The same writer says, "His father was Sir Henry Blount, the Socrates of the age, for his aversions to the reigning sophisms and hypocrisies, eminent in all capacities: the best husband, father, and master, extremely agreeably in conversation, and just in all his dealings. From such a father our hero derived him self; to such a master owed his generous education, unmixed with the nauseous methods and profane opinions of the schools. Nature gave him parts capable of the noblest sciences, and his industrious studies bore a proportion to his capacities. He was a generous and constant friend, an indulgent parent, and a kind master. His temper was open and free; his conversation pleasant; his reflections just and modest; his repartees close—not scurrilous; he had a great deal of wit, and no malice. His mind was large and noble—above the little designs of most men; an enemy to dissimulation, and never feared to own his thoughts. He was a true Englishman, and lover of the liberties of his country, and declared it in the worst of times. He was an enemy to nothing but error, and none were his enemies that knew him, but those who sacrificed more to mammon than reason."
This was the man who died, because a dominant priesthood insisted on a dogma which interfered with a purely Secular rite, which blasted two hearts in a vain attempt to perpetuate a system, which dashes its rude fingers, and tears out the heart of human felicity to sprinkle the altar of superstition with the gore of offended innocence. Charles Blount was a Deist; as such, he believed in a God; which he described in his account of a Deist's religion. Let us examine his thoughts, and see if they bear the interpretation which Christianity has always placed upon them. Blount gives the Deist's opinion of God. He says, "Whatever is adorable, amiable, and imitable by mankind, is in one Supreme, perfect Being." An Atheist cannot object to this. He speaks in the manner in which God is to be worshipped. He says, not by sacrifice, or by a Mediator, but by a steady adherence to all that is great and good and imitable in nature. This is the brief religious creed of Charles Blount. He never seeks to find out fabled attributes of Deity. He knows what is of value to mankind, and sedulously practices whatever is beneficial to society.
In his "Anima Mundi, or, History of the Opinions of the Heathens on the Immortality of the Soul," (p. 97,) Blount says:—
"The heathen philosophers were much divided concerning the soul's future state; some held it mortal, others immortal. Of those who held the mortality of the soul, the Epicureans were the chief sect, who, notwithstanding their doctrines, led virtuous lives." Cardan had so great a value for their moral actions, that he appeared in justification of them. It appears (says he) "by the writings of Cicero, Diogenes, and Laertius, that the Epicureans did more religiously observe laws, piety, and fidelity among men than either the Stoics or the Platonists; and I suppose the cause thereof was, that a man is either good or evil by custom, but none confideth in those that do not possess sanctity of life. Wherefore they were compelled to use greater fidelity, thereby the better to justify their profession, from which reason it likewise proceeds, that at this day few do equal the fidelity of usurers, notwithstanding they are most base in the rest of their life. Also among the Jews, whilst the Pharisees, that confessed the resurrection and the immortality of the soul, frequently persecuted Christ, the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, angels, and spirits, meddled not with him above once or twice, and that very gently. Thus, if you compare the lives of Pliny and Seneca (not their writings,) you shall find Pliny, with his mortality of the soul, did as far exceed Seneca in honesty of manners, as Seneca excels him in religious discourse. The Epicureans observed honesty above others, and in their conversation were usually found inoffensive and virtuous, and for that reason were often employed by the Romans when they could persuade them to accept of great employs, for their fault was not any want of ability or honesty, but their general desire of leading a private life of ease, and free from trouble, although inglorious. For when immortality is not owned, there can be no ambition of posthumous glory.
"The Epicureans, instead of those bloody scenes of gallantry (which tyrants applaud,) undertook to manage carefully the inheritance of orphans; bringing up, at their own charge, the children of their deceased friends, and were counted good men, unless it were in front of religious worship; for they constantly affirmed that there were no Gods, or, at least, such as concerned themselves with human affairs, according to the poets. Neither doth the hope of immortality conduce to fortitude, as some vainly suggest, for Brutus was not more valiant than Cassius; and if we will confess the truth, the deeds of Brutus were more cruel than those of Cassius; for he used the Rhodians, who were his enemies, far more kindly than Brutus did those amicable cities which he governed. In a word, though they both, had a hand in Caesar's murder, yet Brutus was the only parricide. So that the Stoics, which believed a Providence, lived as if there were none; whereas the Epicureans, who denied it, lived as if there were.... The next sect to the Epicureans, in point of incredulity, concerning the soul, 1 conceive to be the Sceptics, who were by some esteemed, not only the modestest, but the most perspicuous of all sects. They neither affirmed nor denied anything, but doubted of all things. They thought all our knowledge seemed rather like truth, than to be really true, and that for such like reasons as these:—
"1. They denied any knowledge of the Divine Nature, because, they say, to know adequately is to comprehend, and to comprehend is to contain, and the thing contained must be less than that which contains it; to know inadequately is not to know.
"2. From the uncertainty of our senses, as, for instance, our eyes represent things at a distance to be less than they really are. A straight stick in the water appears crooked; the moon to be no bigger than a cheese; the sun greater at rising and setting than at noon. The shore seems to move, and the ship to stand still; square things to be round at a distance; an erect pillar to be less at the top. Neither (say they) do we know whether objects are really as our eyes represent them to us, for the same thing which seems white to us seems yellow to a jaundiced man, and red to a creature afflicted with red eyes; also, if a man rubs his eyes, the figure which he beholds seems long or narrow, and therefore it is not improbable that goats, cats, and other creatures, which have long pupils of the eye, may think those things long which we call round, for as glasses represent the object variously, according to their shape, so it may be with our eyes. And so the sense of hearing deceives. Thus, the echo of a trumpet, sounded in a valley, makes the sound seem before us, when it is behind us. Besides, how can we think that an ear, which has a narrow passage, can receive the same sound with that which has a wide one? Or the ear, whose inside is full of hair, to hear the same with a smooth ear? Experience tells us that if we stop, or half stop, our ears, the sound cometh different as when the ears are open. Nor is the smelling, taste, or touch less subject to mistake; for the same scents please some, and displease others, and so in our tastes. To a rough and dry tongue that very thing seems bitter (as in an ague,) which to the most moist tongue seems otherwise, and so is it in other creatures. The like is true of the touch, for it were absurd to think that those creatures which are covered with shells, scales, or hairs, should have the same sense in touching with those that are smooth. Thus one and the same object is diversely judged of, according to the various qualities of the instruments of sense, which convinceth to the imagination; from all which the Sceptic concluded, that what these things are in their own nature, whether red, white, bitter, or sweet, he cannot tell; for, says he, why should I prefer my own conceit in affirming the nature of things to be thus, or thus, because it seemeth so to me—when other living creatures, perhaps, think it is otherwise? But the greatest fallacy is in the operation of our inward senses; for the fancy is sometimes persuaded that it hears and sees what it does not, and our reasoning is so weak, that in many disciplines scarce one demonstration is found, though this alone produces science. Wherefore it was Democritus's opinion that truth is hid in a well, that she may not be found by men. Now, although this doctrine be very inconsistent with Christianity, yet I could wish Adam had been of this persuasion, for then he would not have mortgaged his posterity for the purchase of a twilight knowledge. Now, from these sinister observations it was that they esteemed all our sciences to be but conjectures, and our knowledge but opinion. Whereupon, doubting the sufficiency of human reason, they would not venture to affirm or deny anything of the soul's future state; but civilly and quietly gave way to the doctrines and ordinances under which they lived, without raising or espousing any new opinions." Speaking of the "origin of the world," Gildon gives the following as a translation from Ocellus Lucanas:—"Again (says he,) as the frame of the world has been always, so it is necessary that its parts should likewise always have existed; by parts, I mean the heaven, earth, and that which lieth betwixt—viz., the sky; for not without these, but with these, and of these, the world consists. Also, if the parts exist, it is necessary that the things which are within them should also coexist; as with the heavens, the sun, moon, fixed stars, and planets; with the earth, animals, plants, minerals, gold, and silver; with the air, exhalations, winds, and alterations of weather, sometimes heat and sometimes cold, for with the world all those things do, and ever have existed, as parts thereof. Nor hath man had any original production from the earth, or elsewhere, as some believe, but have always been, as now he is, coexistent with the world, whereof he is a part. Now, corruptions and violent alterations are made according to the parts of the earth, by winds and waters imprisoned in the bowels thereof; but a universal, corruption of the earth never hath been, nor ever shall be. Yet these alterations have given occasion for the invention of many lies and fables. And thus are we to understand them that derive the original of the Greek history from Inachus, the Argive; not that he really was the original, as some make him, but because a most memorable alteration did then happen, and some were so unskilful as to attribute it to Inachus.... But for the universe, and all the parts whereof it subsists, as it is at present, so it ever was, and ever shall be; one nature perpetually moving, and another perpetually suffering, one always governing, and the other always being governed. The course which nature takes in governing the world, is by one contrary prevailing over another, as thus:—The moisture in the air prevaileth over the dryness of the fire; and the coldness of the wafer over the heat of the air, and the dryness of the earth over the moisture of the water; and so the moisture of the water over the dryness of the earth; and the heat in the air over the coldness of the water; and the dryness in the fire over the moisture of the air. And thus the alterations are made and produced, out of one another.... As nature cannot create by making something out of nothing, so neither can it annihilate, by turning something into nothing; whence it consequently follows, as there is no access, so there is no diminution in the universe, no more than in the alphabet, by the infinite combination and transposition of letters, or in the wax by the alteration of the seal stamped upon it. Now, as for the forms of natural bodies, no sooner doth any one abandon the matter he occupied, but another instantly steps into the place thereof; no sooner hath one acted his part and is retired, but another comes presently forth upon the stage, though it may be in a different shape, and so act a different part; so that no portion of the matter is, or at any time can be, altogether void and empty, but like Proteus, it burns itself into a thousand shapes, and is always supplied with one form or another, there being in nature nothing but circulation."
The following are the principal works of Blount:—"Anima Mundi; or, an Historical Narration of the Opinions of the Ancients concerning Man's Soul after this Life, according to Enlightened Nature;" published in 1679. Upwards of twenty answers were published to this work. In 1680 he published a translation, with notes, of the life of Apolloninis, of Tyana. This work was suppressed. During the same year, he gave the world "Great is Diana of the Ephesians; or, the Original of Idolatry." By able critics this is considered one of bis ablest works in 1683, "Religio Laici" appeared, which is published hum a Latin work of Lord Herbert's. In 1688 he wrote "A Vindication of Learning, and of the Liberty of the Press." This tractate sparkles with wit and argument. But by far the most important work he was connected with, was published in the year he died, and mainly written by himself, "The Oracles of Reason" a favorite title with both American and English Freethinkers. It consists of sixteen sections; the most interesting being the first four, containing "A Vindication of Dr. Burnett's Archiologie." The seventh and eighth chapters (translated) of the same, of "Moses's Description of the Original State of Man," and Dr. Burnett's "Appendix of the Brahmin's Religion." We would quote from these sections of the "Oracles," but intend to form separate "Half-Hours," with sketches of Drs. Brown and Burnett; it will be more appropriate to use Blount's translation in describing those quaint, but highly instructive authors. In the general style of Blount's works, he is not seen to advantage; there is too much heaviness, enhanced by the perpetual Greek and Latin quotations; but as his works were intended for scholars, and the time in which they were written was essentially the most pedantic era of our literary history, we cannot expect that vivacity and clearness which other writers in a later age possessed. It was in his character as a man that Blount excelled—he was the leader of the chivalry of the period, as in the next age Woolston was his successor. At the Court he was the gayest of the gay, without the taint of immorality, in a period of the grossest licentiousness; he defended the honor of his friends, frequently at the expense of calumny and danger. In witty repartees he was equal to Rochester; while for abstruse learning he was superior to many of the most learned theologians. Daintily brave and skilfully alive to the requirements of friends and foes, he passed through life in the gilded barge of pleasure, and ended it sailing through a cloud where he foundered. But the darkness which enveloped his history is now charged with that sympathetic power which draws the young to his grave, and compels the gloomiest to shed a tear over his unhappy fate.
At the close of August, in 1693, a few friends met near the grave of Blount, to join in their last respects to their lost friend. Foremost amongst them was Charles Gildon, who so soon repented of the part he had taken in the "Oracles of Reason," but never forgot the kindness he experienced from Blount. He lived long enough for Pope to be revenged on his apostacy, by inserting his name in his great satire. At the time we speak he was mournful and deeply grieved at the loss he had sustained; near him was Harvey Wilwood, whose bold demeanor and sorrowful countenance told of heart-struck grief, for of the few able to appreciate the genius of Blount, he was one of the earliest and most devoted in his friendship. Now we see the noble Lord, whom Blount always addressed as "the most ingenious Strephon;" along with him there is the pretty Anne Rogers, with Savage, and Major Arkwright; we look in vain for Eliza Tyr-rel; they talk slowly over him that is no more; they recount to themselves the intellectual achievements, and the brilliant hours they have spent in the past; and while they speak so kindly, and think so deeply, they kneel on the hallowed spot, but not to pray; some of them pledge their enmity against Christian laws and Christian priests, and they executed it. During this time, the calm radiance of the lunar light shines on the church of Ridge, illumining those ghostly tablets of white marble, where the forefathers of Blount lie entombed. The baronial arms are emblazoned on the wall; heraldic pomp is keeping watch over the mouldering bones of the now-levelled great. Anne Rogers weeps wildly for Eliza and Eleanora. Those metaphysical disquisitions which have exalted woman to so high a nature, that devotion to esthetics which woman should always cultivate, not as a household slave, but as one of equal rights with man, and his leader in everything which concerns taste, elegance, and modesty; such gifts in no ordinary degree had Anne Rogers—and often in dialectic subtlety had she mastered her relative, who stood by her side, and given tokens of her admiration of Blount's philosophy and conduct. "Strephon" was passionately attached to his confidant and friend, and could not give so calm an expression to his loss. He wept wildly, for he had lost one who tempered his rebuke with a kind word, and pointed out that Epicurean path which leads to enjoyment without excess: to pleasure, without a reaction. It was a memorable meeting. While the remembrance of past deeds of love lighted up the eye and made the blood course faster through their veins, Anne Rogers detailed the following episode in his character:—Blount had visited the Court of King James, and had been singled out by that monarch for one of his savage fits of spleen. "I hear, Mr. Blount, you are very tenacious of the opinions of Sir Henry, your father, and you consider his conduct during the Rebellion as worthy of imitation. Is it so?" "Your Majesty," replies Blount, "has been correctly informed; I admire my father's conduct." "What!" says James, "in opposing his king?" Blount quickly answered, "A king, my liege, is the chief magistrate of the Commonwealth, and is so hereditarily while he obeys the laws of that Commonwealth, whose power he represents; but when he usurps the direction of that power, he is king no longer, and such was the case with your royal father." With a scowl of defiance on his face, King James left the Freethinker, and sought more congenial company; and as Anne Rogers told the story, each eye was dimmed with tears. The moon had risen high in the heavens ere the mourners prepared to depart—the first streaks of dawn broke through the Eastern sky, and revealed the grave watered with tears, where the most chivalrous Freethinker of his age reposed, in that sleep which knows of no awakening.
PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (the son and heir of a wealthy English baronet, Sir Timothy Shelley, of Castle Goring, in the county of Sussex) was born at Field Place, near Horsham, in that county, on the 4th of August, 1792. Ushered into the world in the midst of wealth and fashion, with all the advantages of family distinction, the future of Shelley's life appeared a bright one; but the sunshine of the morning only served to render the darkness which came over his noontide more dark, and to make poor Shelley still more susceptible of the hardships he had to encounter. First educated at Eton, his spirit there manifested itself by an unflinching opposition to the fagging system, and by revolt against the severe discipline of the school; in his "Revolt of Islam" Shelley has thus portrayed his feeling:—
"I do remember well the hour which burst My spirit's sleep; a fresh May dawn it was When I walked forth upon the glittering grass And wept, I knew not why: until there rose From the near school-room voices that, alas! Were but one echo from a world of woes, The harsh and grating strife of tyrants and of foes.
And then I clasped my hands and looked around, And none was near to mock my streaming eyes, Which poured their warm drops on the sunny ground; So, without shame, I spake—' I will be wise, And just, and free, and mild, if in me lies Such power, for I grow weary to behold The selfish, and the strong still tyrannize Without reproach or check.'"
And from that hour did I, with earnest thought, Heap knowledge from forbidden mines of lore; Yet nothing that ray tyrants knew or taught I cared to learn, but from that secret store Wrought linked armour for my soul, before It might walk forth to war among mankind."
From Eton, Shelley went to Oxford, and while there he, scarce at the age of eighteen, published a volume of political rhymes, entitled "Margaret Nicholson's Remains," the said Margaret being a woman who tried to assassinate George III. He also wrote a pamphlet in defence of Atheism. A copy of this pamphlet he caused to be sent to the head of each of the colleges in Oxford, with a challenge to discuss and answer.—The answer to this was the edict which expelled Shelley from Oxford, and at the same time placed a wide chasm between him and his family. This breach was still further widened in the following year by his marriage, at the age of nineteen, with a beautiful girl named Westbrook. Although Miss Westbrook was respectfully connected, Shelley's aristocratic family regarded this as a mesalliance, and withdrew his pecuniary allowance; and had it not been for the bride's father, who allowed the young couple L200 a year, they would have been reduced to actual poverty. This was an unfortunate marriage for both. After having two children, disagreements arose, and Shelley was separated from his wife. She (like all beautiful women) was soon attacked by the busy tongue of slander, and, unable to bear the world's taunts, committed suicide by throwing herself into a pond, just four years from the date of their marriage. Shelley, on this account, suffered much misery and misrepresentation, and this misery was much increased by his family, who applied to the Court of Chancery, and obtained a decree, by which Shelley was deprived of the custody of his children, on the ground of his Atheism. The same spirit even now pervades the Shelley family, and scarce a copy of his poems can be found in the neighborhood of his birth-place. Shelley afterwards contracted a second marriage with the daughter of Godwin, the author of "Caleb Williams," and Mary Wollstonecroft (who died in giving birth to Shelley's wife), and for sometime the poet resided at Marlow in Buckinghamshire, where he composed the "Revolt of Islam;" and it is a strong proof of the reality of Shelley's poetical pleadings for the oppressed amongst the human race, that he was indefatigable in his attentions to the poor cottagers of his neighborhood; and that he suffered severely from an attack of opthalmia, which was originated in one of his benevolent visits. Nearly the first of Shelley's poems was his "Queen Mab," in which (having in vain struggled to devote himself to metaphysics apart from poetry), he blended his metaphysical speculation with his poetical aspirations. The following quotations are taken from that poem, in which his wonderful command of language is well shown:—
"There's not one atom of yon earth But once was living man; Nor the minutest drop of rain, That hangeth in its thinnest cloud, But flowed in human veins;
And from the burning plains Where Lybian monsters yell, From the most gloomy glens Of Greenland's sunless clime, To where the golden fields Of fertile England spread Their harvest to the day, Thou canst not find one spot Whereon no city stood.
How strange is human pride! I tell thee that those living things, To whom the fragile blade of grass, That springeth in the morn And perishes ere noon.
In an unbounded world; I tell thee that those viewless beings. Whose mansion is the smallest particle Of the impassive atmosphere, Think, feel, and live, like man: That their affections and antipathies, Like his, produce the laws Ruling their mortal state; And the minutest throb.
That through their frame diffuses The slightest, faintest motion, Is fixed and indispensable As the majestic laws That rule yon rolling orbs.
How bold the flight of passion's wandering wing, How swift the step of reason's firmer tread, How calm and sweet the victories of life. How terrorless the triumph of the grave! How powerless were the mightiest monarch's arm, Vain his loud threat and impotent his frown! How ludicrous the priest's dogmatic roar! The weight of his exterminating curse, How light! and his affected charity, To suit the pressure of the changing times, What palpable deceit!—but for thy aid, Religion! but for thee, prolific fiend, Who peoplest earth with demons, hell with men, And heaven with slaves!
Thou taintest all thou look'st upon!—The stare, Which on thy cradle beamed so brightly sweet, Were gods to the distempered playfulness Of thy untutored infancy: the trees, The grass, the clouds, the mountains, and the sea,
All living things that walk, swim, creep, or fly, Were gods: the sun had homage, and the moon Her worshipper. Then thou becam'st a boy, More daring in thy frenzies: every shape, Monstrous or vast, or beautifully wild, Which, from sensation's relics, fancy culls; The spirits of the air, the shuddering ghost, The genii of the elements, the powers That give a shape to nature's varied works, Had life and place in the corrupt belief Of thy blind heart—yet still thy youthful hands Were pure of human blood. Then manhood gave Its strength and ardor to thy frenzied brain; Thine eager gaze scanned the stupendous scene, Whose wonders mocked the knowledge of thy pride.
Their everlasting and unchanging laws Reproached thine ignorance. Awhile thou stood'st Baffled and gloomy; then thou did'st sum up The elements of all that thou did'st know.
The changing seasons, winter's leafless reign, The budding of the heaven-breathing trees, The eternal orbs that beautify the night, The sunrise, and the setting of the moon, Earthquakes and wars, and poisons and disease, And all their causes, to an abstract point, Converging, thou did'st bend, and called it God; The self-sufficing, the omnipotent, The merciful, and the avenging God!
Who, prototype of human misrule, sits High in Heaven's realm, upon a golden throne, Even like an earthly king: and whose dread work, Hell gapes forever for the unhappy slaves Of fate, whom he created in his sport, To triumph in their torments when they fell!
Earth heard the name; earth trembled, as the smoke Of his revenge ascended up to Heaven, Blotting the constellations: and the cries Of millions, butchered in sweet confidence, And unsuspecting peace, even when the bonds Of safety were confirmed by wordy oaths,
Sworn in his dreadful name, rung through the land; Whilst innocent babes writhed on thy stubborn spear, And thou did'st laugh to hear the mother's shriek Of maniac gladness, as the sacred steel Felt cold in her torn entrails!
Religion! thou wert then in manhood's prime; But age crept on: one God would not suffice For senile puerility; thou fram'dst A tale to suit thy dotage, and to glut Thy misery-thirsting soul, that the mad fiend Thy wickedness had pictured might afford A plea for sating the unnatural thirst For murder, rapine, violence, and crime, That still consumed thy being, even when Thou heard'st the step of fate:—that flames might light Thy funeral scene, and the shrill horrent shrieks Of parents dying on the pile that burned To light their children to thy paths, the roar Of the encircling flames, the exulting cries Of thine apostles, loud commingling there, Might sate thy hungry ear Even on the bed of death!
But now contempt is mocking thy gray hairs; Thou art descending to the darksome grave, Unhonored and unpitied, but by those Whose pride is passing by like thine, and sheds Like thine, a glare that fades before the sun Of truth, and shines but in the dreadful night That long has lowered above the ruined world."
Speaking of the Atheist's martyrdom in answer to the spirit of "Ianthe," Shelley makes his fairy say:—
"There is no God! Nature confirms the faith his death-groan sealed. Let heaven and earth, let man's revolving race, His ceaseless generations, tell their tale;
Let every part depending on the chain That links it to the whole, point to the hand That grasps its term! Let every seed that falls In silent eloquence unfold its store Of argument. Infinity within, Infinity without, belie creation; The exterminate spirit it contains Is nature's only God: but human pride Is skilful to invent most serious names To hide its ignorance.
The name of God Has fenced about all crime with holiness, Himself the creature of his worshippers, Whose names and attributes and passions change, Seeva, Buddh, Foh, Jehovah, Goa, or Lord, Even with the human dupes who build his shrines. Still serving o'er the war-polluted world For desolation's watch-word; whether hosts Stain his death-blushing chariot wheels, as on Triumphantly they roll, whilst Brahmins raise A sacred hymn to mingle with the groans; Or countless partners of his powers divide His tyranny to weakness: or the smoke Of burning towns, the cries of female helplessness, Unarmed old age, and youth, and infancy, Horribly massacred, ascend to heaven In honor of his name; or, last and worst, Earth groans beneath religion's iron age, And priests dare babble of a God of peace, Even whilst their hands are red with guiltless blood, Murdering the while, uprooting every germ Of truth, exterminating, spoiling all, Making the earth a slaughter-house."
"Ianthe's" spirit, however, asks still further, and the ghost of Ahasuerus having been summoned, the question is repeated, "Is there a God?"
"Ahasuerus.—Is there a God? ay, an Almighty God, And vengeful as Almighty! Once his voice Was heard on earth: earth shuddered at the sound, The fiery-visaged firmament expressed Abhorrence, and the grave of nature yawned To swallow all the dauntless and the good That dared to hurl defiance at his throne, Girt as it was with power. None but slaves Survived,—cold-blooded slaves, who did the work Of tyrannous omnipotence: whose souls No honest indignation ever urged To elevated daring, to one deed Which gross and sensual self did not pollute. These slaves built temples for the omnipotent fiend, Gorgeous and vast: the costly altars smoked With human blood, and hideous moans rung Through all the long-drawn aisles. A murderer heard His voice in Egypt, one whose gifts and arts Had raised him to nis eminence in power, Accomplice of omnipotence in crime, And confidant of the all-knowing one.
These were Jehovah's words: "From an eternity of idleness, God, awoke: in seven days toil made earth From nothing; rested, and created man. I placed him in a paradise, and there Planted the tree of evil, so that he Might eat and perish, and my soul procure Wherewith to sate its malice, and to turn, Even like a heartless conqueror of the earth, All misery to my fame. The race of men, Chosen to my honor, with impunity, May sate the lusts I planted in their heart. Here I command thee hence to lead them on, Until, with hardened feet, their conquering troops Wade on the promised soil through woman's blood, And make my name be dreaded through the land. Yet ever burning flame and ceaseless woe Shall be the doom of their eternal souls, With every soul on this ungrateful earth, Virtuous or vicious, weak or strong,—even all Shall perish, to fulfil the blind revenge Which you, to men, call justice, of their God."
The murderer's brow Quivered with horror. God omnipotent! Is there no mercy? must our punishment Be endless? will long ages roll away, And see no 'term? Oh! wherefore hast thou made In mockery and wrath this evil earth? Mercy becomes the powerful—be but just: O God! repent and save.
"One way remains! I will beget a son, and he shall bear The sins of all the world: he shall arise In an unnoticed corner of the earth,
And there shall die upon a cross, and purge The universal crime; so that the few On whom my grace descends, those who are marked As vessels to the honor of their God, May credit this strange sacrifice, and save Their souls alive. Millions shall live and die Who ne'er shall call upon their Saviour's name, But, unredeemed, go to the gaping, grave. Thousands shall deem it an old woman's tale, Such as the nurses frighten babes withal. These in a gulph of anguish and of flame Shall curse their reprobation endlessly. Yet tenfold pangs shall force them to avow, Even on their beds of torment, where they howl, My honor, and the justice of their doom. What then avail their virtuous deeds, their thoughts Of purity, with radiant genius bright, Or lit with human reason's earthly ray? Many are called, but few I will elect. Do thou my bidding, Moses!"
In his poem of "Rosalind and Helen," the poet indulges in the following prophecy, which he puts in the mouth of Helen:—
"Fear not the tyrants shall rule forever, Or the priests of the bloody faith; They stand on the brink of that mighty river, Whose waves they have tainted with death. It is fed from the depths of a thousand dells, Around them it foams, and rages, and swells; And their swords and their sceptres I floating see, Like wrecks on the surge of eternity.?"
Beside the poems mentioned, Shelley wrote "The Cenci," "Alastor," "Prometheus Unbound," and many others, including a beautiful little ode to a "Skylark," and the well-known "Sensitive Plant."
Shelley was a true and noble man—no poet was ever warmed by a more genuine and unforced aspiration.—De Quincey says, "Shelley would, from his earliest manhood, have sacrificed all that he possessed for any comprehensive purpose of good for the race of man. He dismissed all insults and injuries from his memory. He was the sincerest and most truthful of human creatures.
"If he denounced marriage as a vicious institution, that was but another phase of the partial lunacy which affected him: for to no man were purity and fidelity more essential elements in the idea of real love. Again, De Quincey speaks of Shelley's "fearlessness, his gracious nature, his truth, his purity from all flesh-liness of appetite, his freedom from vanity, his diffusive love and tenderness." This testimony is worth much, the more especially when we remember that it is from the pen of Thomas de Quincey, who, while truthfully acknowledging the man, hesitates not to use polished irony, rough wit, and covert sneering, when dealing with the man's uttered thinkings.
"That Shelley understood the true mission of a poet, and the true nature of poetry, will appear from the following extract from one of his prose essays:—"Poetry," he says, "is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds. We are aware of evanescent visitations of thought and feeling, sometimes associated with place and person, sometimes regarding our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen, and departing unbidden, but elevating stud delightful beyond all expression. Poets are not only subject to these experiences, as spirits of the most refined organization, but they can color all they combine with the evanescent lines of this ethereal world; a word, a trait in the representation of a scene or passion will touch the enchanted cord, and reanimate in those who have ever experienced these emotions, the sleeping, the cold, the buried image of the past. Poetry thus makes immortal all that is best and most beautiful in the world; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in language or in form, sends them forth among mankind, bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with whom their sisters abide—abide, because there is no portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit which they inhabit into the universe of things."
Shelley's beautiful imagery and idealistic drapery is sometimes so accumulated in his poems, that it is difficult to follow him in his thinkings. In his verse he wishes to stand high as a philosophical reasoner, and this, together with his devotion to the cause, which even men of De Quincey's stamp call "Insolent Infidelity," has prevented Shelley from becoming so popular as he might have been.
Shelley lived a life of strife, passed his boyhood and youth in struggling to be free—misunderstood and misinterpreted: and when at last in his manhood happier circumstances were gathering around him, a blast of wind came, and the waves of the sea washed away one who was really and truly "a man and a poet."
On Monday. July 8th, 1822, being then in his 29th year, Shelley was returning from Leghorn to his home at Lerici, in a schooner-rigged boat of his own, with one friend and an English servant; when the boat had reached about four miles from the shore, the storm suddenly rose, and the wind suddenly shifted. From excessive smoothness, all at once the sea was foaming, and breaking, and getting up in a heavy swell. The boat is supposed to have filled to leeward, and (carry-ins: two tons of ballast) to have sunk instantaneously—all on board were drowned. The body of Shelley was washed on shore eight days afterwards, near Via Reggio, in an advanced state of decomposition, and was therefore burned on a funeral pyre in the presence of Leigh Hunt, Lord Byron, Mr. Trelawney, and a Captain Shenley.
Thus died Shelley in the mid day of life, and ere the warm sun of that mid-day could dispel the clouds that had gathered round the morning of his career. The following comparison made between the personal appearance of Shelley and of Byron, by Gilfillan, has been called by De Quincey "an eloquent parallel," and we therefore conclude the present number by quoting it:—
"In the forehead and head of Byron there is more massive power and breadth: Shelley has a smooth, arched, spiritual expression; wrinkle there seems none on his brow; it is as if perpetual youth had there dropped its freshness. Byron's eye seems the focus of pride and lust: Shelley's is mild, pensive, fixed on you, but seeing you through the mist of his own idealism. Defiance curls on Byron's nostril, and sensuality steps his full large lips. The lower features of Shelley's face are trail, feminine, flexible.—Byron's head is turned upwards as if having risen proudly above his contemporaries, he were daring to claim kindred, or demand a contest with a superior order of beings. Shelley's is half bent, in reverence and humility, before some vast vision seen by his own eye alone. Misery erect, and striving to cover its retreat under an aspect of contemptuous fury, is the permanent and pervading expression of Byron's countenance. Sorrow, softened and shaded away by hope and habit, lies like a 'holier day' of still moonshine upon that of Shelley. In the portrait of Byron, taken at the age of nineteen, you see the unnatural age of premature passion; his hair is young, his dress is youthful, but his face is old. In Shelley you see the eternal child, none the less that his hair is grey, and that sorrow seems half his immortality."
CLAUD ARIAN HELVETIUS.
If France, at the present day, has not reason to be proud of its "leading man," it has in former times produced those minds that shed lustre upon the country, and who, by their literature, add immortality to its renown. During the eighteenth century, when religious persecution and intolerance were rampant throughout Europe, France furnished men to check oppression and expose superstition, while others followed to lay the foundation of excellence and greatness in the examination and cultivation of its true source—the mind. Heivetius sought to direct men's attention to self-examination, and to show how many disputes might be avoided if each person understood what he was disputing about. "Helvetius on the Mind" is a work that ought to be read widely, and studied attentively, especially by "rising young men," as it is one of those Secular works too rarely found among our literature.
Claud Arian Helvetius was born in Paris in the year 1715. After his preparatory studies, he was sent to the College of Louis le Grand, having for his tutor the famous Poree, who bestowed additional attention upon Heivetius, perceiving in him great talent and genius. Early in life Heivetius formed the friendship of some of the leading minds of France, Montesquieu being his intimate friend. Voltaire, too, sought his correspondence when at the age of twenty-three, calling him his "Young Apollo," and his "Son of Parnassus." The first literary attempts of Helvetius consisted of poetry—"Epistles on Happiness," which appeared as a posthumous production, with the "lavish commendations" of Voltaire. After ten years' thought and study Helvetius in 1758, published a work entitled "De L'Esprit," which brought upon him a great amount of persecution. The Parliament of Paris condemned it, and Helvetius was removed from the office he held of "Maitre d'Hotel to the Queen." Voltaire remarks:—"it is a little extraordinary that they should have persecuted, disgraced, and harassed, a much respected philosopher of our days, the innocent, the good Helvetius, for having said that if men had been without hands they could not have built houses, or worked in tapestry. Apparently those who have condemned this proposition, have a secret for cutting stones and wood, and for sewing with the feet.... I have no doubt that they will soon condemn to the galleys the first who shall have the insolence to say, that a man cannot think without his head; for, some bachelor will tell him, the soul is a pure spirit, the head is nothing but matter: God can place the soul in the nails, as well as in the skull, therefore I proscribe you as impious."
During the persecution raised against him, Helvetius visited England in 1764. In 1765 he visited Prussia, being well received by Frederick, in whose place he lodged. Voltaire strongly advised Helvetius to leave France in these words:—"In your place, I should not hesitate a moment to sell all that I have in France; there are some excellent estates in my neighborhood, and there you might cultivate in peace the arts you love." About this period Hume became acquainted with Helvetius, whom he styles, in writing to Dr. Robertson, "a very fine genius and worthy man." In 1765, Helvetius returned from Prussia, and retired to his estate at Vore. The sight of misery much affected him; and when relieving distress, he enjoined strict secrecy. Sometimes, when told he relieved those undeserving his aid, he would say, "If I were a king I would correct them, but as I am only rich and they are poor, I do my duty in relieving them." An attack of gout in the head and stomach terminated his life in December, 1771, in the fifty-sixth year of his age.
In "De L'Esprit, or, Essays on the Mind," chap. I.. Helvetius makes the following remarks on the "Mind considered in itself":—
"We hear every day disputes with regard to what ought to be called the Mind; each person delivers his thoughts, but annexes different ideas to the word; and thus the debate is continued, without understanding each other. In order, therefore, to enable us to give a just and precise idea of the word Mind, and its different acceptations, it is necessary first to consider the Mind in itself. We consider the Mind either as the effect of the faculty of thinking, and in this sense the Mind is no more than an assemblage of our thoughts, or, we consider it as the very faculty of thinking. But in order to understand what is meant by the Mind, in the latter acceptation, we ought previously to know the productive causes of our ideas. Man has two faculties; or, if I may be allowed the expression, two passive powers whose existence is generally and distinctly acknowledged. The one is the faculty of receiving the different impressions caused by external objects, and is called Physical Sensibility. The other is the faculty of preserving the impressions caused by those objects, called Memory; and Memory is nothing more than a continued, but weakened sensation.—Those faculties which I consider as the productive causes of our thoughts, and which we have in common with beasts, would produce but a very small number of ideas, if they were not assisted by certain external organizations. If Nature, instead of hands and flexible fingers, had terminated our wrist with the foot of a horse, mankind would doubtless have been totally destitute of art, habitation, and defence against other animals. Wholly employed in the care of procuring food, and avoiding the beasts of prey, they would have still continued wandering in the forests, like fugitive flocks. It is therefore evident that, according to this supposition, the police would never have been carried in any society to that degree of perfection, to which it is now arrived. There is not a nation now existing, but, with regard to the action of the mind, must not have continued very inferior to certain savage nations, who have not two hundred different ideas, nor two hundred words to express those ideas; and whose language must consequently be reduced, like that of animals, to five or six different sounds or cries, if we take from it the words bow, arrow, nets, etc., which suppose the use of hands. From whence I conclude, that, without a certain exterior organization, sensibility and memory in us would prove two sterile faculties. We ought to examine if these two faculties, by the assistance of this organization, have in reality produced all our thoughts. But; before we examine this subject, I may possibly be asked whether these two faculties are modifications of a spiritual or a material substance? This question, which has formerly been so often debated by philosophers, and by some persons revived in our time, does not necessarily fall within the limits of my work.—-What I have to offer, with regard to the Mind, is equally conformable to either of these hypothesis. I shall therefore only observe that, if the church had not fixed our belief in respect to this particular, and we had been obliged by the light of reason alone to acquire a knowledge of the thinking, principle, we must have granted, that neither opinion is capable of demonstration; and consequently that, by weighing the reasons on both sides, balancing the difficulties, and determining in favor of the greater number of probabilities, we should form only conditional judgments. It would be the fate of this problem, as it hath been of many others, to be resolvable only by the assistance of the calculation of probabilities."
Helvetius, on the question "whether genius ought to be considered as a natural gift, or as an effect of education," says:—
"I am going to examine in this discourse what the mind receives from nature and education; for which purpose it is necessary first, to determine what is here meant by the word Nature. This word may raise in our minds a confused idea of a being or a force that has endued us with all our senses: now the senses are the sources of all our ideas. Being deprived of our senses, we are deprived of all the ideas relative to them: a man born blind has for this reason no idea of colors; it is then evident that, in this signification, genius ought to be considered as a gift of nature. But, if the word be taken in a different acceptation, and we suppose that among the men well formed and endued with all their senses, without any perceivable defect of their organization, nature has made such a remarkable difference, and formed such an unequal distribution of the intellectual powers, that one shall be so organized as to be stupid, and the other be a man of genius, the question will become more delicate. I confess that, at first, we cannot consider the great inequality in the minds of men, without admitting that there is the same difference between them as between bodies, some of which are weak and delicate, while others are strong and robust. What can here occasion such variations from the uniform manner wherein nature operates? This reasoning, it is true, is founded only on analogy. It is like that of the astronomers who conclude that the moon is inhabited, because it is composed of nearly the same matter as our earth.—How weak soever this reasoning may be, it must yet appear demonstrative; for, say they, to what cause can be attributed the great disproportion of intellects observable between people who appear to have had the same education! In order to reply to this objection, it is proper first to inquire, whether several men can, strictly speaking, have the same education; and for this purpose to fix the idea included in the word Education. If by education we merely understand that received in the same places, and under the same masters; in this sense the education is the same with an infinite number of men. But, if we give to this word a more true and extensive signification, and in general comprehend everything that relates to our instruction; then I say, that nobody receives the same education; because each individual has, for his preceptors, if I may be allowed to say so, the form of government under which he lives, his friends, his mistresses, the people about him, whatever he reads, and in short chance; that is, an infinite number or events, with respect to which our ignorance will not permit us to perceive their causes, and the chain that connects them together. Now, this chance has a greater share in our education than is imagined. It is this places certain objects before us, and in consequence of this, occasions more happy ideas, and sometimes leads to the greatest discoveries. To give some examples: it was chance that conducted Galileo into the gardens of Florence, when the gardeners were working the pumps: it was that which inspired those gardeners, when, not being able to raise the water above the height of 32 feet, to ask him the cause, and by that question piqued the vanity of the philosopher, put in action by so casual a question, that obliged him to make this natural effect the subject of his thoughts, till, at last, by discovering the weight of the air, he found the solution of the problem. In the moment when the peaceful soul of Newton was employed by no business, and agitated by no passion, it was also chance that, drawing him under an apple tree, loosened some of the fruit from the branches, and gave that philosopher the first idea of his system on gravitation: it was really this incident that afterwards made him turn his thoughts to inquire whether the moon does not gravitate towards the earth with the same force as that with which bodies fall on its surface? It is then to chance that great geniuses are frequently obliged for their most happy thoughts. How many great minds are confounded among the people of moderate capacities for want of a certain tranquillity of soul, the question of a gardener, or the fall of an apple!"
Of the "exclusive qualities of the Mind and Soul," Helvetius observes:—
"My view in the preceding chapters was to affix clear ideas to the several qualities of the mind, I propose in this to examine if there are talents that must necessarily exclude each other? This question, it is said, is determined by facts; no person is, at the same time, superior to all others in many different kinds of knowledge. Newton is not reckoned among the poets, nor Milton among the geometricians: the verses of Leibnitz are bad. There is not a man who, in a single art, as poetry, or painting, has succeeded in all the branches of it. Corneille and Racine have done nothing in comedy comparable to Moliere: Michael Angelo has not drawn the pictures of Albani, nor Albani painted those of Julius Romano. The genius of the greatest men appears then to be confined within very narrow limits. This is, doubtless, true: but I ask, what is the cause? Is it time, or is it wit, which men want to render themselves illustrious in the different arts and sciences? The progress of the human mind, it is said, ought to be the same in all the arts and sciences: the operations of the mind are reduced to the knowledge of the resemblances and differences that subsist between various objects. It is then by observation that we obtain, in all the different kinds of study, the new and general ideas on which our superiority depends. Every great physician, every great chemist, may then become a great geometrician, a great astronomer, a great politician, and the first, in short, in all the sciences This fact being stated, it will doubtless be concluded, that it is the short duration of human life that forces superior minds to limit themselves to one kind of study. It must, however, be confessed, that there are talents and qualities possessed only by the exclusion of some others. Among mankind some are filled with the love of glory, and are not susceptible of any other of the passions: some may excel in natural philosophy, civil law, geometry, and, in short, in all the sciences that consist in the comparison of ideas. A fondness for any other study can only distract or precipitate them into errors. There are other men susceptible not Only of the love of glory, but an infinite number of other passions: these may become celebrated in different kinds of study, where the success depends on being moved. Such is, for instance, the dramatic kind of writing: but, in order to paint the passions, we must, as I have already said, feel them very warmly: we are ignorant both of the language of the passions and of the sensations they excite in us, when we have not experienced them. Thus ignorance of this kind always produces mediocrity. If Fontenelle had been obliged to paint the characters of Rhadamistus, Brutus, or Cataline, that great man would certainly have fallen much below mediocrity.... Let a man, for instance, like M. de Fontenelle, contemplate, without severity, the wickedness of mankind; let him consider it, let him rise up against crimes without hating the criminals, and people will applaud his moderation; and yet, at the same instant, they will accuse him of being too lukewarm in friendship. They do not perceive, that the same absence of the passions, to which he owes the moderation they commend, must necessarily render him less sensible of the charms of friendship."
The "abuse of words" by different schools of philosophers is thus ably pointed out:—
"Descartes had before Locke observed that the Peripatetics, intrenching themselves behind the obscurity of words, were not unlike a blind man, who, in order to be a match for his clear-sighted antagonist, should draw him into a dark cavern. 'Now,' added he, 'if this man can introduce light into the cavern, and compel the Peripatetics to fix clear ideas to their words, the victory is his own. In imitation of Descartes and Locke, I shall show that, both in metaphysics and morality, the abuse of words, and the ignorance of their true import, is a labyrinth in which the greatest geniuses have lost themselves; and, in order to set this particular in a clear light, instance, in some of those words which have given rise to the longest and sharpest disputes among philosophers: such, in metaphysics, are Matter, Space, and Infinite. It has at all times been alternately asserted that Matter felt, or did not feel, and given rise to disputes equally loud and vague. It was very late before it came into the disputants! heads to ask one another, what they were disputing about, and to annex a precise idea to the word Matter. Had they at first fixed the meaning of it, they would have perceived, if I may use the expression, that men were the creators of Matter; that Matter was not a being; that in nature there were only individuals to which the name of Body had been given; and that this word Matter could import no more than the collection of properties common to all bodies. The meaning of this word being determined, all that remained was to know, whether extent, solidity, and impenetrability, were the only properties common to all bodies; and whether the discovery of a power, such for instance as attraction, might not give rise to a conjecture that bodies had some properties hitherto unknown, such as that of sensation, which, though evident only in the organized members of animals, might yet be common to all individuals! The question being reduced to this, it would have appeared that if, strictly speaking, it is impossible to demonstrate that all bodies are absolutely insensible, no man, unless instructed by a particular revelation, can decide the question otherwise than by calculating and comparing the verisimilitude of this opinion with that of the contrary...."
Instructed by the errors of great men who have gone before us, we should be sensible that our observations, however multiplied and concentrated, are scarcely sufficient to form one of those partial systems comprehended in the general system; add that it is from the depth of imagination that the several systems of the universe have hitherto been drawn; and, as our informations of remote countries are always imperfect, so the informations philosophers have of the system of the world are also defective. With a great genius and a multitude of combinations, the products of their labors will be only fictions till time and chance shall furnish then? with a general fact, to which all others may be referred.
"What I have said of the word Matter, I say also of Space. Most of the philosophers have made a being of it; and the ignorance of the true sense of the word has occasioned long disputes. They would have been greatly shortened by annexing a clear idea to this word; for then the sages would have agreed that Space, considered in bodies, is what we call extension; that we owe the idea of a void, which partly composes the idea of Space, to the interval seen betwixt two lofty mountains; an interval which, being filled only by air, that is, by a body which at a certain distance makes no sensible impression on us, must have given us an idea of a vacuum; being nothing more than a power of representing to ourselves mountains separated from each other, and the intervening distances not being filled by other bodies. With regard to the idea of Infinite, comprehended also within the idea of Space, I say that we owe this idea of Infinite only to the power which a man standing on a plain has of continually extending its limits, the boundary of his imagination not being determinable: the absence of limits is therefore the only idea we can form of Infinite. Had philosophers, previously to their giving any opinion on this subject, determined the signification of the word Infinite, I am inclined to believe they would have adopted the above definition, and not spent their time in frivolous disputes. To the false philosophy of former ages, our gross ignorance of the true signification of words is principally owing; as the art of abusing them made up the greatest part of that philosophy. This art, in which the whole science of the schools consisted, confounded all ideas; and the obscurity it threw on the expressions, generally diffused itself over all the sciences, especially morality."
The following remarks show Helvetia's notions of the "love of glory":—
"By the word Strong-Passion, I mean a passion the object of which is so necessary to our happiness, that without the possession of it life would be insupportable. This was Omar's idea of the passion, when he said, 'Whoever thou art, that lovest liberty, desirest to be wealthy without riches, powerful without subjects, a subject without a master, dare to condemn death: kings will then tremble before thee, whilst thou alone shalt fear no person.'.... It was the passion of honor and philosophic fanaticism alone that could induce Timicha, the Pythagorean, in the midst of torture, to bite off her tongue, that she might not expose herself to reveal the secrets of her sect. Cato, when a child, going with his tutor to Sylla's palace, at seeing the bloody heads of the proscribed, asked with impatience the name of the monster who had caused so many Roman citizens to be murdered. He was answered, it was Sylla: 'How,' says he, 'does Sylla murder thus, and is Sylla still alive?' 'Yes,' it was replied, 'the very name of Sylla disarms our citizens.' 'Oh! Rome,' cried Cato, 'deplorable is thy fate, since within the vast compass of thy walls not a man of virtue can be found, and the arm of a feeble child is the only one that will oppose itself against tyranny!' Then, turning towards his governor, 'Give me,' said he, 'your sword; I will conceal it under my robe, approach Sylla, and kill him. Cato lives, and Rome is again free.' If the generous pride, the passion of patriotism and glory, determine citizens to such heroic actions, with what resolution and intrepidity do not the passions inspire those who aim at distinction in the arts and sciences, and whom Cicero calls the peaceable heroes? It is from a desire of glory that the astronomer is seen, on the icy summits of the Cordileras, placing his instruments in the midst of snows and frost; which conducts the botanist to the brinks of precipices in quest of plants; which anciently carried the juvenile lovers of ihe sciences into Egypt, Ethiopia, and even into the Indies, for visiting the most celebrated philosophers, and acquiring from their conversation the principles of their doctrine. How strongly did this passion exert itself in Demosthenes, who, for perfecting his pronunciation, used every day to stand on the sea-shore, and with his mouth full of pebbles harangue the agitated waves! It was from the same desire of glory that the young Pythagoreans submitted to a silence of three years, in order to habituate themselves to recollection and meditation; it induced Democritus to shun the distractions of the world, and retire among the tombs, to meditate on those valuable truths, the discovery of which, as it is always very difficult, is also very little esteemed; in fine, it was this that prompted Heraclitus to cede to his younger brother the throne of Ephesus, to which he had the right of primogeniture, that he might give himself up entirely to philosophy; which made the Athletic improve his strength, by denying himself the pleasures of love; it was also from a desire of popular applause that certain ancient priests renounced the same pleasures, and often, as Boindin pleasantly observes of them, without any other recompense for their continence than the perpetual temptation it occasions,... 'The cause,' says Cardinal Richelieu, 'why a timorous mind perceives an impossibility in the most simple projects, when to an elevated mind the most arduous seems easy, is, because, before the latter the mountains sink, and before the former mole-hills are metamorphosed into mountains.'"
The different motives that influence our conduct are thus stated:—
"A mother idolizes her son; 'I love him,' says she, 'for his own sake.' However, one might reply, you take no care of his education, though you are in no doubt that a good one would contribute infinitely to his happiness; why, therefore, do not you consult some men of sense about him, and read some of the works written on this subject? 'Why, because,' says she, 'I think I know as much of this matter as those authors and their works.' But how did you get this confidence in your own understanding? Is it not the effect of your indifference? An ardent desire always inspires us with a salutary distrust of ourselves. If we have a suit at law of considerable consequence, we visit counsellors and attorneys, we consult a great number, and examine their advice. Are we attacked by any of those lingering diseases, which incessantly place around us the shades and horrors of death? We seek physicians, compare their opinions, read physical books, we ourselves become little physicians. Such is the conduct prompted by a warm interest. With respect to the education of children, if you are not influenced in the same manner, it is because you do not love your son as well as yourself. 'But,' adds the mother, 'what then should be the motive of my tenderness?' Among fathers and mothers, I reply, some are influenced by the desire of perpetuating their name in their children; they properly love only their names; others are fond of command, and see in their children their slaves. The animal leaves its young when their weakness no longer keeps them in dependence; and paternal love becomes extinguished in almost all hearts, when children have, by their age or station, attained to independence. 'Then,' said the poet Saadi, 'the father sees nothing in them but greedy heirs,' and this is the cause, adds some poet, of the extraordinary love of the grandfather for his grandchildren; he considers them as the enemies of his enemies. There are, in short, fathers and mothers, who make their children their playthings and their pastime. The loss of this plaything would be insupportable to them; but would their affliction prove that they loved the child for itself? Everybody knows this passage in the life of M. de Lauzun: he was in the Bastile; there, without books, without employment, a prey to lassitude and the horrors of a prison, he took it in his head to tame a spider. This was the only consolation he had left in his misfortune. The governor of the Bastile, from an inhumanity common to men accustomed to see the unhappy, crushed the spider. The prisoner felt the most cutting grief, and no mother could be affected by the death of a son with a more violent sorrow. Now whence is derived this conformity of sentiments for such different objects? It is because, in the loss of a child, or in the loss of the spider, people frequently weep for nothing but for the lassitude and want of employment into which they fall. If mothers appear in general more afflicted at the death of a child than fathers employed in business, or given up to the pursuit of ambition, it is not because the mother loves her child more tenderly, but because she suffers a loss more difficult to be supplied. The errors, in my opinion, are, in this respect, very frequent; people rarely cherish a child for its own sake. That paternal love of which so many men make a parade, and by which they believe themselves so warmly affected, is most frequently nothing more than an effect, either of a desire of perpetuating their names, or of pride of command...... Do you not know that Galileo was unworthily dragged to the prison of the Inquisition, for having maintained that the sun is placed in the centre, and does not move around the earth; that his system first offended the weak, and appeared directly contrary to that text of Scripture—'Sun, stand thou still?' However, able divines have since made Galileo's principles agree with those of religion. Who has told you, that a divine more happy or more enlightened than you, will not remove the contradiction, which you think you perceive between your religion, and the opinion you resolve to condemn! Who forces you by a precipitate censure to expose, if not religion, at least its ministers, to the hatred excited by persecution? Why, always borrowing the assistance of force and terror, would you impose silence on men of genius, and deprive mankind of the useful knowledge they are capable of dispensing? You obey, you say, the dictates of religion. But it commands you to distrust yourselves, and to love your neighbor. If you do not act in conformity to these principles, you are then not actuated by the spirit of God. But you say, by whom then are we inspired? By laziness and pride. It is laziness, the enemy of thought, which makes you averse to those opinions, which you cannot, without study and some fatigue of attention, unite with the principles received in the schools; but which being proved to be philosophically true, cannot be theologically false. It is pride, which is ordinarily carried to a greater height in the bigot than in any other person, which makes him detest in the man of genius the benefactor of the human race, and which exasperates him against the truths discovered by humility. It is then this laziness and this pride, which, disguising themselves under the appearance of zeal, render them the persecutors of men of learning; and which in Italy, Spain, and Portugal, have forged chains, built gibbets, and held the torch to the piles of the Inquisition. Thus the same pride, which is so formidable in the devout fanatic, and which in all religions makes him persecute, in the name of the Most High, the men of genius, sometimes arms against them the men in power. After the example of those Pharisees, who treated as criminals the persons who did not adopt all their decisions, how many viziers treat, as enemies to the nation, those who do not blindly approve their conduct!"
FRANCES W. D'ARUSMONT.
The previous issues of this publication contain notices of the lives and writings of men of eminence in the world of Freethought. This number is devoted to a review of the career and works of a most talented and accomplished lady—a Freethinker and Republican. As a proof—if any proof were needed—that women, if adequately educated, are equally capable with men to become teachers and reformers, the works of the subject of present notice afford abundant evidence. The efforts now being made to procure an adjustment of the laws relating to women, whereby they will be protected in their property, and consequently improved in their social position, deserve the support of all classes; When females become independent, there will be less ignorance among women and more happiness among men.
Frances Wright, afterwards Madame D'Arusmont, was a native of Dundee. She was born on the 6th of September, 1795. She came of a wealthy family, who had been extensive holders of city property from the year 1500. Her father was a man of considerable literary attainments, and to his active antiquarian researches and donations the British Museum is indebted for many rare and valuable coins and medals. He died young, as also his wife, leaving three children—two girls and a boy. Frances was then but two years and a half old. At the wish of her grandfather, General Duncan Campbell, she was taken to England, and reared as a ward of Chancery, under the guardianship of a maternal aunt. She grew to be very tall in person, erect, and of a commanding figure; large eyes, and magnificent head, with a face somewhat masculine, but well formed, and decidedly handsome. Her brother was sent to India, at the age of fifteen, as a cadet in the East India Company's service, and was killed on the passage out in an encounter with a French vessel. Her sister passed her life with her, and died in Paris in 1831.
At an early age, Miss Wright gave evidence of great intellectual ability. The education she received was of a very superior kind. She diligently applied herself to the various branches of science, and to the study of ancient and modern letters and the arts, being impelled by a strong desire for knowledge. At the age of nineteen, she published her first work, "A Few Days in Athens." Her attention was early drawn to the sufferings of the lower classes, and on reflection she became convinced that some great vice lay at the foundation of the whole of human practice: She determined to endeavor to discover, and assist in removing it. She read Bocca's "History of the American Revolution," and resolved to visit that country, it appearing to her young imagination as the land of freedom and hope.—After having familiarised herself with the government and institutions of America, she sailed for New York 1818. She returned to England in 1820, and published a large volume, entitled "Views of Society and Manners in America." It was dedicated to Jeremy Bentham, and had a large sale. The work being translated into most of the continental languages, she became known to the prominent reformers of Europe.
In 1821, she made her first visit to Paris, and was there introduced to General Lafayette, who, having previously read her work on America, invited her to that city. A republican in all her views and hopes, she was highly appreciated by Lafayette and other eminent supporters of the liberal party in France.—She remained in Paris until 1824, when she returned to the United States, and immediately undertook a project for the abolition of slavery upon a plan somewhat different from any that then engaged the attention of philanthropists. For this purpose she purchased two thousand acres of land at Chickasaw Bluffe, (now Memphis, Tennessee), intending to make a good farm rather than a cotton plantation. She then purchased several slave families, gave them their liberty, and removed them to the farm, residing there herself to direct their labor. Commencing this novel undertaking with all that enthusiasm for which she was remarkable, she continued the experiment some three years and a half, when her health gave way, and, suffering under severe sickness, she made a voyage to Europe for her recovery. During her absence, the farm got involved in difficulties by the influence of her enemies; and finally, the whole project falling through, the negroes were sent off to Hayti at her expense.—She gave much time and money to the carrying forward of this experiment; and though it was a failure, it strikingly exhibited her strong sympathy and benevolence for an oppressed and degraded class of beings. Returning from Europe, she went to New Harmony (Indiana) to assume the proprietorship of a periodical the Harmony Gazette, which had been published under the direction of Robert Dale Owen. In 1828, leaving Mr. Owen in charge of the paper, she began a lecturing tour through the Union; and probably no man, and certainly no woman, ever met with such furious opposition. Her views, as announced in her paper, had made her generally known, and, being somewhat new and radically "anti-theological," brought down upon her head the rancor of religious bigotry. As no church or hall would be opened for her, she lectured in theatres; and her ability and eloquence drew great audiences. On one occasion, while preparing to lecture in a theatre at Baltimore, she was threatened with the destruction of her life if she attempted to speak. She calmly replied, that she thought she knew the American people, and for every riotous fanatic that might annoy her, a hundred good citizens would protect her, and she was not afraid to place herself in their hands. She judged rightly. She went to the theatre, which was crammed from pit to ceiling, and lectured to an admiring and enthusiastic audience. In other cities she was not always so fortunate; more or less rioting occurred, while the press, almost without exception, denounced her in the bitterest terms. Subsequently, her paper was removed to New York. Some years afterwards, she again made a lecturing tour, but this time she spoke on subjects of a political nature, and met with a better reception. In addition to lecturing, she conducted a political magazine, entitled the Manual of American Principles, and was also engaged with Mr. Kneeland in editing the Boston Investigator. She wrote a great deal, and upon many subjects. Among her many works is a tragedy called "Altorf," which was performed on the stage, the principal character being sustained by Mr. James Wallack. Her last work, of any considerable size, was entitled "England the Civiliser," published in London in 1847.
Madame D'Arusmont died suddenly in Cincinnati, on Tuesday, December 14, 1852, aged fifty-seven. She had been for sometime unwell, in consequence of a fall upon the ice the previous winter, which broke her thigh, and probably hastened her decease; but the immediate cause of her death was the rupture of a blood vessel. She was aware of her situation, knew when she was dying, and met her last hour with perfect composure. A daughter, her only child, survives her.
In a small work entitled "Observations on Religion and Civilization," are given the following "Definitions of Theology and Religion: in the words and in the things signified. Origin and Nature of Theology:"—
"Theology from the Greek theos, logos, renders distinct the meaning of the subject it attempts to treat.—Theos, God, or Gods, unseen beings and unknown causes. Logos, word, talk—or, if we like to employ yet more familiar and expressive terms, prattle or chatter. Talk, or prattle, about unseen beings or unknown causes, The idleness of the subject, and inutility—nay, absolute insanity of the occupation, sufficiently appears in the strict etymological meaning of the word employed to typify them. The danger, the mischief, the cruelly immoral, and, if I may be permitted to coin a word for the occasion, the unhumanizing tendencies both of the subject and the occupation, when and where these are (as they have for the most part ever been throughout the civilized world) absolutely protected by law and upheld by government, sufficiently appear also from the whole page of history. Religion, from the Latin religio, religio, renders with equal distinctness the things signified. Religo, to tie over again, to bind fast; religio, a binding together, a bond of union. The importance of the great reality, here so accurately shadowed out, appears sufficiently in the etymological signification of the word. Its utility will be evident if we read, with intelligence, the nature, the past history, the actual condition, and the future destiny of man. But now, taking these two things in the most strict etymological sense of the words which express them, it will readily be distinguished that the first is a necessary creation of the human intellect in a certain stage of inquiry; the second, a necessary creation of the human soul (by which I understand both our intellectual and moral faculties taken conjointly) in any and every state of human civilization. Theology argues, in its origin, the first awakening of human attention to the phenomena of nature, and the first crude efforts of human ingenuity to expound them. While man sees the sun and stars without observing either their diurnal or their annual revolutions; while he receives upon his frame the rain and the wind, and the varying elements, without observing either their effects upon himself or upon the field of nature around him, he is as the brute which suffers and enjoys without inquiring why it experiences light or darkness, pain or pleasure. When first he puts, in awkward language, to himself or to his fellow, the question why does such an effect follow such a cause? he commences his existence, if not as a reasonable being, (a state at which he has not yet arrived) at least as a being capable of reason. The answer to this first inquiry of awakening intelligence is, of course, such as his own circumscribed observation supplies.—It is, in fine, in accordance with the explanation of the old nurse to the child, who, asking, when startled by a rolling peal of thunder—'what makes that noise' was fully satisfied by the reply: 'my darling, it is God Almighty overhead moving his furniture.' Man awakening to thought, but still unfamiliar with the concatenation of natural phenomena, inevitably conceives of some huge being, or beings, bestriding the clouds and whirlwind, or wheeling the sun and the moon like chariots through the blue vault. And so again, fancy most naturally peoples the gloom of the night with demons, the woods and the waters with naiads and dryads, elves and fairies, the church-yard with ghosts, and the dark cave and the solitary cot with wizards, imps and old witches. Such, then, is theology in its origin; and, in all its stages, we find it varying in grossness according to the degree of ignorance of the human mind; and, refining into verbal subtleties and misty metaphysics in proportion as that mind exchanges, in its progress from darkness to light, the gloom of ignorance for the mass of terror."
The nature of belief in the unknowable, and the dire consequences arising from fanaticism, are ably depicted in the following passages, selected from Lecture IV., on "Religion:"—
"Admitting religion to be the most important of all subjects, its truths must be the most apparent; for we shall readily concede, both that a thing true, must be always of more or less importance—and that a thing essentially important, must always be indisputably true. Now, again, I conceive we shall be disposed to admit, that exactly in proportion to the indisputability of a truth, is the proof it is capable of affording; and that, exactly in proportion to the proof afforded, is our admission of such truth and belief in it. If, then, religion be the most important subject of human inquiry, it must be that also which presents the most forcible, irrefragable, and indisputable truths to the inquirer.—It must be that on which the human mind can err the least, and where all minds must be the most agreed. If religion be at once a science, and the most true of all sciences, its truths must be as indisputable as those in any branch of the mathematics—as apparent to all the senses as those revealed by the chemist or observed by the naturalist, and as easily referred to the test of our approving or disapproving sensations, as those involved in the science of morals.... Is religion a science? Is it a branch of knowledge? Where are the things known upon which it rests? Where are the accumulated facts of which it is compounded? What are the human sensations to which it appeals? Knowledge is compounded of things known. It is an accumulation of facts gleaned by our senses, within the range of material existence, which is subject to their investigation.... Now let us see where, in the table of knowledge, we may class religion. Of what part or division of nature, or material existence, does it treat? What bodies, or what properties of tangible bodies, does it place in contact with our senses, and bring home to the perception of our faculties? It clearly appertains not to the table of human knowledge, for it treats not of objects discoverable within the field of human observation. 'No,' will you say? 'but its knowledge is superhuman, unearthly—its field is in heaven.' My friends, the knowledge which is not human, is of slippery foundation to us human creatures. Things known, constitute knowledge; and here is a science treating of things unseen, unfelt, uncomprehended! Such cannot be knowledge. What, then, is it? Probability? possibility? theory? hypothesis? tradition? written? spoken? by whom? when? where? Let its teachers—nay, let all earth reply! But what confusion of tongues and voices now strike on the ear! From either Indies, from torrid Africa, from the frozen regions of either pole, from the vast plains of ancient Asia, from the fields and cities of European industry, from the palaces of European luxury, from the soft chambers of priestly ease, from the domes of hierarchal dominion, from the deep cell of the self-immolated monk, from the stony cave of the self-denying anchorite, from the cloud-capt towers, spires, and minarets of the crescent and the cross, arise shouts, and hosannas, and anathemas, in the commingled names of Brama, and Veeshnu, and Creeshna, and Juggernaut; heavenly kings, heavenly queens, triune deities, earth-born gods, heaven-born prophets, apotheosized monarchs, demon-enlightened philosophers, saints, angels, devils, ghosts, apparitions, and sorceries! But, worse than these sounds which but stun the ear and confound the intellect, what sights, oh! human kind! appal the heart! The rivers of earth run blood! Nation set against nation! Brother against brother! Man against the companion of his bosom! and that soft companion, maddened with the frenzy of insane remorse for imaginary crimes? fired with the rage of infatuated bigotry, or subdued to diseased helplessness and mental fatuity, renounces kindred, flies from social converse, and pines away a useless or mischievous existence in sighings and tremblings, spectral fears, uncharitable feelings and bitter denunciations! Such are thy doings, oh! religion! Or, rather, such are thy doings, oh! man! While standing in a world so rich in sources of enjoyment, so stored with objects of real inquiry and attainable knowledge, yet shutting thine eyes, and, worse, thine heart, to the tangible things and sentient creatures around thee, and winging thy diseased imagination beyond the light of the sun which gladdens thy world, and contemplation of the objects which are here to expand thy mind and quicken the pulses of thy heart!... I will pray ye to observe how much of our positive misery originates in our idle speculations in matters of faith, and in our blind, our fearful forgetfulness of facts—our cold, heartless, and, I will say, insane indifference to visible causes of tangible evil, and visible sources of tangible happiness. Look to the walks of life, I beseech ye—look into the public prints—look into your sectarian churches—look into the bosoms of families—look into your own bosoms, and those of your fellow beings, and see how many of our disputes and dissensions, public and private—how many of our unjust actions—how many of our harsh judgments—how many of our uncharitable feelings—spring out of our ignorant ambition to rend the veil which wraps from our human senses the knowledge of things unseen, and from our human faculties the conception of causes unknown? And oh! my fellow beings! do not these very words unseen and unknown, warn the enthusiast against the profanity of such inquiries, and proclaim to the philosopher their futility? Do they not teach us that religion is no subject for instruction, and no subject for discussion? Will they not convince us that as beyond the horizon of our observation we can know nothing, so within that horizon's the only safe ground for us to meet in public?... Every day we see sects splitting, creeds new modelling, and men forsaking old opinions only to quarrel about their opposites.
"I see three Gods in one, says the Trinitarian, and excommunicates the Socinian, who sees a God-head in unity. I see a heaven but no hell, says the Universalist, and disowns fellowship with such as may distinguish less. 'I see a heaven and hell also, beyond the stars,' said lately the Orthodox friend, and expelled his shorter-sighted brethren from the sanctuary. I seek them both in the heart of man, said the more spiritual follower of Penn, and straightway builded him up another temple, in which to quarrel with his neighbor, who perhaps only employs other words to express the same ideas. For myself, pretending to no insight into these mysteries, possessing no means of intercourse with the inhabitants of other worlds, confessing my absolute incapacity to see either as far back as a first cause, or as far forward as a last one, I am content to state to you, my fellow creatures, that all my studies, reading, reflection, and observation, have obtained for me no knowledge beyond the sphere of our planet, our earthly interests and our earthly duties; and that I more than doubt whether, should you expend all your time and all your treasure in the search, you will be able to acquire any better information respecting unseen worlds and future events than myself."
The philosophical romance, "A Few Days in Athens," though the first of Miss Wright's works, and written when she was very young, displays considerable power and eloquence. It is the most pleasing of all her writings. It is intended to portray the doctrines of Epicurus, and gives a picture of the Gargettian, in the "Gardens of the Academy," surrounded by his pupils, calculated to counteract many of the popular and erroneous notions entertained of that philosopher's teachings. The following dialogue between Epicurus and his favorite, Theon, will afford the readers of the "Half-Hours" an opportunity of judging how far Miss Wright has conveyed a truthful idea of Epicurus's ethical philosophy:—
"On leaving you, last night," said Theon, "I encountered Cleanthes. He came from the perusal of your writings, and brought charges against them which I was unprepared to answer."
"Let us hear them, my son; perhaps, until you shall have perused them yourself, we may assist your difficulty."