Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Thomas Gray on Shaftesbury (1671 - 1713)


You say you cannot conceive how Lord Shaftesbury came to be a philosopher in vogue: I will tell you; first, he was a lord; secondly, he was as vain as any of his readers; thirdly, men are very prone to believe what they do not understand; fourthly, they will believe anything at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when the road leads nowhere; sixthly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seemed always to mean more than he said. Would you have any more reasons? An interval of above forty years has pretty well destroyed the charm. A dead lord ranks but with commoners; vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for the new road is become an old one. The mode of free-thinking is like that of ruffs and farthingales and has given place to the mode of not thinking at all; once it was reckoned graceful, half to discover and half conceal the mind, but now we have been long accustomed to see it quite naked : primness and affectation of style, like the good-breeding of queen Anne's court, has turned to hoydening and rude familiarity.

Letter (Camb. Aug.18th.1758) of Mr. Thomas Gray to Mr. Stonehewer

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