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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume VIII. The Age of Dryden.

XI. Platonists and Latitudinarians

§ 20. Richard Cumberland (Bishop of Peterborough) and other Contributors to the Latitudinarian Movement

In the meantime, we find the principles of the latitudinarians—

  • Whether the Church inspire that eloquence,
  • Or a Platonic piety confined
  • To the sole temple of the inward mind—
  • spreading widely, although often rudely assailed. “I can no more look back,” Whichcote had written to Tuckney, “than St. Paul, after Christ discovered to him, could return into his former strayne,” and his influence continued to extend long after his ejection from King’s college in 1660; while his death took place when he was a guest of Cudworth’s at Christ’s college lodge in 1683. But, after the restoration, the tenets of the party seem frequently to have been confused with those of the Arminians. Among their number, Hezekiah Burton of Magdalene college, Cambridge—styled by Anthony à Wood, “that great trimmer and latitudinarian”—was a prominent figure, and, together with him, his friend, Richard Cumberland, of the same society, afterwards bishop of Peterborough, who, in his De Legibus Naturae (writing in opposition to Hobbes), applied to the observance of the moral law and the natural rewards resulting therefrom very much the same theorisation as that which it had been Culverwel’s aspiration to set forth and which Cudworth succeeded in expounding. Another distinguished representative of the same principles was Thomas Burnet, who, as an undergraduate, had followed Cudworth from Clare hall to Christ’s, and was afterwards master of the Charterhouse. Simon Patrick, Edward Stillingfleet and Tillotson—all three members of the episcopal order, while the last-named was, perhaps, the most popular preacher in his day —contributed powerfully to the whole movement. At the same time, there is to be noted a corresponding change taking place in the pulpit oratory of the church itself—a change compared by Lecky to that which
  • had passed over English poetry between the time of Cowley and Donne and that of Dryden and Pope; and over English prose between the time of Glanvil and Browne and that of Addison and Swift.
  • As regards the subsequent influence of latitudinarianism—whether on the pulpit oratory of the Church of England or on the teaching of its divines—widely different estimates have, from time to time, been formed by those writers whose sympathies have been with the movement, and by those whose endeavour it has been to elaborate and define with increased clearness the doctrinal belief of the Church; for, while the former, in agreement with Montesquieu, have recognised in an habitual abstention from dogmatism one of the most effective means of promoting unity and concord within her communion, the latter have no less emphatically deprecated such a policy as the main cause of the “deadness, carelessness and apathy” in relation to religious questions which largely characterised the eighteenth century.