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James Knowles

Sir James Knowles (1831 - February 13, 1908), English architect and editor, was born in London and was educated, with a view to following his father's profession, as an architect at University College and in Italy.

His literary tastes also brought him at an early age into the field of authorship. In 1860 he published The Story of King Arthur. In 1867 he was introduced to Tennyson, whose house, Aldworth, on Blackdown, he designed; this led to a close friendship, Knowles assisting Tennyson in business matters, and among other things helping to design scenery for The Cup, when Irving produced that play in 1880.

Knowles became intimate with a number of the most interesting men of the day, and in 1869, with Tennyson's cooperation, he started the Metaphysical Society, the object of which was to attempt some intellectual rapprochement between religion and science by getting the leading representatives of faith and unfaith to meet and exchange views.

The members from first to last were as follows:

Papers were read and discussed at the various meetings on such subjects as the ultimate grounds of belief in the objective and moral sciences, the immortality of the soul, etc. An interesting description of one of the meetings was given by Magee (then bishop of Peterborough) in a letter of February 13, 1873:
"Archbishop Manning in the chair was flanked by two Protestant bishops right and left; on my right was Hutton, editor of the Spectator, an Arian; then came Father Dalgairns, a very able Roman Catholic priest; opposite him Lord A. Russell, a Deist; then two Scotch metaphysical writers, Freethinkers; then Knowles, the very broad editor of the Contemporary; then, dressed as a layman and looking like a country squire, was Ward, formerly Rev. Ward, and earliest of the perverts to Rome; then Greg, author of The Creed of Christendom, a Deist; then Froude, the historian, once a deacon in our Church, now a Deist; then Roden Noel, an actual Atheist and red republican, and looking very like one! Lastly Ruskin, who read a paper on miracles, which we discussed for an hour and a half! Nothing could be calmer, fairer, or even, on the whole, more reverent then the discussion. In my opinion, we, the Christians, had much the best of it. Dalgairns, the priest, was very masterly; Manning, clever and precise and weighty; Froude, very acute, and so was Greg. We only wanted a Jew and a Mahommedan to make our Religious Museum complete" (Life, i. 284).
The last meeting of the society was held on May 16, 1880. Huxley said that it died "of too much love"; Tennyson, "because after ten years of strenuous effort no one had succeeded in even defining metaphysics." According to Dean Stanley, "We all meant the same thing if we only knew it." The society formed the nucleus of the distinguished list of contributors who supported Knowles in his capacity as an editor. In 1870 he became editor of the Contemporary Review, but left it in 1877 and founded the Nineteenth Century (to the title of which, in 1901, were added the words And After). Both periodicals became very influential under him, and formed the type of the new sort of monthly review which came to occupy the place formerly held by the quarterlies. In 1904 he received the honour of knighthood. He died at Brighton on the 13th of February 1908.


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