[The following passage comes from Ryals's introduction to Robert Elsemere (see bibliography) — George P. Landow

[Ward's] ideas on religion might never have led to the writing of Robert Elsmere if, in March of 1881, she had not attended the first of the Bampton Lectures, which were given that year by the Reverend John Wordsworth, a fellow tutor of her husband's at Brasenose, whom Mrs. Ward knew and respected, although he belonged to the Christ Church party. The sermon was on "The Present Unsettlement in Religion," and it connected that "unsettlement" with sin. The moral causes of unbelief were ascribed to prejudice and intellectual faults, especially indolence, coldness, recklessness, pride, and avarice. It was, as Mrs. Ward wrote, an attack—conscious or unconscious—on the speaker's colleagues and contemporaries, Dean Stanley, Jowett, Green of Balliol, and Matthew Arnold, "the patient scholars and thinkers of the Liberal host," and she felt a great shock of indignation. As she listened,

it sprang into my mind that the only way to show England what was going on in its midst was to try and express it concretely—in terms of actual life and conduct. Who and what were the persons who had provoked the present unsettlement of religion, or were suffering under its effects? What was their history? How had their thoughts and doubts come to be? and what was the effect of them on conduct? It was from this protesting impulse, constantly cherished and strengthened, that, a few years later, "Robert Elsmere" took its beginning.

The immediate result was a pamphlet. Unbelief and Sin: a Protest addressed to those who attended the Bampton Lecture of Sunday, March 6th, which sketched two types of characters—"the character that either knows no doubts or has suppressed them, and the character that fights its stormy way to truth"—in short, the two main characters of Robert Elsmere. [xix-xx]


Ward, Mrs. Humphry. Robert Elsemere. Ed. Clyde de L. Ryals. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1967.

Last modified 16 July 2014