Anthony Ashley Cooper Shaftesbury.

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Men, Manners, Opinions,
Times, etc.

By the Right Honourable









THIS edition of Shaftesbury's Characteristics repro-
duces all the essays he himself so entitled, with strict
adherence to his text, as corrected by him for a
reissue. Of that corrected copy I have collated a
large part with the reprints, and I find that his
alterations were scrupulously given effect to, down
to the smallest particulars. A few of the footnote
references to corroborative passages in the book
itself have here, as a matter of convenience, been
altered back to their first form, specifying titles and
sections of the essays rather than pages of the book ;
but no liberty has at any point been taken with the
text beyond the modernising of the spelling and
disregard of the old italics and capitals.

This external change has been made with some
reluctance, but with a conviction that it is really a
service to the author. The profuse use of italics
and capitals in English books of Shaftesbury's day,
though in exact reprints it lends a certain agreeable
local colour to such books as the Spectator, and


though it might lend an analogous element to an
exact reprint of Shakspere, is a positive hindrance
to the fluent reading of an argumentative treatise.
Those who have read the Characteristics in an old
edition will find the modernised text distinctly
easier to follow. As with variations of type, so
with spelling. One hesitates to put " them " for the
modish " 'em " commonly used, even by some theo-
logical writers, about 1700 ; but the usage is become
so quaint in its virtual foppery, like the spelling
" aukard," as to be disconcerting to the reader's
thought. It may interest moderns, however, to
know that Shaftesbury wrote " specter," " center,"
and " theater," thus giving to these " Americanisms "
the classic English paternity established for so many

In the interest of a large part of the reading
public it has been thought advisable to append foot-
note translations of the L<atin and Greek extracts
in the original. Some of them, doubtless, hardly
needed translating ; but others would have given
trouble to all but readers who had not let their
classics rust ; and the usage has been made uniform.
In this matter the editor has been relieved by a much
better scholar. Elucidatory notes, which at some
points in the text had become necessary, and at
others may not be supererogatory, have been invari-



ably put in brackets, a course recommended by the
fact that in Mr. Hatch's unfinished edition of 1869
some of Shaftesbury's own notes have been marked

Save for that edition, unfortunately stopped by
its editor's death when only one of three volumes
had been printed, the present is believed to be the
first reprint of the Characteristics for over a
century. It is hoped that it does not unworthily
reproduce a set of treatises which once had almost
classic status throughout Europe, and in our own
day have been made the subject of two elaborate
German monographs.



IN his Pensees Diverges, Montesquieu has a surprising phrase,
giving an obsolete view of more than one reputation. "The
four great poets,"" it runs, are " Plato, Malebranche, Shaftesbury,
Montaigne." Probably the idea came from Shaftesbury him-
self, who often discusses poetry as identical with good moral
teaching. The author of the Spirit of Laws, on his part, was
not exactly a connoisseur of poetry, for he is further committed
to the view that " Pope alone has felt the greatness of Homer " ;
and in any case his praise of a thinker as a poet does not
necessarily imply approval of his teaching, since he affirms in
another page that Malebranche has fallen into a thousand
sophisms through missing the principle of relativity. Since,
however, he makes no such charge against Shaftesbury, he must
be supposed in his regard to have intended high praise; and
as a matter of fact his eulogy of the author of the Character-
istics would be echoed, with whatever differences of phrase, by
multitudes of instructed men in France, Germany, and England,
at the time he wrote. As late as 1794 we have Herder praising
our author as a "virtuoso of humanity," who had "signally
influenced the best heads of the eighteenth century." l Such a
reputation seems worth looking into.

1 Cited by G. von Gizycki, Die Philosophic Shaftesbury' s, 1876.


Anthony Ashley Cooper, third Earl of Shaftesbury, was
born in London on February 6, 1671 (New Style). Connected
by direct descent with the famous " Achitophel " of Dryden, who
was his grandfather, he is associated in literary history no less
closely with John Locke, who had been charged by the first
earl to find a wife for his invalid son, and who acted thereafter
as supervisor of the training of the seven children born of the
marriage. Under Locke's eye and method, Anthony, the first-
born, was taught Greek and Latin, on the plan of conversation,
by an accomplished woman, Elizabeth Birch, daughter of a
schoolmaster. He had thus the rare fortune to be able to
read both languages with ease at the age of eleven. Yet it
was thought fit to send him to the Winchester public school
at that age, presumably by way of toughening him for practical
life. Professor Fowler, his most thorough biographer, has
seen a letter in which, at the age of nineteen, he gives a
startling account of the ways of the school ; and the biographer's
conclusion is that " the English public-school education of those
days probably left fewer traces of culture, and inspired boys
less with the love of letters, than it does even in our own."
Shaftesbury, however, had been well grounded under Locke;
and three years (1686-89) spent in foreign travel added a
perfect mastery of French to his skill in the classics, and gave
him a love of the arts which solaced him till his death.
On his return to England he gave nearly five years to quiet

It was not, however, to letters but to politics that he gave
himself when he felt he had intellectually come of age. In
1695 he entered Parliament as member for Poole ; and in that



year he he and not the Earl of Halifax, of whom the story is
sometimes told made the often-cited stroke of advocacy for
the Bill which provided that men indicted on charges of treason
should be allowed the use of counsel. Finding himself at a
loss for words, he had yet presence of mind enough to say : " If
I, sir, who rise only to speak my opinion on the Bill now
depending, am so confounded that I am unable to express the
least of what I proposed to say ; what must the condition of
the man be who is pleading for his life without any assistance,
and under apprehensions of being deprived of it ? " l The Bill
passed ; but Shaftesbury did not often so conciliate the House.
It was then in one of its most factious periods; and Shaftesbury's
hereditary Whiggism and personal independence were not to
the taste of either side. In any case, his health soon worsened
to a degree that forced him to give up his seat after the
dissolution of 1698. His malady was Locke's asthma, to
which London smoke then, as later, was peculiarly deadly ;
and to relieve it he spent a year in Holland, returning to
England at the end of 1699, when, on his father's death, he
succeeded to the title. Macaulay, in his specific manner,
asserts that after leaving the Commons Shaftesbury "gave
himself up to mere intellectual luxury." As a matter of fact
he exerted himself so greatly on the Whig side in the two
elections of 1701 as to receive the special thanks of the king,
with repeated offers of high office; and though he declined
these, it was only the complete change of men and measures
at the accession of Anne that drove him back into private

1 Macaulay (ch. xxi.) gives a much more elaborate version of the
appeal. If it had been worded as he gives it, it would justify his suspicion
that the whole episode was premeditated. But his version is plainly a
composition of a later date. That in the text is the report authorised by
Shaftesbury's son.



life. Even thereafter, his letters show him constantly and
deeply interested in current politics, though he became ere long
a confirmed invalid. 1

It was in this state of health that he at length addressed
himself to deliberate authorship, and to no less deliberate
marriage. Those of his letters unwarrantably published by
Toland show him desirous of marrying, in 1708, the daughter
of a certain rich " old lord," who (the father, that is,) would not
take a favourable view of him or his suit, though he was
willing to forego a dowry. One plan failing, he formed
another, and in 1709 married Miss Jane Ewer, a distant family
connection, with very little fortune. Ten years earlier he
seems to have put aside the suggestion of Locke, that he should
propose to a certain young lady with a fortune of c4 J 20,000.
In private life he cared above all things for quiet happiness,
and he seems to have found it, as he humorously testifies to
his friend Molesworth that after marriage he finds himself " as
happy a man now as ever.""

In 1708 had been published his anonymous Letter Concern-
ing Enthusiasm, which had the distinction of speedily eliciting
three angry replies, each bulkier than his pamphlet one being
twice its size. His only previous venture had been an edition
in 1698 of some sermons of the Cambridge Latitudinarian,
Dr. Whichcote, to which he put a laudatory preface. In 1699
Toland had published without his permission his remarkably
precocious Inquiry Concerning Virtue or Merit, in some respects
his most weighty performance; but not till he had put his
ethical doctrine afresh, with a lighter and more unsystematic

1 In June 1703 he writes of "my health, which I have mightily
impaired by my fatigues in the public affairs these last three years "
(Original Letters of Locke, Sidney, and Shaftesbury, ed. by T. Forster,
1830, p. 198).



touch, in his Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour and
his Moralists, both published in 1709, and produced his Advice
to an Author (1710), did he proceed to publish the revised
version of his early treatise with the others.

It was in 1711 that he put forth his collected essays as
Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, including
among them the Inquiry, and adding, as third volume,
Miscellaneous Reflections on the preceding Treatises, and other
Critical Subjects. It may be surmised that the Moralists, the
Wit and Humour, and the Advice to an Author, or some of
them, had been begun before 1708 ; and that his industry from
that year onwards was motived partly by his success, partly by
his consciousness of rapidly failing strength, and the need to
husband time. Only two more years were left him. In July
1711 he set out for the warmer clime of Italy; and there, at
Naples, he died early in 1713, barely forty-two years old. 1 His
last literary labours were the careful revision of his Character-
istics and the writing of two essays in aesthetics, a Letter on
Design, and a Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of
the Judgment of Hercules ; with some note-making for a general
essay on the arts.


Of this short literary career the success was rapid and
far-reaching. It was hardly an exaggeration in 1733 to say,
as did the preface to the pocket-edition of that year, that " all

1 Various errors are current as to the above dates. I have been else-
where misled by a standard authority which gives 1711 as the year of
Shaftesbury's death ; the editions of 1733 and 1737 (and presumably
others) describe the Miscellaneous Reflections as having been first printed
in 1714 ; Mr. Hatch's edition represents the whole collection as first
appearing in 1713 ; and Dr. Gideon Spicker in his work on Shaftesbury
dates it 1709.



the best judges are agreed that we never had any work in the
English language so beautiful, so delightful, and so instructive
as these CJuiracteristicks" On the title-page of a clerical Cure
of Deism, published in 1736, Shaftesbury and Tindal figure as
" the two Oracles of Deism " ; and this was perhaps the high-
water period of the Deistic agitation. Nor was it only a popular
acceptance that was thus indicated : the praise of Leibnitz had
reached the Earl before his death ; Hutcheson, the most con-
siderable philosopher between Berkeley and Hume, was his
professed champion, and declared that his writings " will be
esteemed while any reflection remains among men"; 1 while
Mandeville, Berkeley, and Butler testified to his importance in
criticising him. Abroad, his status was equally high. The
Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour, issued in 1709, was
translated into French before 1713; a German translation of
the essays was begun in 1738 ; Diderot, then in his first Deistic
stage, issued his adaptation of the Inquiry Concerning Virtue
and Merit in 1745 ; Montesquieu panegyrised him as we have
seen ; a complete French translation of his works and Letters
appeared at Geneva in 1769 ; and a complete German transla-
tion of the Characteristics in 1776-79. By that time, Shaftes-
bury's form of optimism had even carried the day in Germany
over that of Leibnitz, 2 who had admitted its measure of congruity
with his own ; and there are clear traces of his influence in
both the ethics and the aesthetics of Kant. 3 As regarded his
general vogue, the facts that his philosophy was the basis of

1 Preface to the later editions of An Inquiry into the Original of our
Ideas of Beauty and Virtue. The passage is not in the first edition (1725).

2 Cp. Lange, History of Materialism, Eng. tr. ii. 146, 147.

3 Zart, Einfluss der englischen Philosophen seit Bacon auf die deutsclie
Philosophic des 18ten Jahrhunderts, 1881, S. 219, 231. Kant, of course,
never committed himself to optimism.


Bolingbroke's, and therefore of Pope's Essay on Man, and that
at least eleven English editions of his book (the last appearing
at Basel) had been produced by the year 1790, may be taken
to signify that he held a classic standing before the beginning
of the reaction against the French Revolution, in which so
many popularities were undone. The publication of Brown's
Essays on the Characteristics in 1751 was a proof that forty
years after publication they were reckoned dangerously in-
fluential ; and the prompt production of three replies to Brown
testified to the rightness of his estimate of Shaftesbury's vogue.

The decay of this reputation in the present century has
been ascribed by one critic alternately to the unattractiveness
of Shaftesbury's style and to the inconclusiveness of his think-
ing ; as if profundity conferred popularity, or charm of style
philosophic influence. Certainly the fashion of style has
changed since Shaftesbury's passed as specially delightful. Its
main defect is that which differences it so entirely from
Montaigne's, its constant preoccupation with the labour of
being at ease. Lamb has done it a certain injustice in calling
it " genteel " ; for though Shaftesbury seeks to " regulate his
style or language by the standard of good company, and people
of the better sort," x he is really concerned less to be superior
than to seem natural ; and when he is fairly judged he must be
admitted to have substantially reached his aim. Yet, withal, his
very conception of the natural had a certain gentility ; so that,
though his prose is really not inferior to Addison's, with which
it is so often contrasted by way of condemnation, it is inferior
in both energy and ease to Dryden's, which lay to his hand as
a model. Addison is indeed more transparent, but only because
he is so much shallower. Something depends on the depth of

1 Advice to an Author, part i. 1.


what a man has to say. What deprives Shaftesbury of litheness
and large-limbed vigour as a writer is his derivative ideal of
propriety, which perhaps correlates with his invalidism ; though
on the other hand it goes by the ruling standards of his age.
A generation before, Dryden's own gift, no less than the heritage
of spacious and imaginative prose which still remained to
compensate Englishmen for the loss of great dramatic verse,
had availed to reveal to him, after Rapin and Rymer had done
their worst, the supremacy of Shakspere and the doom of the
classic French tragedy, as well as to preserve stride and stature
in his own prose. But the ame damnee of James II., the
Romanist pervert, and the venomous assailant of the first
Shaftesbury, was nearly the last man to whom the accomplished
and scholarly third Earl, Whig of the Whigs, was likely to
look for either example or instruction. 1 In these matters
Locke could not guide his pupil, and he formed his taste on
the French critics of the periwig period, reading the classics
partly through their spectacles.

Thus we find him praising the Elizabethans and Milton at
most for their choice of blank verse and their ethical quality,
finding Shakspere devoid of grace, finish, polish, and ornament,
but a good moral teacher so far as Hamlet went ; and Milton as
an artist no better this after poor John Dennis had shot his
bolt on the right side, and just before Addison took up Milton's
cause in the Spectator. Shaftesbury, again, had enough of the
fine gentleman in him to make him concerned to tell his readers 2
that he allowed the printer to sell as many copies of the book
as he could for his own profit, the author taking no money ;

1 See the long note in the Miscellaneous Reflections, Misc. v. ch. ii.,
where Dryden is not unskilfully pilloried for some of his petulances.

2 Advice to an Author, part iii. 2.



and that his Letter Concerning Enthusiasm was really a private
letter, which got into print by accident. 1 The punctilio about
money survived in the peerage till Byron's day, so that we must
not charge it specially to Shaftesbury ; but the whole attitude
smacks more of Beau Brummel than of Montaigne. And with
all his lordship's severity on his professional fellow-authors for
"aiming at a false sublime, with crowded simile and mixed
metaphor (the hobby-horse and rattle of the Muses)," he could
proceed in the next breath after that very protest to speak of
the Elizabethans as having "happily broken the ice for those
who are to follow them ; and who, treading in their footsteps,
may at leisure polish our language, lead our ear to finer
pleasure, and find out the true rhythmus and harmonious
numbers which alone can satisfy a just judgment and Muse-like
apprehension" 2 one of the most comprehensive mixtures of
metaphor on record, and a tolerable specimen of crowded simile,
if not of the false sublime.

Some of his canons of style, further, were pettily pedantic,
and pedantically held. In his own carefully corrected copy of
the Characteristics, now in the British Museum, he notes that a
friend has suggested the substitution of a "though" for a
" notwithstanding " at a place where such a change would create
a succession of ten monosyllables, " an offence," he declares,
"which I am resolved never to commit." In another page,
finding he has actually committed it, he deliberately creates a
tautology by way of cure, and the clause " for any one to take
the chair who is not called to it" is made to run "neither
called nor invited." 3 For once he seems to have been bowing
to Dryden, who in the Essay on Dramatic Poesy derides a

1 Misc. i. chs. ii. iii. ; Misc. iv. ch. i.
2 Advice to an Author, infra, p. 142. 3 Infra, p. 53.



poetaster of his day as " creeping along with ten little words
in every line." Dryden's judgment seems to have become
canonical, since Pope in the Essay on Criticism repeats it :
And ten low words oft creep in one dull line.

But that Dryden had no notion of forbidding every succession
of ten monosyllables either in prose or in verse is clear from
his own practice in the same Essay , for not only does he at
times put ten successive monosyllables in his prose, but he
renders thus a bad line of Ovid :

Now all was sea, nor had that sea a shore ;

and, as everybody will remember, he begins his translation of
the Aeiieid with the ten monosyllables

Arms and the man I sing, who, forced by fate.

What he was condemning was the eking out of a verse with
weak redundant particles, as " for," " to," " unto," to the entire
loss of sonority and strength ; and Pope had in view the same
kind of thing. Categorically obeyed, the veto accepted by
Shaftesbury would have quashed Shakspere's

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep ;

and Tennyson's

Break, break, break,

On thy cold gray stones, O Sea !

When the dumb hour, clothed in black,
Brings the dreams about my bed.

It is not thus that the great masters of speech are ruled ; l
and Shaftesbury's acceptance of such an arbitrary bondage in

1 In Bacon's essay Of Gardens (par. 6) there is a sequence of twenty-
four monosyllables.



style, while standing for " free thought " in all things, must be
granted to take him out of the magistral rank. At times, as
in the Miscellaneous Reflections, he is even dilettantist enough
in his manner and matter to justify Professor Fowler's complaint
that his tone becomes " falsetto. 1 '

All this however proves only that Shaftesbury is not a great
or an impeccable artist : it does not amount to destroying his
credit as a good writer. Before he was classed as a Deist,
nobody seems to have denied that he wrote very well indeed.
On the first appearance of the Letter Concerning Enthusiasm
it was credited to Swift by all his friends ; and Swift himself,
believing it to be by his accomplished friend Hunter, pronounced
it "very well writ." l This praise it certainly deserves. Though
Shaftesbury can at times sink below Addison who, however, was
capable of chronic bad grammar as well as of much slipshod
he is normally above him in point of sheer vivacity and intension,
to say nothing of his intellectual impact on a reader's sense.
Even as critics the two men are pretty much on a par, since
Addison's admiration of Milton was mainly based on religious
sentiment, and was freely extended to the impossible Blackmore.
And though Shaftesbury's elegant manipulation of his rapier
often makes us wish for the clean cut and thrust of Hobbes's
mightier blade, yet he can at times write, and that in criticism
of Hobbes, 2 with a swift sureness and spontaneous power that
the other could not excel, and that Addison could not approach.

1 Forster's Life of Swift, p. 220.

2 See the Essay on the Freedom of Wit and Humour, part iii. 1, end.
As regards the criticism there passed upon Hobbes, it should be remarked
that he himself anticipates it in the admission (Leviathan, part i. ch. xiv.) that
religious fear " hath place in the nature of man before civil society " ; and
again (part ii. ch. xxx.) in the insistence that men must know before law
the obligation to keep faith. But Hobbes never properly colligated his
principles, and he is substantially open to Shaftesbury's attack. Temple

VOL. i xix b


It was not literary imperfection, then, that lost the Character-
istics their one-time credit. Rather their very literary art may
have counted somewhat to that effect, since the students to
whom finally Shaftesbury's audience was restricted would be apt
to be impatient with his gentlemanlike discursiveness and want
of visible method, in contrast with the businesslike progression
of Locke. Nor can it well have been the logical insufficiency of
his philosophy that lost him his status as a serious classic in the
sense in which Locke may be said to have kept his ; for Locke
is at least as pervious to criticism. The explanation, however,
though different from those above considered, is perhaps fully
as simple. In any case it is properly to be reached by way of
a view of his doctrine.


The Letter Concerning- Enthusiasm, with which Shaftesbury
began his few years of diligent authorship, gives clear clues to
all the essentials of his thought, though it is properly a political
pamphlet aiming at influencing immediate action. As we have

Online LibraryAnthony Ashley Cooper ShaftesburyCharacteristics of men, manners, opinions, times, etc (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 31)