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  • B. W. YOUNG (a1)


The writing of ecclesiastical history is rarely disinterested, and this was especially so in eighteenth-century England. Its leading practitioner, John Jortin, wrote with a clear, determined, and dynamic purpose: to offer an effective critique of orthodoxy and its ally, persecution, and to secure civil and religious liberty in a way commensurate with maintaining an established church and liberal learning. His life and writings meditated on early eighteenth-century tendencies in thought and scholarship in a spirit that allowed often radical developments to take place. Unambiguously heterodox in tone and conclusions, Jortin's researches were drawn on by radical dissent. A scion of a Huguenot family, Jortin was a critical mediator between the culture of the Huguenot Refuge and English scholarship. He was a pioneer in the study of English literature, moving such study away from the narrowly philological methods of Richard Bentley towards more reflective literary scholarship. Above all, Jortin was determined that the Republic of Letters should be a Christian Republic; his contribution to and experience of Enlightenment substantiates J. G. A. Pocock's contention that, in England, it was largely clerical and conservative: study of Jortin in context challenges the hegemony of the Radical Enlightenment thesis that is rapidly becoming an interpretative orthodoxy.


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Christ Church, Oxford OX1


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I am grateful to John Walsh, Noël Sugimura, and Mishtooni Bose, and to Clare Jackson and the anonymous readers for the journal, for helpful criticism.



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1 Reproduced in The budget, a collection of letters, in favour of public liberty (3 vols., London, 1774), iii, p. 260. The author concludes that it is as if a coroner had found the person involved to be a ‘criminal to himself’, that is a suicide.

2 Robbins, Caroline, The eighteenth-century Commonwealthman: studies in the transmission, development, and circumstance of English liberal thought from the restoration of Charles II until the war with the American colonies (Cambridge, MA, 1959), pp. 265368; idem, ‘The strenuous whig: Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn’, William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 7 (1950), pp. 406–53; Marshall, P. D., ‘Thomas Hollis (1720–74): the bibliophile as libertarian’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, 66 (1984), pp. 246–63.

3 The budget, iii, pp. iii–xvi. The editor has been identified as Francis Blackburne, Hollis's Anglican coadjutor: see Barlow, Richard Burgess, Citizenship and conscience: a study in the theory and practice of religious toleration in England during the eighteenth century (Philadelphia, PA, 1962), pp. 136–8. For suggestive treatment of this period, see G. M. Ditchfield, ‘Ecclesiastical policy under Lord North’, in John Walsh, Colin Haydon, and Stephen Taylor, eds., The Church of England c. 1689 – c. 1833: from toleration to Tractarianism (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 228–46.

4 The budget, iii, pp. ix–xi; Doherty, F. M., ‘Sterne and Warburton: another look’, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1 (1978), pp. 2030; New, Melvyn, ‘Sterne, Warburton, and the burden of exuberant wit’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 15 (1982), pp. 245–74; Browne, John, An estimate of the manners and principles of the times (London, 1757), pp. 43–4.

5 Jortin, John, Remarks on ecclesiastical history (5 vols., London, 1751–73), iii, p. 241. The original reads: ‘Infelix est Rutilius quod qui illum damnauerunt causam dicent omnibus saeculis?’ (Seneca, de Providentia, iii. 7).

6 , Jortin, Miscellaneous observations upon authors, ancient and modern (2 vols., London, 1731–2), i, pp. 26, 55–61, 127–8, ii, p. 393. On Seneca's morally authoritative place in the classical culture in which Jortin was reared, see Ker, James, The deaths of Seneca (New York, NY, 2009).

7 Jortin, Rogers, ed., Sermons on different subjects by John Jortin (7 vols., London, 1771–2), i, pp. 1314, 50, 96, 117–18, 174, 185, 198–201, 352, ii, pp. 110, 321, iii, pp. 58, 71, v, pp. 29, 42, vi, pp. 10, 109, 243–51, vii, pp. 89, 123–41.

8 Jortin, Remarks, i, p. xix. Jortin's perceived equivocations over the Athanasian Creed provoked a mild rebuke from William Whiston, the leading Arian apologist of the time: Memoirs of the life and writings of Mr. William Whiston (London, 1749), pp. 357–8.

9 Jortin, John, Tracts, theological, critical and miscellaneous (2 vols., London, 1790), ii, p. 533.

10 Jortin, Remarks, iv, p. 56, v, pp. 24–5.

11 , Jortin, The life of Erasmus (2 vols., London, 1758–60), i, p. 41n. On Thomas Herring, archbishop of Canterbury, see Browning, Reed, Political and constitutional ideas of the Court Whigs (Baton Rouge, LA, 1982), pp. 89116, 176, 244–6.

12 Samuel Parr, ‘The editor's preface to the two tracts of a Warburtonian’, in Tracts by Warburton and a Warburtonian: not before attributed in the collections of their respective works (London, 1789), pp. 192, 194–6.

13 Jortin, ‘Miscellaneous remarks on the sermons of Archbishop Tillotson’, appended to Thomas Birch, The life of the most reverend John Tillotson, lord archbishop of Canterbury (London, 1752), pp. 442–50; Gascoigne, John, Cambridge in the age of the Enlightenment: science, religion and politics from the Restoration to the French Revolution (Cambridge, 1989), pp. 187236; Young, B. W., Religion and Enlightenment in eighteenth-century England: theological debate from Locke to Burke (Oxford, 1998).

14 Disney, John, Memoirs of the life and writings of John Jortin, D. D. (London, 1792), pp. 67–9, 99–100, 245–6; Taylor, Stephen, ‘Sir Robert Walpole, the Church of England, and the Quakers Tithe Bill of 1736’, Historical Journal, 28 (1985), pp. 5177; Sykes, Norman, Edmund Gibson, bishop of London, 1669–1748: a study in politics and religion in the eighteenth century (London, 1926).

15 Martin Fitzpatrick, ‘Latitudinarianism at the parting of the ways: a suggestion’, in Walsh, Haydon, and Taylor, eds., The Church of England, pp. 209–27.

16 Disney, John, A vindication of the Apostle Paul from the charge of sedition (London, 1792), pp. 89; idem, Memoirs of the life and writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D. D. (London, 1785), pp. iii, 90, 310, 333–5, 361–3; idem, Memoirs of Jortin, pp. 32–4, 148.

17 Disney, Memoirs of Jortin, pp. v–vi, 8–9, 29–30, 82, 145–6, 151–4, 160–5, 171–2, 237, 248–54, 256, 300, 307–9; idem, Memoirs of Sykes, pp. 26–9, 93, 117.

18 Disney, Memoirs of Jortin, p. 307.

19 Young, Religion and Enlightenment, pp. 49–52.

20 Priestley, Joseph, A history of the corruptions of Christianity (2 vols., Birmingham 1782), i, pp. xvii, 87, 337, ii, pp. 69, 123, 180, 206, 261, 291, 380, 384–5, and An history of early opinions concerning Jesus Christ, compiled from original writers; proving that the Christian church was at first Unitarian (4 vols., Birmingham, 1786), i, p. 108, iv, p. 240.

21 John Gascoigne, ‘Anglican latitudinarianism, rational dissent and political radicalism in the late eighteenth century’, in Knud Haakonssen, ed., Enlightenment and religion: rational dissent in eighteenth-century Britain (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 219–40.

22 Monthly Review, 4 (1751), pp. 172–87, 6 (1752), pp. 430–5, 9 (1753), pp. 351–63, 13 (1755), pp. 401–14, 44 (1771), pp. 362–73, 47 (1772), pp. 247–8, 49 (1773), pp. 189–93.

23 Wiles, Maurice, Archetypal heresy: Arianism through the centuries (Oxford, 1996); Jortin, Remarks, iii, p. 17, iv, pp. 324, 413.

24 Jortin, Remarks, iii, pp. 94–5, 106–7, 102–3, iv, pp. 421, 16.

25 Disney, John, Reasons for resigning the rectory of Panton and vicarage of Swinderby, in Lincolnshire; and for quitting the Church of England (London, 1782), and The reciprocal duty of a Christian minister and a Christian congregation (London, 1793); Taylor, Stephen, ‘William Warburton and the alliance of church and state’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 43 (1992), pp. 271–86.

26 Hugh Trevor-Roper, ‘From deism to history: Conyers Middleton’, in History and the Enlightenment (New Haven, CT, 2010), pp. 71–119; Robert G. Ingram, ‘ “The weight of historical evidence”: Conyers Middleton and the eighteenth-century miracles debate’, in Robert D. Cornwall and William Gibson, eds., Religion, politics and dissent: essays in honour of James E. Bradley (Aldershot, 2010), pp. 85–109; Brian Young, ‘Conyers Middleton; the historical consequences of heterodoxy’, in Sarah Mortimer and John Robertson, eds., The intellectual consequences of religious heterodoxy, 1600–1750 (Leiden, 2012), pp. 235–64; Chadwick, Owen, From Bossuet to Newman (Cambridge, 1957), p. 220.

27 See especially Pocock, J. G. A., Barbarism and religion (5 vols. to date, Cambridge, 1999–2010), v: Religion: the first triumph; and David Womersley, The transformation of The Decline and Fall of the Roman empire (Cambridge, 1988), idem, Gibbon and the ‘watchmen of the Holy City’: the historian and his reputation, 1776–1815 (Oxford, 2002).

28 Momigliano, Arnaldo, The classical foundations of modern historiography (Berkeley, CA, 1990), p. 137.

29 Young, B. W., ‘Religious history and the eighteenth-century historian’, Historical Journal, 43 (2000), pp. 849–68. Recent work is beginning to rectify this neglect: see Quantain, Jean-Louis, The Church of England and Christian antiquity: the construction of a confessional identity in the seventeenth century (Oxford, 2009), and Claydon, Tony, Europe and the making of modern England, 1660–1760 (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 67124. On Mosheim, see Häfner, Ralph, Neumann, Florian, and Zedelmaier, Helmut, eds., Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1693–1755): theologie im spannungsfeld von philosophie, philologie und geschichte (Wiesbaden, 1997).

30 Jortin, Remarks, iii, pp. 400, 414–15, 421.

31 Ibid., i, pp. xiii–xiv, 134n, 196n, 264.

32 Jortin, Erasmus, i, pp. 335–6; idem, Miscellaneous observations, ii, p. 393; idem, Six dissertations upon different subjects (London, 1755), pp. 1–26, 27–113. See Bruce Mansfield, Phoenix of his age: interpretations of Erasmus, c. 1550–1750 (Toronto, 1974), pp. 275–83; idem, Man on his own: interpretations of Erasmus, c. 1750–1920 (Toronto, 1992), pp. 31–7.

33 Jortin, Remarks, i, p. xxi.

34 Ibid., i, p. xxxi.

35 Ibid., v, pp. 187–8, iii, pp. 223–4.

36 Ibid., ii, p. 180, iii, pp. 123–4, iv, p. 4.

37 Ibid., iv, pp. 143, 334.

38 Ibid., i, pp. xxxviii–xxxix, ii, p. 289; idem, Sermons, ii, pp. 306–7, vii, pp. 165–6.

39 Jortin, Remarks, v, pp. 9, 19, iv, pp. 430, 519, v, pp. 365, 366, 370, 471, 482.

40 Ibid., iv, p. 519n, iii, p. 69, v, p. 236.

41 Hume, David, The history of England (6 vols., Indianapolis, IN, 1983), i, pp. 306–38, 355, 360–1, iii, p. 254.

42 See Samuel Johnson, ‘George Lyttelton’, in The lives of the English poets, ed. Roger Lonsdale (4 vols., Oxford, 2006), iv, pp. 185–90.

43 J. G. A. Pocock, ‘Clergy and commerce: the conservative Enlightenment in England’, in R. J. Ajello et al., eds., L'Età dei Lumi: studi storici sul settecento europeo in onore di Franco Venturi (2 vols., Naples, 1985), i, pp. 523–62; idem, Barbarism and religion, i: The Enlightenments of Edward Gibbon.

44 Jortin, Sermons, vii, pp. 354–6.

45 Ibid., vii, pp. 373–4.

46 Ibid., vii, pp. 353–4.

47 See Anthony Grafton, ‘A sketch map of a lost continent: the Republic of Letters’, in Worlds made by words: scholarship and community in the modern West (Cambridge, MA, 2009), pp. 9–34.

48 Shelford, April G., Transforming the Republic of Letters: Pierre-Daniel Huet and European intellectual life, 1650–1720 (Rochester, NY, 2007).

49 Goldgar, Anne, Impolite learning: conduct and community in the Republic of Letters, 1680–1750 (New Haven, CT, 1995); Marshall, John, John Locke, toleration, and early Enlightenment culture: religious intolerance and arguments for religious toleration in early modern and ‘early Enlightenment’ Europe (Cambridge, 2006).

50 Jortin, Remarks, i, p. xxiv; Jean-Louis Quantin, ‘The most authentick history in the world, except the Bible? Sur la réception de le Nain de Tillemont en Angleterre avant Gibbon’, in Jean-Louis Quantin and Jean-Claude Waquet, eds., Papes, princes et savants dans l'Europe moderne: mélanges à la mémoire de Bruno Neveu (Geneva, 2007), pp. 287–311.

51 Jortin, Remarks, i, pp. 348–9, iii, pp. 137–8, 140.

52 Ibid., i, p. 160, v, p. 499.

53 Ibid., v, pp. 72–182, 388–458.

54 Ibid., v, p. 183. The best account of the attempt at Anglican–Gallican rapprochement remains Norman Sykes, William Wake, archbishop of Canterbury, 1657–1737 (2 vols., Cambridge, 1957), i, pp. 252–314, ii, pp. 267–9.

55 Jortin, Remarks, iv, pp. 39–40. On ecclesiastical history as apologetic, in which Jortin's writings had a conspicuous role, see Robert G. Ingram, ‘Nature, history and the search for order: the Boyle Lectures, 1730–1785’, in Peter Clarke and Tony Claydon, eds., God's Bounty?: the church and the natural world, Studies in Church History, 46 (Woodbridge, 2010), pp. 276–92.

56 Jortin, Remarks, i, p. 257, ii, pp. 160–2.

57 Ibid., i, pp. 127, 130–1, 267, ii, pp. 68–9, 291–2.

58 Ibid., iii, p. 162, iv, pp. 115, 153.

59 Replying to Francis Eyre, a Catholic critic, Gibbon noted that ‘The man who refuses to judge of the conduct of Lewis XIV and Charles V towards their Protestant subjects, declares himself incapable of distinguishing the limits of persecution and toleration.’ A vindication of some passages in the fifteenth and sixteenth chapters of the History of the decline and fall of the Roman empire (1779) , in Patricia B. Craddock, ed., The English essays of Edward Gibbon (Oxford, 1972), pp. 229–313, at p. 311.

60 Jortin, Remarks, iv, pp. 252, 296, 447–8, 469.

61 Ibid., iv, pp. 37, 299, 87.

62 Levine, Joseph M., The battle of the books: history and literature in the Augustan age (Ithaca, NY, 1991); Norman, Larry F., The shock of the ancient: literature and history in early modern France (Chicago, IL, 2011).

63 Haugen, Kristine Louise, Richard Bentley: poetry and Enlightenment (Cambridge, MA), 2011), p. 229.

64 Parr, ‘Preface’; Vicesimus Knox, ‘Cursory remarks on the life and writings of Dr. Jortin’, in idem, Essays moral and literary (3 vols., London, 1803), ii, pp. 299–304.

65 Bradner, Leicester, Musae Anglicanae: a history of Anglo-Latin poetry, 1500–1925 (New York, NY, 1940), pp. 240–1, 282, 296, 324, 333; Money, D. L., The English Horace: Anthony Alsop and the tradition of British Latin verse (Oxford, 1998), pp. 105, 205, and 225.

66 Miscellaneae observationes in auctores veteres et recentiones (10 vols., Amsterdam, 1732–9), i, pp. ii, vi, xii–xvi, iii, pp. iv–vi, v, pp. i–iv, vii, pp. i–v.

67 Thomas Newton, ed., Paradise lost (2 vols., London, 1749), i, pp. xiv, xvii–xviii, xxi, xxv, xxviii, xxxi, xliv, li–liv, and the preface to his edition of Paradise regained (London, 1751). Hollis's education explicitly followed on Milton's tract Of education, a pattern he hoped to see adopted, through his gifts of books, at Harvard: see Bond, W. H., Thomas Hollis of Lincoln's Inn: a Whig and his books (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 718, 26, 109–10, 113, 115. References to ‘the divine Milton’ litter Francis Blackburne's Memoirs of Thomas Hollis (2 vols., London, 1780) – Hollis qu. at i, p. 60 – and the second volume contains notes on Milton and a defence, which he subsequently published separately as Remarks on Johnson's Life of Milton (London, 1780). It was, significantly, a dissenter, Richard Baron, who had edited Milton's prose works in 1753, through which enterprise he got to know Hollis. Baron edited a text that went somewhat beyond Jortin's conception of ecclesiastical history: The pillars of priestcraft and orthodoxy shaken (2 vols., London, 1752), subsequently expanded into four volumes in 1768, including pieces culled from the work of such liberal Anglican divines as Blackburne.

68 An approach pioneered by the contributors to Robert Crawford, ed., The Scottish invention of English literature (Cambridge, 1998).

69 Jortin, Remarks, ii, p. 338. Elsewhere, Jortin described history as ‘the register of the vices and follies and calamities of mankind’: Sermons, ii, p. 201.

70 Edward Gibbon, The history of the decline and fall of the Roman empire, ed. David Womersley (3 vols., Harmondsworth, 1994), i, p. 102. See Young, B. W., ‘“Scepticism in excess”: Gibbon and eighteenth-century Christianity’, Historical Journal, 41 (1998), pp. 179–99, and ‘Preludes and postludes to Gibbon: variations on an impromptu of Pocock, J. G. A.’, History of European Ideas, 35 (2009), pp. 418–32. Peter Ghosh has traced the phrase back to the ‘Resumé’ of Voltaire's Essai sur les Moeurs: see Ghosh, P. R., ‘Gibbon observed’, Journal of Roman Studies, 81 (1991), pp. 132–56, at p. 141 n. 71. Voltaire's Essai sur les moeurs was first published in 1756, and the second volume of Jortin's Remarks was published in 1752: had the Anglophile Voltaire taken his bleak bon mot from Jortin?

71 Isaac Milner, revised Joseph Milner, History of the Church of Christ (1794–1809; 4 vols., London, 1834 edn), iv, pp. 382, 397; Newman, John Henry, The Arians of the fourth century, their doctrine, temper, and conduct (London, 1833), p. 242.

72 Foot, M. R. D. and Matthew, Colin, eds., The Gladstone diaries (14 vols., Oxford, 1968–94), iii, pp. 473, 478, and iv, p. 575, and Gladstone's page notes from the Remarks, British Library (BL) Add. MSS 44,794, fos. 145,146; George Grote, notes on Jortin's Life of Erasmus, BL Add. MSS 29,525, fos. 62–73.

73 Disney, Memoirs of Jortin, p. 309.

74 Disney noted an approving review of Jortin's Six dissertations in the Journal Britannique, published at The Hague in 1755, identifying its author as Matthieu Maty, who would later write the preface to Gibbon's first venture into print: Memoirs of Jortin, p. 218 note; Edward Gibbon, Essai sur l’étude de la littérature, ed. Robert Mankin (Oxford, 2010), pp. 87–91. Such instances of European praise of Jortin's writings could be multiplied considerably.

75 Jonathan Israel has recently accommodated religion (represented in part by Joseph Priestley) within his Radical Enlightenment master narrative, but still finds it intellectually wanting: Israel, ‘Spinoza and the religious Radical Enlightenment’, in Mortimer and Robertson, eds., Intellectual consequences, pp. 181–203.

* I am grateful to John Walsh, Noël Sugimura, and Mishtooni Bose, and to Clare Jackson and the anonymous readers for the journal, for helpful criticism.


  • B. W. YOUNG (a1)


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