Nature’s Laws



Fellow travellers Thomas Anson and Simon Degge were elected to the Royal Society on May 14th 1730.


(See Royal Society on-line database. I also have a copy of the relevant page of the record book supplied by the Royal Society.)



A connection with the Royal Society is hardly surprising. Thomas’s uncle, the 1st Earl of Macclesfield (1666? – 1732), had been proposed as a member by Isaac Newton in 1712, and, after his disgrace, one of his rare appearances in public was as a pall bearer at Newton’s funeral in 1727. Anson’s cousin and fellow barrister of the Inner Temple, the astronomer George Parker, soon to be the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, had been proposed by his tutor William Jones (c1675-1749) in 1722.


Anson and Degge were proposed to the Royal Society by William Jones and Rev. Zachary Pearce, both of whom were intimately connected with Thomas’s uncle Lord Macclesfield and the Parker family.

Zachary Pearce, was at one time Chaplain to the 1st Earl of Macclesfield and by 1730 both Chaplain to the King (1721-1739) and Rector of St-Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster (1724-1756).

Pearce seems to have been a toady to the Earl of Macclesfield and the typical image of an 18th century cleric who was more interested in classics than religion. In his own autobiography, written in the third person, he tells how he came to be known to the Earl:


In the year 1716, he caused his first edition of “Cicero de Oratore”, with notes and emendations, to be printed at the press of that University.” (Cambridge). When that work was almost finished, a friend of his, and fellow of the college, asked him, “to whom he designed to dedicate that edition to ?” His answer was, “that he had not the happiness to be acquainted with any of those great men, to whom such things are usually dedicated.”


His friend immediately replied, “I have the honour to be so well known to Lord Parker (then Chief Justice of the King’s Bench), that I will undertake to ask his Lordship’s leave for your dedicating it to him, if you will give your consent for my doing so.’” Mr. Pearce returned the gentleman his thanks, and readily consented to it.


(Mr Burdy, The Lives of Dr. Edward Pocock: The Celebrated Orientalist by Leonard Twells, Dr Zachary PearceBishop of Rochester and Dr Thomas Newton, Bishop of Bristol, by themselves and of the Rev Philip Skelton, Rivington, London, 1816)


His friend asked the then Lord Chief Justice Parker who accepted the dedication. Pearce was not able to thank Parker personally for a while but when he was finally able to go to London he….

…made a visit to his patron Lord Parker, who received him in a very obliging manner, invited him to dine with him the next day, at Kensington, and there put into his hands a purse which contained fifty guineas. Mr. Pearce, at times, renewed his visits to his Lordship, and was always very kindly received by him.




Parker immediately offered Pearce the post of Chaplain, not, it is clear, on any religious basis, but on the strength of his edition of Cicero.

His Secretary came soon out to Mr. Pearce, and said, that his Lordship desired him to stay till all the company was gone, and that then he would see him. He did so, and being brought to the Lord Chancellor, he, among other things, said, that “he should now want a chaplain to live with him in his house;” and he asked Mr. Pearce, “if it would suit with his convenience to live with him in that capacity.” With this Mr. Pearce very readily, and with thanks, complied; and, as soon as his Lordship had provided himself with a proper house, he went into his family as his chaplain, and there continued three years.




Pearce worked his way up to more profitable positions with Parker’s support, but it seemed appropriate that a more senior clergyman should have a Doctorate of Divinity, which Pearce did not have.

Then said the Lord Chancellor, “the Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Wake, has the power of conferring a Doctor’s degree in Divinity, and I will ask him to bestow that favour on you.” I thanked his Lordship, and he spoke to the Archbishop some few days after, who readily consented to it, and the degree was conferred accordingly, June 1st, 1724.




In thanks for this Pearce dedicated his edition of “Longinus on the Sublime” to Lord Macclesfield – not, of course, a theological work but a Platonic treatise on beauty. This is interesting, as it shows that one of the influential characters in Thomas Anson’s earliest life, and also, perhaps, his extremely influential uncle, had at least a passing interest in Platonic philosophy.


Perhaps, if Thomas Anson knew Pearce through his uncle’s household, any relationship they may have had might have been on the basis of Cicero and Longinus, and Greek philosophy, rather than theology. This could point to the beginnings of Thomas’s enthusiasm for Greece, and what Greece stood for.

Pearce was not, though, purely a classicist. He published theological works and sermons, arguing for the truth of miracles and for missionary works to New World. In his earlier days he had also written occasional satirical pieces for the literary journals.


Zachary Pearce had a part to play in Isaac Newton’s Chronology of the Ancient Kingdoms. A shorter version of this study of biblical history had appeared and had been criticised for its unscientific lack of references. Pearce met Newton through Macclesfield. His autobiography tells how

In the year 1725, and about five months before Sir Isaac died, I had the honour of a visit from him at my house in St. Martin’s Church-yard, to which he walked, at his great age, from his house near Leicester-fields. He staid with me near two hours, and our conversation chiefly turned upon his Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms.




Newton explained that he had not wanted the short version published , and Pearce advised him to produce a final copy, from many manuscripts, that could be published as a definitive version. Newton set about doing this, with a further visit from Pearce to Newton’s house.

A few days before he died, I made him a visit at Kensington, where he was then for his health, and where I found Mr. Innys the bookseller with him: he withdrew as soon as I came in, and went away; and I mention this, only for confirming my account by one circumstance, which I shall mention before I conclude. I dined with Sir Isaac on that day, and we were alone all the time of my stay with him: I found him writing over his Chronology of Ancient Kingdoms, without the help of spectacles, at the greatest distance of the room from the windows, and with a parcel of books on the table casting a shade upon his paper. Seeing this, on my entering the room, I said to him, “Sir, you seem to be writing in a place where you cannot so well see.” His answer was, “A little light serves me.” He then told me, “that he was preparing his Chronology for the press, and that he had written the greatest part of it over again for that purpose.”




Thomas’s other proponent to the Royal Society, William Jones, was also an associate of Isaac Newton, and a free thinker. William Stukeley, the antiquarian, wrote that he was invited to meetings of an “infidel Society” in 1720 by Martin Folkes, a senior figure in the Royal Society and that “Will Jones the mathematician and others of a heathen stamp” attended. Stukeley declined the invitation.

What, exactly, did Stukeley mean by “a heathen stamp?” Were these people atheists, or were they inclined to the “heathen” philosophies, including Plato? Stukeley was a committed Christian, and clergyman, who had adventurous ideas about the ancient Druids, who he liked to think were precursors of Christianity, and, in effect, honorary members of the Church of England.

The fact that Jones was an active and important early freemason, an organisation that demands of its members a belief in a Deity, would imply that he was not an ou-and-out atheist. Jones, like many, was a Fellow of the Royal Society as well as freemason.

Jones’s lasting contribution to mathematics was the establishment of the symbol “pi”. It was his publication on concept this which brought him to the notice of Newton.

Jones became tutor to Philip Yorke, later Lord Hardwick, and father of George Anson’s future wife, Elizabeth, in about 1706. At the same time Jones became tutor to George Parker, son of the Earl of Macclesfield, and the Ansons’ cousin.

The fact that Jones was so closely connected with the Parker family, who linked the Ansons to political and intellectual centres of power, supports the supposition that Jones was equally close, perhaps as tutor, to the Anson brothers in their youth.


Jones’s son, the poet and expert on Indian culture, Sir William Jones, (1746-1794) believed his father had been connected with George Anson early in his career:

From his earliest years Mr. Jones discovered a propensity for mathematical studies, and, having cultivated them with assiduity, he began his career in life by teaching mathematics on board a man-of-war; and in this situation attracted the notice and obtained the friendship of Lord (Mr.) Anson.


(Sir John Barrow,The Life of George, Lord Anson, John Murray, 1839)


This is impossible as far as the dates go, but the idea may have stemmed from a misremembered anecdote about his father’s link with Anson.

It seems reasonable to suppose that Jones would have acted as tutor in mathematics, including navigation, to Thomas and George Anson, as well as to their cousin George Parker and, at the same time, to Philip Yorke, later Lord Hardwicke. Jones would, then, stand out as a very important influence linking these people together early in their lives.

Jones continued to be closely connected to the Parkers. He helped build up the library at Shirburn Castle, in Oxfordshire, with George Parker, 2nd Earl of Macclesfield. The library, with its important relics of Jones and Isaac Newton, survived until it was finally sold in 2004.


Once having been elected to the Royal Society Thomas Anson vanishes from the record, just as he does with the Society of Dilettanti a few years later. He did not sign the Charter Book or pay admission fees, but there is no trace of him having been ejected. Simon Degge, on the other hand, continued to be listed as a Fellow of the Royal Society until 1760.

The family connections with the Earl of Macclesfield and the names of Pearce and Jones on the proposal of Thomas Anson to the Royal Society suggest a personal link with the great scientist, Isaac Newton. It is hard to imagine that Anson would not have known him. Though his involvement in the Royal Society may not have been very deep there are other clues that he had a serious interest in Newton’s ideas. There were original editions of Newton’s “Principia” and his more esoteric “Chronology of the Ancient Kingdom” in the Shugborough library, according to the catalogue of the great sale in1842 when the bulk of the contents were sold off to pay for the 1st Earl’s gambling debts.


Also, in 1728, the year after Newton’s death “Thomas Anson Esq.” was one of the subscribers of Henry Pemberton’s “A view of Isaac Newton’s Philosophy”. Pemberton was another scientist who had assisted Newton in his old age.


He brought the two organisations close together by proposing many of his Masonic friends to the Royal Society.


At this time, there were very close links between the Royal Society and Freemasonry. A large number of people were both Fellows of the Royal Society and freemasons. In the 1720s and 1730s Freemasonry was being developed into an organised structure and its rituals, derived from ancient lodges of stonemasons, were being developed into a complicated symbolic system. The most important figure in this process, and the most likely creator of the modern rituals, was Dr Desaguliers, a leading supporter of Newton and the Royal Society. Both Dr. Desaguliers and William Jones proposed  many of their masonic colleagues to the Royal Society.

William Jones, a member of the Queen’s Head Lodge, is known to have proposed at least 8 fellow freemasons to the Royal Society between 1711 and 1738, twice as many as Dr Desaguliers, by far the most influential figure in both organisations at the time.

(For William Jones and the relationship between the Royal Society and Freemasonry see Trevor Stewart, English speculative freemasonry: Some possible origins, themes and developments, in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum Vol. 117, For the Council of the Quatuor Coronati Correspondence Circle Limited, 2005)

There is no sign that Thomas or George Anson were ever freemasons. This may seem surprising considering their connection with William Jones. This is not conclusive as the records of the lodges in this period are incomplete.

Though Anson might have known Newton and had a serious interest in his new scientific views there is a possibility that he might not have been attracted by the society or the order. The worldview that tended to dominate both the Royal Society and Freemasonry was quite different from the worldview of philosophers inspired by Ancient Greece. Newtonian science tended (though this is, of course, an oversimplification) to be materialistic, stressing the mechanical laws of nature. A person who fell under the spell of Platonic philosophy would argue that matter may not exist at all in a meaningful way, and that Nature, as we experience it, has a quite different law within it, as it reflects the archetypal truths of God, or the One, the Source of Being.

Men like William Jones and Dr Desaguliers influenced the spread of Deism in both the Royal Society and Freemasonry. “Deists” were clerics who adapted their theology to the new science. God was the creator, but there was no room for the supernatural in the machine. Religion was a system of divinely ordained moral laws that were a counterpoint to the physical laws of the universe. This rapidly became the dominant view of the Church of England.

There were various opponents to such a view.

“Enthusiasts”, and reformers like John Wesley, might accept the Newtonian universe, but still believe in the supernatural intervention of the Holy Spirit.

Another alternative philosophy which opposed materialism was Idealism, which was inspired by Platonic principles.

The most extreme Idealist was George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne. Berkeley opposed Locke and Newton by arguing that, in effect, there was no such thing as a material universe. Science could and should help us understand material things (or what appear to be material things), but ultimately there is no material reality.

Berkeley enjoyed making logical arguments against the reality of matter, but it is wrong to think that he simply claimed matter does not exist. The Idealist view is that reality is what we experience. Matter is subservient. What is real is what is in the Mind – and, if an Idealist is also a Platonist, the Mind is also the Mind of God.

(Berkeley is not directly connected to the circle examined by this book, though his son was at one time engaged to Catherine Talbot, friend of Lady Anson and Elizabeth Carter. Carter enjoyed his book “Siris” though she wrote to Miss Talbot: “I fairly confess I have no clear idea what one half of it means.” She was, presumably, referring to the part of the book that was not about the wonderful effects of drinking tar-water. Her lack of comprehension is odd considering that she was a Platonist herself.)

Though there might seem to make a clear distinction between Deism and Idealism it is often very difficult to define where individual thinkers stand.

How do we classify Newton? He was unorthodox in his religious beliefs, but was he, strictly speaking, a materialist? William Blake, a hundred years later, saw him as the enemy of imagination and the soul, and yet Newton was, throughout his life, an alchemist, His mathematics is purely scientific but his quest was for an understanding of the principles that were the basis of every level of existence, material and physical.

Newton was, perhaps, too much of a genius to be defined.

It was perfectly possible for people to be Platonists, or Idealists, and to be fascinated by Isaac Newton’s work. The Platonic Elizabeth Carter translated Count Algarotti’s “Il Newtonismo per le Dame” (1737) as “Isaac Newton’s Philosophy Explain’d for the Use of Ladies.” (1739).

The fact that the astronomer, the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield, was his first his cousin, and the possible links with Newton himself, might have been a factor in Anson’s relationship with Thomas Wright, who was primarily an astronomer or cosmographer. Wright is presumed to have worked as architect and landscape designer at Shugborough in the 1740s and yet no trace of his involvement exists in any of the records. Anson had connections with the most advanced scientific minds right until his death.


This study aims to show that the Greek Revival, in architecture and the visual arts, is a by-product of what may better be described as Platonic Revival, or Platonic Revolution, in which Thomas Anson played an important part. This Revolution was not about changing fashion, but changing how people saw the world, and, as a result, changing their lives, and, ultimately, about the means to achieve happiness.

The End of all the Writings of Plato is That, which is the END of all true PHILOSOPHY or Wisdom, the Perfection and the HAPPINESS of MAN.

(Floyer Sydenham, A Synopsis or General View of the Works of Plato, printed by S (Samuel) Richardson, 1759 p. 13)


This was a very small revolution. It was almost invisible at the time, even though it did have lasting effects. Rather than a revolution of the masses, it was the work of a very restricted group of people, as few as seven, all closely interconnected, mostly friends and colleagues.

It was not a conspiracy, but, perhaps, a chance, serendipitous, coming-together of like minds.

It’s worth defining the key elements of this philosophy.


Anthony Ashley Cooper (1671-1713), the 3nd Earl of Shaftesbury, was an influential philosopher throughout the 18th century, and an important influence on the Enlightenment in Europe. He has sometimes been described as a Deist because he did not appear to believe in a God who intervened in the world or operated a system of divine rewards and punishments. His philosophy is all about Virtue, and living according to true Nature.

To his admiring nephew, James Harris, Shaftesbury was a Platonist. Shaftesbury does appear to have believed in a Divine Law in Nature.

James Harris is largely forgotten, and in his own life time was seen as someone who promoted an unfashionable and possibly misguided philosophy. Plato was deeply suspect in the 18th century. Harris, and his friend Floyer Sydenham, defied fashion and published works which clearly promote Platonism, openly inspired by Shaftesbury, as the antidote to the dangerous destructive materialism and deism of the age.

Harris also provides the clearest indication of who the enemy of this idealistic movement was, and what was the most destructive idea –

The enemy was John Locke (1632-1704), and his concept that the human mind was born as blank page, a tabula rasa, to be formed entirely by experience. This was an ancient idea, but it was totally opposed to the Platonic idea that there are divine truths in the Soul and in all things, which experience helps us to discover, and which would lead us to Truth, or God. James Harris had “a seething dislike of Locke.”

(Clive T Probyn, The Sociable Humanist, the life of James Harris, 1709-1780, OUP 1991)

Of course, there is no reason why Locke should be thought of as a bad man – only that this idea can be interpreted in dangerous ways.


Here, then, are the fundamental principles of the philosophy behind this Platonic Revolution, with support from the work of James Harris, who was certainly a friend of Thomas Anson, and whose books were on the shelves of the library at Shugborough, and Harris’s colleague, Floyer Sydenham.

The emphasis is on Beauty, Truth and Virtue.

Because everything flows, or emanates, from God, or the Platonic “One”, Nature has within it the archetypal forms, the Truth, Goodness and Beauty of the Divine.

The WHOLE VISIBLE WORLD exhibits nothing more, than so many passing pictures of these same immutable archetypes.

(James Harris, Hermes, Second edition, 1765 pp 383-4)


The love of Beauty, in Art or Nature, is not an idle pastime. It is a means of finding those Truths in our own souls. By becoming at one with these Truths in Nature we become virtuous. Virtue is life according to the divine laws within Nature. There is nothing more important than to develop Taste, which has nothing to do with fashion but is the ability to respond to this natural law in Nature.


Thus all Virtue is Order and Proportion…the Rule, according to which the Mind by her Will then governs is Beauty Itself; and the Science through which She governs, is the Science of that Beauty. For TRUTH and BEAUTY concur in One; and where-ever They are, there is also GOOD.

(Floyer Sydenham, A Synopsis or General View of the Works of Plato, printed by S (Samuel) Richardson, 1759 p. 17


This pursuit of Virtue must also affect all our social and political behaviour as everything from the Universe to the smallest atom is part of us.

But since every Man is a Member of some Civil Community, is linked with the Fellows of his own Species, is related to every Nature Superior and Divine, and is a Part also of Universal Nature; he must always of Necessity participate of the Good and Evil of every Whole, greater as well as less…

(Ibid p. 16)

Though the Platonist may believe that “Matter” has no value, or have no actual existence, the world of Nature has the highest value and is to be respected, because Nature is Matter seeking and revealing Divine Form.

Wordsworth and Coleridge were Platonists. Thomas Taylor is often credited with reviving an interest in Platonism in the early 1800s after a century when such things were out of fashion, but his work was built on the forgotten efforts of poor, forgotten, Floyer Sydenham.


Collecting Art, laying out a landscape, building a temple, is all part of this Pursuit of Taste and Virtue. A Greek Revival Garden Temple is not an expression of wealth and power but an expression of simplicity, and a place in which to contemplate Nature. Mordaunt Crook refers to one of the qualities which lies behind the Greek Revival, which he makes clear overlaps with the Gothic and Romantic because of its concern for “Nature and Nature’s laws” as

geometry in a pastoral wilderness.

(J Mordaunt Crook, The Greek Revival, John Murray, 1972, p.66)

Understanding the deep seriousness of the attitudes held by these 18th century artists, thinkers and patrons, is essential if we are to understand their works, and if we are to enjoy them fully, and learn from them, ourselves.

All this is what, to such people, “Greece” stood for.