The Shaftesbury Project

Anthony Ashley Cooper, Third Earl of Shaftesbury

"Shaftesbury, den ich nur zu nennen brauche, um jedem Gebildeten einen trefflichen Denker in's Gedächtniß zu rufen."
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe, in his funeral address Zum brüderlichen Andenken for Christoph Martin Wieland (1813)

Shaftesbury, an author at present unjustly depreciated."
- William Wordsworth (1815)

Wordsworth, Essay, Supplementary to the Preface of the first collective edition of the Poems (1815): »Writing about the same time, Shaftesbury, an author at present unjustly depreciated, describes the English Muses as only yet lisping in their cradles.«

(The Poetical Works of Wordsworth, with Introduction and Notes, edited by Thomas Hutchinson, a New Edition, revised by Ernest de Selincourt, Oxford University Press 1936 repr. 1964, p. 746.)

"I bask in the sun on the grass reading Virgil, that is, my beloved Bucolics & Ld Shaftesbury’s Characteristics."
- Mary W. Shelley, 8. April 1825.

Betty T. Bennett (ed.), The Letters of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Baltimore and London, 1980-88, vol. 1, p. 476.

“His contempt, however, is often employed, where I hope it will be approved, upon scepticism and infidelity. His short account of Shaftesbury I will insert.

‘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 any thing at all, provided they are under no obligation to believe it; fifthly, they love to take a new road, even when that road leads no where; sixthly, he was reckoned a fine writer, and seems [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 with commoners: vanity is no longer interested in the matter; for a new road is become an old one.’”

Samuel Johnson, “Life of Gray,” The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets; with Critical Observations on their Works (London, 1781), IV, 474-75.


2 December 1705,
Shaftesbury to a friend:

"Life is vain ('tis true) to those that make it so. And let those cry vanity, for they have reason. For my own part, who never could be in love with riches or the world, nor ever made any great matter of life, so as to love it for its own sake, I have therefore no falling out with it, now at last when I can no longer keep it; so without calling names or giving hard words, I can part freely with and give it a good testimony. No harm in it all that I know; no vanity. But (if one wills oneself) a fair, honest, sensible thing it is, and not so uncomfortable as it is made. No, nor so over-comfortable as to make one melancholy at the thoughts of parting with it, or as to make one think the time exceeding short and passing. For why so short if not sound and sweet?"

The Shaftesbury Project