[WILLIAMS, David]. ~ A Liturgy on the universal Principles of Religion and Morality. London: Printed for the author, 1776.
8vo (228 × 140 mm), pp. [iii]-xii, 121,  pages, without half-title. Uncut in contemporary blue wrappers. Slightly browned with some spotting to a few uncut edges. Wrapper somewhat spotted and soiled, upper and lower portions of spine absent. A very good unsophisticated copy.
First edition of this important attempt at a universal non-sectarian liturgy, inspired by David Williams and Benjamin Franklin’s London Philosophical ‘Club of Thirteen’. It extended Williams’s experiments as minister to a Highgate Presbyterian congregation, reflecting contemporary debates around the Thirty-Nine Articles, and was widely influential notably in France, where it was applauded by both Rousseau and Voltaire.
The Club of Thirteen was a Radical intellectual club, rather like the Birmingham Lunar Society, and its members included Williams, Franklin, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Josiah Wedgwood, Robert Owen, William Hodgson, and Thomas Day. It met at Old Slaughter's Coffee House on St Martin's Lane, or at the Swan at Westminster Bridge.
‘On Easter Sunday, 7 April 1776, Williams opened a chapel in Margaret Street, Cavendish Square, and read from the Liturgy on the Universal Principles of Religion and Morality, the collaborative production of members of the Club of Thirteen... The preface to this universalist Liturgy of 1776 describes the experiment as a form of social worship 'in which all men may join who acknowledge the existence of a supreme intelligence, and the universal obligations of morality' (Liturgy, x–xi). Its format, containing an order for morning and for evening prayer and a collection of hymns and psalms, is reminiscent of an Anglican format, but the liturgy avoids all dogmatic statements of belief beyond an acknowledgement of the wisdom and goodness of a supreme intelligence and the moral obligations of a simple deism that celebrates nature as implying the existence of God. All specifically Christian doctrines of faith are carefully excluded. Copies of the liturgy were sent to Voltaire and Frederick the Great of Prussia, and in Paris in the summer of 1776 Bentley presented a copy to Rousseau. All three responded enthusiastically. Voltaire wrote: It is a great comfort to me, at the age of eighty-two years, to see the tolerance openly teach’d in your country, and the God of all mankind no more pent up in a narrow tract of land. That notable truth was worthy of your pen and of your tongue’ (Oxford DNB). Though quite well-represented in British collections, ESTC lists US copies at Union Theological Seminary and Penn only; Worldcat adds Columbia, Yale and Emory. It is notably scarce in commerce with Rare Book Hub recording no copies at auction.