Chapter 8: 'I Have Ever Been Studious in Divinity.'

Over the last three chapters we have become increasingly distanced from the biography of Stukeley's life as we have explored in ever greater depth the diverse and complex intellectual environment in which his antiquarian studies evolved. Before examining in detail the early eighteenth-century Trinitarian controversy that enmeshed certain prominent Newtonians it is necessary to look at how Stukeley's personal life changed suddenly and quite rapidly in the mid to late 1720s. In Part 1 we established that the 1720s was the key decade in his life. He created for himself a firm position in London's intellectual society where he was intimate with some of the century's key British natural philosophers. He was a Fellow and sometime-Council member of the Royal Society and Secretary to the Society of Antiquaries. As we have seen in Part 2, he had made numerous trips to Stonehenge and Avebury and undertaken the most comprehensive research of any other person to that date. He had immersed himself in the mysteries of Freemasonry, and whilst not making a great name for himself as a physician, as an unmarried man without a family he was able to support himself very comfortably. But in the middle of the decade this apparently settled metropolitan life changes abruptly.

As he later wrote, 'At the end of 1725 an irresistible impulse seiz'd my mind to leave the Town'.[1] He quit London early in the summer of the following year and returned home to Lincolnshire. Sir John Clerk recorded that Stukeley 'has withdrawn himself from London to live privately at Grantham having a Little Estate of 150 lb. per ann with no Family and little business in his profession.'[2] He told Roger Gale in June 1726 that he had received a letter from Stukeley, 'written in his way, with a good deal of humor. He seems to be ravisht with the prospect he has of a rurall life.'[3] But Gale was disappointed by Stukeley's sudden departure, telling him:

I am so sensible of the delight & advantage I received from your conversation that I cannot but regrett your absence & the more since you are determined to correspond so little with your old friends. But as I well know the activity of your mind, which cannot give itself up to a uselesse torpor & veturnum, I promise myself to be favoured, now & then, with a line. At least I hope it will not suffer you to bury all those observations you have made upon Stonehenge, Abury, & other British Antiquitys, in the tracing & illustrating of which you have spent so much time & pains, & which, if you ever publish them, I believe will do you more honor, & immortalise your name with greater marks of distinction, than any thing of yours that the world has yett seen; & it is no small matter of joy to me that I have now a sort of promise under your hand for it.[4]

This sudden flight from London is a small puzzle -- indeed, in Stukeley's own words, it was 'an extraordinary proceeding', and he considered himself duty bound 'to leave some reasons behind me to justify ones conduct'.[5] He privately offered three broadly connected reasons. Firstly, he suggested his 'intire love for the country life', exacerbated, secondly, by what he considered was a lack of support for his antiquarian researches. Then as now, the publication of a scholarly, illustrated tome was expensive and required patronage., and he had 'expected my great friends, who encouraged me in the pursuit of Antiquarian Studies, would have made some provision for me'.[6] He complained to Clerk that he had not met 'with the encouragement he expected from the publick'.[7] Thirdly, he cited his health: gout was striking him more severely in the town than the country, where it could be checked 'by country air & exercise'.[8] In leaving London he claimed 'I regretted nothing but the company which I could not expect to meet with in the Country', but added the reflection 'how little wiser we found our selves by the best company in the world'.[9] A fourth cause of his departure may have been a falling-out with the Society of Antiquaries, perhaps over the use of their minute books. He recorded that he had 'met with affronts' at the Society in January 1724 and 1725, 'wh[ich] determined me to leave the Town'.[10] But whatever his exact reasons, Stukeley looked on his move as a remarkable event, at a time when he was 'in the full career of my studys, in the highest favor with all the great men for quality, learning or power'.[11] It is quite possible he was just bored of London life, and possibly a rift with the Antiquaries had been the final straw for a man who rarely took criticism well. But the excuse of health was certainly genuine. He delighted in the opportunity he now had to work on a country garden, and -- reneging on his threat to have little correspondence with his old friends -- told Samuel Gale in February 1727 that he was labouring 'so hard … as to sweat out all the London fog'. He had 'become vastly athletic', and 'I now begin to fancy I could write somewhat to purpose, when freed from the hideous crys & nauseuous noises of Town'. In October he informed him, 'I am very sure if I had lived longer at London I had by this time been crammed into one of your hellish vaults under a church.'[12]

But whilst Stukeley claimed he would never 'make myself a slave altogether to getting of money', he struggled to make a livelihood in Grantham.[13] Things started off well, however. In October 1727 he told Samuel that he was 'in a manner now got into full business, & can get 2 or £300 per annum … and that without too much hurry & fatigue'. And although he was competing with another local doctor for business, he believed 'the country cannot possibly find too much work for two physicians.'[14] But by the following March he was complaining to Roger Gale that he thought it 'impossible for a physician here to gett above 100l. per ann.'[15] And by September he was telling Sir Hans Sloane, who he hoped might help him find some wealthy patients in the area to treat, that whilst he had all the business in a ten mile radius, 'which you will allow to be fatigue enough, I assure you I do not make above 50l. per annum of it.'[16] Furthermore, and again rather to the surprise of his friends, he had on 19 December 1727 married a local woman, Frances Williamson.[17] By the following summer she was pregnant, though their first child was miscarried. But by the time of Frances's death in 1737 she would have borne him three daughters. Such family responsibilities would have added further to his financial burdens. An alternative career to which his mind started now to turn was the Church. To sit at home and write sermons, to minister to a local parish, and to prepare his antiquarian studies for publication, would be far less strenuous than being at the beck and call of the local sick. And he had a well-positioned friend to aid him in his venture. William Wake (1657-1737) was, like Stukeley, a collector of coins and medals, and was uncle of his good friend Martin Folkes. He held a doctorate of divinity from the University of Oxford, had in 1705 become bishop of Lincoln, and then in 1716 succeeded Thomas Tenison as Archbishop of Canterbury. With such an influential patron a wealthy benefice could be hoped for. In return for Wake's support Stukeley had something special to offer the Church: his antiquarian work would defend Anglicanism from its various freethinking detractors.

However, not all of his friends were convinced of the prudence of ordination. Although his own father had been Dean of York Minster, Roger Gale told Stukeley,

dear Doctor, let me intreat you to consider well before you embark upon this new adventure, & if possible, ensure yourself before you go upon the voyage. Your reconciling Plato & Moses, & the Druid & Christian Religion may gain you applause, & perhaps a Patron; but it is good to be sure of the latter upon firmer motives than that scheme may inspire people with at present …[18]

When Thomas Hearne caught wind of this plan he recorded in his diary in typically blunt fashion, 'Dr Stukeley, to the surprise of everybody, has taken orders. His friends think him mad.'[19] But Stukeley's ordination should not come as such a surprise. Though he had stopped attending chuch whilst he had lived in London, ordination was a natural progression from the religious faith he exhibited in all his work, both antiquarian and natural philosophical. His old university friend Stephen Hales had been ordained in 1709, but still continued his experiments in animal and plant physiology, publishing two major works on the subject. Unlike Stukeley, though, Hales' ordination has never been interpreted as being particularly odd. All university fellows in the eighteenth century had sooner or later to take holy orders, and the Newtonian scholars Clarke and Whiston were both clergymen. Theophilus Hill, who Stukeley had consulted in 1708, had also studied physic at Cambridge, but had given it up to become a clergyman. So there was nothing inherently strange about Stukeley's decision. Ordination reflected his desire to find an easy position in life by which he could devote more time to his intellectual pursuits and at the same time raise a family. His friends' surprise came from his supposed irreligion, a trait commonly perceived amongst those in medical practice. As he started to explain in an unfinished letter of 1729, possibly to Samuel Gale,

I doubt not but you & many of my friends will wonder at my taking holy orders, but I dare assert no man ever did it with more pure & sincere intentions than myself. Though London conversation, & being laughed out of going to church on account of my profession, & thoughtlessness about religious matters made me talk in a loose way, yet when I was young, when I lived at the University, & for some years in London, no one was more apparently & really religious than myself …[20]

His move to the country, he said, had allowed him to rediscover 'the latent seed of religion', the one impulse which underlay all his studies. Stukeley clearly identified his antiquarian interests as spurring on the conviction of his faith. And if it could work for him, why not for others also? As he concluded in the same unfinished letter, 'I really believe that my studys into the antiquitys of our Druids forwarded my religious intentions … & I think I have made some discoverys already that will be useful in this age of epidemical infidelity.'[21]

We can clearly see the reasoning behind Stukeley's actions -- and his thoughts on how he could use his learning to the Church's advantage -- in his important exchange of letters with the Archbishop of Canterbury. In his first letter to Wake of 3 June 1729, Stukeley wrote:

I have long had thoughts of entering into Orders, but never ripened my resolutions till of late … I have ever been studious in divinity, especially in the most abstruse & sublime parts of it; & my disquisitions into the history of our Celtic ancestors, & their religion, have led me into them, & given me the opportunity of discovering some notions about the Doctrine of the Trinity which I think are not common. If I be not mistaken, I can prove it to be so far from contrary to, or above, human reason, that 'tis deducible from reason its self. What else can we think, my Lord, of the explicit sentiments the antient Egyptians, Plato, our old Druids, & all the heathen philosophers, had of this divine truth, as I can show in a thousand instances? For 'tis not necessary to suppose, nor can it easily be proved, that they had it from inspiration.[22]

These remarks effectively summarize Stukeley's whole theological argument, with its particular emphasis on the doctrine of the Trinity, rather than deism. A week after this letter was sent, Wake replied, observing in turn:

I cannot but encourage the motives, which I verily hope God's Holy Spirit has put into your heart, of entering into the service & ministry of the Church. Never was there a time in which we wanted all the assistance we can get against the prevailing infidelity of the present wicked age; & as our adversaries are men pretending to reason superior to others, so nothing can abate their pride, & stop their prevalence, than to see christianity defended by those who are in all respects as eminent in naturall knowledge, & philosophicall enquiries, as they can pretend to be. I am persuaded your education & practice as a Physician, will for this reason enable you to do God & christianity better service than one brought up to Divinity from the beginning could do; & then adding to that the reputation you have justly deserved, & gotten in the world, your personal abilities, your various & great progresse in all sorts of learning, besides that in which our studies commonly terminate: I must upon the whole conclude, that I can advise nothing better than that you should come to a settled resolution to end your life in the service of Christ's religion, & in the ministry of his Church …[23]

With Wake's support guaranteed, Stukeley once more sought the assistance of Sloane, this time in obtaining the living of All Hallow's in the neighbouring market town of Stamford, which was in the gift of the crown. 'I beg, dear Sir Hans,' he wrote in September 1729, 'you will exert your interest, which I know is very great, in my favour'.[24] By October his connections had paid off. He received the benefice in the Tory bastion of Stamford from the Lord Chancellor, Peter King, though not, he informed his wife, without the 'most violent opposition from the high church party against me.'[25] This is the clearest indication of Stukeley's 'political' position, and it is notable to see the High Church faction opposing him so vigorously. Clearly, his work in religious antiquities would reflect the latitudinarian ambitions of the Low Church, and this aspect of his intellectual personality was recognized at the time of his ordination. He carried these Low Church interests into his politics, too, and was soon writing fretfully to the Lord Chancellor that 'this town of Stamford being violent enemys to the government prosecute me so, as to make my very uneasy'.[26] He was unsuccesful, however, in his efforst to exchange his benefice with that of a friend in a neighbouring diocese. But the opposition from his Tory parishoners did not quiten him, and after the hotly contested election of 1734 he was actually sued in the King's Bench for £6000 by agents of Lords Exeter and Gainsborough on charges of bribery, trumped up 'out of party malice, bec[ause] I opposd their principals': 'these vile oppressions were very expensive to me', he wrote ruefully.[27]

Though he continued to practice occasionally as a physician, Stukeley turned his attentions almost immediately from natural philosophy and medicine to antiquities and the history and origins of religion, a subject he referred to as 'religious antiquities'. The year after his ordination Wake wrote again, this time regarding the newly-installed parson's proposals for publishing a book on the ancient theology. We can see here Wake's appreciation of the scholarly tradition into which Stukeley was placing himself, and equally his mindfulness of the controversy that might accompany such researches. He advised caution, warning Stukeley:

what observations you make in reading the Holy Scriptures I hope you will take care to preserve for the benefit of the world, as well as for your own use: but as some of the instances you mention have exercised the pens of some of the most learned men, I should advise you, before you come to a final resolution upon them (at least before you publish your thoughts upon them) to communicate your observations to some of your friends, who are both capable of examining them, and will be so faithful to you as to deal freely with you concerning them. This will both secure you from any great mistakes, and render your remarks more useful and valuable when they come abroad in the world.[28]

Part of the danger arose from the fact that the precise line dividing deism, natural religion and the revealed religion of the orthodox Christian was so faint and subtle. Natural religion -- the religion common to all Mankind that Cherbury, amongst others, had identified -- was seen as the foundation stone upon which revealed religion rested. Thomas Burnet had observed in 1727 that 'Every true religion, whether of divine institution or of human institution, has its roots in natural religion.'[29] As Samuel Clarke explained in 1712, there was 'One Supreme Cause and Original of Things; One simple, uncompounded, undivided, intelligent Being, or Person; who is the Author of all Being, and the Fountain of all Power. This is the first Principle of Natural Religion, and everywhere supposed in the Scripture-Revelation.'[30] A universally held knowledge of God formed part of the proof for the existence of natural religion. It is this evidence we examined in my previous chapter: what we need to examine now is Stukeley's focus of concern on the dispute surrounding the doctrine of the Trinity, and its close association with Newtonian scholars.

The Trinitarian Controversy

In the 1670s Isaac Newton was not only studying mathematics and astronomy, he was also pursuing biblical studies, reading the Scriptures and the Church Fathers.[31] By the latter part of the decade these studies had led him to the conclusion that the Church's doctrine of the Holy Trinity was a falsehood. He believed it had been grafted erroneously on to an earlier, pristine, Christianity: whilst Christ was the son of God, he was neither co-eternal nor co-substantial with Him. Yet, ever since Athanasius' defence of the doctrine of the Trinity at the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Trinity had been a pillar of orthodox belief, and any antitrinitarian opinion such as Newton's was the heresy of Arianism. Newton therefore took great care to keep his beliefs largely to himself. Through a special dispensation from the Crown in 1675 he was able to avoid taking holy orders, which his position as a University fellow would normally have demanded: ordination would have forced him either to falsely affirm a belief in the Trinity, or to declare his unitarian beliefs and be expelled from Cambridge. In his hostility to the antiquity of the doctrine of the Trinity, Newton was taking a position in opposition to that of many of his contemporaries. Theophilus Gale believed the idea of the Trinity was 'scattered up and down in the Oriental Parts, especially Phenecia and Egypt',[32] whilst the Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth had argued in The True Intellectual System (1678) that the idea of the Trinity was everywhere to be found in pagan theology. This knowledge, Cudworth believed, had been possessed by the Jews, and had been communicated from them to the Egyptians and other pagan nations; his reading of the ancient sources thus indicated that Trinitarian theology could be found in Orpheus, Pythagoras and Plato, and in the arcane theology of the Egyptians, Persians and Romans.[33] (Stukeley would name Cudworth as someone who had explored the idea that 'vestiges of the doctrines of the Trinity are to be found among the sages of all nations, times and religions.'[34]) In Conjectura Cabbalistica (1653) Henry More had similarly defended the antiquity of the Trinity, which he considered to be 'not a mere Pagan invention' but 'from Moses originally' and not 'from Pythagoras or Plato.'[35] But in spite of this defence of trinitarianism, unitarianism had its vocal supporters. In 1690 a London barrister and graduate of Oxford, William Freke (1662-1744), defined the Trinity in his Vindication of the Unitarians as 'the stumbling block in Christianity'.[36] Similarly, the Cambridge graduate and Anglican clergyman Stephen Nye (1648-1719) declared in his Brief History of the Unitarians, Called also Socinians (1687) that Socinianism was the heir to pristine monotheistic Christianity. Faustus Socinus (1539-1604) had denied the divinity of Christ, and Socinianism was considered to be an even worse heresy than Arianism. In his counter-argument to Cudworth, the Letter of Resolution Concerning the Doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation (1695), Nye went on to argue that Trinitarian Christianity could claim to have no ancient tradition. It was, rather, made up of 'Novelties, corruptions, and depravities of genuine Christianity.'[37] This concern with the authenticity of the Trinity quickly erupted into a wide-ranging controversy. Members of the High Church party even accused a number of leading Latitudinarian divines -- including the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Tillotson -- of Socinianism.[38] Tillotson (1630-1694) delivered four lectures on the Socinian controversy in 1679-80 in answer to these doubts over his orthodoxy. This polemic over the doctrine continued until 1695, when William III laid down a set of 'Directions' to the archbishops and bishops that included the stipulation 'that no preacher whatsoever in his sermon or lecture, do presume to deliver any other doctrine concerning the blessed Trinity, than what is contained in the holy scriptures and is agreeable to the three creeds and the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion.'[39] The subsequent Blasphemy Act of 1697 contained legislation barring from office and three years' imprisonment upon a second conviction 'all those, educated as Christians, who denied the doctrine of the Trinity, the truth of Christianity, or the divine authority of the Bible.'[40] And the authorities' bark did not lack bite, at least in Scotland. In Edinburgh in 1697 a young student at Edinburgh University, Thomas Aikenhead, was mercilessly hanged for blasphemy after publicly ridiculing both the Scriptures and the doctrine of the Trinity, a notion which he considered to be tantamount to pantheism -- the same opinion as that held by Newton.[41]

Newton's two key supporters and disciples at Cambridge from the mid 1690s were Samuel Clarke and William Whiston. They both studied the Trinitarian question, and both reached the same Arian conclusions as their mentor. But they were not, however, so reticent to express their opinions publicly, and openly expounded their antitrinitarian beliefs in print and pulpit.[42] Both held prominent positions from which to achieve this: Whiston had been chosen by Newton to succeed him as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics in 1703, whilst Clarke held the wealthy and conspicuous living of St James's, Westminster. If the Blasphemy Act had quietened the Trinitarian debate for a few years in the 1690s, it was loudly resumed in 1710, when Whiston lost his Cambridge chair and was expelled from the University for publicizing his heretical beliefs. He moved to London and in 1711 published An Historical Preface to Primitive Christianity Reviv'd, which was followed in 1712 by Clarke's Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity. Clarke claimed to show that after an analysis of 1,251 New Testament verses relating to the Trinity, only the terms 'God' and 'Father' were found to be used synonymously, effectively showing that the Trinity was a later accretion.[43] Newton's library shows that he owned both Whiston and Clarke's books, along with a large number of other important tracts from the Trinitarian and Socinian controversy. But although he remained cautious about expressing his anti-trinitariansim openly, Larry Stewart has recently shown that following the publication of the 'General Scholium' in the second edition of the Principia in 1713 Newton's views on the Trinity were 'recognized immediately'. His Arian heresy became 'very much a public matter', associating him with the 'deeply controversial views' of Whiston and Clarke.[44] Stewart argues at some length that Newton's notions concerning the sacred Trinity 'were well known to those of his readers who cared about such matters, and these were many.'[45] In 1714 for example, the Cambridge scholar John Edwards -- who had already accused Clarke of being 'an Arian Heretick' -- observed that through the 'General Scholium' Newton 'seems to me to lay open his Heart and Mind, and to tell the World what Cause he espouses at this Day, viz. The very same which Dr Clarke and Mr Whiston have publickly asserted.'[46] Newton clearly came to fear his former association with Whiston. Whilst he remained close to Clarke, he felt so endangered by the loose tongue of his former protégé that when in 1720 Halley and Sloane suggested nominating Whiston for a Fellowship of the Royal Society, Newton threatened to resign as President. Whiston told Halley in explanation: 'they durst not choose an Heretick.'[47] Whiston's now open Arianism -- compared to Newton's judicious silence -- had driven an irrevocable wedge between them. But Whiston was not prepared to let Newton rest in peace. In 1728, the year after Newton's death, he put the fact of Newton's Arianism into print in the second volume of his A Collection of Authentick Records Belonging to the Old and New Testaments. He now openly declared what Newton had believed, that

Arianism is no other than the Old uncorrupt Christianity; and that Athanasius was the grand and very wicked Instrument of that Change. This was occasionally known to those few who were intimate with him all along; from whom, notwithstanding his prodigiously fearful, cautious, and suspicious Temper, he could not always conceal so important a Discovery.[48]

The pressing question is, did Newton ever communicate his Arianism to Stukeley personally? There is no extant evidence to indicate that he did. Although Newton's friend Hopton Haynes claimed Newton had told him 'the time will come, when the doctrine of the incarnation shall be exploded as an absurdity equal to transubstantiation', Newton was, as Whiston wrote, 'prodigiously … cautious'.[49] Stukeley told Conduitt how he had accompanied in 1720 Newton to sit for a portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, and recollected, 'twas pleasant to hear Sr G. in his wild way of discourse sifting Sr Is. about his notions of religion, & with what caution & modesty he was answerd.'[50] Yet Stukeley was aware, at least by the early 1750s, if not very probably much earlier, of the Arian 'accusations' that had been made against Newton. In his 1752 biography of Newton, Stukeley wrote -- in what was undoubtedly a reference to Whiston and Clarke -- how

several people of heretical, & unsetled notions, particularly those of Arian principles, have taken great pains to inlist Sr Isaac into thir party. but that with as little justice, as the anti-christians. the ch[urch] of England intirely claims him as her son, in faith & in practice.[51]

Whiston and Clarke had been in Cambridge at the same time as Stukeley, and Stukeley had regular personal contact with Whiston from at least August 1725; in September 1731 Whiston even signed Stukeley's 'book of friends' on the same page as Newton, Halley and Wren.[52] And Stukeley and Whiston's connection continued after they both left London, for Whiston moved to the village of Lyndon in Rutland, not far from Stamford. He attended early meetings of the Brasen Nose Society, the gentlemen's club Stukeley established in the town 'for the promoting [of] useful knowledge, presenting a course of 'Philosophical experiments' there in 1736.[53] He also attended the clergymen's book club which Stukeley established, and attempted to disseminate his millenarian ideas: in 1747 he handed out 'a half sheet pamphlet' which, Stukeley recorded, Whiston 'called the original baptismal creed, which is no other at bottom, than an invitation for the Arians to unite in one congregation & make him the parson over 'em.'[54] Inevitably they argued, and when Whiston paid Stukeley a visit in London in March 1751 to discuss the recent earthquake, it was 'after an intermission & quarrel of 13 years.'[55]

If Stukeley had not heard of his Arian opinions from Newton in person then, nor drawn them from his own reading of the 'General Scholium', he could easily have heard them from Whiston at an early date. It would be quite odd if he had not, in fact. An anonymous attack on Whiston published in 1714 bemoaned that London had been 'so much pester'd of late Years with bold Atheists, Deists, Arians, Socinians, and other seducing Sectaries', and accused Whiston of making it 'his business to scatter his delusions abroad … to corrupt the Minds, taint the principles, and poyson the very Blood of our Youth … and to spread the Infection of Hæresy, Blasphemy, or Idolatry among Mankind, under the sanctify'd colour of reforming our Faith and Worship.'[56] When Richard Mead wrote to Stukeley in April 1727 informing him that Newton had died, he reflected on Newton's religious position. Whilst observing that he had not heard if before his death Newton 'sayd any thing about a Future State,' Mead explicitly told Stukeley: 'This much I think I know of his Opinions, that he was a Christian, believd Revelation, though not all the Doctrines which our Orthodox Divines have made Articles of Faith.'[57] By 1732 Thomas Hearne could (inaccurately) observe that 'Sir Isaac Newton, tho' a great Mathematician, was a man of very little Religion, in so much that he is ranked with the Heterodox men of the age.'[58] Given this popular picture of Whiston and Newton, it is clear Stukeley must have recognized at an early stage the controversy and speculation attached to the leading Newtonians' religious position. This makes the reason for his interest in the Trinity at Avebury in the early 1720s, and as a prospective clergyman at the end of the decade, obvious.

The importance of the Trinitarian debate of the 1690s has been neglected by historians, but it has been pointed out that it was 'a crucial movement in the development of the Enlightenment idea of religion.'[59] The debate in the 1720s was also important, though of less significance. The controversy which followed Whiston and Clarke's revival of the issue was sufficiently extensive for a sympathiser of Clarke's, to publish an account of all the works published on the subject since 1712. Although this bibliography did not include 'all the Trash' that had been written since the publication of Clarke's 'incomparable book', it still listed forty-three works of 'Reputation' written before 1718, and a further twenty-three published between 1718 and 1720; a further list of sixty-eight sermons, books and pamphlets relating to the Dissenters' debate on the Trinity completed the tract.[60] Nor was the antitrinitarian argument confined solely to Stukeley's Cambridge colleagues at the Royal Society. In 1720 it also reached the Society of Antiquaries. As the minutes taken by Stukeley of their meeting on 28 February record, the members 'unanimously Resolved' that one Joseph Hall 'be expelled [from] the Society', the House of Lords having resolved that his pamphlet 'entitled a Sober Reply to Mr Higgs merry Arguments is a Mixture of the most Scandalous Blasphemy profaneness & obscenity & dos in the most daring impious Manner ridicule the Doctrine of the Trinity & all Revealed Religion'.[61] The minutes also recorded that the Lords had ordered that both Hall and his publisher be 'prosecuted by the Attorney General & the Pamphlet burnt by the hands of the common Hangman.' Hall's anonymously published and irreverent A Sober Reply to Mr Higg's Merry Arguments, From the Light of Nature, for the Tritheistick Doctrine of the Trinity of 1720, though harmless, certainly warranted the Lords' accusation of profaness and obscenity. The pamphlet reflected the freethinkers' attacks on priestcraft and the corrupting effect of education. Hall observed that belief in the Trinity was supported only by 'the Sophistry of Words and Arguments … and the violent Threats wherewith it is obtruded upon the Reason of Mankind'.[62] Hall, clearly an Arian and a supporter of Whiston, asserted that 'One is but One, and Three are more than One' and this conclusion was 'as natural as our Notions of a God'. Any argument claiming from 'reason' contrary to this was clearly untrue, as any man or woman in the street would tell you. Furthermore, in Hall's opinion priestcraft had led Christianity to polytheism, which was 'as much excusable in the Heathen Pantheon, as in the Athanasian Church.'[63] This embarrassment to the Society of Antiquaries was to an extent ameliorated when Dr Daniel Waterland, author of two scholarly and orthodox defences of the Trinity, the Vindication of Christ's Divinity (1719) and the Case of Arian Subscription Considered (1721), was admitted as a member in 1723.[64] Waterland (1683-1740) had been at Magdalene College, Cambridge, at the same time as Stukeley was at the University. He became Master of Magdalene in 1714 and a doctor of divinity and vice-chancellor of the University in 1717. He went on to write further important responses to the deists in his Scripture Vindicated (1730-32) and The Importance of the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity Asserted (1734). Stukeley described Waterland as having 'an extraordinary zeal for religion' and that after he joined the Society of Antiquaries he had had 'a great intimacy with him [for] many years.'[65]

Another antiquarian friend of Stukeley's closely involved with this battle against antitrinitarians and freethinkers was Archbishop Wake. Wake's London house had in the first decade of the eighteenth century been a frequent meeting place for latitudinarians and Newtonians such as Bentley and Clarke.[66] In 1714, through a personal regard for his work in defending the Church against deism in his Boyle Lectures, Wake had shielded Clarke from official Church censure following the publication of his Scripture Doctrine. In return Clarke had promised Wake not preach or write any further on the subject, though Whiston noted in 1724 that although 'Dr Clarke has long desisted from putting his name to anything against the church,' he 'privately assisted' John Jackson (1686-1763), another vocal Cambridge graduate with antitrinitarian views.[67] But whilst his defence of Clarke might give Wake the appearance of leniency, he was naturally opposed to the freethinking tendencies he saw amongst both the lay and clerical population -- what he described to Stukeley as 'the prevailing infidelity of the present wicked age'. In 1718 Wake had written to a Protestant correspondent in Geneva, observing that

a set of Latitudinarian writers (who call themselves free-thinkers) have made it their business for some time past to write down all confessions of faith, all subscriptions of any articles of religion whatsoever, as contrary to that subjection we owe to Christ as our king. These men are some of them Deists; some Socinians; a better sort [i.e. Clarke] Arians; all of them enemies to the Catholic Faith, in more or less of the most fundamentals articles of it.[68]

Making his own efforts to contest the influence of the Arians, in 1721 Wake spoke in support of a new blasphemy bill in the House of Lords. The bill would have provided for the imprisonment of anyone speaking or writing against the doctrines of the Trinity or the divinity of Christ, or denying the true inspiration of the Scriptures. Though the bill was defeated, a royal proclamation ordered the suppression of blasphemous clubs and societies, and royal letters again directed the archbishops and bishops to enforce existing laws in defence of orthodox interpretations of the Trinity.[69] Given this general atmosphere, it is not surprising that Wake welcomed the advances of Stukeley, and his promised defence of orthodox trinitarianism. For according to Wake's biographer (and as his defence of Clarke indicates), Wake preferred to have books rather than their authors suppressed, realizing 'that the best defence of orthodoxy lay in refutation of heretical opinions by scholarly demonstration of their inadequacy.'[70] In 1717 the bishop of Oxford had written to Wake suggesting that because Clarke's

book against the Christian Trinity is introduced with a prevaricating method of eluding subscription, it seems wholly in vain to endeavour to answer them by any other way than by confuting their false doctrines … I confess it seems to me no small disgrace to us that after the doctrine of the Trinity (to say nothing of others) hath been so publicly attacked for so many years together, though some replies have been made which perhaps neither Dr Clarke, Mr Whiston nor any other can fully answer, yet no just treatise hath been published on that subject.[71]

It was undoubtedly in his capacity to do just this that in 1729 Stukeley appeared to Wake as the perfect Anglican intellectual to answer the attacks of Clarke and Whiston. As I observed at the end of my last chapter, I believe it is 'wicked Whiston' (who makes no appearance at all in Piggott's biography) who should be considered the true target of Stukeley's antiquarian works.[72]

William Whiston and Primitive Christianity

Whiston was born in Leicestershire in 1667, and graduated from Clare Hall, Cambridge in 1690. He was elected to a Fellowship at Clare Hall the following year, and first became widely known through his New Theory of the Earth published in 1696, which (as we saw in chapter 4) used Newtonian principles to explain the natural history of the Earth. In 1701 he was invited by Newton to succeed him as Lucasian Professor of Mathematics. He gave lectures on astronomy and mathematics, and Stukeley attended his lectures on hydrostatics and pneumatics. In 1707 he delivered the Boyle Lectures in London, publishing them as The Accomplishment of Scripture Prophecy (1708). Whiston was also close to Samuel Clarke, and around 1705 became interested in the doctrine of the Trinity, reaching the same Arian conclusions. He wrote to the Archbishops of York and Canterbury informing them of his discovery that the Trinitarian doctrine was an historical error, and he published his arguments in 1709. The following year he was found guilty by the University of teaching anti-Trinitarian doctrines contrary to established Anglican beliefs and was deprived of his professorship. He moved to London, where he supported himself by giving public lectures at coffee-houses, with experimental demonstrations on Newtonian astronomy, biblical chronology and the Creation. In 1711 he published the four volumes of his Primitive Christianity Reviv'd which defended his Arian doctrines. Like Newton and Stukeley, Whiston believed the records of the pagan, heathen religions of the ancient world contained fragments of the religious 'truth' established in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and that this knowledge could be retrieved from the ancient texts. 'Primitive Christianity' therefore referred to the unadorned teachings of Christ, which he considered to be 'the essence of religion in all times and places.'[73]

Whiston believed that to reach the truth about religion, it was necessary to read the Bible and those original records coeval with the Bible, and not 'Modern Books of Controversy, written by such as are to vindicate the Doctrines and Practices of that particular Sect or Church.'[74] Significantly, in Astronomical Principles of Religion, Natural and Reveal'd (1717) he declared that it was his belief that the Jewish and Christian Revelations were true

because there have been generally such standing Memorials preserv'd of the Truth of the Principal Facts, as give us great Assurances they were real. That this is a proper and usual way of preserving the Memory of past Actions, the Customs, and Medals, and Pillars, and Inscriptions, and Solemnities, and Sepulchral Monuments of all Nations, do Testify.[75]

It will be important to remember these remarks when we come to consider Stukeley's personal response to the Arians, for by turning to the stone temple at Avebury he too was utilizing the most ancient, archaological evidence available to him. Whiston having carefully developed the argument to show the authenticity of the Newtonian system, and upon this foundation, the principles of natural religion, he used Part VIII of the book to show that his foregoing inferences were 'the common Voice of Nature and Reason', and that this could be proved 'from the Testimonies of the most considerable Persons in all Ages.'[76] Which is to say, Whiston believed the intellectual systems of all the ancient philosophies (with the exception of the Greeks) could be reconciled with the Scriptural (and Newtonian) account. In Whiston's argument, the Scriptures were true because once confusion and errors had been removed everyone in the past recorded identical accounts of the history of the world. After presenting over thirty-five pages of extracts from the Bible to illustrate this, he proceeded to present similar 'Testimonies, from the ancient Heathen Writers'. These, he admitted, he had 'generally taken from the very Learned Dr Cudworth's Intellectual System of the Universe … it being perfectly needless to make a new and larger Collection of my own out of the ancient Authors themselves, in so known and so endless as a matter as this.'[77] In the final part of the book, which was addressed 'especially to the Scepticks and Unbelievers of our Age', Whiston noted that the works of Grotius, Bochart and Stillingfleet all contained material proving that the 'Sacred Records' were 'evidently' supported by 'those most Ancient, Authentick, and Numerous books and Fragments'.[78] Samuel Clarke had also read these works, referring to Grotius and 'his excellent Book of the Truth of the Christian Religion' in his Boyle Lectures: 'as learned Men have upon exceeding probable grounds supposed,' wrote Clarke (and here he footnoted Stillingfleet, Bochart and Vossius) 'many of the most antient Scripture-histories are acknowledged and asserted in the Writings of the Poets, both Greeks and Latins; the true Histories being couched under fictitious Names and fabulous Representations.'[79]

In particular, Whiston noted Grotius's claim that there were 'not any Genuine Records, or Testimonies of Antiquity extant, that contradict the Scriptures. Which Thing being so, it is most highly reasonable for us to have a great Veneration for those Sacred Records, which, however different from Modern Histories, as they ought to be, are yet so very agreeable to, and so fully confirm'd by the oldest and most faithful Remains of the Ancient Ages of the World.'[80] Whiston used this argument for the authenticity of ancient doctrines as the foundation for his belief in 'the Truth of the Jewish and Christian Revelations, because the principal Doctrines therein delivered are agreeable to the ancientist Traditions of all other Nations.' Although he suggested the ancient Greeks could be ignored because they

followed their own Reasonings in all such Matters … Yet was it quite otherwise with the more ancient Ages, and those Natural and Divine Doctrines which they received by Tradition from their first Founders, and which most probably were originally deriv'd from the first Parents of Mankind, or at least from the earliest of their Progenitors after the Deluge. Those I mean whose Traces and Fragments are still extant in the earliest Sacred Books of the Egyptians, Druids, Tyrians, and Zoroastres, &c. and in the Sybilline Oracles …[81]

Whilst I have already shown that the use of material relating to the Druids was not confined to the fringes of English cultural and intellectual thought in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, this reference by Whiston to Druids, adjacent as it is to the Tyrians (i.e. the Phoenicians), is immediately interesting. For what exactly could Whiston have meant by the 'Sacred Books' of the Druids? As Stukeley and most other commentators on the subject were well aware, Caesar had recorded that the Druids kept no written records. There simply weren't any 'Sacred Books' of the Druids. Whiston's reference here should not be taken seriously, indicating only that he was not fully familiar with the copious contemporary literature on the Druids. But in spite of this error, his remark still places the Druids within the tradition of the ancient religion only two years before Stukeley's first visit to Stonehenge and Avebury, in a book we know Stukeley owned, and written by a man whom he knew.[82] Whiston continued his argument in Astronomical Principles of Religion by stating that these 'most ancient Traditions'

do for the main, admirably agree with the Jewish and Christian Revelations, not only as to the particular Histories and Facts contained in the Old Testament … but as to the principal Points on which those Religions are grounded; I mean, the Unity and Attributes of God; the Creation of the World by him; its Deluge already past, and Conflagration still future; the Immortality of the Human Soul; and the Judgement to come; with the Rewards and Punishment of the next World.[83]

If we added to this list, 'and a belief in the Holy Trinity' (the validity of which, of course, Whiston denied), would we not also have Stukeley's intellectual project in a nutshell?

'Arian Deism'

By 19 June 1730 Roger Gale had put aside his earlier uncertainty about his friend's ordination, and wrote informing Stukeley that he was 'extreamly rejoiced at your reassuming your design about Abury, & as much pleased with the plan of your theologicall enlargements upon it.'[84] On 25 June 1730 Stukeley wrote back, offerring Gale further elucidation of his archaeological theory of Avebury and the Trinity. As we have seen, this letter contained a remark that has been crucial in all subsequent interpretations of Stukeley's antiquarian work:

The form of that stupendous work is a picture of the Deity, more particularly of the Trinity, but most particularly what they anciently called the Father and the Word, who created all things … A snake proceeding from a circle is the eternal procession of the Son, from the first cause … My main motive in pursuing this subject is to combat the deists from an unexpected quarter, and to preserve so noble a monument of our ancestors' piety, I may add, orthodoxy.[85]

As we have seen, this wish 'to combat the deists' has previously been taken as referring to Toland, whilst I have suggested we should instead look to Whiston. But could Whiston be described as a deist? At least one eighteenth-century writer thought so. In 1742 a pamphlet was published under the title A Dissertation on Deistical and Arian Corruption. Its anonymous author began by identifying the 'great Enemies of the Christian Faith, in the late and present times' as 'the Arian, Socinian, and other Deists.' He then added in a footnote to this observation his consideration that since both Arians and Socinians 'deny several fundamental Doctrines' of the Holy Scriptures, and 'in so doing, invalidate all Revelation … the difference between them and avowed Deists, is rather verbal than real; and therefore, I rank them all under the same common Name of Deists.'[86] He then identified what he called 'the two most open and avowed Defenders of the Arian Deism': one was Whiston, the other was Clarke's friend, John Jackson.[87]

And there is additional evidence to indicate that the term 'deism' stretched to include antitrinitarians. In 1750 an anonymous critic observed that Whiston's whole critical methodology of attacking deism had left his work 'exactly upon a footing' with the deists Matthew Tindal and the Cambridge-educated cleric William Wollaston, author of Religion of Nature Delineated (1724).[88] The relationship between Arianism and deism was thus clearly considered by some to be close indeed; in fact, to be accused of any form of heterodoxy was tatamount to being automatically guilty of closet atheism. In many ways Arians, deists, pantheists and athiests were all parcelled together by the truly orthodox, for only atheists (and Catholics) would wish to damage the Protestant Church. Thus if a specific 'target' is required for Stukeley's books, I suggest once the whole context is explored the 'Arian Deist' William Whiston becomes the most obvious target. As we have seen, Abury is a clear response to the eighteenth-century Trinitarian debate. In the final section of this chapter, therefore, I wish to show how Stukeley intended to use his antiquarian work -- and his work on Avebury in particular -- to defend the holy doctrine of the Trinity.

The Archaeology of the Trinity

In Stonehenge Stukeley was principally concerned with proving the structure was not a Roman monument, but was in fact a temple of the 'Celtic Druids'. This is the likely reason he published Stonehenge first: once the Celtic origin of stone circles had been proved, it was then possible to proceed in Abury to the theological permutations. In Abury, he would offer his services in claiming an orthodox Newton for the Anglican Church, countermanding Whiston's Arian accusations. His study of Celtic temples and idolatry in the 1720s had led him to the belief that an apparent Druidic knowledge proved trinitarianism was patriarchal -- that is, pre-Noachian -- and hence pre-Athanasius's dictate. His archaeology 'proved' the earlier speculations of Theophilus Gale, Cudworth and More. And by deferring to one of the earliest historical records and showing that the truth and antiquity of the Trinity could be substantiated archaeologically, Stukeley could save his hero Newton from unfounded accusations of heterodoxy. The same argument would also indicate that a belief in the Trinity was not something necessarily 'beyond reason', a challenge the deist Anthony Collins had levelled against the doctrine in 1707 in his Essay Concerning the Use of Reason in Propositions.[89] It was this accusation that Stukeley had specifically claimed to be able to contradict in his 1729 letter to Wake, when he had observed of the Trinity, 'I can prove it to be so from contrary to, or above, human reason, that 'tis deducible from reason itself.'[90] He was not alone in this effort. The anti-Newtonian John Hutchinson, author of Moses's Principia (1724) (see chapter 4), attempted a similar defence, finding evidence for the authenticity and antiquity of the Trinity in his examination of the Hebrew text of Genesis, and it formed a cornerstone of Hutchinsonian principles.[91]

An early attempt by Stukeley to combine his Avebury fieldnotes with the Trinity can be seen in an essay written in 1732, 'Disquisitio de Deo. Or an Enquiry into the Nature of the DEITY.' This essay was an 'attempt to unravel the secrets of antient wisdom, to vindicate from oblivion the stupendous remains of our Brittish ancestors' and was 'a continuation of what I [shall] publish upon Stonehenge.'[92] Here he came to the conclusion that only 'studious, reasoning, philosophical men, such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Zoroaster, Plato & the like' had had the strength of mind to reach the trinitarian truth, which was at first imparted 'by direct revelation: & was at first spre[a]d over the whole globe with mankind itself'. It was a mistake of 'the learned, to say they had it from the jews. it was of much earlyer date … the heathen were acquainted with this plurality of persons in the deity either from the patriarchs of Abrahams family or earlier' from Noah. Thus this 'knowledg of the Trinity, I look upon to be of a mixt nature, partly from reason, partly from revelation'.[93] As he observed elsewhere, Man had spoken of the deity 'in the plural number' since before idolatry began, '& that perhaps may be one reason why mankind has been generally much more prone to polytheism than atheism', for 'they were taught & convinc'd that the deity subsisted in more persons than one. the mistake lay in making them separate deitys, & many deitys.'[94] Idolatry, therefore, originated from the corruption of an earlier knowledge of the tripartite division of the (Christian) Godhead.

But contrary to Piggott's contention that it was his ordination that had prompted a retrospective trinitarian interpretation, Stukeley's interest in the Trinity had manifested itself as early as his original fieldwork. Even then he had recorded in field notes from the early 1720s:

Tho' the druids by reason of their abhorrence of writing have left us little on record of their principal doctrines of thir religion, yet they have left us the largest draught of the trinity that ever was, whence one cannot reasonably doubt of their faith in that divine truth.[95]

This draught was the 'hieroglyphic' temple of the snake and circle -- the 'Dracontium' -- the remains of which he had identified in the formation of central stone circles, the two avenues of the 'body' and the 'tail', and the destroyed circle of stones which represented the 'head' of the serpent on Overton Hill.[96] He explained in Abury that there was a precedence for such a symbolic structure: as Christian churches and cathedrals had been designed upon the shape of 'our saviour's body extended on the cross', so in ancient times 'they form'd them upon the geometrical figures or pictures, or manner of writing, by which they express'd the deity, and the mystical nature thereof.'[97] He went on to add later in the book that 'A symbol is an arbitrary, sensible sign of an intellectual idea. And I believe the art of writing at first was no other, than that of making symbols, pictures, or marks of things they wanted to express'. The 'symbol of the snake and circle' was thus 'the picture of the temple of Abury'.[98] It had been taken by the Egyptians together with 'hieroglyphic writing in general, from the common ancestors of mankind.' This was 'sufficiently prov'd from the universality of the thing, reaching from China in the east, to Britain in the west, nay, and into America too.'[99]

From an early stage of his fieldwork, therefore, Stukeley was searching for the precise meaning and origin of the snake/circle/wings hieroglyph. On the reverse of a drawing of the termination of the Kennet avenue and temple, dated 15 May 1724, he had made a sketch of this glyph, and noted beside it, 'this is the representation of god or the great soul of the world among the persian magi[,] the egyptian priests & we find it here among the western Druids doubtless tis of vastest antiquity & borrowd by them all from the post diluvian times.' After noting that the Egyptians' doctrines were concealed 'in hieroglyphs & symbolical characters', he wrote that he had no doubt 'but every part of this & like works has such secret meanings tho' now we have no means left of discovering it'.[100] In Phaedrus, Plato had identified the Egyptian god Thoth as the inventor of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and letters, and most Greek scholars after him repeated this identification, which was accepted by the Romans, who identified Thoth -- or Hermes as he was known in the Greek canon -- as their god Mercury. As we have already seen, according to almost all authors throughout antiquity, the Egyptians were considered the original inventors of writing, as well as geometry and astronomy.[101] As the original source of writing, Egyptian hieroglyphs naturally formed an important area of study for classical historians. In the second century AD Tacitus wrote that the Egyptians 'in their animal-pictures, were the first people to represent thought by symbols: these, the earliest documents of human history, are visible to-day, impressed upon stone.'[102] But it was the Romano-Greek philosopher Plotinus (AD 205-269/70) who developed the Neoplatonic interpretation of Egyptian hieroglyphs in the eighth treatise of his fifth Ennead, 'On the Intelligible Beauty'. There he wrote that the 'wise men of Egypt … either by scientific or innate knowledge' drew images in their temples such that 'every image is a kind of knowledge and wisdom and is a subject of statements, all together in one, and not a discourse or deliberation.' Plotinus concluded that this type of beauty 'exists before research and before reasoning'.[103] In the late fifteenth-century Marsilio Ficino translated Plotinus's Enneads, and from then on Egyptian hieroglyphs were generally interpreted as a divinely-inspired form of symbolic writing.[104] William Warburton would attack this idea that hieroglyphs were mystical symbols concealing religious dogmas in his Divine Legation of Moses, claiming they were a practical device for recording laws, historical events and daily business. However, though Warburton's speculations attracted attention, they were not widely adopted. Stukeley disagreed strongly with him, and he he recorded that they had 'very many & warm disputes upon his notions of the Egyptian antiquitys … In short we never could agree in out notions about them, about the hieroglyphics, the mysterys, or of antiquitys in general.'[105]

It is clearly the traditional, Neoplatonic interprettaion of the hieroglyph that Stukeley perceived in the pattern of stones at Avebury. He did not believe the Egyptians worshipped the idols in their temples as gods, but rather as symbolic devices which 'would effectually draw down the influences & blessing of the fountain of goodness.'[106] His interpretation was stimulated by his readings of Kircher, who in Oedipus Ægyptiacus (1652-1654) had examined the works of Plato and the Neoplatonists Plotinus and Iamblichus. It was Kircher who had first identified the hieroglyphic of the globe, serpent and wings as a form of the divine Trinity.[107] In his essay on 'The Hieroglyphics of the Egyptians' written in 1724 Stukeley identified 'the learned Kircher' as having 'unlocked the Springs of this kind of learning'.[108] As Stukeley explained, the snake was a representation of the Messiah, as 'All writers jewish and christian with one mouth assert'. The snake's practice of shedding its skin 'and returning to youth again' was 'A fit emblem of [Christ's] resurrection from the dead, and of returning to an immortal life.'[109] The circle 'in hieroglyphs means, divine',[110] and was a clear symbol for God who, as described by Hermes Trismagistus, was 'without beginning & ending whose center is every where & circumference no where.'[111] The 'wings', the final part of the trinity in Kircher's hieroglyph, were not actually physically portrayed at Avebury because of the difficulty of illustrating them in stones. But they would have represented the holy spirit, 'the moving & penetrative person of power of the deity'.[112] As Stukeley interpreted it in 1743, 'the ancients, probably even from Adam's time, express'd in writing, the great idea of the deity' by 'a circle with wings, and a snake proceeding from it.' This was 'A figure excellently well design'd to picture out the intelligence they had, no doubt, by divine communication, of the mysterious nature of the deity … By this means they produc'd a most effective prophylact … which could not fail of drawing down the blessings of divine providence upon that place and country'.[113] This interpretation also had a modern, eighteenth-century validity, in the context of another passion of Stukeley's: gardens. To the educated observer who had read the philosophy of John Locke or the journalism of Joseph Addison, a modern garden landscape -- such as that at Stowe, with its Elysian Fields, Temples of Ancient and Modern Virtue and British Worthies, its prospect walks and distant vistas -- inspired meditative, reflective and associative responses, both emotional, religious, philosophical and political. As Stukeley wrote in the 1720s,

In Bryttish Oak Groves, our old Naturalists Poets & Priests the Druids inculcated the Precepts of Religion, Studyd the Celestial Sciences, reasond of Fate, Providence, Freewill, the Immortality of the Soul, & in all History sacred or profane the Groves were places more immediately consecrate to the attention of the Supreme Being …[114]

Not surprisingly, the origin and meaning of hieroglyphs had also interested Newton. He had found an analogy between the Egyptians' use of hieroglyphs and the language of the biblical prophets, who, he observed, 'frequently used' 'the same language', so that birds, animals and insects were employed by both to represent 'kingdoms & bodies politic, fire to signify war wch consumes them, the sun moon & stars to signify the king & his people.'[115] Undoubtedly Newton was reminded of St Paul's remark concerning the Gentiles' corruption of divine worship: 'Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible mortal man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.'[116] Newton proceeded to suggest that this was the reason why the Egyptians had worshipped animals and animal-headed gods, and had built temples in the shape of these hieroglyphs:

And under these characters or hieroglyphics the several tribes or Nomes honoured their first fathers & worshipped them as Gods. And this I take to be the reason of the Egyptians worshipping their Gods in the shapes & species of Birds, Beasts, Fishes & Plants. [And tho their Temples at first (as Lucian tells us) might want the images of these things yet they wanted them not long.] ffor the making & worshipping such images was referred to & prohibited in the second commandment when Israel was newly come out of Egypt & there fore was older than ye days of Moses …[117]

This, of course, was the commandment instructing the Israelites, 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.'[118] Whilst we do not know whether Stukeley and Newton communicated on this subject, the idea of an ancient stone temple representing the Egyptian hieroglyphic of a snake in a circle with wings would have by no means been unacceptable to either Newton's history or his theology.

As his research in the 1720s and 1730s progressed, Stukeley continued to contemplate the religious bearing of his antiquarian undertaking, and the nature and antiquity of the Trinity. Though Stonehenge and Abury would not appear until the early 1740s, he did venture his ideas into print, with short works such Palaeographia Sacra: Or, Discourses on Monuments of Antiquity that Relate to Sacred History, published in 1736. This work provides a bridge between Stukeley's archaeological fieldwork of the 1720s and the publications of his major monographs, and shows how his work was, forming part of a developing theory of the antiquity of true religion. In this overlooked book Stukeley wondered 'at the incogitancy of our modern freethinkers, people of learning,' who would 'not see the beauty of that profound scheme of religion, which was carry'd on from the beginning of the world (I mean from the fall of man) to its completion and perfection in the christian revelation.'[119] Citing Justin Martyr's remark on the heathen poets, ''We think not the same things with others, but they by imitation speak the same thing with us'', he attempted to show how this was true of the Ode to Bacchus by the first-century BC Roman poet Horace. Giving the Latin text and a facing translation, Stukeley 'cloathed' the ode 'in the form of a divine hymn, founded on the true and original meaning of the story; together with the places in scripture, to which all along it has a strict relation.' By this process he showed 'that mankind, under the notion of Liber, or Bacchus, son of Jupiter, expected from all antiquity, the great redeemer, the divine messiah, who is no other than Jehovah of the Jews; which was accomplished by the christian dispensation.'[120] From his study, and his extensive allusions to Scriptural authority, Stukeley concluded that God 'certainly did think fit sometimes to bestow the gifts of prophecy, on those that were out of the pale of his church. The antients had a notion of the Messiah, the God-man, immortal hero, Bacchus, the most perfect of human race, the god of wine, conformably to scripture'.[121]


Having traced the background of writings and theories regarding the history of religion and the origins both of ancient temples and idolatry from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries, it becomes increasingly clear that Stukeley was not a lone figure hypothesizing wildly in his study. Rather, he was participating in a philosophical debate which, whilst at the margins of what may be considered the major concerns of the scientific Enlightenment, nevertheless occupied the mind of his mentor Isaac Newton, and numerous of his friends and contemporaries both in Cambridge, London, the provinces of England and in Europe as well. I believe it is clear that Stukeley's concern with 'deism' reflects a much greater concern with the doctrine of the Trinity than with that of priestcraft which -- as Stukeley happily accepted -- had had a corrupting influence in the early ages of humanity's religious history. That is, we should clearly look to Stukeley's association with Newton, Clarke and Whiston rather than with any hypothetical and tentative relationship with John Toland. This influence may not be immediately clear from a reading of Stukeley's published texts on Stonehenge and Avebury, but an examination of his manuscripts, with their repeated references to the likes of Herbert, Vossius, Cudworth, Stillingfleet, Toland, Clarke, Whiston and Ramsay make his intellectual debts obvious. Could it be that Stukeley did not actually think it necessary to expand upon his use of these authors in his published works because their legacy remained so strong in the early decades of the eighteenth century? Did not Whiston in 1717 call religious history 'so known' a matter? James Force has observed that Newton's leading Cambridge 'disciples' Whiston and Clarke both made 'extensive use of the best comparative religious scholarship of their era' -- that is, says Force, Grotius, Stillingfleet, Vossius and Cudworth -- 'to illustrate that many particulars contained in the testimonies of religious writers from outside the Judaeo-Christian tradition are [as Whiston wrote] 'fully agreeable to Scripture, Reason, and Philosophy.''[122] Force writes that Whiston, Clarke and Newton all devoured 'the testimonies of ancient pagans especially as compiled in the such humanistic compendia of ancient religion as Cudworth's, True Intellectual System of the Universe, Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae, Bochart's Sacred Origins of Gentile Theology, Grotius's Of the Truth of the Christian Revelation and Vossius's Of Idolatry. The work of such encyclopediasts of ancient religious traditions as, for example, Cudworth and Vossius, becomes central for Whiston and Clarke'.[123] Force identifies this as a Renaissance humanist tradition of comparative religion, and sees Whiston, Clarke and Newton as all participating in it.

It seems obvious that we can add Stukeley's name to Force's Cambridge trio, and there were others, too.[124] Marshall and Williams recently suggested that the idea that religion had developed from one common point of origin almost wholly dominated eighteenth-century thought.[125] At least two of Stukeley's Cambridge contemporaries carried on similar theological--historical arguments. Samuel Shuckford (?1694-1754) was a graduate of Caius College, Cambridge, and a doctor of divinity. In 1728 he published The Sacred and Profane History of the World Connected, which Stukeley read as early as 1730.[126] Shuckford wrote that from an examination of the accounts of ancient authors he found 'the ancient Heathen remains … were clear and true, when left by their Authors, but After-writers corrupted them by the Addition of Fable and false philosophy'. He asserted that what he had taken from reading Phoenician and Egyptian history would, 'I believe, satisfy the judicious Reader, that these ancient Writers, before their Writings were corrupted, left Accounts very agreeable to Moses.'[127] He reiterated the earlier scholarly tradition that Pythagoras had through his 'diligent Searches' in Phoenicia, Egypt and Babylon 'acquired a great Stock of ancient Truths', and that 'Plato's Works are everywhere full of the ancient Traditions.'[128] Shuckford also observed that 'if we search the Egyptian Antiquities, we may find in their Remains as noble and as true Notions of the Deity, as are to be met with in the Antiquities of any other People'. In this 'they preserved the Knowledge of the true Religion' until by adding 'Speculations of their own … by degrees they corrupted and lost it.'[129] From the example of the Egyptians Shuckford concluded, 'And thus at first there was a general Agreement about Religion in the World; and if we look into the Particulars of the Heathen Religion, even after they were much corrupted, we may evidently find several Practices, as well as Principles, sufficient to induce us to think that all the ancient Religions in the World were originally the same'.[130] As rector of a Norfolk church, Shuckford had the same objective as Stukeley: to attack the deistic tenets of natural religion. 'If there was no Revelation made to the Men of the first Ages,' he asked rhetorically, 'how came the Knowledge and Worship of God so early into the World'?[131]

A final example will serve to illustrate the complexity of this historical project. John Jackson graduated from Jesus College in 1707, took holy orders and, as we have seen, became the mouthpiece of Samuel Clarke after he was silenced by Wake in the aftermath of the publication of The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity in 1712. In 1718 Jackson was refused his MA from Cambridge on account of his Arian publications. Although in the 1730s he went on to write pamphlets and treatises against the deists, in 1742 he was accused of being an 'Arian Deist'. In 1752 he published three learned volumes on Chronological Antiquities: Or, The Antiquities and Chronology of the Most Antient Kingdoms, from the Creation of the World, for the Space of Five Thousand Years. There he argued, among other things, that the Phoenicians had travelled to America. Jackson visited Stukeley in London in April that same year, and Stukeley recorded that 'we had much discourse on antient learning' and the two appear to have become friends, at least for a while. Notably, it was only four months later that Stukeley was rewriting his biography of Newton, with its observation that 'several people of heretical, & unsetled notions, particularly those of Arian principles, have taken great pains to inlist Sr Isaac into thir party.'[132] Is the timing here significant? It seems possible. But whatever conclusions we draw from Stukeley's friendships with the Arians Whiston and Jackson, it seems clear that we can place his Trinitarian writings on Avebury within a clear and popular intellectual context, and one which draws a picture of eighteenth-century antiquarianism distinct from that perceived by Piggott.

[1] Stukeley, SS 1, p. 77.

[2] Sir John Clerk, 'Journey to London in 1727', the Clerk Papers, Scottish Record Office, quoted in Piggott (1985) p. 76.

[3] John Clerk to Roger Gale, 2 June 1726, SS 1, p. 186.

[4] Roger Gale to Stukeley, 7 December 1726, SS vol 1, p. 186.

[5] Stukeley (1980) p. 93.

[6] Ibid..

[7] Sir John Clerk, 'Journey to London in 1727', quoted in Piggott (1985) p. 76.

[8] Stukeley (1980) p. 93.

[9] Ibid..

[10] FM MS1130 Stu (1), unpaginated end note.

[11] Stukeley (1980) p. 92.

[12] Stukeley to Samuel Gale, 6 February, 1727, SS 1, p. 190; and 25 October 1727, in Stukeley (1980), p. 140.

[13] Stukeley to Samuel Gale, 25 October 1727, in Stukeley (1980) p. 140.

[14] Ibid..

[15] Stukeley to Roger Gale, 17 March 1728, SS 2, p. 262.

[16] Stukeley to Sloane, 24 September 1729, in Nichols (1817) p. 790.

[17] See Roger Gale to Stukeley, 6 February 1728, SS 1, pp. 200-2.

[18] Roger Gale to Stukeley, 14 June 1729, SS 1, p. 220.

[19] Hearne Collections 10 p. 165.

[20] Stukeley to Samuel Gale?, 1729, SS 1, p. 228.

[21] Ibid..

[22] Stukeley to Wake, 3 June 1729, in Stukeley (1980) pp. 141-2.

[23] Wake to Stukeley, 10 June 1729, in Stukeley (1980) p. 144.

[24] Stukeley to Sloane, 24 September 1729, SS 2, p. 265.

[25] Stukeley to Frances Stukeley, 16 October 1729, in SS 1, pp. 225-6.

[26] Stukeley to King, 19 June 1731, Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 401 f. 1. King (1669-1734) had published anonymously An Enquiry into the Constitution, Discipline, Unity and Worship of the Primitive Church (1691), and Stukeley offerred to show him 'the first part, of my enquiry into the religion of the Druids'. Stukeley knew Sir Robert Walpole, and visited him at Houghton. See Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 125 f. 36.

[27] Wellcome MS 4729. See Plumb (1960) pp. 316-8 for an account of the literally riotous Stamford election and Stukeley's involvement.

[28] Wake to Stukeley, 19 February 1730, in Nichols (1817) pp. 785-6.

[29] Thomas Burnet, De fide et oficiis Christianorum (London, 1727) p. 8, quoted in Rossi (1984) p. 39.

[30] Clarke (1712) pp. 241-2.

[31] Stewart suggests that his Arianism was also intimately related to the Newtonian concern with experimental practice. In the 'General Scholium' Newton had written that 'to discourse' of God 'from phenomena, surely belongs to Experimental Philosophy.' See Stewart (1996) pp. 130-1.

[32] Gale (1669) p. 346.

[33] See Cudworth (1678) 2, p. 312; Harrison (1990) p. 33. However, according to Stewart (1996) p.128 Cudworth himself was accused of fostering Arianism, Socinianism or deism.

[34] Stukeley (1743), p. 6.

[35] More (1662) 'Preface' p.1, quoted in Iliffe (1989) p. 30.

[36] Champion (1992) p. 109.

[37] Quoted in Champion (1992) pp. 109-10.

[38] See Greig (1993).

[39] Quoted in Sykes (1957) 2, p.153

[40] Clark (1985) p. 286.

[41] See Hunter (1995) pp. 308-22.

[42] See especially Force and Popkin (1990) for an examination of Newton's theology and its influence; Duffy (1976), Stewart (1981), Pfizenmaier (1997) and Dobbs (1991).

[43] Gjertsen (1986) p. 117.

[44] Stewart (1996) p. 127.

[45] Ibid. pp. 124-5.

[46] John Edwards Some Animadversions on Dr Clarke's Scripture-Doctrine, (As he Stiles it) of the Trinity (London 1712) p.27, quoted in Stewart (1996) p. 132; John Edwards Some Brief Critical Remarks on Dr Clarke's Last Papers… (London 1714) p. 40; quoted in Stewart (1996) p. 132.

[47] Force (1985) p. 23.

[48] Whiston in A Collection of Authentick Records Belonging to the Old and New Testaments (2 vols, London 1728) 2, p. 1077, quoted in Force (1985) pp. 140-1.

[49] Richard Baron, Preface, Cordial for Low Spirits, (3 vols, London, 1763) I, pp. xviii--xix, quoted in Snobelen (1999), pp. 388-9.

[50] Keynes MS 136, Stukeley to Conduitt, 26 June 1727.

[51] Stukeley Roy. Soc. MS 142 f. 67.

[52] See SS 1, p. 88 and Bod. MS Eng. misc. d. 459. f. 2. Force describes Stukeley as a 'close friend' of Whiston's: see Force (1985) p. 128.

[53] See Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 122 ff. 67-8. For Stukeley's record of this Society, see Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 122.

[54] Stukeley diary, 12 February and 11 June 1747, Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 126 ff. 48, 51v.

[55] Stukeley diary, 18 March 1751, Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 130 f. 42. Stukeley must have forgotten their meeting four years before.

[56] Anon., Will-with-a-Wisp (1714) 2-3, quoted in Snobelen (2000) p. 000.

[57] Mead to Stukeley, London, 4 April 1727, Bod. MS. Eng. misc. c. 114, f. 50. Emphasis mine.

[58] Hearne, 24 August 1732, Collections 11, pp. 100-1.

[59] Champion (1992) p. 101.

[60] Thomas Herne (not to be confused with the antiquary Thomas Hearne), An Account of All the Considerable Books and Pamphlets that have been Wrote on Either Side in the Controversy Concerning the Trinity, Since the Year 1712 (London, 1720).

[61] SoA Minute Book, SoA MS 265 f. 21.

[62] Hall (1720) p.14. Compare Hall's opinion with the first of Toland's Letters to Serena (1704), 'The Origin and Force of Principles'.

[63] Hall (1720) pp. 21-2, p. 26 and p. 32.

[64] See Stukeley BL Add. MSS 6182 f. 18r.

[65] Stukeley (1980) p.116.

[66] See Force and Popkin (1990) p. 120.

[67] Ibid.; Sykes (1957) 2, pp. 154-60; DNB under Jackson.

[68] Wake to Jean Alphonse Turrettini, February 1718, quoted in Sykes (1957) 2, p. 150.

[69] See Sykes (1957) 2, p. 168.

[70] Sykes (1957) 2, p. 152 and p. 263.

[71] John Potter to Wake, 18 September 1717, quoted in Sykes (1957) 2, p. 160.

[72] On Whiston, see Force (1985), Rousseau (1987), Duffy (1976), and Snobelen (2000).

[73] Manuel (1983) p. 30.

[74] Whiston, Sermons and Essays (1709), quoted in Force (1985) p. 107.

[75] Whiston (1717), p. 000.

[76] Ibid. p. 156.

[77] Ibid. p. 194. Whiston also drew examples from the Sibylline Oracles, and from Derham's Astrotheology, Ray's Of the Creation, and the 'General Scholium' of the second edition of Newton's Principia.

[78] Ibid. p. 271.

[79] Clarke (1716), pp. 256-6.

[80] In Of the Truth of the Christian Revelation; Whiston (1717) p. 272.

[81] Ibid. p. 289.

[82] See Piggott (1974), catalogue no. 439, p. 439. Whiston also caught the attention of Toland, who defended him as a writer criticized only because he 'wou'd generously risk life or reputation, an employment or a benefice, for the sake of truth and the public good'. He wondered how it was that Whiston was gernerally 'reckon'd mad, tho' no man in England writes more coherently?' See Toland (1718) p. 71.

[83] Whiston (1717) p. 289.

[84] SS 1 p.235.

[85] Stukeley to Roger Gale, 25 June 1730, in SS 3, p. 266.

[86] Anon. (1742) p. 1.

[87] Ibid. p. 8.

[88] Anon., A Letter to the Revd William Whiston A.M. Occassioned by his Publication of the Memoirs of His Own Life (London, 1750), 37-8, quoted in Force and Pokin (1990), p. 64. Indeed, John Keill in 1698 accused some of the ideas in Whiston's New Theory (1696) as atheistical; see Guerrini (1996), p. 299.

[89] Anthony Collins (1676-1729) had studied at King's College, Cambridge, and was a friend of Locke's. He published A Discourse of Freethinking in 1713, and ran a group with its own weekly journal, The Free-Thinker. It was Collins, along with Tindal, that Stukeley specifically warned his friend Pimlow against in 1734. See chapter 7.

[90] Stukeley to Wake, 3 June 1729, in Stukeley (1980), pp. 141-42.

[91] See Kuhn (1961), esp. p. 308.

[92] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 650. ff. iii--iv. Bod. MS Eng. misc. e.554 also contains drafts of a number of sermons by Stukeley also on the subject of the Trinity and its antiquity in the world.

[93] Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 650 ff. 6-7.

[94] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. e. 554 f. 185.

[95] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f. 140.

[96] Excavations in 1999-2000 by the Archaological Departments of the Universities of Leicester, Wales College Newport and Southampton in the Longstones Field, Beckhampton, appear to have vindicated Stukeley's interpretation of the cove and the avenue of the 'tail'.

[97] Stukeley (1743) p. 8.

[98] Ibid. p. 56.

[99] Ibid.

[100] Stukeley Bod. Gough Maps 231 f. 31.

[101] Iversen (1961) p. 43.

[102] Tacitus, Annals, Book XI, 14, (Loeb Classical Library, London, 1969).

[103] Plotinus, Enneads, V 8.6 (Loeb Classical Library, London, 1984).

[104] Iversen (1961) p. 64.

[105] Stukeley (1980) p. 116. Richard Pococke, who had actually travelled in Egypt, did not agree with Warburton either. See Wortham (1971) pp. 42-3.

[106] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (3), unpaginated.

[107] See Godwin (1979) p.19, ref. to Oedipus Ægyptiacus, 2, i p. 133.

[108] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (3), unpaginated.

[109] Stukeley (1743) p. 59-61.

[110] Ibid. p. 62.

[111] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f. 132.

[112] Ibid. f. 230.

[113] Stukeley (1743) p. 9

[114] Stukeley, FM MS 1130 Stu (1) f. 31. For a full elaboration of this relationship, see Haycock (1999). For those critics who might argue that these sacred gardens were the true temples of the Druids, Stukeley responded that circles of stone pillars were merely permanent replacements for trees. Thus the arches of Gothic cathedrals and the Corinthian pillars of ancient temples were simply modelled on the arboreal avenues found in nature. Modern archaeological excavations have shown that Stonehenge and Stanton Drew were preceded by wooden structures, whilst Aubrey Burl has recently written that Stonehenge was 'a replica in size and appearance of the early ring-beamed timber building' and was essentially 'carpentry in stone'. See Stukeley (1724), p. 64; Cleal et al (1995) pp. 63, 115; Burl (2000) p. 367

[115] Newton New College MS 361/2 f. 108.

[116] Romans (1:22-3).

[117] Newton New College MS 361/2 f. 108.

[118] Exodus 20:4

[119] Stukeley (1736) pp. iii--iv. See Reventlow (1984) p. 357.

[120] Ibid. p. 1.

[121] Ibid. p. 33.

[122] Force and Popkin (1990) p. 51; the quote comes from Whiston's 'Introductory Discourse' to his Astronomical Principles (1717) p. 95.

[123] Force and Popkin (1990) pp. 51-2.

[124] In his biography of Whiston Force repeatedly quotes a remark from Westfall's biography of Newton which is worth reproducing here: ''In [Whiston's] recollections, one catches a glimpse -- is it a true image or is it a mirage? -- of one of the most advanced circles of free thought in England grouped around Newton and taking its inspiration from him.'' Force suggests 'that Whiston's recollections are more of a true image than a mirage'. See Force (1985) pp. 111-2.

[125] Marshall and Williams (1982) p. 113. They cite Berkeley as an example, who expressed the idea that the same 'sublime truths … have been rationally deduced by men of the best and most improved understandings'. Berkeley, Alcipheron, or the Minute Philosopher (1732) in Works of George Berkeley (Oxford 1871) 2, pp. 36, 51, quoted in Marshall & Williams (1982) p. 112

[126] Edward Wells (1667-1727) and Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724), both graduates of Christ Church, Oxford, are alternative examples of scholars who used methods and ideas similar to Stukeley, and whose books were in Stukeley's library. See Piggott (1974) p.431 cat. 214 & p.432 cat. 227 and 228. Shuckford's Sacred and Profane History reached a fifth edition by 1819. See reference to Shuckford in Stukeley's paper in the Roy. Soc. RBC MS 15.101 f.102, dated 19 November 1730.

[127] Shuckford (1728) 1, pp. xx--xxi.

[128] Ibid. pp. l--lvi.

[129] Ibid. p. 313.

[130] Ibid. pp. 313.

[131] Ibid. pp. 362-3

[132] For his conversation with Jackson see Stukeley's diary, 10 April 1752, Bod MS Eng. misc. e. 131 ff. 14, 41; in Bod. MS. Eng. misc. e.121 f. 63 Stukeley writes that in August 1752 'I was busy in writing the Memoirs of Sr Isaac Newtons life'.

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