* Archbishop of Cambray: Lettres sur la Religion, p. 258, a Paris.
Tindal was a solid, rather than a brilliant writer: but he perfectly knew what he was about; and the work from which we quote, was well conceived and carefully executed. His ground was skilfully chosen, his arguments were placed on an eminence where his friends could see them, and where his enemies could not assail them. Dr. Leland, in his view of Deistical writers, is quite in a rage with him, because he discredits Book Revelation, to set up Nature's Revelation. His real offence was, that he did prove that Nature was the only source of truth and reason—the criterion by which even Divine Revelation must be judged. He carried men back to the gospel of nature, by the side of which the gospel of the Jewish fishermen did not show to advantage. Tindal did put something in the place of that which he was supposed desirous of removing. How unwilling Christians of that day were to admit of improvement in religion, is shown by the number of attacks Tindal's work sustained. The Bishop of London published a "Second Pastoral Letter" against it; Dr. Thomas Burnet "confuted" it; Mr. Law "fully" answered it; Dr. Stebbing "obviated the principal objections" in it. "The same learned and judicious writer," observes Leland, a second time entered the lists, in "answer to the fourteenth chapter of a book, entitled 'Christianity as Old as the Creation.'" Mr. Balgny issued a "Second Letter to a Deist," occasioned by Tindal's work. Mr. Anthony O'Key gave a short view of the whole controversy. Dr. Foreter, Dr. John Conybeare, "particularly engaged public attention" as Dr. Tindal's antagonists. Mr. Simon Brown produced a "solid and excellent" answer; and Dr. Leland, with many blushes, tells us that he himself issued in Dublin, in 1773, two volumes, taking a wider compass than the other answers.
"Christianity as Old as the Creation" is a work which Freethinkers may yet consult with advantage, as a repertory of authorities no longer accessible to the readers of this generation. What these authorities allege will be found to have intrinsic value, to be indeed lasting testimonies in favor of Rationalism. In passing in review the noble truths, Tindal insists that it is impossible not to wonder at the policy, or rather want of policy displayed by Christians. Tindal is an author whom they might be proud of, if they were really in love with reason. Tindal's opponents have shown how instinctively the children of faith distrust the truths of Nature. After all the "refutations," and "confutations" and answers made to the great Deist, Tin-dal's work has maintained its ground, and the truths he so ably and spiritedly vindicated, have spread wider since and taken deeper root.
Lord Brougham has rendered service not only to "Letters," but also to Freethought, by his admirable "Lives," incomparably the best we have, of Voltaire, Rousseau, Hume, Gibbon, etc. From Lord Brougham we learn (whose life in this sketch we follow) that David Hume, related to the Earl of Hume's family, was born in Edinburgh, in April, 1711. Refusing to be made a lawyer, he was sent, in 1734, to a mercantile house in Bristol. The "desk" not suiting the embryo historian's genius, we find him in 1737 at La Fleche, in Anjou, writing his still-born "Treatise on Human Nature;" which in 1742, in separate Essays, attracted some notice. Keeper and companion to the Marquis of Annandale in 1745, private secretary to General St. Clair in 1747, he visited on embassy the courts of Vienna and Turin. While at Turin he completed his "Inquiry Concerning the Human Understanding," the "Treatise on Human Nature" in a new form. Returned to Scotland, he published his "Political Discourses" in 1752, and the same year his "Inquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals." The "Essays, Moral and Metaphysical," are the form in which we now read these speculations. In 1752, Hume became librarian to the Faculty of Advocates. In 1754 he published the first volume of his "History of England." In 1755, appeared his "Natural History of Religion." In 1763 he accompanied the British ambassador to Paris. In 1765 he became charge d'affaires.
In 1766 he was appointed Under Secretary of State under Marshal Conway. In 1775 he was seized with a mortal disease, which he bore without any abatement of his cheerfulness; and on the 25th of August, "le bon David," as he was styled in Paris, died, to use his own words, having "no enemies—except all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians"—which was something to his honor, and a testimony of the usefulness of his life.
David Hume was the first writer who gave historical distinction to Great Britain. Lord John Russell remarked in a speech at Bristol, in October, 1854:—"We have no other 'History of England' than Hume's.... When a young man of eighteen asks for a 'History of England,' there is no resource but to give him Hume." Hume was the author of the modern doctrines of politics and political economy, which now rule the world of science. He was "the sagacious unfolder of truth, the accurate and bold discoverer of popular error." More than a sceptic, he was an Atheist. Such is Lord Brougham's judgment of him.
Hume carried Freethought into high places. In originality of thought, grace of style, and logical ability, he distanced all rival writers on religion in his time, and what is of no small importance, his life was as blameless as his intellect was unapproachable.
Our first extract from his writings is a felicitous statement of the pro and con., on the questions of polygamous and single, marriages:—
"A man, in conjoining himself to a woman, is bound to her according to the terms of his engagement. In begetting children, he is bound, by all the ties of nature and humanity, to provide for their subsistence and education. When he has performed these two parts of duty, no one can reproach him with injustice or injury. And as the terms of his engagement, as well as the methods of subsisting his offspring, may be various, it is mere superstition to imagine that marriage can be entirely uniform, and will admit only of one mode or form. Did not human laws restrain the natural liberty of men, every particular marriage would be as different as contracts or bargains of any other kind or species. As circumstances vary, and the laws propose different advantages, we find, that in different times and places, they impose different conditions on this important contract. In Tonquin, it is usual for the sailors, when the ship comes into the harbor, to marry for the season; and, notwithstanding this precarious engagement, they are assured, it is said, of the strictest fidelity to their bed, as well as in the whole management of their affairs, from those temporary spouses. I cannot, at present, recollect my authorities; but I have somewhere read, that the Republic of Athens, having lost many of its citizens by war and pestilence, allowed every man to marry two wives, in order the sooner to repair the waste which had been made by these calamities. The poet Euripides happened to be coupled to two noisy vixens, who so plagued him with their jealousies and quarrels, that he became ever after a professed woman hater; and is the only theatrical writer, perhaps the only poet, that ever entertained an aversion to the sex.... The advocates for polygamy may recommend it as the only effectual remedy for the disorders of love, and the only expedient for freeing men from that slavery to the females which the natural violence of our passions has imposed upon us. By this means alone can we regain our right of sovereignty and, sating our appetite, re-establish the authority of reason in our minds, and, of consequence, our own authority in our families. Man, like a weak sovereign, being unable to support himself against the wiles and intrigues of his subjects, must play one faction against another, and become absolute by the mutual jealousy of the females. To divide and to govern is an universal maxim; and by neglecting it, the Europeans undergo a more grievous and a more ignominious slavery than the Turks or Persians, who are subjected indeed to a sovereign that lies at a distance from them, but in their domestic affairs rules with an uncontrollable sway. On the other hand, it may be urged with better reason, that this sovereignty of the male is a real usurpation, and destroys that nearness of rank, not to say equality, which nature has established between the sexes. We are, by nature, their lovers, their friends, their patrons. Would we willingly exchange such endearing appellations for the barbarous title of master and tyrant? In what capacity shall we gain by this inhuman proceeding? As lovers, or as husbands? The lover is totally annihilated; and courtship, the most agreeable scene in life, can no longer have place where women have not the free disposal of themselves, but are bought and sold like the meanest animal. The husband is as little a gainer, having found the admirable secret of extinguishing every part of love, except its jealousy. No rose without its thorn; but he must be a foolish wretch indeed, that throws away the rose and preserves only the thorn. But the Asiatic manners are as destructive to friendship as to love. Jealousy excludes men from all intimacies and familiarities with each other. No one dares bring his friend to his house or table, lest he bring a lover to his numerous wives. Hence, all over the East, each family is as much separate from another as if they were so many distinct kingdoms. No wonder then that Solomon, living like an Eastern prince, with his seven hundred wives, and three hundred concubines, without one friend, could write so pathetically concerning the vanity of the world. Had he tried the secret of one wife or mistress, a few friends, and a great many companions, he might have found lite somewhat more agreeable. Destroy love and friendship, what remains in the world worth accepting?"
Next we quote his famous statement of the principle of utility in morals:—
"There has been a controversy started of late much better worth examination, concerning the general foundation of morals; whether they be derived from reason or from sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all sound judgment of truth and falsehood, they should be the name to every rational intelligent being; or whether like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species. The ancient philosophers, though they often affirm that virtue is nothing but conformity to reason, yet, in general, seem to consider morals as deriving their existence from taste and sentiment. On the other hand, our modern inquirers, though they also talk much of the beauty of virtue, and, deformity of vice, yet have commonly endeavored to account for these distinctions by metaphysical reasonings, and by deductions from the most abstract principles of the understanding. Such confusion reigned in these subjects, that an opposition of the greatest consequence could prevail between one system and another, and even in the parts of almost each individual system: and yet nobody, till very lately, was ever sensible of it. The elegant Lord Shaftesbury, who first gave occasion to remark this distinction, and who, in general, adhered to the principles of the ancients, is not, himself, entirely free from the same confusion.... In all determinations of morality, the circumstance of public utility, is ever principally in view; and wherever disputes arise, either in philosophy or common life, concerning the bounds of duty, the question cannot, by any means, be decided with greater certainty, than by ascertaining, on any side, the true interests of mankind. If any false opinion, embraced from appearances, has been found to prevail; as soon as farther experience and sounder reasoning have given us juster notions of human affairs, we retract our first sentiment, and adjust anew the boundaries of moral good and evil. Giving alms to common beggars is naturally praised; because it seems to carry relief to the distressed and indigent; but when we observe the encouragement thence arising to idleness and debauchery, we regard that species of charity rather as a weakness than a virtue. Tyrannicide, or the assassination of usurpers and oppressive princes, was highly extolled in ancient times; because it both freed mankind from many of these monsters, and seemed to keep the others in awe whom the sword or poniard could not reach. But history and experience having since convinced us, that this practice increases the jealousy and cruelty of princes, a Timoleon and a Brutus, though treated with indulgence on account of the prejudices of their times, are now considered as very improper models for imitation. Liberality in princes is regarded as a mark of beneficence. But when it occurs, that the homely bread of the honest and industrious is often thereby converted into delicious cakes for the idle and the prodigal, we soon retract our heedless praises. The regrets of a prince, for having lost a day, were noble and generous; but had he intended to have spent it in acts of generosity to his greedy courtiers, it was better lost than misemployed after that manner.... That justice is useful to society, and consequently that part of its merit, at least, must arise from that consideration, it would be a superfluous undertaking to prove. That public utility is the sole origin of justice, that reflections on the beneficial consequences of this virtue are the sole foundation of its merit; this proposition being more curious and important, will better deserve our examination and inquiry. Let us suppose that nature has bestowed on the human race such profuse abundance of all external conveniences, that, without any uncertainty in the event, without any care or industry on our part, every individual finds himself fully provided with whatever his most voracious appetite can want, or luxurious imagination wish or desire. His natural beauty, we shall suppose, surpasses all acquired ornaments; the perpetual clemency of the seasons renders useless all clothes or covering: the raw herbage affords him the most delicious fare; the clear fountain, the richest beverage. No laborious occupation required: no tillage: no navigation. Music, poetry, and contemplation, form his sole business: conversation, mirth, and friendship his sole amusement. It seems evident, that, in such a happy state, every other social virtue would flourish, and receive tenfold increase; but the cautious, jealous virtue of justice, would never once have been dreamed of. For what purpose make a partition of goods, where every one has already more than enough? Why give rise to property, where there cannot possibly be any injury? Why call this object mine, when, upon seizing of it by another, I need but stretch out my hand to possess myself of what is equally valuable? Justice, in that case, being totally useless, would be an idle ceremonial, and could never possibly have place in the catalogue of virtues. We see, even in the present necessitous condition of mankind, that, wherever any benefit is bestowed by nature in an unlimited abundance, we leave it always in common among the whole human race, and make no subdivisions of right and property. Water and air, though the most necessary of all objects, are not challenged as the property of individuals; nor can any man commit injustice by the most lavish use and enjoyment of these blessings. In fertile extensive countries, with few inhabitants, land is regarded on the same footing. And no topic is so much insisted on by those who defend the liberty of the seas, as the unexhausted use of them in navigation. Were the advantages procured by navigation as inexhaustible, these reasoners had never had any adversaries to refute; nor had any claims ever been advanced of a separate, exclusive dominion over the ocean.... Suppose a society to fall into such want of all common necessaries, that the utmost frugality and industry cannot preserve the greater number from perishing, and the whole from extreme misery. It will readily, I believe, be admitted that the strict laws of justice are suspended in such a pressing emergence, and give place to the stronger motives of necessity and self-preservation. Is it any crime, after a shipwreck, to seize whatever means or instrument of safety one can lay hold of, without regard to former limitations of properly? Or if a city besieged were perishing with hunger; can we imagine that men will see any means of preservation before them, and lose their lives from a scrupulous regard to what, in other situations, would be the rules of equity and justice? The use and tendency of that virtue is to procure happiness and security, by preserving order in society. But where the society is ready to perish from extreme necessity, no greater evil can be dreaded from violence and injustice; and every man may now provide for himself by all the means which prudence can dictate, or humanity permit. The public, even in less urgent necessities, opens granaries without the consent of proprietors; as justly supposing, that the authority of magistracy may, consistent with equity, extend so far. But were any number of men to assemble, without the tie of laws or civil jurisdiction; would an equal partition of bread in a famine, though effected by power and even violence, be regarded as criminal or injurious? Suppose, likewise, that it should be a virtuous man's fate to fall into the society of ruffians, remote from the protection of laws and government; what conduct must he embrace in that melancholy situation? He sees such a desperate rapaciousness prevail; such a disregard to equity, such contempt of order, such stupid blindness to future consequences, as must immediately have the most tragical conclusion, and must terminate in destruction to the greater number, and in a total dissolution of society to the rest. He, meanwhile, can have no other expedient than to arm himself, to whomever the sword he seizes, or the buckler may belong: to make provision of all means of defence and security: and his particular regard to justice being no longer of use to his own safety or that of others, he must consult the dictates of self-preservation alone, without concern for those who no longer merit his care and attention.... But perhaps the difficulty of accounting for these effects of usefulness, or its contrary, has kept philosophers from admitting them into their systems of ethics, and has induced them to employ any other principle, in explaining the origin of moral good and evil. But it is no just reason for rejecting any principle, confirmed by experience, that we cannot give a satisfactory account of its origin, nor are able to resolve it into other more general principles. And if we would employ a little thought on the present subject, we need be at no loss to account for the influence of utility, and deduce it from principles the most known and avowed in human nature.... Usefulness is agreeable, and engages our approbation. This is a matter of fact, confirmed by daily observation. But useful! For what? For somebody's interest, surely! Whose interest then? Not our own only; for our approbation frequently extends farther. It must therefore be the interest of those who are served by the character or action approved of; and these, we may conclude, however remote, are not totally indifferent to us. By opening up this principle, we shall discover one great source of moral distinctions."
The origin and mischiefs of Theistic influences is the subject of the following passage:—
"It must necessarily, indeed, be allowed, that in order to carry men's attention beyond the present course of things, or lead them into any inference concerning invisible intelligent power, they must be actuated by some passion which prompts their thought and reflection, some motive which urges their first inquiry. But what passion shall we here have recourse to, for explaining an effect of such mighty consequence? Not speculative curiosity, surely, or the pure love of truth. That motive is too refined for such gross apprehensions; and would lead men into inquiries concerning the frame of nature, a subject too large and comprehensive for their narrow capacities. No passions, therefore, can be supposed to work upon such barbarians, but the ordinary affections of human life; the anxious concern for happiness, the dread of future misery, the terror of death, the thirst of revenge, the appetite for food and other necessaries. Agitated by hopes and fears of this nature, especially the latter, men scrutinize, with a trembling curiosity, the course of future causes, and examine the various and contrary events of human life. And in this disordered scene, with eyes still more disordered and astonished, they see the first obscure traces of divinity.... We hang in perpetual suspense between life and death, health and sickness, plenty and want, which are distributed amongst the human species by secret and unknown causes, whose operation is oft unexpected, and always unaccountable. These unknown causes, then, become the constant object of hope and fear; and while the passions are kept in perpetual alarm by an anxious expectation of the events, the imagination is equally employed in forming ideas of those powers on which we have so entire a dependence. Could men anatomize nature, according to the most probable, at least the most intelligible philosophy, they would find that these causes are nothing but the particular fabric and structure of the minute parts of their own bodies and of external objects; and that by a regular and constant machinery, all the events are produced, about which they are so much concerned.... There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious. We find human faces in the moon, armies in the clouds; and, by a natural propensity, it not corrected by experience and reflection, ascribe malice or good will to everything that hurts or pleases us. Hence the frequency and beauty of the prosopopoia in poetry; where trees, mountains, and streams are personified, and the inanimate parts of nature acquire sentiment and passion. And though these poetical figures and expressions gain not on the belief; they may serve, at least, to prove a certain tendency in the imagination, without which they could neither be beautiful nor natural. Nor is a river-god or hamadryad always taken for a mere poetical or imaginary personage, but may sometimes enter into the real creed of the ignorant vulgar; while each grove or field is represented as possessed of a particular genius or invisible power which inhabits and protects, it. Nay, philosophers cannot entirely exempt themselves flora this natural frailty; but have oft ascribed to inanimate matter the horror of a vacuum, sympathies, antipathies, and other affections of human nature. The absurdity is not less, while we cast our eyes upwards; and, transferring, as is too usual, human passions and infirmities to the Deity, represent him as jealous and revengeful, capricious and partial, and, in short, a wicked and foolish man in every respect but his superior power and authority.—No wonder, then, that mankind, being placed in such an absolute ignorance of causes, and being at the same time so anxious concerning their future fortune, should immediately acknowledge a dependence on invisible powers, possessed of sentiment and intelligence. The unknown causes which continually employ their thought, appearing always in the same aspect, are all apprehended to be of the same kind or species. Nor is it long before we ascribe to them thought, and reason, and passion, and sometimes even the limbs and figures of men, in order to bring them nearer to a resemblance with ourselves.... It is remarkable, that the principles of religion have a kind of flux and reflux in the human mind, and that men have a natural tendency to rise from idolatry to Theism, and to sink again from Theism into idolatry. The vulgar—that is, indeed, all mankind, a few excepted—being ignorant and uninstructed, never elevate their contemplation to the heavens, or penetrate by their disquisitions into the secret structure of vegetable or animal bodies; so far as, to discover a Supreme Mind or Original Providence, which bestowed order on every part of nature. They consider these admirable works in a more confined and selfish view; and finding their own happiness and misery to, depend on the secret influence, and unforeseen concurrence of external objects, they regard, with perpetual attention, the unknown causes which govern all these natural events, and distribute pleasure and pain, good and ill, by their powerful but silent operation. The unknown causes are still appealed to on every emergency; and in this general appearance or confused image, are the perpetual objects of human hopes and fears, wishes and apprehensions. By degrees, the active imagination of men, uneasy in this abstract conception of objects, about which it is incessantly employed, begins to render them more particular, and to clothe them in shapes more suitable to its natural comprehension. It represents them to be sensible, intelligent beings like mankind; actuated by love and hatred, and flexible by gifts and entreaties, by prayers and sacrifices. Hence the origin of religion: and hence the origin of idolatry or polytheism."
More has been written by theologians in endeavors to refute the following passage, than has ever been called forth by the wit of man before by the same number of words:—
"A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined. Why is it more than probable that all men must die; that lead cannot, of itself, remain suspended in the air; that fire consumes wood, and is extinguished by water; unless it be that these events are found agreeable to the laws of nature, and there is required a violation of these laws, or, in other words, a miracle to prevent them? Nothing is esteemed a miracle, if it ever happen in the common course of nature. It is no miracle that a man, seemingly in good health, should die on a sudden; because such a kind of death, though more unusual than any other, has yet been frequently observed to happen. But it is a miracle that a dead man should come to life; because that has never been observed in any age or country. There must, therefore, be an uniform experience against every miraculous event, otherwise the event would not merit that appellation. And as an uniform experience amounts to a proof, there is here a direct and full proof, from the nature of the fact, against the existence of any miracle; nor can such a proof be destroyed, or the miracle rendered credible, but by an opposite proof which is superior. The plain consequence is (and it is a general maxim worthy of our attention,) 'That no testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavors to establish. And even in that case there is a mutual destruction of arguments, and the superior only gives us an assurance suitable to that degree of force which remains after deducting the inferior.' When any one tells me that he saw a dead man restored to life, I immediately consider with myself whether it be more probable that this person should either deceive or be deceived, or that the fact which he relates should really have happened. I weigh the one miracle against the other; and according to the superiority which I discover, I pronounce my decision, and always reject the greater miracle. If the falsehood of his testimony would be more miraculous than the event which he relates; then, and not till then, can he pretend to command my belief or opinion.... There is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time attesting facts, performed in such a public manner, and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable; all which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance of the testimony of men.... One of the best attested miracles in all profane history, is that which Tacitus reports of Vespasian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot; in obedience to a vision of the god Seraphis, who had enjoined them to have recourse to the emperor or for these miraculous cures. The story may be seen in that fine historian; where every circumstance seems to add weight to the testimony, and might be displayed at large with all the force of argument and eloquence, if any one were now concerned to enforce the evidence of that exploded and idolatrous superstition. The gravity, solidity, age, and probity of so great an emperor, who through the whole course of his life, conversed in a familiar manner, with his friends and courtiers, and never affected those extraordinary airs of divinity assumed by Alexander and Demetrius. The historian, a contemporary writer, noted for candor and veracity, and, withal, the greatest and most, penetrating genius, perhaps of all antiquity; and so free from any tendency to credulity, that he even lies under the contrary imputation of Atheism and profaneness. The persons, from whose authority he related the miracle of established character for judgment and veracity, as we may-well presume; eye-witnesses of the fact, and confirming their testimony, after the Flavian family was despoiled of the empire, and could no longer give any reward as the price of a lie. Utrumque, qui interfuere, nunc quoque memorant, postquam nullum mendacio pretium. To which, if we add the public nature of the facts, as related, it will appear that no evidence can well be supposed stronger for so gross and so palpable a falsehood."
These extracts will give some idea of the grace, and power, and penetration of Hume. The society he kept, the abilities with which he was justly credited, the reputation his works deservedly won for him, made him a man of mark and influence in his day. Read by the learned, courted by statesmen, he taught gentlemen liberality, and governments toleration. The influence of Hume, silent and inappreciable to the multitude, has been of the utmost importance to the nation. His works have been studied by philosophers, politicians, and prelates. The writings of no Freethinker, except Voltaire, have maintained their ground with continually increasing reputation. Oddly enough, none of Hume's works were popular when they first appeared. In fact, his "Treatise on Human Nature" he had to reprint in the form of Essays, five years after its first publication. It then, for the first time, began to be bought; but not to any great extent. Five years later, he again made it re-appear, under the form of an "Inquiry Concerning the Human Understanding." It was not until this third publication that he "began to perceive symptoms of its coming into notice." The world has since made up for its negligence, by perpetual comment and solid appreciation. A king among thinkers, the clergy have in the provinces of politics and philosophical speculation to acknowledge allegiance to him, however they may rebel against his theological heresies.
DR. THOMAS BURNET
It was only a very narrow accident which prevented Dr. Burnet, an ultra Freethinker in the Church of England, from becoming Archbishop of Canterbury at the death of Tillotson. A combination of clergymen were prepared to immolate themselves providing Burnet could be overthrown. They succeeded. Thomas Burnet kept the Charter House, in London, and his conscience—happier, perhaps, in this than if he had enjoyed the ecclesiastical preferment which King William seemed so anxious to give him. Amongst the clergy, Dr. Burnet was, with the single exception of Dean Swift, the greatest Freethinker of whom we can boast, who held an influential position in the Church. This position is sometimes claimed for Bishop Berkeley, a man of vast talents, a sincere Christian, although an innovator in philosophy.
Thomas Burnet was born in the year 1635. At the age of forty-five, he published the work, in Latin, with which his name is generally associated, "The Sacred Theory of the Earth: containing an account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the general changes which it has already undergone, or is to undergo, till the consummation of all Things." This book gives us an idea, formed by its author, of the origin of the world, and is remarkable as one of the first grand prophecies of geology; although of little value to us, it produced an impression upon the age by depicting the various strata of the mountainous regions, and comparing them in different countries, eliminating ideas of the nature of the vast changes we see in the universe, tracing the rise of most of the phenomena from the two elements, fire and water. Burnet thought that at one time the whole of matter was in a fluid state, revolving round a central sun, until the heavier particles sunk into the middle, and formed the stony strata which supports the earth, over which the lighter liquids coalesced until the heat of the sun effectually separated water from land. This is the foundation of a scheme which is elaborated in a poetic style, abounding in eloquent descriptions; in fact it is a philosophic prose poem of almost unalloyed beauty. In it there is some resemblance to the measured sentences of Shaftesbury, although unequal to that fine writer in soundness of judgment or practical usefulness. In 1691 an English translation was published.
By far the most interesting work to us of Burnet's (also written in Latin) is "Archaeologia Philosophical or, an account of the Opinion of the Ancients on various Philosophical Problems." This work created great opposition by its free remarks on the Mosaic dispensation, although the writer in this, as in the case of his posthumous works, strongly protested against their being translated into the English language, as he was justly afraid of their influence on the minds of the laity, and from his high official station, with the influence his vast learning and his connection with Tillotson, and the Court gave him, he was, no doubt, apprehensive that the really religious champions of the Church of England would denounce him when exposed to the temptation of High Church preferment. Fragments of those works were translated by the clergy to prove to the unlearned what a dangerous character Thomas Burnet was. Charles Blount, writing to Gildon, says, "I have, according to my promise, sent you herewith the seventh and eighth chapters, as also the appendix, of the great and learned Dr. Burnet's book, published this winter in Latin, and by him dedicated to our most gracious Sovereign, King William..... As for the piece itself, I think it is one of the most ingenious I have ever read, and full of the most acute as well as learned observations. Nor can I find anything worthy an objection against him, as some of the censorious part of the world pretend; who would have you believe it a mere burlesque upon Moses, and destructive to the notion of original sin, wherefore by consequence (say they) there could be no necessity of a Redemption, which, however, I think no necessary consequence; but, for my part, either the great veneration I have for the doctor's extraordinary endowments, or else my own ignorance, has so far bribed me to his interests that I can, by no means, allow of any of those unjust reflections the wholesale merchants of credulity, as well as their unthinking retailers, make against him. It is true, in the seventh chapter he seems to prove that many parts of the Mosaic history of the creation appear inconsistent with reason, and in the eighth chapter the same appears no less inconsistent with philosophy; wherefore he concludes (as many fathers of the Church have done before him) that the whole rather seems to have been but a pious allegory." Dr. Burnet took the meaning of much of the Bible to be but a "pious allegory," and, as such, he strove to popularize it with the clergy. We do not believe that he intended to enlighten any but the clergy. He foresaw the "flood of fierce democracy," and, like other able men with vested rights in the ignorance of the people, he strove to temporize, to put off still further the day of Christianity's downfall. We place him in this biographical niche not because he dashed into the fray, like bold Hobbes or chivalrous Woolston, and took part in the battle of priestcraft because he thought it was right, but rather because he was a Freethinker in disguise, longing for Episcopal honors; yet, by one false step (the publishing of "Archaeologia," ) lost an archbishopric, and gave the authority of a great name to struggling opinion. His accession to our ranks was a brilliant accident. He died, at the age of eighty years, in 1715. After his demise, two works were translated (and published,) both expressive of his liberal views. The first, "On Christian Faith and Duties," throwing overboard the whole of the speculative tenets of the Bible, and giving practical effect to the morals taught in the New Testament, without striving to refute, or even apparently to disbelieve, their authority, but advising the clergy to treat them as a dead letter. The other posthumous treatise was, "On the State of the Dead and the Reviving," which shadows forth a scheme of Deism, inasmuch as Burnet here flatly contradicts the usual ideas of "hell torments" or "hell fire," while asserting the necessity of those "who have not been as good in this life as they ought to be" undergoing a probationary purification before they attained supreme happiness, yet, eventually, every human being would inhabit a heavenly elysium, where perennial pleasure would reign, and sorrow be forever unknown.
Those sentiments indicate a high degree of liberal culture, although they do not sufficiently embody our ideal of one of the great Freethinkers of the past. We should have preferred Burnet if he had systematically opposed the Church as Toland or Tindal, or if he had boldly entered the breach like William Whiston, whose singular talents and faithful honesty separated him alike from the Church, Dissent, and Deism, and left him shipwrecked on the world an able yet a visionary reformer. With more ability than Chubb, he resembled him in his weak policy; he chose to cut his sneers in slices, and served them up for a scholarly party rather than hazard the indignation of the ignorant amongst the clergy. We are, however, certain that although Thomas Burnet was deficient in many points where he might have done effective service, yet we honor him for the boldness with which he faced the scholars with his Latin works. He threw an apple of discord amongst their ranks which has served, in a constantly increasing manner, to divide and distract their attention. The result has been a constant internecine war in the Church, by which Freethought has largely profited.
We conclude our sketch of Dr. Burnet by quoting some extracts from the seventh chapter of the "Archaeologia Philosophica," as translated by Charles Blount in the "Oracles of Reason," concerning Moses's description of Paradise and the original of things:—
"We have (says Burnet) hitherto made our inquiries into the originals of things, as well as after a true knowledge of Paradise amongst the ancients; yet still with reference to sacred writ, where it gave us any manner of light on the subject, but think it altogether unnecessary to define the place or situation of Paradise, since in respect to the theory of the earth, it is much the same thing where you place it, providing it be not on our modern earth. Now, if you inquire among the ancient fathers where the situation of it was, either they will have it to be none at all, or else obscure and remote from our understanding; some of them, indeed, term it an intelligible Paradise, but confined to no one particular place; whilst others, at the same time make it a sensible one, and here it is they first divided about it, etc.... Now, the history of Paradise, according to Moses, is this:—When God had, in six days, finished the creation of the world, the seventh day he rested from all manner of work. And here Moses relates particularly each day's operations: but for the story of mankind, as well male as female, of which he makes a particular treatise by himself. Wherefore, omitting the rest at present, let us consider the Mosaic doctrine upon those three subjects, viz., Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden, together with those things which are interwoven within them. As to the first man, Adam, Moses says he was formed not out of stones or dragon's teeth, as other Cosmists have feigned concerning their men, but out of the dust or clay of the earth, and when his body was formed, 'God blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man was made a living soul.'
"But after another manner, and of another matter, was the woman built—viz., with one of Adam's small bones, for as Adam lay asleep, God took away one of his ribs, and out of that made Eve. So much for the forming of the first man and woman by the literal text. Moses has likewise given us a large account of their first habitation. He says that God made them in a certain famous garden in the East, and gave it to them as a farm to cultivate and to inhabit, which garden was a most delightful place, watered with four several fountains or rivers, planted with trees of every kind.... Amongst the trees, in the midst of the garden, stood two more remarkable than the rest; one was called the tree of life, the other the tree of death, or of the knowledge of good and evil.... God, upon pain of death, prohibits Adam and Eve from tasting the fruit of this tree; but it happened that Eve sitting solitary under this tree, without her husband, there came to her a serpent or adder, which (though I know not by what means or power) civilly accosted the woman (if we may judge of the thing by the event) in these words, or to this purpose:— *
* We extract this portion not for its merits of buffoonery, but to show the real state of mind which could actuate a dignitary of the Church of England in writing it, as the eighth chapter is by far the most philosophical, but we wish to show Burnet's real sentiments.
"Serpent.—All hail, most fair one, what are you doing so solitary and serious under this shade?
"Eve.—I am contemplating the beauty of this tree.
"Serp.—'Tis truly an agreeable sight, but much pleasanter are the fruits thereof. Have you tasted them, my lady?
"Eve.—I have not, because God has forbidden us to eat of this tree.
"Serp.—What do I hear! What is that God that envies his creatures the innocent delights of nature? Nothing is sweeter, nothing more wholesome than this fruit: why, then, should he forbid it, unless in jest?
"Eve.—But he has forbid it us on pain of death.
"Serp.—Undoubtedly you mistake his meaning. This tree has nothing that would prove fatal to you, but rather something divine, and above the common order of nature.
"Eve.—I can give you no answer; but will go to my husband, and then do as he thinks fit.
"Serp.—Why should you trouble your husband over such a trifle! Use your own judgment.
"Eve.—Let me see—had I best use it or not? What 'can be more beautiful than this apple? How sweetly it smells! But it may be it tastes ill.
"Serp.—Believe me, it is a bit worthy to be eaten by the angels themselves; do but try, and if it tastes ill, throw it away.
"Eve.—Well, I'll try. It has, indeed, a most agreeable flavor. Give me another that I may carry it to my husband.
"Serp.—Very well thought on; here's another for you: go to your husband with it. Farewell, happy young woman. In the meantime I'll go my ways; let her take care of the rest.
"Accordingly, Eve gave the apple to the too uxorious Adam, when immediately after their eating of it, they became both (I don't know how) ashamed of their nakedness, and sewing fig leaves together, making themselves a sort of aprons, etc. After these transactions, God, in the evening, descended into the garden, upon which our first parents fled to hide themselves in the thickest of the trees, but in vain, for God called out, 'Adam, where art thou?' When he, trembling, appeared before God Almighty, and said, Lord, when I heard thee in this garden, I was ashamed because of my nakedness, and hid myself amongst the most shady parts of the thicket. Who told thee, says God, that thou wast naked? Have you eaten of the forbidden fruit? That woman thou gavest me brought it; 'twas she that made me eat of it. You have, says God, finely ordered your business, you and your wife. Here, you woman, what is this that you have done? Alas! for me, says Adam, thy serpent gave me the apple, and I did eat of it.
"This apple shall cost you dear, replied God, and not only you, but your posterity, and the whole race of mankind. Moreover, for this crime, I will curse and spoil the heavens, the earth, and the whole fabric of nature. But thou, in the first place, vile beast, shall bear the punishment of thy craftiness and malice. Hereafter shall thou go creeping on thy belly, and instead of eating apples, shall lick the dust of the earth. As for you, Mrs. Curious, who so much love delicacies, in sorrow-shall you bring forth your children. You shall be subject to your husband, and shall never depart from his side unless having first obtained leave. Lastly, as for you, Adam, because you have hearkened more to your wife than to me, with the sweat of your brow shall you obtain both food for her and her children. You shall not gather fruits which, as heretofore, grew of themselves, but shall reap the fruits of the earth with labor and trouble. May the earth be, for thy sake, accursed—hereafter grow barren. May she produce thistles, thorns, tares, with other hurtful and unprofitable herbs, and when thou hast here led a troublesome, laborious life, dust thou art, to dust shalt thou return......
"Great is the force of custom and a preconceived opinion over human minds. Wherefore, these short observations of the first originals of men or things, which we receive from Moses, are embraced without the least examination of them. But had we read the same doctrine in a Greek philosopher, or in a Rabbinical or Mahometan doctor, we should have stopped at every sentence with our mind full of objections and scruples. Now, this difference does not arise from the nature of the thing itself, but from the great opinion we have of the authority of the writer 'as being divinely inspired.' The author here defines his ideas in reference to fabulous writings, after which he proceeds in his inquiry. 'But out of what matter the first of mankind, whether, male or female, was composed, is not so easily known. If God had a mind to make a woman start from one of Adam's ribs, it is true it seems to be a matter not very proper; but, however, out of wood, stone, or any other being God can make a woman; and here, by the bye, the curious ask whether this rib was useless to Adam, and beyond the number requisite in a complete body. If not, when it was taken away, Adam would be a maimed person, and robbed of a part of himself that was necessary. I say necessary, for as much, as I suppose, that in the fabric of a human body nothing is superfluous, and that no one bone can be taken away without endangering the whole, or rendering it, in some measure, imperfect. But it, on the other side, you say this rib was really useless to Adam, and might be spared, so that you make him to have only twelve ribs on one side and thirteen on the other, they will reply that this is like a monster, as much as if the first man had been created with three feet, or three hands, or had had more eyes, or other members, than the use of a human body requires. But in the beginning we cannot but suppose that all things were made with all imaginable exactness.
"For my part, I do not pretend to decide this dispute, but what more perplexes me is, how, out of one rib, the whole mass of a woman's body could be built? For a rib does not, perhaps, equal the thousandth part of an entire body. If you answer that the rest of the matter was taken from elsewhere, certainly, then, Eve might much more truly be said to have been formed out of that borrowed matter, whatever it was, than out of Adam's rib. I know that the Rabbinical doctors solve this business quite another way, for they say the first man had two bodies, the one male, the other female, who were joined together, and that God having cloven them asunder, gave one side to Adam for a wife. Plato has, in his 'Symposium,' something very like this story, concerning his first man, Anoroginus, who was afterwards divided into two parts, male and female. Lastly, others conjecture that Moses gave out this original of woman to the end that he might inspire a mutual love between the two sexes, as parts of one and the same whole, so as more effectually to recommend his own institution of marriage.... But leaving this subject, I will hasten to something else.
"Now, the second article treats of God's, garden in Eden, watered with four rivers arising from the same spring.... Those rivers are, by Moses, called Pishon, Gishon, Hiddekal, and Perath, which the ancient authors interpret by Ganges, Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates. Nor do I truly think without some reason, for Moses seems to have proposed nothing more than the bringing four of the most celebrated rivers of the whole earth to the watering of his garden. Ah! but, say you, these four rivers do not spring from the same source, or come from the same place; 'tis true, nor any other four rivers that are named by the interpreters. Wherefore this objection will everywhere hold good, as well against the ancient as modern writers.—But although you should reduce these rivers to only two, as some do, to Tigris and Euphrates, yet neither have these two rivers the same fountain-head, but this is really and truly an evasion, instead of an explanation, to reduce, contrary to the history of Moses, a greater number of rivers to a smaller, only that they may the more conveniently be reduced to the same spring; for these are the words of Moses, 'But there comes a river out of Eden to water the garden, and from thence it divides itself into four branches, the name of the first is Pishon,' etc., whereby it is apparent that either in the exit or in the entrance of the garden there were four rivers, and that these four rivers did one and all proceed from the same fountain-head in Eden. Now, pray tell me in what part of the earth is this country of Eden, where four rivers arise from one and the same spring? But do not go about to say that only two came from that fountain of Eden, and that the other two arose from the Tigris or the Euphrates, where they split near the sea, and make, as it were, a bifrontic figure, since this does by no means answer the words of Moses. Besides, he mentions in the first place Pishon and Gishon, and afterwards Tigris and Euphrates as lesser rivers; whereas you, on the contrary, will have those to be derived from these last as rivers of an inferior order, which is a manifest distorting of the historical account. But to end all these difficulties concerning the channels of the rivers which watered Paradise, you will, perhaps, at last say, that the springs, as well as the courses of rivers, have been changed by the universal deluge: and that we cannot now be certain where it was they burst over the earth, and what countries they passed through. For my part I am much of your opinion, providing you confess there happened in the deluge such a disruption of the earth as we suppose there did. But from only an inundation of waters such a change could never happen. Besides, what geography will you have Moses to describe these rivers, ante-diluvian or post-diluvian'?—If the latter, there has happened no considerable alteration of the earth since the time of Moses and the flood. If the former, you then render Moses's description of the earth totally superfluous and unuseful to discover the situation of Paradise. Lastly, it is hard to conceive that any rivers, whether these or others, can have subsisted ever since the first beginning of the world; whether you have regard to their water or their channels. The channels of rivers are made by daily attrition; for if they had been made as ditches and furrows are, by earth dug out and heaped on each side, there would certainly have been seen everywhere great banks of earth. But we plainly see that this is only fortuitous; forasmuch as they often run through plains, and the river banks are no more than level with the adjacent fields; besides, whence could there be had water at the beginning of the world to fill these channels? If you say, that on the third day, when the great bed of the ocean was made, the smaller channels of the rivers were also: and as the greatest part of the waters of the abyss fell into the gulf of the seas, so the remaining part descended into these other channels, and therewith formed the primitive rivers. Admitting this, yet the waters would not only be as salt as those of the sea, but there would be no continual springs to nourish these rivers; insomuch as when the first stream of water had flown off, there being no fresh supplies of water to succeed it, these rivers would have been immediately dried up; I say because there were no perpetual springs; for whether springs proceed from rain, or from the sea, they could neither way have rose in so short a time; not from rain, for it had not as yet rained; neither was it possible, that in the short space of one day, the waters of the abyss should run down from the most inland places to the sea, and afterwards returning through ways that were never yet open to them, should strain themselves through the bowels of the earth, and ascend to the heads of their rivers. But of rivers we have said enough; let us now proceed to the rest.
"We have, in the third place, a very strange account of a serpent that talked with Eve, and enticed her to oppose God. I must confess, we have not yet known that this beast could ever speak, or utter any sort of voice, beside hissing. But what shall we think Eve knew of this business? If she had taken it for a dumb animal, the very speech of it would have so frightened her, that she would have fled from it. If, on the other side, the serpent had from the beginning been capable of talking and haranguing, and only lost his speech for the crime of having corrupted the faith of Eve, certainly Moses would have been far from passing over in silence this sort of punishment, and only mentioning the curse of licking the dust. Besides this, will you have the particular species of serpents, or all the beasts in Paradise, to have been imbued with the faculty of speaking, like the trees in Dodona's grove? If you say all, pray what offence had the rest been guilty of, that they also should lose the use of their tongues? If only the serpent enjoyed this privilege, how came it about that so vile an animal (by nature the most reverse and remote from man) should, before all his other fellow brutes, deserve to be master of so great a favor and benefit as that of speech?
"Lastly, since all discoursing and arguing includes the use of reason, by this very thing you make the serpent a rational creature. But I imagine you will solve this difficulty another way; for (say the sticklers for a literal interpretation) under the disguise of a serpent was hid the Devil, or an evil spirit, who, using the mouth and organs of this animal, spoke to the woman as though it were a human voice. But what testimony or what authority have they for this? The most literal reading of Moses, which they so closely adhere to, does not express anything of it; for what else does he seem to say, but that he attributes the seducing of Eve to the natural craftiness of the serpent, and nothing else? For these are Moses's words:—'Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field that the Lord God had made.' Afterwards, continues he:—'The serpent said to the woman, yea, hath God said,' etc.—But besides, had Eve heard an animal, by nature dumb, speak through the means of some evil spirit, she would instantly have fled with horror from the monster.—When, on the contrary, she very familiarly received it; they argued very amicably together, as though nothing new or astonishing had taken place. Again, if you say that all this proceeded from the ignorance or weakness of a woman, it would on the other side have been but just, that some good angels should have succoured a poor, ignorant, weak woman; those just guardians of human affairs would not have permitted so unequal a conflict; for what if an evil spirit, crafty and knowing in business, had, by his subtlety, overreached a poor, weak, and silly woman, who had not as yet, either seen the sun rise or set, who was but newly born, and thoroughly inexperienced. Certainly, a person who had so great a price set upon her head, as the salvation of all mankind, might well have deserved a guard of angels. Aye, but perhaps (you will say) the woman ought to have taken care not to violate a law established on pain of death. 'The day you eat of it you shall surely die,', both you and yours; this was the law. Die! what does that mean, says the poor, innocent virgin, who as yet had not seen anything dead, no, not so much as a flower; nor had yet with her eyes or mind perceived the image of death—viz., sleep, or night? But what you add concerning his posterity and their punishment, that is not all expressed in the law. Now no laws are ever to so distorted, especially those that are penal. The punishment of the serpent will also afford no inconsiderable question, if the Devil transacted the whole thing under the form of a serpent; or if he compelled the serpent to do, or to suffer things, why did he (the serpent) pay for a crime committed by the Devil? Moreover, as to the manner and form of the punishment inflicted on the serpent, that from that time he should go creeping on his belly, it is not to be explained what that meant. Hardly any one will say, that prior to his catastrophe the serpent walked upright, like four footed beasts; and if, from the beginning, he crept on his belly like other snakes, it may seem ridiculous to impose on this creature as a punishment for one single crime, a thing which, by nature, he ever had before. But let this suffice for the woman and serpent; let us now go on to the trees. I here understand those two trees, which stood in the middle of the garden, the tree of life, and the tree of good and evil. The former so called, that it would give men a very long life, although, by what follows, we find our forefathers, prior to the flood, lived to very great ages, independent of the tree of life. Besides, if the longevity, or immortality of man had depended only upon one tree, or its fruit, what if Adam had not sinned? how could his posterity, diffused throughout the whole earth, have been able to come and gather fruit out of this garden, or from this tree? or how could the product of one tree have been sufficient for all mankind?"
Such is a condensed abstract of Dr. Burnet's seventh chapter of "Archaeologia." The eighth chapter equals the above in boldness; but far exceeds it in breadth of logic and critical acumen, without, however, appearing so iconoclastic or so vulgar. The next chapter abounds in classical quotations, the Creation of the world and the Deluge is the theme on which so much is advanced, at a time when such language was greeted with the stake and the prison. We cannot calculate the effect of Burnet's works on the clerical mind; but this we do know, that since his day, there has progressed an internal revolution in the tenets of the church, which, in the last generation, gave birth to the neology, now so destructive of the internal peace of the churches. Neology has not come from Deism, for this power assails the outworks of Christianity; while the school of criticism is but a severe pruning knife of internal verbiage. Although the language quoted is harsh, the arguments common-place, which, although true, are now discarded by the educated Freethinker; yet if for no stronger language than this men were imprisoned only ten years ago, what must we say to the moral courage which could publish them 150 years ago? There must surely have been greater risks than in our day; and when a man dare hazard the highest power of the church for the duty of publishing unpopular sentiments, it is clearly our duty to; enshrine him as one of the guardians of that liberty of thought, and speech, which have won for us a freedom. we cherish and protect. Let the earth then lie lightly over the priest-Freethinker, Thomas Burnet.
"The wise by some centuries before the crowd, Must, by their novel systems, though correct, Of course offend the wicked, weak, and proud, Must meet with hatred, calumny, neglect."
Thomas Paine, "the sturdy champion of political and religious liberty," was born at Thetford, in the County of Norfolk, (Eng.,) 29th of January, 1737. Born of religious parents (his father being a Quaker, and his mother a member of the Church of England,) Paine received a religious education at Thetford Grammar School, under the Rev. William Knowles. At an early age he gave indications of his great talent, and found pleasure, when a boy, in studying poetical authors. His parents, however, endeavored to check his taste for poetry, his father probably thinking it would unfit him for the denomination to which he belonged. But Paine did not lose much time before experimenting in poetry himself. Hence we find him, when eight years of age, composing the following epitaph, upon a fly being caught in a spider's web:—
"Here lies the body of John Crow, Who once was high, but now is low; Ye brother Crows take warning all, For as you rise, so you must fall."
At the age of thirteen, after receiving a moderate education in reading, writing, and arithmetic, Paine left school, to follow his father's trade (stay-making.) Although disliking the business, he pursued this avocation for nearly five years. When about twenty years of age, however, he felt—as most enterprising young men do feel—a desire to visit London, and enter into the competition and chances of a metropolitan life. His natural dislike to his father's business led him to abandon for a period his original occupation, and, after working some time with Mr. Morris, a noted stay-maker, in Long Acre, he resolved upon a seafaring adventure, of which he thus speaks:—
"At an early age, raw, adventurous, and heated with the false Heroism of a master [Rev. Mr. Knowles, Master of the Grammar School at Thetford] who had served in a man-of-war, I began my fortune, and entered on board the Terrible, Captain Death, from this adventure I was happily prevented by the affectionate and moral remonstrances of a good father, who from the habits of his life, being of the Quaker profession, looked on me as lost; but the impression, much as it affected me at the time, wore away, and I entered afterwards in the King of Prussia privateer, Captain Mender, and went with her to sea."
Sea life did not, as may be supposed, long satisfy a mind like Paine's. In April, 1759, after working nearly twelve months at Dover, we find him settled as master stay-maker at Sandwich; marrying, on September 27, Mary Lambert, daughter of an Exciseman of that place. But his matrimonial happiness was of short duration, his wife dying the following year.
Disgusted with the toil and inconvenience of his late occupation, Paine now renounced it forever, to apply himself to the profession of Exciseman. After fourteen months' study he obtained the appointment of supernumerary in the Excise, which he held, with intervals, till 1768, when he settled as Exciseman at Lewes, in Sussex, and married, 1771, Elizabeth Olive, daughter of a tobacconist, whose business he succeeded to. About this time Paine wrote several little pieces, in prose and verse, among which was the celebrated song on the "Death of General Wolfe," and "The Trial of Farmer Carter's Dog, Porter." The latter is a composition of "exquisite wit and humor."
In 1772 the Excise officers throughout the kingdom were dissatisfied with their salaries, and formed a plan to apply to Parliament for an increase. Paine being distinguished among them as a man of great talent, was solicited to draw up and state their case, which he did in a pamphlet entitled "The Case of the Salary of the Officers of Excise, and Thoughts on the Corruption arising from the Poverty of Excise Officers." Four thousand copies of this pamphlet were printed and circulated. Some time after this publication, Paine, being in the grocery business, was suspected of unfair practices, and was dismissed the Excise, after being in it twelve years. This suspicion, however, was never shown to be just. But to show how very vigorous the authorities were in suppressing smuggling, we will quote the following letter from Clio Rickman to the Editor of the Independent Whig, in October, 1807:—
"Sir,—If there are any characters more to be abhorred than others, it is those who inflict severe punishments against offenders, and yet themselves commit the same crimes.
"If any characters more than others deserve execration, exposure, and to be driven from among mankind, it is those governors of the people who break the laws they themselves make, and punish others for breaking.
"Suffer me, Mr. Editor, thus to preface the following fact; fact, I say, because I stand ready to prove it so.
"When Admiral Duncan rendezvoused in the Downs with his fleet, on the 8th of January, 1806, the Spider lugger, Daniel Falara, master, was sent to Guernsey to smuggle articles for the fleet, such as wine, spirits, hair powder, playing cards, tobacco, etc., for the supply of the different ships.
"At her arrival in the Downs, the ships' boats flocked round her to unload her and her contraband cargo. A Custom House extra boat, commanded by William Wallace, seeing the lugger, followed and took her; in doing which he did his duty.
"On his inspecting the smuggled articles with which she was laden, he found a number of cases directed to Admiral Duncan, the Right Honorable William Pitt, the heaven-born Minister of England, and to the Right Honorable Henry Dundas, Walmer Castle. In a few days, Wallace, the master of the Custom House cutter, received orders from Government to give the lugger and her smuggled cargo up, on penalty of being dismissed the service; and these cases of smuggled goods were afterwards delivered at the Prime Ministers, Mr. Pitt, at Walmer Castle.
"Mr. Editor, read what follows, and repress your indignation if you can.
"There are now in Deal jail fourteen persons for trifling acts of smuggling compared to the above of the Right Honorable William Pitt and the now Right Honorable Lord Melville.
"The former were poor, and knew not how to live, the latter were most affluently and splendidly supported by the people—that is, they were paupers upon the generous public, towards whom they thus scandalously and infamously conducted themselves.
"I am, Sir, your humble servant,
To those opponents of Thomas Paine who attach any weight to his dismissal from the Excise on suspicion of smuggling, we would mention the fact, that during Paine's service at Lewes, Mr. Jenner, the principal clerk in the Excise Office, London, wrote several letters from the Board of Excise, "thanking Mr. Paine for his assiduity in his profession, and for his information and calculations forwarded to the office." Shortly-after his dismissal, Mr. Paine and his wife, by mutual agreement, separated. Many tales have been put in circulation respecting the separation. Clio Rickman, in his "Life of Paine," has the following passage:—-
"That he did not cohabit with her from the moment they left the altar till the day of their separation, a space of three years, although they lived in the same house together, is an indubitable truth. It is also true, that no physical defect, on the part of Mr. Paine, can be adduced as a reason for such conduct.... Mr. Paine's answer, upon my once referring to this subject, was, 'It is nobody's business but my own: I had cause for it, but I will name it to no one.'.... This I can assert, that Mr. Paine always spoke tenderly and respectfully of his wife; and sent her several times pecuniary aid, without her knowing even whence it came."
In 1774 Paine left England, and arrived at Philadelphia a few months before the battle of Lexington. He made his appearance in the New World as editor of the Pennsylvanian Magazine; and it would appear that he then had in view the coming struggle, in which he took so prominent a part, for in his introduction to the first number of the above Magazine he states:—"Thus encompassed with difficulties, this first number of the Pennsylvanian Magazine entreats a favorable reception; of which we shall only say, that like the early snowdrop, it comes forth in a barren season, and contents itself with foretelling the reader that choicer flowers are preparing to appear." Upon the foreign supply of gunpowder being prohibited, he proposed a plan, in the Pennsylvanian Journal, of a saltpetre association for the voluntary supply of that article of destruction.
On the 10th of January, 1776, "Common Sense" was published, its circulation soon reaching 100,000 copies. The effect this remarkable pamphlet produced upon the minds of the American people, and the share it had in bringing to a successful issue the then pending struggle, may be gathered even from Paine's bitterest enemies. Mr. Cheetham, in his "Life of Paine," while endeavoring to damage the author of "Common Sense," admits the value of this pamphlet. He says:—"This pamphlet of forty octavo pages, holding out relief by proposing Independence to an oppressed and despairing people, was published in January, 1776; speaking a language which the colonists had felt, but not thought of. Its popularity, terrible in its consequences to the parent country, was unexampled in the history of the press. At first involving the colonists, in the crime of rebellion, and pointing to a road leading inevitably to ruin, it was read with indignation and alarm; but when the reader—and every one read it—recovering from the first shock, re-perused it, its arguments nourishing his feelings and appealing to his pride, re-animated his hopes, and satisfied his understanding that 'Common Sense,' backed by the resources and force of the colonies, poor and feeble as they were, could alone rescue them from the unqualified oppression with which they were threatened. The unknown author, in the moments of enthusiasm which succeeded, was an angel sent from heaven to save from all the horrors of slavery by his timely, powerful, and unerring councils, a faithful but abused, a brave but misrepresented people." Another of Paine's enemies and slanderers—Elkanah Watson—in a volume recently published, entitled "Men and Times of the Revolution," after speaking in very disparaging terms of Paine's appearance, habits, and disposition (which is proved false by the best of testimony,) admits the service rendered to America by "Common Sense." He says:—"Yet I could not repress the deepest emotions of gratitude towards him, as the instrument of Providence in accelerating the declaration of our Independence. He certainly was a prominent agent in preparing the public sentiment of America for that glorious event. The idea of Independence had not occupied the popular mind, and when guardedly approached on the topic, it shrunk from the conception, as fraught with doubt, with peril, and with suffering. In 1776 I was present at Providence, Rhode Island, in a social assembly of most of the prominent leaders of the State. I recollect that the subject of Independence was cautiously introduced by an ardent Whig, and the thought seemed to excite the abhorrence of the whole circle. A few weeks after, Paine's 'Common Sense' appeared, and passed through the continent like an electric spark. It everywhere flashed conviction, and aroused a determined spirit, which resulted in the Declaration of Independence, upon the 4th of July ensuing. The name of Paine was precious to every Whig heart, and had resounded throughout Europe." Other testimony could be given to Paine's influence in the American struggle for Independence; but after the two already mentioned from his opponents, it is unnecessary to give further proof.
In the same year that "Common Sense" appeared, Paine accompanied General Washington and his army, being with him in his retreat from Hudson River to the Delaware. Although great terror prevailed, Paine stood brave and undismayed, conscious he was advocating a just cause, and determined to bring it to a successful issue. He occupied himself in inspiring hope in the Americans, showing them their strength and their weakness. This object drew from his pen "The Crisis," a continuation of the "Common Sense," which was issued at intervals till the cessation of hostilities.
In 1777 Paine was unanimously, and unknown to himself, appointed Secretary in the Foreign Department, where he formed a close friendship with Dr. Franklin. He did not retain his office, however, long, as he refused to become a party to the fraudulent demands of a Mr. Silas Deane, one of the American Commissioners, then in Europe; and he resigned the office.
In 1780 he was chosen member of the American Philosophical Society, having previously received the degree of Master of Arts from the University of Philadelphia.
When the Independence of America was attained, and when oppression had received a severe and lasting check in that rising country, we find that Paine, so far from being satisfied with his success in the New World, began to look for a fresh field where he might render good service to the cause of right and freedom. Accordingly, in 1787. he visited Paris, his famous services to America giving him a welcome by those who knew the benefit arising from the establishment of human rights. His stay in Paris, at this time, was of short duration, as he returned to England after an absence of thirteen years, on September 3rd. After visiting his mother, and settling an allowance of nine shillings per week for her support, he resided for a short time at Rotherham, in Yorkshire, where an iron bridge was cast and erected upon a model of his invention, which obtained him great reputation for his mathematical skill.
The publication of "Mr. Burke's Reflections on the French Revolution" called from Paine his "Rights of Man," a book that created great attraction, and sold nearly a million and a half of copies. In politics Paine was clear and decided, and, from his moderation, what is called "sound." For the perusal of those who may not have read it, we give the following quotations, to show the principles upon which it is based:—
"Mr. Burke talks about what he calls an hereditary crown, as if it were some production of nature; or as if, like time, it had a power to operate, not only independently, but in spite of man; or as if it were a thing or a subject universally consented to. Alas! it has none of those properties, but is the reverse of them all. It is a thing in imagination, the property of which is more than doubted, and the legality of which in a few years will be denied. But, to arrange this matter in a clearer view than what general expressions can convey, it will be necessary to state the distinct heads under which (what is called) an hereditary crown, or, more properly speaking, an hereditary succession to the government of a nation, can be considered; which are, first, the right of a particular family to establish itself; secondly, the right of a nation to establish a particular family. With respect to the first of these heads, that of a family establishing itself with heredity powers on its own authority, and independent of the consent of a nation, all men will concur in calling it despotism: and it would be trespassing on their understanding to attempt to prove it. But the second head, that of a nation establishing a particular family with hereditary powers, does not present itself as despotism on the first reflection; but if men will permit a second reflection to take place, and carry that reflection forward but one remove out of their own persons to that of their offspring, they will then see that hereditary succession becomes in its consequences the same despotism to others, which they reprobated for themselves. It operates to preclude the consent of the succeeding generations; and the preclusion of consent is despotism. When the person who at any time shall be in possession of a government, or those who stand in succession to him, shall say to a nation, I hold this power in 'contempt' of you, it signifies not on what authority he pretends to say it. It is no relief, but an aggravation to a person in slavery, to reflect that he was sold by his parent; and as that which heightens the criminality of an act cannot be produced to prove the legality of it, hereditary succession cannot be established as a legal thing.... Notwithstanding the taxes of England amount to almost seventeen millions a year, said to be for the expenses of Government, it is still evident that the sense of the nation is left to govern itself by magistrates and jurors, almost at its own charge, on Republican principles, exclusive of the expense of taxes. The salaries of the judges are almost the only charge that is paid out of the revenue. Considering that all the internal government is executed by the people, the taxes of England ought to be the lightest of any nation in Europe; instead of which they are the contrary. As this cannot be accounted for on the score of civil government, the subject necessarily extends itself to the monarchical part..... If a law be bad, it is one thing to oppose the practice of it, but it is quite a different thing to expose its errors, to reason on its defects, and show cause why it should be repealed, or why another ought to be substituted in its place. I have always held it an opinion (making it also my practice) that it is better to obey a bad law, making use at the same time of every argument to show its errors and procure its repeal, than forcibly to violate it; because the precedent of breaking a bad law might weaken the force, and lead to a discretionary violation, of those which are good."
As may be supposed, such a work as "The Rights of Man," aiming directly at all oppression, regardless of party, could not be allowed to escape the Attorney-General's answer. Accordingly, we find a prosecution instituted against it. But instead of prosecuting the author, the publishers were selected. This drew from Paine a long Letter to the Attorney-General, suggesting the justice of his answering for the book he wrote. On the trial, Mr. (afterwards Lord) Erskine thus spoke of the author of "The Rights of Man:"—"The defendant's whole deportment previous to the publication has been wholly unexceptionable; he properly desired to be given up as the author of the book, if any inquiry should take place concerning it; and he is not affected in evidence, directly or indirectly, with any illegal or suspicious conduct, not even with uttering an indiscreet or taunting expression, nor with any one matter or thing inconsistent with the best subject in England."
On the 12th of September, 1792, Mr. Achilles Audibert came expressly to England, from the French Convention, to solicit Paine to attend and aid them, by his advice, in their deliberations. "On his arrival at Calais a public dinner was provided, a royal salute was fired from the battery, the troops were drawn out, and there was a general rejoicing throughout the town.... Paine was escorted to the house of his friend, Mr. Audibert, the Chief Magistrate of the place, where he was visited by the Commandant, and all the Municipal Officers in forms, who afterwards gave him a sumptuous entertainment in the Town Hall. The same honor was also paid him on his departure for Paris." Upon his arrival in Paris all was confusion. There were the King's friends mortified and subdued, the Jacobins split up into cavilling faction, some wishing a federative government, some desiring the King's death, and the death of all the nobility; while a portion were more discreet, wishing liberty without licentiousness, and having a desire to redress wrongs without revenge. These few accepted Paine as their leader, and renounced all connection with the Jacobin Club.
Paine, on all occasions, advocated the preservation of the King's life but his efforts were thwarted by the appointment, by Robespierre, of Barrere to office. So anxiously was Paine sought after, that both Calais and Versailles returned him as Deputy. To show how the author of "The Rights of Man" opposed all physical force where reason may be used, it is only necessary to state, that when the Letter of Dumourier reached Paris with the threat of restoring the King, Paine wrote a letter to the Convention, stating a plan for re-adjustment, and was taking it personally, when he was informed "that a decree had just been passed offering one hundred thousand crowns for Dumourier's head; and another, making it high treason to propose anything in his favor." Whilst Deputy for Calais, Paine was sought and admired by all classes. He dined every Friday, for a long period, with the Earl of Lauderdale and Dr. Moore; and so frequent were his visitors, that he set apart two mornings a week for his levee days.—He soon, however, changed his residence, preferring less formality and a more select circle. His "History of the French Revolution" we are deprived of by his imprisonment, which Gibbon thought would prove a great loss. The historian often applied for the MS., believing it to be of great worth. The opinion Paine held of the Revolution may be gathered from the following:—
"With respect to the Revolution, it was begun by good men, on good principles, and I have ever believed it would have gone on so, had not the provocative interference of foreign powers distracted it into madness, and sown jealousies among the leaders. The people of England have now two Revolutions, the American and the French before them. Their own wisdom will direct them what to choose and what to avoid, and in everything which relates to their happiness, combined with the common good of mankind, I wish them honor and success."
His speech against the death of the King, shows how far he was removed from party spirit or any feeling of revenge. Whilst he protested against the King being re-enthroned, he equally protested against his death, wishing him removed from the seat of his corruption, and placed in a more elevating atmosphere.—Entreating for the King's safety, he says:—"Let then the United States be the safeguard and the asylum of Louis Capet. There, hereafter, far removed from the miseries and crimes of royalty, he may learn, from the constant aspect of public prosperity, that the true system of government consists in fair, equal, and honora-able representation. In relating this circumstance, and in submitting this proposition, I consider myself as a citizen of both countries."
The policy pursued by Paine was not consonant with the views of Robespierre. Consequently, he was seized in the night and imprisoned in the Luxembourg eleven months, without any reason being assigned. The readers are doubtless aware of the many Providential escapes he had from the death for which he was seized. While in prison he wrote part of his "Age of Reason," (having commenced it just previous to his arrest) not Knowing one hour but he might be executed, and once being on the verge of death from fever. He knew the prejudice the "Age of Reason" would create, so he left its production to the latter part of his life, not wishing to make that an impediment to the good he sought to accomplish in the Political world.
After toiling in France to bring the Revolution to a just termination, and finding his efforts rendered abortive by that feeling which former oppression had created, he resolved to return to America, a country he saw thriving by a policy he wished to institute in France.
In 1802, Jefferson, then President of America, knowing his wish to return, wrote him the following letter:—
"You express a wish in your letter to return to America by a national ship. Mr. Dawson, who brings over the treaty, and who will present you with this letter, is charged with orders to the captain of the Maryland, to receive and accommodate you back if you can be ready to return at such a short warning. You will in general find us returned to sentiments worthy of former times; in these it will be your glory to have steadily labored, and with as much effect as any man living. That you may live long to continue your useful labors, and reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sin cere prayer.
"Accept the assurance of my high esteem and affectionate attachment,
But circumstances prevented Paine going by the Maryland. He sailed, however, on the 1st of September, 1802, in the London Pacquet. He had often previously arranged to return to America, but luckily, Providence prevented him. One ship that he intended to sail by, was searched by English frigates for Thomas Paine, and another sunk at sea, whilst at other times British frigates were cruising off the ports from which he was to sail, knowing him to be there.
So much religious misrepresentation has been circulated about Paine's life and death, that it becomes a duty to restate the facts. The manner of life Paine pursued may be gathered from the reliable testimony of Clio Rickman. He says, "Mr. Paine's life in London was a quiet round of philosophical leisure and enjoyment. It was occupied in writing, in a small epistolary correspondence, in walking about with me to visit different friends, occasionally lounging at coffeehouses and public places, or being visited by a select few. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the French and American ambassadors, Mr. Sharp the engraver, Romney, the painter, Mrs. Wolstonecraft, Joel Barlow, Mr. Hull, Mr. Christie, Dr. Priestley, Dr. Towers, Colonel Oswald, the walking Stewart, Captain Sampson Perry, Mr. Tuffin, Mr. William Choppin, Captain De Stark, Mr. Home Tooke, etc., were among the number of his friends and acquaintances." His manner of living in France and America has already been noticed.
The perverted tales of Carver and Cheetham may be utterly disproved by referring to Clio Rickman's "Life of Paine." As his life, so was his death. When he became feeble and infirm (in Jan. 1809) he was often visited by those "good people" who so often intrude upon the domestic quiet of the afflicted. After the visit of an old woman, "come from the Almighty," (whom Paine soon sent back again) he was troubled with the Rev. Mr. Milledollar, and the Rev. Mr. Cunningham. The latter reverend said, "Mr. Paine, we visit you as friends and neighbors; you have now a full view of death, you cannot live long; and whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ, will assuredly be damned." "Let me," said Paine, "have none of your Popish stuff; get away with you; good morning, good morning." Another visitor was the Rev. Mr. Hargrove, with this statement:—"My name is Hargrove, Sir; I am minister of the new Jerusalem church; we, Sir, explain the scripture in its true meaning; the key has been lost these four thousand years, and we have found It." "Then," said Paine, in his own neat way, "it must have been very rusty." Shortly before his death, he stated to Mr. Hicks, to whom he had sent to arrange his burial? that his sentiments in reference to the Christian religion were precisely the same as when he wrote the "Age of Reason." On the 8th of June, (in the words of Clio Rickman) 1809. about nine in the morning, he placidly, and almost without a struggle, died as he had lived, a Deist, aged seventy-two years and five months. He was interred at New Rochelle, upon his own farm; a handsome monument being now erected where he was buried.
It has been the object in the present sketch rather to give, in a brief manner, an account of Paine's life and services, than an elucidation of his writings. His works are well known, and they will speak for themselves but much wrong is done to his memory by the perversions and misrepresentations of the religious publications. No doubt had his views been different on "religious" subjects, he would have been held up as a model of genius, perseverance, courage, disinterestedness of purpose, and purity of life, by the men who now find him no better name than the "Blasphemer." We hope that those not previously acquainted with the facts of his life, will find in the present sketch sufficient reason to think and speak otherwise of a man who made the world his country, and the doing good his religion.
"As Euclid near his various writings shone, His pen inspired by glorious truth alone, O'er all the earth diffusing light and life, Subduing error, ignorance, and strife; Raised man to just pursuits, to thinking right, And yet will free the world from woe and falsehood's night; To this immortal man, to Paine 'twas given, To metamorphose earth from hell to heaven."
BAPTISTE DE MIRABAUD
Jean Baptiste de Mirabaud was born at Paris, in the year 1675. Of his early life we can glean but very scanty information. He appears first to have embraced the military profession, but it not being consonant with his general character, he soon quitted the army, and devoted himself to literature. He was, however, nearly forty-nine years of age before he became known in the literary world. He then published a French translation of Tasso's "Jerusalem," which brought him much fame; and many of the contributors to the French Encyclopaedia appear to have associated with him, and courted his friendship. He was afterwards elected a member of the French Academy of which he became the Secretary in 1742. Mirabaud was a constant visitor at the house of his friend, the Baron d'Holbach, down to the period of his death. He wrote "The World: its Origin and its Antiquity," "Opinions of the Ancients upon the Jews," "Sentiments of the Philosophers upon the Nature of the Soul," and other minor works. The "System of Nature" was also for many years attributed to Mirabaud, but it appears now to be extremely doubtful whether he ever wrote a single line of the work. The Abbe Galiani was one of the first who pointed out D'Holbach as the author. In the memoirs of M. Suard, edited by M. Garat, the same hypothesis is supported with additional firmness. Dugald Stewart seems to put much faith in the latter authority, as fixing the authorship of the "System of Nature" upon D'Holbach. Voltaire attributes the work to Damilaville, in a somewhat positive manner, for which he is sharply criticised in the "Biographie Universelle," published in 1817. The "System of Nature" is a book of which Dugald Stewart speaks, as "the boldest, if not the ablest work of the Parisian Atheists," and it has undoubtedly obtained great popularity. Voltaire, who has written against the "System of Nature" in a tone of bitter sarcasm, and who complains of its general dullness and prolixity, yet admits that it is "often humorous, sometimes eloquent." It certainly is not written in that lively, but rather superficial style, which has characterized many of the French writers, but it speaks in plain yet powerful language, evincing an extensive acquaintance with the works of previous philosophers, and much thought in relation to the subjects treated upon. Some of its pages exhibiting more vivacity than the rest of the book, have been attributed to Diderot, who (it is alleged by Marmontel and others) aided, by his pen and counsel, many of the Freethinking works issued during his life.
The "System of Nature" was not published during the life-time of Mirabaud, and it is therefore impossible to use any argument which might have been based upon Mirabaud's conduct in relation to it.
Mirabaud died in Paris in 1760, at the advanced age of nearly eighty-six years. Contemporary with him were D'Alembert, D'Holbach, Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, Condorcet, Buffon, Rousseau, Frederick II. of Prussia, Montesquieu, Grimm, Sir William Tempte, Toland, Tindel, Edmund Halley, Hume, Gibbon, Adam Smith, Franklin, and Darwin, forming a role of names, whose fame will be handed down to posterity for centuries to come, as workers in the cause of man's redemption from mental slavery. If (as it appears very probably) it be the fact that Mirabaud had but little part in the authorship of "La Systeme de la Nature," D'Holbach, in using the name of his deceased friend, only associated him with a work which (judging from his other writings, the tenor of his life, and the noble character of his associates) Mirabaud would have issued with pride himself, had the book been really written by him.