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Title: A Letter To The Society for the Suppression of Vice, on their Malignant Efforts to Prevent a Free Enquiry After Truth and Reason
Author: Carlile, Richard, 1790-1843
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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To The Society for the Suppression of Vice, ON THEIR Malignant Efforts

By R. Carlile




Associated Persecutors,

That envenomed and malign spirit which you have so prominently
displayed, during the short time since you have turned your attentions
towards my publications, precludes the necessity of my offering any
apology for addressing you in a public letter.

Having immured me within the walls of a prison, methinks I see
a demoniac smile glide over your several cheeks with the glowing
expression; of "we have now crushed him."--Be not too sanguine; feeble
as my efforts may be to propagate those principles, on which, (according
to my humble conceptions,) the basis of true morality and virtue must be
founded, nor the fear of imprisonment, nor the fear of death shall deter
me from a perseverance. What is the religion that you profess, that you
are so much alarmed at every attempt to investigate its merits? What is
the basis of your pretended morality and virtue, when you betray a
fear of being left naked as the breeze leaves the stem of the woolly
dandelion? What is that chimerical faith in which you pretend to centre
your future hopes, if you fear the result of your fellow mortal's
enquiry into it? On what ground must the established and dissenting
codes of religion, of which you boast, (and express your determination
to support, by imprisonments and punishments of such persons as shall
attempt to inspect its foundation,) be raised, when a small volume of
enquiry into its origin shakes its very centre, and threatens a total
annihilation? Pause! ye deluded and deluding hypocrites, and I will
compromise the matter with you. But how? Shall it be an instance of that
nature where many individuals whom you have laid under the charge of
vending, what both you and I consider obscene and objectionable books
and prints, have more than once satisfied your virtuous scruples by a
fee? Pray, would my paying all the expences you have incurred in this
prosecution, satiate that appetite which feeds on virtue whilst it
falsely affects to destroy vice? Is your answer--yes? I disdain it.
Nothing but a fair exposition of both our views shall induce me to
compromise this important question; rendered the more important, because
a sycophantic and hypocritical society--a refined banditti attempts to
crush it in its bud. No, the compromise I will make with you shall be,
either, that you shall renounce those persecutions you have instituted
against me, or I will expose your object in all its hideous features.
Although, like the assassin, you endeavour to conceal both your names
and intentions, and make a hungry Lawyer* your instrument, yet the
community at large; who have been more injured than amended by your
false pretences, will assist me in depicting your banditti in its real

     * Prichard, of Essex-street, in the Strand, whose clerks and
     inmates are used as informers to this Society.

By every exertion and enquiry that I could make, I have not been able
to obtain a list of your names, and am given to understand that no such
thing has been published for many years past. It appears, that in the
earlier part of your institution, you regularly published, your
names, but that the infamy which has, of late, been attached to your
proceedings, has deterred you from continuing it. As the best proof of
virtue arises when it is exposed to the fangs of vice, I challenge
you to proceed in your persecutions. But let us here examine how the
question stands between us. I have published a book, the contents of
which you charge to be impious blasphemous, and profane, tending to
bring into disrepute the Christian Religion. I reply, that this book
does not merit the charge instituted against it, nor has it any other
tendency than that of bringing into disrepute the religions that are not
supported by human reason, or divine authority.

Did any thing but vindictive malice guide your councils, you would have
waited the time when I should have been placed before a jury of my own
countrymen, and there receive the reward, or punishment consequent on
their verdict. But no! the Society for the Suppression of Vice cannot
suppress their appetite for rancorous punishment, but seize their
victim, tear him from a fond and agonized family, and within two hours
lodge him within the walls of Newgate. For what? for doing that,
which, whether it is-an offence or not, is but matter of opinion, the
publication can injure no one but those panders who prey on the vitals
of their country. The publication, I admit, may be offensive to some,
but not to the virtuous and well meaning part of the community; it is
offensive to those persons only who are interested in supporting the
corruptions and abuses of the system we live under.

You appear to be following the course which the Attorney General
(Shepherd) followed towards me in 1817, in regard to the Parodies*;
that is, you have no hopes of being able to obtain the verdict of a
jury against the work, and you are anxious to glut your vengeance with
punishment before trial.

     * The writer of this letter was eighteen weeks in the King's
     Bench Prison for re-publishing the Parodies, and was never
     brought to trial; it was he who challenged the Attorney
     General to bring the Parodies before a jury, which led to so
     grand and noble a result.

I doubt whether any of you who have instigated these Prosecutions have
ever read the Theological Writings of Thomas Paine, for if you had read
them, And had possessed the least conception of vice and virtue, you
would have found nothing of a vicious tendency in them, you would have
found nothing that came within the province of your professions to
prosecute for.

Have you no priests in your Society? Why do you not set them to write a
volume of the same size to refute the arguments and assertions of Paine?
I will pledge myself to sell it with the other, Is there not a Bishop
amongst you that can again attempt to do what Watson has vainly
attempted? For shame! do not attempt to destroy by the sword of
perverted law what so many bishops and clergy are so well qualified
to destroy by argument and reason. For what do they receive so many
thousands of the public money? For what have we universities and
colleges, and so many thousand priests who have to boast of collegiate
education? unless it is to support by argument, intellectual reasoning,
and controversial disputation, the several doctrines and dogmas which
they profess to teach, and wish us to believe. For shame! I say again,
spur them on, and do not let their professions be set at 'nought by
a few untutored minds. They must either do this, or raise again the
blood-stained standard of the cross, and again enforce their doctrines
by the sword.

Christianity, like the material world, has had its rise, its progress,
and is now experiencing its decay, but differs in this point, that there
is no hope of its regenerating or revivifying. And vain will be the
attempt to oppose it to human reason. The press, that dreadful park of
artillery, will continue to open its destructive fire on superstition,
bigotry, and religious and civil despotism; and what shall check its

Hear, ye promoters of theological dissensions, and tremble, whilst I
tell you, that you possess the same dispositions as your ancestors, who
kindled the flames in Smithfield. Would public opinion tolerate it, you
would pursue me to the stake with the same satisfaction you have pursued
me to a prison. Reserving for a better opportunity any further opinions
and observations on your character, conduct, and views as a Society,
I would beg leave to call your attention to a work lately published in
London, entitled the Principles of Nature, by Elihu Palmer, the first
chapter of which I will here insert as a specimen, which is strictly
applicable to our relative situations, with the exception of a few of
the first sentences.



"The Power of Intellect, its Duty, and the Obstacles that oppose its

"The sources of hope and consolation to the human race are to be sought
for in the energy of intellectual powers. To these, every specific
amelioration must bear a constant and invariable reference; and whatever
opposes the progress of such a power, is unquestionably in most pointed
opposition to the best and most important interest of our species. The
organic construction of man induces a strong conclusion that no limits
can possibly be assigned to his moral and scientific improvements. The
question relative to the nature and substance of the human mind, is of
much less consequence than that which relates to the extent of force
and capacity, and the diversified modes of beneficial application. The
strength of the human understanding is incalculable, its keenness of
discernment would ultimately penetrate into every part of nature, were
it permitted to operate with uncontrolled and unqualified freedom. It is
because this sublime principle of man has been constantly the object
of the most scurrilous abuse, and the most detestable invective from
superstition, that his moral existence has been buried in the gulf of
ignorance, and his intellectual powers tarnished by the ferocious and
impure hand of fanaticism. Although we are made capable of sublime
reflections, it has hitherto been deemed a crime to think, and a still
greater crime to speak our thoughts after they have been conceived. The
despotism of the universe had waged war against the power of the human
understanding, and for many ages successfully combated, his efforts,
but the natural energy of this immortal property of human existence
was incapable of being controlled by such, extraneous and degrading
restraints. It burst the walls of its prison, explored the earth,
discovered the properties of its component parts, analyzed their
natures, and gave to them specific classification and arrangement. Not
content with terrestrial researches, intellect abandoned the earth, and
travelled in quest of science through the celestial regions. The heavens
were explored, the stars were counted, and the revolutions of the
planets subjected to mathematical calculation. All nature became the
theatre of human action, and man in his unbounded and ardent desire
attempted to embrace the universe. Such was the nature of his powers,
such their strength and fervour, that hopes and anticipations were
unqualified and unlimited. The subordinate objects in the great mass of
existence were decompounded, and the essential peculiarities of their
different natures delineated with astonishing accuracy and wonderful
precision. Situated in the midst of a world of physical wonders and
having made some progress in the analytical decomposition of material
substances, and the relative position of revolving orbs, man began to
turn his powers to the nice disquisitions of the subtle properties of
his mental existence. Here the force of his faculties was opposed by the
darkness and difficulties of the subject; and superstition, ever ready
to arrest and destroy moral improvement, cast innumerable difficulties
in the way, and the bewildered mind found this part of the system of
nature less accessible than the physical universe, whose prominent
disparities struck the understanding and presented clear discrimination.
The ignorance and barbarism of former ages, it is said, furnish an
awful intimation of the imbecility of our mental powers and the hopeless
condition of the human race. If thought be reflected back for the
purpose of recognizing through a long night of time the miseries and
ignorance of the species, there will be found, no doubt, powerful causes
of lamentation; but courage will be resuscitated when the energy of
intellect is displayed, and the improvement of the world, which has
already been made, shall be clearly exhibited to view. It is not
sufficient that man acknowledge the possession of his intellectual
powers, it is also necessary that these powers should be developed,
and their force directed to the discovery of correct principle, and the
useful application of it to social life; errors, evils, and vices
every where exist, and by these the world has been rendered continually
wretched; and the history of mankind furnishes the dreadful lessons,
and shocks the sensibility of every human being. The ravage ferocity of,
despotism has destroyed the harmony of society; the unrelenting cruelty
of superstition has cut asunder the finest fibres that ever concreted
the hearts of intelligent beings. It has buried beneath its gloomy vale
all the moral properties of our existence, and entombed in the grave
of ignorance and terror the most sublime, energies, and the purest
affections of the human mind. An important duty is therefore imposed
upon intellect, and a departure from its faithful performance should
be ranked among the crimes which bate most disgraced and injured the
felicity of the world. If the few philanthropists who have embarked
in the cause of humanity, have not been adequately rewarded, it is,
nevertheless, true, that the principle and force of duty remain the
same, unbroken and incapable of being abrogated. It is the discovery
and propagation of truth which ought to engage the attention of man, and
call forth the powerful activity of his mind.

"The nature of ancient institutions, instead of forming a reason against
the activity of mind, should be considered as constituting a double
stimulus; these institutions are such a complete abandonment of every
just and correct principle; they have been so destructive in their
operation and effects, that nothing but the strong and energetic
movement of, the human understanding will be capable of subverting
them. The whole earth has been made the wretched abode of ignorance
and misery--and to priests and tyrants these dreadful effects are to be
attributed. These are the priviledged monsters who have subjugated the
earth, destroyed the peace and industry of society, and committed the
most atrocious of all robberies--that have robbed human nature of its
intellectual property, leaving all in a state of waste and barrenness.
Moses, Zoroaster, Jesus, and Mahomet, are names celebrated in history;
but what are they celebrated for? Have their institutions softened
the savage ferocity of man? Have they developed a clear system of
principles, either moral, scientific, or philosophical? Have they
encouraged the free and unqualified operation of intellect, or rather
by their institutions, has not a gloom been thrown oyer the clearest
subjects, and their examination prohibited under the severest
penalties? The successors and followers of these men have adhered to the
destructive lessons of their masters with undeviating tenacity. This
has formed one of the most powerful obstacles to the progress of
improvement, and still threatens with eternal _damnation_ that man who
shall call in question the truth of their _dogmas_, or the divinity of
their systems.

"The political tyranny of the earth coalesced with this phalanx of
religious despots, and the love of science and of virtue was nearly
banished from the world. Twelve centuries of moral and political
darkness, in which Europe was involved, had nearly completed the
destruction of human dignity, and every thing valuable or ornamental in
the character of man. During this long and doleful night of ignorance,
slavery, and superstition, Christianity reigned triumphant; its
doctrines and divinity were not called in question. The power of
the Pope, the Clergy, and the Church, were omnipotent; nothing could
restrain their phrenzy, nothing could controul the cruelty of their
fanaticism; with mad enthusiasm they set on foot the most bloody and
terrific crusades, the object of which was to recover from infidels the
_Holy Land_. Seven hundred thousand men are said to have perished in the
two first expeditions, which had been thus commenced and carried on by
the pious zeal of the Christian church, and in the total amount,
several millions were found numbered with the dead--the awful effects of
religious fanaticism presuming upon the aid of heaven. It was then that
man lost all his dignity, and sunk to the condition of a brute; it
was then that intellect received a deadly blow, from which it did not
recover till the fifteenth century. From that time to the present, the
progress of knowledge has been constantly accelerated; independence
of mind has been asserted, and opposing obstacles have been gradually
diminished; The church has resigned a part of her power, the better to
retain the remainder; civil tyranny has been shaken to its centre in
both hemispheres; the malignity of superstition is abating, and every
species of _quackery_, imposture, and imposition, are yielding to the
light and power of science. An awful contest has commenced, which must
terminate in the destruction of thrones and civil despotism--in the
annihilation of ecclesiastical pride and domination; or, on the other
hand, intellect, science, and manly virtue will be crushed in one
general ruin, and the world will retrograde towards a state of
ignorance, barbarism, and misery. The latter, however, is an event
rendered almost impossible by the discovery of the art of printing, by
the expansion of mind, and the general augmentation of knowledge.
Church and State may unite to form an insurmountable barrier against the
extension of thought, the moral progress of nations, and the felicity
of nature; but let it be recollected, that the guarantee for moral and
political emancipation is already deposited in the archives of every
school and college, and in the mind of every cultivated and enlightened
man of all countries. It will henceforth be a vain and fruitless attempt
to reduce the earth to that state of slavery of which the history
of former ages has furnished such an awful picture. The crimes of
ecclesiastical despots are still corroding upon the very vitals of human
society; the severities of civil power will never be forgotten. The
destructive influence of ancient institutions will teach us to seek
in nature and the knowledge of her laws, for the discovery of those
principles whose operation alone can emancipate the world from dreadful
bondage. If in the succeeding chapters we shall be able to destroy any
considerable portion of human errors, and establish some solid truths,
our labours will bear a relation to the progressive improvement of the
human race, which, to intelligent minds, is of all considerations the
most beneficial and important."

I presume, Gentlemen, since you have attempted to suppress certain
creeds as well as vice, that each of you are in duty bound to peruse
this work, of which this is part and specimen, it is a work which I hold
in estimation, and consequently requires your attention.

I hope I shall have the pleasure of selling a few copies of this work
to your Honourable Society, whether for the purpose of a prosecution or
not, I am quite indifferent, as I hold Paine's opinion to be good, that
under a bad government it is well to have a good work prosecuted.

I am, Gentlemen,

Your firm opponent,



Newgate, Feb. 13th, 1819.

England, (to wit).--Whereas it appeareth unto me by the affidavit of
George Prichard, and the affidavit of Thomas Fair, that an indictment
was found by the Grand Jury for the city of London, against Richard
Carlile, late of London, bookseller, for selling a certain blasphemous
libel, intitled "Paine's Age of Reason," which indictment has been
removed and filed in his Majesty's Court of King's Bench, and to
which the said Richard Carlile appeared in the said Court, and gave
recognizance to plead thereto within the first eight days of the next
Easter Term. And that since the said Richard Carlile, hath entered into
the said recognizance, he hath sold another copy of the said libel to
the said Thomas Fair, for which said last mentioned offence, the said
George Prichard intends to prosecute the said Richard Carlile in the
said Court of King's Bench. These are therefore to will and require, and
in his Majesty's name, strictly to charge and command you, and every of
you on sight hereof, to apprehend and take the body of the said Richard,
and bring him before me or one other of the said Judges of his Majesty's
Court of King's Bench, if taken in or near the cities of London and
Middlesex, if elsewhere, before some Justice of the Peace near to the
place where he shall be herewith taken. To the end that he the said
Richard Carlile may become bound to the King's Majesty in the sum of
£200, together with two sufficient sureties in the sum of £100 each,
for the appearance of the said Richard Carlile in his Majesty's Court of
King's Bench, on the first day of next Easter Term, to answer to all and
singular indictments against him, for publishing the said libel, and
to appear from day to day in the said Court, and not depart until
discharged by the said Court. Hereof fail not at your peril. Given under
my hand and seal the eleventh day of February, 1819.

(L. S.) C. ABBOTT.

To Thomas Gibbons, gentleman, my tipstaff, or any other tipstaff of his
Majesty's Court of King's Bench,

and to all chief and petty constables, headboroughs, tything men, and
all others whom these may concern.


The within named Richard Carlile having been brought before me this day,
by virtue of the within warrant, and not having sufficient sureties to
answer to the offence in the within mentioned warrant, is committed to
the custody of the Keeper of his Majesty's gaol of Newgate, being the
common gaol of the city of London, where the said Richard Carlile was
apprehended upon the said warrant.

Receive the body of the within named Richard Carlile into your
custody, and him safely keep until he the said Richard Carlile shall be
discharged by due course of law.

Dated the 11th of February, 1819.


To Mr. William Robert Henry Brown, Keeper of his Majesty's gaol of

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