PALEY (WILLIAM) Series of some two hundred and seventy five autograph letters signed ("W Paley" and "W P"), some of the earlier letters signed pseudonymously or often unsigned, all but sixteen to his lifelong friend, John Law, the rest to John's brother Edward Law, Cambridge, Carlisle, Lincoln, Bishops Wearmouth and elsewhere, c.1763-1804

This lot has been removed from the website, please contact customer services for more information

Lot 62
Series of some two hundred and seventy five autograph letters signed ("W Paley" and "W P"), some of the earlier letters signed pseudonymously or often unsigned, all but sixteen to his lifelong friend, John Law, the rest to John's brother Edward Law, Cambridge, Carlisle, Lincoln, Bishops Wearmouth and elsewhere, c.1763-1804

Sold for £ 20,000 (US$ 25,002) inc. premium
Property of The Hon. James Law
Series of some two hundred and seventy five autograph letters signed ("W Paley" and "W P"), some of the earlier letters signed pseudonymously or often unsigned, all but sixteen to his lifelong friend, John Law, the rest to John's brother Edward Law, covering Paley's entire working life; the earliest letters undated, one of these (by way of setting the tone of what was to follow over the years) opening: "I dont mean this as a regular letter or a part of that correspondence I am happy to have begun & shall be desirous to preserve with a freind, whom I consider as the most valuable in private & the most creditable in publick I now have. I mean only to present you with 4 penny worth of the best advice & direction an understrapper poverty struck greasy shoolmaster [sic] can give you"; the series, from the start, mixing humorous urbanity with a spirit of philosophical enquiry, as for example in a three-page folio letter dating from 1765 ("...To begin with observing that the study of Phylosophy being transferr'd from Greece and reviv'd amongst us it becomes our busyness to collect the scatter'd remains of Phylosophy and compare their different uses and tendencys And the more so as none of the ancients have ever made an impartial comparison betwixt em for amongst them each person being addicted to some particular act was rather studious of promoting their own doctrines than comparing them with the tenets of others and wanted moreover that indifference to any particular sect necessary for comparing them together..."), which is followed a little later by a vignette of Anthony Shepherd, Master of Christ's, ("...Last night I was content to stump to town upon a summons Shepherd sent me to meet him at his Inn, with that perplex'd vacuity of face with which a man seeks his shirt hand buttons when he changes or turns his shirt..."), which in turn is followed by a long disquisition on the best tactics for debate ("...2nd when you have got or imagine you have in pulling out your answer for you may be mistaken in the tendency of the argument dont be impatient... in the tendency of the argument you may appear abrupt or petulant and lastly you will by this means subject yourself to confusion and perplexity. 3d a respondents busyness is of two kinds the extempore Laconic and occasional reply or observation and the diffuse expiating premeditated speech as you bring with your uncommon talents..."); the series also provides a record of his publications and the travails that attended them, such Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy of 1785, the work having been prompted by John and dedicated to his father Edmund, Bishop of Carlisle ("...I have nearly finished in Cryptic [i.e. his normal handwriting] a short chapter on wars & military establishments which is the last – as soon as the Bishop gets to town that I can avail myself of his cover I will begin publishing & I hope to keep the press going till we have finished.../ ...I have finished the last chapter on war & military establishments in copper – and am now in Cryptic half thro the preface 'short and sensible' – then there is only the dedication..."), the book dedicated to John Law, Horae Paulinae of 1790 ("...I have the satisfaction to acquaint you that I am again pregnant – what may be the time of gestation the size of the child or the length of its life or its fortune I cannot tell – at present I think of something in the shape of three dissertations upon the evidences making about three shilling duodecimo and to get it ready in about a year – so that you are setting an author to write is like setting a lady to sing – neither of 'em know when to leave off – if however – anything should drop into your mind upon the subject – if you will note it and at your leisure send it to me ten to one it may suit some place in the work & perhaps be the best part of it..."), his Essay upon the British Constitution, written in answer to Paine's Right of Man, Evidences of Christianity of 1794 ("...I hope to get to a staining paper by Michaelmas and to go on with two sheets a week and to correct the press here by the aid of the Bishop's covers. I have concluded upon two small octavo's of about 340 pages each so that if the press receive no interruption which is hardly to be expected considering the quantity of politics that issuing from it we may get out soon after Christmas – I could have made two thin volumes of the larger seized octavo but I dont like their volume..."), and his Natural Theology of 1802 ("...The Mss is all in copper plate and 224 pages printed thus by hours or the half hours rather snatched from pain, I have been enabled to bring (and am very thankful for it) the design to a conclusion – the printer is irregular – but I always send him back the proofs next day – when I talk of having finished the work, I except an intended last chapter under the title of conclusion -- which is yet unwritten... but as it must now... be a laudanum chapter, it will be of still less value, and [per]haps I may not write it at all.../ ...I had written thus far when I rec.d yesterday your kind letter. I should be more or less than an author not to be pleased with the expression you use about my book – I entirely agree in opinion with your lordship that it is written with great spirit, wonderful considering the bodily condition of the author during part of the time in which it was written, in which the pen was some times ready to drop out of his hand by pain & weakness..."); towards the end of the series, we are afforded several unexpected glimpses of figures who are in a sense harbingers of the new age that was, with Darwin's final breakthrough, to displace Paley's intellectual constructs, such as Joseph Priestley (for whom Paley expresses great sympathy, while mocking those who equate Unitariansm with damnation) and the friend of Coleridge and Davy, Dr Thomas Beddoes (to whom he sends one of his sons in the hopes of a cure for his consumption, a path also taken by James Watt); Admiral Lord Nelson also puts in an appearance, but largely so that Paley can crack a joke at his portly pompous elder brother's expense; the penultimate letter, displaying as it does sun-lit tolerance even as Paley was sinking into the grave, shows that in some respects Paley's age has more in common with ours than does Darwin's: it is written on behalf of his coachman who "has got the chamber maid with child" ("...What is that, your Lordship says, to me: read on -- -- ...") and for whom he is seeking a new post ("...The young fellow is a sober, careful, clever fellow..."), breaking off: "P.S. I am very bad at present – 100 drops last night"; many with address panels, seals, postmarks, etc., c.400 pages, some of the earlier ones especially incomplete or fragmentary, many with old paper guards, paper strengthening at folds, etc., but mostly in sound and attractive condition, folio and 4to, Cambridge, Carlisle, Lincoln, Bishops Wearmouth and elsewhere, c.1763-1804


  • '4 PENNY WORTH OF THE BEST ADVICE & DIRECTION' – AN UNRIVALLED SERIES BY WILLIAM PALEY, PRE-EMINENT EXPONENT OF 'NATURAL THEOLOGY' AND THE PRE-DARWINIAN WORLD VIEW: this is by some margin the single most important series of letters by Paley in existence, or indeed most probably ever written.

    It is both a significant source for the intellectual history of the century leading up to the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, and an outstanding biographical source for a man who was greatly admired by Darwin himself: 'In the last twenty years of his life Paley became an intellectual colossus at Cambridge, and he long remained a significant influence through the use of his works by generations of university students. Keynes, who thought the Principles "an immortal book" (Keynes, 108), placed Paley high among the intellectual influences shaping Malthus's political economy and pointed out that his influence at Cambridge for a generation or more was second only to Newton's. From 1787 into the early nineteenth century the Principles was mandatory for Cambridge examinations, and from 1822 to 1920 the Evidences of Christianity was on the required list for the Previous, or Little-go, examination for all second-year undergraduates. By 1814 twenty English editions of the Principles had appeared and by 1821 ten editions were published in the United States, where it is said to have been the most popular text on moral philosophy from the 1790s to the civil war... Darwin, who entered Christ's College in 1828, wrote of the Evidences of Christianity and Natural Theology: 'The careful study of these works ... was the only part of the Academical Course which ... was of the least use to me in the education of my mind' (The Autobiography of Charles Darwin, ed. N. Barlow, 1958, 59). In the second half of the century Paley's influence waned, falling victim to Darwin's evolutionary theory, which served to destroy the idea of nature as the product of design and with it the essential theological basis of his whole system... Twentieth-century commentators pointed to Paley as marking a philosophical era. Norman Sykes believed that Paley's importance "lay in the exactitude with which he represented the zeitgeist" of the utilitarianism of the eighteenth-century English establishment... Gerald Cragg held that Paley "represented the Indian summer of eighteenth-century assumptions"... In LeMahieu's account, the coherence of Paley's philosophy reflects "an ideological consensus among British intellectuals in the eighteenth century"; he "distilled and crystallized the strategic ideas of his predecessors into a philosophy whose very comprehensiveness justified its modest claims to originality"' (James E. Crimmins, ODNB). (Darwin as an undergraduate was, famously, to occupy Paley's rooms at Christ's, and some have seen, in Darwin's agonizing and near endless prevarication over publication of his evolutionary theory what, in Freudian terms, might be described as an Oedipal struggle with the revered mentor whose world he was to shatter; as if it were not just God that Darwin was displacing, but Paley also).

    This lively, sympathetic and often amusing series of letters is of incomparable biographical importance for any study of Paley. They were written to Paley's closest friends, patrons, and intellectual sparring-partners. A summary of their friendship is furnished by Paley's son and biographer, Edmund: 'Law and Paley had been acquainted while undergraduates, but their acquaintance did not approach intimacy till after Paley had taken his degree; and so much did it grow upon both of them by a habit of occasional intercourse during their joint tuition, that its closeness was only to be equalled by its duration. There existed between them a singular union of steady and rooted principle, perfect singleness and integrity of heart, congenial powers of mind, and great warmth of feeling... so true and steadfast was their friendship, that though thrown into different parts of the world, there was a constant interchange of letters and personal intercourse between them for thirty years, and their movements and enjoyments whilst at the university, as well as in late life, seem to have been regulated with reference to each other...This intimacy led to an introduction to Mr. Law's father, who was, according to Mr Paley's own words, "his first and best patron"' (Edmund Paley, The Works of William Paley, DD: And an Account of the Life and Writings of the Author, 1838, i, pp. lvi-lviii).

    John Law (1745-1810), the principal correspondent, after leaving Christ's, was successively Archdeacon of Carlisle and Bishop of Clonfert, Killala and Elphin; while his brother Edward (1750-1818), recipient of sixteen letters, was afterwards Lord Chief Justice and first Baron Ellenborough. Their father, Edward Law (1703-1787) was Bishop of Carlisle. In his notice on Paley for the ODNB, James E. Crimmins fleshes out the son's account: 'Paley's connection with the Law family greatly advanced his clerical career... Paley's "long and faithful friendship" with Law was acknowledged in the dedication to Horae Paulinae (1790). In 1777 Paley was invited to preach the visitation sermon in Carlisle Cathedral for Edmund Law, and in 1782 he preached the sermon at John Law's consecration as bishop of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh. Both John and Edmund Law encouraged Paley to revise his lectures on ethics for publication, and the Principles was dedicated to the bishop of Carlisle. When the bishop died at Rose Castle in Carlisle in 1787 Paley wrote a short memoir of his life, which afterward appeared in the Encyclopaedia Britannica. The Law connection extended to the prelate's third son, Edward, later Lord Ellenborough and lord chief justice of the king's bench, whom Paley is said to have aided in his study of the law' (ODNB).

    Furthermore – execrable handwriting apart – these letters make very good reading being full of lively and irreverent anecdote which impart – as all good letters do – an often vivid sense of the person who is wielding the quill. As far as we are aware, this series is unpublished. While, by implication, Paley's son and biographer acknowledges their primacy as a source for the life of his father, with tact characteristic of his day he refrains from quotation; indeed, he makes no mention of having consulted our letters at all. He contents himself instead with quotation from one sole letter, and this being by Law to his father. As he explains: 'Some letters which remain among Dr. Paley's papers and manuscript works mark very clearly the depth of affection and interest; and it is under a conviction that familiarity between friends ought to be sacred, that the present writer restrains himself from giving more extracts in this place. Let one suffice, which speaks not only to the point now meant to be recorded, but to the general character and cast of mind of the Bishop of Elphin' (op. cit., p. lxii). A note with the letters states that two were published in an archaeological periodical. A transcript was also made for the family and is to be found among the Ellenborough Papers at the National Archives (PRO 30/12). Like most such series, depletions have occurred, probably during the 'autograph mania' of the early nineteenth century when some material (especially from the folder for 1785) appears to have been given away to collectors, as for example letters from the correspondence now at King's College, Cambridge (J.M. Keynes MSS) and a letter in the Enys Collection (sale in these rooms, 28 September 2004, lot 275).
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories, buyer's premium excluding Cars, Motorbikes, Wine, Whisky and Coin & Medal sales, will be as follows:

Buyer's Premium Rates
27.5% on the first £20,000 of the hammer price;
26% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of £20,000 up to and including £700,000;
20% of the hammer price of amounts in excess of £700,000 up to and including £4,500,000;
and 14.5% of the hammer price of any amounts in excess of £4,500,000.

VAT at the current rate of 20% will be added to the Buyer's Premium and charges excluding Artists Resale Right.

Payment Notices

For payment information please refer to the sale catalogue.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.