In his political beliefs as in his religion, Robertson appears an often paradoxical amalgam of conservativism and liberalism, and, as he pointed out in a letter of March 1852, "My tastes are with the aristocrat, my principles with the mob. I know how the recoil from vulgarity and mobocracy, with thin-skinned over-fastidiousness, has stood in the way of my doing the good I might do. My own sympathies and principles in this matter are in constant antagonism, and until these can be harmonised, true Christianity is impracticable" (Letter 128, p. 255). In practice, however, he sided with the working man, even when he remained skeptical about particular approaches, such as F. D. Maurice's, which he believed ignored "an original instinct in our own nature, that of individuality and property" (195).

Robertson's views of the situation in Ireland exemplify his general approach to serious political issues. He opens a discussion of Irish Catholicism by noting that "There is a fearful debt due to Ireland which has been accumulating for centuries, through absenteeism and land lords whose interests have been in England, and not in Ireland. By the unalterable law of retribution it has all come on this generation; and the way to perpetuate if with ever-accumulating interest on the next generation is to pursue the same old false vicious system which has made Ireland what she is" (362). He continues:

As to the Roman Catholic Emancipation Bill, nothing has altered my opinion. The old system was monstrous, and the Act was only one of justice. Roman Catholics in France are more attached to their country than to the Papacy, and so they are in Germany. But the mad Orange system, which would wean the affections of a persecuted and unprivileged Roman Catholic from his country and fix them on Rome — banish them from Maynooth to be educated at St. Omer or other foreign seminaries — forces him to be an Ultramontane. I earnestly trust England will never pause, much less retrograde, in the path of fairness and justice on which she has entered. No doubt many immediate con sequences will seem bad, but trust to principle and time. Stockport riots, ferocious altarpieces — what do they come from but Ecclesiastical Titles Bills and proclamations against Roman Catholic worship?

Robertson answers those who fear democracy by pointing out the roots of potential disaster in past injustice, and therefore he can write,

What appals me is to see the way in which people, once liberal, are now recoiling from their own principles, terrified by the state of the Continent, and saying we must stem the tide of democracy, and therefore support the Conservatives. Why, what has ever made democracy dangerous but Conservatism? French revolutions — socialism — why, people really seem to forget that these things came out of Toryism, which forced the people into madness. [363]

Related Material


Brooke, Stopford A. Life and Letters of Fred[erick]. W. Robertson, M. A., Incumbent of Trinity Chapel, Brighton, 1847-53. People's Edition. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1902. The first edition (1865) appeared in two volumes.

Last modified 16 July 2006