The Warburtonian Moment

England was an outlier in the age of Enlightenment. It saw neither the emergence of an adversarial intelligentsia nor the rise of a new science of society. If there was an English Enlightenment, it was understated, unobtrusive and of a peculiarly conservative cast. These lectures approach the topic by way of eighteenth-century England’s acknowledged fascination with classical antiquity, focussing in particular on critical philology, pagan philosophical schools and ancient genres.

Lecture 4: The Warburtonian Moment

The dominant intellectual figure in mid eighteenth-century England was William Warburton, later bishop of Gloucester. Warburton earned the amused contempt of Hume and Gibbon, which fed his reputation as an ogre of supposed anti-Enlightenment insolence and vituperation. Nevertheless, this is far from the whole story. Warburton’s Divine Legation of Moses – the most controversial book of its era – was ambiguously situated, and Warburton’s relationship to the Enlightenment was complicated and involved.