 first made public his criticism of the English empirical theories.
On 1 July 1871 he married Charlotte, daughter of Dr. Symonds of Clifton, and brother of an old friend, Mr. John Addington Symonds. He was re-elected to a fellowship at Balliol in April 1872, and continued to teach with increasing influence. As a householder he took an active part in local politics. In 1867 he had first appeared on a platform in behalf of the Reform Bill of that year. In 1870 he had spoken in favour of Forster's Education Bill, and in 1874 was elected to the Oxford school board. He joined the United Kingdom (Temperance) Alliance in 1872, and in 1875 set up a coffee tavern in St. Clement's. He was in favour of 'local option,' and had a controversy with Sir William Harcourt, who seemed to him to treat the evil of drink too lightly. He showed his interest in the Oxford High School by contributing 200l. to the building in 1877, and founding a scholarship of 12l. a year for boys from the elementary schools. He supported the liberal party of the time in other questions, though with characteristic modifications of his own.
In 1878 he was elected to the Whyte professorship of moral philosophy, and gave carefully prepared lectures in the summer term of 1878, and in following years until the Hilary term of 1882. The lectures form the substance of his unfinished 'Prolegomena to Ethics,' which was published under the editorship of Mr. A.C. Bradley in 1883. He took part in a translation of Lotze's 'Logik' and 'Metaphysik,' in which he had engaged some of his friends. It was published in 1884. His health had not for some time been robust, and in 1878 symptoms had appeared of congenital disease of the heart. He was about to move into a house which he had built in the Banbury Road, when he was taken ill, 15 March 1882, and died on the 26th. His wife survived him. He had no children. Among legacies to be paid after the death of his wife were 1,000l. to the university for a prize essay in moral philosophy (which Mrs. Green has already given), 1,000l. for a scholarship at the Oxford High School, and 3,500l. to Balliol College for promoting education in large towns.
Green's works, edited by Mr. R.L. Nettleship, were collected in three volumes. Vol. i. (1885) includes his introduction to Hume and his criticisms upon Mr. Herbert Spencer and G.H. Lewes, which (except one article) had previously appeared in the 'Contemporary Review.' Vol. ii. (1886) contains previously unpublished papers selected from his manuscript lectures. Vol. iii. (1888) contains a memoir, articles, and reviews upon philosophy from periodicals, two 'addresses' delivered in Balliol to his pupils in 1870 and 1877 before the administration of the communion, also privately printed and published in 1883, with an unfinished preface by Arnold Toynbee; lectures on the New Testament from notes by himself and his hearers; four lectures upon the 'English Revolution,' delivered before the Edinburgh Philosophical Institution in 1867; 'Liberal Legislation and Freedom of Contract,' originally published in 1881, with lectures upon education, &c.
Green was a man whose homely exterior, reserved manner, and middle-class radicalism were combined with singular loftiness of character. He recalls in different ways Wordsworth, of whom he was to some degree a disciple even in philosophy (Works, iii. 119), and Bright, whom he followed in politics. In his youth he was impressed by Carlyle and Maurice. He developed the philosophical ideas, congenial to him from the first, 'by a sympathetic study of Kant and Hegel.' He was not a wide reader, and even in some respects indolent, but he grasped his fundamental beliefs with singular intensity. His central conception, says his biographer (ib. p. lxxv), is that 'the Universe is a single eternal activity or energy, of which it is the essence to be self-conscious, that is, to be itself and not-itself in one.' His religious philosophy is a constant reproduction of 'the idea that the whole world of human experience is the self-communication or revelation of the eternal and absolute being.' Whatever the final fate of his philosophy, his opponents must recognise the value of his criticism of their position, and of his attempted ethical construction. While denouncing the philosophical claims of the utilitarian school, he sympathised to a great extent with their practical aims, and admired J.S. Mill as a man of exceptional goodness. Though an unsparing he was a magnanimous critic, and both by his character and his logical power gave a potent stimulus to many thinkers who have greatly modified his position. His character was described in Mrs. Ward's 'Robert Elsmere,' under the name of Mr. Gray.[Life, by R. L. Nettleship, prefaced to vol. iii. of Works.]