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with a feeling of their dignity or their duties. am no advocate for a proscription of smiles or amusements that are innocent in themselves; but of the two, I had rather see this rigour carried to an extreme in the deportment of a preacher, than give place to a relaxation which would bring himself and his calling into contempt. The family quarrel between the king and the late queen gave rise to some curious exhibitions of clerical charity, decorum, forbearance, and independence. You are aware, that the present form of church service, the Common Prayer, &c. was established by act of parliament, and that of course it ought not to be altered, according to the constitution of church government, without the consent of a convocation. The praying for the Queen is a part of the service of the church; and no clergyman of the Church of England, in this country, was legally, much less spiritually, bound to obey any order of council, any intimation of the king as head of the church, to omit that portion. In charity they were still more bound to pray for her, if she were guilty of the wickedness said to her charge. But among all the bishops and beneficed clergy, I have not heard of half a dozen, that had the hardihood to pray
for her Majesty in opposition to the will of the king. On the contrary, one clergyman has been tried and found guilty of a libel uttered in the pulpit against this unhappy female; another was lately convicted of an assault upon his bell-ringer, who persisted in ringing the bell in honour of her Majesty; while others have put advertisements in the newspapers, contradicting reports that they had prayed for the Queen! In short, they have, in almost every instance, proved that they valued the favour of the king beyond the Book of Common Prayer, or the church service, any part of which, I presume, they would equally dispense with at his Majesty's command.
To conclude: most of the superiority of this country in religion will be found to originate in newspaper advertisements and missionary magazines, speeches in parliament, and declarations of the king. If we try it by any other standard, it will be found entirely unsupported. If we look to morals as a criterion of religion, and to crimes as a test of morals, there is no foundation for this claim. If we look to other outward indications, such as a respect for public decorum; an observance of the Sabbath ; a friendly regard to other nations ; or a general benevolence, indicated by a habit of speaking of them with temper and decorum; a desire of preserving peace and good will with their neighbours on the continent, or the distant people of the other quarters of the globethere is still less foundation for this boast. Her practice has never been to speak well of other nations. Her wars, for the last hundred years, have been more frequent than those of any other country. In every quarter of the globe she has warred against the human race, through the impulses of ambition and avarice. Asia, Africa, and America, can tell of her oppressions; and if she thinks she can make amends to them, or deceive the world, by sending missionaries and Bibles to pave the way for a stiil greater extension of trade and empire, I think she is mistaken. The veil is dropping lower and lower every day, and the physiognomy of the hypocrite becoming more visible to the eyes of the world.
I have been thus particular in pointing out the little pretension this people and government have to a superiority in religion, from a desire to comply with your special request. I do not wish to question the claims of any nation
tb an idle pre-eminence, unless it makes it arrow gant and offensive, and is coupled with a disposition to plume itself on the pretended inferiority of my own countrymen : then it becomes my duty to repel the charge, by questioning the justice of the claim.
Thomas Paine, although his " Age of Reason" was answered and refuted so completely in this country, is still, though dead, an object against which the fears of this government are strongly directed. To buy or read his book is considered an overt act of disaffection, if not treason; and to sell it, subjects a bookseller to a prosecution, although he may vend the works of Tindal, Bolingbroke, Hume, Gibbon, Swift, Rabelais, and Voltaire, in perfect security. This the most orthodox booksellers do without scruple; and what is more, the most orthodox of the clergy and nobility buy them with as little. It is true, that Paine has treated the religion of our fathers with indecent scurrility ; whereas most of those who previously attacked it, preserved an air of respect, which only made their efforts the more dangerous. This is not, however, the case with Tindal, Woolston, Swift, Rabelais, and Voltaire, whose works, as I observed before, are still vended by the Trade, who, as there is no law to the contrary, settle the point of conscience quietly among themselves.
Not long ago, I alarmed the shopman of the worthy bookseller, to whom, I believe, I introduced you in a former letter, by inquiring for a copy of Paine's works. This honest fellow has lived so much among books, that he resembles an exceedingly old edition of a man by Caxton or Wynkyn de Worde. In reply to my question, he pursed up his mouth into an excruciating vinegar expression, and assured me they never kept any such vile trash in the store. I believe I have almost lost his good opinion, for he eyes me ever since with a look of suspicion, and I begin to believe takes me for a confirmed Radical.
This worthy and well-meaning man, however, on my inquiring for Voltaire and the rest, very courteously handed me a quarto of Tindal, from which he brushed the dust with an air of votion, being one of those excellent scholars who actually worship a great book. What I mean to infer from this toleration of other deistical works, and this inveterate persecution of Paine, is simply, that a regard to the interests of religion has nothing to do with the matter. I am no advocate or defender of Paine's theological opinions. Though I look upon him as one of the most clear and able advocates of human rights, I certainly have no respect whatever for his religion or morality. By his attacks on the Bible, he has not only meditated a great injury to the welfare and happiness of mankind here and hereafter, but he ha, likewise vitally injured the interests of human freedom, by affording its enemies a pretext to couple it with infidelity. Because the same writer happened to advocate the rights of man, and question the authority of the Scriptures, occasion bas been taken to establish a sort of affinity between
the unbeliever and the republican, which would probably never have been thought of, had it not been that the example of Paine afforded a pretext for this prep sterous association. For this reason, I am apt to think him one of the worst enemies to liberty; and that, so far as his influence extends, he has actually retarded the progress of freedom more than all ihe efforts of the Holy Alliance.
But though the pretence set up by the ministry, the beneficed clergy, and indeed all those orthodox people here, who enjoy inore than their share of the good things of this life, for persecuting Paine and bis opinions, is that of religion; yet nothing is clearer to my mind, than that his political opinions are almost exclusively the objects of their apprehension and hostility. If he had only maintained the divine right of kings, I believe he might have questioned any other divine right with impunity. As it was, he afforded, by his religious, a pretext for prohibiting the circulation of his political opinions; and although his morals were quite equal, I am inclined to think, to most of the kings and princes of this age, he left behind him a reputation which has deprived his opinions of a great portion of their weight and authority. His Age of Reason has been triumphantly refuted by men who were made bi. shops for their good service : yet such are the apprehensions still entertained by the good ministry and church of England, that though his book has been thus entirely subdued, they have actually outlawed its disarmed heresies, and made it penal to print or to read “this flippant, nonsensical, and dangerous blasphemy.” Nothing, my dear brother, so strongly indicates the weakness of a government, as the fear of a book. It is a sign of a corrsumptive habit in any system, religious or political, when it shrinks from the battery of truth, much more when it is afraid even of the sapping of false. Vol. I.