John Stuart Stuart-Glennie

John Stuart Stuart-Glennie (1841–1910) was a Scottish barrister, socialist and folklorist.


John S. Stuart-Glennie was the son of the daughter of John Stuart of Inchbreck, Professor of Greek in the University of Aberdeen; his father was Alexander Glennie of Maybank Aberdeen. He was educated in law at the University of Aberdeen and became a barrister, called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1853. He later undertook a series of journeys of historical exploration across Europe and Asia to collect folklore.[1][2][3]

Views and associations

In 1885 Stuart-Glennie met and befriended George Bernard Shaw in London at the house of Jane Wilde, known as "Speranza".[4] He took part in a socialist demonstration in Trafalgar Square, in 1887.[5] He clashed with Annie Besant in wanting to include family matters in the charter of the Social Democratic Federation during the 1880s; and was later a Fabian for a time, before coming up against the same issue of women's rights as foundational.[6][7] Socialist views led him in 1906 to predict a Russian revolution and transformation of Europe.[8]

Stuart-Glennie was involved in the attempt to set up a Celtic League in 1886, and in Scottish activism of the 1890s.[9][10][11] Patrick Geddes was influenced by his pan-Celticism.[12]

In his time Stuart-Glennie was seen, by Bernard Shaw, as a successor to Henry Buckle, with a theory of religious origins going back some eight thousand years, and based on racial foundations.[13] Lewis Mumford in a 1956 work credited him with anticipating the Axial Age concept.[14][15] As a disciple of Buckle, with whom he travelled, Stuart-Glennie was heavily criticised by John Mackinnon Robertson in Buckle and His Critics; Robertson took up challenges to his account of Buckle in Pilgrim Travels, made in the biography by Alfred Huth, was dismissive as callow of the theories about the era of 600 BC, and discounted John Fiske as a supporter of Stuart-Glennie.[16]

As Eugene Halton has shown, Stuart-Glennie formulated the first systematic theory of what he termed “the moral revolution” in 1873 to characterize the historical shift around roughly 600 BCE in a variety of civilizations, most notably ancient China, India, Judaism, and Greece, later termed “the axial age” (“die Achsenseit”) by Karl Jaspers in 1949.[17] His theory of the moral revolution was part of a broader critical philosophy of history, which included gradations unexplored by Jaspers, such as a view of prehistory as “panzoonist” in outlook, a worldview of revering “all life” as a religious basis for conceiving nature. Stuart-Glennie’s theory of the moral revolution is set in the context of a comparative theory of history that gave great attention to material conditions, as well as to pre-axial folk cultures and civilizations, both of which Jaspers undervalued or ignored.


Stuart-Glennie is remembered for his extreme ethnological stance regarding the origin of folklore, for which he introduced a neologism "koenononosography" in 1889.[18] He presented a racial theory of folklore origins at the International Folk-lore Congress of 1891.[19]

Anthropologists in the 19th century, such as Edward Burnett Tylor, argued that mythical beings could have been modeled on historic "savage" or "primitive" races. This theory was developed by Edwin Sidney Hartland, Andrew Lang, and Laurence Gomme; and as an offshoot emerged the racialist concept that myths and folklore contain a basis of conflicting lower and higher races.[20]

Laurence Waddell and Alfred Cort Haddon were two authors who were proponents of the racialist interpretation of folklore. Stuart-Glennie went further, and gained attention with his theory that swan maidens were superior women of an archaic white race, wedded to a dark skinned race beneath them in level of civilization.[21]


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John Stuart Stuart-Glennie


  1. "The Late Mr. J. S. Stuart Glennie", The Sociological Review, Volume a3, Issue 4, pages 317–323, October 1910.
  2. Register of Admissions to the Middle Temple, at p. 514
  3. s:Men-at-the-Bar/Glennie, John Stuart
  4. John Anthony Bertolini (1993). Shaw and Other Playwrights. Penn State Press. pp. 27–. ISBN 0-271-00908-X.
  5. Michael Holroyd (17 February 2015). Bernard Shaw: The New Biography. Head of Zeus Ltd. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-78497-140-3.
  6. Edward R. Pease (16 June 2014). The History of the Fabian Society. Aware Journalism. p. 125. ISBN 978-1-5001-9039-2.
  7. Karen Hunt (11 April 2002). Equivocal Feminists: The Social Democratic Federation and the Woman Question 1884-1911. Cambridge University Press. p. 112. ISBN 978-0-521-89090-8.
  8. Eugene Halton; Palgrave Connect (Online service) (4 July 2014). From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution: John Stuart-Glennie, Karl Jaspers, and a New Understanding of the Idea. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-137-47350-9.
  9. Peter Berresford Ellis (2002). Celtic Dawn. Y Lolfa. p. 79. ISBN 978-0-86243-643-8.
  10. Bernard Shaw (1996). Bernard Shaw's Book Reviews: 1884-1950. Penn State Press. pp. 229–30. ISBN 0-271-01548-9.
  11. Iain Fraser Grigor (17 June 2014). Highland Resistance: The Radical Tradition In The Scottish North. Andrews UK Limited. p. 156. ISBN 978-1-84989-045-8.
  12. Helen Meller (2 August 2005). Patrick Geddes: Social Evolutionist and City Planner. Routledge. p. 70. ISBN 978-1-134-84928-4.
  13. Craig S. Walker; Jennifer Wise (9 July 2003). The Broadview Anthology of Drama: Volume 2: The Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Broadview Press. p. 210. ISBN 978-1-55111-582-5.
  14. Eugene Halton (1995). Bereft of Reason: On the Decline of Social Thought and Prospects for Its Renewal. University of Chicago Press. p. 56. ISBN 978-0-226-31462-4.
  15. Dante L. Germino (1 January 1982). Political Philosophy and the Open Society. LSU Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-8071-0974-8.
  16. J. M. Robertson, Buckle and His Critics: A Study in Sociology (1895)], pp.100–2
  17. Eugene Halton; Palgrave Connect (Online service) (4 July 2014). From the Axial Age to the Moral Revolution: John Stuart-Glennie, Karl Jaspers, and a New Understanding of the Idea. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 88. ISBN 978-1-137-47350-9.
  18. Archaeological Review. A journal of historic and pre-historic antiquities Vol. III, 1889, p. 199
  19. Richard Mercer Dorson (1999). History of British Folklore. Taylor & Francis. p. 310. ISBN 978-0-415-20476-7.
  20. "On the Origin of Fairies: Victorians, Romantics, and Folk Belief", Carole Silver, Browning Institute Studies, Vol. 14, The Victorian Threshold, 1986, pp. 147-150.
  21. Silver 1986, p.150; 1999, pp.97–98.

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