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Charles Blount (deist)

Charles Blount (April 27, 1654 – August 1693) was a British deist and controversialist.

Life

He was born in Upper Holloway, Islington, Middlesex, the fourth son of Sir Henry Blount. His father educated him at home and exposed him to freethinking philosophy. In 1672, he inherited lands in Islington and the estate of Blount's Hall in Staffordshire. He married Eleanor Tyrrell in Westminster Abbey at the end of 1672 and later had three sons and a daughter by her. Throughout his life, he would live at Blount's Hall as a leisured gentleman, although he also travelled to London to participate in courtly life.

His publications were consistently anonymous or written under a pseudonymn, and Blount took a radical and Whig stance throughout his life. In 1673, he wrote Mr Dreyden Vindicated, a defense of John Dryden's The Conquest of Granada from Richard Leigh and the anonymous The Friendly Vindication.

In 1678, he became a member of the Green Ribbon Club, a group of radical Whig advocates and activists.

In 1679, Blount published An Appeal from the Country to the City under the name of Junius Brutus. It was a strongly Whig piece that suggested that the Popish Plot was entirely real. It painted a lurid picture of what life in London would be like under James II and Roman Catholicism. In this case, the printer was seized and fined, and the pamphlet was burned by the common hangman (i.e. a symbolic execution of the book for treason). The same year, he assumed the name of Philopatris ("lover of his country") to write A Just Vindication of Learning, which was an argument against the act licensing printers. He mimicked John Milton's previous Areopagitica. When Hobbes died in 1680, Blount produced an anonymous broadsheet of "sayings" from Leviathan.

In 1693, Blount used his ironic approach to argue for the validity of William and Mary. His King William and Queen Mary Conquerors argued that they were, in fact, conquerors of England, since they landed with force. Therefore, Blount said, the people should support them as able protectors, as Hobbes had argued that the people should obey anyone with such force. This pamphlet was licensed by the Tory licensor. In 1695, Parliament debated the fate of the work and had it, too, burned by the common hangman. The Act for the licensing of the press was allowed to expire, as well.

In 1689, Blount's wife had died, and he fell in love with her sister. He wanted to marry his sister-in-law, but such marriages were illegal. He wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1693 for permission but was denied. In August of 1693, he commit suicide.

Works on religion and deism

In 1679 Blount published, anonymously, Anima Mundi. The work was, on the surface, an essay on pagan theories of the soul and afterlife. Throughout, Blount says that it is perfectly clear that the soul is immortal and that there is an afterlife, but these statements are made in a way that makes them absurd, and lengthy descriptions of other views are then juxtaposed with insincere claims that the church must be correct. Henry Compton, then bishop of London, argued that the book should be suppressed, but, while Compton was out of the city, enthusiastic opponents of the work had it publicly burned. The same year, Blount sent a copy of the work to Thomas Hobbes, whose philosophy Blount most admired, with a letter in praise of Arianism, which was then published.

Blount's deist publications came in 1680, with Great Diana of the Ephesians and The Two First Books of Philostratus concerning the Life of Apollonius Tyaneus. The two works appear to be translations and history. However, the notes in the work attacked Christianity directly. First, Blount suggested that rational religion was destroyed by the church. Second, his decrying of pagan sacrifices was a coded attack on eucharistic doctrine and church practice. Additionally, there were long notes making fun of "priestcraft" and the corruptions of priests.

He followed this up with a minor work, Miracles, No Violations of the Laws of Nature, in 1683. This pamphlet contained only quotations from Bishop Burnet, Hobbes, and Baruch Spinoza, combined to say that accounts of miracles are without any empirical basis.

He also wrote his own Religio laici (1683) to answer John Dryden's Religio Laici (1682) and its attacks on deism.

In 1693 he wrote, anonymously, The Oracles of Reason. It was a miscellany of essays, with some of them by Charles Gildon (whose presence in the volume may or may not have been intended by Blount). These works expressed doubts about the Book of Genesis, denied the possibility of revelation, denied miracles, and suggested that there might be many worlds with life on them.

References

  • Cross, F.L. and E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. New York: Oxford University Press, 1978.
  • Pfanner, David, in H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. vol. 6, 294-5. London: Oxford UP, 2004.

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