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BISHOP BUTLER

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BISHOP BUTLER



BY

W. A. SPOONER, M.A.

FELLOW AND TUTOR bp NEW COLLEGE, OXFORD, AND
HONORARY CANON OF CHRIST CHURCH, OXFORD



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1901






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PREFACE

The publication within the last five years of two
elaborate, and. even sumptuous, editions of Bishop
Butler's works seems to prove that they have still
an interest for the reading public. ISTor is it surprising
that this should be the case. There is much in the
temper and methods of our author which falls in with
the needs of our own time and suits its scientific
spirit.

With these larger and more elaborate editions the
present work comes in no way into competition.
Its object is twofold ; first, to view Butler in his
historical setting, — to see him in the light of the
times in which he lived, the questions with which his
thoughts were occupied, the controversies in which he
bore so leading a part. On this side this little book
merely attempts in a limited field what all history
aims at on a larger scale. But, in the second place,
an endeavour has been made to appraise the value of
Butler's contributions to English thought, to separate
the solid ?,nd permanent element in his writings from
the more or less ephemeral and transitory, to deter-
mine what lessons of abiding interest for our own day
his works contain.



VI PREFACE

In executing the former part of my task I have to
acknowledge the deep debt I am under to Mr. Leslie
Stephen's History of English Thought in the Eighteenth
Century, and to Mr. Pattison's essay on Tendencies of
Eeligious Thought in England, 1688-1750. Without
these two admirable works this book w^ould either
never have been written or would have taken quite a
different sliape. If I have ventured sometimes to
express my dissent from Mr. Stephen it is not because
I impugn his facts or desire to controvert his argu-
ments, but because I feel I differ from him on some
fmidamental questions of principle.

To Mr. Gladstone's edition of Butler's works I am
greatly indebted for the division into sections which
has made reference to the whole of Butler's writings
for the first time possible and easy. In the references
in the footnotes I have adopted throughout his divi-
sion into sections. I have also followed him in
referring to the Fifteen Sermons preached at the
Eolls under the title of Sermons, and to the Six
Sermons preached on public occasions as SS. In
places, too, I have received real help from the Analysis
given as a heading to the different sections. In other
respects my debt to him is rather less that I antici-
pated. Of the Dissertations contained in the volume
of Studies Subsidiary to Eutler's Works some seemed to
lie somewhat apart from the main topics treated of by
Butler himself, while others appeared of rather sub-
ordinate interest. Yet no lover of Butler can fail to
acknowledge how much Mr. Gladstone has done for



PREFACE vii

the study of Butler's works by making them generally
accessible to the reading public, and commending
them by the authority of his great name. Works to
which Mr. Gladstone acknowledged his obligations,
and to the elucidation of which he devoted the declin-
ing years of his life, could not fail to have attractions
for many, at least in our generation. Of other authors
whom I have consulted I have learnt most from Dean
Church and Mr. Bagehot. Dean Church's appreciation
is singularly sympathetic, and expressed with that
felicity of language which distinguishes all his writings,
while Mr. Bagehot's article is marked by his accus-
tomed shrewdness and independence of judgment.

In conclusion, I have to express my gratitude to
my friend and colleague Mr. H. W. B. Joseph for the
trouble he has taken in revising my proofs, and for
several valuable criticisms and suggestions.



New College, Oxford,
August 1901.



TABLE OP CONTENTS

CHAP. PAGE

I. Life and Times of Bishop Butler ... 1

II. Moral Practice and Moral Theory in England in

THE First Half of the Eighteenth Century 58

III. Butler's Sermons . . . . .88

IV. The Deists and the Deistical Controversy . 126
V. The "Analogy," Part I. . . . .146

VI. The "Analogy," Part II 179

VII. The Two Dissertations of Personal Identity

and of the Nature of Virtue . . . 219

VIII. General Estimate and Summary . . . 227

Index ....... 257



BISHOP BUTLER:
HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS



CHAPTER I

LIFE AND TIMES

Bishop Butler has recorded that he set before himself
the search after truth as the business of his hfe.^ This
being his aim, his career was necessarily that of the
student and thinker rather than of the man of action.
As such, his life presents few incidents for his bio-
grapher to record. Another and even greater difficulty
is presented by the character of the man himself. He
lived during stirring times, but with a singular aloof-
ness from them. His writings contain scarcely a
reference to passing events (there is just one mention,
and that is all, of the rebellion of '45 ^), and very few
notices even of contemporary writers and thinkers.
The consequence is that we know scarcely anything of
what he thought or felt on current events or topics of
the day. He lives and moves amongst them as one
almost wholly unaffected by them. Nor was this
absence of reference to specific events of his own time
accidental. His impersonal style of writing was part
of the very nature of the man. He wished to be

^ Fourth Letter to Dr. Clarke.
^Sermons on Public Occasions, Sermou V. § 12.
I



2 BISHOP BUTLER : HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS

judicial, impartial, and scientific, and he succeeded in
no ordinary degree in realising his own ideal. His
utterances were intended to be not so much his own
individual utterances, as expressive of the voice of
reason herself. Hence the absence of passion and of
any personal feeling; hence, too, that quality in his
writings which made them seem " somewhat too little
vigorous, and not sufficiently earnest " for the taste
, of his contemporaries. But hence, also, that w^hich
has given them their permanent value and abiding
authority ; which has made them, as it has been well
expressed,^ the summary of the literature of an epoch ;
which has caused them to be read and valued, while
the almost innumerable publications among which they
appeared have dropped out and been forgotten, or are
studied at most by those who, from w^hatever cause,
are led to rake among the ashes of a now almost
forgotten controversy.

But this self-suppression, this impersonal character
of his writings, however much it may have added to
their philosophic and permanent value, has added at
least in the same degree to the difficulty of the task
of Butler's would-be biographer. It has deprived him
of the most important and trustworthy materials from
which a satisfactory biography might have been com-
posed, that picture of the general development and
growth of an author's thought and mind which must
ever constitute the main interest of a student's and
philosopher's Hfe.

Nor has external evidence supplied to any con-
siderable extent the void which Butler's method of
writing has created. The bishop found no Boswell;
and the earliest complete biography of him did not
appear till more than sixty years after his death, and
had then to be constructed from second-hand sources of

^ Pattison, Essay.



LIFE AND TIMES 3

information. Some, but unfortunately very few, in-
teresting details are indeed to be gathered from the
almost contemporary Zi/(S of ArMislwp Seeker, published
by Porteous in 1772. Bishop Wilson's Life and Letters
supply two or three more scanty notices. But both
these sources of information go but a little way to
satisfy our curiosity ; and Mr. Bartlett's Memoirs, to-
gether with the earlier Life by Kippis contributed to
the revised edition of the Biographia Britannica}
remain still our chief written authorities. Of more
recent Lives, the two principal are that by Bishop
Fitzgerald, prefixed to his edition of the Analogy ; and
a brightly written and accurate Life by Bishop Steere, to
be found in his edition of the Sermons. The research,
however, of these later writers has been able to add
but little to what was already to be found in the fuller
works of their predecessors.

Tradition, unfortunately, has also done exceedingly
little to supplement our scanty information. Bishop
Philpotts, one of Butler's successors in the rectory
of Stanhope, took much pains to glean what few
traditions still lingered in the parish about his dis-
tinguished predecessor; but nothing practically came
of the search. Old people seemed to remember that
Butler was to be met riding fast on a black pony, and
that he gave liberally to beggars ; but that was all.
Nor did Oriel College, Bristol, or St. Paul's treasure
up any certain memories about him. At each of these
places his name survived, but scarcely anything besides.
Of his life at Bristol, Dean Tucker, who was for some
time his chaplain, has preserved a few details which
will be related in their proper place. From one of
Butler's own letters ^ we are able to frame a scanty

^ Published in 1772. It is said to have been based in part on notes
furnished by one of the bishop's nephews.

- Letter to the Duchess of Somerset, see below, page 42.



4 BISHOP BUTLER : HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS

picture of his chief occupations during his too brief
sojourn at Auckland Castle ; and Dr. Nathaniel Foster,
his chaplain in his closing years, has preserved for us,
in a few short and hasty letters written to Seeker at
the time, a somewhat meagre description of the closing
scenes of his life.

Though the details which would fill in the picture
and give it life and interest are thus wanting, yet
the main facts of his career are notorious, and fortun-
ately beyond dispute. Joseph Butler, the youngest
of eight children of a well-to-do retired draper of the
little country town of Wantage in Berkshire, was born
in a house called the Chantry, lying just outside the
town, on May 18, 1692.^ Eespecting his father, two
facts only are known — that he was a Presbyterian in
religion, and that he was in comfortable circumstances.
Of Butler's childhood no records have been preserved.

^ There is perhaps some little doubt about tlie date of his birth.
May 18, 1692, is the date given in all the biographies from Kippis
downwards. On the other hand, the Register of the University of
Oxford gives his age as seventeen when lie matriculated a member of
Oriel on March 17, 1714. If this date were correct he could not have
been born till May 1696. But there are almost insuperable difficulties
in accepting the age as stated in the University Register. In the first
place, we should have to believe that the correspondence with Dr.
Clarke was carried on by him while still a mere lad of sixteen ; but
he himself, in his first letter, wi'ites as if he had attained an age to
which speculations of the kind he was engaged in were at least
natural, and as if, further, he had already been engaged for some time
in them. In the next place, he was ordained both deacon and priest
in the year 1717. Now, supposing the accepted date of his birth to be
correct, he would be by that time of the suitable age of twenty-five,
whereas if we were to accept the date given in the University Register
he would be only just twenty years old, an age at which, even in those
lax times, it is unlikely that he would have received ordination. Nor
is it likely, again, that so young a man could have been appointed to so
important a post as that of preacher at the Rolls in the next year.
On these different grounds it would seem as if the traditional date is
to be preferred, and we must suppose that some error has crept at this
point into the Register of the University.



LIFE AND TIMES 5

His earliest instruction he received at the Grammar
School of his native town, where he was a pupil under
the Eev. Philip Barton. That he retained some regard
for this, his earliest, instructor may be, perhaps,
gathered from the fact that, when in 1740 he was
appointed Dean of St. Paul's, he presented Mr. Barton
to almost the first piece of preferment that fell to
his gift, the rectory of Hutton in Essex.

If we may believe a statement in Kippis's Life,
Butler, while still a boy, exhibited unusual signs of in-
tellectual ability, and it was for this reason that his
father designed him for admission into the Presbyterian
ministry, and sent him to be educated at the then
justly famous Dissenting Academy conducted by Mr.
Samuel Jones, first at Gloucester, and subsequently at
Tewkesbury. At this estaljlishment the boy and his
friends were educated not only in mathematics and
classics, but also in logic and Hebrew.^ Indeed, Mr.
Jones must have been a teacher of no ordinary skill
and vigour, for among the sixteen pupils who were
at this time under his instruction were to be found
not only Butler himself, but also Seeker, his lifelong
friend, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury ; Maddox,
subsequently Bishop, of Worcester; Chandler, the well-
known Nonconformist divine : and Bowes, afterwards
Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Lardner, the famous
Biblical critic, was also a pupil in the same school,
but at a somewhat later date.

It was while a pupil at Tewkesbury that Butler gave
the first public proof of his ability as a metaphysician
and thinker, in the famous letters addressed by him to
Dr. Clarke, then regarded as the foremost philosopher
of his age. Clarke had given, in his Boyle Lectures
delivered in 1704 and 1705, what he claimed to be a
demonstrative proof of the being and attributes of

^ Porteous's JAfc of Seeker.



6 BISHOP BUTLER : HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS

God. Butler, writing first on November 14, 1713,
ventures to throw doubts on two of the arguments on
which Clarke had relied, or rather to state certain
difficulties which stood in the way of his acceptance
of them. In this letter, written when he was but
twenty-one years of age, and at a time when he had
received only a school training, he tells Dr. Clarke
" that he had made it his business, ever since he thought
himself capable of such sort of reasoning, to find out,
if possible, a demonstrative proof of the being and
attributes of God," and was therefore delighted to
come upon so distinguished a reasoner as Clarke
engaged on the same quest. The argument of Clarke
to which Butler objects was one in which he deduced
the omnipresence of God from His necessary existence.
" If," said Clarke, " God could be absent from any one
part of space. He could equally be absent from all ;
but if He could be absent from all, this would seem
to imply that His existence in any was not necessary ;
but this supposition is incompatible with the presumed
necessity of His self-existence." To this Butler objects,
" the argument proves, indeed, that God cannot be
absent from all places at the same time, but fails to
show that He may not be absent from them all at
different times ; and therefore God is not necessarily
shown by it to be present in all spaces at any one
time." When Clarke had replied, that " in his concep-
tion a necessary being has a necessary existence in
every part of space," Butler professes himself some-
what doubtfully satisfied with the argument, but adds,
in a subsequent letter,^ " I am really at a loss about the
nature of space and duration," as if he were not yet
entirely convinced.

The other point on which he feels a difficulty is
Clarke's contention that a self-existent Being must

1 Letter V.



LIFE AND TIMES 7

be necessarily one ; for if there were more than one
self-existent Being or substance, one or other of them
would have to be thought of as contingent, and would
therefore lose its quality of self-subsistence. To this
Butler objects, that he can see here no necessary con-
nection between the antecedent and the consequent.
" For why is it not possible at least to conceive of each
of the two self - existent substances as existing in
absolute isolation and independence of the other ? in
which case the self-existence of the one would not
involve the contingency of the other." Clarke explains
in answer, that in his view a Being or substance can
only be regarded as self-existent when its existence
is implied in and is necessary to the existence of every
thing besides ; and that, if self-existence be used in
this sense, then the idea of two self-existent Beings
does necessarily involve a contradiction in terms. In
this case, again, Butler admits that his oj)ponent has
the best of the argument, but writes in such terms
that it is clear his mind was not entirely satisfied on
the subject.

The correspondence was not without influence on
Butler's fortunes, and perhaps on the views and
methods of argument which he ultimately adopted.
Clarke was so much impressed with the force and
ability with which the objections were stated, and even
more with the fairness of mind, candour, and love of
truth that they displayed, that he took considerable
pains to find out who his correspondent was, as the
letters had been sent to him anonymously, having been
X:)osted by Seeker for his friend at Gloucester. Further,
he seems to have regarded the writer of the letters,
when discovered, as one whose interests were to be
advanced ; and so he was partly responsible for obtain-
ing for Butler his first piece of preferment, his appoint-
ment as preacher at the Eolls. On Butler himself



8 BISHOP BUTLER : HIS LIFE AND WHITINGS

the effect of the correspondence seems to have been
to make him distrustful of the high a 'priori method
which Clarke had adopted. The hesitation with
which he found liimself beset in accepting as con-
vincing and satisfactory the abstract arguments which
Clarke put forward led him to prefer that humbler
and more tentative, but more satisfactory and con-
clusive, method of reasoning which rests on an appeal
to observed and generally admitted facts. This was
the method which he actually employed alike in the
Serrtions and in the Analogy. In truth, demonstrations
like those of Clarke and earlier of Spinoza, modelled
on the method used by Newton in his Princi2na, are less
applicable in the sphere of theology than in those of
mathematics, optics, and celestial mechanics — and that
for two reasons. In the first place, the ideas with
which theology deals are less clear and adequately
grasped by our minds than are the notions of space,
time, motion, force, direction, equality, and inequality
which are used in the mathematical and kindred
sciences; while, in the second place, we have not in
theology the same chance of verifying our results
by appeal to actual experience, and comparison with
observed facts, which we possess in the case of the
above-mentioned sciences. That Butler was wiser than
his predecessor in his choice of method is shown by the
far greater influence which his works have exercised on
posterity than have those of Clarke, whose writings
are now either wholly forgotten or only quoted as an
example of an unconvincing and exploded metaphysic.

The correspondence took place during the last year
of Butler's residence at Tewkesbury, and the same
period was marked by a step which even more moment-
ously affected his subsequent career. It was at this
time that he resolved to quit the Presbyterian com-
munion in which he had been brought up, and for



LIFE AND TIMES 9

the ministry of which he had hitherto been designed,
and to become a member of the Church of England.
What were the motives which induced him to make
the change we have no direct knowledge. He is him-
self silent on this as on every other matter which
relates merely to his own personal history. Seeker,
when defending him after his death against the absurd
charge of Eomanising which had been brought against
him, assures us " that he had never been zealous in
his noncomformity, but had from a boy occasionally
conformed and attended the services of the Church
of England." ^ The great importance which in several
passages in his wTitings Butler attaches to the historical
continuity of the Church, its unbroken life and tradi-
tion,2 shows that this aspect of the National Church
must have appealed powerfully to his reason and imagin-
ation ; while, as he points out in another place,^ if it is
easy to find objections to the system which the Church
embodies, others equally great or even more formidable
might be urged against tlie constitution of any of the
existing Nonconformist sects. In truth, while these
shared in the lethargy which had overtaken the Church,
they were for the most part wanting in the learning
and ability by which in that age the superior clergy
of the Established Church were distinguished ; and the
perpetual feuds which they waged with one another,
and the tendency they exhibited to divide up into ever
fresh sects, deprived them of the authority which the
more powerful among them had at an earlier date
commanded. But whatever the motives were which
induced him to take the step, of one thing we may
be certain, that it was not taken without careful and
anxious consideration, and a judicial weighing of the

^ Seeker's article in the Gentlemaii's Magazine.

'^Analogy, part ii. chap. i.

"^Sermon for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, § 17.



10 BISHOP BUTLEE: HIS LIFE AND WRITINGS

arguments to be urged on either side. The whole cast
of Butler's own temper and character, anxious and
careful even to excess, precludes any other supposition ;
while the strenuousness of the opposition offered by his
father, who is said even to have called in the assistance
of the leading Presbyterian divines of the time to
dissuade his son from the course he was meditating,
would at least secure that the decision was taken
neither hastily nor without due reflection.

When, however, the father found that his son's mind
was fully made up on the matter he seems to have
abandoned further resistance, and he allowed him to
enter as a commoner at Oriel College, Oxford, on March
14, 1714 — a step taken with a view apparently to his
subsequent ordination. At Oriel Butler continued to
reside till he took his B. A. degree four years later, October
18, 1718. Eespecting these years spent at Oxford we
know, unfortunately, exceedingly little. The university
at this time was a centre and hotbed of Jacobitism,
— a cause with which, both by temperament and early
training, Butler could have had but little sympathy.
This fact, together with his naturally reserved and de-
spondent temper, explains a certain distaste for Oxford
which there is some evidence to show he entertained
during his undergraduate days. Yet he was not with-
out friends, and deeply attached friends. One great
intimacy we know him to have contracted, that with
Edward Talbot, son of the Bishop of Salisbury, a fellow
of Oriel College, but also holding at that time the cure
of the little village of West Hendred on the Berkshire
Downs. By Edward Talbot, Butler seems to have been
introduced to his father, from whom subsequently
he received ordination; to his brother Charles, after-
wards Lord Chancellor, to whom the Analogy was
dedicated; and to the excellent and amiable Martin
Benson, student of Christ's Church, who remained his



LIFE AND TIMES 11

attaclied and lifelong friend. Of Benson, Bishop
Porteous has preserved a charming portrait in his Life
of Arclibishoii Seeker. " His purity," he writes, " though
awfully strict, was inexpressibly amiable. It diffused
such a sweetness through his temper and such a
benevolence over his countenance as none, who were
acquainted with him, can forget." Yet in spite of
these friendships Butler, as we have already said, seems
never to have grown heartily attached to Oxford. In-
deed, from a letter written to Dr. Clarke, September
30, 1717, it appears that he even had thoughts of
migrating to Cambridge, perhaps in order to be near
to that distinguished man for whom he always enter-
tained a sincere admiration. In the letter he consults
Dr. Clarke on the choice of a tutor at Cambridge.
The design, however, was from some cause or other


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