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Title: Heresy: Its Utility And Morality - A Plea And A Justification
Author: Bradlaugh, Charles, 1833-1891
Language: English
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By Charles Bradlaugh

London: Austin & Co., 17, Johnson's Court, Fleet Street, E.C.

Price Ninepence.




What is heresy that it should be so heavily punished? Why is it that
society will condone many offences, pardon many vicious practices, and
yet have such scant mercy for the open heretic, who is treated as though
he were some horrid monster to be feared and hated? Most religionists,
instead of endeavouring with kindly thought to provide some solution
for the difficulties propounded by their heretical brethren,
indiscriminately confound all inquirers "in one common category of
censure; their views are dismissed with ridicule as sophistical and
fallacious, abused as infinitely dangerous, themselves denounced as
heretics and infidels, and libelled as scoffers and Atheists." With some
religonists all heretics are Atheists. With the Pope of Rome, Garibaldi
and Mazzini are Atheists. With the Religious Tract Society, Voltaire
and Paine were Atheists. Yet in neither of the above-named cases is
the allegation true. Voltaire and Paine were heretics, but both were
Theists. Garibaldi and Mazzini are heretics, but neither of them is an
Atheist. With few exceptions, the heretics of one generation become
the revered saints of a period less than twenty generations later. Lord
Bacon, in his own age, was charged with Atheism, Sir Isaac Newton with
Socinianism, the famous Tillotson was actually charged with Atheism, and
Dr. Burnet wrote against the commonly received traditions of the fall
and deluge. There are but few men of the past of whom the church
boasts to-day, who have not at some time been pointed at as heretics
by orthodox antagonists excited by party rancour. Heresy is in itself
neither Atheism nor Theism, neither the rejection of the Church of Rome,
nor of Canterbury, nor of Constantinople; heresy is not necessarily of
any ist or ism. The heretic is one who has selected his own opinions, or
whose opinions are the result of some mental effort; and he differs from
others who are orthodox in this:--they hold opinions which are often
only the bequest of an earlier generation unquestioningly accepted; he
has escaped from the customary grooves of conventional acquiescence, and
sought truth outside the channels sanctified by habit.

Men and women who are orthodox are generally so for the same reason that
they are English or French--they were born in England or France,
and cannot help the good or ill fortune of their birth-place. Their
orthodoxy is no higher virtue than their nationality. Men are good and
true of every nation and of every faith; but there are more good and
true men in nations where civilisation has made progress, and amongst
faiths which have been modified by high humanising influences. Men are
good not because of their orthodoxy, but in spite of it; their goodness
is the outgrowth of their humanity, not of their orthodoxy. Heresy is
necessary to progress; heresy in religion always precedes an endeavour
for political freedom. You cannot have effectual political progress
without wide-spread heretical thought. Every grand political change in
which the people have played an important part, has been preceded by the
popularisation of heresy in the immediately earlier generations.

Fortunately, ignorant men cannot be real heretics, so that education
must be the hand-maiden to heresy. Ignorance and superstition are twin
sisters. Belief too often means nothing more than prostration of the
intellect on the threshold of the unknown. Heresy is the pioneer, erect
and manly, striding over the forbidden line in his search for truth.
Heterodoxy develops the intellect, orthodoxy smothers it. Heresy is the
star twinkle in the night, orthodoxy the cloud which hides this faint
gleam of light from the weary travellers on life's encumbered pathway.
Orthodoxy is well exemplified in the dark middle ages, when the mass of
men and women believed much and knew little, when miracles were common
and schools were rare, and when the monasteries on the hill tops held
the literature of Europe. Heresy speaks for itself in this nineteenth
century, with the gas and electric light, with cheap newspapers, with
a thousand lecture rooms, with innumerable libraries, and at least a
majority of the people able to read the thoughts the dead have left, as
well as to listen to the words the living utter.

The word heretic ought to be a term of honour; for honest, clearly
uttered heresy is always virtuous, and this whether truth or error;
yet it is not difficult to understand how the charge of heresy has
been generally used as a means of exciting bad feeling. The Greek word
[------] which is in fact our word heresy, signifies simply, selection
or choice. The he etiq philosopher was the one who had searched and
found, who, not content with the beaten paths, had selected a new road,
chosen a new fashion of travelling in the inarch for that happiness all
humankind are seeking.

Heretics are usually called "infidels," but no word could be more
unfairly applied, if by it is meant anything more than that the heretic
does not conform to the State Faith. If it meant those who do not
profess the faith, then there would be no objection, but it is more
often used of those who are unfaithful, and then it is generally
a libel. Mahomedans and Christians both call Jews infidels, and
Mahomedans and Christians call each other infidels. Each religionist
is thus an infidel to all sects but his own; there is but one degree
of heresy between him and the heretic who rejects all churches. Each
ordinary orthodox man is a heretic to every religion in the world except
one, but he is heretic from the accident of birth without the virtue of
true heresy.

In our own country heresy is not confined to the extreme platform
adopted as a standing point by such a man as myself. It is rife even
in the state-sustained Church of England, and to show this one does
not need to be content with such illustrations as are afforded by
the Essayists and Reviewers, who discover the sources of the world's
education rather in Greece and Italy than in Judea, who reject the
alleged prophecies as evidence of the Messianic character of Jesus;
who admit that in nature and from nature, by science and by reason,
we neither have, nor can possibly have any evidence of a deity working
miracles; but declare that for that we must go out of nature and beyond
science, and in effect avow that Gospel miracles are always _objects_,
not _evidences_, of faith; who deny the necessity of faith in Jesus as
saviour to peoples Who could never have such faith; and who reject
the notion that all mankind are individually involved in the curse
and perdition of Adam's sin; or even by the Rev. Charles Voysey, who
declines to preach "the God of the Bible," and who will not teach that
every word of the Old and New Testament is the word of God; or by the
Rev. Dunbar Heath, who in defiance of the Bible doctrine, that man has
only existed on the earth about 6,000 years, teaches that unnumbered
chiliads have passed away since the human family commenced to play at
nations on our earth; or by Bishop Colenso, who in his impeachment of
the Pentateuch, his denial of the literal truth of the narratives of
the creation, fall, and deluge, actually impugns the whole scheme of
Christianity (if the foundation be false, the superstructure cannot be
true); or by the Rev. Baden Powell, who declared "that the whole tenor
of geology is in entire contradiction to the cosmogony delivered from
Mount Sinai," and who denied a "local heaven above and a local hell
beneath the earth;" or by the Rev. Dr. Giles, who, not content with
preceding Dr. Colenso in his assaults on the text of the Pentateuch,
also wrote as vigorously against the text of the New Testament; or
by the Rev. Dr. Wall, who, unsatisfied with arguments against the
admittedly incorrect authorised translation of the Bible, actually wrote
to prove that a new and corrected Hebrew text was necessary, the Hebrew
itself being corrupt; or by the Rev. Dr. Irons, who teaches that not
only are the Gospel writers unknown, but that the very language in which
Jesus taught is yet to be discovered, who declares that prior to the
Esraic period the literal history of the Old Testament is lost, who
does not find the Trinity taught in Scripture, and who declares that
the Gospel dees not teach the doctrine of the Atonement; or by the
late Archbishop Whately, to whom is attributed a Latin pamphlet raising
strong objections against the truth of the alleged confusion of tongues
at Babel.

We may fairly allege, that amongst thinking clergymen of the Church of
England, heresy is the rule and not the exception. So soon as a
minister begins to preach sermons which he does not buy ready
lithographed--sermons which are the work of his brain--so soon heresy
more or less buds out, now in the rejection of some church doctrine or
article of minor importance, now in some bold declaration at variance
with major and more essential tenets. Even Bishop Watson's so famous for
his Bible Apology, declared that the church articles and creeds were
not binding on any man. "They may be true, they may be false," he wrote.
Today scores of Church of England clergymen openly protest against,
or groan in silence under the enforced subscription of Thirty-nine
unbelievable Articles. Sir William Hamilton declares that the heads of
Colleges at Oxford well knew that the man preparing for the Church "will
subscribe Thirty-nine Articles which he cannot believe, who swears to
do and to have done a hundred articles which he cannot or does not

In scientific circles the heresy of the most efficient members is
startlingly apparent. Against members of the Anthropological Society
charges of Atheism are freely levelled, and although such a charge does
not seem to be justified by any reports of their meetings, or by their
printed publications, it is clear that not only out of doors, but even
amongst their own circle it is felt that their researches conflict
seriously with the Hebrew writ. The Society has been preached against
and prayed against, and yet it is simply a society for discovering
everything possible about man, prehistoric as well as modern. It has,
however, an unpardonable vice in the eyes of the orthodox--it encourages
the utterance of facts without regard to their effect on faiths.

The Ethnological Society is kindred to the last named in many of its
objects, and hence some of its most active members have been direct
assailants of the Hebrew Chronology, which, limits man's existence
to the short space of 6,000 years; they have been deniers(sp.) of the
origin of the human race from one pair, of the confusion of tongues
at Babel, and of the reduction of the human race to one family by the
Noachian deluge.

Geological science has a crowd of heretics amongst its professors, men
who deny the sudden origin of fauna and flora; who trace the gradual
development of the vegetable and animal kingdoms through vast periods of
time; and who find no resting place in a beginning of existence, but
are obliged to halt in face of a measureless past, inconceivable in
its grandeur. Geology, to quote the words of Dr. Kalisch, declares "the
utter impossibility of a creation of even the earth alone in six days."
Mr. Goodwin says in the "Essays and Reviews:" "The school-books of the
present day, while they teach the child that the earth moves, yet assure
him that it is a little less than six thousand years old, and that it
was made in six days. On the other hand, geologists of all religious
creeds are agreed that the earth has existed for an immense series of
years--to be counted by millions rather than by thousands; and that
indubitably more than six days elapsed from its first creation to the
appearance of man upon its surface."

Astronomy has in the ranks of its professors many of its most able minds
who do not believe in the sun and moon as two great lights, who cannot
accept the myriad stars as fixed in the firmament solely to give light
upon the earth, who refuse to believe in the heaven as a fixed firmament
to divide the waters above from the waters beneath, who cannot by their
telescopes discover the local heaven above or the local hell beneath,
although their science marks each faint nebulosity crossing, or
crossed by the range of the watcher's vision. To quote again from Mr.
Goodwin:--"On the revival of science in the sixteenth century, some of
the earliest conclusions at which philosophers arrived, were found to
be at variance with popular and long established belief. The Ptolemaic
system of astronomy, which had then full possession of the minds of men,
contemplated the whole visible universe from the earth as the immovable
centre of things. Copernicus changed the point of view, and placing
the beholder in the sun, at once reduced the earth to an inconspicuous
globule, a merely subordinate member of a family of planets; which the
terrestrials had, until then, fondly imagined to be but pendants and
ornaments of their own habitation. The Church, naturally, took a lively
interest in the disputes which arose between the philosophers ot the
new school, and those who adhered to the old doctrines, inasmuch as the
Hebrew records, the basis of religious faith, manifestly countenanced
the opinion of the earth's immobility, and certain other views of the
universe, very incompatible with those propounded by Copernicus. Hence
arose the official proceedings against Galileo, in consequence of which
he submitted to sign his celebrated recantation, acknowledging that 'the
proposition that the sun is the centre of the world and immovable from
its place, is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical,
because it is expressly contrary to the Scripture;' and that 'the
proposition that the earth is not the centre of the world, nor
immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal motion, is absurd,
philosophically false, and at least erroneous in faith.'"

Why is it that society is so severe on heresy? Three hundred years ago
it burned heretics, till thirty years ago it sent them to jail; even in
England and America to-day it is content to harass, annoy, and slander
them. In the United States a candidate for the Governorship of a State,
although otherwise admittedly eligible, was assailed bitterly for his
suspected Socinianism. Sir Sidney Waterlow, standing for a Scotch seat,
was sharply catechised as to when he had last been inside the Unitarian
Chapel, and only saved his seat by not too boldly avowing his opinions.
Lord Amberley, who was "unwise" enough to be honest in some of his
answers, did not obtain his seat for South Devon in consequence of the
suspicion of heresy excited against him. It is chiefly to the _odium
theologicum_ that Mr. Mill may attribute his rejection at Westminster;
and it is supposed to have also damaged Sir John Lubbock in West Kent.
I only refrain from enlarging on my own case, because I learn from the
Press that it is chiefly the vulgarity and coarseness of my heresy with
which they are indignant. To reply that I have sought to avoid being
coarse and vulgar is worse than useless, I am judged untried, condemned
unheard; evidence is unnecessary in the case of a man who thus puts
himself outside the pale.

Sir William Drummond says, "Early associations are generally the
strongest in the human mind, and what we have been taught to credit as
children we are seldom, disposed to question as men. Called away from
speculative inquiries by the common business of life, men in general
possess neither the inclination, nor the leisure to examine _what_ they
believe or _why_ they believe. A powerful prejudice remains in the mind;
ensures conviction without the trouble of thinking; and repels doubt
without the aid or authority of reason. The multitude then is not very
likely to applaud an author, who calls upon it to consider what it had
hitherto neglected, and to stop where it had been accustomed to pass on.
It may also happen that there is a learned and formidable body, which,
having given its general sanction to the literal interpretation of the
Holy Scriptures, may be offended at the presumption of an unhallowed
layman, who ventures to hold, that the language of those Scriptures is
often symbolical and allegorical, even in passages which both the Church
and the Synagogue consider as nothing else than a plain statement of
fact. A writer who had sufficient boldness to encounter such obstacles,
and to make an appeal to the public, would only expose himself to
the invectives of offended bigotry, and to the misrepresentations of
interested malice. The press would be made to ring with declamations
against him, and neither learning, nor argument, nor reason,
nor moderation on his side, would protect him from the literary
assassination which awaited him. In vain would he put on the
heaven-tempered panoply of truth. The weapons which could neither pierce
his buckler nor break his casque, might be made to pass with envenomed
points through the joints of his armour. Every trivial error which
he might commit, would be magnified into a flagrant fault; and every
insignificant mistake into which he might fall, would be represented by
the bigotted, or by the hireling critics of the day as an ignorant, or
as a perverse deviation from the truth." Both by the Statute Law and
Common Law, heresy is punishable, and many are punished for it even in
the second half of the nineteenth century. A man who has been educated
in, or made profession of Christianity, and who shall then deny any of
the Thirty-nine Articles, is liable to indictment and imprisonment,
but this course is seldom pursued; the more common practice is for the
Christian to avail himself of the heretic's want of belief in order to
object to his competency as a witness. Repeated instances have
occurred recently in which the proposed witness has been rejected as
untrustworthy, because he was too honest to pretend to hold a faith he
in truth denied. Besides such open persecution, there is the constant,
unceasing, paltry, petty persecuting spirit which refuses to trade with
the heretic; which declines to eat with him; which will not employ him;
which feels justified in slandering him, which seeks to set his wife's
mind against him, and to take away the affection of his children from

For those who do not believe this, I will instance two clergymen of
the Church of England: one (who as my teacher when a boy) set a kind
father's heart against me, and drove me further in heresy than I then
dreamed of marching; and the other, who in cruel wickedness tried to
wound me as a man through the feelings of my wife and children, whom
he most vilely and basely slandered. The first is yet unpunished, the
second escaped condign punishment only by writing himself down libeller,
and praying pardon for the slanderous coinage of his brain. And yet
this latter Church of England clergyman, who had written a strong letter
thanking me for my generous forbearance, and who from his own pulpit
pretended to express his sorrow, is actually the first and only man in
my neighbourhood to cry "Atheist" against me, when I mingle in political
life, and he thinks the phrase may wound and injure me.


It requires a more practised pen than mine to even faintly sketch the
progress of heresy during the past three centuries, but I trust to
say enough to give the reader an idea of its rapid growth and wide
extension. I say of the past three centuries, because it is only during
the past three hundred years that heresy has made the majority of its
converts amongst the mass of the people. In earlier times heretics were
not only few, but they talked to the few, and wrote to the few, in the
language of the few; and indeed it may be fairly said, that it is only
during the last hundred years that the greatest men have sought to
make heresy "vulgar;" that is, to make it common. One of our leading
scientific men admitted recently that he had been reproved by some of
his more orthodox friends, for not confining to the Latin language such
of his geological opinions as were supposed to be most dangerous to the
Hebrew records. The starting-point of the real era of popular heresy may
be placed at the early part of the sixteenth century, when the memories
of Huss and Ziska (who had really inoculated the mass with some spirit
of heretical resistance a century before) aided Luther in resisting

Martin Luther, born at Eisleben in Saxony, in 1483, was one of the
heretics who sought popular endorsement for his heresy, and who
following the example of the Ulrich Zuingle, of Zurich, preached to the
people in rough plain words. While others were limited to Latin, he rang
out in plain German his opposition to Tetzel and his protectors. I know
that to-day, Martin Luther is spoken of by orthodox Protestants as if
he were a saint without blemish, and indeed I do not want to deprive
the Christian Church of the honour of his adherence; he is hardly good
enough and true enough for a first-class heretic. Yet in justification
of my ranking him even so temporarily amongst the heretics of the
sixteenth century, it will be sufficient to mention that he regarded
"the books of the Kings as more worthy of credit than the books of the
Chronicles," that he wrote as follows:--"The book of Esdras I toss into
the Elbe." "I am so an enemy to the book of Esther I would it did not
exist." "Job spake not therefore as it stands written in his book." "It
is a sheer _argumentum fabulæ_" "The book of the Proverbs of Solomon has
been pieced together by others," of Ecclesiastes "there is too much of
broken matter in it; it has neither boots nor spurs, but rides only in
socks." "Isaiah hath borrowed his whole art and knowledge from David."
"The history of Jonah is so monstrous that it is absolutely incredible."
"The Epistle to the Hebrews is not by St. Paul, nor indeed by any
Apostle." "The Epistle of James 1 account the writing of no Apostle,"
and "is truly an Epistle of sham." The Epistle of Jude "allegeth sayings
or stories which have no place in Scripture," "of Revelation I can
discover no trace that it is established by the Holy Spirit." If Martin
Luther were alive to-day, the Established Church of England,
which pretends to revere him, would prosecute him in the English
Ecclesiastical Courts if he ventured to repeat the foregoing phrases
from her pulpits. What would the writers who attack me for coarseness,
say of the following passage, which occurs with reference to Melancthon,
whom Luther boasts that he raised miraculously from the dead?
"Melancthon," says Sir William Hamilton, to whose essay I am indebted
for the extracts here given, "had fallen ill at Weimar from contrition
and fear for the part he had been led to take in the Landgrave's
polygamy: his life was even in danger." "Then and there," said Luther,
"I made our Lord God to smart for it. For I threw down the sack before
the door, and rubbed his ears with all his promises of hearing prayer,
which I knew how to recapitulate from Holy Writ, so that he could
not but hearken to me, should I ever again place any reliance on his
promises." Martin Luther, with his absolute denial of free-will, and
with his double code of morality for princes and peasants--easy for one
and harsh for the other--may be fairly left now with those who desire
to vaunt his orthodoxy; here his name is used only to illustrate the
popular impetus given to nonconformity by his quarrel with the papal
authorities. Luther protested against the Romish Church, but established
by the very fact the right for some more advanced man than Doctor Martin
to protest in turn against the Lutheran Church. The only consistent
church in Christendom is the Romish Church, for it claims the right to
think for all its followers. The whole of the Protestant Churches are
inconsistent, for they claim the right to think and judge against Rome,
but deny extremer Nonconformists the right to think and judge against
themselves. Goethe, says Froude, declares that Luther threw back the
intellectual progress of mankind by using the passions of the multitude
to decide subjects which should have been left to the learned. I do not
believe this to be wholly true, for the multitude once having their ears
fairly opened, listened to more than the appeal to their passions, and
examined for themselves propositions which otherwise they would have
accepted or rejected from habit and without inquiry. Martin Luther's
public discussions with pen and tongue, in Wittemberg, Augsburg,
Liebenwerd, and Lichtenberg, and the protest he encouraged against Rome,
were the commencement of a vigorous controversy, in which the public
(who heard for the first time sharp controversial sermons preached
publicly in the various pulpits by Lutheran preachers on free-will and
necessity, election and predestination, &c.) began to take real part and
interest; and which is still going on, and will in fact never end until
the unholy alliance of Church and State is everywhere annulled, and each
religion is left to sustain itself by its own truth, or to fall from
its own weakness, no man being molested under the law on account of his
opinions on religious matters. While Luther undoubtedly gave an impetus
to the growth of Rationalism by his own appeal to reason and his
reliance on reason for himself, it is not true that he contended for the
right of general freedom of inquiry, nor would he have left unlimited
the privileges of individual judgment for others. He could be furious in
his denunciations of reason when a freer thinker than himself dared to
use it against his superstitions. It is somewhat remarkable that while
on the one hand one man, Luther, was detaching from the Church of Rome
a large number of minds, another man, Loyola, was about the same time
engaged in founding that powerful society (the Society of Jesuits),
which has done so much to check free inquiry and maintain the priestly
domination over the human intellect. That which Luther commenced in
Germany roughly, inefficiently, and perhaps more from personal feeling
for the privileges of the special order to which he belonged than
from desire for popular progress, was aided in its permanent effect by
Descartes, in England by Bacon, in France by Montaigne, and in Italy by

Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, was born on the 22nd January, 1561, and
died 1626. His mother, Anne, daughter of Sir Anthony Cooke, was a woman
of high education, and certainly with some inclinations favourable to
Freethought, for she had herself translated into English some of the
sermons on fate and free-will of Bernard Ochino, or Bernardin Ochinus,
an Italian Reforming Heretic, alike repudiated by the powers at Rome,
Geneva, Wittemberg, and Zurich. Ochino, in his famous disquisition
"touching the freedom or bondage of the human will, and the
foreknowledge, predestination, and liberty of God," after discussing,
with great acuteness, and from different points of view, these important
topics, comes to the conclusion that there is no outlet to the mazes of
thought in which the honest speculator plunges in the endeavour to
solve these problems. Although, like other writers of that and earlier
periods, many of Bacon's works were published in Latin, he wrote and
published also in English, and if I am right in numbering him as one of
the heretics of the sixteenth century, he must be also counted a vulgar
heretic--i.e., one who wrote in the vulgar tongue, who preached his
heresy in the language which the mass understood. Lewes says, "Bacon and
Descartes are generally recognised as the Fathers of Modern Philosophy,
although they themselves were carried along by the rapidly-swelling
current of their age, then decisively setting in the direction of
science. It is their glory to have seen visions of the coming greatness,
to have expressed in terms of splendid power, the thoughts which were
dimly stirring the age, and to have sanctioned the new movement by
their authoritative genius." Bacon was the populariser of that method of
reasoning known as the inductive, that method which seeks to trace
back from the phenomena of the moment to the eternal noumenon or
noumena--from the conditioned to the absolute. Nearly two thousand years
before, the same method had been taught by Aristotle in opposition to
Plato, and probably long thousands of years before the grand Greek,
pre-historic schoolmen had used the method; it is natural to the human
mind. The Stagirite was the founder of a school, Bacon the teacher and
populariser for a nation. Aristotle's Greek was known to few, Bacon's
eloquent English opened out the subject to the many whom he impregnated
with his own confidence in the grand progressiveness of human thought.
Lewes says; "The spirit of his philosophy was antagonistic to Theology,
for it was a spirit of doubt and search; and its search was for visible
and tangible results." Bacon himself, in his essay on Superstition,
says: "Atheism leaves a man to sense, to philosophy, to natural piety,
to laws, to reputation, all which may be guides to an outward moral
virtue, though religion were not; but superstition dismounts all these,
and erecteth an absolute monarchy in the minds of men: therefore Atheism
did never perturb states; for it makes men wary of themselves, as
looking no further; and we see the times inclined to Atheism, as the
time of Augustus Caesar were civil times; but superstition hath been
the confusion of many states, and bringeth in a new _primum mobile_ (the
first motive cause), that ravisheth all the spheres of government." It
is true that he also wrote against Atheism, and this in strong language,
but his philosophy was not used for the purpose of proving theological
propositions. He said: "True philosophy is that which is the faithful
echo of the voice of the world, which is written in some sort under the
dictation of things, which adds nothing of itself, which is only the
rebound, the reflection of reality." It has been well said that the
words "Utility and Progress" give the keynotes of Bacon's teachings.
With one other extract we leave his writings. "Crafty men," he says,
"contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for
they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and
above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute, nor
to believe and take for granted, nor to find talk and discourse; but to
weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested. Reading maketh a full man;
conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; and therefore, if a
man write little, he need have a great memory; if he confer little, he
need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much
cunning, to seem to know that he doth not. Histories make men wise;
poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral,
grave; logic and rhetoric, able to contend." He was the father of
experimental philosophy. In one of his suggestions as to the force
of attraction of gravitation may be found the first aid to Sir Isaac
Newton's later demonstrations on this head; another of his suggestions,
worked out by Torricelli, ended in demonstrating the gravity of the
atmosphere. But to the method he so popularised may be attributed the
grandest discoveries of modern times. It is to be deplored that the
memory of his moral weakness should remain to spoil the praise of his
grand intellect.

Lord Macaulay, in the _Edinburgh Review_, after contrasting at some
length the philosophy of Plato with that of Bacon, said;--"To sum up
the whole: we should say that the aim of the Platonic philosophy was to
exalt man into a god. The aim of the Baconian philosophy was to provide
man with what he requires while he continues to be man. The aim of the
Platonic philosophy was to raise us far above vulgar wants. The aim of
the Baconian philosophy was to supply our vulgar wants. The former aim
was noble; but the latter was attainable. Plato drew a good bow; but,
like Acestes in Virgil, he aimed at the stars; and therefore, though
there was no want of strength or skill, the shot was thrown away. His
arrow was indeed followed by a track of dazzling radiance, but it struck
nothing. Bacon fixed his eye on a mark which was placed on the earth and
within bowshot, and hit it in the white. The philosophy of Plato began
in words and ended in words--noble words in deed-words such as were to
be expected from the finest of human intellects exercising boundless
dominion over the finest of human languages. The philosophy of Bacon
began in observations and ended in arts."

In France the political heresy of Jean Bodin--who challenged the
divine right of rulers; who proclaimed the right of resistance
against oppressive decrees of monarchs; who had words of laudation for
tyrannicide, and yet had no conception that the multitude were entitled
to use political power, but on the contrary wrote against them--was
very imperfect, the conception of individual right was confounded in the
habit of obedience to monarchical authority. Bodin is classed by Mosheim
amongst the writers who sowed the seeds of scepticism in France; but
although he was far from an orthodox man, it is doubtful if Bodin ever
intended his views to be shared beyond the class to which he belonged.
To the partial glimpse of individual right in the works of Bodin add
the doctrine of political fraternity taught by La Boetie, and then this
political heresy becomes dangerous in becoming popular.

The most decided heretic and doubter of the sixteenth century was
one Sanchez, by birth a Portuguese, and practising as a physician
at Toulouse; but the impetus which ultimately led to the spread and
popularity of sceptical opinions in relation to politics and theology,
is chiefly due to the satirical romances of Rabelais and the essays
of Montaigne. "What Rabelais was to the supporters of theology," says
Buckle, "that was Montaigne to the theology itself. The writings of
Rabelais were only directed against the clergy, but the writings of
Montaigne were directed against the system of which the clergy were the

Montaigne was born at Bordeaux 1533, died 1592. Louis Blanc says of
his words, "Et ce ne sont pas simples discours d'un philosophe à des
philosophes. Montaigne s'addresse à tous." Montaigne's words were not
those of a philosopher talking only to his own order, he addressed
himself to mankind at large, and he wrote in language the majority could
easily comprehend. Voltaire points out that Montaigne as a philosopher
was the exception in France to his class; he having succeeded in
escaping that persecution which fell so heavily on others. Montaigne's
thoughts were like sharp instruments scattered broadcast, and intended
for the destruction of many of the old social and conventional bonds; he
was the advocate of individualism, and placed each man as above society,
rather than society as more important than each man. Montaigne mocked
the reasoners who contradicted each other, and derided that fallibility
of mind which regarded the opinion of the moment as infallibly true,
and which was yet always temporarily changed by an attack of fever or
a draught of strong drink, and often permanently modified by some new
discovery. Less fortunate than Montaigne, Godfrey a Valle was burned for
heresy in Paris in 1572, his chief offence having been that of issuing a
work entitled "De Arte Nihil Credendi."

Heresy thus championed in France, Germany, and England, had in Italy its
sixteenth century soldiers in Pomponatius of Mantua, Giordano Bruno, and
Telesio, both of Naples, and in Campanella of Calabria, a gallant band,
who were nearly all met with the cry of "Atheist," and were either
answered with exile, the prison, or the faggot.

Pomponatius, who was born 1486 and died 1525, wrote a treatise on the
Soul, which was so much deemed an attack on the doctrine of immortality
despite a profession of reverence for the dogmas of the Church, that
the work was publicly burned at Venice, a special bull of Leo X. being
directed against the doctrine.

Bernard Telesio was born at Naples in 1508, and founded there a school
in which mathematics and philosophy were given the first place. During
his lifetime he had the good fortune to escape persecution, but sites
his death his works were proscribed by the Church; Telesio was chiefly
useful in educating the minds of some of the Neapolitans for more
advanced thinking than his own.

This was well illustrated in the case of Thomas Campanella, born 1568,
who, attracted by the teachings of Telesio, wrote vigorously against the
old schoolmen and in favor of the new philosophy. Despite an affected
reverence for the Church of Rome, Campanella spent twenty-seven years
of his life in prison. Campanella has been, as is usually the case with
eminent writers, charged with atheism, but there seems to be no fair
foundation for the charges He was a true heretic, for he not only
opposed Aristotle; but even his own teacher Telesio. None of these
men, however, yet strove to reach the people, they wrote to and of one
another, not to or of the masses. It is said that Campanella was fifty
times arrested and seven times tortured for his heresy.

One Andrew de Bena, a profound scholar and eminent preacher of the
Church of Rome, carried away by the spirit of the time, came out into
the reformed party; but his mind once set free from the old trammels,
found no rest in Luther's narrow church, and a poetic Pantheism was the

Jerome Cardan, a mathematician of considerable ability, born at Pavia
1601, has been fiercely accused of atheism. His chief offence seems
to have been rather in an opposite direction; astrology was with him a
favourite subject. While the strange views put forward in some of his
works served good purpose by provoking inquiry, we can hardly class
Cardan otherwise than as a man whose undoubted genius and erudition were
more than counterbalanced by his excessively superstitious folly.

Giordano Bruno was born near Naples about 1550. He was burned at Rome
for heresy on the 17th February, 1600. Bruno was burned for alleged
atheism, but appears rather, to have been a Pantheist. His most
prominent avowal of heresy was the disbelief in eternal torment and
rejection, of the common orthodox ideas of the devil. He wrote chiefly
in Italian, his vulgar tongue, and thus effectively aided the grand
march of heresy by familiarising the eyes of the people with newer and
truer forms of thought. Bruno used the tongue as fluently as the pen.
He spoke in Italy until he had roused an opposition rendering flight the
only possibly escape from death. At Geneva he found no resting place,
the fierce spirit of Zuingle and Calvin was there too mighty; at Paris
he might have found favour, with the King, and at the Sorbonne, but
he refused to attend mass, and delivered a series of popular lectures,
which won many admirers; from Paris he went to England, where we find
him publicly debating at Oxford and lecturing on theology, until he
excited an antagonism which induced his return to Paris, where he
actually publicly discussed for three days some of the grand problems
of existence. Paris orthodoxy could not permit his onslaughts on
established opinions, and this time it was to Germany Bruno turned
for hospitality; where, after visiting many of the different states,
lecturing freely but with general success, he drew upon himself a
sentence of excommunication at Helmstadt. At last he returned to Italy
and spoke at Padua, but had at once to fly thence from the Inquisition;
at Venice he found a resting place in prison, whence after six years
of dungeon, and after the tender mercy of the rack, he was led out to
receive the final refutation of the faggot. There is a grand heroism
in the manner in which he received his sentence and bore his fiery
punishment. No cry of despair, no prayer for escape, no flinching at
the moment of death. Bruno's martyrdom may favourably contrast with the
highest example Christianity gives us.

It was in the latter half of the sixteenth century, that Unitarianism
or Socinianism assumed a front rank position in Europe, having its chief
strength in Poland, with considerable force in Holland and England.
In 1524, one Lewis Hetzer had been publicly burned at Constance, for
denying the divinity of Jesus; but Hetzer was more connected with the
Anabaptists than with the Unitarians. About the same time a man named
Claudius openly argued amongst the Swiss people, against the doctrine
of the trinity, and one John Campanus contended at Wittemberg, and other
places, against the usually inculcated doctrines of the Church, as to
the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

In 1566, Valentine Gentilis, a Neapolitan, was put to death at Rome, for
teaching the superiority of God the Father, over the Son and the Holy
Ghost. Modern Unitarianism appears to have had as its founders or chief
promoters, Lælius Socinus, and his nephew Faustus Socinus; the first
having the better brain and higher genius, but marred by a timid and
irresolute character; the second having a more active nature and bolder
temperament. From Cracow and Racow, during the latter half of this
century, the Unitarians (who drew into their ranks many men of advanced
minds.) issued a large number of books and pamphlets, which were
circulated amongst the people with considerable zeal and industry.
Unitarianism was carried from Poland into Transylvania by a physician,
George Blandrata, and a preacher Francis David, or Davides, who obtained
the support and countenance of the then ruler of the country. Davides,
unfortunately for himself, became too unitarian for the Unitarians; he
adopted the extreme views of one Simon Budnffius, who, in Lithuania,
entirely repudiated any sort, of religious worship in reference to
Jesus. Budnæus was excommunicated by the Unitarians themselves, and
Davides was imprisoned for the rest of his life. As the Unitarians were
persecuted by the old Romish and new Lutheran Churches, so they in turn
persecuted seceders from and opposers of their own movement. Each
man's history involved the widening out of public thought; each act
of persecution illustrated a vain endeavour to check the progress of
heresy; each new sect marked a step towards the destruction of the old
obstructive faiths.

About the close of the sixteenth century, Ernestius Sonerus, of
Nuremberg, wrote against the doctrine of eternal torment, and also
against the divinity of Jesus, but his works were never very widely
circulated. Amongst the distinguished Europeans of the sixteenth century
whom Dr. J. F. Smith mentions as either atheists or favouring atheism,
were Paul Jovius, Peter Aretin, and Muretus. Rumour has even enrolled
Leo X. himself in the atheistical ranks. How far some of these men had
warranted the charge other than by being promoters of literature
and lovers of philosophy, it is now difficult to say. A determined
resistance was offered to the spread of heretical opinions in the South
of Europe by the Roman Church, and it is alleged that some thousands of
persons were burned or otherwise punished in Spain, Portugal, and Naples
during the sixteenth century. The Inquisition or Holy Office was
in Spain and Portugal the most prominent and active persecutor, but
persecution was carried on vigorously in other parts of Europe by the
seceders from Rome. Zuingle, Luther, and Calvin, were as harsh as the
Pope towards those with whom they differed.

Michael Servetus, or Servede, was a native of Arragon, by profession a
physician; he wrote against the ordinary doctrines of the Trinity, but
was far from ordinary Unitarianism.

He was burned at Geneva, at the instance of Calvin. Calvin was rather
fond of burning heretical opponents; to the name of Servetus might be
added that of Gruet, who also was burned at the instance of Calvin, for
denying the divinity of the Christian religion, and for arguing against
the immortality of the soul.

It is worth notice that while heresy in this sixteenth century began
to branch out openly, and to strike its roots down firmly amongst the
people, ecclesiastical historians are compelled to record improvement
in the condition of society. Mosheim says, "In this century the arts
and sciences were carried to a pitch unknown to preceding ages, and from
this happy renovation of learning, the European churches derived the
most signal and inestimable advantages." "The benign influence of true
science, and its tendency to improve both the form of religion and the
institutions of civil policy, were perceived by many of the states."
The love of literature is the most remarkable and characteristic form
of advancing civilisation. Instead of being the absorbing passion of
the learned few, it becomes gradually the delight and occupation of
increasing numbers. This cultivation of literary pursuits by the mass
is only possible when enough of heresy has been obtained to render their
scope of study wide enough to be useful. Rotterdam gave life to the
polished Erasmus, Valentia to Ludovico Vivez, Picardy to Le Fevre, and
France to Rabelais.

In the latter half of this century, giants in literature grew out,
giants who wrote for the people. William Shakespeare wrote even
for those who could not read, but who might learn while looking and
listening. His comedies and tragedies are at the same time pictures
for the people of diverse phases of English life and character, with a
thereunto added universality of pourtrayal and breadth in philosophy,
which it is hardly too much to say, that no other dramatist has ever
equalled. Italy boasts its Torquato Tasso, whose "Jerusalem Delivered,"
the grand work of a great poet, marks, like a mighty monument, the age
capable of finding even in a priest-ridden country, an audience amongst
the lowest as well as the highest, ready to read and sing, and finally
permeated with the poet's outpourings. In astronomy, the name of
Tycho Brahé stands out in the sixteenth century like one of the first
magnitude stars whose existence he catalogued.


The seeds of inquiry sown in the sixteenth century resulted in a
fruitful display of advanced opinions during the next age. In the page
of seventeenth century history, more names of men, either avowedly
heretics, or charged by the orthodox with heresy, or whose labours
can be shown to have tended to the growth of heresy, may probably be
recorded than can be found during the whole of the previously long
period during which the Christian Church assumed to dominate and control
European thought. The seventeenth century muster-roll of heresy is
indeed a grand one, and gloriously filled. One of its early martyrs was
Julius Caesar Vanini, who was burned at Toulouse, in the year 1619, aged
34, as "an impious and obstinate Atheist." Was he Atheist, or was he
not? This is a question, in answering which the few remains of his works
give little ground for sharing the opinion of his persecutors. Yet
many writers agree in writing as if his Atheism were of indisputable
notoriety. He was a poor Neapolitan priest, he preached a sort of
Pantheism; unfortunately for himself, he believed in the utility of
public discussion on theological questions, and thus brought upon his
head the charge of seeking to convert the world to Atheism.

In 1611, two men, named Legat and Whitman, were burned in England for
heresy. "But," says Buckle, "this was the last gasp of expiring bigotry;
and since that memorable day, the soil of England has never been stained
by the blood of a man who has suffered for his religious creed."

Peter Charron, of Paris, ought perhaps to have been included in the
sixteenth century list, for he died in 1603, but his only known work,
"La Sagesse," belongs to the seventeenth century, in which it circulated
and obtained reputation.

He urged that religion is the accidental result of birth and education,
and that therefore variety of creed should not be cause of quarrel
between men, as such variety is the result of circumstances over which
the men themselves have had no control; and he urges that as each sect
claims to be the only true one, we ought to rise superior to all sects,
and without being terrified by the fear of future punishment, or
allured by the hope of future happiness, "be content with such practical
religion as consists in performing the duties of life." Buckle, who
speaks in high terms of Charron, says, "The Sorbonne went so far as
to condemn Charron's great work, but could not succeed in having it

René Descartes Duperron, a few years later than Bacon (he was born in
1596, at La Haye, in Touraine, died 1650, at Stockholm) established the
foundations of the deductive method of reasoning, and applied it in a
manner which Bacon had apparently carefully avoided. Both Descartes
and Bacon addressed themselves to the task of substituting for the old
systems, a more comprehensive and useful spirit of philosophy; but while
Bacon sought to accomplish this by persuading men to experiment and
observation, Descartes commenced with the search for a first and
self-evident ground of all knowledge. This, to him, is found in
consciousness. The existence of Deity was a point which Bacon left
untouched by reason, yet with Descartes it was the first proposition he
sought to prove. He says, "I have always thought that the two questions
of the existence of God and the nature of the soul, were the chief
of those which ought to be demonstrated rather by philosophy than by
theology, for although it is sufficient for us, the faithful, to believe
in God, and that the soul does not perish with the body, it does not
seem possible ever to persuade the infidels to any religion unless we
first prove to them these two things by natural reason." To prove this
existence of God and the immortality of the soul, Descartes needed
a firm starting point, one which no doubt could touch, one which
no argument could shake. He found this point in the fact of his own
existence. He could doubt everything else, but he could not doubt that
he, the thinking doubter, existed. His own existence was the primal
fact, the indubitable certainty, which served as the base for all other
reasonings, hence his famous "Cogito ergo sum:" I think, therefore I am.
And although it has been fairly objected that Descartes did not exist
because he thought, but existed and thought; it is nevertheless clear
that it is only in the thinking that Descartes had the consciousness of
his existence. The fact of Descartes' existence was, to him, one above
and beyond all logic, Evidence could not add to the certitude, no
scepticism could impeach it. Whether or not we agree with the Cartesian
philosophy, or the reasonings used to sustain it, we must admire the
following four rules which he has given us, and which, with the view
of consciousness in which we do not entirely concur, are the essential
features of the basis of a considerable portion of Descartes' system;--

"1. Never to accept anything as true but what is evidently so; to admit
nothing but what so clearly and distinctly presents itself as true, that
there can be no reason to doubt it.

"2. To divide every question into as many separate parts as possible,
that each part being more easily conceived, the whole may be more

"3. To conduct the examination with order, beginning by that of objects
the most simple, and therefore the easiest to be known, and ascending
little by little up to knowledge of the most complex.

"4. To make such exact calculations, and such circumspections as to be
confident that nothing essential has been omitted."

"Consciousness being the basis of all certitude, everything of which you
are clearly and distinctly conscious must be true: everything which you
clearly and distinctly conceive, exists, if the idea involve existence."

It should be remarked that consciousness being a state of condition of
the mind, is by no means an infallible guide? Men may fancy they have
clear ideas, when their consciousness, if carefully examined, would
prove to have been treacherous. Descartes argued for three classes of
ideas--acquired, compounded, and innate. It is in his assumption of
innate ideas that you have one of the radical weaknesses of his system.
Sir William Hamilton points out that the use of the word idea by
Descartes, to express the object of memory, imagination, and sense,
was quite a new usage, only one other writer, David Buchanan, having
previously used the word idea with this signification.

Descartes did not write for the mass, and his philosophy would have
been limited to a much narrower circle had its spread rested on his own
efforts. But the age was one for new thought, and the contemporaries and
successors of Descartes carried the Cartesian logic to extremes he had
perhaps avoided, and they taught the new philosophy to the world in a
fearless spirit, with a boldness for which Descartes could have given
them no example. Descartes, who in early life had travelled much more
than was then the custom, had probably made the personal acquaintance
of most of the leading thinkers of Europe then living; it would be
otherwise difficult to account for the very ready reception given by
them to his first work. Fortunately for Descartes, he was born with a
fair fortune, and escaped such difficulties as poorer philosophers must
needs submit to. There is perhaps a _per contra_ side. It is more
than possible that if the needs of life had compelled him, Descartes'
scientific predilections might have resulted in more immediate advantage
to society. His philosophy is often pedantic to weariness, and his
scientific theories are often sterile. The fear of poverty might have
quickened some of his speculations into a more practical utterance.
Buckle reminds us that Descartes "was the first who successfully applied
algebra to geometry; that he pointed out the important law of the sines;
that in an age in which optical instruments were extremely imperfect,
he discovered the changes to which light is subjected in the eye by
the crystalline lens; that he directed attention to the consequences
resulting from the weight of the atmosphere, and that he detected the
causes of the rainbow." "Descartes," says Saintes, "throwing off the
swaddling clothes of scholasticism, resolved to owe to himself alone the
acquisition of the truth which he so earnestly desired to possess. For
what else is the methodical doubt which he established as the starting
point in his philosophy, than an energetic protest of the human mind
against all external authority? Having thus placed all science on a
philosophical basis, no matter what, he freed philosophy herself from
her long servitude, and proclaimed her queen of the intellect. Hence
every one who has wished to account to himself for his existence, every
one who has desired to know himself to know nature, and to rise to
its author; in a word, all who have wished to make a wise use of their
intellectual faculties, to apply them, not to hollow speculations which
border on nonentity, but to sensible and practical inquiries, have taken
and followed some direction from Descartes." It is almost amusing when
philosophers criticise their predecessors. Mons. Henri Bitter denies to
Descartes any originality of method or even of illustration, while Hegel
describes him as the founder of modern philosophy, whose influence
upon his own age and on modern times it is impossible to exaggerate. To
attempt to deal fully and truly with Descartes in the few lines which
can be spared here, is impossible; all that is sought is to as it were
catalogue his name in the seventeenth century list. Whether originator
or imitator, whether founder or disciple, it is certain that Descartes
gave a sharp spur to European thought, and mightily hastened the
progress of heresy. It is not the object or duty of the present writer
to examine or refute any of the extraordinary views entertained by
Descartes as to vortices. Descartes himself is reported to have said
"my theory of vortices is a philosophical romance." Science in the last
three centuries has travelled even more rapidly than philosophy; and
most of the physical speculations of Descartes are relegated to the
region of grandly curious blunderings. There is one point of error held
by Descartes sufficiently entertained even to-day--although most often
without a distinct appreciation of the position--to justify a few words
upon it. Descartes denied mental faculties to all the animal kingdom
except mankind. All the brute kingdom he regarded as machines without
intelligence. In this he was logical, even in error, for he accorded
a soul to man which he denied to the brute. Soul and mind with him are
identified, and thought is the fundamental attribute of mind. To admit
that a dog, horse, or elephant can think, that it can remember what
happened yesterday, that it can reason ever so incompletely, would be to
admit that that dog, horse, or elephant, has some kind of soul; to avoid
this he reduces all animals outside the human family to the position of
machines. To-day science admits in animals, more or less according to
their organisation, perception, memory, judgment, and even some sort of
reason. Yet orthodoxy still claims a soul for man even if he be a madman
from his birth, and denies it to the sagacious elephant, the intelligent
horse, the faithful dog, and the cunning monkey. His proof of the
existence of Deity is thus stated by Lewes:--"Interrogating his
consciousness, he found that he had the idea of God, understanding by
God, a substance infinite, eternal, immutable, independent, omniscient,
omnipotent. This, to him, was as certain a truth as the truth of his
own existence. I exist: not only do I exist, but exist as a miserably
imperfect finite being, subject to change, greatly ignorant, and
incapable of creating anything. In this, my consciousness, I find by
my finitude that I am not the All; by my imperfection, that I am not
perfect. Yet an infinite and perfect being must exist, because infinity
and perfection are implied as correlatives in my ideas of imperfection
and finitude. God therefore exists: his existence is clearly proclaimed
in my consciousness, and can no more be a matter of doubt, when fairly
considered, than my own existence. The conception of an infinite being
proves his real existence; for if there is not really such a being, I
must have made the conception; but if I could make it, I can also unmake
it, which evidently is not true; therefore there must be, externally to
myself an archetype from which the conception was derived. All that we
clearly and distinctly conceive as contained in anything, is true of
that thing. Now we conceive, clearly and distinctly, that the existence
of God is contained in the idea we have of him--_Ergo_, God exists." It
may not be out of place to note at this demonstration, that the Jesuit
writer, Father Hardouin, in his "Atheists Unmasked," as a recompense for
this demonstration of the existence of Deity, places Descartes and
his disciples, le Grand and Regis, in the first rank of atheistical
teachers. Voltaire, commenting on this, remarks, "The man who had
devoted all the acuteness of his extraordinary intellect to the
discovery of new proofs of the existence of a God, was most absurdly
charged with denying him altogether." Speaking of the proof of the
existence of Deity, "Demonstrations of this kind," says Froude, "were
the characteristics of the period. Descartes had set the example of
constructing them, and was followed by Cudworth, Clarke, Berkeley, and
many others besides Spinoza. The inconclusiveness of the method may
perhaps be observed most readily in the strangely opposite conceptions
formed by all these writers of the nature of that Being whose existence
they nevertheless agreed, by the same process, to gather each out of
their ideas. It is important, however, to examine it carefully, for it
is the very keystone of the Pantheistic system. As stated by Descartes,
the argument stands something as follows:--God is an all-perfect Being,
perfection is the idea which we form of Him, existence is a mode of
perfection, and therefore God exists. The sophism, we are told, is only
apparent, existence is part of the idea--as much involved in it as the
equality of all lines drawn from the centre to the circumference of a
circle is involved in the idea of a circle. A non-existent all-perfect
Being is as inconceivable as a quadrilateral triangle. It is sometimes
answered that in this way we may prove the existence of anything,
Titans, Chimaeras, or the Olympian gods; we have but to define them as
existing, and the proof is complete. But this objection is summarily set
aside; none of these beings are by hypothesis absolutely perfect, and,
therefore, of their existence we can conclude nothing. With greater
justice, however, we may say, that of such terms as perfection
and existence we know too little to speculate. Existence may be an
imperfection for all we can tell, we know nothing about the matter.
Such arguments are but endless _petitiones principii_--like the
self-devouring serpent, resolving themselves into nothing. We wander
round and round them, in the hope of finding some tangible point at
which we can seize their meaning; but we are presented everywhere
with the same impracticable surface, from which our grasp glides off

Thomas Hobbes, of Malmesbury, is one of those men more often freely
abused than carefully read; he was born April 5th, 1588, died 1679. He
was "the subtlest dialectician of his time," and one of the earliest
English advocates of the materialistic limitation of mind; he denies the
possibility of any knowledge other than as resulting from sensation; his
doctrine is in direct negation of Descartes' theory of innate ideas, and
would be fatal to the orthodox dogma of mind as spiritual. "Whatever
we imagine," he says, "is finite. Therefore, there is no idea, no
conception of anything we call infinite." In a brief pamphlet on his
own views, published in 1680, in reply to attacks upon him, he writes,
"Besides the creation of the world there is no argument to prove a
Deity," and "that it cannot be decided by any argument that the world
had a beginning;" but he professes to admit the authority of the
Magistrate and the Scriptures to override argument. He says that he does
not "believe that the safety of the state depends upon the safety of the
church." Some of Hobbes' pieces were only in Latin, others were issued
in English. In one of those on Heresy, he mentions that by the statute
of 1 Edward VI. cap 12, there is provision for the repeal of all former
acts of parliament "made to punish any manner of doctrine concerning

In the following extracts the reader will find the prominent features of
that sensationalism which to-day has so many adherents:--"Concerning the
thoughts of man, I will consider them first singly, and afterwards in
a train or dependence upon one another. Singly they are every one a
representation or appearance of some quality or other accident of a body
without us, which is commonly called an object. Which object worketh
on the eyes, ears, and other parts of a man's body, and by diversity of
working, produceth diversity of appearances. The original of them all
is that which we call sense, for there is no conception in a man's
mind which hath not at first totally or by parts been begotten upon the
organs of sense. The rest are derived from that original." The effect
of this is to deny any possible knowledge other than as results from the
activity of the sensative faculties, and is also fatal to the doctrine
of a soul. "According," says Hobbes, "to the two principal parts of
man, I divide his faculties into two sorts--faculties of the body, and
faculties of the mind. Since the minute and distinct anatomy of the
powers of the body is nothing necessary to the present purpose, I
will only sum them up in these three heads--power nutritive, power
generative, and power motive, Of the powers of the mind there be two
sorts--cognitive, imaginative, or conceptive, and motive. For the
understanding of what I mean by the power cognitive, we must remember
and acknowledge that there be in our minds continually certain images or
conceptions of the things without us. This imagery and representation
of the qualities of the things without, is that which we call our
conception, imagination, ideas, notice, or knowledge of them; and the
faculty, or power by which we are capable of such knowledge, is that
I here call cognitive power, or conceptive, the power of knowing or
conceiving." All the qualities called sensible are, in the object that
causeth them, but so many several motions of the matter by which it
presseth on our organs diversely. Neither in us that are pressed are
they anything else but divers motions; for motion produceth nothing but
motion. Because the image in vision, consisting of colour and shape, is
the knowledge we have of the qualities of the objects of that sense;
it is no hard matter for a man to fall into this opinion that the same
colour and shape are the very qualities themselves, and for the same
cause that sound and noise are the qualities of the bell or of the air.
And this opinion hath been so long received that the contrary must needs
appear a great paradox, and yet the introduction of species visible and
intelligible (which is necessary for the maintenance of that opinion)
passing to and fro from the object is worse than any paradox, as being
a plain impossibility. I shall therefore endeavour to make plain these
points. That the subject wherein colour and image are inherent, is not
the object or thing seen. That there is nothing without us (really)
which we call an image or colour. That the said image or colour is but
an apparition unto us of the motion, agitation, or alteration which the
object worketh in the brain, or spirits, or some internal substance of
the head. That as in visions, so also in conceptions that arise from the
other senses, the subject of their inference is not the object but
the sentient. Strange to say Hobbes was protected from his clerical
antagonists by the favour of Charles II., who had the portrait of the
philosopher of Malmesbury hung on the walls of his private room at

Lord Herbert, of Cherbury (one of the friends of Hobbes) born 1581, died
1648, is remarkable for having written a book "De Veritate," in favour
of natural--and against any necessity for revealed--religion; and yet at
the same time pleading a sort of special sign or revelation to himself
in favour of its publication.

Peter Gassendi, a native of Provence, born 1592, died 1655, was one of
the opponents of Descartes and of Lord Herbert, and was an admirer
of Hobbes; he advocated the old philosophy of Epicurus, professing
to reject "from it everything contrary to Christianity." "But," asks
Cousin, "how could he succeed in this? Principles, processes, results,
everything in Epicurus is sensualism, materialism, atheism." Gassendi's
works were characterised by great learning and ability, but being
confined to the Latin tongue, and written avowedly with the intent of
avoiding any conflict with the church, they gave but little immediate
impetus to the great heretical movement. Arnauld charges Gassendi
with overturning the doctrine of the immortality of the soul, in his
discussion with Descartes, and Leibnitz charges Gassendi with corrupting
and injuring the whole system of natural religion by the wavering nature
of his opinions. Buckle says, "The rapid increase of heresy in the
middle of the seventeenth century is very remarkable, and it greatly
aided civilisation in England by encouraging habits of independent
thought." In February 1646, Boyle writes from London, "There are few days
pass here, that may not justly be accused of the brewing or broaching of
some new opinion. If any man have lost his religion, let him repair to
London, and I'll warrant him he shall find it: I had almost said too,
and if any man has a religion, let him but come hither now and he shall
go near to lose it."

About 1655, one Isaac La Peyrere wrote two small treatises to prove that
the world was peopled before Adam, but being arrested at Brussels, and
threatened with the stake, he, to escape the fiery refutation, made
a full recantation of his views, and restored to the world its dearly
prized stain of natural depravity, and to Adam his position as the first
man. La Peyrere's forced recantation is almost forgotten, the opinions
he recanted are now amongst common truths.

Baruch D'Espinoza or Benedict Spinoza, was born Nov. 24,1632, in
Amsterdam; an apt scholar, he, at the early age of fourteen, had
mastered the ordinary tasks set him by his teacher, the Babbi Morteira,
and at fifteen puzzled and affrighted the grave heads of the synagogue,
by attempting the solution of problems which they themselves were
well content to pass by. As he grew older his reason took more daring
flights, and after attempts had been made to bribe him into submissive
silence, when threats had failed to check or modify him, and when even
the knife had no effect, then the fury of disappointed fanaticism found
vent in the bitter curse of excommunication, and when about twenty-four
years of age, Spinoza found himself outcast and anathematised. Having no
private means or rich patrons, and differing in this from nearly every
one whose name we have yet given our hero subsisted as a polisher
of glasses, microscopes, &c., devoting his leisure to the study of
languages and philosophy. There are few men as to whom modern writers
have so widely differed in the description of their views, few who have
been so thoroughly misrepresented. Bayle speaks of him as a systematic
Atheist. Saintes says that he laid the foundations of a Pantheism
as destructive to scholastic philosophy as to all revealed religion.
Voltaire repeatedly writes of Spinoza as an Atheist and teacher of
Atheism. Samuel Taylor Coleridge speaks of Spinoza as an Atheist, and
prefaces this opinion with the following passage, which we commend to
more orthodox, and less acute writers:--"Little do these men know what
Atheism is. Not one man in a thousand has either strength of mind,
or goodness of heart to be an Atheist. I repeat it--Not one man in a
thousand has either goodness of heart, or strength of mind, to be, an
Atheist." "And yet," says Froude, "both in friend and enemy alike, there
has been a reluctance to see Spinoza as he really was. The Herder and
Schleiermacher school have claimed him as a Christian, a position
which no little disguise was necessary to make tenable; the orthodox
Protestants and Catholics have called him an Atheist, which is still
more extravagant; and even a man like Novalis, who, it might have been
expected, would have said something reasonable, could find no better
name for him than a 'Gott trunkener mann,' a God intoxicated man; an
expression which has been quoted by everybody who has since written on
the subject, and which is about as inapplicable as those laboriously
pregnant sayings usually are. With due allowance for exaggeration, such
a name would describe tolerably the transcendental mystics, a Toler, a
Boehmen, or a Swedenborg; but with what justice can it be applied to the
cautious, methodical Spinoza, who carried his thoughts about with him
for twenty years, deliberately shaping them, and who gave them at last
to the world in a form more severe than with such subjects had ever
been so much as attempted before? With him, as with all great men, there
was no effort after sublime emotions. He was a plain, practical person;
his object in philosophy, was only to find a rule by which to govern his
own actions and his own judgment; and his treatises contain no more than
the conclusions at which he arrived in this purely personal search, with
the grounds on which he rested them." Spinoza, who was wise enough to
know that it was utterly useless to expect an unfettered examination of
philosophical problems by men who are bound to accept as an infallible
arbiter any particular book, and who knew that reasonings must be of a
very limited character which took the alleged Hebrew Revelation as the
centre and starting point for all inquiry, and also as the circling,
limitation line for all investigation--devoted himself to the task
of examining how far the ordinary orthodox doctrines as to the
infallibility of the Old Testament were fairly maintainable. It was for
this reason he penned his "Tractatus Theologico-Politicus," wherein
he says--"We see that they who are most under the influence of
superstitious feelings, and who covet uncertainties without stint or
measure, more especially when they fall into difficulty or danger,
cannot help themselves, are the persons, who, with vows and prayers and
womanly tears, implore the Divine assistance; who call reason, blind,
and human wisdom vain; and all, forsooth, because they cannot find
an assured way to the vanities they desire." "The mainspring of
superstition is fear; by fear too is superstition sustained and
nourished." "Men are chiefly assailed by superstition When suffering
from fear, and all they then do in the name of a vain religion is, in
fact, but the vaporous product of a sorrowful spirit, the delirium of
a mind overpowered by terror." He proceeds, "I have often wondered that
men who boast of the great advantage they enjoy under the Christian
dispensation--the peace, the joy they experience, the brotherly love
they feel towards all in its exercise--should nevertheless contend with
so much acrimony, and show such intolerance and unappeasable hatred
towards one another. If faith had to be inferred from action rather than
profession, it would indeed be impossible to say to what sect or creed
the majority of mankind belong." He laid down that "No one is bound by
natural law to live according to the pleasure of another, but that every
one is by natural title the rightful asserter of his own independence,"
and that "he or they govern best who concede to every one the privilege
of thinking as he pleases, and of saying what he thinks." Criticising
the Hebrew prophets, he points out that "God used no particular style
in making his communications; but in the same measure as the prophet
possessed learning and ability, his communications were either concise
and clear, or on the contrary, they were rude, prolix, and obscure." The
representations of Zechariah, as we learn from the accounts themselves,
were so obscure that without an explanation they could not be understood
by himself; and those of Daniel were so dark, that even when explained,
they were still unintelligible, not to others only, but also to the
prophet himself. He argues entirely against miracles, as either contrary
to nature or above nature, declaring any such to be "a sheer absurdity,"
"_merum esse absurdum_" Of the Scriptures themselves he points out that
the ancient Hebrew is entirely lost. "Of the authors, or, if you please,
writers, of many books, we either know almost nothing, or we entertain
grave doubts as to the correctness with which the several books are
ascribed to the parties whose names they bear." "Then we neither know on
what occasion, nor at what time those books were indited, the writers
of which are unknown to us. Further, we know nothing of the hands into
which the books fell; nor of the codices which have furnished such a
variety of readings, nor whether, perchance, there were not many other
variations in other copies." Voltaire says of Spinoza, "Not only in the
character of a Jew he attacks the New Testament, but in the character
of a scholar he ruins the Old." The logic of Spinoza was directed to the
demonstration of one substance with infinite attributes, for which one
substance with infinite attributes he had as equivalent the name "God."
Some who have since followed Spinoza, have agreed in his one substance,
but have denied the possibility of infinite attributes. Attributes or
qualities, they urge, are attributes of the finite or conditioned, and
that you cannot have attributes of substance except as attributes of its
modes. You have in this distinction the division line between Spinozism
and Atheism. Spinoza recognises infinite intelligence, but Atheism
cannot conceive intelligence except in relation as quality of the
conditioned, and not as the essence of the absolute. Spinoza denied
the doctrine of freewill, as with him all phenomena are of God, so he
rejects the ordinary notions of good and evil. The popular views of
Spinoza in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were chiefly derived
from the volumes of his antagonists; men learned his name because
priests abused him, few had perused his works for themselves. To-day we
may fairly say that Spinoza's logic and his biblical criticisms gave a
vigour and force to the heresy of the latter half of the seventeenth
and beginning of the eighteenth century; a directness and effectiveness
theretofore wanting.

As for the Bible, there was no longer an affected reverence for every
yod or comma, church traditions were ignored wherever inconsistent with
reason, and the law itself was boldly challenged when its letter was
against the spirit of human progress.

One of the greatest promoters of heresy in England was Ralph Cudworth,
born 1617, died 1688. He wrote to combat the atheistical tenets
which were then commencing to obtain popularity in England, and was a
controversialist so fair and candid in the statement of the opinions of
his antagonists, that he was actually charged with heresy himself, and
the epithets of Arian, Socinian, Deist, and even Atheist were freely
levelled against him. "He has raised," says Dryden, "such strong
objections against the being of a God and Providence, that many think he
has not answered them." The clamour of bigotry seems to have discouraged
Cudworth, and he left many of his works unprinted. Cousin describes him
as "a Platonist, of a firm and profound mind, who bends somewhat under
the weight of his erudition."

Thomas Burnet, born 1635, died 1715, a clergyman of the Church of
England, who, though high in favour with King William and the famous
Archbishop Tillotson, is said to have been shut out from preferment in
the church chiefly, if not entirely, on account of his many heterodox
views. He did not accept the orthodox notions on the Mosaic account of
the creation, fall, and deluge. Regarding the account of the fall as
allegorical, he argued for the ultimate salvation of everyone, and of
course denied the doctrine of eternal torment.

In a curious passage relating to the equivocations of a large number
of the clergy in openly taking the oath of allegiance to William III.,
while secretly supporting James as King, Burnet says, "the prevarication
of too many in so sacred a matter contributed not a little to fortify
the growing atheism of the time."

As Descartes and Spinoza had been foremost on the continent, so was
Locke in England, and no sketch of the progress of heresy during the
seventeenth century would be deserving serious regard which did not
accord a prominent place to John Locke, whom G. H. Lewes calls "one of
the wisest of Englishmen," and of whom Buckle speaks as "an innovator in
his philosophy, and an Unitarian in his creed." He was born in 1632,
and died 1704. Locke, according to his own fashion, was a sincere and
earnest Christian; but this has not saved him from being furiously
assailed for the materialistic character of his philosophy, and many
have been ready to assert that Locke's principles "lead to Atheism." In
politics Locke laid down, that unjust and unlawful force on the part of
the government might and ought to be resisted by force on the part of
the citizens. He urged that on questions of theology there ought to
be no penalties consequent upon the reception or rejection of any
particular religious opinion. How far those were right who regarded
Locke's metaphysical reasoning as; dangerous to orthodoxy may be, judged
by the following extract on the origin of ideas:--: "Follow a child from
its birth and observe the alterations that time makes, and you shall
find, as the mind by the senses comes more and more to be furnished with
ideas, it comes to be more and more awake; thinks more, the more it
has matter to think on. After some time, it begins to know the objects,
which being most familiar with it, have made lasting impressions. Thus
it comes, by degrees, to know the persons it daily converses with, and
distinguish them from strangers; which are instances and effects of its
coming to retain and distinguish the ideas the senses convey to it;
and so we may observe, how the mind, by degrees improves in these,
and advances to the exercise of those other faculties of enlarging,
compounding, and abstracting its ideas, and of reasoning about them, and
reflecting upon all these.

"If it shall be demanded then, when a man begins to have any ideas? I
think the true answer is, when he first has any sensation. For since
there appear not to be any ideas in the mind, before the senses have
conveyed any in, I conceive that ideas in the understanding are coeval
with sensation; which is such an impression or emotion, made in some
part of the body, as produces some perception in the understanding. It
is about these impressions made on our senses by outward objects, that
the mind seems first to employ itself in such operations as we call
perception, remembering, consideration, reasoning, &c.

"In time, the mind comes to reflect on its own operations, about the
ideas got by sensation, and thereby stores itself with a new set of
ideas, which I call ideas of reflection. These are the impressions that
are made on our senses by outward objects, that are extrinsical to the
mind; and its own operations, proceeding from powers intrinsical and
proper to itself, which, when reflected on by itself, becoming also
objects of its contemplation, are, as I have said, the original of all
knowledge. Thus the first capacity of human intellect is, that the mind
is fitted to receive the impressions made on it, either through the
senses, by outward objects, or by its own operations, when it reflects
on them. This is the first step a man makes towards the discovery of
anything, and the groundwork whereon to build all those notions which
ever he shall have naturally in this world. All those sublime thoughts
which tower above the clouds, and reach as high as heaven itself, take
their rise and footing here: in all that good extent wherein the mind
wanders, in those remote speculations, it may seem to be elevated with,
it stirs not one jot beyond those ideas which sense or reflection have
offered for its contemplation.

"In this part, the understanding is merely passive; and whether or no it
will have these beginnings, and, as it were, materials of knowledge, is
not in its own power. For the objects of our senses do, many of them,
obtrude their particular ideas upon our minds, whether we will or no;
and the operations of our minds will not let us be without, at least,
some obscure notions of them. No man can be wholly ignorant of what he
does when he thinks. These simple ideas, when offered to the mind,
the understanding can no more refuse to have, nor alter, when they are
imprinted, nor blot them out and make new ones itself, than a mirror can
refuse, alter, or obliterate the images or ideas which the objects
set before it do therein produce. As the bodies that surround us
do diversely affect our organs, the mind is forced to receive the
impressions, and cannot avoid the perception of those ideas that are
annexed to them."

The distinction pointed out by Lewes between Locke and Hobbes and
Gassendi, is that the two latter taught that all our ideas were derived
from sensations, while Locke said there were two sources, not one
source, and these two were sensation and reflection. Locke was in style
a more popular writer than Hobbes, and the heretical effect of the
doctrines on the mind not being so immediately perceived in consequence
of Locke's repeated declarations in favour of Christianity, his
metaphysical productions were more widely read than those of Hobbes; but
Locke really teaches the same doctrine as that laid down by Robert Owen
in his views on the formation of character; and his views on sensation,
as the primary source of ideas, are fatal to all notions of innate
ideas and of freewill. Voltaire, speaking of Locke, says:--"'We shall,
perhaps, never be capable of knowing whether a being purely material
thinks or not.' This judicious and guarded observation was considered
by more than one divine, as neither more nor less than a scandalous and
impious declaration, that the soul is material and mortal. Some English
devotees, after their usual manner, sounded the alarm. The superstitious
are in society what poltroons are in an army--they both feel and
excite causeless terror. The cry was, that Mr. Locke wished to overturn
religion; the subject, however, had nothing to do with religion at all;
it was purely a philosophical question, and perfectly independent of
faith and revelation."

One clergyman, the Rev. William Carrol, wrote, charging Atheism as the
result of Locke's teachings. The famous Sir Isaac Newton even grew so
alarmed with the materialistic tendency of Locke's philosophy, that when
John Locke was reported sick and unlikely to live, it is credibly stated
that Newton went so far as to say that it would be well if the author of
the essay on the Understanding were already dead. In 1689, one Cassimer
Leszynski, a Polish knight, was burned at Warsaw for denying the being
and providence of a God; but there are no easy means of learning whether
the charge arose from prejudice on the part of his accusers, or whether
this unfortunate gentleman really held Atheistic views.

Peter Bayle, born at Carlat, in Foix, 1647, died in Holland, 1706, was a
writer of great power and brilliancy and wide learning. Without standing
avowedly on the side of scepticism, he did much to promote sceptical
views amongst the rapidly growing class of men of letters. He declared
that it was better to be an Atheist, than to have a false or unworthy
idea of God; that a man can be at the same time an Atheist and an honest
man, and that a people without a religion is capable of good order.
Bayle's writings grew more heretical towards the latter part of his
career, and he suffered considerable persecution at the hands of the
Church, for having spoken too plainly of the character of David. He said
that "if David was the man after God's own heart, it must have been
by his penitence, not by his crimes." Bayle might have added, that the
record ot David's penitence is not easily discoverable in any part of
the narrative of his life.

Matthew Tindal, born 1656, died 1733, was, though the son of a clergyman
of the Established Church, one of the first amongst the school of
Deistical writers who became so prominent in the beginning of the
eighteenth century. Dr. Pye Smith catalogues him as "an Atheist," but
we know no ground for this. He was a zealous controversialist, and
commencing by attacking priests, he continued his attack against
the revelation they preached. He was a frequent writer, but his
"Christianity as old as the Creation" is his chief work, and the one
which has provoked the greatest amount of discussion. It was published
nearly at the close of his life, and after he had seen others of his
writings burned by the common hangman. Dr. Matthew Tindal helped much to
shake belief in the Bible, those who wrote against him did much more; if
no one had replied to Tindal, his attacks on; revelation would have
been read by few, but in answering the heretic, Bishop Waterland and his
_confreres_ gave wider circulation to Tindal's heresy.

John Toland was born Nov. 30,1670, at Londonderry, but was educated in
Scotland. He died 1722. His publications were all about the close of
the seventeenth and commencement of the eighteenth centuries, and the
ability of his contributions to popular instruction may be judged by
the abusive epithets heaped upon him by his opponents. While severely
attacking the bulk of the clergy as misleaders of the people, and while
also assailing some of the chief orthodox notions, he yet, either in
order to escape the law, or from the effect of his religious education,
professed a respect for what he was pleased to call true Christianity,
but which we should be inclined to consider, at the least, somewhat
advanced Unitarianism. At last, however, his works were ordered to be
burned by the common hangman, and to escape arrest and prosecution he
had to flee to the Continent. Dr. J. Pye Smith describes Toland as a
Pantheist, and calls his Pantheisticon "an Atheistic Liturgy." In one of
Toland's essays he laments "how hard it is to come to a truth yourself,
and how dangerous a thing to publish to others." The publications ot
Toland were none of them very bulky although numerous, and as most
of them were fiercely assailed by the orthodox clergy, they helped to
excite popular interest in England, in the critical examination of the
Scriptures and the doctrines therein taught.

Besides the few authors to whom attention is here drawn, there were
numerous men who--each for a little while, and often coming out from
the lower ranks of the people themselves--stirred the hitherto
almost stagnant pool of popular thought with some daring utterance or
extravagant statement. Fanatics some, mystics some, alchemists some,
materialists some, but all crude and imperfect in their grasp of the
subject they advocated, they nevertheless all helped to agitate the
human mind, to render it more restless and inquiring, and thus they all
promoted the march of heresy.

One feature of the history of the seventeenth century shows how much
philosophy had gained ground, and how deep its roots were striking
throughout the European world--viz., that nearly all the writers wrote
in the vulgar tongue of their country, or there were published editions
of their works in that tongue. A century earlier, and but few escaped
from the narrow bonds of learned Latin: two centuries before, and none
got outside the Latin folios; but in this century theology, metaphysics,
philosophy, and politics are discussed in French, German, English, and
Italian. The commonest reader may peruse the most learned author, for
the writing is in a language which he cannot help knowing.

There were in this century a large number of writers in England and
throughout Europe, who, taking the Bible as a starting-point and
limitation for their philosophy, broached wonderful theories as to
creation, &c, in which reason and revelation were sought to be made
harmonious. Enfield, a most orthodox writer, in his "History of
Philosophy" says, "Who does not perceive, from the particulars which
have been related concerning these Scriptural philosophers, that
their labours, however well intended, have been of little benefit to
philosophy? Their fundamental error has consisted in supposing that the
sacred Scriptures were intended, not only to instruct men in all things
necessary to their salvation, but to teach the true principles of
physical and metaphysical science." How pregnant the admission that
revelation and science cannot be expected to accord--an admission which
in truth declares that in all philosophical research it is necessary
to go beyond the Bible, if not to go against it--an admission which
involves the declaration, that so long as men are bound by the letter of
the Bible, so long all philosophical progress is impossible.

In this century the English Church lost much of the political power it
had hitherto wielded. It was in 1625, that William, Bishop of Lincoln,
was dismissed from the office of Lord Keeper, and since his day no
ecclesiastic has held the great seal of England, and to-day who even
in the Church itself would dream of trying to make a bishop Lord
Chancellor? The church lost ground in the conflict with Charles, but
this it might perhaps have recovered, but it suffered irretrievably loss
of prestige in its struggle with William.


The eighteenth century deserves that the penman who touches its records
shall have some virility; for these records contain, not only the
narrative of the rapid growth of the new philosophy in France, England,
and Germany, where its roots had been firmly struck in the previous
century, but they also give the history of a glorious endeavour on the
part of a down-trodden and long-suffering people, weakened and degraded
by generations of starvation and oppression, to break the yoke of
tyranny and superstition. Eighteenth century historians can write how
the men of France, after having been cursed by a long race of kings, who
never dreamed of identifying their interests with those of the people;
after enduring centuries of tyranny from priests, whose only Gods were
power, pleasure, and Mammon, and at the hands of nobles, who denied
civil rights to their serfs; at last, could endure no longer, but
electrified into life by eighteenth century heresy, "spurned under foot
the idols of tyranny and superstition," and sought "by the influence of
reason to erect on the ruins of arbitrary power the glorious edifice
of civil and religious liberty." Why Frenchmen then failed in giving
permanent success to their heroic endeavour, and why France, despite the
wonderful recent progress in thought, is even yet cursed with corrupt
imperialism and state superstition, is not difficult to explain, when we
consider that every tyranny in Europe united against that young republic
to which the monarchy had bequeathed a legacy of a wretched pauper
people, a people whose minds had been hitherto wholly in the hands of
the priests, whose passions had revolted against wrong, but whose brains
were yet too weak for the permanent enjoyment of the freedom temporarily
resulting from physical effort. Eighteenth century heresy is especially
noticeable for its immediate connection with political change. For the
first time in European history, the great mass commenced to yearn
for the assertion in government of democratic principles. The French
Republican Revolution which overthrew Louis XVI. and the Bastile,
was only possible because the heretical teachers who preceded it,
had weakened the divine right of kingcraft; and it was ultimately
unsuccessful, only because an overwhelming majority of the people were
as yet not sufficiently released from the thraldom of the church, and
therefore fell before the allied despotisms of Europe, who were aided
by the Catholic priests, who naturally plotted against the spirit which
seemed likely to make men too independent to be pious.

In Germany the liberation of the masses from the dominion of the Church
of Rome was effected with the, at first, active believing concurrence
of the nation; in England this was not so, Protestantism here was the
result rather of the influence and interests of the King and Court, and
of the indifference of the great body of the people. The Reformed Church
of England, sustained by the crown and aristocracy, has generally
left the people to find their own way to heaven or hell, and has only
required abstinence from avowed denial of, or active opposition to, its
tenets. Its ministers have usually preached with the same force to a few
worshippers scattered over their grand cathedrals and numerous churches
as to a thronging crowd, but in each these there has been a lack of
vitality in the sermon. It is only when the material interests of the
church have been apparently threatened that vigour has been shown on the
part of its teachers.

It is a curious fact, and one for comment hereafter, that while in the
modern struggle for the progress of heresy, its sixteenth century
pages present many most prominent Italian names, when we come to the
eighteenth century, there are but few such names worthy special notice;
it is no longer from the extreme South, but from France, Germany, and
England that you have the great array of Freethinking warriors. Those
whom Italy boasts too are now nearly all in the Idealistic ranks.

We commenced the list by a brief reference to Bernard Mandeville, a
Dutch physician, born at Dordrecht in 1670 and who died in 1733; a
writer with great power as a satirist, whose fable of the "Bees, or
Private Vices made Public Benefits," not only served as source for
much of Helvetius, but had the double honour of an indictment at the
Middlesex session, and an answer from the pen of Bishop Berkeley.

One of the early, and perhaps one of the most important promoters of
heresy in the United Kingdom, was George Berkeley, an Irishman by birth.
He was born on the 12th of March, 1684, at Kilcrin, and died at Oxford
in 1753. It was this writer to whom Pope assigned "every virtue under
heaven," and of whom Byron wrote:--

     "When Bishop Berkeley said 'there was no matter,'
     And proved it--'twas no matter what he said:
     They say his system 'tis in vain to batter,
     Too subtle for the airiest human head;
     And yet who can believe it?"

A writer in the _Encyclopedia Metropolitana_ describes him as "the
one, perhaps, whose heart was most free from scepticism, and whose
understanding was most prone to it." Berkeley is here dealt with as one
specially contributing to the growth of sceptical thought, and not as
an Idealist only. Arthur Collier published, about the same time as
Berkeley, several works in which absolute Idealim is advocated. Collier
and Berkeley were mouthpieces for the expression of an effort at
resistance against the growing Spinozistic school. They wrote against
substance assumed as the "noumenon lying underneath all phenomena--the
substratum supporting all qualities--the something in which all
accidents inhere." Collier and his writings are almost unknown;
Berkeley's name has become famous, and his arguments have served to
excite far wider scepticism than have those of any other Englishman of
his age. Most religious men who read him misunderstand him, and nearly
all misrepresent his theory. Hume, speaking of Berkeley, says, "Most of
the writings of that very ingenious philosopher form the best lessons
of scepticism which are to be found, either among the ancient or modern
philosophers, Bayle not excepted. He professes, however, in his title
page (and undoubtedly with great truth) to have composed his book
against the sceptics, as well as against the Atheists and Freethinkers.
But that all his arguments, though otherwise intended, are in reality
merely sceptical, appears from this, that they admit of no answer,
and produce no conviction," Berkeley wrote for those who "want a
demonstration of the existence and immateriality of God, or the natural
immortality of the soul," and his philosophy was intended to check
materialism. The key-note ot his works may be found in his declaration,
"The only thing whose existence I deny, is that which philosophers call
Matter or corporeal substance." The definition given by Berkeley of
matter is one which no materialist will be ready to accept, i.e.f "an
inert, senseless substance in which extension, figure, and motion do
actually exist." The "Principles of Human Knowledge" is the work in
which Berkeley's Idealism is chiefly set forth, and many have been
the volumes and pamphlets written in reply. Whatever might have been
Berkeley's intention as to refuting scepticism, the result of his
labours was to increase it in no ordinary degree; Dr. Pye Smith thug
summarises Berkeley's views:--"He denied the existence of matter as a
cause of our perceptions, but firmly maintained the existence of created
and dependent spirits, of which every man is one; that to suppose the
existence of sensible qualities and of a material world, is an erroneous
deduction from the fact of our perceptions; that those perceptions
are-nothing but ideas and thoughts in our minds; that these are produced
in perfect uniformity, order, and consistency in all minds, so that
their occurrence is according to fixed rules which may be called the
laws of nature; that that Deity is either the immediate or the mediate
cause of these perceptions, by his universal operation on created minds;
and that the created mind has a power of managing these perceptions,
so that volitions arise, and all the phenomena of moral action and
responsibility. The great reply to this is, that it is a hypothesis
which cannot be proved, which is highly improbable, and which seems to
put upon the Deity the inflicting on man a perpetual delusion."

The weakness of Berkeley's system as a mere question of logic is, that
while he requires the most rigorous demonstration of the existence of
what he defines as matter, he assumes an eternal spirit with various
attributes, and also creates spirits of various sorts. He creates the
states of mind resulting from the sensation of surrounding phenomena
into ideas, existing independent of the _ego_, when in truth, man's
ideas are not in addition to man's mind; but the aggregate of sensative
ability, and the result of its exercise is the mind, just as the
aggregate of functional ability and activity is life. The foundation of
Berkeley's faith in the invisible "eternal spirit" in angels as "created
spirits," is difficult to discover, when you accept his argument for
the rejection of visible phenomena. He in truth should have rejected
everything save his own mind, for the mental processes are clearly
not always reliable. In dreams, in delirium, in insanity, in temporary
disease of particular nerves of sensation, in some phases of magnetic
influence, the ideas which Berkeley sustains so forcibly are admittedly
delusions. As in George Berkeley, so we have in Bishop Butler, an
illustration of the endeavour to check the rapidly enlarging scepticism
of this century. Joseph Butler was born in 1692, died 1752, and will be
long known by his famous work on the "Analogy of Religion" to the course
of nature. In this place it is not our duty to do more than point out
a few features of the argument, observing that this elaborate piece of
special pleading for natural and revealed religion, is evidence that
danger was apprehended by the clergy, from the spread of Freethought
views amongst the masses. A popular reply was written to provide against
the growing popular objection; Bishop Butler argues that "we know
that we are endued with certain capacities of action, of happiness and
misery; for we are conscious of acting, of enjoying pleasure, and of
suffering pain. Now that we have these powers and capacities before
death, is a presumption that we shall retain them through, and after
death; indeed a probability of it abundantly sufficient to act upon,
unless there be some positive reason to think that death is the
destruction of those living powers." It may be fairly submitted in
reply, that here the argument from analogy is as utterly faulty, as if
in the spring season a traveller should say of a wayside pool, it is
here before the summer sun shines upon it, and will be here during and
after the summer drought, when ordinary experience would teach him
that as the pool is only gathered during the rainy season in the hollow
ground, so in the dry hot summer days, it will be gradually evaporated
under the blazing rays of the July sun. As to the human capacities,
experience teaches us that they have changed with the condition of the
body; emotional feelings and animal passions, the gratification of which
ensured temporary pleasure or pain, have varied, have been newly felt,
and have died out in different periods and conditions of our lives,
and the presumption is against the complete endurance of all these
"capacities for action," &c., even during the whole life, and much
more strongly, therefore, against their endurance after death. Besides
which--continuing the argument from analogy--my "capacities" having
only been manifested since my body has existed, and in proportion to my
physical ability, the presumption is rather that the manifestation which
commenced with the body, will finish as the body finishes. Further,
it is fair to presume that "death is the destruction of those living
powers," for death is the cessation of organic functional activity; a
cessation consequent on some change or destruction of organisation.
Of course, the word "destruction" is not here used in any sense of
annihilation of substance, but as meaning such a change of condition
that vital phenomena are no longer manifested. But, says Butler, "we
know not at all what death is in itself, but only some of its effects,
such as the dissolution of flesh, skin, and bones, and these effects
do in nowise appear to imply the destruction of a living agent." Here,
perhaps, there is an unjustifiable assumption in the words "living
agent," for if by living agent is only meant the animal which dies,
then the destruction of flesh, skin, and bones does fairly imply the
destruction of the living agent, but if by living agent is intended
more than this, then the argument is speciously and unfairly worded. But
beyond this, if Bishop Butler's argument has any value, it proves too
much. He says--"Nor can we find anything throughout the whole analogy
of nature, to afford us even the slightest presumption that animals ever
lose their living powers.... by death." That is, Bishop Butler applies
his argument for a future state of existence, not only to man, but to
the whole animal kingdom; and it may be fairly conceded that there is
as much ground to presume that man will live again, as there is that the
worm will live again, which, being impaled upon a hook, is eaten by the
gudgeon, or that the gudgeon will live again which, threaded as a bait,
is torn and mangled to death by a ravenous pike, or that the pike will
live again after it has been kept out of water till rigid, then gutted,
scaled, stuffed with savoury condiments, broiled, and ultimately eaten
by Piscator and his family. Bishop Butler's argument, that because
pleasure or pain is uniformly found to follow the acting or not acting
in some particular manner, there is presumptive analogy in favour of
future rewards and punishments by Deity, appears weak in the extreme.
According to Butler, God is the author of nature. Nature's laws are
such, that punishment, immediate or remote, follows non-observance, and
reward, more or less immediate, is the result of observance; and because
God is by Butler's argument, assumed as the author of nature, and has
therefore already punished or rewarded once; we are following Butler,
to presume that he will after death punish or reward again for an action
upon which he has already adjudicated. In his chapter on the Moral
Government of God, Butler says, "As the manifold appearances of design
and of final causes in the constitution of the world, prove it to be the
work of an intelligent mind, so the particular final causes of pleasure
and pain distributed amongst his creatures, prove that they are under
his government--what may be called his natural government of creatures
endowed with sense and reason." But taking Bishop Butler's own position,
what sort of government is demonstrated by this argument from analogy?
God, according to Bishop Butler's reasoning, designed the whale to
swallow the Clio Borealis, which latter he designed to be so swallowed,
but which he nevertheless invested with some 300,000 suckers, to enable
it in its turn to seize the minute animalcule on which it lives. God
designed Brutus to kill Caesar, Orsini to be beheaded by Louis Napoleon.
These, according to Butler, would be all under the special control of
God's government. Deity would guide the Clio Borealis into the mouth of
the whale, guide the dagger of Brutus, and arrange for the enjoyment of
the cancan by princes of the blood royal. Bishop Butler's theory that
our present life is a state of trial and probation, is met by the
difficulty, that while he assumes the justice and benevolence of God as
moral governor, he has the fact, that many exist with organisations and
capacities so originally different, that it is manifestly most unfair to
put one and the same reward, or one and this same publishment for all.
The Esquimaux or Negro is not on a level at the outset of life with the
Caucasian races. How from analogy can any one argue in favour of the
doctrine that an impartial judge who had started them in the race of
life unfairly matched, would put the same prize before all, none of the
starters being handicapped? Bishop Butler's argument on the doctrine
of necessity, is that which one might expect to find from a hired _nisi
prius_ advocate, but which is read with regret coming from the pen of a
gentleman, who ought to be striving to convince his erring brethren by
the words of truth alone. He says, suppose a child to be educated from
his earliest youth in the principles of "fatalism," what then? The reply
is, that a necessitarian knowing that a certain education of the human
mind was most conducive to human happiness, would strive to impart to
his children education of that character. That a worse "fatalism"
is inculcated in the doctrine of a fore-ordaining and ever-directing
providence, planning and controlling every one of the child's actions,
than ever was taught in necessitarian essays. That the child would be
taught the laws of existence, and would be shown how certain conduct
resulted in pleasure, and certain other conduct was during life attended
with pain, and that the result of such teaching would be far more
efficacious in its moral results, than the inculcation of a present
responsibility, and an ultimate heaven and hell, in which latter
doctrine, nearly all Christians profess to believe, but nearly all act
as if it were not of the slightest consequence whether any such paradise
or infernal region exists.

Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, born October 1,1672, died November
15,1751, may be taken as one of the school of polished deistical
writers, who, though comparatively few, fairly enough represent the
religious opinions of the large majority of the journalists of the
present day. In the course of Bolingbroke's "Letters on the Study of
History," a strong sceptical spirit is manifested, and he speaks in
one of "the share which the divines of all religions have taken in the
corruption of history." In another he thus deals with the question
of the Bible:--"It has been said by Abbadie, and others, 'that the
accidents which have happened to alter the texts of the Bible, and to
disfigure, if I may say so, the scriptures in many respects, could not
have been prevented without a perpetual standing miracle, and that a
perpetual standing miracle is not in the order of providence.' Now I
can by no means subscribe to this opinion. It seems evident to my reason
that the very contrary must be true; if we suppose that God acts towards
men according to the moral fitness of things; and if we suppose that he
acts arbitrarily, we can form no opinion at all. I think these accidents
would not have happened, or that the scriptures would have been
preserved entirely in their genuine purity notwithstanding these
accidents, if they had been entirely dictated by the Holy Ghost: and the
proof of this probable proposition, according to our clearest and most
distinct ideas of wisdom and moral fitness, is obvious and easy. But
these scriptures are not so come down to us: they are come down broken
and confused, full of additions, interpolations; and transpositions,
made we neither know when, nor by whom; and such, in short, as never
appeared on the face of any other book, on whose authority men have
agreed to rely. This being so, my lord, what hypothesis shall we follow?
Shall we adhere to some such distinction as I have mentioned? Shall we
say, for instance, that the scriptures were originally written by the
authors to whom they are vulgarly ascribed, but that these authors
writ nothing by inspiration, except the legal, the doctrinal, and the
prophetical parts, and that in every other respect their authority
is purely human, and therefore fallible? Or shall we say that these
histories are nothing more than compilations of old traditions, and
abridgements of old records, made in later times, as they appear to
every one who reads them without prepossession and with attention?"

It has been alleged that Pope's verse is but another rendering of
Bolingbroke's views without his "aristocratic nonchalance," and that
some passages of Pope regarded as hostile to revealed religion, were
specially due to the influence of Bolingbroke; and more than one critic
has professed to trace identities of thought and expression in order to
show that Pope was largely indebted to the published works of St. John.

David Hume was born at Edinburgh, 26th April, 1711, and died 1776. He
created a new school of Freethinkers, and is to-day one of the most
esteemed amongst sceptical authors. He was a profound thinker, and
an easy, elegant writer, who did much to give a force and solidity to
extreme heretical reasonings, which they had hitherto been regarded as
lacking. His heretical essays have had a far wider circulation since his
death, than they enjoyed during his life. Many volumes have been issued
in the fruitless endeavour to refute him, and all these have contributed
to widen the circle of his readers. He adopted and advocated the
utilitarian and necessitarian theory of morals, and wrote of ordinary
theism and religion, as arising from personification of unknown causes,
for general or special phenomena. He held and advanced the idea, which
Buckle so fully states, and endeavours to prove in his "History of
Civilisation"--viz., that general laws operate amongst peoples, and
influence and determine their so-called moral conduct, much as other
laws do the orbits of planets, the occurrences of eclipses, &c. His
arguments against miracles, as evidences for revealed religion, remain
unrefuted, although they have been made the subject of many attacks. He
contends, in effect, that in each account of a miraculous occurrence,
there is always more _prima facie_ probability of error, or bad faith
on the part of the narrator, than of interference with those invariable
sequences known as natural laws, and there was really no reply in the
conclusion of Dr. Campbell, to the effect that we have equally to
trust human testimony for an account of the laws of nature and for the
narratives of miracles, for in truth you never have the same character
of human testimony for the latter as for the former. And, further, while
in the case of human testimony as to natural events, it is evidence
which you may test and compare with your own experience. This is not so
as to miracles, declared at once to be out of the range of all ordinary
experience. "Men," he says, "are carried by a natural instinct or
prepossession to repose faith in their senses. When they follow this
blind and powerful instinct of nature, they always suppose the very
images presented to the senses to be the external objects, and never
entertain any suspicion that the one are nothing but representatives
of the other. But this universal and primary opinion of all men is soon
destroyed by the slightest philosophy, which teaches us that nothing can
ever be present to the mind but an image or perception. So far, then,
we are necessitated by reasoning to contradict the primary instincts of
nature, and to embrace a new system with regard to the evidence of our
senses. But here philosophy finds herself extremely embarrassed, when
she would obviate the cavils and objections of the sceptics. She can
no longer plead the infallible and irresistible instinct of nature, for
that led us to quite a different system, which is acknowledged fallible,
and even erroneous, and to justify this pretended philosophical system
by a chain of clear and convincing argument, or even any appearance of
argument, exceeds the power of all human capacity. Do you follow the
instinct and propensities of nature in assenting to the veracity of
the senses? But these lead you to believe that the very perception or
sensible image is the external object--(Idealism.) Do you disclaim
this principle in order to embrace a more rational opinion, that the
perceptions are only representations of something external? You here
depart from your natural propensities, and more obvious sentiments;
and yet are not able to satisfy your reason, which can never find any
convincing argument from experience to prove that the perceptions are
connected with external objects--(Scepticism.)"

Charles de Secondat Baron de Montesquieu, born in 1689 near Bordeaux,
died at Paris 1755, who earned considerable fame by his "Lettres
Persanes," is more famous for his oft-referred to work "L'Esprit des
Lois." Victor Cousin describes him as "the man of our country who
has best comprehended history, and who first gave an example of true
historic method." In the publication of certain of his ideas on history,
Montesquieu was the layer of the foundation-stone for an edifice which
Buckle would probably have gloriously crowned had his life been longer.
Voltaire, who sharply criticises Montesquieu, declares that he has
earned the eternal gratitude of Europe by his grand views and his bold
attacks on tyranny, superstition, and grinding taxation. Montesquieu
urged that virtue is the true essence of republicanism, but misled
by the mistaken notions of honour held by his predecessors and
contemporaries, he declared honour to be the principle of monarchical
institutions. Voltaire reminds him that "it is in courts that men,
devoid of honour, often attain to the highest dignities; and it is in
republics that a known dishonourable citizen is seldom trusted by
the people with public concerns." Montesquieu wrote in favour of a
constitutional monarchy such as then existed in England, and his work
shadowed forth a future for the middle class in France.

Francois Marie Arouet Voltaire, born 20th February, 1694, at Chatenay,
died 30th May, 1778, may be fairly written of as the man to whose
fertile brain and active pen, to whose great genius, fierce irony,
and thorough humanity, we owe much more of the rapid change of popular
thought in Europe during the last century than to any other man. His
wit, like the electric flash, spared nothing; his love for his kind
would have made him the protector of everything weak, his desire to
protect himself from the consequences of his truest utterances, often
dims the hero-halo with which his name is surrounded. Born and trained
amongst a corrupt and selfish class, it is not wonderful that we find
some of their pernicious habits clinging to parts of his career. On the
contrary, it is more wonderful to find that he has shaken off so much of
the consequences of his education. Neither in politics nor in theology
was he so very extreme in his utterances as many deemed him, for while
he occasionally severely handled individual monarchs, we do not find
him the preacher of republicanism. On the contrary, he is often severe
against some of the advanced political views of Jean Jacques Rousseau.
He nevertheless suggests that it might have been "the art of working
metals which originally made kings, and the art of casting cannons which
now maintains them," and as a commentary on kingly conduct in the matter
of taxation, declares that "a shepherd ought to shear his sheep, and
not to flay them." In theological controversy he wrote as a Theist, and
declares "Atheism and Fanaticism" to be "two monsters which may tear
society in pieces, but the Atheist preserves his reason, which checks
his propensity to mischief, while the fanatic is under the influence of
a madness constantly urging him on." For the ancient Jews, and for
the Hebrew records, Voltaire entertained so thorough a feeling of
contemptuous detestation, that in his "Defense de mon Oncle," and his
articles and letters on the Jews, we find utter disbelief in them as
a chosen people, and the strongest abhorrence of their brutal habits,
heightened in expression by the scathing satire of his phrases. To the
more modern descendants of Abraham he said: "We have repeatedly driven
you away through avarice; we have recalled you through avarice and
stupidity; we still, in more towns than one, make you pay for liberty to
breathe the air; we have, in more kingdoms than one, sacrificed you
to God; we have burned you as holocausts--for I will not follow your
example, and dissemble that we have offered up sacrifices of human
blood; all the difference is, that our priests, content with applying
your money to their own use, have had you burned by laymen; while your
priests always immolated their human victims with their own sacred
hands. You were monsters of cruelty and fanaticism in Palestine; we have
been so in Europe."

Writing on miracles, Voltaire asks: "For what purpose would God perform
a miracle? To accomplish some particular design upon living beings?
He would then, in reality, be supposed to say--I have not been able to
effect by my construction of the universe, by my divine decrees, by my
eternal laws, a particular object; I am now going to change my eternal
ideas and immutable laws, to endeavour to accomplish what I have
not been able to do by means of them. This would be an avowal of
his weakness, not of his power; it would appear in such a being an
inconceivable contradiction. Accordingly, therefore, to dare to ascribe
miracles to God is, if man can in reality insult God, actually offering
him that insult. It is saying to him--You are a weak and inconsistent
being. It is therefore absurd to believe in miracles; it is, in fact,
dishonouring the divinity."

Those who are inclined to attack the character of Voltaire, should read
the account of his endeavours for the Calas family. How, when old Calas
had been broken alive on the wheel at Toulouse, and his family were
ruined, Voltaire took up their case, aided them with means, spared no
effort of his pen or brain, and ultimately achieved the great victory
of reversing the unjust sentence, and obtaining compensation for the
family. It, then, these Voltaire-haters have not learned to love this
great heretic, let them study the narrative of his even more successful
endeavours on behalf of the Sirvens; more successful, because in this
case he took up the fight before an unjust judgment could be delivered,
and thus prevented the repetition of such an iniquitous execution as had
taken place in the Galas case. The cowardly slanders as to his conduct
when dying are not worth notice; those spit on the grave of the dead who
would not have dared to look in the face of the living.

Claud Adrian Helvetius was born at Paris 1715, and died December 1771.
His best known works are "De l'Esprit," published 1758; "Essai sur
l'Origine des Connaissances Humaines," 1746; "Traite des Systemes,"
1749; "Traite des Sensations," 1758. Rousseau wrote in reply to
Helvetius, but when the Parliament of Paris condemned the work "De
l'Esprit," and it was in consequence burned by the common hangman,
Rousseau withdrew his refutatory volume. Helvetius argues that any
religion, of which the chiefs are intolerant, and the conduct of
which is expensive to the state, "cannot long be the religion of an
enlightened and well governed nation. The people that submit to it will
labour only to maintain the ease and luxury of the priesthood; each
of its inhabitants will be nothing more than a slave to the sacerdotal
power. A religion to be good should be tolerant and little expensive.
Its clergy should have no authority over the people. A dread of the
priest debases the mind and the soul, makes the one brutish and the
other slavish. Must the ministers of the altar always be armed with the
sword of the state? Can the barbarities committed by their intolerance
ever be forgotten? The earth is yet drenched with the blood they have
spilled. Civil tolerance alone is not sufficient to secure the peace
of nations. Every dogma is a seed of discord and injustice sown amongst

"Why do you make the Supreme Being resemble an eastern tyrant? Why make
him punish slight faults with eternal torment? Why thus put the name of
the Divinity at the bottom of the portrait of the devil? Why oppress
the soul with a load of fear, break its springs, and of a worshipper of
Jesus make a vile, pusillanimous slave? It is the malignant who paint a
malignant G-od. What is their devotion? A veil for their crimes."

"Let not the rewards of heaven be made the price of trifling religious
operations, which convey a diminutive idea of the Eternal and a false
conception of virtue; its rewards should never be assigned to fasting,
haircloth, a blind submission, and self-castigation. The man who
places these operations among the virtues, might as well place those of
leaping, dancing, and tumbling on the rope." "Humility may be held in
veneration by the dwellers in a monastery or a convent, it favours the
meanness and idleness of a monastic life. But ought the humility to
be regarded as the virtue of the people? No." Speaking of the Pagan
systems, Helvetius says, "All the fables of mythology were mere emblems
of certain principles of nature."

Baron d'Holbach, a native of the Palatinate, born January 1723, died
21st January, 1789, deserves special notice, as being the man whose
house was the gathering place of the knot of writers and thinkers, who
struck light and life into the dark and deadened brain of France. He is
generally reputed to have been the author of that well-known work,
the "System of Nature," which was issued as if by Mirabaud. This work,
although it was fiercely assailed at the time, by the pen of Voltaire,
and by the _plaidorie_ of the prosecuting Avocat-General, and has
since been attacked by hundreds who have never read it, yet remains
a wonderfully popular exposition of the power-gathering heresy of the
century, and, as far as we are aware, has never received efficient
reply. Probably next to Paine's works, it had in England during
the second quarter of this century, the widest circulation of any
anti-theological book, and this circulation extending through the
manufacturing ranks. In the eighteenth century Mirabaud could, in
England, only be found in the hands of the few, but fifty years had
wondrously multiplied the number of readers.

Joseph Priestley was born near Leeds, 13th March, 1733, and being
towards the latter part of his life driven out of England, by the
persecuting spirit evinced towards him, and which had been specially
excited by his republican tendencies, he died at Northumberland,
Pennsylvania, on the 6th Feb., 1804. Originally a Church of England
clergyman, his first notable inclination to heterodoxy manifested
itself in hesitation as to the doctrine of the atonement. He ultimately
rejected the immortality and immateriality of the soul, argued for
necessitarianism, and earned considerable unpopularity by the boldness
of some of his sentiments on political as well as theological matters.
Priestley was one of the rapidly multiplying instances of heresy alike
in religion and politics, but he provoked the most bitter antagonism.
His works were burned by the common hangman, his house, library, and
scientific instruments were destroyed by an infuriate and pious mob.
Despite all this, his heresy, according to his own view of it, was not
of a very outrageous character, for he believed in Deity, in revealed
religion, and in Christianity, rather putting the blame on misconduct
of alleged Christians. He said: "The wretched forms under which
Christianity has long been generally exhibited, and its degrading
alliance with, or rather its subjection to a power wholly heterogeneous
to it, and which has employed it for the most unworthy purposes, has
made it contemptible and odious in the eyes of all sensible men, who are
now everywhere casting off the very profession and every badge of it.
Enlightened Christians must themselves, in some measure, join with
unbelievers in exposing whatever will not bear examination in or about
religion." His writings on scientific topics were most voluminous; his
most heretical volumes are those on "Matter and Spirit."

Edward Gibbon was born at Putney, the 27th April, 1737, and died 16th
January, 1794. He was a polished and painstaking writer, aristocratic
in his tendencies and associations, who had educated himself into a
disbelief in the principal dogmas of Christianity, but who loved the
peace and quietude of an easy life too much to enter the lists as an
active antagonist of the Church. His works, especially the fifteenth and
sixteenth chapters of "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," have
been regarded as infidel in their tendency, rather from what has been
left unsaid than from the direct statements against Christianity.
The sneer at the evidence of prophecy, or the doubt of the reality of
miraculous evidences, is guardedly expressed. It is only when Gibbon can
couch his lance against some reckless and impudent forger of Christian
Evidences, such as Eusebius, that you have anything like a bold
condemnation. A prophecy or a miracle is treated tenderly, and if
killed, it is rather with over-affectionate courtesy than by rough
handling. In some parts of his vindications of the attacked passages,
Gibbon's scepticism finds vent in the collection and quotation of
unpleasantly heretical views of others, but he carefully avoids
committing himself to very distinct personal declarations of disbelief;
he claims to be the unbiassed historian recording fact, and leaving
others to form their own conclusions. It would perhaps be most
appropriate to express his convictions as to the religions of the world,
in nearly the same words as he used to characterise the various modes of
worship at Rome, "all considered by the people as equally true, by the
philosopher as equally false, and by the magistrate as equally useful."

Pierre John George Cabanis, born at Conac, near Breves, 6th June, 1757,
died 6th May, 1808, following Condillac in many respects, was one of
those whose physiological investigations have opened out wide fields of
knowledge in psychology, and who did much to promote the establishment
in France, America, and England, of a new school of Freethinkers.
"Subject to the action of external bodies," he says, "man finds in the
impressions these bodies make on his organs, at once his knowledge and
the causes of his continued existence, for to live is to feel; and in
that admirable chain of phenomena which constitute his existence, every
want depends on the development of some faculty; every faculty by
its very development satisfies some want, and the faculties grow by
exercise, as the wants extend with the facility of satisfying them. By
the continual action of external bodies on the senses of man, results
the most remarkable part of his existence. But is it true that the
nervous centres only receive and combine the impressions which reach
them from the bodies? Is it true that no image or idea is formed in the
brain, and that no determination of the sensitive organ takes place,
other than by virtue of these same impressions on the senses strictly
so-called? The faculty of feeling and of spontaneous movement forms
the character of animal nature. The faculty of feeling consists in
the property possessed by the nervous system of being warned by
the impressions produced on its different parts, and notably on its
extremities. These impressions are internal or external. External
impressions, when perception is distinct, are called sensations.
Internal impressions are very often vague and confused, and the animal
is then only warned by their effects, and does not clearly distinguish
their connection with the causes. The former result from the application
of external objects to the organs of sense, and on them ideas depend.
The latter result from the development of the regular functions, or from
the maladies to which each organ is subject; and from these issue those
determinations which bear the name of instincts. Feeling and movement
are linked together. Every movement is determined by an impression,
and the nerves, as the organs of feeling, animate and direct the motor
organs. In feeling, the nervous organ reacts on itself. In movement it
reacts on other parts, to which it communicates the contractile faculty,
the simple and fecund principle of all animal movement. Finally, the
vital functions can exercise themselves by the influence of some nervous
ramifications, isolated from the system--the distinctive faculties can
develope themselves, even when the brain is almost wholly destroyed, and
when it seems wholly inactive. But for the formation of thoughts, it is
necessary that the brain should exist, and be in a healthy condition; it
is the special organ of thought." Thomas Paine, the most famous Deist of
modern times, was born at Thetford on the 29th January, 1737, and
died 8th June, 1809. It will hardly be untrue to say that the famous
"rebellious needleman" has been the most popular writer in Great Britain
and America against revealed religion, and that his works, from their
plain, clear language, have in those countries had, and still have, a
far wider circulation than those of any other modern sceptical author.
His anti-theology was allied to his republicanism; he warred alike
against church and throne, and his impeachment of each was couched in
the plainest Anglo-Saxon. His name became at the same time a word
of terror to the aristocracy and to the clergy. In England numerous
prosecutions were commenced against the vendors of his political and
theological works, and against persons suspected of giving currency to
his views. The peace-officers searched poor men's houses to discover his
dreaded works. Lancashire and Yorkshire artisans read him by stealth,
and assembled in corners of fields that they might discuss the "Age
of Reason," and yet be safe from surprise by the authorities. Heavy
sentences were passed upon men convicted of promulgating his opinions;
but all without effect, the forbidden fruit found eager gatherers. Paine
appears to have been tinged with scepticism from his early boyhood, but
it was as a democratic writer that he first achieved literary fame.
His "Age of Reason" was the culminating blow which the dying eighteenth
century aimed at the Hebrew and Christian records. Theretofore scholarly
philosophers, metaphysicians, and critics had written for their fellows,
and whether or not any of the mass read and understood, the authors
cared but little. Now the people were addressed by one of themselves in
language startling in its plainness. Paine was not a deep examiner of
metaphysical problems, but he was terribly in earnest in his rejection
of an impossible creed.

Charles Prangois Dupuis was born near Chaumont, in France, the 16th
Oct., 1742, died 29th Sept., 1809. He played a prominent part in
the great revolutionary movement, and was Secretary to the National
Convention. His famous work, "L'Origine de tous les Cultes," is one of
the grand heresy marks of the eighteenth century. Himself a Pantheist,
he searched through the mythic traditions of the Greeks, the Egyptians,
the Hindoos, and the Hebrews, and as a result, sought to demonstrate a
common origin for all religions. Dr. John Pye Smith classes Dupuis as an
Atheist, but this is most certainly an incorrect classification. He did
not believe in creation, nor could he go outside the universe to
search for its cause, but he regarded God as "la force universelle
et eternellement active" and which permeated and animated everything.
Dupuis was an example of a new and rapidly increasing class of
Freethinking writers--i.e., those who, not content with doubting the
divine origin of the religions they attacked, sought to explain the
source and progress of the various systems. He urges that all religions
find their base in the attempts at personification of some one or
other, or of the whole of the forces of the universe, and shows what an
important part the sun and moon have been made to play in the Egyptian,
Greek, and Hindoo Mythologies. He argues that the fabulous biographies
of Hercules, Bacchus, Osiris, Mithra, and Jesus, find their common
origin in the sun-worship, thus cloaked and hidden from the vulgar
in each country. He does not attack the Hebrew Records as simply
inaccurate, but endeavours to show clear Sabaistic foundation for many
of the most important narratives. The works of Dupuis and Dulaure
should be read together; they contain the most complete amongst the many
attempts to trace out the common origins of the various mythologies of
the world. In the ninth chapter of Dupuis' great work, he deals with the
"fable made upon the sun adored under the name of Christ," "_un dieu qui
ait mange autrefois sur la terre, et qu'on y mange aujourd'hui,_"
and unquestionably urges strange points of coincidence. It is only
astrologically that the 25th of December can be fixed, he argues, as the
birthday of Mithra and of Jesus, then born of the celestial Virgin. Our
Easter festivities for the resurrection of Jesus, are but another form
of the more ancient rejoicings at that season for Adonis, the sun-God,
restored to the world after his descent into the lower regions. He
recalls that the ancient Druidic worship recognised the Virgin suckling
the child, and gathers together many illustrations favourable to his
theory. Here we do no more than point out that while reason was rapidly
releasing itself from priestly thraldom, heretics were not content to
deny the divine origin of Christianity, but sought to trace its mundane
or celestial source, and strip it of its fabulous plumage.

Constantine Francis Chassebeuuf Count Volney, born at Craon in Anjou,
February 3rd, 1757, died 1820. He was a Deist. In his two great works,
"The Ruins of Empires," and "New Researches on Ancient History," he
advances many of the views brought forward by Dupuis, from whom he
quotes, but his volumes are much more readable than those of the author
of the "Origin of all Religions." Volney appears to have been one of the
first to popularise many of Spinoza's Biblical criticisms. He denied the
Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch. He wrote most vigorously against
kingcraft as well as priestcraft, regarding all systems of monarchy and
religion as founded on the ignorance and servility, the superstition
and weakness of the people. He puts the following into the mouth of
Ma-hommedan priests replying to Christian preachers: "We maintain that
your gospel morality is by no means characterised by the perfection you
ascribe to it. It is not true that it has introduced into the world new
and unknown virtues; for example, the equality of mankind in the eyes
of God, and the fraternity and benevolence which are the consequence of
this equality, were tenets formerly professed by the sect of Hermetics
and Samaneans, from whom you have your descent. As to forgiveness
of injuries, it had been taught by the Pagans themselves; but in the
latitude you give to it, it ceases to be a virtue, and becomes an
immorality and a crime. Your boasted precept, to him that strikes thee
on thy right cheek turn the other also, is not only contrary to the
feelings of man, but a flagrant violation of every principle of justice;
it emboldens the wicked by impunity, degrades the virtuous by the
servility to which it subjects them; delivers up the world to disorder
and tyranny, and dissolves the bands of society--such is the true spirit
of your doctrine. The precepts and parables of your Gospel also never
represent God other than as a despot, acting by no rule of equity; than
as a partial father treating a debauched and prodigal son with greater
favour than his obedient and virtuous children; than as a capricious
master giving the same wages to him who has wrought but one hour, as to
those who have borne the burthen and heat of the day, and preferring
the last comers to the first. In short, your morality throughout is
unfriendly to human intercourse; a code of misanthropy calculated to
give men a disgust for life and society, and attach them to solitude and
celibacy. With respect to the manner in which you have practised your
boasted doctrine, we in our turn appeal to the testimony of fact, and
ask, was it your evangelical meekness and forbearance which excited
those endless wars among your sectaries, those atrocious persecutions
of what you call heretics, those crusades against the Arians, the
Manichseans, and the Protestants, not to mention those which you have
committed against us, nor the sacrilegious associations still subsisting
among you, formed of men who have sworn to perpetuate them?* Was it
the charity of your Gospel that led you to exterminate whole nations in
America, and to destroy the empires of Mexico and Peru; that makes you
still desolate Africa, the inhabitants of which you sell like cattle,
notwithstanding the abolition of slavery that you pretend your religion
has effected; that makes you ravage India whose domain you usurp; in
short, is it charity that has prompted you for three centuries past to
disturb the peaceful inhabitants of three continents, the most prudent
of whom, those of Japan and China, have been constrained to banish you
from their country, that they might escape your chains and recover their
domestic tranquillity?"

     * The oath taken by the Knights of the Order of Malta is to
     kill, or make the Mahometans prisoners, for the glory of

During the early part of the eighteenth century, magazines and other
periodicals began to grow apace, and pamphlets multiplied exceedingly in
this country. Addison, Steele, Defoe, and Dean Swift all helped in the
work of popular education, and often in a manner probably unanticipated
by themselves. Dean Swifts satire against scepticism was fiercely
powerful; but his onslaughts against Roman Catholics and Presbyterians
made far more sceptics than his other writings had made churchmen.

During the latter portion of the eighteenth century, a new phase of
popular progress was exhibited in the comparatively lively interest
taken in political questions by the great body of the people inhabiting
large towns. In America, France, and England, this was strongly marked;
it is however in this country that we find special evidences of the
connection between heresy and progress, as contradistinguished from
orthodoxy and obstructiveness manifested in the struggle for the liberty
of the press and platform; a struggle in which some of the boldest
efforts were made by poor and heretical self-taught men. The dying
eighteenth century witnessed, in England, repeated instances of State
prosecutions, in which the charge of entertaining or advocating the
views of the Republican heretic, Paine, formed a prominent feature,
and there is little doubt that the efforts of the London Corresponding
Society (which the Government of the day made strenuous endeavours to
repress) to give circulation to some of Paine's political opinions in
Yorkshire, Lancashire, and the North, had for result the familiarising
many men with views they would have otherwise feared to investigate.
The step from the "Rights of Man" to the "Age of Reason" was but a short
stride for an advancing inquirer. In France the end of the eighteenth
century was marked by a frightful convulsion. A people starved and
degraded for generations, rose in the very desperation of despair, and
with a mighty force broke the yoke of traditional feudalism and habitual
monarchic reverence; but in the case of France, the revolution was too
sudden to be immediately beneficial or enduring, the people were as a
mass too poor, and therefore too ignorant to wield the power so rapidly
wrested from the class who had so long monopolised it. It is far better
to grow out of a creed by the sure and gradual consciousness of the
truths of existence, than to dash off a religious garb simply from
abhorrence of the shameful practices of its professors, or sudden
conviction of the falsity of many of the testimonies in its favour. So
it is a more permanent and more complete revolution which is effectuated
by educating men to a sense of the majesty and worth of true manhood,
than is any mere sudden overturning a rotten or cruel usurpation.
Monarchies are most thoroughly and entirely destroyed--not by pulling
down the throne, or by decapitating the king, but by educating and
building up with a knowledge of political duty, each individual citizen
amongst the people.

It is here that heresy has its great advantage. Christianity says,
"the powers that be are ordained of God, he that resisteth the power
resisteth the ordinance of God." Heresy challenges the divine right
of the governor, and declares that government should be the best
contrivance of national wisdom to promote the national weal, to provide
against national want, and alleviate-national suffering--that government
which is only a costly machinery for conserving class privileges, and
preventing popular freedom, is a tyrannical usurpation of power,which it
is the duty of true men to destroy.

I have briefly and imperfectly alluded to a few of the men who stand
out as the sign-posts of heretical progress during the sixteenth,
seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries; in some future publication of
wider scope fairer tribute may be paid to the memories of some of these
mighty warriors in the Freethought army. My object is to show that the
civilisation of the masses is in proportion to the spread of heresy
amongst them, that its effect is seen in an exhibition of manly
dignity and self-reliant effort which is utterly unattainable amongst a
superstitious people. Look at the lazzaroni of the Neapolitan States,
or the peasant of the Campagna, and you have at once the fearful
illustration of demoralisation by faith in the beggar, brigand, and

It is sometimes pretended that such advantages of education and position
as the people may boast in England, their civil rights and social
advancement, are owing to their Christianity, but in point of fact the
reverse is the case. For centuries Christianity had done little but
fetter tightly the masses to Church and Crown, to Priest and Baron; the
enfranchisement is comparatively modern. Even in this very day, in the
districts where the people are entirely in the hands of the clergy of
the Established Church, there they are as a mass the most depraved. Take
the agricultural counties and the agricultural labourers: there are no
heretical books or papers to be seen in their cottages, no heretical
speakers come amongst them to disturb their contentment; the
deputy-lieutenant, the squire, and the rector wield supreme
authority--the parish church has no rival. But what are the people as a
mass? They are not men, they are not women, they lack men's and women's
thoughts and aspirations: they are diggers and weeders, hedgers and
ditchers, ploughmen and carters; they are taught to be content with the
state of life, in which it has pleased God to place them.

My plea is, that modern heresy, from Spinoza to Mill, has given
brain-strength and dignity to every one it has permeated--that the
popular propagandists of this heresy, from Bruno to Carlile, have been
the true redeemers and saviours, the true educators of the people. The
redemption is yet only at its commencement, the education only lately
begun, but the change is traceable already; as witness the power to
speak and write, and the ability to listen and read, which have grown
amongst the masses during the last 100 years. And if to-day we write
with higher hope, it is because the right to speak and the right
to print has been partly freed from the fetters forged through long
generations of intellect-prostration, and almost entirely freed from the
statutory limitations which, under pretence of checking blasphemy and
sedition, have really gagged honest speech against Pope and Emperor,
against Church and Throne.

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