Ancient and Modern Celebrated Freethinkers - Reprinted From an English Work, Entitled "Half-Hours With - The Freethinkers."
by Charles Bradlaugh, A. Collins, and J. Watts
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"First, that they deny the existence of the Gods."

"I see but one other assertion that could equal that in folly," said Epicurus.

"I knew it," exclaimed Theon, triumphantly, "I knew it was impossible. But where will not prejudice lead men, when even the uptight Cleanthes is capable of slander?"

"He is utterly incapable of it," said the Master; "and the inaccuracy, in this case, I rather suspect to rest with you than with him. To deny the existence of the Gods would indeed be presumption in a 'philosopher; a presumption equalled only by that of him who should assert their existence."

"How!" exclaimed the youth, with a countenance in which astonishment seemed to suspend every other expression.

"As I never saw the Gods, my son," calmly continued the Sage, "I cannot assert their existence; and that I never saw them, is no reason for my denying it."

"But do we believe nothing except that of which we have ocular demonstration?"

"Nothing, at least, for which we have not the evidence of one or more of our senses; that is, when we believe on just grounds, which I grant, taking men collectively, is very seldom."

"But where would this spirit lead us! To impiety!—to Atheism!—to all, against which I felt confidence in defending the character and philosophy of Epicurus!"

"We will examine presently, my son, into the meaning of the terms you have employed. When you first entered the Garden your mind was unfit for the examination of the subject you have now started: it is no longer so; and we will therefore enter upon the inquiry, and pursue it in order."

"Forgive me if I express—if I acknowledge," said the youth, slightly recoiling from his instructor, "some reluctance to enter on the discussion of truths, whose very discussion would seem to argue a doubt, and"—

"And what then!"

"That very doubt were a crime."

"If the doubt of any truth shall constitute a crime, then the belief of the same truth should constitute a virtue."

"Perhaps a duty would rather express it!" "When you charge the neglect of any duty as crime, or account its fulfilment a virtue, you suppose the existence of a power to neglect or fulfil; and it is the exercise of this power, in the one way or the other which constitutes the merit or demerit. Is it not so?"


"Does the human mind possess the power to believe or disbelieve, at pleasure, any truths whatsoever."

"I am not prepared to answer: but I think it does, since it possesses always the power of investigation."

"But, possibly, not the will to exercise the power. Take care lest I beat you with your own weapons. I thought this very investigation appeared to you a crime?"

"Your logic is too subtle," said the youth, "for my inexperience."

"Say, rather, my reasoning too close. Did I bear you down with sounding words and weighty authorities, and confound your understanding with hair-drawn distinctions, you would be right to retreat from the battery."

"I have nothing to object to the fairness of your deductions," said Theon. "But would not the doctrine be dangerous that should establish our inability to help our belief; and might we not stretch the principle, until we asserted our inability to help our actions?"

"We might, and with reason. But we will not now traverse the ethical pons asinorum of necessity—the most simple and evident of mortal truths, and the most darkened, tortured, and belabored by moral teachers. You inquire if the doctrine we have essayed to establish, be not dangerous. I reply—not, if it be true.—Nothing is so dangerous as error—nothing so safe as truth. A dangerous truth would be a contradiction in terms, and an anomaly in things."

"But what is a truth?" said Theon.

"It is pertinently asked. A truth I consider to be an ascertained fact; which truth would be changed to an error, the moment the fact, on which it rested, was disproved."

"I see, then, no fixed basis for truth."

"It surely has the most fixed of all—the nature of things. And it is only an imperfect insight into that nature which occasions all our erroneous conclusions, whether in physics or morals."

"But where, if we discard the Gods and their will, as engraven on our hearts, are our guides in the search after truth?"

"Our senses and our faculties as developed in and by the exercise of our senses, are the only guides with which I am acquainted. And I do not see why, even admitting a belief in the Gods, and in a superintending Providence, the senses should not be viewed as the guides provided by them, for our direction and instruction. But here is the evil attendant on an ungrounded belief, whatever be its nature. The moment we take one thing for granted, we take other things for granted; we are started in a wrong road, and it is seldom that we gain the right one, until we have trodden back our steps to the starting place. I know but of one thing that a philosopher should take for granted; and that only because he is forced to it by an irresistible impulse of his nature; and because, without doing so, neither truth nor falsehood could exist for him. He must take for granted the evidence of his senses; in other words, he must believe in the existence of things, as they exist to his senses. I know of no other existence, and can therefore believe in no other: although, reasoning from analogy, I may imagine other existences to be.—This, for instance, I do as respects the Gods. I see around me, in the world I inhabit, an infinite variety in the arrangement of matter—a multitude of sentient beings, possessing different kinds and varying grades of power and intelligence—from the worm that crawls in the dust, to the eagle that soars to the sun, and man who marks to the sun its course. It is possible, it is moreover probable, that, in the worlds which I see not—in the boundless infinitude and eternal duration of matter, beings may exist, of every countless variety, and varying grades of intelligence, inferior and superior to our own, until we descend to a minimum and rise to a maximum, to which the range of our observation affords no parallel, and of which our senses are inadequate to the conception. Thus far, my young friend, 1 believe in the Gods, or in what you will of existences removed from the sphere of my knowledge. That you should believe, with positiveness, in one unseen existence or another, appears to me no crime, although it may appear to me unreasonable; and so, my doubt of the same should appear to you no moral offence, although you might account it erroneous. I fear to fatigue your attention, and will, therefore, dismiss, for the present, these abstruse subjects."

"But we shall both be amply repaid for their discussion, if this truth remain with you—that an opinion, right or wrong, can never constitute a moral offence, nor be in itself a moral obligation. It may be mistaken; it may involve an absurdity, or a contradiction.—It is a truth; or it is an error: it can never be a crime or a virtue."—[Chapter xiv.]

Miss Wright was a poetess, as well as a politician and writer on ethics. In her "Fourth of July" address, delivered in the New Harmony Hall, in 1828, in commemoration of the American Independence, is the following:—

"Is there a thought can fill the human mind More pure, more vast, more generous, more refined Than that which guides the enlightened patriot's toil? Not he whose view is bounded by his soil— Not he whose narrow heart can only shrine The land, the people that he calleth mine— Not he who, to set up that land on high, Will make whole nations bleed, whole nations die— Not he who, calling that land's rights his pride, Trampleth the rights of all the earth beside. No! He it is, the just, the generous soul, Who owneth brotherhood with either pole, Stretches from realm to realm his spacious mind, And guards the weal of all the human kind— Holds freedom's banner o'er the earth unfurl'd, And stands the guardian patriot of a world!"

J. W.


Epicurean.—One who holds the principles of Epicurus— Luxurious, contributing to luxury.

Epicurism—The principles of Epicurus—Luxury, sensual enjoyment, gross pleasure.

The words with which this page is headed may be found in the current and established dictionaries of the present day; and it shall be our task to show that never was slander more foul, calumny more base, or libel more cowardly, than when it associated the words luxury and sensuality with the memory of the Athenian Epicurus. The much-worn anecdote of the brief endorsed "The Defendant has no case, abuse the Plaintiffs Solicitor," will well apply here. The religionists had no case, the Epicurean Philosophy was impregnable as far as theological attacks were concerned, and the theologians have, therefore, constantly and vehemently abused its founder; so that, at last, children have caught the cry as though it were the enunciation of a tact, and have grown into men believing that Epicurus was a sort of discriminating hog, who wallowed in the filth which some have miscalled pleasure.

Epicurus was born in the early part of the year 344, B. C, the third year of the 109th Olympiad, at Gargettus, in the neighborhood of Athens. His father, Neocles, was of the AEgean tribe. Some allege that Epicurus was born in the island of Samos; but, according to others, he was taken there when very young by his parents, who formed a portion of a colony of Athenian citizens, sent to colonize Samos after its subjugation by Pericles. The father and mother of Epicurus were in very humble circumstances; his father was a schoolmaster, and his mother, Chaerestrata, acted as a kind of priestess, curing diseases, exorcising ghosts, and exercising other fabulous powers. Epicurus has been charged with sorcery, because he wrote several songs for his mother's solemn rites. Until eighteen, he remained at Samos and the neighboring isle of Teos; from whence he removed to Athens, where he resided until the death of Alexander, when, disturbances arising, he fled to Colophon. This place, Mitylene, and Lampsacus, formed the philosopher's residence until he was thirty-six years of age; at which time he founded a school in the neighborhood of Athens. He purchased a pleasant garden, where he taught his disciples until the time of his death.

We are told by Laertius, "That those disciples who were regularly admitted into the school of Epicurus, lived together, not in the manner of the Pythagoreans, who cast their possessions into a common stock; for this, in his opinion, implied mutual distrust rather than friendship; but upon such a footing of friendly attachment, that each individual cheerfully supplied the necessities of his brother."

The habits of the philosopher and his followers were temperate and exceedingly frugal, and formed a strong contrast to the luxurious, although refined, manners of the Athenians. At the entrance of the garden, the visitor of Epicurus found the following inscription:—"The hospitable keeper of this mansion, where you will find pleasure the highest good, will present you with barley cakes and water from the spring. These gardens will not provoke your appetite by artificial dainties, but satisfy it with natural supplies. Will you not, then, be well entertained?" And yet the owner of the garden, over the gate of which these words were placed, has been called "a glutton" and "a stomach worshipper!"

From the age of thirty-six until his decease, he does not seem to have quitted Athens, except temporarily. When Demetrius besieged Athens, the Epicureans were driven into great difficulties for want of food; and it is said that Epicurus and his friends subsisted on a small quantity of beans which he possessed, and which he shared equally with them.

The better to prosecute his studies, Epicurus lived a life of celibacy. Temperate and continent himself, he taught his followers to be so likewise, both by example and precept. He died 273 B. C, in the seventy-third year of his age; and, at that time, his warmest opponents seem to have paid the highest compliments to his personal character; and, on reading his life, and the detailed accounts of his teachings, it seems difficult to imagine what has induced the calumny which has been heaped upon his memory.

We "cannot quote from his own works, in his own words, because, although he wrote very much, only a summary of his writings has come to us uninjured; but his doctrines have been so fully investigated and treated on, both by his opponents and his disciples, that there is no difficulty or doubt as to the principles inculcated in the school of Epicurus.

"The sum of his doctrine concerning philosophy, in general, is this:—Philosophy is the exercise of reason in the pursuit and attainment of a happy life; whence it follows, that those studies which conduce neither to the acquisition nor the enjoyment of happiness are to be dismissed as of no value. The end of all speculation ought to be, to enable men to judge with certainty what is to be chosen, and what to be avoided, to preserve themselves free from pain, and to secure health of body, and tranquillity of mind. True philosophy is so useful to every man, that the young should apply to it without delay, and the old should never be weary of the pursuit; for no man is either too young or too old to correct and improve his mind, and to study the art of happiness. Happy are they who possess by nature a free and vigorous intellect, and who are born in a country where they can prosecute their inquiries without restraint: for it is philosophy alone which raises a man above vain fears and base passions, and gives him the perfect command of himself. As nothing ought to be dearer to a philosopher than truth, he should, pursue it by the most direct means, devising no actions himself, nor suffering himself to be imposed upon by the fictions of others, neither poets, orators, nor logicians, making no other use of the rules of rhetoric or grammar, than to enable him to speak or write with accuracy and perspicuity, and always preferring a plain and simple to an ornamented style. Whilst some doubt of everything, and others profess to acknowledge everything, a wise man will embrace such tenets, and only such as are built upon experience, or upon certain and indisputable axioms."

The following is a summary of his Moral Philosophy:—

"The end of living, or the ultimate good, which is to be sought for its own sake, according to the universal opinion of mankind, is happiness; yet men, for the most part, fail in the pursuit of this end, either because they do not form a right idea of the nature of happiness, or because they do not make use of proper means to attain it. Since it is every man's interest to be happy through the whole of life, it is the wisdom of every one to employ philosophy in the search of felicity without delay; and there cannot be a greater folly, than to be always beginning to live.

"The happiness which belongs to man, is that state in which he enjoys as many of the good things, and suffers as few of the evils incident to human nature as possible; passing his days in a smooth course of permanent tranquillity. A wise man, though deprived of sight or hearing, may experience happiness in the enjoyment of the good things which yet remain; and when suffering torture, or laboring under some painful disease, can mitigate the anguish by patience, and can enjoy, in bis afflictions, the consciousness of bis own constancy. But it is impossible that perfect happiness can be possessed without the pleasure which attends freedom from pain, and the enjoyment of the good things of life. Pleasure is in its nature good, as pain is in its nature evil; the one is, therefore, to be pursued, and the other to be avoided, for its own sake.—Pleasure, or pain, is not only good, or evil, in itself, but the measure of what is good or evil, in every object of desire or aversion; for the ultimate reason why we pursue one thing, and avoid another, is because we expect pleasure from the former, and apprehend pain from the latter. If we sometimes decline a present pleasure, it is not because we are averse to pleasure itself, but because we conceive, that in the present instance, it will be necessarily connected with a greater pain. In like manner, if we sometimes voluntarily submit to a present pain, it is because we judge that it is necessarily connected with a greater pleasure.—Although all pleasure is essentially good, and all pain essentially evil, it doth not thence necessarily follow, that in every single instance the one ought to be pursued, and the other to be avoided; but reason is to be employed in distinguishing and comparing the nature and degrees of each, that the result may be a wise choice of that which shall appear to be, upon the whole, good. That pleasure is the first good, appears from the inclination which every animal, from its first birth, discovers to pursue pleasure, and avoid pain; and is confirmed by the universal experience of mankind, who are incited to action by no other principle than the desire of avoiding pain, or obtaining pleasure. There are two kinds of pleasure: one consisting in a state of rest, in which both body and mind are undisturbed by any kind of pain; the other arising from an agreeable agitation of the senses, producing a correspondent emotion in the soul. It is upon the former of these that the enjoyment of life chiefly depends. Happiness may therefore be said to consist in bodily ease, and mental tranquillity, When pleasure is asserted to be the end of living, we are not then to understand that violent kind of delight or joy which arises from the gratification of the senses and passions, but merely that placid state of mind, which results from the absence of every cause of pain or uneasiness. Those pleasures, which arise from agitation, are not to be pursued as in themselves the end of living, but as means of arriving at that stable tranquillity, in which true happiness consists. It is the office of reason to confine the pursuit of pleasure within the limits of nature, in order to the attainment of that happy state, in which the body is free from every kind of pain, and the mind from all perturbation. This state must not, however, be conceived to be perfect in proportion as it is inactive and torpid, but in proportion as all the functions of life are quietly and pleasantly performed. A happy life neither resembles a rapid torrent, nor a standing pool, but is like a gentle stream, that glides smoothly and silently along.

"This happy state can only be obtained by a prudent care of the body, and a steady government of the mind. The diseases of the body are to be prevented by temperance, or cured by medicine, or rendered tolerable by patience. Against the diseases of the mind, philosophy provides sufficient antidotes. The instruments which it employs for this purpose are the virtues; the root of which, whence all the rest proceed, is prudence. This virtue comprehends the whole art of living discreetly, justly, and honorably, and is, in fact, the same thing with wisdom. It instructs men to free their understandings from the clouds of prejudice; to exercise temperance and fortitude in the government of themselves: and to practice justice towards others. Although pleasure, or happiness, which is the end of living, be superior to virtue, which is only the means, it is every one's interest to practice all the virtues; for in a happy life, pleasure can never be separated from virtue.

"A prudent man, in order to secure his tranquillity, will consult his natural disposition in the choice of his plan of life. If, for example, he be persuaded that he should be happier in a state of marriage than in celibacy, he ought to marry; but if he be convinced that matrimony would be an impediment to his happiness, he ought to remain single. In like maimer, such persons as are naturally active, enterprising, and ambitious, or such as by the condition of their birth are placed in the way of civil offices, should accommodate themselves to their nature and situation, by engaging in public affairs; while such as are, from natural temper, fond of leisure and retirement, or, from experience or observation, are convinced that a life of public business would be inconsistent with their happiness, are unquestionably at liberty, except where particular circumstances call them to the service of their country, to pass their lives in obscure repose.

"Temperance is that discreet regulation of the desires and passions, by which we are enabled to enjoy pleasures without suffering any consequent inconvenience. They who maintain such a constant self-command, as never to be enticed by the prospect of present indulgence, to do that which will be productive of evil, obtain the truest pleasure by declining pleasure. Since, of desires some are natural and necessary; others natural, but not necessary; and others neither natural nor necessary, but the offspring of false judgment; it must be the office of temperance to gratify the first class, as far as nature requires: to restrain the second within the bounds of moderation; and, as to the third, resolutely to oppose, and, if possible, entirely repress them.

"Sobriety, as opposed to inebriety and gluttony, is of admirable use in teaching men that nature is satisfied with a little, and enabling them to content themselves with simple and frugal fare. Such a manner of living is conducive to the preservation of health: renders a man alert and active in all the offices of life; affords him an exquisite relish of the occasional varieties of a plentiful board, and prepares him to meet every reverse of fortune without the fear of want.

"Continence is a branch of temperance, which prevents the diseases, infamy, remorse, and punishment, to which those are exposed, who indulge themselves in unlawful amours. Music and poetry, which are often employed as incentives to licentious pleasure are to be cautiously and sparingly used.

"Gentleness, as opposed to an irrascible temper, greatly contributes to the tranquillity and happiness of life, by preserving the mind from perturbation, and arming it against the assaults of calumny and malice. A wise man, who puts himself under the government of reason, will be able to receive an injury with calmnese, and to treat the person who committed it with lenity; for he will rank injuries among the casual events of life, and will prudently reflect that he can no more stop the natural current of human passions, than he can curb the stormy winds. Refractory servants in a family should be chastised, and disorderly members of a state punished without wrath.

"Moderation, in the pursuit of honors or riches, is the only security against disappointment and vexation. A wise man, therefore, will prefer the simplicity of rustic life to the magnificence of courts. Future events a wise man will consider as uncertain, and will, therefore, neither suffer himself to be elated with confident expectation, nor to be depressed by doubt and despair: for both are equally destructive of tranquillity. It will contribute to the enjoyment of life, to consider death as the perfect termination of a happy life, which it becomes us to close like satisfied guests, neither regretting the past, nor anxious for the future.

"Fortitude, the virtue which enables us to endure pain, and to banish fear, is of great use in producing tranquillity. Philosophy instructs us to pay homage to the gods, not through hope or fear, but from veneration of their superior nature. It moreover enables us to conquer the fear of death, by teaching us that it is no proper object of terror; since, whilst we are, death is not, and when death arrives, we are not: so that it neither concerns the living nor the dead. The only evils to be apprehended are bodily pain, and distress of mind. Bodily pain it becomes a wise man to endure with patience and firmness; because, if it be slight, it may easily be borne; and if it be intense, it cannot last long. Mental distress commonly arises not from nature, but from opinion; a wise man will therefore arm himself against this kind of suffering, by reflecting that the gifts of fortune, the loss of which he may be inclined to deplore, were never his own, but depended upon circumstances which he could not command. If, therefore, they happen to leave him, he will endeavor, as soon as possible, to obliterate the remembrance of them, by occupying his mind in pleasant contemplation, and engaging in agreeable avocations.

"Justice respects man as living in society, and is the common bond without which no society can subsist. This virtue, like the rest, derives its value from its tendency to promote the happiness of life. Not only is it never injurious to the man who practices it, but nourishes-in his mind calm reflections and pleasant hopes; whereas it is impossible that the mind in which injustice dwells, should not be full of disquietude.—Since it is impossible that iniquitous actions should promote the enjoyment of life, as much as remorse of conscience, legal penalties, and public disgrace, must increase its troubles, every one who follows the dictates of sound reason, will practice the virtues of justice, equity, and fidelity. In society, the necessity of the mutual exercise of justice, in order to the common enjoyment of the gifts of nature, is the ground of those laws by which it is prescribed. It is the interest of every individual in a state to conform to the laws of justice; for by injuring no one, and rendering to every man his due, he contributes his part towards the preservation of that society, upon the perpetuity of which his own safety depends. Nor ought any one to think that he is at liberty to violate the rights of his fellow citizens, provided he can do it securely; for he who has committed an unjust action can never be certain that it will not be discovered; and however successfully he may conceal it from others, this will avail him little, since he cannot conceal it from himself. In different communities, different laws may be instituted, according to the circumstances of the people who compose them. Whatever is thus prescribed is to be considered as a rule of justice, so long as the society shall judge the observance of it to be for the benefit of the whole. But whenever any rule of conduct is found upon experience not to be conducive to the public good, being no longer useful, it should no longer be prescribed.

"Nearly allied to justice are the virtues of beneficence, compassion, gratitude, piety, and friendship.—He who confers benefits upon others, procures to himself the satisfaction of seeing the stream of plenty spreading around him from the fountain of his beneficence; at the same time, he enjoys the pleasure of being esteemed by others. The exercise of gratitude, filial affection, and reverence for the gods, is necessary, in order to avoid the hatred and contempt of all men. Friendships are contracted for the sake of mutual benefit; but by degrees they ripen into such disinterested attachment, that they are continued without any prospect of advantage. Between friends there is a kind of league, that each will love the other as himself. A true friend will partake of the wants and sorrows of his friend, as if they were his own; if he be in want, he will relieve him; if he be in prison, he will visit him; if he be sick, he will come to him; nay-situations may occur, in which he would not scruple to die for him. It cannot then be doubted, that friendship is one of the most useful means of procuring a secure, tranquil, and happy life."

No man will, we think, find anything in the foregoing summary to justify the foul language used against Epicurus, and his moral philosophy; the secret is in the physical doctrines, and this secret is, that Epicurus was actually, if not intentionally, an Atheist. The following is a summary of his physical doctrine:—

"Nothing can ever spring from nothing, nor can anything ever return to nothing. The universe always existed, and will always remain; for there is nothing into which it can be changed. There is nothing in Nature, nor can anything be conceived, besides body and space. Body is that which possesses the properties of bulk, figure, resistance, and gravity: it is this alone which can touch or be touched. Space is the region which is, or may be, occupied by body, and which affords it an opportunity of moving freely. That there are bodies in the universe is attested by the senses. That there is also space is evident; since otherwise bodies would have no place in which to move or exist, and of their existence and motion we have the certain proof of perception. Besides these, no third nature can be conceived; for such a nature must either have bulk and solidity, or want them; that is, it must either be body or space: this does not, however, preclude the existence of qualities, which have no subsistence but in the body to which they belong.

"The universe, consisting of body and space, is infinite, for it has no limits. Bodies are infinite in multitude; space is infinite in magnitude. The term above, or beneath, high or low, cannot be properly applied to infinite space. The universe is to be conceived as immoveable, since beyond it there is no place into which it can move; and as eternal and immutable, since it is neither liable to increase nor decrease, to production nor decay. Nevertheless, the parts of the universe are in motion, and are subject to change.

"All bodies consist of parts, of which they are composed, and into which they may be resolved; and these parts are either themselves simple principles, or may be resolved into such. These first principles, or simple atoms, are divisible by no force, and, therefore, must be immutable. This may also be inferred from the uniformity of Nature, which could not be preserved if its principles were not certain and consistent. The existence of such atoms is evident, since it is impossible that anything which exists should be reduced to nothing. A finite body cannot consist of parts infinite, either in magnitude or number; divisibility of bodies ad infinitum, is therefore conceivable. All atoms are of the same nature, or differ in no essential qualities—From their different effects upon the senses, it appears, however, that they differ in magnitude, figure, and weight. Atoms exist in every possible variety of figure—round, oval, conical, cubical, sharp, hooked, etc. But in every shape, they are, on account of their solidity, infrangible, or incapable of actual division.

"Gravity must be an essential property of atoms; for since they are perpetually in motion, or making an effort to move, they must be moved by an internal impulse, which may be called gravity.

"The principle of gravity, that internal energy which is the cause of all motion, whether simple or complex, being essential to the primary corpuscles or atoms, they must have been incessantly and from eternity in actual motion."

Epicurus, who boasts that he was an inquirer and a philosopher in his thirteenth year, was scarcely likely to bow his mind to the mythology of his country. The man who, when he was but a schoolboy, insisted upon an answer to the question, "Whence came chaos?" could hardly be expected to receive as admitted facts the fabulous legends as to Jupiter and the other gods. His theology is, however, in some respects, obscure, and unintelligible; for while he zealously opposed the popular fables, which men misname God-ideas, he at the same time admitted the existence of material gods, whom he placed in the intervals between the infinite worlds, where they passed a life undisturbed by aught, and enjoyed a happiness which does not admit of augmentation. These inactive gods play a strange part in the system of Epicurus; and it is asserted by many that these extraordinary conceptions of Deity were put forward by the philosopher to screen him from the consequences attaching to a charge of Atheism. Dr. Heinrich Ritter, who does not seem very friendly disposed towards Epicurus, or his philosophy, repudiates this notion, and argues Epicurus was not in truth an Atheist, and alleges that it was a mere pretence on his part; and that from his very theory of knowledge the existence of gods could be deduced. This has been much litigated, (vide Electric Review for 1806, p. 606.) It is quite evident that Epicurus neither regarded "the gods" in the capacity of Creators, controllers, or rulers, so that his Theism (if it be Theism) twas not of a very superstitious character. The God who neither created man, nor exercised any influence whatever over his actions or thinkings, could have but little to do with man at all.

If we attempt to review the whole of the teachings of Epicurus, we and they are defective and imperfect in many respects, and necessarily so. We say necessarily so, because the imperfect science of the day limited the array of facts presented to the philosopher, and narrowed the base upon which he was to erect his system. We must expect, therefore, to find the structure weak in many points, because it was too large for the foundation; but we are not, therefore, to pass it on one side, and without further notice; it should rather be our task to lay good, wide, and sure foundations, On which to build up a system, and develope a method, really having, for its end, the happiness of mankind. We live 2000 years later than the Athenian philosopher.—In those 2000 years many facts have been dragged out of "the circle of the unknown and unused." Astronomy, geology, physiology, psychology—all except theology are belter understood. Men pretend they are searching after happiness, and where do they try to find it? Not here amongst the known, but in the possible hereafter amongst the unknowable. How do they try to find it? Not by the aid of the known, not by the light of facts, gathered in years of toil, and sanctified by the blood of some of the noblest of truth's noble martyrs; no—but in the darkness of the unknown and unknowable; in the next world. Question the men who fly to theology for happiness, and they will tell you that the most learned of the theologians sum up their knowledge in the word "incomprehensible." Is it wonderful that their happiness is somewhat marred "here" by quarrels as to the true definition of "hereafter?" G. H. Lewes says, of the Epicurean philosophy, "that the attempt failed because the basis was not broad enough. The Epicureans are therefore to be regarded as men who ventured on a great problem, and failed because they only saw part of the truth." And we might add that Christianity, and every other religious "anity," fails, because the professors expect to obtain happiness in the next life, and neglect to work for it in the present one.

Epicurus says, no life can be pleasant except a virtuous life; and he charges you to avoid whatever maybe calculated to create disquiet in the mind, or give pain to the body. The Rev. Habbakuk Smilenot, of little Bethel, says that all pleasure here, is vanity and vexation in the hereafter; and he charges you to continually worry and harass your mind with fears that you may be condemned to hell, and doubts whether you will be permitted to enter heaven. Which is the best, the philosophy of Epicurus, or the theology of Smilenof?

G. H. Lewes says:—"Epicureanism, in leading man to a correct appreciation of the moral end of his existence, in showing him how to be truly happy, has to combat with many obstructions which hide from him the real road of life. These obstructions are his illusions, his prejudices, his errors, his ignorance. This ignorance is of two kinds, as Victor Cousin points out; ignorance of the laws of the external world, which creates absurd superstitions, and troubles the mind with false fears and false hopes. Hence the necessity of some knowledge of physics." (We can scarcely blame Epicurus that he was not in advance of his time, as far as the physical sciences are concerned, and therefore imparted an imperfect system of physics. We must, with our improved knowledge, ourselves remove the obstruction.) "The second kind of ignorance is that of the nature of man. Socrates had taught men to regard their own nature as the great object of investigation; and this lesson Epicurus willingly gave ear to.—But man does not interrogate his own nature out of simple curiosity, or simple erudition; he studies his nature in order that he may improve it; he learns the extent of his capacities, in order that he may properly direct them. The aim, therefore, of all such inquiries must be happiness."

We may add that the result of all such inquiries will be happiness, if the inquirer will but base his investigation and experiments upon facts. Let him understand that, as he improves the circumstances which surround him, so will he advance himself, becoming happier, and making his fellows happy also. Remember the words of Epicurus, and seek that pleasure for yourself which appears the most durable, and attended with the greatest pleasure to your fellow men.



In the previous number we gave a short sketch of the opinions of Epicurus. In this we shall deal with the founder of a rival sect—the Stoics. Amongst the disciples and students in the Stoic schools have been many illustrious names, and not the least worthy is the name with which we are now dealing.

Zeno was born at Cittius, a small maritime town in the Island of Cyprus. This place having been originally peopled by a colony of Phoenicians, Zeno is sometimes called a Phoenician; but at the period when he flourished, it was chiefly inhabited by Greeks. The date of his birth is uncertain, but must have been about the year B.C. 362. His father was a merchant, and Zeno appears to have been, in the early part of his life, engaged in mercantile pursuits. He received a very liberal education from his father, whom, we are told, perceived in his son a strong inclination for philosophical studies, and who purchased for Zeno the writings of the Socratic philosophers; which were studied with avidity, and which undoubtedly exercised a considerable influence over his future thinkings. When about thirty years of age, he made a trading voyage from Cittius to Athens, with a very valuable cargo of Phoenician purple, but was unfortunately shipwrecked on the coast of Greece, and the whole of his freight destroyed. It is supposed that this severe loss, which must have considerably reduced his means, materially influenced Zeno, and induced him to embrace the tenets of the Cynics, whose leading principle was a contempt of riches. We are told that upon is first arrival in Athens, he went into the shop of a bookseller, and took up, by accident, a volume of the "Commentaries of Xenophon." Alter reading a few pages, Zeno was so much delighted with the work, that he asked the bookseller to direct him where he might meet such men as the author? Crates, the Cynic philosopher, passed by at the time, and the bookseller said, "Follow that man!" He did so, and after listening to several of his discourses, was so pleased with the doctrines of the Cynics, that he became a disciple. He did not long remain attached to the Cynic school—their peculiar manners were too gross for him; and his energetic and inquiring mind was too much cramped by that indifference to all scientific investigation which was one of their leading characteristics. He therefore sought instruction elsewhere, and Stilpo, of Megara, became his teacher, from whom he acquired the art of disputation, in which he afterwards became so proficient. The Cynics were displeased at his following other philosophy, and we are told that Crates attempted to drag him by force out of the school of Stilpo, on which Zeno said, "You may seize my body, but Stilpo has laid hold of my mind." The Megaric doctrine was, however, insufficient. Zeno was willing to learn all that Stilpo could teach, but having learned all, his restless and insatiable appetite for knowledge required more, and after an attendance of several years upon the lectures of Stilpo, he passed over to the expositors of Plato, Xenocrates, and Polemo. The latter philosopher appears to have penetrated Zeno's design in attending the various schools—i.e., to collect materials from various quarters for a new system of his own; and when he came to the school, Polemo said, "I am no stranger, Zeno, to your Phoenician arts; I perceive that your design is to creep slily into my garden, and steal away my fruit." After twenty years of study, having mastered the tenets of the various schools, Zeno determined to become the founder of a sect himself. In accordance with this determination, he opened a school in a public portico, called the Painted Porch, from the pictures of Polygnotus, and other eminent painters, with which it was adorned. This portico became famous in Athens, and was called (Stoa)—-the Porch. From this Stoa the school derived its name, the students being called the Stoics. Zeno was a subtle reasoner, and exceedingly popular. He taught a strict system of morals and exhibited a pleasing picture of moral discipline in his own life. As a man, his character appears deserving of the highest respect. He became exceedingly respected and revered at Athens for the probity and severity of bis life and manners, and consistency thereof with his doctrine. He possesed so large a share of public esteem that the Athenians decreed him a golden crown, and on account of his approved integrity, deposited the keys of their citadel in his hands. Antigouus Gonates, King of Macedon, was a constant attendant at his lectures whilst at Athens, and when that monarch returned, he earnestly invited Zeno to his court. During the philosopher's lifetime, the Athenians erected a statue of brass as a mark of the estimation in which they held him.

Zeno lived to the extreme age of ninety-eight, when, as he was leaving, his school one day, he fell and broke his finger. The consciousness of his infirmity afflicted him so much, that he exclaimed, "Why am I thus importuned? Earth, I obey thy summons!" and immediately going home, he put his affairs in order, and strangled himself. In person, Zeno was tall and slender; his brow was furrowed with thought; and this, with his long and close application to study, gave a tinge of severity to his aspect. Although of a feeble constitution, he preserved his health by his great abstemiousness, his diet consisting of figs, bread, and honey. He was plain and modest in his dress and habits and very frugal in all his expenses, showing the same respect for the poor as for the rich, and conversing as freely with the slave as he did with the king. Independent in spirit, he broke off all communication with his friend Democharis, because that person had offered to procure a gratuity for Zeno from the King of Macedon. His system appears to have been little more than a collection from his various lessons of whatever was most in unison with his peculiar habit of thought, and an attempt to reconcile and combine in one system the various elements of different theories. Taking from so many schools various portions of their doctrine, he seems to have provoked the antagonism of many of his contemporaries, and several philosophers of learning and ability employed their eloquence to diminish the growing influence of the new school. Towards the close of his life, he found a powerful antagonist in the person of Epicurus, and the Epicureans and Stoics have since treated each other as rival sects. Zeno's school appears to have been generally a resort for the poor, and it was a common joke amongst his adversaries, that poverty was the charm for which he was indebted for his scholars. The list of his disciples, however, contains the names of some very rich and powerful men, who may have regarded the Stoic theory as a powerful counter-agent to the growing effeminacy of the age. After Zeno's death, the Athenians, at the request of Antigonus, erected a monument to his memory, in the Ceramicura.

From the particulars which have been related concerning Zeno, it will not be difficult to perceive what kind of influence his circumstances and character must have had upon his philosophical system. If his doctrines be diligently compared with the history of his life, it will appear, that having attended upon many eminent preceptors, and being intimately conversant with their opinions, he compiled, out of their various tenets, an heterogeneous system, on the credit of which he assumed to himself the title of the founder of a new sect.... The dialectic arts which Zeno learned in the school of Diodorus Chronus, he did not fail to apply to the support of his own system, and to communicate to bis followers. As to the moral doctrine of the Cynic sect, to which Zeno strictly adhered to the last, there can be no doubt that he transferred it almost without alloy, into his own school. In morals, the principal difference between the Cynics and the Stoics was, that the former disdained the cultivation of nature, the latter affected to rise above it. On the subject of physics, Zeno received his doctrine through the channel of the Platonic school, as will fully appear from a careful comparison of their respective systems. The Stoic philosophy, being in this manner of heterogeneous origin, it necessarily partook of the several systems of which it was composed. The idle quibbles, jejune reasonings, and imposing sophisms, which so justly exposed the schools of the dialectic philosophers to ridicule, found their way into the Porch, where much time was wasted, and much ingenuity thrown away, upon questions of no importance. Cicero censures the Stoics for encouraging in their schools a barren kind of disputation, and employing themselves in determining trifling questions, in which the disputants can have no interest, and which, at the close, leave them neither wiser nor better. And that this censure, is not, as some modern advocates for Stoicism have maintained, a mere calumny, but grounded upon fact, sufficiently appears from what is said by the ancients, particularly by Sextus Empiricus, concerning the logic of the Stoics. Seneca, who was himself a Stoic, candidly acknowledges this. It may, perhaps, be thought surprising that philosophers, who affected so much gravity and wisdom, should condescend to such trifling occupations. But it must be considered, that, at this time, a fondness for subtle disputations so generally prevailed in Greece, that excellence in the arts of reasoning and sophistry was a sure path to fame. The Stoics, with whom vanity was unquestionably a ruling passion, were ambitious for this kind of reputation. Hence it was that they engaged with so much vehemence in verbal contests, and that they largely contributed towards the confusion, instead of the improvement, of science, by substituting vague and ill-defined terms in the room of accurate conceptions. The moral part of the Stoical philosophy, in like manner, partook of the defects of its origin. It may be as justly objected against the Stoics as the Cynics, that they assumed an artificial severity of manners, and a tone of virtue above the condition of a man. Their doctrine of moral wisdom was an ostentatious display of words, in which little regard was paid to nature and reason. It professed to raise human nature to a degree of perfection before unknown; but its real effect was, merely to amuse the ear, and captivate the fancy, with fictions which can never be realized.... The extravagancies and absurdities of the Stoical philosophy may also be in some measure ascribed to the vehement contests which subsisted between Zeno and the Academics on the one hand, and between him and Epicurus on the other. For, not only did these disputes give rise to many of the dogmas of Stoicism, but led Zeno and his followers, in the warmth of controversy, to drive their arguments to the utmost extremity, and to express themselves with much greater confidence than they would probably otherwise have done. This is, perhaps, the true reason why so many extravagant notions are ascribed to the Stoics, particularly upon the subject of morals. Whilst Epicurus taught his followers to seek happiness in tranquillity, Zeno imagined his wise man, not only free from all sense of pleasure, but void of all passions and emotions, and capable of being happy in the midst of torture. That he might avoid the position taken by the Epicureans, he had recourse to a moral institution, which bore indeed the lofty front of wisdom, but which was elevated far above the condition and powers of human nature. The natural disposition of Zeno, and his manner of life, had, moreover, no inconsiderable influence in fixing the peculiar character of his philosophy. By nature severe and morose, and constitutionally inclined to reserve and melancholy, he early cherished this habit by submitting to the austere ami rigid discipline of the Cynics. Those qualities which he conceived to be meritorious in himself, and which he found to conciliate the admiration of mankind, he naturally transferred to his imaginary character of a wise or perfect man.

In order to form an accurate judgment concerning the doctrine of the Stoics, besides a careful attention to the particulars already enumerated, it will be necessary to guard with the utmost caution against two errors, into which several writers have fallen. Great care should be taken, in the first place, not to judge of the doctrine of the Stoics from words and sentiments, detached from the general system, but to consider them as they stand, related to the whole train of premises and conclusions.... The second caution is, not to confound the genuine doctrines of Zeno, and other ancient fathers of this sect, with the glosses of the later Stoics.... Out of the many proofs of this change, which might be adduced, we shall select one, which is the more worthy of notice, as it has occasioned many disputes among the learned. The doctrine we mean is that concerning fate. This doctrine, according to Zeno and Chrysippus, implies an eternal and immutable series of causes and effects, within which all events are included, and to which the Deity himself is subject: whereas, the later Stoics, changing the term fate into the Providence of God, discoursed with great plausibility on this subject, but still in reality retained the ancient doctrine of universal fate. From this example, a judgment may be formed concerning the necessity of using some caution, in appealing to the writings of Seneca, Antoninus, and Epictetus, as authorities, in determining what were the original doctrines of the Stoic philosophers.

Concerning philosophy in general, the doctrine of the Stoics was, that wisdom consists in the knowledge of things divine and human; that philosophy is such an exercise of the mind as produces wisdom; that in this exercise consists the nature of virtue; and consequently, that virtue is a term of extensive meaning, comprehending the right employment of the mind in reasoning, in the study of nature, and in morals. The wisdom of the Stoics is either progressive, through several stages; or perfect, when every weakness if subdued, and every error corrected, without the possibility of a relapse into folly, or vice, or of being again enslaved by any passion, or afflicted by any calamity. With Socrates and the Cynics, Zeno represented virtue as the only true wisdom; but being disposed to extend the pursuits of his wise man into the regions of speculation and science, he gave, after his usual manner, a new signification to an old term, and comprehended the exercise of the understanding in the search of truth, as well as the government of the appetites and passions, under the general term, virtue. The great importance of the united exercise of the intellectual and active powers of the mind, are thus beautifully asserted by the philosophical emperor:—"Let every one endeavor so to think and act, that his contemplative and active faculties may at the same time be going on towards perfection. His clear conceptions, and certain knowledge, will then produce within him an entire confidence in himself, unperceived perhaps by others, though not affectedly concealed, which will give a simplicity and dignity to his character; for he will at all times be able to judge, concerning the several objects which come before him, what is their real nature, what place they hold in the universe, how long they are by nature fitted to last, of what materials they are composed, by whom they may be possessed, and who is able to bestow them, or take them away." The sum of the definitions and rules given by the Stoics concerning logic is this:—Logic is either rhetorical or dialectic. Rhetorical logic is the art of reasoning and discoursing on those subjects which require a diffuse kind of declamation. Dialectic is the art of close argumentation in the form of disputation or dialogue. The former resembles an open, the latter, a closed hand.—Rhetoric is of three kinds, deliberative, judicial, and demonstrative. The dialectic art is the instrument of knowledge, as it enables a man to distinguish truth from error, and certainty from bare probability. This art considers things as expressed by words, and words themselves. External things are perceived by a certain impression, made either upon some parts of the brain, or upon the percipient faculty, which may be called an image, since it is impressed upon the mind, like the image of a seal upon wax.

This image is commonly accompanied with a belief of the reality of the thing perceived; but not necessarily, since it does not accompany every image, but those only which are not attended with any evidence of deception. Where only the image is perceived by itself, the thing is apprehensible; where it is acknowledged and approved as the image of some real thing, the impression is called apprehension, because the object is apprehended by the mind as a body is grasped by the hand. Such apprehension, if it will bear the examination of reason, is knowledge; if it is not examined, it is mere opinion; if it will not bear this examination, it is misapprehension. The senses, corrected by reason, give a faithful report; not by affording a perfect apprehension of the entire nature of things, but by leaving no room to doubt of their reality. Nature has furnished us with these apprehensions, as the elements of knowledge, whence further conceptions are raised in the mind, and a way is opened for the investigations of reason. Some images are sensible, or received immediately through the senses; others rational, which are perceived only in the mind. These latter are called notions, or ideas. Some images are probable, to which the mind assents without hesitation; others improbable, to which it does not readily assent; and others doubtful, where it is not entirely perceived, whether they are true or false. True images are those which arise from things really existing, and agree with them. False images, or phantasms, are immediately derived from no real object. Images are apprehended by immediate perception, through the senses, as when we see a man; consequentially, by likeness, as when from a portrait we apprehend the original; by composition, as when, by compounding a horse and man, we acquire the image of a Centaur; by augmentation, as in the image of a Cyclops; or by diminution, as in that of a pigmy. Judgment is employed either in determining, concerning particular things, or concerning general propositions. In judging of things we make use of some one of our senses, as a common criterion or measure of apprehension, by which we judge whether a thing is, or is not; or whether or not it exists with certain properties; or we apply to the thing, concerning which a judgment is to be formed, some artificial measure, as a balance, a rule, etc., or we call in other peculiar measures to determine things not perceptible by the senses. In judging of general propositions, we make use of our pre-conceptions, or universal principles, as criteria, or measures of judgment. The first impressions from the senses produce in the mind an involuntary emotion; but a wise man afterwards deliberately examines them, that he may know whether they be true or false, and assents to, or rejects them, as the evidence which offers itself to his understanding appears sufficient or insufficient. This assent, or approbation, will indeed be as necessarily given, or withheld, according to the ultimate state of the proofs which are adduced, as the scales of a balance will sink or rise, according to the weights which are placed upon them; but while the vulgar give immediate credit to the reports of the senses, wise men suspend their assent, till they have deliberately examined the nature of things, and carefully estimated the weight of evidence. The mind of man is originally like a blank leaf, wholly without characters, but capable of receiving any. The impressions which are made upon it, by means of the senses, remain in the memory, after the objects which occasioned them are removed; a succession of these continued impressions, made by similar, objects, produces experience; and hence arises permanent notions, opinions, and knowledge. Even universal principles are originally formed by experience from sensible images. All men agree in their common notions or preconceptions; disputes only arise concerning the application of these to particular cases.

Let us pass on to the Stoical doctrine concerning nature. According to Zeno and his followers, there existed from eternity a dark and confused chaos, in which was contained the first principles of all future beings. This chaos being at length arranged, and emerging into variable forms, became the world, as it now subsists. The world, or nature, is that whole which comprehends all things, and of which all thing are parts and members. The universe, though one whole, contains two principles, distinct from elements, one passive, the other active. The passive principle is pure matter without qualities; the active principle is reason, or God. This is the fundamental doctrine of the Stoics concerning nature....The Stoical system teaches, that both the active and passive principles in nature are corporeal, since whatever acts or suffers must be so. The efficient cause, or God, is pure ether, or fire, inhabiting the exterior surface of the heavens, where every thing which is divine is placed. This ethereal substance, of divine fire, comprehends all the vital principles by which individual beings are necessarily produced, and contains the forms of things, which from the highest regions of the universe, are diffused through every other part of nature. Seneca, indeed, calls God incorporeal reason; but by this term he can only mean to distinguish the divine ethereal substance from gross bodies; for, according to the Stoics, whatever has a substantial existence is corporeal; nothing is incorporeal, except that infinite vacuum which surrounds the universe; even mind and voice are corporeal, and, in like manner, Deity. Matter, or the passive principle, in the Stoical system, is destitute of all qualities, but ready to receive any form, inactive, and without motion, unless moved by some external cause. The con =trary principle, or the ethereal operative fire, being active, and capable of producing all things from matter, with consummate skill, according to the forms which it contains, although in its nature corporeal, considered in opposition to gross and sluggish matter, or to the elements, is said to be immaterial and spiritual. For want of carefully attending to the preceding distinction, some writers have been so far imposed upon, by the bold innovations of the Stoics in the use of terms, as to inter from the appellations which they sometimes apply to the Deity, that they conceived him to be strictly and properly incorporeal. The truth appears to be, that, as they sometimes spoke of the soul of man, a portion of the Divinity, as an exceedingly rare and subtle body, and sometimes as a warm or fiery spirit,* so they spoke of the Deity as corporeal, considered as distinct from the incorporeal vacuum, or infinite space; but as spiritual, considered in opposition to gross and inactive matter. They taught, indeed, that God is underived, incorruptible, and eternal, possessed of intelligence, good and perfect, the efficient cause of all the peculiar qualities or forms of things; and the constant preserver and governor of the world; and they described the Deity under many noble images, and in the most elevated language. The hymn of Cleanthes, in particular, is justly admired for the grandeur of its sentiments, and the sublimity of its diction. But if in reading these descriptions, we hastily associate with them modern conceptions of Deity, and neglect to recur to the leading principles of the sect, we shall be led into fundamental misapprehensions of the true doctrine of Stoicism. For according to this sect. God and matter are alike underived and eternal, and God is the former of the universe in no other sense than as he has been the necessary efficient cause, by which motion and form have been impressed upon matter.

What notions the Stoics entertained of God sufficiently appears from the single opinion of his finite nature; an opinion which necessarily followed from the notion that he is only a part of a spherical, and therefore a finite universe. On the doctrine of divine providence, which was one of the chief points upon which the Stoics disputed with the Epicureans, much is written, and with great strength and elegance, by Seneca, Epictetus, and other later Stoics. But we are not to judge of the genuine and original doctrine of this sect from the discourses of writers who had probably corrupted their language on this subject, by visiting the Christian school. The only way to form an accurate judgment of their opinions concerning Providence, is to compare their popular language upon this head with their general system, and explain the former consistently with the fundamental principles of the latter.

If this be fairly done, it will appear that the agency of Deity is, according to the Stoics, nothing more than the active motion of a celestial ether, or fire, possessed of intelligence, which at first gave form to the shapeless mass of gross matter, and being always essentially united to the visible world by the same necessary agency, preserves its order and harmony.

The Stoic idea of Providence is, not that of a being, wholly independent of matter, freely directing and governing all things, but that of a necessary chain of causes and effects, arising from the action of a power, which is itself a part of the existence which it regulates, and which equally with that existence is subject to the immutable law of necessity. Providence, in the Stoic creed, is only another name for absolute necessity, or fate, to which God and matter, or the universe, which consists of both, is immutably subject. The rational, efficient, and active principle in nature, the Stoics called by various names: Nature, fate, Jupiter, God.

"What is nature," says Seneca, "but God; the divine reason, inherent in the whole universe, and in all its parts? or you may call him, if you please, the author of all things."

And again: "Whatever appellations imply celestial power and energy, may be justly applied to God; his names may properly be as numerous as his offices," The term nature, when it is at all distinguished in the Stoic system from God, denotes not a separate agent, but that order of things which is necessarily produced by his perpetual agency. Since the active principle of nature is comprehended within the world, and with matter makes one whole, it necessarily follows that God penetrates, pervades, and animates matter, and the things which are formed from it; or, in other words, that he is the soul of the universe.

The universe is, according to Zeno and his followers, "a sentient and animated being." Nor was this a new tenet, but, in some sort, the doctrine of all antiquity. Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and after these, Zeno, taking it for granted that there is no real existence which is not corporeal, conceived nature to be one whole, consisting of a subtle ether and gross matter, the former the active, the latter the passive principle, as essentially united as the soul and body of man that is, they supposed God, with respect to nature, to be, not a co-existing, but an informing principle.

Concerning the second principle in the universe, matter, and concerning the visible world, the doctrine of the Stoics is briefly this:—Matter is the first essence of all things, destitute of, but capable of receiving, qualities. Considered universally, it is an eternal whole, which neither increases nor decreases. Consideree! with respect to its parts, it is capable of increase or diminution, of collision and separation, and is perpetually changing. Bodies are continually tending towards dissolution; matter always remains the same. Matter is not infinite, but finite, being circumscribed by the limits of the world; but its parts are infinitely divisible. The world is spherical in its form; and is surrounded by an infinite vacuum. The action of the divine nature upon matter first produced the element of moisture, and then the other elements, fire, air, and earth, of which all bodies are composed. Air and fire have essential levity, or tend towards the exterior surface of the world; earth and water have essential gravity, or tend towards the centre. All the elements are capable of reciprocal conversion; air passing into fire, or into water; earth into air and water; but there is this essential difference among the elements, that fire and air have within themselves a principle of motion, while water and earth are merely passive.... The world, including the whole of nature, God and matter, subsisted from eternity, and will for ever subsist; but the present regular frame of nature had a beginning, and will have an end. The parts tend towards a dissolution, but the whole remains immutably the same. The world is liable to destruction from the prevalence of moisture, or of dryness; the former producing a universal inundation, the latter a universal conflagration. These succeed each other in nature as regularly as winter and summer. When the universal inundation takes place, the whole surface of the earth is covered with water, and all animal life is destroyed; after which, nature is renewed and subsists as before, till the element of fire, becoming prevalent in its turn, dries up all the moisture, converts every substance into its own nature, and at last, by a universal conflagration, reduces the world to its pristine state. At this period, all material forms are lost in one chaotic mass: all animated nature is re-united to the Deity, and nature again exists in its original form, as one whole, consisting of God and matter. From this chaotic state, however, it again emerges, by the energy of the efficient principle, and gods, and men, and all the forms of regulated nature, are renewed, and to be dissolved and renewed in endless succession. The above is collated from Ritter, Enfield, and Lewes, as a specimen of one of the earlier phases of Freethought. Freethought as then expressed had many faults and flaws, but it has grown better every day, extending and widening its circle of utterance, and we hope that it will continue to do so.



It is easy to mark the progress of the age by recurring to the history of past Freethinkers. Bishops, established and dissenting, are now repeating the parts the old Deiste played. They were sadly treated for setting the example, modern divines follow with applause.

Matthew Tindal was an example of this. He labored to establish religion on the foundation of Reason and Nature. It was to be expected that Christians would be pleased at efforts which would have no effect but to strengthen its foundations. The effort was met by reprobation, and resented as an injury. It is but a just retaliation that believers should now have to establish in vain that evidence they once denounced.

Matthew Tindal was an English Deistical writer, who was born at Beer-Terres, in Devonshire, 1656.—His father, it appears, was a clergyman, who held the living of Beer-Terres, presented to him by the University of Cambridge, in the time of the Civil Wars.—Young Matthew was educated at Oxford, where at twenty-eight he took the degree of LL.D. Matthew Tindal, LL. D., was early tossed about by the winds of doctrine. First he embraced Romanism: afterwards he became a Protestant. Then politics interested him, and he engaged in controversy on the side of William III. He was appointed Commissioner of a Court for Trying Foreigners. In 1693 he published an essay on the Law of Nations When fifty-four, in 1710, he entered so vigorously into theological controversy, arising out of Trinitarian criticism, that his marked satire led to his books being condemned by the House of Commons, and burnt by the hangman. He resented this indignity by a spirited attack on the dominant priestly party in his "High Church Catechism," and he also wrote in defence of philosophical necessity. But his most notable work was the performance of his old age, his "Christianity as Old as the Creation: or, the Gospel, a Republication of the Religion of Nature." This was produced in his seventy-third year. He was attacked in Reply by Bishop Waterland. It is generally agreed that in point of good spirit and good temper the Bishop was far inferior to the Deist. Dr. Conyers Middleton, says Thomas Cooper, in his brief sketch of Tindal, appeared in defence of Tindal in a "Letter to Dr. Waterland," whom he condemned for the shallowness of his answer to Tindal, and boldly and frankly admitted that the Freethinker was right in asserting that the Jews borrowed some of their ceremonies and customs from Egypt; that allegory was, in some cases, employed in the Scriptures, where common readers took the relation for fact; and, that the Scriptures are not of "absolute and universal inspiration." The following sentence, which will be found in this "Letter" of Dr. Conyers Middleton, does honor to his name:—"If religion consists in depreciating moral duties and depressing natural reason; if the duty of it be to hate and persecute for a different way of thinking where the best and wisest have never agreed—then. I declare myself an Infidel, and to have no share in that religion." Matthew Tindal died at his house in Coldbath Fields, of the stone, 1773, aged seventy-seven. * Rysbrach, the famous statuary, took a model of him.

* Julian Hibbert gives 1656-7: Dr. Beard, 1556; Thomas Cooper, 1657, as the year of Tindal's birth. All agree that he died 1733—he was therefore seventy-six or seventy-seven at the time of his death.

Tindal opens his great work thus:—"The author makes no apology for writing on a subject of the last importance; and which, as far as I can find, has no where been so fully treated: he builds nothing on a thing so uncertain as tradition, which differs in most countries; and of which, in all countries, the bulk of mankind are incapable of judging; but thinks he has laid down such plain and evident rules, as may enable men of the meanest capacity, to distinguish between religion and superstition; and has represented the former in every part so beautiful, so amiable, and so strongly affecting, that they, who in the least reflect, must be highly in love with it; and easily perceive, that their duty and happiness are inseparable."

The character of the performance will be seen from a few of the propositions he maintains:—

"That God, at all times, has given mankind sufficient means of knowing whatever he requires of them.

"That the religion of nature consists in observing those things, which our reason, by considering the nature of God and man, and the relation we stand in to him, and one another, demonstrates to be our duty; and that those things are plain; and likewise what they are.

"That the perfection and happiness of all rational beings, supreme as well as subordinate, consist in living up to the dictates of their nature.

"That God requires nothing for his own sake; no, not the worship we are to render him, nor the faith we are to have in him.

"That the not adhering to those notions reason dictates, concerning the nature of God, has been the occasion of all superstition, and those innumerable mischiefs, that mankind, on the account of religion, have done either to themselves, or one another.

"The bulk of mankind, by their reason, must be able to distinguish between religion and superstition; otherwise they can never extricate themselves from that superstition they chance to be educated in."

Tindal deals with the question of the obscurity of Revelation in these terms, sufficiently salient to alarm the very proper divines of that day:—

"Had God, from time to time, spoken to all mankind in their several languages, and his words had miraculously conveyed the same ideas to all persons; yet he could not speak more plainly than he has done by the things themselves, and the relation which reason shows there is between them. Nay, since it is impossible in any book, or books, that a particular rule could be given for every case, we must even then have had recourse to the light of nature to teach us our duty in most cases; especially considering the numberless circumstances which attend us, and which, perpetually varying, may make the same actions, according as men are differently affected by them, either good or bad. And I may add, that most of the particular rules laid down in the gospel for our direction, are spoken after such figurative a manner, that except we judge of their meaning, not merely by the letter, but by what the law of nature antecedently declares to be our duty, they are apt to lead us wrong. And if precepts relating to morality are delivered after an obscure manner, when they might have been delivered otherwise; what reason can you assign, for its being so, but that infinite wisdom meant to refer us to that law for the explaining them? Sufficient instances of this nature I shall give you hereafter, though I must own, I cannot carry this point so far as a learned divine, who represents the Scriptures more obscure (which one would think impossible) than even the fathers. He tells us, 'that a certain author (viz., Flaccus Illyricus) has furnished us with one-and-fifty reasons for the obscurity of the Scriptures;' adding, 'I think I may truly say that the writing of the prophets and apostles abound with tropes, and metaphors, types, and allegories, parables, and dark speeches; and are as much, nay, much more unintelligible in many places, than the writings of the ancients.' It is well this author, who talks of people being stark Bible-mad, stopped here; and did not with a celebrated wit * cry, 'The truly illuminated books are the darkest of all.' The writer above mentioned supposes it impossible, that God's will should be fully revealed by books; 'except,' says he, 'it might be said perhaps without a figure, that even the world itself could not contain the books which should be written.' But with submission to this reverend person, I cannot help thinking, but that (such is the divine goodness) God's will is so clearly and fully manifested in the Book of Nature, that he who runs may read it."

* Dean Swift—"Tale of a Tub."

In the next extract we make, we find Tindal quoting two striking passages from Lord Shaftesbury, followed by an acute vindication of the integrity of the Law of Nature over the Scriptures:—

"Had the heathen distinguished themselves by creeds made out of spite to one another, and mutually persecuted each other about the worship of their gods, they would soon have made the number of their votaries as few as the gods they worshipped; but we don't find (except in Egypt, that mother-land of superstition) that they ever quarrelled about their gods; though their gods sometimes quarrelled, and fought about their votaries. By the universal liberty that was allowed by the ancients, 'Matters (as a noble author observes) were so balanced, that reason had fair play; learning and science flourished; wonderful was the harmony and temper which arose from these contrarieties. Thus superstition and enthusiasm were mildly treated; and being let alone, they never raged to that degree as to occasion bloodshed, wars, persecutions, and devastations; but a new sort of policy has made us leap the bounds of natural humanity, and out of a supernatural charity, has taught us the way of plaguing one another most devoutly. It has raised an antipathy, that no temporal interest could ever do, and entailed on us a mutual hatred to all eternity. And savage zeal, with meek and pious semblance, works dreadful massacre; and for heaven's sake (horrid pretence) makes desolate the earth.' And further, Shaftesbury observes, 'The Jupiter of Strangers, was, among the ancients, one of the solemn characters of divinity, the peculiar attribute of the supreme deity; benign to mankind, and recommending universal love, mutual kindness, and benignity between the remotest and most unlike of the human race. Such was the ancient heathen charity and pious duty towards the whole of mankind; both those of different nations and different worship. But, good God! how different a character do bigots give us of the Deity, making him an unjust, cruel, and inconsistent Being; requiring all men to judge for themselves, and act according to their consciences; and yet authorizing some among them to judge for others, and to punish them for not acting according to the consciences of those judges, though ever so much against their own. These bigots thought they were authorized to punish all those that differ with them in their religious worship, as God's enemies; but had they considered that God alone could discern men's hearts, and alone discover whether any, by conscientiously offering him a wrong worship, could become his enemies; and that infinite wisdom best knew how to proportion the punishment to the fault, as well as infinite power how to inflict it; they would, surely, have left it to God to judge for himself, in a cause which immediately related to himself; and where they were not so much as parties concerned, and as likely to be mistaken as those they would punish. Can one, without horror, think of men's breaking through all the rules of doing as they would be done unto, in order to set themselves up for standards of truth for God as well as man? Do not these impious wretches suppose, that God is not able to judge for himself; at least, not able to execute his own judgment? And that, therefore, he has recourse, forsooth, to their superior knowledge or power; and they are to revenge his injuries, root out his enemies, and restore his lost honor, though with the destruction of the better part of mankind? But, to do the propagators of these blasphemous notions justice, they do not throw this load of scandal on the law of Nature, or so much as pretend from thence to authorize their execrable principles; but endeavor to support them by traditional religion; especially by mis-interpreted texts from the Old Testament; and thereby make, not only natural and revealed religion, but the Old and New Testament (the latter of which requires doing good both to Jews and Gentiles) contradict each other. But to return; if what the light of Nature teaches us concerning the divine perfections, when duly attended to, is not only sufficient to hinder us from falling into superstition of any kind whatever; but, as I have already shown, demonstrates what God, from his infinite wisdom and goodness, can, or cannot command; how is it possible that the law of Nature and grace can differ? How can it be conceived, that God's laws, whether internally, or externally revealed, are not at all times the same, when the author of them is, and has been immutably the same forever?'"

The following passage exhibits the judicious mixture of authority and argument for which our author is remarkable. The quotation is a good illustration of Tindal's best manner. He is replying to Dr. Samuel Clark:—

"It cannot be imputed to any defect in the light of nature, that the pagan world ran into idolatry, but to their being entirely governed by priests, who pretended communication with their gods, and to have thence their revelations, which they imposed on the credulous as divine oracles: whereas the business of the Christian dispensation was to destroy all those traditional revelations; and restore, free from all idolatry, the true primitive, and natural religion, implanted in mankind from the creation. The Dr. (Clark) however, seems afraid, lest he had allowed too much to the light of nature, in relation to the discovery of our duty both to God and man; and not left room for revelation to make any addition; he therefore supposes, 'there are some duties, which nature hints at only in general.'—But, if we cannot, without highly reflecting on the wisdom and goodness of God, suppose that he has not, at all times, given the whole rational creation a plain rule for their conduct, in relation to those duties they owe to God, themselves, and one another; must we not suppose reason, and religion (that rule of all other rules) inseparable; so that no rational creature can be ignorant of it, who attends to the dictates of his own mind; I mean, as far as it is necessary for him to know it! An ignorant peasant may know what is sufficient for him, without knowing as much as the learned rector of St. James's. Though the Dr. says, 'the knowledge of the law of nature is, in fact, by no means universal;' yet he asserts, that 'man is plainly in his own nature an accountable creature;' which supposes that the light of nature plainly, and undeniably, teaches him that law, for breach of which he is naturally accountable; and did not the Dr. believe this law to be universal, he could not infer a future judgment from the conscience all men have of their actions, or the judgment they pass on them in their own minds whereby 'They that have not any law, are a law unto themselves; their consciences bearing witness, and their thoughts accusing, or excusing one another;' which is supposing but one law, whether that law be written on paper, or in men's hearts only; and that all men by the judgment they pass on their own actions, are conscious of this law. And, the apostle Paul, though quoted by the Dr., is so far from favoring his hypothesis of any invincible ignorance, even in the wisest and best of the philosophers, that he, by saying, The Gentiles, that have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, makes the law of nature and grace to be the same: and supposes the reason why they were to be punished, was their sinning against light and knowledge. That which may be known of God was manifest in them, and when they knew God, they glorified him not as God. And they were likewise guilty of abominable corruptions, not ignorantly, but knowing the judgment of God, that they who do such things are worthy of death.

"Had the Dr. but considered this self-evident proposition, that there can be no transgression where there is no law; and that an unknown law is the same as no law; and consequently, that all mankind, at all times, must be capable of knowing all (whether more or less) that God requires, it would have prevented his endeavoring to prove, that, till the gospel dispensation, mankind were entirely, and unavoidably ignorant of their duty in several important points; and thus charging the light of nature with undeniable defects. I think it no compliment to external revelation, though the Dr. designed it as the highest, to say, it prevailed, when the light of nature was, as he supposes, in a manner extinct; since then an irrational religion might as easily obtain, as a rational one. The Dr., to prove that revelation has supplied the insufficiency, and undeniable defects of the light of nature, refers us to Phil., iv., 1, which he introduces after this pompous manner:—'Let any man of an honest and sincere mind consider, whether that practical doctrine has not, even in itself, the greatest marks of a divine original, wherein whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report, if there be any virtue, it there be anything praiseworthy; all these, and these only, are earnestly recommended to man's practice.' I would ask the Dr., how he can know what these are, which are thus alone earnestly recommended to man's practice; or, why they have, in themselves, the greatest marks of a divine original; but from the light of nature? Nay, how can the Dr. know there are defects in the light of nature, but from that light itself? which supposes this light is all we have to trust to; and consequently, all the Dr. has been doing, on pretence of promoting the honor of revelation, is introducing universal scepticism. And I am concerned, and grieved, to see a man, who had so great a share of the light of nature, employing it to expose that light, of which before he had given the highest commendation; and which can have no other effect, than to weaken even his own demonstration, drawn from that light, for the being of a God. I shall mention but one text more, which, had not the Dr. thought it highly to his purpose, for showing the insufficiency of the light of nature, he would not have ushered it in after this most solemn manner:—'When men have put themselves into this temper and frame of mind, let them try if they can any longer reject the evidence of the gospel. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine; whether it be of God.' Is it not strange, to see so judicious a divine write after such a manner, as if he thought the best way to support the dignity of revelation, was to derogate from the immutable and eternal law of nature? and while he is depressing it, extol revelation for those very things it borrows from that law? in which, though he asserts there are undeniable defects, yet he owns that God governs all his own actions by it, and expects that all men should so govern theirs.

"But, I find the Dr.'s own brother, the Dean of Sa-rum, is entirely of my mind, as to those texts the Dr. quotes—viz., Rom. ii., 14, and Phil, iv., 8. As to the first—viz., Rom. ii., 14, he says, 'The apostle supposes, that the moral law is founded in the nature and reason of things: that every man is endued with such powers ana faculties of mind, as render him capable of seeing, and taking notice of this law; and also with such a sense and judgment of the reasonableness and fitness of conforming his actions to it, that he cannot but in his own mind acquit himself when he does so; and condemn himself when he does otherwise.' And as to the second—viz., Phil, iv., 8, where the same apostle recommends the practice of Virtue, upon the fore-mentioned principles of comeliness and reputation.—'These principles,' says he, 'if duly attended to, were sufficient to instruct men in the whole of their duty towards themselves, and towards each other. And they would also have taught them their duty towards God, their Creator and Governor, if they had diligently pursued them. For according as the apostle expresses it, Rom. i., 20, the invisible things of God from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead. The same fitness and decency that appears in men's regular behavior towards each other, appears also in their behavior towards God. And this, likewise, is founded in the nature and reason of things; and is what the circumstances and condition they are in do absolutely require. Thus we see therein moral virtue, or good consists, and what the obligation to it is from its own native beauty and excellency.'"

One more example of Tindal's style will show how skilfully and cogently he forced, the great authorities of his day to bear Witness to the truth of his leading proposition, the natural antiquity of all the reasonable precepts of the Bible:—

"The most accurate Dr. Barrow gives this character of the Christian religion, 'That its precepts are no other than such as physicians prescribe for the health of our bodies; as politicians would allow to be needful for the peace of the state; as Epicurean philosophers recommend for the tranquillity of our minds, and pleasures of our lives; such as reason dictates, and daily shows conducive to our welfare in all respects; which consequently, were there no law enacting them, we should in wisdom choose to observe, and voluntarily impose them on ourselves; confessing them to be fit matters of law, and most advantageous and requisite to the good, general and particular, of mankind.'

"That great and good man Dr. Tillotson says, 'That all the precepts of Christianity are reasonable and wise, requiring such duties as are suitable to the light of nature, and do approve themselves to the best reason of mankind; such as have their foundation in the nature of God, and are an imitation of the divine excellencies; such as tend to the perfection of human nature, and to raise the minds of men to the highest pitch of goodness and virtue. They command nothing that is unnecessary, they omit nothing that may tend to the glory of God, or the welfare of men, nor do they restrain us in anything, but what is contrary to the regular inclinations of nature, or to our reason, and true interest; they forbid us nothing but what is base and unworthy to serve our humors and passions, to make ourselves fools and beasts. In a word, nothing but what tends to our private harm, or prejudice, or to public disorder and confusion.'

"The late Dean of Canterbury, in a sermon preached in defence of Christianity, says, * 'What can be a more powerful incentive to obedience, than for a rational creature clearly to discern the equity, the necessity, the benefit, the decency and beauty of every action he is called to do, and thence to be duly sensible how gracious a master he serves; one that is so far from loading him with fruitless, arbitrary, and tyrannical impositions, that each command abstracted from his command who issues it, is able to recommend itself; and nothing required but what every wise man would choose of his accord: and cannot, without being his, own enemy, wish to be exempted from?' And this character of Christianity he makes to be essential to its being from God, and therefore must make it the same with natural religion, which has this character impressed on it.

"'There was none of the doctrines of our Saviour (says the late Archbishop of York) ** calculated for the gratification of men's idle curiosities, the busying and amusing them with airy and useless speculations; much less were they intended for an exercise of our credulity, or a trial how far we could bring our reason to submit to our faith; but as on the one hand they were plain and simple, and such as by their agreeable-ness to the rational faculties of mankind, did highly recommend themselves to our belief; so on the other hand they had an immediate relation to practice, and were the general principles and foundation, on which all human and divine virtues were naturally to be superstructed.'

* Boyle's Lect., p. 26,

** Sermon before the Queen on Christmas Day, 1724.

"Does not every one see, that if the religion of nature had been put instead of Christianity, these descriptions would have exactly agreed with it? The judicious Dr. Scot affirms, 'God never imposes laws on us pro imperio, as arbitrary tests and trials of our obedience. The great design of them (says he,) is to do us good, and direct our actions to our own interest. This, if we firmly believe, will infinitely encourage our obedience; for when I am sure God commands me nothing but what my own health, ease, and happiness requires; and that every law of his is both a necessary and sovereign prescription against the diseases of my nature, and he could not prescribe less than he has, without being defective in his care of my recovery and happiness; with what prudence and modesty can I grudge to obey him?'

"Nay, the most considerate men, even among the Papists, do not scruple to maintain there's nothing in religion but what is moral. The divines of Port Royal for instance, say, 'All the precepts, and all the mysteries that are expressed in so many different ways in the holy volumes, do all centre in this one commandment of loving God with all our heart, and in loving our neighbors as ourselves: for the Scripture (it is St. Austin who says it) forbids but one only thing, which is concupiscence, or the love of the creature; as it commands but one only thing, which is charity, and the love of God. Upon this double precept is founded the whole system of the Christian religion; and it is unto this, say they, according to the expression of Jesus Christ, that all the ancient law and the prophets have reference; and we may add also, all the mysteries, and all the precepts of the new law; for love, says St. Paul, is the fulfilling of the law.' And these divines likewise cite a remarkable passage of St. Austin on this subject, viz., 'He that knows how to love God, and to regulate his life by that love, knows all that the Scripture propounds to be known.' And might add the authority of a greater man, and a Papist too, * who says, 'Religion adds nothing to natural probity, but the consolation of doing that for love and obedience to our Heavenly Father, which reason itself requires us do in favor of virtue.'"

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse