Rhode Island Archival and Manuscript Collections Online

For Participating Institutions

Thomas Banchoff collection of materials relating to Edwin Abbott Abbott (Ms.2011.016)

Brown University Library

Box A
Brown University
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: Manuscripts: 401-863-3723; University Archives: 401-863-2148
Email: Manuscripts: hay@brown.edu; University Archives: archives@brown.edu

Biographical note

Edwin Abbott Abbott was born in London on December 20, 1838. He was the eldest son of Edwin Abbott (1808–1882), headmaster of the Philological School, Marylebone, and his wife, Jane Abbott (1806–1882). His parents were first cousins.

He was educated at the City of London School and at St John's College, Cambridge, where he took the highest honors in classics, mathematics and theology, and became a fellow of his college. In particular, he was 1st Smith's prizeman in 1861. In 1862 he was ordained in the Church of England. After holding masterships at King Edward's School, Birmingham, he succeeded G. F. Mortimer as headmaster of the City of London School in 1865 at the early age of twenty-six. Here he oversaw the education of future Prime Minister H.H. Asquith. He was Hulsean lecturer in 1876. Twenty four years of work placed him among the acknowledged heads of his profession and made his school famous with the Universities.

He married Mary Rangeley, of Derbyshire, in 1863. His marriage was long and happy. They had two children: a son and a daughter. Mrs. Abbott died on February 5, 1919.

Though offered a Headmaster's position at Wellington College, he retired in 1889, and devoted himself to literary and theological pursuits. Dr. Abbott's liberal inclinations in theology were prominent both in his educational views and in his books. His Shakespearian Grammar (1870) is a permanent contribution to English philology. In 1885 he published Francis Bacon, an account of his life and works. His theological writings include three anonymously published religious romances: Philochristus (1891), where he tried to raise interest in Gospels reading, Onesimus (1882), and Silanus the Christian (1908).

More weighty contributions are the anonymous theological discussion The Kernel and the Husk (1886), Philomythus (1891), his book The Anglican Career of Cardinal Newman (1892), and his article The Gospels in the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, embodying a critical view which caused considerable stir in the English theological world. He also wrote St Thomas of Canterbury, his Death and Miracles (1898), Johannine Vocabulary (1905), Johannine Grammar (1906).

Abbott's best-known work is his 1884 novella Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions which describes a two-dimensional world and explores the nature of dimensions. It has often been categorized as science fiction although it could more precisely be called "mathematical fiction."

Abbott also wrote educational text books, one being Via Latina: First Latin Book which was published in 1898 and distributed around the world within the education system.

Edwin Abbott Abbott died of influenza on October 12, 1926 at his residence at Hampstead at the age of 87.