Paradigm, No. 19 (May, 1996)

Lindley Murray and the Enlightenment

Charles Monaghan

534 Third Street,
New York USA.


Lindley Murray, the second largest-selling author of the first half of the 19th century, was born in Swatara, Pennsylvania 251 years ago. His father was Robert Murray (1721-1786), who had been born to a Presbyterian family in County Armagh, Ireland. Robert’s family had moved to Armagh from Perthshire in the 1720s, and then emigrated to America in 1732. While still in his teens, Robert Murray became the operator of a prosperous mill in Swatara.1

Lindley Murray’s mother, Mary Lindley was the daughter of Thomas Lindley (1684-1743), who was also an immigrant. A Quaker and a blacksmith, Thomas Lindley had arrived in Philadelphia from County Carlow, Ireland, about 1719, and within a decade had become connected with the richest and most powerful men in Pennsylvania.

In 1727, with a group of other Quakers, including some of the most prominent merchants of the colony, Thomas Lindley became a founding owner of the Durham Furnace on the Delaware River in Bucks County, a 6,000-acre iron ore site and one of the leading forges in the colonies. It is possible that Thomas Lindley was brought into the project as a technical expert because of his experience with iron; he is listed as an anchorsmith in the purchase agreement for the land. As an anchorsmith, of course, Thomas Lindley would have been involved with maritime merchants.2

About 1733, Thomas Lindley took up residence in Lancaster County, buying 480 acres of land in Paxtang Township, a few miles from Robert Murray’s residence in Swatara. Thomas Lindley, already a man of some importance, quickly became a member of the local elite. In 1738, he became a justice of the peace, and then served in the Pennsylvania Assembly from 1739 through 1743, the year he died.3 Robert Murray and Thomas Lindley’s daughter Mary married in 1744. It was apparently not the first marriage between the families; Robert’s uncle William had already married a Lindley. Though there is no evidence linking her to Thomas Lindley the politician, her father’s name was also Thomas and the family was also an Irish Quaker one. It is likely they were cousins. Their presence in Lancaster County might have been a reason why Thomas Lindley decided to buy land in Paxtang Township.4 Robert Murray and Mary Lindley moved to Swatara after their marriage, and there Lindley Murray was born the following year.

All his life, Robert Murray was a man who seized the main chance. His marriage to Mary Lindley, for which he abandoned his Presbyterian creed and converted to the Society of Friends, gave the young miller access to the top echelon of Pennsylvania’s Quaker merchants, many of whom knew Thomas Lindley not only from his Philadelphia days, but also from serving with him in the Assembly.

Perhaps Robert Murray was able to take advantage of Quaker solicitude in the wake of Thomas Lindley’s death in 1743. In any case, from at least 1745 on, Robert Murray was operating as a merchant and making trading visits to the West Indies.5 These early trading efforts undoubtedly capitalised on Murray’s position as a miller: flour and wheat were Pennsylvania’s major exports to the West Indies.6

After a brief sojourn (1751-1753) in North Carolina, Robert Murray moved to New York in 1753. His rise was phenomenal. In little more than a decade and a half, this shrewd and competitive entrepreneur owned more shipping tonnage (according to some commentators) than any other trader in the colonies, was a figure in the marine insurance business, and sold imported goods from the store of Murray and Pearsall on the East River waterfront.

According to advertisements in New York newspapers, Murray and Pearsall sold ‘for ready Money or short credit’ a wide assortment of goods: nails and window glass, worsted and velvet, Cheshire cheese and English tea, clocks and ‘neat silver watches’. In a hint of what was to come in the Murray family, the store also offered ‘primmers, spelling books, testaments, young mans companions’.7

By the time Lindley Murray was growing to young manhood, Robert Murray was an enormously wealthy and powerful figure in New York. He had built an estate, called Inclenberg (or Belmont), in what is now Manhattan’s Murray Hill section, which is named for the family. The great house was located at what is today Park Avenue and 36th Street. Grand Central Station stands on what was one of the estate’s cornfields.8

A grand place altogether was Inclenberg, a square building surrounded by verandas on three sides. It was approached by an avenue of magnolias, elms, spruce and Lombardy poplars, which led to a wide lawn bordered by extensive gardens. The front windows of the spacious mansion commanded a view over Kip’s Bay and the East River. Inclenberg was frequently spoken of by chroniclers as one of the loveliest spots on the island.9

In addition to building this impressive estate, Robert Murray displayed his wealth in other ways. He introduced into New York the first state coach that the colonists had seen. Its interior was decorated with 18 yards of broad lace, 40 yards of common lace, 11 yards of silk bombazel, fife tassels, and worsted tufting. Robert Murray was apparently sensitive about criticism -- some of it from his fellow Quakers -- about his lifestyle and aristocratic ways, and so he took to calling this lavish coach ‘his leathern conveniency’.10

Along with such splendour came other things we normally associate with the lifestyle of the rich. The Murrays were renowned as hosts. They ‘entertained at various times almost every foreigner of distinction who came to American shores, and it was rare for such to visit New York without letters of introduction’ to Robert Murray. One of the most colourful of such entertainments, remembered in a family letter and described a century later in a book by Sarah Murray, a descendant, was the fête for 30 guests given by the Murrays in honour of the Tunisian Ambassador. The Ambassador sported a turban and eight-inch beard, and was clad in a silk jacket over which was a dark blue robe richly embroidered in gold.11

As the oldest son of the family, Lindley Murray was undoubtedly present at such events, as well as others at which affairs of the day and the latest ideas from Europe were discussed at the dining tables and in the receiving rooms of Inclenberg.

Lindley Murray tells us in his Memoirs that Robert Murray wanted him to go directly into his merchant business. Lindley Murray had already been educated in penmanship, the requisite for counting-house work. But he did not like the counting-house, and so his father sent him to live with a merchant in Philadelphia in the hope that this ‘would better reconcile me to this employment’. But this expedient did not answer his expectations; and, ‘after some time, he consented to my return to New-York!’

This is the next sentence in the Memoirs: ‘About this period, I contracted a taste for reading for a greater degree of literary improvement’. He adds, a few pages later, ‘The pleasures of study, and the advantages and distinctions which learning and knowledge had conferred on individuals who fell under my observation, augmented my wishes for the acquisition of science and literature.12

On closer examination it seems evident that Lindley Murray’s stay in Philadelphia, which must have occurred about 1758 or 1759, intensified his interest in matters intellectual. One might also note the curious phraseology with which Murray characterises the type of knowledge he desired: ‘the acquisition of science and literature’. In order to understand the context here, we must consider the nature of American intellectual life in the late 1750s, and the key role of Philadelphia in it. A leading student of that topic, Henry F. May, identifies two ‘clusters of ideas’ prevalent in America in the 18th century: ‘One of these consists of the doctrines of Protestantism and particularly Calvinistic Protestantism. . . The other cluster of ideas is drawn from the Enlightenment of seventeenth and eighteenth century Europe.’13 The centre of the Enlightenment in America was Philadelphia, and the driving force behind the nurture and propagation of Enlightenment ideas was the city’s Quaker merchant establishment.14

During the time that Murray was resident there with one of these merchant families, science was the rage in Philadelphia. Benjamin Franklin, ‘a close friend and political ally of many Quakers’, and his colleagues had been conducting experiments in electricity that were the talk and admiration of the educated people of the town.15 So Lindley Murray’s phrase ‘the acquisition of science and literature’ seems a clear reflection of the influence of Philadelphia on this observant and intellectually ambitious young man. In his Sequel to the English Reader, Murray includes a selection from Franklin, and in the short account of Franklin that Murray prepared for his biographical appendix to the Sequel, he specifically mentions Franklin’s writings on electricity, as well as on meteorology and mechanics.16

After his return from Philadelphia, Murray had a serious confrontation with his father. It came to a head after what Murray felt was unjust punishment for a minor infraction. ‘Taking my books and all my property with me’ as he tells us, he left his father’s house and went to a school near Burlington, New Jersey. ‘Here I purposed to remain till I had learned the French language, which I thought would be of great use to me.’17

Why did he have this desire to learn French, a yearning so passionate that he broke with his father to do so? We can piece together an answer to this question by once again examining the practices of the Philadelphia Quaker e1ite and by looking at what was happening in the larger intellectual world at this time.

According to Frcderick B. Tolles, the leading student of the 18th-century Philadelphia Quaker establishment, ‘knowledge of French was regarded as a desirable acquirement for the children of Quaker aristocrats’. For example in describing a leading family he says:

Isaac Norris II began studying French in his late teens; his father lent him encouragement by pointing out that whatever he acquired beyond a superficial acquaintance with languages would be both ‘advantage and Ornament’ to him.

But there is another likely reason why Lindley Murray chose to study French. In the very years when he was deciding to embrace the life of the mind, the French Enlightenment was at its height, and was the talk of literate circles in the great cities of Europe and America. It was the sort of subject that must have been frequently discussed with foreign visitors at the dinner table of Inclenberg.

The French Enlightenment had put forward the idea that science and the scientific cast of mind should be part of the intellectual equipment of any serious person. Scientists and popularizers of scientific ideas such as Pluche, Reaumur, Buffon and Linnaeus had gained worldwide reputations with publications over the previous two decades. And reverence for science was being spread throughout the literate world by the Encyclopédie, which had begun publishing its volumes in 1751. The New York historian William Smith, a friend of the Murrays, commented on the Encyclopédie's ‘widespread influence on 18th-century thinking.’ (Governor Tryon of New York, who would’ have been part of the Murrays’ social set, owned a full run of the Encyclopidie; the project was completed in 1772.)18

So in seeking to acquire ‘science’ as well as literature, Lindley Murray, the budding intellectual, was striving to become a man of his age, a man of the Enlightenment. And in learning French, he was not only acquiring an asset in the formation of a gentleman, but learning something that gave him greater access to this Enlightenment world of science and literature. Murray later put his knowledge of French and admiration for science to use, to take one example, by including selections from Buffon in his Lecteur françois and from Pluche’s Spectacle de la Nature in both his Lecteur françois and the Introduction au lecteur françois.

Another reason why Murray wished to learn French may have been to read Voltaire, whose books were being sold in New York at the very time when he was intent on learning French.

Not only was Voltaire the epitome of the French Enlightenment, whose name was on the lips of every educated person while Murray was coming to intellectual maturity, but Voltaire was also a great admirer of the Society of Friends. The Frenchman had been exiled in England from 1726 to 1728 and had become acquainted with the Quakers. In his Letters concerning the English Nation, published in 1733, he devotes the book’s first four letters to the Friends, praising members lavishly as modest, tolerant, rational speakers of the truth, and exemplars of the kind of Deism that he was promoting in opposition to traditional Christian theology.19 Whatever the truth of his contention, it cannot but have piqued Lindley Murray’s imagination.

Indeed, there is evidence that at least later in life, Murray was well acquainted with Voltaire and respected his opinions. One need only to look at the appendix of the Lecteur françois, where Murray provides short biographies of his contributors, to see how frequently he uses Voltaire’s opinions on the writers. While he drew the line at including the controversial Voltaire himself in the Lecteur françois, the book reflects Voltaire’s taste.

After acquiring French, Lindley Murray reconciled with his family and returned to New York. He still refused to enter his father’s business, but a compromise was struck and he read law in the firm of Samuel Kissam, Esq. in New York. In choosing the law, however, Lindley Murray was not abandoning the intellectual life and literature; in America in colonial times, lawyers formed the literary elite. After qualifying as a lawyer, Murray continued his cultural activity as a member of the Debating Club, a group of mainly young men (including John Jay, the future Chief Justice) in New York who gathered to read essays on philosophical questions. In 1771, Murray was active in forming the city’s Union Society Library..20

With the coming of the Revolution (he barely mentions this momentous event in his Memoirs, alluding to it only in passing as ‘the troubles in America’), Murray withdrew to Islip, Long Island, about 40 miles from New York City, However, in 1779, his father persuaded Murray to return to the city and take up trade. Robert Murray paid for a cargo of imports to set his son up in business. This action changed their status from Quaker neutrals to allies of the British. In the minds of American patriots, they were now Loyalists. (This perception, by the way, continued in following generations. Lorenzo Sabine, in a compendium of short biographies of Loyalists originally published in 1864, included Lindley Murray and his father Robert.)21

In 1783, the peace treaty with the British was concluded and British forces withdrew from New York. What were Lindley Murray’s feelings at the end of the Revolutionary War? Once again, a close analysis of his actions as laid out in the Memoirs is revealing. He desperately wanted to remain in America. At first, he apparently hoped that his wartime activities would be overlooked. Immediately after the British left New York City, he bought an estate near his father’s, which he named Bellevue, and which is today remembered in the name of Bellevue Hospital in New York.22

As pressure on him obviously grew, he separated himself from New York, and as happens so frequently in his Memoirs, he gives reasons of health for his move. But that explanation ignores the historical fact of the heavy pressure on Loyalists to which Murray was subject, and which he never mentions in the Memoirs.

The choices of destination for his interior exile, as related in the Memoirs, are revealing. First he went to the Friends’ stronghold of Bristol, Pennsylvania, across the river from Burlington, New Jersey, where he had gone to learn French. Then he was off to take the waters in the remote New Jersey mountains. Finally, he traveled to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, headquarters of the Moravian sect, spending several months there. The Moravians and the Friends were both pacifist groups. Bethlehem was a place where no one was going to ask Murray about his wartime activities. He seemed idyllically happy in Moravian country But his father arrived to spend time with him, and they eventually returned to New York. Soon after, Lindley Murray made the decision to become one of the thousands of post-Revolution Loyalist boat people and, in 1784, left for Britain.23

Why did Murray choose to leave America? There is no indication that he was under personal compulsion to do so during his residence in Moravian country The reason may well have been to forestall possible seizure of the Murray family’s property in New York.

The Murrays must have been fearful of such seizure. The administration of New York state, which was operating in territory controlled by the rebels, had already confiscated two-and-a-half million dollars in Tory estates by 1782, with a lot more to come. For example, the three largest estates on Long Island were confiscated and sold immediately after the Revolution because of the Toryism of their owners. The pressure for retribution from patriots who had themselves suffered seizure of property was great. For Loyalists, says one commentator, ‘the fact of the treaty of peace made their departure from New York imperative’.24

In all justice, it was probably Robert Murray who should have been forced into exile, as he had tried to circumvent anti-British blockades before the Revolution. As Lindley Murray makes clear in the Memoirs, it was his father who had persuaded him to take up trade with the British during the war. In 1779, the patriot general Alexander McDougall wrote to Governor Clinton of New York of a suspected plot involving Robert Murray to help supply British troops in the city And Inclenberg was exempted from seizure by the British during their occupation. It is likely that Murray assumed the burden of exile because of the age of his father, who was to die two years after his son’s departure.25

In his Memoirs, Murray says he left New York for reasons of health and that Yorkshire was suggested by his doctor. But it seems odd that anyone would remove himself to Yorkshire for reasons of health, even on a temporary basis. Whatever its other virtues, Yorkshire does not have a great reputation for a salubrious climate. And Murray was not going to a spa, which might have provided some explanation. (In fact, an obituary of Murray after his death in 1826 says exposure to the Yorkshire air caused him to have ‘frequent and severe colds’.26)

Murray’s immediate feelings on arriving in Britain are summed up in a letter, ‘I knew that under this excellent government’, Murray wrote of Britain, ‘life, property, reputation, civil and religious liberty, are happily protected’. Presumably he felt that his life, property, reputation and liberty were not safe in America at this moment in history It is worth noting that while he lived in Britain, Murray retained American citizenship, which helped make it difficult for anyone to seize his property in New York.27

Retention of his American citizenship also signified a continuing fealty to his birthplace. In exile, the supposedly sickly Murray did not die until his 81st year. It is doubtful, however, if during his four decades in Britain he ever thought of himself as a Loyalist. Though the word was commonly used by those leaving America to describe themselves, Murray never uses it in his Memoirs or letters.

Although settling in London rather than York would have given Murray access to a larger Quaker community, as well as to the London headquartered branch of the family business, he probably wanted to distance himself from the often bitter and quarrelsome Loyalists who had settled in and around the capital. Murray never collected any funds given to Loyalists who lost businesses in America. Perhaps most important, Murray never displayed the Tory turn of mind that characterised most other American Loyalists.

Though undoubtedly smarting from his treatment in New York, Murray hewed to his Quaker and Enlightenment values. His world view during his British years is best described by a person who knew him well, his secretary Elizabeth Frank:

He was a friend of liberty, both civil and religious; a warm asserter of the just rights of men, and averse to despotic power, whether lodge in the hands of one, or of many; but at the same time, he was a friend of order, a strenuous supporter of good government, and opposed to all wild theories and useless innovation.28

In England Murray took up the life of a country gentleman, pursuing Quaker causes. In York in 1787, three years after his arrival, he published his first book, The power of religion on the mind in retirement, sickness and death (later retitled The power of religion on the mind in retirement, affliction and the approach of death). The first printing was 500 copies, paid for by Murray, and distributed to friends, but later the printing was shifted to a London publisher. The book went through more than 20 editions, and was translated into French.

The power of religion consists of vignettes of famous historical figures such as Confucius, Socrates, the Venerable Bede, Sir Walter Raleigh, Isaac Newton and John Locke, but also 18th-century figures such as Joseph Addison, Joseph Hervey and Baron Haller. It included frequent quotations from their writings or writings about them. The anthology format of The power of religion would soon reappear in Murray’s readers..29

In subsequent years, Murray published a few more titles of a religious nature. His first text book was his English Grammar, published in Britain in 1795. It was an immediate success. He became a sought-after textbook author, and the Grammar was followed, in 1797, by two Grammar exercise books -- English exercises and A key to the exercises -- and what was to be his very popular abridgement of the Grammar. In 1799, he published his English reader, an anthology, followed by two other readers in the next two years, and a spelling book in 1804. The speller, which was used to teach small children to read, the Introduction to the English reader, the English reader and Sequel to the English reader in effect formed a four-book series. Murray’s First book for children appeared in 1805 and the two readers in French followed over the next several years. A complete revision of the Grammar appeared in 1818. The number of textbook editions published in Britain totals 417. In addition, there were 49 editions of nine other religious or semi-religious titles.30

Though Murray was a successful author in Britain, it was in the United States that he had his largest sales. Every Murray textbook published in Britain was followed soon after by its appearance in America, the road considerably smoothed by the fact that American printers did not have to pay Murray any royalties.

The power of religion, published by the Quaker Joseph Crukshank in Philadelphia in 1790, was the first Murray title to appear in the United States. But Murray’s main publisher in the United States was to be another Quaker, Isaac Collins, a former associate of Crukshank. The first Murray volume published by Collins was an enlarged edition of The power of religion in Trenton, NJ, in 1795.

Collins, now established in New York, printed the Reader in 1799, the first Murray textbook published in the United States. John Murray, Lindley’s brother, who had been operating the family business in New York, had copyrighted both the Grammar and the Exercises in New York on 4th December, 1798.31 But Collins did not print the first New York Grammar until 1800, and the first New York Exercises not until 1801.

By 1801, the pace of Murray publications increased. In 1800 alone, 10 editions of Murray textbooks -- including the Abridgment, Grammar, Reader and Exercises -- had been printed in New York, Boston and Philadelphia.32 Almost immediately, Murray’s Grammar began to rival the established Grammar text, the second part of Noah Webster’s Grammatical institute of the English language.33 By 1810, the entire range of Murray’s textbooks was being published in nearly all the major cities of the United States. They were even available on the frontier. A Kentucky almanac printed in 1809 advertises the English reader, the Introduction, Sequel, Grammar, Abridgment, Exercises, Key and the Spelling-Book.34

From 1800 through 1849, Murray’s total published output in the United States was about 11m. copies. This makes Murray the second most widely published author in the United States in this period, after Noah Webster, whose total output by 1849 was about 15 million.35 (With the possible exception of the Bible, printings of such magnitude were approached in no other country at this period.) Adding in British sales of about 3m. copies, Murray’s total output of about 14m. copies puts him second only to Webster as the best-selling producer of single-author books in the English speaking world during the first half of the 19th century

In Britain, the Abridgment and Grammar proved the most popular of Murray’s titles. But it was the English reader that was by far his best-selling book in the United States. Murray’s volume first rivalled, then outdistanced, Caleb Bingham’s readers, The American preceptor and The Columbian orator. By 1803, Murray’s Reader was being published in Newark, New Jersey, and by 1805 in Brattleborough (now Brattleboro), Vermont and Newbern (now New Bern), North Carolina, a Quaker stronghold. The National Union Catalogue (NUC) lists 55 editions of the Reader by 1814.

But the years of glory for Murray’s Reader were from 1815 through 1836. It completely dominated the field, with 256 editions listed in the NUC. Its rivals were left in the dust. Caleb Bingham’s two readers plus his Child's companion total 37 NUC listings in this period. All 10 of the prolific Lyman Cobb’s readers and spellers issued from his first appearance as a textbook writer in 1830 through 1836 total 68 listings. Another rival, John Pierpont, has 31 listings for three reading texts from 1823 through 1836.

Some six and a half million copies of the Reader were sold in the United States, nearly all before 1850. The domination of Murray’s book was abruptly ended by the appearance of the McGuffey series of readers in 1836. With their large print, pictures and stories that appealed to children, they almost entirely replaced the English Reader in the next decade.36

It is ironic that, despite its success in the American market, the English reader does not contain a single selection by an American author. This did not escape the notice of Murray’s competitors. Here is a fulmination from Lyman Cobb, author of well known series such the Juvenile readers, the North American readers, and the New North American readers, whose books were being crushed by Murray’s Reader:

The English reader so largely used in our country does not contain a single piece or paragraph written by an American citizen. Is this good policy? Is it patriotism? Shall the children of this great nation compelled to read, year after year, none but the speeches and writings of men whose feelings and views are in direct opposition to our institutions and government?37

Cobb was not the only textbook writer to complain about Murray. John Pierpont and Joshua Leavitt did the same.

Among the opinions of subsequent commentators on the phenomenon of the English reader, the assumption of Ruth Miller Elson seems to be typical. ‘For physical and economic reasons’, she says, cultural independence took longer to achieve [than political] . . . . English books continued to be used well into the nineteenth century’.38

Thus, it is Elson’s assumption that the criticism of Lyman Cobb is correct, and that the content of the English reader was somehow philosophically ‘British’ as opposed to ‘American’. Both Lyman Cobb an Ruth Miller Elson were off the mark. The fact is that The English reader reflected a strain of civic humanist thought transmitted, as we shall see, through the Scottish Enlightenment, which was welcome, and already established, in the American intellectual landscape. That is an important reason why the Reader succeeded so well in the United States.

Given its success, it would be amazing if the opposite were the case, and that the English Reader contained any Tory ideas or Tory propaganda. If that were true, its rivals in the intensely competitive American textbook publishing world would have torn it to pieces. We have seen how Lyman Cobb fulminated, but the fact is that he was unable to point to any specific instances of anti-American content in the English Reader, and could only resort to unfair generalisations in attacking it.

The English Reader is an anthology of selections intended for children who have already learned to read. The book is divided into two parts, ‘Pieces in Prose’ and ‘Pieces in Poetry’, selected from prominent authors. More than two-thirds of the overall space is devoted to prose.

Perhaps the most notable thing about the book is what it does not contain. Though Lindley Murray may have been, in Elizabeth Franks phrase, ‘a friend of order’, there is not a breath, not a hint, of Tory political philosophy in the selections in the English reader. There is not a line of support for the British political system or the House of Hanover. There is absolutely no endorsement of the class system and not a single slighting reference to the lower classes. Indeed, the wealthy and powerful are seen in selections where they appear as villains or unhappy people, not persons to be in any way admired.

Twenty-five of the 81 prose selections in the Reader have civic humanist/Enlightenment themes, such as the abuse of power by tyrants, kings and corrupt public servants; the power of the individual against tyranny; the natural equality of persons under Providence; the importance of individual liberty in lifting servility and subjugation; the importance of equal justice for all; the importance of integrity and ‘zealousness for the public interest’; the ability of a simple citizen to become a virtuous ruled.39

The thrust of the argument is best seen in an accumulation of examples from the Reader. But a typical instance is Cicero’s oration against Verres, where he condemns Verres for being a corrupt public servant and ignoring the rights of the citizenry: ’O liberty! -- O sound once delightful to every Roman ear! -- once sacred -- now trampled upon!’ Another selection, from David Hume’s History of England, is the story of the accomplished Lady Jane Grey, cruelly put to death by Bloody Mary. Yet another is the speech of Adherbal to the Roman Senate, taken from the Roman historian Sallust, which condemns the violence and cruelty of tyrannical kingship. Along with numerous similar stories in the English reader, the message is clear: irresponsible monarchical and tyrannical power is brought into question.40

Among the authors that Murray included in the Reader are Addison (nine selections), Goldsmith (six selections) and Dr. Johnson (three selections). Addison and Goldsmith were frequently included in other English school reader anthologies of the last quarter of the 18th century. 3 But the great majority of the authors selected were from the loose grouping called the Commonwealthmen, a collection of 18th-century Whigs, republicans, reformers, Nonconformists, political dissidents and supporters of the American colonies who exerted a great influence on the thinking of the people who wrote the Declaration of Independence and made the American Revolution.

Among the most important of the Commonwealthmen were the writers and scholars we associate with the Scottish Enlightenment. Scottish Enlightenment figures, including David Hume, John Home, James Beattie and William Robertson, are all represented in the English reader. (Hume reprimanded the Commonwealth Whigs in his History of England, but Robbins includes him with the Commonwealthmen because ‘he insisted that government may be changed as the good of society I demands’ and because of ‘his skepticism about royal prerogatives’. 41)

The largest single contributor to the English reader, with 36 of the books 81 prose selections -- 44 percent of the total -- is another Scottish Enlightenment figure, the Rev. Hugh Blair, a literary man, renowned preacher and Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the University of Edinburgh. Blair provides an important insight on Lindley Murray’s world view. 42

Blair became widely known after he was appointed preacher at the High Kirk of St. Giles, the seat of the Church of Scotland in Edinburgh. He had been a member of the Moderate party in the Church of Scotland, which had defeated the conservatives, the Calvinist so-called High Flyers, and had taken control of the Church’s General Assembly.43

With the support of Dr. Samuel Johnson, the first volume of Blair’s sermons was published in 1777. They were an immediate success and over the next years, until his death at the end of 1800, Blair published another four volumes, all to acclaim and good sales. Blair’s sermons, says David Daiches, ‘spoke for a humane Christianity with an emphasis on the good heart and good works’.44 It was these sermons, steeped in the anti-Calvinist sentiments of Scottish humanism, that Lindley Murray mined for the selections in the English reader.

The thought of Hugh Blair, transmitted through the numerous excerpts in the Reader, fits into the American intellectual landscape of the era in another manner. A great influence on Blair’s approach to the world was Francis Hutcheson, frequently credited with launching the Scottish Enlightenment with his 1725 book Inquiry into the original of our ideas of beauty and virtue. ‘Moral goodness’, says Hutcheson, ‘denotes an idea of some quality, apprehended in actions, which procures approbation and love toward the actor from those who receive no advantage by the action. Moral evil denotes an idea of contrary quality.45

That cast of thought seems to be central to Lindley Murray’s method as auteur of the English reader. In his selections, Murray wants to edify the reader by presenting good actions and paeans to virtue, and to juxtapose them against bad actions and examples of vanity, folly, pride, lust for power, and so forth. There is also much praise for the concept of virtue itself, set in no particular religious context or in a mildly Christian, non-Calvinist context, which also fits well with the developing strain of Unitarianism and liberal Protestantism in America.

This ‘moral sense’ point of view is also linked to the promotion of genteel culture, another goal of the creators of the Scottish Enlightenment. The establishment of genteel culture was also a great concern of many Americans in the 18th century, and in the 19th, particularly at a time when the English reader was at its most influential.46

In the spectrum of thought of the Scottish Enlightenment, Blair’s position emphasised the uplifting possibilities of literature and the creation (replacing the dictates of Calvinism) of ‘good taste and the polite style’. Blair put forth this view most forcefully in his influential Lectures on rhetoric and belles lettres (1783). Here, according to one authority, ‘Blair subordinates rhetoric in its classical sense of political discourse to the study of polite literature’, thus avoiding ‘the controversies of contemporary politics’47

So Blair provided the perfect exemplar for Lindley Murray, wrestling as he was with bitter exile from his birthplace, while trying to remain faithful to the ideals of his Quaker heritage and of civic humanism. On the one hand, Blair epitomises Murray’s view of what was best in Enlightenment/civic humanist thought. On the other hand, Blair’s literary approach side-steps the framing of civic-humanist concerns in the bald political terms employed by those who made the American Revolution and caused Murray’s exile.

It is the strong reliance on Blair and the Scottish humanists that really distinguishes Murray’s Reader from its competitors in the British textbook market. And it is precisely this Scottish Enlightenment orientation that made the book so acceptable in America.

Murray took a lively interest in the fate of his books in the United States. A letter at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass., from Murray to the famous Worcester printer Isaiah Thomas, commenting on a Thomas edition of the Abridgement, displays this involvement. Murray tells Thomas he has sent a copy of a new, improved English edition and asks in underlined script that reprinting be done ‘without any alterations’.48

In fact, Murray in general retained a close emotional attachment to his native country. A visitor to the Murrays in 1819 commented that, though it was 34 years since they had left New York, ‘their feelings are still American’.49 And Elizabeth Frank’s judgment is that, ‘He was a true patriot. America, his native land, the abode of his relations, and his own, during a great part of his life, was dear to him’.50 Throughout his life in England, Murray kept in touch with family and fellow Friends in New York and Philadelphia, and in his will he left $30,500 to establish a fund for good works in America, which still operates today out of New York 51

We may summarise the central argument of this paper by noting that Henry E. May distinguishes four overlapping periods of Enlightenment thought in America. These are: (1) The Moderate Enlightenment (1688-1787), beginning with Newton and Locke, and preaching balance, order and religious compromise; (2) the sceptical Enlightenment (1750-1789), whose ‘grand master is Voltaire’, but also includes Hume; (3) the Revolutionary Enlightenment, which started with Rousseau and culminated with Thomas Paine and William Godwin; and (4) the didactic Enlightenment (1800-1815), centred in Scotland, which believed in an ‘intelligible universe, clear and certain moral judgements and progress’.52

Using this outline as a kind of grid, and based on what I have established about Murray’s upbringing, I would like to suggest that he was raised in the first and second of these Enlightenment periods, and was an important contributor to the establishment of the fourth period of the Enlightenment in 19th-century America.

By May’s observation, quoted earlier, about the ‘clusters of ideas’ prevalent in America in the 18th century, Lindley Murray as a Quaker was almost by definition raised in the moderate Enlightenment. But, as I have shown, his passionate desire to learn French and his use of French Enlightenment authors in his readers also points to his involvement with what May calls the skeptical Enlightenment.

What is not in the realm of speculation is Murray’s connection with the fourth of Henry May’s Enlightenment periods -- the didactic, or Scottish, Enlightenment. Indeed, through the English reader, Murray became the important populariser of Scottish Enlightenment ideas in America. The English reader so dominated the market in America that it seems likely the majority of northern American adults who reached their fortieth year from 1845 through 1866 -- the generation that pursued the Civil War -- were raised on selections from the English reader. In the figures on reading texts quoted above, Murray’s sales were more than double those of his three nearest competitors during the years when this generation was in school. One of those students was Abraham Lincoln, who called the Reader ‘the best schoolbook ever put in the hands of an American youth,’.53

The English reader provides a clear link between the thought of mid-19th-century Americans and the Scottish Enlightenment of a century or more before. Its civic-humanist sentiments certainly must have played a role in Lincoln’s admiration of the book. And indeed, it has been suggested that Murray’s Reader, with its immense circulation, was instrumental in preparing Americans for the anti-slavery message of the Abolitionists,54 a message deeply imbedded in the philosophy of those who influenced Lindley Murray most: the Society of Friends, the writers of the French Enlightenment, and the men of Scottish humanism.


1. Murray Memoirs, p. 3; Egle, Pennsylvania Geneaologies, pp. 526-527; Murray, Sarah In Olden Time, pp 1-2.

2. Lindley History of the Lindley-Lindley-Lindley Families, pp. 317, 320; Tolles Meeting House and Counting House, pp 98-99, 100: note 35.

3. Lindley History, pp. 317, 320; Tully William Penn’s Legacy, pp. 177-180.

4. Egle Pennsylvannia Genealogies, p. 526.

5. Murray In Olden Time, p. 2.

6. Jensen Maritime Commerce of Colonial Pennsylvania, p. 89; Sheperd and Walton Shippping, Maritime Trade and the Economic Development of Colonial North America, p. 45.

7. Barret The Old Merchants, I: p. 289; Harrington New York Merchant, p. 155; Weyman’s New-York Gazette 25/06/1759, 3/12/1759, 14/1/1760/, 15/9/1760; the usually meticulous Virginia Harrington is wrong (p. 51) in saying that Robert Murray had no partners; however, the Murray and Pearsal advertisement in the Gazette on 15/9/1760 was the last one in that paper for the partnership. On 23/1/1761, Pearsall advertised on his own in the Gazette from the old store facing Burling’s Slip. Later, Robert Murray joined with a London merchant to form Murray & Sansom, a firm that lasted into the 19th century.

8. Lamb History of the City of New York, Vol. II, p. 123.

9. Murray In Olden Time, pp. 4-5; Goodwin Historic New York, p. 371; Lindly History, pp. 333-5.

10. Dictionary of American Biography (DAB), Vol. VII, p. 365; Scribner’s Monthly, XI (February 1876), p. 466; Murray In Olden Time, p. 8.

11. Murray In Olden Time, p. 5; Wadsworth ‘Sketch of the Colden and Murray families’, p. 29; Alice Colden Wadsworth was the grand-daughter of Lindley Murray’s sister, Susan.

12. Memoirs of Lindley Murray, pp. 10, 16.

13. May Enlightenment in America, pp. xi-xiii.

14. Tolles Meeting House, pp. 116-7.

15. Ibid., p. 247; Bridenbaugh Early Americans, p. 151.

16. Murray Sequel, p. 313.

17. Memoirs pp. 19-20.

18. Hampson The Enlightenment, p. 288; Smith Historical Memoirs, pp. 208-244.

19. Voltaire Letters concerning the English Nation, pp. 1-34; Gay The Enlightenment, I, pp. 377-8; also see Kraus Atlantic Civilization (p. 93) on the importation of French works by American booksellers.

20. Clive and Bailyn ‘England’s Cultural Provinces’; Monaghan John Jay, p. 39; New York Mercury, 30/12/1771.

21. Murray, Memoirs, p. 43; Sabine, Biographical Sketches, II, pp. 112-115, 560.

22. Stokes New York, p. 75.

23. Murray Memoirs, pp. 51-60.

24. Spaulding New York in the Critical Period, p. 12; Flick Loyalism in New York, p. 12; Van Tyne Loyalists in the American Revolution, pp. 275-278.

25. New York Journal, 23/03/1775, 06/04/1775; Murray Memoirs, p. 43, Robert Murray in DAB, Vol. VII, p. 367.

26. Murray Memoirs, pp. 62-3, 68-70; The Gentleman’s Magazine, XCVI, part the first (1826), pp. 182-3.

27. Quoted in Malcolm Thomas’s ‘Foreword’ to Allott Lindley Murray, p. ix; Allott Lindley Murray pp. 48-49.

28. Murray Memoirs, p. 225.

29. Smith Friends’ Books, pp. 192-4; Murray Power of Religion, passim.

30. Smith Friends’ Books, pp.192-208. On American royalties see Nietz Old Textbooks, p. 67 Allott Lindley Murray, p. 49.

31. Gilreath Federal Copyright Records, p. 110

32. Shipton and Mooney National Index, 1, p. 547.

33. Monaghan A Common Heritage, p. 55; Webster attacks Murray’s Grammar in an ‘Advertisement’ at the front of his American Dictionary.

34. Sharp Kentucky Almanac, back cover. I am grateful to Jeffrey A. Douglas of the Seymour Library of Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois, for this reference.

35. Monaghan A Common Heritage, pp. 227-9, 233 n.1.

36. Monaghan, ‘Lindley Murray, American’.

37. Cobb Fifth Reading Book, pp. v-vi.

38. Elson Guardians, p. 6.

39. The prose selections in the English reader that I believe to have civic-humanist themes are: Chapter II, Sections 1, 2, 3, 5; Chapter III, Sections 1,4,9, 11, 12; Chapter IV, Section 5; Chapter V, Sections 12, 13; Chapter VI, Sections 1,2,4; Chapter VII, Section 2; Chapter XI, Sections 1,2,3,4; Chapter X, Sections 12, 14, 23, 25.

40. Murray English Reader, pp. 33-7, 153-7, 180-1.

41. Robbins, Commonwealthmen, passim.

42. Schmitz, Hugh Blair, passim.

43. Sloan, Scottish Enlightenment, pp. 12-13.

44. Daiches Hotbed of Genius, p. 13.

45. Quoted in Wills Inventing America, p. 19; Blair wrote a long article on Hutcheson for the Edinburgh Review (see Schmitz, Hugh Blair, p. 27).

46. Sloan Scottish Enlightenment, pp. 12-13.

47. Miller, ‘Witherspoon, Blair and civic humanism’, pp. 105-6, 108.

48. Murray, Letter to Isaiah Thomas.

49. Allott Lindley Murray, p. 42.

50. Murray Memoirs, p. 224.

51. Allott, Lindley Murray, pp. 44, 48, 50.

52. May, Enlightenment in America, p. xvi.

53. Herndon and Weik, Lincoln, Vol. I, p. 189.

54. Kraus, Atlantic Civilization, pp. 69, 154; Kraus ‘Slavery reform in the eighteenth century’, p. 65.


Allott, Stephen Lindley Murray, 1745-1826: Quaker Grammarian Foreword by Malcolm Thomas (York: Sessions Book Trust, 1991).

Barrett, Walter The Old Merchants of New York City, 2nd ed. (New York: Worthington & Co., 1889).

Belok, Michael Forming the American Mind: Early School-books and their Compilers 1783-1837 (Moti-Katra, India: Agra V-P, 1973).

Bridenbaugh, Carl Early Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981).

Clive, John and Bailyn, Bernard, ‘England’s cultural provinces: Scotland and America’. William and Mary Quarterly, 11 (2) (April, 1954).

Cobb, Lyman Cobb's New NorthAmerican Reader, or Fifth Reading Book (New York: Caleb Bartlett, 1844).

Dalches, David et al. (eds) A Hotbed of Genius: The Scottish Enlightenment, 1730-1790 (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1986).

Dictionary of American Biography (New York: Charles Scribner’s, 1934).

Egle, William Henry Pennsylvania Genealogies (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Co., 1896).

Elson, Ruth Miller Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century (Lincoln, NE: Nebraska University Press, 1964).

Flick, Alexander C. Loyalism in New York (New York: Columbia University Press, 1901).

Gay, Peter The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Vol. 1: The Rise of Modern Paganism (New York: W. W. Norton, 1977).

Gentleman’s Magazine, 1826.

Gilreath, James (ed.) Federal Copyright Records: 1790-1800, compiled by Elizabeth Carter Wills (Washington, DC: Library of Congress, 1987).

Goodwin, Maud Miller, Royce, Alice Carrington, and Putnam, Ruth (eds) Historic New York (New York: Putnam, 1898).

Hampson, Norman The Enlightenment: An Evaluation of its Assumptions, Attitudes and Values (New York: Penguin Books, 1982).

Harrington, Virginia D. The New York Merchant on the Eve of the Revolution (New York: Columbia University Press, 1935).

Herndon, William H. and Weik, Jesse W. Abraham Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life (New York: D. Appleton, 1892).

Jensen, Arthur L. The Maritime Commerce of Colonial Pennsylvania (Madison, WI: State Historical Society of Wisconsin for the Department of History, University of Wisconsin, 1963).

Kraus, Michael The Atlantic Civilization: Eighteenth Century Origins (New York: Russell and Russell, 1961).

Kraus, Michael ‘Slavery reform in the eighteenth century: An aspect of trans-Atlantic intellectual cooperation’. Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, LX (I) (January, 1936), pp. 53-66.

Lamb, Martha J. History of the City of New York: Its Origin, Rise and Progress (New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 2 vols., 1877).

Lindly, John M. The History of the Lindley-Lindsley-Linsley Families in America (Winfield, IA: Published by the author, 1924).

May, Henry F The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).

Michael, Ian The Teaching of English: From the Sixteenth Century to 1870 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).

Miller, Thomas R, ‘Witherspoon, Blair and civic humanism’. In Sher, Richard B. and Smitten, Jeffrey (eds), Scotland and America in the Age of the Enlightenment (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press).

Monaghan, Charles, ‘Lindley Murray, American’. In Tieken-Boon von Ostade, Ingrid (ed.), 200 Years of Lindley Murray's Grammar (Münster: Nodus, 1996).

Monaghan, E. Jennifer A Common Heritage: Noah Webster's Blue-Back Speller (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1983).

Monaghan, Frank John Jay: Defender of Liberty (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1935).

Murray, Lindley The English reader: or, pieces in prose and poetry, selected from the best writers, designed to assist young persons to read with propriety and effect; to improve their language and sentiments; and to inculcate some of the most important principles of piety and virtue. With a few preliminary observations on the principles of good reading. Second edition, corrected. (London: T N. Longman and O. Rees, and Wilson, Spence and Mawman, York, 1799).

Murray, Lindley Introduction au lecteur françois; ou recueil des pièces choisis; avec l'explication des idiotismes et des phrases difficiles, qui s'y trouvent (New-York: Collins & Perkins, 1807).

Murray, Lindley Lecteur françois ou recueil de pi de pièces en prose et en vers, tirées des meilleurs écrivains. Pour servir a perfectionner les jeunes gens dans la lecture; à étendre leur connaissance de la langue françoise; et à leur inculquer des principes de vertu et de piété (Londres: Longman et Rees et Darton et Harvey, et Wilson et Spence, York, 1802).

Murray, Lindley, MS letter to Isaiah Thomas (1806) Isaiah Thomas Papers, American Antiquarian Society.

Memoirs of the Life and Writing of Lindley Murray: in a series of letters, written by himself. With a preface, and a continuation of the memoirs, by Elizabeth Frank (York, 1826).

Murray, Lindley The power of religion on the mind, in retirement, affliction and at the approach of death (New York: Trustees of the Residuary Estate of Lindley Murray, 1838).

Murray, Lindley Sequel to the English Reader, or elegant selections in prose and poetry designed to improve the highest class of learners, in reading; to establish a taste for just and accurate composition; and to promote the interests of piety and virtue (New-York: Collins and Perkins, 1808).

Murray, Sarah In the Olden Time: A Short History of the Descendants of John Murray the Good (New York: Steftner, Lambert & Go., 1894).

New York Mercury, 30/12/1771.

New York Journal, 23/03/1775, 6/04/1775.

Nietz, John Old Textbooks (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1961).

Robbins, Caroline The Eighteenth Century Commonwealthman: Studies in the Transmission, Development, and Circumstance of English Liberal Thought from the Restoration of Charles II until the War with the Thirteen Colonies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959)

Sabine, Lorenzo Biographical Sketches of Loyalists of the American Revolution, 2 vols., 1864 (Port Washington, NY: Kennicat Press, rpt., 1966).

Schmitz, Robert Morell Hugh Blair (New York: King's Crown Press, 1948).

Scribner's Monthly, New York, XI (4), 02/1876.

Sharp, Joshua Johnson & Warner's Kentucky Almanac . . . 1810 (Lexington, KY: Johnson & Warner, 1809).

Shepherd, James F. and Walton, Gary Shipping, Maritime Trade and the Economic Development of Colonial North America (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972).

Shipton, Clifford K. and Mooney, James E. National Index of American Imprints through 1800: The Short-title Evans (Worcester, MA: American Antiquarian Society and Barre Publishers, 2 vols., 1969).

Sloan, Douglas The Scottish Enlightenment and the American College Ideal (New York: Teachers College Press, 1971).

Smith, Joseph Descriptive Catalogue of Friends' Books (London: Joseph Smith, 1867).

Smith, William Historical Memoirs: 1778-1783 (New York, rpt., Arno Press, 1971).

Spaulding, E. Wilder New York in the Critical Period 1783-1789 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932).

Stokes, I. N. R New York Past and Present: Its History and Landmarks, 1524-1939 (New York: New York Historical Society, 1939).

Tolles, Frederick B. Meeting House and Counting House: The Quaker Merchants of Colonial Philadelphia (New York: W. W. Norton, 1948).

Tully, Alan William Penn's Legacy: Politics and Social Structure in Provincial Pennsylvania (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977).

Van Tyne, Claude Halstead Loyalists in the American Revolution (New York: Peter Smith, 1902).

Voltaire, Francis de Letters concerning the English Nation (London: C. Davis and A. Lyon, 1733).

Wadsworth, Alice Colden ‘Sketch of the Colden and Murray Families’ 1819 MS, Ford Collection, New York Public Library.

Webster, Noah An American Dictionary of the English Language (New York: S. Converse, 2 vols., 1828).

Weyman’s New York Gazette, 25/06/1759, 3/12/1759. 14/1/1760. 15/9/1760, 23/2/1761.

Wills, Garry Inventing America (Garden City NY: Doubleday, 1978).

Wood, Gordon S. The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York: Vintage Books, 1992).

[This paper was first given at the York Colloquium. Ed.)


Paradigm Catalogue Textbook Colloquium