London: Printed by W.B. for Robert Knaplock…, 1719. First edition. Decorative woodcut head- and tail-pieces, and initial letters. Intermittent dampstain at top margin, contemporary ownership signature on title-page. A good copy. Contemporary calf, rebacked to style, with burgundy morocco label. Octavo. , 512 pp. Item #12972
John Leng (1665-1727) was Bishop of Norwich and an admired Latin scholar. He was educated at St Catharine's College, Cambridge, where he subsequently became a fellow. In 1695 he published an edition of Aristophanes' Plutus and Clouds with a Latin translation, and in 1701 he edited the magnificent Cambridge edition of Terence, adding a dissertation on the meters of the author. He also published a revised edition of Sir Roger L'Estrange's translation of Cicero's De officiis. In 1717, he was invited to give the Robert Boyle Lectures, which are published here. Though he published other sermons, the present work is his major theological work. “…[These sermons] constitute on the whole an orthodox attack on deism. Leng argues extensively for the reality of miracles and the incoherence of materialism. Miracles are performed by both God and lesser spirits—including evil spirits, he contends. Consequently, in order to stave off temptation and to meet their moral obligations, humans need to distinguish between divine and diabolical miracles. Leng’s arguments against materialism include the claim that materialists are unable to account for moral obligation. If thought is the modification of matter, it is subject solely to mechanical laws, and cannot therefore be voluntary. With no voluntary thought or action, no obligation obtains. Materialism thus cannot distinguish between ‘an abstracted Reason inducing, and a bodily Impulse forcing us to do this or that’ (p. 73)” (Dictionary of Eighteenth-Century British Philosophers).