John William Draper and His Sources

It has often been said, by his contemporaries as well as modern scholars, that John William Draper made little reference to other authors. This is not entirely accurate. To be sure, there are no footnotes or endnotes in Draper’s books. But he does refer to a variety of authors and sometimes even quotes directly from their work. Below is a complied list of some of the more significant authors Draper specifically refers to in his publications. Draper mentions some of these authors merely in passing. Others are used to support his argument in various places. Still others serve more as guiding principles of his narrative. Draper was obviously influenced by other thinkers, ones he alludes to wittingly or unwittingly simply by the style of his rhetoric. His reasons for not including all his sources are presumably complex. At any rate, this list is not exhaustive. Moreover, I have selected authors that peak my own interests. But the important point here is that Drapers explicitly mentioned all of them in the body of his work.

A Treatise on the Forces which Produce the Organization of Plants (1844):

  • Isaac Newton (1643-1727)
  • Joseph Priestley (1733-1804)
  • William Herschel (1738-1822)
  • Benjamin Thompson, Count Rumford (1753-1814)
  • Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833)
  • William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828)
  • Charles Bell (1776-1842)
  • Henri Dutrochet (1776-1847)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Siméon Denis Poisson (1781-1840)
  • David Brewster (1781-1868)
  • Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787-1826)
  • Louis Daguerre (1787-1851)
  • Michael Faraday (1791-1867)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Charles Daubeny (1795-1867)
  • Macedonio Melloni (1798-1854)
  • John Lindley (1799-1865)
  • David Boswell Reid (1805-1863)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891)

A Text-book on Chemistry (1846):

  • Robert Hare (1752-1811)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • Robert John Kane (1809-1890)
  • Thomas Graham (1805-1869)
  • Olinthus Gilbert Gregory (1774-1841)
  • George Fownes (1815-1849)
  • Jean Baptiste André Dumas (1800-1884)
  • […] Millon

A Text-book on Natural Philosophy (1847):

  • Thomas Dick (1774-1857)
  • François Arago (1786-1853)
  • John Herschel (1792-1871)
  • Gabriel Léon Jean Baptist Lamé (1795-1870)
  • Oscar Ferdinand Peschel (1826-1875)
  • Friedrich Eisenlohr (1831-1904)

Human Physiology (1856):

  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton (1716-1800)
  • Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840)
  • Franz Joseph Gall (1758-1828)
  • John Dalton (1766-1844)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)
  • Johann Gaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832)
  • Humphry Davy (1778-1829)
  • Jöns Jacob Berzelius (1779-1848)
  • James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Adolphe Quetelet (1796-1874)
  • Henri Milne-Edwards (1800-1885)
  • Jean-Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné Boussingault (1801-1887)
  • Alcide d’Orbigny (1802-1857)
  • Justus Freiherr von Liebig (1803-1873)
  • Ernst Freiherr von Bibra (1806-1878)
  • Louis Agassiz (1807-1873)
  • Robert Bentley Todd (1809-1860)
  • Georg Friedrich Karl Heinrich von Bidder (1810-1894)
  • William Benjamin Carpenter (1813-1885)
  • Claude Bernard (1813-1878)
  • James Paget (1814-1899)
  • William Bowman (1816-1892)
  • Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard (1817-1894)
  • Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894)
  • Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902)
  • William Senhouse Kirkes (1822-1864)
  • Carl Schmidt (1822-1894)

A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe (1863):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Joachim of Fiore (1135-1202)
  • Roger Bacon (1214-1292)
  • Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471)
  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Martin Luther (1483-1546)
  • Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531)
  • John Calvin (1509-1564)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jan Baptist van Helmont (1580-1644)
  • John Milton (1608-1674)
  • Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
  • John Locke (1632-1704)
  • Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
  • Edward Gibbon (1737-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen (1791-1860)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • James Anthony Froude (1818-1894)
  • Max Müller (1823-1900)

Thoughts on the Future Civil Policy of America (1865):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Karl Ernst von Baer (1792-1876)
  • Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)

History of the Civil War (1867-1870):

  • Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527)
  • Jean Bodin (1530-1596)
  • Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
  • John Adams (1735-1826)
  • Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
  • Daniel Webster (1782-1852)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
  • Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
  • Henry Ward Beecher (1813-1887)

History of the Conflict between Religion and Science (1874):

  • Alhazen (965-1040)
  • Avicenna (d.1037)
  • Al-Ghazali (1058-1111)
  • Averroes (1126-1198)
  • Dante Alighieri (1265-1321)
  • Petrarch (1304-1374)
  • Francis Bacon (1561-1626)
  • Jean-Félix Picard (1620-1682)
  • Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677)
  • Humphrey Prideaux (1648-1724)
  • John Toland (1670-1722)
  • Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu (1689-1755)
  • Johann Lorenz von Mosheim (1693-1755)
  • Samuel Shuckford (1693-1754)
  • Thomas Newton (1704-1782)
  • Jean-Baptiste le Rond d’Alembert (1717-1783)
  • Antoine Lavoisier (1743-1794)
  • William Jones (1746-1794)
  • Pierre-Simon Laplace (1749-1827)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Henry Hallam (1777-1859)
  • Jean-Pierre Huber (1777-1840)
  • Benjamin Collins Brodie (1783-1862)
  • François Guizot (1787-1874)
  • Richard Whately (1787-1863)
  • Leopold von Ranke (1795-1886)
  • Hermann Hupfeld (1796-1866)
  • Ernst Wihelm Hengstenberg (1802-1869)
  • John Colenso (1814-1883)
  • Emil du Bois-Reymond (1818-1896)
  • Ernest Renan (1820-1892)
  • George John Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll (1823-1900)
  • William Huggins (1824-1910)

“Dr. Draper’s Lecture on Evolution: Its Origin, Progress, and Consequences,” Popular Science Monthly (1877):

  • Benoît de Maillet (1656-1783)
  • Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656-1708)
  • George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788)
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamacrk (1744-1829)
  • George Cuvier (1769-1832)
  • Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)
  • Lorenz Oken (1779-1851)
  • Robert Chambers (1802-1871)

George Lincoln Burr and the Progress of Religion

George Lincoln Burr (1857-1938), historian and librarian at Cornell University, was also a close collaborator of Andrew Dickson White (1832-1918). White had even once proposed that Burr share with him the title page of his  A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896). Burr declined, but the suggestion shows that both White and Burr shared many ideas.

In 1905 Burr delivered an address to the First Baptist Church of Ithaca on “Religious Progress.” He begins by recounting, and contrasting, two lectures, or approaches to religion, one by Rev. Joseph Cook, “the famous reconciler of theology and science,” the other by Col. Robert Ingersoll, the “Great Agnostic.” These two “gladiators,” Burr says, the things that alarmed or angered them, “no longer embarrass or embitter us.” Why? According to Burr, we have simply grown more “honest.”

We should not mistake the sincerity of these men as honesty, however. Their sincerity was partisan. He writes,

We thought that above truth was the Truth; that the God who gave us our senses, our reason, our conscience, had given us through some other channel revelations which these commonplace faculties must not be trusted honestly to test.

In short, “the Ingersolls are as out-of-date as the Cooks.”

Burr told his audience that we are no longer shocked by books like Descent of ManHistory of CivilizationWarfare of ScienceGuesses at the Riddle of Existence, or History of the Conflict between Religion and Science. A kinder reception is testimony to “our more simple-hearted wish to know the truth.” We now welcome such works as “courageous,” as a witness to “free and hopeful inquiry.”

This is not the decay of faith, however. Burr claims that “Faith is not knowledge.” Faith begins where knowledge ends. Doubt is not something to despise. We must face it. We must not put cotton in our ears.

In addition to growing more honest, Burr says, we have also grown more tolerant. Tolerance should not be confused with indifference, however. Burr relates that he first uncovered the doctrine of tolerance in the archives, in the writings of the Anabaptists. This sixteenth-century religious sect believed that every man was able to discern for himself the voice of God. In turn, Burr maintains, they were labelled “ultra-liberals.” But this was the message of Christ himself. He called on his followers to “live in piety and friendliness without strife and should love one another,” Burr writes. Persistent doctrinal divisions are pointless.

This appeal from Christ, Burr goes on to say, is not for learning but for Christian love. Today should be no different. The great broad-church movement in his time, Burr notes, has less to do with any growth in knowledge than to that “humanitarian trend, that new emphasis on conduct and on Christian kindliness, which has confessedly so marked the religious temper of our time.”

To honesty and tolerance, Burr finally adds kindness. To illustrate his point Burr turns to evolution. The central idea behind evolution, he says, is not birth but growth. But this evolution should not be understood in the sense of mere vegetative growth. Evolution is no groping in the dark. It is the germ of a diviner liberty and self-direction, a growth into the “likeness,” the kindness of God. This is the great principle of progress, Burr says.

Do you realize, Christians of Ithaca, that it is scarce a hundred years since men began to know that the Golden Age is before and not behind; that the career of man on earth has been an upward, now downward one,—a thing for hopeful effort, not for despair?

This is the new revelation of God’s love. Old traditions and fears have lost their power. We are no longer to be bound by them. Old ways and old creeds have passed. They must be understood on an evolutionary scale. “Not the discovery of a new world, not the Copernican theory of the heavens, has so deeply influenced our Christian thought.” God has opened the door to a new progressiveness, which will led us to be more and more like him.

John W. Draper on Natural Law and Providence

Descartes viewed nature as created by a wise Creator, who had created the universe from nothing and let it run, like a machine, by itself. That is, there was no need for God to constantly intervene. By contrast, Gassendi believed that the laws we discover in nature are our laws, not God’s, and therefore he is not constrained by them. Likewise, for Boyle, God’s laws were palpable and plain for anyone to see; but God could tinker with them if he so chose. Newton shared Gassendi’s and Boyle’s view of divine freedom. He opposed Descarte’s mechanical philosophy and argued that the universe in fact could not sustain itself without God’s continual supervision.

By the early decades of the nineteenth century, the conception of God as a “law-giver” or “law-maker” became extremely popular. Babbage and Powell placed great emphasis on the idea of God as law-maker. Indeed, the most incontrovertible evidence of God’s existence and wisdom is found in uninterrupted law. Lyell believed that natural history is fixed by invariable laws. Herschel argued that experiment demonstrated principles of law, and told Lyell that God operated thought a series of intermediate causes. Whewell too believed that “final causes” are unnecessary. For Whewell, though, they were enough to prove God’s existence. Law was uniform but no absolute. Natural laws were not independent of Providence. Thus the very practice of science is an exercise in proving his existence.

But as we all know, later practitioners of science would eschew all this God-talk. Some have argued that John W. Draper is partly to blame. His progressive narratives of the history of science took God out of the story. But that view is entirely mistaken. Behind his “law of development” and his understanding of the nature of science was not “inconsistent with the admission of a Providential guidance of the world.” His concern was that man was not always the most reliable interpreter of the ways of God. Draper, in short, seems to be returning to the older idea of rational religion, that God was indeed behind creation, but not constantly supervising it. Towards the close of his Intellectual Development of Europe, for example, Draper argued that

It might be consistent with the weakness and ignorance of man to be reduced to the necessity of personal intervention for the accomplishment of his plans, but would not that be the very result of ignorance? Does not absolute knowledge actually imply procedure by preconceived and unvarying law? Is not momentary intervention altogether derogatory to the thorough and absolute sovereignty of God? The astronomical calculation of ancient events, as well as the prediction of those to come, is essentially founded on the principle that there has not in the times under consideration, and that there will never be in the future, any exercise of an arbitrary or overriding will. The corner-stone of astronomy is this, that the solar system—nay, even the universe, is ruled by necessity. To operate by expedients is for the creature, to operate by law for the Creator; and so far from the doctrine that creations and extinctions are carried on by a foreseen and predestined ordinance—a system which works itself without need of any intermeddling—being an unworthy, an ignoble conception, it is completely in unison with the resistless movements of the mechanism of the universe, with whatever is orderly, symmetrical, and beautiful upon earth, and with all the dread the magnificence of the heavens.

Joachim and Draper

A number of historians of the idea of progress trace the notion to the mystic Joachim of Floris (1131-1202). Karl Löwith, in his classic Meaning in History (1949), believed that Joachim had delineated a “new scheme of epochs and dispensations by which the traditional scheme of religious progress from Old to the New Testament became extended and superseded.” This new scheme is found in his work that came to be called the “Eternal Gospel,” which outlined three stages in history, the Age of the Father, Age of the Son, and Age of the Holy Spirit, corresponding with the Old Testament, New Testament, and an impending apocalyptic event, or eschaton.

Robert Nisbet, in his History of the Idea of Progress (1994), also saw in Joachim and his followers, the Joachimites, a combination of “belief in the necessity of a period of catastrophic violence to usher in the golden age on earth with a philosophy of cumulative, stage-by-stage progress from the past to the future.” Both Nisbet and Löwith explain how Joachim’s vision of history had unintended consequences, when Saint-Simon, Comte, and other positivists appropriated his vision for their own purposes.

Joachim had rejected the Church of his day as corrupt. His followers, the Spiritual Franciscans, or Fraticelli, also decried the corruptions of the Church.

I mention Joachim because about midway through his Intellectual Development of Europe (1863), Draper praised his “Everlasting Gospel.” He observed that “notwithstanding its heresy, the work displayed an enlarged and mastery conception of the history of progress of humanity.” Earlier in his book, Draper had also concurred with the Fraticelli when they claimed that the “fatal gift of a Christian emperor had been the doom of true religion.” According to Draper, the Spiritual Franciscans were reformers, and those generations who had survived the fires of the Inquisition became followers of Martin Luther.

John W. Draper on the Rise and Corruption of Christianity

Historians of science have long been frustrated that “no reference stains the clear white pages” of John W. Draper’s work. But searching for Draper’s sources has been made easier in recent years thanks to online databases and search engines such as Google Books. One particularly interesting search I’ve recently come across had to do with Draper’s understanding of the rise of Christianity. In his 1863 A History of the Intellectual Development of Europe, Draper spends several chapters discussing the origins and progress of Christianity. At the outset, he makes an important distinction that scholars have usually ignored.

I here, at the outset, emphatically distinguish between Christianity and ecclesiastical organizations. The former is a gift of God; the latter are the product of human exigencies and human invention, and therefore open to criticism, or, if need be, to condemnation.

Now, historians have typically taken Andrew D. White at his word when he claimed in his A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom (1896) that Draper failed to make such distinctions between “religion” and “theology.” But in his Intellectual Development of Europe, that is exactly what Draper did.

The argumentative spine of Draper’s discussion is actually borrowed from an older author. In these chapters Draper is laying out essentially a “pagano-papism” polemic. Here he quotes “a very astute ecclesiastical historian,” writing that

A clear and unpolluted fountain, fed by secret channels with the dew of Heaven, when it grows a large river, and takes a long and winding course, receives a tincture from the various soils through which it passes.

This “tincture,” according to Draper, is ultimately what had corrupted primitive Christianity. The ecclesiastical historian in question was John Jortin (1698-1770), the quote taken from his well-known and popular Remarks on Ecclesiastical History, a five-volume collection first published in 1751. Jortin was the product of the Huguenot diaspora, his father a refugee from the persecutions of Louis XIV. Interestingly enough, Edward Gibbon had also made several approving references to Jortin in his The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a text which Draper almost certainly made use of as well. Gibbon, for example, noted that Jortin had treated the Arian controversy “with learning, candour, and ingenuity” and he described him as “a correct and liberal scholar.” According to ODNB, Jortin’s writings “constitute the most significant Anglican ecclesiastical history of the eighteenth century and were written from a markedly latitudinarian perspective.”

That Draper found inspiration from the historical work of an ecclesiastic who had rejected the Athanasian creed, but not “Christianity” nor religion, should complicate our understanding of his philosophy of religion.

Draper and Darwin at Oxford 1860

There are many interesting ideas in Draper’s 1860 Oxford BAAS address. Although he invoked Darwin’s name in the title, “The Intellectual Development of Europe (considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others) that the Progression of Organisms is Determined by Law,” there is actually very little about Darwin in the speech. Draper and Darwin did share some key assumptions about geology, biology, and physiology. But there was also some clear differences. Perhaps most important is that Draper negated the process of “natural selection” in his Oxford paper. Draper was also more willing than Darwin was in 1860 to address the question of human evolution. In his Oxford paper Draper argued for the equal application of natural law in physics and biology:

In the higher physiology as well as in the physical sciences orderly sequences are proofs of the operation of law. It matter not from what direction the examples may be drawn[—]the path of a stone thrown from the hand, the motions of a planetary body, the unvarying stages of development of a plant or an animal.[1]

Draper was actually quite comfortable claiming parallels between human physiology and other animals. He explained to his audience:

In the Physiology of Man considered as an Individual we ascertain the law of his development from an examination of his state at successive epochs and obtain light on the obscurities encountered in our studies by turning to other animal forms. We regard him as the first member of an infinite series of organisms all composed of the same elements[,] chemical and anatomical[,] subject to the same influences[,] governed by the same laws. We see no shadow of a great gulf between him and them. When instead of limiting our investigation of his life to the period of maturity we examine all that long career though which he passes from a mere microscopic speck[,] we find that as he moves from epoch to epoch he repeats in an ascending progress successively the structure of those[,] his humbler comrades[—]like them ever under the control of physical conditions[,] and advancing in his development in submission to an universal law.

But Draper was, of course, also interested in arguing that “man in civilization does not occur accidentally or in a fortuitous manner, but is determined by immutable law.” That is to say, he wanted to show that the same physical laws for biological evolution also applied to human society as a whole. Concomitantly, Draper believed that an understanding of these laws shows that society was essentially progressive:

There is a progress for races of men as well marked as the progress of one man. There are thoughts and actions appertaining to specific periods in the one case as in the other. The march of individual existence shadows forth the march of Race existence[,] being indeed its representation on a little scale. In this manner there emerges into prominence the noble conception that man is the archetype of Society, that individual development is the model of social progress.

Society was a living organism, which, just like all organisms, responded to external and internal laws:

Whatever may be the present state it is altogether transient. All systems of civil life are therefore necessarily ephemeral. Time brings new external conditions[,] the manner of thought is modified, with thought[,] action. Persons are the sum of organic particles, nations are the sums of persons, all are only transitional forms which have a definite cycle of motion[,] and that motion is never retrograde. The succession of social transmutation is as irresistible as the constitutional metamorphosis of the individual and so[,] too[,] it is in the intellectual public[,] ideas which are the sum of individual thoughts follow in an inevitable train. Everything is in movement.

The apparent “immutability of species” was simply a temporary moment in  “physical equilibrium” and nothing more:

Not man alone but all organic species depend on the physical conditions in under which they live. Any variation[,] no matter how insignificant it might be therein[,] would be forthwith followed by a corresponding variation in them form. The present invariability presented by the world of organization is the direct consequence of the physical equilibrium[,] and so it will continue as long as the mean temperature[,] the annual supply of light[,] the composition of the air[,] the distribution of water[,] oceanic and atmospheric currents[,] and other such agencies remain unchanged unaltered[,] but if any one of these or of a hundred other incidents that might be mentioned should suffer modification[,] in an instant the fanciful doctrine of the immutability of species would be brought to its true value. The organic world appears to be in repose because natural influences have reached an equilibrium. A marble may remain in motionless forever on a level table but let the surface be a little inclined and the marble will quickly run off. Looking at it in its state of rest we should hardly be justified in affirming that it was impossible for it ever to move.

In concluding his address, Draper turned more directly to his larger historical thesis, that nations, including the British empire, were also temporary, and would eventually be overcome by others, all according to immutable laws:

From the considerations now presented we see how completely the origin[,] existence[,] and death of Nations depend on physical influences which are themselves the results of immutable laws. Nations are only transitional forms of humanity. They must undergo obliteration as do the transitional forms offered by the animal series. There is no more immortality for them than there is an immobility for an embryo animal in any one of the manifold forms past through in its progress of development. Empires, the creation of Nations, are only sand hills in the hourglass of Time.

It was, then, perhaps Draper’s willingness to go “the whole orang” and then quickly consider its social implications, or perhaps his undermining of the British empire, with the implication that the American empire was now in its ascendancy as the next stage in the social evolutionary process, that might better explain why Draper’s presentation at the 1860 BAAS at Oxford was met with much criticism by Huxley and other supporters of Darwinism.

[1] John William Draper, “The Intellectual Development of Europe (considered with reference to the views of Mr. Darwin and others) that the Progression of Organisms is Determined by Law,” container 8, John William Draper Family Papers, Library of Congress, Washington DC.

John W. Draper at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art

Cooper UnionBefore he went to Oxford for the 1860 meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, John W. Draper delivered an address at the opening of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York in 1859. Most of the lecture was published in the New York Herald (Nov 3, 1859). In this lecture Draper’s background as a Methodist and his training at the University of London (esp. the influence of Henry Brougham and the Utilitarians) are clear. His focus is education and the advancement of civilization, and here we find hints of ideas and themes that will be expanded in his later work. The following is taken directly as it was printed in the Herald.

There are two different means by which a community may assert superiority over its contemporaries—by brute force and by intellect. In the old times nations attached supremacy by a successful exercise of physical force. Successful wars were the basis of their authority, disastrous battles often their end. But the affairs of men have gradually taken such a form that power must rest on intelligence. He who seeks the improvement of his fellow men, the ennobling of the community among whom he lives, or the true glory of the nation to which he belongs, can only accomplish his purpose by spreading forth the light of knowledge, and strengthening and developing the public understanding. In his letter to the trustees of the Cooper Union, the founder of this institution, whose princely magnificence we here enjoy, has said “that it is his wish that we should see, feel, understand and know that there are immutable laws designed in infinite wisdom, constantly operating for our good—so governing the destiny of worlds and of men, that it is our highest wisdom to live in conformity to them.” So, in truth, it has pleased God to place the government of this world, in its onward progress, under the same laws as the development of man. And what does it signify if the one completes his career in a few months whilst the other demands for its majestic progress  scores of centuries? In these affairs, to Him who has eternity to work in, time is nothing—a day is with him as a thousand years, a thousand years are only as a day.

Ask the historian what is the impressive, the final conclusions to which he has come from his examinations of the life of nations, he has still the same story to tell. Nations, like individuals, are born, run through an unavoidable career, and then die, some earlier, some more maturely, some at a still later date. In their infancy some are cut off by mere feebleness, some are destroyed by civil diseases, some commit suicide, some perish of old age. But for every one there is an orderly way of progress—the same pursued by the individual and assigned to the globe. Empires are only sand hills in the hour glass of time; they crumble away of themselves, or are totally obliterated when he turns over his glass. Read, if you choose, the history of the race from which we are sprung—the white, the European race. Not long ago our forefathers were wild savages in the woods; finding refuge in caves, delighting in the adornment of ochre, and wore the red and blue daubed over their skins; some, the dwellers in the southeast of the continent, tattooed themselves; some, still worse, were accused by common fame of cannibalism. A few years elapsed; the social disposition emerges; villages and  towns appear; there is an instinctive but not an intellectual life. Still a little time more, and the rudiments of religious perceptions are distinguishable; these, from mere fetish adorations, unfold in a definite way, and better and better ideas appear, until finally the age of truth and reason in which we live has come. We look back—the opinions that were entertained perhaps only a century ago strike us with the utmost surprise, and we are fain to deny that our grandfathers could ever have really believed such things: it matter not whether they are ideas in philosophy or maxims in politics. We turn to ourselves inquiringly, to see in what consists the difference between us and them, and forth comes the same grand truth that we have recognised in the individual and on the globe.

There has been an intellectual advance, and we can no more adopt the habits, the sentiments, the opinions that guided them, than the adult man can be swayed by the trivialities which have governed the conduct of the boy. So thus I approach the great truth that I wish to inculcate here tonight—that the life of the nation is meant for intellectual development. Intellectual development overrides all other things. I do not exclude even morals. Morality without intellect is superstition. Whoever designs to improve the people among whom he lives must do so by influencing their intellect. The voice of history proclaims that all other schemes are abortive. Our European ancestors for a thousand years tried other means, and the result was a total failure. Where did the fifteenth century find them? The only ruling powers were the military and the monastic. They had carried their influence to its full extent. Had they endured for a thousand years longer, they could have done no more. They had stood by while society rose from the abyss of barbarism; to a certain extent they had assisted it; but now their work was done. The appearance of the continent and the condition of human life show what their uses and what their failures had been. There were great forests extending over vast districts, fens reeking with miasm and fever; some, even in England, forty or fifty miles in length, though round and walls of the abbey there might be beautiful gardens, green lawns, shady walks and many murmuring streams. Over trackless woods where men should have been, herds of deer were straying; the sandy hills were alive with conies, the downs with focks of bustard. The peasants’s cabin was made of reeds, or sticks plastered over with mud, with a chimneyless fire, or perhaps of peal [?] in the object and manner of his life was but a remove from the industrious beaver, who was building his solitary dam in the adjacent stream. There were highwaymen on the roads, pirates in the rivers, vermin in abundance in the clothing and beds. The common food was peas, vetches, fern roots, and even the bark of trees: there was no commerce to put off the extremity of famines. Man was altogether at the mercy of the seasons; the population, sparse as it was, was perpetually thinned off by pestilence and want. Nor was the state of the townsman better than that of the rustic. His bed a was a bag of straw, with a fair round log for a pillow; if he was in easier circumstances his clothing was of leather—perennial in duration, but not conducive to personal cleanliness; if poor, a wisp of straw wrapped round his limbs kept off the cold. It was a social condition, sad to the last degree, where nothing intervened between the cabins built of reed in the fen, the miserable wigwams of villages and the conspicuous walls of the castle and monastery. Well might they who lived near those times bewail the lost of the age-stricken peasant, and point, not without indignation, to the troops of “pilgrims, mendicants, pardoners and ecclesiastics” of every grade, who hung round the monastery and the church; to the might wassail and rioting drunkenness in the castle hall, secure in its moats, its battlements and its warders. The local pivots round which society revolved were the redhanded baron, familiar with scenes of outrage and deeds of blood, and the abbot, indulging in the last extreme of luxury, magnificent in dress, exalting in his ambling palfrey, his hawk and hounds. Rural life had but little improved since the time of Caesar; in its physical aspect it was altogether neglected. As to the mechanic, how was it possible that he should exist where there were no windows of glass, no, not of oiled paper, no workshop warmed by a fire? There was no physician for the dying rustic, but, merciful as ever, the good monk was there with his crucifix. The aim was to smooth the sufferer’s passage to the next world—not to save him for this. In the cities the pestilence walked unstayed—its triumphs numbered by the sounds of the death cryer in the streets, or the knell for the soul that was passing away. No such thing as over population was heard of: it was considered to be singularly successful statesmanship if the number of the population was kept up to its average sparse amount.

Europe thus woke up at the end of the fifteenth century, and found, so far as the domestic comforts and family life of its common people were concerned, that since the days of Caesar absolutely nothing had been accomplished. It is commonly said that this was owing to the extinction of civilization by the barbarian overwhelming Italy and Greece. But that is not the truth. In those countries the sacred fire of learning was fast dying out. It would have spontaneously become extinct had no barbarian touched it. As when you add fresh coal to a fire that is burning low you may for a time still further diminish it, perhaps risk its entire putting out, but in due season, if all goes well, the new material will join in the contagious blaze. The countless savage barbarians of Europe thrown into the foci of Greek and Roman light perhaps did reduce for a time the general heat, but by degrees it spread throughout their mass, and the bright flame of modern civilization was the result. Such was the result of a thousand years. The really influential agent, the ecclesiastic, was a man animated by intentions just as good, by perseverance just as unwearied, by an energy just as vigorous as our own. The defect lay not in him, but in the system, which vainly tried to accomplish improvement through the morals, whilst it abased or ignored the intellect. The time came at last when a different principle prevailed, and men sought to improve the social state through intellectual development. We are witnessing the wonderful result. Though scarcely three hundred years have elapsed, how many of the powers of nature have been brought into servitude to us! Nor has the apprehension which many good men in the old times entertained—that if you instruct the mind you may injure the morals—been at all verified; indeed, we find that men are better in proportion as they were wiser. In whatever direction we look we see how vast is the improvement. The physical man is more powerful, the intellectual man more perfect, the moral man more pure. For the poor, in the midst of all this social activity, this business energy, is charity any the less overflowing? For him who is eager for knowledge is there not certain to be a helper?

What is it that the very building we are sitting in and the occasion that brings us together loudly proclaim? Benevolence, a love for our race and a desire for its amelioration are as strong as ever. For the enterprising is there not an open career to wealth and consideration? The system under which it is our lot to live mingles together all climates, and tends to bind together in the bonds of commerce men of all nations and of all opinions. Under the stormy Atlantic the old and the new world will soon be whispering to one another. Whoever, therefore, I repeat, desires to better his fellow man, must take care that there shall be no ignorant man. Ignorance is not as in the old times they used to say—and it was a double blasphemy against God and man—the mother of devotion; she is the mother of superstition and misery. Brute force holds communities together just as a nail binds pieces of wood by the compression it makes—a compression depending on the force with which it has been hammered in; it also hold more tenaciously if it is rusted with age. But intelligence holds like a screw; the things it has to unit must be carefully suited to its thread; it must be gently turned, not driven, and so binds the connecting parts firmly and well together. If we want to know how we may best clear from this continent the superabundant forests that encumber it, how we may best lay the iron rail and put the locomotive upon it, how we may most profitably dig the abounding metals from the veins, how we may instantaneously communicate with our most distant towns, how we may cover the ocean with our ships, we must provide for all classes of our population improved means for scientific and practical instruction—for every man and for every woman, too, we must provide occupation.

The morality of a nation is the aggregate of the morality of individuals; a lazy man is necessarily a bad man, an idle is necessarily a demoralized population. It was doubtless such reflections which led Mr. Cooper, the founder of this institution, to establish it as a seat of practical science and art, to devote it to the pursuit of philosophy and letters, to make it a depository for historical collections, physical apparatus, mechanical models, books, drawings, pictures; to give it essentially a practical direction, not forgetting , however, that theory in the short way to successful practice, and to bestow its privileges on all the inhabitant of the United States, but especially on the working classes and on women.


It is emphatically to these that the Cooper Union offers its privileges. For them indeed is it especially intended. It engages to provide for them when their daily duty is over nightly instruction, without charge, in the various sciences and in their application to the arts, and to the useful occupations of life. Here my be learned mathematics, chemistry, natural philosophy, the various branches of physics—sciences at the basis of all those pursuits which increase the manufactures, the trade, the riches of our country. Not only those does the Cooper Union manifestly offer to every one willing to avail himself of it a knowledge of the truths of science: it also furnishes the light and perhaps more pleasant information of what is going on in the world around us—contemporary events. In its free reading room, open to all, abundant provision is made in the way of newspapers, journals, magazines. I have said  that this institution, beside providing for the mental improvement of the artisan, has likewise, so far as possible, devoted itself to the interests of a class too often overlooked, too often neglected—women. On many occasions our social requirements press with a melancholy severity on great numbers of the female sex. They cannot engage in the rough conflicts of life—God never intended them for it. Few are the occupations to which they can with propriety turn, and even in these few—to the disgrace of men be it said—they are jostled and crushed and crowded out. Yet often the friendless woman has duties to perform for herself and these dependent on her of the highest kind. Society inexorably binds her with all its rules and usages, yet society too often yields her but a feeble help. She asks no more than freedom for her hands, no more than opportunity; yet how often is that freedom, that opportunity, denied? How countless, also, is the number of women whom in like manner we compel to a profitless inaction? How many of the fearful evils of the great cities of America and Europe may be directly traced to this source! There is nothing which more solemnity, more imperiously, appeals to the philanthropist than to find suitable, and honourable, and remunerative occupation for females. By the establishment of a school of design for women, the Cooper Union has marked out one of the means by which this great evil may be abated. Yet, after all, it can only be regarded as worthily showing us the way. At this time a complete cure is far beyond the power of any man  or of any institution. For our own city doubtless what is done in these walls will be of excellent use, but what is that when we consider our widespread country?

J.W. Draper’s Introductory Lecture in the Course of Chemistry at the University of New York

John William Draper is often accused of cribbing after Comte and Buckle. But Draper had formulated his own ideas years before these other men published their work. Draper was considered a popular lecturer by his contemporaries. Thus when he began lecturing at the University of New York in the 1840s, many of these lectures were immediately published. In his introductory lecture to the course of chemistry for the medical department, Draper spoke of the intimate relationship between chemistry and medicine. “There is not a force in nature which does not affect us,” he told his students. To understand the physical agent, we must have a “general idea of the structure of the earth, the ocean, and the atmosphere; the various laws which regulate each, and the phenomena they exhibit.” In other words, to understand the individual, one must know something of his environment.

Draper goes on to argue that “The changes that we see in living things, are the consequences of fixed and immutable laws.” To understand these laws is to enter the “house of REASON.” Anticipating T.H. Huxley’s later sentiments in his “On A Piece of Chalk,” Draper informed his audience that “in each single grain of tripoli, which is found in beds and strata many feet thick, and extending over areas of many miles, it is known that there are the remains of more than a hundred and eighty millions of individuals…There is not a spot on which you place your feet, that does not cover the remains of unspeakable millions.” The dead beneath our feet provides us with a moral lesson, Draper relates. “We see that not only have individuals passed away, but also whole species, tribes, and genera, have become extinct. In the periods of human record has not the same thing happened? Great empires and mighty republics have ceased to exist, and the specific tribes of men that founded them have vanished.” According to Draper, this has all come to pass through the “operations of general laws.” “The march of events in the human family, is as little under your control as the march of those planets in the sky.” Interestingly, Draper closed his lecture by stating that “the broad hand of an overruling PROVIDENCE is also plainly discovered, dispensing with an unerring justice the rewards of national merit and national crime.”[1]

[1] John William Draper, Introductory Lecture in the Course of Chemistry: University of New-York, Medical Department (New York: Hopkins & Jennings, 1841).

Hobbes (Sheehan) on Heresy

Yesterday I posted on Jonathan Sheehan’s recent article on Hobbes the theologian. Today I came across—entirely by coincidence—an article by Cees Leijenhorst on “Hobbes, Heresy, and Corporeal Deity,” published in John Brooke and Ian Maclean’s Heterodoxy in Early Modern Science and Religion (2005). Leijenhorst shows quite convincingly that Hobbes himself defended himself against charges of heresy and atheism. Using juridical arguments, for instance, Hobbes contended “that contemporary English law had neither the legal framework nor the proper juridical authorities for a formal charge of heresy.” He supported his claim by tracing a “history of the concept of heresy.” According to Hobbes, heresy came to “stand or an unpermitted false belief held by a minority, as opposed to ‘catholic’ orthodoxy.” But this opposition was the result of the paganization of the early Church. The introduction of Greek philosophy had a pernicious effect on the early Church. Hobbes wrote:

Most of the pastors of the primitive church were…chosen out of the number of these philosophers; who retaining still many doctrines which they had taken up on the authority of their former masters, whom they had in reverence, endeavoured many of them to draw the Scriptures every one to his own heresy…And this dissension amongst themselves, was a great scandal to the unbelievers, and which not only obstructed the way of the Gospel, but also drew scorn and greater persecution upon the church.

Now, I might be wrong in saying this, but this argument looks remarkably similar to the one Sheehan himself makes. Hobbes seems to be defending his “heresy” by declaring that heresy was present in the early church from the very beginning. In other words, there has never been orthodoxy. Leijenhorst also makes the interesting point that Hobbes also attempted to separate reason from faith, or philosophy from theology. Philosophy deals with things that are conceivable; theology with the inconceivable.

But to return to the main point, Leijenhorst admits that notions of orthodoxy, heterodoxy, and heresy were extremely complicated in seventeenth-century England. When Hobbes maintained that he his views were orthodox, he based this on his own criterion of orthodoxy, which was based on his history of heresy. So when Sheehan points out the “Christian archive” of heterodoxy, he seems to be following Hobbes’s own argument! But as Leijenhorst makes clear, “it is a historical fact that all the various sects, as well as most of the leading scientists [sic] in seventeenth-century England…agreed that Hobbes was either a heretic or an atheists.”

Was Hobbes a Theologian?

During lunch a friend reminded me about an article on Hobbes I sent him a few weeks back. I had only quickly scanned it at the time, sent it to him, and apparently forgotten all about it. The article is written by Jonathan Sheehan, and published in The Journal of Modern History (June, 2016). It asks the provocative (and perhaps “perverse”) question: Was Thomas Hobbes a theologian?

Sheehan begins by calling attention to the so-called “return of religion” or “religious turn” in modern scholarship, a term used by various scholars in recent decades, including Thomas Albert Howard, Thomas Ahnert, S.J. Barnett, James E. Bradley, Jonathan D. Clark, Dale K. Van Kley, Louis Dupré, Knud Haakonssen, Ian Hunter, Thomas Munck, Dorinda Outram, J.G.A. Pocock, Roy Porter, Mikuláš Teich, David Sorkin, Robert Sullivan, and Bruce Ward, among others, and mostly in the context of Enlightenment studies. Sheehan himself has participated in such work, particularly in his The Enlightenment Bible: Translation, Scholarship, Culture (2005), which argued that the Bible’s place in eighteenth-century German and English Protestantism was transformed rather than eclipsed. Earlier still was his important review essay, “Enlightenment, Religion, and the Enigma of Secularization,” published in American Historical Review (Oct, 2003).

According to Sheehan, asking if Hobbes was a theologian might seem perverse. Although he never claimed to be an atheist, countless commentators have called Hobbes’s philosophy atheistic. As he notes, “between the seventeenth and early twentieth centuries…there is complete consensus on the anti-Christian disposition of Hobbes’s thought.” Contemporaries were horrified by his impiety. Nineteenth-century thinkers also recognised Hobbes’s mechanistic metaphysics as atheistic. But by the early twentieth century, according to Sheehan, a number scholars were beginning to view Hobbes as “perfectly orthodox.” But how could this be? One scholar, e.g., A.P. Martinich, answered that most Hobbes scholars were secularists, and thus “bowdlerized his philosophy to match their prejudices.”

But according to Sheehan, the situation is more complex. Conventional critiques that Hobbes was an atheist or, more recently, assertions that he was entirely orthodox, miss a particularly important point about Hobbes’s religious context. Sheehan is worth quoting at length:

Hobbes teaches that, absent controlling authority, the Christian archive is heterodox, that it is not one tradition or one theology or one orthodoxy. Its pluralism goes back to the very dawn of its formation, built on layers of texts, authorities, traditions, and claims. There is, as Hobbes wrote about his own book, “nothing contrary to the Faith of our Church, though there ares several [doctrines] which go beyond (superantia) the teachings of private theologians.” As Hobbes understands it, however, the “Faith of our Church” was one hardly circumscribed—at least at the moment when the Leviathan was published—by orthodoxy. Rather, it was ill-formed, internally argumentative, variable, and agonistic.

So is Hobbes a theologian? We might be in a better position now to think about our opening question. Let us imagine with Hobbes that, absent institutions that guarantee certain statements as authoritative and orthodox, anyone can be a theologian. In fact, in a certain sense, everyone is a theologian—heterodox, perhaps, or even “ heretical, ” once external and political guarantees of right teaching disappear. In that case, what I called in the opening of this essay the “perversities” of Thomas Hobbes, D.D.—an atheist theologian, a mechanist theologian, an anti-ecclesiastical theologian — are suddenly no longer perverse at all. Instead, they are possibilities of thought unregulated by authority. They are only perverse in a world where a normative standard of orthodoxy can successfully be applied.

Leviathan was not written in such a world, and this invited Hobbes to practice a theology that was simultaneously mechanist and pious, anti-ecclesiastical and pro-establishment, atheist and Christian. We do not live in such a world either. In our world, the state takes little interest in regulating the unruly and messy Christian archive.

But Sheehan might be overstating his case. To be sure, the religious and political world of England was in much turmoil when Hobbes wrote his Leviathan. Indeed, it was penned while he was in self-exile, living in Paris, fearing for his life. When the Civil War ended, Hobbes returned to England in 1652 and settled down in the household of the earl of Devonshire. These circumstances no doubt are reflected in his writings. The fact that so many writers, as Sheehan himself points out, found Hobbes’s writings atheistic also questions his notion that the “Christian archive is heterodox.” That there was an almost “complete consensus” against Hobbes’s position is telling indeed.