Paul Thyry, Baron D'Holbach, was born at Heidesheim, in the Palatinate, in the month of January, 1723. His father appears to have been a very wealthy man, and brought his son to Paris, for the purpose of superintending his education, but died white he was still a child. In his youth, D'Holbach appears to have been noted for his studious habits and retentive faculties, and ultimately attained to some eminence in chemistry and mineralogy. He married when very young, and he had not been married one year when his wife died. He afterwards obtained a dispensation from the Pope, and married his deceased wife's sister, by whom he had four children, two sons and two daughters.
D'Holbach appeared to have spent the greater part of his life in Paris, and for forty years he assembled around his table, every Sunday, the elite of the literary world, including nearly the whole of those who took part in the first Encyclopedia. If that table were only in the hands of some of our spirit friends of the present day, what brilliant anecdotes might it not rap out—the sparkling wit of Diderot, the good humor of out host, the hospitable and generous D'Holbach, the occasional bitterness of Jean Jacques Rousseau, the cautious expression of opinion by D'Alembert, the agreeable variety of Montesquieu, and the bold enthusiasm of the youthful but hardworking Naigeon! If ever a table were inclined to turn, this table should have been; but perhaps it may be that tables never turn when reason is the ruler of those who sit around.
It seems more than probable that D'Holbach at first held opinions differing widely from those entertained by him during the later periods of his life, and it is asserted that Diderot contributed much to this change of opinion. D'Holbach was an amiable man of the world, fond of amusement, and without pretension; he was, notwithstanding, well versed in Roman and Grecian literature, mathematics, chemistry, botany, and modern languages. He was generous to every one. "I content myself," he said, "with performing the disagreeable character of benefactor, when I am forced to it. I do not wish to be repaid my money; but I am pleased when I meet with some little gratitude, if it be only as proving that the persons I have assisted were such sort of men as I desired."
Although about forty-five works are now ascribed to D'Holbach, not one of them was published during his life-time in his own name. The manuscripts were taken to Amsterdam by Naigeon, and there printed by Michael Rey. D'Holbach never talked publicly of his literary productions himself and his secrets seem to have been well kept by his friends. Several of the works were condemned and suppressed by the government; but D'Holbach lived unsuspected and unmolested. The expression used by the Avocat, General Seguier, in his requisitoire against the "System of Nature" is worthy of notice. The Avocat General said—"The restless spirit of Infidelity, inimical to all dependence, endeavors to overthrow all political constitutions. Its wishes will not be satisfied until it has destroyed the necessary inequality of rank and condition, and until it has degraded the majesty of kings, and rendered their authority subordinate to the caprices of the mob." Note the three words we have italicised. For the first read unnecessary; for the second, voice; for the third, peoples. We trust that Free-thought never will be satisfied until it has destroyed the unnecessary inequalities of rank and condition, and rendered it impossible for the authority of kings to be enforced in opposition to the voice of the people.
The following description of D'Holbach is given in a little sketch, published by Mr. Watson in 1834, as taken from Grimm's "Correspondence:"—"D'Hol-bach's features were, taken separately, regular, and even handsome, yet he was not a handsome man. His forehead, large and open, like that of Diderot, indicated a vast and capacious mind; but his forehead having fewer sinuosities, less roundness than Diderot's, announced less warmth, less energy, and less fecundity of ideas. A craniologist would say that in both D'Holbach and Diderot, the philosophical organs were largely developed, but that Diderot excelled in ideality; D'Holbach's countenance only indicated mildness, and the habitual sincerity of his mind. He was incapable of personal hatred. Though he detested priests and Jesuits, and all other supporters of despotism and superstition; and though when speaking of such people, his mildness and good temper were sometimes transformed into bitterness and irritability; yet it is affirmed that when the Jesuits were expelled from France, D'Holbach regarded them as objects of commiseration and of pity, and afforded them pecuniary assistance."
The titles of D'Holbach's works may be found in Barbier's "Dictionary of Anonymous Works," and in St. Surins's article in the "Biographie Universelle," so in the little tract before mentioned as published by J. Watson. D'Holbach contributed largely to the first French Encyclopaedia, and other works of a like character. Of the "System of Nature" we have already spoken, and shall rather leave our readers to the work itself than take up more space in discussing its authorship.
After having lived a life of comfort, in affluent circumstances, and always surrounded by a large circle of the best men of the day, D'Holbach died on January the 21st, 1789, being, then sixty-six years of age. The priests have never pictured to us any scene of horror in relation to his dying moments. The good old man died cheered and supported in his last struggle by those men whom he had many times assisted in the hard fighting of the battle of life. J. A. Naigeon, who had been his friend for thirty years; paid an eloquent tribute to D'Holbach's memory, in an article which appeared in the "Journal de Paris" of February the 9th, 1789, and we are not aware that any man has ever written anything against D'Hol-bach's personal character.
EXTRACTS FROM "THE SYSTEM OF NATURE."
Although we may not attempt to express a decided opinion as to the authorship of "Le Systeme de la Nature," we feel it our duty to present some of its principal arguments to the consideration of our readers. The author opens his work with this passage:—
"Man always deceives himself when he abandons experience to follow imaginary systems. He is the work of nature. He exists in nature. He is submitted to her laws. He cannot deliver himself from them. He cannot step beyond them even in thought. It is in vain his mind would spring forward beyond the visible world: an imperious necessity ever compels his return—for a being formed by Nature, who is circumscribed by her laws, there exists nothing beyond the great whole of which he forms a part, of which be experiences the influence. The beings his imagination pictures as above Nature, or distinguished from her, are always chimeras formed after that which he has, already seen, but of which it is utterly impossible he should ever form any correct idea, either as to the place they occupy, or their manner of acting—for him there is not, there can be nothing out of that nature which includes all beings. Instead, therefore, of seeking out of the world he inhabits for beings who can procure him a happiness denied by Nature, let him study this nature, learn her laws, contemplate her energies, observe the immutable rules by which she acts."
Speaking of the theological delusions under which many men labor, and of the mode in which man has been surrounded by those delusions, he says:—
"His ignorance made him credulous: his curiosity made him swallow large draughts of the marvellous: time confirmed him in his opinions, and he passed his conjectures from race to race, for realities; a tyrannical power maintained him in his notions, because by those alone could society be enslaved. It was in vain, that some faint glimmerings of Nature occasionally attempted, the recall of his reason; that slight corruscations of experience sometimes threw his darkness into light; the interest of the few was bottomed on his enthusiasm; their pre-eminence depended on his love of the wonderful; their very existence rested on the solidity of his ignorance they consequently suffered no opportunity to escape, of smothering even the lambent flame. The many were thus first deceived into credulity, then coerced into submission. At length, the whole science of man became a confused mass of darkness, falsehood, and contradictions, with here and there a feeble ray of truth, furnished by that Nature of which he can never entirely divest himself, because, without his knowledge, his necessities are continually bringing him back to her resources."
Having stated that by "nature" he means the "great whole," our author complains of those who assert that matter is senseless, inanimate, unintelligent, etc., and says, "Experience proves to us that the matter which we regard as inert or dead, assumes action, intelligence, and life, when it is combined in a certain way:"—
"If flour be wetted with water, and the mixture closed up, it will be found, after some little lapse of time, by the aid of a microscope, to have produced organized beings that enjoy life, of which the water and the flour were believed incapable: it is thus that inanimate matter can pass into life, or animate matter, which is in itself only an assemblage of motion. Reasoning from analogy, which the philosophers of the present day hold perfectly compatible, the production of a man, independent of the ordinary means, would not be more marvellous than that of an insect with flour and water. Fermentation and putrefaction evidently produce living animals. We have here the principle; with proper materials, principles can always be brought into action. That generation which is styled equivocal is only so for those who do not reflect, or who do not permit themselves, attentively, to observe the operations of Nature."
This passage is much ridiculed by Voltaire, who asserts that it is founded on some experiments made by one Needham, who placed some rye-meal in well-corked bottles, and some boiled mutton gravy in other bottles, and found that eels were produced in each. We do not know sufficient of the history of Needham's experiments, either to affirm or deny their authenticity, but we feel bound to remind our readers of the much-decried experiments conducted by Mr. Crosse, and which were afterwards verified by Mr. Weekes, of Sandwich. In these cases, insects were produced by the action of a powerful voltaic battery upon a saturated solution of silicate of potash, and upon ferro cyanuret of potassium. The insects were a species of acarus, minute and semi-transparent, and furnished with long bristles, which could only be seen by the aid of the microscope. The sixth chapter treats of man, and the author thus answers the question, "What is man?":—
"We say he is a material being, organized after a peculiar manner, conformed to a certain mode of thinking, of feeling, capable of modification in certain modes peculiar to himself, to his organization, to that particular combination of matter which is found assembled in him. If again it be asked, What origin we give to beings of the human species? We reply, that like all other beings, man is a production of nature, who resembles them in some respects, and finds himself submitted to the same laws; who differs from them in other respects, and follows particular laws determined by the diversity of his conformation. If then it be demanded, Whence came man? We answer, our experience on this head does not capacitate us to resolve the question; but that it cannot interest us, as it suffices for us to know that man exists, that he is so constituted as to be competent to the effects we witness."
In the seventh chapter the author, treating of the soul and spirit says:—
"The doctrine of spirituality, such as it now exists, offers nothing but vague ideas, or, rather, is the absence of all ideas. What does it present to the mind but a substance which possesses nothing of which our senses enable us to have a knowledge? Can it be truth, that man is able to figure to himself a being not material, having neither extent nor parts; which, nevertheless, acts upon matter without having any point of contact, any kind of analogy with it; and which itself receives the impulse of matter by means of material organs, which announce to it the presence of other beings? Is it possible to conceive the union of the soul with the body; to comprehend how this material body can bind, enclose, constrain, determine a fugitive being, which escapes all our senses? Is it honest, is it plain dealing, to solve these difficulties, by saying there is a mystery in them, that they are the effects of a power more inconceivable than the human soul, than its mode of acting, however concealed from our view? When to resolve these problems, man is obliged to have recourse to miracles, to make the Divinity interfere, does he not avow his own ignorance? When notwithstanding the ignorance he is thus obliged to avow by availing himself of the divine agency, he tells us, this immaterial substance, this soul, shall experience the action of the element of fire, which he allows to be material; when he confidently says, this soul shall be burnt; shall suffer in purgatory—have we not a right to believe, that either he has a design to deceive us, or else that he does not himself understand that which he is so anxious we shall take upon his word?"
The ninth chapter, after treating of the diversity of the intellectual faculties, proceeds, "Man at his birth brings with him into the world nothing but the necessity of conserving himself, of rendering his existence happy; instruction, examples, the custom of the world, present him with the means, either real or imaginary, of achieving it; habit procures for him the facility of employing these means:"—
"In order that man may become virtuous, it is absolutely requisite that he should have an interest, that he should find advantages in practicing virtue. For this end, it is necessary that education should implant in him reasonable ideas; that public opinion should lean towards virtue, as the most desirable good; that example should point it out as the object most worthy of esteem; that government should faithfully recompense, should regularly reward it; that honor should always accompany its practice; that vice should constantly be despised; that crime should invariably be punished. Is virtue in this situation amongst men! Does the education of man infuse into him just, faithful ideas of happiness—true notions of virtue—-dispositions really favorable to the beings with whom he is to live? The examples spread before him, are they suitable to innocence of manners? Are they calculated to make him respect decency, to cause him to love probity, to practice honesty, to value good faith, to esteem equity, to revere conjugal fidelity, to observe exactitude in fulfilling his duties? Religion, which alone pretends to regulate his manners, does it render him sociable? does it make him pacific? does it teach him to be humane? The arbiters, the sovereigns of society, are they faithful in recompensing punctual in rewarding, those who have best served their country, in punishing those who have pillaged, who have robbed, who have plundered, who have divided, who have ruined it? Justice, does she hold her scales with a firm, with an even hand, between all the citizens of the state? The laws, do they never support the strong against the weak, favor the rich against the poor, uphold the happy against the miserable? In short, is it an uncommon spectacle to behold crime frequently justified, often applauded, sometimes crowned with success, insolently triumphing, arrogantly striding over that merit which it disdains, over that virtue which it outrages? Well, then, in societies thus constituted, virtue can only be heard by a very small number of peaceable citizens, a few generous souls, who know how to estimate its value, who enjoy it in secret. For the others, it is only a disgusting object; they see in it nothing but the supposed enemy to their happiness, or the censor of their individual conduct."
In the tenth chapter, which is upon the soul, the author says:—
"The diversity in the temperament of man, is natural, the necessary source of the diversity of passions, of his taste, of his ideas of happiness, of his opinions of every kind. Thus this same diversity will be the fatal source of his disputes—of his hatreds—of his injustice—every time he shall reason upon unknown objects, but to which he shall attach the greatest importance. He will never understand either himself or others, in speaking of a spiritual soul, or of immaterial substances distinguished from nature; he will, from that moment, cease to speak the same language, and he will never attach the same ideas to the same words. What then shall be the common standard that shall decide which is the man that thinks with the greatest justice?
"Propose to a man to change his religion for yours, he will believe you a madman; you will only excite his indignation, elicit his contempt; he will propose to you, in his turn, to adopt his own peculiar opinions; after much reasoning, you will treat each other as absurd beings, ridiculously opinionated, pertinaciously stubborn; and he will display the least folly who shall first yield. But if the adversaries become heated in the dispute, which always happens, when they suppose the matter important, or when they would defend the cause of their own self-love, from thence their passions sharpen, they grow angry, quarrels are provoked, they hate each other, and end by reciprocal injury. It is thus that for opinions, which no man can demonstrate, we see the Brachman despised; the Mahomedan hated; the Pagan held in contempt; that they oppress and disdain each with the most raucorous animosity: the Christian burns the Jew at what is called an Auto-da-fe, because he clings to the faith of his fathers; the Roman Catholic condemns the Protestant to the flames, and makes a conscience of massacreing(sp.) him in cold blood; this re-acts in his turn; sometimes the various sects of Christians league together against the incredulous Turk, and for a moment suspend their own bloody disputes that they may chastise the enemies to the true faith: then, having glutted their revenge, return with redoubied fury, to wreak over again their infuriated vengeance on each other."
The thirteenth chapter argues as follows, against the doctrine of the immortality of the soul and a future state:—
"In old age, man extinguishes entirely, his fibres become rigid, his nerves lose their elasticity, his senses are obtunded, his sight grows dim, his ears lose their quickness, his ideas become unconnected, his memory fails, his imagination cools,—what, then, becomes of his soul. Alas! it sinks down with the body, it gets benumbed as this loses its feeling, becomes sluggish as this decays in activity; like it, when enfeebled by years, it fulfils its functions with pain; this substance, which is deemed spiritual, which is considered immaterial, which it is endeavored to distinguish from matter, undergoes the same revolutions, experiences the same vicissitudes, submits to the name modifications as does the body itself. In despite of this proof of the materiality of the soul, of its identity with the body so convincing to the unprejudiced, some thinkers have supposed that although the latter is perishable, the former does not perish; that this portion of man enjoys the especial privilege of immortality; that it is exempt from dissolution; free from those changes of form all the beings in nature undergo: in consequence of this, man is persuaded himself that this privileged soul does not die.
"It will be asked, perhaps, by what road has man been conducted to form to himself gratuitous ideas of another world. I reply, that it is a truth man has no idea of a future life; they are the ideas of the past and the present, that furnish his imagination with the materials of which he constructs the edifice of the regions of futurity. Hobbes says, 'We believe that, that which is will always be, and that the same causes will have the same effects.' Man in his actual state has two modes of feeling—one, that he approves; another, that he disapproves: thus persuaded that these two modes of feeling must accompany him even beyond his present existence, he placed in the regions of eternity two distinguished abodes; one destined to felicity; the other to misery: the one must contain those who obey the calls of superstition, who believe in its dogmas; the other is a prison, destined to avenge the cause of heaven on all those who shall not faithfully believe the doctrines promulgated by the ministers of a vast variety of superstitions. Has sufficient attention been paid to the fact that results as a necessary consequence from this reasoning; which on examination will be found to have rendered the first place entirely useless, seeing, that by the number and contradiction of these various systems, let man believe whichever he may, let him follow it in the most faithful manner, still he must be ranked as an Infidel, as a rebel to the divinity; because he cannot believe in all; and those from which he dissents, by a consequence of their own creed, condemn him to the prison-house?—Such is the origin of the ideas upon a future life, so diffused among mankind. Everywhere may be seen an Elysium, and a Tartarus, a Paradise and a Hell; in a word, two distinguished abodes, constructed according to the imagination of the enthusiasts who have invented them; who have accommodated them to their own peculiar prejudices, to the hopes, to the fears of the people who believe in them. The Indian figures the first of these abodes as one of inaction, of permanent repose, because, being the inhabitant of a hot climate, he has learned to contemplate rest as the extreme of felicity: the Mussulman promises himself corporeal pleasures, similar to those that actually constitute the object of his research in this life: each figures to himself that on which he has learned to set the greatest value."
"As for the miserable abode of souls, the imagination of fanatics, who were desirous of governing the people, strove to assemble the most frightful images to render it still more terrible; fire is of all things that which produces in man the most pungent sensation; not finding anything more cruel, the enemies to the several dogmas were to be everlastingly punished with this torturing element: fire, therefore, was the point at which their imagination was obliged to stop; the ministers of the various systems agreed pretty generally, that fire would one day avenge their offended divinities; thus, they painted the victims to the anger of the gods, or rather those who questioned their own creeds, as confined in fiery dungeons; as perpetually rolling into a vortex of bituminous flames; as plunged in unfathomable gulfs of liquid sulphur; making the infernal caverns resound with their useless groanings, with their unavailing gnashing of teeth. But it will, perhaps, be inquired, how could man reconcile himself to the belief of an existence accompanied with eternal torments; above all, as many according to their own superstitions had reason to fear it for themselves—Many causes have concurred to make him adopt so revolting an opinion: in the first place, very few thinking men have ever believed such an absurdity, when they have deigned to make use of their reason; or, when they have accredited it, this notion was always counterbalanced by the idea of the goodness, by a reliance on the mercy, which they attributed to their respective divinities: in the second place, those who were blinded by their fears never rendered to themselves any account of these strange doctrines which they either received with awe from their legislators, or which were transmitted to them by their fathers; in the third place, each sees the object of his terrors only at a favorable distance; moreover, superstition promises him the means of escaping the tortures he believes he has merited."
We conclude by quoting the following eloquent passage:—
"Oh! Nature! sovereign of all beings! and ye, her adorable daughters, Virtue, Reason, and Truth! remain forever our reverend protectors. It is to you that belong the praises of the human race; to you appertains the homage of the earth. Show us, then, oh! Nature! that which man ought to do, in order to obtain the happiness which thou makest him desire.—Virtue! animate him with thy beneficent fire! Reason! conduct his uncertain steps through the paths of life. Truth! let thy torch illumine his intellect, dissipate the darkness of his road.... Banish error from our mind, wickedness from our hearts, confusion from our footsteps. Cause knowledge to extend its salubrious reign, goodness to occupy our souls, serenity to dwell in our bosoms.... Let our eyes, so long either dazzled or blindfolded, be at length fixed upon those objects we ought to seek. Dispel forever those mists of ignorance, those hideous phantoms, together with those seducing chimeras, which only serve to lead us astray. Extricate us from that dark abyss into which we are plunged by superstition, overthrow the fatal empire of delusion, crumble the throne of falsehood, wrest from their polluted hands the power they have usurped."
Many of the readers of this number will, from their own memories, be better able to do justice to him, whom Henry Hunt named "The Devil's Chaplain," than we shall in our limited space. Robert Taylor was born at Edmonton, in the county of Middlesex, on the 18th of August, 1784. His family was highly respectable, and his parents were in affluent circumstances; but, being a younger son in a family of eleven children, it was necessary that Robert Taylor should follow some profession. His father died when he was about seven years old, leaving him under the guardianship of a paternal uncle. When seventeen years of age, he was apprenticed to a surgeon, at Birmingham, and studied medicine afterwards under Sir Astley Cooper and Mr. Clive, passing the College of Surgeons with considerable eclat. When about twenty-three, he became acquainted with the Rev. Thomas Cotterell, a clergyman of the Established Church, of high evangelical principles, who induced him to quit physic for metaphysics, and in 1809 Robert Taylor entered Saint John's College, Cambridge, and in 1813 took his degree of Bachelor of Arts. He was publicly complimented by the Master of the College as a singular honor to the University in his scholarship, and was ordained on the 14th of March, 1813, by the bishop of Chichester; from that time until 1818, Taylor officiated as curate at Midhurst. Here he became acquainted with a person named Ayling who held Deistical opinions, and who induced Taylor to read various Free-thinking works; this soon resulted in an avowal of Deism on the part of Taylor, who tendered his resignation to his Bishop. His friends and family were much alarmed, and much pressure was brought to bear upon him, and we regret to state that it had the effect of producing a temporary recantation. This, however, brought Taylor no relief; he found himself in distress, and shunned by his family. Through the kindness of an old friend, he obtained the curacy of Yardley, near Birmingham, but his previous apostacy having reached the ears of the Bishop, the necessary license was refused, and the rector received a peremptory notice to dismiss Taylor. This harsh treatment caused a reaction, and while the rector sought another curate, Taylor preached a series of sermons, by means of which he shook the faith of nearly the whole of his congregation. The following is an abstract of his last sermon at Yardley:—
"The text was, 'For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly, so shall the son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'—Matt, xii., 40. He began, 'Then this glorious miracle of the man having been swallowed alive by a fish, and remaining alive for seventy-two hours, undigested and unhurt, in the fish's bowels, and being vomited up unhurt and safe upon the dry land, was as true as the gospel; and consequently the gospel was as true, but not more true, than this sea-sick miracle. He inferred that no person could have a right to pretend to believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, who had the least doubt as to the reality of the deglutition and evomition of the prophet Jonah. As to the natural improbabilities and physical impossibilities of this very wonderful Bible miracle, these were nothing in the way of a true and lively faith. Where miracles of any sort were concerned, there could be no distinction into the greater and the less, since infinite power was as necessary to the reality of the least as to the greatest. We should never forget that it was the Lord who prepared the fish, and prepared him for the express purpose of swallowing the man, and probably gave him a little opening physic, to cleanse the apartment for the accommodation of its intended tenant; and had the purpose been, that the whole ship and all the crew should have been swallowed as well as he, there's no doubt that they could have been equally well accommodated. But as to what some wicked Infidels objected, about the swallow of the whale being too narrow to admit the passage of the man, it only required a little stretching, and even a herring or a sprat might have gulped him. He enlarged, most copiously, on the circumstance of the Lord speaking to the fish, in order to cause him to vomit; and insisted on the natural efficacy of the Lord, which was quite enough to make anybody sick. He pointed out the many interesting examples of faith and obedience which had been set by the scaly race, who were not only at all times easy to be caught in the gospel net, when thrown over them by the preaching of the word, but were always ready to surrender their existence to the Almighty, whenever he pleased to drop 'em a line. That as the first preachers of the gospel were fishermen, so the preachers of the gospel, to this day, might truly be said to be looking after the loaves and fishes, and they who, as the Scripture says, are 'wise to catch soles,' speak to them for no other purpose than that for which the Lord spake unto the whale—that is, to ascertain how much they can swallow. The moral of this pungent persiflage, aimed to admonish the proud and uncharitable believer, who expected his acceptance with the deity on the score of his credulity, that when his credulity was fairly put to trial, it might be found that he was in reality as far from believing what he did not take to be true as the most honest and avowed Infidel. 'Thou then who wouldst put a trick upon infinite wisdom, and preferest the imagined merit of a weak understanding to the real utility of an honest heart—thou who wouldst
'Compound for sins thou art inclined to, By damning those thou hast no mind to;'
hast thou no fears for thy presumptuous self? Thou believest only that which seemeth to thee to be true; what does the Atheist less? And that which appeareth to be a lie thou rejectest; what does the Atheist more? Can we think that God has given us reason only to betray us, and made us so much superior to the brute creation, only to deal with us so much worse than they, to punish us for making the best use we could of the faculties he has given us, and to make the very excellence of our nature the cause of our damnation?'"
This concluded his connection with the Church of England, and his brother having consented to make him an allowance of one pound per week if he would quit England, he retired to the Isle of Man. After nine weeks his brother ceased to remit; and to support himself, Taylor wrote for the two newspapers then published in the island, but his articles attracting attention, he was summoned before the Bishop, and compelled to quit the island under a threat of imprisonment. In deep distress, he went to Dublin, where he lectured on Deism until 1824, when he came to London, and founded the Christian Evidence Society.
Many of the discourses delivered by him were printed in "The Lion." which was first published in 1828. In 1827 Mr. Taylor was tried at Guildhall for blasphemy, and was sentenced to imprisonment in Oakham gaol for one year. In Oakham he wrote "The Diegesis" and "Syntagma." After his release from prison in 1829, he, together with Richard Carlile, made a tour through England on an Infidel mission, commencing with a challenge to the Cambridge University. In 1830 and 1831 he delivered a series of discourses, which are printed together under the title of "The Devil's Pulpit." On the 4th July, 1831, he was again tried for blasphemy and sentenced to two years' imprisonment In 1833 he delivered a number of discourses, which were printed in the "Philalethean." He was the friend and companion of Richard Carlile for several years. It is difficult to quote from Robert Taylor's works, unless at the risk of doing him great injustice, and we must therefore refer our readers to the works we have named. The following is from "The Devil's Pulpit:"—
"The gentlemen who distribute religious tracts, the general body of dissenting preachers, and almost all persons engaged in the trade of religion, imagine themselves to have a mighty advantage against Infidels, upon the strength of that last and reckless argument—that whether the Christian religion be true or false, there can be no harm in believing; and that belief is, at any rate, the safe side. Now, to say nothing of this old Popish argument, which a sensible man must see is the very essence of Popery, and would oblige us to believe all the absurdities and nonsense in the world: inasmuch as if there be no harm in believing, and there be some harm and danger in not believing, the more we believe the better: and all the argument necessary for any religion whatever would be, that it should frighten us out of our wits: the more terrible, the more true: and it would be our duty to become the converts of that religion whatever it might be, whose priests could swear the loudest, and damn and curse the fiercest. But I am here to grapple with this Popery in disguise, this wolfish argument in sheepish clothing, upon Scriptural ground, and on Scriptural ground only; taking the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament, for this argument's sake, to be divine authority. The question proposed is, 'Whether is the believer or the unbeliever the more likely to be saved, taking the Scriptures to be of divine authority!' And I stand here, on this divine authority, to prove that the unbeliever is the more likely to be saved: that unbelief, and not belief, is the safe side, and that a man is more likely to be damned for believing the gospel, and because of his having believed it, than for rejecting and despising it, as I do.... But, if a patient hearing be more than good Christians be minded to give us, when thus advance to meet them on their own ground, their impatience and intolerance itself will supply the evidence and demonstration of the fact, that, after all, they dare not stand to the text of their own book, that it is not the Bible that they go by, nor God whom they regard: but that they want to be God-a'-mighties themselves, and would have us take their words for God's words; you must read it as they read it, and understand it as they understand it: you must 'skip, and go on,' just where a hard word comes in the way of the sense they choose to put upon it: you must believe what the book contains, what you see with your own eyes that it does not contain: you must shut your eyes, and not see what it does contain; or you'll be none the nearer the mark of their liking.... Taking the authority of Scripture, for this argument's sake, to be decisive, I address the believer who would give himself airs of superiority, would chuckle in an imaginary safety in believing, and presume to threaten the unbeliever as being in a worse case, or more dangerous plight, than he. 'Hast thou no fears for thy presumptuous self?' when on the showing of thine own book, the safety (if safety there be) is all on the unbelieving side? When for any one text that can be produced, seeming to hold out any advantage or safety in believing, we can produce two in which the better hope is held out to the unbeliever? For any one apparent exhortation to believe, we can produce two forbiddances to believe, and many threaten-ings of God's vengeance to, and for the crime and folly of, believing. To this proof I proceed, by showing you:—1st. What the denunciations of God's vengeance are: with no comment of mine, but in the words of the text itself. 2d. That these dreadful denunciations are threatened to believers: and that they are not threatened to unbelievers. And 3d. That all possible advantages and safety, which believing could confer on any man, are likely, and more likely to be conferred on the unbeliever than on the believer. That the danger of the believer is so extreme, that no greater danger can possibly be. 1st. What are the denunciations of God's vengeance! 'There are' (says the holy Revelation, xiv. 10,) 'who shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation, and shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, and the smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever: and they have no rest day or night.' There's 'glad tidings of great joy' for you! The Christian may get, over the terror of this denunciation by the selfish and ungenerous chuckle of his 'Ah! well, these were very wicked people, and must have deserved their doom; it need not alarm us: it doesn't apply to us.' But good-hearted men would rather say, 'It does apply. We cannot be indifferent to the misery of our fellow-creatures. The self-same Heaven that frowns on them, looks lowering upon us.' And who were they? and what was their offence? Was it Atheism! was it Deism' was it Infidelity? No! It was for church and chapel-going; it was for adoring, believing, and worshipping. They worshipped the beast: I know not what beast they worshipped; but I know that if you go into any of our churches and chapels at this day, you will find them worshipping the Lamb; and if worshipping a lamb be not most suspiciously like worshiping a beast, you may keep the color in your cheeks, while mine are blanched with fear. The unbeliever only can be absolutely safe from this danger. He only who has no religion at all, is sure not to be of the wrong religion. He who worships neither God nor Devil, is sure not to mistake one of those gentlemen for the other. But will it be pretended, that these are only metaphors of speech, that the thing said is not the thing that's meant? Why, then, they are very ugly metaphors. And what is saying that which you don't mean, and meaning the contrary to what you say, but lying? And what worse can become of the Infidel, who makes it the rule of his life 'to hear and speak the plain and simple truth,' than of the Christian, whose religion itself is a system of metaphors and allegories, of double meanings, of quirk and quiddities in dread defiance of the text that warns him, that 'All liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone?' Rev. xxi. 8.
"Is it a parable that a man may merely entertain his imagination withal, and think no more on't,—though not a word be hinted about a parabolical signification, and the text stands in the mouth of him who, we are told, was the truth itself? And he it is who brought life and immortality to light, that hath described in the 16th of Luke, such an immortality as that of one who was a sincere believer, a son of Abraham, who took the Bible for the rule of his life, and was anxious to promote the salvation of his brethren, yet found for himself no Saviour, no salvation; but, 'In Hell he lifted up his eyes being in torment: and saith Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.' But that request was refused. 'Then he said, I pray thee, therefore, Father, that thou wouldst send him to my father's house; for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' But that request was refused. There's 'glad tidings of great joy' for you! That the believer's danger of coming or going into that place of torment is so great, that greater cannot possibly be: and that his belief will stand him in no stead at all, but make his plight a thousand times worse than if he had not been a believer; and that unbelief is the safer side—Christ himself being judge—I quote no words but his to prove. Is the believer concerned to save his soul, then shall he most assuredly be damned for being so concerned: for Christ hath said, 'Whosoever will save his soul shall lose it.' Matthew xvi. 25. Is the believer a complete beggar? If he be not so, if he hath a rag that he doth call his own, he will be damned to all eternity. For Christ hath said, 'Whosoever he be of you who forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.' Luke xiv. 33. Is the believer a rich man? and dreams he of going to Heaven? It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle.' Matthew xix. 24. Is he a man at all, then he cannot be saved, for Christ hath said, 'Thou believest that there is one God;' saith St. James, 'Thou dost well, the Devils also believe and tremble.' 2 James xix. And so much good, and no more, than comes to damned spirits in the flames of Hell, is all the good that ever did and can come of believing. 'For though thou hadst all faith, so that thou couldst remove mountains,' saith St. Paul, 'It should profit thee nothing.' 1 Cor. xiii. 2. Well, then! let the good Christian try what saving his prayers will do for him: this is the good that they'!! do for him; and he hath Christ's own word to comfort him in't, 'He shall receive the greater damnation.' Luke xx. 47. Well, then, since believing will not save him, since faith will not save him, since prayer will not save him, but all so positively make things all the worse, and none the better, there's one other chance for him. Let him go and receive the Sacrament, the most comfortable Sacrament, you know, 'of the body and blood of Christ,' remembering, as all good communicants should, 'that he is not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs that fall from that table.' 'Truth, Lord! But the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table!' O what happy dogs! But let those dogs remember, that it is also truth, that 'He that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself.' 1 Cor. xvi. 29. O what precious eating and drinking!
"'My God! and is thy table spread; And doth thy cup with love o'erflow? Thither be all the children led, And let them all thy sweetness know.'
"That table is a snare, that cup is deadly poison that bread shall send thy soul to Hell. Well, then! try again, believer: perhaps you had better join the Missionary Society, and subscribe to send these glad tidings of these blessed privileges, and this jolly eating and drinking, to the Heathen. Why, then; you have Christ's own assurance, that when you shall have made one proselyte, you shall just have done him the kindness of making him twofold more the child of Hell than yourself. Mat. xxiii. 15. Is the believer liable to the ordinary gusts of passion, and in a passion shall he drop the hasty word, 'thou fool!' for that one word 'he shall be in danger of Hell fire.' Mat. v. 22. Nay, Sirs! this isn't the worst of the believer's danger. Would he but keep his legs and arms together, and spare his own eyes and limbs; he doth by that very mercy to himself damn his eyes and limbs—and hath Christ's assurance that it would have been profitable for him rather to have plucked out his eyes, and chopt off his limbs, and so to have wriggled and groped his way through the 'Straight gate and the narrow way that leadeth unto life,' than having two eyes and two arms, or two legs, to be cast into Hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched, where their 'worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.' Mark ix. 43. Well, then! will the believer say, what were all the miracles and prophecies of both the Old and the New Testament for those unquestionable miracles, and clearly-accomplished prophecies, if it were not that men should believe? Why, absolutely, they were the very arguments appointed by God himself to show us that men should not believe, but that damnation should be their punishment if they did believe. 'To the law and the testimony.'" Sirs! These are the very words:—'Of miracles, saith God's word, 'They are the spirits of devils, that work miracles.' Rev. xvi. 14. And it is the Devil who 'deceiveih them which dwell on the earth, by means of those miracles which he hath power to do.' Rev. xiii. 14. So much for miracles. Is it on the score of prophets and of prophecies, then, that you will take believing to be the safe side? Then 'thus saith the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests bear rule by their means.' Jer. v. 31. 'The prophet is a fool: the spiritual man is mad.' Hosea i. 7. 'Thus saith the Lord of Hosts: hearken not unto the prophets.' Jer. xxiii. 15. 'O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes of the desert.' Ezekiel xiii. 4. 'They lie unto thee.' Jerem. xiv. 14. 'And they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.' Rev. xx. 10. 'And the punishment of the prophet shall be even as the punishment of him that seeketh unto him.' Ezekiel xiv. 10. Nay more, then, it is, when God hath determined to damn men, that he, in every instance, causeth them to become believers, and to have faith in divine Revelation, in order that they may be damned. Believers, and none but believers, becoming liable to damnation; believers and none but believers, being capable of committing that unpardonable sin against the Holy Ghost, which hath never forgiveness, neither in this world nor in that which is to come. 'Whereas all other kinds of blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, and all sorts of blasphemy wherewith soever they shall blaspheme. But there is no forgiveness for believers.' Mark iii. 28. For it is written, 'For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned.' 2 Thessal. ii. 11. So when it was determined by God that the wicked Ahab should perish, the means to bring him to destruction, both of body and soul, was to make him become a believer.
"I offer no comment of my own on words so sacred; but these are the words: 'Hear thou, therefore, the word of the Lord. I saw the Lord sitting upon his throne, and all the hosts of Heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the Lord said, who shall persuade Ahab that he may go up and fall at Ramoth Gilead? and one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there stood forth a spirit, and stood before the Lord, and said: I will persuade him. And the Lord said unto him wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also. Go forth and do so. Now, therefore, behold the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all thy prophets.' 1 kings xxii. 22. There were 400 of 'em; they were 'the goodly-fellowship of the prophets for you; all of them inspired by the spirit from on high, and all of them lying as fast as they could lie.' So much for getting on the safe side by believing. Had Ahab been an Infidel, he would have saved his soul alive. As it was, we may address him in the words of St. Paul to just such another fool, 'King Ahab, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest: but no better than I know, that for that very belief, fell slaughter on thy soul: and where thou soughtest to be saved by believing, it was by believing thou wert damned.' So when Elijah had succeeded in converting the 450 worshippers of Baal, who had been safe enough while they were Infidels, and they began crying, 'the Lord He is God, the Lord He is God:' the moment they got into the right faith, they found themselves in the wrong box; and the prophet, by the command of God, put a stop to their Lord-Godding, by cutting their throats for 'em, 'Elijah brought them down to the brook of Kishon, and slew them there.' 1 Kings xviii. 40. Oh! what a blessed thing, you see, to be converted to the true faith! Thus all the sins and crimes that have been committed in the world, and all God's judgments upon sin and sinners have been the consequence of religion, and faith, and believing. What was the first sin committed in the world? It was believing. Had our great mother Eve not been a believing credulous fool, she would not have been in the transgression. Who was the first reverend divine that began preaching about God and immortality? It was the Devil. What was the first lie that was ever told, the very damning and damnable lie? It was the lie told to make folks believe that they would not be dead when they were dead, that they should not surely die, but that they should be as gods, and live in a future state of existence. 'When God himself hath declared, that there is no future state of existence: that 'Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.' Who is it, then, that prefers believing in the Devil rather than in God, but the believer?—And from whom is the hope of a future state derived, but from the father of lies—the Devil? But if in defiance of so positive a declaration of Almighty God, men will have it that there is a future state of existence after death, who are they who shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of Heaven, but unbelievers, let them come from the north, from the south, from the east, or from the west? And who are they that shall be cast out, but believers, 'the children of the kingdom?' As St. Peter very charitably calls them, 'cursed children.' 2 Peter ii. 14. That is, I suppose, children with beards, children that never grew to sense enough to put away childish things, but did in gawky manhood, like new-born babes, desire the pure milk and lollipop of the gospel. 'For of such is the kingdom of Heaven.' And who are they whom Christ will set upon his right hand, and to whom he will say, 'Come ye blessed of my father!' but unbelievers, who never troubled their minds about religion, and never darkened the doors of a gospel shop? But who are they to whom he will say, 'Depart ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels,' but believers, every one of them believers, chapel-going folks, Christ's blood men, and incorrigible bigots, that had been bothering him all their days with their 'Lord! Lord!' to come off at last with no better reward of their faith than that he will protest unto them, I never knew ye.
"One text there is, and only one, against ten thousand of a contrary significancy: which, being garbled and torn from its context, seems, for a moment, to give the advantage to the believer; the celebrated 19th chapter of Mark, v. 16:—'He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.' But little will this serve the deceitful hope of the Christian, for it is immediately added. And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.' Can the Christian show these signs, or any of them? Will he dare to take-up a serpent, or drink prussic acid? If he hesitate, he is not a believer, and his profession of belief is a falsehood. Let belief confer what privilege it may, he hath no part nor lot in the matter; the threat which he denounces against Infidels hangs over himself, and he hath no sign of salvation to show. Believing the gospel, then, (or rather, I should say, professing to believe it, for I need not tell you that there's a great deal more professing to believe, than believing,) instead of making a man the more likely to be saved, doubles his danger of damnation, inasmuch as Christ hath said, that 'the last state of that man shall be worse than the first.' Luke xi. 26. And his holy apostle Peter addeth, 'It would have been better for them not to have known the way (2 Peter ii. 21) of righteousness.' The sin of believing makes all other sins that a man can commit so much the more heinous and offensive in the sight of God, inasmuch as they are sins against light and knowledge: and 'the servant who knew his Lord's will, and did it not, he shall be beaten with many stripes.' Luke xii. 47. While unbelief is not only innocent in itself, but so highly pleasing to Almighty God, that it is represented as the cause of his forgiveness of things which otherwise would not be forgiven. Thus St. Paul, who had been a blasphemer, a persecutor, and injurious, assures us that it was for this cause he obtained mercy, 'because he did it ignorantly in unbelief.' 1 Tim. i. 13. Had he been a believer, he would as surely have been damned as his name was Paul. And 'tis the gist of his whole argument, and the express words of the 11th of the Epistle to the Romans, that 'God included them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.' Unbelief being the essential qualification and recommendation to God's mercy: not without good reason was it that the pious father of the boy that had the devil in him, when he had need of Christ's mercy, and knew that unbelief would be the best title to it, cried out and said with tears, 'Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief!' Mark ix. 24. While the Apostles themselves, who were most immediately near and dear to Christ, no more believed the Gospel than I do; and for all they have said and preached about it, they never believed it themselves, as Christ told 'em that they hadn't so much faith as a grain of mustard seed. And the evangelist John bears them record, to their immortal honor; that 'though Christ had done so many miracles among them, yet believed they not.' John xii. 37. And the same divine authority assures us that 'neither did his brethren believe in him.' John vii. 5. Which then is 'the safe side.' Sirs, on the showing of the record itself? On the unbelieving side, the Infidel stands in the glorious company of the Apostles, in the immediate family of Christ, and hath no fear; while the believer doth as well and no better than the devils in hell, who believe and tremble."
In any work, purporting to be a true record of Freethinkers, the name of Joseph Barker cannot be omitted. We find in him, from the commencement of his public life till the present time, an ardent desire for, and a determination to achieve, freedom of thought and ex-pression on all subjects appertaining to theology, politics, and sociology. Possessing a vigorous intellect, a constitution naturally strong, great oratorical ability, and an unrivalled command oi the Saxon language, he has made himself a power among each party with whom the transitory state of his mind has brought him in contact. It is seldom we find men with equal boldness, when once connected with Wesleyan Methodism, rising superior in thought to its narrow, selfish, dogmatic, unnatural, and humiliating views, and claiming for human nature a more dignified and exalted position; gradually advancing to Unitarianism; ultimately to land safely on the shore of Materialism. Joseph Barker has passed, amid persecution and privation, through these different phases of theology, to arrive at "Infidelity," to be, he states, a better, wiser, and happier man. In his autobiography, we read that he was born in Bramley, an old country town in the West Riding of Yorkshire, in 1806, the day of his birth being forgotten. His parents, and his ancestors, so far as is known of them, were of humble means. His grandfather was addicted to drinking freely of those beverages which meet with so much opposition from Mr. Barker himself. His aunt also was unfortunate, having married a man who was a minister, a drunkard, and a cock-fighter. His parents appear to have been uneducated and pious; belonging to the old school of Methodists, those who look on this life merely as a state of trial and probation; always looking forward to enjoy their mansion in the skies—the house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, thinking nothing
.... Worth a thought beneath, But how they may escape the death That never, never dies.
Although living in this world, they were not of it. It was to them, all vanity and vexation of spirit. They attended their chapel, their love feasts, their class-meetings, their prayer meetings, and their revival meetings, where they would lament over the wickedness and depravity of human nature, where they would "speak their experience," tell of their temptations, pray for the conversion of the world, and sing their hymns, such as the following, which was a favorite with Mr. Barker's family:—
"Refining fire, go through my heart, Illuminate my soul; Scatter my life through every part, And sanctify the whole."
Such being the character of Mr. Barker's parents, it is no wonder that he was "brought up" under the same influence, with the same false notions of life, of humanity, and of the world; and we cannot prize too highly the man who had the industry to investigate, the ability to discern, and the courage to expose the falsity of such doctrines and the disastrous effects of such teaching.
In the extracts we shall give from Mr. Barker's works will be found that simplicity of style and force of argument peculiar to himself. The first extract we take shows the falsity of the orthodox doctrine of the total depravity of human nature:—
"On looking back on the earlier periods of my life, I first see proofs that the orthodox doctrine of original sin, or of natural total depravity, is a falsehood. I was not born totally depraved. I never recollect the time, since I began to think and feel at all, when I had not good thoughts, and good feelings. I never recollect the time since I began to think and feel at all, when I had not many good thoughts, and strong inclinations to goodness. So far was my heart from being utterly depraved or hardened, that I sympathised, even in my childhood, with the humblest of God's creatures, and was filled to overflowing with sorrow at the sight of distress. I recollect one Sunday, while I was searching about for something in one of the windows upstairs, I found a butterfly that had been starved to death, as I supposed. When I laid hold of it, it crumbled to pieces. My feelings were such at the thought of the poor butterfly's sufferings, that I wept. And for all that day I could scarcely open my lips to say a word to any one without bursting into tears.... And I recollect well what a struggle I had when I first told a lie. A school in the neighborhood had a feast, ours had not, so I played the truant, after a serious struggle, to have an opportunity of seeing the scholars walk. I had a miserable afternoon; for I felt that I was doing wrong, and I was afraid lest my mother should find me out. My sister found me out and told my mother, but my mother was loth to believe her till she had asked me myself. When I went home my mother asked me if I had been to school, and I said yes, and my mother, as she had never found me out in a lie before, believed me. But I was sadly distressed afterwards when I thought of what I had done. That lie caused me days of remorse, and my sufferings were all the severer in consequence of my mother having so readily believed what I said."
The unhappy and unnatural effects of theology on the minds of earnest, truth-seeking men—the total prostration of manly dignity, the perversion of the mental faculties, and the debasement of human nature, is truly stated by Mr. Barker in the following extract:—
"I also recollect being very much troubled with dreadful and indescribably awful dreams, and for several months during certain parts of the year I was accustomed to rise during my sleep, and walk about the house in a state of sleep for hours together. I say in a state of sleep: but I cannot exactly describe the state in which I was. It was not perfect sleep, and yet I was not properly awake. My eyes were open, and I saw, as far as I can remember, the things around me, and 1 could hear what was said to me. But neither what I saw nor what I heard seemed to have power to penetrate far enough into my soul to awake me properly. During those occasions, I was frequently very unhappy, dreadfully unhappy, most horribly miserable. Sometimes I fancied I had been doing something wrong, and my fancied offence seemed horrible beyond all expression, and alarmed and overwhelmed me with unutterable terrors and distress. On one occasion I fancied that both I and my father had both been doing something wrong, and this seemed most horrible and distressing of all; and as I wandered about in my mysterious state, I howled most piteously, and cried and wept as if my heart would break. I never recollect being roused from that dismal state while I was walking about the house, except twice. Once when I struck my shins violently against a large earthenware bowl and hurt myself sadly; and another was when I was attempting to go up the chimney: I put my foot upon fire and burnt myself, and that awoke me. I suffered in this way for several years. After I went to bed at night I soon fell asleep, and slept perhaps an hour or nearly two. I would then begin to cry, or moan, or howl, and at times to sing. One night I sang a whole hymn of eight verses through; the hymn in Wesley's Hymn Book, beginning
With glorious clouds encompassed round Whom angels dimly see, Will the unsearchable be found Or God appear to me?'"
Few persons who have not attended the "class-meetings" of the Wesleyan Methodists can form an adequate idea of the stereotyped phrases and absurd sayings indulged in by those who "speak their experience," etc., at those meetings. Certain sentences are learned, and uttered indiscriminately, without reference to time, place, or other conditions. Mr. Barker, after speaking of the recklessness of speech thus indulged in, says:—
"In many cases this false way of speaking is the result of mere thoughtlessness perhaps, or of ignorance, joined with the notion that it is their duty to pray, or to say something in public. The parties have no intention to deceive: but being called on to speak, or invited to pray, they begin, and catch hold of such words as they can find, whether right or wrong, whether true or false. And their words are oftener foolish or false, than wise or true. Their talk is at times most foolish and ridiculous. I will give an example or two. It is customary for people, when praying for preachers, to say, 'Lord, bless thy servants when they stand up to declare thy word: be thou mouth matter, and wisdom to them.' This has some meaning in it when offered in reference to a preacher, especially a preacher about to preach. In other cases it would be most foolish and ridiculous. Yet I once heard a person in a prayer-meeting at Chester use this same form of expression in behalf of the sick and the dying. 'O Lord,' said he, 'bless the sick and the afflicted, and those that are in the article of death;—be thou mouth, matter, and wisdom to them.' At another prayer-meeting at Chester, on a Friday evening, one of the leaders gave out the following lines:—
'Another six days' work is done; Another Sabbath is begun.' etc.
I once heard a woman say in class, 'I do thank God that he ever gave me a desire to see that death that never, never dies.'"
Soon after Mr. Barker became "religious" and attended his class-meetings, he awaited the usual "call" to preach the gospel. Accordingly, having received the "call," he became a Methodist preacher, belonging to the Old Connexion, the New Connexion, and then advancing to Unitarianism, ultimately arriving at the climax of Freethought, in which cause he is now so distinguished an advocate. While a Methodist preacher, he was induced by a neighbor, an Atheist, to read Carlile's "Republican." We can readily understand why Christians are taught not to read "Infidel" works. The effect the "Republican" produced on Mr. Barker's mind would be augmented, did those Christians investigate what they so often ignorantly denounce. In reference to the "Republican," Mr. Barker says:—
"I was very much struck in reading some portions of the work [Carlile's], and agitated and shaken by its arguments on some points. The object of many of its articles was to prove Christianity irrational and false. The principal doctrines which it assailed were such as the trinity—the common notion about the fall of man, and its effects upon the human race—the Calvinistic notions of eternal, universal, and absolute predestination, unconditional election and reprobation—the Calvinistic notion of God's sovereignty or partiality—the utter depravity of every human being born into the world, and yet the obligation of those utterly depraved beings to steer clear of all evil, and to do all that is right and good, on pain of eternal damnation. The doctrine of satisfaction to justice, was also assailed, and the doctrine of the immortality of the human soul, and the notion that because it is immaterial, it must, as a consequence, be immortal.... The consequence was, that my mind was thrown into a state of doubt and suspense. I cannot say that I doubted the truth of the Christian religion exactly, but still I doubted the truth of certain doctrines which I had been taught to regard as parts of that religion. I can briefly describe the doubts I had. I neither saw clearly that those doctrines to which he objected were no part of the Christian religion, nor could I see any way by which these doctrines could be defended and proved to be rational and true. One thing began to seem almost certain, either that Christianity was not true, or that those doctrines as generally laid down, were no parts of the Christian religion. This led to investigation. I was wishful to ascertain whether those doctrines which were assailed as irrational, were parts of Christianity or not. I began to converse on the subject with one of my religious companions, and I began to read on the subject as I had opportunity. My companion was rather troubled and alarmed at the doubts I expressed with respect to the correctness of some of the common doctrines of what was considered orthodoxy; still, what I had said had some influence on his mind, for he told me shortly after, that he wished he had never heard my doubts, for what I had said had spoiled some of his best sermons; he would never be able to preach them with comfort more.... During my residence in that [Newcastle] circuit, my views on many subjects became anti-Methodistical to a very great extent indeed. I now no longer held the prevailing views with respect to the nature of justifying faith, the witness of the Spirit, regeneration, sanctification, and the like. In reading Wesley's works, I was astonished at the great number of unmeaning and inconsistent passages which I met with. In many of his views I perfectly agreed with him? but with a vast amount of what he said on other subjects, I could not help but disagree.... About this time, finding that there was little likelihood that I should be tolerated in the New Connexion unless I could allow my mind to be enslaved, and feeling that I should be obliged sooner or later to break loose from Methodistical restraint, and speak and act with freedom, I thought of visiting Mr. Turner, the Unitarian minister of Newcastle, and seeking an interview with him. I had heard something to the effect that Unitarians were great lovers of freedom—that they did not bind their ministers and members by any human creeds, but left them at liberty to investigate the whole system of Christianity thoroughly, and to judge as to what were its doctrines and duties for themselves, and to preach what they believe to be true without restraint and persecution, and I thought if this was the case, they must be a very happy people. But from other things which I had heard respecting them, I was led to regard them with something of horror—to look, on them as persons who trifled with Scripture authority, as persons who had rushed from the extremes of false orthodoxy into the extremes of Infidelity. I was in consequence prevented from visiting Mr. Turner, and I remained in comparative ignorance of the Unitarian body, in ignorance both of their principles and of their character, still shut up in the dungeons of orthodox slavery."
"The dungeons of orthodox slavery" did not long contain Mr. Barker; for he afterwards became better acquainted with the Unitarians, and formed one of their most energetic preachers. But Unitarianism, appearing to him at first true in its doctrine and free in its advocacy, shortly became insufficient for the cravings of his mind; and, at length, he found himself outside all the churches. The Bible, which at one period of his life seemed to him a perfect revelation from "God" now appeared only the production of erring and half-informed men; and having a thorough knowledge of its contents, he resolved to employ the remainder of his life in confuting the false notions of its "divine authority." America presenting a congenial residence, he resolved to visit that country and purchase some land, upon which he might occupy his leisure from lecturing and writing. Having settled in the country, he considered something should be said on the Bible. Accordingly, in November, 1852, a Bible Convention was held at Salem, Ohio, Mr. Barker being appointed President, he extract the following from his speech, as illustrating the uncertainty of the Bible translations, the character of the translators, and the nature of the manuscripts from which the translations are made:—
"We say, that the Bible bears on its very face the marks of human imperfection and error. This is true of every Bible in existence. We will begin with the Bible in common use, and what do we find! The title-page tells us it is a translation from the original tongues, by the special command of one of the kings of England. Does any one pretend that the translators were infallible—men above the possibility of error? Nothing of the kind. Even those who contend that the original writers of the Bible were infallible, do not pretend that the king's translators were so. The sects and priesthoods themselves show that they regard the common translation as imperfect. They all take the liberty to alter it. They alter it in thousands and tens of thousands of places. Nothing is more common than for theological disputants to appeal from the common translation of the Bible to what they call the original Greek and Hebrew. Every commentator takes the same liberty. The leaders of the sects and priesthoods of the day have testified their belief that the Bibles in common use are imperfect and erroneous by making new translations. There is scarcely an English sect or priesthood of any note in existence that has not produced a new translation of the Scriptures. John Wesley translated both the Old and New Testament. His translation of the New Testament continues to be used in the Methodist body to this day. Adam Clarke, in his 'Commentary,' translates afresh almost every important passage in the book. Many passages he translates in such a way as to give them meanings quite contrary to the meaning given them in the common Bible. Richard Watson, a Methodist preacher, commenced a new translation of the Bible. Dr. Boothroyd, a Congregationalist minister of England, published another translation. Dr. Conquest, a layman of the same denomination, published another, in which he says he made twenty thousand emendations, or improvements. He must, therefore, have thought the common Bible had twenty thousand imperfections or errors. Mr. Belsham, and other English Unitarians, published a new translation of the New Testament. Mr. Wellbeloved, a Unitarian minister, published a new translation of a great part of the Old testament, intending to publish a new translation of the whole Bible. Even ministers of the Established Church have spoken strongly against the common translation, and some of them have gone so far as to publish new translations of portions of the Bible. Alexander Campbell, the founder of the denomination which bears his name, has published a new translation of the New Testament. A Mr. Taylor published a new translation of the New Testament from Griesbach's Greek New Testament. A Mr. Sharp published another translation from Griesbach's Greek text. The Baptists have published a new translation of the Bible, I am told.... We are not alone, therefore, in believing that the Bibles in common use bear marks of human imperfection and error. The leading men in all the religious sects and priesthoods of Great Britain and America believe the same. We add, if the translators of the Bible had been the best and wisest men that ever lived, their work would not have been perfect. A translation from Greek and Hebrew cannot be perfect. But the translators employed by King James were not the best or wisest men that ever lived. They were, in some respects, exceedingly ignorant, prejudiced, and immoral.... They were liars and false-swearers. These dignitaries of the Church of England knew, as well as you know, that kings and queens are often vicious, profligate, and godless. They knew that among the kings and queens of England there had been some of the most loathsome lumps of filthiness—some of the most adulterous and lecherous sensualists—some of the most heartless and cruel tyrants—some of the most inhuman and bloody wretches that ever cursed the earth. They knew, too, that English kings and queens generally were under strong temptations to be thus cruel and profligate, and that it was too much to expect any of them to be strictly religious and virtuous. Yet they bound themselves on oath to call their kings and queens, whatever their characters might be, most gracious and religious.' They did call the monarch then living, 'most gracious and religious,' and they handed it down as a duty to their successors to give the same high titles to all their future monarchs, though they should be as filthy as that unwieldy, waddling mass of lust and rottenness, King Henry the Eighth, or at false and treacherous as the perjured Charles the First. These translators of the Bible also knew that many who were brought to them to be buried were godless, wicked men. They knew that some of them were drunkards, adulterers, false-swearers. Yet they bound themselves to call them all, as they lowered them into their graves, their 'beloved brethren,' and to declare that they committed them to the dust 'in sure and curtain hope of a resurrection to eternal life,' though they believed in their hearts that they would rise to eternal damnation.... They were the hirelings of the king and government. They regarded the king as the head of the church, and were sworn to obey him in all things. They were sworn to obey him in translating the Bible. The king gave them the rules by which they were to be guided in the work of translation, and they were sworn to follow these rules. These rules were intended to prevent them from putting anything into their translation of the Bible that was at variance with the established priesthoods, and to keep them from leaving out anything that was favorable to the Established Church and government. And they kept to their rules, and they were influenced by their interests, their situation, and their prejudices. It would be foolish to think otherwise. To make the Bible agree with their creed, they put into their translation things which were not in the Greek or Hebrew Bibles, and mistranslated vast multitudes of things which were in the Greek and Hebrew Bibles. I will give you an instance or two. Their creed taught that God once died, or laid down his life. There was nothing in the Greek or Hebrew Bibles to uphold this doctrine, so in translating the Bible they so altered a passage as to make it to teach the doctrine. You may find the passage in 1 John, iii. 16. It is as follows:—'Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us.' Now the word 'God' is not in the Greek; it was put into the passage by the translators. In one place in the Old Testament it is said that Elhanan slew Goliath the Gittite. The translators have altered the passage so as to make it say that it was the brother of Goliath that Elhanan slew. See 2 Samuel xxi. 19.... Before a man can give a perfect translation of the Bible, he must have a perfect knowledge of both the Greek and Hebrew Bible, and of the language into which he would translate it. But no man has that knowledge. The Greek and Hebrew languages, from which the Bible has to be translated, are dead languages—languages which are no longer spoken or written by any people—languages which exist only in ancient writings. The meaning of many of the words of those languages is, in consequence, lost. The writings of the Old Testament are the only books remaining in the Hebrew language. There are no Hebrew books to throw light on dark passages, or to settle the meaning of doubtful words and phrases. True, we have Greek and Hebrew dictionaries and grammars, but these dictionaries and grammars are the work of imperfect and erring men, who had no other means oi understanding the meaning of the Greek and Hebrew languages than ourselves. These dictionaries and grammars differ from each other. None of them are perfect. The best abound with errors. We have better means of obtaining a knowledge of the Greek language than of the Hebrew—but the Greek of the New Testament is a peculiar dialect, not to be found in any other book. It is, therefore, as difficult to translate the New Testament as the Old. If, herefore, we would find a Bible that does not bear the marks of human imperfection and error, we must look for it in what are called the original Greek and Hebrew. But there is no such Bible. The Greek and Hebrew Bibles are as really imperfect as the English translations. The Greek and Hebrew Bibles are as really the work of imperfect and erring men as the English translations are. Many people imagine that there is only one Greek and Hebrew Bible, and that that one was written by Moses and the prophets, and by the evangelists and the apostles. But this is not the case. There are several Greek and Hebrew Bibles, and all of them are the compilations of fallible men. We have several Hebrew Old Testaments, and quite a number of Greek New Testaments, all compiled by different persons, but drawn, to some extent, from different sources. It should be understood, that the oldest Greek and Hebrew Bibles are not printed books, but written ones. They were written before the art of printing was known among Jews or Christians. Those written or manuscript Bibles are more numerous than the Greek and Hebrew printed Bibles. They are the work of different men, in different countries, and different ages. And no two of them are alike. They differ from each other almost endlessly. Some contain more, some less. Some have passages in one form, others have them in other forms. John Mills compared a number of those manuscripts of the New Testament, and found that they differed from each other in thirty thousand places. He marked and collated thirty thousand various readings. Other men have compared the Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and discovered upwards of a hundred thousand various readings—a hundred thousand places or particulars in which they differ from each other. A similar diversity of readings is to be found in the Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testaments. Now it is from these imperfect and discordant manuscripts that men have to make their Greek and Hebrew Bibles. They have nothing else from which to make them. And those Greek and Hebrew Bible makers have no means of knowing which of the various and contradictory manuscripts are the best.... You must understand that the original writings from which the manuscripts now in existence originated, have perished many ages ago. It is probable that the last of them perished more than sixteen hundred years ago. We have, therefore, no opportunity of comparing existing manuscripts with the original writings, in order to and out which are the true, the original readings. The discordant and contradictory manuscripts, therefore, can never be corrected.... It is not only of the common English Bible, therefore, that the words of the resolution are true, but of every Bible known, whether printed or written, whether in Greek and Hebrew, or in modern languages."
Since Mr. Baker has resided in America, he has visited England, and lectured for the Secular and Freethought Societies in England and Scotland; the total number of lectures he delivered during his visit amounted to 153, besides engaging in several debates, the principal one being with the Rey. Brewin Grant, at Halifax, during ten nights, on the "Divine Authority of the Bible," which is now published. The views now held by Mr. Barker on "God" and Secularism may be seen from the following extract of a letter addressed to the Editor of the Reasoner, written by Mr. Barker from America, on February 22, 1853:—
"I confess I know nothing of God, but as he is revealed in his works. With me, the word God stands for the unseen cause of all natural phenomena. I attribute to God no quality but what seems necessary to account for what I see in nature. My Jewish and Christian notions of God are all gone, except so far as they appear to be the utterances of nature.... As to Secularism, I think our business is with the seen, the worldly, the physical, the secular. Our whole duty seems to me to be truly and fully to unfold ourselves, and truly and fully to unfold others: to secure the greatest possible perfection of being and condition, and the largest possible share of life and enjoyment to all mankind in this present world. The machinery of sects and priesthoods for saving souls and fitting men for heaven, I regard as wasteful and injurious folly, except so far as it may tend to better men and improve their condition here. I have a hope of future life, but whatever is best for this life must be best for another life; whatever is best for the present, must be best for the eternal future. To reveal to men the laws of their own being, and to unfold to them the laws of nature generally, and to bring them into harmony with those laws, is, therefore, with me, the whole business of man. If there be another world, as 1 hope, it will, I suppose, be governed by the same laws as this. If men live on for ever, they will have all the better start in a future life, for having got well on in this. As an art, therefore, I believe in Secularism."
Note by the American Publisher.—Soon after Mr. Barker's return from England, he resumed his lecturing in various towns and cities in the United States, giving great satisfaction, by his able addresses, to large and intelligent audiences. He still labors occasionally in the same pursuit, though at present he is residing on his farm at Omaha City, in the Territory of Nebraska. Much might be said in praise of his efforts to promote Liberalism in this country; but his greatest triumph, as we consider it, was his public debate with the Rev. Dr. Berg of Philadelphia. This took place on the 9th of January, 1854, and continued no less than eight evenings. The question was on "the origin, authority, and tendency of the Bible"—Dr. Berg affirming, and Mr. Barker opposing. This famous discussion was attended by thousands, and was probably the greatest affair of the kind that ever occurred. The speeches on both sides were published, making a large pamphlet of 190 pages. Of course, each of the debaters was victorious, in the opinion of his friends; but the trick played by the Christian party, in the closing scene, showed a determination on their part to claim the victory whether or no! For, as soon as Dr. Berg (who made the last speech) had finished, one of his friends took the platform, and, while the audience were separating, read some resolutions in favor of the Doctor and the Bible. "Less than one fourth of the audience," says the Philadelphia Register, "voted for them. The more serious part of the audience did not vote at all. The great majority seemed to take the thing as a farce. The result of the vote made a good many long faces on the stage and front seats. A short silence ensued, followed by a burst of obstreporous laughter, and cries of 'the Infidels have it!' And so ended the most remarkable debate ever held in America."
The following correct and candid report of the above discussion, appeared at the time in the columns of the Pennsylvania Freeman:—
The Bible Discussion.—The discussion on the authority of the Bible, at Concert Hall, between Rev. J. F. Berg, of this city and Joseph Barker, of Ohio, closed on Thursday evening last, after a continuance of eight evenings. During the whole time, the vast hall was crowded with an eager multitude—numbering from 2000 to 2500 persons—each paying an admittance of 12 1-2 cents every evening, and on some evenings it is said that hundreds went away, unable to approach the door; nor did the interest appear to flag among the hearers to the last.
Of the merits of the question or the argument, it does not come within the scope of a strictly anti-slavery paper to speak, but we cannot forbear to notice the contrast in the manner and bearing of the two debaters, and the two parties among the audience. Mr. Barker uniformly bore himself as a gentleman, courteously and respectfully towards his opponent, and with the dignity becoming his position, and the solemnity and importance of the question. We regret that we cannot say the same of Dr. Berg, who at times seemed to forget the obligations of the gentleman in his zeal as a controversialist. He is an able and skillful debater, though less logical than Mr. Barker, but he wasted his time and strength too often on personalities and irrelevant matters. His personal inuendoes and epithets, his coarse witticisms, and a bearing that seemed to us more arrogant than Christian, may have suited the vulgar and the intolerant among his party, but we believe these things won him no respect from the calm and thinking portion of the audience, while we know that they grieved and offended some intelligent and candid men who thoroughly agreed with his views. It is surely time that all Christians and clergymen had learned that men whom they regard as heretics and Infidels have not forfeited their claims to the respect and courtesies of social life, by their errors of opinion, and that insolence and arrogance, contemptuous sneers and impeachment of motives and character, toward such men, are not effective means of grace for their enlightenment and conversion.
Among the audience, there was a large number of men, who also lost their self-control in their dislike to Mr. Barker's views, and he was often interrupted, and sometimes checked in his argument, by hisses, groans, sneers, vulgar cries, and clamor, though through all these annoyances and repeated provocations, he maintained his wonted composure of manner and clearness of thought. On the other hand, Dr. Berg was heard with general quiet by his opponents, and greeted with clamorous applause by his friends, who seemed to constitute a large majority of the audience, and to feel that the triumph of their cause, like the capture of Jericho of old, depended upon the amount of noise made.
Mr. Barker, in giving an account of the origin of the discussion, says:—
"In December,  in compliance with a request from the Sunday Institute, I began a course of lectures in Philadelphia, on the origin, authority and influence of the Scriptures. The object of the lectures was to show that the Bible is of human origin, that its teachings are not of divine authority, and that the doctrine that the Bible is God's word is injurious in its tendency.
"When I sent the Sunday Institute a programme of my lectures, I authorised the Secretary to announce, through the papers, that I was willing to meet any clergyman, of good standing in any of the leading churches, in public discussion on the Bible question."
[The Rev. Mr. McCalla, a Presbyterian clergyman, accepted the offer, and arrangements were made for a six nights debate; but, on the fifth evening, after trying to raise a mob, he withdrew from the contest.]
"The clergy, or a portion of the clergy, of Philadelphia, unwilling to leave their cause in this plight, demanded that I should discuss the question with Dr. Berg, a minister in whom they had fuller confidence. Being assured that Dr. Berg was a gentleman and a scholar, and that he was the ablest debater the clergy of Philadelphia could boast, I agreed to meet him, and the discussion was fixed for the 9th, 10th, 12th, 13th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th of January."....
"Though the Doctor did not prove himself so much of a gentleman as I had been encouraged to expect, I was sorry he declined to continue the discussion four nights longer, as we had not got more than half through the question when the eighth night closed. I wished for an opportunity of laying the whole subject before the public. Perhaps some other clergyman will take the matter in hand—one disposed and able to discuss the subject thoroughly."