James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet by Ciaran Brady - review by Piers Brendon

Piers Brendon

The Road from Carlyle

James Anthony Froude: An Intellectual Biography of a Victorian Prophet


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James Anthony Froude was an eminent Victorian who has now become a forgotten man. Some students of the 19th century can’t even pronounce his surname correctly (it rhymes with food) and few general readers know more than a couple of stories about him, one of which is apocryphal. The first is that his scandalous novel The Nemesis of Faith (1849) was publicly burned by the sub-rector of Exeter College, Oxford, forcing Froude to resign his fellowship and leave the university in disgrace. The second, cited by Lytton Strachey among others, is that Froude, grown sceptical about hagiography, concluded his contribution to John Henry Newman’s series on the Lives of the English Saints with the words: ‘This is all, and perhaps more than all that is known of the blessed St Neot.’

Actually, as Ciaran Brady confirms in this magnificent monograph, Froude said nothing of the sort. The sentence is a garbled version of Newman’s own verdict on another saint, Bettelin: ‘And this is all that is known, and more than all – yet nothing to what the angels know – of the life of a servant of God.’ Today Newman himself has been beatified and is well on the way to sainthood. And in this scholarly analysis of his subject’s ideas, Brady seeks to resurrect Froude and to place him in the vanguard of the Victorian march of mind. It is a noble effort, not least because Froude deserves to be remembered as the author of one of the finest biographies in the English language, his four-volume life of Thomas Carlyle. Unlike the standard Victorian life and letters, constipated by gentility, it was shockingly revelatory. It opened windows

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