Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Hutton, Richard Holt
HUTTON, RICHARD HOLT (1826–1897), theologian, journalist, and man of letters, born at Leeds on 2 June 1826, was the grandson of Joseph Hutton (1765–1856), Unitarian minister of Eustace Street congregation, Dublin, and the third son of Joseph Hutton (1790–1860), Unitarian minister at Mill Hill chapel, Leeds. His mother was Susannah Grindal, eldest daughter of John Holt of Nottingham. In 1835 his father removed to London to become the minister of the congregation at Carter Lane. Richard was educated at University College School and at University College, under Augustus De Morgan [q. v.], graduating B.A. in 1845 and M.A. in 1849, and obtaining the gold medal for philosophy besides high distinction in mathematics. At University College he became intimate with Walter Bagehot [q. v.], when neither was more then seventeen. They both delighted in discussing their subjects of study, and Hutton relates how on one occasion they 'wandered up and down Regent Street for something like two hours in the vain attempt to find Oxford Street,' so absorbed were they in debating 'whether the so-called logical principle of identity (A is A) was entitled to rank as a law of thought or only as a postulate of language.'
After spending two semesters at German universities, first at Heidelberg in 1841 and then at Berlin, he entered Manchester New College in 1847 to prepare for the Unitarian ministry. There he studied under James Martineau [q. v. Suppl.] and John James Tayler [q. v.] His intention of entering the ministry, however, came to nothing ; for though he preached occasionally, he received no call to a permanent charge, his intellectual discourses, adorned by no grace of delivery, failing to secure appreciation. For a short time he filled the office of principal of University Hall in London, then an important centre of nonconformist education. In 1851 he married, and accepted the post of editor of the Unitarian magazine, 'The Inquirer,' which was offered him by the proprietor, R. Kinder. John Langton Sanford [q. v.] was associated with him in the editorship in 1852, and among the contributors were his brother-in-law, William Caldwell Roscoe [q. v.], and Bagehot. At a time when the traditions of Priestley and Thomas Belsham were still dominant among the Unitarians, Hutton advocated many innovations, and in consequence aroused the disapproval of the more conservative. He 'attempted to prove that the laity ought to have the protection of a litany against the arbitrary prayers of the minister, and that at least the great majority of the sermons ought to be suppressed, and the habit of delivering them discontinued altogether.' These counsels of perfection were urged with so much ardour that Hutton himself playfully acknowledged, long after, that 'only a denomination of just men made all but "perfect" would have tolerated it at all.' In fact the measure of tolerance he received was not large, his views on doctrine alienating those who might have disregarded his innovations in practice. His theology was coloured by the opinions of John Hamilton Thom [q. v.] and James Martineau, when Martineau's name was a word of fear in quiet households. Kinder was repeatedly requested to get rid of his young editors; a formal vote of censure on them was moved at the annual meeting of the London district society, and it was even proposed to start another paper on more orthodox lines. Under such conditions Hutton's tenure of office could hardly have been long continued, but in 1853 the complete breakdown of his health compelled him to relinquish both his editorship and his appointment at University Hall. He found himself threatened with consumption, and was ordered to the West Indies. He returned from Barbados in better health but a widower, his wife having died there of yellow fever.
Hutton, finding his theological course beset with difficulties, turned to the study of the law, in which, however, he did not long persevere. He settled in chambers in Lincoln's Inn, began to read for the bar, and wrote in the 'Prospective Review.' In 1855 he and Bagehot became joint editors of a new magazine, 'The National Review,' which, it is said, was financed by Lady Byron. This journal they continued to direct until its cessation towards the close of 1864. During the first four years of its existence they were aided by Roscoe, who did some of his best critical work on this paper. On his death in 1859 Hutton undertook to edit his writings, which were published in 1860 with a memoir, under the title of 'Poems and Essays' (London, 2 vols. 8vo). Hutton was professor of mathematics from 1856 to 1865 at Bedford College, London, and from 1858 to 1860 he acted as assistant-editor of the 'Economist' [see Wilson, James, 1805-1860].
During this time Hutton, though writing on many and various subjects, had never ceased to make theology his chief interest. He had definitely abandoned the Unitarian creed, and had accepted the main principles and beliefs of the English church. He was early drawn in this direction by his friendship with Frederick William Robertson [q. v.], whose acquaintance he made in 1846 while Robertson was officiating at the English church at Heidelberg. From Robertson he received a new conception of the doctrine of the incarnation, in which he was afterwards confirmed by his intercourse with Frederick Denison Maurice [q. v.] Bagehot took him to hear Maurice preach in Lincoln's Inn chapel, and he was permanently impressed by his voice and manner. In 1853 Maurice was so pleased with a review of his 'Theological Essays' by Hutton in the 'Prospective Review' that he sought an introduction to him through Mr. Henry Solly. The acquaintance rapidly ripened into friendship, and Hutton zealously assisted Maurice in his social work in London. The progress of Hutton's views on the subject of the incarnation is marked by the publication, in 1862, of his 'Incarnation and Principles of Evidence,' which formed No. 14 of 'Tracts for Priests and People.' A doubtful passage in this treatise on the doctrine of the divine birth was omitted on its republication in 1871 in his 'Theological Essays.'
In 1861 Hutton obtained a unique opportunity for placing his theological and literary opinions before the public. Early in the year Mr. Meredith Townsend, who had just returned from India after giving up the 'Friend of India,' purchased the 'Spectator,' the well-known weekly liberal paper which had been founded by Robert Stephen Rintoul [q. v.] in 1828. Hutton was offered a half-share in the concern, and in June he became joint editor and part proprietor. The proposal was made by Mr. Townsend at a first interview, by an afterthought, when Hutton had taken his leave and was on his way downstairs; but the partnership remained unbroken until a few months before Hutton's death. It was arranged that while Towns Townsend attended to the politics, Hutton should take charge of the department of literature. The position of the journal was not satisfactory, and at the commencement of the partnership Hutton and Mr. Meredith further impaired its popularity by resolutely espousing the cause of the Northern States in the American civil war. Public feeling in England ran strongly in favour of the confederates, and it was not until the collapse of the south in 1865 that the courage of the editors obtained its reward. The change in public opinion towards the close of the war gained the journal a hearing, and the general worth of its contents insured it success. Its form and character were in many respects novel, the 'Saturday Review' being the only similar journal in existence, for the 'Examiner,' under Albany Fonblanque [q. v.], which has been suggested as the source of Hutton's inspiration, was different in character. The editors consistently supported the liberal party until its division in 1886, when, though reluctant to withdraw their allegiance to Gladstone, they felt compelled to oppose home rule. To Hutton the breach with Gladstone was especially painful, for the two men had long been united by ties of personal friendship and by a remarkable similarity in their views of life and of the relative importance of things and causes.
In the 'Spectator' Hutton found a pulpit from which he could speak on subjects nearest his heart, as well as on books and events of the day. In theological questions he first made his mark as the champion of Christianity against agnostic and rationalistic teachers. For this task Hutton was qualified by the breadth of his mind, the accuracy of his understanding, and his profound knowledge of current religious thought. Preeminently catholic in spirit he was removed from lesser party differences, and was able to comprehend and reconcile many positions which to smaller men seemed hopelessly antagonistic. While it would be idle to regard him as standing in the first rank of theologians, it may be questioned whether any of his contemporaries influenced public opinion more widely. This influence was exercised both through the 'Spectator' and by means of the vast correspondence he kept up with private persons on matters of religious controversy. As time advanced his sympathy with the high Anglican and Roman positions increased, and while never identifying himself with either party, his later friends, including William George Ward, Dean Church, and Canon Liddon, were drawn from both. For Cardinal Newman also he had a great admiration, regarding the spiritual character of his life as standing in strange contrast 'to the eager and agitated turmoil of confused passions, hesitating ideals, tentative virtues, and grasping philanthropies amid which it has been lived.' He contributed a memoir of 'Cardinal Newman' in 1891 to the series entitled 'English Leaders of Religion.'
Hutton's later literary labours were somewhat overshadowed by his theological writings, but they were not without importance. His literary interests were especially directed to the great writers of the close of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century. Although in such a field he could reveal little hitherto unknown, his intense sympathy rendered his studies of such writers as Scott, Shelley, and Browning of much value. On the critical side his work is less satisfactory, his keen appreciation of the merits of his favourites frequently rendering him incapable of considering their defects. In writers of the late nineteenth century he took less interest, and perhaps in the 'Spectator' he underestimated the literary value of their work. In 1865, on the foundation of the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' Hutton was recommended to the proprietor, Mr. George Smith, by Mr. Frederick Greenwood for the post of editor. Although Mr. Smith preferred to appoint Greenwood himself, Hutton became a contributor, and in 1866 published 'Studies in Parliament' (London, 8vo), a series of sketches of leading politicians, which had appeared in the 'Pall Mall Gazette,' and which are among his happiest writings. In 1871 he issued his 'Essays, Theological and Literary' (London, 2 vols. 8vo). They appeared again, largely recast, in 1877, and in the third edition of 1888 the essays on Shelley and on Browning were further revised. In 1877 Hutton lost his early friend Bagehot, and undertook to edit his writings. This he accomplished in three series. In 1879 appeared 'Bagehot's Literary Studies,' with a prefatory memoir, in 1880 his 'Economic Studies,' and in 1881 his 'Biographical Studies.' Each of these collections went through several editions, the latest appearing in 1895. To the second volume of this 'Dictionary' Hutton contributed a notice of his friend.
Hutton was an original member of the Metaphysical Society, founded in April 1869, and in August 1885 published an article in which he gave a graphic sketch of the society and its chief members in the 'Nineteenth Century,' whose editor, Mr. James Knowles, was the founder of the society. Under the form of an imaginary debate on a paper by William George Ward, he reproduced the opinions and expressions of the leading members of the society with striking fidelity.
Hutton was a strong opponent of vivisection, and frequently attacked the practice in the 'Spectator.' In 1875 he served on a royal commission on the subject. The report was unfavourable to the practice, and in consequence in 1876 an act of parliament was passed by which persons experimenting on living animals were required to hold a license from the home secretary.
From 1886 Hutton lived at Twickenham in much retirement, owing chiefly to his second wife's long illness, giving up all society, even that of his closest friends. His wife died early in 1897, and he did not long survive her. He died on 9 Sept. 1897 at his residence, Crossdepe, and was buried in Twickenham parish cemetery on 14 Sept. 'Round his grave were grouped Anglicans, Roman catholics, and Unitarians, in about equal numbers and in equal grief.' He was twice married : first, in 1851, to his cousin, Anne Mary (d. 1853), daughter of William Stanley Roscoe (1782-1843); and secondly, in 1858, to Eliza (d. 1897), daughter of Robert Roscoe. Both ladies were granddaughters of William Roscoe [q. v.] the historian. He left no children.
Besides the works already mentioned, Hutton was the author of: 1. 'The relative Value of Studies and Accomplishments in the Education of Women,' London, 1862, 8vo. 2. 'Sir Walter Scott,' London, 1878, 8vo (Morley's 'English Men of Letters'). 3. 'Essays on some of the Modern Guides of English Thought in matters of Faith,' London, 1887, 8vo. 4. 'Criticisms on Contemporary Thought and Thinkers,' London, 1894, 8vo. He contributed 'The Political Character of the Working Class' to 'Essays on Reform' (London, 1867, 8vo), and 'Reciprocity' to a volume of 'Lectures on Economic Science,' published by the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science (London, 1870, 8vo). In 1899 a volume of selections from Hutton's writings in the 'Spectator,' entitled 'Aspects of Religious and Scientific Thought,' was, published under the editorship of his niece, Miss Elizabeth Mary Roscoe. William Watson's 'Lachrymæ Musarum and other Poems' (London, 1893, 8vo) was dedicated to Hutton and Townsend. [This article is based on a sketch of Hutton's career kindly supplied by Mr. D. C. Lathbury. See also Hogben's Richard Holt Hutton of the Spectator, 1900; Academy, 18 Sept. 1897, 22 April 1899; Inquirer, 18 and 25 Sept., 2 and 9 Oct. 1897: Watson's Excursions in Criticism, 1893, pp. 113-20; Contemporary Review, October 1897 (by Miss Julia Wedgwood); Bookman, October 1897; Primitive Methodist Quarterly, January 1898 (by Robert Hind); Wilfrid Ward's W. G. Ward and the Catholic Revival, 1893; L. Huxley's Life of Huxley, 1900, i. 439; Jackson's James Martineau, 1900, pp. 80, 192-3.]