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Clement Charles Julian Webb

Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford
1865 to 1954

Clement Charles Julian Webb was born in London on 25 June 1865. He received his early education at Westminster School where he earned numerous distinctions before becoming school captain in 1883. His relationship with the school endured throughout his life and he became its governor in later years.

In 1884 Webb began his university career at Christ Church Oxford, where he was to find his abilities as a philosopher, theologian and historian. He found his talent in philosophical reflection under the influence of his tutor, J.A. Stewart, though he was perhaps more greatly influenced in his philosophical thinking by his later tutor, James Cook Wilson. Cook Wilson was in part responsible for Webb’s reputation as a ‘personal idealist’, teaching him of a realism ‘for which spirit is no less real than matter’, and (also) revealing to him the value of the sceptical attitude and the critical method.

Webb was a highly influential figure on the people around him throughout his life. His writings were less influential, perhaps due to the dominance of absolute idealism at that time. His years at Oxford saw him heavily involved in administration, which had an impact on the volume of literary work he eventually published. His published Gifford Lectures, God and Personality (1918) and Divine Personality and Human Life (1920), were considered the pinnacle of his literary works, and Webb was made Professor of Christian Religion at Oriel on the back of the lecture series. His Gifford Lectures were, in part, concerned to retain the notion of a personal Christ, a notion often lost in the ocean of absolute idealism. It was in light of his defence in this regard that Webb became known, and was often referred to, as a personal idealist.

Among his other accomplishments and accreditations were the production of some critical editions of a number of works by/on John of Salisbury (1909, 1929, 1932). He received an honorary D.Litt., St. Andrews, 1921, and in 1927 was made a Fellow of the British Academy. He received a D.Litt from Oxford in 1930 and DD from Glasgow in 1937. Webb was highly regarded among his contemporaries, both on account of the prolific nature of his character, his skilful and careful analysis of the work of his contemporaries, and as a trusted and trustworthy friend. He was married in 1905 to his beloved wife, Eleanor Theodora Joseph (1869–1942); she would die twelve years before him. Webb died in Aylesbury, 5 October 1954.

Among Webb’s works are Problems in the Relations of God and Man (1911), Studies in the History of Natural Theology (1915), God and Personality (1919), Divine Personality and Human Life (1920), The Contribution of Christianity to Ethics (1932), Religious Thought in England from 1850 (1933), Religion and Theism (1933), The Historical Element in Religion(1935), and Religious Experience (1945).

  • Jon Cameron, University of Aberdeen