Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Cooper, Anthony Ashley (1671-1713)

COOPER, ANTHONY ASHLEY, third Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), was born 26 Feb. 1670–1, at Exeter House in London, then the town residence of his grandfather, the first earl [q. v.] He was the son of Lord Ashley, afterwards second earl, by Lady Dorothy Manners, daughter of John, earl of Rutland. Lord Ashley, a man of feeble constitution and understanding, is the ‘shapeless lump’ of Dryden's famous satire upon the first earl. Locke had acted to some extent as Lord Ashley's tutor, and had taken part in arranging his marriage at the age of seventeen (1669). Locke also attended Lady Ashley on her confinement. In March 1673–4 the guardianship of the infant was formally assigned to his grandfather. Shaftesbury, during his confinement in the Tower in 1677, wrote to Locke, then in France, asking him to discover what books were used for the dauphin's Latin lessons, with a view to procuring them for his grandson. When Locke returned to England in 1680, he superintended the boy's education. In 1674 he had recommended Elizabeth, daughter of a schoolmaster named Birch, to act as governess. She could talk Greek and Latin fluently, and imparted the plishment to her pupil. A house was taken at Clapham, in which she lived with him, while Locke paid them frequent visits. After the death of the grandfather, the boy was taken out of Locke's charge by the parents, and in November 1683 was sent to Winchester, where he stayed till 1686 (according to his son. Mr. Bourne in ‘Life of Locke’ (i. 273) gives the date 1688). His schoolfellows, it is said, made him suffer for his grandfather's sins as a politician. He then made a foreign tour in company with Sir John Cropley (his close friend through life) and Mr. Thomas Sclater Bacon, under the tutorship of a Mr. Daniel Denoune. He visited Italy, travelled through Germany, and learned to speak French so perfectly as to be taken for a native. After his return he passed some years in study. He was elected member for Poole in William's second parliament, 21 May 1695; and after the dissolution in the autumn he was again elected (4 Nov. 1695) for the same place.

In November 1695 a bill allowing counsel to prisoners accused of treason came before the house. Lord Ashley, as his son says, made his first speech in its favour, and was so confused as to break down. The house encouraging him to go on, he made a great impression by the ingenious remark: ‘If I am so confounded by a first speech that I cannot express my thoughts, what must be the condition of a man pleading for his life without assistance!’ (General Dict., where it is said that the story was erroneously applied to Charles Montagu, lord Halifax, in a ‘Life’ published in 1715; an error repeated by Johnson in ‘Lives of the Poets’). His health was unequal to parliamentary labours, and he retired after the dissolution of 1698. He spent a year in Holland, where he lodged, as Locke had done, with Benjamin Furly, a quaker merchant, afterwards his attached friend, and became known to Bayle and Le Clerc. His first book, the ‘Inquiry concerning Virtue,’ was surreptitiously printed by Toland during his absence. No copy of this, if published, has been found. On 10 Nov. 1699 he became Earl of Shaftesbury upon his father's death. He attended the House of Lords regularly till William's death; but his health limited his participation in political struggles. He was, however, an ardent whig, and was exceedingly keen in supporting the cause. When the great debates upon the partition treaty began in March 1701, he was ‘beyond Bridgewater in Somersetshire,’ but, on a summons from Lord Somers, posted to London at once, in spite of weakness, and was in the House of Lords next day—a feat then regarded as extraordinary. Somers afterwards held his proxy. His letters show that his zeal never cooled. He boasts that he was at one time alone in urging a dissolution in the last year of William's reign. He did his best to influence elections, and to support the war party. William made offers to him, and it is said desired to make him a secretary of state. The statement that he had a share in William's last speech (31 Dec. 1701) is perhaps due to the fact that he published an anonymous pamphlet called ‘Paradoxes of State relating to the present juncture … chiefly grounded on His Majesty's princely, pious, and most gracious speech’ (1702).

Soon after the accession of Anne he was removed from the vice-admiralty of the county of Dorset, ‘held by his family for three generations.’ Warrants (preserved in the Record Office), at the end of William's reign and the beginning of Anne's, order him to impress five hundred seamen, and take other military steps in his capacity as vice-admiral. His political activity injured both his health and his fortune. He retired to Holland for a year during 1703–4. He lived on 200l. a year, being alarmed, needlessly as it seems from his steward's reports, at the state of his income. Returning in the summer of 1704, he was kept at sea for a month by contrary gales, and came home in a very delicate state of health. He afterwards suffered continually from asthma, and found the smoke of London intolerable. When not residing at his house at Wimborne St. Giles, he was often at Sir J. Cropley's house at Betchworth, near Dorking, and at the time of his marriage took a house at Reigate. He did not venture to stay nearer London than Chelsea, where he had a small house. In 1706 the ‘great smoak’ forced him to remove from Chelsea to Hampstead. In 1708 his friends, especially Robert, afterwards Viscount, Molesworth, pressed him to marry. After a long and unsuccessful negotiation for a lady whom he admired, he was forced to put up with Jane, daughter of Thomas Ewer of Lee in Hertfordshire. He was married in August 1709. His chief end, he says, was the ‘satisfaction of his friends,’ who thought his family worth preserving and himself worth nursing; and he scarcely ventures afterwards to make the claim, which would be audacious for any man, that he is ‘as happy a man now as ever.’ He had not seen the lady till the match was settled, and then found, in spite of previous reports, that she was ‘a very great beauty’ (to Wheelock 8 Aug. 1709, Shaftesbury Papers). His modest anticipations of happiness seem to have been fulfilled; but his health rapidly declined, and in July 1711 he set out with Lady Shaftesbury for Naples to try the warmer climate. He passed through France, and was civilly received by the Duke of Berwick, then encamped on the frontier of Piedmont. He declined to take advantage of French civility by spending the winter at Montpelier, and therefore went to Naples, where he settled for the rest of his life. He died there 15 Feb. 1713 (4 Feb. 1712–13 according to English reckoning), dying with peaceful resignation, according to the report of an attendant, Mr. Crell. His body was sent to England. He left one son, Anthony Ashley, the fourth earl of Shaftesbury.

Shaftesbury was a man of lofty and ardent character, forced by ill-health to abandon politics for literature. He was liberal, though much fretted by the difficulty of keeping out of debt. He was resolved, as he tells his steward, not to be a slave to his estates, and never again to be ‘poorly rich.’ He supported several young men of promise at the university or elsewhere. He allowed a pension of 20l. a year to the deist Toland, after Toland's surreptitious publication of his papers, though he appears to have dropped it in his fit of economy in 1704. He gives exceedingly careful directions for regulating his domestic affairs during his absence. His letters to his young friends are full of moral and religious advice, and the ‘Shaftesbury Papers’ show many traces of his practical benevolence to them. He went to church and took the sacrament regularly, respecting religion though he hated the priests. He is a typical example of the whig aristocracy of the time, and with better health might have rivalled his grandfather's fame.

Shaftesbury is a very remarkable figure in the literary history of his time. The ‘Characteristics’ give unmistakable indications of religious scepticism, especially in allusions to the Old Testament. He was accordingly attacked as a deist by Leland, Warburton, Berkeley, and many other christian apologists. He had been influenced by Bayle, and shares or exaggerates the ordinary dislike of the whig nobles to church principles. His heterodoxy excited the prejudice of many reasoners who might have welcomed him as an ally upon fundamental questions. As a philosopher he had no distinct system, and repudiates metaphysics. He revolted against the teaching of Locke, to which there are some contemptuous references in the ‘Advice to an Author’ (pt. iii. sect. i.) (the first and eighth of the ‘Letters to a Student’ give an explicit statement). He was probably much influenced by the ‘Cambridge Platonists,’ especially Whichcote and Cudworth, and shows many points of affinity to Cumberland. His cosmopolitan and classical training, and the traditional code of honour of his class, are discernible in all his writings. His special idol was Plato, whom he endeavoured to imitate in the ‘Moralists.’ Hurd and Monboddo are enraptured with his performance as unsurpassed in the language. Opponents, especially the shrewd cynic Mandeville, regarded him as a pretentious and high-flown declaimer; but his real elevation of feeling gives a serious value to his ethical speculations, the most systematic account of which is in the ‘Inquiry concerning Virtue.’ The phrase ‘moral sense’ which occurs in that treatise became famous in the Scotch school of philosophy of which Hutcheson, a disciple of Shaftesbury's, was the founder. He influenced in various ways all the chief ethical writers of the century. Butler, in the preface to his sermons, speaks highly of Shaftesbury (the only contemporary to whom he explicitly refers) for showing the ‘natural obligation of virtue.’ Although, according to Butler's teaching, Shaftesbury's account of the conscience is inadequate, and his theology too vague and optimistic to supply the needed sanction, his attack upon an egoistic utilitarianism falls in with Butler's principles. Shaftesbury, on the other hand, was attacked both by the followers of Clarke's intellectual system, as in John Balguy's ‘Letter to a Deist’ (1726), and by the thoroughgoing utilitarians, especially Thomas Brown (1778–1820) [q. v.] in his ‘Essay upon the Characteristics,’ as giving so vague a criterion of morality as to reduce it to a mere matter of taste. Shaftesbury's æsthetical speculations, given chiefly in the ‘Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules,’ are of some interest, and anticipate some points in Lessing's ‘Laokoon’ (see Syme, Lessing, i. 249, 266).

Shaftesbury's style, always laboured, often bombastic, and curiously contrasted with the simplicity of his contemporary Addison, has led to the neglect of his writings. He was, however, admired by such critics as Hurd and Blair, though Gray (letter to Stonehewer, 18 Aug. 1758) speaks of him with contempt as a writer whose former vogue has become scarcely intelligible. His influence on the continent was remarkable. One of Diderot's first publications was an ‘Essai sur le Mérite et la Vertu’ (1745), a free translation from Shaftesbury's ‘Inquiry concerning Virtue,’ and in 1746 he published the ‘Pensées Philosophiques,’ a development of Shaftesbury's scepticism, which was burnt by the parliament of Paris (see Morley, Diderot, i. 42–47). The ‘Characteristics’ were studied by Mendelssohn, Lessing, and Wieland (see Syme, Lessing, i. 115, 187, ii. 296), and influenced the development of German speculation. Leibnitz, to whom Shaftesbury sent a copy of the ‘Characteristics,’ said that he found in it almost all his own (still unpublished) ‘Théodicée,’ ‘but more agreeably turned’ (Des Maizeaux, Recueil, ii. 283; the original in the Shaftesbury Papers).

His chief works are collected in the ‘Characteristicks of Men, Manners, Opinions, and Times.’ The first edition appeared in 1711; the second, corrected and enlarged, in 1714 (Shaftesbury gave elaborate directions for the allegorical designs in this edition, which are preserved in the ‘Shaftesbury Papers’); others in 1723, 1732, and Baskerville's handsome edition in 1773. In 1870 one volume of a new edition, edited by the Rev. W. M. Hatch, was published, but the continuation was prevented by the editor's death. The ‘Characteristics’ include the following treatises, with dates of first publication: (1) ‘Letter concerning Enthusiasm,’ addressed to Lord Somers (whose name is not given); suggested by the ‘French prophets,’ dated September 1707 (1708). (2) ‘Sensus Communis; an essay concerning Wit and Humour’ (May 1709). (3) ‘Soliloquy, or Advice to an Author’ (1710). (4) ‘An Inquiry concerning Virtue,’ published by Shaftesbury in ‘Characteristics,’ 1711; described as ‘printed first in 1699’ (see above). (5) ‘The Moralists: a Philosophical Rhapsody’ (January 1709). (6) ‘Miscellaneous Reflections;’ first published in ‘Characteristics,’ 1711. (7) ‘A Notion of the Historical Draught or Tablature of the Judgment of Hercules’ (1713). (8) A ‘Letter concerning Design;’ suppressed by his executors in 1714, and first added to the ‘Characteristics’ in 1733. Besides these Shaftesbury published an edition of Whichcote's ‘Sermons,’ with a characteristic preface, in 1698, and ‘Paradoxes of State’ in 1702. In 1716 appeared ‘Letters to a Student at the University’ (Michael Aynsworth, whom he supported at Oxford; the originals of most, with others unpublished, are in the ‘Shaftesbury Papers’); and in 1721 ‘Letters from … Shaftesbury to Robert, now Viscount, Molesworth,’ with an Introduction by the editor (Toland). The last two have been three times reprinted in one volume. The edition of 1758 includes also the preface to Whichcote. In 1830 appeared ‘Original Letters of Locke, Algernon Sidney, and Lord Shaftesbury,’ edited by T. Forster, a descendant of Furly, to whom Shaftesbury's letters are addressed. The originals are now in the ‘Shaftesbury Papers.’

[Shaftesbury's Life by his son appeared in the ninth volume of the ‘General Dictionary’ (1734–1741). This and the letters noticed above in Toland's introduction are the chief published authorities. A valuable collection of papers relating to Shaftesbury is in Series v. of the Shaftesbury Papers now in the Record Office. They include letters, account books, copies of his works with manuscript corrections, rough copies of the son's memoir, and many interesting documents. Full use has already been made of these in Prof. Fowler's ‘Shaftesbury and Hutcheson’ in the ‘English Philosophers’ series (1882); see also monographs on Shaftesbury by Gideon Spicker (1872), and G. von Gizycki (1876) for accounts of his philosophy. An excellent account of Shaftesbury is in Martineau's Types of Ethical Theory (1885), ii. 449–73. Prof. Fowler also refers to Zart's ‘Einfluss der englischen Philosophie auf die deutsche Philosophie des 18ten Jahrhunderts’ (1881); see also Fox Bourne's Life of Locke; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. iii. 98 (letter to Le Clerc upon Locke); Walpole's Royal and Noble Authors (Park), iv. 55; two interesting letters to Halifax are in Addit. MS. 7121, ff. 59, 63.]

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