William Maccall

William Maccall (1812–1888) was a Scottish author and Unitarian minister.


Born at Largs, Ayrshire, on 23 February 1812, he was eldest son of John Maccall, a tradesman, and his wife Elizabeth Murdoch. He was intended for the Presbyterian ministry of the Secession Church, and entered Glasgow University in 1837, graduating M.A. in 1833. George Harris was an early influence. He then passed two years in a theological academy at Geneva, but, convinced by Unitarianism, he joined its ministry. He took a position at Greenock, obtained for him by Harris.[1][2][3]

Maccall officiated at Bolton, Lancashire (1837–1840), where he was a Chartist opposed to Feargus O'Connor. He had taken on the Moor Lane Chapel congregation founded by Harris, but it dwindled away.[3][4] He was then at Crediton in Devon (1841–6).[1] He eventually resigned his ministry to concentrate on writing and lecturing.[5]

Coming to London in 1846, Maccall lived first at 4 Carburton Street, and preached, lectured, and wrote for the press. John Stuart Mill gave him introductions to The Spectator and The Critic; he wrote also for the Gentleman's Magazine.[1] The Royal Literary Fund gave Maccall a grant in 1853.[6] He used the pseudonym Atticus, reviewing Ralph Waldo Emerson in The Critic in 1860.[7]

Later Maccall lived in the suburbs of London, and in 1861 settled at Bexley Heath.[1] In 1864 he became the major contributor to the Propagandist and Theological, Social and Political Review, founded by the secularist John Bagnall Bebbington in May of that year, and running to October. The eclectic content drew on Charles Hennell, and Maccall's translations from Ludwig Büchner and Scandinavian writers.[8] Also in 1864 he was writing in the National Reformer, to advocate a National Land League.[9] Maccall found, however, that the freethought circle around George Holyoake had placed him as a pantheist, rather than an atheist.[10]

Maccall died on 19 November 1888. He had had constant financial troubles.[1]


Maccall published:[1]

  • The Agents of Civilization, London, 1843.
  • The Education of Taste, 1846.
  • The Elements of Individualism, 1847.
  • National Missions, 1855.
  • Foreign Biographies, 2 vols. 1873.
  • The Newest Materialism, 1873.
  • Russian Hymns, 1879; a collection of anti-Russian ballads.
  • Christian Legends, 1881.
  • Moods and Memories, 1885, verse.

His views on individualism, central to his thought, were developed in compact form while he was preaching in Crediton, in 1845–6.[11] Mill considered Maccall a precursor to views he expressed in On Liberty (1859).[12]

Maccall also translated the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus of Spinoza, 1854 (for "The Cabinet of Reason"), Charles Letourneau's Biology, London, 1877, and pamphlets.[1][13][14]


Maccall married on 3 March 1842 Alice, daughter of John Haselden of Bolton. She died on 17 April 1878, and left a daughter, Elizabeth.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). "Maccall, William" . Dictionary of National Biography. 34. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  2. ^ The Christian Pioneer. James Hedderwick. 1833. p. 519.
  3. ^ a b Webb, R. K. "Maccall, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/17373. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  4. ^ Edward Royle (19 September 2014). Chartism. Routledge. p. 80. ISBN 978-1-317-88799-7.
  5. ^ Daniel Koch (15 August 2012). Ralph Waldo Emerson in Europe: Class, Race and Revolution in the Making of an American Thinker. I.B.Tauris. p. 101. ISBN 978-1-84885-946-3.
  6. ^ Nigel Cross (9 June 1988). The Common Writer: Life in Nineteenth-Century Grub Street. CUP Archive. p. 36. ISBN 978-0-521-35721-0.
  7. ^ Joel Myerson (18 June 2009). Emerson and Thoreau: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge University Press. p. 291. ISBN 978-0-521-11410-3.
  8. ^ Timothy Larsen (16 November 2006). Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England. OUP Oxford. pp. 183–4. ISBN 978-0-19-928787-1.
  9. ^ Edward Royle (1980). Radicals, Secularists, and Republicans: Popular Freethought in Britain, 1866-1915. Manchester University Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-7190-0783-5.
  10. ^ Timothy Larsen (16 November 2006). Crisis of Doubt: Honest Faith in Nineteenth-Century England. OUP Oxford. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-19-928787-1.
  11. ^ Gavin Budge et al. (editors), The Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century British Philosophers (2002), Thoemmes Press (two volumes), article Maccall, William, p. 698–9.
  12. ^ Joseph Hamburger (18 June 2001). John Stuart Mill on Liberty and Control. Princeton University Press. p. 151. ISBN 1-4008-2324-2.
  13. ^ Benedictus de Spinoza; William Maccall (1854). A Treatise on Politics. Translated from the Latin of B. Spinoza by W. Maccall. Holyoake and Company. p. 11.
  14. ^ Wayne I. Boucher (1991). Spinoza in English: A Bibliography from the Seventeenth Century to the Present. Brill. p. 6. ISBN 90-04-09499-7.


  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1893). "Maccall, William". Dictionary of National Biography. 34. London: Smith, Elder & Co.