Anglican Enlightenment: Orientalism, religion and politics in England and its empire, 1648-1715
William J. Bulman
Cambridge University Press £64.99 (978-1-107-07368-5)
Church Times Bookshop £58.50
THIS important book takes the study of the “Anglican Enlightenment” of the late 17th and 18th centuries to a new level. Until fairly recently, the first two words of this book’s title would have been seen as an oxymoron; but research by various scholars, including John Pocock, Roy Porter, Brian Young, and Jane Shaw, has shown that the “Anglican Enlightenment” was a fact, particularly for the period after 1714.
In this engagingly written and impressively wide-ranging study, William Bulman goes much further than previous scholars to claim that Anglican clergy were early in the field in displaying the essential hallmarks of the Enlightenment. He powerfully argues that the Anglican Enlightenment was not simply a reactive Whig intervention of the 18th century, and that “the Enlightenment” was created by leading Anglican divines of the late 17th century rather than by heterodox philosophers.
Bulman is also extremely adept at showing how what are often seen as different and separate areas of Anglican activity worked in tandem, as he effortlessly links themes of Anglican Enlightenment, Anglican Evangelicalism, Anglican establishment, and the Anglican empire in ways that few other scholars are equipped to do, but which reflect historical reality. Bulman is also admirably up to date with the sometimes vast secondary literature on these often silo-ed topics.
The book is rather over-hyped in its title, however. While all the topics name-checked are dealt with, this is at heart an intellectual biography of Lancelot Addison, quondam Dean of Lichfield and father of the more famous and more obviously Enlightenment figure Joseph Addison, editor of The Tatler. As such, this should be seen in the tradition of biographies of senior clergy written from the mid-20th century onwards, of which the most outstanding have been G. V. Bennet’s study of Francis Atterbury and Robert Ingram’s study of Thomas Secker.
But, although Addison has been airbrushed out of this book’s title, Bulman stunningly places him within a global Anglican world. In Bulman’s erudite and imaginative handling, Addison becomes an extremely useful way into the volume’s themes. He was posted for seven years as a chaplain in Tangier, and his North African experience shaped his best-known pieces of scholarship, combining the fruits of travel with the needs of Church and State. The context for both Addison’s and Bulman’s Anglican Enlightenment was the challenge of creating peace after the Civil War. The 1648 in the title refers to the surrender of Appleby, after which the town where Addison was then a schoolboy fell under the control of Parliamentary forces. For Bulman, Addison’s education, both at school then Oxford, encouraged the intellectual innovations of the Enlightenment.
Much of the interest of the book is a fascinating and detailed analysis of Addison’s scholarship. A persistent theme was his denunciation of priestcraft as well as a typically Enlightenment move to universalise categories. Addison used Islamic and Jewish history and politics to address domestic problems and issues, and this led him to urge conformity to the Stuarts, arguing that a priesthood and a uniform liturgy were both part of the religion of nature and necessary for civil peace.
The overriding concern for peace led Addison to support broadly tolerationist policies in Tangier while arguing for strict conformity at home. For Addison, the vital aspect of the Restoration Church was the catechism, which Bulman modishly calls a “technology of power”, and this is what would inculcate both piety and civil order. In Bulman’s view, the catechism was the linchpin of the Anglican Enlightenment.
He concludes by drawing out the ways in which Joseph Addison, one of the conventional heroes of the British Enlightenment, mirrored his father’s concern with civility and moderation as the key to achieving a much craved social harmony.
This is a highly distinguished contribution to our understanding of both the Anglican Church and the Enlightenment. My only slight quibble is with the illustration on the cover. Why a Dutch painting from 1610 was chosen to illustrate this splendid book is never explained, particularly when the frontispieces from Addison’s own publications, included within the text, would have provided a much more apposite and pertinent image.