ROBERTSON, John Mackinnon

History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century [the original manuscript]

Published: [London]

Date: c.1920 - 1928

original handwritten draft manuscript on over 1000 quarto sheets of ruled paper, extensive corrections and changes and additions throughout and with in places short sections of text clipped from some of his earlier books and inserted into the new work (often with changes to this printed text written in manuscript beside or over the insertion),in very good condition. Custom cloth-bound case, spine gilt lettered.

John MacKinnon Robertson (1856 - 1933), writer and politician, was born on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. Having left school at only thirteen years of age he was almost entirely self educated. His first important work was as a leader writer on the Edinburgh Evening News which he joined in 1878. His articles brought him to the attention of the leading free thinker and reformer Charles Bradlaugh who invited him to London, and he worked with Bradlaugh on the National Reformer, the organ of the radical free thinkers, from 1884. He became its sole editor from Bradlaugh's death in 1891 until the journal's demise in 1893, after which he founded and edited the Free Review to 1895. From 1895 he lived by writing and by lecturing, and in 1897-1898 he made a notably successful lecture tour over most of the United States. After having unsuccessfully stood for parliament as an independent in 1895 he was successful in being elected as a Liberal in 1906. He was a considerable success in parliament and was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade 1911-1915. After being defeated in the election of 1918 he devoted the remainder of his life to writing. "Few people since the great French Encyclopaedist Bayle can have had so wide a range of significant knowledge as Robertson. He wrote the two classic histories of free thought (1899 and 1929). He was recognised as one of the leading Shakespearean scholars of his time. He was a literary critic of distinction, and his Modern Humanists (1891) contains some of the best work done in Great Britain since Matthew Arnold. His contributions to the history of Christianity, although they aroused great antagonism among orthodox scholars, were admitted everywhere to be based upon profound knowledge. He did work of great importance in social science; his studies of H. T. Buckle, of the evolution of states, of German racial theories, of free trade, and thrift, are all remarkable alike for their insight and learning. It is, indeed, difficult to know what field of humanistic studies was outside his competence. As a man, Robertson made some enemies both by his militant unorthodoxy in religious views, and by a certain irritated bluntness of manner. But he was the centre of a devoted circle of friends mostly, like himself militant free thinkers, but also including John (Viscount) Morley, Augustine Birrell and the historian J. B. Bury. He was a man conspicuous for intellectual courage, direct, candid, and of complete integrity. He spoke admirably, and was a conversationalist of charm and power. Being both by training and by outlook aloof from the academic circles which he would have adorned he received less recognition in his lifetime than was his due. But almost all who knew him had an affectionate reverence alike for his character and for his scholarship. It is not improbable that his intellectual position will be much higher in the next generation than it was during his lifetime" [Harold Laski in D.N.B.]. "Robertson was immensely prolific, working ten to twelve hours, seven days a week, and was blessed with a powerfully retentive memory. ... At the time of his death his library contained some 12,000 books, the collecting of which was his only extravagance. [He] was an avowed rationalist and combative seeker of truth, scrupulously honest, who courted controversy and was often content to plough his own furrow at the expense of popularity and academic recognition. He could be abrasive and austere, applying his reasoning powers to make short shrift of opponents, and his wit was caustic. Yet he was entirely without vanity, possessed charm, and was generous to his friends and devoted to his family" [O.D.N.B.]. His History of Freethought Ancient and Modern to the Period of the French Revolution was first published in 1899 with revised editions in 1906 (2 vols.), 1915 and 1936. His History of Freethought in the Nineteenth Century was published in 2 vols. in 1929. This manuscript illuminates the gestation of that major work.


Offered by P & B Rowan