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ble negligence, and want of concern for all the civil, as well as religious, interests of mankind. This piece has for its title, A Discourse of Freethinking, occasioned by the rise and growth of a Sect called Freethinkers.* The author very methodically enters upon his argument, and says, “ By freethinking, I mean the use of the understanding in endeavouring to find out the meaning of any proposition whatsoever, in considering the nature of the evidence for, or against, and in judging of it according to the seeming force or weakness of the evidence.” As soon as he has delivered this definition, from which one would expect he did not design to shew a particular inclination for or against any thing
before he had considered it, he gives up all title to the character of a freethinker, with the most apparent prejudice against a body of men, whom of all other a good man would be most careful not to violate, I mean men in holy orders. Persons who have devoted themselves to the service of God, are venerable to all who fear him; and it is a certain characteristic of a dissolute and ungoverned mind, to rail or speak disrespectfully of them in general. It is certain, that in so great a crowd of men some will intrude, who are of tempers very unbecoming their function : but because ambition and avarice are sometimes lodged in that bosom, which ought to be the dwelling of sanctity and devotion, must this unreasonable author vilify the whole order? He has not taken the least care to disguise his being an enemy to the persons against whom he writes, nor any where granted that the institution of religious men to serve at the altar, and instruct such who are not as wise as himself, is at all necessary or desirable ; but proceeds, without the least apology, to undermine their credit, and frustrate their labours: whatever clergymen, in disputes against each other, have unguardedly uttered, is here recorded in such a manner as to affect religion itself, by wresting concessions to its disadvantage from its own teachers. If this be true, as sure any man that reads the discourse must allow it is; and if religion is the strongest tie of human society; in what manner are we to treat this our common enemy, who promotes the growth of such a sect as he calls freethinkers ? He that should burn a house, and justify the action by assert
* By Anthony Collins.
ing he is a free agent, would be more excusable than this author in uttering what he has from the right of a freethinker. But there are a set of dry, joyless, dull fellows, who want capacities and talents to make a figure amongst mankind upon benevolent and generous principles, that think to surmount their own natural meanness, by laying offences in the way of such as make it their endeavour to excel upon the received maxims and honest arts of life. If it were possible to laugh at so melancholy an affair as what hazards salvation, it would be no unpleasant inquiry to ask what satisfactions they reap, what extraordinary gratification of sense, or what delicious libertinism this sect of freethinkers enjoy, after getting loose of the laws which confine the passions of other men? Would it not be a matter of mirth to find, after all, that the heads of this growing sect are sober wretches, who prate whole evenings over coffee, and have not themselves fire enough to be any farther debauchees, than merely in principle? These sages of iniquity are, it seems, themselves only speculatively wicked, and are contented that all the abandoned young men of the age are kept safe from reflection by dabbling in their rhapsodies, without tasting the pleasures for which their doctrines leave them unaccountable. Thus do heavy mortals only gratify a dry pride of heart, give up the interests of another world, without enlarging their gratifications in this : but it is certain there are a sort of men that can puzzle truth, that cannot enjoy the satisfaction of it. This same freethinker is a creature unacquainted with the emotions which possess great minds when they are turned for religion, and it is apparent that he is untouched with any such sensation as the rapture of devotion. Whatever one of these scorners may think, they certainly want parts to be devout; and a sense of piety towards heaven, as well as the sense of any thing else, is lively and warm in proportion to the faculties of the head and heart. This gentleman may be assured he has not a taste for what he pretends to decry, and the poor man is certainly more a blockhead than an atheist. I must repeat, that he wants capacity to relish what true piety is; and he is ascapable of writing an heroic poem, as making a fervent prayer, When men are thus low and narrow in their apprehensions of things, and at the same time vain, they are naturally led to think every thing they do not understand, not to be understood. Their contradiction to what is urged by others, is a necessary consequence of their incapacity to receive it. The atheistical fellows who appeared in the last
age did not serve the devil for nought, but revelled in excesses suitable to their principles; while in these unhappy days mischief is done for mischief's sake. These freethinkers, who lead the lives of recluse students, for no other purpose
but to disturb the sentiments of other men, put me in mind of the monstrous recreation of those late wild youths, who, without provocation, had a wantonness in stabbing and defacing those they met with. When such writers as this, who has no spirit but that of malice, pretend to inform the
well set up
for wits and men of pleasure. It will be perhaps expected, that I should produce some instances of the ill intention of this freethinker, to support the treatment 1 here give him. In his 52d page he
says, “Secondly, The priests throughout the world differ about Scriptures, and the authority of Scriptures. The Bramins have a book of scripture called
the Shaster. The Persees have their Zundavastaw. The Bonzes of China have books written by the disciples of Fo-he, whom they call the 'God and Saviour of the world, who was born to teach the way of salvation, and to give satisfaction for all men's sin.' The Talapoins of Siam have a book of scripture written by Sommonocodom, who, the Siamese say, 'was born of a virgin, and was the God expected by the universe.' The Dervises have their Alcoran."
I believe there is no one will dispute the author's great impartiality in setting down the accounts of these different religions. And I think it is pretty evident he delivers the matter with an air which betrays that the history of “ born of a virgin" has as much authority with him from St. Sommonocodom as from St. Matthew. Thus he treats revelation. Then as to philosophy, he tells you, p. 136, “ Cicero produces this as an instance of a probable opinion, that they who study philosophy do not believe there are any gods;" and then, from consideration of various notions, he affirms Tully concludes, that there can be nothing after death." As to what ite misrepresents of Tully, the short sentence
on the head of this paper is enough to oppose; but who can have patience to reflect upon the assemblage of impostures among which our author places the religion of his country? As for my part, I cannot see any possible interpretation to give this work, but a desigp to subvert and ridicule the authority of Scripture. The peace and tranquillity of the nation, and regards even above those, are so much concerned in this matter, that it is difficult to express sufficient sorrow for the offender, or indignation against him. But if ever man deserved to be denied the common benefits of air and water, it is the author of A Discourse of Freethinking.
N° 4. MONDAY, MARCH 6, 1713.
It matters not how false or forc'd,
Both of their sound and rotten sheep.-HUDIBRAS.
nature are at once confessed and absolved in that single word Custom; yet there are some, which as they have a dangerous tendency, a thinking man will the less
xcuse on that very account. Among these I cannot but reckon the common practice of dedications, which is of so much the worse consequence, as it is generally used by people of politeness, and whom a learned education for the most part ought to have inspired with nobler and juster sentiments. This prostitution of praise is not only a deceit
gross of mankind, who take their notion of characters from the learned; but also the better sort must by this means lose some part at least of that desire of fame which is the incentive to generous actions, when they find it promiscuously bestowed
on the meritorious and undeserving: nay, the author himself, let him be supposed to have ever so true a value for the patron, can find no terms to express it, but what have been already used, and rendered suspected by flatterers. Even truth itself in a
dedication is like an honest man in a disguise, or vizormask, and will appear a cheat by being dressed so like one. Though the merit of the person is beyond dispute, I see no reason that because one man is eminent, therefore another has a right to be impertinent and throw praises in his face. 'Tis just the reverse of the practice of the ancient Romans, when a person was advanced to triumph for his services. As they hired people to rail at him in that circumstance to make him as humble as they could, we have fellows to flatter him, and make him as proud as they can. Supposing the writer not to be mercenary, yet the great man is no more in reason obliged to thank him for his picture in a dedication, than to thank a painter for that on a sign-post; except it be a less injury to touch the most sacred part of him, his character, than to make free with his countenance only. I should think nothing justified me in this point, but the patron's permission beforehand, that I should draw him, as like as I could; whereas most authors proceed in this affair just as a dauber I have heard of, who not being able to draw portraits after the life, was used to paint faces at random, and look out afterward for people whom he might persuade to be like them. To express .my notion of the thing in a word: to say more to a man than one thinks, with a prospect of interest, is dishonest; and without it, foolish. And whoever has had success in such an undertaking, must of necessity, at once, think himself in his heart a knave for having done it, and his patron a fool for having believed it.
I have sometimes been entertained with considering dedications in no very common light. By observing what qualities our writers think it will be most pleasing to others to compliment them with, one may form some judgment which are most so to themselves; and in
what sort of people they are. Without this view, one can read very few dedications but will give us cause to wonder how such things came to be said at all, or how they were said to such persons? I have known a hero complimented upon the decent majesty and state he assumed after victory, and a nobleman of a different character applauded for his condescension to inferiors. This would have seemed very strange to me, but that I happened to know the authors. He who made the first compliment was a lofty gentleman,