Posted in Edward Synge b. 1690

Edward Synge, friend and father

The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin (c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission
The Episcopal Throne in the ruined Cathedral of Elphin
(c) Vox Hiberionacum, with permission

Edward Synge was born around 1690 and died in Dublin on the 27th January, 1762. He was the son of the elder Edward Synge, who was himself involved in the philosophical debates of the time.

He was educated in Trinity College Dublin (M.A. in 1712 and D.D. in 1728) and after being chancellor of St. Patrick’s (1726), was successively bishop of Clonfert (1730), Cloyne (1731), Ferns (1733), and finally Elphin (1740 until his death).

Synge was close to Francis Hutcheson and appears to have been a member of the Molesworth Circle. He assisted Hutcheson in developing revising his work and Hutcheson himself acknowledged that Synge had devised the general scheme of “Inquiry into Beauty and Virtue” before Hutcheson. The connection seems to have continued after Hutcheson’s departure for Glasgow and until his death, since his son dedicated the posthumous collection of his father’s works to Synge 1. Letters from the 1760s from Edward Synge giving advice to the younger Hutcheson still exist.
Continue reading “Edward Synge, friend and father”

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

Rude Enlightenment

Admittedly, Swift was not an easy man with whom to get on with, aggravating his church superior, Archbishop William King of Dublin, himself a truculent steward prone to picking fights.

Arbuckle was an equally thorny character who made enemies easily. He found it necessary to leave the University of Glasgow in a hurry when, as a student, he was involved in an altercation concerning the election of the rector. He retreated to Dublin, where he fell into favor with Robert, Viscount Molesworth of Swords—himself described by one acquaintance as “waspish” and prone to anticlerical outbursts.

These traits helped Molesworth to remain close to that most volatile and barbed of personalities, the freethinker John Toland. He promulgated a kind of literary subterfuge that Swift mocked in a series of texts, notably An Argument Against Abolishing Christianity, in which he mentioned Toland by name.

A selection of personality clashes in Enlightenment Dublin.

Quote from Michael Brown (2012) “The Biter Bitten: Ireland and the Rude Enlightenment” in Eighteenth-Century Studies, Volume 45, Number 3 (JSTOR)

To see just how rude it could get, see the post on James Arbuckle.

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

James Arbuckle and the Molesworth Circle

arbuckle
Frontispiece of “Hibericus’ Letters”

James Arbuckle was born in Belfast in 1700 and died in Dublin on 16th January 1742. An obituary in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal described him as

remarkable for his learning, political writings, and in some ingenious and witty pieces in the poetical way…a sincere friend, an agreeable companion.

There is evidence Arbuckle was childhood friends with John Smith and Thomas Drennan. He studied in the University of Glasgow, obtaining an MA in 1720, and studying for the ministry up to 1724. He was a poet, publishing a number of works including Snuff (1717), Epistle to the Right Hon. Thomas Earl of Hadington, on the Death of Joseph Addison, Esq. (1719) and, on the beauties of the Clyde, Glotta (1721). A 1719 letter in verse from poet Allan Ramsey to Arbuckle survives (see The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.2, p. 375), as do verses addressed to Ramsey by “James Arbuckle” (The Poems of Allan Ramsey, Vol.1, p. clxxiii).

While at Glasgow he acted as an intermediary between the students, who wanted to restore their right to elect the rector, and the Viscount Molesworth, who lent his support to the students. He also may have assisted John Smith in writing A Short Account of the Late Treatment of the Students of the University of G[lasgo]w (1722), published in Dublin to drum up support for the Glasgow students. In 1722 Arbuckle was also involved in a Glasgow dispute over non-Subscribing ministers in Belfast, defending them from “allegations…derogatory to the Reverend Ministers” in representations made to the Synod of Ayr and Glasgow by Samuel Smith.
Continue reading “James Arbuckle and the Molesworth Circle”

Posted in John Tyndall

Epicurean Creation

The mechanical shock of the atoms being in his view the all-sufficient cause of things, he combats the notion that the constitution of nature has been in any way determined by intelligent design. The inter-action of the atoms throughout infinite time rendered all manner of combinations possible. Of these the fit ones persisted, while the unfit ones disappeared. “

John Tyndall references Lucretius the Epicurean (On The Nature on Things) in his famous Belfast Address (1874) in support of Darwinism and the superior authority of science over religious or non-rationalist explanations.

Posted in George Berkeley

Berkeley’s Problem with Representative Realism

[T]he structure of the dialectic, both between Berkeley and his real-world opponents and between his fictitious characters Hylas and Philonous, is a debate about whether ‘the vulgar’ or ‘the mob’ or ‘the illiterate bulk’ have knowledge of familiar objects like apples, tables, and cherry trees, and if so how. Berkeley’s complaint against his opponents is that, on their theories, it cannot be proved that the gardener knows his cherry tree. He claims that his own theory does not have this defect: the philosopher who has grasped Berkeley’s arguments thereby comes to know that the gardener knows that his cherry tree exists.

Berkeley’s problem with representative realism – we don’t know if we know. From Kennypearce.net

Posted in 1801-1922 Union and Rebellion

Educating the Citizen Lord

Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1797)
Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1796.
Wikimedia, Public Domain

Lord Edward Fitzgerald was born 250 years ago, on the 15th October 1763, in Carton House, Co. Kildare, the fifth son of the Duke of Leinster. From his earliest days, Edward Fitzgerald was a child of the Enlightenment, and educated according to Enlightenment ideals.

One of the most influential thinkers on education in 18th century Ireland was John Locke. The earliest edition of his “Thoughts on Education” (1683) described itself as “Published at the request of several of the nobility of this kingdom”, and was reprinted three times from 1728-1738, and twice in the late 1770s. It provided a model for a gentleman’s education, and helped popularize the ideal of a paternalistic and educated gentry taking responsibility for improving their local area.

For Locke the goal of education was to instil “the Principle of Virtue”, that is the ability to subvert one’s immediate appetites and desires to the dictates of reason. The aim was to create people who obeyed reason over passion. 
Continue reading “Educating the Citizen Lord”

Posted in John Toland

Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment

A book burning in London, 1643. (click for source)
A book burning in London, 1643. (Image  is figure 8 in “Incendiary texts”, referenced and linked below)

On 18th (some say 11th) September, 1697 the book “Christianity Not Mysterious” was burned in front of the Irish Parliament Buildings. This had been ordered by the Parliament who declared some days earlier that the heretical book “be publickly burnt by the hands of the common hangman” and the author “be taken into the custody of the Serjeant at Arms and…prosecuted”. Such burning of books by the hangman had been done in England since 1634 (ref), though letters from Molyneaux to Locke suggest it had not happened in Ireland before.

The book had already caused controversy. It was denounced when it was first published in 1696, the first edition anonymously and the second under Toland’s name. The book argues that “[T]here is nothing in the Gospel contrary to Reason, nor above it; and … no Christian Doctrine can be properly called a Mystery.” In other words, nothing in the Gospel can conflict with reason, the Gospel cannot transcend reason (so apparent conflicts with reason cannot be explained away as a mystery) and that no doctrine can at once be Christian and mysterious. The creation of mysteries within Christianity he attributed to innovations of competing sects.

This theory of the relationship between religion and reason went further than other supporters of reason such as Locke had dared. It was especially contentious in Ireland, since it undermined the position of the established Anglican Church over other churches. Archbishop Narcissus Marsh (of the Library) requested the Provost of Trinity College, Dr. Peter Browne, to write an answer to Toland’s book. Browne did so in his 1797 A Letter in answer to a book entitled Christianity not mysterious, condemning Toland as ‘an inveterate enemy of revealed religion’. Browne was later made the Bishop of Cork, due to Marsh’s influence, leading Toland to boast he had ‘made Browne a bishop’.
Continue reading “Incendiary: John Toland and the birth of the Irish Enlightenment”

Posted in William King

The Weakness of William King

I impoverish my self with buying books but over Shoes over boots my head is in and an auction on foot who can stop his hand?

I am got here into books very foolishly, I bought Villalpandus in Large paper 3 vol. 4//. I bought Bsp Halls 4 Vols 111. 8s.three vol. of Musculus…and Sev//. other books, I confess my infirmity and [pro]mise to amend. “

Two quotes from Archbishop William King about his weakness for buying books, a trait that reputedly amused his friend Dean John Stearne and upset his collector of rents Henry Green, who had the job of “hindering” the book buying.

Both are from letters written by William King to John Stearne, Dean of St Patricks, after book auctions in London (1710 and 1713).

Source: An Irish Archbishop and his library [JSTOR, limited free access].

Posted in 1690-1800 The Long Eighteenth Century

John Locke in Ireland

In 1692 John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding was put on the curriculum of Trinity College Dublin by the provost St George Ashe. This was the first university to do so, unsurprising given the book was only published two years before.

The book was added on the recommendation of William Molyneux, founder of the Dublin Philosophical Society and first translator of Descartes’Meditations into English. In 1692 Molyneux made a flattering reference to Locke in the dedication of his own book, the Dioptrica Nova. He sent a copy to Locke, sparking a correspondence that only ended when Molyneux died. Molyneux was immortalised on a later edition of Locke’s Essay as the creator of Molyneux’s Problem.

When, in 1695, John Toland published his Christianity Not Mysterious, which applied Lockean ideas to religion, Locke was by then known well enough for the arguments refuting Toland to employ the same Lockean ideas. The Irish Enlightenment and Counter-Enlightenment, described by David Berman, produced new theological positions, such as Theological Representationalism, and some important philosophers. “Without Locke’sEssay“, says Berman, “there would hardly have been a Berkeley, Hutcheson or Burke.” Much of Irish philosophy in this “Golden Age” rests on Lockean foundations, and Berkeley’s philosophy is rooted in disputes between different positions based on Locke.
Continue reading “John Locke in Ireland”

Posted in John J. O'Meara

Augustine As Aeneas

In these and other particulars it can be seen that both the Aeneid and the Confessions approach a usual pattern and to one another. Aeneas in his flight from Troy has many shattering personal experiences, many a trial, and a visit to the underworld from which he emerges regenerated, with a clear vision of his destiny and the strength and confidence to fulfil it. Augustine, likewise, pictures himself as the Prodigal Son fleeing back to the Father (an important related motif in the Confessions), has equally shattering personal experiences and trials, ‘dies to his old self and puts on Christ in a mystic calling from which he emerges regenerated. There are differences of emphasis between the one work and the other – in particular the Confessions stress the ‘flight’ in terms of the Neo Platonic flight to the Fatherland and the way thither. But broadly speaking each is the story of Everyman in his journey through life.”

From “Virgil and Augustine: The Aeneid in the Confessions” by John Ó’Meara, in The Maynooth Review / Revieú Mhá Nuad , Vol. 13, (Dec., 1988), pp. 30-43 [available on JSTOR, limited free access]

The Irish philosopher John J. O’Meara on the parallels between Augustine’s Confessions and Virgil’s Aeneid. The Aeneid, written by Virgil between 29 and 19 BC, recounts the tale of Aeneas, a Trojan who wandered the Mediterranean after the Fall of Troy. He eventually arrives in Italy where he became the ancestor of the Romans.
Continue reading “Augustine As Aeneas”