Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Christianity, as taught and practised by theologians and their adherents, is so aca curately described in a letter on superstition, addressed to the people of England, by the celebrated William Pitt, (afterwards Earl of Chatham, and Prime Minister of Great Britain,) that I am induced to give it entire. It was first printed in the London Journal in 1733.

LETTER OF WILLIAM PITT.

Pure Religion and undefiled before God and the Father, is this : to visit the Fatherless and Widows in their afflictions, and to keep one's self unspotted from the World."

a

Gentlemen, whoever takes a view of the world, will find, that what the greatest part of mankind have agreed to call religion, has teen only some outward exercise esteemed sufficient to work a reconciliation with God. It has moved them to build temples, flay victims, offer up sacrifices, to fast and feast, to petition and thank, to laugh and cry, to sing and sigh by turns ; but it has not yet been found sufficient to induce them to break off an armour, to make restitation of ill-gotten wealth, or to bring the passions and appetites to a reasonable subjection. Differ as much as they may in opinion, concerning what they ought to believe, or after what manner they are to serve God, as they call it, yet they all agree in gratifying their appetites. The same passions reign eternally in all countries and in all ages, Jew and Mahometan, the Christian and the Pagan, the Tartar and the Indian, all kinds of men who differ in almost every thing else, universally agree with regard to their passions; if there be any difference among them it is this, that the more superstitious, the more vicious they always are, and the more they believe, the less they practise. This is a melancholy consideration to a good mind; it is a truth, and certainly above all things, worth our while to inquire into. We will, therefore, probe the wound, and search to the bottom; we will lay the axe to the root of the tree, and show you the true reason why men go on in sinning and repenting, and sinning again through the whole course of their lives ; and the reason is, because they have been taught, most wickedly taught, that religion and virtue are two things absolutely distinct ; that the deficiency of the one, might be supplied by the sufficiency of the other ; and that what you want in virtue, you must make up in religion. But this religion, so dishonourable to God, and so pernicious to men, is worse than Atheism, for Atheism, though it takes away one great motive to support virtue in distress, yet it furnishes no man with arguments to be vicious; but superstitios, or what the world means by religion is the greatest possible encouragement to vice, by setting up something as religion, which shall atone and commute for the want of virtue. This is establishing iniquity by a law, the highest law; by authority, the highest authority ; that of God himself. We complain of the vices of the world, and of the wickedness of men, without searching into the true cause. It is not because they are wicked by nature, for that is both false and impious; but because to serve the purposes of their pretended soul savers, they have been carefully taught that they are wicked by nature, and cannot help continuing so. It would have been impossible for men to have been both religious and vicious, had religion been made to consist wherein alone it does consist; and had they been always taught that true religion is the practice of virtue in obedience to the will of God, who presides over all things, and will finally make every man happy who does his duty.

This single opinion in religion, that all things are so well made by the Deity, that virtue is its own reward, and that happiness will ever arise from acting according to the reason of things, or that God, ever wise and good, will provide some extraordinary happiness for those who suffer for virtue's sake, is enough to support a man under all difficulties, to keep him steady to his duty, and to enable him to stand as firm as a rock, amidst all the charms of applause, profit, and honour. But this religion of reason, which all men are capable of, has been neglected and condemned, and another set up, the natural consequences of which have puzzled men's understandings, and debauched their morals, more than all the lewd poets and atheistical philosophers, that ever infested the world; for instead of being taught that religion consists in action, or obedience to the eternal moral law of God, we have been most gravely and venerably told that it consists in the belief of certain opinions which we could form no idea of, or which were contrary to the clear perceptions of our minds, or which had no tendency to make us either wiser or better, or which is much worse, had a marifest tendency to make us wicked and immoral. And this belief, this impious belief, aris

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

ing from imposition on one side, and from want of examination on the other, has been called by the sacred name of religion, whereas real and genuine religion consists in knowledge and obedience. We know there is a God, and know his will, which is, that we should do all the good we can; and we are assured from his perfections, that we shall find our own good in so doing.

And what would we have more ? are we, after such inquiry, and in an age full of liberty, children still ? and cannot we be quiet unless we have holy romances, sacred fables, and traditionary tales to amuse us in an idle hour, and to give rest to our souls, when our follies and vices will not suffer us to rest ?

You have been taught, indeed, that right belief, or orthodoxy, will, like charity, cover a multitude of sins; but be not deceived, belief of, or mere assent to the truth of propositions upon evidence is not a virtue, nor unbelief a vice; faith is not a voluntary act, does not depend upon the will ; every man must believe or disbelieve, whether he will or not, according as the evidence appears to him. If, therefore, men, however dignified or distinguished, command us to believe, they are guilty of the highest folly and absurdity, because it is out of our power; but if they command us to believe, and annex rewards to belief, and severe penalties to unbelief, then they are most wicked and immoral, because they annex rewards and punishments to what is involuntary, and, therefore, neither rewardable nor punishable. It appears, then, very plainly unreasonable and unjust to command us to believe any doctrine, good or bad, wise or unwise ; but, when men command us to believe opinions, which have no tendency to promote virtue, but which are allowed to commute or atone for the want of it, then they are arrived at the utmost pitch of impiety, then is their iniquity full ; then have they finished the misery, and completed the destruction of poor mortal man; by betraying the interest of virtue, they have undermined and sapped the foundation of all human happiness ; and how treacherously and dreadfully have they betrayed it! A gift, well applied, the chattering of some unintelligible sounds called creeds; an unfeigned assent and consent to whatever the church enjoins, religious worship and consecrated feasts ; repenting on a death-bed; pardons rightly sued out ; and absolution authoritatively given, have done more towards making and continuing men vicious, than all the natural passions and infidelity put together ; for infidelity can only take away the supernatural rewards of virtue ; but these superstitious opinions and practices, have not only turned the scene, and made men lose sight of the natural rewards of it, but have induced them to think, that were there no hereafter, vice would be preferable to virtue, and that they increase in happiness as they increase in wickedness; and this they have been taught in several religious discourses and sermons, delivered by men whose authority was never doubted, particularly by a late Rev. prelate, I mean Bishop Atterbury, in his sermon on these words, “If in this life only be hope, then we are of all men the most miserable,” where vice and faith ride most lovingly and triumphantly together. But these doctrines of the natural excellency of vice, the efficacy of a right belief, the dignity of atonements and propitiations, have beside depriving us of the native beauty and charms of honesty, and thus cruelly stabbing virtue to the heart, raised and diffused among men a certain unnatural passion, which we shall call a religious hatred ; a batred constant, deep-rooted, and immortal. All other passions rise and fall, die and revive again, but this of religious and pious hatred rises and grows every day stronger upon the mind as we grow more religious, because we hate for God's sake, and for the sake of those poor souls too, who have the misfortune not to believe as we do, and can we in so good a cause hate too much ? the more thoroughly we hate, the better we are ; and the more mischief we do to the bodies and states of these infidels and heretics, the more do we show our love to God. This is religious zeal, and this has been called divinity; but remember, the only true divinity is humanity.

W. PITT.

Against such a scheme of fraud and imposition, as faithfully delineated by Mr. Pitt, has Thomas faine entered his protest ; and those who make a trade of the delusion, as well as those who are duped by it, denounce him as an impious man! And he, in reply, might have exclaimed, in the language of Lequinto, before cited.

“I am an impious man, my dear reader; and I tell the truth to every man, which is perhaps still worse. Four years are scarcely elapsed, since the follies of the Sorbonne, and the furies of despotism, might have raised a storm, which would have burst upon my head; they would have smitten me like a destructive monster, an assassin of the human race, a perturbator, a traitor. Each of those colossal phantoms has disappeared before the eye of reason, and the august image of liberty; however, an ina finite number of prejudices, personal interest, and hypocrisy, all of them no less the tyrants, and the enemies of knowledge, still dwell among us.

There still remains at the bottom of thy heart, at the bottom of thy own heart, the prejudices of thy infancy, the lessons of thy nurse, and the opinions of thy first instructors, which are the effects of that renunciation of thought which thou hast practised all the days of thy life, from the cradle upwards ! In addition to this, it is the interest of every one to keep thee in total blindness. The rich and powerful man dreads lest thou shouldst open thy eyes, and perceive that his strength and grandeur proceed from thy ignorance and submission. The vain man, with equality in his heart, fears lest thou shouldst discover the absurdity of his pretensions to superiority ; the hypocrite, who terms himself the representative of the divinity, and the messenger of heaven, trembles lest thou shouldst begin to reflect, for, from that moment his credit and his authority are at an end. He eats and drinks at his leisure; be sleeps without care ; he walks about in order to procure an appetite ; he enjoys the price of thy labours in peace; thou payest for his pleasures, his subsistence, and even for his sleep. But, wert thou to begin to reason, thou wouldst soon perceive thy error; thou wouldst touch the phantom, and it would instantly vanish ; thou wouldst discover that he is an useless parasite, and that all his -authority reposes on thy foolish credulity, thy weakness, thy chimerical fears, and the ridiculous hopes which he has taken care to inspire thee with, ever since thou camest into existence. Perhaps thy very wife is interested to deceive thee, on purpose to sanctify her connexions with the representative of the divinity, who renounces the holy laws of nature, because he spares himself, at one and the same time, the uneasiness and the duties of paternity!

These will excite thy passions, arm thy heart, and call up thy hatred against my lessons and my doctrine ; for I am an impious being, who neziher believe in saints nor in miracles ; I am an impious being, who would drink wine in the midst of Turks at Constantinople, who would eat pork with the Jews, and the flesh of a tender lamb or a fat pullet among the Christians on a Friday, even within the palace of a Pope, or beneath the roof of the vatican. I am an impious man, for I firmly believe that three are more than one; that the whole is greater than one of its parts ; that a body cannot exist in a thousand places at one and the same moment, and be entire in a thousand detached portions of itself.

I am an impious man, for I never believe on the word of another, whatever contradicts my own reason ; and if a thousand doctors of the law should tell me, that they had seen a sparrow devour an ox in a quarter of an hour, or take the carcase in its bill, and carry it to its nest in order to feed its young, were they even to swear by their surplices, their stoles, or their square bonnets, they would still fmd me incredulous !

I am an impious man, for I do not believe that anointing the tips of the fingers with oil, wearing the ecclesiastical tonsure, or cutting the hair, that the being clothed in a black cassock, or a violet robe, and carrying a mitre on the head, and a cross in the hand, can render an ignorant fellow able to work miracles.

In short, my brother, I must be an impious man, since my conduct has no other regulator than my conscience; since I myself have no other principle, than the desire of public happiness, and no other divinity than virtue. Thou must necessarily hate

for it is a great crime to think and to believe otherwise than thyself! But have I committed murder or carnage, theft, rapine, evil speaking, calumny? have I taught the art of deceiving men ? have I insinuated a spirit of vengeance ? have I inculcated despotism on the part of the great, and slavery on that of the humble ?

No-on the contrary, I have pointed out the road to truth ; I have proved to thee, that thy happiness consists in virtue; I have proved to thee, that thou hast hitherto been the dupe of those who fatten upon thy substance, and bathe themselves in thy sweat, and that all thy unhappiness arises from thy credulity, thy habitual hatred to reflection, and thy pusillanimity. Are these crimes? I am not guilty of any other.

Whoever thou art, thy friendship is precious to me; whether thou de Christian, Mahomedan, Jew, Indian, Persian, Tartar, or Chinese, art thou not a man, and am not I thy brother? Tolerate, therefore, an impious man, who has never laboured but for the good of others, and who now labours for thine, at the very moment when thou wishest to persecute him.”

As the character and habits of Thomas Paine have been grossly misrepresented by those who either knew little or nothing of him, or were utterly regardless of truth,

a

a

me,

a

shall here introduce an extract of a letter on that subject from Joel Barlow to James Cheetham, a notorious libeller of Mr. Paine. Mr. Barlow must have been well acquainted with Mr. Paine in France, as they were fellow-labourers in the great cause of human emancipation; and his sound principles, his moral and literary standing, are sufficient guarantees for the correctness of his statement of facts that caine under his immediate observation. It is, however, apparent, that a part of his communication is founded on misinformation; which I shall endeavour to demonstrate.

JOEL BARLOW TO JAMES CHEETHAM.

“Sir,- I have received your letter, calling for information relative to the life of Thomas Paine. It appears to me, that this is not the moment to publish the life of that man in this country.* His own writings are bis best life, and these are not read at present.

[ After noticing the unfavourable impressions which fanatics and political enemies of Mr. P. had infused into the minds of a portion of the public towards him, Mr. Barlow proceeds.)

The writer of his life, who should dwell on these topics, to the exclusion of the great and estimable traits of his real character, might indeed, please the rabble of the age, who do not know him; the book might sell ; but it would only tend to render the truth more obscure for the future biographer, than it was before.

But if the present writer would give us Thomas Paine complete, in all his character, as one of the most benevolent and disinterested of mankind, endowed with the clearest perception, an uncommon share of original genius, and the greatest breadth of thought; if this piece of biography should analyse his literary labors, and rank him, as he ought to be ranked, among the brightest and most undeviating luminaries of the age in which he has lived—yet with a mind assailable by Aattery, and receiving through that weak side a tincture of vanity which he was too proud to conceal; with a mind, though strong enough to bear him up, and to rise elastic under the heaviest hand of oppression, yet unable to endure the contempt of his former friends and fellowlaborers, the rulers of the country that had received his first and greatest services a mind incapable of looking down with serene compassion, as it ought, on the rude scoffs of their imitators, a new generation that knows him not—if you are disposed and prepared to write his life thus entire, to fill up the picture to which these hasty strokes of outlines give but a rude sketch with great vacuities, your book may be a useful one,

The biographer of Thomas Paine, should not forget his mathematical acquirements, and his mechanical genius. His invention of the iron-bridge, which led him tó Europe in the year 1787, bas procured him a great reputation in that branch of science in France and England, in both which countries his bridge has been adopted in many instances, and is now much in use.

You ask whether he took an oath of allegiance to France. Doubtless the qualification to be a member of the convention, required an oath of fidelity to that country, but involved in it no abjuration of his fidelity to this. He was made a French citizen by the same decree with Washington, Hamilton, Priestley, and Sir James Mackintosh.

a

You ask what company he kept—he always frequented the best, both in England and France, till he became the object of calumny in certain American papers, (echoes of the English court papers,) for his adherence to what he thought the cause of liberty in France -till he conceived himself neglected by his former friends in the United States. From that moment he gave himself very much to drink, and consequently to companions less worthy of his better days.

It is said he was always a peevish inmate-this is possible. So was Laur nce Sterne, so was Torquato Tasso, so was J. J. Rousseau ; but Thomas Paine, sa visiting acquaintance, and as a literary friend, the only points of view in whi h I knew him, was one of the most instructive men have ever known. He had a sur. prising memory and brilliant fancy; his mind was a store house of facts and useful observations; he was full of lively anecdote, and ingenious, original pertinent remark, upon almost every subject.

He was always charitable to the poor beyond his means, a sure protector and friend to all Americans in distress that he found in foreign countries. And he had frequent occasions to exert his influence in protecting them during the revolution in

* America.

France. His writings will answer for bis patriotism, and his entire devotion to what he conceived to be the best interest and happiness of mankind.

And us to his religion, as it is that of most of the men of science of the present age, and probably of three fourths of those of the last, there can be no just reason for making it an exception in him. This, sir, is all I have to remark on the subject you mention Kolarama, August 11, 1809.

REMARKS.

Mr. Barlow seems to have entertained erroneous opinions in regard to the treatment of Mr. Paine in America. He was received by the ruler, or first magistrate of the country, Thomas Jefferson, with the utmost respect and friendship.--He was invited by him to return to the United States; and on being asked if he had done so, replied, “ I have, and when he arrives, if there be an office in my gift, suite able for him to fill, I will give it to him ;-I will never abandon old friends to make room for new ones.” A friendly correspondence between these two distiuguished philanthropists was maintained till the close of Mr. Paine's life. I am also well assured, that the heads of departments and members of congress paid Mr. Psine tke utmost respect, during his residence at the city of Washington; and, on his arrival in New York, a public dinner was given to him, at which about one hundred respectable citizens attended. The most distinguished literary characters paid him every attention, and the mayor of the city gave him an unlimited invitation to visit him, whenever he found it convenient. But Mr. Paine secluded himself very much from society; he courted no favours, and he never was in the habit of giving entertainments, the means commonly employed to attract the attention of the fashionable world. A friend of his, about to accompany him on a visit to a gentleman of great scientific acquirements, took the liberty of suggesting to him the propriety of being more particular in his appearance ; to which he replied, “ let those dress that need it." Showing thereby his contempt of the art and management by which those of little or no merit acquire respect.

Mr. Paine, to be sure, was abused by editors of papers unfriendly to democracy. So was Dr. Franklin, so was Thomas Jefferson, so was Joel Barlow. If Mr. Paine had been treated with respect, or even not abused by those editors, it would have been a sure sign, that he had abandoned the cause of liberty, and of man. But his political course has been marked by that bold and manly independence of character which has certainly commanded, if not the approbation, at least the respect of his opponents.

Mr. Barlow himself, on account of his political opinions had been treated with the most shameful neglect by his old friends and associates of the New England States, and he felt vexed at it, and seems to take this opportunity to express his contempt, by lamenting that Mr. Paine should, as he supposed, have been mortified at similar treat

Mr. Barlow was a fashionable man, and had the means, as well as the inclination to make a show. Had Mr. Paine acquired (which he might have done if he had sold instead of given away his works) a sufficiency to purchase such an establishment as Mr. Barlow had, at Kolarama, and had been so disposed, he might have induced the first men in the country to eat his dinners and to sound his praise.

ment.

a

It was to be expected that religious bigots, who conceive themselves privileged to hate and persecute every man that does not believe in mysteries and witchcraft, would shun and speak evil of Mr. Paine; as well as certain pharisaical politicians, whose consequence mainly depends on a supposed coincidence of sentiment with the foregoing. Such men would avoid coming in contact with a man, the fire of whose genius they could not endure for a moment.

The opponents of Mr. Paine's political and religious writings have shown great solicitude to fix upon him the charge of intemperance; as though, this circumstance, if true,

could invalidate, or in the least weaken, the moral force of his principles. The apostate, Cheetham, in his letter to Barlow, particularly alludes to this subject. And it appears the the latter incautiously has too readily acceeded to the slander. The mind, memory, and fancy of Mr. Paine, as described by Mr. B. could not apply to a man who “ gave himself very much to drink.But, as Mr. Barlow's authority is justly entitled to the highest consideration ; and as great importance has affectedly been attached to this allegation against our author; for the satisfaction of those who revere his memory, I have made the most rigid inquiries of persons who have been in

>

« ZurückWeiter »