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Conyers Middleton

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MIDDLETON, CONYERS (1683-175o), English divine, was born at Richmond, Yorks., on Dec. 27, 1683. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, took orders, and in 1706 ob tained a fellowship, which he soon resigned. In 1717 a dispute with Richard Bentley, who had demanded a large fee on Middle ton's being created D.D., involved him in an acrimonious contro versy. He wrote "Remarks" and "Further Remarks" on Bentley's Proposals for a New Edition of the Greek Testament. In 1723 he was involved in a lawsuit by personalities against Bentley, which had found their way into his otherwise judicious tract on library administration, The Present State of Trinity College ( 719) , writ ten on the occasion of his appointment as university librarian. Observations made during a visit to Italy on the pagan origin of church ceremonies and beliefs were embodied in his Letter from Rome, showing an exact Conformity between Popery and Pagan ism (1729). This tract probably contributed to the storm which broke out on his next publication (1731). In his remonstrance with Daniel Waterland on occasion of the latter's reply to Mat thew Tindal's Christianity as Old as the Creation, Middleton laid himself open to the charge of latitudinarianism. He was hotly assailed from many quarters, and retreated with some difficulty under cover of a sheaf of apologetic pamphlets and a more regular attendance at church. His next important work, a Life of Cicero

(1741), enhanced his reputation at the time, but was in fact largely borrowed from William Bellenden's, De tribus luminibus Romanorum. His chief writings are the Introductory Discourse (1747) and the Free Inquiry (1748) "concerning the miraculous powers which are supposed to have subsisted in the church from the earliest ages." Middleton showed that ecclesiastical miracles must be accepted or rejected in the mass; and he distinguished between the authority due to the early fathers' testimony to the beliefs and practices of their times, and their very slender credi bility as witnesses to matters of fact. On July 28, 1750, he died at Hildersham, near Cambridge.

The character of Middleton's intellect was captious and icono clastic, but redeemed from mere negation by a passion for abstract truth. His diction is generally masculine and harmonious. Pope thought him and Nathaniel Hooke the younger, the only prose writers of the day who deserved to be cited as authorities on the language.

See Sir Leslie Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century (1876). His works, containing several posthumous tracts, but not including the Life of Cicero, appeared in 4 vols. in 1752 (5 vols. 1755).