Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Tindal, Matthew
TINDAL, MATTHEW (1657–1733), deist, baptised at Bere-Ferris, Devonshire, 12 May 1657, was son of John Tindal, appointed under the Commonwealth minister of Bere-Ferris, by his wife Anna Hulse. He was educated at a country school, entered (1673) Lincoln College, Oxford, where he was a pupil of George Hickes [q. v.], and thence migrated to Exeter College. He graduated B.A. on 17 Oct. 1676, B.C.L. 1679, and D.C.L. 1685. He was elected to a law fellowship at All Souls' in 1678. In the reign of James II he became for a time a catholic. According to his own account he had been brought up in high-church principles, and the ‘Roman emissaries,’ who were busy at the time, convinced him that upon those principles there was no logical defence for the Anglican schism. On ‘going into the world,’ however, he was impressed by the denunciations of priestcraft in favour with the opposite party, and became alive to the ‘absurdities of popery.’ The last time that he saw any ‘popish tricks’ was at Candlemas in 1687–8, and on the next opportunity, 15 April 1688, he publicly received the sacrament in his college chapel. His enemies accused him of venal motives, and it was said by his successful rival that he had hoped to obtain the wardenship of All Souls' from James II.
Tindal was admitted as an advocate at Doctors' Commons on 13 Nov. 1685 (Coote, Civilians, p. 102), and after the Revolution was consulted by ministers upon some questions of international law. He was on a commission to consider the case of an Italian count accused of murder, who denied the competence of English courts to try him. He gave an opinion in 1693 that certain prisoners could be tried for piracy although they pleaded that they were acting under a commission from James II. William Oldys and another civilian were displaced from their offices for holding the contrary view (see under Oldys, William, (1696–1761); andLuttrell, Brief Relation, &c. iii. 183). Tindal is said to have been rewarded for his services on this and other occasions by a pension of 200l. a year from the crown. He published several pamphlets of a whig and low-church tendency; but first made a sensation in 1706 by a book called ‘The Rights of the Christian Church asserted against the Romish and all other Priests who claim an Independent Power over it,’ &c., and intended to show that the church had no rights of the kind claimed by the high-church party. He was answered by many writers, including his old tutor, Hickes, now a nonjuror, who reports Tindal as saying that he ‘was writing a book which would make the clergy mad.’ In that aim he succeeded pretty well; over twenty answers appeared. William Oldisworth [q. v.] seems to have made the most popular reply in a ‘Dialogue between Timothy and Philatheus,’ filling three volumes. Le Clerc made a complimentary reference to the book, and Tindal became one of the most hated antagonists of the high-church party. He was accused of having changed his religion from base motives and of having bought Le Clerc's favourable opinion—a statement which Le Clerc indignantly denied in the ‘Bibliothèque Choisie’ (x. art. vii, and xxiii. art. viii. 23–6). The book was ordered by the House of Commons to be burnt by the common hangman along with Sacheverell's sermon (25 March 1710) by way of proving, apparently, that the whigs did not approve deists. Tindal carried on the war against the high-churchmen and Jacobites by various pamphlets in the time of the Sacheverell excitement. After the accession of George I he wrote a variety of political pamphlets. He attacked Walpole in 1717 for splitting the party by his resignation, but defended him again upon his return to power. His pamphlets do not appear to have had any special effect. He returned to his old arguments, and in 1729 attacked some references to the freethinkers in Bishop Gibson's ‘Pastoral Letter.’ In 1730 he published the book by which he is best known, ‘Christianity as Old as the Creation, or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature.’ The title expresses the contention of the contemporary deists, and the book marked the culminating point of the controversy to which these writings gave rise. It received a great number of answers; more than thirty are given in the catalogue of the British Museum. Tindal called himself a ‘Christian deist,’ and made formal professions of accepting Christianity as a ‘most holy religion.’ There could be no doubt, however, that his aim was to show that any positive revelation was superfluous. A letter from another fellow of All Souls', J. Proast, was published in a ‘preliminary discourse’ by Hickes to a book called ‘Spinoza Revived’ (1709), one of the answers to the ‘Rights of the Christian Church.’ Proast declared that Tindal had, in a private conversation, renounced all belief in Christianity. No doubt Tindal thought it fair to avoid the danger of persecution by using conventional phrases in his books. ‘Christianity as Old as the Creation’ was, in any case, an able and effective statement of the rationalist creed of the time. Tindal is said to have left a second volume in manuscript in reply to his opponents, the publication of which was prevented by Bishop Gibson. He died on 16 Aug. 1733 at a lodging in Coldbath Fields, and was buried in Clerkenwell church. [For the forgery of his will, see under Budgell, Eustace; and Tindal, Nicholas.]
Tindal had retained his fellowship at All Souls' till his death, and passed his time between Oxford and London. In the life of Young of the ‘Night Thoughts,’ contributed by Herbert Croft to Johnson's ‘Lives of the Poets,’ a story is told upon Johnson's authority. Young became a fellow of All Souls' in 1708, and frequently argued with Tindal. ‘I can always answer the other boys,’ Tindal is reported to have said, ‘because I know their arguments beforehand; but Young is continually pestering me with arguments of his own.’ Naturally Tindal was not loved at Oxford. Hearne makes frequent references to him in his diary, and calls him a ‘notorious ill-liver’ and a ‘noted debauchee.’ Similar accusations are made in detail by an anonymous fellow of All Souls' in a pamphlet published upon Tindal's death; and Professor Burrows says that he was once publicly admonished for immorality (Worthies of All Souls', p. 381). The anonymous fellow also insists upon Tindal's gluttony, which, it appears, sometimes monopolised dishes intended to be shared by the other fellows of the college. Hearne admits, however, that Tindal had one awkward virtue. He was very abstemious in drink, which gave him ‘no small advantage’ in after-dinner arguments with his colleagues. He made a few converts among them, but was generally regarded as a centre of opposition to the reputable college authorities.
Tindal's works are: 1. ‘Essay concerning the Law of Nations and the Rights of Sovereigns, &c. …’ 1693; 2nd edition in 1694 with ‘An Account of what was said at the Council-board. …’ (upon the piracy question: see above). 2. ‘Essay concerning Obedience to the Supreme Powers …,’ 1694 (Wood, Athenæ). 3. ‘Letter to the Clergy. …’ 1694 (Biogr. Brit.) 4. ‘Reflections on the 28 Propositions,’ 1695 (Biogr. Brit.) 5. ‘An Essay concerning the Power of the Magistrate and the Rights of Mankind in Matters of Religion,’ 1697. 6. ‘Reasons against restraining the Press,’ 1704; reprinted as Tindal's in R. Barron's ‘Pillars of Priestcraft,’ 1768, vol. iv. 7. ‘The Rights of the Christian Church asserted against the Romish and all other Priests who claim an independent Power over it, with a preface,’ &c., 1706. Tindal published two ‘Defences’ of this in the following years. 8. ‘New High Church turned Old Presbyterian,’ 1709 (Biogr. Brit.) 9. ‘Merciful Judgements of the High Church Triumphant … in the reign of Charles I,’ 1710 (reprinted in Barron's ‘Pillars of Priestcraft,’ 1768, vol. iii. 10. ‘High-Church Catechism,’ 1710 (Biogr. Brit.) 11. ‘The Jacobitism, Perjury, and Popery of High-Church Priests,’ 1710. 12. ‘The Nation vindicated from the Aspersions cast on it’ (in a ‘representation’ from the lower house of convocation), 1711. 13. ‘Defection considered, and the Designs of those who divided the Friends of Government set in a true Light,’ 1717. 14. ‘Destruction a certain Consequence of Division,’ &c., 1717. The last two refer to Walpole's secession. 15. ‘The Judgement of Dr. Prideaux concerning the Murder of Julius Cæsar … maintained’ (in answer to Cato in the ‘London Journal’), 1721. 16. ‘A Defence of our present Happy Establishment, and the Administration Vindicated …’ 1722. 17. ‘Enquiry into the Causes of our present Disaffection. …’ 1722. The last three are in defence of Walpole. 18. ‘Address to the Inhabitants … of London and Westminster in relation to the Pastoral Letter [of Bishop Gibson],’ 1729. 19. ‘Second Address’ (in answer to second pastoral letter), 1730. 20. ‘Christianity as Old as the Creation: or the Gospel a Republication of the Religion of Nature,’ 1730.[A contemporary life called ‘Memoirs of … M. Tindall, LL.D.,’ by Curll, and a pamphlet called ‘The Religious, Rational, and Moral Conduct of Matthew Tindal, LL.D., late fellow of All Souls', by a member of the same college,’ appeared just after his death. The article in the Biogr. Brit. has a few details communicated by Sir Nathaniel Lloyd [q. v.] See also Burrows's Worthies of All Souls', 1874, pp. 247, 289, 291, 381, 430; Hearne's Collections (Oxford Hist. Soc.), i. 8, 193, 223, 237, 260, 284, 293, ii. 72, 97, 179, 336, 367, iii. 74, 83, 255, 341, 381; Reliquiæ Hearnianæ (1857), pp. 783–4; and Wood's Athenæ (Bliss), iv. 584. For accounts of his theological works see Lechler's Geschichte des englischen Deismus, pp. 324–34, and the Rev. J. Hunt's Religious Thought in England, ii. 431–62.]