Home  »  Volume IX: English FROM STEELE AND ADDISON TO POPE AND SWIFT  »  § 10. The Deistical Controversy in English Theology; Charles Blount; Charles Leslie as Champion of Orthodoxy

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

XI. Berkeley and Contemporary Philosophy

§ 10. The Deistical Controversy in English Theology; Charles Blount; Charles Leslie as Champion of Orthodoxy

The first half of the eighteenth century was the period of the deistical controversy in English theology. The writers commonly classed together as deists are Charles Blount, John Toland, Anthony Collins, Matthew Tindal, Thomas Woolston, Thomas Morgan, Thomas Chubb, Peter Annet and Henry Dodwell the younger. Among deists are also reckoned Bolingbroke and the third earl of Shaftesbury, who differed from the rest in paying little attention to the details of theological controversy, and differed from one another in their philosophical interest and importance.

The works of Charles Blount belong to the last quarter of the seventeenth century. He accepted the “five points” of Lord Herbert of Cherbury. This marked him as a deist, and he did not reject the name. In his Anima Mundi (1679), he defended the system of natural religion, and, at the same time, emphasised the comparative merits of the heathen religions. His Great is Diana of the Ephesians (1680) is an attack on priestcraft. In the same year, he published an English translation of The two first books of Philostratus, concerning the Life of Apollonius Tyaneus. On each chapter of this followed “illustrations” by the translator, in which it was easy to find an attack on the Christian miracles and on the doctrine of the divinity of Christ. “Faith,” he says, is “like a piece of blank paper whereon you may write as well one miracle as another”; whereas, his own Christianity was founded exclusively on reason. Blount committed suicide in 1693, because he was prevented from marrying his deceased wife’s sister. Two years afterwards, his Miscellaneous Works (including The Oracles of Reason) were published by his disciple Charles Gildon. Gildon defended both the doctrine and the suicide of his master; but, not long after, was himself converted to the orthodox belief by reading Charles Leslie’s Short and Easy Method with the Deists (1698).