By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: A vindication of the rights of men, in a letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France
Author: Wollstonecraft, Mary
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A vindication of the rights of men, in a letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)

                                 OF THE
                             RIGHTS OF MEN,
                                  IN A
                        TO THE RIGHT HONOURABLE
                            _EDMUND BURKE_;
                             OCCASIONED BY
                            HIS REFLECTIONS
                                 ON THE
                         REVOLUTION IN FRANCE.

                       _By MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT._

                          THE SECOND EDITION.


                        PRINTED FOR J. JOHNSON.
                    NO. 72, ST. PAUL’S CHURCH-YARD.

                              M. DCC. XC.



Mr. Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution first engaged my
attention as the transient topic of the day; and reading it more for
amusement than information, my indignation was roused by the sophistical
arguments, that every moment crossed me, in the questionable shape of
natural feelings and common sense.

Many pages of the following letter were the effusions of the moment;
but, swelling imperceptibly to a considerable size, the idea was
suggested of publishing a short vindication of _the Rights of Men_.

Not having leisure or patience to follow this desultory writer through
all the devious tracks in which his fancy has started fresh game, I have
confined my strictures, in a great measure, to the grand principles at
which he has levelled many ingenious arguments in a very specious garb.

                                 TO THE
                    _Right Honourable EDMUND BURKE_.


It is not necessary, with courtly insincerity, to apologise to you for
thus intruding on your precious time, not to profess that I think it an
honour to discuss an important subject with a man whose literary
abilities have raised him to notice in the state. I have not yet learned
to twist my periods, nor, in the equivocal idiom of politeness, to
disguise my sentiments, and imply what I should be afraid to utter: if,
therefore, in the course of this epistle, I chance to express contempt,
and even indignation, with some emphasis, I beseech you to believe that
it is not a flight of fancy; for truth, in morals, has ever appeared to
me the essence of the sublime; and, in taste, simplicity the only
criterion of the beautiful. But I war not with an individual when I
contend for the _rights of men_ and the liberty of reason. You see I do
not condescend to cull my words to avoid the invidious phrase, nor shall
I be prevented from giving a manly definition of it, by the flimsy
ridicule which a lively fancy has interwoven with the present
acceptation of the term. Reverencing the rights of humanity, I shall
dare to assert them; not intimidated by the horse laugh that you have
raised, or waiting till time has wiped away the compassionate tears
which you have elaborately laboured to excite.

From the many just sentiments interspersed through the letter before me,
and from the whole tendency of it, I should believe you to be a good,
though a vain man, if some circumstances in your conduct did not render
the inflexibility of your integrity doubtful; and for this vanity a
knowledge of human nature enables me to discover such extenuating
circumstances, in the very texture of your mind, that I am ready to call
it amiable, and separate the public from the private character.

I know that a lively imagination renders a man particularly calculated
to shine in conversation and in those desultory productions where method
is disregarded; and the instantaneous applause which his eloquence
extorts is at once a reward and a spur. Once a wit and always a wit, is
an aphorism that has received the sanction of experience; yet I am apt
to conclude that the man who with scrupulous anxiety endeavours to
support that shining character, can never nourish by reflection any
profound, or, if you please, metaphysical passion. Ambition becomes only
the tool of vanity, and his reason, the weather-cock of unrestrained
feelings, is only employed to varnish over the faults which it ought to
have corrected.

Sacred, however, would the infirmities and errors of a good man be, in
my eyes, if they were only displayed in a private circle; if the venial
fault only rendered the wit anxious, like a celebrated beauty, to raise
admiration on every occasion, and excite emotion, instead of the calm
reciprocation of mutual esteem and unimpassioned respect. Such vanity
enlivens social intercourse, and forces the little great man to be
always on his guard to secure his throne; and an ingenious man, who is
ever on the watch for conquest, will, in his eagerness to exhibit his
whole store of knowledge, furnish an attentive observer with some useful
information, calcined by fancy and formed by taste.

And though some dry reasoner might whisper that the arguments were
superficial, and should even add, that the feelings which are thus
ostentatiously displayed are often the cold declamation of the head, and
not the effusions of the heart—what will these shrewd remarks avail,
when the witty arguments and ornamental feelings are on a level with the
comprehension of the fashionable world, and a book is found very
amusing? Even the Ladies, Sir, may repeat your sprightly sallies, and
retail in theatrical attitudes many of your sentimental exclamations.
Sensibility is the _manie_ of the day, and compassion the virtue which
is to cover a multitude of vices, whilst justice is left to mourn in
sullen silence, and balance truth in vain.

In life, an honest man with a confined understanding is frequently the
slave of his habits and the dupe of his feelings, whilst the man with a
clearer head and colder heart makes the passions of others bend to his
interest; but truly sublime is the character that acts from principle,
and governs the inferior springs of activity without slackening their
vigour; whose feelings give vital heat to his resolves, but never hurry
him into feverish eccentricities.

However, as you have informed us that respect chills love, it is natural
to conclude, that all your pretty flights arise from your pampered
sensibility; and that, vain of this fancied pre-eminence of organs, you
foster every emotion till the fumes, mounting to your brain, dispel the
sober suggestions of reason. It is not in this view surprising, that
when you should argue you become impassioned, and that reflection
inflames your imagination, instead of enlightening your understanding.

Quitting now the flowers of rhetoric, let us, Sir, reason together; and,
believe me, I should not have meddled with these troubled waters, in
order to point out your inconsistencies, if your wit had not burnished
up some rusty, baneful opinions, and swelled the shallow current of
ridicule till it resembled the flow of reason, and presumed to be the
test of truth.

I shall not attempt to follow you through “horse-way and foot-path;”
but, attacking the foundation of your opinions, I shall leave the
superstructure to find a centre of gravity on which it may lean till
some strong blast puffs it into air; or your teeming fancy, which the
ripening judgment of sixty years has not tamed, produces another Chinese
erection, to stare, at every turn, the plain country people in the face,
who bluntly call such an airy edifice—a folly.

The birthright of man, to give you, Sir, a short definition of this
disputed right, is such a degree of liberty, civil and religious, as is
compatible with the liberty of every other individual with whom he is
united in a social compact, and the continued existence of that compact.

Liberty, in this simple, unsophisticated sense, I acknowledge, is a fair
idea that has never yet received a form in the various governments that
have been established on our beauteous globe; the demon of property has
ever been at hand to encroach on the sacred rights of men, and to fence
round with awful pomp laws that war with justice. But that it results
from the eternal foundation of right—from immutable truth—who will
presume to deny, that pretends to rationality—if reason has led them to
build their morality[1] and religion on an everlasting foundation—the
attributes of God?

I glow with indignation when I attempt, methodically, to unravel your
slavish paradoxes, in which I can find no fixed first principle to
refute; I shall not, therefore, condescend to shew where you affirm in
one page what you deny in another; and how frequently you draw
conclusions without any previous premises:—it would be something like
cowardice to fight with a man who had never exercised the weapons with
which his opponent chose to combat, and irksome to refute sentence after
sentence in which the latent spirit of tyranny appeared.

I perceive, from the whole tenor of your Reflections, that you have a
mortal antipathy to reason; but, if there is any thing like argument, or
first principles, in your wild declamation, behold the result:—that we
are to reverence the rust of antiquity, and term the unnatural customs,
which ignorance and mistaken self-interest have consolidated, the sage
fruit of experience: nay, that, if we do discover some errors, our
_feelings_ should lead us to excuse, with blind love, or unprincipled
filial affection, the venerable vestiges of ancient days. These are
gothic notions of beauty—the ivy is beautiful, but, when it insidiously
destroys the trunk from which it receives support, who would not grub it

Further, that we ought cautiously to remain for ever in frozen
inactivity, because a thaw, whilst it nourishes the soil, spreads a
temporary inundation; and the fear of risking any personal present
convenience should prevent a struggle for the most estimable advantages.
This is sound reasoning, I grant, in the mouth of the rich and

Yes, Sir, the strong gained riches, the few have sacrificed the many to
their vices; and, to be able to pamper their appetites, and supinely
exist without exercising mind or body, they have ceased to be men.—Lost
to the relish of true pleasure, such beings would, indeed, deserve
compassion, if injustice was not softened by the tyrant’s
plea—necessity; if prescription was not raised as an immortal boundary
against innovation. Their minds, in fact, instead of being cultivated,
have been so warped by education, that it may require some ages to bring
them back to nature, and enable them to see their true interest, with
that degree of conviction which is necessary to influence their conduct.

The civilization which has taken place in Europe has been very partial,
and, like every custom that an arbitrary point of honour has
established, refines the manners at the expence of morals, by making
sentiments and opinions current in conversation that have no root in the
heart, or weight in the cooler resolves of the mind.—And what has
stopped its progress?—hereditary property—hereditary honours. The man
has been changed into an artificial monster by the station in which he
was born, and the consequent homage that benumbed his faculties like the
torpedo’s touch;—or a being, with a capacity of reasoning, would not
have failed to discover, as his faculties unfolded, that true happiness
arose from the friendship and intimacy which can only be enjoyed by
equals; and that charity is not a condescending distribution of alms,
but an intercourse of good offices and mutual benefits, founded on
respect for justice and humanity.

Governed by these principles, the poor wretch, whose _inelegant_
distress extorted from a mixed feeling of disgust and animal sympathy
present relief, would have been considered as a man, whose misery
demanded a part of his birthright, supposing him to be industrious; but
should his vices have reduced him to poverty, he could only have
addressed his fellow-men as weak beings, subject to like passions, who
ought to forgive, because they expect to be forgiven, for suffering the
impulse of the moment to silence the suggestions of conscience, or
reason, which you will; for, in my view of things, they are synonymous

Will Mr. Burke be at the trouble to inform us, how far we are to go back
to discover the rights of men, since the light of reason is such a
fallacious guide that none but fools trust to its cold investigation?

In the infancy of society, confining our view to our own country,
customs were established by the lawless power of an ambitious
individual; or a weak prince was obliged to comply with every demand of
the licentious barbarous insurgents, who disputed his authority with
irrefragable arguments at the point of their swords; or the more
specious requests of the Parliament, who only allowed him conditional

Are these the venerable pillars of our constitution? And is Magna Charta
to rest for its chief support on a former grant, which reverts to
another, till chaos becomes the base of the mighty structure—or we
cannot tell what?—for coherence, without some pervading principle of
order, is a solecism.

Speaking of Edward the IIId. Hume observes, that ‘he was a prince of
great capacity, not governed by favourites, not led astray by any unruly
passion, sensible that nothing could be more essential to his interests
than to keep on good terms with his people: yet, on the whole, it
appears that the government, at best, was only a barbarous monarchy, not
regulated by any fixed maxims, or bounded by any certain or undisputed
rights, which in practice were regularly observed. The King conducted
himself by one set of principles; the Barons by another; the Commons by
a third; the Clergy by a fourth. All these systems of government were
opposite and incompatible: each of them prevailed in its turn, as
incidents were favourable to it: a great prince rendered the monarchical
power predominant: the weakness of a king gave reins to the aristocracy:
a superstitious age saw the clergy triumphant: the people, for whom
chiefly government was instituted, and who chiefly deserve
consideration, were the weakest of the whole.’

And just before that most auspicious æra, the fourteenth century, during
the reign of Richard II. whose total incapacity to manage the reins of
power, and keep in subjection his haughty Barons, rendered him a mere
cypher; the House of Commons, to whom he was obliged frequently to
apply, not only for subsidies but assistance to quell the insurrections
that the contempt in which he was held naturally produced, gradually
rose into power; for whenever they granted supplies to the King, they
demanded in return, though it bore the name of petition, a confirmation,
or the renewal of former charters, which had been infringed, and even
utterly disregarded by the King and his seditious Barons, who
principally held their independence of the crown by force of arms, and
the encouragement which they gave to robbers and villains, who infested
the country, and lived by rapine and violence.

To what dreadful extremities were the poorer sort reduced, their
property, the fruit of their industry, being entirely at the disposal of
their lords, who were so many petty tyrants!

In return for the supplies and assistance which the king received from
the commons, they demanded privileges, which Edward, in his distress for
money to prosecute the numerous wars in which he was engaged during the
greater part of his reign, was constrained to grant them; so that by
degrees they rose to power, and became a check on both king and nobles.
Thus was the foundation of our liberty established, chiefly through the
pressing necessities of the king, who was more intent on being supplied
for the moment, in order to carry on his wars and ambitious projects,
than aware of the blow he gave to kingly power, by thus making a body of
men feel their importance, who afterwards might strenuously oppose
tyranny and oppression, and effectually guard the subject’s property
from seizure and confiscation. Richard’s weakness completed what
Edward’s ambition began.

At this period, it is true, Wickliffe opened a vista for reason by
attacking some of the most pernicious tenets of the church of Rome;
still the prospect was sufficiently misty to authorize the
question—Where was the dignity of thinking of the fourteenth century?

A Roman Catholic, it is true, enlightened by the reformation, might,
with singular propriety, celebrate the epoch that preceded it, to turn
our thoughts from former atrocious enormities; but a Protestant must
acknowledge that this faint dawn of liberty only made the subsiding
darkness more visible; and that the boasted virtues of that century all
bear the stamp of stupid pride and headstrong barbarism. Civility was
then called condescension, and ostentatious almsgiving humanity; and men
were content to borrow their virtues, or, to speak with more propriety,
their consequence, from posterity, rather than undertake the arduous
task of acquiring it for themselves.

The imperfection of all modern governments must, without waiting to
repeat the trite remark, that all human institutions are unavoidably
imperfect, in a great measure have arisen from this simple circumstance,
that the constitution, if such an heterogeneous mass deserve that name,
was settled in the dark days of ignorance, when the minds of men were
shackled by the grossest prejudices and most immoral superstition. And
do you, Sir, a sagacious philosopher, recommend night as the fittest
time to analyze a ray of light?

Are we to seek for the rights of men in the ages when a few marks were
the only penalty imposed for the life of a man, and death for death when
the property of the rich was touched? when—I blush to discover the
depravity of our nature—when a deer was killed! Are these the laws that
it is natural to love, and sacrilegious to invade?—Were the rights of
men understood when the law authorized or tolerated murder?—or is power
and right the same in your creed?

But in fact all your declamation leads so directly to this conclusion,
that I beseech you to ask your own heart, when you call yourself a
friend of liberty, whether it would not be more consistent to style
yourself the champion of property, the adorer of the golden image which
power has set up?—And, when you are examining your heart, if it would
not be too much like mathematical drudgery, to which a fine imagination
very reluctantly stoops, enquire further, how it is consistent with the
vulgar notions of honesty, and the foundation of morality—truth; for a
man to boast of his virtue and independence, when he cannot forget that
he is at the moment enjoying the wages of falsehood[2]; and that, in a
skulking, unmanly way, he has secured himself a pension of fifteen
hundred pounds per annum on the Irish establishment? Do honest men, Sir,
for I am not rising to the refined principle of honour, ever receive the
reward of their public services, or secret assistance, in the name of

But to return from a digression which you will more perfectly understand
than any of my readers—on what principle you, Sir, can justify the
reformation, which tore up by the roots an old establishment, I cannot
guess—but, I beg your pardon, perhaps you do not wish to justify it—and
have some mental reservation to excuse you, to yourself, for not openly
avowing your reverence. Or, to go further back;—had you been a Jew—you
would have joined in the cry, crucify him!—crucify him! The promulgator
of a new doctrine, and the violator of old laws and customs, that not
melting, like ours, into darkness and ignorance, rested on Divine
authority, must have been a dangerous innovator, in your eyes,
particularly if you had not been informed that the Carpenter’s Son was
of the stock and lineage of David. But there is no end to the arguments
which might be deduced to combat such palpable absurdities, by shewing
the manifest inconsistencies which are necessarily involved in a direful
train of false opinions.

It is necessary emphatically to repeat, that there are rights which men
inherit at their birth, as rational creatures, who were raised above the
brute creation by their improvable faculties; and that, in receiving
these, not from their forefathers but, from God, prescription can never
undermine natural rights.

A father may dissipate his property without his child having any right
to complain;—but should he attempt to sell him for a slave, or fetter
him with laws contrary to reason; nature, in enabling him to discern
good from evil, teaches him to break the ignoble chain, and not to
believe that bread becomes flesh, and wine blood, because his parents
swallowed the Eucharist with this blind persuasion.

There is no end to this implicit submission to authority—some where it
must stop, or we return to barbarism; and the capacity of improvement,
which gives us a natural sceptre on earth, is a cheat, an ignis-fatuus,
that leads us from inviting meadows into bogs and dunghills. And if it
be allowed that many of the precautions, with which any alteration was
made, in our government, were prudent, it rather proves its weakness
than substantiates an opinion of the soundness of the stamina, or the
excellence of the constitution.

But on what principle Mr. Burke could defend American independence, I
cannot conceive; for the whole tenor of his plausible arguments settles
slavery on an everlasting foundation. Allowing his servile reverence for
antiquity, and prudent attention to self-interest, to have the force
which he insists on, the slave trade ought never to be abolished; and,
because our ignorant forefathers, not understanding the native dignity
of man, sanctioned a traffic that outrages every suggestion of reason
and religion, we are to submit to the inhuman custom, and term an
atrocious insult to humanity the love of our country, and a proper
submission to the laws by which our property is secured.—Security of
property! Behold, in a few words, the definition of English liberty. And
to this selfish principle every nobler one is sacrificed.—The Briton
takes place of the man, and the image of God is lost in the citizen! But
it is not that enthusiastic flame which in Greece and Rome consumed
every sordid passion: no, self is the focus; and the disparting rays
rise not above our foggy atmosphere. But softly—it is only the property
of the rich that is secure; the man who lives by the sweat of his brow
has no asylum from oppression; the strong man may enter—when was the
castle of the poor sacred? and the base informer steal him from the
family that depend on his industry for subsistence.

Fully sensible as you must be of the baneful consequences that
inevitably follow this notorious infringement on the dearest rights of
men, and that it is an infernal blot on the very face of our immaculate
constitution, I cannot avoid expressing my surprise that when you
recommended our form of government as a model, you did not caution the
French against the arbitrary custom of pressing men for the sea service.
You should have hinted to them, that property in England is much more
secure than liberty, and not have concealed that the liberty of an
honest mechanic—his all—is often sacrificed to secure the property of
the rich. For it is a farce to pretend that a man fights _for his
country, his hearth, or his altars_, when he has neither liberty nor
property.—His property is in his nervous arms—and they are compelled to
pull a strange rope at the surly command of a tyrannic boy, who probably
obtained his rank on account of his family connections, or the
prostituted vote of his father, whose interest in a borough, or voice as
a senator, was acceptable to the minister.

Our penal laws punish with death the thief who steals a few pounds; but
to take by violence, or trepan, a man, is no such heinous offence.—For
who shall dare to complain of the venerable vestige of the law that
rendered the life of a deer more sacred than that of a man? But it was
the poor man with only his native dignity who was thus oppressed—and
only metaphysical sophists and cold mathematicians can discern this
insubstantial form; it is a work of abstraction—and a _gentleman_ of
lively imagination must borrow some drapery from fancy before he can
love or pity a _man_.—Misery, to reach your heart, I perceive, must have
its cap and bells; your tears are reserved, very _naturally_ considering
your character, for the declamation of the theatre, or for the downfall
of queens, whose rank alters the nature of folly, and throws a graceful
veil over vices that degrade humanity; whilst the distress of many
industrious mothers, whose _helpmates_ have been torn from them, and the
hungry cry of helpless babes, were vulgar sorrows that could not move
your commiseration, though they might extort an alms. ‘The tears that
are shed for fictitious sorrow are admirably adapted,’ says Rousseau,
‘to make us proud of all the virtues which we do not possess.’

The baneful effects of the despotic practice of pressing we shall, in
all probability, soon feel; for a number of men, who have been taken
from their daily employments, will shortly be let loose on society, now
that there is no longer any apprehension of a war.

The vulgar, and by this epithet I mean not only to describe a class of
people, who, working to support the body, have not had time to cultivate
their minds; but likewise those who, born in the lap of affluence, have
never had their invention sharpened by necessity are, nine out of ten,
the creatures of habit and impulse.

If I were not afraid to derange your nervous system by the bare mention
of a metaphysical enquiry, I should observe, Sir, that self-preservation
is, literally speaking, the first law of nature; and that the care
necessary to support and guard the body is the first step to unfold the
mind, and inspire a manly spirit of independence. The mewing babe in
swaddling clothes, who is treated like a superior being, may perchance
become a gentleman; but nature must have given him uncommon faculties
if, when pleasure hangs on every bough, he has sufficient fortitude
either to exercise his mind or body in order to acquire personal merit.
The passions are necessary auxiliaries of reason: a present impulse
pushes us forward, and when we discover that the game did not deserve
the chace, we find that we have gone over much ground, and not only
gained many new ideas, but a habit of thinking. The exercise of our
faculties is the great end, though not the goal we had in view when we
started with such eagerness.

It would be straying still further into metaphysics to add, that this is
one of the strongest arguments for the natural immortality of the
soul.—Every thing looks like a means, nothing like an end, or point of
rest, when we can say, now let us sit down and enjoy the present moment;
our faculties and wishes are proportioned to the present scene; we may
return without repining to our sister clod. And, if no conscious dignity
whisper that we are capable of relishing more refined pleasures, the
thirst of truth appears to be allayed; and thought, the faint type of an
immaterial energy, no longer bounding it knows not where, is confined to
the tenement that affords it sufficient variety.—The rich man may then
thank his God that he is not like other men—but when is retribution to
be made to the miserable, who cry day and night for help, and there is
no one at hand to help them? And not only misery but immorality proceeds
from this stretch of arbitrary authority. The vulgar have not the power
of emptying their mind of the only ideas they imbibed whilst their hands
were employed; they cannot quickly turn from one kind of life to
another. Pressing them entirely unhinges their minds; they acquire new
habits, and cannot return to their old occupations with their former
readiness; consequently they fall into idleness, drunkenness, and the
whole train of vices which you stigmatise as gross.

A government that acts in this manner cannot be called a good parent,
nor inspire natural (habitual is the proper word) affection, in the
breasts of children who are thus disregarded.

The game laws are almost as oppressive to the peasantry as
press-warrants to the mechanic. In this land of liberty what is to
secure the property of the poor farmer when his noble landlord chooses
to plant a decoy field near his little property? Game devour the fruit
of his labour; but fines and imprisonment await him if he dare to kill
any—or lift up his hand to interrupt the pleasure of his lord. How many
families have been plunged, in the _sporting_ countries, into misery and
vice for some paltry transgression of these coercive laws, by the
natural consequence of that anger which a man feels when he sees the
reward of his industry laid waste by unfeeling luxury?—when his
children’s bread is given to dogs!

You have shewn, Sir, by your silence on these subjects, that your
respect for rank has swallowed up the common feelings of humanity; you
seem to consider the poor as only the live stock of an estate, the
feather of hereditary nobility. When you had so little respect for the
silent majesty of misery, I am not surprised at your manner of treating
an individual whose brow a mitre will never grace, and whose popularity
may have wounded your vanity—for vanity is ever fore. Even in France,
Sir, before the revolution, literary celebrity procured a man the
treatment of a gentleman; but you are going back for your credentials of
politeness to more distant times.—Gothic affability is the mode you
think proper to adopt, the condescension of a Baron, not the civility of
a liberal man. Politeness is, indeed, the only substitute for humanity;
or what distinguishes the civilised man from the unlettered savage? and
he who is not governed by reason should square his behaviour by an
arbitrary standard; but by what rule your attack on Dr. Price was
regulated we have yet to learn.

I agree with you, Sir, that the pulpit is not the place for political
discussions, though it might be more excusable to enter on such a
subject, when the day was set apart merely to commemorate a political
revolution, and no stated duty was encroached upon. I will, however,
wave this point, and allow that Dr. Price’s zeal may have carried him
further than sound reason can justify. I do also most cordially coincide
with you, that till we can see the remote consequences of things,
present calamities must appear in the ugly form of evil, and excite our
commiseration. The good that time slowly educes from them may be hid
from mortal eye, or dimly seen; whilst sympathy compels man to feel for
man, and almost restrains the hand that would amputate a limb to save
the whole body. But, after making this concession, allow me to
expostulate with you, and calmly hold up the glass which will shew you
your partial feelings.

In reprobating Dr. Price’s opinions you might have spared the man; and
if you had had but half as much reverence for the grey hairs of virtue
as for the accidental distinctions of rank, you would not have treated
with such indecent familiarity and supercilious contempt, a member of
the community whose talents and modest virtues place him high in the
scale of moral excellence. I am not accustomed to look up with vulgar
awe, even when mental superiority exalts a man above his fellows; but
still the sight of a man whose habits are fixed by piety and reason, and
whose virtues are consolidated into goodness, commands my homage—and I
should touch his errors with a tender hand when I made a parade of my
sensibility. Granting, for a moment, that Dr. Price’s political opinions
are Utopian reveries, and that the world is not yet sufficiently
civilized to adopt such a sublime system of morality; they could,
however, only be the reveries of a benevolent mind. Tottering on the
verge of the grave, that worthy man in his whole life never dreamt of
struggling for power or riches; and, if a glimpse of the glad dawn of
liberty rekindled the fire of youth in his veins, you, who could not
stand the fascinating glance of a _great_ Lady’s eyes, when neither
virtue nor sense beamed in them, might have pardoned his unseemly
transport,—if such it must be deemed.

I could almost fancy that I now see this respectable old man, in his
pulpit, with hands clasped, and eyes devoutly fixed, praying with all
the simple energy of unaffected piety; or, when more erect, inculcating
the dignity of virtue, and enforcing the doctrines his life adorns;
benevolence animated each feature, and persuasion attuned his accents;
the preacher grew eloquent, who only laboured to be clear; and the
respect that he extorted, seemed only the respect due to personified
virtue and matured wisdom.—Is this the man you brand with so many
opprobrious epithets? he whose private life will stand the test of the
strictest enquiry—away with such unmanly sarcasms, and puerile
conceits.—But, before I close this part of my animadversions, I must
convict you of wilful misrepresentation and wanton abuse.

Dr. Price, when he reasons on the necessity of men attending some place
of public worship, concisely obviates an objection that has been made in
the form of an apology, by advising those, who do not approve of our
Liturgy, and cannot find any mode of worship out of the church, in which
they can conscientiously join, to establish one for themselves. This
plain advice you have tortured into a very different meaning, and
represented the preacher as actuated by a dissenting phrensy,
recommending dissensions, ‘not to diffuse truth, but to spread
contradictions[3].’ A simple question will silence this impertinent
declamation.—What is truth? A few fundamental truths meet the first
enquiry of reason, and appear as clear to an unwarped mind, as that air
and bread are necessary to enable the body to fulfil its vital
functions; but the opinions which men discuss with so much heat must be
simplified and brought back to first principles; or who can discriminate
the vagaries of the imagination, or scrupulosity of weakness, from the
verdict of reason? Let all these points be demonstrated, and not
determined by arbitrary authority and dark traditions, lest a dangerous
supineness should take place; for probably, in ceasing to enquire, our
reason would remain dormant, and delivered up, without a curb, to every
impulse of passion, we might soon lose sight of the clear light which
the exercise of our understanding no longer kept alive. To argue from
experience, it should seem as if the human mind, averse to thought,
could only be opened by necessity; for, when it can take opinions on
trust, it gladly lets the spirit lie quiet in its gross tenement.
Perhaps the most improving exercise of the mind, confining the argument
to the enlargement of the understanding, is the restless enquiries that
hover on the boundary, or stretch over the dark abyss of uncertainty.
These lively conjectures are the breezes that preserve the still lake
from stagnating. We should be aware of confining all moral excellence to
one channel, however capacious; or, if we are so narrow-minded, we
should not forget how much we owe to chance that our inheritance was not
Mahometism; and that the iron hand of destiny, in the shape of deeply
rooted authority, has not suspended the sword of destruction over our
heads. But to return to the misrepresentation.

[4]Blackstone, to whom Mr. Burke pays great deference, seems to agree
with Dr. Price, that the succession of the King of Great Britain depends
on the choice of the people, or that they have a power to cut it off;
but this power, as you have fully proved, has been cautiously exerted,
and might with more propriety be termed a _right_ than a power. Be it
so!—yet when you elaborately cited precedents to shew that our
forefathers paid great respect to hereditary claims, you might have gone
back to your favourite epoch, and shewn their respect for a church that
fulminating laws have since loaded with opprobrium. The preponderance of
inconsistencies, when weighed with precedents, should lessen the most
bigoted veneration for antiquity, and force men of the eighteenth
century to acknowledge, that our _canonized forefathers_ were unable, or
afraid, to revert to reason, without resting on the crutch of authority;
and should not be brought as a proof that their children are never to be
allowed to walk alone.

When we doubt the infallible wisdom of our ancestors, it is only
advancing on the same ground to doubt the sincerity of the law, and the
propriety of that servile appellation—OUR SOVEREIGN LORD THE KING. Who
were the dictators of this adulatory language of the law? Were they not
courtly parasites and worldly priests? Besides, whoever at divine
service, whose feelings were not deadened by habit, or their
understandings quiescent, ever repeated without horror the same epithets
applied to a man and his Creator? If this is confused jargon—say what
are the dictates of sober reason, or the criterion to distinguish

You further sarcastically animadvert on the consistency of the
democratists, by wresting the obvious meaning of a common phrase, _the
dregs of the people_; or your contempt for poverty may have led you into
an error. Be that as it may, an unprejudiced man would have directly
perceived the single sense of the word, and an old Member of Parliament
could scarcely have missed it. He who had so often felt the pulse of the
electors needed not have gone beyond his own experience to discover that
the dregs alluded to were the vicious, and not the lower class of the

Again, Sir, I must doubt your sincerity or your discernment.—You have
been behind the curtain; and, though it might be difficult to bring back
your sophisticated heart to nature and make you feel like a man, yet the
awestruck confusion in which you were plunged must have gone off when
the vulgar emotion of wonder, excited by finding yourself a Senator, had
subsided. Then you must have seen the clogged wheels of corruption
continually oiled by the sweat of the laborious poor, squeezed out of
them by unceasing taxation. You must have discovered that the majority
in the House of Commons was often purchased by the crown, and that the
people were oppressed by the influence of their own money, extorted by
the venal voice of a packed representation.

You must have known that a man of merit cannot rise in the church, the
army, or navy, unless he has some interest in a borough; and that even a
paltry exciseman’s place can only be secured by electioneering interest.
I will go further, and assert that few Bishops, though there have been
learned and good Bishops, have gained the mitre without submitting to a
servility of dependence that degrades the man.—All these circumstances
you must have known, yet you talk of virtue and liberty, as the vulgar
talk of the letter of the law; and the polite of propriety. It is true
that these ceremonial observances produce decorum; the sepulchres are
white-washed, and do not offend the squeamish eyes of high rank; but
virtue is out of the question when you only worship a shadow, and
worship it to secure your property.

Man has been termed, with strict propriety, a microcosm, a little world
in himself.—He is so;—yet must, however, be reckoned an ephemera, or, to
adopt your figure of rhetoric, a summer’s fly. The perpetuation of
property in our families is one of the privileges you most warmly
contend for; yet it would not be very difficult to prove that the mind
must have a very limited range that thus confines its benevolence to
such a narrow circle, which, with great propriety, may be included in
the sordid calculations of blind self-love.

A brutal attachment to children has appeared most conspicuous in parents
who have treated them like slaves, and demanded due homage for all the
property they transferred to them, during their lives. It has led them
to force their children to break the most sacred ties; to do violence to
a natural impulse, and run into legal prostitution to increase wealth or
shun poverty; and, still worse, the dread of parental malediction has
made many weak characters violate truth in the face of Heaven; and, to
avoid a father’s angry curse, the most sacred promises have been broken.
It appears to be a natural suggestion of reason, that a man should be
freed from implicit obedience to parents and private punishments, when
he is of an age to be subject to the jurisdiction of the laws of his
country; and that the barbarous cruelty of allowing parents to imprison
their children, to prevent their contaminating their noble blood by
following the dictates of nature when they chose to marry, or for any
misdemeanor that does not come under the cognizance of public justice,
is one of the most arbitrary violations of liberty.

Who can recount all the unnatural crimes which the _laudable_,
_interesting_ desire of perpetuating a name has produced? The younger
children have been sacrificed to the eldest son; sent into exile, or
confined in convents, that they might not encroach on what was called,
with shameful falsehood, the _family_ estate. Will Mr. Burke call this
parental affection reasonable or virtuous?—No; it is the spurious
offspring of over-weening, mistaken pride—and not that first source of
civilization, natural parental affection, that makes no difference
between child and child, but what reason justifies by pointing out
superior merit.

Another pernicious consequence which unavoidably arises from this
artificial affection is, the insuperable bar which it puts in the way of
early marriages. It would be difficult to determine whether the minds or
bodies of our youth are most injured by this impediment. Our young men
become selfish coxcombs, and gallantry with modest women, and intrigues
with those of another description, weaken both mind and body, before
either has arrived at maturity. The character of a master of a family, a
husband, and a father, forms the citizen imperceptibly, by producing a
sober manliness of thought, and orderly behaviour; but, from the lax
morals and depraved affections of the libertine, what results?—a finical
man of taste, who is only anxious to secure his own private
gratifications, and to maintain his rank in society.

The same system has an equally pernicious effect on female morals.—Girls
are sacrificed to family convenience, or else marry to settle themselves
in a superior rank, and coquet, without restraint, with the fine
gentleman whom I have already described. And to such lengths has this
vanity, this desire of shining, carried them, that it is not now
necessary to guard girls against imprudent love matches; for if some
widows did not now and then _fall_ in love, Love and Hymen would seldom
meet, unless at a village church.

I do not intend to be sarcastically paradoxical when I say, that women
of fashion take husbands that they may have it in their power to coquet,
the grand business of genteel life, with a number of admirers, and thus
flutter the spring of life away, without laying up any store for the
winter of age, or being of any use to society. Affection in the marriage
state can only be founded on respect—and are these weak beings
respectable? Children are neglected for lovers, and we express surprise
that adulteries are so common! A woman never forgets to adorn herself to
make an impression on the senses of the other sex, and to extort the
homage which it is gallant to pay, and yet we wonder that they have such
confined understandings!

Have ye not heard that we cannot serve two masters? an immoderate desire
to please contracts the faculties, and immerges, to borrow the idea of a
great philosopher, the soul in matter, till it becomes unable to mount
on the wing of contemplation.

It would be an arduous task to trace all the vice and misery that arise
in society from the middle class of people apeing the manners of the
great. All are aiming to procure respect on account of their property;
and most places are considered as sinecures that enable men to start
into notice. The grand concern of three parts out of four is to contrive
to live above their equals, and to appear to be richer than they are.
How much domestic comfort and private satisfaction is sacrificed to this
irrational ambition! It is a destructive mildew that blights the fairest
virtues; benevolence, friendship, generosity, and all those endearing
charities which bind human hearts together, and the pursuits which raise
the mind to higher contemplations, all that were not cankered in the bud
by the false notions that ‘grew with its growth and strengthened with
its strength,’ are crushed by the iron hand of property!

Property, I do not scruple to aver it, should be fluctuating, which
would be the case, if it were more equally divided amongst all the
children of a family; else it is an everlasting rampart, in consequence
of a barbarous feudal institution, that enables the elder son to
overpower talents and depress virtue.

Besides, an unmanly servility, most inimical to true dignity of
character is, by this means, fostered in society. Men of some abilities
play on the follies of the rich, and mounting to fortune as they degrade
themselves, they stand in the way of men of superior talents, who cannot
advance in such crooked paths, or wade through the filth which
_parasites_ never boggle at. Pursuing their way straight forward, their
spirit is either bent or broken by the rich man’s contumelies, or the
difficulties they have to encounter.

The only security of property that nature authorizes and reason
sanctions is, the right a man has to enjoy the acquisitions which his
talents and industry have acquired; and to bequeath them to whom he
chooses. Happy would it be for the world if there were no other road to
wealth or honour; if pride, in the shape of parental affection, did not
absorb the man, and prevent friendship from having the same weight as
relationship. Luxury and effeminacy would not then introduce so much
idiotism into the noble families which form one of the pillars of our
state: the ground would not lie fallow, nor would undirected activity of
mind spread the contagion of restless idleness, and its concomitant,
vice, through the whole mass of society.

Instead of gaming they might nourish a virtuous ambition, and love might
take place of the gallantry which you, with knightly fealty, venerate.
Women would probably then act like mothers, and the fine lady, become a
rational woman, might think it necessary to superintend her family and
suckle her children, in order to fulfil her part of the social compact.
But vain is the hope, whilst great masses of property are hedged round
by hereditary honours; for numberless vices, forced in the hot-bed of
wealth, assume a sightly form to dazzle the senses and cloud the
understanding. The respect paid to rank and fortune damps every generous
purpose of the soul, and stifles the natural affections on which human
contentment ought to be built. Who will venturously ascend the steeps of
virtue, or explore the great deep for knowledge, when _the one thing
needful_, attained by less arduous exertions, if not inherited, procures
the attention man naturally pants after, and vice ‘loses half its evil
by losing all its grossness[5].’—What a sentiment to come from a moral

A surgeon would tell you that by skinning over a wound you spread
disease through the whole frame; and, surely, they indirectly aim at
destroying all purity of morals, who poison the very source of virtue,
by smearing a sentimental varnish over vice, to hide its natural
deformity. Stealing, whoring, and drunkenness, are gross vices, I
presume, though they may not obliterate every moral sentiment, and have
a vulgar brand that makes them appear with all their native deformity;
but overreaching, adultery, and coquetry, are venial offences, though
they reduce virtue to an empty name, and make wisdom consist in saving

‘On this scheme of things[6] a king _is_ but a man; a queen _is_ but a
woman; a woman _is_ but an animal, and an animal not of the highest
order.’—All true, Sir; if she is not more attentive to the duties of
humanity than queens and fashionable ladies in general are, I will still
further accede to the opinion you have so justly conceived of the spirit
which begins to animate this age.—‘All homage paid to the sex in
general, as such, and without distinct views, is to be regarded as
_romance_ and folly.’ Undoubtedly; because such homage vitiates them,
prevents their endeavouring to obtain solid personal merit; and, in
short, makes those beings vain inconsiderate dolls, who ought to be
prudent mothers and useful members of society. ‘Regicide and sacrilege
are but fictions of superstition corrupting jurisprudence, by destroying
its simplicity. The murder of a king, or a queen, or a bishop, are only
common homicide.’—Again I agree with you; but you perceive, Sir, that by
leaving out the word _father_, I think the whole extent of the
comparison invidious.

You further proceed grossly to misrepresent Dr. Price’s meaning; and,
with an affectation of holy fervour, express your indignation at his
profaning a beautiful rapturous ejaculation, when alluding to the King
of France’s submission to the National Assembly[7]; he rejoiced to hail
a glorious revolution, which promised an universal diffusion of liberty
and happiness.

Observe, Sir, that I called your piety affectation.—A rant to enable you
to point your venomous dart, and round your period. I speak with warmth,
because, of all hypocrites, my soul most indignantly spurns a religious
one;—and I very cautiously bring forward such a heavy charge, to strip
you of your cloak of sanctity. Your speech at the time the bill for a
regency was agitated now lies before me.—_Then_ you could in direct
terms, to promote ambitious or interested views, exclaim without any
pious qualms—‘Ought they to make a mockery of him, putting a crown of
thorns on his head, a reed in his hand, and dressing him in a raiment of
purple, cry, Hail! King of the British!’ Where was your sensibility when
you could utter this cruel mockery, equally insulting to God and man? Go
hence, thou slave of impulse, look into the private recesses of thy
heart, and take not a mote from thy brother’s eye, till thou hast
removed the beam from thine own.

Of your partial feelings I shall take another view, and shew that
‘following nature, which is,’ you say, ‘wisdom without reflection, and
_above it_’—has led you into great inconsistences, to use the softest
phrase. When, on a late melancholy occasion, a very important question
was agitated, with what indecent warmth did _you_ treat a woman, for I
shall not lay any stress on her title, whose conduct in life has
deserved praise, though not, perhaps, the servile elogiums which have
been lavished on the queen. But sympathy, and you tell us that you have
a heart of flesh, was made to give way to party spirit, and the feelings
of a man, not to allude to your romantic gallantry, to the views of the
statesman. When you descanted on the horrors of the 6th of October, and
gave a glowing, and, in some instances, a most exaggerated description
of that infernal night, without having troubled yourself to clean your
palette, you might have returned home and indulged us with a sketch of
the misery you personally aggravated.

With what eloquence might you not have insinuated, that the sight of
unexpected misery and strange reverse of fortune makes the mind recoil
on itself; and, pondering, traced the uncertainty of all human hope, the
frail foundation of sublunary grandeur! What a climax lay before you. A
father torn from his children,—a husband from an affectionate wife,—a
man from himself! And not torn by the resistless stroke of death, for
time would then have lent its aid to mitigate remediless sorrow; but
that living death, which only kept hope alive in the corroding form of
suspense, was a calamity that called for all your pity.

The sight of august ruins, of a depopulated country—what are they to a
disordered soul! when all the faculties are mixed in wild confusion. It
is then indeed we tremble for humanity—and, if some wild fancy chance to
cross the brain, we fearfully start, and pressing our hand against our
brow, ask if we are yet men?—if our reason is undisturbed?—if judgment
hold the helm? Marius might sit with dignity on the ruins of Carthage,
and the wretch in the Bastille, who longed in vain to see the human face
divine, might yet view the operations of his own mind, and vary the
leaden prospect by new combinations of thought: poverty, shame, and even
slavery, may be endured by the virtuous man—he has still a world to
range in—but the loss of reason appears a monstrous flaw in the moral
world, that eludes all investigation, and humbles without enlightening.

In this state was the King, when you, with unfeeling disrespect, and
indecent haste, wished to strip him of all his hereditary honours.—You
were so eager to taste the sweets of power, that you could not wait till
time had determined, whether a dreadful delirium would settle into a
confirmed madness; but, prying into the secrets of Omnipotence, you
thundered out that God had _hurled him from his throne_, and that it was
the most insulting mockery to recollect that he had been a king, or to
treat him with any particular respect on account of his former
dignity.—And who was the monster whom Heaven had thus awfully deposed,
and smitten with such an angry blow? Surely as harmless a character as
Lewis XVIth; and the queen of Great Britain, though her heart may not be
enlarged by generosity, who will presume to compare her character with
that of the queen of France?

Where then was the infallibility of that extolled instinct which rises
above reason? was it warped by vanity, or _hurled_ from its throne by
self-interest? To your own heart answer these questions in the sober
hours of reflection—and, after reviewing this gust of passion, learn to
respect the sovereignty of reason.

I have, Sir, been reading, with a scrutinizing, comparative eye, several
of your insensible and profane speeches during the King’s illness. I
disdain to take advantage of a man’s weak side, or draw consequences
from an unguarded transport—A lion preys not on carcasses! But on this
occasion you acted systematically. It was not the passion of the moment,
over which humanity draws a veil: no; what but the odious maxims of
Machiavelian policy could have led you to have searched in the very
dregs of misery for forcible arguments to support your party? Had not
vanity or interest steeled your heart, you would have been shocked at
the cold insensibility which could carry a man to those dreadful
mansions, where human weakness appears in its most awful form to
_calculate_ the chances against the King’s recovery. Impressed as _you
are_ with respect for royalty, I am astonished that you did not tremble
at every step, lest Heaven should avenge on your guilty head the insult
offered to its vicegerent. But the conscience that is under the
direction of transient ebullitions of feeling, is not very tender or
consistent, when the current runs another way.

Had you been in a philosophizing mood, had your heart or your reason
been at home, you might have been convinced, by ocular demonstration,
that madness is only the absence of reason.—The ruling angel leaving its
seat, wild anarchy ensues. You would have seen that the uncontrouled
imagination often pursues the most regular course in its most daring
flight; and that the eccentricities are boldly relieved when judgment no
longer officiously arranges the sentiments, by bringing them to the test
of principles. You would have seen every thing out of nature in that
strange chaos of levity and ferocity, and of all sorts of follies
jumbled together. You would have seen in that monstrous tragi-comic
scene the most opposite passions necessarily succeed, and sometimes mix
with each other in the mind; alternate contempt and indignation;
alternate laughter and tears; alternate scorn and horror[8].—This is a
true picture of that chaotic state of mind, called madness; when reason
gone, we know not where, the wild elements of passion clash, and all is
horror and confusion. You might have heard the best turned conceits,
flash following flash, and doubted whether the rhapsody was not
eloquent, if it had not been delivered in an equivocal language, neither
verse nor prose, if the sparkling periods had not stood alone, wanting
force because they wanted concatenation.

It is a proverbial observation, that a very thin partition divides wit
and madness. Poetry therefore naturally addresses the fancy, and the
language of passion is with great felicity borrowed from the heightened
picture which the imagination draws of sensible objects concentred by
impassioned reflection. And, during this ‘fine phrensy,’ reason has no
right to rein-in the imagination, unless to prevent the introduction of
supernumerary images; if the passion is real, the head will not be
ransacked for stale tropes and cold rodomontade. I now speak of the
genuine enthusiasm of genius, which, perhaps, seldom appears, but in the
infancy of civilization; for as this light becomes more luminous reason
clips the wing of fancy—the youth becomes a man.

Whether the glory of Europe is set, I shall not now enquire; but
probably the spirit of romance and chivalry is in the wane; and reason
will gain by its extinction.

From observing several cold romantic characters I have been led to
confine the term romantic to one definition—false, or rather artificial,
feelings. Works of genius are read with a prepossession in their favour,
and sentiments imitated, because they were fashionable and pretty, and
not because they were forcibly felt.

In modern poetry the understanding and memory often fabricate the
pretended effusions of the heart, and romance destroys all simplicity;
which, in works of taste, is but a synonymous word for truth. This
romantic spirit has extended to our prose, and scattered artificial
flowers over the most barren heath; or a mixture of verse and prose
producing the strangest incongruities. The turgid bombast of some of
your periods fully proves these assertions; for when the heart speaks we
are seldom shocked by hyperbole, or dry raptures.

I speak in this decided tone, because from turning over the pages of
your late publication, with more attention than I did when I first read
it cursorily over; and comparing the sentiments it contains with your
conduct on many important occasions, I am led very often to doubt your
sincerity, and to suppose that you have said many things merely for the
sake of saying them well; or to throw some pointed obloquy on characters
and opinions that jostled with your vanity.

It is an arduous task to follow the doublings of cunning, or the
subterfuges of inconsistency; for in controversy, as in battle, the
brave man wishes to face his enemy, and fight on the same ground.
Knowing, however, the influence of a ruling passion, and how often it
assumes the form of reason when there is much sensibility in the heart,
I respect an opponent, though he tenaciously maintains opinions in which
I cannot coincide; but, if I once discover that many of those opinions
are empty rhetorical flourishes, my respect is soon changed into that
pity which borders on contempt; and the mock dignity and haughty stalk,
only reminds me of the ass in the lion’s skin.

A sentiment of this kind glanced across my mind when I read the
following exclamation. ‘Whilst the royal captives, who followed in the
train, were slowly moved along, amidst the horrid yells, and shrilling
screams, and frantic dances, and infamous contumelies, and all the
unutterable abominations of the furies of hell, in the abused shape of
the ‘vilest of women[9].’ Probably you mean women who gained a
livelihood by selling vegetables or fish, who never had had any
advantages of education; or their vices might have lost part of their
abominable deformity, by losing part of their grossness. The queen of
France—the great and small vulgar, claim our pity; they have almost
insuperable obstacles to surmount in their progress towards true dignity
of character; still I have such a plain downright understanding that I
do not like to make a distinction without a difference. But it is not
very extraordinary that _you_ should, for throughout your letter you
frequently advert to a sentimental jargon which has long been current in
conversation, and even in books of morals, though it never received the
_regal_-stamp of reason. A kind of mysterious instinct is _supposed_ to
reside in the soul, that instantaneously discerns truth, without the
tedious labour of ratiocination. This instinct, for I know not what
other name to give it, has been termed _common sense_, and more
frequently _sensibility_; and, by a kind of _indefeasible_ right, it has
been _supposed_, for rights of this kind are not easily proved, to reign
paramount over the other faculties of the mind, and to be an authority
from which there is no appeal.

This subtle magnetic fluid, that runs round the whole circle of society,
is not subject to any known rule, or, to use an obnoxious phrase, in
spite of the sneers of mock humility, or the timid fears of some
well-meaning Christians, who shrink from any freedom of thought, lest
they should rouse the old serpent, to the _eternal fitness of things_.
It dips, we know not why, granting it to be an infallible instinct, and,
though supposed always to point to truth, its pole-star, the point is
always shifting, and seldom stands due north.

It is to this instinct, without doubt, that you allude, when you talk of
the ‘moral constitution of the heart.’ To it, I allow, for I consider it
as a congregate of sensations and passions, _Poets_ must apply, ‘who
have to deal with an audience not yet graduated in the school of the
rights of men.’ They must, it is clear, often cloud the understanding,
whilst they move the heart by a kind of mechanical spring; but that ‘in
the theatre the first intuitive glance’ of feeling should discriminate
the form of truth, and see her fair proportion, I must beg leave to
doubt. Sacred be the feelings of the heart! concentred in a glowing
flame, they become the sun of life; and, without his invigorating
impregnation, reason would probably lie in helpless inactivity, and
never bring forth her only legitimate offspring—virtue. But to prove
that virtue is really an acquisition of the individual, and not the
blind impulse of unerring instinct, the bastard vice has often been
begotten by the same father.

In what respect are we superior to the brute creation, if intellect is
not allowed to be the guide of passion? Brutes hope and fear, love and
hate; but, without a capacity to improve, a power of turning these
passions to good or evil, they neither acquire virtue nor wisdom.—Why?
Because the Creator has not given them reason[10].

But the cultivation of reason is an arduous task, and men of lively
fancy, finding it easier to follow the impulse of passion, endeavour to
persuade themselves and others that it is most _natural_. And happy is
it for those, who indolently let that heaven-lighted spark rest like the
ancient lamps in sepulchres, that some virtuous habits, with which the
reason of others shackled them, supplies its place.—Affection for
parents, reverence for superiors or antiquity, notions of honour, or
that worldly self-interest that shrewdly shews them that honesty is the
best policy: all proceed from the reason for which they serve as
substitutes;—but it is reason at second-hand.

Children are born ignorant, consequently innocent; the passions, are
neither good nor evil dispositions, till they receive a direction, and
either bound over the feeble barrier raised by a faint glimmering of
unexercised reason, called conscience, or strengthen her wavering
dictates till sound principles are deeply rooted, and able to cope with
the headstrong passions that often assume her awful form. What moral
purpose can be answered by extolling good dispositions, as they are
called, when these good dispositions are described as instincts: for
instinct moves in a direct line to its ultimate end, and asks not for
guide or support. But if virtue is to be acquired by experience, or
taught by example, reason, perfected by reflection, must be the director
of the whole host of passions, which produce a fructifying heat, but no
light, that you would exalt into her place.—She must hold the rudder,
or, let the wind blow which way it list, the vessel will never advance
smoothly to its destined port; for the time lost in tacking about would
dreadfully impede its progress.

In the name of the people of England, you say, ‘that we know _we_ have
made no discoveries; and we think that no discoveries are to be made in
morality; nor many in the great principles of government, nor in the
ideas of liberty, which were understood long before we were born,
altogether as well as they will be after the grave has heaped its mould
upon our presumption, and the silent tomb shall have imposed its law on
our pert loquacity. In England we have not yet been completely emboweled
of our natural entrails; we still feel within us, and we cherish and
cultivate those inbred sentiments which are the faithful guardians, the
active monitors of our duty, the true supporters of all liberal and
manly morals[11].’—What do you mean by inbred sentiments? From whence do
they come? How were they bred? Are they the brood of folly, which swarm
like the insects on the banks of the Nile, when mud and putrefaction
have enriched the languid soil? Were these _inbred_ sentiments faithful
guardians of our duty when the church was an asylum for murderers, and
men worshipped bread as a God? when slavery was authorized by law to
fasten her fangs on human flesh, and the iron eat into the very soul? If
these sentiments are not acquired, if our passive dispositions do not
expand into virtuous affections and passions, why are not the Tartars in
the first rude horde endued with sentiments white and _elegant_ as the
driven snow? Why is passion or heroism the child of reflection, the
consequence of dwelling with intent contemplation on one object? The
appetites are the only perfect inbred powers that I can discern; and
they like instincts have a certain aim, they can be satisfied—but
improvable reason has not yet discovered the perfection it may arrive
at—God forbid!

First, however, it is necessary to make what we know practical. Who can
deny, that has marked the slow progress of civilization, that men may
become more virtuous and happy without any new discovery in morals? Who
will venture to assert that virtue would not be promoted by the more
extensive cultivation of reason? If nothing more is to be done, let us
eat and drink, for to-morrow we die—and die for ever! Who will pretend
to say, that there is as much happiness diffused on this globe as it is
capable of affording? as many social virtues as reason would foster, if
she could gain the strength she is able to acquire even in this
imperfect state; if the voice of nature was allowed to speak audibly
from the bottom of the heart, and the _native_ unalienable rights of men
were recognized in their full force; if factitious merit did not take
place of genuine acquired virtue, and enable men to build their
enjoyment on the misery of their fellow-creatures; if men were more
under the dominion of reason than opinion, and did not cherish their
prejudices ‘because they were prejudices[12]?’ I am not, Sir, aware of
your sneers, hailing a millennium, though a state of greater purity of
morals may not be a mere poetic fiction; nor did my fancy ever create a
heaven on earth, since reason threw off her swaddling clothes. I
perceive, but too forcibly, that happiness, literally speaking, dwells
not here;—and that we wander to and fro in a vale of darkness as well as
tears. I perceive that my passions pursue objects that the imagination
enlarges, till they become only a sublime idea that shrinks from the
enquiry of sense, and mocks the experimental philosophers who would
confine this spiritual phlogiston in their material crucibles. I know
that the human understanding is deluded with vain shadows, and that when
we eagerly pursue any study, we only reach the boundary set to human
enquires.—Thus far shalt thou go, and no further, says some stern
difficulty; and the _cause_ we were pursuing melts into utter darkness.
But these are only the trials of contemplative minds, the foundation of
virtue remains firm.—The power of exercising our understanding raises us
above the brutes; and this exercise produces that ‘primary morality,’
which you term ‘untaught feelings.’

If virtue be an instinct, I renounce all hope of immortality; and with
it all the sublime reveries and dignified sentiments that have smoothed
the rugged path of life: it is all a cheat, a lying vision; I have
disquieted myself in vain; for in my eye all feelings are false and
spurious, that do not rest on justice as their foundation, and are not
concentred by universal love.

I reverence the rights of men.—Sacred rights! for which I acquire a more
profound respect, the more I look into my own mind; and, professing
these heterodox opinions, I still preserve my bowels; my heart is human,
beats quick with human sympathies—and I FEAR God!

I bend with awful reverence when I enquire on what my fear is built.—I
fear that sublime power, whose motive for creating me must have been
wise and good; and I submit to the moral laws which my reason deduces
from this view of my dependence on him.—It is not his power that I
fear—it is not to an arbitrary will, but to unerring _reason_ I
submit.—Submit—yes; I disregard the charge of arrogance, to the law that
regulates his just resolves; and the happiness I pant after must be the
same in kind, and produced by the same exertions as his—though unfeigned
humility overwhelms every idea that would presume to compare the
goodness which the most exalted created being could acquire, with the
grand source of life and bliss.

This fear of God makes me reverence myself.—Yes, Sir, the regard I have
for honest fame, and the friendship of the virtuous, falls far short of
the respect which I have for myself. And this, enlightened self-love, if
an epithet the meaning of which has been grossly perverted will convey
my idea, forces me to see; and, if I may venture to borrow a prostituted
term, to _feel_, that happiness is reflected, and that, in communicating
good, my soul receives its noble aliment.—I do not trouble myself,
therefore, to enquire whether this is the fear the _people_ of England
feel:—and, if it be _natural_ to include all the modifications which you
have annexed—it is not[13].

Besides, I cannot help suspecting that, if you had the _enlightened_
respect for yourself, which you affect to despise, you would not have
said that the constitution of our church and state, formed, like most
other modern ones, by degrees, as Europe was emerging out of barbarism,
was formed ‘under the auspices, and was confirmed by the sanctions, of
religion and piety.’ You have turned over the historic page; have been
hackneyed in the ways of men, and must know that private cabals and
public feuds, private virtues and vices, religion and superstition, have
all concurred to foment the mass and swell it to its present form; nay
more, that it in part owes its sightly appearance to bold rebellion and
insidious innovation. Factions, Sir, have been the leaven, and private
interest has produced public good.

These general reflections are not thrown out to insinuate that virtue
was a creature of yesterday: No; she had her share in the grand drama. I
guard against misrepresentation; but the man who cannot modify general
assertions, has scarcely learned the first rudiments of reasoning. I
know that there is a great portion of virtue in the Romish church, yet I
should not choose to neglect clothing myself with a garment of my own
righteousness, depending on a kind donative of works of supererogation.
I know that there are many clergymen, of all denominations, wise and
virtuous; yet I have not that respect for the whole body, which, you
say, characterizes our nation, ‘emanating from a certain plainness and
directness of understanding.’—Now we are stumbling on _inbred_ feelings
and secret lights again—or, I beg your pardon, it may be the furbished
up face which you choose to give to the argument.

It is a well-known fact, that when _we_, the people of England, have a
son whom we scarcely know what to do with—_we_ make a clergyman of him.
When a living is in the gift of a family, a son is brought up to the
church; but not always with hopes full of immortality. ‘Such sublime
principles are _not constantly_ infused into persons of exalted birth;’
they sometimes think of ‘the paltry pelf of the moment[14]’—and the
vulgar care of preaching the gospel, or practising self-denial, is left
to the poor curates, who, arguing on your ground, cannot have, from the
scanty stipend they receive, ‘very high and worthy notions of their
function and destination.’ This consecration _for ever_; a word, that
from lips of flesh is big with a mighty nothing, has not purged the
_sacred temple_ from all the impurities of fraud, violence, injustice,
and tyranny. Human passions still lurk in her _sanctum sanctorum_; and,
without the profane exertions of reason, vain would be her ceremonial
ablutions; morality would still stand aloof from this national religion,
this ideal consecration of a state; and men would rather choose to give
the goods of their body, when on their death beds, to clear the narrow
way to heaven, than restrain the mad career of passions during life.

Such a curious paragraph occurs in this part of your letter, that I am
tempted to transcribe it[15], and must beg you to elucidate it, if I
misconceive your meaning.

The only way in which the people interfere in government, religious or
civil, is in electing representatives. And, Sir, let me ask you, with
manly plainness—are these _holy_ nominations? Where is the booth of
religion? Does she mix her awful mandates, or lift her persuasive voice,
in those scenes of drunken riot and beastly gluttony? Does she preside
over those nocturnal abominations which so evidently tend to deprave the
manners of the lower class of people? The pestilence stops not here—the
rich and poor have one common nature, and many of the great families,
which, on this side adoration, you venerate, date their misery, I speak
of stubborn matters of fact, from the thoughtless extravagance of an
electioneering frolic.—Yet, after the effervescence of spirits, raised
by opposition, and all the little and tyrannic arts of canvassing are
over—quiet souls! they only intend to march rank and file to say YES—or

Experience, I believe, will shew that sordid interest, or licentious
thoughtlessness, is the spring of action at most elections.—Again, I beg
you not to lose sight of my modification of general rules. So far are
the people from being habitually convinced of the sanctity of the charge
they are conferring, that the venality of their votes must admonish them
that they have no right to expect disinterested conduct. But to return
to the church, and the habitual conviction of the people of England.

So far are the people from being ‘habitually convinced that no evil can
be acceptable, either in the act or the permission, to him whose essence
is good[16];’ that the sermons which they hear are to them almost as
unintelligible as if they were preached in a foreign tongue. The
language and sentiments rising above their capacities, very orthodox
Christians are driven to fanatical meetings for amusement, if not for
edification. The clergy, I speak of the body, not forgetting the respect
and affection which I have for individuals, perform the duty of their
profession as a kind of fee-simple, to entitle them to the emoluments
accruing from it; and their ignorant flock think that merely going to
church is meritorious.

So defective, in fact, are our laws, respecting religious
establishments, that I have heard many rational pious clergymen
complain, that they had no method of receiving their stipend that did
not clog their endeavours to be useful; whilst the lives of many less
conscientious rectors are passed in litigious disputes with the people
they engaged to instruct; or in distant cities, in all the ease of
luxurious idleness.

But you return to your old firm ground.—_Art thou there, True-penny?_
Must we swear to secure property, and make assurance doubly sure, to
give your perturbed spirit rest? Peace, peace to the manes of thy
patriotic phrensy, which contributed to deprive some of thy
fellow-citizens of their property in America: another spirit now walks
abroad to secure the property of the church.—The tithes are safe!—We
will not say for ever—because the time may come, when the traveller may
ask where proud London stood? when its _temples_, its laws, and its
trade, may be buried in one common ruin, and only serve as a by-word to
point a moral, or furnish senators, who wage a wordy war, on the other
side of the Atlantic, with tropes to swell their thundering bursts of

Who shall dare to accuse you of inconsistency any more, when you have so
staunchly supported the despotic principles which agree so perfectly
with the unerring interest of a large body of your fellow-citizens; not
the largest—for when you venerate parliaments—I presume it is not the
majority, as you have had the presumption to dissent, and loudly explain
your reasons.—But it was not my intention, when I began this letter, to
descend to the minutiæ of your conduct, or to weigh your infirmities in
a balance; it is only some of your pernicious opinions that I wish to
hunt out of their lurking holes; and to shew you to yourself, stripped
of the gorgeous drapery in which you have enwrapped your tyrannic

That the people of England respect the national establishment I do not
deny; I recollect the melancholy proof which they gave, in this very
century, of their _enlightened_ zeal and reasonable affection. I
likewise know that, according to the dictates of a _prudent_ law, in a
commercial state, truth is reckoned a libel; yet I acknowledge, having
never made my humanity give place to Gothic gallantry, that I should
have been better pleased to have heard that Lord George Gordon was
confined on account of the calamities which he brought on his country,
than for a _libel_ on the queen of France.

But one argument which you adduce to strengthen your assertion, appears
to carry the preponderancy towards the other side.

You observe that ‘our education is so formed as to confirm and fix this
impression, (respect for the religious establishment); and that our
education is in a manner wholly in the hands of ecclesiastics, and in
all stages from infancy to manhood[17].’ Far from agreeing with you,
Sir, that these regulations render the clergy a more useful and
respectable body, experience convinces me that the very contrary is the
fact. In schools and colleges they may, in some degree, support their
dignity within the monastic walls; but, in paying due respect to the
parents of the young nobility under their tutorage, they do not forget,
obsequiously, to respect their noble patrons. The little respect paid,
in great houses, to tutors and chaplains proves, Sir, the fallacy of
your reasoning. It would be almost invidious to remark, that they
sometimes are only modern substitutes for the jesters of Gothic memory,
and serve as whetstones for the blunt wit of the noble peer who
patronizes them; and what respect a boy can imbibe for a _butt_, at
which the shaft of ridicule is daily glanced, I leave those to determine
who can distinguish depravity of morals under the specious mask of
refined manners.

Besides, the custom of sending clergymen to travel with their noble
pupils, as humble companions, instead of exalting, tends inevitably to
degrade the clerical character: it is notorious that they meanly submit
to the most servile dependence, and gloss over the most capricious
follies, to use a soft phrase, of the boys to whom they look up for
preferment. An airy mitre dances before them, and they wrap their
sheep’s clothing more closely about them, and make their spirits bend
till it is prudent to claim the rights of men and the honest freedom of
speech of an Englishman. How, indeed, could they venture to reprove for
his vices their patron: the clergy only give the true feudal emphasis to
this word. It has been observed, by men who have not superficially
investigated the human heart, that when a man makes his spirit bend to
any power but reason, his character is soon degraded, and his mind
shackled by the very prejudices to which he submits with reluctance. The
observations of experience have been carried still further; and the
servility to superiors, and tyranny to inferiors, said to characterize
our clergy, have rationally been supposed to arise naturally from their
associating with the nobility. Among unequals there can be no
society;—giving a manly meaning to the term; from such intimacies
friendship can never grow; if the basis of friendship is mutual respect,
and not a commercial treaty. Taken thus out of their sphere, and
enjoying their tithes at a distance from their flocks, is it not natural
for them to become courtly parasites, and intriguing dependents on great
patrons, or the treasury? Observing all this—for these things have not
been transacted in the dark—our young men of fashion, by a common,
though erroneous, association of ideas, have conceived a contempt for
religion, as they sucked in with their milk a contempt for the clergy.

The people of England, Sir, in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
I will not go any further back to insult the ashes of departed popery,
did not settle the establishment, and endow it with princely revenues,
to make it proudly rear its head, as a part of the constitutional body,
to guard the liberties of the community; but, like some of the laborious
commentators on Shakespeare, you have affixed a meaning to laws that
chance, or, to speak more philosophically, the interested views of men,
settled, not dreaming of your ingenious elucidations.

What, but the rapacity of the only men who exercised their reason, the
priests, secured such vast property to the church, when a man gave his
perishable substance to save himself from the dark torments of
purgatory; and found it more convenient to indulge his depraved
appetites, and pay an exorbitant price for absolution, than listen to
the suggestions of reason, and work out his own salvation: in a word,
was not the separation of religion from morality the work of the
priests, and partly achieved in those _honourable_ days which you so
piously deplore?

That civilization, that the cultivation of the understanding, and
refinement of the affections, naturally make a man religious, I am proud
to acknowledge.—What else can fill the aching void in the heart, that
human pleasures, human friendships can never fill? What else can render
us resigned to live, though condemned to ignorance?—What but a profound
reverence for the model of all perfection, and the mysterious tie which
arises from a love of goodness? What can make us reverence ourselves,
but a reverence for that Being, of whom we are a faint image? That
mighty Spirit moves on the waters—confusion hears his voice, and the
troubled heart ceases to beat with anguish, for trust in Him bade it be
still. Conscious dignity may make us rise superior to calumny, and
sternly brave the winds of adverse fortune,—raised in our own esteem by
the very storms of which we are the sport—but when friends are unkind,
and the heart has not the prop on which it fondly leaned, where can a
tender suffering being fly but to the Searcher of hearts? and, when
death has desolated the present scene, and torn from us the friend of
our youth—when we walk along the accustomed path, and, almost fancying
nature dead, ask, Where art thou who gave life to these well-known
scenes? when memory heightens former pleasures to contrast our present
prospects—there is but one source of comfort within our reach;—and in
this sublime solitude the world appears to contain only the Creator and
the creature, of whose happiness he is the source.—These are human
feelings; but I know not of any common nature or common relation amongst
men but what results from reason. The common affections and passions
equally bind brutes together; and it is only the continuity of those
relations that entitles us to the denomination of rational creatures;
and this continuity arises from reflection—from the operations of that
reason which you contemn with flippant disrespect.

If then it appears, arguing from analogy, that reflection must be the
natural foundation of _rational_ affections, and of that experience
which enables one man to rise above another, a phenomenon that has never
been seen in the brute creation, it may not be stretching the argument
further than it will go to suppose, that those men who are obliged to
exercise their reason have the most reason, and are the persons pointed
out by Nature to direct the society of which they make a part, on any
extraordinary emergency.

Time only will shew whether the general censure, which you afterwards
qualify, if not contradict, and the unmerited contempt that you have
ostentatiously displayed of the National Assembly, be founded on reason,
the offspring of conviction, or the spawn of envy. Time may shew, that
this obscure throng knew more of the human heart and of legislation than
the profligates of rank, emasculated by hereditary effeminacy.

It is not, perhaps, of very great consequence who were the founders of a
state; savages, thieves, curates, or practitioners in the law. It is
true, you might sarcastically remark, that the Romans had always a
_smack_ of the old leaven, and that the private robbers, supposing the
tradition to be true, only became public depredators. You might have
added, that their civilization must have been very partial, and had more
influence on the manners than morals of the people; or the amusements of
the amphitheatre would not have remained an everlasting blot not only on
their humanity, but on their refinement, if a vicious elegance of
behaviour and luxurious mode of life is not a prostitution of the term.
However, the thundering censures which you have cast with a ponderous
arm, and the more playful bushfiring of ridicule, are not arguments that
will ever depreciate the National Assembly, for applying to their
understanding rather than to their imagination, when they met to settle
the newly acquired liberty of the state on a solid foundation.

If you had given the same advice to a young history painter of
abilities, I should have admired your judgment, and re-echoed your
sentiments[18]. Study, you might have said, the noble models of
antiquity, till your imagination is inflamed; and, rising above the
vulgar practice of the hour, you may imitate without copying those great
originals. A glowing picture, of some interesting moment, would probably
have been produced by these natural means; particularly if one little
circumstance is not overlooked, that the painter had noble models to
revert to, calculated to excite admiration and stimulate exertion.

But, in settling a constitution that involved the happiness of millions,
that stretch beyond the computation of science, it was, perhaps,
necessary for the Assembly to have a higher model in view than the
_imagined_ virtues of their forefathers; and wise to deduce their
respect for themselves from the only legitimate source, respect for
justice. Why was it a duty to repair an ancient castle, built in
barbarous ages, of Gothic materials? Why were the legislators obliged to
rake amongst heterogeneous ruins; to rebuild old walls, whose
foundations could scarcely be explored, when a simple structure might be
raised on the foundation of experience, the only valuable inheritance
our forefathers could bequeath? Yet of this bequest we can make little
use till we have gained a stock of our own; and even then, their
inherited experience would rather serve as lighthouses, to warn us
against dangerous rocks or sand-banks, than as finger-posts that stand
at every turning to point out the right road.

Nor was it absolutely necessary that they should be diffident of
themselves when they were dissatisfied with, or could not discern the
_almost obliterated_ constitution of their ancestors[19]. They should
first have been convinced that our constitution was not only the best
modern, but the best possible one; and that our social compact was the
surest foundation of all the _possible_ liberty a mass of men could
enjoy, that the human understanding could form. They should have been
certain that our representation answered all the purposes of
representation; and that an established inequality of rank and property
secured the liberty of the whole community, instead of rendering it a
sounding epithet of subjection, when applied to the nation at large.
They should have had the same respect for our House of Commons that you,
vauntingly, intrude on us, though your conduct throughout life has
spoken a very different language; before they made a point of not
deviating from the model which first engaged their attention.

That the British House of Commons is filled with every thing illustrious
in rank, in descent, in hereditary, and acquired opulence, may be
true,—but that it contains every thing respectable in talents, in
military, civil, naval, and political distinction, is very
problematical. Arguing from natural causes, the very contrary would
appear to the speculatist to be the fact; and let experience say whether
these speculations are built on sure ground.

It is true you lay great stress on the effects produced by the bare idea
of a liberal descent[20]; but from the conduct of men of rank, men of
discernment would rather be led to conclude, that this idea obliterated
instead of inspiring native dignity, and substituted a factitious pride
that disemboweled the man. The liberty of the rich has its ensigns
armorial to puff the individual out with insubstantial honours; but
where are blazoned the struggles of virtuous poverty? Who, indeed, would
dare to blazon what would blur the pompous monumental inscription you
boast of, and make us view with horror, as monsters in human shape, the
superb gallery of portraits proudly set in battle array?

But to examine the subject more closely. Is it among the list of
possibilities that a man of rank and fortune _can_ have received a good
education? How can he discover that he is a man, when all his wants are
instantly supplied, and invention is never sharpened by necessity? Will
he labour, for every thing valuable must be the fruit of laborious
exertions, to attain knowledge and virtue, in order to merit the
affection of his equals, when the flattering attention of sycophants is
a more luscious cordial?

Health can only be secured by temperance; but is it easy to persuade a
man to live on plain food even to recover his health, who has been
accustomed to fare sumptuously every day? Can a man relish the simple
food of friendship, who has been habitually pampered by flattery? And
when the blood boils, and the senses meet allurements on every side,
will knowledge be pursued on account of its abstract beauty? No; it is
well known that talents are only to be unfolded by industry, and that we
must have made some advances, led by an inferior motive, before we
discover that they are their own reward.

But _full blown_ talents _may_, according to your system, be hereditary,
and as independent of ripening judgment, as the inbred feelings that,
rising above reason, naturally guard Englishmen from error. Noble
franchises! what a grovelling mind must that man have, who can pardon
his step-dame Nature for not having made him at least a lord?

And who will, after your description of senatorial virtues, dare to say
that our House of Commons has often resembled a bear-garden; and
appeared rather like a committee of _ways and means_ than a dignified
legislative body, though the concentrated wisdom and virtue of the whole
nation blazed in one superb constellation? That it contains a dead
weight of benumbing opulence I readily allow, and of ignoble ambition;
nor is there any thing surpassing belief in a supposition that the raw
recruits, when properly drilled by the minister, would gladly march to
the Upper House to unite hereditary honours to fortune. But talents,
knowledge, and virtue, must be a part of the man, and cannot be put, as
robes of state often are, on a servant or a block, to render a pageant
more magnificent.

Our House of Commons, it is true, has been celebrated as a school of
eloquence, a hot-bed for wit, even when party intrigues narrow the
understanding and contract the heart; yet, from the few proficients it
has accomplished, this inferior praise is not of great magnitude: nor of
great consequence, Mr. Locke would have added, who was ever of opinion
that eloquence was oftener employed to make ‘the worse appear the better
part,’ than to support the dictates of cool judgment. However, the
greater number who have gained a seat by their fortune and hereditary
rank, are content with their pre-eminence, and struggle not for more
hazardous honours. But you are an exception; you have raised yourself by
the exertion of abilities, and thrown the automatons of rank into the
back ground. Your exertions have been a generous contest for secondary
honours, or a grateful tribute of respect due to the noble ashes that
lent a hand to raise you into notice, by introducing you into the house
of which you have ever been an ornament, if not a support. But,
unfortunately, you have lately lost a great part of your popularity:
members were tired of listening to declamation, or had not sufficient
taste to be amused when you ingeniously wandered from the question, and
said certainly many good things, if they were not to the present
purpose. You were the Cicero of one side of the house for years; and
then to sink into oblivion, to see your blooming honours fade before
you, was enough to rouse all that was human in you—and make you produce
the impassioned _Reflections_ which have been a glorious revivification
of your fame.—Richard is himself again! He is still a great man, though
he has deserted his post, and buried in elogiums, on church
establishments, the enthusiasm that forced him to throw the weight of
his talents on the side of liberty and natural rights, when the
_will_[21] of the nation oppressed the Americans.

There appears to be such a mixture of real sensibility and fondly
cherished romance in your composition, that the present crisis carries
you out of yourself; and since you could not be one of the grand movers,
the next _best_ thing that dazzled your imagination was to be a
conspicuous opposer. Full of yourself, you make as much noise to
convince the world that you despise the revolution, as Rousseau did to
persuade his contemporaries to let him live in obscurity.

Reading your Reflections warily over, it has continually and forcibly
struck me, that had you been a Frenchman, you would have been, in spite
of your respect for rank and antiquity, a violent revolutionist; and
deceived, as you now probably are, by the passions that cloud your
reason, have termed your romantic enthusiasm an enlightened love of your
country, a benevolent respect for the rights of men. Your imagination
would have taken fire, and have found arguments, full as ingenious as
those you now offer, to prove that the constitution, of which so few
pillars remained, that constitution which time had almost obliterated,
was not a model sufficiently noble to deserve close adherence. And, for
the English constitution, you might not have had such a profound
veneration as you have lately acquired; nay, it is not impossible that
you might have entertained the same opinion of the English Parliament,
that you professed to have during the American war.

Another observation which, by frequently occurring, has almost grown
into a conviction, is simply this, that had the English in general
reprobated the French revolution, you would have stood forth alone, and
been the avowed Goliah of liberty. But, not liking to see so many
brothers near the throne of fame, you have turned the current of your
passions, and consequently of your reasoning, another way. Had Dr.
Price’s sermon not lighted some sparks very like envy in your bosom, I
shrewdly suspect that he would have been treated with more candour; nor
is it charitable to suppose that any thing but personal pique and hurt
vanity could have dictated such bitter sarcasms and reiterated
expressions of contempt as occur in your Reflections.

But without fixed principles even goodness of heart is no security from
inconsistency, and mild affectionate sensibility only renders a man more
ingeniously cruel, when the pangs of hurt vanity are mistaken for
virtuous indignation, and the gall of bitterness for the milk of
Christian charity.

Where is the dignity, the infallibility of sensibility, in the fair
ladies, whom, if the voice of rumour is to be credited, the captive
negroes curse in all the agony of bodily pain, for the unheard of
tortures they invent? It is probable that some of them, after the sight
of a flagellation, compose their ruffled spirits and exercise their
tender feelings by the perusal of the last imported novel.—How true
these tears are to nature, I leave you to determine. But these ladies
may have read your Enquiry concerning the origin of our ideas of the
Sublime and Beautiful, and, convinced by your arguments, may have
laboured to be pretty, by counterfeiting weakness.

You may have convinced them that _littleness_ and _weakness_ are the
very essence of beauty; and that the Supreme Being, in giving women
beauty in the most supereminent degree, seemed to command them, by the
powerful voice of Nature, not to cultivate the moral virtues that might
chance to excite respect, and interfere with the pleasing sensations
they were created to inspire. Thus confining truth, fortitude, and
humanity, within the rigid pale of manly morals, they might justly
argue, that to be loved, woman’s high end and great distinction! they
should ‘learn to lisp, to totter in their walk, and nick-name God’s
creatures.’ Never, they might repeat after you, was any man, much less a
woman, rendered amiable by the force of those exalted qualities,
fortitude, justice, wisdom, and truth; and thus forewarned of the
sacrifice they must make to those austere, unnatural virtues, they would
be authorized to turn all their attention to their persons,
systematically neglecting morals to secure beauty.—Some rational old
woman indeed might chance to stumble at this doctrine, and hint, that in
avoiding atheism you had not steered clear of the mussulman’s creed; but
you could readily exculpate yourself by turning the charge on Nature,
who made our idea of beauty independent of reason. Nor would it be
necessary for you to recollect, that if virtue has any other foundation
than worldly utility, you have clearly proved that one half of the human
species, at least, have not souls; and that Nature, by making women
_little_, _smooth_, _delicate_, _fair_ creatures, never designed that
they should exercise their reason to acquire the virtues that produce
opposite, if not contradictory, feelings. The affection they excite, to
be uniform and perfect, should not be tinctured with the respect which
moral virtues inspire, lest pain should be blended with pleasure, and
admiration disturb the soft intimacy of love. This laxity of morals in
the female world is certainly more captivating to a libertine
imagination than the cold arguments of reason, that give no sex to
virtue. If beautiful weakness be interwoven in a woman’s frame, if the
chief business of her life be (as you insinuate) to inspire love, and
Nature has made an eternal distinction between the qualities that
dignify a rational being and this animal perfection, her duty and
happiness in this life must clash with any preparation for a more
exalted state. So that Plato and Milton were grossly mistaken in
asserting that human love led to heavenly, and was only an exaltation of
the same affection; for the love of the Deity, which is mixed with the
most profound reverence, must be love of perfection, and not compassion
for weakness.

To say the truth, I not only tremble for the souls of women, but for the
good natured man, whom every one loves. The _amiable_ weakness of his
mind is a strong argument against its immateriality, and seems to prove
that beauty relaxes the _solids_ of the soul as well as the body.

It follows then immediately, from your own reasoning, that respect and
love are antagonist principles; and that, if we really wish to render
men more virtuous, we must endeavour to banish all enervating
modifications of beauty from civil society. We must, to carry your
argument a little further, return to the Spartan regulations, and settle
the virtues of men on the stern foundation of mortification and
self-denial; for any attempt to civilize the heart, to make it humane by
implanting reasonable principles, is a mere philosophic dream. If
refinement inevitably lessens respect for virtue, by rendering beauty,
the grand tempter, more seductive; if these relaxing feelings are
incompatible with the nervous exertions of morality, the sun of Europe
is not set; it begins to dawn, when cold metaphysicians try to make the
head give laws to the heart.

But should experience prove that there is a beauty in virtue, a charm in
order, which necessarily implies exertion, a depraved sensual taste may
give way to a more manly one—and _melting_ feelings to rational
satisfactions. Both may be equally natural to man; the test is their
moral difference, and that point reason alone can decide.

Such a glorious change can only be produced by liberty. Inequality of
rank must ever impede the growth of virtue, by vitiating the mind that
submits or domineers; that is ever employed to procure nourishment for
the body, or amusement for the mind. And if this grand example be set by
an assembly of unlettered clowns, if they can produce a crisis that may
involve the fate of Europe, and ‘more than Europe[22],’ you must allow
us to respect unsophisticated reason, and reverence the active exertions
that were not relaxed by a fastidious respect for the beauty of rank, or
a dread of the deformity produced by any _void_ in the social structure.

After your contemptuous manner of speaking of the National Assembly,
after descanting on the coarse vulgarity of their proceedings, which,
according to your own definition of virtue, is a proof of its
genuineness; was it not a little inconsistent, not to say absurd, to
assert, that a dozen people of quality were not a sufficient
counterpoise to the vulgar mob with whom they condescended to associate?
Have we half a dozen leaders of eminence in our House of Commons, or
even in the fashionable world? yet the sheep obsequiously pursue their
steps with all the undeviating sagacity of instinct.

In order that liberty should have a firm foundation, an acquaintance
with the world would naturally lead cool men to conclude that it must be
laid, knowing the weakness of the human heart, and the ‘deceitfulness of
riches,’ either by _poor_ men, or philosophers, if a sufficient number
of men, disinterested from principle, or truly wise, could be found. Was
it natural to expect that sensual prejudices should give way to reason,
or present feelings to enlarged views?—No; I am afraid that human nature
is still in such a weak state, that the abolition of titles, the
corner-stone of despotism, could only have been the work of men who had
no titles to sacrifice. The National Assembly, it is true, contains some
honourable exceptions; but the majority had not such powerful feelings
to struggle with, when reason led them to respect the naked dignity of

Weak minds are always timid. And what can equal the weakness of mind
produced by servile flattery, and the vapid pleasures that neither hope
nor fear seasoned? Had the constitution of France been new modelled, or
more cautiously repaired, by the lovers of elegance and beauty, it is
natural to suppose that the imagination would have erected a fragile
temporary building; or the power of one tyrant, divided amongst a
hundred, might have rendered the struggle for liberty only a choice of
masters. And the glorious _chance_ that is now given to human nature of
attaining more virtue and happiness than has hitherto blessed our globe,
might have been sacrificed to a meteor of the imagination, a bubble of
passion. The ecclesiastics, indeed, would probably have remained in
quiet possession of their sinecures; and your gall might not have been
mixed with your ink on account of the daring sacrilege that brought them
more on a level. The nobles would have had bowels for their younger
sons, if not for the misery of their fellow-creatures. An august mass of
property would have been transmitted to posterity to guard the temple of
superstition, and prevent reason from entering with her officious light.
And the pomp of religion would have continued to impress the senses, if
she were unable to subjugate the passions.

Is hereditary weakness necessary to render religion lovely? and will her
form have lost the smooth delicacy that inspires love, when stripped of
its Gothic drapery? Must every grand model be placed on the pedestal of
property? and is there no beauteous proportion in virtue, when not
clothed in a sensual garb?

Of these questions there would be no end, though they lead to the same
conclusion;—that your politics and morals, when simplified, would
undermine religion and virtue to set up a spurious, sensual beauty, that
has long debauched your imagination, under the specious form of natural

And what is this mighty revolution in property? The present incumbents
only are injured, or the hierarchy of the clergy, an ideal part of the
constitution, which you have personified, to render your affection more
tender. How has posterity been injured by a distribution of the property
snatched, perhaps, from innocent hands, but accumulated by the most
abominable violation of every sentiment of justice and piety? Was the
monument of former ignorance and iniquity to be held sacred, to enable
the present possessors of enormous benefices to _dissolve_ in indolent
pleasures? Was not their convenience, for they have not been turned
adrift on the world, to give place to a just partition of the land
belonging to the state? And did not the respect due to the natural
equality of man require this triumph over Monkish rapacity? Were those
monsters to be reverenced on account of their antiquity, and their
unjust claims perpetuated to their ideal children, the clergy, merely to
preserve the sacred majesty of Property inviolate, and to enable the
Church to retain her pristine splendor? Can posterity be injured by
individuals losing the chance of obtaining great wealth, without
meriting it, by its being diverted from a narrow channel, and
disembogued into the sea that affords clouds to water all the land?
Besides, the clergy not brought up with the expectation of great
revenues will not feel the loss; and if bishops should happen to be
chosen on account of their personal merit, religion may be benefited by
the vulgar nomination.

The sophistry of asserting that Nature leads us to reverence our civil
institutions from the same principle that we venerate aged individuals,
is a palpable fallacy ‘that is so like truth, it will serve the turn as
well.’ And when you add, ‘that we have chosen our nature rather than our
speculations, our breasts rather than our inventions[23]’, the pretty
jargon seems equally unintelligible.

But it was the downfall of the visible power and dignity of the church
that roused your ire; you could have excused a little squeezing of the
individuals to supply present exigencies; the actual possessors of the
property might have been oppressed with something like impunity, if the
church had not been spoiled of its gaudy trappings. You love the church,
your country, and its laws, you repeatedly tell us, because they deserve
to be loved; but from you this is not a panegyric: weakness and
indulgence are the only incitements to love and confidence that you can
discern, and it cannot be denied that the tender mother you venerate
deserves, on this score, all your affection.

It would be as vain a task to attempt to obviate all your passionate
objections, as to unravel all your plausible arguments, often
illustrated by known truths, and rendered forcible by pointed
invectives. I only attack the foundation. On the natural principles of
justice I build my plea for disseminating the property artfully said to
be appropriated to religious purposes, but, in reality, to support idle
tyrants, amongst the society whose ancestors were cheated or forced into
illegal grants. Can there be an opinion more subversive of morality,
than that time sanctifies crimes, and silences the blood that calls out
for retribution, if not for vengeance? If the revenue annexed to the
Gallic church was greater than the most bigoted protestant would now
allow to be its reasonable share, would it not have been trampling on
the rights of men to perpetuate such an arbitrary appropriation of the
common stock, because time had rendered the fraudulent seizure
venerable? Besides, if Reason had suggested, as surely she must, if the
imagination had not been allowed to dwell on the fascinating pomp of
ceremonial grandeur, that the clergy would be rendered both more
virtuous and useful by being put more on a par with each other, and the
mass of the people it was their duty to instruct;—where was there room
for hesitation? The charge of presumption, thrown by you on the most
reasonable innovations, may, without any violence to truth, be retorted
on every reformation that has meliorated our condition, and even on the
improvable faculty that gives us a claim to the pre-eminence of
intelligent beings.

Plausibility, I know, can only be unmasked by shewing the absurdities it
glosses over, and the simple truths it involves with specious errors.
Eloquence has often confounded triumphant villainy; but it is probable
that it has more frequently rendered the boundary that separates virtue
and vice doubtful.—Poisons may be only medicines in judicious hands; but
they should not be administered by the ignorant, because they have
sometimes seen great cures performed by their powerful aid.

The many sensible remarks and pointed observations which you have mixed
with opinions that strike at our dearest interests, fortify those
opinions, and give them a degree of strength that render them formidable
to the wise, and convincing to the superficial. It is impossible to read
half a dozen pages of your book without admiring your ingenuity, or
indignantly spurning your sophisms. Words are heaped on words, till the
understanding is confused by endeavouring to disentangle the sense, and
the memory by tracing contradictions. After observing a host of these
contradictions, it can scarcely be a breach of charity to think that you
have often sacrificed your sincerity to enforce your favourite
arguments, and called in your judgment to adjust the arrangement of
words that could not convey its dictates.

A fallacy of this kind, I think, could not have escaped you when you
were treating the subject that called forth your bitterest
animadversions, the confiscation of the ecclesiastical revenue. Who of
the vindicators of the rights of men ever ventured to assert, that the
clergy of the present day should be punished on account of the
intolerable pride and inhuman cruelty of many of their predecessors[24]?
No; such a thought never entered the mind of those who warred with
inveterate prejudices. A desperate disease required a powerful remedy.
Injustice had no right to rest on prescription; nor has the character of
the present clergy any weight in the argument.

You find it very difficult to separate policy from justice: in the
political world they have frequently been separated with shameful
dexterity. To mention a recent instance. According to the limited views
of timid, or interested politicians, an abolition of the infernal slave
trade would not only be unsound policy, but a flagrant infringement of
the laws (which are allowed to have been infamous) that induced the
planters to purchase their estates. But is it not consonant with
justice, with the common principles of humanity, not to mention
Christianity, to abolish this abominable mischief? [25]There is not one
argument, one invective, levelled by you at the confiscators of the
church revenue, which could not, with the strictest propriety, be
applied by the planters and negro-drivers to our Parliament, if it
gloriously dared to shew the world that British senators were men: if
the natural feelings of humanity silenced the cold cautions of timidity,
till this stigma on our nature was wiped off, and all men were allowed
to enjoy their birth-right—liberty, till by their crimes they had
authorized society to deprive them of the blessing they had abused.

The same arguments might be used in India, if any attempt were made to
bring back things to nature, to prove that a man ought never to quit the
cast that confined him to the profession of his lineal forefathers. The
Bramins would doubtless find many ingenious reasons to justify this
debasing, though venerable prejudice; and would not, it is to be
supposed, forget to observe that time, by interweaving the oppressive
law with many useful customs, had rendered it for the present very
convenient, and consequently legal. Almost every vice that has degraded
our nature might be justified by shewing that it had been productive of
_some_ benefit to society: for it would be as difficult to point out
positive evil as unallayed good, in this imperfect state. What indeed
would become of morals, if they had no other test than prescription? The
manners of men may change without end; but, wherever reason receives the
least cultivation—wherever men rise above brutes, morality must rest on
the same base. And the more man discovers of the nature of his mind and
body, the more clearly he is convinced, that to act according to the
dictates of reason is to conform to the law of God.

The test of honour may be arbitrary and fallacious, and, retiring into
subterfuge, elude close enquiry; but true morality shuns not the day,
nor shrinks from the ordeal of investigation. Most of the happy
revolutions that have taken place in the world have happened when weak
princes held the reins they could not manage; but are they, on that
account, to be canonized as saints or demi-gods, and pushed forward to
notice on the throne of ignorance? Pleasure wants a zest, if experience
cannot compare it with pain; but who courts pain to heighten his
pleasures? A transient view of society will further illustrate arguments
which appear so obvious that I am almost ashamed to produce
illustrations. How many children have been taught œconomy, and many
other virtues, by the extravagant thoughtlessness of their parents; yet
a good education is allowed to be an inestimable blessing. The tenderest
mothers are often the most unhappy wives; but can the good that accrues
from the private distress that produces a sober dignity of mind justify
the inflictor? Right or wrong may be estimated according to the point of
sight, and other adventitious circumstances; but, to discover its real
nature, the enquiry must go deeper than the surface, and beyond the
local consequences that confound good and evil together. The rich and
weak, a numerous train, will certainly applaud your system, and loudly
celebrate your pious reverence for authority and establishments—they
find it pleasanter to enjoy than to think; to justify oppression than
correct abuses.—_The rights of men_ are grating sounds that set their
teeth on edge; the impertinent enquiry of philosophic meddling
innovation. If the poor are in distress, they will make some
_benevolent_ exertions to assist them; they will confer obligations, but
not do justice. Benevolence is a very amiable specious quality; yet the
aversion which men feel to accept a right as a favour, should rather be
extolled as a vestige of native dignity, than stigmatized as the odious
offspring of ingratitude. The poor consider the rich as their lawful
prey; but we ought not too severely to animadvert on their ingratitude.
When they receive an alms they are commonly grateful at the moment; but
old habits quickly return, and cunning has ever been a substitute for

That both physical and moral evil were not only foreseen, but entered
into the scheme of Providence, when this world was contemplated in the
Divine mind, who can doubt, without robbing Omnipotence of a most
exalted attribute? But the business of the life of a good man should be,
to separate light from darkness; to diffuse happiness, whilst he submits
to unavoidable misery. And a conviction that there is much unavoidable
wretchedness, appointed by the grand Disposer of all events, should not
slacken his exertions: the extent of what is possible can only be
discerned by God. The justice of God may be vindicated by a belief in a
future state; but, only by believing that evil is educing good for the
individual, and not for an imaginary whole. The happiness of the whole
must arise from the happiness of the constituent parts, or the essence
of justice is sacrificed to a supposed grand arrangement. And that may
be good for the whole of a creature’s existence, that disturbs the
comfort of a small portion. The evil which an individual suffers for the
good of the community is partial, it must be allowed, if the account is
settled by death.—But the partial evil which it suffers, during one
stage of existence, to render another stage more perfect, is strictly
just. The Father of all only can regulate the education of his children.
To suppose that, during the whole or part of its existence, the
happiness of any individual is sacrificed to promote the welfare of ten,
or ten thousand, other beings—is impious. But to suppose that the
happiness, or animal enjoyment, of one portion of existence is
sacrificed to improve and ennoble the being itself, and render it
capable of more perfect happiness, is not to reflect on either the
goodness or wisdom of God.

It may be confidently asserted that no man chooses evil, because it is
evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks. And the
desire of rectifying these mistakes, is the noble ambition of an
enlightened understanding, the impulse of feelings that Philosophy
invigorates. To endeavour to make unhappy men resigned to their fate, is
the tender endeavour of short-sighted benevolence, of transient
yearnings of humanity; but to labour to increase human happiness by
extirpating error, is a masculine godlike affection. This remark may be
carried still further. Men who possess uncommon sensibility, whose quick
emotions shew how closely the eye and heart are connected, soon forget
the most forcible sensations. Not tarrying long enough in the brain to
be subject to reflection, the next sensations, of course, obliterate
them. Memory, however, treasures up these proofs of native goodness; and
the being who is not spurred on to any virtuous act, still thinks itself
of consequence, and boasts of its feelings. Why? Because the sight of
distress, or an affecting narrative, made its blood flow with more
velocity, and the heart, literally speaking, beat with sympathetic
emotion. We ought to beware of confounding mechanical instinctive
sensations with emotions that reason deepens, and justly terms the
feelings of _humanity_. This word discriminates the active exertions of
virtue from the vague declamation of sensibility.

The declaration of the National Assembly, when they recognized the
rights of men, was calculated to touch the humane heart—the downfall of
the clergy, to agitate the pupil of impulse. On the watch to find fault,
faults met your prying eye; a different prepossession might have
produced a different conviction.

When we read a book that supports our favourite opinions, how eagerly do
we suck in the doctrines, and suffer our minds placidly to reflect the
images that illustrate the tenets we have previously embraced. We
indolently acquiesce in the conclusion, and our spirit animates and
corrects the various subjects. But when, on the contrary, we peruse a
skilful writer, with whom we do not coincide in opinion, how attentive
is the mind to detect fallacy. And this suspicious coolness often
prevents our being carried away by a stream of natural eloquence, which
the prejudiced mind terms declamation—a pomp of words! We never allow
ourselves to be warmed; and, after contending with the writer, are more
confirmed in our opinion; as much, perhaps, from a spirit of
contradiction as from reason. A lively imagination is ever in danger of
being betrayed into error by favourite opinions, which it almost
personifies, the more effectually to intoxicate the understanding.
Always tending to extremes, truth is left behind in the heat of the
chace, and things are viewed as positively good, or bad, though they
wear an equivocal face.

Some celebrated writers have supposed that wit and judgment were
incompatible; opposite qualities, that, in a kind of elementary strife,
destroyed each other: and many men of wit have endeavoured to prove that
they were mistaken. Much may be adduced by wits and metaphysicians on
both sides of the question. But, from experience, I am apt to believe
that they do weaken each other, and that great quickness of
comprehension, and facile association of ideas, naturally preclude
profundity of research. Wit is often a lucky hit; the result of a
momentary inspiration. We know not whence it comes, and it blows where
it lifts. The operations of judgment, on the contrary, are cool and
circumspect; and coolness and deliberation are great enemies to
enthusiasm. If wit is of so fine a spirit, that it almost evaporates
when translated into another language, why may not the temperature have
an influence over it? This remark may be thought derogatory to the
inferior qualities of the mind: but it is not a hasty one; and I mention
it as a prelude to a conclusion I have frequently drawn, that the
cultivation of reason damps fancy. The blessings of Heaven lie on each
side; we must choose, if we wish to attain any degree of superiority,
and not lose our lives in laborious idleness. If we mean to build our
knowledge or happiness on a rational basis, we must learn to distinguish
the _possible_, and not fight against the stream. And if we are careful
to guard ourselves from imaginary sorrows and vain fears, we must also
resign many enchanting illusions: for shallow must be the discernment
which fails to discover that raptures and ecstasies arise from
error.—Whether it will always be so, is not now to be discussed; suffice
it to observe, that Truth is seldom arrayed by the Graces; and if she
charms, it is only by inspiring a sober satisfaction, which takes its
rise from a calm contemplation of proportion and simplicity. But, though
it is allowed that one man has by nature more fancy than another, in
each individual there is a spring-tide when fancy should govern and
amalgamate materials for the understanding; and a graver period, when
those materials should be employed by the judgment. For example, I am
inclined to have a better opinion of the heart of an _old_ man, who
speaks of Sterne as his favourite author, than of his understanding.
There are times and seasons for all things: and moralists appear to me
to err, when they would confound the gaiety of youth with the
seriousness of age; for the virtues of age look not only more imposing,
but more natural, when they appear rather rigid. He who has not
exercised his judgment to curb his imagination during the meridian of
life, becomes, in its decline, too often the prey of childish feelings.
Age demands respect; youth love: if this order is disturbed, the
emotions are not pure; and when love for a man in his grand climacteric
takes place of respect, it, generally speaking, borders on contempt.
Judgment is sublime, wit beautiful; and, according to your own theory,
they cannot exist together without impairing each other’s power. The
predominancy of the latter, in your endless Reflections, should lead
hasty readers to suspect that it may, in a great degree, exclude the

But, among all your plausible arguments, and witty illustrations, your
contempt for the poor always appears conspicuous, and rouses my
indignation. The following paragraph in particular struck me, as
breathing the most tyrannic spirit, and displaying the most factitious
feelings. ‘Good order is the foundation of all good things. To be
enabled to acquire, the people, without being servile, must be tractable
and obedient. The magistrate must have his reverence, the laws their
authority. The body of the people must not find the principles of
natural subordination by art rooted out of their minds. They _must_
respect that property of which they _cannot_ partake. _They must labour
to obtain what by labour can be obtained; and when they find, as they
commonly do, the success disproportioned to the endeavour, they must be
taught their consolation in the final proportions of eternal justice._
Of this consolation, whoever deprives them, deadens their industry, and
strikes at the root of all acquisition as of all conservation. He that
does this, is the cruel oppressor, the merciless enemy, of the poor and
wretched; at the same time that, by his wicked speculations, he exposes
the fruits of successful industry, and the accumulations of fortune,’
(ah! there’s the rub) ‘to the plunder of the negligent, the
disappointed, and the unprosperous[26].’

This is contemptible hard-hearted sophistry, in the specious form of
humility, and submission to the will of Heaven.—It is, Sir, _possible_
to render the poor happier in this world, without depriving them of the
consolation which you gratuitously grant them in the next. They have a
right to more comfort than they at present enjoy; and more comfort might
be afforded them, without encroaching on the pleasures of the rich: not
now waiting to enquire whether the rich have any right to exclusive
pleasures. What do I say?—encroaching! No; if an intercourse were
established between them, it would impart the only true pleasure that
can be snatched in this land of shadows, this hard school of moral

I know, indeed, that there is often something disgusting in the
distresses of poverty, at which the imagination revolts, and starts back
to exercise itself in the more attractive Arcadia of fiction. The rich
man builds a house, art and taste give it the highest finish. His
gardens are planted, and the trees grow to recreate the fancy of the
planter, though the temperature of the climate may rather force him to
avoid the dangerous damps they exhale, than seek the umbrageous retreat.
Every thing on the estate is cherished but man;—yet, to contribute to
the happiness of man, is the most sublime of all enjoyments. But if,
instead of sweeping pleasure-grounds, obelisks, temples, and elegant
cottages, as _objects_ for the eye, the heart was allowed to beat true
to nature, decent farms would be scattered over the estate, and plenty
smile around. Instead of the poor being subject to the griping hand of
an avaricious steward, they would be watched over with fatherly
solicitude, by the man whose duty and pleasure it was to guard their
happiness, and shield from rapacity the beings who, by the sweat of
their brow, exalted him above his fellows.

I could almost imagine I see a man thus gathering blessings as he
mounted the hill of life; or consolation, in those days when the spirits
lag, and the tired heart finds no pleasure in them. It is not by
squandering alms that the poor can be relieved, or improved—it is the
fostering sun of kindness, the wisdom that finds them employments
calculated to give them habits of virtue, that meliorates their
condition. Love is only the fruit of love; condescension and authority
may produce the obedience you applaud; but he has lost his heart of
flesh who can see a fellow-creature humbled before him, and trembling at
the frown of a being, whose heart is supplied by the same vital current,
and whose pride ought to be checked by a consciousness of having the
same infirmities.

What salutary dews might not be shed to refresh this thirsty land, if
men were more _enlightened_! Smiles and premiums might encourage
cleanliness, industry, and emulation.—A garden more inviting than Eden
would then meet the eye, and springs of joy murmur on every side. The
clergyman would superintend his own flock, the shepherd would then love
the sheep he daily tended; the school might rear its decent head, and
the buzzing tribe, let loose to play, impart a portion of their
vivacious spirits to the heart that longed to open their minds, and lead
them to taste the pleasures of men. Domestic comfort, the civilizing
relations of husband, brother, and father, would soften labour, and
render life contented.

Returning once from a despotic country to a part of England well
cultivated, but not very picturesque—with what delight did I not observe
the poor man’s garden!—The homely palings and twining woodbine, with all
the rustic contrivances of simple, unlettered taste, was a sight which
relieved the eye that had wandered indignant from the stately palace to
the pestiferous hovel, and turned from the awful contrast into itself to
mourn the fate of man, and curse the arts of civilization!

Why cannot large estates be divided into small farms? these dwellings
would indeed grace our land. Why are huge forests still allowed to
stretch out with idle pomp and all the indolence of Eastern grandeur?
Why does the brown waste meet the traveller’s view, when men want work?
But commons cannot be enclosed without _acts of parliament_ to increase
the property of the rich! Why might not the industrious peasant be
allowed to steal a farm from the heath? This sight I have seen;—the cow
that supported the children grazed near the hut, and the cheerful
poultry were fed by the chubby babes, who breathed a bracing air, far
from the diseases and the vices of cities. Domination blasts all these
prospects; virtue can only flourish amongst equals, and the man who
submits to a fellow-creature, because it promotes his worldly interest,
and he who relieves only because it is his duty to lay up a treasure in
heaven, are much on a par, for both are radically degraded by the habits
of their life.

In this great city, that proudly rears its head, and boasts of its
population and commerce, how much misery lurks in pestilential corners,
whilst idle mendicants assail, on every side, the man who hates to
encourage importers, or repress, with angry frown, the plaints of the
poor! How many mechanics, by a flux of trade or fashion, lose their
employment; whom misfortunes, not to be warded off, lead to the idleness
that vitiates their character and renders them afterwards averse to
honest labour! Where is the eye that marks these evils, more gigantic
than any of the infringements of property, which you piously deprecate?
Are these remediless evils? And is the humane heart satisfied with
turning the poor over to _another_ world, to receive the blessings this
could afford? If society was regulated on a more enlarged plan; if man
was contented to be the friend of man, and did not seek to bury the
sympathies of humanity in the servile appellation of master; if, turning
his eyes from ideal regions of taste and elegance, he laboured to give
the earth he inhabited all the beauty it is capable of receiving, and
was ever on the watch to shed abroad all the happiness which human
nature can enjoy;—he who, respecting the rights of men, wishes to
convince or persuade society that this is true happiness and dignity, is
not the cruel _oppressor_ of the poor, nor a short-sighted
philosopher—HE fears God and loves his fellow-creatures.—Behold the
whole duty of man!—the citizen who acts differently is a sophisticated

Surveying civilized life, and seeing, with undazzled eye, the polished
vices of the rich, their insincerity, want of natural affections, with
all the specious train that luxury introduces, I have turned impatiently
to the poor, to look for man undebauched by riches or power—but, alas!
what did I see? a being scarcely above the brutes, over which he
tyrannized; a broken spirit, worn-out body, and all those gross vices
which the example of the rich, rudely copied, could produce. Envy built
a wall of separation, that made the poor hate, whilst they bent to their
superiors; who, on their part, stepped aside to avoid the loathsome
sight of human misery.

What were the outrages of a day[27] to these continual miseries? Let
those sorrows hide their diminished head before the tremendous mountain
of woe that thus defaces our globe! Man preys on man; and you mourn for
the idle tapestry that decorated a gothic pile, and the dronish bell
that summoned the fat priest to prayer. You mourn for the empty pageant
of a name, when slavery flaps her wing, and the sick heart retires to
die in lonely wilds, far from the abodes of men. Did the pangs you felt
for insulted nobility, the anguish that rent your heart when the
gorgeous robes were torn off the idol human weakness had set up, deserve
to be compared with the long-drawn sigh of melancholy reflection, when
misery and vice are thus seen to haunt our steps, and swim on the top of
every cheering prospect? Why is our fancy to be appalled by terrific
perspectives of a hell beyond the grave?—Hell stalks abroad;—the lash
resounds on the slave’s naked sides; and the sick wretch, who can no
longer earn the sour bread of unremitting labour, steals to a ditch to
bid the world a long good night—or, neglected in some ostentatious
hospital, breathes his last amidst the laugh of mercenary attendants.

Such misery demands more than tears—I pause to recollect myself; and
smother the contempt I feel rising for your rhetorical flourishes and
infantine sensibility.

                         - - - - - - - - - - -
                         - - - - - - - - - - -

Taking a retrospective view of my hasty answer, and casting a cursory
glance over your _Reflections_, I perceive that I have not alluded to
several reprehensible passages, in your elaborate work; which I marked
for censure when I first perused it with a steady eye. And now I find it
almost impossible candidly to refute your sophisms, without quoting your
own words, and putting the numerous contradictions I observed in
opposition to each other. This would be an effectual refutation; but,
after such a tedious drudgery, I fear I should only be read by the
patient eye that scarcely wanted my assistance to detect the flagrant
errors. It would be a tedious process to shew, that often the most just
and forcible illustrations are warped to colour over opinions _you_ must
_sometimes_ have secretly despised; or, at least, have discovered, that
what you asserted without limitation, required the greatest. Some
subjects of exaggeration may have been superficially viewed; depth of
judgment is, perhaps, incompatible with the predominant features of your
mind. Your reason may have often been the dupe of your imagination; but
say, did you not sometimes angrily bid her be still, when she whispered
that you were departing from strict truth? Or, when assuming the awful
form of conscience, and only smiling at the vagaries of vanity, did she
not austerely bid you recollect your own errors, before you lifted the
avenging stone? Did she not sometimes wave her hand, when you poured
forth a torrent of shining sentences, and beseech you to concatenate
them—plainly telling you that the impassioned eloquence of the heart was
calculated rather to affect than dazzle the reader, whom it hurried
along to conviction? Did she not anticipate the remark of the wise, who
drink not at a shallow sparkling dream, and tell you that they would
discover when, with the dignity of sincerity, you supported an opinion
that only appeared to you with one face; or, when superannuated vanity
made you torture your invention?—But I forbear.

I have before animadverted on our method of electing representatives,
convinced that it debauches both the morals of the people and the
candidates, without rendering the member really responsible, or attached
to his constituents; but, amongst your other contradictions, you blame
the National Assembly for expecting any exertions from the servile
principle of responsibility, and afterwards insult them for not
rendering themselves responsible. Whether the one the French have
adopted will answer the purpose better, and be more than a shadow of
representation, time only can shew. In theory it appears more promising.

Your real or artificial affection for the English constitution seems to
me to resemble the brutal affection of some weak characters. They think
it a duty to love their relations with a blind, indolent tenderness,
that _will not_ see the faults it might assist to correct, if their
affection had been built on rational grounds. They love they know not
why, and they will love to the end of the chapter.

Is it absolute blasphemy to doubt of the omnipotence of the law, or to
suppose that religion might be more pure if there were fewer baits for
hypocrites in the church? But our manners, you tell us, are drawn from
the French, though you had before celebrated our native plainness[28].
If they were, it is time we broke loose from dependence——Time that
Englishmen drew water from their own springs; for, if manners are not a
painted substitute for morals, we have only to cultivate our reason, and
we shall not feel the want of an arbitrary model. Nature will suffice;
but I forget myself:—Nature and Reason, according to your system, are
all to give place to authority; and the gods, as Shakespeare makes a
frantic wretch exclaim, seem to kill us for their sport, as men do

Before I conclude my cursory remarks, it is but just to acknowledge that
I coincide with you in your opinion respecting the _sincerity_ of many
modern philosophers. Your consistency in avowing a veneration for rank
and riches deserves praise; but I must own that I have often indignantly
observed that some of the _enlightened_ philosophers, who talk most
vehemently of the native rights of men, borrow many noble sentiments to
adorn their conversation, which have no influence on their conduct. They
bow down to rank, and are careful to secure property; for virtue,
without this adventitious drapery, is seldom very respectable in their
eyes—nor are they very quick-sighted to discern real dignity of
character when no sounding name exalts the man above his fellows.—But
neither open enmity nor hollow homage destroys the intrinsic value of
those principles which rest on an eternal foundation, and revert for a
standard to the immutable attributes of God.

                                THE END.


Footnote 1:

  As religion is included in my idea of morality, I should not have
  mentioned the term without specifying all the simple ideas which that
  comprehensive word generalizes; but as the charge of atheism has been
  very freely banded about in the letter I am considering, I wish to
  guard against misrepresentation.

Footnote 2:

  See Mr. Burke’s Bills for œconomical reform.

Footnote 3:

  Page 15.

Footnote 4:

  ‘The doctrine of _hereditary_ right does by no means imply an
  _indefeasible_ right to the throne. No man will, I think, assert this,
  that has considered our laws, constitution, and history, without
  prejudice, and with any degree of attention. It is unquestionably in
  the breast of the supreme legislative authority of this kingdom, the
  King and both Houses of Parliament, to defeat this hereditary right;
  and, by particular entails, limitations, and provisions, to exclude
  the immediate heir, and vest the inheritance in any one else. This is
  strictly consonant to our laws and constitution; as may be gathered
  from the expression so frequently used in our statute books, of “the
  King’s Majesty, his heirs, and successors.” In which we may observe
  that, as the word “heirs” necessarily implies an inheritance, or
  hereditary right, generally subsisting in “the royal person;” so the
  word successors, distinctly taken, must imply that this inheritance
  may sometimes be broken through; or, that there may be a successor,
  without being the heir of the king.’

  I shall not, however, rest in something like a subterfuge, and quote,
  as partially as you have done, from Aristotle. Blackstone has so
  cautiously fenced round his opinion with provisos, that it is obvious
  he thought the letter of the law leaned towards your side of the
  question—but a blind respect for the law is not a part of my creed.

Footnote 5:

  Page 113.

Footnote 6:

  As you ironically observe, p. 114.

Footnote 7:

  In July, when he first submitted to his people; and not the mobbing
  triumphal catastrophe in October, which you chose, to give full scope
  to your declamatory powers.

Footnote 8:

  This quotation is not marked with inverted commas, because it is not
  exact. P. 11.

Footnote 9:

  Page 106.

Footnote 10:

  I do not now mean to discuss the intricate subject of their mortality;
  reason may, perhaps, be given to them in the next stage of existence,
  if they are to mount in the scale of life, like men, by the medium of

Footnote 11:

  Page 128.

Footnote 12:

  Page 129.

Footnote 13:

  _Vide_ Reflections, p. 128. “We fear God; we look up with _awe_ to
  kings; with _affection_ to parliaments; with _duty_ to magistrates;
  with _reverence_ to priests; and with _respect_ to nobility.”

Footnote 14:

  Page 137.

Footnote 15:

  ‘When the people have emptied themselves of all the lust of selfish
  will, which without religion it is utterly impossible they ever
  should; when they are conscious that they exercise, and exercise
  perhaps in an higher link of the order of delegation, the power, which
  to be legitimate must be according to that eternal immutable law, in
  which will and reason are the same, they will be more careful how they
  place power in base and incapable hands. In their nomination to
  office, they will not appoint to the exercise of authority as to a
  pitiful job, but as to an holy function; not according to their sordid
  selfish interest, nor to their wanton caprice, nor to their arbitrary
  will; but they will confer that power (which any man may well tremble
  to give or to receive) on those only, in whom they may discern that
  predominant proportion of active virtue and wisdom, taken together and
  fitted to the charge, such, as in the great and inevitable mixed mass
  of human imperfections and infirmities, is to be found.’ P. 140.

Footnote 16:

  Page 140.

Footnote 17:

  Page 148.

Footnote 18:

  Page 51. ‘If the last generations of your country appeared without
  much lustre in your eyes, you might have passed them by, and derived
  your claims from a more early race of ancestors. Under a pious
  predilection to those ancestors, your imaginations would have realized
  in them a standard of virtue and wisdom, beyond the vulgar practice of
  the hour: and you would have risen with the example to whose imitation
  you aspired. Respecting your forefathers, you would have been taught
  to respect yourselves.’

Footnote 19:

  Page 53. ‘If diffident of yourselves, and not clearly discerning the
  almost obliterated constitution of your ancestors, you had looked to
  your neighbours in this land, who had kept alive the ancient
  principles and models of the old common law of Europe meliorated and
  adapted to its present state—by following wise examples you would have
  given new examples of wisdom to the world.’

Footnote 20:

  Page 49. ‘Always acting as if in the presence of canonized
  forefathers, the spirit of freedom, leading in itself to misrule and
  excess, is tempered with an awful gravity. This idea of a liberal
  descent inspires us with a sense of habitual native dignity, which
  prevents that upstart insolence almost inevitably adhering to and
  disgracing those who are the first acquirers of any distinction!’

Footnote 21:

  Page 6. ‘Being a citizen of a particular state, and bound up in a
  considerable degree, by its _public will_,’ &c.

Footnote 22:

  Page 11. ‘It looks to me as if I were in a great crisis, not of the
  affairs of France alone but of all Europe, perhaps of more than
  Europe. All circumstances taken together, the French revolution is the
  most astonishing that has hitherto happened in the world.’

Footnote 23:

  Page 50. ‘We procure reverence to our civil institutions on the
  principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men; on
  account of their age; and on account of those from whom they are
  descended. All your sophisters cannot produce any thing better adapted
  to preserve a rational and manly freedom than the course that we have
  pursued; who have chosen our nature rather than our speculations, our
  breasts rather than our inventions, for the great conservatories and
  magazines of our rights and privileges.’

Footnote 24:

  _Vide_ Page 210.

Footnote 25:

  ‘When men are encouraged to go into a certain mode of life by the
  existing laws, and protected in that mode as in a lawful
  occupation—when they have accommodated _all their ideas, and all their
  habits to it_,’ &c.—‘I am sure it is unjust in legislature, by an
  arbitrary act, to offer a sudden violence to their minds and their
  feelings; forcibly to degrade them from their state and condition, and
  to stigmatize with shame and infamy that character and those customs
  which before had been made the measure of their happiness.’ Page 230.

Footnote 26:

  Page 351.

Footnote 27:

  The 6th of October.

Footnote 28:

  Page 118. ‘It is not clear, whether in England we learned those grand
  and decorous principles, and manners, of which considerable traces yet
  remain, from you, or whether you took them from us. But to you, I
  think, we trace them best. You seem to me to be—_gentis incunabula
  nostræ_. France has always more or less influenced manners in England;
  and when your fountain is choaked up and polluted, the stream will not
  run long, or not run clear with us, or perhaps with any nation. This
  gives all Europe, in my opinion, but too close and connected a concern
  in what is done in France.’


                          TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES

 1. P. 92, changed “very prejudies” to “very prejudices”.
 2. P. 114, changed “quaities” to “qualities”.
 3. P. 126, changed “triumphant villany” to “triumphant villainy”.
 4. Silently corrected typographical errors and variations in spelling.
 5. Archaic, non-standard, and uncertain spellings retained as printed.
 6. Footnotes were re-indexed using numbers and collected together at
      the end of the last chapter.
 7. Enclosed italics font in _underscores_.

*** End of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "A vindication of the rights of men, in a letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke; occasioned by his Reflections on the Revolution in France" ***

Copyright 2023 LibraryBlog. All rights reserved.