BURNET, THOMAS: Church of England; b. at Croft (40 m. n. of York), Yorkshire, about 1635; d. in London Sept. 27, 1715. He studied at Clare Hall and Christ's College, Cambridge (fellow of Christ's, 1657; M.A., 1658; LL.D., 1685?); became master of the Charterhouse 1685, and in 1686 incited the first stand made by any society in England against the royal dispensing power in the reign of James II., and thereby prevented the illegal admission of a pensioner at the king's demand. He wrote fine English and excellent Latin, and was the author of several books which created much commotion. The Telluris theoria sacra (part i., London, 1681; Eng, version, revised, The Sacred Theory of the Earth, 1684; part ii. and Eng. version of the entire work, 1689; 7th ed., with life by Ralph Heathcote, 1759) was a fanciful attempt to explain the structure of the earth, and of no scientific value. In the Archeologi philosophic sive doctrina antiqua de rerum originibus (1692; Eng. transl., 1692) he interpreted the account of the Fall as an allegory, and the work cost him his position as clerk of the closet to William III. and marred his hope of advancement. In later life he wrote De fide et officiis Christianorum, in which "he regards the historical religions as based upon the religion of nature and rejects original sin and the 'magical' theory of the sacraments"; and De statu mortuorum et resurgentium, in which he defended the doctrine of the middle state, the millennium, and the limited duration of future punishment; these works were first authoritatively printed in 1727 (Eng. translations, 1727-28).
BIBLIOGRAPHY: R. Heathcote, Life of Thomas Burnet, prefixed to the 7th ed. of The Sacred Theory, 1759; DNB, vii. 408-410.
BURNETT PRIZES AND LECTURES: A foundation by John Burnett, a merchant of Aberdeen, Scotland (b. 1729; d. 1784), who bequeathed his entire estate for charitable and philanthropic purposes. One of the provisions of his will vested a portion of his property in trustees to provide prizes for the best and the next best essay intended to prove "that there is a Being, all-powerful, wise, and good, by whom everything exists; and particularly to obviate difficulties regarding the wisdom and goodness of the Deity; and this, in the first place, from considerations independent of written revelation, and, in the second place, from the revelation of the Lord Jesus; and, from the whole, to point out the inferences most necessary for, and useful to mankind." It was provided that the competition should be open to the whole world;
1883-86. George Gabriel Stokes, professor of mathematics
at Cambridge, On Light (London, 1887).
1888-91. W. Robertson Smith, professor of Arabic at
Cambridge, On the Religion of the Semites (1st series only
published, Fundamental Institutions, London, 1889; 3d ed.,
1891-94. William L. Davidson, minister of Bourtie, Aberdeenshire, Theism as Grounded in Human Nature historically and critically Handled (London, 1893).
The funds are now devoted toward the endowment of a chair of history and archeology in the university.
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