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The Life - Robert Molesworth, An Account of Denmark, With Francogallia and Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor 
An Account of Denmark, With Francogallia and Some Considerations for the Promoting of Agriculture and Employing the Poor, Edited and with an Introduction by Justin Champion (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2011).
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For Molesworth, associated as he was with many of the leading political figures of the period, his political career promised more than it achieved. Concerned with principle as much as place, Molesworth was never cautious about advancing either his own opinions or abilities, or (later) those of his sons, to the ministers and even kings of the day.
Outspoken against political and religious corruption, Molesworth was rewarded with a measure of recognition after 1714 by the Hanoverian regime, only (as he saw it) to be thrust into opposition by corrupt men after the debacle of the South Sea Bubble. It is a measure of his charisma and vitality of commitment that as a man in his late sixties he was considered by others, and indeed considered himself, a suitable candidate for contesting the parliamentary seat of Westminster in 1722.
Molesworth was not a lone commonwealthman but gathered a circle of like-minded men into his milieu. The most notorious of these was John Toland, with whom he had been acquainted since the early 1700s.15 Like many of his relationships, this connection, although driven primarily by political ambition, also had literary dimensions. While Molesworth hoped to persuade his friend to collaborate on a “history of the late wars,” Toland had certainy seen a now lost work of Molesworth’s resembling “so nearly Cicero’s de respublica.”;16
Molesworth moved freely in circles of political influence and sociability in Dublin, London, and Yorkshire. His surviving correspondence with men like Shaftesbury, Godolphin, and William King allows a detailed reconstruction of this political life. Molesworth’s correspondence also gives an intimate and at times touching account of his family life and political connections.17 His involvement with diplomatic and political circles is manifest, while his continual disappointment at the conduct of leading ministers, the missed opportunities for personal advancement, and the cost of promoting himself and his sons are persistent themes. At times all these themes merged, as he noted in November 1695: “My election, if I carry it, will cost me sauce, so that we must endeavour to make it up by good husbandry.”18
Insight into his self-esteem and political commitments is unparalleled. As he wrote to Mrs. Molesworth in September 1712, he managed to combine a reflection on the death of his friend Godolphin with remarks about his own continual disappointment not to be called to great office: “My dear Lord Godolphin is dead! The greatest man in the whole world for honesty, capacity, courage, friendship, generosity, is gone: my best friend is gone! As if my friendship were fatal to all that ever take it up for me. So now there is another great article to be added to the misfortunes of my family this year, which indeed are insupportable. This great patriot could not survive the liberties of his country, whilst I like a wretch, am like to live a slave, and have reared up children to no better an end.”19
His letters deliver (among many other topics of the day) commentaries on the Peace of 1711, the South Sea Bubble, the conduct of the High Church faction in Convocation, and, interestingly, drafts of his position in regard to the issue of Irish independency in 1719.20 Molesworth’s persistent parliamentary defense of liberty and the Hanoverian succession was associated with a formal political thought premised on the vindication of liberty and a profoundly anticlerical commitment to religious toleration. It shows that Molesworth was a man driven not just by political commitments and opportunities for agricultural improvement but also by the life of the mind. Although his collaborative reading with Toland is evidence enough of this, his archive also contains glimpses of a broader intellectual culture that saw Molesworth at the center of a community involved in the circulation of scribal works.21
After Toland’s death, when Molesworth withdrew from the mainstream of national politics, he became the focus of another circle of younger thinkers and writers. Unfortunately, no records of Molesworth’s library or book purchases survive, but there is some evidence to suggest that Molesworth encouraged reading and learning in his own household. His daughter Lettice noted that her child “Little Missy” was learning to spell as a precondition for reading: “I take all possible care of her eyes and hold her books as you desired.”22
That Molesworth had encouraged his daughters as well as sons into commerce with books and learning is clear from the life and work of his daughter Mary Monck (1677–1715), whose poems were posthumously published in 1716 and edited by her father. Marinda: Poems and translationsupon several occasions [by Mary Monck] was published in London by Jacob Tonson. The work was dedicated to Caroline, Princess of Wales, and included a long preface written by Molesworth underscoring his commitment to the education of women. This in itself is a significant elaboration of the position developed by Toland in his Letters to Serena (1704), dedicated to the Queen of Prussia. Molesworth made this connection explicit when he applauded Caroline’s “frequent and intimate conversation with that incomparable princess, the late Electress Sophia, and your indefatigable Reading the best books in all the modern languages.”23
Molesworth presented his deceased daughter’s work to the new court as a product worthy of public emulation for its liberty, honor, and virtue. Mary’s poems were the result of her reading in a “good library.” Spending her leisure hours reading, this gentlewoman had acquired several languages and “the good morals and principles contain’d in those books, so as to put them in practice.” Some of Mary’s work was already in scribal circulation through the agency of the young Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, but this impressive volume (with parallel pages of the original text and an English translation) broadcast her learning to a wider audience, and, most important, was framed within the political languages of liberty and what Molesworth called “the Good Old English Customs.”
The importance of good reading and a virtuous education in the principles of liberty and true religion (rather than bigotry and superstition) underlay much of Molesworth’s political commitment to the reform of the universities after 1716. This commitment took an even more academic turn in late 1722, when Molesworth became involved in the affairs of the University of Glasgow, where he had been appointed Rector by popular assent of a clique of radical students. One correspondent, William Wishart, writing in October 1713, applauded Molesworth for his role in “the dawnings of a revival of ancient virtue and the love of true liberty.”24 Holding up the model of Molesworth’s preface to the Account of Denmark, which distinguished the educational principles of philosophy and priestcraft, Wishart bewailed the fact that “the abettors of savage zeal, fierce bigotry and dire superstition have the advantages of those corrupt passions and inveterate prejudices of men’s minds to favour their designs.”25
The anticlericalism of this correspondence was profound: in a later letter George Turnbull condemned the “proud domineering pedantic priests, whose interest it is to train up the youth in a profound veneration to their sensible metaphysical creeds and catechisms.”26 Such tuition was not only bewildering but was also “admirably fitted . . . indeed to enslave young understandings and to beget an early antipathy against all free thought.”27 Both Wishart and James Arbuckle acknowledged that they had read Molesworth’s work on Denmark and “Cato’s letters,” but they also made inquiry about suitable further reading.28
Molesworth not only recommended books but even sent copies of his own works. As George Turnbull wrote, “There is nothing I would be prouder of than to have your works in my library ex dono the worthy author.”29 Molesworth offered detailed directions toward further reading. William Wishart in passing his thanks to the older man explained what he had done with his “excellent instructions.” He started by reading Buchanan’s De jure regni apud Scotos, which gave him excellent notions “of the nature and design of government and the just boundaries of it,” describing the beautiful lineaments of a good king and the ghastly picture of a tyrant. This was followed by reading Machiavelli on Livy, “by which I have received a great deal of light into the true principles of politics.” The final books recommended by Molesworth were Harrington’s works (edited by Toland, of course) and Confucius’s morals, which the student had only “dipped into.”30
Led by Molesworth’s reading lists, these young men gathered as a literary club to discourse “upon matters of learning for their mutual improvement.” The club attracted a reputation for heterodoxy, and its members were vilified as “a set of Latitudinarians, Free-thinkers, Non-subscribers, and Bangorians, and in a word, Enemies to the jurisdictions, powers, and the divine authority of the clergy.”31
[15. ]The manuscript letters are in British Library Additional Mss 4465, Collection of Letters and Papers of John Toland, folios 19, 21, 23, 27, 29, 36, 37.
[16. ]J. Toland, Collections (1726), vol. 2, pp. 461, 487, 491.
[17. ]Historical Manuscripts Commission, Report on Manuscripts in Various Collections, vol. 8 (Hereford, 1913) [hereafter HMC], p. 319.
[18. ]HMC, p. 217.
[19. ]Ibid., p. 259.
[20. ]Ibid., pp. 252, 283–84, 287, 312.
[21. ]Ibid., pp. 258–59.
[22. ]Ibid., p. 272, October 1717, Lettice Molesworth to her mother, Lady Molesworth.
[23. ]M. Monck, Marinda: Poems and translations upon several occasions (1716), pp. 10–11.
[24. ]HMC, p. 347.
[25. ]Ibid., p. 349.
[26. ]Ibid., p. 352.
[28. ]Ibid., pp. 348, 351, 354–55.
[29. ]Ibid., pp. 360–61, May 1723.
[30. ]Ibid., pp. 366–67, November 1723.
[31. ]See M. A. Stewart, “John Smith and the Molesworth Circle.” Eighteenth-Century Ireland 2 (1987), pp. 89–102, at pp. 95–96.