F.W. Robertson (1816-53) was an Anglican minister whose sermons were best sellers when they were published posthumously in 1856. The collections went into multiple editions until the early twentiethth century in England as well as every English-speaking country in the world, especially the United States. The definitive biography was written by one of Queen Victoria’s chaplains, Stopford Brooke, and published in 1860. It, too, became a best seller. Even though Robertson's memory has faded with time, his ideas, innovative at the time, are now taken for granted in Western culture. He believed, for example, that one of the greatest achievements of a civilization, if not the greatest, is “the rule of law,” which says that no man is above the law, not even the king. In Robertson’s own words, “law is not the creature of the ruler, but the ruler is the creature of, and owes his continuance to, the law.”
He also believed in universal education, starting schools for girls as well as boys, founding a Mechanics’ Institute for the working classes who were left without jobs when the Industrial Revolution replaced workers with machines. In this crusade Lady Byron, the widow of the poet, Lord Byron, joined him. In an era governed by social distinctions based solely on rank, title, and wealth, he preached equal opportunity, universal education being the way to achieve it.
As a testimony to his greatness, the whole city of Brighton (almost 100,000 then) shut down for his funeral. Over 3000 marched in the funeral procession that traversed the three-mile distance between his home and his final resting place in the Extra-Mural cemetery outside of the city.
Ed. Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Frederick W. Robertson, 1847 to 1853. Reprint: Kessinger, 2007.
Faulkenberg, Marilyn Thomas. Victorian Conscience: F.W. Robertson. Peter Lang, 2001.
Last modified 17 November 2007