Congreve, Richard (DNB01)

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CONGREVE, RICHARD (1818–1899), positivist, third son of Thomas Congreve, by Julia his wife, was born at Leamington Hastings, Warwickshire, on 4 Sept. 1818. He was educated under Dr. Arnold at Rugby, and at the university of Oxford, where he gained a scholarship at Wadham College, matriculated on 23 Feb. 1837, graduated B.A. (first class in literæ humaniores) in 1840, and proceeded M.A. in 1843. He came to Oxford a typical pupil of Arnold, high-minded, intensely earnest, and latitudinarian in his theological opinions. His success in the schools was naturally followed by election to a fellowship at his college, where, with a brief interval during which he taught a form at Rugby, he resided as tutor for the next ten years. His influence upon his pupils is said to have been singularly bracing, morally as well as intellectually.

The turning-point in Congreve's life was a visit to Paris shortly after the revolution of 1848. He there met Barthélemy St.-Hilaire and Auguste Comte, and the influence of the latter thinker proved decisive and enduring. On his return to Oxford he embarked on a course of study which resulted in the adoption of the entire positivist system, including the religious cult. He in consequence resigned his fellowship (1855), left Oxford, and soon afterwards founded the positivist community in London. While preparing for his life-work as exponent of the new gospel he studied medicine, and in 1866 was admitted M.R.C.P. In the early days of the movement he took the chief part in the establishment of the propaganda in Chapel Street, Lamb's Conduit Street, London, and for some years worked harmoniously with Mr. Frederic Harrison and other leading positivists. In 1878, however, he issued a circular (17 June) in which he claimed for himself an authority independent of M. Pierre Lafitte, Comte's principal executor, and as such then universally acknowledged as the head of the positivist community. Some positivists joined him; others, among whom were Mr. Frederic Harrison, Dr. Bridges, Professor Beesly, Mr. Vernon Lushington, and James Cotter Morison [q. v.], remained in union with M. Lafitte, and opened Newton Hall, Fetter Lane, London, as their place of meeting. Congreve used the freedom which this separation allowed him to elaborate a higher form of ritual. He continued, notwithstanding failing health and the increasingly adverse trend of English thought, zealous in the advocacy of his opinions, and punctilious in the discharge of his priestly functions until his death, at Hampstead, on 5 July 1899. He married in 1856 Mary, daughter of J. Berry of Warwick.

Congreve published:

  1. 'The Politics of Aristotle: with English Notes,' London, 1855, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1874 (a thoughtful and scholarly performance).
  2. 'The Roman Empire of the West: Four Lectures delivered at the Philosophical Institution, Edinburgh,' London, 1855, 8vo.
  3. 'Gibraltar; or, the Foreign Policy of England,' London, 1857, 8vo (a plea for the surrender of the Rock).
  4. 'India,' London, 1857, 8vo (a plea for the abandonment of our eastern dominions).
  5. 'The Catechism of the Positive Religion. Translated from the French of Auguste Comte,' London, 1858, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1883; 3rd edit. 1891.
  6. 'Italy and the Western Powers, and Elizabeth of England,' London, 1862, 12mo.
  7. 'Mr. [William] Broadhead [q. v. Suppl.] and the Anonymous Press,' London, 1867, 8vo.
  8. 'Essays, Political, Social, and Religious,' London, 1874; 2nd ser. 1892, 8vo.
  9. 'Human Catholicism,' London, 1876, 8vo.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1714-1886; Oxford Honours Reg.; J. B. Mozley's Letters, p. 193; Brodrick's Memories and Impressions, pp. 105-106; Men of the Time, 1884; Men and Women of the Time, 1891; Times, 6 July 1899; Ann. Reg. 1899, ii. 158; Athenæum, 15 July 1899; Positivist Review, 1 Aug. 1899; information kindly furnished by Prof. Beesly.]

J. M. R.