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Reference group
Sunday Tramps (act. 1879–1895) was a group of late Victorian intellectuals brought together by Leslie Stephen, Frederick Pollock, and George Croom Robertson for hikes through the countryside near London, which included some of the most distinguished thinkers of the age. From 1879 members were summoned by Stephen each fortnight between October and June. He would select the route and set the pace, leading the Tramps at some speed on a 20 or 25 mile walk. He also set the tone; the trips were characterized by plain living, hard walking, and very little idle chatter. Although most outings consisted of rather fewer than ten walkers, it was none the less a seminal experience for a large number of individuals.

The group's initial membership was shaped by the interests and acquaintances of its founders. From the London literary world came Norman MacColl, editor of The Athenaeum, and James Cotter Morison, who had made his name on the Saturday Review; from the world of law came Robert Romer and Richard Haldane; from the world of academia came the philosophers Shadworth Hodgson and James Sully. They were joined by the economist Francis Ysidro Edgeworth, the psychiatrist George Henry Savage, the engineer Alexander Kennedy, the explorer Douglas Freshfield, and the artist John Collier. Not all the members were equally distinguished. Leslie Stephen's nephew, the barrister Sir Herbert Stephen (1857–1932), obviously owed his place to his family connections, while the reputation of the eccentric pathologist Charles Creighton declined precipitously after his attack on vaccination in 1888. None the less, all shared similar interests. They were all, as Leslie Stephen put it, ‘precisely the kind of person who writes articles for newspapers’ (Pall Mall Gazette, 12 June 1880, 10), and, sure enough, he himself wrote up their exploits in the Pall Mall Gazette.

As the Sunday Tramps grew in number, they also grew still further in status, coming to include a roll-call of influential intellectuals, not least—as ‘corresponding member’—the Russian historian Paul Vinogradoff (Maitland, Leslie Stephen, 360). Other notable names included the physician Clifford Allbutt, the poet Robert Bridges, the Italianist Arthur John Butler, the engineer John Hopkinson, the literary scholar William Ker, the physician Donald MacAlister, the educationist Theodore Morison, the physician Arthur Myers, the judge Thomas Scrutton, the museum curator Arthur Hamilton Smith, and the philosopher William Sorley. They were a variegated lot; as Sully recalled, ‘We were an odd, heterogeneous sort of company, hardly more than a fortuitous concourse of atoms, united only by the common tie of [Stephen's] selection’ (Sully, Life and Friends, 308). There was even room for the aesthete Roger Fry and the banker Felix Schuster.

At one time or another there were more than sixty Sunday Tramps, though the hard core tended to consist of the three founders with Sully and Shadworth Hodgson, the historian F. W. Maitland, the psychologist Edmund Gurney, and the philosopher Carveth Read (1848–1931)—the so-called scratch eight. Some full members never turned up. Others turned up but were never full members. Thus, when the Liberals took power in December 1905 Maitland greeted theirs as a ministry ‘of all the Tramps’, yet had to qualify his enthusiasm, questioning whether John Morley, James Bryce, and Richard Haldane were ever ‘formally enrolled’ (Letters, 462). A penumbra of associates also existed: Charles Darwin, Frederic Harrison, John Tyndall, and others often invited the walkers to stop for lunch; while George Meredith—described as an honorary Tramp—hosted a dinner to celebrate their hundredth walk at his home near Dorking.

These men—and they were all men—shared a similar culture. Many, like Leslie Stephen, were also climbers and refused to ‘lock up their summer hobby-horse for the greater part of the year’ (Pall Mall Gazette, 12 June 1880, 10). Some, again like Stephen, were simply growing too old to climb. Although few of its members were as radical as the rationalist John Collier, it should also be noted that the very fact of walking on a Sunday made a point. The Tramps strode past churches and chapels alike. ‘Our very appearance’, wrote Sully, ‘seemed like a challenge of defiance to the orderly church-going world’ (Sully, ‘Reminiscences’, 80). On one notable occasion they were even preached against. ‘If you are not saved’, the evangelist declared, ‘you will not go to heaven’. But his threat was dismissed as ‘an identical proposition’ and the Tramps walked on (Sully, Life and Friends, 308). Intellectually too the members shared a number of common interests. A. J. Butler's ‘Ballade of the Sunday Tramps’ (1881) celebrates the ‘good metaphysical talk’ to be had on an outing (Maitland, Leslie Stephen, 358), while Maitland wrote that meeting Vinogradoff and talking about legal history on one walk in 1884 ‘determined the rest of my life’ (Maitland, Letters, 97).

The importance of the Sunday Tramps as an institution goes beyond these individual experiences, however. It can also be seen as an archetypal expression of the late Victorian intellectual aristocracy. Indeed, they have been compared to the samurai, the idealized intellectual élite of H. G. Wells's Modern Utopia (1905) (Offer, 334). Their nature worship, their improving conversation, and their rational recreation were only to be expected from men of their social status. So was their clubbability. Several of the Tramps had been members of the similarly highbrow Alpine Club. Others had been Cambridge Apostles as undergraduates. Still others met at the Metaphysical Society, the Savage Club, the Athenaeum, and elsewhere. Above all, walking itself made a point. It was inexpensive, it was convivial, it provided opportunities to visit sites of historic or literary importance, and it was eminently respectable. But it also represented a rejection of the values of the very wealthy. While the rich hunted or shot, the Tramps walked; indeed, they trespassed, asserting—in their legal-minded way—that trespassers could not be prosecuted because they were only committing a tort.

Dominated by Leslie Stephen, the Tramps did not long outlast his willingness to lead them. He abandoned that role in 1891 and went on his last walk with them in 1894. In 1895 they disbanded. None the less, the Tramps were revived, as Thoby Stephen, John Pollock, and George Macaulay Trevelyan sought to perpetuate the tradition. Like their fathers' generation, they hoped to create a social network of like-minded souls who would walk and talk and live the intellectual life.

William Whyte


J. Sully, ‘Reminiscences of the Sunday Tramps’, Cornhill Magazine, 24 (1908), 76–88 · F. W. Maitland, The life and letters of Leslie Stephen (1906) · [L. Stephen], ‘Peripatetics’, Pall Mall Gazette (12 June 1880), 10–11; (17 June 1880), 10–11; (22 June 1880), 10–11; (28 June 1880), 10–11; (7 July 1880), 11–12; (15 July 1880), 11–12; (26 July 1880), 10–11 · The letters of Frederic William Maitland, ed. C. H. S. Fifoot, SeldS, suppl. ser., 1 (1965) · J. Sully, My life and friends: a psychologist's memories [1918] · F. Pollock, For my grandson: remembrances of an ancient Victorian (1933) · A. Offer, Property and politics, 1870–1914 (1981) · WWW · N. G. Annan, Leslie Stephen: the godless Victorian, rev. edn (1984) · W. Whyte, ‘The intellectual aristocracy revisited’, Journal of Victorian Culture, 10/1 (2005), 15–45 · J. Pollock, Time's chariot (1950) · N. Duxbury, Frederick Pollock and the English juristic tradition (2004) · H. A. L. Fisher, Frederic William Maitland, Downing professor of the laws of England: a biographical sketch (1910) · C. H. S. Fifoot, Frederic William Maitland: a life (1971) · A. D. Wallace, Walking, literature, and English culture: the origins and uses of peripatetic in the nineteenth century (1993) · Sir Leslie Stephen's mausoleum book, ed. A. Bell (1977)