Religion in the Age of Enlightenment


David B. Paxman


Conduct, mentor, Thomas Fuller


Thomas Fuller's Directions, Counsels and Cautions, Tending to Prudent Management of Affairs in Common Life (London, 1725) gives its audience of young readers 1,761 axioms of conduct. Later editions swelled the number to 3,152. Fuller's phrase "prudent management" seems ironic: no one could possibly remember so many points of advice, much less apply them in an orderly way. This book exemplifies a tendency that may deserve notice. In the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, guidance on virtue and goodness, in one sense a simple and unified project, tends to fragment into levels of multiplicity that outstrip the ability of basic principles to encompass them. The proliferating tendency betrays two kinds of anxieties. The increase in conduct and advice books signals a concern that the young are being left alone at a crucial time in their moral development-that they lack living mentors to guide them in developing moral maturity and independence. Second, the multiplicity of advice contained in these books suggests that the era's mentors were haunted by questions about their self-appointed task: Can young people be left to develop virtuous character on their own, or must they be taught? If they must be taught, can a writer-mentor accomplish the task when living mentors are lacking? Is the virtue the young must develop homologous with the virtue of the mentor? Can such a mentor help youth, who have their own minds, opinions, desires, and moral agency, to develop character that is adequate to their own situations and decisions, even when these might be unanticipated by the mentor?