Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Annet, Peter

ANNET, PETER (1693–1769), deistical writer, is said to have been born at Liverpool in 1693. He was at one time a schoolmaster, but about the years 1743 and 1744 he published some bitter attacks upon the apologetic writings of Bishop Sherlock and others, and in consequence lost his employment. He was one of the most conspicuous members of the Robin Hood Society, which took its name from the public house—the Robin Hood and Little John in Butcher Row—where its debates were held. Its theological discussions are ridiculed by Fielding in the 'Covent Garden Journal' (1752). In 1756, as appears by a letter of Annet' (Gent Mag. liv. 250), he held a small post in some public office, and he says that some one of his way of thinking had offered to make him steward to an estate in the country. He is supposed to have been the author of 'A History of the Man after God's own Heart' (1761); the preface says that George II had been compared to David by his panegyrists, and the book is intended to show 'how the memory of the British monarch is insulted by the comparison.' This book seems to have suggested Voltaire's 'Saul,' which is described by its author, with obvious mystification, as translated from the English of 'M. Huet,' member of the English parliament and nephew of the famous bishop of Avranches, 'qui, en 1728, composa le petit livre très curieux, "The Man after the Heart of God." Indigné d'avoir entendu un prédicateur comparer à David le roi Georges II, qui n'avait ni assassiné personne, ni fait brûler ses prisonniers français dans des fours à briques, il fit une justice éclatante de ce roitelet juif.' The book has also been attributed to a John Noorthook (Notes and Queries, 1st series, xi. 204). In 1761 Annet published nine numbers of a paper called the 'Free Enquirer,' attacking the Old Testament history. He was tried for blasphemous libel in the Michaelmas term of 1763, the information stating that he had ridiculed the Holy Scriptures (in the 'Free Enquirer') and tried to show 'that the prophet Moses was an impostor, and that the sacred truths and miracles recorded and set forth in the Pentateuch were impositions and false inventions, and thereby to infuse and propagate irreligious and diabolical opinions in the minds of his majesty's subjects and to shake the foundations of the christian religion and of the civil and ecclesiastical government established in this kingdom' (Starkie's Law of Libel, 1876, p. 596). He was convicted and sentenced to a month's imprisonment in Newgate, to stand twice in the pillory, then to have a year's hard labour in Bridewell, and to find sureties for good behaviour during the rest of his life, he is described as 'withered with age' and making no defence. Some 'liberal minds,' we are told, subscribed to relieve him in Newgate. Archbishop Secker, it is added, 'afterwards repented so far'—or, according to his friends, showed so much christian charity—as to relieve Annet's wants till the day of his death. Goldsmith procured for him an offer of ten guineas for a child's grammar; but the offer was withdrawn upon Annet's passionately refusing to be anonymous. He kept a small school at Lambeth after his release, where one of his pupils was James Stephen (1758-1832) afterwards master in Chancery (unpublished papers). Annet died on 18 Jan. 1769.

Annet's writings are of some interest as forming a connecting link between the deism of the early part of the eighteenth century and the more aggressive and outspoken deism of Paine and the revolutionary period. He is a coarse but forcible writer. 'A Collection of the Tracts of a certain Free Enquirer noted by his sufferings for his opinions' (n. d.) includes 'Judging for Ourselves, or Freethinking the great Duty of Religion, displayed in two lectures delivered at Plaisterers' Hall, by P. A., minister of the gospel,' 1739; 'The History and Character of St. Paul examined' (in answer to Lyttelton); 'Supernaturals examined' (in answer to Gilbert West and Jackson); 'Social Bliss considered' (an argument in favour of liberty of divorce), 1749; 'The Resurrection of Jesus considered, in answer to [Sherlock's] the Tryal of the Witnesses, the third edition with great amendments, by a Moral Philosopher'(1744); 'The Resurrection reconsidered' (1744); 'The Sequel of the Resurrection of Jesus considered;' 'The Resurrection Defenders stripped of all Defence,'1745. A volume of lectures of similar character, 'by the late Mr. Peter Annet, corrected and revised by him just before his death, with the head of the author curiously engraved byhis own direction,' has a portrait of 'Peter Annet, setat. 75, anno 1768.'

Besides these works, Annet was author of a system of shorthand. Priestley learned it at school and entered into correspondence with the author. A copy of verses by Priestley is prefixed to a second edition of the system.

[Notes and Queries (1st series), x. 405, xi. 214; ib. (5th series), viii. 98, 350; European Mag. xxiv. 92; Gent. Mag. xxxii. 560, xxxiii. 26, 28, 60, 86, 105, liv. 250; Robin Hood Society by Peter Pounce (Richard Lewis), 1756; Bentham's Works, x. 65; Hawkins's Johnson, 566; Rutt's Life of Priestley, i. 19; Priestley's Essay on Government, sect. x.]

L. S.