Richard Watson (1737-1816), not to be confused with the Methodist theologian of the same name, was an Anglican theologian and scholar. He was a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, was appointed a professor of chemistry and later of divinity at Trinity. From 1782 until his death, he served as the Bishop of Llandaff.The first of these two short books by Watson is a response to Edward Gibbon’s treatment of the rise of Christianity in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776); the second is a response to Thomas Paine’s coarse but popular attack on Christianity in The Age of Reason (1794-95). Both of Watson’s works combine considerable learning with graceful rhetoric. He treats Gibbon with the respect due to a scholar of high standing, a compliment that Gibbon appreciated and returned in some correspondence that passed between them in November of 1776. With Paine, Watson allows himself a more remonstrating tone.
Watson had a clear sense of the limitations of the genre in which he was writing, and in a note to the fifth (1791) edition of his Apology for Christianity he expresses “an earnest wish, that those who dislike not this little Book, will peruse larger ones on the same subject.” His six volume Collection of Theological Tracts (1785; 2nd ed. 1791) gives some indication of where he hoped his readers would go.