The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XIV. The Victorian Age, Part Two.

I. Philosophers

§ 18. Martineau

Of much greater importance than these, in a philosophical regard, was James Martineau. His philosophy, also, was essentially religious philosophy; individual freedom and the being and presence of God were his fundamental certainties, and these he defended in many writings during his long life. His earlier works were mainly religious rather than philosophical, though, in a series of essays, he showed his power as a critic of materialism and naturalism, and gave an outline of the ethical views which he afterwards worked out in detail. He was eighty years old, or upwards, when his chief books appeared—Types of Ethical Theory (1885), A Study of Religion (1888), and The Seat of Authority in Religion (1890). The first of these is the most notable, and works out the original view of the moral criterion which had been previously indicated by him. It suffers from faulty arrangement, from the undue prominence given to the psychological factor in moral judgment and from the incompleteness of the psychological analysis. As a whole it does not impress the reader. But, taken in detail, it is seen to be full of penetrating criticism, and to be inspired by insight into the spiritual meaning of life. Traces of age are to be found only in its defective order and, perhaps, in its diffuseness; its style shows no marks of weariness: it is brilliant, pellucid, eloquent, rhetorical sometimes and coloured by emotion, but never falls below the dignity of his theme. Martineau did not make any important advance in speculative construction; he was not in sympathy with the idealist metaphysic that had risen to the ascendant in England even before his books were published; the ideas which he elucidated and defended were those which had been distinctive of spiritual thought for many centuries. In his criticisms, on the other hand, he did not restrict himself to the older forms of materialist and sensationalist doctrine; he was prompt to recognise the difference made by more recent scientific views, and he showed no lack of power or effectiveness in dealing with the claims of the philosophy of evolution.