Untitled photo
Untitled photo


in the Library of the Revd David Hughes

(c. 1704-77)

Curated by Tim Eggington, Isobel Goodman and Lucille Munoz

with the assistance of Ella Johnson

This exhibition explores the enlightened preoccupations of Isaac Newton’s Cambridge followers to reveal the peculiarly English path to modernity forged in eighteenth-century Cambridge. The tortuousness of this journey is evident in the collection of 5,000 pamphlets and books left to Queens’ College by the Revd David Hughes, Queens’ Fellow from 1727 and Vice President from 1749 until his death in 1777. Through painstaking organisation and labelling of his pamphlets into bound collections, Hughes unwittingly bequeathed a unique record of how ‘Enlightenment’ took place in Cambridge, from its Restoration roots until his death at the time of the American Revolution. Born in an age still reeling from the traumas of the Restoration, Hughes’s career as a Queens’ cleric and lecturer in a wide range of subjects flourished against the backdrop of striking change. The picture presented is in stark contrast to commonly understood views of Enlightenment, dominated by French philosophes with their godless universe and abhorrence for absolute monarchy. In Hughes’s Cambridge, Protestantism provided the engine for Enlightenment in which Newtonian cosmic order was seen by many as both confirmation of God, and as paradigm for a modern harmonious state. In a country unique for its lax censorship, the cacophony of debate that ensued in published sermons, learned tomes, polemical tracts and scurrilous satire embodied a peculiarly democratic approach to Enlightenment. More than merely the pronouncements of an intellectual elite, the Age of Reason in England is recorded in the published utterances of obscure vicars, would-be poets, hack critics and amateur philosophers, whose collective voice offered thoroughly new ways of thinking. In Hughes’s response to this eighteenth-century information overload we gain a rare insight into how the new thinking and discourse were received, understood and utilised in Cambridge’s Age of Reason.

Untitled photo

DAVID HUGHES matriculated at Queens’ in 1722 and, according to records, was a native of Caernarvonshire. Admitted to the fellowship in 1727, he became Vice President in 1749, holding this position until his death in 1777. Evidently a versatile lecturer, his teaching encompassed logic, catechism, geometry, Hebrew, arithmetic and theology. Despite an entire career spent in modestly remunerated positions, Hughes’s estate as listed by his executor contained significant wealth including £6,000 in Bank of England stock. After dispersals to his siblings’ children, the residue of Hughes’s estate (including his huge library of 5,000 titles) passed to the President and Fellows of Queens’ College.

Silhouette of David Hughes in Queens' College Print Collection.

Catalogue of Books

Exhibition Booklet

Powered by SmugMug Owner Log In