by John van Wyhe
Bray, Charles (1811-84)
Charles Bray was born in Coventry in 1811 and died in 1884. Bray followed his father as a ribbon manufacturer in Coventry taking over the business in 1835 and retiring in 1856. He helped to establish Coventry Labourers' and Artisans' Society in 1843 which developed into a co-operative society presided over by Bray. He also started a working man's club in 1845. Bray's paternalist interests in working men were not unrelated to his intellectual interests in freethought, phrenology, mesmerism, homeopathy and hydropathy. He converted to phrenology in 1835 after reading COMBE's "phrenology". Bray became "wildly excited" about phrenology because he saw how it was directly applicable to his existing interests in reforming education. Bray was a member of the British Phrenological Association and corresponded with George COMBE. Bray delivered six lectures on phrenology to the Coventry Mechanics' Institute in 1836 where he offered a phrenology class. His first publications were exhortative appeals to working men to attend to practical matters of health and education-all of which were greatly reminiscent of COMBE's philosophy in The Constitution of Man (1828) and the philosophy of Robert Owen. Bray attended Owen's 'Opening of the Millennium' at Queenwood, Hampshire in 1842. Like Owen's social experiments, Bray's working man's club of 1845 is said to have failed due to the attractions of the public-house (DNB). George Eliot, while still young and unknown (1841-50), was tutored in his house and a lasting friendship was formed. Bray converted Eliot to phrenology. Bray was also committed to free trade.
Probably Bray's most important work was The Philosophy of Necessity; or The Law of Consequences; as Applicable to Mental, Moral and Social Science (1841). The book was an attempt to apply COMBE's philosophy of natural laws to the reform of society. In short Bray's doctrine was that every thing acts necessarily in accordance with the laws of its own nature. Prayer, for example, must not be allowed to take the place of attention to the natural laws because certain harm would follow. Bray did not believe that there was no mind or spirit but he held, again following COMBE, that natural laws reigned in the realm of mind as in the realm of matter and that these laws were insuperable and eternal. Only by attending to these laws and accepting the unbending consequences of necessity could one live a happy life and reduce the misery and ignorance of society.
The Philosophy of Necessity; or The Law of Consequences; as Applicable to Mental, Moral and Social Science (1841).
On Force and its Mental Correlates (1866).
A Manual of Anthropology, or Science of Man based upon Modern Research (1871).
Psychological and Ethical Definitions on a Physiological Basis (1879).
Phases of Opinion and Experience during a Long Life (1884).
Blind, Mathilde, George Eliot (1883).
Boase, Frederic, ed., Modern English Biography, 6 vols (1965).
Cooter, R., Phrenology in the British Isles: An Annotated, Historical Bibliography and Index (1989).
Cross, J.W., ed., George Eliot's Life, vol. 1. .
Dictionary of National Biography.
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