His family had belonged to the Clapham Sect, the early 19th century group of mainly evangelical Christian social reformers. At his father's house he saw a good deal of the Macaulays, James Spedding, Sir Henry Taylor and Nassau Senior. After studying at Eton College, King's College London and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. (20th wrangler) in 1854 and M.A. in 1857, Stephen remained for several years a fellow and tutor of his college. He recounted some of his experiences in a chapter in his Life of Fawcett as well as in some less formal Sketches from Cambridge: By a Don (1865). These sketches were reprinted from the Pall Mall Gazette, to the proprietor of which, George Murray Smith, he had been introduced by his brother.
MARRIAGE:The family connections included that of William Makepeace Thackeray. His brother, Fitzjames had been a friend of Thackeray's and assisted in the disposition of his estate when he died in 1863. His sister Caroline met Thackeray's daughters, Anny (1837-1919) and Minny (Harriet Marian Thackeray 1840-1875) when they were mutual guests of Julia Margaret Cameron (of whom, see later). This led to an invitation to visit from Leslie Stephen's mother, Lady Stephen, where the sisters met him. They also met at George Murray Smith's house at Hampstead. Minny and Leslie became engaged on December 4, 1866 and married on June 19, 1867. After the wedding they travelled to the Swiss Alps and northern Italy, and on return to England lived at the Thackeray sister's home at 16 Onslow Gardens with Anny, who was a novelist. In the spring of 1868 Minny miscarried but recovered sufficiently for the couple to tour the eastern United States. Minny miscarried again in 1869, but became pregnant again in 1870 and on December 7 gave birth to their daughter, Laura Makepeace Stephen (1870-1945). Laura was premature, weighing three pounds. In March 1873 Thackeray and the Stephens moved to 8 Southwell Gardens. The couple travelled extensively, and by 1875 Minny was pregnant again, but this time was in poor health. On November 27 she developed convulsions, and died the following day of eclampsia.
After Minny's death, Leslie Stephen continued to live with Anny, but they moved to 11 Hyde Park gate South in 1876, next door to her widowed friend and collaborator, Julia Duckworth. Leslie Stephen and his daughter were also cared for by his sister, the writer Caroline Emelia Stephen, although Leslie described her as "Silly Milly" and her books as "little works".Meanwhile, Anny was falling in love with her younger cousin Richmond Ritchie, to Leslie Stephen's consternation. Ritchie became a constant visitor and they became engaged in May 1877, and were married on August 2. At the same time Leslie Stephen was seeing more and more of Julia Duckworth.
His second marriage was to Julia Prinsep Duckworth (née Jackson, 1846-1895). Julia had been born in India and after returning to England she became a model for Pre-Raphaelite painters such as Edward Burne-Jones.In 1867 she had married Herbert Duckworth (1833 - 1870) by whom she had three children prior to his death in 1870.
Leslie Stephen and Julia Duckworth were married on March 26, 1878. They had four children:
Vanessa (1879-1961) married Clive Bell
Virginia (1882-1941) married Leonard Woolf