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Full text of "Selected prose works of Shelley"

' LIBRARY 

UNIVERSITY OF 
CALIFORNIA 



^ 




SELECTED PROSE 
WORKS OF SHELLEY 



SELECTED PROSE 
WORKS OF SHELLEY 



WITH FOREWORD BY 

HENRY S. SALT 



[issued for the rationalist press ASSOCIATION', LIMITED 



London : 

WATTS & CO. 

17 JOHNSON'S COURT, FLEET STREET, E.C 
1915 






FOREWORD 

In any selection that may be made from the prose 
works of Shelley with the object of illustrating the 
development of his thought, a marked inequality will 
be found in the value, literary and intellectual, of the 
essays included in the book ; thus, in the case of the 
present volume, the first thing that will strike the 
reader's notice is the disparity between such a juvenile 
effort as "The Necessity of Atheism " and so finished 
and stately a piece of writing as "A Defence of 
Poetry." A few years, in a life such as Shelley's, 
represent a great advance. 

One feature, however, all the prose essays have in 
common ; they are valuable as throwing light, as fur- 
nishing an autheiitic commentary, on the meaning of 
the poems. For Shelley's poetry — whatever opinion, 
real or pretended, Matthew Arnold may have expressed 
to the contrary — is of much more importance than his 
prose, as being the supreme vehicle of his thought ; and 
it is certain that not only the beauty of his verse, but 
the significance of the message embodied in it, will be 
more fully realised as time goes on. For this reason 
the prose writings also will be studied with increasing 



966 



viii FOREWORD 

Refutation of Deism," published in 1814, was that 
there is no middle course between accepting revealed 
religion and disbelieving in the existence of a deity — 
another way of stating the necessity of atheism. 

Shelley resembled Blake in the contrast of feeling 
with which he regarded the Christian religion and its 
founder. For the human character of Christ he could 
feel the deepest veneration, as may be seen not only 
from the *' Essay on Christianity," but from the 
"Letter to Lord Ellenborough " (1812), and also from 
the notes to "Hellas " and passages in that poem and 
in " Prometheus Unbound " ; but he held that the spirit 
of established Christianity was wholly out of harmony 
with that of Christ, and that a similarity to Christ was 
one of the qualities most detested by the modern 
Christian. The dogmas of the Christian faith were 
always repudiated by him, and there is no warrant 
whatever in his writings for the strange pretension 
that, had he lived longer, his objections to Christianity 
might in some way have been overcome. 

Apart from its inherent interest, the "Essay en 
Christianity," albeit fragmentary in parts, is the most- 
important of all Shelley's prose writings next to "A 
Defence of Poetry " ; and in view of its maturity of 
style, and the great beauty of some of its passages, it 
may be conjectured that it was written at a date con- 
siderably later than that usually assigned to it, viz. the 
year 1815. 

Shelley's highest mark as a prose writer was attained 
in his "Defence of Poetry," written in Italy in 1821, 
almost at the close of his life, when his powers were 
at their full. If the early essays and pamphlets are 



FOREWORD ix 

remarkable rather for vigour and logical force than for 
real insight and feeling, and if their literary style was 
affected, perhaps unavoidably, by the polemical nature 
of the subjects with which they dealt, no such faults 
can be alleged against "A Defence of Poetry," where 
the train of thought is as profound as the language is 
majestic. The essay is a worthy vindication not only 
of poetry in general, but of the function of the poet- 
prophet, the class of singer to which Shelley himself 
so unmistakably belongs. 

In conclusion, it may be said that Shelley's prose, if 
not great in itself, is the prose of a great poet, for 
which reason it possesses an interest that is not likely 
to fail. It is the key to the right understanding of 
his intellect, as his poetry is the highest expression of 
his genius. 

Henry S. Salt. 



CONTENTS 



PAOK 

FOREWORD ....... V 

THE NECESSITY OF ATIlElhiM .... 1 

A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGII . . 15 

A REFUTATION OF DEISM 32 

A DEFENCE OF POETRY ... .75 

ESSAY ON THE LITERATURE, THE ARTS, AND 

THE MANNERS OF THE ATHENIANS . .119 

ON LIFE 129 

ON A FUTURE STATE . . . . .136 

ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 143 



SELECTED PROSE WORKS 
OF SHELLEY 

THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

[Note. — The Necessity of Atheism was published by Shelley in 
1811. In 1813 he printed a revised and expanded version of it 
as one of the notes to his poem Qioev Mab. The revised and 
expanded version is the one here reprinted. A type facsimile of 
the original edition was issued by tlie R.F.A. in 1906.] 

THERE IS NO GOD 

This negation must be understood solely to affect a 
creative Deity. The hypothesis of a pei*vading Spirit 
coeternal with the universe remains unshaken. 

A close examination of the validity of the proofs 
adduced to support any proposition is the only secure 
way of attaining truth, on the advantages of which it 
is unnecessary to descant : our knowledge of the exist- 
ence of a Deity is a subject of such importance that it 
cannot be too minutely investigated ; in consequence of 
this conviction we proceed briefly and impartially to 
examine the proofs which have been adduced. It is 
necessary first to consider the nature of belief. 

When a proposition is offered to the mind, it perceives 



2 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

the agreement or disagreement of the ideas of which it 
is composed. A perception of their agreement is 
termed belief. Many obstacles frequently prevent this 
perception from being immediate; these the mind at- 
tempts to remove in order that the perception may be 
distinct. The mind is active in the investigation in 
order to perfect the state of perception of the relation 
which the component ideas of the proposition bear to 
each, which is passive : the investigation being confused 
with the perception has induced many falsely to imagine 
that the mind is active in belief, — that belief is an act 
of volition, — in consequence of which it may be regu- 
lated by the mind. Pursuing, continuing this mistake, 
they have attached a degree of criminality to disbelief ; 
of which, in its nature, it is incapable : it is equally 
incapable of merit. 

Belief, then, is a passion, the strength of which, like 
every other passion, is in precise proportion to the 
degrees of excitement. 

The degrees of excitement are three. 

The senses are the sources of all knowledge to the 
mind ; consequently their evidence claims the strongest 
assent. 

The decision of the mind, founded upon our own 
experience, derived from these sources, claims the next 
degree. 

The experience of others, which addresses itself to 
the former one, occupies the lowest degree. 

(A graduated scale, on which should be marked the 
capabilities of propositions to approach to the test of 
the senses, would be a just barometer of the belief which 
ought to be attached to them.) 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 3 

Consequently no testimony can be admitted which 
is contrary to reason ; reason is founded on tlie evidence 
of our senses. 

Every proof may be referred to one of these three 
divisions : it is to be considered what arguments we 
receive from each of them, which should convince us 
of the existence of a Deity. 

1st, The evidence of the senses. If the Deity should 
appear to us, if he should convince our senses of his 
existence, this revelation would necessarily command 
belief. Those to whom the Deity has thus appeared 
have the strongest possible conviction of his existence. 
But the God of Theologians is incapable of local 
visibility. 

2d, Reason. It is urged that man knows that what- 
ever is must either have had a beginning, or have 
existed from all eternity : he also knov/s that whatever 
is not eternal must have had a cause. When this reason- 
ing is applied to the universe, it is necessary to prove 
that it was created : until that is clearly demonstrated 
we may reasonably suppose that it has endured from all 
eternity. We must prove design before we can infer a 
designer. The only idea which we can form of causa- 
tion is derivable from the constant conjunction of 
objects, and the consequent inference of one from the 
other. In a case where two propositions are diametric- 
ally opposite, the mind believes that which is least 
incomprehensible ; — it is easier to suppose that the 
universe has existed from all eternity than to conceive 
a being beyond its limits capable of creating it : if the 
mind sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an allevia- 
tion to increase the intolerabihty of the burthen? 



4 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

The other argument, which is founded on a man's 
knowledge of his own existence, stands thus. A man 
knows not only that he now is, but that once he was 
not ; consequently there must have been a cause. But 
our idea of causation is alone derivable from the 
constant conjunction of objects and the consequent 
inference of one from the other ; and, reasoning 
experimentally, we can only infer from effects causes 
exactly adequate to those effects. But there certainly 
is a generative power which is effected by certain instru- 
ments : we cannot prove that it is inherent in these 
instruments ; nor is the contrary hypothesis capable 
of demonstration : we admit that the generative power 
is incomprehensible ; but to suppose that the same effect 
is produced by an eternal, omniscient, omnipotent being 
leaves the cause in the same obscurity, but renders it 
more incomprehensible. 

3d, Testimony. It is required that testimony should 
not be contrary to reason. The testimony that the 
Deity convinces the senses of men of his existence can 
only be admitted by us if our mind considers it less 
probable that these men should have been deceived than 
that the Deity should have appeared to them. Our 
reason can never admit the testimony of men, who not 
only declare that they were eye-witnesses of miracles, 
but that the Deity was irrational ; for he commanded 
that he should be believed, he proposed the highest 
rewards for faith, eternal punishments for disbelief. 
We can only command voluntary actions ; belief is not 
an act of volition ; the mind is even passive, or involun- 
tarily active ; from this it is evident that we have no 
sufficient testimony, or rather that testimony is insuffi- 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 5 

cient to prove the being of a God. It has been before 
shown that it cannot be deduced from reason. They 
alone, then, who have been convinced by the evidence 
of the senses can believe it. 

Hence it is evident that, having no proofs from 
either of the three sources of conviction, the mind 
cannot believe the existence of a creative God : it is 
also evident that, as belief is a passion of the mind, 
no degree of criminality is attachable to disbelief ; and 
that they only are reprehensible who neglect to remove 
the false medium through which their mind views any 
subject of discussion. Every reflecting mind must 
acknowledge that there is no proof of the existence of 
a Deity. 

God is an hypothesis, and, as such, stands in need 
of proof : the onus probandi rests on the theist. Sir 
Isaac Newton says : Hypotheses non fingo, quicquid 
cnim ex phaenomenis Jion deducitur hypothesis vo- 
canda est, et hypothesis vel metaphysicae, vel physicae, 
vel qualitatum occultarum, seu mechanicac, in philoso- 
phia locum non habcnt. To all proofs of the existence 
of a creative God apply this valuable rule. We see a 
variety of bodies possessing a variety of powers : we 
merely know their effects ; we are in a state of ignor- 
ance with respect to their essences and causes. These 
Newton calls the phenomena of things ; but the pride 
of philosophy is unwilling to admit its ignorance of their 
causes. From the phenomena, which are the objects 
of our senses, we attempt to infer a cause, which we 
call God, and gratuitously endow it with all negative 
and contradictory qualities. From this hypothesis we 
invent this general name, to conceal our ignorance of 
B 



6 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

causes and essences. The being called God by no means 
answers with the conditions prescribed by Newton ; it 
bears every mark of a veil woven by philosophical con- 
ceit, to hide the ignorance of philosophers even from 
themselves. They borrow the threads of its texture 
from the anthropomorphism of the vulgar. Words have 
been used by sophists for the same purposes, from the 
occult qualities of the peripatetics to the effluvium of 
Boyle and the crinities or nebulae of Herschel. God is 
represented as infinite, eternal, incomprehensible ; he 
is contained under every predicate in non that the logic 
of ignorance could fabricate. Even his worshippers 
allow that it is impossible to form any idea of him : 
they exclaim with the French poet, 

Pour dire ce qu^il est, il faut etre lui-meme. 

Lord Bacon says that atheism leaves to man reason, 
philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and every- 
thing that can serve to conduct him to virtue; but 
superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a 
tyranny over the understandings of men : hence atheism 
never disturbs the government, but renders man more 
clear-sighted, since he sees nothing beyond the boun- 
daries of the present life. — Bacon's Moral Essays. 

La premiere theologie de I'homme lui fit d'abord 
craindre et adorer les elements meme, des objets 
materiels et grossiers ; il rendit ensuite ses hommages 
a des agents presidant aux elements, a des genies infe- 
rieurs, a des heros, ou a des hommes doues de grandes 
qualites. A force de reflechir il crut simplifier les choses 
en soumettant la nature entiere a un seul agent, a un 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 7 

esprit, a une ame universelle, qui mettait cette nature 
et ses parties en mouvement. En remontant de causes 
en causes, les mortels ont fini par ne rien voir ; et c'est 
dans cette obscurite qu'ils ont place leur Dieu ; c'est 
dans cet abime tenebreux que leur imagination inquiete 
travaille toujours a se fabriquer des chimeres, qui les 
affligeront jusqu'a ce que la connaissance de la nature les 
detrompe des fantomes qu'ils ont toujours si vainement 
adores. 

Si nous voulons nous rendre compte de nos idees sur la 
Divinite, nous serons obliges de convenir que, par le mot 
DieUf les hommes n'ont jamais pu designer que la cause 
la plus cachee, la plus eloignee, la plus inconnue des 
effets qu'ils voyaient : ils ne font usage de ce mot, que 
lorsque le jeu des causes naturelles et connues cesse 
d'etre visible pour eux ; des qu'ils perdent le fil de ces 
causes, ou des que leur esprit ne peut plus en suivre la 
chaine, ils tranclient leur difficulte, et terminent leurs 
recherches en appellant Dieu la derniere des causes, 
c'est-a-dire celle qui est au-dela de toutes les causes qu'ils 
connaissent ; ainsi ils ne font qu'assigner une denomina- 
tion vague a une cause ignoree, a laquelle leur paresse ou 
les bornes de leurs connaissances les forcent de s'arreter. 
Toutes les fois qu'on nous dit que Dieu est I'auteur de 
quelque phenomene, cela signifie qu'on ignore comment 
un tel phenomene a pu s'operer par le secours des forces 
ou des causes que nous connaissons dans la nature. 
C'est ainsi que le commun des hommes, dont I'ignorance 
est le partage, attribue a la Divinite non seulement les 
effets inusites qui les frappent, mais encore les evene- 
mens les plus simples, dont les causes sont les plus 
faciles a connaitre pour quiconque a pu les mediter. En 



8 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

un mot, Phomme a toujours respecte les causes incon- 
nues des effets surprenans, que son ignorance l*empe- 
chait de demeler. Ce fut sur les debris de la nature 
que les hommes eleverent le colosse imaginaire de la 
Divinite. 

Si 1 'ignorance de la nature donna la naissance aux 
dieux, la connaissance de la nature est faite pour les 
detruire. A mesure que I'homme s'instruit, ses forces 
et ses ressources augmentent avec ses lumieres ; les 
sciences, les arts conservateurs, I'industrie, lui four- 
nissent des secours; I'experience le rassure ou lui pro- 
cure des moyens de resister aux efforts de bien des causes 
qui cessent de I'alarmer des qu'il les a connues. En un 
mot, ses terreurs se dissipent dans la meme proportion 
que son esprit s'eclaire. L'homme instruit cesse d'etre 
superstitieux. 

Ce n'est jamais que sur parole que des peuples entiers 
adorent le Dieu de leurs peres et de leurs pretres : 
I'autorite, la confiance, la soumission, et I'habitude leur 
tiennent lieu de conviction et de preuves ; ils se pro- 
stement et prient, parce que leurs peres leur ont appris 
a se prosterner et prier : mais pourquoi ceux-ci se sont- 
ils mis a genoux? C'est que dans les temps eloignes 
leurs legislateurs et leurs guides leur en ont fait un 
devoir. "Adorez et croyez," ont-ils dit, "des dieux 
que vous ne pouvez comprendre ; rapportez-vous-en a 
notre sagesse profonde; nous en savons plus que vous 
sur la divinite." Mais pourquoi m'en rapporterais-je 
a vous? C'est que Dieu le veut ainsi, c'est que Dieu 
vous punira si vous osez resister. Mais ce Dieu n'est- 
il done pas la chose en question ? Cependant les hommes 
se sont toujours payes de ce cercle vicieux ; la paresse 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 9 

de Icur esprit leur fit trouver plus court de s'en rap- 
porter au jugement des autres. Toutes les notions 
reli^ieuses sont fondees uniquement sur I'autorite ; 
toutes les religions du monde defendent I'examen et 
ne veulent pas que Pon raisonne ; c*est I'autorit^ qui 
veut qu*on croie en Dieu ; ce Dieu n'est lui-meme fonde 
que sur I'autorite de quelques hommes qui pretendent 
le connaitre, et venir de sa part pour Tannoncer h la 
terre. Un Dieu fait par les hommes a sans doute besoin 
des hommes pour se faire connaitre aux hommes. 

Ne serait-ce done que pour des pretres, des inspires, 
des metaphysiciens que serait reservee la conviction de 
I'existence d'un Dieu, que I'on dit neanmoins si neccs- 
saire a tout le genre humain? Mais trouvons-nous de 
I'harmonie entre les opinions theologiques des differens 
inspires, ou des penseurs repandus sur la terre? Ceux 
meme qui font profession d 'adorer le meme Dieu, sont- 
ils d'accord sur son compte? Sont-ils contents des 
preuves que leurs collegues apportent de son existence? 
Souscrivent-ils unanimement aux idees qu'ils presentent 
sur sa nature, sur sa conduite, sur la fa^on d'entendre 
ses pretendus oracles? Est-il une contree sur la terre 
on la science de Dieu se soit reellement perf ectionnee ? 
A-t-elle pris quelque part la consistance et runiformite 
que nous voyons prendre aux connaissances humaines, 
aux arts les plus f utiles, aux metiers les plus meprises? 
Ces mots d^esprit, dHmmaterialite, de crcatioUf de pre- 
destination^ de frrdce ; cette foule de distinctions subtiles 
dont la theologie s'est partout remplie dans quelques 
pays, ces inventions si ingenieuses, imaginees par des 
penseurs qui se sont succedes depuis tant de siecles, 
n'ont fait, helas ! qu'embrouiller les choses, et jamais 



10 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

la science la plus necessaire aux hommes n'a jusqu'ici 
pu acquerir la moindre fixite. Depuis des milliers 
d'annees ces reveurs oisifs se sont perpetuellement 
relayes pour mediter la Divinite, pour deviner ses voies 
cachees, pour inventer des hypotheses propres a develop- 
per cette enigme importante. Leur peu de succes n'a 
point decourage la vanite theologique; toujours on a 
parle de Dieu : on s'est egorge pour lui, et cet etre 
sublime demeure toujours le plus ignore et le plus 
discute. 

Les hommes auraient ete trop heureux, si, se bornant 
aux objets visibles qui les inter essent, ils eussent employe 
a perfectionner leurs sciences reelles, leurs lois, leur 
morale, leur education, la moitie des efforts qu'ils ont 
mis dans leurs recherches sur la Divinite. Ils auraient 
ete bien plus sages encore, et plus fortunes, s'ils eussent 
pu consentir a laisser leurs guides desoeuvres se que- 
reller entre eux, et sonder des profondeurs capables 
de les etourdir, sans se meler de leurs disputes in- 
sensees. Mais il est de I'essence de I'ignorance d'at- 
tacher de I'importance a ce qu'elle ne comprend 
pas. La vanite humaine fait que I'esprit se roidit 
contre des difficultes. Plus un objet se derobe a ncs 
yeux, plus nous faisons d 'efforts pour le saisir, parce 
que des-lors il aiguillonne notre orgueil, il excite notre 
curiosite, il nous parait interessant. En combattant 
pour son Dieu chacun ne combattit en effet que pour 
les interets de sa propre vanite, qui de toutes les pas- 
sions produites par la mal-organisation de la societe est 
la plus prompte a s'alarmer, et la plus propre a produire 
de tres grandes folies. 

Si ecartant pour un moment les idevS facheuses que 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 11 

la theologie nous donne d'un Dieu capricieux, dont les 
decrets partiaux et despotiques decident du sort des 
humains, nous ne voulons fixer nos yeux que sur la 
bonte pretendue, que tous les hommes, meme en trem- 
blant devant ce Dieu, s'accordent a lui donner ; si nous 
lui supposons le projet qu'on lui prete de n'avoir travaille 
que pour sa propre gloire, d'exiger les hommages des 
etres intelligens ; de ne chercher dans ses oeuvres que 
le bien-etre du genre humain : comment concilier ces 
vues et ces dispositions avec I'ignorance vraiment in- 
vincible dans laquelle ce Dieu, si glorieux et si bon, 
laisse la plupart des hommes sur son compte? Si Dieu 
veut etre connu, cheri, remercie, que ne se montre-t-il 
sous des traits favorables a tous ces etres intelligens 
dont il veut etre aime et adore? Pourquoi ne point se 
manifester a toute la terre d'une fagon non equivoque, 
bien plus capable de nous convaincre que ces revela- 
tions particulieres qui semblent accuser la Divinite d'une 
partialite facheuse pour quelques-unes de ses creatures? 
Le tout-puissant n'aurait-il done pas des moyens plus 
convainquans de se montrer aux hommes que ces meta- 
morphoses ridicules, ces incarnations pretendues, qui 
nous sont attestees par des ecrivains si peu d'accord 
entre eux dans les recits qu'ils en font? Au lieu de 
tant de miracles, inventes pour prouver la mission divine 
de tant de legislateurs reveres par les differens peuples 
du monde, le souverain des esprits ne pouvait-il pas 
convaincre tout d'un coup I'esprit humain des choses 
qu'il a voulu lui faire connaitre? Au lieu de suspendre 
un soleil dans la voute du firmament ; au lieu de repandre 
sans ordre les etoiles et les constellations qui remplissent 
I'espace, n'eut-il pas ete plus conforme aux vues d'un 



12 THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

Dieu si jaloux de sa gloire et si bien-intentionne pour 
I'homme d'ecrire, d'une fagon non sujette a dispute, son 
nom, ses attributs, ses volontes permanentes en carac- 
teres ineffa9ables, et lisibles egalement pour tous les 
habitants de la terre? Personne alors n'aurait pu 
douter de I'existence d'un Dieu, de ses volontes claires, 
de ses intentions visibles. Sous les yeux de ce Dieu 
si terrible, personne n'aurait eu I'audace de violer ses 
ordonnances; nul mortel n'eut ose se mettre dans le 
cas d'attirer sa colere : enfin nul homme n'eut eu le 
front d'en imposer en son nom, ou d'interpreter ses 
volontes suivant ses propres fantaisies. 

En ejflpet, quand meme on admettrait I'existence du 
Dieu theologique et la realite des attributs si discordans 
qu'on lui donne, I'on n'en pent rien conclure, pour 
autoriser la conduite ou les cultes qu'on prescrit de lui 
rendre. La theologie est vraiment le tonneau des 
Dana'ides. A force de qualites contradictoires et d'as- 
sertions hasardees, elle a, pour ainsi dire, tellement 
garrotte son Dieu qu'elle I'a mis dans I'impossibilite 
d'agir. S'il est infiniment bon, quelle raison aurions- 
nous de le craindre? S'il est infiniment sage, de quoi 
nous inquieter sur notre sort? S'il salt tout, pourquoi 
I'avertir de nos besoins, et le fatiguer de nos prieres? 
S'il est partout, pourquoi lui elever des temples? S'il 
est maitre de tout, pourquoi lui faire des sacrifices et des 
offrandes? S'il est juste, comment croire qu'il punisse 
des creatures qu'il a rempli de faiblesses? Si la grace 
fait tout en elles, quelle raison aurait-il de les recom- 
penser? S'il est tout-puissant, comment I'offenser, com- 
ment lui resister? S'il est raisonnable, comment se 
mettrait-il en colere centre des aveugles, a qui il a 



THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 13 

laissc la liberie de deraisonner ? S'il est immuable, 
de quel droit pretendrions-nous faire changer ses de- 
crets? S'il est inconcevable, pourquoi nous en occuper? 
S'IL A PARLE, POURQUOI L'UNIVERS N'EST- 
IL PAS CONVAINCU? Si la connaissance d'un Dieu 
est la plus necessaire, pourquoi u'est-elle pas la plus 
evidente et la plus claire? — Systeme de la Nature. 
London, 1781. 

The enlightened and benevolent Pliny thus publicly 
professes himself an atheist : — Quapropter effigiem Dei 
formamque quaerere imbecillitatis humanae reor. Quis- 
quis est Deus (si modo est alius) et quacunque in parte, 
totus est sensus, totus est visus, totus auditus, totus 
animae, totus animi, totus sui. . . . Imperfectae vero 
in homine naturae praecipua solatia ne deum quidem 
posse omnia. Namque nee sibi potest mortem con- 
sciscere, si velit, quod homini dedit optimum in tantis 
vitae poenis : nee mortales aeternitate donare, aut revo- 
care def unctos ; nee facere ut qui vixit non vixerit, qui 
honores gessit non gesserit, nullumque habere in prae- 
teritum ius, praeterquam oblivionis, atque (ut facetis 
quoque argumentis societas haec cum deo copuletur) ut 
bis dena viginti non sint, et multa similiter efficere non 
posse. — Per quae declaratur baud dubie naturae poten- 
tiam id quoque esse quod Deum vocamus. — Plin. Nat. 
Hist. cap. de Deo. 

The consistent Newtonian is necessarily an atheist. 
See Sir W. Drummond's Academical Questions f chap, 
iii. — Sir W. seems to consider the atheism to which it 
leads as a sufficient presumption of the falsehood of the 
system of gravitation ; but surely it is more consistent 



U THE NECESSITY OF ATHEISM 

with the good faith of philosophy to admit a deduc- 
tion from facts than an hypothesis incapable of proof, 
although it might militate with the obstinate pre- 
conceptions of the mob. Had this author, instead of 
inveighing against the guilt and absurdity of atheism, 
demonstrated its falsehood, his conduct would have 
been more suited to the modesty of the sceptic and the 
toleration of the philosopher. 

Omnia enim per Dei potentiam facta sunt : imo quia 
naturae potentia nulla est nisi ipsa Dei potentia. Certum 
est nos eatenus Dei potentiam non intelligere, quatenus 
causas naturales ignoramus; adeoque stulte ad eandem 
Dei potentiam recurritur, quando rei alicuius causani 
naturalem, sive est, ipsam Dei potentiam ignoramus. — 
Spinoza, Tract. Theologico-Pol. chap. i. p. 14. 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

[Note. — The occasion which called forth this Open Letter was 
the sentence of eighteen months' imprisonment and one hour in 
the pillory passed by Lord EUenborough on Daniel Isaac Eaton 
in May 1812 for publishing Part III. of Paine's Age of Eeason.] 

ADVERTISEMENT 

/ have waited impatiently for these last four months, 
in the hopes that some pen, fitter for the important task, 
would have spared me the perilous pleasure of becoming 
the champion of an innocent man. — This may serve as 
an excuse for delay, to those who think that I have let 
pass the aptest opportunity, but it is not to be supposed 
that in four short months the public indignation, raised 
by Mr. Eaton s unmerited suffering, can have subsided. 



LETTER 

My Lord, 

As the station to which you have been called by 
your country is important, so much the more a\v£ul is 
your responsibility, so much the more does it become 
you to watch lest you inadvertently punish the virtuous 
and reward the vicious. 

You preside over a court which is instituted for the 
suppression of crime, and to whose authority the people 
submit on no other conditions than that its decrees 
should be conformable to justice. 

15 



16 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

If it should be demonstrated that a judge had con- 
demned an innocent man, the bare existence of laws in 
conformity to which the accused is punished, would but 
little extenuate his offence. The inquisitor when he 
burns an obstinate heretic may set up a similar plea, 
yet few are sufficiently blinded by intolerance to ac- 
knowledge its validity. It will less avail such a judge 
to assert the policy of punishing one who has committed 
no crime. Policy and moraUty ought to be deemed 
synonymous in a court of justice, and he whose conduct 
has been regulated by the latter principle, is not justly 
amenable to any penal law for a supposed violation of 
the former. It is true, my Lord, laws exist which 
suffice to screen you from the animadversions of any 
constituted power, in consequence of the unmerited sen- 
tence which you have passed upon Mr. Eaton ; but there 
are no laws which screen you from the reproof of a 
nation's disgust, none which ward off the just judgment 
of posterity, if that posterity will deign to recollect you. 

By what right do you punish Mr. Eaton? What but 
antiquated precedents, gathered from times of priestly 
and tyrannical domination, can be adduced in palliation 
of an outrage so insulting to humanity and justice? 
Whom has he injured? What crime has he committed? 
Wherefore may he not walk abroad like other men and 
follow his accustomed pursuits? What end is proposed 
in confining this man, charged with the commission of 
no dishonourable action? Wherefore did his aggressor 
avail himself of popular prejudice, and return no answer 
but one of common place contempt to a defence of plain 
and simple sincerity? Lastly, when the prejudices of 
the jury, as Christians, were strongly and unfairly in- 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 17 

flamed ^ against this injured man as a Deist, wherefore 
did not you, my Lord, check such unconstitutional 
pleading, and desire the jury to pronounce the accused 
imiocent or criminal ^ without reference to the particular 
faith which he professed? 

In the name of justice, what answer is there to these 
questions? The answer which Heathen Athens made 
to Socrates, is the same with which Christian England 
must attempt to silence the advocates of this injured 
man — ''He has questioned established opinions." — 
Alas ! the crime of inquiry is one which religion never 
has forgiven. Implicit faith and fearless inquiry have 
in all ages been irreconcilable enemies. Unrestrained 
philosophy has in every age opposed itself to the 
reveries of credulity and fanaticism. — The truths of 
astronomy demonstrated by Newton have superseded 
astrology ; since the modern discoveries in chemistry 
the philosopher's stone has no longer been deemed 
attainable. Miracles of every kind have become rare,, 
in proportion to the hidden principles which those who 
study nature have developed. That which is false will 
ultimately be controverted by its own falsehood. That 
which is true needs but publicity to be acknowledged. 
It is ever a proof that the falsehood of a proposition is 
felt by those who use power and coercion, not reasoning 
and persuasion, to procure its admission. — Falsehood 
skulks in holes and corners, "it lets I dare not wait 
upon I would, like the poor cat in the adage," ^ except 

^ See the Attorney Oeneral's speech. 

' By Mr, Fox's bill (1791) Juries are, in eases of libel, judges 
both of the law and the fact. 
' Shakespeare. 



18 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

when it has power, and then, as it was a coward, it 
is a tyrant; but the eagle-eye of truth darts through 
the undazzling sunbeam of the immutable and just, 
gathering thence wherewith to vivify and illuminate 
a universe ! 

Wherefore, I repeat, is Mr. Eaton punished? — Be- 
cause he is a Deist? — And what are you, my Lord? 
— A Christian. Ha then! the mask is fallen off; you 
persecute him because his faith differs from yours. 
You copy the persecutors of Christianity in j^our 
actions, and are an additional proof that your religion 
is as bloody, barbarous, and intolerant as theirs. — If 
some deistical Bigot in power (supposing such a char- 
acter for the sake of illustration) should in dark and 
barbarous ages have enacted a statute making the 
profession of Christianity criminal, if you my Lord w^ere 
a Christian bookseller, and Mr. Eaton a judge, those 
arguments which you consider adequate to justify your- 
self for the sentence which you have passed must 
likewise suffice, in this suppositionary case to justify 
Mr. Eaton, in sentencing you to Newgate and the 
pillory for being a Christian. Whence is any right 
derived but that which power confers for persecution ?\ 
Do you think to convert Mr. Eaton to your religion Xry 
embittering his existence? You might force him by 
torture to profess your tenets, but he could not believe 
them, except you should make them credible, which 
perhaps exceeds your power. Do you think to please 
the God you worship by this exhibition of your zeal? 
If so, the Demon to whom some nations oifer human 
hecatombs is less barbarous than the Deity of civilised 
society. 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 19 

You consider iiian as an accountable being — but he 
can only be accountable for those actions whicli are 
influenced by his will. 

Belief and disbelief are utterly distinct from and 
unconnected with volition. They are the apprehension 
of the agreement or disagreement of the ideas which 
compose any proposition. Belief is an involuntary 
operation of the mind, and, like other passions, its 
intensity is precisely proportionate to the degrees of 
excitement. Volition is essential to merit or demerit. 
How then can merit or demerit be attached to what is 
distinct from that faculty of the mind whose presence 
is essential to their being? 1 am aware that religion 
is founded on the voluntariness of belief, as it makes 
it a subject of reward and punishment ; but before we 
extinguish the steady ray of reason and common sense, 
it is fit that we should discover, which we cannot do 
without their assistance, whether or no there be any 
other which may suffice to guide us through the 
labyrinth of life. 

If the law "de heretico comburendo " has not been 
formally repealed, I conceive that, from the promise 
held out by your Lordship's zeal, we need not despair 
of beholding the flames of persecution rekindled in 
Smithfield. Even now the lash that drove Descartes 
and Voltaire from their native country, the chains 
which bound Galileo, the flames which burned Vanini, 
again resound : — And where? in a nation that pre- 
sumptuously calls itself the sanctuary of freedom. 
Under a government which, whilst it infringes the 
very right of thought and speech, boasts of permitting 
the liberty of the press ; in a civilised and enlightened 



20 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

country, a man is pilloried and imprisoned because he 
is a Deist, and no one raises his voice in the indigna- 
tion of outraged humanity. Does the Christian God, 
whom his followers eulogise as the Deity of humiUty 
and peace ; he, the regenerator of the world, the meek 
reformer, authorise one man to rise against another, and 
because lictors are at his beck, to chain and torture him 
as an Infidel? 

When the Apostles went abroad to convert the 
nations, were they enjoined to stab and poison all who 
disbelieved the divinity of Christ's mission ; assuredly, 
they would have been no more justifiable in this case 
than he is at present who puts into execution the law 
which inflicts pillory and imprisonment on the Deist. 

Has not Mr. Eaton an equal right to call your Lord- 
ship an Infidel, as you have to imprison him for pro- 
mulgating a different doctrine from that which you 
profess? — What do I say ! — Has he not even a stronger 
plea? — The word Infidel can only mean any thing 
when applied to a person who professes that which he 
disbelieves. The test of truth is an undivided reliance 
on its inclusive powers; — the test of conscious false- 
hood is the variety of the forms under which it presents 
itself, and its tendency towards employing whatever 
coercive means may be within its command, in order 
to procure the admission of what is unsusceptible of 
support from reason or persuasion. A dispassionate 
observer would feel himself more powerfully interested 
in favour of a man, who depending on the truth of his 
opinions, simply stated his reasons for entertaining 
them, than in that of his aggressor, who daringly 
avowing his unwillingness to answer them by argument. 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 21 

proceeded to repress the activity and breali the spirit 
of their promulgator, by that torture and imprisonment 
whose infliction he could command. 

I hesitate not to affirm that tiie opinions which Mr. 
Eaton sustained, when underfroing that mockery of a 
trial at which your Lordship presided, appear to me 
more true and good than those of his accuser; — but 
were they false as the visions of a Calvinist, it still would 
be the duty of those who love liberty and virtue, to raise 
their voice indignantly against a reviving system of per- 
secution, against the coercively repressing any opinion, 
which, if false, needs but the opposition of truth which, 
if true, in spite of force, must ultimately prevail. 

Mr. Eaton asserted that the scriptures were, from 
beginning to end, a fable and imposture,^ that the 
Apostles were liars and deceivers. He denied the 
miracles, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. — 
He did so, and the Attorney General denied the pro- 
positions which he asserted, and asserted those which 
he denied. What singular conclusion is deducible from 
this fact? None, but that the Attorney General and 
Mr. Eaton sustained two opposite opinions. The 
Attorney General puts some obsolete and tyrannical 
laws in force against Mr. Eaton, because he publishes 
a book tending to prove that certain supernatural events, 
which are supposed to have taken place eighteen cen- 
turies ago, in a remote corner of the world, did not 
actually take place. But how are the truth or falsehood 
of the facts in dispute relevant to the merit or demerit 
attachable to the advocates of the two opinions? No 
man is accountable for his belief, because no man is 
^ See the Attorney General's speech. 
C 



22 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

capable of directing it. Mr. Eaton is therefore totally 
blameless. What are we to think of the justice of a 
sentence, which punishes an individual against whom it 
is not even attempted to attach the slightest stain of 
criminality ? 

It is asserted that Mr. Eaton's opinions are calculated 
to subvert morality — How? What moral truth is 
spoken of with irreverence or ridicule in the book which 
he published? Morality, or the duty of a man and a 
citizen, is founded on the relations which arise from the 
association of human beings, and which vary with the 
circumstances produced by the different states of this 
association. — This duty in similar situations must be 
precisely the same in all ages and nations. — The opinion 
contrary to this has arisen from a supposition that the 
will of God is the source or criterion of morality : it is 
plain that the utmost exertion of Omnipotence could 
not cause that to be virtuous which actually is vicious. 
An all-powerful Demon might, indubitably, annex 
punishments to virtue and rewards to vice, but could 
not by these means effect the slightest change in their 
abstract and immutable natures. — Omnipotence could 
vary, by a providential interposition, the relations of 
human society ; — in this latter case, what before was 
virtuous would become vicious, according to the neces- 
sary and natural result of the alteration ; but the abstract 
natures of the opposite principles would have sustained 
not the slightest change ; for instance, the punishment 
with which society restrains the robber, the assassin, 
and the ravisher is just, laudable, and requisite. We 
admire and respect the institutions which curb those 
who would defeat the ends for which society was estab- 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 23 

lished ; — but, should a precisely similar coercion be 
exercised against one who merely expressed his disbelief 
of a system admitted by those entrusted with tiie execu- 
tive power, using at the same time no metliods of pro- 
mulgation but those atlorded by reason, certainly this 
coercion would be eminently inhuman and immoral ; 
and the supposition that any revelation from an unknown 
power avails to palliate a persecution so senseless, un- 
provoked, and indefensible, is at once to destroy the 
barrier which reason places between vice and virtue, and 
leave to unprincipled fanaticism a plea whereby it may 
excuse every act of frenzy, which its own wild passions, 
not the inspirations of the Deity, have engendered. 

Moral qualities are such as only a human being can 
possess. To attribute them to the Spirit of the Universe, 
or to suppose that it is capable of altering them, is to 
degrade God into man, and to annex to this incompre- 
hensible being qualities incompatible with any possible 
definition of his nature. It may here be objected — 
Ought not the Creator to possess the perfections of the 
creature? No. To attribute to God the moral qualities 
of man, is to suppose him susceptible of passions which, 
arising out of corporeal organisation, it is plain that a 
pure spirit cannot possess. A bear is not perfect except 
he is rough, a tyger is not perfect if he be not voracious, 
an elephant is not perfect if otherwise than docile. How 
deep an argument must that not be which proves that 
the Deity is as rough as a bear, as voracious as a tyger, 
and as docile as an elephant ! But even suppose with 
the vulgar, that God is a venerable old man, seated on 
a throne of clouds, his breast the theatre of various 
passions, analogous to those of humanity, his will 



24 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

changeable and uncertain as that of an earthly king, — 
still goodness and justice are qualities seldom nominally 
denied him, and it will be admitted that he disapproves 
of any action incompatible with these qualities. Per- 
secution for opinion is unjust. With what consistency, 
then, can the worshippers of a Deity whose benevolence 
they boast, embitter the existence of their fellow being, 
because his ideas of that Deity are different from those 
which they entertain. — Alas ! there is no consistency in 
those persecutors who worship a benevolent Deity ; those 
v/ho worship a Demon would alone act consonantly to 
these principles, by imprisoning and torturing in his 
name. 

Persecution is the only name applicable to punishment 
inflicted on an individual in consequence of his opinions. 
— What end is persecution designed to answer? Can 
it convince him whom it injures? Can it prove to the 
people the falsehood of his opinions? It may make 
him a hypocrite, and them cowards, but bad means can 
promote no good end. The unprejudiced mind looks 
with suspicion on a doctrine that needs the sustaining 
hand of power. 

Socrates v/as poisoned because he dared to combat the 
degrading superstitions in which his countrymen were 
educated. Not long after his death, Athens recognised 
the injustice of his sentence ; his accuser Melitus was 
condemned, and Socrates became a demigod. 

Jesus Christ was crucified because he attempted to 
supersede the ritual of Moses with regulations more 
moral and humane — his very judge made public 
acknowledgment of his innocence, but a bigoted and 
ignorant mob demanded the deed of horror. — Barabbas 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 25 

the murderer and traitor was released. The meek 
reformer Jesus was immolated to the sanguinary Deity 
of the Jews. Time rolled on, time changed tlie situa 
tions, and with them, the opinions of men. 

The vulgar, ever in extremes, hecame persuaded that 
the crucifixion of Jesus was a supernatural event, and 
testimonies of miracles, so frequent in unenliglitened 
ages, were not wanting to prove that he was something 
divine. This belief, rolling through the lapse of ages, 
acquired force and extent, until the divinity of Jesus 
became a dogma, which to dispute was death, which to 
doubt was infamy. 

Christianity is now the established religion; he who 
attempts to disprove it, must behold murderers and 
traitors take precedence of him in public opinion, 
though, if his genius be equal to Iiis courage, and 
assisted by a peculiar coalition of circumstances, future 
ages may exalt him to a divinity, and persecute others 
in his name, as he was persecuted in the name of his 
predecessor, in the homage of the world. 

The same means that have supported every other '^ 
popular belief, have supported Christianity. War, ^ 
imprisonment, murder, and falsehood ; deeds of un- 
exampled and mcomparable atrocity have made it what 
it is. We derive from our ancestors a belief thus 
fostered and supported. — W^e quarrel, persecute, and 
hate for its maintenance. — Does not analogy favour the 
opinion that, as like other systems it has arisen and 
augmented, so like them it will decay and perish ; that, 
as violence and falsehood, not reasoning and persuasion, 
have procured its admission among mankind ; so, when 
enthusiasm has subsided, and time, that infallible con- ^ 



26 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

troverter of false opinions, has involved its pretended 
evidences in the darkness of antiquity, it will become 
obsolete, and that men will then laugh as heartily at 
grace, faith, redemption, and original sin, as they now 
do at the metamorphoses of Jupiter, the miracles of 
Romish saints, the efficacy of witchcraft, and the 
appearance of departed spirits. 

Had the Christian religion commenced and continued 
by the mere force of reasoning and persuasion, by its 
self-evident excellence and fitness, the preceding analogy 
would be inadmissible. Vv^e should never speculate 
upon the future obsoleteness of a system perfectly con- 
formable to nature and reason. It would endure so long 
as they endured, it would be a truth as indisputable as 
the light of the sun, the criminality of murder, and other 
facts, physical and moral, which, depending on our 
organisation, and relative situations, must remain ac- 
knowledged so long as man is man. — It is an incon- 
trovertible fact, the consideration of which ought to 
repress the hasty conclusions of credulity, or moderate 
its obstinacy in maintaining them, that, had the Jews 
not been a barbarous and fanatical race of men, had 
even the resolution of Pontius Pilate been equal to his 
candour, the Christian religion never could have 
prevailed, it could not even have existed. Man ! the 
very existence of w^hose most cherished opinions de- 
pends from a thread so feeble, arises out of a source so 
equivocal, learn at least humility ; own at least that it 
is possible for thyself also to have been seduced by 
education and circumstances into the admission of tenets 
destitute of rational proof, and the truth of which has 
not yet been satisfactorily demonstrated. Acknowledge 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 27 

at least that the falsehood of thy brother's opinions is no 
sufficient reason for liis meriting thy hatred. — What! 
beeause a fellow being disputes the reasonableness of 
thy faith, wilt thou punish liim with torture and im- 
I)risonnient? If persecution for reUgious opinions were 
admitted by the moralist, how wide a door would not 
be opened by which convulsionists of every kind might 
make inroads on the peace of society ! How many 
deeds of barbarism and blood would not receive a 
sanction ! — But I will demand, if that man is not 
ratlier entitled to the respect than the discountenance of 
society, who, b}' disputing a received doctrine, either 
proves its falsehood and inutility, thereby aiming at the 
abolition of what is false and useless, or giving to its 
adherents an opportunity of estabhshing its excellence 
and truth. — Surely this can be no crime. Surely the 
individual who devotes his time to fearless and unre- 
stricted inquiry into the grand questions arising out of 
our moral nature, ought rather to receive the patronage, 
than encounter the vengeance, of an enlightened legis- J 
lature. I would have you to know, my Lord, that -» 
fetters of iron cannot bind or subdue the soul of virtue. 
From the damps and solitude of its dungeon it ascends 
free and undaunted, whither thine, from the pompous 
seat of judgment, dare not soar. I do not warn you to 
beware lest your profession as a Christian, should make 
you forget that you are a man ; — but I warn you against 
festinatingthat period, which, under the present coercive 
system, is too rapidly maturing, when the seats of jus- 
tice shall be the seats of venality and slavishness, and 
the cells of Newgate become the abode of all that is 
honourable and true. 



28 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

I mean not to compare Mr. Eaton with Socrates 
or Jesus ; he is a man of blameless and respectable 
character, he is a citizen unimpeached with crime; if, 
therefore, his rights as a citizen and a man have been 
infringed, they have been infringed by illegal and im- 
moral violence. But I will assert that, should a second 
Jesus arise among men ; should such a one as Socrates 
again enUghten the earth, lengthened imprisonment and 
infamous punishment (according to the regimen of per- 
secution revived by your Lordship) would effect, what 
hemlock and the cross have heretofore effected, and the 
stain on the national character, like that on Athens and 
Judea, would remain indelible, but by the destruction 
of the history in which it is recorded. When the 
Christian Religion shall have faded from the earth, 
when its memory like that of Polytheism now shall 
remain, but remain only as the subject of ridicule 
and wonder, indignant posterity would attach im- 
mortal infamy to such an outrage; like the murder 
of Socrates, it would secure the execration of every 
age. 

The horrible and wide-wasting enormities which gleam 
like comets through the darkness of gothic and super- 
stitious ages, are regarded by the moralist as no more 
than the necessary effects of known causes ; but, when 
an enlightened age and nation signalises itself by a 
deed, becoming none but barbarians and fanatics, Philo- 
^A sophy itself is even induced to doubt whether human 
nature will ever emerge from the pettishness and im- 
becility of its childhood. The system of persecution at 
whose new birth, you, my Lord, are one of the presiding 
midwives, is not more impotent and wicked than incon- 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 29 

sis tent. The press is loaded with what are called 
(ironically, I should conceive) proofs of the Christian 
Religion : these books are replete with invective and 
calumny against Infidels, they presuppose that he who 
rejects Christianity must be utterly divested of reason 
and feeling. They advance the most unsupported asser- 
tions, and take as first principles the most revolting 
dogmas. The inferences drawn from these assumed 
premises are imposingly logical and correct ; but if a 
foundation is weak, no architect is needed to foretell the 
instability of the superstructure. — If the truth of Chris- 
tianity is not disputable, for what purpose are these 
books written? If they are sufficient to prove it, what 
further need of controversy? // God has spoken, zchy 
is not the universe convinced ? If the Christian Religion 
needs deeper learning, more painful investigation, to 
establish its genuineness, wherefore attempt to accom- 
plish that by force, which the human mind can alone 
effect with satisfaction to itself? If, lastly, its truth 
cannot be demonstrated, wherefore impotently attempt 
to snatch from God the government of his creation, and 
impiously assert that the Spirit of Benevolence has left 
that knowledge most essential to the well being of man, 
the only one which, since its promulgation, has been the 
subject of unceasing cavil, the cause of irreconcileable 
hatred? — Either the Christian Religion is true, or it is 
not. If true, it comes from God, and its authenticity 
can admit of doubt and dispute no further than its 
Omnipotent Author is willing to allow ; — if true, it 
admits of rational proof, and is capable of being placed 
equally beyond controversy, as the principles which have 
been established concerning matter and mind, by Locke 



30 A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 

and Newton ; and in proportion to the usefulness of the 
fact in dispute, so must it be supposed that a benevolent 
being is anxious to procure the diffusion of its knowledge 
on the earth. — If false, surely no enlightened legislature 
would punish the reasoner, who opposes a system so 
much the more fatal and pernicious as it is extensively 
admitted ; so much the more productive of absurd and 
ruinous consequences, as it is entwined by education, 
with the prejudices and affections of the human heart, 
in the shape of a popular belief. 

Let us suppose that some half-witted philosopher 
should assert that the earth was the centre of the 
universe, or that ideas could enter the human mind 
independently of sensation or reflection. This man 
would assert what is demonstrably incorrect ; — he would 
promulgate a false opinion. Yet, would he therefore 
deserve pillory and imprisonment ? By no means ; 
probably few would discharge more correctly the duties 
of a citizen and a man. I admit that the case above 
stated is not precisely in point. The thinking part of 
the community has not received as indisputable the 
truth of Christianity, as they have that of the New- 
tonian system. A very large portion of society, and 
that powerfully and extensively connected, derives its 
sole emolument from the belief of Christianity, as a 
popular faith. 

To torture and imprison the asserter of a dogma, 
however ridiculous and false, is highly barbarous and 
impolitic : — How, then, does not the cruelty of persecu- 
tion become aggravated when it is directed against the 
opposer of an opinion yet under dispute, and which men 
of unrivalled acquirements, penetrating genius, and 



A LETTER TO LORD ELLENBOROUGH 31 

stainless \irtue, have spent, and at last sacrificed, their 
lives in combating. 

The time is rapidly approaching, I hope, that you, 
my Lord, may live to behold its arrival, when the 
Mahometan, the Jew, the Christian, the Deist, and the 
Atheist, will live together in one community, equally 
sharing the benefits which arise from its association, 
and united in the bonds of charity and brotherly love. 
— My Lord, you have condenmed an innocent man — no 
crime was imputed to him — and you sentenced him to 
torture and imprisonment. I have not addressed this 
letter to you with the hopes of convincing you that you 
have acted wrong. The most unprincipled and bar- 
barous of men are not unprepared with sophisms, to 
prove that they would have acted in no other manner, 
and to show that vice is virtue. But I raise my solitary 
voice, to express my disapprobation, so far as it goes, 
of the cruel and unjust sentence you, passed upon Mr. 
Eaton, to assert, so far as I am capable of influencing, 
those rights of humanity, which you have wantonly and 
unlawfully infringed. 

My Lord, 

Yours, &c. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

EUSEBES AND THEOSOPHUS 
EUSEBES 

O Theosophus, I have long regretted and observed 
the strange infatuation which has blinded your under- 
standing. It is not without acute uneasiness that I 
have beheld the progress of your audacious scepticism 
trample on the most venerable institutions of our fore- 
fathers, until it has rejected the salvation which the only 
begotten Son of God deigned to proffer in person to 
a guilty and unbelieving world. To this excess, then, 
has the pride of the human understanding at length 
arrived? To measure itself with Omniscience! To 
scan the intentions of Inscrutability ! 

You can have reflected but superficially on this awful 
and important subject. The love of paradox, an affecta- 
tion of singularity, or the pride of reason has seduced 
you to the barren and gloomy paths of infideUty. Surely 
you have hardened yourself against the truth with a 
spirit of coldness and cavil. 

Have you been wholly inattentive to the accumulated 
evidence which the Deity has been pleased to attach to 
the revelation of his will ? The ancient books in which 
the advent of the Messiah was predicted, the miracles 
by which its truth has been so conspicuously confirmed, 
the martyrs who have undergone every variety of tor- 
ment in attestation of its veracity ? You seem to require 

32 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 33 

mathematical demonstration in a case which admits of 
no more than strong moral probability. Surely the 
merit of tliat faith which we are required to repose in 
our Redeemer would be thus entirely done away. 
W'liere is the (hfficulty of accordin<T credit to that which 
is perfectly plain and evident? How is he entitled to 
a recompense who believes what he cannot disbelieve? 

When there is satisfactory evidence that the witnesses 
of the Christian miracles passed their lives in labours, 
dangers, and sufferings, and consented severally to be 
racked, burned, and strangled, in testimony of the truth 
of their account, will it be asserted that they were 
actuated by a disinterested desire of deceiving otiiers? 
That they were hypocrites for no end but to teach the 
purest doctrine that ever enlightened the world, and 
martyrs without any prospect of emolument or fame? 
The sophist, who gravely advances an opinion thus 
absurd, certainly sins with gratuitous and indefensible 
pertinacity. 

The history of Christianity is itself the most indis- 
putable proof of those miracles by which its origin was 
sanctioned to the world. It is itself one great miracle. 
A few humble men established it in the face of an oppos- 
ing universe. In less than fifty years an astonishing 
multitude was converted, as Suetonius,^ Pliny, ^ Tacitus,^ 
and Lucian attest; and shortly afterwards thousands 

^ Judeei, iuipulsore Clircslo, tnrbantcs, facile comprimuntur. — 
Suet, in Tib. 

Affect i suppl id is Christiani, (jemis hominum snjyerstilionis nova 
et nialefirsR. — Id. in Neronc. 

* Multi omnia xtatis ntriusqiu sej^2cs ctiam ; nequc cnim civifcUes 
tanlum, sed vices etiam et agroa supcrstitionis istius contagio pcrva- 
gata rst. — PI in. Epist. 

^ Tacit. Annal L. xv. Sect. xlv. 



34 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

who had boldly overturned the altars, slain the priests 
and burned the temples of Paganism, were loud in 
demanding the recompense of martyrdom from the 
hands of the infuriated heathens. Not until three cen- 
turies after the coming of the Messiah did his holy 
religion incorporate itself with the institutions of the 
Roman Empire, and derive support from the visible arm 
of fleshly strength. Thus long without any assistance 
but that of its Omnipotent author, Christianity pre- 
vailed in defiance of incredible persecutions, and drew 
fresh vigour from circumstances the most desperate and 
unpromising. By what process of sophistry can a 
rational being persuade himself to reject a religion, the 
original propagation of which is an event wholly un- 
paralleled in the sphere of human experience? 

The morality of the Christian religion is as original 
and sublime, as its miracles and mysteries are unlike all 
other portents. A patient acquiescence in injuries and 
violence ; a passive submission to the will of sovereigns ; 
a disregard of those ties by which the feelings of 
humanity have ever been bound to this unimportant 
world ; humility and faith, are doctrines neither similar 
nor comparable to those of any other system.^ Friend- 
ship, patriotism, and magnanimity ; the heart that is 
quick in sensibility, the hand that is inflexible in execu- 
tion; genius, learning and courage, are qualities which 
have engaged the admiration of mankind, but which 
we are taught by Christianity to consider as splendid 
and delusive vices. 

I know not why a Theist should feel himself more 

^ See the Internal Evidence of Christianity ; see also Paley's 
Evidences, Vol. ii. p. 27. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 35 

inclined to distrust the historians of Jesus Christ than 
those of Alexander the Great. What do the tidings of 
redemption contain which render tliem peculiarl}' 
obnoxious to discredit ? It will not be disputed that a 
revelation of the Divine will is a benefit to mankind.* 
It will not be asserted that even under the Christian 
revelation, we have too clear a solution of the vast 
enigma of the Universe, too satisfactory a justification 
of the attributes of God. When we call to mind the 
profound ignorance in which, with the exception of the 
Jews, the philosophers of antiquity were plunged ; when 
we recollect that men, eminent for dazzling talents and 
fallacious virtues, Epicurus, Democritus, Pliny, Lucre- 
tius,' Euripides, and innumerable others, dared publicly 
to avow their faith in Atheism with impunity, and that 
tlie Theists, Anaxagoras, Pythagoras and Plato, vainly 
endeavoured by that human reason, which is truly in- 
commensurate to so vast a purpose, to estabhsh among 
philosophers the belief in one Almighty God, the creator 
and preserver of the world ; when we recollect that the 
multitude were grossly and ridiculously idolatrous, and 
that the magistrates, if not Atheists, regarded the being 
of a God in the light of an abstruse and uninteresting 
speculation ; ^ when we add to these considerations a 

^ Paley's Evidcticcs, Vol. i. p. 3. 

* Plin. Nat. Hist. cap. de Deo., Euripides, Bellerophon, 
Frag. XXV. 

Ilunc igitur terrorem animi, imebrasque necessc est 

Non radii solis, neque lucida tela diei 

Discutient, snl naturse, species ratioquc : 

Principium hinc cicjus nobis exordia sumet, 

NULLAM REM NIIIILO GIGNI DIVINITUS UNQUAM. 

Luc. tie Rer. Nat. Lib. 1 [vv. 147-151]. 
' See Cicero de Natura Deorum. 



36 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

remembrance of the wars and the oppressions, which 
about the time of the advent of the Messiah, desolated 
the human race, is it not more credible that the Deity 
actually interposed to check the rapid progress of human 
deterioration, than that he permitted a specious and 
pestilent imposture to seduce mankind into the labyrinth 
of a deadlier superstition? Surely the Deity has not 
created man immortal, and left him for ever in ignor- 
ance of his glorious destination. If the Christian reli- 
gion is false, I see not upon what foundation our belief 
in a moral governor of the universe, or our hopes of 
immortality can rest. 

Thus then the plain reason of the case, and the 
suffrage of the civilised world, conspire with the more 
indisputable suggestions of faith, to render impregnable 
that system which has been so vainly and so wantonly 
assailed. Suppose, however, it were admitted that the 
conclusions of human reason and the lessons of worldly 
virtue should be found, in the detail, incongruous with 
Divine Revelation ; by the dictates of which would it 
become us to abide? Not by that which errs when- 
ever it is employed, but by that which is incapable 
of error : not by the ephemeral systems of vain philo- 
sophy, but by the word of God, which shall endure 
for ever. 

Reflect, O Theosophus, that if the religion you reject 
be true, you are justly excluded from the benefits which 
result from a belief in its efficiency to salvation. Be not 
regardless, therefore, I entreat you, of the curses so 
emphatically heaped upon infidels by the inspired organs 
of the will of God : the fire which is never quenched, 
the worm that never dies. I dare not think that the 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 37 

God in whom I trust for salvation, would terrify his 
creatures with menaces of punishment which he does 
not intend to inflict. The in^^ratitude of incredulity is, 
perhaps, the only sin to which the Almighty cannot 
extend his mercy without compromising his justice. 
How can the human heart endure, without despair, the 
mere conception of so tremendous an alternative? 
Return, I entreat you, to that tower of strength wiiicli 
securely overlooks the chaos of the conflicting opinions 
of men. Return to that God who is your creator and 
preserver, by whom alone .vou are defended from the 
ceaseless wiles of your eternal enemy. Are human in- 
stitutions so faultless that the principle upon which they 
are founded may strive with the voice of God? Know 
that faith is superior to reason, in as much as the crea- 
ture is surpassed by the Creator ; and that whensoever 
they are incompatible, the suggestions of the latter, not 
those of the former, are to be questioned. 

Permit me to exhibit in their genuine deformity the 
errors which are seducing you to destruction. State to 
me with candour the train of sophisms by which the 
evil spirit has deluded your understanding. Confess the 
secret motives of your disbelief ; suffer me to administer 
a remedy to your intellectual disease. I fear not the 
contagion of such revolting sentiments : I fear only lest 
patience should desert me before you have finished the 
detail of your presumptuous credulity. 

Theosophus 

I AM not only prepared to confess, but to vindicate 
my sentiments. I cannot refrain, however, from pre- 

D 



88 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

mising, that in this controversy I labour under a disad- 
vantage from which you are exempt. You believe that 
incredulity is immoral, and regard him as an object of 
suspicion and distrust whose creed is incongruous with 
your own. But truth is the perception of the agreement 
or disagreement of ideas. I can no more conceive that a 
man who perceives the disagreement of any ideas should 
be persuaded of their agreement, than that he should 
overcome a physical impossibility. The reasonableness 
or the folly of the articles of our creed is therefore no 
legitimate object of merit or demerit; our opinions 
depend not on the will, but on the understanding. 

If I am in error (and the wisest of us may not presume 
to deem himself secure from all illusion) that error is the 
consequence of the prejudices by which I am prevented, 
of the ignorance by which I am incapacitated from form- 
ing a correct estimation of the subject. Remove those 
prejudices, dispel that ignorance, make truth apparent, 
and fear not the obstacles that remain to be encountered. 
But do not repeat to me those terrible and frequent 
curses, by whose intolerance and cruelty I have so often 
been disgusted in the perusal of your sacred books. Do 
not tell me that the All-Merciful will punish me for the 
conclusions of that reason by which he has thought fit to 
distinguish me from the beasts that perish. Above all, 
refrain from urging considerations drawn from reason, 
to degrade that which you are thereby compelled to 
acknowledge as the ultimate arbiter of the dispute. 
Answer my objections as I engage to answer your asser- 
tions, point by point, word by word. 

You believe that the only and ever-present God begot 
a Son whom he sent to reform the world, and to pro- 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 39 

pitiate its sins ; you believe that a book, called the Bible, 
contains a true account of this event, together with an 
infinity of miracles and prophecies which preceded it 
from the creation of the world. Your opinion tliat tliese 
circumstances really liappened appears to me, from some 
considerations which 1 will proceed to state, destitute of 
rational foundation. 

To expose all the inconsistency, inunorality and false 
pretensions which i perceive in tlie Bible, demands a 
minuteness of criticism at least as voluminous as itself. 
I shall confine myself, therefore, to the confronting of 
your tenets with those primitive and general principles 
which are the basis of all moral reasoning. 

In creating the Universe, God certainly proposed to 
himself tiie happiness of his creatures. It is just, there- 
fore, to conclude that he left no means unemployed, 
which did not involve an impossibility, to accomplish 
this design, in fixing a residence for this image of his 
own Majesty, he was doubtless careful that every occa- 
sion of detriment, every opportunity of evil, should be 
removed. He was aware of the extent of his powers, 
he foresaw the consequences of his conduct, and doubt- 
less modelled his being consentaneously with the world 
of whicli he was to be the inhabitant, and the circum- 
stances which were destined to surround him. 

The account given by the Bible has but a faint con- 
cordance with the surmises of reason concerning this 
event. 

According to this book, God created Satan, who, in- 
stigated by the impulses of his nature, contended with 
the Omnipotent for the throne of Heaven. After a 
contest for the empire, in which God was victorious, 



40 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

Satan was thrust into a pit of burning sulphur. On 
man's creation, God placed within his reach a tree whose 
fruit he forbade him to taste, on pain of death ; permit- 
ting Satan, at the same time, to employ all his artifice 
to persuade this innocent and wondering creature to 
transgress the fatal prohibition. 

The first man yielded to this temptation; and to 
satisfy Divine Justice the whole of his posterity must 
have been eternally burned in hell, if God had not sent 
his only Son on earth, to save those few whose salvation 
had been foreseen and determined before the creation 
of the world. 

God is here represented as creating man with certain 
passions and powers, surrounding him with certain cir- 
cumstances, and then condemning him to everlasting 
torments because he acted as Omniscience had foreseen, 
and was such as Omnipotence had made him. For to 
assert that the Creator is the author of all good, and the 
creature the author of all evil, is to assert that one man 
makes a straight line and a crooked one, and that 
another makes the incongruity.^ 

Barbarous and uncivilised nations have uniformly 
adored, under various names, a God of which themselves 
were the model : revengeful, blood-thirsty, grovelUng 
and capricious. The idol of a savage is a demon that 
delights in carnage. The steam of slaughter, the dis- 
sonance of groans, the flames of a desolated land, are the 
offerings which he deems acceptable, and his innumer- 
able votaries throughout the world have made it a point 
of duty to worship him to his taste. ^ The Phenicians, 
the Druids and the Mexicans have immolated hundreds 
1 Hobbes. * See Preface to Le Bon Sens. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 41 

at the shrines of their divinity, and the high and lioly 
name of God has been in all ages the watchword of the 
most unsparing massacres, the sanction of the most 
atrocious perfidies. 

But I appeal to your candour, O Eusebes, if there 
exist a record of such grovelhng absurdities and enormi- 
ties so atrocious, a picture of the Deity so characteristic 
of a demon as that which the sacred writings of the 
Jews contain. I demand of you, whetlier as a con- 
scientious Theist you can reconcile the conduct which is 
attributed to the God of the Jews with your conceptions 
of the purity and benevolence of the divine nature. 

The loathsome and minute obscenities to which the 
inspired writers perpetually descend, the filthy observ- 
ances which God is described as personally instituting,^ 
the total disregard of truth and contempt of the first 
principles of morality, manifested on the most public 
occasions by the chosen favourites of Heaven, might 
corrupt, were they not so flagitious as to disgust. 

When the chief of this obscure and brutal horde of 
assassins asserts that the God of the Universe was en- 
closed in a box of shittim wood,^ " two feet long and 
three feet wide," ^ and brought home in a new cart, I 
smile at the impertinence of so shallow an imposture. 
But it is blasphemy of a more hideous and unexampled 
nature to maintain that the Almighty God expressly 
commanded Moses to invade an unoffending nation ; 

* See Hosea, chap, i., chap. ix. Ezekiel, chap, iv., chap, xvi., 
chap, xxiii. Heyne, speaking of the opinions entertained of the 
Jews by ancient poets and philosophers, says : — Mcminit quidem 
ftuperstifioiivi Judaicee Boratius, veritm ut earn risu ewploderet. — 
Jleyn. ad. Virg. Poll, in A rg. 

• 1 Sam. V. 8. • Wordsworth's Lyrical' Ballads. 



42 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

and, on account of the difference of their worship, 
utterly to destroy every human being it contained, to 
murder every infant and unarmed man in cold blood, 
to massacre the captives, to rip up the matrons, and 
to retain the maidens alone for concubinage and viola- 
tion.^ At the very time that philosophers of the most 

^ Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is 
on the Lord's side ? let him come unto me. And all the sons of 
Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said unto 
them. Thus saifh the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword 
by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the 
camp and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, 
and every man his neighbour. And the children of Levi did accord- 
ing to the word of Moses : and there fell of the people on that 
day twenty-three thousand men. — Exod. xxxii. 26 

And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord com- 
manded Moses ; and they slew all the males. And the children 
of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little 
ones, and took the spoil of all their cattle, and all their flocks, 
and all their goods. And they burned all their huts wherein 
they dwelt, and all their goodly castles, with fire. And Moses, 
and Eleazar the priest and all the princes of the congregation, 
went forth to meet them without the camp. And Moses was 
[wroth] with the officers of the host, with the captains over 
thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the 
battle. And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the 2comen 
alive ? behold, tliese caused the children of Israel, through the 
counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the 
matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation 
of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, 
and kill every woman that hath known man by lying unth him. But 
all the women-children, that have not knoion a man by lying with 
him, KEEP ALIVE FOR YOURSELVES. — Num. xxxi. 7-18. 

And we utterly destroyed them, as we did unto Sihon, king of 
Heshbon, utterly destroying the men, women, and children of 
every city. — Deut. iii. 6. 

And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man 
and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and ass, with the 
edge of the sword. — Joshua. 

So Joshua fought against Debir, and utterly destroyed all the 
souls that were therein : he left none remaining, but utterly 
destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel com- 
manded. — Joshua X. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 43 

enterprising benevolence were founding in Greece those 
institutions which have rendered it the wonder and 
luminary of the world, am I required to believe that the 
weak and wicked king of an obscure and barbarous 
nation, a murderer, a traitor and a t,vrant, was the man 
after God's own heart? A wretch, at the thought of 
whose unparalleled enormities the sternest soul must 
sicken in dismay ! An unnatural monster, who sawed 
his fellow beings in sunder, harrowed them to fragments 
under harrows of iron, chopped them to pieces with 
axes, and burned them in brick-kilns, because they 
bowed before a different, and less bloody idol than his 
own. It is surely no perverse conclusion of an in- 
fatuated understanding that the God of the Jews is not 
the benevolent author of this beautiful world. 

The conduct of the Deity in the promulgation of the 
Gospel, appears not to the eye of reason more com- 
patible with his immutability and omnipotence than the 
history of his actions under the law accords with his 
benevolence. 

You assert that the human race merited eternal repro- 
bation because their common father had transgressed 
the divine command, and that the crucifixion of the Son 
of God was the only sacrifice or sufficient efficacy to 
satisfy eternal justice. But it is no less inconsistent 
with justice and subversive of morality that millions 
should be responsible for a crime which they had no 
share in committing, than that, if they had really com- 

And David gathered all the people together, and went to 
Rabbah, and took it. And he brought forth the people therein, 
and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and made 
them pass ihraugh the hrickkiln ; this did he also unto all the 
children of Amnion.— 2 Sara. xii. 29. 



44 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

mitted it, the crucifixion of an innocent being could 
absolve them from moral turpitude. Ferretne ulla 
civitas latorem istiusmodi legis, ut condemnaretur filiuSf 
aut nepos, si pater aut avus deliquisset? Certainly this 
is a mode of legislation peculiar to a state of savageness 
and anarchy ; this is the irrefragable logic of tyranny 
and imposture. 

The supposition that God has ever supernaturally 
revealed his will to man at any other period than the 
original creation of the human race, necessarily involves 
a compromise of his benevolence. It assumes that he 
withheld from mankind a benefit which it was in his 
power to confer. That he suffered his creatures to 
remain in ignorance of truths essential to their happiness 
and salvation. That during the lapse of innumerable 
ages, every individual of the human race had perished 
without redemption, from an universal stain which the 
Deity at length descended in person to erase. That the 
good and wise of all ages, involved in one common fate 
with the ignorant and wicked, have been tarn ted by in- 
voluntary and inevitable error which torments infinite 
in duration may not avail to expiate. 

In vain will you assure me with amiable inconsistency 
that the mercy of God will be extended to the virtuous, 
and that the vicious will alone be punished. The foun- 
dation of the Christian Religion is manifestly compro- 
mised by a concession of this nature. A subterfuge 
thus palpable plainly annihilates the necessity of the 
incarnation of God for the redemption of the human 
race, and represents the descent of the Messiah as a 
gratuitous display of Deity, solely adapted to perplex, 
to terrify and to embroil mankind. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 45 

It is sufficiently evident that an omniscient being 
never conceived the design of reforming the world by 
Christianity. Omniscience would surely have foreseen 
the inefficacy of that system, which experience demon- 
strates not only to have been utterly impotent in 
restraining, but to have been most active in exhaling 
the malevolent propensities of men. During the period 
which elapsed between the removal of the seat of empire 
to Constantinople in S28, and its capture by the Turks 
in 1453, what salutary influence did Christianity exercise 
upon that world which it was intended to enlighten? 
Never before was Europe the theatre of such ceaseless 
and sanguinary wars ; never were the people so brutal- 
ised by ignorance and debased by slavery. 

I will admit that one prediction of Jesus Christ has 
been indisputably fulfilled. / come not to bring peace 
upon earthy but a sword. Christianity indeed has 
equalled Judaism in the atrocities, and exceeded it in 
the extent of its desolation. Eleven millions of men, 
women, and children, have been killed in battle, 
butchered in their sleep, burned to death at public 
festivals of sacrifice, poisoned, tortured, assassinated, 
and pillaged in the spirit of the Religion of Peace, and 
for the glory of the most merciful God. 

In vain will you tell me that these terrible effects flow 
not from Christianity, but from the abuse of it. No 
such excuse will avail to palliate the enormities of a 
religion pretended to be divine. A limited intelligence 
is only so far responsible for the effects of its agency 
as it foresaw, or might have foreseen them ; but Omni- 
science is manifestly chargeable with all the consequen- 
ces of its conduct. Christianity itself declares that the 



46 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

worth of the tree is to be determined by the quality of 
its fruit. The extermination of infidels; the mutual 
persecutions of hostile sects; the midnight massacres 
and slow burning of thousands, because their creed con- 
tained either more or less than the orthodox standard, 
of which Christianity has been the immediate occasion ; 
and the invariable opposition which philosophy has ever 
encountered from the spirit of revealed religion, plainly 
show that a very slight portion of sagacity was sufficient 
to have estimated at its true value the advantages of 
that belief to which some Theists are unaccountably 
attached. 

You lay great stress upon the originality of the Chris- 
tian system of morals. If this claim be just, either your 
religion must be false, or the Deity has willed that 
opposite modes of conduct should be pursued by man- 
kind at different times, under the same circumstances ; 
which is absurd. 

The doctrine of acquiescing in the most insolent des- 
potism ; of praying for and loving our enemies ; of faith 
and humility, appears to fix the perfection of the human 
character in that abjectness and credulity which priests 
and tyrants of all ages have found sufficiently convenient 
for their purposes. It is evident that a whole nation of 
Christians (could such an anomaly maintain itself a day) 
would become, like cattle, the property of the first occu- 
pier. It is evident that ten highwaymen would suffice 
to subjugate the world if it were composed of slaves who 
dared not to resist oppression. 

The apathy to love and friendship, recommended by 
your creed, would, if attainable, not be less pernicious. 
This enthusiasm of anti-social misanthropy, if it were an 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 47 

actual rule of conduct, and not the speculation of a few 
interested persons, would speedily annihilate the human 
race. A total abstinence from sexual intercourse is not 
perhaps enjoined, but is strenuously recommended,^ and 
was actually practised to a frightful extent by the primi- 
tive Christians." 

The penalties inflicted by that monster Constantine, 
the first Christian Emperor, on the pleasures of un- 
Ucensed love, are so iniquitously severe, that no modem 
legislator could have affixed them to the most atrocious 
crimes.^ This cold-blooded and hypocritical ruffian cut 
his son's throat, strangled his wife, murdered his father- 
in-law and his brother-in-law, and maintained at his 
court a set of blood-thirsty and bigoted Christian Priests, 
one of whom was sufficient to excite the one half of the 
world to massacre the other. 

I am willing to admit that some few axioms of 
morality, M'hich Christianity has borrowed from the 
philosophers of Greece and India, dictate, in an uncon- 
nected state, rules of conduct worthy of regard ; but the 
purest and most elevated lessons of morality must remain 
nugatory, the most probable inducements to virtue must 
fail of their effect, so long as the slightest weight is 
attached to that dogma which is the vital essence of 
revealed religion. 

Belief is set up as the criterion of merit or demerit ; 
a man is to be judged not by the purity of his intentions 

^ Now concerning the things whereof 3'e wrote to me ; it is 
good for a man not to touch a woman. 

I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, it is £jood for 
tliem if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let 
them marry ; it is better to marry tlian burn. — 1 Cor. vii. 

' See (Jibhon's Decline and Fall, Vol. ii. p. 210. 

=» I])id., Vol. ii. p. 260. 



48 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

but by the orthodoxy of his creed ; an assent to certain 
propositions, is to outweigh in the balance of Chris- 
tianity the most generous and elevated virtue. 

But the intensity of belief, like that of every other 
passion, is precisely proportioned to the degrees of ex- 
citement. A graduated scale, on which should be 
marked the capabilities of propositions to approach to 
the test of the senses, would be a just measure of the 
belief which ought to be attached to them : and but for 
the influence of prejudice or ignorance this invariably 
is the measure of belief. That is believed which is 
apprehended to be true, nor can the mind by any exer- 
tion avoid attaching credit to an opinion attended with 
overwhelming evidence. Belief is not an act of volition, 
nor can it be regulated by the mind : it is manifestly 
incapable therefore of either merit or criminality. The 
system which assumes a false criterion of moral virtue, 
must be as pernicious as it is absurd. Above all, it 
cannot be divine, as it is impossible that the Creator of 
the human mind should be ignorant of its primary 
powers. 

The degree of evidence afforded by miracles and 
prophecies in favour of the Christian Religion is lastly 
to be considered. 

Evidence of a more imposing and irresistible nature 
is required in proportion to the remoteness of any event 
from the sphere of our experience. Every case of 
miracles is a contest of opposite improbabilities, whether 
it is more contrary to experience that a miracle should 
be true, or that the story on which it is supported 
should be false : whether the immutable laws of this 
harmonious world should have undergone violation, or 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 49 

that some obscure Greeks and Jews should have con- 
sj)ired to fabricate a tale of wonder. 

Tlie actual aj)i)earance of a departed spirit would be 
a circumstance truly unusual and portentous ; but the 
accumulated testimony of twelve old women that a spirit 
had appeared is neither unprecedented nor miraculous. 

It seems less credible that the God whose immensity 
is uncircumscribed by space, should have committed 
adultery with a carpenter's wife, than that some bold 
knaves or insane dupes had deceived the credulous 
multitude.^ We have perpetual and mournful experi- 
ence of the latter : the former is yet under dispute. 
History affords us innumerable examples of the possi- 
bihty of the one : Philosophy has in all ages protested 
against the probability of the other. 

Every superstition can produce its dupes, its miracles, 
and its mysteries; each is prepared to justify its peculiar 
tenets by an equal assemblage of portents, prophecies 
and martyrdoms. 

Prophecies, however circumstantial, are liable to the 
same objection as direct miracles : it is more agreeable 
to experience that the historical evidence of the pre- 
diction really having preceded the event pretended to 
be foretold should be false, or that a lucky conjuncture 
of events should have justified the conjecture of the 
prophet, than that God should communicate to a man 
the discernment of future events.^ I defy you to pro- 
duce more than one instance of prophecy in the Bible, 
wherein the inspired writer speaks so as to be under- 

^ See Paley's Evidericcs, Vol. i. chap. 1. 

* See tlie Controversy of Bishop Watson and Thomas Paine. — 
Paine's Criticism on the xixth chapter of Isaiah. 



50 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

stood, wherein his prediction has not been so unintelh- 
gible and obscure as to have been itself the subject of 
controversy among Christians. 

That one prediction which I except is certainly most 
explicit and circumstantial. It is the only one of this 
nature which the Bible contains. Jesus himself liere 
predicts his own arrival in the clouds to consummate a 
period of supernatural desolation, before the generation 
which he addressed should pass away.^ Eighteen 
hundred years have past, and no such event is pretended 
to have happened. This single plain prophecy, thus 
conspicuously false, may serve as a criterion of those 
which are more vague and indirect, and which apply in 
an hundred senses to an hundred things. 

Either the pretended predictions in the Bible were 
meant to be understood, or they were not. If they 
were, why is there any dispute concerning them : if 
they were not, wherefore were they written at all? 
But the God of Christianity spoke to mankind in 
parables, that seeing they might not see, and hearing 
they might not understand. 

The Gospels contain internal evidence that they were 

not written by eye-witnesses of the event which they 

pretend to record. The Gospel of St. Matthew was 

1 Immediately after the tribulation of these days shall the sun 
be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars 
shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the lieavens shall be 
shaken : and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in 
heaven : and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and 
the}^ shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven 
with power and great glory. And he shall send his angel with 
a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his 
elect from the four winds from one end of heaven to the othei. 
Verily I say unto you, this generation shall not pass, until all these 
things be fulfilled.— Msitt. xxiv. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 51 

plainly not written until some time after the taking of 
Jerusalem, that is, at least forty years after the execu- 
tion of Jesus Christ : for he makes Jesus say that upon 
you may come all the rifrlitcoiis blood shed upon the 
earthy from the blood of rit^htcous Abel unto the blood 
of Zacharias son of Barachias xchorii ye slew between the 
altar and the temple.^ Now Zacharias, son of Bara- 
chias, was assassinated between the altar and the temple 
by a faction of zealots, during the siege of Jerusalem.^ 
You assert that the design of the instances of super- 
natural interposition which the Gospel records was to 
convince mankind that Jesus Christ was truly the 
expected Redeemer. But it is as impossible that any 
human sophistry should frustrate the manifestation of 
Omnipotence, as that Omniscience should fail to select 
the most efficient means of accomplishing its design. 
Eighteen centuries have passed and the tenth part of 
the human race have a blind and mechanical belief in 
that Redeemer, witliout a complete reliance on the 
merits of whom, their lot is fixed in everlasting misery : 
surely if the Christian system be thus dreadfully impor- 
tant its Omnipotent author would have rendered it 
incapable of those abuses from which it has never been 
exempt, and to which it is subject in common with all 
human institutions, he would not have left it a matter 
of ceaseless cavil or complete indifference to the 
immense majority of mankind. Surely some more con- 
spicuous evidences of its authenticity would have been 
afforded than driving out devils, drowning pigs, curing 
blind men, animating a dead body, and turning water 
into wine. Some theatre worthier of tlie transcendent 
* See Matt, xxiii. 35. ' Josephus. 



52 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

event, than Judea, would have been chosen, some his- 
torians more adapted by their accompUshments and 
their genius to record the incarnation of the immutable 
God. The humane society restores drowned persons; 
every empiric can cure every disease; drowning pigs 
is no very difficult matter, and driving out devils was 
far from being an original or an unusual occupation in 
Judea. Do not recite these stale absurdities as proofs 
of the Divine origin of Christianity. 

If the Almighty has spoken, would not the Universe 
have been convinced ? If he had judged the knowledge 
of his will to have been more important than any other 
science to mankind, would he not have rendered it more 
evident and more clear? 

Now, O Eusebes, have I enumerated the general 
grounds of my disbelief of the Christian Religion. — I 
could have collated its Sacred Writings with the Brah- 
minical record of the early ages of the world, and 
identified its institutions with the antient worship of 
the Sun. I might have entered into an elaborate com- 
parison of the innumerable discordances which exist 
between the inspired historians of the same event. 
Enough however has been said to vindicate me from 
the charge of groundless and infatuated scepticism. I 
trust therefore to your candour for the consideration, 
and to your logic for the refutation, of my arguments. 

Eusebes 

I WILL not dissemble, O Theosophus, the difficulty of 
solving your general objections to Christianity, on the 
grounds of human reason. I did not assist at the 
councils of the Almighty when he determined to extend 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 53 

his mercy to mankind, nor can I venture to affirm that 
it exceeded the limits of his power to have afforded a 
more conspicuous or universal manifestation of his will. 

But this is a difficulty which attends Christianity in 
common with the belief in the being and attributes of 
God. This whole scheme of things might have been, 
according to our partial conceptions, infinitely more 
admirable and perfect. Poisons, earthquakes, disease, 
war, famine and venomous serpents ; slavery and per- 
secution are the consequences of certain causes, which 
according to human judgment might well have been 
dispensed with in arranging the economy of the 
globe. 

Is this the reasoning which the Theist will choose to 
employ ? Will he impose limitations on that Deity 
whom he professes to regard with so profound a venera- 
tion? Will he place his God between the horns of a 
logical dilemma which shall restrict the fulness either 
of his powder or his bounty? 

Certainly he will prefer to resign his objections to 
Christianity, than pursue the reasoning upon which 
they are found, to the dreadful conclusions of cold and 
dreary Atheism. 

I confess that Christianity appears not unattended 
with difficulty to the understanding which approaches 
it with a determination to judge its mysteries by reason. 
I will even confess that the discourse, which you have 
just delivered, ought to unsettle any candid mind 
engaged in a similar attempt. The children of this 
world are wiser in their generation than the children 
of light. 

But if I succeed in convincing you that reason con- 

E 



54 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

ducts to conclusions destructive of morality, happiness, 
and the hope of futurity, and inconsistent with the very 
existence of human society, I trust that you will no 
longer confide in a director so dangerous and faithless. 

I require you to declare, O Theosophus, whether you 
would embrace Christianity or Atheism, if no other 
systems of belief shall be found to stand the touchstone 
of inquiry. 

Theosophus 

I DO not hesitate to prefer the Christian system, or 
indeed any system of religion, however rude and gross, 
to Atheism. Here we truly sympathise; nor do I 
blame, however I may feel inclined to pity, the man 
who in his zeal to escape this gloomy faith, should 
plunge into the most abject superstition. 

The Atheist is a monster among men. Inducements, 
which are omnipotent over the conduct of others, are 
impotent for him. His private judgment is his criterion 
of right and wrong. He dreads no judge but his own 
conscience, he fears no hell but the loss of his self- 
esteem. He is not to be restrained by punishments, 
for death is divested of its terror, and whatever enters 
into his heart to conceive, that will he not scruple to 
execute. Iste non timet omiiia provideyitejyi et cogi- 
tantem, et animadvertentemf et omnia ad se pertinere 
putanteniy curiosum et plenum, negotii Deum. 

This dark and terrible doctrine was surely the abor- 
tion of some blind speculator's brain ; some strange and 
hideous perversion of intellect, some portentous distor- 
tion of reason. There can surely be no metaphysician 
sufficiently bigoted to his own system to look upon this 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 55 

harmonious Avorld, and dispute tiie necessity of intelli- 
gence ; to contemplate the design and deny the de- 
signer ; to enjoy the spectacle of this beautiful Universe 
and not feel himself instinctively persuaded to gratitude 
and adoration. W'liat arguments of the slightest plausi- 
bility can be adduced to support a doctrine rejected 
alike by the instinct of the savage and the reason of the 
sage? 

I readily engage, ^vith you, to reject reason as a faith- 
less guide, if 3'ou can demonstrate that it conducts to 
Atheism. So little, however, do I mistrust the dictates 
of reason, concerning a supreme Being, that I promise, 
in the event of your success, to subscribe the wildest 
and most monstrous creed which you can devise. I will 
call credulity, faith ; reason, impiety ; the dictates of 
the understanding shall be the temptations of the Devil, 
and the wildest dreams of the imagination, the infallible 
inspirations of Grace. 

EUSEBES 

Let me request you then to state, concisely, the 
grounds of your belief in the being of a God. In my 
reply I shall endeavour to controvert your reasoning, 
and shall hold myself acquitted by my zeal for the 
Christian religion, of the blasphemies which I must 
utter in the progress of my discourse. 

Theosophus 

I WILL readily state the grounds of my belief in the 
i)eing of a God. You can only have remained ignorant 
of the obvious proofs of this important truth, from a 
superstitious reliance upon the evidence afforded by a 



56 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

revealed religion. The reasoning lies within an ex- 
tremely narrow compass ; quicquid enim nos vel meliores 
vel beatiores facturum est, aut in aperto, out in proximo 
posuit natura. 

From every design we justly infer a designer. If we 
examine the structure of a watch, we shall readily con- 
fess the existence of a watch-maker. No work of man 
could possibly have existed from all eternity. From the 
contemplation of any product of human art, we con- 
clude that there was an artificer who arranged its 
several parts. In like manner, from the marks of 
design and contrivance exhibited in the Universe, we 
are necessitated to infer a designer, a contriver. If the 
parts of the Universe have been designed, contrived, 
and adapted, the existence of a God is manifest. 

But design is sufficiently apparent. The wonderful 
adaptation of substances which act to those which are 
acted upon ; of the eye to light, and of light to the eye ; 
of the ear to sound, and of sound to the ear ; of every 
object of sensation to the sense which it impresses prove 
that neither blind chance, nor undistinguishing neces- 
sity has brought them into being. The adaptation of 
certain animals to certain climates, the relation borne 
to each other by animals and vegetables, and by 
different tribes of animals ; the relation, lastly, between 
man and the circumstances of his external situation are 
so many demonstrations of Deity. 

All is order, design, and harmony, so far as we can 
descry the tendency of things, and every new enlarge- 
ment of our views, every new display of the material 
world, affords a new illustration of the power, the 
wisdom and the benevolence of God. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 57 

The existence of God lias never been the topic of 
popular dispute. There is a tendency to devotion, a 
thirst tor reliance on supernatural aid inherent in the 
human mind. Scarcely any people, however barbarous, 
have been discovered, who do not acknowledfje with 
reverence and awe the supernatural causes of the natural 
effects which they experience. They worship, it is true, 
the vilest and most inanimate substances, but they 
firmly confide in the holiness and power of these sym- 
bols, and thus own their connexion with what they can 
neither see nor perceive. 

If there is motion in the Universe, there is a God.^ 
The power of beginning motion is no less an attribute 
of mind than sensation or thought. Wherever motion 
exists it is evident that mind has operated. The pheno- 
mena of the Universe indicate the agency of powers 
which cannot belong to inert matter. 

Every thing which begins to exist must have a cause : 
every combination, conspiring to an end, implies in- 
telligence. 

EUSEBES 

Design must be proved before a designer can be 
inferred. The matter in controversy is the existence of 
design in the I'niverse, and it is not permitted to assume 
the contested premises and thence infer the matter in 
dispute. Insidiously to employ the words contrivance, 
design, and adaptation before these circumstances are 
made apparent in the Universe, thence justly inferring 
a contriver, is a popular sophism against which it be- 
hoves us to be watchful. 

^ See DugalJ Stewart's Outlines of Moral Philosophy and 
Paley's Natural Th^ologij. 



58 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

To assert that motion is an attribute of mind, that 
matter is inert, that every combination is the result of 
intelligence is also an assumption of the matter in 
dispute. 

Why do we admit design in any machine of human 
contrivance? Simply because innumerable instances of 
machines having been contrived by human art are 
present to our mind, because we are acquainted with 
persons who could construct such machines ; but if, 
having no previous knowledge of any artificial contri- 
vance, we had accidentally found a watch upon the 
ground, we should have been justified in concluding that 
it was a thing of Nature, that it was a combination of 
matter with whose cause we were unacquainted, and that 
any attempt to account for the origin of its existence 
would be equally presumptuous and unsatisfactory. 

The analogy which you attempt to establish between 
the contrivances of human art, and the various exis- 
tences of the Universe, is inadmissible. We attribute 
these effects to human intelligence, because we know 
beforehand that human intelligence is capable of pro- 
ducing them. Take away this knowledge, and the 
grounds of our reasoning will be destroyed. Our entire 
ignorance, therefore, of the Divine Nature leaves this 
analogy defective in its most essential point of 
comparison. 

What consideration remains to be urged in support of 
the creation of the Universe by a supreme Being ? Its 
admirable fitness for the production of certain effects, 
that wonderful consent of all its parts, that universal 
harmony by whose changeless laws innumerable systems 
of worlds perform their stated revolutions, and the blood 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 59 

is driven tlirou«jh the veins of the minutest animalcule 
that sports in the corruption of an insect's lymph : on 
this account did the Universe require an intelligent 
Creator, because it exists producing invariable effects, 
and inasmuch as it is admirably organised for the pro- 
duction of these effects, so the more did it require a 
creative intelligence. 

Thus have we arrived at the substance of your asser- 
tion, "That whatever exists, producing certain effects, 
stands in need of a Creator, and the more conspicuous is 
its fitness for the production of these effects, the more 
certain will be our conclusion that it would not have 
existed from eternity, but must have derived its origin 
from an intelligent creator." 

In what respect then do these arguments apply to the 
Universe, and not apply to God? From the fitness of 
the Universe to its end you infer the necessity of an 
intelligent Creator. But if the fitness of the Universe, 
to produce certain effects, be thus conspicuous and 
evident, how much more exquisite fitness to his end 
must exist in the Author of this Universe? If we find 
great difficulty from its admirable arrangement in con- 
ceiving that tlie I niverse has existed from all eternity, 
and to resolve this difficulty suppose a Creator, how 
much more clearly must we perceive the necessity of 
this very Creator's creation whose perfections compre- 
hend an arrangement far more accurate and just. 

The belief of an infinity of creative and created Gods, 
each more eminently requiring an intelligent author of 
his being than the foregoing, is a direct consequence of 
the premises which you have stated. The assumption 
that the Universe is a design, leads to a conclusion that 



60 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

there are [an] infinity of creative and created Gods, 
which is absurd. It is impossible indeed to prescribe 
limits to learned error, when Philosophy relinquishes 
experience and feeUng for speculation. 

Until it is clearly proved that the Universe was 
created, we may reasonably suppose that it has endured 
from all eternity. In a case where two propositions are 
diametrically opposite, the mind believes that which is 
less incomprehensible : it is easier to suppose that the 
Universe has existed from all eternity, than to conceive 
an eternal being capable of creating it. If the mind 
sinks beneath the weight of one, is it an alleviation to 
increase the intolerability of the burthen? 

A man knows, not only that he now is, but that there 
was a time when he did not exist ; consequently there 
must have been a cause. But we can only infer, from 
effects, causes exactly adequate to those effects. There 
certainly is a generative power which is effected by par- 
ticular instruments ; we cannot prove that it is inherent 
in these instruments, nor is the contrary hypothesis 
capable of demonstration. We admit that the genera- 
tive power is incomprehensible, but to suppose that 
the same effects are produced by an eternal Omnipotent 
and Omniscient Being, leaves the cause in the same 
obscurity, but renders it more incomprehensible. 

We can only infer from effects causes exactly adequate 
to those effects. An infinite number of effects demand 
an infinite number of causes, nor is the philosopher 
justified in supposing a greater connexion or unity in the 
latter, than is perceptible in the former. The same 
energy cannot be at once the cause of the serpent and 
the sheep; of the blight by which the harvest is 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 61 

destroyed, and the sunshine by which it is matured ; of 
the ferocious propensities by which man becomes a 
victim to himself, and of tlie accurate jud<^ment by 
whicli his institutions are improved. The spirit of our 
accurate and exact philosophy is outraged by conclusions 
which contradict each other so f^laringly. 

The greatest, equally with the smallest motions of the 
Universe, are subjected to tlie rigid necessity of inevit- 
able laws. These laws are the unknown causes of the 
known effects perceivable in the Universe. Their 
effects are the boundaries of our knowledge, their names 
the expressions of our ignorance. To suppose some 
existence beyond, or above them, is to invent a second 
and superfluous hypothesis to account for what has 
already been accounted for by the laws of motion and 
the properties of matter. I admit that the nature of 
these laws is incomprehensible, but the hypothesis of a 
Deity adds a gratuitous difficulty, which so far from 
alleviating those which it is adduced to explain, requires 
new hypothesis for the elucidation of its own inherent 
contradictions. 

The laws of attraction and repulsion, desire and aver- 
sion, suffice to account for every phenomenon of the 
moral and physical world. A precise knowledge of the 
properties of any object, is alone requisite to determine 
its manner of action. Let the mathematician be ac- 
quainted with the weight and volume of a cannon ball, 
together with the degree of velocitj' and inclination 
with which it is impelled, and he will accurately de- 
lineate the course it must describe, and determine the 
force with which it will strike an object at a given 
distance. Let the influencing motive, present to the 



62 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

mind of any person be given, and the knowledge of his 
consequent conduct will result. Let the bulk and 
velocity of a comet be discovered, and the astronomer, 
by the accurate estimation of the equal and contrary 
actions of the centripetal and centrifugal forces, will 
justly predict the period of its return. 

The anomalous motions of the heavenly bodies, their 
unequal velocities and frequent aberrations, are corrected 
by that gravitation by which they are caused. The illus- 
trious Laplace has shown that the approach of the Moon 
to the Earth, and the Earth to the Sun, is only a seculai- 
equation of a very long period, which has its maximum 
and minimum. The sj^stem of the Universe then is 
upheld solely by physical powers. The necessity of 
matter is the ruler of the world. It is vain philosophy 
which supposes more causes than are exactly adequate 
to explain the phenomena of things. Hypotheses non 
fingo: quicquid enim ex phsenomenis non deducituTf 
hypothesis vocanda est; et hypotheses vel metaphysicxy 
vel physicscj vel qualitatum occultaruin, seu mechanicae, 
in philosophid locum non habent. 

You assert that the construction of the animal 
machine, the fitness of certain animals to certain situa- 
tions, the connexion between the organs of perception 
and that which is perceived ; the relation between every- 
thing which exists, and that which tends to preserve it 
in its existence, imply design. It is manifest that if 
the eye could not see, nor the stomach digest, the 
human frame could not preserve its present mode of 
existence. It is equally certain, however, that the 
elements of its composition, if they did not exist in 
one form, must exist in another ; and that the combina- 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 63 

tions wliich they would form, must so long as they 
endured, derive support for their peculiar mode of 
being from their fitness to the circumstances of their 
situation. 

It by no means follows, that because a being exists, 
performing certain functions, he was fitted by another 
being to the performance of these functions. So rash a 
conclusion would conduct, as I have before shown, to an 
absurdity ; and it becomes infinitely more unwarrant- 
able from the consideration that the known laws of 
matter and motion, suffice to unravel, even in the present 
imperfect state of moral and physical science, the 
majority of those difficulties which the hypothesis of a 
Deity was invented to explain. 

Doubtless no disposition of inert matter, or matter 
deprived of qualities, could ever have composed an 
animal, a tree, or even a stone. But matter deprived 
of qualities, is an abstraction, concerning which it is 
impossible to form an idea. Matter, such as we behold 
it, is not inert. It is infinitely active and subtile. 
Light, electricity, and magnetism are fluids not sur- 
passed by thought itself in tenuity and activity : like 
thought they are sometimes the cause and sometimes the 
effect of motion ; and, distinct as they are from every 
other class of substances with which we are acquainted, 
seem to possess equal claims with thought to the un- 
meaning distinction of immateriality. 

The laws of motion and the properties of matter 
suffice to account for every phenomenon, or combination 
of phenomena exhibited in the Universe. That certain 
animals exist in certain climates, results from the con- 
sentaneity of their frames to the circumstances of their 



64 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

situation : let these circumstances be altered to a suffi- 
cient degree, and the elements of their composition 
must exist in some new combination no less resulting 
than the former from those inevitable laws by which the 
Universe is governed. 

It is the necessary consequence of the organisation of 
man, that his stomach should digest his food : it in- 
evitably results also from his gluttonous and unnatural 
appetite for the flesh of animals that his frame be 
diseased and his vigour impaired ; but in neither of 
these cases is adaptation of means to end to be per- 
ceived. Unnatural diet, and the habits consequent upon 
its use are the means, and every complication of frightful 
disease is the end, but to assert that these means 
were adapted to this end by the Creator of the world, 
or that human caprice can avail to traverse the precau- 
tions of Omnipotence, is absurd. These are the con- 
sequences of the properties of organised matter ; and it 
is a strange perversion of the understanding to argue 
that a certain sheep was created to be butchered and 
devoured by a certain individual of the human species, 
when the conformation of the latter, as is manifest to 
the most superficial student of comparative anatomy, 
classes him with those animals Mho feed on fruits and 
vegetables.^ 

^ See Cuvier Le9on s d'Anat. Comp. torn. iii. pp. 169, 373, 448, 
465, 480. Rees' Cyclopsedia, Art. Man. 

OvK aideiaOe rovs Tj/xepovs KapTvovs al/j-arL kul <pov<f ^xiyvvovris ; 
aWa. Zpaiiovras ayplovs KoAerre kol irapSdXeis Koi Kfovras, avroi Se 
IJnai<pou€7T€ €15 u}/j.6TriTa KaTa\nr6uT€s e/cfiVois ouSeV. 'EksIuois fiey 
yap 6 (p6vos Tpo(pT], v/jllv Se u\pou iariv. 

"Otl yap OVK (cttlu avQpdoirui Kara (pvcriu rh capKocpayfilv, irpwroy 
fxfu anh twv (TWjxaTwv Zr\\ovTai rr^s KaTa(rK€vr)s. OuSevi yap iciK€ 
rh aydpwTTOv (Twfia tSjv 4it\ crapicocpayia. ycy oy6Tuy, oi) ypvirSri/js 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 65 

The means by whicli the existence of an animal is 
sustained, requires a desifrner in no frrcater degree than 
the existence itself of the animal. If it exists, there 
must be means to support its existence. In a world 
where onute mutatur jiihil intcrit, no organised being 
can exist witliout a continual separation of that sub- 
stance which is incessantly exhausted, nor can this 
separation take j^lace otherwise than b}^ the invariable 
laws which result from the relations of matter. We 
are incapacitated onl}- by our ignorance from referring 
every phenomenon, however unusual, minute or com- 
plex, to the laws of motion and the properties of matter ; 
and it is an egregious offence against the first principles 
of reason to suppose an immaterial creator of the world, 
in quo oninia moventur sed sine jnutud passione : which 
is equally a superfluous hypothesis in the meciianicai 
philosophy of Newton, and a useless excrescence on the 
inductive logic of Bacon. 

What then is this harmony, this order which you 
maintain to have required for its establishment, what it 
needs not for its maintenance, the agency of a super- 
natural intelligence? Inasmuch as the order visible in 



Xfi^ovs, ovK o^uTTjs uvuxos, OX) TpaxvTT}^ oB6yT(i}U trp6a'€<TTiv, oh 
Koi\ias fvToy'ia koI Trv^VjiaTOS 6epiJ.6TTis, rp(\pai Kal KarepyaaarrQai 
Zwclt)] tJ ;3apu koX KpewZ^s. 'AAA' avr66iv r\ (pvais rrj \ei6rTjTi 
T'Jov oh6vTO}V, K'A rfj (rfMiKp6rT]Ti Tov ar6ixaros, Koi rrj ixa\aK6TT]ri 
TT\s y\c!j<T(Tr)S, Koi rrj irphs irtxl/iv afx&XvTrjri tov irviVfiaros, i^6/j.viTat 
tV (TapKOipayiav. Ei St K^yeis, Tr€(puKfuai (reavrhv i-nl roiavTj]v 
iZ'jihr]v, '6 0ov\ei (payflv, irpwros avrhs air6KTeivoy dAA' avrbs, 5ia 
aeauTov, fi^ XP'H'^'^H-^^'^^ KoiriSi, jUTjSe Tvjj.TT6.vcf Tiv\ ^UTj^e ireAeVft" 
a\Aa, ws KvKoi Kal &pKToi, koI \(6vTes uvtSi ws icrdiovcri (pnyeuovcriv, 
&,uf\e S-qy/JLUTi fiovy, 1j crwfiaTi avv, fj 6.pva fj Kaywoy Siap^rj^oy, /col 
(pdye TToo sire ft cDi/ €Tj ^uyTOS ws ^Kflva. 

UKovT. iTfpl l,apKO<pay. Aoy. 0. 



66 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

the Universe requires one cause, so does the disorder 
whose operation is not less clearly apparent, demand 
another. Order and disorder are no more than modifica- 
tions of our own perceptions of the relations which 
subsist between ourselves and external objects, and if 
we are justified in inferring the operation of a benevolent 
power from the advantages attendant on the former, the 
evils of the latter bear equal testimony to the activity 
of a malignant principle, no less pertinacious in inducing 
evil out of good, than the other is unremitting in 
procuring good from evil. 

If we permit our imagination to traverse the obscure 
regions of possibility, we may doubtless imagine, accord- 
ing to the complexion of our minds, that disorder may 
have a relative tendency to unmingled good, or order 
be relatively replete with exquisite and subtile evil. To 
neither of these conclusions, which are equally presump- 
tuous and unfounded, will it become the philosopher to 
assent. Order and disorder are expressions denoting 
our perceptions of what is injurious or beneficial to 
ourselves, or to the beings in whose welfare we are 
compelled to sympathise by the similarity of their 
conformation to our own.^ 

A beautiful antelope panting under the fangs of a 
tiger, a defenceless ox, groaning beneath the butcher's 
axe, is a spectacle which instantly awakens compassion 
in a virtuous and unvitiated breast. Many there are, 
however, sufficiently hardened to the rebukes of justice 
and the precepts of humanity, as to regard the deliberate 
butchery of thousands of their species, as a theme of 
exultation and a source of honour, and to consider any 
1 See Godwin's Political Justice, Vol. i. p. 449. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 67 

failure in these remorseless enterprises as a defect in 
the system of things. The criteria of order and dis- 
order are as various as those beings from whose ojjinions 
and feelings they result. 

Populous cities are destroyed by earthquakes, and 
desolated by pestilence. Ambition is everywhere devot- 
ing its millions to incalculable calamity. Superstition, 
in a thousand shapes, is employed in brutalising and 
degrading the human species, and fitting it to endure 
without a murmur the oppression of its innumerable 
tyrants. All this is abstractedly neither good nor 
evil, because good and evil are words employed to 
designate that peculiar state of our own perceptions, 
resulting from the encounter of any object calculated 
to produce pleasure or pain. Exclude the idea of 
relation, and the words good and evil are deprived of 
import. 

Earthquakes are injurious to the cities which they 
destroy, beneficial to those whose commerce was injured 
by their prosperity, and indifferent to others which are 
too remote to be affected by their influence. Famine is 
good to the corn-merchant, evil to the poor, and in- 
different to those whose fortunes can at all times com- 
mand a superfluity. Ambition is evil to the restless 
bosom it inhabits, to the innumerable victims who are 
dragged by its ruthless thirst for infamy, to expire in 
every variety of anguish, to the inhabitants of the 
country it depopulates, and to the human race whose 
improvement it retards ; it is indifferent with regard to 
the system of the Universe, and is good only to the 
vultures and the jackals that track the conqueror's 
career, and to the worms who feast in security on the 



68 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

desolation of his progress. It is manifest tliat we 
cannot reason with respect to the universal system 
from that which only exists in relation to our own 
perceptions. 

You allege some considerations in favour of a Deity 
from the universality of a belief in his existence. 

The superstitions of the savage, and the religion of 
civilised Europe appear to you to conspire to prove a 
first cause. I maintain that it is from the evidence of 
revelation alone that this belief derives the slightest 
countenance. 

That credulity should be gross in proportion to the 
ignorance of the mind which it enslaves, is in strict 
consistency with the principles of human nature. The 
idiot, the child, and the savage, agree in attributing 
their ovra passions and propensities ^ to the inanimate 
substances by which they are either benefited or injured. 
The former become Gods and the latter Demons ; hence 
prayers and sacrifices, by the means of which the rude 
Theologian imagines that he may confirm the benevo- 
lence of the one, or mitigate the malignity of the other. 
He has averted the wrath of a powerful enemy by 
supplications and submission ; he has secured the assist- 
ance of his neighbour by offerings ; he has felt his own 
anger subside before the entreaties of a vanquished foe, 
and has cherished gratitude for the kindness of another. 
Therefore does he believe that the elements will listen 
to his vows. He is capable of love and hatred towards 
his fellow beings, and is variously impelled by those 
principles to benefit or injure them. The source of his 
error is sufficiently obvious. When the winds, the 
^ See Southey's Histoiy of Brazil, p. 255. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 60 

waves and the atmosphere, act in siicii a niamier as to 
thwart or forward his designs, he attributes to them the 
same ])roi)ensities of whose existence within liimself he 
is conscious when lie is instigated by benefits to kind- 
ness, or by injuries to revenge. The bigot of tlie woods 
can form no conception of beings possessed of proi)erties 
differing from his own : it requires, indeed, a mind 
considerably tinctured with science, and enlarged by 
cultivation to contemplate itself, not as the centre and 
model of the I inverse, but as one of the infinitely 
various multitude of beings of which it is actually 
composed. 

There is no attribute of God which is not either 
borrowed from the passions and powers of the human 
mind, or which is not a negation. Omniscience, Omni- 
potence, Omnipresence, Infinity, Immutability, Incom- 
prehensibility, and Immateriality, are all words which 
designate properties and powers peculiar to organised 
beings, with the addition of negations, by which the 
idea of limitation is excluded.^ 

That the frequency of a belief in God (for it is not 
universal) should be any argument in its favour, none 
to whom the innumerable mistakes of men are familiar, 
will assert. It is among men of genius and science that 
Atheism alone is found, but among these alone is 
cherished an hostility to those errors, with which the 
illiterate and vulgar are infected. 

How small is the proportion of those who really be- 
lieve in God, to the thousands who are prevented by 
their occupations from ever bestowing a serious thought 

^ See Lc Si/stemc dc la Nature: this book is one of tlio most 
eloquent vindications of Atheism. 
F 



70 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

upon the subject, and the millions who worship butter- 
flies, bones, feathers, monkeys, calabashes and serpents. 
The word God, like other abstractions, signifies the 
agreement of certain propositions, rather than the 
presence of any idea. If we found our belief in the 
existence of God on the universal consent of mankind, 
we are duped by the most palpable of sophisms. The 
word God cannot mean at the same time an ape, a snake, 
a bone, a calabash, a Trinity, and a Unity. Nor can 
that belief be accounted universal against which men of 
powerful intellect and spotless virtue have in every age 
protested. Non pudet igitur physicum, id est specula- 
toreni venatoremque naturse, ex anhnis consuetudiiic 
imhutis petere testimonium veritatis? 

Hume has shown, to the satisfaction of all philoso- 
phers, that the only idea which we can form of causation 
is derivable from the constant conjunction of objects, 
and the consequent inference of one from the other. 
We denominate that phenomenon the cause of another 
which we observe with the fewest exceptions to precede 
its occurrence. Hence it would be inadmissible to de- 
duce the being of a God from the existence of the 
Universe ; even if this mode of reasoning did not conduct 
to the monstrous conclusion of an infinity of creative 
and created Gods, each more eminentl}'^ requiring a 
Creator than its predecessor. 

If Power ^ be an attribute of existing substance, 
substance could not have derived its origin from power. 
One thing cannot be at the same time the cause and the 
eflFect of another. — The word power expresses the 

^ For a profound disquisition on this subject, see Sir William 
Drummond's Academical Q2cestio7is, chap. i. p. 1. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 71 

capability of any tiling to be or act. 'I'he human 
mind never hesitates to annex the idea of power to any 
object of its experience. To deny that power is the 
attribute of beinfj, is to deny that being can be. If 
power be an attribute of substance, the hypothesis of a 
God is a superfluous and unwarrantable assumption. 

Intelligence is that attribute of the Deity, which >on 
hold to be most apparent in the Universe. Intelligence 
is only known to us as a mode of animal being. We 
cannot conceive intelligence distinct from sensation a.id 
perception, which are attributes to organised bodies. 
To assert that God is intelligent, is to assert that he has 
ideas ; and Locke has proved that ideas result from 
sensation. Sensation can exist only in an organised 
bod}', an organised body is necessarily limited both in 
extent and operation. The God of the rational Theo- 
Sophies is a vast and wise animal. 

You have laid it down as a maxim that the power of 
beginning motion is an attribute of mind as much as 
thought and sensation. 

Mind cannot create, it can only perceive. Mind is the 
recipient of impressions made on the organs of sense, 
and without the action of external objects we should not 
only be deprived of all knowledge of the existence of 
mind, but totally incapable of the knowledge of any 
thing. It is evident, therefore, that mind deserves to be 
considered as the effect, rather than the cause of motion. 
The ideas which suggest themselves too are prompted 
by the circumstances of our situation, these are the 
elements of thought, and from the various combinations 
of these our feelings, opinions, and volitions inevitably 
result. 



72 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

That which is infinite necessarily includes that which 
is finite. The distinction therefore between the 
Universe, and that by which the Universe is upheld, is 
manifestly erroneous. To devise the word God, that 
you may express a certain portion of the universal 
system, can answer no good purpose in philosophy : In 
the language of reason, the words God and Universe are 
synonj'^mous. Omnia enim per Dei potentiam facta 
sunt, imoy quia naturce potentia nulla est nisi ipsa Dei 
potentia, artem est nos eatenus Dei potentiam non in- 
telligere quatenus causas naturales ignoramus: adeoque 
stulte ad eandam Dei potentiam recurritur, quando rei 
alicujus, causam naturalem, hoc est, ipsam Dei poten- 
tiam ignoramus.^ 

Thus from the principles of that reason to which you 
so rashly appealed as the ultimate arbiter of our dis- 
pute, have I shown that the popular arguments in favour 
of the being of a God are totally destitute of colour. I 
have shown the absurdity of attributing intelligence to 
the cause of those effects which we perceive in the 
Universe, and the fallacy which lurks in the argument 
from design. I have showTi that order is no more than 
a peculiar manner of contemplating the operation of 
necessary agents, that mind is the effect, not the 
cause of motion, that power is the attribute, not the 
origin of Being. I have proved that we can have no 
evidence of the existence of a God from the principles 
of reason. 

You will have observed, from the zeal with which I 
have urged arguments so revolting to my genuine senti- 
ments, and conducted to a conclusion in direct contra- 
' Spinosa. Tract. Theologico. -Pol. chap. i. p. 14. 



A REFUTATION OF DEISM 73 

diction lo that faith which every pood man must 
eternally preserve, how Httle I am inclined to sympathise 
witli those of my rehgion wiio have pretended to prove 
the existence of God by the unassisted light of reason. 
I confess that the necessity of a revelation has been 
compromised by treacherous friends to Christianity, who 
have maintained that tlie sublime m.vsteries of the being 
of a God and the immortality of the soul are discover- 
able from other sources than itself. 

I have proved that on tlie principles of that philo- 
sophy to which Epicurus, Lord Bacon, Newton, Locke, 
and Hume were addicted, the existence of God is a 
chimera. 

The Christian religion then, alone, affords indisput- 
able assurance that the world was created b}^ the power, 
and is preserved by the Providence of an Almighty 
God, who, in justice has appointed a future life for the 
punishment of the vicious and the remuneration of the 
virtuous. 

Now, O Theosophus, I call upon you to decide be- 
tween Atheism and Christianity^; to declare whether 
you will pursue your principles to the destruction of the 
bonds of civilised society, or wear the easy yoke of that 
religion which proclaims ''peace upon earth, goodwill 
to all men." 



Theosophus 

I AM not prepared at present, I confess, to reply 
clearly to your unexpected arguments. I assure j'ou 
that no considerations, however specious, should seduce 
me to deny the existence of my Creator. 



74 A REFUTATION OF DEISM 

I am willing to promise that if, after mature delibera- 
tion, the arguments which you have advanced in favour 
of Atheism should appear incontrovertible, I will endea- 
vour to adopt so much of the Christian scheme as is 
consistent with my persuasion of tlie goodness, unity, 
and majesty of God. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

According to one mode of regarding those two 
classes of mental action, which are called reason and 
imagination, the former may be considered as mind 
contemplating the relations borne by one thougiit to 
another, however produced; and the latter, ns mind 
acting upon those thoughts so as to colour them with its 
own light, and composing from them, as from elements, 
other thoughts, each containing within itself the i)iin- 
ciple of its own integrity. The one is the to ttouii/, or 
the principle of synthesis, and has for its object those 
forms which are common to universal nature and exist- 
ence itself ; the other is the to Xoyi^etr, or principle of 
analysis, and its action regards the relations of things 
simply as relations; considering thoughts, not in their 
integral unity, but as the algebraical representations 
which conduct to certain general results. Reason is the 
enumeration of quantities already known ; imagination 
is the perception of the value of those quantities, both 
separately and as a whole. Reason respects the differ- 
ences, and imagination the similitudes of things. 
Reason is to the imagination as the instrument to the 
agent, as the body to the spirit, as the shadow to the 
substance. 

Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be ** the 
75 



76 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

expression of the imagination :" and poetry is connate 
with the origin of man. Man is an instrument over 
which a series of external and internal impressions are 
driven, like the alternations of an ever-changing wind 
over an JEolian lyre, which move it by their motion to 
ever-changing melody. But there is a principle within 
the human being, and perhaps within all sentient beings, 
which acts otherwise than in a lyre, and produces not 
melody alone, but harmony, by an internal adjustment 
of the sounds and motions thus excited to the impres- 
sions which excite them. It is as if the lyre could 
accommodate its chords to the motions of that which 
strikes them, in a determined proportion of sound ; 
even as the musician can accommodate his voice to the 
sound of the lyre. A child at play by itself will express 
its delight by its voice and motions ; and every inflexion 
of tone and gesture will bear exact relation to a 
corresponding antitype in the pleasurable impressions 
which awakened it ; it will be the reflected image of 
that impression ; and as the lyre trembles and sounds 
after the ^\ind has died away, so the child seeks, by 
prolonging in its voice and motions the duration of the 
effect, to prolong also a consciousness of the cause. In 
relation to the objects which delight a child, these 
expressions are what poetry is to higher objects. The 
savage (for the savage is to ages what the child is 
to years) expresses the emotions produced in him by 
surrounding objects in a similar manner ; and language 
and gesture, together with plastic or pictorial imitation, 
become the image of the combined effect of those 
objects and his apprehension of them. Man in society, 
with all his passions and his pleasures, next becomes 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 77 

the object of the passions and pleasures of man ; an 
addilii)nal class of emotions produces an augmented 
treasure of expression ; and language, gesture, and the 
imitative arts become at once the representation and 
the medium, the pencil and the picture, the chisel and 
the statue, the chord and the harmony. The social 
sympathies, or those laws from which as from its 
elements society results, begin to develop themselves 
from the moment that two human beings coexist ; the 
future is contained within the present as the plant 
within the seed ; and equality, diversity, unity, con- 
trast, mutual dependence, become the principles alone 
capable of affording the motives according to which the 
will of a social being is determined to action, inasmuch 
as he is social ; and constitute pleasure in sensation, 
virtue in sentiment, beauty in art, truth in reasoning, 
and love in the intercourse of kind. Hence men, even 
in the infancy of society, observe a certain order in 
their words and actions, distinct from that of the objects 
and the impressions represented b}^ them, all expression 
being subject to the laws of that from which it pro- 
ceeds. But let us dismiss those more general considera- 
tions which might involve an inquiry into the principles 
of society itself, and restrict our view to the manner in 
which the imagination is expressed upon its forms. 

In the youth of the world, men dance and sing and 
imitate natural objects, observing in these actions, as in 
all others, a certain rhytlmi or order. And, although 
all men observe a similar, they observe not the same 
order, in the motions of the dance, in the melody of the 
song, in the coinbinalions of language, in the series 
of their imitations of natural objects. For there is a 



78 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

certain order or rhythm belonging to each of these 
classes of mimetic representation, from which the hearer 
and the spectator receive an intenser and purer pleasure 
than from any other : the sense of an approximation 
to this order has been called taste by modern writers. 
Every man in the infancy of art, observes an order 
which approximates more or less closely to that from 
which this highest delight results : but the diversity is 
not sufficiently marked, as that its gradations should be 
sensible, except in those instances where the predomi- 
nance of this faculty of approximation to the beautiful 
(for so we may be permitted to name the relation 
between this highest pleasure and its cause) is very 
great. Ihose in whom it exists to excess are poets, in 
the most universal sense of the word ; and the pleasure 
resulting from the manner in which they express the 
influence of society or nature upon their own minds, 
communicates itself to others, and gathers a sort of 
reduplication from the community. Their language is 
vitally metaphorical ; that is, it marks the before un- 
apprehended relations of things and perpetuates their 
apprehension, until words, which represent them, be- 
come, through time, signs for portions or classes of 
thought, instead of pictures of integral thoughts ; and 
then, if no new poets should arise to create afresh the 
associations which have been thus disorganised, language 
will be dead to all the nobler purposes of human inter- 
course. These similitudes or relations are finely said by 
Bacon to be "the same footsteps of nature impressed 
upon the various subjects of the world ; " ^ — and he 
considers the faculty which perceives them as the store- 
^ Dc Augment. Scient. cap. 1. lib. iii. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 79 

house of axioms common to all knowledge. In the 
infancy of society every author is necessarily a poet, 
because language itself is poetry ; and to be a poet is to 
apprehend the true and the beautiful, in a word, the 
good which exists in the relation subsisting, first be- 
tween existence and perception, and secondly between 
perception and expression. Every original language 
near to its source is in itself the chaos of a cyclic poem : 
the copiousness of lexicography and the distinctions of 
grammar are the works of a later age, and are merely 
the catalogue and the form of the creations of poetry. 

But poets, or those who imagine and express this 
indestructible order, are not only the authors of lan- 
guage and of music, of the dance, and architecture, and 
statuary, and painting ; they are the institutors of laws 
i:nd the founders of civil society, and the inventors of 
the arts of life, and the teachers, who draw into a 
certain propinquity with the beautiful and the true, 
that partial apprehension of the agencies of the invisible 
world which is called religion. Hence all original 
religions are allegorical or susceptible of allegory, and, 
like Janus, have a double face of false and true. Poets, 
according to the circumstances of the age and nation in 
which they appeared, were called, in the earlier epochs 
of the world, legislators or prophets : a poet essentially 
comprises and unites both these characters. For he not 
only beholds intensely the present as it is, and discovers 
those laws according to which present things ought to be 
ordered, but he beholds the future in the present, and 
his thoughts are the germs of the flower and the fruit of 
latest time. Not that I assert poets to be proi)hets in 
the gross sense of the word, or that they can foretell the 



80 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

form as surely as they foreknow the spirit of events : 
such is the pretence of superstition, which would make 
poetry an attribute of prophecy, rather than prophecy 
an attribute of poetry. A poet participates in the 
eternal, the infinite, and the one ; as far as relates to 
his conceptions, time and place and number are not. 
The grammatical forms which express the moods of 
time, and the difference of persons, and the distinction 
of place, are convertible with respect to the highest 
poetry without injuring it as poetry ; and the choruses of 
^schylus, and the book of Job, and Dante's Paradisoy 
would afford, more than any other writings, examples of 
this fact, if the limits of this essay did not forbid cita- 
tion. The creations of sculpture, painting, and music, 
are illustrations still more decisive. 

Language, colour, form, and religious and civil habits 
of action, are all the instruments and materials of 
poetry ; they may be called poetry by that figure of 
speech which considers the effect as a synonym of the 
cause. But poetry in a more restricted sense expresses 
those arrangements of language, and especially metrical 
language, which are created by that imperial faculty, 
whose throne is curtained within the invisible nature 
of man. And this springs from the nature itself of 
language, which is a more direct representation of the 
actions and passions of our internal being, and is sus- 
ceptible of more various and delicate combinations, than 
colour, form, or motion, and is more plastic and obedient 
to the control of that faculty of which it is the creation. 
For language is arbitrarily produced by the imagina- 
tion, and has relation to thoughts alone ; but all other 
materials, instruments, and conditions of art, have 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 81 

relations among each otlicr, whicli limit and interpose 
between conception and expression. The former is as 
a mirror wliich reflects, the latter as a cloud which 
enfeebles, the li^ht of which both are mediums of com- 
munication. Hence the fame of sculptors, painters, 
and musicians, although the intrinsic powers of the 
great masters of these arts may yield in no degree to 
that of those who have employed language as the hiero- 
glyphic of their thoughts, has never equalled that of 
poets in the restricted sense of the term ; as two per- 
formers of equal skill will produce unequal effects from 
a guitar and a harp. The fame of legislators and 
founders of religion, so long as their institutions last, 
alone seems to exceed that of poets in the restricted 
sense ; but it can scarcely be a question, whether, if we 
deduct the celebrity which their flattery of the gross 
opinions of the vulgar usually conciliates, together with 
that which belonged to them in their higher character 
of poets, any excess will remain. 

We have thus circumscribed the word poetrj^ within 
the limits of that art which is the most familiar and 
the most perfect expression of the faculty itself. It is 
necessary, however, to make the circle still narrower, 
and to determine the distinction between measured 
and unmeasured language ; for the popular division 
into prose and verse is inadmissible in accurate 
philosophy. 

Sounds as well as thouglits have relation both be- 
tween each other and towards that which they repre- 
sent, and a perception of the order of those relations 
has always been found connected with a perception of 
the order of the relations of thought. Hence the 



82 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

language of poets has ever affected a sort of uniform 
and harmonious recurrence of sound, without which it 
M ere not poetry, and which is scarcely less indispensable 
to the communication of its influence, than the words 
themselves, without reference to that peculiar order. 
Hence the vanity of translation ; it were as wise to 
cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover 
the formal principle of its colour and odour, as seek to 
transfuse from one language into another the creations 
of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, 
or it will bear no flower — and this is the burthen of the 
curse of Babel. 

An observation of the regular mode of the recurrence 
of harmony in tlie language of poetical minds, together 
witli its relation to music, produced metre, or a certain 
system of traditional forms of harmony and language. 
Yet it is by no means essential that a poet should 
accommodate his language to this traditional form, so 
that the harmony, which is its spirit, be observed. The 
practice is indeed convenient and popular, and to be 
preferred, especially in such composition as includes 
much action : but every great poet must inevitably 
innovate upon the example of his predecessors in the 
exact structure of his peculiar versification. Tiie dis- 
tinction between poets and prose-writers is a vulgar 
error. The distinction between philosophers and poets 
has been anticipated. Plato was essentially a poet — 
the truth and splendour of his imagery, and the melody 
of his language, are the most intense that it is possible 
to conceive. He rejected the harmony of the epic, 
dramatic, and lyrical forms, because he sought to kindle 
a harmony in thoughts divested of shape and action, 



A DKFRNCH OF POiyfRY 83 

aiul he loibore to invent any regular plan of rliythni 
which Nvouhl include, under determinate forms, the 
varied pauses of liis style. Cicero sought to imitate 
the cadence of liis periods, but witli little success. 
Bacon was a poet.^ His language has a sweet and 
majestic rhythm, which satisfies the sense, no less 
than the almost superhuman wisdom of his philosophy 
satisfies the intellect; it is a strain which distends, and 
then bursts the circumference of the reader's mind, and 
pours itself forth together with it into the universal 
element with which it has perpetual sympathy. All the 
autliors of revolutions in o{)inion are not only necessarily 
poets as they are inventors, nor even as their words 
unveil t!ie permanent analogy of things by images which 
participate in the life of truth ; but as their periods are 
harn-ionious and rhythmical, and contain in themselves 
the elements of verse ; being the echo of the eternal 
music. Nor are those supreme poets, who have em- 
ployed traditional forms of rhythm on account of the 
form and action of their subjects, less capable of per- 
ceiving and teaching the truth of things, than those 
who have omitted that form. Shakespeare, Dante, and 
Milton (to confine ourselves to modern writers) are 
philosophers of the very loftiest power. 

A j)oem is the very image of life expressed in its 
eternal truth. There is this difference between a story 
and a poem, that a story is a catalogue of detached 
facts, which have no other connexion than time, place, 
circumstance, cause, and effect ; the other is the crea- 
tion of actions according to the unchangeable forms of 
human nature, as existing in the mind of the Creator, 
^ See the Filu/n Laby r i ,ithi , and tl\e K-ssay on Doath particularly. 



84 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

which is itself the image of all other minds. The one 
is partial, and applies only to a definite period of time, 
and a certain combination of e\ents which can never 
again recur ; the otlier is universal, and contains within 
itself the germ of a relation to whatever motives or 
actions have place in the possible varieties of human 
nature. Time, which destroys the beauty and the use 
of the story of particular facts, stripped of the poetry 
which should invest them, augments that of poetry, 
and for ever develops new and wonderful applications 
of the eternal truth which it contains. Hence epitomes 
have been called the moths of just history ; they eat 
out the poetry of it. A story of particular facts is as 
a mirror which obscures and distorts that which should 
be beautiful : poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful 
that which is distorted. 

The parts of a composition may be poetical, without 
the composition as a whole being a poem. A single 
sentence may be considered as a whole, though it may 
be found in the midst of a series of unassimilated 
portions ; a single word even may be a spark of inex- 
tinguishable thought. And thus all the great historians, 
Herodotus, Plutarch, Livj'^, were poets ; and although 
the plan of these writers, especially that of Livy, re- 
strained them from developing this faculty in its highest 
degree, they made copious and ample amends for their 
subjection, by filling all the interstices of their subjects 
with living images. 

Having determined what is poetry, and who are poets, 
let us proceed to estimate its effects upon society. 

Poetry is ever accompanied with pleasure : all spirits 
upon which it falls open themselves to receive the 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 85 

wisdom whicli is mingled with its delight. In the 
infancy of the world, neitiier poets themselves nor their 
auditors are fully aware of the excellence of poetry : for 
it acts in a divine and unapprehended manner, beyond 
and above consciousness ; and it is reserved for future 
generations to contemplate and measure the mighty 
cause and effect in all the strength and splendour of 
their union. Even in modern times, no living poet ever 
arrived at the fulness of his fame ; the jury which sits 
in judgment upon a poet, belonging as he does to all 
time, must be composed of his peers : it must be em- 
l)annelled by time from the selectest of the wise of 
many generations. A poet is a nightingale, who sits 
in darkness and sings to cheer its own solitude with 
sweet sounds ; his auditors are as men entranced by 
the melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they 
are moved and softened, yet know not whence or why. 
The poems of Homer and his contemporaries were the 
delight of infant Greece ; they were the elements of 
that social system which is the column upon which all 
succeeding civilisation has reposed. Homer embodied 
the ideal perfection of his age in human character ; nor 
can Me doubt that those who read his verses were 
awakened to an ambition of becoming like to Achilles, 
Hector, and Ulysses : the truth and beauty of friendship, 
patriotism, and persevering devotion to an object, were 
unveiled to their depths in these immortal creations : 
the sentiments of the auditors must have been refined 
and enlarged by a sympathy with such great and lovelv 
impersonations, until from admiring they imitated, and 
from imitation they identified themselves with the 
objects of their admiration. Nor let it be objected, that 



86 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

these characters are remote from moral perfection, and 
that they are by no means to be considered as edifying 
patterns for general imitation. Every epoch, under 
names more or less specious, has deified its peculiar 
errors; Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a 
semi-barbarous age ; and Self-deceit is the veiled image 
of unknown evil, before which luxury and satiety lie 
prostrate. But a poet considers the vices of his con- 
temporaries as the temporary dress in which his 
creations must be arrayed, and which cover without 
concealing the eternal proportions of their beauty. An 
epic or dramatic personage is understood to wear 
them around his soul, as he may the ancient armour or 
modern uniform around his body ; whilst it is easy to 
conceive a dress more graceful than either. The beauty 
of the internal nature cannot be so far concealed by its 
accidental vesture, but that the spirit of its form shall 
communicate itself to the very disguise, and indicate 
the shape it hides from the manner in which it is worn. 
A majestic form and graceful motions Mill express 
themselves through the most barbarous and tasteless 
costume. Few poets of the highest class have chosen 
to exhibit the beauty of their conceptions in its naked 
truth and splendour ; and it is doubtful whether the 
alloy of costume, habit, &c., be not necessary to temper 
this planetary music for mortal ears. 

The whole objection, however, of the immorality of 
poetry rests upon a misconception of the manner in 
which poetry acts to produce the moral improvement 
of man. Ethical science arranges the elements which 
poetry has created, and propounds schemes and pro- 
poses examples of civil and domestic life : nor is it for 



A DEFENCE OF POETKY 87 

\vant of admirable doctrines that men hate, and despise, 
and censure, and deceive, and subjugate one another. 
But poetry acts in another and diviner manner. It 
awakens and enlarges the mind itself by rendering it 
the receptacle of a thousand unapprehended combina- 
tions of thought. Poetry lifts the veil from the hidden 
beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as 
if they were not familiar; it reproduces all that it re- 
presents, and the impersonations clothed in its Elysian 
light stand thenceforward in tlie minds of those who 
have once contemplated them, as memorials of that 
gentle and exalted content which extends itself over all 
thoughts and actions with which it coexists. The great 
secret of morals is love ; or a going out of our own 
nature, and an identification of ourselves with the 
beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not 
our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine 
intensely and comprehensively; he must |;ut himself in 
the place of another and of manj^ others ; the pains and 
pleasures of his species must become his own. The 
great instrument of moral good is the imagination; 
and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon 
the cause. Poetry enlarges the circumference of the 
imagination by replenishing it with tiioughts of ever new 
delight, which have the power of attracting and assimi- 
lating to their own nature all other thoughts, and which 
form new intervals and interstices whose void for ever 
craves fresh food. Poetry strengthens the faculty which 
is the organ of the moral nature of man, in the same 
manner as exercise strengthens a limb. A poet therefore 
would do ill to embody his own conceptions of right and 
wrong, which are usually those of his place and time, in 



88 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

his poetical creations, which participate in neither. By 
this assumption of the inferior office of interpreting 
the effect, in which perhaps after all he might acquit 
himself but imperfectly, he would resign a glory in the 
participation of the cause. There was little danger 
that Homer, or any of the eternal poets, should have 
so far misunderstood themselves as to have abdicated 
this throne of their widest dominion. Those in whom 
the poetical faculty, though great, is less intense, as 
Euripides, Lucan, Tasso, Spenser, have frequently 
affected a moral aim, and the effect of their poetry is 
diminished in exact proportion to the degree in which 
they compel us to advert to this purpose. 

Homer and the cyclic poets were followed at a certain 
interval by the dramatic and Ij^'ical poets of Athens, 
who flourished contemporaneously with all that is most 
perfect in the kindred expressions of the poetical faculty ; 
architecture, painting, music, the dance, sculpture, 
philosophy, and we maj^ add, the forms of civil life. 
For although the scheme of Athenian society was de- 
formed by many imperfections which the poetry existing 
in chivalry and Christianity has erased from the habits 
and institutions of modern Europe ; yet never at any 
other period has so much energy, beauty and virtue, 
been developed ; never was blind strength and stubborn 
form so disciplined and rendered subject to the will of 
man, or that will less repugnant to the dictates of the 
beautiful and the true, as during the century which 
preceded the death of Socrates. Of no other epoch in 
the history of our species have we records and frag- 
ments stamped so visibly with the image of the divinity 
in man. But it is poetry alone, in form, in action, and 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 89 

in lan<juage, wliich lias rendered tliis epoeh memorable 
above all others, and the storehouse of examples to 
everlasting time. For written poetry existed at that 
epoch simultaneously with the other arts, and it is an 
idle inquiry to demand which gave and which received 
the light, which all, as from a common focus, have 
scattered over the darkest periods of succeeding time. 
We know no more of cause and effect than a constant 
conjunction of events : poetry is ever found to coexist 
with w hatever other arts contribute to the happiness and 
perfection of man. I appeal to what has already been 
established to distinguish between the cause and the 
effect. 

It was at the period here adverted to, that the drama 
had its birth; and however a succeeding writer may 
have equalled or surpassed those few great specimens of 
the Athenian drama which have been preserved to us, it 
is indisputable that the art itself never was understood 
or practised according to the true philosophy of it, as at 
Athens. For the Athenians employed language, action, 
music, painting, the dance, and religious institutions, to 
produce a common effect in the representation of the 
highest idealisms of passion and of power ; each division 
in the art was made perfect in its kind by artists of 
the most consummate skill, and was disciplined into 
a beautiful proportion and unity one towards the other. 
On the modern stage few only of the elements capable 
of expressing the image of the poet's conception are em- 
ployed at once. We have tragedy without music and 
dancing; and music and dancing without the highest 
impersonations of which they are the fit accompaniment, 
and both without religion and solemnity. Religious 



90 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

institution has indeed been usually banished from the 
stage. Our system of divesting the actor's face of a 
mask, on which the many expressions appropriated to 
his dramatic character might be moulded into one 
permanent and unchanging expression, is favourable 
only to a partial and inharmonious effect; it is fit for 
nothing but a monologue, where all the attention may 
be directed to some great master of ideal mimicry. 
The modern practice of blending comedy with tragedy, 
though liable to great abuse in point of practice, is 
undoubtedly an extension of the dramatic circle; but 
the comedy should be as in King Lear, universal, ideal, 
and sublime. It is perhaps the intervention of this 
principle which determines the balance in favour of 
King Lear against the (Edipus Tyrannus or the 
Agamemnon, or, if you will, the trilogies with which 
they are connected ; unless the intense power of the 
choral poetry, especially that of the latter, should be 
considered as restoring the equilibrium. King Lear, if 
it can sustain this comparison, may be judged to be the 
most perfect specimen of the dramatic art existing in 
the world ; in spite of the narrow conditions to which 
the poet was subjected by the ignorance of the philo- 
sophy of the drama which has prevailed in modern 
Europe. Calderon, in his religious Autos, has attempted 
to fulfil some of the high conditions of dramatic repre- 
sentations neglected by Shakespeare ; such as the estab- 
lishing a relation between the drama and religion, and 
the accommodating them to music and dancing ; but he 
omits the observation of conditions still more important, 
and more is lost than gained by the substitution of 
the rigidly defined and ever-repeated idealisms of a 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 91 

distorted superstition for the living impersonations ot* 
the truth of human passions. 

But I digress. — 'I'he connexion of scenic exhibitions 
with the improvement or corruption of the manners 
of men, has been universally recognised : in other 
words, the presence or absence of poetry, in its most 
perfect and universal form, has been found to be con- 
nected with good and evil in conduct or habit. The 
corruption which has been imputed to the drama as 
an effect, begins, when the poetry employed in its 
constitution ends : I appeal to the history of manners 
whether the periods of the growth of the one and the 
decline of the other have not corresponded with an 
exactness equal to any example of moral cause and 
effect. 

The drama at Athens, or wheresoever else it may 
have approached to its perfection, ever coexisted with 
the moral and intellectual greatness of the age. The 
tragedies of the Athenian poets are as mirrors in which 
the spectator beholds himself, under a thin disguise 
of circumstance, stript of all but that ideal perfection 
and energy which every one feels to be the internal 
type of all that he loves, admires, and would become. 
The imagination is enlarged by a sympathy with pains 
and passions so mighty, that they distend in their con- 
ception the capacity of that by which they are con- 
ceived, the good affections are strengthened by pity, 
indignation, terror and sorrow ; and an exalted calm is 
prolonged from the satiety of tliis high exercise of them 
into the tumult of familiar life : even crime is disarmed 
of half its horror and all its contagion by being repre- 
sented as the fatal consequence of the unfathomable 



92 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

agencies of nature ; error is thus divested of its wilful- 
ness ; men can no longer cherish it as the creation of 
their choice. In the drama of the highest order there 
is little food for censure or hatred ; it teaches rather 
self-knowledge and self-respect. Neither the eye nor 
the mind can see itself, unless reflected upon that which 
it resembles. The drama, so long as it continues to 
express poetry, is a prismatic and many-sided mirror, 
which collects the brightest rays of human nature and 
divides and reproduces them from the simplicity of these 
elementary forms, and touches them with majesty and 
beauty, and multiplies all that it reflects, and endows 
it with the power of propagating its like wherever it 
may fall. 

But in periods of the decay of social life, the drama 
sympathises with that decay. Tragedy becomes a cold 
imitation of the form of the great masterpieces of anti- 
quity, divested of all harmonious accompaniment of the 
kindred arts; and often the. very form misunderstood, 
or a weak attempt to teach certain doctrines, which the 
writer considers as moral truths ; and which are usually 
no more than specious flatteries of some gross vice or 
weakness, with which the author, in common with his 
auditors, are infected. Hence what has been called 
the classical and domestic drama. Addison's " Cato " is 
a specimen of the one ; and would it were not super- 
fluous to cite examples of the other ! To such purposes 
poetry cannot be made subservient. Poetry is a sword 
of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the 
scabbard that would contain it. And thus we observe 
that all dramatic writings of this nature are unimagina- 
tive in a singular degree ; they affect sentiment and 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 93 

passion, a\ Iiicli, divested of iniafrination, are other names 
for eapriee and appetite. Tlie period in our own history 
of the grossest degradation of the drama is the reign of 
Charles II, when all forms in which poetry had been 
accustomed to be expressed became hymns to the 
triumph of kingly power over liberty and virtue. Mil- 
ton stood alone illuminating an age unworthy of him. 
At such periods the calculating principle pervades all the 
forms of dramatic exhibition, and poetry ceases to be 
expressed upon them. Comedy loves its ideal univer- 
sality : wit succeeds to humour ; we laugh from self-com- 
placency and triumph, instead of pleasure ; malignity, 
sarcasm, and contempt succeed to sympathetic merri- 
ment ; we hardly laugh, but we smile. Obscenity, 
which is ever blasphemy against the divine beauty in 
life, becomes, from the very veil which it assumes, 
more active if less disgusting : it is a monster for which 
the corruption of society for ever brings forth new food, 
which it devours in secret. 

The drama being that form under which a greater 
number of modes of expression of poetry are susceptible 
of being combined than any other, the connexion of 
poetry and social good is more observable in the drama 
than in whatever other form. And it is indisputable 
that the highest perfection of human society has ever 
corresponded with the highest dramatic excellence ; and 
that the corruption or the extinction of the drama in 
a nation where it has once flourished, is a mark of a 
corruption of manners, and an extinction of the 
energies which sustain the soul of social life. But, as 
Macchiavelli says of political institutions, that life may 
be preserved and renewed, if men should arise capable 



94 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

of bringing back the drama to its principles. And this 
is true with respect to poetry in its most extended 
sense : all language, institution and form require not 
only to be produced but to be sustained : the office 
and character of a poet participates in the divine 
nature as regards providence, no less than as regards 
creation. 

Civil war, the spoils of Asia, and the fatal predomi- 
nance first of the Macedonian, and then of the Roman 
arms, were so many symbols of the extinction or sus- 
pension of the creative faculty in Greece. The bucolic 
writers, who found patronage under the lettered tyrants 
of Sicily and Egypt, were the latest representatives 
of its most glorious reign. Their poetry is intensely 
melodious ; like the odour of the tuberose, it overcomes 
and sickens the spirit with excess of sweetness ; whilst 
the poetry of the preceding age was as a meadow-gale 
of June, which mingles the fragrance of all the flowers 
of the field, and adds a quickening and harmonising 
spirit of its own which endows the sense with a power 
of sustaining its extreme delight. The bucolic and 
erotic delicacy in written poetry is correlative with that 
softness in statuary, music, and the kindred arts, and 
even in manners and institutions, which distinguished 
the epoch to which I now refer. Nor is it the poetical 
faculty itself, or any misapplication of it, to which this 
want of harmony is to be imputed. An equal sensibility 
to the influence of the senses and the affections is to be 
found in the writings of Homer and Sophocles : the 
former, especially, has clothed sensual and pathetic 
images with irresistible attractions. The superiority in 
these to succeeding writers consists in the presence of 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 95 

those thoughts which belong to the inner faculties of our 
nature, not in the absence of those which are connected 
with the external : their incomparable perfection con- 
sists in a liarmony of the union of all. It is not what 
the erotic poets have, but what tliey have not, in which 
their imperfection consists. It is not inasmuch as they 
were poets, but inasmuch as they were not poets, that 
they can be considered with any plausibility as con- 
nected with the corruption of their age. Had that 
corruption availed so as to extinguish in them the 
sensibility to pleasure, passion, and natural scenery, 
which is imputed to them as an imperfection, the last 
triumph of evil would have been achieved. For the 
end of social corruption is to destroy all sensibility to 
pleasure ; and, therefore, it is corruption. It begins at 
the imagination and the intellect as at the core, and 
distributes itself thence as a paralysing venom, through 
the affections into the very appetites, until all become 
a torpid mass in which hardly sense survives. At the 
approach of such a period, poetry ever addresses itself 
to those faculties which are the last to be destroyed, 
and its voice is heard, like the footstei^s of Astrrca, 
departing from the world. Poetry ever communicates 
all the pleasure which men are capable of receiving : it 
is ever still the light of life; the source of whatever of 
beautiful or generous or true can have place in an evil 
time. It will r-iadily be confessed that those among 
the luxurious citizens of Syracuse and Alexandria, who 
were delighted with the poems of Theocritus, were less 
cold, cruel, and sensual than the remnant of their tribe. 
But corruption must utterly have destroyed the fabric 
of human society before poetry can ever cease. The 



96 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

sacred links of that chain have never been entirely 
disjoined, which descending through the minds of many 
men is attached to those great minds, whence as from 
a magnet the invisible effluence is sent forth, which at 
once connects, animates, and sustains the life of all. 
It is the faculty which contains within itself the seeds 
at once of its own and of social renovation. And let 
us not circumscribe the effects of the bucolic and erotic 
poetry within the limits of the sensibility of those to 
whom it was addressed. They may have perceived the 
beauty of those immortal compositions, simply as frag- 
ments and isolated portions : those who are more finely 
organised, or born in a happier age, may recognise them 
as episodes to that great poem, which all poets, like the 
co-operating thoughts of one great mind, have built up 
since the beginning of the world. 

The same revolutions within a narrower sphere had 
place in ancient Rome ; but the actions and forms of its 
social life never seem to have been perfectly saturated 
with the poetical element. The Romans appear to have 
considered the Greeks as the selectest treasuries of the 
selectest forms of manners and of nature, and to have 
abstained from creating in measured language, sculp- 
ture, music, or architecture, anything which might bear 
a particular relation to their own condition, whilst it 
should bear a general one to the universal constitution 
of the world. But we judge from partial evidence, and 
we judge perhaps partially. Ennius, Varro, Pacuvius, 
and Accius, all great poets, have been lost. Lucretius 
is in the highest, and Virgil in a very high sense, a 
creator. The chosen delicacy of expressions of the 
latter are as a mist of light wliich conceal from us the 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 97 

intense and exceedin.ir truth of his conceptions of nature. 
Livy is instinct with poetry. Yet Horace, Catullus, 
Ovid, and generally the other great writers of thr 
Virgilian age, saw man and nature in the mirror of 
Greece. The institutions also, and the religion of 
Rome, were less poetical than those of Greece, as the 
shadow is less vivid than the substance. Hence poetry 
in Rome seemed to follow, rather than accompany, the 
perfection of political and domestic society. The true 
poetry of Rome lived in its institutions ; for whatever of 
beautiful, true, and majestic, they contained, could have 
sprung only from the faculty which creates the order in 
which they consist. The life of Camillus, the death 
of Regulus ; the expectation of the senators, in their 
godlike state, of tlie victorious Gauls ; the refusal of the 
republic to make j^eace with Hannibal, after the battle 
of Cannae, were not the consequences of a refined calcu- 
lation of the probable personal advantage to result from 
such a rhythm and order in the shows of life, to those 
who were at once the poets and the actors of these 
immortal dramas. The imagination beholding the 
beauty of this order, created it out of itself according 
to its own idea ; the consequence was empire, and the 
reward everlasting fame. These things are not the less 
poetry, quia carent rate sacro. They are the episodes 
of that cyclic poem written by Time upon the memories 
of men. The Past, like an inspired rhapsodist, fills 
the theatre of everlasting generations with their 
harmony. 

At length the ancient system of religion and manners 
had fulfilled the circle of its evolutions. And the world 
would have fallen into utter anarchy and darkness, but 



98 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

that there were found poets among the authors of the 

Christian and chivalric systems of manners and rehgion, 

who created forms of opinion and action never before 

conceived ; which, copied into the imaginations of men, 

became as generals to the bewildered armies of their 

thoughts. It is foreign to the present purpose to touch 

upon the evil produced by these systems : except that 

we protest, on the ground of the principles already 

established, that no portion of it can be attributed to 

the poetry they contain. 

It is probable that the poetry of Moses, Job, David, 

Solomon, and Isaiah, had produced a great effect upon 

the mind of Jesus and his disciples. The scattered 

fragments preserved to us by the biographers of this 

extraordinary person are all instinct with the most vivid 

poetry. But his doctrines seem to have been quickly 

distorted. At a certain period after the prevalence of 

a system of opinions founded upon those promulgated 

by him, the three forms into which Plato had distributed 

the faculties of mind underwent a sort of apotheosis, 

and became the object of the worship of the civilised 

world. Here it is to be confessed that "Light seems 

to thicken," and 

*'The crow makes wing to the rooky wood, 
Good things of day begin to droop and drowse, 
And night's black agents to their preys do rouse." ^ 

But mark how beautiful an order has sprung from the 
dust and blood of this fierce chaos! how the world, as 
from a resurrection, balancing itself on the golden wings 
of knowledge and of hope, has reassumed its yet un- 
wearied flight into the heaven of time. Listen to the 
^ Macbeth, act iii, scene 2. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 99 

music, unheard by outward ears, which is as a ceaseless 
aiid invisible wind, nourishing its everlasting course 
with strength and swiftness. 

The poetry in the doctrines of Jesus, and the mytho- 
logy and institutions of the Celtic conquerors of the 
Roman empire, outlived the darkness and the convul- 
sions connected with their growth and victory, and 
blended themselves in a new fabric of manners and 
opinion. It is an error to impute the ignorance of the 
dark ages to the Christian doctrines or the predominance 
of the Celtic nations. Whatever of evil their agencies 
may have contained sprang from the extinction of the 
poetical principle, connected with the progress of des- 
potism and superstition. Men, from causes too intricate 
to be here discussed, had become insensible and selfibh : 
their own will had become feeble, and yet they were its 
slaves, and thence the slaves of the will of others : but 
fear, avarice, cruelty, and fraud, characterised a race 
amongst whom no one was to be found capable of 
creating in form, language, or institution. The moral 
anomalies of such a state of society are not justly to be 
charged upon any class of events immediately connected 
with them, and those events are most entitled to our 
a[)probation wiiich could dissolve it most expeditiously. 
It is unfortunate for those who cannot distinguish words 
from thoughts, that many of these anomalies have been 
incorporated into our popular religion. 

It was not until the eleventh century that the effects 
of the poetry of the Christian and chivalric systems 
began to manifest themselves. The principle of equality 
had been discovered and applied by Plato in his Republic, 
as the theoretical rule of the mode in w Inch the materials 



100 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

of pleasure and of power, produced by the common skill 
and labour of human beings, ought to be distributed 
among them. The limitations of this rule were asserted 
by him to be determined only by the sensibility of each, 
or the utility to result to all. Plato, following the 
doctrines of Timaeus and Pythagoras, taught also a 
moral and intellectual system of doctrine, comprehend- 
ing at once the past, the present, and the future con- 
dition of man. Jesus divulged the sacred and eternal 
truths contained in these views to mankind, and 
Christianity, in its abstract purity, became the exoteric 
expression of the esoteric doctrines of the poetry and 
wisdom of antiquity. The incorporation of the Celtic 
nations with the exhausted population of the south, 
impressed upon it the figure of the poetry existing in 
their mythology and institutions. The result was a sum 
of the action and reaction of all the causes included in 
it; for it may be assumed as a maxim that no nation 
or religion can supersede any other without incorporat- 
ing into itself a portion of that which it supersedes. 
The abolition of personal and domestic slavery, and 
the emancipation of women from a great part of the 
degrading restraints of antiquity, were among the 
consequences of these events. 

The abolition of personal slavery is the basis of the 
highest political hope that it can enter into the mind of 
man to conceive. The freedom of women produced the 
poetry of sexual love. I^ove became a religion, the 
idols of whose worship were ever present. It was as if 
the statues of Apollo and the Muses had been endowed 
with life and motion, and had walked forth among their 
worshippers ; so that earth became peopled by the 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 101 

inhabitants of a diviner world. Tlie familiar appear- 
ance and proceedings of life became wonderful and 
lieavenly, and a paradise was created as out of the 
wrecks of Eden. And ;is this creation itself is i)oetry, 
so its creators were poets ; and language was the in- 
strument of their art : *' Galeotto f u il libro, e chi lo 
scrisse.*' The Provencal Trouveurs, or inventors, pre- 
ceded Petrarch, whose verses are as spells, which 
unseal the inmost enclianted fountains of the delight 
which is in the grief of love. It is impossible to feel 
them without becoming a portion of that beauty which 
we contemplate : it v.cre superfluous to explain how the 
gentleness and elevation of mind connected with these 
sacred emotions can render men more amiable, more 
generous and wise, and lift them out of the dull vapours 
of the little world of self. Dante understood the secret 
things of love even more than Petrarch. His Vita 
Nitova is an inexhaustible fountain of purity of senti- 
ment and language : it is the idealised history of that 
period, and those intervals of his life which were dedi- 
cated to love. His apotheosis to Beatrice in Paradise, 
and the gradations of his own love and her loveliness, 
by which as by steps he feigns himself to have ascended 
to the throne of the Supreme Cause, is the most glorious 
imagination of modern poetry. The acutest critics have 
justly reversed the judgment of the vulgar, and the 
order of the great acts of the *' Divina Commedia," in 
the measure of the admiration which they accord to the 
Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. The latter is a per- 
petual hymn of everlasting love. Love, which found 
a worthy poet in Plato alone of all the ancients, has 
been celebrated by a chorus of the greatest writers of 



102 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

the renovated world ; and the music has penetrated 
the caverns of society, and its echoes still drown the 
dissonance of arms and superstition. At successive 
intervals, Ariosto, Tasso, Shakespeare, Spenser, Cal- 
deron, Rousseau, and the great writers of our own 
age, have celebrated the dominion of love, planting as 
it were trophies in the human mind of that sublimest 
victory over sensuality and force. The true relation 
borne to each other by the sexes into which human 
kind is distributed, has become less misunderstood ; 
and if the error which confounded diversity with 
inequality of the powers of the two sexes has been 
partially recognised in the opinions and institutions of 
modern Europe, we owe this great benefit to the 
worship of which chivalry was the law, and poets the 
prophets. 

The poetry of Dante may be considered as the bridge 
thrown over the stream of time, which unites the modern 
and ancient world- The distorted notions of invisible 
things which Dante and his rival Milton have idealised, 
are merely the mask and the mantle in v.hich these 
great poets walk through eternity enveloped and dis- 
guised. It is a difficult question to determine how far 
they were conscious of the distinction which must have 
subsisted in their minds between their own creeds and 
that of the people. Dante at least appears to wish to 
mark the full extent of it by placing Ripha?us, whom 
Virgil calls jiistissimus unus, in Paradise, and observing 
a most poetical caprice in his distribution of rewards 
and punishments. And Milton's poem contains within 
itself a philosophical refutation of that system of which, 
by a strange and natural antithesis, it has been a chief 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 103 

popular support. Nothing: can exceed the energy and 
magnificence of the character of Satan as expressed 
in *' Paradise Lost." It is a mistake to suppose that he 
coukl ever have been intended for the popular per- 
sonification of evil. Implacable hate, patient cunning, 
and a sleepless refinement of device to inflict the ex- 
tremest anguish on an enemy, these things are evil ; 
and, although venial in a slave, are not to be forgiven 
in a tyrant ; although redeemed by much that emiobles 
his defeat in one subdued, are marked by all that 
dishonours his conquest in the victor. Milton's Devil 
as a moral being is as far superior to his God, as one 
who perseveres in some purpose which he has conceive<l 
to be excellent in spite of adversity and torture, is 
to one who in the cold security of undoubted triumph 
inflicts the most horrible revenge upon his enemy, not 
from any mistaken notion of inducing him to repent of 
a perseverance in enmity, but with the alleged design 
of exasperating him to deserve new torments. Milton 
has so far violated the popular creed (if this shall bf 
judged to be a violation) as to have alleged no superior- 
ity of moral virtue to his God over his Devil. And this 
bold neglect of a direct moral purpose is the most 
decisive proof of the supremacy of Milton's genius. 
He mingled as it were the elements of human nature 
as colours upon a single palette, and arranged them 
in the composition of his great picture according to 
the laws of epic truth, that is, according to the laws 
of that principle by which a scries of actions of the 
external universe and of intelligent and ethical beings 
is calculated to excite the sympathy of succeeding 
generations of mankind. The Divina Commedia and 



104 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

Paradise Lost have conferred upon modern mythology a 
systematic form ; and when change and time shall have 
added one more superstition to the mass of those which 
have arisen and decayed upon the earth, commentators 
will be learnedly employed in elucidating the religion 
of ancestral Europe, only not utterly forgotten because 
it will have been stamped with the eternity of genius. 

Homer was the first and Dante the second epic poet : 
that is, the second poet, the series of whose creations 
bore a defined and intelligible relation to the knowledge 
and sentiment and religion of the age in which he lived, 
and of the ages which followed it : developing itself in 
correspondence with their development. For Lucretius 
had limed the wings of his swift spirit in the dregs of 
the sensible world ; and Virgil, with a modesty that ill 
became his genius, had affected the fame of an imitator, 
even whilst he created anew all that he copied ; and 
none among the flock of mock-birds, though their 
notes are sweet, Apollonius Rhodius, Quintus Calaber, 
Smyrnaeus, Nonnus, Lucan, Statius, or Claudian, have 
sought even to fulfil a single condition of epic truth. 
Milton was the third epic poet. For if the title of 
epic in its highest sense be refused to the iEneid, still 
less can it be conceded to the Orlando Furioso, the 
Gerusalemme Liberata, the Lusiad, or the Fairy 
Queen. 

Dante and Milton were both deeply penetrated with 
the ancient religion of the civilised world ; and its spirit 
exists in their poetry probably in the same proportion as 
its forms survived in the unreformed worship of modern 
Europe. The one preceded and the other followed the 
Reformation at almost equal intervals. Dante was the 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 105 

first reli.uious performer, and Liitlier surpassed him 
rather in the rudeness and acrimony, than in the bold- 
ness of his censures, of papal usurpation. Dante was 
the first awakener of entranced Europe ; he created a 
language, in itself music and persuasion, out of a chaos 
of inharmonious barbarisms. He was the congregator 
of those great spirits who presided over the resurrection 
of learning ; the Lucifer of that starry flock which in 
the thirteenth century shone forth from republican 
Italy, as from a heaven, into the darkness of the be- 
nighted world. His very words are instinct witli spirit ; 
each is as a spark, a burning atom of inextinguishable 
thought ; and many yet lie covered in the ashes of their 
birth, and pregnant with a lightning which has yet 
found no conductor. All high poetry is infinite; it is 
as the first acorn, which contained all oaks potentially. 
Veil after veil may be undrawn, and the inmost naked 
beauty of the meaning never exposed. A great poem 
is a fountain for ever overflowing with llie waters of 
wisdom and delight ; and after one person and one age 
has exhausted all of its divine effluence which their 
peculiar relations enable them to share, another and yet 
another succeeds, and new relations are ever develoj^ed, 
tlie source of an unforeseen and an unconceived dehght. 

The age inmiediately succeeding to that of Dante, 
Petrarch, and Boccaccio, was characterised by a revival 
of painting, sculj^ture, and architecture. Chaucer caught 
the sacred inspiration, and the superstructure of Eng- 
lish literature is based upon the materials of Italian 
invention. 

But let us not be betrayed from a defence into a 
critical history of poetry and its influence on society. 



106 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

Be it enough to have pointed out the effects of poets, in 
the large and true sense of the word, upon their own 
and all succeeding times. 

But poets have been challenged to resign the civic 
crown to reasoners and mechanists, on another plea. 
It is admitted that the exercise of the imagination is 
most delightful, but it is alleged that that of reason is 
more useful. Let us examine, as the grounds of this 
distinction, what is here meant by utility. Pleasure or 
good, in a general sense, is that which the consciousness 
of a sensitive and intelligent being seeks, and in which, 
when found, it acquiesces. There are two kinds of 
pleasure, one durable, universal, and permanent ; the 
other transitory and particular. Utility may either 
express the means of producing the former or the latter. 
In the former sense, whatever strengthens and purifies 
the affections, enlarges the imagination, and adds spirit 
to sense, is useful. But a narrower meaning may be 
assigned to the word utility, confining it to express that 
which banishes the importunity of the wants of our 
animal nature, the surrounding men with security of 
life, the dispersing the grosser delusions of superstition, 
and the conciliating such a degree of mutual forbearance 
among men as may consist with the motives of personal 
advantage. 

Undoubtedly the promoters of utility, in this limited 
sense, have their appointed office in society. They 
follow the footsteps of poets, and copy the sketches 
of their creations into the book of common life. They 
make space, and give time. Their exertions are of the 
highest value, so long as they confine their administra- 
tion of the concerns of the inferior powers of our nature 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 107 

within the limits due to the superior ones. But Nvhile 
the sceptic destroys gross superstitions, let him spare to 
deface, as some of the French writers have defaced, 
the eternal truths charactered upon the imaginations of 
men. Whilst the mechanist abridges, and the political 
economist combines, labour, let them beware that their 
speculations, for want of correspondence with those first 
principles which belong to the imagination, do not tend, 
as they have in modern England, to exasperate at once 
the extremes of luxury and want. They have exem- 
plified the saying, ''To him that hath, more shall be 
given ; and from him that hath not, the little that he 
hath shall be taken awaj^." The rich have become 
richer, and the poor have become poorer ; and the 
vessel of the state is driven between the Scylla and 
Chary bdis of anarchy and despotism. Such are the 
effects which must ever flow from an unmitigated 
exercise of the calculating faculty. 

It is difficult to define pleasure in its highest sense ; 
the definition involving a number of apparent paradoxes. 
For, from an inexplicable defect of harmony in the con- 
stitution of human nature, the pain of the inferior is 
frequently connected with the pleasures of the superior 
portions of our being. Sorrow, terror, anguish, despair 
itself, are often the chosen expressions of an approxima- 
tion to the highest good. Our sympathy in tragic fiction 
depends on tliis princii)le ; tragedy delights by affording 
a shadow of that pleasure which exists in pain. This is 
the source also of the melancholy which is inseparable 
from the sweetest melody. The pleasure that is in 
sorrow is sweeter than the pleasure of pleasure itself. 
And hence the saying, " It is better to go to the house 



108 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

of mourning than to the house of mirth." Not that 
this highest species of pleasure is necessarily linked with 
pain. The deUght of love and friendship, the ecstasy 
of the admiration of nature, the joy of the perception 
and still more of the creation of poetry, is often wholly 
unalloyed. 

The production and assurance of pleasure in this 
highest sense is true utiUty. Those who produce and 
preserve this pleasure are poets or poetical philoso- 
phers. 

The exertions of Locke, Hume, Gibbon, Voltaire, 
Rousseau,^ and their disciples, in favour of oppressed 
and deluded humanity, are entitled to the gratitude of 
mankind. Yet it is easy to calculate the degree of moral 
and intellectual improvement which the world would 
have exhibited, had they never lived. A little more 
nonsense would have been talked for a century or two ; 
and perhaps a few more men, women, and children, 
burnt as heretics. We might not at this moment have 
been congratulating each other on the abolition of the 
Inquisition in Spain. But it exceeds all imagination to 
conceive what would have been the moral condition 
of the world if neither Dante, Petrarch, Boccaccio, 
Chaucer, Shakespeare, Calderon, Bacon, nor Milton, 
had ever existed ; if Raphael and Michael Angelo had 
never been born ; if the Hebrew poetry had never 
been translated ; if a revival of the study of Greek 
literature had never taken place; if no monuments of 
ancient sculpture had been handed down to us ; and if 
the poetry of the religion of the ancient world had 

^ Although Rousseaii has been thus classed, he was essentially 
a poet. The others, even Voltaire, were mere reasoners. 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 109 

been extinguished together with its belief. The human 
mind could never, except by the intervention of these 
excitements, have been awakened to the invention of 
the grosser sciences, and that application of analytical 
reasoning to the aberrations of society, which it is now 
attempted to exalt over the direct expression of the 
inventive and creative faculty itself. 

We have more moral, political, and historical wisdom 
than we know how to reduce into practice ; we have 
more scientific and economical knowledge than can be 
accommodated to the just distribution of the produce 
which it multiplies. The poetry, in these systems of 
thought, is concealed by the accumulation of facts and 
calculating processes. There is no want of knowledge 
respecting what is wisest and best in morals, govern- 
ment, and political economy, or at least what is wiser 
and better than what men now practise and endure. 
But we let "/ dare not wait upon / would, like the poor 
cat in the adage.'' We want the creative faculty to 
imagine that which we know ; we want the generous 
impulse to act that wliich we imagine, we want the 
poetry of life : our calculations have outrun conception ; 
we have eaten more than we can digest. The cultiva- 
tion of those sciences which have enlarged the limits of 
the empire of man over the external world, has, for want 
of the poetical faculty, projwrtioiially circumscribed 
those of the internal world ; and man, having enslaved 
the elements, remains himself a slave. To what but a 
cultivation of the mechanical arts in a degree dispro- 
portioned to the presence of the creative faculty, which 
is the basis of all knowledge, is to be attributed the 
abuse of all invention for abridging and combining 



110 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

labour, to the exasperation of the inequality of man- 
kind? From what other cause has it arisen that the 
discoveries which should have lightened, have added 
a weight to the curse imposed on Adam? Poetry, 
and the principle of Self, of which money is the 
visible incarnation, are the God and Mammon of the 
world. 

The functions of the poetical faculty are twofold ; by 
one it creates new materials of knowledge, and power, 
and pleasure; by the other it engenders in the mind a 
desire to reproduce and arrange them according to a 
certain rhythm and order, which may be called the 
beautiful and the good. The cultivation of poetry is 
never more to be desired than at periods when, from 
an excess of the selfish and calculating principle, the 
accumulation of the materials of external life exceed the 
quantity of the power of assimilating them to the in- 
ternal laws of human nature. The body has then 
become too unwieldj'- for that which animates it. 

Poetry is indeed something divine. It is at once the 
centre and circumference of knowledge ; it is that which 
comprehends all science, and that to which all science 
must be referred. It is at the same time the root and 
blossom of all other systems of thought ; it is that from 
which all spring, and that which adorns all; and that 
which, if blighted, denies the fruit and the seed, and 
withholds from the barren world the nourishment and 
the succession of the scions of the tree of life. It is the 
perfect and consummate surface and bloom of all things ; 
it is as the odour and the colour of the rose to the tex- 
ture of the elements wliich compose it, as the form and 
splendour of unfaded beauty to the secrets of anatomy 



A DEFENCE OF ' POETRY 1 1 1 

and corruption. What were virtue, love, patriotism, 
friendship — what were the scenery of this beautiful 
universe which we inhabit ; what were our consolations 
on this side of the grave — and w hat were our asi)irations 
beyond it, if poetry did not ascend to bring light and 
fire from those eternal regions where the owl-winged 
faculty of calculation dare not ever soar? Poetry is 
not like reasoning, a power to be exerted according to 
the determination of the will. A man cannot say, " i 
will compose poetr}^." The greatest poet even cannc! 
say it; for the mind in creation is as a fading coal, 
which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, 
awakens to transitory brightness ; this power arises 
from within, like the colour of a flower which fades and 
changes as it is developed, and the conscious portions 
of our nature are unprophetic cither of its approach or 
its departure. Could this influence be durable in its 
original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the 
greatness of the results ; but when composition begins, 
inspiration is already on the decline, and the most 
glorious poetry that has ever been communicated to the 
world is probably a feeble shadow of the original con- 
ceptions of the poet. I appeal to the greatest potts of 
the present day, whether it is not an error to assert that 
the finest passages of poetry are jiroduced by labour and 
study. The toil and the delay recommended by critics 
can be justly interpreted to mean no more than a 
careful observation of the inspired moments, and an 
artificial connexion of the spaces between tlieir sugges- 
tions, by the intertexture of conventional expressions ; a 
necessity only imposed by the limitedncss of the poetical 
faculty itself : for Milton conceived the Paradise I-X)st 



112 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

as a whole before he executed it in portions. We have 
his own authority also for the muse having "dictated " 
to him the "unpremeditated song." And let this be 
an answer to those who would allege the fifty-six various 
readings of the first line of the Orlando Furioso. Com- 
positions so produced are to poetry what mosaic is to 
painting. The instinct and intuition of the poetical 
faculty is still more observable in the plastic and pic- 
torial arts : a great statue or picture grows under the 
power of the artist as a child in the mother's womb; 
and the very mind which directs the hands in formation, 
is incapable of accounting to itself for the origin, the 
gradations, or the media of the process. 

Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments 
of the happiest and best minds. We are aware of 
evanescent visitations of thought and feeling, sometimes 
associated with place or person, sometimes regarding 
our own mind alone, and always arising unforeseen and 
departing unbidden, but elevating and delightful beyond 
all expression : so that even in the desire and the regret 
they leave, there cannot but be pleasure, participating 
as it does in the nature of its object. It is as it were 
the interpenetration of a diviner nature through our 
own ; but its footsteps are like those of a wind over the 
sea, which the morning calm erases, and whose traces 
remain only, as on the wrinkled sand which paves it. 
These and corresponding conditions of being are ex- 
perienced principally by those of the most delicate 
sensibility and the most enlarged imagination ; and the 
state of mind produced by tliem is at war with every 
base desire. The enthusiasm of virtue, love, patriotism, 
and friendship, is essentially linked with such emotions ; 



A DEFENCP: of poetry 113 

aiid whilst they last, self appears as what it is, an atom 
to a universe. Poets are not only subject to these 
experiences as spirits of the most refined organisation, 
but they can colour all that they combine with the 
evanescent hues of this ethereal world ; a word, a trait 
in the rej^resentation of a scene or a passion, will touch 
the enchanted chord, and reanimate, in tliose who have 
ever experienced those emotions, the sleeping, the cold, 
the buried image of the past. Poetry thus makes 
immortal ail that is best and most beautiful in the 
world ; it arrests the vanishing apparitions which haunt 
the interlunations of life, and veiling them, or in lan- 
guage or in form, sends them forth among mankind, 
bearing sweet news of kindred joy to those with 
whom their sisters abide — abide, because there is no 
portal of expression from the caverns of the spirit 
which they inhabit into the universe of things. Poetry 
redeems from decay the visitations of the divinity in 
man. 

Poetry turns all things to loveliness ; it exalts the 
beauty of that which is most beautiful, and it adds 
beauty to that which is most deformed ; it marries 
exultation and horror, grief and pleasure, eternity and 
change; it subdues to union, under its light yoke, all 
irreconcilable things. It transmutes all that it touches, 
and every form moving within the radiance of its pres- 
ence is changed by wondrous sympathy to an incarna- 
tion of the spirit which it breathes : its secret alchemy 
turns to i»otable gold the poisonous waters which How 
from death through life ; it strips the veil of familiarity 
from the world, and lays bare the naked and sleeping 
beauty, which is the spirit of its forms. 



114 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

All things exist as they are perceived ; at least in 
relation to the percipient. 

"The mind is its own place, and in itself 
Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven." 

But poetry defeats the curse which binds us to be 
subjected to the accident of surrounding impressions. 
And whether it spreads its own figured curtain, or with- 
draws life's dark veil from before the scene of things, 
it equally creates for us a being within our being. It 
makes us the inhabitant of a world to which the familiar 
w^orld is a chaos. It reproduces the common universe 
of which we are portions and percipients, and it purges 
from our inward sight the film of familiarity which 
obscures from us the wonder of our being. It compels 
us to feel that which w^e perceive, and to imagine that 
wliich we know. It creates anew the universe, after it 
has been annihilated in our minds by the recurrence of 
impressions blunted by reiteration. It justifies the bold 
and true word of Tasso : Non merila nome di creatore, 
se non Iddio ed il Poeta. 

A poet, as he is the author to others of the highest 
wisdom, pleasure, virtue and glory, so he ought person- 
ally to be the happiest, the best, the wisest, and the 
most illustrious of men. As to his glory, let time be 
challenged to declare whether the fame of any other 
institutor of human life be comparable to that of a poet. 
That he is the wisest, the happiest, and the best, inas- 
much as he is a poet, is equally incontrovertible : the 
greatest poets have been men of the most spotless virtue, 
of the most consummate prudence, and, if we would 
look into the interior of their lives, the most fortunate 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 115 

of men : and the exceptions, as Ihey regard tliose who 
possessed the poetic faculty in a high yet inferior 
degree, will be found on consideration to confirm rather 
than destroy the rule. Let us for a moment stoop to 
the arbitration of popular breath, and usurping and 
uniting in our own persons the incompatible characters 
of accuser, witness, judge and executioner, let us decide 
without trial, testimony, or form, that certain motives 
oc those who are ''there sitting where we dare not 
soar," are reprehensible. Let us assume that Homer 
was a drunkard, that Virgil was a flatterer, that Horace 
was a coward, that Tasso was a madman, that Bacon 
was a speculator, that Raphael was a libertine, that 
Spenser was a poet laureate. It is inconsistent with 
this division of our subject to cite living poets, but 
posterity has done ample justice to the great names 
now referred to. Their errors have been weighed and 
found to have been dust in the balance ; if their sins 
'' were as scarlet, they are now white as snow : " they 
have been washed in the blood of the mediator and 
redeemer, time. Observe in what a ludicrous chaos the 
imputations of real or fictitious crime have been con- 
fused in the contemporary calumnies against poetry and 
poets ; consider how little is, as it appears — or appears, 
as it is; look to your own motives, and judge not, lest 
ye be judged. 

Poetry, as has been said, differs in this respect from 
logic, that it is not subject to the control of the active 
powers of the mind, and that its birtli and recurrence 
have no necessary connexion with the consciousness or 
will. It is presumptuous to determine that these are 
the necessary conditions of all mental causation, when 



116 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

mental effects are experienced insusceptible of being 
referred to them. The frequent recurrence of the 
poetical power, it is obvious to suppose, may produce 
in the mind a habit of order and harmony correlative 
with its own nature and with its effects upon other 
minds. But in the intervals of inspiration, and they 
may be frequent without being durable, a poet becomes 
a man, and is abandoned to the sudden reflux of the 
influences under which others habitually live. But as 
he is more delicately organised than other men, and 
sensible to pain and pleasure, both his own and that of 
others, in a degree unknown to them, he will avoid the 
one and pursue the other with an ardour proportioned 
to this difference. And he renders himself obnoxious 
to calumny, when he neglects to observe the circum- 
stances under which these objects of universal pursuit 
and flight have disguised themselves in one another's 
garments. 

But there is nothing necessarily evil in this error, 
and thus cruelty, envy, revenge, avarice, and the pas- 
sions purely evil, have never formed any portion of the 
popular imputations on the lives of poets. 

I have thought it most favourable to the cause of 
truth to set down these remarks according to the order 
in which they were suggested to my mind, by a con- 
sideration of the subject itself, instead of observing the 
formality of a polemical reply ; but if the view which 
they contain be just, they will be found to involve a 
refutation of the arguers against poetry, so far at least 
as regards the first division of the subject. I can 
readily conjecture what should have moved the gall of 
some learned and intelligent writers who quarrel with 



A DEFENCE OF POETRY 117 

certain versifiers ; I, like them, confess myself unwilling 
to be stunned by the Theseids of the hoarse Codri of 
the day. Bavius and MiEvius undoubtedly are, as they 
ever Nvere, insufferable persons. But it belongs to a 
philosophical critic to distinguish rather than confound. 

The first part of these remarks has related to poetry 
in its elements and principles : and it has been shown, 
as well as the narrow limits assigned them would 
permit, that what is called poetr}^ in a restricted sense, 
has a common source with all other forms of order and 
of beauty, according to which the materials of human 
life are susceptible of being arranged, and which is 
poetry in an universal sense. 

The second part will have for its object an applica- 
tion of these principles to the present state of the cul- 
tivation of poetry, and a defence of the attempt to 
idealise the modern forms of manners and opinions, and 
compel them into a subordination to the imaginative 
and creative faculty. For the literature of England, 
an energetic development of v, hich has ever preceded 
or accompanied a great and free development of the 
national will, has arisen as it were from a new birth. 
In spite of the low-thoughted cn\y which would under- 
value contemporary merit, our own will be a memorable 
age in intellectual achievements, and we live among 
such philosophers and poets as surpass beyond compari- 
son any who have appeared since the last national 
struggle for civil and religious liberty. The most un- 
failing herald, companion, and follower of the awaken- 
ing of a great people to work a beneficial change in 
opinion or institution, is poetry. At such periods there 
is an accunmlation of the po\^er of communicating and 
I 



118 A DEFENCE OF POETRY 

receiving intense and impassioned conceptions respect- 
ing man and nature. The persons in whom this power 
resides may often, as far as regards many portions of 
their nature, have little apparent correspondence with 
that spirit of good of which they are the ministers. 
But even whilst they deny and abjure, they are yet 
compelled to serve, the power which is seated on the 
throne of their own soul. It is impossible to read 
the compositions of the most celebrated writers of the 
present day without being startled with the electric life 
which burns within their words. They measure the 
circumference and sound the depths of human nature 
with a comprehensive and all-penetrating spirit, and 
they are themselves perhaps the most sincerely aston- 
ished at its manifestations ; for it is less their spirit 
than the spirit of the age. Poets are the hierophants 
of an unapprehended inspiration ; the mirrors of the 
gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present ; 
the words which express what they understand not ; the 
trumpets which sing to battle and feel not what they 
inspire ; the influence which is moved not, but moves. 
Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. 



ESSAY ON THE LITERATURE, THE 

ARTS, AND THE MANNERS OF 

THE ATHENIANS 

A FRAGMENT 

The period which intervened between the birth of 
Pericles and the death of Aristotle, is undoubtedly, 
whether considered in itself, or with reference to the 
effects which it has produced upon the subsequent 
destinies of civilised man, the most memorable in the 
liistory of the world. V\ hat was the combination of 
moral and political circumstances which produced so 
unparalleled a progress during that period in literature 
and the arts ; — why that i)rogress, so rapid and so sus- 
tained, so soon received a check, and became retrograde 
—are problems left to the wonder and conjecture of 
posterity. The wrecks and fragment-s of those subtle 
and profound minds, like the ruins of a fine statue, 
obscurely suggest to us the grandeur and perfection of 
the whole. Their very language — a type of the under- 
standings of which it was the creation and the image — 
in variety, in simplicity, in Hexibilily, and in cojjious- 
ness, excels every other language of the western world. 
Their sculptures are such as we, in our presumption, 
assume to be the models of ideal truth and beauty, and 



120 LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 

to which no artist of modern times can produce forms in 
any degree comparable. Their paintings, according to 
Pliny and Pausanias, were full of delicacy and harmony ; 
and some even were powerfully pathetic, so as to 
awaken, like tender music or tragic poetry, the most 
overwhelming emotions. We are accustomed to con- 
ceive the painters of the sixteenth century, as those 
who have brought their art to the highest perfection, 
probably because none of the ancient paintings have 
been preserved. For all the inventive arts maintain, as 
it were, a sympathetic connexion between each other, 
being no more than various expressions of one internal 
jwwer, modified by different circumstances, either of 
an individual, or of society ; and the paintings of that 
period would probably bear the same relation as is con- 
fessedly borne by the sculptures to all succeeding ones. 
Of their music we know little ; but the effects which it 
is said to have produced, whether they be attributed 
to the skill of the composer, or the sensibility of his 
audience, are far more powerful than any which we 
experience from the music of our own times ; and if, 
indeed, the melody of their compositions were more 
tender and delicate, and inspiring, than the melodies 
of some modern European nations, their superiority in 
this art must have been something wonderful, and 
wholly beyond conception. 

Their poetry seems to maintain a very high, though 
not so disproportionate a rank, in the comparison. Per- 
haps Shakespeare, from the variety and comprehension 
of his genius, is to be considered, on the whole, as the 
greatest individual mind, of which we have specimens 
remaining. Perhaps Dante created imaginations of 



LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 121 

greater loveliness and energy than any that are to 
be found in the ancient literature of Greece. Perhaps 
notiiing has been discovered in t!ie fragments of tlie 
Greek lyric poets equivalent to the sublime and chivalric 
sensibility of Petrarch. — But, as a poet, Homer must be 
acknowledged to excel Shakespeare in the truth, the 
harmony, the sustained grandeur, the satisfying com- 
pleteness of his images, their exact fitness to the illus- 
tration, and to that to which they belong. Nor could 
Dante, deficient in conduct, plan, nature, variet}'^, and 
temperance, have been brought into comparison with 
these men, but for those fortunate isles, laden with 
golden fruit, which alone could tempt any one to 
( mbark in the misty ocean of his dark and extravagant 
fiction. 

But, omitting the comparison of individual minds, 
which can afford no general inference, how superior was 
the spirit and system of their poetry to that of any other 
period ! So that, had any other genius equal in other 
respects to the greatest that ever enlightened the world, 
arisen in that age, he would have been superior to 
all, from this circumstance alone — that his conceptions 
would have assumed a more harmonious and perfect 
form. For it is worthy of observation, that whatever 
the poets of that age produced is as harmonious and 
perfect as possible. If a drama, for instance, were the 
composition of a person of inferior talent, it was still 
homogeneous and free from inequalities ; it was a whole, 
consistent with itself. The compositions of great minds 
bore throughout the sustained stamp of their greatness. 
In the poetry of succeeding ages the expectations are 
often exalted on Icarian wings, and fall, too much 



122 LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 

disappointed to give a memory and a name to the 
oblivious pool in which they fell. 

In physical know^ledge Aristotle and Theophrastus had 
already — no doubt assisted by the labours of those of 
their predecessors whom they criticise — made advances 
v>'orthy of the maturity of science. The astonishing 
invention of geometry, that series of discoveries which 
have enabled man to command the elements and fore- 
see future events, before the subjects of his ignorant 
wonder, and which have opened as it were the doors of 
the mysteries of nature, had already been brought to 
great perfection. Metaphysics, the science of man's inti- 
mate nature, and logic, or the grammar and elementary 
principles of that science, received from the latter philo- 
sophers of the Periclean age a firm basis. All our more 
exact philosophy is built upon the labours of these great 
men, and many of the words which we employ in 
metaphysical distinctions were invented by them to give 
accuracy and system to their reasonings. The science 
of morals, or the voluntary conduct of men in relation 
to themselves or others, dates from this epoch. How 
inexpressibly bolder and more pure were the doctrines 
of those great men, in comparison with the timid maxims 
which prevail in the writings of the most esteemed 
modern moralists! They were such as Phocion, and 
Epaminondas, and Timoleon, who formed themselves 
on their influence, were to the wretched heroes of our 
own age. 

Their political and religious institutions are more 
difficult to bring into comparison with those of other 
times. A summary idea may be formed of the worth 
of any political and religious system, by observing the 



LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 123 

comparative (le^^ree of happiness and of intellect j)ro- 
duced under its influence. And whilst many institutions 
;uid opinions, wliich in ancient Greece were obstacles to 
the improvement of the human race, have been abolished 
among modern nations, how many pernicious supersti- 
tions and new contrivances of misrule, and unheard-of 
complications of public mischief, have not been invented 
among them by the ever-watchful spirit of avarice and 
tyranny ! 

The modern nations of the civilised world owe the 
pro<Tress which they have made — as well in those 
physical sciences in which they have already excelled 
their masters, as in the moral and intellectual inquiries, 
in which, with all the advantage of the experience of 
the latter, it can scarcely be said that they have yet 
equalled them — to what is called the revival of learnin.ir : 
that is, the study of the writers of the age which 
preceded and immediately followed the government of 
Pericles, or of subsequent writers, who were, so to 
speak, the rivers flowing from those immortal fountains. 
And though there seems to be a principle in the modern 
world, which, should circumstances analogous to those 
which modelled the intellectual resources of the age to 
which we refer, into so harmonious a proportion, again 
arise, would arrest and perpetuate them, and consign 
their results to a more equal, extensive, and lasting 
improvement of the condition of man — though justice 
and the true meaning of human society are, if not more 
accurately, more generally understood ; though perhaps 
men know more, and therefore are more, as a mass, yet 
this principle has never been called into action, and 
requires indeed a universal and an almost ai)palling 



12i LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 

change in the system of existing things. The study of 
modern history is the study of kings, financiers, states- 
men, and priests. The history of ancient Greece is the 
study of legislators, philosophers, and poets ; it is the 
history of men, compared with the history of titles. 
What the Greeks were, was a reality, not a promise. 
And what we are and hope to be, is derived, as it were, 
from the influence and inspiration of these glorious 
generations. 

Whatever tends to afford a further illustration of the 
manners and opinions of those to whom we owe so 
much, and who were perhaps, on the whole, the most 
perfect specimens of humanity of whom we have 
authentic record, were infinitely valuable. Let us see 
their errors, their weaknesses, their daily actions, their 
familiar conversation, and catch the tone of their 
society. When we discover how far the most admirable 
community ever framed was removed from that perfec- 
tion to which human society is impelled by some active 
power within each bosom to aspire, how great ought to 
be our hopes, how resolute our struggles! For the 
Greeks of the Periclean age were widely different from 
us. It is to be lamented that no modern writer has 
hitherto dared to show them precisely as they were. 
Barthelemi cannot be denied the praise of industry and 
system ; but he never forgets that he is a Christian and 
a Frenchman. Wieland, in his delightful novels, makes 
indeed a very tolerable Pagan, but cherishes too many 
political prejudices, and refrains from diminishing the 
interest of his romances by painting sentiments in which 
no European of modern times can possibly sympathise. 
There is no book which shows the Greeks precisely as 



LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 125 

they were ; they seem all written for children, with 
the caution that no practice or sentiment, highly incon- 
sistent with our present manners, should be mentioned, 
lest tliose manners should receive outrage and violation. 
But there are many to whom the Greek language is 
inaccessible, who ought not to be excluded by this 
prudery from possessing an exact and comprehensive 
conception of the history of man ; for there is no 
knowledge concerning what man has been and ma}' be, 
from partaking of which a person can depart, without 
becoming in some degree more philosophical, tolerant, 
and just. 

One of the chief distinctions between the manners 
of ancient Greece and modern Europe, consisted in 
the regulations and the sentiments respecting sexual 
intercourse. Whether this difference arises from some 
imperfect influence of the doctrines of Jesus, who 
alleges the absolute and unconditional equality of all 
human beings, or from the institutions of chivahy, or 
from a certain fundamental difference of physical nature 
existing in the Celts, or from a combination of all or 
any of these causes acting on each other, is a question 
worthy of voluminous investigation. The fact is, that 
the modern Europeans have in this circumstance, and 
in the abolition of slavery, made an improvement the 
most decisive in the regulation of human society ; and 
all the virtue and the wisdom of the Periclean age arose 
under other institutions, in spite of the diminution 
which personal slavery and the inferiority of women, 
recognised by law and opinion, must have produced in 
the delicacy, the strength, the comprehensiveness, and 
the accuracy of their conceptions, in moral, political, 



126 LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 

and metaphysical science, and perhaps in every other 
art and science. 

The women, thus degraded, became such as it was 
expected they would become. They possessed, except 
with extraordinary exceptions, the habits and the 
qualities of slaves. They were probably not extremely 
beautiful ; at least there was no such disproportion in 
the attractions of the external form between the female 
and male sex among the Greeks, as exists among the 
modern Europeans. They were certainly devoid of 
that moral and intellectual loveliness with M'hich the 
acquisition of knowledge and the cultivation of senti- 
ment animates, as with another life of overpowering 
grace, the lineaments and the gestures of every form 
which they inhabit. Their eyes could not have been 
deep and intricate from the workings of the mind, 
and could have entangled no heart in soul-enwoven 
labyrinths. 

Let it not be imagined that because the Greeks were 
deprived of its legitimate object, they were incapable 
of sentimental love ; and that this passion is the mere 
child of chivalry and the literature of modern times. 
This object or its archetype for ever exists in the mind, 
which selects among those who resemble it that which 
most resembles it ; and instinctively fills up the inter- 
stices of the imperfect image, in the same manner as 
the imagination moulds and completes the shapes in 
clouds, or in the fire, into the resemblances of whatever 
form, animal, building, &c., happens to be present to 
it. Man is in his wildest state a social being : a certain 
degree of civilisation and refinement ever produces 
the want of sympathies still more intimate and com- 



LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 127 

plete; and the gratification of the senses is no longer 
all that is sought in sexual connexion. It soon becomes 
a very small part of that profound and complicated 
sentiment, which we call love, wliich is ratlier tlic 
universal thirst for a communion not only of the 
senses, but of our whole nature, intellectual, imagina- 
tive and sensitive, and which, when individualised, 
becomes an imperious necessity, only to be satisfied 
by the complete or partial, actual or supposed fuliil 
ment of its claims. This want grows more powerful 
in proportion to the development which our nature 
receives from civilisation, for man never ceases to be 
a social being. The sexual impulse, which is only one, 
and often a small part of those claims, serves, from 
its obvious and external nature, as a kind of type or 
expression of the rest, a common basis, an acknow- 
ledged and visible link. Still it is a claim which even 
derives a strength not its own from the accessory cir- 
cumstances which surround it, and one which our nature 
thirsts to satisfy. To estimate this, observe the degree 
of intensity and durability of the love of the male 
towards the female in animals and savages ; and ac- 
knowledge all the duration and intensity observable in 
tiie love of civilised beings beyond that of savages to 
be produced from other causes. In the susceptibility 
of the external senses there is probably no important 
ditlerence. 

Among the ancient Greeks the male sex, one half 
of the human race, received the highest cultivation and 
refinement : whilst the other, so far as intellect is con- 
cerned, were educated as slaves, and were raised but 
few degrees in all that related to moral or intellectual 



128 LITERATURE AND ARTS OF ATHENIANS 

excellence above t'nc condition of savages. The grada- 
tions in the society of man present us with slow improve- 
ment in this respect. The Roman women held a higher 
consideration in society, and were esteemed almost as 
the equal partners with their husbands in the regulation 
of domestic economy and the education of their children. 
The practices and customs of modern Europe are essen- 
tially different from and incomparably less pernicious 
than either, however remote from what an enlightened 
mind cannot fail to desire as the future destiny of 
human beings. 



ON LIFE 

Life and the world, or whatever we call that wliicli 
we are and feel, is an astoiiisiiing thing. The mist of 
faiiiiliarity obscures from us the wonder of our being. 
We are struck with admiration at some of its transient 
modifications, but it is itself the great miracle. What 
are changes of empires, the wreck of dynasties, with 
the opinions which supported them ; what is the birth 
and the extinction of religious and of political systems, 
to life? What are the revolutions of the globe which 
we inhabit, and the operations of the elements of which 
it is composed, compared with life? What is the uni- 
verse of stars, and suns, of which this inhabited earth 
is one, and their motions, and their destiny, compared 
with life? Life, the great miracle, we admire not, 
because it is so miraculous. It is v»ell that we are thus 
shielded by the familiarity of what is at once so certain 
and so unfathomable, from an astonishment which would 
otherwise absorb and overawe the functions of that 
which is its object. 

If any artist, I do not say had executed, but had 
merely conceived in his mind the system of the sun, 
and the stars, and planets, they not existing, and had 
painted to us in words, cr upon canvas, the spectacle 



130 ON LIFE 

now afforded by the nightly cope of heaven, and illus- 
trated it by the wisdom of astronomy, great would be 
our admiration. Or had he imagined the scenery of 
this earth, the mountains, the seas, and the rivers ; the 
grass, and the flowers, and the variety of the forms and 
masses of the leaves of the woods, and the colours 
which attend the setting and the rising sun, and the 
hues of the atmosphere, turbid or serene, these things 
not before existing, truly we should have been aston- 
ished, and it would not have been a vain boast to have 
said of such a man, " Non merita nome di creatore, se 
non Iddio ed il Poeta." But now these things are 
looked on with little wonder, and to be conscious of 
them with intense delight is esteemed to be the dis- 
tinguishing mark of a refined and extraordinary person. 
The multitude of men care not for them. It is thus 
v.ith Life — that which includes all. 

What is life? Thoughts and feelings arise, with or 
without our will, and we employ words to express them. 
We are born, and our birth is unremembered, and our 
infancy remembered but in fragments ; w^e live on, and 
in living we lose the apprehension of life. How vain 
is it to think that words can penetrate the mystery of 
our being! Rightly used they may make evident our 
ignorance to ourselves ; and this is much. For what are 
we? Whence do we come? and whither do Me go? Is 
birth the commencement, is death the conclusion of our 
being? What is birth and death? 

The most refined abstractions of logic conduct to a 
view of life, which, though startling to the apprehen- 
sion, is, in fact, that which the habitual sense of its 
repeated combinations has extinguished in us. It strips. 



ON LIFE 131 

as it were, the painted curtain from this scene of things. 
I confess that I am one of those who am unable to refuse 
my assent to the conchisions of those philosophers who 
assert that nothing exists but as it is perceived. 

It is a decision against which all our persuasions 
struggle, and we must be long convicted before we can 
be convinced that the solid universe of external things 
is "such stuff as dreams are made of." The shocking 
absurdities of the popular philosophy of mind and 
matter, its fatal consequences in morals, and their 
violent dogmatism concerning the source of all things, 
had early conducted me to materialism. This material- 
ism is a seducing s^'stem to young and superficial minds. 
It allows its disciples to talk, and dispenses them from 
thinking. But I was discontented with such a viev/ of 
things as it afforded ; man is a being of high aspirations, 
"looking both before and after," whose "thoughts 
wander through eternit}^" disclaiming alliance with 
transience and decay ; incapable of imagining to him- 
self annihilation ; existing but in the future and the 
past ; being, not what he is, but what he has been and 
shall be. Whatever may be his true and final destina- 
tion, there is a spirit within him at enmity with nothing- 
ness and dissolution. This is the character of all life 
and being. Each is at once the centre and the circum- 
ference ; the point to which all things are referred, and 
the line in which all things are contained. Such con- 
templations as these, materialism and the popular philo- 
sophy of mind and matter alike forbid ; they are only 
consistent with tlie intellectual system. 

It is absurd to enter into a long recapitulation of 
arguments sufficiently familiar to those inquiring minds, 



132 ON LIFE 

whom alone a writer on abstruse subjects can be con- 
ceived to address. Perhaps the most clear and vigorous 
statement of the intellectual system is to be found in 
Sir William Drummond's Academical Questions. After 
such an exposition, it would be idle to translate into 
other words what could only lose its energy and fitness 
by the change. Examined point by point, and word by 
word, the most discriminating intellects have been able 
to discern no train of thoughts in the process of reason- 
ing, which does not conduct inevitably to the conclusion 
which has been stated. 

What follows from the admission? It establishes no 
new truth, it gives us no additional insight into our 
hidden nature, neither its action nor itself. Philosophy, 
impatient as it may be to build, has much work yet 
remaining as pioneer for the overgrowth of ages. It 
makes one step towards this object; it destroys error, 
and the roots of error. It leaves, what it is too often 
the duty of the reformer in political and ethical ques 
tions to leave, a vacancy. It reduces the mind to that 
freedom in which it would have acted, but for the 
misuse of words and signs, the instruments of its own 
creation. By signs, I would be understood in a wide 
sense, including what is properly meant by that term, 
and what I peculiarly mean. In this latter sense, 
almost all fiuniliar objects are signs, standing, not 
for themselves, but for others, in their capacity of 
suggesting one thought which shall lead to a train 
of thoughts. Our whole life is thus an education of 
error. 

Let us recollect our sensations as children. What a 
distinct and intense apprehension had we of the world 



ON LIFE 133 

and of ourselves ! Many of the circumstances of social 
life Nvore then important to us uhich are now no longer 
so. But tliat is not the ])oint of comparison on whicii 
I mean to insist. We less habitually distinguished all 
that we saw and felt, from ourselves. They seemed, as 
it were, to constitute one mass. There are some persons 
who, in this respect, are always children. Those who 
are subject to the state called reverie, feel as if their 
nature were dissolved into the surrounding universe, or 
as if the surrounding universe were absorbed into their 
being. They are conscious of no distinction. And 
these are states which precede, or accompany, or follow 
an unusually intense and vivid apprehension of life. As 
men grow up this power commonly decays, and they 
become mechanical and habitual agents. I'hus feelings 
and then reasonings are the combined result of a multi- 
tude of entangled thoughts, and of a series of what are 
called impressions, planted by reiteration. 

The view of life presented by the most refined 
deductions of the intellectual philosophy, is that of 
unity. Nothing exists but as it is perceived. The 
difference is merely nominal between those two classes 
of thought, which are vulgarly distinguished by the 
names of ideas and of external objects. Pursuing the 
same thread of reasoning, tiie existence of distinct 
individual minds, similar to that which is employed in 
now questioning its own nature, is likewise found to 
be a delusion. The words, /, yuu, theijy are not signs 
of any actual difference subsisting between the assem- 
blage of thoughts thus indicated, but are merely marks 
employed to denote the different modifications of the 
one mind. 
K 



134 ON LIFE 

Let it not be supposed that this doctrine conducts to 
the monstrous presumption that I, the person who no ay 
write and think, am that one mind. I am but a portion 
of it. The words /, and you, and they are grammatical 
devices invented simply for arrangement, and totally- 
devoid of the intense and exclusive sense usually 
attached to them. It is difficult to find terms adequate 
to express so subtle a conception as that to which the 
Intellectual Philosophy has conducted us. We are on 
that verge where words abandon us, and what wonder 
if we grow dizzy to look down the dark abyss of how 
little we know ! 

The relations of things remain unchanged, by what- 
ever system. By the word things is to be understood 
any object of thought, that is, any thought upon which 
any other thought is employed, with an apprehension of 
distinction. The relations of these remain unchanged ; 
and such is the material of our knowledge. 

What is the cause of life? that is, how was it pro- 
duced, or what agencies distinct from life have acted 
or act upon life? All recorded generations of mankind 
have wearily busied themselves in inventing answers to 
this question ; and the result has been — Religion. Yet, 
that the basis of all things cannot be, as the popular 
philosophy alleges, mind, is sufficiently evident. Mind, 
as far as we have any experience of its properties, and 
beyond that experience how vain is argument! cannot 
create, it can only perceive. It is said also to be the 
cause. But cause is only a word expressing a certain 
state of the human mind with regard to the manner in 
which two thoughts are apprehended to be related to 
each other. If any one desires to know how unsatis- 



ON LIFE 1S5 

factorily the popular philosophy employs itself upon this 
f^reat question, they need only impartially reflect upon 
the manner in which thoughts develop themselves in 
their minds. It is infinitely improbable that the cause 
of mind, that is, of existence, is similar to mind. 



ON A FUTURE STATE 

It has been the persuasion of an immense majority 
of human beings in all ages and nations that we con- 
tinue to live after death — that apparent termination of 
all the functions of sensitive and intellectual existence. 
Nor has mankind been contented with supposing that 
species of existence which some philosophers have 
asserted ; namely, the resolution of the component parts 
of the mechanism of a living being into its elements, 
and the impossibility of the minutest particle of these 
sustaining the smallest diminution. They have clung to 
the idea that sensibility and thought, which they have 
distinguished from the objects of it, under the several 
names of spirit and matter, is, in its own nature, less 
susceptible of division and decay, and that, when the 
body is resolved into its elements, the principle which 
animated it will remain perpetual and unchanged. 
Some philosophers — and those to whom we are indebted 
for the most stupendous discoveries in physical science 
— sup])ose, on liie other hand, that intelligence is tlie 
mere result of certain combinations among the particles 
of its objects ; and those among them who believe that 
we live after death, recur to the interposition of a 
supernatural power, which shall overcome the tendency 

136 



ON A FUTURE STATE 1S7 

inherent in all material combinations, to dissipate and 
be absorbed into other forms. 

Let us trace the reasoninjrs which in one and the 
other have conducted to these two opinions, and en- 
deavour to discover what we ought to think on a question 
of such momentous interest. Let us anal.yse the ideas 
and feelings which constitute the contending beliefs, 
and watchfully establish a discrimination between words 
and thoughts. Let us bring the question to the test of 
experience and fact ; and ask ourselves, considering our 
nature in its entire extent, what light we derive from 
a sustained and comprehensive view of its component 
parts, which may enable us to assert, with certainty, 
that we do or do not live after death. 

The examination of this subject requires that it should 
be stripped of all those accessory topics which adhere to 
it in the common opinion of men. The existence of a 
God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, are 
totally foreign to the subject. If it be proved that the 
world is ruled by a Divine Power, no inference neces- 
sarily can be drawn from that circumstance in favour 
of a future state. It has been asserted, indeed, that as 
goodness and justice are to be numbered among the 
attributes of the Deity, he will undoubtedly compensate 
the virtuous who suffer during life, and that he v. ill 
make every sensitive being, who does not deserve 
punishment, happy for ever. But this view of the 
subject, which it would be tedious as well as superfluous 
to develop and expose, satisfies no person, and cuts the 
knot which we now seek to untie. Moreover, should 
it be proved, on the other hand, that the mysteri- 
ous principle which regulates tlie proceedings of the 



138 ON A FUTURE STATE 

universe, is neither intelligent nor sensitive, yet it is 
not an inconsistency to suppose at the same time, that 
the animating power survives the body which it has ani- 
mated, by laws as independent of any supernatural agent 
as those through which it first became united with it. 
Nor, if a future state be clearly proved, does it follow 
that it will be a state of punishment or reward. 

By the word death, we express that condition in 
which natures resembling ourselves apparently cease to 
be that which they were. We no longer hear them 
speak, nor see them move. If they have sensations 
and apprehensions, we no longer participate in them. 
We know no more than that those external organs, and 
all that fine texture of material frame, without which 
we have no experience that life or thought can subsist, 
are dissolved and scattered abroad. The body is placed 
under the earth, and after a certain period there remains 
no vestige even of its form. This is that contemplation 
of inexhaustible melancholy, whose shadow eclipses the 
brightness of the world. The common observer is 
struck with dejection of the spectacle. He contends 
in vain against the persuasion of the grave, that the dead 
indeed cease to be. The corpse at his feet is prophetic 
of his own destiny. Those who have preceded him, and 
whose voice was delightful to his ear ; whose touch met 
his like sweet and subtle fire; whose aspect spread a 
visionary light upon his path — these he cannot meet 
again. The organs of sense are destroyed, and the 
intellectual operations dependent on them have perished 
with their sources. How can a corpse see or feel? its 
eyes are eaten out, and its heart is black and without 
motion. What intercourse can two heaps of putrid clay 



ON A FUTURE STATE 139 

and crumbling bones hold tofjether? When you can 
discover where the fresh colours of the faded flower 
abide, or the music of the broken lyre, seek life among 
the dead. Such are tiie anxious and fearful contem- 
plations of the common observer, though the popular 
religion often prevents him from confessing them even 
to himself. 

The natural philosopher, in addition to the sensations 
common to all men inspired by the event of death, be- 
lieves that he sees with more certainty that it is attended 
with the annihilation of sentiment and thought. He 
observes the mental powers increase and fade with 
those of the body, and even accommodate themselves 
to the most transitory changes of our physical nature. 
Sleep suspends many of the faculties of the vital and 
intellectual principle ; drunkenness and disease will 
either temporarily or permanently derange them. Mad- 
ness or idiotcy may utterly extinguish the most excellent 
and delicate of those powers. In old age the mind 
gradually withers ; and as it grew and was strengthened 
with the body, so does it together with the body sink 
into decrepitude. Assuredly these are convincing evi- 
dences that so soon as the organs of the body are 
subjected to the laws of inanimate matter, sensation, 
and perception, and api)rehension, are at an end. It is 
probable that what we call thought is not an actual 
being, but no more than the relation between certain 
parts of that infinitely varied mass, of which the rest of 
the universe is composed, and which ceases to exist so 
soon as those parts change their position with regard to 
each other. Thus colour, and sound, and taste, and 
odour exist only relatively. But let thought be con- 



140 ON A FUTURE STATE 

sidered as some peculiar substance, which permeates, 
and is the cause of, the animation of living beings. 
Why should that substance be assumed to be something 
essentially distinct from all others, and exempt from 
subjection to those laws from which no other substance 
is exempt? It differs, indeed, from all other substances, 
as electricity, and light, and magnetism, and the con- 
stituent parts of air and earth, severally differ from all 
others. Each of these is subject to change and to decay, 
and to conversion into other forms. Yet the difference 
between light and earth is scarcely greater than that 
which exists betM^een life, or thought, and fire. The 
difference between the two former was never alleged as 
an argument for the eternal permanence of either, in 
that form under which they first might offer themselves 
to our notice. Why should the difference between the 
two latter substances be an argument for the prolonga- 
tion of the existence of one and not the other, when the 
existence of both has arrived at their apparent termina- 
tion? To say that fire exists without manifesting any 
of the properties of fire, such as light, heat, &c., or 
that the principle of life exists without consciousness, 
or memory, or desire, or motive, is to resign, by an 
awkward distortion of language, the affirmative of the 
dispute. To say that the principle of life may exist in 
distribution among various forms, is to assert what 
cannot be proved to be either true or false, but which, 
were it true, annihilates all hope of existence after 
death, in any sense in which that event can belong to 
the hopes and fears of men. Suppose, however, that 
the intellectual and vital principle differs in the most 
marked and essential manner from all other known sub- 



ON A FUTURE STATE 141 

stances ; that they have all some resemblance between 
themselves which it in no defjree participates. In what 
manner can this concession be made an argument for 
its imperishability? All that we see or know perishes 
and is changed. Life and thought differ indeed from 
everything else. But that it survives that period, be- 
yond which we have no experience of its existence, such 
distinction and dissimilarity affords no shadow of proof, 
and nothing but our own desires could have led us to 
conjecture or imagine. 

Have we existed before birth ? It is difficult to con- 
ceive the possibility of this. There is, in the generative 
principle of each animal and plant, a power which con- 
verts the substances by which it is surrounded into a 
substance homogeneous with itself. That is, the relation 
between certain elementary particles of matter undergo 
a change, and submit to new combinations. For when 
we use the words principlCf power j cause, &c., v.e mean 
to express no real being, but only to class under those 
terms a certain series of coexisting phenomena; but let 
it be supposed that this principle is a certain substance 
which escapes the observation of the chemist and 
anatomist. It certainly maiy be; though it is sufficiently 
unphilosophical to allege the possibility of an opinion 
as a proof of its truth. Docs it see, hear, feel, before 
its combination with those organs on Mhich sensation 
depends? Does it reason, imagine, apprehend, with- 
out those ideas which sensation alone can communicate? 
If we have not existed before birth ; if, at the period 
when the parts of our nature on which thought and life 
depend, seem to be woven together, they are woven 
together; if there are no reasons to suppose that we 



142 ON A FUTURE STATE 

have existed before that period at which our existence 
apparently commences, then there are no grounds for 
supposition that we shall continue to exist after our 
existence has apparently ceased. So far as thought and 
life is concerned, the same will take place with regard 
to us, individually considered, after death, as had place 
before our birth. 

It is said that it is possible that we should continue 
to exist in some mode totally inconceivable to us at 
present. This is a most unreasonable presumption. It 
casts on the adherents of annihilation the burthen of 
proving the negative of a question, the affirmative of 
which is not supported by a single argument, and which, 
by its very nature, lies beyond the experience of the 
human understanding. It is sufficiently easy, indeed, 
to form any proposition, concerning which we are 
ignorant, just not so absurd as not to be contradictory 
in itself, and defy refutation. The possibility of what- 
ever enters into the wildest imagination to conceive is 
thus triumphantly vindicated. But it is enough that 
such assertions should be either contradictory to the 
known laws of nature, or exceed the limits of our 
experience, that their fallacy or irrelevancy to our 
consideration should be demonstrated. They persuade, 
indeed, only those who desire to be persuaded. 

This desire to be for ever as we are ; the reluctance 
to a violent and unexperienced change, which is common 
to all the animated and inanimate combinations of the 
universe, is, indeed, the secret persuasion which has 
given birth to the opinions of a future state. 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

A FRAGMENT 

[Note. — The words between brackets are conjectures of Ladj 
Shelley, by whom this fragment was first published.] 

The Being who has influenced in the most memor- 
able manner the opinions and the fortunes of the 
human species, is Jesus Christ. At this day, his name 
is connected with the devotional feelings of two hundred 
millions of the race of man. The institutions of the 
most civilised portion of the globe derive their authority 
from the sanction of his doctrines ; he is the hero, the 
God, of our popular religion. His extraordinary genius, 
the wide and rapid effect of his unexampled doctrines, 
his invincible gentleness and benignity, the devoted love 
borne to him by his adherents, suggested a persuasion 
to them that he was something divine. The super- 
natural events which the historians of this wonderful 
man subsequently asserted to liave been connected with 
every gradation of his career, established the opinion. 

His death is said to have been accompanied by an 
accumulation of tremendous prodigies. Utter dark- 
ness fell upon the earth, blotting the noonday sun ; 
dead bodies, arising from their graves, walked through 
the public streets, and an earthquake shook the 
astonished city, rending the rocks of the surrounding 
mountains. The philosopher may attribute the applica- 

143 



144 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

tion of these events to the death of a reformer, or 
the events themselves to a visitation of that universal 

Pan who 

****** 

The thoughts which the word " God " suggests to the 
human mind are susceptible of as many variations as 
human minds themselves. The Stoic, the Platonist, 
and the Epicurean, the PolytheJst, the Dualist, and the 
Trinitarian, differ infinitely in their conceptions of its 
meaning. They agree only in considering it the most 
awful and most venerable of names, as a common term 
devised to express all of mystery, or majesty, or power, 
which the invisible world contains. And not only has 
every sect distinct conceptions of the application of 
this name, but scarcely two individuals of the same sect, 
who exercise in any degree the freedom of their judg- 
ment, or yield themselves with any candour of feeling 
to the influences of the visible world, find perfect 
coincidence of opinion to exist between them. It is 
[interesting] to inquire in what acceptation Jesus Christ 
employed this term. 

We may conceive his mind to have been predisposed 
on this subject to adopt the opinions of his countrymen. 
Every human being is indebted for a multitude of his 
sentiments to the religion of his early years. Jesus 
Christ probably [studied] the historians of his country 
with the ardour of a spirit seeking after the truth. 
They were undoubtedly the companions of his childish 
years, the food and nutriment and materials of his 
youthful meditations. The sublime dramatic poem 
entitled Job had familiarised his imagination with the 
boldest imagery afforded by the human mind and the 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 145 

material world. Ecclcsiastes had diffused a seriousness 
and solemnity over the frame of his spirit, glowing with 
youthful hope, and [had] made audible to his listening 
heart — 

"The still, sad Jiuisic of humanity, 
Not harsh or grating, but of ample power 
To chasten and subdue.'* 

He had contemplated this name as having been pro- 
fanely perverted to the sanctioning of the most enor- 
mous and abominable crimes. We can distinctly trace, 
in the tissue of his doctrines, the persuasion that God 
is some universal Being, differing from man and the 
mind of man. According to Jesus Christ, God is 
neither the Jupiter, who sends rain upon the earth ; nor 
the Venus, through whom all living things are pro- 
duced ; nor the Vulcan, who presides over the terrestrial 
element of fire ; nor the Vesta, that preserves the light 
which is enshrined in the sun and moon and stars. He 
is neither the Proteus nor the Pan of the material world. 
But the word God, according to the acceptation of Jesus 
Christ, unites all the attributes which these denomina- 
tions contain, and is the [interpoint] and overruling 
Spirit of all the energy and wisdom included within the 
circle of existing things. It is important to observe 
that the autiior of the Christian system had a concep- 
tion widely differing from the gross imaginations of the 
vulgar relatively to the ruling Power of the universe. 
He everywhere represents this Power as something 
mysteriously and illimitably pervading the frame of 
things. Nor do his doctrines practically assume any 
proposition which they theoretically deny. They do 
not represent God as a limitless and inconceivable 



146 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

mystery ; affirming, at the same time, his existence as 

a Being subject to passion and capable 

* * * * * * 

" Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see 
God." Blessed are those who have preserved internal 
sanctity of soul ; who are conscious of no secret deceit ; 
who are the same in act as they are in desire ; who con- 
ceal no thought, no tendencies of thought, from their 
own conscience ; who are faithful and sincere witnesses, 
before the tribunal of their owti judgments, of all that 
passes within their mind. Such as these shall see God. 
What! after death, shall their awakened eyes behold 
the King of Heaven? Shall they stand in awe before 
the golden throne on which he sits, and gaze upon the 
venerable countenance of the paternal Monarch? Is 
this the reward of the virtuous and the pure? These 
are the idle dreams of the visionary, or the pernicious 
representations of impostors, who have fabricated from 
the very materials of wisdom a cloak for their own 
dwarfish or imbecile conceptions. 

Jesus Christ has said no more than the most excellent 
philosophers have felt and expressed — that virtue is its 
own reward. It is true that such an expression as he 
has used was prompted by the energy of genius, and 
was the overflowing enthusiasm of a poet ; but it is not 
the less literally true [because] clearly repugnant to 
the mistaken conceptions of the multitude. God, it 
has been asserted, was contemplated by Jesus Christ as 
every poet and every philosopher must have contem- 
plated that mysterious principle. He considered that 
venerable word to express the overruling Spirit of the 
collective energy of the moral and material world. He 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 147 

affirms, therefore, no more than that a simple, sincere 
mind is the indispensable requisite of true science and 
true happiness. He affirms that a being of pure and 
gentle habits will not fail, in every thought, in every 
object of every thought, to be aware of benignant 
\ isitings from the invisible energies by which he is 
surrounded. 

V/hosoever is free from the contamination of luxury 
and licence, may go forth to the fields and to the woods, 
inhaling jo.yous renovation from the breath of Spring, 
or catching from the odours and sounds of Autumn 
some diviner mood of sweetest sadness, which improves 
the softened heart. Whosoever is no deceiver or de- 
stroyer of his fellow-men — no liar, no flatterer, no 
murderer — may walk among his species, deriving, from 
the communion with all which they contain of beautifu! 
or of majestic, some intercourse with the Universal 
God. Whosoever has maintained with his own heart 
the strictest corrcsi)ondence of confidence, who dares 
to examine and to estimate every imagination which 
suggests itself to his mind — whosoever is that which he 
designs to become, and only aspires to that which the 
divinity of his own nature shall consider and approve — 
he has already seen God. 

We live and move and think; but we are not the 
creators of our own origin and existence. We are not 
l!ie arbiters of every motion and of our own complicated 
nature ; we are not the masters of our own imaginations 
and moods of mental being. There is a Power by 
which we are surrounded, like the atmosphere in which 
some motionless lyre is suspended, which visits with 
its breath our silent chords at will. 



148 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

Our most imperial and stupendous qualities — those 
on which the majesty and the power of humanity is 
erected — are, relatively to the inferior portion of its 
mechanism, active and imperial ; but they are the 
passive slaves of some higher and more omnipotent 
Power. This Power is God ; and those who have seen 
God have, in the period of their purer and more per- 
fect nature, been harmonised by their own will to so 
exquisite [a] consentaneity of power as to give forth 
divinest melody, when the breath of universal being 
sweeps over their frame. That those who are pure in 
heart shall see God, and that virtue is its own reward, 
may be considered as equivalent assertions. The toraier 
of these propositions is a metaphorical repetition of the 
latter. The advocates of literal interpretation have been 
the most efficacious enemies of those doctrines whose 
nature they profess to venerate. Thucydides, in par- 
ticular, affords a number of instances calculated 

Tacitus says, that the Jews held God to be some- 
thing eternal and supreme, neither subject to change 
nor to decay ; therefore, they permit no statues in their 
cities or their temples. The universal Being can only 
be described or defined by negatives which deny his 
subjection to the laws of all inferior existences. Where 
iadefiniteness ends, idolatry and anthropomorphism 
begin. God is, as Lucan has expressed — 

" Quodcunque vides, quodcunque moveris, 
Et coelum, et virtus." 

The doctrine of what some fanatics have termed *'a 
peculiar Providence " — that is, of some power beyond 
and superior to that which ordinarily guides the opera- 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY IW 

tions of the Universe, interfering to punish the vicious 
and reward the virtuous — is explicitly denied by Jesus 
Christ. The absurd and execrable doctrine of venge- 
ance, in all its sJinpcs, seems to have been contemplated 
by this great moralist with tlie profoundest disapproba- 
tion ; nor would he permit the most venerable of names 
to be perverted into a sanction for the meanest and 
most contemptible propensities incident to the nature 
of man. *' Love your enemies, bless those who curse 
you, that ye may be the sons of your Heavenly Father, 
who makes the sun to shine on the good and on the 
evil, and the rain to fall on the just and unjust." 
How monstrous a calumny have not impostors dared to 
advance against the mild and gentle author of this just 
sentiment, and against the whole tenor of his doctrines 
and his life, overflowing witli benevolence and forbear- 
ance and compassion ! They have represented him 
asserting that the Omnipotent God — that merciful and 
benignant Power who scatters equally upon the beauti- 
ful earth all tlie elements of security and hap])iness — 
whose influences are distributed to all whose natures 
admit of a participation in them — who sends to the 
weak and vicious creatures of his will all the benefits 
which they are capable of sharing — that this God has 
devised a sclicme whereby the body shall live after its 
apparent dissolution, and be rendered capable of in- 
definite torture. He is said to have compared tl;c 
agonies which the vicious shall then endure to tlie ex- 
cruciations of a living body bound among the flames, 
and being consumed sinew by sinew, and bone by 
bone. 

And this is to be done, not because it is supposed 
L 



150 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

(and the supposition would be sufficiently detestable) 
that the moral nature of the sufferer would be improved 
by his tortures — it is done because it is just to be done. 
My neighbour, or my servant, or my child, has done 
me an injury, and it is just that he should suffer an 
injury in return. Such is the doctrine which Jesus 
Christ summoned his whole resources of persuasion to 
oppose. " Love your enemies, bless those who curse 
you : " such, he says, is the practice of God, and such 
must ye imitate if ye would be the children of God. 

Jesus Christ would hardly have cited, as an example 
of all that is gentle and beneficent and compassionate, 
a Being who shall deliberately scheme to inflict on a 
large portion of the human race tortures indescribably 
intense and indefinitely protracted ; who shall inflict 
them, too, without any mistake as to the true nature 
of pain — without any view to future good — merely 
because it is just. 

This, and no other, is justice : — to consider, under 
all the circumstances and consequences of a particular 
case, how the greatest quantity and purest quality of 
happiness will ensue from any action; [this] is to be 
just, and there is no other justice. The distinction 
between justice and mercy was first imagined in the 
courts of tyrants. Mankind receive every relaxation 
of their tyranny as a circumstance of grace or favour. 

Such was the clemency of JuUus Csesar, who, having 
achieved by a series of treachery and bloodshed the ruin 
of the liberties of his country, receives the fame of 
mercy because, possessing the power to slay the noblest 
men of Rome, he restrained his sanguinary soul, arro- 
gating to himself as a merit an abstinence from actions 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 151 

which if he had committed, he would only have added 
one otlier atrocity to his deeds. His assassins under- 
stood justice better. They saw the most virtuous and 
civilised community of mankind under the insolent 
dominion of one wicked man; and tiiey murdered him. 
They destroyed the usurper of the liberties of their 
countrymen, not because they hated him, not because 
they would revenge the wrongs which they had sus- 
tained (Brutus, it is said, was his most familiar friend; 
most of the conspirators were habituated to domestic 
intercourse with the man whom they destroyed) : it was 
in affection, inextinguishable love for all that is vener- 
able and dear to the human heart, in the names of 
Country, Liberty, and Virtue : it was in a serious and 
solemn and reluctant mood, that these holy patriots 
murdered their father and their friend. They would 
have spared his violent death, if he could have deposited 
the rights which he had assumed. His own selfish and 
narrow nature necessitated the sacrifices they made. 
They required tiiat he should change all those habits 
which debauchery and bloodshed had twined around 
the fibres of liis inmost frame of thought ; that he should 
I)articipate v.itii them and witli his country those privi- 
leges which, having corrupted by assuming to himself, 
he would no longer value. They would have sacrificed 
their lives if they could liave made him worthy of tlic 
sacrifice. Such are the feelings which Jesus Christ 
asserts to belong to the ruling Power of the world. 
He desired not the death of a sinner ; he makes the 
sun to sl'.iiie upon the just and unjust. 

The nature of a narrow and malevolent spirit is so 
essentially incompatible with liappiness as to render it 



152 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

inaccessible to the influences of the benignant God. All 
that his own perverse propensities will permit him to 
receive, that God abundantly pours forth upon him. 
If there is the slightest overbalance of happiness, which 
can be allotted to the most atrocious offender, consist- 
ently with the nature of things, that is rigidly made 
his portion by the ever- watchful Power of God. In 
every case, the human mind enjoys the utmost pleasure 
which it is capable of enjoying. God is represented by 
Jesus Christ as the Power from which, and through 
which, the streams of all that is excellent and delightful 
flow ; the Power which models, as they pass, all the 
elements of this mixed universe to the purest and most 
perfect shape which it belongs to their nature to assume. 
Jesus Christ attributes to this Power the faculty of 
Will. How far such a doctrine, in its ordinary sense, 
may be philosophically true, or how far Jesus Christ 
intentionally availed himself of a metaphor easily under- 
stood, is foreign to the subject to consider. This much 
is certain, that Jesus Christ represents God as the 
fountain of all goodness, the eternal enemy of pain 
and evil, the uniform and unchanging motive of the 
salutary operations of the material world. The sup- 
position that this cause is excited to action by some 
principle analogous to the human will, adds weight to 
the persuasion that it is foreign to its beneficent nature 
to inflict the slightest pain. According to Jesus Christ, 
and according to the indisputable facts of the case, some 
evil spirit has dominion in this imperfect world. But 
there will come a time when the human mind shall be 
visited exclusively by the influences of the benignant 
Power. Men shall die, and their bodies shall rot under 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 153 

the ground ; all the organs through which their know- 
ledge and their feelings have flowed, or in which they 
have originated, shall assume other forms, and become 
ministrant to purposes the most foreign from their 
former tendencies. There is a time when we shall 
neither be heard nor be seen by the multitude of beings 
like ourselves by whom we have been so long sur- 
rounded. They shall go to graves; where then? 

It appears that we moulder to a heap of senseless 
dust ; to a few worms, that arise and perish, like our- 
selves. Jesus Christ asserts that these appearances are 
fallacious, and that a gloomy and cold imagination alone 
suggests the conception that thought can cease to be. 
Another and a more extensive state of being, rather 
than the complete extinction of being, will follow from 
that mysterious change which we call Death. There 
shall be no misery, no pain, no fear. The empire of 
evil spirits extends not beyond the boundaries of the 
grave. The unobscured irradiations from the fountain- 
fire of all goodness shall reveal all that is mysterious 
and unintelligible, until the mutual communications of 
knowledge and of happiness throughout all thinking 
natures constitute a harmony of good that ever varies 
and never ends. J 

This is Heaven, when i)ain and evil cease, and when 
the Benignant Principle, untrammelled and uncon- 
trolled, visits in the fulness of its power the universal 
frame of things. Human life, with all its unreal ills 
and transitory hopes, is as a dream, which departs 
before the dawn, leaving no trace of its evanescent hues. 
All that it contains of pure or of divine visits the passive 
mind in some serenest mood. Most holy are the feel- 



154 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

ings througli which our fellow beings are rendered dear 
and [venerable] to the heart. The remembrance of 
their sweetness, and the completion of the hopes which 
they [excite], constitute, when we awaken from the 
sleep of life, the fulfilment of the prophecies of its most 
majestic and beautiful visions. 

We die, ssiys Jesus Christ ; and, when we awaken 
from the languor of disease, the glories and the happi- 
ness of Paradise are around us. All evil and pain have 
ceased for ever. Our happiness also corresponds with, 
and is adapted to, the nature of what is most excellent 
in our being. We see God, and we see that he is good. 
Hov/ delightful a picture, even if it be not true ! How 
magnificent is the conception vv'hich this bold theory 
suggests to the contemplation, even if it be no more 
than the imagination of some sublimest and most holy 
poet, who, impressed with the loveliness and majesty of 
his own nature, is impatient and discontented with the 
narrow limits which this imperfect life and the dark 
grave have assigned for ever as his melancholy portion. 
It is not to be believed that Hell, or punishment, was 
the conception of this daring mind. It is not to be 
believed that the most prominent group of this picture, 
which is framed so heart-moving and lovely — the 
accomplishment of all human hope, the extinction of all 
morbid fear and anguish — would consist of millions of 
sensitive beings enduring, in every variety of torture 
which Omniscient vengeance could invent, immortal 
agony. 
r .t f "^^^'S Christ opposed with earnest eloquence the panic 
*^* ) fears and hateful superstitions which have enslaved 
mankind for ages. Nations had risen against nations, 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 155 

emplo3'ing the subtlest devices of mechanism and mind 
to waste, and excruciate, and overthrow. The great 
community of mankind had been subdivided into ten 
thousand communities, each organised for the ruin of 
the other. \\ heel within wheel, the vast machine was 
instinct with tlie restless spirit of desolation. Pain had 
been inflicted ; therefore, pain should be inflicted in 
return. Retaliation of injuries is the only remedy 
which can be applied to violence, because it teaches the 
injurer the true nature of his own conduct, and operates 
as a warning against its repetition. Nor must tlie same 
measure of calamity be returned as was received. If a 
man borrows a certain sum from me, he is bound to 
repay that sum. Shall no more be required of the 
enemy who destroys my reputation, or ravages my 
fields? It is just tliat he should suffer ten times the 
loss which he has inflicted, that the legitimate conse- 
quences of his deed ma}' never be obliterated from his 
remembrance, and that others may clearly discern and 
feel the danger of invading the peace of human society. 
Such reasonings, and the impetuous feelings arising 
from them, have armed nation against nation, family 
against family, man against man. 

An Athenian soldier, in the loniaji army whioh had 
assembled for the purpose of vindicating the liberty 
of the Asiatic Greeks, accidentally set fire to Sardis. 
The city, being composed of combustible materials, was 
burned to the ground. The Persians believed that this 
circumstance of aggression made it tiieir duty to 
retaliate on Athens. They assembled successive ex- 
peditions on the most extensive scale. Every nation 
of the East was united to ruin the Grecian States. 



156 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

Athens was burned to the ground, the whole territory 
laid waste, and every living thing which it contained 
[destroyed] . After suffering and inflicting incalculable 
mischiefs, they desisted from their purpose only when 
they became impotent to effect it. The desire of 
revenge for the aggression of Persia outlived, among 
the Greeks, that love of liberty which had been their 
most glorious distinction among the nations of man- 
kind ; and Alexander became the instiiiment of its 
completion. The mischiefs attendant on this consum- 
mation of fruitless ruin are too manifold and too 
tremendous to be related. If all the thought which 
had been expended on the construction of engines of 
agony and death — the modes of aggression and defence, 
the raising of armies, and the acquirement of those arts 
of tyranny and falsehood without which mixed multi- 
tudes could neither be led nor governed — had been 
employed to promote the true welfare and extend the 
real empire of man, how different would have been the 
present situation of human society ! how different the 
state of knowledge in physical and moral science, upon 
which the power and happiness of mankind essentially 
depend ! What nation has the example of the desola- 
tion of Attica by Mardonius and Xerxes, or the extinc- 
tion of the Persian empire by Alexander of Macedon, 
restrained from outrage? Was not the pretext of this 
latter system of spoliation derived immediately from 
the former? Had revenge in this instance any other 
effect than to increase, instead of diminishing, the mass 
of malice and evil already existing in the world? 

The emptiness and folly of retaliation are apparent 
from every example which can be brought forward. 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 157 

Not only Jesus Christ, but the most eminent professors 
of every sect of philosophy, have reasoned against this 
futile superstition. Legislation is, in one point of view, 
to be considered as an attempt to provide against the 
excesses of this deplorable mistake. It professes to 
assign the penalty of all private injuries, and denies to 
individuals the right of vindicating their proper cause. 
This end is certainly not attained without some accom- 
modation to the propensities which it desires to destroy. 
Still, it recognises no principle but the production of 
the greatest eventual good with the least immediate 
injury; and regards the torture, or the death, of any 
human being as unjust, of whatever mischief he may 
have been the author, so that the result shall not more 
than compensate for the immediate pain. 

Mankind, transmitting from generation tc generation 
the legacy of accunuilated vengeances, and pursuing 
with the feelings of duty the misery of their fellow- 
beings, have not failed to attribute to the Universal 
Cause a character analogous with their own. The 
image of this invisible, mj'sterious Being is more or 
less excellent and perfect — resembles more or less its 
original — in proportion to the perfection of the mind 
on which it is impressed. Thus, that nation which has 
arrived at the highest step in the scale of moral pro- 
gression will believe most purely in that God, the 
knowledge of whose real attributes is considered as 
the firmest basis of the true religion. The reason of 
the belief of each individual, also, will be so far regu- 
lated by his conceptions of what is good. Thus, the 
conceptions which any nation or individual entertains 
of the God of its poi)ular worship may be inferred from 



15S ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

their o\mi actions and opinions, which are the subjects 
of their approbation among their fellow-men. Jesus 
Christ instructed his disciples to be perfect, as their 
Father in Heaven is perfect, declaring at the same time 
his belief that human perfection requires the refraining 
from revenge and retribution in any of its various 
shapes. 

The perfection of the human and the divine character 
is thus asserted to be the same. Man, by resembling 
God, fulfils most accurately the tendencies of his 
nature; and God comprehends within himself all that 
constitutes human perfection. Thus, God is a model 
through which the excellence of man is to be estimated, 
whilst the abstract perfection of the human character 
is the type of the actual perfection of the divine. It 
is not to be believed that a person of such compre- 
hensive views as Jesus Christ could have fallen into so 
manifest a contradiction as to assert that men would 
be tortured after death by that Being whose character 
is held up as a model to human kind, because he is 
incapable of malevolence and revenge. All the argu- 
ments which have been brought forward to justify 
retribution fail, when retribution is destined neither to 
operate as an example to other agents, nor to the 
offender himself. How feeble such reasoning is to be 
considered, has been already shown; but it is the 
character of an evil Daemon to consign the beings whom 
he has endowed with sensation to unprofitable anguish. 
The peculiar circumstances attendant on the conception 
of God casting sinners to burn in Hell for ever, com- 
bine to render that conception the most perfect speci- 
men of the greatest imaginable crime. Jesus Christ 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 159 

represented God as the principle of all good, the source 
of all happiness, the wise and benevolent Creator and 
Preserver of all living things. But the interpreters of 
his doctrines have confounded the good and tlie evil 
principle. They observed the emanations of their 
universal natures to be inextricably entangled in the 
world, and, trembling before the power of the cause 
of all things, addressed to it such flattery as is accept- 
able to the ministers of human tyranny, attributing love 
and wisdom to those energies M-hicli they felt to be 
exerted indifferently for the purposes of benefit and 
calamity. 

Jesus Christ expressly asserts that distinction be- 
tween the good and evil principle which it has been the 
practice of all theologians to confound. How far his 
doctrines, or their interpretation, may be true, it would 
scarcely have been worth while to inquire, if the one 
did not afiord an example and an incentive to the 
attainment of true virtue, whilst the other holds out a 
sanction and apology for every species of mean and 
cruel vice. v 

It cannot be precisely ascertained in what degree 
Jesus Christ accommodated his doctrines to the opinions 
of his auditors ; or in what degree he really said all 
tiiat he is related to have said. He has left no written 
record of himself, and we are compelled to judge 
from the imperfect and obscure information which his 
biographers (persons certainly of very undisciplined and 
undiscriminating minds) have transmitted to posterity. 
'I'hese writers (our only guides) impute sentiments to 
Jesus Christ which flatly contradict each other. They 
represent him as narrow, superstitious, and exquisitely 



160 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

vindictive and malicious. They insert, in the midst 
of a strain of impassioned eloquence or sagest exhor- 
tation, a sentiment only remarkable for its naked and 
drivelling folly. But it is not difficult to distinguish 
the inventions by which these historians have filled up 
the interstices of tradition, or corrupted the simplicity 
of truth, from the real character of their rude amaze- 
ment. They have left sufficiently clear indications of 
the genuine character of Jesus Christ to rescue it for 
ever from the imputations cast upon it bj^ their ignor- 
ance and fanaticism. We discover that he is the enemy 
of oppression and of falsehood ; that he is the advocate 
of equal justice ; that he is neither disposed to sanction 
bloodshed nor deceit, under whatsoever pretences their 
practice may be vindicated. We discover that he was 
a man of meek and majestic demeanour, calm in danger ; 
of natural and simple thought and habits; beloved to 
adoration by his adherents ; unmoved, solemn, and 
severe. 

It is utterly incredible that this man said, that if you 
hate your enemy you would find it to your account to 
return him good for evil, since, by such a temporary 
oblivion of vengeance, you would heap coals of fire on 
his head. Where such contradictions occur, a favour- 
able construction is warranted by the general innocence 
of manners and comprehensiveness of views which he 
is represented to possess. The rule of criticism to be 
adopted in judging of the life, actions, and words of a 
man who has acted any conspicuous part in the revolu- 
tions of the world, should not be narrow. We ought 
to form a general image of his character and of his 
doctrines, and refer to this whole the distinct portions 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY ir.i 

of actions and si)eech by which they are diversified. It 
is not here asserted that no contradictions are to be 
admitted to have taken place in the system of Jesiis 
Ciirist, between doctrines promulgated in different 
states of feeling or information, or even such as are 
implied in the enunciation of a scheme of thought, 
various and obscure through its immensity and depth. 
It is not asserted that no degree of human indignation 
ever hurried him, be}'ond the limits which his calmer 
mood had placed, to disapprobation against \ ice and 
folly. Those deviations from the history of his life are 
alone to be vindicated which represent his own essential 
character in contradiction with itself. 

Every human mind has what Bacon calls its " j dfo/a 
speeds " — peculiar images which reside in the inner 
cave of thought. These constitute the essential and 
distinctive character of every human being ; to which 
every action and every word have intimate relation ; 
and by which, in depicting a character, the genuine- 
ness and meaning of tiiese words and actions are to be 
determined. Every fanatic or enemy of virtue is not 
at liberty to misrepresent the greatest geniuses and 
most heroic defenders of all that is valuable in this 
mortal world. History, to gain any credit, must con- 
tain some truth, and that truth siiall thus be made a 
sufficient indication of prejudice and deceit. 

With respect to the miracles wliich tiiese biograi)hers 
have related, I have already declined to enter into any 
discussion on their nature or their existence. The sup- 
I)osition of their falsehood or their truth would modify 
in no degree the hues of the picture which is attempted 
to be delineated. To judge truly of the moral and 



162 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

philosophical character of Socrates, it is not necessary 
to determine the question of the familiar Spirit ^vhich 
[it] is supposed that he believed to attend on him. 
The power of the human mind, relatively to intercourse 
Vrith or dominion over the invisible world, is doubtless 
an interesting theme of discussion ; but the connection 
of the instance of Jesus Christ with the established 
religion of the country in which I write, renders it 
dangerous to subject oneself to the imputation of in- 
troducing new Gods or abolishing old ones ; nor is the 
duty of mutual forbearance sufficiently understood to 
render it certain that the metaphysician and the 
moralist, even though he carefully sacrifice a cock to 
Esculapius, may not receive something analogous to 
the bowl of hemlock for the reward of his labours. 
Much, however, of what his [Christ's] biographers 
have asserted is not to be rejected merely because 
inferences inconsistent with the general spirit of his 
system are to be adduced from its admission. Jesus 
Christ did what every other reformer who has pro- 
duced any considerable effect upon the world has done. 
He accommodated his doctrines to the prepossessions 
of those whom he addressed. He used a language for 
this view sufficiently familiar to our comprehensions. 
He said, — However new or strange my doctrines may 
appear to you, they are in fact only the restoration and 
re-establishment of those original institutions and 
ancient customs of your own law and religion. The 
constitutions of your faith and policy, although perfect 
in their origin, have become corrupt and altered, and 
have fallen into decay. I profess to restore them to 
their pristine authority and splendour. "Think not 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 163 

that I ani come to destroy the Law and the Prophets. 
I am come not to destroy, but to fulfil. Till heaven 
and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no- 
wise pass away from the Law, till all be fulfilled." 
Thus, like a skilful orator (see Cicero, De Oratore), 
he secures the prejudices of his auditors, and induces 
them, by his professions of sympathy with tlieir feel- 
ings, to enter with a willing mind into the exposition 
of his own. Tlic art of persuasion differs from that of 
reasoning ; and it is of no small moment, to the success 
even of a true cause, that the judges who are to deter- 
mine on its merits should be free from those national 
and religious predilections wl-ich render the multitude 
both deaf and blind. 

Let not this practice be considered as an unworthy 
artifice. It were best for the cause of reason that man- 
kind should acknowledge no authority but its own ; but 
it is useful, to a certain extent, that they should not 
consider those institutions which they have been 
habituated to reverence as opposing an obstacle to its 
admission. All reformers have been compelled to prac- 
tise this misrepresentation of their own true feelings 
and opinions. It is deeply to be lamented that a 
word should ever issue from human lips which contains 
the minutest alloy of dissimulation, or simulation, or 
hypocrisy, or exaggeration, or anything but the precise 
and rigid image which is present to the mind, and 
which ought to dictate the expression. But the prac- 
tice of utter sincerity towards other men would avail 
to no good end, if they were incapable of practising 
it towards their own minds. In fact, truth cannot be 
communicated until it is perceived. The interests, 



164 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

therefore, of truth require that an orator should, as 
far as possible, produce in his hearers that state of 
mind on which alone his exhortations could fairly be 
contemplated and examined. 

Having produced this favourable disposition of mind, 
Jesus Christ proceeds to qualify, and finally to abrogate, 
the system of the Jewish law. He descants upon its 
insufficiency as a code of moral conduct, which it pro- 
fessed to be, and absolutely selects the law of retaliation 
as an instance of the absurdity and immorality of its 
institutions. The conclusion of the speech is in a strain 
of the most daring and most impassioned speculation. 
He seems emboldened by the success of his exculpation 
to the multitude, to declare in public the utmost singu- 
larity of his faith. He tramples upon all received 
opinions, on all the cherished luxuries and superstitions 
of mankind. He bids them cast aside the claims of 
custom and blind faith by which they have been en- 
compassed from the very cradle of their being, and 
receive the imitator and minister of the Universal God. 



Equality of Mankind 

*'The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath 
chosen me to preach the gospel to the poor : He hath 
sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliver- 
ance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, 
and to set at liberty them that are bruised." (Luke 
iv. 18.) This is an enunciation of all that Plato 
and Diogenes have speculated upon the equality of 
mankind. They saw^ that the great majority of the 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY \G5 

human species were reduced to the situation of scjualid 
i<inoranee and moral imbecility, for the purpose of 
purveying for the luxury of a few, and contributing to 
the satisfaction of their thirst for power. Too mean- 
spirited and too feeble in resolve to attempt the con- 
quest of their own evil passions, and of the difficulties 
of the material world, men sought dominion over their 
fellow-men, as an easy method to gain that apparent 
majesty and power which the instinct of their nature 
requires. Plato wrote the scheme of a republic, in 
which law^ should watch over the equal distribution of 
the external instruments of unequal power — honours, 
property, etc. Diogenes devised a nobler and a more 
worthy s,vstem of opposition to the system of the slave 
and tyrant. He said: '*It is in the power of each, 
individual to level the inequality which is the topic of 
the complaint of mankind. Let him be aware of his 
own worth, and the station which he occupies in the 
scale of moral beings. Diamonds and gold, palaces 
and sceptres, derive their value from the opinion of 
mankind. The only sumptuary law which can be 
imposed on the use and fabrication of these instruments 
of mischief and deceit, these symbols of successful 
injustice, is the law of opinion. Every man possesses 
the power, in this respect, to legislate for himself. 
Let him be well aware of his own worth and moral 
dignity. Let him yield in meek reverence to any wiser 
or worthier than lie, so long as he accords no venera- 
tion to the splendour of his apparel, the luxury of 
his food, the multitude of liis flatterers and slaves. 
It is because, mankind, ye value and seek the empty 
pageantry of wealth and social [lower, tliat ye are 
M 



166 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

enslaved to its possessions. Decrease your physical 
wants ; learn to live, so far as nourishment and shelter 
are concerned, like the beast of the forest and the birds 
of the air; ye will need not to complain, that other 
individuals of your species are surrounded by the 
diseases of luxury and the vices of subserviency and 
oppression.'* With all those who are truly wise, there 
will be an entire community, not only of thoughts and 
feelings, but also of external possessions. Insomuch., 
therefore, as ye live [wisely], ye may enjoy the com- 
munity of whatsoever benefits arise from the inventions 
of civilised life. They are of value only for purposes of 
mental power ; they are of value only as they are 
capable of being shared and applied to the common 
advantage of philosophy ; and, if there be no love 
among men, whatever institutions they may frame must 
be subservient to the same purpose — to the continuance 
of inequality. If there be no love among men, it is 
best that he who sees through the hollowness of their 
professions should fly from their society, and suffice 
to his own soul. In wisdom, he will thus lose nothing ; 
in power, he will gain everything. In proportion to 
the love existing among men, so will be the community 
of property and power. Among true and real friends, 
all is common; and, were ignorance and envy and 
superstition banished from the world, all mankind 
would be friends. The only perfect and genuine re- 
public is that which comprehends every living being. 
Those distinctions which have been artificially set up, 
of nations, societies, families, and religions, are only 
general names, expressing tlie abhorrence and contempt 
with which men bUndly consider their fellow-men. I 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 167 

love m.v country ; I love the city in Nvhich I was born, 
my parents, my wife, and the children of my care ; and 
to this city, tliis woman, and this nation, it is incum- 
bent on me to do all the benefit in my power. To 
what do tiiese distinctions point, but to an evident 
denial of the duty which humanity imposes on you, of 
doing every possible good to every individual, under 
whatever denomination he may be comprehended, to 
whom you ha\e the power of doing it? You ought to 
love all mankind; nay, every individual of mankind. 
You ought not to love the individuals of your domestic 
circle less, but to love those who exist beyond it more. 
Once make the feelings of confidence and of affection 
universal, and the distinctions of property and power 
w ill vanish ; nor are they to be abolished without sub- 
stituting something equivalent in mischief to them., 
until all mankind shall acknowledge an entire com- 
munity of rights. 

But, as the shades of night are dispelled by the 
faintest glimmerings of dawn, so shall the minutest 
progress of the benevolent feelings disperse, in some 
degree, the gloom of tyranny, and [curb the] ministers 
of mutual suspicion and abhorrence. Your physical 
wants are few, whilst those of your mind and heart 
cannot be numbered or described, from their multitude 
and complication. To secure tiie gratification of the 
former, yoa have made yourselscs the bond-slaves of 
each other. 

i'hey have cultivated these meaner wants to so great 
an excess as to judge nothing so valuable or desirable 
[as] what relates to their gratification. Hence has 
arisen a system of passions which loses sight of the end 



168 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

they were originally awakened to attain. Fame, power, 
and gold, are loved for their own sakes — are worshipped 
with a blind, habitual idolatry. The pageantry of 
empire, and the fame of irresistible might, are con- 
templated by the possessor with unmeaning com- 
placency, without a retrospect to the properties which 
first made him consider them of value. It is from the 
cultivation of the most contemptible properties of 
human nature that discord and torpor and indifference, 
by which the moral universe is disordered, essentially 
depend. So long as these are the ties by which human 
society is connected, let it not be admitted that they 
are fragile. 

Before man can be free, and equal, and truly wise, 
he must cast aside the chains of habit and superstition ; 
he must strip sensuality of its pomp, and selfishness of 
its excuses, and contemplate actions and objects as they 
really are. He will discover the wisdom of universal 
love; he will feel the meanness and the injustice of 
sacrificing the reason and the liberty of his fellow- 
men to the indulgence of his physical appetites, and 
becoming a party to their degradation by the consum- 
mation of his own. 

Such, with those differences only incidental to the 
age and state of society in which they were promul- 
gated, appear to have been the doctrines of Jesus 
Christ. It is not too much to assert that they have 
been the doctrines of every just and compassionate mind 
that ever speculated on the social nature of man. The ; 
dogma of the equality of mankind has been advocated, 
with various success, in different ages of the world. 
It was imperfectly understood, but a kind of instinct ' 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 169 

in its favour influenced considerably the practice of 
ancient Greece and Rome. Attempts to establish 
us;ifTes founded on this dogma have been made in 
modern Euroi)e, in several instances, since the revival 
of literature and the arts. Rousseau has vindicated this 
opinion \vith all the eloquence of sincere and earnest 
faith ; and is, perhaps, the i)hilosopher among the 
moderns who, in the structure of his feelings and under- 
standing, resembles most nearly the mysterious sage 
of Judea. It is impossible to read those passionate 
words in which Jesus Christ upbraids the pusillanimity 
and sensuaUty of mankind, without being strongly 
reminded of the more connected and systematic en- 
thusiasm of Rousseau. "No man," saj's Jesus Christ, 
"can serve two masters. Take, therefore, no thought 
for to-morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for 
the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil 
thereof." If we would profit by the wisdom of a 
sublime and poetical mind, we must beware of the 
vulgar error of interpreting literally every expression it 
employs. Nothing can well be more remote from truth 
than the literal and strict construction of such expres- 
sions as Jesus Christ delivers, or than [to imagine that] 
it were best for man that he sliould abandon all his 
acquirements in physical and intellectual science, and 
depend on the spontaneous productions of nature for 
his subsistence. Nothing is more obviously false than 
that the remedy for the inequality among men consists 
in their return to the condition of savages and beasts. 
Philosophy will never be understood if we approach the 
study of its mysteries with so narrow and illiberal con- 
ceptions of its universality. Rousseau certainly did 



170 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

not mean to persuade the immense population of his 
country to abandon all the arts of life, destroy their 
habitations and their temples, and become the inhabit- 
ants of the woods. He addressed the most enlightened 
of his compatriots, and endeavoured to persuade them 
to set the example of a pure and simple life, by placing 
in the strongest point of view his conceptions of tiie 
calamitous and diseased aspect which, overgrown as it 
is with the vices of sensualitj'- and selfishness, is ex- 
hibited by civilised society. Nor can it be believed 
that Jesus Christ endeavoured to prevail on the inhabit- 
ants of Jerusalem neither to till their fields, nor to 
frame a shelter against the sky, nor to provide food 
for the morrow. He simply exposes, with the pas- 
sionate rhetoric of enthusiastic love towards all human 
beings, the miseries and mischiefs of that system which 
makes all things subservient to the subsistence of the 
material frame of man. He warns them that no man 
can serve two masters — God and Mammon ; that it is 
impossible at once to be high-minded and just and 
wise, and to comply with the accustomed forms of 
human society, seek power, wealth, or empire, either 
from the idolatry of habit, or as the direct instruments 
of sensual gratification. He instructs them that cloth- 
ing and food and shelter are not, as they suppose, the 
true end of human life, but only certain means, to be 
valued in proportion to their subserviency to that end. 
These means it is the right of every human being to 
possess, and that in the same degree. In this respect, 
the fowls of the air and the lilies of the field are 
examples for the imitation of mankind. They are 
clothed and fed by the Universal God. Permit, there- 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 171 

fore, the Spirit of this benignant Principle to visit your 
inttllectual frame, or, in other words, become just and 
pure. When you understand the degree of attention 
which the requisitions of your physical nature demand, 
you will perceive how little labour suffices for their 
satisfac'iion. Your Heavenly Father knoweth you have 
need o: these things. The universal Harmony, or 
Reason, which makes your passive frame of thought its 
dwelling, in proportion to the purity and majesty of its 
nature will instruct you, if ye are willing to attain that 
exalted coulition, in what manner to possess ail the 
objects necessary for your material subsistence. All 
men are [impelled] to become thus pure and happy. 
All men are called to participate in the community of 
Nature's gifts. The man who has fewest bodily wants 
api)roaches nearest to the Divine Nature. Satisfy tliese 
wants at the cheapest rate, and expend the remaining 
energies of your nature in the attainment of virtue and 
knowledge. The mighty frame of the wonderful and 
lovely world is the food of your contemplation, and 
living beings who resemble your own nature, and are 
bound to you by similarity of sensations, are destined 
to be the nutriment of your affection ; united, they are 
the consummation of the widest hopes your mind can 
contain. Ye can expend thus no labour on mechanism 
consecrated to luxury and pride. How abundant will 
not be your progress in all that truly ennobles and 
extends human nature ! By rendering j'ourselves thus 
worthy, ye will be as free in your imaginations as the 
swift and many-coloured fowls of the air, and as beauti- 
ful in pure simplicity as the lilies of the field. In 
proportion as mankind becomes wise — yes, in exact 



172 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

proportion to that wisdom — should be the extinction of 
the unequal system under Avhich they now subs/st. 
Government is, in fact, the mere badge of their depra- 
vity. They are so little aware of the inestimable 
benefits of mutual love as to indulge, without thought, 
and almost without motive, in the worst excesses of 
selfishness and malice. Hence, without graduating 
human society into a scale of empire and subjection, its 
very existence has become impossible. It is necessary 
that universal benevolence should supersede the regula- 
tions of precedent and prescription, before these regula- 
tions can safely be abolished. Meanwhile, their very 
subsistence depends on the system of injustice and 
violence which they have been devised to palliate. 
They suppose men endowed with the power of deliberat- 
ing and determining for their equals ; whilst these men, 
as frail and as ignorant as the multitude whom they 
rule, possess, as a practical consequence of this power, 
the right which they of necessity exercise to prevent 
(together with their own) the physical and moral and 
intellectual nature of all mankind. 

It is the object of wisdom to equalise the distinctions 
on which this power depends, by exhibiting in their 
proper worthlessness the objects, a contention concern- 
ing which renders its existence a necessary evil. The 
evil, in fact, is virtually abolislied wherever justice is 
practised ; and it is abolished in precise proportion to 
the prevalence of true virtue. 

The whole frame of human things is infected by an 
insidious poison. Hence it is that man is blind in his 
understanding, corrupt in his moral sense, and diseased 
in his physical functions. The wisest and most sublime 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 178 

of tlie ancient j^oets saw tliis truth, and embodied their 
conception of its value in retrosi)ect to the earhest a'^vs 
of mankind. They represented equality as the rei^rn 
of Saturn, and taught that mankind had gradually 
degenerated from the virtue which enabled them to 
enjo}' or maintain this hapi)y state. Their doctrine 
was philosophically false. Later and more correct 
observations have instructed us that uncivilised man is 
the most pernicious and miserable of beings, and that 
the violence and injustice, whicli are the genuine indi- 
cations of real inequality, obtain in the societ}' of these 
beings without palliation. Their imaginations of a 
happier state of human society were referred, in truth, 
to the Saturnian period ; they ministered, indeed, to 
thoughts of despondency and sorrow. But they were 
the children of airy hope — the prophets and parents of 
man's futurity. Man was once as a wild beast; he has 
become a moralist, a metaphysician, a poet, and an 
astronomer. Lucretius or Virgil might have referred 
tiie comjjarison to themselves ; and, as a proof of the 
progress of the nature of man, challenged a comparison i 
with the cannibals of Sc^ythia.^ The experience of the 
ages which have intervened between the present period 
and that in which Jesus Christ taught, tends to prove 
his doctrine, and to illustrate theirs. There is more ^ 
equality because there is more justice, and there is 'Z 
more justice because there is more universal knowledge. ^ 

To the accomplisliment of such mighty hopes were 

the views of Jesus Christ extended ; such did he believe 

to be the tendency of his doctrines — the abolition of 

artificial distinctions among mankind, so far as the love 

^ Jcjua Christ foresaw what the poet.s retrospectively imagined, 



174 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

which it becomes all human beings to bear towards 
each other, and the knowledge of truth from which 
that love will never fail to be produced, avail to their 
destruction. A young man came to Jesus Christ, 
struck by the miraculous dignity and simplicity of his 
character, and attracted by the words of power which 
he uttered. He demanded to be considered as one of 
the followers of his creed. "Sell all that thou hast," 
replied the philosopher; "give it to the poor, and 
follow me." But the young man had large posses- 
sions, and he went away sorrowing. 

The system of equality was attempted, after Jesus 
Christ's death, to be carried into effect by his followers. 
•'They that believed liad all things in common; they 
sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to 
all men, as every man had need ; and they continued 
daily with one accord in the temple, and, breaking 
bread from house to house, did eat their meat with 
gladness and singleness of heart." (Acts ii.) 

The practical application of tlie doctrines of strict 
justice to a state of society established in its contempt, 
was such as might have been expected. After the 
transitory glow of enthusiasm had faded from the minds 
of men, precedent and habit resumed their empire ; 
they broke like an universal deluge on one shrinking 
and solitary island. Men to whom birth had allotted 
ample possession looked with complacency on sumptu- 
ous apartments and luxurious food, and those cere- 
monials of delusive majesty which surround the throne 
of power and the court of wealth. Men, from whom 
these things were withheld by their condition, began 
again to gaze with stupid envy on pernicious splendour ; 



ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 175 

and, by desiring the false greatness of anoliier's state, 
to sacrifice the intrinsic dignity of their own. The 
demagogues of the infant republic of the Christian sect, 
attaining, tlirough elo(iue:ice or artifice, to influence 
amongst its members, first violated (under the pretence 
of watching over their integrity) the institutions estab- 
lished for the common and equal benefit of all. These 
demagogues .artfully silenced the voice of the moral 
sense among them by engaging them to attend, not so 
much to the cultivation of a virtuous and happy life 
in this mortal scene, as to the attainment of a fortunate 
condition after death; not so much to the considera- 
tion of those means by which the state of man is 
adorned and improved, as an inquiry into the secrets 
of the connexion between God and the world — things 
which, they well knew, were not to be exi)lained, or 
even to be conceived. The system of equality which 
they established necessarily fell to the ground, because 
it is a system that must result from, rather than pre- 
cede, the moral improvement of human kind. It was 
a circumstance of no moment that the first adherents 
of the system of Jesus Christ cast their property into 
a common stock. The same degree of real community 
of property could have subsisted without this formality, 
which served only to extend a temptation of dishonesty 
to the treasurers of so considerable a patrimony. Every 
man, in proportion to his virtue, considers himself, 
with respect to the great community of mankind, as the 
steward and guardian of their interests in the property 
which he chances to possess. Every man, in propor- 
tion to his wisdom, sees the manner in which it is his 
duty to employ the resources which the consent of 



176 ESSAY ON CHRISTIANITY 

mankind has intrusted to his discretion. Such is the 
[annihilation] of the unjust inequahty of powers and 
conditions existing in the world ; and so gradually and 
inevitably is the progress of equality accommodated to 
the progress of wisdom and of virtue among mankind. 

Meanwhile, some benefit has not failed to flow from 
the imperfect attempts which have been made to erect a 
system of equal rights to property and power upon the 
basis of arbitrary institutions. They have undoubtedly, 
in every case, from the instability of their forma- 
tion, failed. Still, they constitute a record of those 
epochs at which a true sense of justice suggested itself 
to the understandings of men, so that they consented to 
forego all the cherished delights of luxury, all the 
habitual gratifications arising out of the possession or 
the expectation of power, all the superstitions with 
which the accumulated authority of ages had made 
them dear and venerable. They are so many trophies 
erected in the enemy's land, to mark the limits of the 
victorious progress of truth and justice. 

Jesus Christ did not fail to advert to the 



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London: Watts & Co., Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C. 



14 DAY USE 

RETURN TO DESK FROM WHICH BORROWED 

LOAN DEPT. 

This book is due on the last date stamped below, or 

on the date to which renewed. 

Renewed books are subjea to immediate recall. 



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DEC 6 1978 



— aEi;.4 ; in.. ' -i' j '?£ 

LD 21A-G0m-7.'66 
(G4.127sl0)476B 



General Library 
University of Califo. 
Berkeley 



U.C. BERKELEY LIBRARIES 



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