Meanwhile, James’s prowess as a lecturer had become well known. He was on the staff of the College, now returned to Manchester, which meant regular commuting between Manchester and Liverpool. He took his now nearly grownup family to Germany for a year’s tour while a new chapel was being built at Hope Street, Liverpool. It was opened on his return in October 1849, withhis old mentor Thomas Madge as preacher. James was now at the height of his powers and his life was inextricably involved with Unitarian affairs nationally – the Dissenters’ Chapels Act, the opening of the universities to dissenters without doctrinal tests, and the decision to remove Manchester College to London (associated with UCL) where in due course he became principal 1869-85, and president 1887.
James, though always calling himself a Unitarian, would never allow his congregation to be called so, insisting that they were individual thinkers agreeing only on the Universality of God. He hated controversy, above all about religion, regarding it as the antithesis of Christ’s teaching. What could be more absurd therefore, when proposed for the Chair of Philosophy at UCL in 1866, that he was defeated by those who felt it “inconsistent with the [college’s] principle of complete religious neutrality… to appoint …a candidate eminent as a minister and preacher of one among the various sects which divide the religious world”.
James was a devoted family man, and as soon as he could afford to do so, he took them all (including in due course two daughters-in-law and a son-in-law) on holiday in Scotland, where a house near Aviemore became an annual base. From here they would meet him on return from his prodigious walks; in the evenings the Spinnies (as the 3 spinster daughters called themselves) would copy out his writings, and observe as he reached his 90s ‘how much more he notices outside things…the flowers, trees etc.’ than when he had been immersed in his studies. No grandchildren were born, but his genius for friendship bore fruit in the love of the many friends, young and old, who visited and maintained detailed and affectionate correspondence with him until his death at the age of 95 in January 1900.