"The Right Honourable and Reverend Francis Henry, Earl of Bridgewater, died in the month of February, 1829 ; and, by his last will and testament, bearing date the 25th of February, 1825, he directed certain Trustees therein named, to invest in the public funds the sum of eight thousand pounds sterling ; this sum, with the accruing dividends thereon," to be held at the disposal of the President, for the time being, of the Royal Society of London, to be paid to the person or persons nominated by him. The testator further directed, that the person or persons selected by the said President should be appointed to write, print, and publish, one thousand copies of a work 'On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation ;' illustrating such work by all reasonable arguments, as, for instance, the variety and formation of God's creatures in the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms ; the effect of digestion, and thereby of conversion ; the construction of the hand of man, and an infinite variety of other arguments : as also by discoveries, ancient and modern, in arts, sciences, and the whole extent of literature. He desired, moreover, that the profits arising from the sale of the works so published should be paid to the authors of the works.

The late President of the Royal Society, Davies Gilbert, Esq., requested the assistance of his Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of the Bishop of London, in determining upon the best mode of carrying into effect the intentions of the testator. Acting with their advice, and with the concurrence of a nobleman immediately connected with the deceased, Mr. Davies Gilbert appointed eight gentlemen to write separate Treatises on the different branches of the subject."

[The President of the Royal Society of London was entrusted to make the will a reality. The inspiration for the project was William Paley's Natural Theology; or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802). The Bridgewater treatises represent the state of safe, orthodox, science in early Victorian Britain. However, the volumes were too expensive to sell very widely and hence their effects were limited.]

The Treatises:

Treatise I, by Thomas Chalmers. The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Constitution of Man. 2 vols.

Treatise II, by John Kidd, On the Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Condition of Man.

Treatise III, by William Whewell. On Astronomy and General Physics.

Treatise IV, by Charles Bell. The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design. [discussion]

Treatise V, by Peter Mark Roget. Animal and Vegetable Physiology Considered with Reference to Natural Theology. 2 vols.

Treatise VI, by William Buckland. Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology. 2 vols.

Treatise VII, by William Kirby. On the History Habits and Instincts of Animals. 2 vols.

Treatise VIII, by William Prout. Chemistry, Meteorology, and the Function of Digestion.

Further reading

Robson, John. "The Fiat and Finger of God: The Bridgewater Treatises," in Richard J. Helmstadter and Bernard Lightman, eds., Victorian Faith in Crisis: Essays on Continuity and Change in Nineteenth-Century Religious Belief. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1990, pp. 71-125.

Topham, J. "Beyond the "common context": the production and reading of the Bridgewater Treatises." Isis 89 (1998): 233-62.

Topham, J. "Science and Popular Education in the 1830s: The Role of the Bridgewater Treatises." British Journal for the History of Science 25 (1992): 397-430.

Created 2000

Last modified 24 March 2023