Papers relating to Auguste Comte, Positivism and the Temple of Humanity, Liverpool

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains various records relating to Auguste Comte and the Positivist religion in England, in particular in Liverpool. U DX118/1-4 contain English translations of letters written by Auguste Comte to some of his followers. Other items include articles about Positivism and the Religion of Humanity, letters and circulars from Otto Baier in relation to the Temple of Humanity in Liverpool and orders of service for use in the Temple.

The collection contains items in German, Spanish and French.

Administrative / Biographical History

Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte was born on 19 January 1798 in Montpellier and is more commonly known as Auguste Comte. Following an education received at the Lycee Joffre and the University of Montpellier, Comte was accepted at the prestigious Ecole Polytechnique in Paris, only for it to close in 1816 for reorganisation. Comte, therefore, continued studying in Montpellier at the medical school.

Soon after, Comte returned to Paris and earned a living through small, odd jobs before becoming the student and secretary of the Comte de Saint-Simon. Comte became heavily influenced by Saint-Simon's utopian socialist philosophy and through him; Comte gained access to Parisian intellectual society, publishing various articles whilst in his employ. Comte later split from Saint-Simon in 1824 and despite his various publications, failed to find an academic post, thus he was forced to depend on sponsors and friends for financial assistance.

In 1825 Comte married Caroline Massin, only to be taken to a mental health hospital in 1826 due to a 'cerebral crisis'. He left the hospital without being fully healed and made a suicide attempt in 1827. Between 1830 and 1842, Comte published his major work, the six volume The Course in Positive Philosophy. Comte posited in the Course that humanity progresses in three phases (The Law of Three Stages) in its search for 'truth', namely "the Theological, or fictitious; the Metaphysical, or abstract; and the Scientific, or positive." -Comte. This theory was one of the first of social evolutionism. Comte's other focus in the Course was the hierarchical classification of the sciences in which he argued that sociology was the greatest of all the sciences (later to be replaced by anthropology). Comte's classification of the sciences remains the most popular to this day and as such Comte is regarded as a founder of the philosophy of science.

Following the breakdown of his marriage in 1842 Comte became close to John Stuart Mill and developed a platonic relationship with Clotilde de Vaux. His love for Vaux, after her death in 1846, bordered on the obsessive and became quasi-religious. During this time Comte created a new 'Religion of Humanity', detailed in his four volume Systeme de politique positive (1851-1854) and proposed a new 'positivist calendar'. His religion was never particularly successful although it helped encourage the development of various religious humanist and secular humanist organisations in the later 19th century. Comte's last work was the first volume of La Synthese Subjective (1856).

Auguste Comte died on 5 September 1857 in Paris, from stomach cancer. He was buried in Pere Lachaise Cemetery. The apartment at 10 rue Monsieur-le-Prince in Paris' 6th arrondissement, in which Comte lived from 1841 until his death, is now conserved as the Maison d'Auguste Comte.

Although not the inventor of the term 'sociology', Comte is considered the founder of the discipline whilst also developing the doctrine of positivism. He had a significant influence on other social thinkers of the 19th century including John Stuart Mill and George Eliot. Moreover, Comte coined the word altruism. Many of his theories and concepts of sociology and social evolution are now, however, out of date. Even in Comte's lifetime, his contemporary John Stuart Mill, distinguished between a 'good Comte' (the author of the Course) and a 'bad Comte' (the author of the secular-religious System).

The first meeting of the positivist movement in Liverpool was held in 1879 with only five people in attendance. The first convert in Liverpool was Edmund Jones and the first Positivist teacher was Dr Carson, a social worker. Dr Carson was succeeded by Mr Crompton, director of the Blue Funnel Line, who was in turn succeeded by Sydney Style in 1908 as head of the Church of Humanity. Sydney Style had been born in Salisbury and had previously been a partner in the Liverpudlian law firm Style, Lindsay and Squarey. Before the Temple of Humanity was built in 1913, meetings were held in a converted stable in Falkland Street. One of Style's colleagues was Otto Baier, who conducted a service to commemorate the golden wedding of Mr and Mrs Style in 1928. Mrs Style wrote at least two books on Positivism including The Voice of the Nineteenth Century, A Woman's Echo and a biography of Auguste Comte.

Conditions Governing Access

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Custodial History

Found amongst the books of his son, Dr FCW Baier, now in the Brynmor Jones Library, 1976 and 1977 [U DX118/43]

Related Material

Speech by John Stuart Mill [U DX1]

Papers of Thomas Joseph Haslam and Anna Maria Haslam [U DX66]