Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Chubb, Thomas
CHUBB, THOMAS (1679–1747), deist, was born at East Harnham, Salisbury, on 29 Sept. 1679. His father, a maltster, died in 1088, leaving a widow with four children, of whom Thomas was the youngest. He was taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, and in 1694 apprenticed to a Salisbury glover. A weakness of the eyes made glove-making difficult, and in 1705 he was taken as assistant by John Lawrence, a tallow-chandler in Salisbury. By this employment and a little glove-making he earned ms living and employed his leisure in studv. He never learned any foreign language, but he managed to pick up a little mathematics, and became interested in theological controversies. About 1711 he met with the 'historical preface' to Whiston's 'Primitive Christianity revived' (1710). Hereupon he wrote for his own satisfaction a tract called 'The Supremacy of the Father asserted; eight arguments from Scripture,' &c. A fnend took the manuscript to Whiston, who introduced him into the Society for Promoting Christianity, corrected the book, and procured its publication in 1715 (Whiston, Life, pp. 236–7). Whiston also introduced Chubb to Sir Joseph Jekyll, who allowed him an annual salary.' It is stated (Biog. Brit.) that he waited at Sir Joseph's table as a servant out of livery. After a year or two he returned to Salisbury. The famous Cheselden [q. v.] was another benefactor, who frequently sent him 'suits of clothes which has been little worn.' The patronage of his friends appears to have enabled him to withdraw from business, or at least to give more time to writing. He continued to the end of his life to help in the shop, which after Lawrence's death was kept by a nephew. He published various tracts, one of which, 'The Previous Question with regard to Religion,' went through four editions, three in 1726. They were collected in a handsome quarto volume in 1730, and attracted general notice. (A second edition, in 2 vols. 8vo, which appeared in 1754, includes thirty-five tracts.) Pope asks Gay (23 Oct. 1730) whether he has seen Mr. Chubb, a 'wonderful phenomenon of Wiltshire.' Pope has 'read the whole volume with admiration of the writer, though not always with approbation of the doctrine.' Warburton in a note on this passage says that the city expected Chubb to rival Locke, as the court set up Stephen Duck to eclipse Pope. Chubb was encouraged to write more tracts. He was a disciple of Samuel Clarke, but gradually diverged further from Arianism into a modified deism. In 1731 he published a 'Discourse concerning Reason, . . . (showing that) reason is, or else that it ought to be, a sufficient guide in matters of Religion.' Some 'reflections' upon 'moral and positive duty' were added, suggested by Clarke's 'Exposition of the Catechism.' In 1732 he published 'The Sufficiency of Reason further considered...' appended to an 'enquiry' directed against a recent 30 Jan. sermon by Dr. Croxall, and urging that the celebration of Charles's martyrdom was inconsistent with the celebration of William III's arrival. In 1734 appeared four tracts, in which he attacks the common theory of inspiration, argues that the resurrection of Christ was not a proof of his divine mission, and criticises the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. The whole argument showed an increasing scepticism, and the argument about Abraham led to some controversy. He returned to the question in 1735 in some 'Observations' upon Rundle's election to the see of Gloucester, Rundle having been accused of disbelieving the story. Three tracts are added in continuation of the former discussion. In 1738 Chubb published 'The True Gospel of Jesus Christ asserted,' which provoked various attacks and was followed by 'The True Gospel of Jesus vindicated,' and 'An Enquiry into the Ghround and Foundation of Religion, wherein it is shown that Religion is founded on Nature.' His doctrine is that true Christianity consists entirely in the belief that morality alone can make men acceptable to God, that repentance for sin will secure God's mercy, and that there will be a future retribution; three points upon which he constantly insists. In 1740 appeared an 'Enquiry into the Ground and Foundation of Religion,' including a controversy with Stebbing. Chubb, arguing against the literal interpretation of the command to give all to the poor, observes that Stebbing has two livings, a preachership and an archdeaconry, and is now becoming chancellor of the diocese of Salisbury, and can therefore hardly interpret the command literally for himself. In 1741 appeared a 'Discourse on Miracles,' arguing that they can at most afford a 'probable proof' of a revelation; in 1743 an 'Enquiry concerning Redemption,' in which he defends himself against some sneers of Warburton's; and in 1745, 'The Ground and Foundation of Morality considered,' an attack upon Rutherforth's theory of self-love. The last work published by himself was 'Four Dissertations' (1746), in which he attacks some passages in the Old Testament with a freedom which gave general offence.
Chubb, who had lived quietly in Salisbury, where he presided over a club for the discussion of his favourite topics, died suddenly on 8 Feb. 1747, and was buried in St. Edmund's churchyard by his old employer, Lawrence. He had imprudently given up walking, and indulged too much in 'milk diet.' He was short and stout. He appears to have been of very inoffensive and modest character, and generally respected. S. Clarke, Bishop Hoadly, and others are said to have read and approved some of his tracts in manuscript, and never to have corrected them, 'even in regard to orthography, in which Chubb was deficient.' He went regularly to his parish church. He never married, thinking, as he says, that he had no right to bring a family into the world without a prospect of supporting them. After his death appeared (1748) his 'Posthumous Works' in 2 vols., the greater part of which is taken up with 'The Author's Farewell to his Readers.' This contains the best summary of his opinions, and gives most of the ordinary deist arguments. He regards the mission of Christ as divine, and calls himself a christian. He is, however, not a believer in the divinity of Christ.
Chubb could not surmount the disadvantages of his education. His teaching was inconsistent and ill-defined. Though frequently mentioned in contemporary controversy, he is generally noticed with the contempt naturally provoked by his want of scholarship or philosophical knowledge. He did not make such an impression as Toland or Tindal, and his writings fall chiefly after 1730, when the deist controversy culminated with Tindal's 'Christianity as old as the Creation.' He is, however, entitled to respect for his sincerity, modesty, his general moderation of tone, and moral elevation. His most formidable critic was Jonathan Edwards, who attacks Chubb's freewill theory in his great 'Treatise on the Freedom of the Will' (pt. i. sec. X.) He appears to have been a good deal read in America.
[Biog. Brit, (information from Mr. Cooper of Salisbury and Rev. C. Toogood of Sherborne); Preface to Posthumous Tracts; Short and Faithful Account of . . . Thomas Chubb in a letter from a Gentleman . . . (1747). A reply was made to this by Philalethes Antichubbius (F. Horler) in Memoirs of T. Chubb . . . a Fuller and more Faithful Account, London, 1747, full of brutal abuse. This produced a Vindication of the Memory of Thomas Chubb, by a Moral Philosopher, and two letters from J . . . L . . . le, one of the people called Quakers, all published in 1747. Hoare's Modern Wiltshire, vi. 637–9; Leland's View (1776), i. 192–240; Stephen's English Thought in Eighteenth Century, i. 163.]