Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 January 2014
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.
1 Cooper, Anthony Ashley, third earl of Shaftesbury, Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, ed. Robertson, John M., 2 vols. (1711; reprint, Indianapolis, 1964), 2:45, 346, 348Google Scholar. See also Shaftesbury, , in Rand, Benjamin, ed., The Life, Unpublished Letters, and Philosophical Regimen of Anthony, Earl of Shaftesbury (New York, 1900), pp. 37, 217, 247–48Google Scholar. Spelling and punctuation in quotations from all original sources have been modernized for consistency and clarity.
4 [Toland, John], ed., Letters from the Right Honourable the Late Earl of Shaftesbury to Robert Molesworth, Esq.; Now the Lord Viscount of That Name. With Two Letters Written by the Late Sir John Cropley. To Which Is Prefix'd a Large Introduction by the Editor, 2d ed. (London, 1721), pp. viii, xiiiGoogle Scholar; Toland was writing in the midst of anxiety over the blasphemous “Hell-Fire” club suppressed by royal proclamation on 28 April 1721, on which see Greater London Record Office (GLRO), MJ/OC/1, fols. 118r–20r; GLRO, WJ/OC/1, fol. 11v; The Hell-Fire Club: Kept by a Society of Blasphemers (London, 1721)Google Scholar; Allen, Robert J., The Clubs of Augustan London (Cambridge, Mass., 1933), pp. 119–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
6 The majority of the titles listed in A. O. Aldridge's compilation of references to Shaftesbury in the eighteenth century concern his thoughts on ridicule. See “Shaftesbury and the Deist Manifesto,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s., 41, no. 2 (1951): 371–385Google Scholar. On Shaftesbury's test of ridicule and its reception, see Hudson, Nicholas, Samuel Johnson and Eighteenth-Century Thought (Oxford, 1988), pp. 29–33Google Scholar; and Redwood, John, Reason, Ridicule, and Religion (Cambridge, Mass., 1976), pp. 39, 63–64, 182–83Google Scholar.
7 Richardson, Samuel, Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady, 4 vols. (1748; reprint, London, 1932), 2:59Google Scholar.
8 Fielding, Henry, Tom Jones, ed. Battestin, Martin and Bowers, Fredson, bk. 5, chap. 5 (1749; reprint, Oxford, 1974), 1:232–33Google Scholar. See also Fielding's, Joseph Andrews, ed. Brooks-Davies, Douglas, (1742; reprint, Oxford, 1970), 3:3, 189–90Google Scholar; and Battestin, Martin, The Moral Basis of Fielding's Art: A Study of Joseph Andrews (Middletown, Conn., 1959), pp. 11–13Google Scholar.
9 Champion, Justin, The Pillars of Priestcraft Shaken: The Church of England and Its Enemies, 1660–1730 (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 210–18Google Scholar; Klein, Lawrence, “Shaftesbury, Politeness and the Politics of Religion,” in Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain, ed. Phillipson, Nicholas and Skinner, Quentin (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 283–301CrossRefGoogle Scholar, Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness: Moral Discourse and Cultural Politics in Early Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 154–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Aldridge, “Shaftesbury and the Deist Manifesto.” The relationship between religious free-thinking and sexual libertinism is insightfully explored in Turner, James G., “The Properties of Libertinism,” in ‘Tis Nature's Fault: Unauthorized Sexuality during the Enlightenment, ed. Maccubbin, Robert Purks (Cambridge, 1985), pp. 75–87Google Scholar, and “The Culture of Priapism,” Review 10 (1988): 1–34Google Scholar.
10 Aldridge, A. O., “Shaftesbury's Rosicrucian Ladies,” Anglia: Zeitschrift für Englische Philologie 103 (1985): 297–319Google Scholar. Shaftesbury excised many sexual references from the unauthorized 1699 publication of his Inquiry concerning Virtue when he edited it for inclusion as Treatise IV of the Characteristics. See Aldridge, , “Two Versions of Shaftesbury's Inquiry concerning Virtue,” Huntington Library Quarterly 13 (1950): 207–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar.
11 Trumbach, Randolph, “Erotic Fantasy and Male Libertinism in Enlightenment England,” in The Invention of Pornography, ed. Hunt, Lynn (New York, 1993), pp. 270, 267Google Scholar; see also Trumbach, , “Sodomy Transformed: Aristocratic Libertinage, Public Reputation and the Gender Revolution of the Eighteenth Century,” in Love Letters between a Certain Late Nobleman and the Famous Mr. Wilson, ed. Kimmel, Michael S. (New York, 1990), pp. 105–24, esp. 113–14, 123, n. 14Google Scholar. Similar claims for the emergence of a refined libertinism around the turn of the century, but associated with neo-epicureanism rather than Shaftesbury, are also made in Novak, Max, William Congreve (New York, 1971), pp. 18–19, 41–51Google Scholar; and Weber, Harold, The Restoration Rake-Hero: Transformations in Sexual Understanding in Seventeenth-Century England (Madison, Wis., 1986), pp. 91–97Google Scholar.
12 Barker-Benfield, G. J., The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 1992), pp. 96, 112Google Scholar.
13 Aside from the path-breaking works of Klein cited passim, see Hundert, E. J., The Enlightenment's “Fable”: Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society (Cambridge, 1994), pp. 122–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Solkin, David, “Re-Wrighting Shaftesbury: The Air Pump and the Limits of Commercial Humanism,” in Early Modern Conceptions of Property, ed. Brewer, John and Staves, Susan (New York, 1995), pp. 234–53, esp. 241–42Google Scholar; Goodman, Dena, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y., 1994), pp. 121–26Google Scholar; and Agnew, Jean-Christophe, Worlds Apart: The Market and the Theater in Anglo-American Thought (Cambridge, 1986), p. 175CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Shaftesbury is conspicuously absent in Phillipson, Nicholas, “Politics and Politeness: Anne and the Early Hanoverians,” in The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500–1800, ed. Pocock, J. G. A. (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 211–45Google Scholar, Hume, (London, 1989)Google Scholar, chap. 2 (p. 27 notwithstanding), and “Propriety, Property, and Prudence: David Hume and the Defense of the Revolution,” in Phillipson, and Skinner, , eds., Political Discourse in Early Modern Britain, esp. pp. 308–11Google Scholar—perhaps because Shaftesbury's notions of politeness were far more rarefied than those adumbrated by Addison and Steele.
15 Champion, Pillars; Worden, A. B., “Introduction,” in A Voyce from the Watch Tower, Part Five: 1660–1662, ed. Worden, A. B., Camden Fourth Series, vol. 21 (London, 1978), pp. 1–84Google Scholar.
16 See the works cited in note 13 above.
17 The first earl of Shaftesbury's role in the formation of a whig identity has recently undergone significant revision; see Harris, Tim, London Crowds in the Reign of Charles II (Cambridge, 1987), p. 100Google Scholar; Scott, Jonathan, Algernon Sidney and the Restoration Crisis, 1677–1683 (Cambridge, 1991), esp. pp. 13–14CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Knights, Mark, Politics and Opinion in Crisis, 1678–1681, (Cambridge, 1994), esp. pp. 107, 131–34Google Scholar.
18 Pitkin, Hannah, Fortune Is a Woman: Gender and Politics in the Thought of Niccolò Machiavelli (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1984)Google Scholar, remains the most detailed case study of the role of gender in republican political discourse. But see also Weil, Rachel, “Sexual Ideology and Political Propaganda in England, 1678–1714” (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1991), esp. chap. 2Google Scholar.
20 [Toland, ], ed., Letters, pp. xiii, 3, 10Google Scholar; cf. Rand, , The Life, pp. 391 ff.Google Scholar Shaftesbury's two attempts at courtship and marriage are discussed in Voitle, , The Third Earl, pp. 283–310Google Scholar. Trumbach uses Shaftesbury's reluctance to marry as evidence for his contention that the earl “fit into the pattern of the traditional bisexual libertine,” in “Sodomy Transformed,” p. 113; cf. Voitle, , The Third Earl, p. 242Google Scholar.
23 Ibid., pp. 18–19, 196, n. 34.
24 See Shaftesbury's use of “enthusiasm” as an identifier of inclusion within an esoteric club including Lord Somers in Rand, , ed., The Life, pp. 386, 394, 420, 430Google Scholar. Shaftesbury sent copies of his works and shared his philosophy with Stanhope (Ibid., pp. 413–16), who was also made an executor of Shaftesbury's estate (Voitle, , The Third Earl, p. 248Google Scholar, n. 49). Shaftesbury remarks on his friendships with both Robert, and Molesworth, John in Rand, , ed., The Life, p. 520Google Scholar. Voitle discusses Shaftesbury's friendships with Somers, and Stanhope, in The Third Earl, pp. 67, 170, 196, 241–42, 260, 302–3, 307–8, 324, 407–8Google Scholar. Sachse, William L., Lord Somers: A Political Portrait (Manchester, 1975)Google Scholar, has little to say about Somers's relationship with Shaftesbury.
25 None of Stanhope's letters to Shaftesbury have survived; see Voitle, , The Third Earl, pp. 247–48, esp. n. 49Google Scholar.
26 Rand, , ed., The Life, pp. 181, 179Google Scholar; cf. pp. 68, 107, 247–48. Shaftesbury's concerns with the falseness of theatricality in social life are discussed in Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, pp. 72–80, 90–96Google Scholar. See also Marshall, David, The Figure of Theater: Shaftesbury, Defoe, Adam Smith, and George Eliot (New York, 1986), pp. 1–70Google Scholar; and Agnew, , Worlds Apart, pp. 162–69Google Scholar.
29 Ibid., p. 337; cf. pp. 416–17; Shaftesbury, , Characteristics, 2:11Google Scholar; and Barrell, R. A., ed., Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713) and “Le Refuge Français” Correspondence (Lewiston, N.Y., 1989), pp. 242–43Google Scholar. Shaftesbury's devaluation of Gothic virtue, against the discursive grain of his republican contemporaries, is discussed in Klein, , “Liberty, Manners and Politeness,” pp. 593–605Google Scholar.
31 Although Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, p. 37Google Scholar, notes the differences between Shaftesbury and Addison, the main thrust of his studies has been to emphasize “the important similarities” between Shaftesbury and the Spectator project; see esp. pp. 8–14, 36–41; and Klein, Lawrence, “Property and Politeness in the Early Eighteenth-Century Whig Moralists,” in Brewer, and Staves, , eds., Early Modern Conceptions of Property, p. 221Google Scholar; but cf. Klein, , “Gender, Conversation and the Public Sphere,” in Textuality and Sexuality: Reading Theories and Practices, ed. Still, Judith and Worton, Michael (Manchester, 1993), p. 109Google Scholar, in which Shaftesbury's homosocial ideal is acknowledged.
32 Swift, Jonathan, “Essay on Conversation,” in The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, ed. Davis, Herbertet al. (Oxford, 1957), 4:95Google Scholar; Addison, Joseph, in The Spectator, no. 57 (5 May 1711), ed. Smith, G. Gregory (London, 1907), 1:213Google Scholar; Hume, David, Essays Moral, Political and Literary, ed. Miller, Eugene F. (Indianapolis, 1985), p. 215Google Scholar; Shaftesbury, Characteristics, 1:202Google Scholar. Compare Saint-Évremond, , Miscellany Essays (London, 1694), p. 164Google Scholar. See Potkay, Adam, The Fate of Eloquence in the Age of Hume (Ithaca, N.Y., 1994), pp. 74–84Google Scholar, on the importance of le commerce des femmes for early eighteenth-century English discourse on politeness.
35 Public Record Office (PRO), Shaftesbury to a brother, 22 January 1704/5, PRO 30/24/20/110, fols. 274r–275v. The letter was first brought to attention by Shaftesbury's biographer, Voitle, , The Third Earl, pp. 242–45Google Scholar.
36 PRO 30/24/20/110, fol. 274r (all emphases in quotations from this letter are in the original MS); Voitle, , The Third Earl, p. 244Google Scholar, assumes that the boy's name was indeed “Bawble,” but A. O. Aldridge, in his review of Voitle, , Eighteenth-Century Studies 19 (1985–1986): 258Google Scholar, suggests the more likely possibility that this was Shaftesbury's pseudonymic invention. It is just as likely that the letter was not intended for Shaftesbury's brother Maurice, but for one of his close friends, perhaps Thomas Micklethwayte or Sir John Cropley.
37 PRO 30/24/20/110, fols. 274v–275r. Shaftesbury's displeasure with “rake-hell” libertinism is not out of character but significant nevertheless in this context.
38 PRO 30/24/20/110, fol. 275r.
39 Voitle simply declares, “That Shaftesbury would cherish a letter that consciously revealed him as a homosexual is inconceivable,” in The Third Earl, p. 244, while Trumbach asserts the contrary in “Sodomy Transformed,” p. 115.
40 Bray, Alan, “Homosexuality and the Signs of Male Friendship in Elizabethan England,” History Workshop Journal 29 (1990): 1–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar; this article emends his own earlier distinction in Homosexuality in Renaissance England (Boston, 1982), pp. 60–62Google Scholar. A similar situation obtained among the early modern French aristocracy, according to Dewald, Jonathan, Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture: France, 1570–1715, (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1993), pp. 117–20Google Scholar. The varieties of homosexuality and homosociality are usefully explored in Rousseau, G. S., “The Pursuit of Homosexuality in the Eighteenth Century,” in Maccubbin, , ed., 'Tis Nature's Fault, pp. 132–69Google Scholar.
43 Shaftesbury, An Inquiry concerning Virtue, or Merit (1699 ed.) in Standard Edition of the Complete Works of … the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, ed. Hemmerich, Gerd and Bends, Wolfram (Stuttgart, 1981), 2:2, 285Google Scholar (p. 175 in original). Compare Shaftesbury, Characteristics, 1:314Google Scholar, 2:348.
44 Shaftesbury's ailments hindered his marriage prospects, and were apparently so severe that Lady Wentworth's first impression of him was that “he looks as if he was very short lived.” Cartwright, J. J., ed., The Wentworth Papers, 1705–1739 (London, 1883), p. 60Google Scholar.
45 Shaftesbury, The Adept Ladys or the Angelick Sect: Being the Matters of Fact of Certain Adventures Spiritual, Philosophical, Political and Gallant, in Hemmerich, and Bends, , eds., Standard Edition, 1:2, 378–442Google Scholar. The letter is addressed “Dear Brother.” See also the account in Voitle, , The Third Earl, pp. 198–200Google Scholar.
46 Trumbach, , “Sodomy Transformed,” p. 113Google Scholar; cf. Trumbach, , “Erotic Fantasy,” p. 270Google Scholar; Shaftesbury, Adept Ladys, pp. 396, 404, 390, 410, 422, 386; Aldridge persuasively argues that the adepts were Rosicrucians and, less convincingly, that the text reflects his break with John Toland, in “Shaftesbury's Rosicrucian Ladies.”
48 Shaftesbury, Adept Ladys, p. 420.
49 Toland, John, Pantheisticon (1721; reprint, London, 1751), p. 64Google Scholar. The importance of esoteric communication for Shaftesbury's unreliable friend and client John Toland is stressed in Daniel, Stephen H., John Toland: His Methods, Manners, and Mind (Kingston and Montreal, 1984), pp. 176–85Google Scholar. Shaftesbury's vexed relationship with Toland is documented in Heinemann, F. H., “John Toland and the Age of Reason,” Archiv für Philosophie 4, no. 1 (September 1950): 35–66Google Scholar, and Worden, A. B., “Introduction,” pp. 42–55Google Scholar.
50 Marburg, Clara, Sir William Temple: A Seventeenth Century “Libertin” (New Haven, Conn., 1932)Google Scholar; The libertinism of Saint-Évremond, especially as expressed in his essays “Sur la morale d'épicure,” and “Sur les plaisirs,” in Oeuvres en prose, ed. Ternois, René, 4 vols. (Paris: Librairie M. Didier, 1962–1969), 3:425–438Google Scholar; 4:12–23, awaits detailed scrutiny, but see Hazard, Paul, La crise de la conscience européenne, 1680–1715 (Paris, 1961), pp. 120–26Google Scholar; Pintard, René, Le libertinage érudit dans la première moitié du XVIIe siècle (1943; reprint, Geneva, 1983), pp. 326–27Google Scholar; Spink, J. S., French Free-Thought from Gassendi to Voltaire (London, 1960), p. 143Google Scholar; Gay, Peter, The Enlightenment, 2 vols. (1966; reprint, New York, 1977), 1:308Google Scholar; Rigaud, N. J., George Etherege: Dramaturge de la restauration anglaise, 2 vols. (Paris, 1980), 1:30, 335Google Scholar; and Dewald, , Aristocratic Experience, pp. 133–34Google Scholar. On Saint-Évremond's contemporary libertine reputation, see the “epitaph” in British Library (BL), Additional MS 40060, fol. 30r.
51 The erotic libertinism with which I am concerned here is distinct from the vicious “rake-hell” libertinism discussed in Statt, Daniel, “The Case of the Mohocks: Rake Violence in Augustan London,” Social History 20, no. 2 (May 1995): 179–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar. It may, however, be considered the theory which led to the practice of some varieties of sexually deviant behavior, on which see Stone, Lawrence, “Libertine Sexuality in Post-Restoration England: Group Sex and Flagellation among the Middling Sort in Norwich in 1706–07,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2, no. 4 (1992): 511–26Google Scholar.
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62 Ibid., p. 163.
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71 The locus classicus for this sentiment is found in Cicero's De officiis, bk. 1.22–23. I am grateful to Markku Peltonen for reminding me of this.
74 Klein, , Shaftesbury and the Culture of Politeness, esp. pp. 143–50Google Scholar, establishes this definitively.
77 Ibid., The Life, p. 51.
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83 Ibid., 2:274; cf. Ibid., p. 161.
84 Shaftesbury claims that he consciously rejected the “direct way of dialogue” in the piece because that is a base form fit only for the “burlesque divinity” of church controversy; Characteristics, 2:337Google Scholar.
85 Ibid., pp. 335, 27, 18, 95.
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90 Ibid., pp.42, 32, 54, 110.
91 This topos is brilliantly explored in Turner, “The Libertine Sublime,” and “‘Illustrious Depravity.’”
93 Ibid., pp. 111, 114.
96 MarjorieNicolson, Hope, Mountain Gloom and Mountain Glory: The Development of the Aesthetics of the Infinite (New York, 1959), pp. 299–300, 323Google Scholar.
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103 Ibid., 1:92, 2:175.
104 Ibid., 1:16, 92. Augustan images of Venus are examined in Turner, James G., “The Sexual Politics of Landscape: Images of Venus in Eighteenth-Century English Poetry and Landscape Gardening,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 11 (1982): 343–66Google Scholar.
106 On the esoteric nature of some forms of libertine sociability, see Pintard, , Le libertinage érudit, pp. 121–22Google Scholar; Darnton, Robert, The Forbidden Best-Sellers of Pre-Revolutionary France (New York, 1995), p. 107Google Scholar; Jacob, Margaret, The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans (London, 1981)Google Scholar; Shields, David S., “Anglo-American Clubs: Their Wit, Their Heterodoxy, Their Sedition,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3d ser., 51, no. 2 (April 1994): 304CrossRefGoogle Scholar; and Trumbach, , “Erotic Fantasy,” pp. 271–82Google Scholar.
108 Trumbach, , “Erotic Fantasy,” pp. 271–82, esp. 281Google Scholar, conflates Shaftesbury's “program of the virtuoso” with the later libertinism of John Cleland and Francis Dashwood.
110 Lawrence Klein recognizes that “the term ‘politeness’ had a wide range of uses,” in the early eighteenth century in his “Property and Politeness in the Early Eighteenth-Century Whig Moralists,” in Brewer, and Staves, , eds., Early Modern Conceptions of Property, p. 228Google Scholar.
111 Shaftesbury did not approve of unnecessary visits to London by his family; Voitle, , The Third Earl, p. 82Google Scholar. David Marshall imaginatively explores the significance of the ways in which Shaftesbury “denies the public character of his published book,” in the Characteristics in The Figure of Theater, pp. 1–33, quote at p. 18.