Bray, Charles (DNB00)

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BRAY, CHARLES (1811–1884), author of various works on philosophy and education, was born in Coventry on 31 Jan. 1811. He was the son of a ribbon manufacturer in that city, to whose business he succeeded in 1835. From this he retired in 1856. While yet a young man, he established an infants' school in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Coventry, and, in opposition to a church movement conceived on straiter lines, took an active part in promoting an unsectarian school which should be available for dissenters. His first publication was an 'Address to the Working Classes on the Education of the Body' (1837). This was followed by the 'Education of the Feelings' (1838), of which there have been several editions, the last of them taking the form of a school manual ('The Education of the Feelings: a Moral System for secular schools,' 1872). In 1841 he published the 'Philosophy of Necessity, or the Law of Consequences as applicable to Mental, Moral, and Social Science;' this work contained an appendix (afterwards separately published) by the author's sister-in-law, Mary Hennell, giving an historical outline of communities founded on the principle of cooperation. The socialistic theories at this time in the air specially attracted him, and in 1842 he attended Robert Owen's 'Opening of the Millennium' at Queenwood, Hampshire. The failure of this experiment limited his social aspirations to more practicable objects. He helped to establish (1843) the Coventry Labourers' and Artisans' Society, which developed into a co-operative society, of which he was president; he started (1845) a working man's club, which failed owing to the rival attractions of the public-house; and he took an active share in the management of the Coventry Mechanics' Institute and the Coventry Provident Dispensary. In addition to the works already named, he published the 'Philosophy of Necessity,' 2nd. ed. 1861 (in great part re-written); 'On Force and its Mental Correlates,' 1866; 'A Manual of Anthropology, or Science of Man based upon Modern Research (1st ed. 1871, 2nd ed. 1883); 'Psychological and Ethical Definitions on a Physiological Basis,' 1879; and a number of pamphlets on speculative and practical subjects. The possession of a local paper (1846-74) gave him an additional field for his opinions, which at all times, and on all subjects, he stated with a candour that took no account of consequences. Converted to phrenology by George Combe, with whom he formed an intimate association, he never abandoned it. Phrenology and the doctrine of necessity form the groundwork of all his writings. Among his early friends was Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), who while young and uncelebrated was for some time a member of his household. In his autobiography ('Phases of Opinion and Experience during a Long Life,' 1884) he gives an interesting account of her, and George Eliot's 'Life as related in her Letters and Journals' (1885) is largely based on correspondence with 'the Brays' (i.e. Bray, his wife, and his sister-in-law, Miss Sara Hennell). A postscript to the 'Phases of Opinion and Experience,' dictated rather less than three weeks before his death, which took place on 5 Oct. 1884, contains the following: 'My time is come, and in about a month, in all probability, it will be finished. … For fifty years and more I have been an unbiassed and an unprejudiced seeker after truth, and the opinions I have come to, however different from those usually held, I am not now, at the last hour, disposed to change. They have done to live by, they will do to die by.'

[Bray's Phases of Opinion and Experience during a Long Life, 1884; Mathilde Blind's George Eliot (Eminent Women Ser.), 1883; George Eliot's Life, by J. W. Cross, 1885; Life and Letters of Professor W. B. Hodgson, 1884, p. 364.]

J. M. S.