Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo: Sunderland Public Libraries / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

The bridge which William Paley admired at Wearmouth (see my post of July 26) tells us two important things about the time when Paley wrote his book, Natural Theology.  First, the smoke from the smokestack tells us that the industrial age has arrived.  Second, the sails on the ships tell us that engines which can move ships (or trains for that matter) have not yet been invented.  This is a world of commerce, but it is not our world.

William Paley came to live in Wearmouth in 1795.  He was then 52 years old; his most successful years were behind him.  Paley was educated at Cambridge and became a teacher there.  He was ordained in 1766 as an Anglican priest, and was appointed to various positions in the church.  He wrote three important books before Natural Theology, one on moral philosophy and two defending the historical accuracy of the New Testament.

In all his writing Paley emphasized reason, and wrote clear, logical arguments.  That clarity, and his use of language in general, makes Natural Theology a pleasure to read, in spite of the fact that, as the picture demonstrates, his world is very different from our present circumstances.

My collection of poems, Made and Remade, responding to William Paley’s writing, is to be published by WordTech Editions in 2014.

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