Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), would have recoiled at any implication that he was a libertine. His antipathy to libertinism is obvious, and examples are plentiful in his writings. His major work, the Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times (1711), consistently uses the words “libertine” and “rake” as insults; in all of his writings sensual pleasures are disparaged as base and animalistic threats to human virtue. And despite the third earl's widespread reputation as a freethinker in matters religious, he always insisted that liberty of thought did not imply a freedom from moral restraint.
Certainly Shaftesbury's early reputation was more that of a shy and unsociable recluse rather than that of a rakish mondain. In 1721, John Toland thought it necessary to defend his late friend from accusations of unsociability, not of licentiousness. He claimed that Shaftesbury's enemies “gave out that he was too bookish, because not given to play, nor assiduous at court; that he was no good companion, because not a rake nor a hard drinker, and that he was no man of the world, because not selfish nor open to bribes.” Toland also remarked how Shaftesbury frowned upon the “extravagant liberties” taken by “both sexes” even without having lived “to see masquerades, or the ancient Bacchanals revived, nor to hear of promiscuous clubs.” Indeed, Lord Ashley's own private papers reveal that he was quite uncomfortable in the polite world of England's social elite; he much preferred the pastoral tranquillity of his Dorset estate and the relaxed company of his most trusted friends.