The English Deists

English Deists


 

David Andrews (fl. 18th century) wrote a pamphlet defending Thomas Paine’s attacks on Christianity.  Andrews was a natural religion deist who despised Christianity and thought most of world’s calamities and depravities came from it.  Andrews’ only work is the short pamphlet A Letter to G. Wakefield. (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online.)

Peter Annet (1693-1769) was a schoolmaster who lost his job because of his harsh attacks on the writings of English theologians.  When he was sixty, he was jailed and made to do hard labor for his attacks on Moses.  By his unorthodox definition of Christianity, which identified Christ with reason, he was a Christian deist.  A good introduction to his ideas is the beginning nineteen pages of Deism Fairly Stated (London, 1746).  

Charles Blount (1654-1693) had a wealthy father who was an unorthodox thinker.  Charles Blount committed suicide after his wife died because he desired to marry her sister, an action that was considered immoral as well as being illegal. He was a natural religion deist who was not hostile to Christianity. The best introduction to his ideas is “A Summary Account of the Deists [sic] Religion” which is pages 88-91 of The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (London, 1695).  This is available through Early English Books Online.   Another good introduction is pages 47-73 of Religio Laici Written in a Letter to John Dryden (London, 1683).

 

Bolingbroke, or Henry St John, (1678-1751) was a wealthy politician.  He was a leader of the conservative Tories and went into exile for supporting the Jacobite rebellion against George I.  He was a Christian-centered deist with a profound interest in natural religion.  A good introduction to his ideas is “A Letter to Mr. Pope,” in A Letter to Sir William Windham (London, 1753).  The letter starts at page 425 of the Google online book version.

  Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770) was a poet best known for the Rowley series of poems which he forged and passed off as medieval poems.  He often suffered from gloomy melancholy and killed himself when he was seventeen.  He was a natural religion deist.  The best statement of his ideas is the poem “The Defence” which is on page 439 of the 1842 edition of his Poetical Works.

Thomas Chubb (1679-1747) came from a working class background and was a glovers’ apprentice and a candle maker when he was younger.  Because of the quality of his pamphlets, he was helped financially by Sir Joseph Jekyll. He was a Christian deist.  A good introduction to his ideas is   A Discourse of Miracles (London, 1742).

 

Anthony Collins (1676-1729) was a wealthy country squire and a local governmental official.  He was influenced by John Locke and continental thinkers. He was a Christian-centered deist. An introduction to his ideas is Section 1, pages 5-18,  of A Discourse of Free-Thinking.

 

Thomas Cooke (1703-1756) was an editor and playwright who died in great poverty.  He was also a Greek scholar who translated the works of Hesiod and received the popular nickname  “Hesiod” Cooke.  He argued with Alexander Pope and was satirized by Pope in the Dunciad.  He was a natural religion deist.  The best introduction to his ideas is p. 160-171 of A demonstration of the will of God by the light of nature (London, 1748.)

 Thomas Dutton (fl. Late 18th century –early nineteenth century) was a poet and a soldier.  His most important work was a defense of Thomas Paine’s religious works.  He was a natural religion deist who thought Christianity was fundamentally fraud, deception, and corruption.  The best introduction to his ideas is p. 5-15, 60-66, 122-125 & 130-131 of “A Vindication of the Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (London, 1795).  (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online.)

Daniel Isaac Eaton (d. 1814) was a publisher of radical works.  He was tried for publishing Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man but he was acquitted.   He was a natural religion deist hostile to Christianity.  At one of his trials, he expressed his religious views to the court.  See Daniel Isaac Eaton, The trial of Daniel Isaac Eaton (London, 1812), pages 27-32.

 Charles Gildon (1665-1724) made his living as a writer and a poet.  He was a great friend and defender of Charles Blount, and Gildon’s writings are part of The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (London, 1695).  This is available through Early English Books Online.  He was a Christian deist who later converted to orthodoxy through reading Charles Leslie’s A short and easy method with the deists.

Thomas Gordon (d. 1750) was a writer whose patron and co-writer was John Trenchard.  His political works were very influential among the American colonists.  He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the essay “In what only true religion consists” in the Independent Whig  (pages 454-468).  This essay has different dates and numbers assigned to it in different editions of the book.  It is usually thought to have been written in January of 1721 and given numbered as essay LIII or LIV.

 

Herbert of Cherbury (1583-1648) fought in European wars and was English ambassador to the French court.  He was the first English deist.  His ideas were influenced by Stoicism and he was a natural religion deist sympathetic to Christianity.  The best introduction to his ideas is chapter nine, “Common Notions Concerning Religion” in De Veritate or On Truth.  It is not available online.

Jacob Ilive (1705-1763) was a printer who was jailed for blasphemy.  In his early works, he defended Christianity, but in his final theological work he took the position of a natural religion deist.  The best introduction to his final thoughts is p. 49-65 of Modest Remarks on the Bishop of London’s Several Discourses (London, 1755) which he published under the name of “Philotheos.” (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online.) 

Conyers Middleton (1683-1750) was a professor at Cambridge University who caused a major controversy in the late 1740s over when Christian miracles ceased.  He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the beginning twenty pages in “A Letter to Dr. Waterland” in The miscellaneous works of the late reverend and learned Conyers Middleton, vol. 2.  The letter starts on page 181.

 

Thomas Morgan (d. 1743) was an independent minister who was dismissed for his unorthodox ideas.  He then became a doctor to support himself.  He described himself as a Christian deist.  A good introduction to his ideas is the lasting 35 pages (pages 416-450) of his most important book, The Moral Philosopher.

Samuel Parvish (fl. 1740s) was a bookseller.  He was a natural religion deist who stressed that God gave reason to all people as their guide in religious matters.  A good introduction to his ideas is found in pages 10-35 of his book   An Inquiry into the Jewish and Christian revelation (London, 1739).  The character Indus represents his views.

 

Shaftesbury (1671-1713) was an earl who was involved with politics but had to withdraw to private life for health reasons.  He was tutored by John Locke, but his works were deeply influenced by Stoicism and Platonism.  He was a natural religion deist who was sympathetic to Christianity.  The best introduction to his ideas is section 3 (pages 256-280) of “The Moralists” in vol. 2 of his book Characteristicks.   

Matthew Tindal (1653?-1733) was a fellow at Oxford University who converted to Catholicism for a short period. He was a natural religion deist who was sympathetic to Christianity. The classic statement of his ideas is Christianity as Old as the Creation.  The first three chapters (pages 1-35) give a good summary of his views.

 

John Toland (1670-1722) was one of the best-known freethinkers of his day.  He made his living as a writer and edited volumes of classic English political writers.  He was a Christian-centered deist.  A good introduction to his ideas is the preface (pages iii-xxxi) to Christianity not Mysterious.

 

John Trenchard (1662-1723) was a lawyer and in Ireland a commissioner of forfeited estates.  He often wrote in partnership with Thomas Gordon.  His political writings were very influential amongst the American colonists. He was a Christian-centered deist. The best introduction to his ideas is the essay “In what only true religion consists” in the Independent Whig  (pages 454-468).  This essay has different dates and numbers assigned to it in different editions of the book.  It is usually thought to have been written in January of 1721 and given numbered as essay LIII or LIV.

John Wilkes  (1727-1797) was a radical  member of parliament who was later elected lord mayor of London. The best introduction to his Christian-centered deism is in chapter four (pages 131-174), a chapter on Wilkes’ religious views with much material from his unpublished letters,  written by John Sainsbury, John Wilkes: The Lives of a Libertine (Hampshire: Ashgate, 2006).

David Williams  (1738-1816) founded the Royal Literary Fund.  He was a minister until he lost his job on account of his unorthodox ideas.  He was a natural religion deist sympathetic to Christianity.  The best introduction to his ideas is An apology for professing the religion of nature (London, 1789). (It is available only through Eighteenth Century Collections Online).

Thomas Woolston (1670-1733) was a fellow at Cambridge University who probably was mentally ill for several years.  He was imprisoned for his attacks on the miracles of Jesus and died in prison. He was a Christian-centered deist with his own interpretation of what it meant to be a good Christian. His most important book is the pages 1-7 & 32-40 of the first discourse of his Discourse on Miracles.

A. W.   All we know about A. W. was that he flourished in the latter part of the seventeenth century and was a friend to Charles Blount.   His writing, “Of Natural Religion, as opposed to Divine Revelation,” is pages 197-211 of The Miscellaneous Works of Charles Blount (London, 1695).  This is available through Early English Books Online.  He was a natural religion deist.

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