Religio Medici and Newgate
Religio Libertini: ∣ Or, the Faith of a Converted ∣ Atheist. ∣ Occasionally set forth by ∣ Mr. Richard Burridge, ∣ Who was lately Convicted of ∣ Blasphemy, Before the Right Honourable ∣ Sir Thomas Parker, ∣ Lord Chief Justice of England. ∣ To which is prefixed ∣ A Narration of his Life, from his Birth ∣ to the Time of his Sufferings; An Account of ∣ what pass'd on his Tryal at the Sessions-House ∣ in the Old Baily; A Relation of the Cause of the ∣ Prosecution commenced against him; With an ∣ Abjuration and Recantation, which ∣ he publickly made in the Chappel of Newgate, ∣ on Sunday the Sixth Of July, 1712. impartially ∣ written with the Author's own Hand, whilst under Confinement.1
Apart from two, very brief references Religio Libertini has not attracted the attention of critics.2 Richard Burridge, its author, has fared no better.3 Whereas Mackenzie and Dunton both achieved some fame in their time, Burridge belongs to the great legion of eighteenth-century hacks who failed to make a name for themselves. His most ingenious move, it would appear, was to create a link between himself and Browne by adopting the title of the latter's work. Keynes swallowed Burridge's bait, and this has led to the inclusion of Religio Libertini among Religio Medici's imitations.
What kind of book is Religio Libertini? Its title-page, as cited above, offers some clues. The words 'atheist', 'convicted', 'blasphemy', 'abjuration', 'recantation', and 'Newgate' would have had a certain appeal for an eighteenth-century audience. Given the considerable appetite for crime and prison literature in this period, Burridge's title-page was geared to capitalize on this interest. ReligioLibertini____________________