Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Blount, Charles (1654-1693)

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BLOUNT, CHARLES (1654–1693), deist, younger son of Sir Henry Blount [q. v.], was born at Upper Holloway 27 April 1654. His father married him, at the age of eighteen, to Eleanora, daughter of Sir Timothy Tyrrel of Shotover, and provided him with a good estate. In 1673 he published, anonymously, 'Mr. Dreyden vindicated, in Reply to the friendly vindication of Mr. Dreyden, and reflections on the Rota.' This was a warm defence of Dryden against the criticisms of Richard Leigh in a pamphlet called 'The Censure of the Rota on Mr. Dryden's Conquest of Granada.' Blount afterwards took some part in a translation of Lucian, and Dryden makes a complimentary reference to him in the life of Lucian prefixed to the translation (which was not published till 1711).

Blount is chiefly known as the author of some freethinking books, which cause him to be reckoned by Leland (View of the Deistical Writers) as the successor of Herbert of Cherbury and the predecessor of Toland. The first of these is the 'Anima Mundi, or historical relation of the opinions of the ancients concerning man's soul after this life, according to unenlightened nature, by Chas. Blount, gent.' His father is said to have helped him in this book, and probably shared or inspired his opinions (see Oracles of Reason, p. 154). It gave some offence by its sceptical tendency. Compton, bishop of London, desired its suppression, and during his absence it was burnt 'by some zealous person,' but afterwards reissued. Blount sent a copy of it to Hobbes, with a letter dated 1678 (Oracles of Reason, p. 97), in which he praises Hobbes's {{hyphenated word end|parable|'incomparable)) treatise on heresy,' then in manuscript, and takes occasion to impugn the authority of councils. Soon after Hobbes's death (4 Dec. 1679) he published a broadsheet called 'Last Sayings and Dying Legacy' of Mr. Thos. Hobbes of Malmesbury. It consists chiefly of extracts from the 'Leviathan,' and is clearly not intended, as Wood says, 'to expose' Hobbes. It is the work of a disciple. In 1680 appeared 'Great is Diana of the Ephesians, or the Original of Idolatry, together with the politick institution of the Gentiles' Sacrifices,' an attack upon priestcraft, with an ostensible reservation in favour of primitive christianity. In the same year he published his best known work, 'The Two First Books of Apollonius Tyaneus, written originally in Greek, with philological notes upon each chapter.' The notes are voluminous and make a show of considerable reading, though Macaulay declares that Blount shows ignorance which must have disqualified him for translating directly from the Greek. In some of them he attacks priestcraft, and shows himself a follower of Hobbes. Bayle (art. 'Apollonius,' note I) gives a report that these notes were partly taken from manuscripts left by Herbert of Cherbury. The statement is improbable, and perhaps arose from the fact that Blount's next book, the 'Religio Laici,' which professes to be supplementary to Dryden's poem of the same name (1682), was, in fact, chiefly taken from Herbert's treatise, 'De Religione Laici.'

Blount had meanwhile written some political papers of strong whig tendency. An 'Appeal from the Country to the City,' signed Junius Brutus, defends the reality of the popish plot, and argues that the Duke of Monmouth would be the best successor to the crown in the event of the king's death. In 1691 he published a letter to Sir W(illiam) L(eveson) G(ower), calling for the punishment of all concerned in the surrender of charters under James II (published in the Oracles of Reason). In 1693 he published some tracts, the significance of which was first pointed out by Macaulay (History, ch. xix.). The Licensing Act, passed in 1685, was to expire in 1693. Blount published two tracts, 'A just Vindication of Learning and of the Liberties of the Press, by Philopatris,' and 'Reasons humbly offered for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing.' To the last is appended 'A just and true Character of Edmund Bohun,' the licenser of the day, who is bitterly attacked. The two pamphlets are in great part made up of passages taken without acknowledgment from Milton's 'Areopagitica,' though it may be noted that Blount in one passage explicitly cites Milton's book. Blount next laid a trap for Bohun [see Bohun, Edmund]. Bohun was requested by a bookseller to license an anonymous pamphlet, really by Blount, called 'King William and Queen Mary Conquerors, a discourse endeavouring to prove that their majesties have on their side against the late king the principal reasons that make conquest a good title. Showing also how this is consistent with that declaration of parliament, "King James abdicated the government, &c." Written with an especial regard to such as have hitherto refused the oath and yet incline to allow of the title of conquest, when consequent to a just war. Licensed 11 Jan. 1693, Edmund Bohun.' Bohun licensed the pamphlet, for the political theory set forth in the title-page was precisely that of which he was an almost solitary adherent. The suggestion that the title of the sovereigns rested upon conquest, as Blount had probably foreseen, excited intense indignation. The House of Commons ordered the pamphlet to be burnt by the common hangman, and Bohun was imprisoned and dismissed from his office. Bohun's blunder made the objections to the system felt. The Licensing Act was renewed, but after a division, and for only two years, after which it was never revived.

Blount had fallen in love with his deceased wife's sister, and in a letter (published in the Oracles of Reason) defends the legality of marriages between persons so connected. Despairing, however, of obtaining his wish, he gave himself a mortal wound; he shot himself, according to Luttrell, Wood, and Warton, or, as Pope says (Epilogue to Satires), pretended to kill himself by a stab in the arm, and really died. He survived for some time, refusing to take food from any one but his sister-in-law, and died in August 1693. He left several children. In the year of, but apparently before, his death, appeared the 'Oracles of Reason,' a collection of tracts chiefly by Blount, with a preface by Charles Gildon. The longest papers are an attack upon the early chapters of Genesis, under cover of passages from Thomas Burnet's 'Archæologia Philosophica.' The 'Miscellaneous Works' appeared in 1695, with another preface by Gildon containing a defence of suicide which caused some scandal, and including the 'Oracles' (with the original preface), the 'Anima Mundi,' the 'Diana of the Ephesians,' the 'Appeal from the Country,' and the pamphlet by Philopatris. Blount also published in 1684 a small educational book, called 'Janua Scientiarum,' a kind of catechism in geography, chronology, and so forth. Blount's books are chiefly borrowed from other writers; but his attacks upon orthodox opinions are apparently serious, and had some real influence upon the deistical movement.

[Biog. Britannica (article with information from his family); Macaulay's History of England, chap. xix.; Bohun's Autobiography; Wood's Athenæ (arts. ‘Henry Blount’ and ‘Hobbes’); T. Warton's Life of Sir Thomas Pope, p. 208.]

L. S.