This essay reopens the case of two identically titled works that appeared within twelve months of each other, a preface and poem by John Dryden (1682) and a philosophical treatise by Charles Blount (1683). It argues that the latter was written before the former and not by Blount but by the founder of modern deism, Lord Herbert of Cherbury. It further argues that both Blount and Dryden were aware of Herbert’s English manuscript of Religio Laici before 1682. Dryden wrote his Religio Laici in a hurry to preempt the deists’ Religio Laici; Blount then used Dryden’s poem to avoid censorship, masking the first English manifesto of deism as an adulatory letter to Dryden. This argument solves several long-standing problems in the interpretation of Dryden’s poem and in the historiography of early English deism.
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Michael B. Prince; Religio Laici V. Religio Laici: Dryden, Blount, and the Origin of English Deism. Modern Language Quarterly 1 March 2013; 74 (1): 29–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00267929-1892717
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