chapter  5
The Theology of Materialism: Redeeming the Natural Religion of Robert Chambers and Vestiges
ByRobert Chambers, Vestiges Angela Smith
Pages 24

The meaning readers derive from a written work is often intimately bound up with what they believe about its authorship. Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, which fi rst appeared in 1844 and sold over 20,000 copies in a few decades, had a far-reaching impact on relations between science and religion during the nineteenth century. Yet almost none of its readers really knew who had given Vestiges to the world. The secret of its origination was withheld from the public until only one man was left alive who knew it fi rsthand-the author’s confi dant and publishing liaison, Alexander Ireland. Ireland’s preface to the twelfth edition of Vestiges in 1884 fi nally revealed what many had suspected but very few could prove-that the prolifi c Scottish publisher, writer and reformer Robert Chambers had been behind the production of what many Victorians considered one of the most notorious materialist diatribes ever to have invaded polite society. Recovering the author’s name was a fi rst and fundamental step in recovering his intended meaning for his own work. Exploring the religious life of this remarkable man will take us even further into the text to help illuminate the signifi cance that may have been ascribed to it by many of its silent readers, who left no trace of their thoughts in the archives for historians to uncover.