[Footnote 4: Collins is supposed to have imbibed his freethinking philosophy during his repeated visits to Holland. Ṣ]
But, within these two or three years, the devil has come into England again, and Dr. Sacheverell has given him commission to appear in the shape of a cat, and carry old women about upon broomsticks: And the devil has now so many "ministers ordained to his service," that they have rendered freethinking odious, and nothing but the second coming of Christ can restore it.
[Footnote 5: See note on p. 147.]
The priests tell me, I am to believe the Bible, but freethinking tells me otherwise in many particulars: The Bible says, the Jews were a nation favoured by God; but I who am a freethinker say, that cannot be, because the Jews lived in a corner of the earth, and freethinking makes it clear, that those who live in corners cannot be favourites of God. The New Testament all along asserts the truth of Christianity, but freethinking denies it; because Christianity was communicated but to a few; and whatever is communicated but to a few, cannot be true; for that is like whispering, and the proverb says, that there is no whispering without lying.
Here is a society in London for propagating freethinking throughout the world, encouraged and supported by the Queen and many others. You say, perhaps, it is for propagating the Gospel. Do you think the missionaries we send will tell the heathens that they must not think freely? No, surely; why then, it is manifest, those missionaries must be freethinkers, and make the heathens so too. But why should not the king of Siam, whose religion is heathenism and idolatry, send over a parcel of his priests to convert us to his church, as well as we send missionaries there? Both projects are exactly of a piece, and equally reasonable; and if those heathen priests were here, it would be our duty to hearken to them, and think freely whether they may not be in the right rather than we. I heartily wish a detachment of such divines as Dr Atterbury, Dr. Smallridge, Dr. Swift, Dr. Sacheverell, and some others, were sent every year to the farthest part of the heathen world, and that we had a cargo of their priests in return, who would spread freethinking among us; then the war would go on, the late ministry be restored, and faction cease, which our priests inflame by haranguing upon texts, and falsely call that preaching the Gospel.
[Footnote 6: Dr. Smallridge, it will be remembered, was the gentleman who indignantly denied the authorship of "A Tale of a Tub" (see vol. i. of this edition). He became Bishop of Bristol in 1714, and died in 1719. His style was well thought of at the time. [T.S.]]
I have another project in my head, which ought to be put in execution, in order to make us freethinkers: It is a great hardship and injustice, that our priests must not be disturbed while they are prating in the pulpit. For example: Why should not William Penn the Quaker, or any Anabaptist, Papist, Muggletonian, Jew, or Sweet-Singer, have liberty to come into St Paul's Church, in the midst of divine service, and endeavour to convert first the aldermen, then the preacher, and singing-men? Or pray, why might not poor Mr. Whiston, who denies the divinity of Christ, be allowed to come into the Lower House of Convocation, and convert the clergy? But, alas! we are overrun with such false notions, that, if Penn or Whiston should do their duty, they would be reckoned fanatics, and disturbers of the holy synod, although they have as good a title to it as St Paul had to go into the synagogues of the Jews; and their authority is full as divine as his.
[Footnote 7: The Sweet-Singers were a fanatical sect of wailers, founded in Scotland, but which had no long life. [T.S.]] Christ himself commands us to be freethinkers; for he bids us search the scriptures, and take heed what and whom we hear; by which he plainly warns us, not to believe our bishops and clergy; for Jesus Christ, when he considered that all the Jewish and heathen priests, whose religion he came to abolish, were his enemies, rightly concluded that those appointed by him to preach his own gospel, would probably be so too; and could not be secure, that any set of priests, of the faith he delivered, would ever be otherwise; therefore it is fully demonstrated that the clergy of the Church of England are mortal enemies to Christ, and ought not to be believed.
[Footnote 8: Yet Whiston, who receives this side-cut, was himself an anxious combatant of Collins, in his "Reflections on an Anonymous Pamphlet, entitled, 'A Defence of Freethinking.'" 1713. Ṣ]
But, without the privilege of freethinking, how is it possible to know which is the right Scripture? Here are perhaps twenty sorts of Scriptures in the several parts of the world, and every set of priests contend that their Scripture is the true one. The Indian Brahmins have a book of scripture called the Shaster; the Persees their Zundivastaw; the Bonzes in China have theirs, written by the disciples of Fo-he, whom they call God and Saviour of the world, who was born to teach the way of salvation, and to give satisfaction for all men's sins: which, you see, is directly the same with what our priests pretend of Christ. And must we not think freely, to find out which are in the right, whether the Bishops or the Bonzes? But the Talapoins, or heathen clergy of Siam, approach yet nearer to the system of our priests; they have a Book of Scripture written by Sommonocodam, who, the Siamese say, was "born of a virgin," and was "the God expected by the Universe;" just as our priests tell us, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and was the Messiah so long expected. The Turkish priests, or dervises, have their Scripture which they call the Alcoran. The Jews have the Old Testament for their Scripture, and the Christians have both the Old and the New. Now among all these Scriptures, there cannot above one be right; and how is it possible to know which is that, without reading them all, and then thinking freely, every one of us for ourselves, without following the advice or instruction of any guide, before we venture to choose? The parliament ought to be at the charge of finding a sufficient number of these Scriptures, for every one of Her Majesty's subjects, for there are twenty to one against us, that we may be in the wrong: But a great deal of freethinking will at last set us all right, and every one will adhere to the Scripture he likes best; by which means, religion, peace, and wealth, will be for ever secured in Her Majesty's realms.
[Footnote 9: Swift means here, of course, the Zendavesta, the commentaries on the sacred books of the Parsees. Not that Swift could have known much of these Oriental religions; but the names were good enough for his purpose. [T.S.]]
And it is the more necessary that the good people of England should have liberty to choose some other Scripture, because all Christian priests differ so much about the copies of theirs, and about the various readings of the several manuscripts, which quite destroys the authority of the Bible: for what authority can a book pretend to, where there are various readings? And for this reason, it is manifest that no man can know the opinions of Aristotle or Plato, or believe the facts related by Thucydides or Livy, or be pleased with the poetry of Homer and Virgil, all which books are utterly useless, upon account of their various readings. Some books of Scripture are said to be lost, and this utterly destroys the credit of those that are left: some we reject, which the Africans and Copticks receive; and why may we not think freely, and reject the rest? Some think the scriptures wholly inspired, some partly; and some not at all. Now this is just the very case of the Bramins, Persees, Bonzes, Talapoins, Dervises, Rabbis, and all other priests, who build their religion upon books, as our priests do upon their Bibles; they all equally differ about the copies, various readings and inspirations, of their several Scriptures, and God knows which are in the right: Freethinking alone can determine it.
[Footnote 10: In the discourse on "Freethinking," p. 80, Collins insists much on a passage in Victor of Tunis, from which he infers, that the Gospels were corrected and altered in the fourth century. Ṣ]
It would be endless to show in how many particulars the priests of the Heathen and Christian churches, differ about the meaning even of those Scriptures which they universally receive as sacred. But, to avoid prolixity, I shall confine myself to the different opinions among the priests of the Church of England, and here only give you a specimen, because even these are too many to be enumerated.
I have found out a bishop, (though indeed his opinions are condemned by all his brethren,) who allows the Scriptures to be so difficult, that God has left them rather as a trial of our industry than a repository of our faith, and furniture of creeds and articles of belief; with several other admirable schemes of freethinking, which you may consult at your leisure.
The doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental point of the whole Christian religion. Nothing is more easy to a freethinker, yet what different notions of it do the English priests pretend to deduce from Scripture, explaining it by "specific unities, eternal modes of subsistence," and the like unintelligible jargon? Nay, it is a question whether this doctrine be fundamental or no; for though Dr. South and Bishop Bull affirm it, yet Bishop Taylor and Dr. Wallis deny it. And that excellent freethinking prelate, Bishop Taylor, observes, that Athanasius's example was followed with too much greediness; by which means it has happened, that the greater number of our priests are in that sentiment, and think it necessary to believe the Trinity, and incarnation of Christ.
[Footnote 11: Dr. Robert South (1633-1716), rector of Islip. The reference by Swift is to his controversy with Sherlock on the doctrine of the Trinity. The two disputants got into such depths that both were charged with heresy.
Dr. George Bull (1634-1710), Bishop of St. David's, wrote the "Defensio Fidei Nicenae." For his exposition of the necessity for the belief in the divinity of the Son of God he received the thanks of Bossuet.
Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor (1613-1667), and author of "Holy Living" and "Holy Dying," wrote also "Unum Necessarium, or the Doctrine and Practice of Repentance." His treatment, in this work, of the doctrine of original sin was considered heterodox by Bishop Warner and Dr. Sanderson, and a controversy ensued, in the course of which Taylor was imprisoned in Chepstow Castle on a charge of being concerned in a Royalist insurrection.
Dr. John Wallis (1616-1703), here referred to, is the famous mathematician and divine, and one of the original members of the Royal Society. He is mentioned in the text by Swift because of a work he published on the Trinity, which brought him into collision with the Arians. But the Doctor seems to have been addicted to views of a controversial nature, for his opinions on infant baptism and the keeping of the Sabbath found many objectors. He was Savilian Professor of Geometry at Oxford in 1648. [T.S.]]
[Footnote 12: See Swift's opinion of controversies on this subject in his "Sermon upon the Trinity." Ṣ]
Our priests likewise dispute several circumstances about the resurrection of the dead, the nature of our bodies after the resurrection, and in what manner they shall be united to our souls. They also attack one another "very weakly with great vigour," about predestination. And it is certainly true, (for Bishop Taylor and Mr. Whiston the Socinian say so,) that all churches in prosperity alter their doctrines every age, and are neither satisfied with themselves, nor their own confessions; neither does any clergyman of sense believe the Thirty-nine Articles.
Our priests differ about the eternity of hell torments. The famous Dr Henry More, and the most pious and rational of all priests, Dr Tillotson, (both freethinkers,) believe them to be not eternal. They differ about keeping the sabbath, the divine right of episcopacy, and the doctrine of original sin; which is the foundation of the whole Christian religion; for if men are not liable to be damned for Adam's sin, the Christian religion is an imposture: Yet this is now disputed among them; so is lay baptism; so was formerly the lawfulness of usury, but now the priests are common stock-jobbers, attorneys, and scriveners. In short there is no end of disputing among priests, and therefore I conclude, that there ought to be no such thing in the world as priests, teachers, or guides, for instructing ignorant people in religion; but that every man ought to think freely for himself.
[Footnote 13: Dr. Henry More (1614-1687), the Platonist theologian, wrote a philosophical poem entitled, "Psycho-Zoia, or the Life of the Soul" (1640). [T.S.]]
[Footnote 14: Dr. John Tillotson (1630-1694) succeeded Bancroft as Archbishop of Canterbury. He published some eloquent sermons and several controversial tracts against Catholicism. [T.S.]]
I will tell you the meaning in all this; the priests dispute every point in the Christian religion, as well as almost every text in the Bible; and the force of my argument lies here, that whatever point is disputed by one or two divines, however condemned by the Church, not only that particular point, but the whole article to which it relates, may lawfully be received or rejected by any freethinker. For instance, suppose More and Tillotson deny the eternity of hell torments, a freethinker may deny all future punishments whatsoever. The priests dispute about explaining the Trinity; therefore a freethinker may reject one or two, or the whole three persons; at least he may reject Christianity, because the Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine of that religion. So I affirm original sin, and that men are now liable to be damned for Adam's sin, to be the foundation of the whole Christian religion; but this point was formerly, and is now disputed, therefore, a freethinker may deny the whole. And I cannot help giving you one farther direction, how I insinuate all along, that the wisest freethinking priests, whom you may distinguish by the epithets I bestow them, were those who differed most from the generality of their brethren.
But besides, the conduct of our priests in many other points, makes freethinking unavoidable; for some of them own, that the doctrines of the Church are contradictory to one another, as well as to reason; which I thus prove: Dr. Sacheverell says in his speech at his trial, That by abandoning passive obedience we must render ourselves the most inconsistent Church in the world: Now 'tis plain, that one inconsistency could not make the most inconsistent Church in the world; ergo, there must have been a great many inconsistencies and contradictory doctrines in the Church before. Dr. South describes the incarnation of Christ, as an astonishing mystery, impossible to be conceived by man's reason; ergo, it is contradictory to itself, and to reason, and ought to be exploded by all freethinkers.
Another instance of the priests' conduct, which multiplies freethinkers, is their acknowledgment of abuses, defects, and false doctrines, in the Church; particularly that of eating black pudding, which is so plainly forbid in the Old and New Testament, that I wonder those who pretend to believe a syllable in either will presume to taste it. Why should I mention the want of discipline, and of a sideboard at the altar, with complaints of other great abuses and defects made by some of the priests, which no man can think on without freethinking, and consequently rejecting Christianity?
[Footnote 15: Collins in his pamphlet quotes a Dr. Grabe, who, following the Jewish code of rules as regards food, considered the eating of blood one of the points on which the Church did not insist against. In the text Swift ridicules this in the reference to "black pudding." [T. S.]]
When I see an honest freethinking bishop endeavour to destroy the power and privileges of the Church, and Dr. Atterbury angry with him for it, and calling it "dirty work," what can I conclude, by virtue of being a freethinker, but that Christianity is all a cheat?
Mr. Whiston has published several tracts, wherein he absolutely denies the divinity of Christ: A bishop tells him, "Sir, in any matter where you have the Church's judgment against you, you should be careful not to break the peace of the Church, by writing against it, though you are sure you are in the right." Now my opinion is directly contrary; and I affirm, that if ten thousand freethinkers thought differently from the received doctrine, and from each other, they would be all in duty bound to publish their thoughts (provided they were all sure of being in the right) though it broke the peace of the Church and state ten thousand times.
[Footnote 16: Swift's "Sermon on the Trinity," as well as a passage in his "Thoughts upon Religion," shews the weight which he attached to this important argument. Ṣ]
And here I must take leave to tell you, although you cannot but have perceived it from what I have already said, and shall be still more amply convinced by what is to follow; that freethinking signifies nothing, without freespeaking and freewriting. It is the indispensable duty of a freethinker, to endeavour forcing all the world to think as he does, and by that means make them freethinkers too. You are also to understand, that I allow no man to be a freethinker, any further than as he differs from the received doctrines of religion. Where a man falls in, though by perfect chance, with what is generally believed, he is in that point a confined and limited thinker; and you shall see by and by, that I celebrate those for the noblest freethinkers in every age, who differed from the religion of their countries in the most fundamental points, and especially in those which bear any analogy to the chief fundamentals of religion among us.
Another trick of the priests is, to charge all men with atheism, who have more wit than themselves; which therefore I expect will be my case for writing this discourse: This is what makes them so implacable against Mr. Gildon, Dr. Tindal, Mr. Toland, and myself, and when they call us wits, atheists, it provokes us to be freethinkers.
[Footnote 17: See notes on pp. 9, 79, 80, 82.]
Again; the priests cannot agree when their Scripture was written. They differ about the number of canonical books, and the various readings. Now those few among us who understand Latin, are careful to tell this to our disciples, who presently fall a-freethinking, that the Bible is a book not to be depended upon in anything at all.
There is another thing, that mightily spreads freethinking, which I believe you would hardly guess. The priests have got a way of late of writing books against freethinking; I mean treatises in dialogue, where they introduce atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians offering their several arguments. Now these freethinkers are too hard for the priests themselves in their own books; and how can it be otherwise? For if the arguments usually offered by atheists, are fairly represented in these books, they must needs convert everybody that reads them; because atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians, have certainly better arguments to maintain their opinions, than any the priests can produce to maintain the contrary.
Mr. Creech, a priest, translated Lucretius into English, which is a complete system of atheism; and several young students, who were afterwards priests, wrote verses in praise of this translation. The arguments against Providence in that book are so strong, that they have added mightily to the number of freethinkers.
[Footnote 18: This is Thomas Creech, the translator of Horace, to whom Swift refers in "The Battle of the Books" (see vol. i. p. 180). The translation of Lucretius was published in English verse in 1682. [T. S.]]
Why should I mention the pious cheats of the priests, who in the New Testament translate the word ecclesia sometimes the church, and sometimes the congregation; and episcopus, sometimes a bishop, and sometimes an overseer? A priest, translating a book, left out a whole passage that reflected on the king, by which he was an enemy to political freethinking, a most considerable branch of our system. Another priest, translating a book of travels, left out a lying miracle, out of mere malice, to conceal an argument for freethinking. In short, these frauds are very common in all books which are published by priests: But however, I love to excuse them whenever I can: And as to this accusation, they may plead the authority of the ancient fathers of the Church, for forgery, corruption, and mangling of authors, with more reason than for any of their articles of faith. St Jerom, St Hilary, Eusebius Vercellensis, Victorinus, and several others, were all guilty of arrant forgery and corruption: For when they translated the works of several freethinkers, whom they called heretics, they omitted all their heresies or freethinkings, and had the impudence to own it to the world.
[Footnote 19: Collins refers to the Rev. Mr. Brown, who translated Father Paul's "Letters," and omitted the words, "If the King of England [James I.] were not more a doctor than a king."]
[Footnote 20: Baumgarten's "Travels." [T. S.]]
[Footnote 21: Jerome, or St. Hieronymus (circa 340-420), wrote the Latin vulgate translation of the Scriptures. Is accepted as one of the Fathers of the Church.
St. Hilary, another accepted Father, was bishop of Poictiers. He died 367 or 368.
The Eusebius here named was Bishop of Vercelli, a city of Liguria. He flourished about A.D. 360, and distinguished himself at the Council of Milan in A.D. 355, for his attacks against Arianism. He was exiled to Upper Thebais, with several other bishops who refused to subscribe to the condemnation of Athanasius; but was recalled with Lucifer, bishop of Cagliari, Sardinia. In conjunction with Athanasius he attended an Alexandrian synod which declared the Trinity consubstantial. He travelled much, in the Eastern provinces and Italy, engaging in missionary work. He died about A.D. 373.
Fabius Marius Victorinus was born in Africa, and died at Rome in 370. He was a distinguished orator, grammarian, and rhetorician. His chief work was a treatise entitled "De Orthographia." He also wrote many theological books. [T. S.]]
From these many notorious instances of the priests' conduct, I conclude they are not to be relied on in any one thing relating to religion; but that every man must think freely for himself.
But to this it may be objected, that the bulk of mankind is as well qualified for flying as thinking, and if every man thought it his duty to think freely, and trouble his neighbour with his thoughts (which is an essential part of freethinking,) it would make wild work in the world. I answer; whoever cannot think freely, may let it alone if he pleases, by virtue of his right to think freely; that is to say, if such a man freely thinks that he cannot think freely, of which every man is a sufficient judge, why, then, he need not think freely, unless he thinks fit.
Besides, if the bulk of mankind cannot think freely in matters of speculation, as the being of a God, the immortality of the soul, &c. why then, freethinking is indeed no duty: But then the priests must allow, that men are not concerned to believe whether there is a God or no. But still those who are disposed to think freely, may think freely if they please.
It is again objected, that freethinking will produce endless divisions in opinion, and by consequence disorder society. To which I answer;
When every single man comes to have a different opinion every day from the whole world, and from himself, by virtue of freethinking, and thinks it his duty to convert every man to his own freethinking (as all we freethinkers do) how can that possibly create so great a diversity of opinions, as to have a set of priests agree among themselves to teach the same opinions in their several parishes to all who will come to hear them? Besides, if all people were of the same opinion, the remedy would be worse than the disease; I will tell you the reason some other time.
Besides, difference in opinion, especially in matters of great moment, breeds no confusion at all. Witness Papist and Protestant, Roundhead and Cavalier, Whig and Tory, now among us. I observe, the Turkish empire is more at peace within itself, than Christian princes are with one another. Those noble Turkish virtues of charity and toleration, are what contribute chiefly to the flourishing state of that happy monarchy. There Christians and Jews are tolerated, and live at ease, if they can hold their tongues and think freely, provided they never set foot within the mosques, nor write against Mahomet: A few plunderings now and then by the janissaries are all they have to fear.
It is objected, that by freethinking, men will think themselves into atheism; and indeed I have allowed all along, that atheistical books convert men to freethinking. But suppose that to be true; I can bring you two divines who affirm superstition and enthusiasm to be worse than atheism, and more mischievous to society, and in short it is necessary that the bulk of the people should be atheists or superstitious.
It is objected, that priests ought to be relied on by the people, as lawyers and physicians, because it is their faculty.
I answer, 'Tis true, a man who is no lawyer is not suffered to plead for himself; but every man may be his own quack if he pleases, and he only ventures his life; but in the other case the priest tells him he must be damned: Therefore do not trust the priest, but think freely for yourself, and if you happen to think there is no hell, there certainly is none, and consequently you cannot be damned; I answer further, that wherever there is no lawyer, physician, or priest, the country is paradise. Besides, all priests, (except the orthodox, and those are not ours, nor any that I know,) are hired by the public to lead men into mischief; but lawyers and physicians are not, you hire them yourself.
It is objected, (by priests no doubt, but I have forgot their names) that false speculations are necessary to be imposed upon men, in order to assist the magistrate in keeping the peace, and that men ought therefore to be deceived, like children, for their own good. I answer, that zeal for imposing speculations, whether true or false (under which name of speculations I include all opinions of religion, as the belief of a God, Providence, immortality of the soul, future rewards and punishments, &c.) has done more hurt than it is possible for religion to do good. It puts us to the charge of maintaining ten thousand priests in England, which is a burden upon society never felt upon any other occasion; and a greater evil to the public than if these ecclesiastics were only employed in the most innocent offices of life, which I take to be eating and drinking. Now if you offer to impose anything on mankind besides what relates to moral duties, as to pay your debts, not pick pockets, nor commit murder, and the like; that is to say, if, besides this, you oblige them to believe in God and Jesus Christ, what you add to their faith will take just so much off from their morality. By this argument it is manifest, that a perfect moral man must be a perfect atheist; every inch of religion he gets loses him an inch of morality: For there is a certain quantum belongs to every man, of which there is nothing to spare. This is clear from the common practice of all our priests, they never once preach to you to love your neighbour, to be just in your dealings, or to be sober and temperate. The streets of London are full of common whores, publicly tolerated in their wickedness; yet the priests make no complaints against this enormity, either from the pulpit or the press: I can affirm, that neither you nor I, sir, have ever heard one sermon against whoring since we were boys. No, the priests allow all these vices, and love us the better for them, provided we will promise not "to harangue upon a text," nor to sprinkle a little water in a child's face, which they call baptizing, and would engross it all to themselves.
Besides, the priests engage all the rogues, villains, and fools in their party, in order to make it as large as they can: By this means they seduced Constantine the Great over to their religion, who was the first Christian emperor, and so horrible a villain, that the heathen priests told him they could not expiate his crimes in their church; so he was at a loss to know what to do, till an AEgyptian bishop assured him, that there was no villainy so great, but was to be expiated by the sacraments of the Christian religion; upon which he became a Christian, and to him that religion owes its first settlement.
[Footnote 22: The reference here is to the luminous cross which Constantine said he saw in the heavens, and which influenced him to embrace Christianity. [T. S.]]
It is objected, that freethinkers themselves are the most infamous, wicked, and senseless of all mankind.
I answer, first, we say the same of priests, and other believers. But the truth is, men of all sects are equally good and bad; for no religion whatsoever contributes in the least to mend men's lives.
I answer, secondly, that freethinkers use their understanding, but those who have religion do not; therefore the first have more understanding than the others; witness Toland, Tindal, Gildon, Clendon, Coward, and myself. For, use legs and have legs.
[Footnote 23: John Clendon, of the Middle Temple, published in 1709-1710, "Tractatus Philosophico-Theologicus de Persona; or, a Treatise of the Word Person." This singular book appears to have been written principally to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity was very well explained by an Act of Parliament, 9 and 10 Will. III. It was complained of in the House of Commons, March 25th, 1710, and was judged to be a scandalous, seditious, and blasphemous libel .... and was burnt by the common hangman at the same time with Tindal's "Rights." Ṇ ]
I answer, thirdly, that freethinkers are the most virtuous persons in the world; for all freethinkers must certainly differ from the priests, and from nine hundred ninety-nine of a thousand of those among whom they live; and are therefore virtuous of course, because everybody hates them.
I answer, fourthly, that the most virtuous people in all ages have been freethinkers; of which I shall produce several instances.
[Footnote 24: What follows is in ridicule of a long list of freethinkers, as he calls them, with which Collins has graced his discourse; in which he includes not only the ancient philosophers, but the inspired prophets, and even "King Solomon the wise." Ṣ ]
Socrates was a freethinker; for he disbelieved the gods of his country, and the common creeds about them, and declared his dislike when he heard men attribute "repentance, anger, and other passions to the gods, and talk of wars and battles in heaven, and of the gods getting women with child," and such like fabulous and blasphemous stones. I pick out these particulars, because they are the very same with what the priests have in their Bibles, where repentance and anger are attributed to God; where it is said, there was "war in heaven;" and that "the Virgin Mary was with child by the Holy Ghost," whom the priests call God; all fabulous and blasphemous stories. Now, I affirm Socrates to have been a true Christian. You will ask, perhaps, how that can be, since he lived three or four hundred years before Christ? I answer, with Justin Martyr, that Christ is nothing else but reason, and I hope you do not think Socrates lived before reason. Now, this true Christian Socrates never made notions, speculations, or mysteries, any part of his religion, but demonstrated all men to be fools who troubled themselves with enquiries into heavenly things. Lastly, 'tis plain that Socrates was a freethinker, because he was calumniated for an atheist, as freethinkers generally are, only because he was an enemy to all speculations and inquiries into heavenly things. For I argue thus, that if I never trouble myself to think whether there be a God or no, and forbid others to do it, I am a freethinker, but not an atheist.
Plato was a freethinker, and his notions are so like some in the Gospel, that a heathen charged Christ with borrowing his doctrine from Plato. But Origen defends Christ very well against this charge, by saying he did not understand Greek, and therefore could not borrow his doctrine from Plato. However their two religions agreed so well, that it was common for Christians to turn Platonists, and Platonists Christians. When the Christians found out this, one of their zealous priests (worse than any atheist) forged several things under Plato's name, but conformable to Christianity, by which the heathens were fraudulently converted.
[Footnote 25: Origen, a Father of the Church, was born about 185. He carried to extremes the celibate life taught in the Gospel; and his "Treatise against Celsus" contains, according to St. Jerome and Eusebius, the refutation of "all the objections which have been made, and all which ever will be made against Christianity." [T. S.] ]
Epicurus was the greatest of all freethinkers, and consequently the most virtuous man in the world. His opinions in religion were the most complete system of atheism that ever appeared. Christians ought to have the greatest veneration for him, because he taught a higher point of virtue than Christ; I mean the virtue of friendship, which in the sense we usually understand it, is not so much as named in the New Testament.
Plutarch was a freethinker, notwithstanding his being a priest; but indeed he was a heathen priest. His freethinking appears by showing the innocence of atheism, (which at worst is only false reasoning,) and the mischiefs of superstition; and explains what superstition is, by calling it a conceit of immortal ills after death, the opinion of hell torments, dreadful aspects, doleful groans, and the like. He is likewise very satirical upon the public forms of devotion in his own country (a qualification absolutely necessary to a freethinker) yet those forms which he ridicules, are the very same that now pass for true worship in almost all countries: I am sure some of them do so in ours; such as abject looks, distortions, wry faces, beggarly tones, humiliation, and contrition.
Varro, the most learned among the Romans, was a freethinker; for he said, the heathen divinity contained many fables below the dignity of immortal beings; such, for instance, as Gods BEGOTTEN and PROCEEDING from other Gods. These two words I desire you will particularly remark, because they are the very terms made use of by our priests in their doctrine of the Trinity: He says likewise, that there are many things false in religion, and so say all freethinkers; but then he adds; "which the vulgar ought not to know, but it is expedient they should believe." In this last he indeed discovers the whole secret of a statesman and politician, by denying the vulgar the privilege of freethinking, and here I differ from him. However, it is manifest from hence, that the Trinity was an invention of statesmen and politicians.
[Footnote 26: Marcus Terentius Varro (born B.C. 117) was the friend of Cicero. He was a profound grammarian, historian, and philosopher. The expression Swift applies to him as "the most learned among the Romans" is one by which he is generally called. [T. S.] ]
The grave and wise Cato the censor will for ever live in that noble freethinking saying—"I wonder," said he, "how one of our priests can forbear laughing when he sees another!" (For contempt of priests is another grand characteristic of a freethinker). This shews that Cato understood the whole mystery of the Roman religion "as by law established." I beg you, sir, not to overlook these last words, "religion as by law established." I translate hanisfax, into the general word, priest. Thus I apply the sentence to our priests in England, and, when Dr. Smallridge sees Dr. Atterbury, I wonder how either of them can forbear laughing at the cheat they put upon the people, by making them believe their "religion as by law established."
Cicero, that consummate philosopher, and noble patriot, though he was a priest, and consequently more likely to be a knave; gave the greatest proofs of his freethinking. First, he professed the sceptic philosophy, which doubts of everything. Then, he wrote two treatises; in the first, he shews the weakness of the Stoics' arguments for the being of the Gods: In the latter, he has destroyed the whole revealed religion of the Greeks and Romans (for why should not theirs be a revealed religion as well as that of Christ?) Cicero likewise tells us, as his own opinion, that they who study philosophy, do not believe there are any Gods: He denies the immortality of the soul, and says, there can be nothing after death.
[Footnote 27: "De Natura Deomm." [T. S.] ]
And because the priests have the impudence to quote Cicero in their pulpits and pamphlets, against freethinking; I am resolved to disarm them of his authority. You must know, his philosophical works are generally in dialogues, where people are brought in disputing against one another: Now the priests when they see an argument to prove a God, offered perhaps by a Stoic, are such knaves or blockheads, to quote it as if it were Cicero's own; whereas Cicero was so noble a freethinker, that he believed nothing at all of the matter, nor ever shews the least inclination to favour superstition, or the belief of a God, and the immortality of the soul; unless what he throws out sometimes to save himself from danger, in his speeches to the Roman mob; whose religion was, however, much more innocent and less absurd, than that of popery at least: And I could say more—but you understand me.
Seneca was a great freethinker, and had a noble notion of the worship of the gods, for which our priests would call any man an atheist: He laughs at morning devotions, or worshipping upon Sabbath-days; he says God has no need of ministers and servants, because he himself serves mankind. This religious man, like his religious brethren the Stoics, denies the immortality of the soul, and says, all that is feigned to be so terrible in hell, is but a fable: Death puts an end to all our misery, &c. Yet the priests were anciently so fond of Seneca, that they forged a correspondence of letters between him and St. Paul.
Solomon himself, whose writings are called "the word of God," was such a freethinker, that if he were now alive, nothing but his building of churches could have kept our priests from calling him an atheist. He affirms the eternity of the world almost in the same manner with Manilius, the heathen philosophical poet, (which opinion entirely overthrows the history of the creation by Moses, and all the New Testament): He denies the immortality of the soul, assures us that men die like beasts, and that both go to one place.
[Footnote 28: Marcus Manilius, who probably flourished under Theodosius the Great, was a Latin poet, who wrote a poem entitled "Astronomica." [T.S.] ]
The prophets of the Old Testament were generally freethinkers: you must understand, that their way of learning to prophesy was by music and drinking. These prophets writ against the established religion of the Jews, (which those people looked upon as the institution of God himself,) as if they believed it was all a cheat: that is to say, with as great liberty against the priests and prophets of Israel, as Dr. Tindal did lately against the priests and prophets of our Israel, who has clearly shewn them and their religion to be cheats. To prove this, you may read several passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, &c., wherein you will find such instances of freethinking, that, if any Englishman had talked so in our days, their opinions would have been registered in Dr. Sacheverell's trial, and in the representation of the Lower House of Convocation, and produced as so many proofs of the profaneness, blasphemy, and atheism of the nation; there being nothing more profane, blasphemous, or atheistical in those representations, than what these prophets have spoke, whose writings are yet called by our priests, "the word of God." And therefore these prophets are as much atheists as myself, or as any of my freethinking brethren whom I lately named to you.
[Footnote 29: Collins, after making the charge, which has been repeated by all freethinkers down to Thomas Paine, that the prophets acquired their fervour of spirit by the aid of music and wine, allows, nevertheless, that they were great freethinkers, and "writ with as great liberty against the established religion of the Jews, which the people looked on as the institution of God himself as if they looked upon it all to be imposture."—Discourse, p. 153, et sequen. Ṣ ]
Josephus was a great freethinker: I wish he had chosen a better subject to write on, than those ignorant, barbarous, ridiculous scoundrels, the Jews, whom God (if we may believe the priests) thought fit to choose for his own people. I will give you some instances of his freethinking. He says, Cain travelled through several countries, and kept company with rakes and profligate fellows; he corrupted the simplicities of former times, &c., which plainly supposes men before Adam, and consequently that the priests' history of the creation by Moses, is an imposture. He says, the Israelites' passing through the Red Sea, was no more than Alexander's passing at the Pamphilian sea; that as for the appearance of God at Mount Sinai, the reader may believe it as he pleases; that Moses persuaded the Jews he had God for his guide, just as the Greeks pretended they had their laws from Apollo. These are noble strains of freethinking, which the priests knew not how to solve, but by thinking as freely: For one of them says, that Josephus writ this to make his work acceptable to the heathens, by striking out everything that was incredible.
Origen, who was the first Christian that had any learning, has left a noble testimony of his freethinking; for a general council has determined him to be damned; which plainly shews he was a freethinker, and was no saint; for people were only sainted because of their want of learning and excess of zeal; so that all the fathers, who are called saints by the priests, were worse than atheists.
Minutius Felix seems to be a true modern latitudinarian, freethinking Christian; for he is against altars, churches, public preaching, and public assemblies; and likewise against priests; for, he says, there were several great flourishing empires before there were any orders of priests in the world.
[Footnote 30: Marcus Minutius Felix is said to have been born in Africa. He flourished in the third century, and wrote a defence of Christianity, in dialogue form, entitled, "Octavius." The work has been translated into English by Lord Hailes. [T.S.]]
Synesius, who had too much learning and too little zeal for a saint, was for some time a great freethinker; he could not believe the resurrection till he was made a bishop, and then pretended to be convinced by a lying miracle.
[Footnote 31: Synesius of Cyrene, born 379, is the Platonic philosopher who became Bishop of Ptolemais. [T.S.]]
To come to our own country: My Lord Bacon was a great freethinker, when he tells us, that whatever has the least relation to religion, is particularly liable to suspicion; by which he seems to suspect all the facts whereon most of the superstitions (that is to say, what the priests call the religions) of the world are grounded. He also prefers atheism before superstition.
Mr. Hobbes was a person of great learning, virtue, and freethinking, except in the high church politics.
But Archbishop Tillotson is the person whom all English freethinkers own as their head; and his virtue is indisputable for this manifest reason; that Dr. Hickes, a priest, calls him an atheist; says, he caused several to turn atheists, and to ridicule the priesthood and religion. These must be allowed to be noble effects of freethinking. This great prelate assures us, that all the duties of the Christian religion, with respect to God, are no other but what natural light prompts men to, except the two sacraments, and praying to God in the name and mediation of Christ. As a priest and prelate, he was obliged to say something of Christianity; but pray observe, sir, how he brings himself off. He justly affirms that even these things are of less moment than natural duties; and because mothers' nursing their children is a natural duty, it is of more moment than the two sacraments, or than praying to God in the name and by the mediation of Christ. This freethinking archbishop could not allow a miracle sufficient to give credit to a prophet who taught anything contrary to our natural notions: By which it is plain, he rejected at once all the mysteries of Christianity.
I could name one-and-twenty more great men, who were all freethinkers; but that I fear to be tedious: For, 'tis certain that all men of sense depart from the opinions commonly received; and are consequently more or less men of sense, according as they depart more or less from the opinions commonly received; neither can you name an enemy to freethinking, however he be dignified or distinguished, whether archbishop, bishop, priest, or deacon, who has not been either "a crack-brained enthusiast, a diabolical villain, or a most profound ignorant brute."
Thus, sir, I have endeavoured to execute your commands, and you may print this Letter, if you please; but I would have you conceal my name. For my opinion of virtue is, that we ought not to venture doing ourselves harm, by endeavouring to do good.
I am yours, &c.
I have here given the public a brief, but faithful abstract of this most excellent Essay; wherein I have all along religiously adhered to our author's notions, and generally to his words, without any other addition than that of explaining a few necessary consequences, for the sake of ignorant readers; for, to those who have the least degree of learning, I own they will be wholly useless. I hope I have not, in any single instance, misrepresented the thoughts of this admirable writer. If I have happened to mistake through inadvertency, I entreat he will condescend to inform me, and point out the place, upon which I will immediately beg pardon both of him and the world. The design of his piece is to recommend freethinking, and one chief motive is the example of many excellent men who were of that sect. He produces as the principal points of their freethinking; that they denied the Being of a God, the Torments of Hell, the Immortality of the Soul, the Trinity, Incarnation, the history of the creation by Moses, with many other such "fabulous and blasphemous stories," as he judiciously calls them: And he asserts, that whoever denies the most of these, is the completest freethinker, and consequently the wisest and most virtuous man. The author, sensible of the prejudices of the age, does not directly affirm himself an atheist; he goes no further than to pronounce that atheism is the most perfect degree of freethinking; and leaves the reader to form the conclusion. However, he seems to allow, that a man may be a tolerable freethinker, though he does believe a God; provided he utterly rejects "Providence, Revelation, the Old and New Testament, Future Rewards and Punishments, the Immortality of the Soul," and other the like impossible absurdities. Which mark of superabundant caution, sacrificing truth to the superstition of priests, may perhaps be forgiven, but ought not to be imitated by any who would arrive (even in this author's judgment) at the true perfection of freethinking.
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WRITTEN IN ENGLAND, BUT LEFT UNFINISHED.
Discoursing one day with a prelate of the kingdom of Ireland, who is a person of excellent wit and learning, he offered a notion applicable to the subject we were then upon, which I took to be altogether new and right. He said, that the difference betwixt a madman and one in his wits, in what related to speech, consisted in this; that the former spoke out whatever came into his mind, and just in the confused manner as his imagination presented the ideas: The latter only expressed such thoughts as his judgment directed him to choose, leaving the rest to die away in his memory; and that, if the wisest man would, at any time, utter his thoughts in the crude indigested manner as they come into his head, he would be looked upon as raving mad. And, indeed, when we consider our thoughts, as they are the seeds of words and actions, we cannot but agree that they ought to be kept under the strictest regulation; and that in the great multiplicity of ideas which one's mind is apt to form, there is nothing more difficult than to select those which are most proper for the conduct of life. So that I cannot imagine what is meant by the mighty zeal in some people for asserting the freedom of thinking; because, if such thinkers keep their thoughts within their own breasts, they can be of no consequence, farther than to themselves. If they publish them to the world, they ought to be answerable for the effects their thoughts produce upon others. There are thousands in this kingdom, who, in their thoughts, prefer a republic, or absolute power of a prince, before a limited monarchy; yet, if any of these should publish their opinions, and go about, by writing or discourse, to persuade the people to innovations in government, they would be liable to the severest punishments the law can inflict; and therefore they are usually so wise as to keep their sentiments to themselves. But, with respect to religion, the matter is quite otherwise: and the public, at least here in England, seems to be of opinion with Tiberius, that Deorum injuriae diis curae. They leave it to God Almighty to vindicate the injuries done to himself, who is no doubt sufficiently able, by perpetual miracles, to revenge the affronts of impious men. And, it should seem, that is what princes expect from him, though I cannot readily conceive the grounds they go upon; nor why, since they are God's vicegerents, they do not think themselves at least equally obliged to preserve their master's honour as their own; since this is what they expect from those they depute, and since they never fail to represent the disobedience of their subjects, as offences against God. It is true, the visible reason of this neglect is obvious enough: The consequences of atheistical opinions, published to the world, are not so immediate, or so sensible, as doctrines of rebellion and sedition, spread in a proper season. However, I cannot but think the same consequences are as natural and probable from the former, though more remote: And whether these have not been in view among our great planters of infidelity in England, I shall hereafter examine.
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A YOUNG CLERGYMAN,
LATELY ENTERED INTO
No stronger proof could be adduced of Swift's genuine and earnest belief in the dignity of a clergyman of the Church than this letter. In spite of the sarcasms which here and there are levelled against the mediocre members of the class, it is evident Swift felt that these might be made worthy teachers and preachers of the doctrines of an institution founded, in his opinion, for the best regulation of mankind. The letter serves also to present us with an outline of a picture of the clergyman of his day; and if this picture be not flattering, it seems faithfully to reflect the social conditions which we know to have prevailed at the time.
The letter was written in the years of quiet which Swift enjoyed between the pamphleteering crusade against the Whigs, when Harley and St. John were in power, and the famous social and political troubles which began with Wood's halfpence.
The text of this letter is practically that of the first edition; but I have collated this with the texts given by Hawkesworth, Scott, the first volume of the "Miscellanies" of 1728, and the second volume of the "Miscellanies" of 1745. In the original edition, and in the reprints published to the time of Faulkner's collected edition, the title reads "A Letter to a Young Gentleman," etc.
A LETTER TO A YOUNG GENTLEMAN, LATELY ENTER'D INTO HOLY ORDERS
By a Person of QUALITY.
It is certainly known, that the following Treatise was writ in Ireland by the Reverend Dr. Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's in that Kingdom.
Dublin, January the 9th, 1719-20.
Although it was against my knowledge or advice, that you entered into holy orders, under the present dispositions of mankind toward the Church, yet since it is now supposed too late to recede, (at least according to the general practice and opinion,) I cannot forbear offering my thoughts to you upon this new condition of life you are engaged in.
I could heartily wish that the circumstances of your fortune, had enabled you to have continued some years longer in the university; at least till you were ten years standing; to have laid in a competent stock of human learning, and some knowledge in divinity, before you attempted to appear in the world: For I cannot but lament the common course, which at least nine in ten of those who enter into the ministry are obliged to run. When they have taken a degree, and are consequently grown a burden to their friends, who now think themselves fully discharged, they get into orders as soon as they can; (upon which I shall make no remarks,) first solicit a readership, and if they be very fortunate, arrive in time to a curacy here in town, or else are sent to be assistants in the country, where they probably continue several years, (many of them their whole lives,) with thirty or forty pounds a-year for their support, till some bishop, who happens to be not overstocked with relations, or attached to favourites, or is content to supply his diocese without colonies from England, bestows upon them some inconsiderable benefice, when it is odds they are already encumbered with a numerous family. I should be glad to know what intervals of life such persons can possibly set apart for the improvement of their minds; or which way they could be furnished with books, the library they brought with them from their college being usually not the most numerous, or judiciously chosen. If such gentlemen arrive to be great scholars, it must, I think, be either by means supernatural, or by a method altogether out of any road yet known to the learned. But I conceive the fact directly otherwise, and that many of them lose the greatest part of the small pittance they receive at the university.
I take it for granted, that you intend to pursue the beaten track, and are already desirous to be seen in a pulpit, only I hope you will think it proper to pass your quarantine among some of the desolate churches five miles round this town, where you may at least learn to read and to speak before you venture to expose your parts in a city congregation; not that these are better judges, but because, if a man must needs expose his folly, it is more safe and discreet to do so before few witnesses, and in a scattered neighbourhood. And you will do well if you can prevail upon some intimate and judicious friend to be your constant hearer, and allow him with the utmost freedom to give you notice of whatever he shall find amiss either in your voice or gesture; for want of which early warning, many clergymen continue defective, and sometimes ridiculous, to the end of their lives; neither is it rare to observe among excellent and learned divines, a certain ungracious manner, or an unhappy tone of voice, which they never have been able to shake off.
I should likewise have been glad, if you had applied yourself a little more to the study of the English language, than I fear you have done; the neglect whereof is one of the most general defects among the scholars of this kingdom, who seem not to have the least conception of a style, but run on in a flat kind of phraseology, often mingled with barbarous terms and expressions, peculiar to the nation: Neither do I perceive that any person, either finds or acknowledges his wants upon this head, or in the least desires to have them supplied. Proper words in proper places, make the true definition of a style. But this would require too ample a disquisition to be now dwelt on: however, I shall venture to name one or two faults, which are easy to be remedied, with a very small portion of abilities.
The first is the frequent use of obscure terms, which by the women are called hard words, and by the better sort of vulgar, fine language; than which I do not know a more universal, inexcusable, and unnecessary mistake, among the clergy of all distinctions, but especially the younger practitioners. I have been curious enough to take a list of several hundred words in a sermon of a new beginner, which not one of his hearers among a hundred could possibly understand, neither can I easily call to mind any clergyman of my own acquaintance who is wholly exempt from this error, although many of them agree with me in the dislike of the thing. But I am apt to put myself in the place of the vulgar, and think many words difficult or obscure, which they will not allow to be so, because those words are obvious to scholars, I believe the method observed by the famous Lord Falkland in some of his writings, would not be an ill one for young divines: I was assured by an old person of quality who knew him well, that when he doubted whether a word was perfectly intelligible or no, he used to consult one of his lady's chambermaids, (not the waiting-woman, because it was possible she might be conversant in romances,) and by her judgment was guided whether to receive or reject it. And if that great person thought such a caution necessary in treatises offered to the learned world, it will be sure at least as proper in sermons, where the meanest hearer is supposed to be concerned, and where very often a lady's chambermaid may be allowed to equal half the congregation, both as to quality and understanding. But I know not how it comes to pass, that professors in most arts and sciences are generally the worst qualified to explain their meanings to those who are not of their tribe: a common farmer shall make you understand in three words, that his foot is out of joint, or his collar-bone broken, wherein a surgeon, after a hundred terms of art, if you are not a scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in law, physic, and even many of the meaner arts.
[Footnote 1: Lucius Cary, second Viscount Falkland (1610-1643), who was killed at the battle of Newbury in the great Civil War, was a generous patron of learning and of the literary men of his day. He was himself a fine scholar and able writer. Clarendon has recorded his character in the seventh book of his "History of the Great Rebellion": "A person of such prodigious parts of learning and knowledge, of that inimitable sweetness and delight in conversation, of so flowing and obliging an humanity and goodness to mankind, that, if there were no other brand upon this odious and accursed Civil War than that single loss, it must be infamous and execrable to all posterity." Falkland has been made the hero of a romance by Lord Lytton. [T. S. ] ]
And upon this account it is, that among hard words, I number likewise those which are peculiar to divinity as it is a science, because I have observed several clergymen, otherwise little fond of obscure terms, yet in their sermons very liberal of those which they find in ecclesiastical writers, as if it were our duty to understand them; which I am sure it is not. And I defy the greatest divine to produce any law either of God or man, which obliges me to comprehend the meaning of omniscience, omnipresence, ubiquity, attribute, beatific vision, with a thousand others so frequent in pulpits, any more than that of eccentric, idiosyncracy, entity, and the like. I believe I may venture to insist farther, that many terms used in Holy Writ, particularly by St Paul, might with more discretion be changed into plainer speech, except when they are introduced as part of a quotation.
[Footnote 2: Swift refers to this point in his "Thoughts on Religion," and regrets that the explanation of matters of doctrine, which St. Paul expressed in the current eastern vocabulary, should have been perpetuated in terms founded on the same terminology. [T. S.] ]
I am the more earnest in this matter, because it is a general complaint, and the justest in the world. For a divine has nothing to say to the wisest congregation of any parish in this kingdom, which he may not express in a manner to be understood by the meanest among them. And this assertion must be true, or else God requires from us more than we are able to perform. However, not to contend whether a logician might possibly put a case that would serve for an exception, I will appeal to any man of letters, whether at least nineteen in twenty of those perplexing words might not be changed into easy ones, such as naturally first occur to ordinary men, and probably did so at first to those very gentlemen who are so fond of the former.
We are often reproved by divines from the pulpits, on account of our ignorance in things sacred, and perhaps with justice enough. However, it is not very reasonable for them to expect, that common men should understand expressions which are never made use of in common life. No gentleman thinks it safe or prudent to send a servant with a message, without repeating it more than once, and endeavouring to put it into terms brought down to the capacity of the bearer: yet after all this care, it is frequent for servants to mistake, and sometimes to occasion misunderstandings among friends. Although the common domestics in some gentlemen's families have more opportunities of improving their minds than the ordinary sort of tradesmen.
It is usual for clergymen who are taxed with this learned defect, to quote Dr. Tillotson, and other famous divines, in their defence; without considering the difference between elaborate discourses upon important occasions, delivered to princes or parliaments, written with a view of being made public, and a plain sermon intended for the middle or lower size of people. Neither do they seem to remember the many alterations, additions, and expungings, made by great authors in those treatises which they prepare for the public. Besides, that excellent prelate above-mentioned, was known to preach after a much more popular manner in the city congregations: and if in those parts of his works he be any where too obscure for the understandings of many who may be supposed to have been his hearers, it ought to be numbered among his omissions.
The fear of being thought pedants hath been of pernicious consequence to young divines. This hath wholly taken many of them off from their severer studies in the university, which they have exchanged for plays, poems, and pamphlets, in order to qualify them for tea-tables and coffee-houses. This they usually call "polite conversation; knowing the world; and reading men instead of books." These accomplishments, when applied to the pulpit, appear by a quaint; terse, florid style, rounded into periods and cadences, commonly without either propriety or meaning. I have listen'd with my utmost attention for half an hour to an orator of this species, without being able to understand, much less to carry away one single sentence out of a whole sermon. Others, to shew that their studies have not been confined to sciences, or ancient authors, will talk in the style of a gaming ordinary, and White Friars, when I suppose the hearers can be little edified by the terms palming, shuffling, biting, bamboozling and the like, if they have not been sometimes conversant among pick-pockets and sharpers. And truly, as they say, a man is known by his company, so it should seem that a man's company may be known by his manner of expressing himself, either in public assemblies, or private conversation.
[Footnote 3: See note on "Alsatia," p. 100. [T. S.] ]
It would be endless to run over the several defects of style among us; I shall therefore say nothing of the mean and paltry (which are usually attended by the fustian), much less of the slovenly or indecent. Two things I will just warn you against; the first is the frequency of flat unnecessary epithets, and the other is the folly of using old threadbare phrases, which will often make you go out of your way to find and apply them, are nauseous to rational hearers, and will seldom express your meaning as well as your own natural words.
Although, as I have already observed, our English tongue is too little cultivated in this kingdom; yet the faults are nine in ten owing to affectation, and not to the want of understanding. When a man's thoughts are clear, the properest words will generally offer themselves first, and his own judgment will direct him in what order to place them, so as they may be best understood. Where men err against this method, it is usually on purpose, and to shew their learning, their oratory, their politeness, or their knowledge of the world. In short, that simplicity without which no human performance can arrive to any great perfection, is nowhere more eminently useful than in this.
I have been considering that part of oratory which relates to the moving of the passions; this I observe is in esteem and practice among some church divines, as well as among all the preachers and hearers of the fanatic or enthusiastic strain. I will here deliver to you (perhaps with more freedom than prudence) my opinion upon the point.
The two great orators of Greece and Rome, Demosthenes and Cicero, though each of them a leader (or as the Greeks call it a demagogue) in a popular state, yet seem to differ in their practice upon this branch of their art; the former who had to deal with a people of much more politeness, learning, and wit, laid the greatest weight of his oratory upon the strength of his arguments, offered to their understanding and reason: whereas Tully considered the dispositions of a sincere, more ignorant, and less mercurial nation, by dwelling almost entirely on the pathetic part.
But the principal thing to be remembered is, that the constant design of both these orators in all their speeches, was to drive some one particular point, either the condemnation or acquittal of an accused person, a persuasive to war, the enforcing of a law, and the like; which was determined upon the spot, according as the orators on either side prevailed. And here it was often found of absolute necessity to inflame or cool the passions of the audience, especially at Rome where Tully spoke, and with whose writings young divines (I mean those among them who read old authors) are more conversant than with those of Demosthenes, who by many degrees excelled the other at least as an orator. But I do not see how this talent of moving the passions can be of any great use toward directing Christian men in the conduct of their lives, at least in these northern climates, where I am confident the strongest eloquence of that kind will leave few impressions upon any of our spirits deep enough to last till the next morning, or rather to the next meal.
[Footnote 4: Swift's own sermons rarely appealed to the emotions; they were, in his own phrase, political pamphlets, and aimed at convincing the reason. [T. S.] ]
But what hath chiefly put me out of conceit with this moving manner of preaching, is the frequent disappointment it meets with. I know a gentleman, who made it a rule in reading, to skip over all sentences where he spied a note of admiration at the end. I believe those preachers who abound in epiphonemas, if they look about them, would find one part of their congregation out of countenance, and the other asleep, except perhaps an old female beggar or two in the aisles, who (if they be sincere) may probably groan at the sound.
[Footnote 5: Epiphonema is a figure in rhetoric, signifying a sententious kind of exclamation. Ṣ ]
Nor is it a wonder, that this expedient should so often miscarry, which requires so much art and genius to arrive at any perfection in it, as any man will find, much sooner than learn by consulting Cicero himself.
I therefore entreat you to make use of this faculty (if you ever be so unfortunate as to think you have it) as seldom, and with as much caution as you can, else I may probably have occasion to say of you as a great person said of another upon this very subject. A lady asked him coming out of church, whether it were not a very moving discourse? "Yes," said he, "I was extremely sorry, for the man is my friend."
If in company you offer something for a jest, and nobody second you in your own laughter, nor seems to relish what you said, you may condemn their taste, if you please, and appeal to better judgments; but in the meantime, it must be agreed you make a very indifferent figure; and it is at least equally ridiculous to be disappointed in endeavouring to make other folks grieve, as to make them laugh.
A plain convincing reason may possibly operate upon the mind both of a learned and ignorant hearer as long as they live, and will edify a thousand times more than the art of wetting the handkerchiefs of a whole congregation, if you were sure to attain it.
If your arguments be strong, in God's name offer them in as moving a manner as the nature of the subject will properly admit, wherein reason and good advice will be your safest guides; but beware of letting the pathetic part swallow up the rational: For I suppose, philosophers have long agreed, that passion should never prevail over reason.
As I take it, the two principal branches of preaching are first to tell the people what is their duty, and then to convince them that it is so. The topics for both these, we know, are brought from Scripture and reason. Upon this first, I wish it were often practised to instruct the hearers in the limits, extent, and compass of every duty, which requires a good deal of skill and judgment: the other branch is, I think, not so difficult. But what I would offer them both, is this; that it seems to be in the power of a reasonable clergyman, if he will be at the pains, to make the most ignorant man comprehend what is his duty, and to convince him by argument drawn to the level of his understanding, that he ought to perform it.
But I must remember that my design in this paper was not so much to instruct you in your business either as a clergyman or a preacher, as to warn you against some mistakes which are obvious to the generality of mankind as well as to me; and we who are hearers, may be allowed to have some opportunities in the quality of being standers-by. Only perhaps I may now again transgress by desiring you to express the heads of your divisions in as few and clear words as you possibly can, otherwise, I and many thousand others will never be able to retain them, nor consequently to carry away a syllable of the sermon.
I shall now mention a particular wherein your whole body will be certainly against me, and the laity almost to a man on my side. However it came about, I cannot get over the prejudice of taking some little offence at the clergy for perpetually reading their sermons; perhaps my frequent hearing of foreigners, who never made use of notes, may have added to my disgust. And I cannot but think, that whatever is read, differs as much from what is repeated without book, as a copy does from an original. At the same time, I am highly sensible what an extreme difficulty it would be upon you to alter this method, and that, in such a case, your sermons would be much less valuable than they are, for want of time to improve and correct them. I would therefore gladly come to a compromise with you in this matter. I knew a clergyman of some distinction, who appeared to deliver his sermon without looking into his notes, which when I complimented him upon, he assured me he could not repeat six lines; but his method was to write the whole sermon in a large plain hand, with all the forms of margin, paragraph, marked page, and the like; then on Sunday morning he took care to run it over five or six times, which he could do in an hour; and when he deliver'd it, by pretending to turn his face from one side to the other, he would (in his own expression) pick up the lines, and cheat his people by making them believe he had it all by heart. He farther added, that whenever he happened by neglect to omit any of these circumstances, the vogue of the parish was, "Our doctor gave us but an indifferent sermon to-day." Now among us, many clergymen act too directly contrary to this method, that from a habit of saving time and paper, which they acquired at the University, they write in so diminutive a manner, with such frequent blots and interlineations, that they are hardly able to go on without perpetual hesitations or extemporary expletives: And I desire to know what can be more inexcusable, than to see a divine and a scholar, at a loss in reading his own compositions, which it is supposed he has been preparing with much pains and thought for the instruction of his people? The want of a little more care in this article, is the cause of much ungraceful behaviour. You will observe some clergymen with their heads held down from the beginning to the end, within an inch of the cushion, to read what is hardly legible; which, besides the untoward manner, hinders them from making the best advantage of their voice: others again have a trick of popping up and down every moment from their paper to the audience, like an idle school-boy on a repetition day.
[Footnote 6: "The custom of reading sermons," notes Scott, "seems originally to have arisen in opposition to the practice of Dissenters, many of whom affected to trust to their Inspiration in their extempore harangues." [T. S.] ]
Let me entreat you, therefore, to add one half-crown a year to the article of paper; to transcribe your sermons in as large and plain a manner as you can, and either make no interlineations, or change the whole leaf; for we your hearers would rather you should be less correct than perpetually stammering, which I take to be one of the worst solecisms in rhetoric: And lastly, read your sermon once or twice for a few days before you preach it: to which you will probably answer some years hence, "that it was but just finished when the last bell rang to church:" and I shall readily believe, but not excuse you.
I cannot forbear warning you in the most earnest manner against endeavouring at wit in your sermons, because by the strictest computation, it is very near a million to one that you have none; and because too many of your calling have consequently made themselves everlastingly ridiculous by attempting it. I remember several young men in this town, who could never leave the pulpit under half a dozen conceits; and this faculty adhered to those gentlemen a longer or shorter time exactly in proportion to their several degrees of dulness: accordingly, I am told that some of them retain it to this day. I heartily wish the brood were at an end.
Before you enter into the common insufferable cant of taking all occasions to disparage the heathen philosophers, I hope you will differ from some of your brethren, by first enquiring what those philosophers can say for themselves. The system of morality to be gathered out of the writings or sayings of those ancient sages, falls undoubtedly very short of that delivered in the Gospel, and wants besides, the divine sanction which our Saviour gave to His. Whatever is further related by the evangelists, contains chiefly, matters of fact, and consequently of faith, such as the birth of Christ, His being the Messiah, His Miracles, His death, resurrection, and ascension. None of which can properly come under the appellation of human wisdom, being intended only to make us wise unto salvation. And therefore in this point nothing can justly be laid to the charge of the philosophers further than that they were ignorant of certain facts that happened long after their death. But I am deceived, if a better comment could be anywhere collected, upon the moral part of the Gospel, than from the writings of those excellent men; even that divine precept of loving our enemies, is at large insisted on by Plato, who puts it, as I remember, into the mouth of Socrates. And as to the reproach of heathenism, I doubt they had less of it than the corrupted Jews in whose time they lived. For it is a gross piece of ignorance among us to conceive that in those polite and learned ages, even persons of any tolerable education, much less the wisest philosophers did acknowledge or worship any more than one almighty power, under several denominations, to whom they allowed all those attributes we ascribe to the Divinity: and as I take it, human comprehension reacheth no further: neither did our Saviour think it necessary to explain to us the nature of God, because I suppose it would be impossible without bestowing on us other faculties than we possess at present. But the true misery of the heathen world appears to be what I before mentioned, the want of a Divine Sanction, without which the dictates of the philosophers failed in the point of authority, and consequently the bulk of mankind lay indeed under a great load of ignorance even in the article of morality, but the philosophers themselves did not. Take the matter in this light, it will afford field enough for a divine to enlarge on, by showing the advantages which the Christian world has over the heathen, and the absolute necessity of Divine Revelation, to make the knowledge of the true God, and the practice of virtue more universal in the world.
[Footnote 7: This is in the "Crito" of Plato, where Socrates says it is wrong to do harm to our enemies. [T. S.] ]
I am not ignorant how much I differ in this opinion from some ancient fathers in the Church, who arguing against the heathens, made it a principal topic to decry their philosophy as much as they could: which, I hope, is not altogether our present case. Besides, it is to be considered, that those fathers lived in the decline of literature; and in my judgment (who should be unwilling to give the least offence) appear to be rather most excellent, holy persons, than of transcendent genius and learning. Their genuine writings (for many of them have extremely suffered by spurious editions) are of admirable use for confirming the truth of ancient doctrines and discipline, by shewing the state and practice of the primitive church. But among such of them as have fallen in my way, I do not remember any whose manner of arguing or exhorting I could heartily recommend to the imitation of a young divine when he is to speak from the pulpit. Perhaps I judge too hastily; there being several of them in whose writings I have made very little progress, and in others none at all. For I perused only such as were recommended to me, at a time when I had more leisure and a better disposition to read, than have since fallen to my share.
[Footnote 8: Swift must refer here to the years he spent at Moor Park, in the house of Sir William Temple. The "Tale of a Tub," however, shows that he had not idled his time, and that his acquaintance with the writings of the fathers was fairly intimate. [T, S.] ]
To return then to the heathen philosophers, I hope you will not only give them quarter, but make their works a considerable part of your study: To these I will venture to add the principal orators and historians, and perhaps a few of the poets: by the reading of which, you will soon discover your mind and thoughts to be enlarged, your imagination extended and refined, your judgment directed, your admiration lessened, and your fortitude increased; all which advantages must needs be of excellent use to a divine, whose duty it is to preach and practise the contempt of human things.
I would say something concerning quotations, wherein I think you cannot be too sparing, except from Scripture, and the primitive writers of the Church. As to the former, when you offer a text as a proof of an illustration, we your hearers expect to be fairly used, and sometimes think we have reason to complain, especially of you younger divines, which makes us fear that some of you conceive you have no more to do than to turn over a concordance, and there having found the principal word, introduce as much of the verse as will serve your turn, though in reality it makes nothing for you. I do not altogether disapprove the manner of interweaving texts of scripture through the style of your sermons, wherein however, I have sometimes observed great instances of indiscretion and impropriety, against which I therefore venture to give you a caution.
As to quotations from ancient fathers, I think they are best brought in to confirm some opinion controverted by those who differ from us: in other cases we give you full power to adopt the sentence for your own, rather than tell us, "as St. Austin excellently observes." But to mention modern writers by name, or use the phrase of "a late excellent prelate of our Church," and the like, is altogether intolerable, and for what reason I know not, makes every rational hearer ashamed. Of no better a stamp is your "heathen philosopher" and "famous poet," and "Roman historian," at least in common congregations, who will rather believe you on your own word, than on that of Plato or Homer.
I have lived to see Greek and Latin almost entirely driven out of the pulpit, for which I am heartily glad. The frequent use of the latter was certainly a remnant of Popery which never admitted Scripture in the vulgar language; and I wonder, that practice was never accordingly objected to us by the fanatics.
The mention of quotations puts me in mind of commonplace books, which have been long in use by industrious young divines, and I hear do still continue so. I know they are very beneficial to lawyers and physicians, because they are collections of facts or cases, whereupon a great part of their several faculties depend; of these I have seen several, but never yet any written by a clergyman; only from what I am informed, they generally are extracts of theological and moral sentences drawn from ecclesiastical and other authors, reduced under proper heads, usually begun, and perhaps finished, while the collectors were young in the church, as being intended for materials or nurseries to stock future sermons. You will observe the wise editors of ancient authors, when they meet a sentence worthy of being distinguished, take special care to have the first word printed in capital letters, that you may not overlook it: Such, for example, as the INCONSTANCY of FORTUNE, the GOODNESS of PEACE, the EXCELLENCY of WISDOM, the CERTAINTY of DEATH: that PROSPERITY makes men INSOLENT, and ADVERSITY HUMBLE; and the like eternal truths, which every ploughman knows well enough before Aristotle or Plato were born. If theological commonplace books be no better filled, I think they had better be laid aside, and I could wish that men of tolerable intellectuals would rather trust their own natural reason, improved by a general conversation with books, to enlarge on points which they are supposed already to understand. If a rational man reads an excellent author with just application, he shall find himself extremely improved, and perhaps insensibly led to imitate that author's perfections, although in a little time he should not remember one word in the book, nor even the subject it handled: for books give the same turn to our thoughts and way of reasoning, that good and ill company do to our behaviour and conversation; without either loading our memories, or making us even sensible of the change. And particularly I have observed in preaching, that no men succeed better than those who trust entirely to the stock or fund of their own reason, advanced indeed, but not overlaid by commerce with books. Whoever only reads in order to transcribe wise and shining remarks, without entering into the genius and spirit of the author, as it is probable he will make no very judicious extract, so he will be apt to trust to that collection in all his compositions, and be misled out of the regular way of thinking, in order to introduce those materials, which he has been at the pains to gather and the product of all this will be found a manifest incoherent piece of patchwork.
[Footnote 9: Thus in first edition. Scott and Hawkesworth have: "though he never heard of Aristotle or Plato." [T.S.]]
Some gentlemen abounding in their university erudition, are apt to fill their sermons with philosophical terms and notions of the metaphysical or abstracted kind, which generally have one advantage, to be equally understood by the wise, the vulgar, and the preacher himself. I have been better entertained, and more informed by a chapter in the "Pilgrim's Progress," than by a long discourse upon the will and the intellect, and simple or complex ideas. Others again, are fond of dilating on matter and motion, talk of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, of theories, and phenomena, directly against the advice of St Paul, who yet appears to have been conversant enough in those kinds of studies.
[Footnote 10: Thus in first edition. Scott and Hawkesworth have "a few pages" instead of "a chapter" [T. S ]]
I do not find that you are anywhere directed in the canons or articles, to attempt explaining the mysteries of the Christian religion. And indeed since Providence intended there should be mysteries, I do not see how it can be agreeable to piety, orthodoxy or good sense, to go about such a work. For, to me there seems to be a manifest dilemma in the case if you explain them, they are mysteries no longer, if you fail, you have laboured to no purpose. What I should think most reasonable and safe for you to do upon this occasion is, upon solemn days to deliver the doctrine as the Church holds it, and confirm it by Scripture. For my part, having considered the matter impartially, I can see no great reason which those gentlemen you call the freethinkers can have for their clamour against religious mysteries, since it is plain, they were not invented by the clergy, to whom they bring no profit, nor acquire any honour. For every clergyman is ready either to tell us the utmost he knows, or to confess that he does not understand them; neither is it strange that there should be mysteries in divinity as well as in the commonest operations of nature.
And here I am at a loss what to say upon the frequent custom of preaching against atheism, deism, freethinking, and the like, as young divines are particularly fond of doing especially when they exercise their talent in churches frequented by persons of quality, which as it is but an ill compliment to the audience; so I am under some doubt whether it answers the end.
Because persons under those imputations are generally no great frequenters of churches, and so the congregation is but little edified for the sake of three or four fools who are past grace. Neither do I think it any part of prudence to perplex the minds of well-disposed people with doubts, which probably would never have otherwise come into their heads. But I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not one in an hundred of those who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so in their hearts. For there is one observation which I never knew to fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life, that no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be found? Among the worst part of the soldiery made up of pages, younger brothers of obscure families, and others of desperate fortunes; or else among idle town fops, and now and then a drunken 'squire of the country. Therefore nothing can be plainer, than that ignorance and vice are two ingredients absolutely necessary in the composition of those you generally call freethinkers, who in propriety of speech, are no thinkers at all. And since I am in the way of it, pray consider one thing farther: as young as you are, you cannot but have already observed, what a violent run there is among too many weak people against university education. Be firmly assured, that the whole cry is made up by those who were either never sent to a college; or through their irregularities and stupidity never made the least improvement while they were there. I have at least forty of the latter sort now in my eye; several of them in this town, whose learning, manners, temperance, probity, good-nature, and politics, are all of a piece. Others of them in the country, oppressing their tenants, tyrannizing over the neighbourhood, cheating the vicar, talking nonsense, and getting drunk at the sessions. It is from such seminaries as these, that the world is provided with the several tribes and denominations of freethinkers, who, in my judgment, are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired: for in the course of things, men always grow vicious before they become unbelievers; but if you would once convince the town or country profligate, by topics drawn from the view of their own quiet, reputation, health, and advantage, their infidelity would soon drop off: This I confess is no easy task, because it is almost in a literal sense, to fight with beasts. Now, to make it clear, that we are to look for no other original of this infidelity, whereof divines so much complain, it is allowed on all hands, that the people of England are more corrupt in their morals than any other nation at this day under the sun: and this corruption is manifestly owing to other causes, both, numerous and obvious, much more than to the publication of irreligious books, which indeed are but the consequence of the former. For all the writers against Christianity since the Revolution have been of the lowest rank among men in regard to literature, wit, and good sense, and upon that account wholly unqualified to propagate heresies, unless among a people already abandoned.
[Footnote 11: Scott and Hawkesworth print "above forty." [T. S.]]
In an age where everything disliked by those who think with the majority is called disaffection, it may perhaps be ill interpreted, when I venture to tell you that this universal depravation of manners is owing to the perpetual bandying of factions among us for thirty years past; when without weighing the motives of justice, law, conscience, or honour, every man adjusts his principles to those of the party he hath chosen, and among whom he may best find his own account: But by reason of our frequent vicissitudes, men who were impatient of being out of play, have been forced to recant, or at least to reconcile their former tenets with every new system of administration. Add to this, that the old fundamental custom of annual parliaments being wholly laid aside, and elections growing chargeable, since gentlemen found that their country seats brought them in less than a seat in the House, the voters, that is to say, the bulk of the common people have been universally seduced into bribery, perjury, drunkenness, malice, and slanders.
Not to be further tedious, or rather invidious, these are a few among other causes which have contributed to the ruin of our morals, and consequently to the contempt of religion: For imagine to yourself, if you please, a landed youth, whom his mother would never suffer to look into a book for fear of spoiling his eyes, got into parliament, and observing all enemies to the clergy heard with the utmost applause, what notions he must imbibe; how readily he will join in the cry; what an esteem he will conceive of himself; and what a contempt he must entertain, not only for his vicar at home, but for the whole order.