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In a word, every thing is liable to change; and it is high time to change from division to union.
Let not religion, the sacred name of religion, which even in the face of an enemy discovers a brother, be any longer a wall of separation to keep us asunder: though it has been often perverted* to the worst of purposes, yet it is easy to reconcile it with every social blessing.
In the course of this work, I intend to make it a citizen of the world, instead of confining it to one kingdom or province. I am not an able, neither am I a partial advocate. I plead for the Protestant in France, and for the Jew in Lisbon, as well as for the Catholic in Ireland. In future ages should fanaticism attempt to re-establish her destructive empire, and crying out with the frantic queen, exoriare aliquis ex ossibus nostris, summon ihe furies to spring from her embers, which I attempt to disperse and deprive of their noxious heat, let this votive offering, hung up in the temple of the order of the Monks of St. Patrick, announce to posterity, that in 1781, the liberal-minded of all denominations in Ireland, were reconciled, maugre the odious distinctions which the laws uphold, and that those very laws, enacted before we were born, but not the dispositions of the people, are the only sources of our misfortunes.
Whatever tends to promote the public good, is a tribute due from an adopted brother, to great and illustrious characters, whose refined feelings can only be equalled by the culture of their minds: who have transplanted to the Irish nursery the flowers of Rome and Athens: who, in their writings and speeches, have displayed to Europe
the scene of eloquence, diversified with the fire of Demosthenes and the majesty of Tully, and wrested their thunderbolts from those orators, in order to assert what they deemed the rights of mankind, and to crush the false divinities that should attempt to erect their altars on their ruins.
I have the honour to be,
Your affectionate Brother,
Dublin, July 1$, 1781.
OR, REMARKS ON A WORK, ENTITLED
THOUGHTS ON NATURE AND RELIGION.
TO THE AU THOK*
YOUR long expected performance has at length made its appearance. If the work tended to promote the happiness of society; to animate our hopes; to subdue our passions; to instruct man in the happy science of purifying the polluted recesses of a vitiated heart; to confirm him in his exalted notion of the dignity of his nature, and thereby to inspire him with sentiments averse to whatever may debase the excellence ef his origin; the public would be indebted to you; your name would be recorded amongst the assertors of morality and religion; and I myself, though bred up in a different persuasion from yours, would be the first to offer my incense at the shrine of merit. But the tendency of your performance is to deny the divinity of Christ, and the immortality of the soul. In denying the first, you sap the foundations of religion; you cut off, atone blow, the merit of our faith, the comfort of our hope, and the motives of our charity. In denying the immortality of the soul, you degrade human nature, and confound man with the vile and perishable insect. In denying both, you overturn the whole system of religion, whether natural or revealed: and in denying religion, you deprive th«
. .• A Scotch physician, who styles himself Michael Serretus.
poor of the only comfort which supports them under their distresses and afflictions; you wrest from the hands of the powerful and rich, the only bridle to their injustices and passions; and pluck from the hearts of the guilty, the greatest* check to their crimes; I mean, this remorse of conscience, which can never be the result of a handful of organized matter; this interior monitor which makes us blush, in the morning, at the disorders of the foregoing night! which erects in the breast of the tyrant, a tribunal superior to his power, and whose importunate voice upbraids a Cain, in the wilderness, with the murder of his brother; and a Nero, in his palace, with that of his mother. Such are the consequences naturally resulting from the principles laid down in your writings.
It is no intention of mine to fasten the odium of wilful infidelity on any person, who professes his belief in the Scriptures: though I am equally concerned and surprised that a gentleman, whose understanding has been enlightened by the Christian revelation, and enlarged by all the aids of human learning, should broach tenets, which equally militate against • the first principles of reason, and the oracles of the Divinity; and which, if true, would be of so service to mankind. Whoever is so unhappy as to work himself into a conviction, that his soul is no more than a subtile vapour, which in death is to be breathed out into the air, to mix confusedly with its kindred element, and there to perish, would still do well to conceal his horrid belief with more secrecy than the Druids concealed their mysteries. In doing otherwise, he only brings disgrace on himself: for the notion of religion is so deeply impressed on our minds, that the bold champions who would fain destroy it, are considered by the generality of mankind, as public pests, spreading disorder and mortality wherever they appear; and in our feelings we discover the delusions of a cheating philosophy, which can never introduce a religion more pure than that of the Christians, nor confer a more glorious privilege on man, than that of an immortal soul. In a word, if it be a crime to have no religion, it is a folly to boast of the want of it., ((,,,, , .
Whence, then, this eagerness to propagate systems, the tendency whereof is to slacken the reins that curb the irregularity of our appetites, and restrain the impetuosity of passion? In our dogmatizing philosophers, it must proceed from the corruption of the heart, averse to restraint; or the vanity of the mind, which glories in striking from the common path, and not thinking with the multitude.
• Your unspotted character justifies you from any imputation of a design to infect others with the poison of a licentious doctrine. But vanity is one of those foreign ingredients, blended by the loss of original justice, into our nature. It prefers glorious vices to obscure virtues. It animates the hero to extend his conquests, at the expense of justice; and stimulates the philosopher to erect the banners of error on the ruins of truth. You seem to acknowledge it, in your enquiries into the causes of error: 'It was vanity in philosophers
* which caused so many different sects and systems.' I believe it, and Montaigne was of the same opinion. Immersed in an ocean of disorders, glorying in appearance, in an utter extinction of remorse, and conversant with the doctrine taught in Epicurus's garden, he acknowledges, that 'vanity induces « free-thinkers to affect more impiety than they are really capable of.' Lucretius, in like manner, whose arguments against the immortality of the soul are the same with yours, corroborates your opinion, relative to the bias vanity gives those soaring and philosophical geniuses, who strike from the trodden path. When in glowing numbers he enforced his fond opinion of careless goods and material souls, as favourable to the calm repose which the voluptuous bard, who makes his invocation to Venus, would fain enjoy without remorse here, or punishment hereafter, he was well aware that his doctrine clashed with the general sense of mankind. But the philosophical poet consoles himself, with the flattering expectation of gratifying his vanity:
"'Tis sweet to crop fresh flowers, and get a crown,
In a word, some men of learning plume themselves upon the singularity of their opinions: and, however they may disclaim vanity, as the spring of their literary performances, yet it is one of those ingredients which gives a zest to their composition. And if singularity and novelty of invention, be fitimulatives to self-love, few authors of the age are more