Authors and their Textbooks

John Chamberlayne’s description of the program at Edinburgh provides us with enough detail to begin to reconstruct Colden’s educational background.  According to Chamberlayne, first year students participated in classes and communicated almost entirely in Greek, with a learning process that made use of Greek texts.  Year two consisted of training in logic, with a continuation of Greek readings and work.  The students were taught to apply logic to researching, studying, contemplating and then writing about their findings or matters of concern or issue (the topic of their writings for example).  This first half of the program ended with each student then engaging in an Oration. 

The second half of the program began with studies of metaphysicans, focusing on the work of DeVrie and LeClerc.  Also included was a program on Ethic (Ethics and Morals today) , which reviewed the “Passions and Virtues” and relied very heavily upon the writings of Pettendorf and Grotius.  The final year consisted of a focus on Physics, the more scientific part of the natural sciences or natural philosophy teachings, which probably included a fairly extensive review of the mathematics related to these various concepts.

Probable Edinburgh Class Topics

  • Government, Law, Politics, and People (The Republic by Plato, the works of Cicero, Grotius, Pufendorf, LeClerc)
  • Theology (including natural theology and natural philosophy)
  • Geography (various authors for the time)
  • Botany, natural history and natural philosophy (primarily Linnaeus)
  • The Physical Sciences of chemistry, math and natural philosophy (physics and engineering). (Euclid, Newton)
  • Astronomy, the physical sciences/metaphysics relationship (Isaac Newton and followers)
  • Logic
  • The natural sciences, the body and its vital force (Edmund Halley)

A little more detail on an example of such a program is found for another University then providing similar training, in England.  It is important to note here of course that this is a British University, with its programs described by a professors of the 1720s, two decades after Colden’s schooling.  Normally one might exclude reviewing such a time in the history of Colden’s education, were it not for the similarities in program topics throughout this program.  The following are the between this British program and the program in Edinburgh: 

  • the initiation of the four year program by training in a number basic educational topics, with a focus on the classics, including readings and concepts that require knowledge of one or more foreign languages
  • training in basic math and logic of several sorts, in order for this skill to be utilized in more advanced studies taking place later in the education process
  • the conclusion of the four year program by covering the important applications of this education experience, in particular focused on metaphysics and natural philosophy (the natural sciences)
  • the inclusion of works by several standard authors, in particular Newton, Pufendorf and LeClerc, scientists whose writings were by this time as important to any college training in the Arts as were the classics.
  • the ability to divide these major areas covered topics into three categories: Philosophical, Classical and Religious.






For the most part, these topics fit very well into both a 1702-1706 education program as well as a 1724-1727 program.   The authors or the Religious Sermons discussed were perhaps the most different part of this program, both in cultural content due to different social issues experienced within England at that time, and in terms of the type of social issues taking place.  The review of the Classics might also differ slightly based on the desires of the professors at the time.  We know  that Colden had some training in Cicero’s writings, which are not noted in this English program. The Philosophical portion of this itinerary is most like the Edinburgh training based on titles and authors that are mentioned.   Euclid, Locke, Newton, Puffendorf, and Grotius are all classic writers by this time, their important works essential to the academic experience.  A newcomer to the program by the 1720s is George Cheyne, a British author who was perhaps too British to discussed much in any Scottish programs for his time.  There was most likely an equivalent for Cheyne during Colden’s period of education who might have been discussed, however, the name of such an individual remains uncertain for the time.  By the 1720s, Burnet’s and Whiston’s theories regarding Natural Philosophy are no longer new and well into their argumentive stage involving scientists and religious leaders.  The findings and theory put forth on these issues were still in  in their infancy when Colden was attending classes.  The same might have been true for Well’s Astronomy teachings as well.

Colden’s Primary Authors

Classical Writers

Cicero.  We know that Colden favored Cicero for his essays and letters pertaining to people and the government.  This was the primary topic he wrote an essay about during his professional years.  Cicero also produced a couple of other writings very pertinent to an individual’s philosophy of life, and may have been an added part of the reason for why Colden favored Cicero’s teachings, enough to produce a forward on a translation of this book. 

Cicero wrote a piece on old-age and the aging process in society.  This topic was very much an issue in the minds of individuals trying to define the best place to live and to get older.

The works of Cicero were also favored by an associate of Colden, Dutch botanist Johann Gronovius.  This led Gronovius to write a book about Cicero, published at about the time he began compiling the works of North American botanists for the first time pertaining to the flora of Virginia.


Baron Pufendorf, author of Of the Law of Nature and Nations.  Reviewed on different page.

His most important book was originally published in Latin, for English translation see

Hugo Grotius.  Reviewed on different page.


Natural Philosophers or Scientists 

Isaac Newton.

Edmund Halley.


Contemporary Philosophers