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Sherlock 1750 - A letter from the Lord Bishop of London, etc.


A letter from the Lord Bishop of London, to the clergy and people of London and Westminster; on occasion of the late earthquakes by Thomas Sherlock. 1750.

Geoscientist 20.7 July 2010

On 8 February 1750 a slight tremor rippled through London. Exactly a month later, on 8 March, a larger earthquake struck the capital, sending waves of fear and panic among the people. From the pulpit of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the Bishop of London, Thomas Sherlock (1678-1761), pronounced the earthquakes manifestations of God’s wrath at the depravity of London’s citizens, and shortly after published his ‘pastoral letter’, of which, according to Horace Walpole, 'ten thousand were sold in two days and fifty thousand have been subscribed for since the first two editions’.

In this short rhetorical essay, Sherlock blames the earthquakes on everything from plays and operas, to cock-fighting and boxing during Lent, to the availability of novels, which he dubs ‘vile abominable Pictures of Lewdness’. We can of course be amused by this today - the response to natural disaster in a less informed and more superstitious age. And yet the reaction and opportunistic proselytising by some Christian evangelicals after the January earthquake in Haiti, or the speech by an Iranian cleric in April blaming earthquakes on “women who dress inappropriately”, are not dissimilar.

This title’s place in the Society’s collection provides a reminder of the hard-fought battle between rationalism and religious rhetoric which, in many arenas 250 years on, has changed very little.