Chapter 10: 'These Learned Lives.'

In 1704 an anonymous pamphlet, very probably by William Wotton, had been published in response to what it described as John Toland's attempt in Letters to Serena 'to root the Belief of all Revelation out of the World.' Titled Letter to Eusebia, it directed its readers to Grotius's Of the Truth of the Christian Religion, Stillingfleet's Origines Sacrae and Letter to a Deist, and Richard Bentley's Boyle Lectures, 'besides innumerable other excellent Treatises in our own and other Languages in Defense of that Religion which was taught us by Jesus Christ.'[1] Almost half a century later in 1752 John Ward, Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College and soon to be vice-president of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries, referred in a letter to Stukeley to Vossius and Bochart as authoritative sources on Roman and Persian religious customs.[2] Even Edward Gibbon in mid century still considered Vossius's De Theologia Gentili to be 'one of the major historical writings of modern times', whilst in 1742 Warburton observed that Cudworth in his True Intellectual System had 'penetrated the very darkest recesses of antiquity, to strip Atheism of all its disguises, and drag up the lurking monster to conviction.'[3] These encomiums by important eighteenth-century historians give the lie to Piggott's suggestion that Stukeley was relying on obscure, out-dated books in his work. Yet despite these positive judgements, it is nevertheless true that many of the ancient authors, as well as the methods being used by these synchronistic historians, among whom we must count Stukeley, were being questioned by the middle of the century, if not earlier.

Among the most important critics of Stukeley's historical 'school' was the statesman and scholar Henry St John, first Viscount Bolingbroke (1678-1751). He made a critical attack on this type of synchronistic scholarship in the first of his Letters on the Study and Use of History, written in 1735, but only published posthumously in 1752. Though Bolingbroke tellingly observed that the historians he intended to criticize were 'Men of the first rank in learning, and to whom the whole tribe of scholars bow with reverence', he nevertheless expressed his own

thorough contempt for the whole business of these learned lives; for all the researches into antiquity, for all the systems of chronology and history, that we owe to the immense labours of a SCALIGER, a BOCHART, a PETAVIUS, an USHER, and even a MARSHAM. The same materials are common to them all; but these materials are few … They have combined these into every form that can be given to them: they have supposed, they have guessed, they have joined disjointed passages of different authors, and broken traditions of uncertain originals, of various people, and of centuries remote from one another as well as from ours. In short, that they might leave no liberty untaken, even a wild similitude of sounds has served to prop up a system.[4]

Bolingbroke complained of 'all the learned lumber that fills the head of an antiquary', and went on to show in his third letter how the historian of the origins of nations 'should touch it lightly, and run swiftly over it', and should rely neither on ancient sources nor biblical texts.[5]

Another critic with similar opinions was the obscure figure of Samuel Zythophil, who sometime between 1740 and 1750 wrote a manuscript essay titled 'Dissertation concerning the Origin and Antiquity of Malt Liquor', in which he observed that the drink was invented by the Egyptian king Osiris.[6] Remarking that it was difficult to date when this Osiris had actually lived, Zythophil observed how

it has been a very common method with men of learning, who make great search into antiquity, to look out for some one or other in the old testament, and fix upon him as the hero … Every one must have observed this, who have read any of the moderns concerning the mythology of the antients, particularly Vossius, Bochart, Huetius, Sandford, Gale …

He also noted the works of Shuckford and Newton, who had respectively identified Osiris as 'Mizraim son of Ham' and Sesac. But Zythophil refused to follow this synchronic argument, remarking: 'I think this is a very strange way of reasoning, and cannot by any means come into it.' Whilst it was 'foreign to my present purpose to set about showing the absurdity of it', in short he could 'see no reason' why there should 'not have been a good and excellent king in Egypt named Osiris, who was neither Mizraim, nor Joseph, nor Moses? Certainly there might, and I do not at all doubt but there was.'[7] Then in 1762 Richard Gough explicitly associated Stukeley's name with exactly this sort of pedantry. In his anonymously published criticism of Stukeley's Medallic History of Carusius Gough observed that 'With this extravagant Partiality to sacred History … stand charged the learned Vossius and Bochart in the last Century … and Dr STUKELEY in the present.'[8] Yet despite this attack, Gough held a high opinion of his sometime mentor: 'If any man was born for the service of antiquity it was Dr Stukeley', he would write in 1768. 'Furnished with extensive reading, favoured with an extensive correspondence, he visited with unwearied assiduity the greatest part of the kingdom, taking drawings and admeasurements of the monuments on the spot'.[9] Gough's friend the antiquary John Nichols (1745-1826) similarly recorded that Stukeley's 'great learning and profound skill in these researches enabled him to publish many elaborate and curious works … with a sagacity peculiar to his great genius, with unwearied pains and industry, and some years spent in actual surveys, he investigated and published an account of those stupendous works of the remotest antiquity, Stonehenge and Abury, in 1743 [sic], and hath given the most probable and rational account of their origin and use, ascertaining also their dimensions with the greatest accuracy'. Nichols' only criticism of what he called Stukeley's 'valuable life' was that he was 'a little too much transported by a lively fancy and invention'.[10]

A more thoughtful response to the Druidical sources than Stukeley's 'lively fancy' was made by the Irish antiquary Revd Edward Ledwich (1738-1823) in 'A Dissertation in the Religion of the Druids'. This was read at the Society of Antiquaries of London on 11 November 1784, and published the following year in Archaeologia: Or Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, the collection of papers which the Society of Antiquaries published annually from 1770 onwards, in imitation of the Philosophical Transactions. Ledwich remarked that

On no subject has fancy roamed with more licentious indulgence than on that of the Druids and their institutions. Though sunk in the grossest ignorance and barbarism, their admirers have found them in the dark recesses of forests, secluded from mankind and almost from day, cultivating the abstrusest sciences and penetrating the sublimest mysteries of nature: anticipating the discoveries of Pythagoras, Epicurus, Archimedes, and Newton: and all this without the aid of letters or of experiments …[11]

Finding Stukeley, William Borlase and the French writer Charles Vallency (whose 'Essay on the Celtic Language' had been prefixed to his 1782 Grammar of the Iberno-Celtic or Irish Language) guilty of jumbling information from the classical sources 'all together, to eke out their favourite hypothesis', Ledwich believed it was impossible to arrive 'at the genuine and original dogmas of Druidism' and only the ancient sources could provide 'a proper idea of them'.[12] Ledwich proceeded to extract what Caesar had written on the ancient Britons, from which he doubted that the Druids could have had the knowledge attributed to them by modern authors at the same time as 'their compatriots were sunk into the grossest ignorance'. However, despite his scholarly attention to primary sources, Ledwich was not totally distanced from those ideas that had so interested Stukeley. His paper ended with a discussion of ancient knowledge, based upon a recent book by the Huguenot diplomatist and refugee, Louis Dutens, An Inquiry into the Origins of the Discoveries Attributed to the Moderns (1769). Dutens' subtitle explained that his book 'demonstrated, that our most celebrated Philosophers have, for most part, taken what they advance from the works of the Ancients; and that many important Truths in Religion were known to the Pagan Sages'. Dutens (1750-1812) had emigrated to London as a young man and had taken orders in the Church of England. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and was well respected in literary circles. Ledwich explained that according to Dutens 'there seems to have been a very remote period, of which we have scarce a glimpse, when knowledge had attained to its present perfection'. Dutens's researches, he felt, had made this fact 'more than probable' for he had 'clearly demonstrated, that our discoveries in the natural and moral world are not novel, but the same as those delivered by antiquity; and that where the parallel fails, it is to be ascribed to the want of literary memorials, now buried amid the ruins of time.'[13] In evidence, Ledwich put forward the recent discoveries made in the Pacific during Captain James Cook's circumnavigation of the globe. He particularly pointed out the discovery at Easter Island of 'a great number of statues of an amazing size'. Ledwich explained that Cook and Johan Reinhold Forster, the naturalist travelling with Cook on the expedition, were both

at a loss to account for these astonishing and stupendous productions when they consider the ability of the present inhabitants. These islanders do not now exceed seven hundred; they have no machinery or any working tools but those made of stone, bone or shells: they are sunk in the most deplorable poverty, ignorance and wretchedness. Yet these immense remains demonstrate that there was a period, when they were not only acquainted with the arts and sciences but were no mean proficients therein.[14]

Though he did not remark upon any of its ancient stone monuments by name, Ledwich concluded with the observation that Britain 'in ages very far back' was undoubtedly 'brightened with the radiance of knowledge and of letters'. But he added 'that the mythological tales, that disgrace her historic page, have no reference to this period, is equally demonstrable.'[15]

Ledwich's observations are interesting, for it is more with the historical method of antiquaries such as Stukeley and Borlase that he is unhappy, rather than with their ideas of an ancient knowledge, per se. It is for this reason that we must be cautious in our assessment of eighteenth-century scholarship; often the nature of the criticisms made by contemporaries differ from those we would make today. Thus when an eighteenth-century writer reaches what we might consider a reasoned or lucid conclusion or criticism of his contemporaries, this may be counterbalanced by a seemingly extravagant or unenlightened claim or hypothesis of his own. It is, therefore, dangerous to come to any quick opinion on the nature of the study of comparative religion and human origins in eighteenth-century Western thought. Whilst the antiquarians may be criticized for their willing descent into speculation, they were nevertheless working in an environment where even the most respected European scholars continued to hold trenchant beliefs in the biblical account of the origins both of Mankind and religion, and in a lost period of ancient civilization (a belief still held by some historians and archaeologists today).

At the same time as Cook's discoveries in the Pacific, the closer analysis of relatively unexamined historical records, such as ancient texts written in Sanskrit (the ancient and sacred language of the Hindus) and Persian, provided additional documentation which could be employed in upholding Western, Judaeo-Christian readings of global history. Britain's burgeoning imperial interests in the Indian subcontinent from the early seventeenth century onwards led to increased knowledge in Britain about Hindu science, religion and history. James Burnett, Lord Monboddo (1714-1790), was a Scottish judge educated at the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Gröningen. He made an early enquiry into this subject in the six volumes of his Of the Origin and Progress of Language (1774-92). Monboddo speculated that Greek and Sanskrit were similar in some 'remote analogies and distant relations of things', and he drew the conclusion that the Indians and the Greeks had derived their language and other arts from the same parent country, Egypt.[16] But the most significant contribution to this synchronistic methodology was made by another lawyer, Sir William Jones (1746-1794), the son of 'Will Jones, the mathematician' who had been a member of the 'infidel Club' to which Stukeley had refused an invitation in 1720. Jones had been a Fellow of University College, Oxford, and was a Fellow of the Royal Society. A prodigy in languages, at the age of only twenty five he had published a Persian grammar; not surprisingly, he was friends with both Johnson and Gibbon. In 1783 he became judge of the High Court at Calcutta, where he almost immediately founded the Bengal Asiatic Society on the model of the Royal Society. In an address to the Society in 1786 Jones observed from his excellent knowledge of Latin and Greek, and from his more recent study of Sanskrit, that

no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists: there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothick and the Celtick, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family …[17]

Jones's observation sparked the nineteenth century's fascination with the history of linguistics and comparative philology, and he was the first to recognize the connection between the family of languages that has, since 1814, been known as Indo-European.[18] In another paper, 'On the Gods of Greece, Italy, and India', which was published in the Society's influential journal Asiatick Researches in 1788, Jones suggested

when features of resemblance, too strong to have been accidental, are observable in different systems of polytheism, without fancy or prejudice to colour them and improve the likeness, we can scarce help believing, that some connection has immemorially subsisted between the several nations, who have adopted them …[19]

Whilst Jones appears to have owed no debt to Stukeley, as one of the most highly respected savants of his day his observations were hugely influential, and they illustrate how scholars continued to develop the theory of a universal, theologically based human history. This is most notable when Jones observed in the same essay:

the Gothick system, which prevailed in the northern regions of Europe, was not merely similar to those of Greece and Italy, but almost the same in another dress with an embroidery of images apparently Asiatick. From all this, if it be satisfactorily proved, we may infer a general union or affinity between the most distinguished inhabitants of the primitive world, at the time when they deviated, as they did too early deviate, from the rational adoration of the only true GOD.[20]

The most significant difference from Stukeley here is the injection of caution: 'if it be satisfactorily proved'.

The belief in an inter-communication between ancient cultures and civilizations around the globe remained strong, and indeed hardened in the later eighteenth century, and the observations and theories of Jones and other Europeans resident in India served the speculations of antiquarians back in Europe. The French astronomer Bailly in Lettres sur l'origine des Sciences, published in Paris and London in 1777, argued that man's original home was Asia, and that the Druids had brought their learning from there.[21] In 1785 Gough noted in the preface to his Comparative View of the Antient Monuments of India -- a collection of accounts by European travellers of Indian antiquities, carvings, monuments and temples -- how 'several respectable literati on the continent' had argued that the Chinese were 'a colony from Egypt', and Gough speculated that 'if we may judge from the few representations we have seen of the famous pagoda of Chillambrum on the Coromandel coast, the resemblance approaches near to the Nubian and Egyptian temples.'[22] As we have seen, in 1762 Stukeley had already dismissed this speculation on linguistic and calligraphic grounds. But in the sixth volume of his Indian Antiquities (1796) the oriental scholar and historian Revd Thomas Maurice (1754-1824) included a lengthy 'Dissertation on the Indian Origin of the Druids: and of the Striking Affinity which the Religious Rites and Ceremonies, Anciently Practised in the Brittish Islands, Bore to those of the Brahmins.' Maurice was a graduate of University College, Oxford, who in 1798 became assistant-keeper of manuscripts at the British Museum. Though he became one of the first British authors to popularize Eastern history and religion, he had never actually been to India. However, he observed how 'The Asiatic origin of the Druids has long been an acknowledged point in the world of antiquaries.' He cited as evidence an article in Asiatick Researches by Reuben Burrow, 'the great practical astronomer of India'. Burrow (1747-1792) had been an assistant at the Greenwich Observatory, and then a teacher of mathematics, before sailing to India in 1782 to work as a surveyor in Bengal, where he remained until his death. In 1790, in an article on Hindu astronomy, he published his observations that 'the Hindoo religion probably spread over the whole earth', and that there were 'signs of it in every northern country, and in almost every system of worship.' He believed Stonehenge was 'evidently one of the Temple of Boodh', and that 'the Druids of Britain were Brahmins is beyond the least shadow of a doubt.' He also considered it probable that rather than the Druids having been 'all murdered and their sciences lost … it is much more likely they turned Schoolmasters, and Freemasons, and Fortune-tellers, and in this way part of their sciences might easily descend to posterity, as we find they have done.'[23] Maurice was totally sold on Burrow's argument, describing him as 'the first person who, after a strict examination and comparison of their mythological superstitions and their periods, directly affirmed [the Druids] to be a race of emigrated Indian philosophers.'[24] Sir William Jones had already observed in 1786 that Odin 'was the same with BUDDH,' and the grounds for Maurice's argument of the Druids' 'Indian extraction' was his belief that Buddah, Mercury and Woden were all the same god, and that the Druids represented Mercury 'in the figure of the ORB, SERPENT, and WINGS, which is engraved in not less conspicuous characters on the extensive plains of Abury, in Wiltshire'.[25] Maurice later quoted extensively from 'the indefatigable' Stukeley's Abury, noting that it was 'full as applicable to Asiatic as British antiquities, and remarkably corroborates not only most of the prevailing assertions in this volume, but the general hypothesis on which this work and Indian history proceeds.' For Maurice, the use of an ellipsis in the lay out of stone temples indicated that the Druids 'were so far advanced in astronomy as to have known the elliptical courses described, in their revolution, by the heavenly bodies, a circumstance not suspected in modern Europe till the time of the ingenious Kepler'.[26] Like Stukeley, Maurice believed in a universal Deluge and a universal theology, and this religious conviction brought him similar criticism. In 1797 he published a pamphlet, Sanscreet Fragments, or Interesting Fragments from the Sacred Books of the Brahmins, on Subjects Important to the British Isles, in which he defended himself against the 'objection, urged with persevering clamour against this History, that, in it, every thing is sacrificed to the support of the Mosaic writings'.[27]

Even for those non-academics who actually travelled to India and the East, the Druids and the barrows of south-west England spoke of ancient relationships. In her Journal of a Residence in India Maria Graham recorded a visit to Madras in 1811, where she met Colin Mackenzie (1753?--1821), an officer in the Madras Engineers. He showed her his

collection of Hindoo antiques, and drawings of most of the temples in this part of India. He permitted me to copy some sketches of ancient Hindoo tombs, called by the natives Pandoo koolis … These bear an extraordinary resemblance to the Druidical vestiges in Europe, in Brittany, Cornwall, Ireland, and Scotland … They are often surrounded by circles of smaller stones, and Colonel Mackenzie calls them Indian cairns ….

Mrs Graham observed 'that one would be tempted to imagine that there must have existed, between the inhabitants of these remote nations, a connection sufficiently intimate to have transmitted similar customs to their descendants, although their common origin be forgotten.'[28] It has been pointed out by recent historians that even by the end of the eighteenth century 'the proposition that there were common elements in Christianity and non-Christian religions was rarely questioned; to attribute these to a common past before Babel or to God's ability to speak to all men through nature remained strict orthodoxy.'[29]

This viewpoint was expressed not only in both the writings of such prudent scholars as Sir William Jones, but also appeared in the pages of more speculative writers such as Jones' friend Jacob Bryant (1715-1804), a classical scholar and fellow of King's College, Cambridge. Bryant laid out his scheme of ancient history in the extensive pages of his A New System, Or, An Analysis of Ancient Mythology: Wherein an Attempt is Made to Divest Tradition of Fable; And to Reduce the Truth to its Original Purity (1775-76). In the preface to the first volume Bryant stated his intention to bring forth 'many surprizing proofs in confirmation of the Mosaic account: and it will be found from repeated evidence, that every thing, which the divine historian has transmitted, is most assuredly true.' Furthermore, he would show 'that all the rites and mysteries of the Gentiles were only so many memorials of their principal ancestors.'[30] His wide scope encompassed Stonehenge, whose construction he believed to be 'the operations of a very remote age; probably before the time, when the Druids, or Celtae, were first known.' He even questioned 'whether there be in the world a monument, which is much prior to the celebrated Stone-Henge. There is reason to think, that it was erected by a foreign colony; one of the first which came into the island'.[31] His footnotes, of course, cited Stukeley. In concluding his study, Bryant called upon educated people abroad to observe the antiquities around them, which could be used to further embellish and improve upon his 'system':

Upon the whole, I think, it is manifest, that there are noble resources still remaining; if we but apply ourselves to diligent inquiry. As we have both in India and China, persons of science, and curiosity, it would be highly acceptable to the learned world, if they would pay a little more attention to the antiquities of the countries where they reside. And this is addressed to people not only in those regions, but in any part of the globe, wherever it is possible to gain access. There are in every climate some shattered fragments of original history; some traces of a primitive and universal language. And these may be observed in the names of Deities, terms of worship, and titles of honour, which prevail among nations widely separated: who for ages had no connexion. The like may be found in the names of pagodas and temples; and of sundry other objects, which will present themselves to the traveller. Even America would contribute to this purpose. The more rude the monuments, the more ancient they may possibly prove; and afford a greater light upon enquiry.[32]

Bryant's book was read by Jones, who described it as, of all the works published on the history of the ancient world, the one having 'the best claim to the praise of deep erudition ingeniously applied, and new theories happily illustrated'.[33] In his 1784 essay 'On the Gods of Greece Italy, & India' Jones observed that 'we shall, perhaps, agree at last with Mr BRYANT, that Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, and Italians, proceeded originally from one central place, and that the same people carried their religion and sciences into China and Japan: may we not add, even to Mexico and Peru?'[34] Another discerning reader of both Bryant and Monboddo was the physician and botanist Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), grandfather of Charles Darwin. He incorporated 'Lord Monboddo's learned work on the Origin of Language' and 'Mr Bryant's curious account of Ancient Mythology' into the after-notes of his philosophical poem, The Temple of Nature; Or, The Origin of Society (1803). There he observed that the 'cradle of the World' was the banks of the Mediterranean, from whence the peoples of Europe and parts of Africa and Asia were descended. This, Darwin believed, seemed 'highly probable from the similarity of the structure of the language of these nations, and from their early possession of similar religions, customs, and arts, as well as from the most ancient histories extant.'[35]

But linguistic comparisons or the identification of similarities between antiquities was not the only approach to the history of religion in the second half of the eighteenth century. One of the most rational and philosophical approaches was that undertaken by the Scottish philosopher and historian David Hume (1711-1776), who famously declared, 'I believe this to be the historical age and this the historical nation.'[36] For Stukeley's friend Warburton, however, Hume was 'a veteran in the dark and deadly trade of Irreligion.'[37] As an anonymous review of Hume's Four Dissertations (1757), which included his 'Essay on Natural History of Religion', explained:

Mr Hume is of opinion, that if we consider the improvement of human society, from rude beginnings to a state of greater perfection, it will appear, that Polytheism or Idolatry, was, and necessarily must have been, the first and most antient religion of mankind … In a word, our Author thinks it impossible, that theism could, from reasoning, have been the primary religion of the human race, and have afterwards, by its corruption, given birth to Idolatry, and to all the various superstitions of the heathen world.[38]

This viewpoint contradicted virtually all the opinions we have so far encountered -- that monotheism was the original primary religion of most ancient times, and that idolatry and polytheism only appeared later. Obviously Hume's thesis marked a revolution in scholarly opinion, and that it did not meet with popular support is unsurprising. Too much was staked on the traditional interpretation.

To consider briefly only one of many responses to Hume's thesis on natural religion, we may look at Remarks Upon the Natural History of Religion by 'S. T.', who disagreed with Hume's argument that in ancient times all men were necessarily polytheists. In fact, S. T. argued, 'mankind were as able to discover the existence of a God in the remotest ages of antiquity, as at present.' S. T. could not accept Hume's argument that our ancient ancestors were driven only by emotions of 'fear, revenge, and hunger.' Indeed, he suggested, 'Why might not a Bacon, Locke, or Newton, have existed in the remotest times, since human nature hath always been the same from its first creation'. And indeed civilizations which did not have the art of letters may even have existed before those recorded by the Greeks. S. T. turned to the evidence of antiquities to contradict Hume's arguments, inviting his reader to

consider the state of mankind in the remotest ages, upon the testimony of the most ancient monuments, and records, and endeavour from thence to form a reasonable idea of their manners and religion.

The pyramids of Egypt were built before the use of letters, and have still survived the storms, and mouldering hand of time, to convince us, that its builders compounded the mechanical powers in a manner unknown to us at present; and their situation likewise proves that they were acquainted with astronomy … If we consider withal the descriptions which [classical] authors have given us of the magnificent cities of Thebes, Babylon, and Memphis; of the temple of Diana at Ephesus, of the amazing works of the labyrinth, of the lake Moeris, or of the famous statue of Memnon; can we help being astonished at the progress which the ancients had made in the mechanical arts? Is it then reasonable to suppose, with Mr H[ume], that these people were rude and ignorant, and that speculative curiosity was too refined for their gross apprehensions?[39]

Noting that many ancient philosophers, including Homer, Thales, Pythagoras and Plato 'believed in the existence of a divine being', and that the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Persians and Chinese had expressed a belief in a superior God, S. T. proceeded to quote from Warburton's Divine Legation of Moses: 'Dr Warburton likewise says, 'It is not only possible that the worship of the first cause of all things was prior to any idol worship, but in the highest degree probable; idol worship having none of the appearances of an original custom, and all the circumstances attending a depraved and corrupted institution.''[40] And, lest Warburton's authority be insufficient, S. T. concluded his Remarks with an extract from Newton's Chronology: ''The believing that the world was framed by one supreme God, and is governed by him, and the loving and worshipping him, and honouring our parents, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, and being merciful even to brute beasts, is the oldest of all religions.''[41] In the following century arguments of the type proposed by S. T. would continue to be proposed, often with Stukeley's name appearing somewhere in their text, and it is Hume who, for the time being, is marginalised.

Thus even at the very close of the century Edward King (1735?--1807), a Cambridge-educated barrister who was a Fellow of the Royal Society and (briefly) President of the Society of Antiquaries, devoted the first volume of his Munimenta Antiqua (1799) to 'The days of primaeval simplicity, and rudeness; the days of Druidism, -- and of Patriarchal manners.' On the subject of Druids' temples, King declared that he would not repeat or interfere with what had been written, 'so much at large', by Stukeley. He would instead leave 'the curious … to draw their own conclusions from his learned dissertations', but added that his own work had 'led me very much to agree with him. My object, it will be found, has been to add, if possible, by fair observations, new and additional light to the interesting subject'.[42] King refused, however, to add anything concerning the 'superstitious observances, that are said to have prevailed amongst the Druids … a veil should for ever be drawn over the foul and foolish abominations of horrible idolatry'. These included, no doubt, accusations of human sacrifice, but also 'The use of the ideal device of the orbicular winged serpent; -- so much corresponding with the idea of the wings, the orb, and the serpent, found among the Egyptian hieroglyphics'. Simply to name 'such detestable offences of dark ages' was 'more than sufficient.'[43] King had read the accounts of Cook's Pacific voyages, and he compared the descriptions of raised altars and human sacrifices by the South Sea islanders with the trilithons of Stonehenge. He suggested that amongst remote people 'who have been cut off, for many ages, from all correspondence with the rest of the world, we find preserved almost uninterruptedly (though mixed perhaps with additional horrible idolatrous corruptions), the practices, in point of form, of those of the Patriarchs, in the first ages of the world'.[44] There had, he argued, then followed a decline and corruption of religious practices, and the sacrificial 'abominations' practised at Stonehenge had occurred only 'in the latter most corrupted ages of Druidism' whilst 'the first original designation, in conformity with Patriarchal usages, is manifest enough.'[45] Despite the attacks of Bolingbroke on antiquarian methodology, and the criticisms of Hume on natural religion, the Stukleian school of history continued to thrive at the end of his century, and well in to the next.

Nineteenth-Century Uses and Abuses

The most famous propagator of Stukleian ideas in the early nineteenth century was the visionary poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). As an apprentice to James Basire, engraver to the Society of Antiquaries, Blake worked on the illustrations for Archaeologia, as well as the engravings for Gough's Sepulchral Monuments in Great Britain (1786) and Bryant's New System. From an early age, therefore, Blake was deeply involved in and fascinated by the antiquarian and poetic perception of the esoteric Druidic past.[46] Like Stukeley, he was a passionate fan of Ossian, and an adherent of its authenticity. He read the syncretist writers of the period, including Stukeley's Abury and Stonehenge, and the influence of this new historiography is at its most profound in such memorable verses as the 'Jerusalem' passage in his epic poem Milton (1804), where God walks in majesty upon England's 'mountains green' and 'pleasant pastures'. But in Blake's history, it was the Patriarchs who were the heirs of the Druids, and the Druids were the ancestors, not the antithesis, of the English deists. As he asked in Jerusalem, 'Was Britain the Primitive Sear of the Patriarchal Religion?' If it was, then his statement from Milton was true: 'All things Begin & End in Albion's Ancient Druid Rocky Shore.' The ancestors of the British 'derived their origin from Abraham, Heber, Shem and Noah, who were Druids, as the Druid Temples (which are the Patriarchal Pillars & Oak Groves) over the whole Earth witness to this day.'[47] But as is well known, Blake's poems and their illustrations, which include serpent temples, were largely ignored in his lifetime, dismissed by most as the eccentric outpourings of a deluded mind. Another writer contemporaneous with Blake was Edward Davies (1756-1831), a Welsh antiquary who wrote Celtic Researches on the Origin, Traditions, and Language of the Ancient Britons (1804). He argued there that the Druids had spoken the most ancient language, and suggested that there was perhaps 'no order of men amongst the heathens, who preserved the history and the opinions of mankind, in its early state, with more simplicity, and more integrity.' In Davies thesis the Druids were, of course, of the patriarchal religion, and appeared 'to have retained many of its vital and essential principles.'[48] Davies went on to publish The Mythology and Rites of the British Druids in 1809, which, A. L. Owen declared, 'reads as though some mutation of the imagination had reached out to and flowered in a world that cannot possibly exist, and so removed is it from reality that it enters into no opposition with it.'[49]

Notwithstanding Blake and Davies's fantastic visions, in the nineteenth century Stukeley's archaeological work and accompanying theories were kept very much in the public eye and given additional weight and authority by the highly respected Wiltshire antiquary and travel writer Sir Richard Colt Hoare (1758-1838). Hoare published two histories of ancient Wiltshire which are characterized by his Baconian motto, 'We speak from facts, not theory.'[50] He elucidated the ancient history of Britain from entirely classical sources, never resorting to biblical evidence or theory. Whilst in The Ancient History of South Wiltshire (1812) he strongly criticized the inaccuracy of his excavations of ancient barrows, he nevertheless found that Stukeley's work

has rendered all former accounts of STONEHENGE nugatory and unsatisfactory. He differs widely in opinion and plan, from his predecessors; he saw with his own eyes, and dictated from his own good sense and sound judgement… in STUKELEY we find every thing we could desire or expect; great learning, sound judgment, minute investigation, and accuracy of description, added to the most enthusiastic zeal in the cause of antiquity…[51]

Hoare was disappointed only by Stukeley's 'Druid's cubit' and his argument for Stonehenge's Phoenician construction, lamenting that its origin 'will most probably remain unknown'. He attributed its construction to the Celts, but refused to name the Druids as the builders.[52] In his companion volume, The Ancient History of North Wiltshire (1819), Hoare was more critical of Stukeley's plans and measurements in Abury, in which 'much authentic information [is] intermixed with learned conjecture', but he nevertheless accepted that in ancient times temples had been constructed in the form of serpents, that they were called Dracontia, and that Avebury was one of them.[53]

Thanks then to Colt Hoare's verification of Stukeley's measurements and his theory of the serpent temple at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Stukeley's interpretation of Avebury, Stonehenge and Druids' temples remained influential for at least a century or so after his death. The chief reason for this, of course, is the reason that Stukeley is still important to archaeologists to this day: his extensive field work, and the detailed measurements, recordings and drawings he made, which were the earliest and by far the most thorough. This was particularly significant at Avebury. There the burial or destruction of the stones for religious reasons, for building materials or for land-use, had started in the Middle Ages and was still on-going in the 1720s. Thus when Stukeley made his recordings the monument was at a level of comparative completeness that it was not to achieve again until the restoration work of Alexander Keiller in the 1930s, when the stones that had been buried were excavated and re-erected.[54] It is perhaps for this reason that subsequent antiquaries did not consider it necessary to excavate at Stonehenge or Avebury; what would have been the point when Stukeley had had the best access, had taken the most trouble, and the reliable Hoare had largely defended his conclusions? Godfrey Higgins (1773-1833), for example, was a Yorkshire antiquary, educated at Cambridge, who devoted himself to 'an unbiased investigation' into the history of religious beliefs.[55] He observed in The Celtic Druids (1827) how Colt Hoare had been 'at great expense and trouble to examine the statements of Dr Stukeley respecting these monuments, which, with some trifling exceptions, he found to be correct.'[56] Likewise according to the Revd Bathurst Deane writing in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1849, Hoare's survey results at Avebury served to 'confirm the general observations of Stukeley, and to correct, not ignore, his findings'[57]

Despite this vaunting of Stukeley's discovery, the nineteenth century saw an explosion of writing on Avebury, Stonehenge and Druids. Most of the authors were university-educated men, often vicars holding rural stipends with an amateur interest in antiquities and religious history, who were not bashful about expanding upon Stukeley's ideas. One such was the Oxford-educated antiquary Revd William Lisle Bowles (1762-1850), who in 1828 attempted to offer additional support to Stukeley's Druidic thesis in Hermes Britannicus: A Dissertation on the Celtic Teutates, the Mercurieus of Caesar, in Further Proof and Corroboration of the Origination and Designation of the Great Temple at Abury, in Wiltshire. In this largely conjectural account that displays all the sort of learning already being criticized by the mid-eighteenth century, Bowles found that whilst Stukeley had 'discovered, in part, the form of the great serpent', he proposed to go further and show how 'the Celtic Teutates, or Teut, [comes] from the Egyptian Thoth, the knowledge of which deity was brought to Britain by the Phoenicians'.[58] He achieved this partly by showing how 'The Egyptian Thoth, Thot, or Tot, the Phenician Taautus or Taute, the Grecian Hermes, the Roman Mercury, the Teutates of the Celts … are universally admitted to be the same.'[59] Another variant form of Stukeley's ideas appeared in the Revd D. James's The Patriarchal Religion of Britain; Or A Complete Manual of Ancient British Druidism (1836) which was dedicated to the 'Ancient Order of Druids' in the West Riding of Yorkshire. James followed a biblical pattern for the colonization of the world, and believed that after the Flood the 'religion of Noah' had been introduced to Britain by his descendants, 'and that religion was the TRUE RELIGION.'[60] This post-diluvian theology, furthermore, was no different from the Patriarchal religion that had existed before the Flood, which itself was 'the true religion originally taught and revealed by the Divine Being.'[61] We find once more in James's book Tindal's argument of 'Christianity as old as religion', over a hundred years after it was first published, and on grounds that were suggested by many of the authors we have already examined:

This accounts at once, and on Scriptural grounds, for similar Traditions, Customs, Opinions, Laws, Rites and Observances, prevailing among nations long secluded from each other -- on the borders of Siberia, in China, Japan, Africa, Britain, Mexico, and the Islands of the Pacific Ocean.[62]

The Revd John Bathurst Deane, a graduate of Pembroke College, Cambridge, also expanded upon Stukeley's thesis in his 'Observations on Dracontia' published in Archaeologia in 1834. Deane used the terms 'Dracontium' and 'alate Dracontia' without reference to Stukeley's invention of the words, as if they were common phrases, and proceeded to survey and identify the stone monument of Carnac in Brittany as a Dracontia. In The Worship of the Serpent Traced Throughout the World (2nd edition, 1833) Deane had attempted to show that the universal worship of snakes proved the authenticity of the Genesis account of the Fall. His recommended sources for his work also included -- among a couple of more contemporary authorities -- Stillingfleet, Bochart, Vossius, Kircher and Bryant. He praised Stukeley in particular, before whom 'On this interesting subject nothing was even guessed at, until his master-hand evoked, as by the wave of a magician's wand, the Python of Delphi in the wilds of Wiltshire.'[63] Stukeley's Abury was 'a volume replete with deep research and interesting facts.'[64] In a review published in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1849, Deane observed that the 'worst' that could be said of Stukeley 'is, that he was mistaken; but even this no one has a right to say now that most of the data upon which he argued have been removed, and especially as no one who had similar means of knowledge contradicted him while those data were before the world.' Deane concluded his Archaeologia paper by observing that the existence of Dracontia 'proves the ancient prevalence of SERPENT WORSHIP; and the prevalence of such an idolatry proves the Truth of the HOLY SCRIPTURES'.[65] Deane's ambition was to clear away

the mist which envelopes the early history of the Celtic religion; for I am persuaded that the more intimate is our knowledge of the esoteric mysteries of that powerful superstition, the more cause we shall have for 'holding fast the profession of our faith'; for with all its corruptions it approached nearer to the Truth than any other idolatrous worship; and exhibits 'as in a glass darkly' almost every important feature of the first religion of man …[66]

The Oxford antiquary William Long (1817-1886), writing on Avebury in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine in 1858, similarly believed it could not 'reasonably be doubted' that the avenues and the circles at Avebury 'existed originally in the form laid down by Stukeley': 'Fanciful and credulous as he may occasionally appear, he evidently aimed at accuracy and truthfulness.' Long, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, advised anyone sceptical of Stukeley's theory 'to the form and extent' of the Avebury serpent temple to go there for themselves and observe the remains of the 'tail': 'He could not look upon those two stones and nine stumps and feel a doubt that they had formed a portion of such an avenue as Stukeley has described.'[67]

One of the most detailed elaborations of Stukeley's ideas was made by Colt Hoare's friend, the Revd Edward Duke (1779-1852), who had assisted him in his barrow excavations. Duke was a graduate of Magdalen Hall, Oxford, and prior to his ordination had been a magistrate in Wiltshire; he was also a Fellow of both the Linnaean and the Antiquarian Societies. Duke did not share any of Hoare's reticence in ascribing Avebury and Stonehenge's construction to the Druids. In The Druidical Temples of the County of Wilts (1846) he observed that the worship of the planets had originated in Chaldea and from there had passed to Egypt, Arabia 'and spread far and wide.' Stone temples were found 'in all parts of the world', and they were 'ancient Temples of the Sun.' He noted how the Sun 'even to this present day is the prime object of adoration with the inhabitants of Mexico and Peru.'[68] From these preliminary observations, and no doubt inspired by Thomas Maurice's theory of the Druidic ellipsis from 1796, Duke presented his unique hypothesis that by their schematic temples 'Our ingenious ancestors portrayed on the Wiltshire Downs, a Planetarium or stationary Orrery'.[69] Duke applauded Stukeley for having drawn public attention to Avebury: he had 'with most laudable perseverance, accurately surveyed, and measured the ground-plan of these magnificent antiquities, and, with an admirable correctness, he, from the remains yet standing, proved, and made out one concordant whole.'[70] Duke considered the worship of planets ('Sabaeism') to have been 'the prevailing religion of the world' whose priests were given 'the generic appellation of 'the Druids''; furthermore they were, he suspected, Pythagoreans, and 'most probably his predecessors.'[71] He found that this astronomical theory for the Wiltshire stone circles had developed through the writings of Wood, John Smith and 'those eminent writers, Maurice, King, Davies and Higgins.' He suspected that the Druids were planet-worshipping Pythagoreans: Silbury Hill represented the Earth, whilst the sinuous avenues of the Avebury serpent were 'the northern portion of the ecliptic; and the temples on that ecliptic represent the Sun, and the Moon, as his satellite, revolving around him. This, in the testimony of Caesar, was the opinion of the very early astronomers'.[72] Given these resemblances 'between the ancient cycles and the ancient temples' which 'arises from no play of the imagination, but from facts, visible to the eye', he could not conceive why these concordances 'so constant and so obvious, were omitted by my late lamented friend, Sir R. C. Hoare'.[73] Lest we think that Duke swallowed Stukeley's thinking whole, however, he warned his readers that whilst 'Stukeley possessed great extent of recondite learning, [and] his writings delight from their combined elegance and simplicity of language, but he possessed also such fervour of mind, that it, not unseldom, led him to promulgate opinions, which were not maintainable.'[74]

There were yet stronger dissenters from the Stukleian position, such as the Revd Henry Browne's An Illustration of Stonehenge and Abury, In the County of Wilts, Pointing out their Origin and Character, Through Considerations Hitherto Unnoticed (1823). Browne's book had a surprising popularity, for it had reached a sixth edition by 1867. Whilst Browne declared that Stukeley's thesis had 'obtained almost universal acceptance,' he dismissed most of his theory of attribution to the Druids, partly on the grounds that according to the classical sources the Druids had worshipped in groves, but mainly because the building of Stonehenge evinced 'a power far beyond what the Britons possessed'.[75] The snake temple of Avebury was not a Druidic representation of the Trinity, but an immutable memorial of the snake's temptation of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It had been built by the antediluvians, possibly by Adam himself, 'to perpetuate a knowledge of his original sin, and of the promise of redemption'.[76] By showing that Stonehenge and Avebury were antediluvian temples, Browne proposed that this would

give an ascendancy in importance to this our country over all others -- an ascendancy which we see paralleled at the present moment in its being alone selected to make known the revealed will of God throughout the earth. And is this little spot, an island, the least I may almost say of countries, destined before all others to this great this mighty, this most glorious of ends! Will the geologist deny its separation from the Continent by the Flood? Can we, as Christians, venture to assert that there is no appeal to man in this Almighty act of Omniscience?[77]

Browne declared that God had deliberately 'made England an island', and he used what he called this 'argument from design' to explain the special religious providence of England and the English, asking rhetorically 'whether Geology is not calculated to bear testimony to revealed as well as natural Religion!!!'[78] Browne even believed that 'this learned gentleman' Stukeley had actually been 'aware of his own error in ascribing serpentine temples to the Druids' rather then the antediluvians, 'when he says, 'I have some proof of their being ancienter than the Flood': but this being a declaration in the latter part of his work upon Abury, when he had already executed that upon Stonehenge, it was too late to recant and undo what he had already done'.[79] Stimulated by these speculations, in 1832 Browne went on to publish The Geology of Scripture, Illustrating the Operation of the Deluge, and the Effects of Which it was Productive: With A Consideration of Scripture History, in Reference to Stonehenge and Abury, in Wiltshire. Browne dedicated this 'Geology of Scripture' to his friend the Revd Dr William Buckland (1784-1856), the first Professor of Geology at Oxford University and President of the Geological Society, whose Reliquiae Diluvianae, Or, Observations on the Organic Remains Attesting the Action of a Universal Deluge (1823) had used scientific investigation to support biblical events. Noting the similarity between the antiquities of India, Egypt and England, Browne explained the Flood through the terms of Genesis, and he attempted to examine the Antediluvians' theology, and their construction of the Serpentine Temple of Avebury. From its combination of three circles (two within one), together with an inner cove of three stones, Browne concluded that 'To deny a three-fold provision in what is here noticed, no one, I presume, will attempt; nor can any one who admits the existence of a temple, on the authority of Dr Stukely [sic], separate this three-fold provision from the rites of Religion.' Furthermore Stonehenge, with its trilithons 'would seem to represent the three-fold property of the Supreme Being. In the combination of seven such forms [i.e. trilithons], we possess a more extended testimony to theology than any other which the world appears to afford.'[80] For Browne, even the antediluvians had been Trinitarians! Stukeley would certainly have been impressed.

But despite Stukeley's clinching arguments that the Romans could not have built the circular stone temples scattered throughout Britain, the Romans made a sudden reappearance. In an article published in Archaeologia in 1840 John Rickman (1717-1840), an Oxford-educated statistician who had been secretary to the commission for making roads in Scotland and a friend of the engineer Thomas Telford, argued that any earlier culture would have been too socially and technologically inferior to build such a structure. He set out 'to produce circumstantial evidence, that the antiquity of Stonehenge and even of Abury, falls short of the commencement of the Christian era.' Whilst finding Stukeley's 'imagination too often surpassed his zeal in antiquarian research', nevertheless he believed 'Much is due to this amiable man and accomplished scholar notwithstanding his credulity and unaccountable inaccuracies of representation'. He used these failings to discredit Stukeley's dating of the monuments. Stukeley had argued that the route of the Roman road that passes by Avebury deliberately avoided Silbury Hill, and saw this as clear evidence that Silbury hill was therefore older. Rickman, however, claimed (incorrectly) that Stukeley had exaggerated the course of the road, 'as if the Roman road aimed at such an obstruction merely for the sake of thus avoiding it; and he then relies on this fictitious curve in support of his opinion of the priority of the said hill.'[81] In fact, claimed Rickman, Silbury Hill was a by-product of the Roman road, and Avebury a 'Circus' served by that very road for the entertainment of the Romano-Britons who lived in London, Bath and Silchester. Only the convenience and proximity of such a road could explain how Avebury's supposed capacity of 40,000 people could be filled. The dean of Merton College, Oxford, Algernon Herbert (1792-1855), was another who attacked Stukeley's interpretation. In Cyclops Christianus: Or, An Arguement to Disprove the Supposed Antiquity of the Stonehenge and other Megalithic Erections in England and Brittany (1849) Herbert wrote that Stukeley's identification of Avebury as a serpent temple 'has been adopted for a fact; antiquaries now talk as freely of the serpent of Abury, as of the sphinx of Egypt'.[82] But in Herbert's opinion Stukeley's interpretation, though 'generally received', was a 'gross deception'. The Dracontium was 'a deliberate forgery, which supine credulity has screened from detection a hundred years.' Herbert believed Stonehenge and Avebury had in fact both been built in the post-Roman period. Similar ideas were proposed in the British Quarterly Review in July 1860 by the respected architectural historian James Fergusson (1808-1886), who wrote that despite 'a sad want of logic … the Druidical theory of Dr Stukeley has become a part of our stock-belief, and 'Druidical remains' is the generic name applied to all the rude monuments in every part of the country.'[83] Fergusson had made his name with major publications on the ancient architecture of India, and in his analysis of Stonehenge he returned to the pre-Stukelian writers, using their evidence, together with the discovery by Hoare's assistant William Cunnington of an apparent fragment of Roman pottery in the hole of a fallen trilithon, to conclude that we could, 'with approximate certainty', date 'all the great stone monuments of this country … to the period that elapsed between the departure of the Romans and the conquest of the country by the Danes and Saxons.'[84] In Rude Stone Monuments in All Countries: Their Age and Uses (1872) Fergusson accused Stukeley of having

cut the vessel adrift from the moorings of common sense, and she has since been a derelict tossed about by the winds and waves of every passing fancy, till recently, when an attempt has been made to tow the wreck into the misty haven of prehistoric antiquity. If she ever reaches that nebulous region, she may as well be broken up in despair, as she can be of no further use for human purposes.[85]

Fergusson instead stated his belief 'that it will come eventually to be acknowledged that those who fell in Arthur's twelfth and greatest battle were buried in the ring at Avebury, and that those who survived raised these stones and the mound at Silbury in the vain hope that they would convey to their latest posterity the memory of their prowess.'[86] Perhaps influenced by Fergusson's 1860 paper, in 1866 the astronomer John Herschel (1792-1871) inquired of the scientist and politician John Lubbock whether Stonehenge had been built by the Romans. Lubbock (1834-1913) replied, 'As regards Stonehenge I think both instinct [and] reason are against it being Post Roman, & perhaps one's opinion is influenced almost as much by the former as by the latter.'[87] But this speculation clearly ignores the extensive, comparative study of all types of stone monuments that Stukeley had undertaken, through which he had suggested that either the Romans must be given 'a new & better title to all alike, than yet has been provd on their side[,] or they must at once quit any manner of pretensions to one.'[88] It is unfortunate and ironic that Stukeley's reputation for fancy detracted from what were in fact his best archaeological achievements, and that antiquaries and historians continued to make attributions that had been dismissed by Aubrey two centuries earlier.

Such suggestions of a Roman provenance were, however, rare. In an article on Pictish stone circles published in Wiltshire Archaeological Magazine in 1860, the Revd John Lockhart Ross, another Oxford graduate and vicar of Avebury and Monkton, wrote that whilst he did not subscribe 'in all particulars either to his views or deductions, many of which are confessedly fanciful and have received little credit', he found that recent attention to the subject of Stukeley's 'Dracontic erection' had 'resulted in a decided disposition in most quarters to receive his statement of the appearance of those circles in his time, as well as their probable design.'[89] Stukeley's opinion was important to Ross because he had been there before the destruction of many of the stones, and had spent a great deal of time surveying them. Whilst Long had not been impressed by Stukeley's argument that the Druids 'were in effect Christians', Ross reached similar conclusions to Stukeley on the implications that could be drawn from stone circles for the history of religion. 'The inference I would venture to draw from this account of the circular structures in Orkney is, that all such circular buildings and stones whether in this country, Scotland, Ireland, or elsewhere, are monuments of the very earliest ages, and existing proofs of the one universal religion which prevailed for many centuries after the deluge, whether in the Patriarchal or a more subsequent age'.[90] Ross had expressed this same argument at greater length in 1858 in Traces of Primitive Truth in the Principal Nations of the World: A Manual for Missions in India and the Colonies. There he suggested that, with the exceptions of Greece and Rome, 'Almost the whole of the rest of Europe were, more or less, adherents of the Druidical system'.[91] This system 'probably derived from Canaan and Egypt' and was 'probably of the greatest antiquity in the world, and previous to its corruptions and cruel sacrificial rites, was possibly the Abrahamic worship and belief'.[92] Ross was not entirely certain that Avebury and Stonehenge had been built by the Druids, but he did note that the dimensions of Silbury Hill 'exactly correspond with those of the Great Pyramid in Egypt' and that this was 'thought by some writers to warrant the supposition that their original founders were of Egyptian or Phoenician extraction.'[93] Ross concluded his discussion of the religious practices of the world with the observation that he had satisfactorily established 'the uniformity of belief and worship in the principal nations of the earth', and that he had shown 'to what extent they retain the customs of the patriarchal age and traces of primitive truth.'[94] This included the doctrine of the Trinity, which 'may be discovered in most of the sacred books of the more ancient nations'.[95] Ross concluded that these 'seeds of primitive and, consequently, divine truth' once freed from 'their hoary excressences and corruptions' could be utilized by the Christian missionary, who should make himself 'acquainted with whatever elementary truth may exist in the country he proposes to evangelize'. He could then use this vestigial knowledge of the most ancient religion as a key to making converts 'back' to Christianity.[96]

Ross also published his theories in The Druidical Temples at Abury (1858), a review of which was published in the British Quarterly Review in October 1869, along with a retrospective review of Stukeley's Abury. In some interesting remarks that are helpful in understanding his standing in a mid-nineteenth-century context, and of this type of learning in general, the anonymous reviewer observed that Stukeley's book

gives the result of a long and patient investigation on the spot, and is the source from which all subsequent descriptions have been extracted or compiled: being referred to as authoritative even in the painstaking and elaborate work of Sir R. Colt Hoare. Dr Stukeley has illustrated his volume by a carefully-drawn plan to a large scale, a document which would be invaluable as well as conclusive, but for the fact that certain tangible errors raise the doubt how much of the drawing represents the truth of actual survey, and how much is due to the active imagination of the author…

Most tellingly, the reviewer observed that it was

not easy to direct the attention of our readers to readily available sources of information on the subject of Avebury. The work of Dr Stukeley, which is almost or altogether the only literary authority on the subject is a curious mixture of the old and new methods of inquiry. It places side by side the results of actual observation and the assumptions of prejudices or the deductions of the most fanciful theory. Had the writer only been at the pains to distinguish between what he saw and what he thought, the work would possess a permanent value, which the inability of the reader to distinguish between fact and fancy signally diminishes.

But the consideration which may justly be extended to an author writing in the year 1743, must be denied to one [i.e. Ross] who is content to follow in his footsteps in 1858. The ignorant and pretentious handbook, entitled The Druidical Temples at Abury … makes one blush for the author.[97]

By the third quarter of the nineteenth century the tide had clearly finally turned against Stukeley and his less astute followers. As the Wiltshire archaeologist and collector General A. H. Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827-1900) observed in a presidential address to the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1889, Stukeley's name 'viewed by the light of modern discovery … has been handed down to us chiefly as an example of what to avoid in archaeology'. But he added, 'We are not without our Stukeleys at the present time, when the progress of science has lessened the excuse for us, and we ought, therefore, to be lenient to our predecessors.'[98]

It appears that it is in fact from these nineteenth-century embellishers of Stukeley that the largest part of the twentieth-century conception of Stukeley has come. As Pitt-Rivers rightly pointed out, Stukeley could in many respects be excused the failings of his later supporters. For as we have seen throughout my book, Stukeley was very much involved in what was, for him, an important and legitimate contemporary debate in which an interest in 'Druidic' or 'Celtic' remains played a considerable part, but one which largely preceded the Romantic 'Celtic revival' of the later eighteenth century. Whilst modern scholars may criticize or even mock Stukeley for linking Stonehenge and Avebury with the Druids, we must realize that many of his antiquarian peers and successors were, as we have seen, still hypothesizing upon Roman or post-Roman construction, speculations that continued until the later nineteenth century. It was also in the nineteenth century that we really witness a division in archaeo-historical studies between the more cautious and methodical practitioner and the speculative, imaginative amateur who still exists today. We have seen in my previous chapters the long generation of ideas that could lead to the publication in 1843 of such a curious work as George Jones's The History of Ancient America, Anterior to the Time of Columbus. As with many of these works, Jones hammered his colours firmly to his mast in his lengthy subtitle, declaring that his book proved 'the Identity of the Aborigines with the Tyrians and Israelites; and the Introduction of Christianity into the Western Hemisphere by the Apostle St Thomas.' Whilst such a work might still have had a legitimate place in debates on human origins c. 1700, by the Victorian period such speculations were really located on the fringe of competent academic study.

Conclusion: John Lubbock and Darwinism.

By the second half of the nineteenth century historical interpretations of ancient stone monuments were moving towards a more cautious and reasoned exposition. John Lubbock, who in 1882 secured the passing of the Act for the Preservation of Ancient Monuments and in 1900 became first Baron Avebury, believed that when it came to the dating question, it was 'Wiser to confess our ignorance, than to waste valuable time in useless guesses.'[99] A profound new intellectual impetus had arrived by the date Lubbock made this remark in his Pre-Historic Times, As Illustrated by Ancient Remains, and the Manners and Customs of Modern Savages (1865). This new driving force offered an alternative intellectual context to the studies of the human past, replacing the pagan and biblical chronologies that had so concerned Newton, Stukeley and their eighteenth-century contemporaries. Its originator was Erasmus Darwin's grandson, Charles (1809-1822), and the publication in 1859 of what was the most fundamental book in the sciences since the Principia in 1687. It was, of course, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. Darwin's thesis was indebted to the many intellectual changes that had occurred in the decades since Stukeley's death, not least those which had taken place in the study of the Earth which saw the rise of the science of geology. Amongst those names we should include here are James Hutton, Buffon, Georges Cuvier and Sir Charles Lyell, author of The Principles of Geology (1830-33). The confident dating of creation of the Earth to 4004 BC which Hooke had questioned more than a century and a half before had now well and truly collapsed. Lubbock was a friend of Darwin's, and he examined the theory of natural selection in the closing chapters of Pre-Historic Times. There he made such observations as that chimpanzees used stones and wood tools, and that they built houses or shelters 'almost equal to some savages', suggesting at least implicitly some relationship between human and other primates. From this he concluded that 'our earliest ancestors therefore may have had this art.'[100] By studying the various tribes of 'modern savages' around the world, Lubbock believed the level of advancement at which the Human race had first spread across the globe could be calculated. Starting with the assumption that once a technological skill such as pot-making or fire-starting had been acquired it would never be lost, Lubbock worked backwards to the lowest common denominator of human ability. This would then provide the state of knowledge at which the human race had first separated from its original source and spread out across the globe. For example, he believed 'That our earliest ancestors could have counted to ten is very improbable considering that so many races now in existence cannot get beyond four.' But Lubbock also suggested that the human race had largely escaped the process of natural selection.[101] Civilized man had advanced from savage man through the achievements of science: since the 'principal varieties of man are of great antiquity, and in fact go back almost to the very origin of the human race' it appeared to Lubbock that the 'great principle of natural selection, which in animals affects the body and seems to have little influence on the mind; in man affects the mind and has little influence on the body.'[102] Clearly Lubbock believed Homo sapiens had somehow sprung into the world fully formed physically, if not mentally, no doubt implying a divine creation. Lubbock found great hope in his 'discovery', claiming it was only human sin that was the principal cause of 'our present sufferings and sorrows', and 'any moral improvement must be due to religion, not to science.'[103] But the future, encased in the two principals of science and religion, was bright, and Lubbock saw no threat to Christianity from Darwin's evolutionary theory:

Thus, then, the great principle of Natural Selection, which is to biology what the law of gravitation is for astronomy, not only throws unexpected light on the past, but illuminates the future with hope; nor can I but feel surprised that a theory which thus teaches us humility for the past, faith in the present, and hope for the future, should have been regarded as opposed to the principles of Christianity or the interests of true religion.[104]


It is the paradox of history that it never stands still, our knowledge, understanding, interpretation of the past is ever changing, ever on the move. A biography of any historian will reveal this, but it is especially true of Stukeley. Tied to a view of antiquity that dealt in thousands rather than millions of years, dedicated to a religious struggle he considered fundamental to the survival of society as he knew it, Stukeley's view of the past inevitably soon became outdated. Yet so confident was he in his standpoint, that even when it came under increasing scrutiny in the final years of his life, he refused to waver. And as we have seen in this final chapter, many well-educated and insightful academics -- as well as many fantasists and dreamers -- continued to pursue a view of the world based on a biblical interpretation of human history. For many, Stukeley's statement from the 1720s remained a universal truth:

I continue to assert that the Sacred Books, as they are the oldest Writings in the World so are they the Cabinet, & Fund of Humane as confessedly the Fountain of all Divine Knowledge & Learning.[105]

It is easy for sceptical modern historians to dismiss this type of declaration as 'unenlightened'. But what I hope to have shown in this book is both the subtly and complexity of thought and knowledge in eighteenth-century England, and reinterpreted the continuing importance of the notion of the ancient theology as it was understood and embellished by certain Newtonian scholars. Of course this was itself part of a broader picture of which I have been able to paint only one small corner, that of the antiquarian mind. However, I hope that by seeing Stukeley in this new light I may have rescued him from some unfair accusations, given a fairer idea of where he succeeded and where he 'failed', and shown how historians must be ever cautious of removing their subjects unfairly from their true cultural and intellectual context. Until the next biographer of Stukeley, I trust this portrait will serve modern historians well.

[1] Anon., A letter to Eusebia: Occasioned by Mr Toland's Letters to Serena (1704) p. 21, p. 23. Attribution in British Library catalogue.

[2] John Ward to Stukeley, 5 February 1752, British Library Add. MSS 6269 ff. 235-42.

[3] Popkin (1990a) 28; Warburton (1742) p. x.

[4] St John (1752) Vol. I pp. 6-7.

[5] Ibid. p. 9, p. 71. St John observed that in the Old Testament one found 'extracts of genealogies, not genealogies; extracts of histories, not histories' (p. 102). Nevertheless, in his 1716 essay 'Reflections upon Exile' Bolingbroke did refer to Grotius' argument of the ancient peopling of America with approval.

[6] Zythophil, BL Add. MSS 6269 ff. 161-178.

[7] Ibid. f. 176.

[8] Gough (1762) p. 60. Stukeley actually admitted in a manuscript of 1739 'that this method of analogizing between sacred & profane history, has been carryed too far, by some learned men', and that some of their comparisons seemed 'subtle' or 'far-fetcht'. Like Zythophil, he criticized the French bishop Pierre Daniel Huet (Huetius) (1630-1721), whose works were published in translation as A Treatise of the Situation of Paradise (1694) and The History of the Commerce and Navigations of the Ancients (1717). Nevertheless, he still considered Bochart, Vossius and Gale's methodology to be a 'commendable branch of knowledge.' Wellcome MS 4724 f. 3.

[9] Gough (1768) preface.

[10] Nichols (1782) pp. 62-56.

[11] Ledwich (1785), p. 305.

[12] Ibid. p. 307.

[13] Ibid. p. 319.

[14] Ibid. p. 320.

[15] Ibid. p. 322.

[16] Burnett Vol. II pp. 530-1, quoted in Cannon (1991) p. 25.

[17] Quoted in Cannon (1991), p. 31.

[18] See Lamb and Mitchell (1991) 'Introduction' pp. 1-8.

[19] Jones (1799), p. 229.

[20] Ibid. pp. 229-30.

[21] Owen (1962), p. 84.

[22] Gough (1785), pp. xiv--xv.

[23] Burrow, 'A Proof that the Hindoos had the Binomial Theorem', in Asiatick Researches: Comprising History and Antiquities, The Arts, Sciences and Literature of Asia Vol. 2 (New Delhi, 1979) pp. 388-9. Burrow added that he was working on a 'treatise on the principles of Hindoo Astronomy' which would show that 'they were acquainted with a differential method similar to Newton's', but he died before this was ever published.

[24] Maurice (1796), p. vi.

[25] Jones (1799), p. 28; Maurice (1796), pp. vii and 65.

[26] Maurice (1797), pp. 166, 241.

[27] Ibid. 17-8.

[28] Maria Graham, Journal of a Residence in India (2nd edition, London 1813), pp. 168-9.

[29] Marshall and Williams (1982) p. 115.

[30] Bryant (1775-76) Vol. I pp. xi--xiii.

[31] Ibid. Vol. III p. 533; also p. 537.

[32] Ibid. pp. 600-1.

[33] Jones, 'The Third Anniversary Discourse, Delivered 2d February, 1786, by the President', in Asiatic Researches, Volume 1 (New Delhi, 1979) p. 343. Jones added that 'the least satisfactory part' of Bryant's book 'seems to be that which relates to the derivation of words from Asiatic languages.'

[34] Jones (1799) p. 274.

[35] Erasmus Darwin, The Temple of Nature; Or, The Origin of Society: A Poem, with Philosophical Notes (London, 1803), p. 5.

[36] David Hume, Letters to William Strahan (Oxford, 1888), p. 155.

[37] Warburton, 'Remarks on Mr David Hume's Essay on the Natural History of Religion' (1777), quoted in Tweyman (1996) p. 237.

[38] The Monthly Review 16 (1757), quoted in Tweyman (1996) pp. 207-8.

[39] Tweyman (1996) p. 229.

[40] Ibid. p. 232.

[41] Ibid. p. 233.

[42] King (1799) Preface p. iii.

[43] Ibid. Preface pp. iv--v.

[44] Ibid. p. 171; p. 166.

[45] Ibid. p. 161.

[46] See Ackroyd (1996), pp. 37-39, 43-55.

[47] Blake, Jerusalem (1804-18), quoted in Smiles (1994), p. 93.

[48] Davies (1804) p. 119.

[49] Owen (1962) p. 211. It is impossible to cover here all the publications pertaining to the Druids in the nineteenth century, and I refer the reader to Owen and Smiles's books.

[50] Hoare (1812) p. 7.

[51] Ibid. pp. 140-2.

[52] Ibid. pp. 172-3.

[53] Ibid. pp. 65-7.

[54] See Ucko et al (1991) pp. 177-83 for a discussion on the question of the date and duration of the destruction of the Avebury stones.

[55] DNB.

[56] Higgins (1827) p. 230.

[57] Gentleman's' Magazine 119/2 (November 1849) p. 483, in an anonymous review of Algernon Herbert's Cyclops Christianus.

[58] Bowles (1828) p. 62.

[59] Ibid. pp. 22, 26.

[60] James (1836) p. 26.

[61] Ibid. p. 28.

[62] Ibid. p. 33.

[63] Deane (1834) pp. vii--x.

[64] Ibid. p. 375.

[65] Ibid. p. 277.

[66] Ibid. p. 229.

[67] Long (1858) pp. 323-4.

[68] Duke (1846) pp. 2-6.

[69] Ibid. p. 6.

[70] Ibid. p. 16.

[71] Ibid. pp. 18, 27.

[72] Ibid. p. 43.

[73] Ibid. p. 56.

[74] Ibid. p. 55.

[75] Browne (1823) p. 6.

[76] Ibid. p. 37.

[77] Ibid. Preface p. x.

[78] Ibid. pp. 130-6.

[79] Ibid. p. 40.

[80] Ibid. p. 77 and pp. 79-80.

[81] Rickman (1840) p. 401.

[82] Herbert (1849) p. 104.

[83] British Quarterly Review (July 1860) p. 204. It is Long (1876) p. 101 who attributes this anonymous article to Fergusson.

[84] Ibid. pp. 206-12.

[85] Fergusson (1872) pp. 15-6, quoted in Ucko et al (1991) p. 251.

[86] Ibid. p. 89, quoted in ibid.

[87] Lubbock to Herschel, 17 January 1866, Royal Society MSS HS 11.356 and 11.357

[88] Stukeley Bod. MS Eng. misc. c. 323 f. 84.

[89] Ross (1860) p. 224.

[90] Ibid. p. 244.

[91] Ibid. p. 92.

[92] Ibid. pp. 93-4.

[93] Ibid. p. 97.

[94] Ibid. p. 120.

[95] Ibid. p. 272.

[96] Ibid. p. 268.

[97] British Quarterly Review (October 1869) pp. 413-20.

[98] Pitt-Rivers (1889) p. 8.

[99] Lubbock (1865) p. 55.

[100] Ibid. pp. 473-4.

[101] Lubbock cited as his source an essay by Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of the theory of natural selection, titled 'The Origin of Human Races and the Antiquity of Man Deduced from the Theory of Natural Selection', published in Anthropological Review in May 1864.

[102] Lubbock (1865) pp. 478, 491. Lubbock's assumption is clearly wrong. The Egyptian pyramids or Easter Island statues were evidence enough that technological skills could be lost over time.

[103] Ibid. p. 488.

[104] Ibid. pp. 487-8.

[105] Stukeley FM MS 1130 Stu (1), unpaginated endnotes.

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