Hartley, David (1705–1757)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DB036-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 27, 2021, from

1. Life and contacts

David Hartley was born the son of a poor Anglican clergyman in Armley, Yorkshire, probably on 30 August 1705. Both his father and mother died while he was still a child. He attended Bradford Grammar School before matriculating at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a sizar at the age of seventeen, at precisely the moment when a thoroughly modern synthesis of Newtonian natural philosophjy and Lockean philosophy was becoming the staple of the undergraduate curriculum. He graduated BA in 1726 and MA three years later, and held a fellowship at the college from 1727 until he married in 1730.

As his writings show, Hartley was a devout Christian; yet scruples against signing the Thirty-Nine Articles precluded him from taking orders, and he chose medicine as a career. Apparently without any medical degree or licence, he began to practise in Newark, moving on to Bury St Edmunds. After his wife’s death, he remarried in 1735, and his second wife’s wealth enabled him to settle just off London’s fashionable Leicester Square (then the physicians’ quarter); subsequently her ill-health induced the couple to move to Bath, where Hartley built up a successful medical practice.

A Fellow of the Royal Society, Hartley was able to move in the best intellectual and scientific circles. His friends included the physician Sir Hans Sloane (who became president of the Royal Society), the Revd Stephen Hales, famous for his pioneering physiological experiments, the evangelical William Law, and Joseph Butler, the leading rational Anglican theologian. Hartley had a part to play in major intellectual and philanthropic causes of the day, championing smallpox inoculation and John Byrom’s shorthand system, and writing pamphlets to secure a parliamentary subvention for Mrs Joanna Stephens’ lithontriptic nostrum against kidney and bladder stones (he had suffered from the disorder while still a young man). He died in Bath on 28 August 1757.

Citing this article:
Porter, Roy. Life and contacts. Hartley, David (1705–1757), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DB036-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2021 Routledge.

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