« PreviousContinue »
IF good and ill nature equally operated upon mankind, I might have faved myself the trouble of this apology; for it is manifeft by the reception the following difcourfe hath met with, that thofe, who approve it, are a great majority among the men of tafte: yet there have been two or three treatises written exprefly against it, befides many others that have йirted at it occafionally, without one fyllable having been ever published in its defence, or even quotation to its advantage, that I can remember, except by the polite author of a late difcourfe between a Deift and a Socinian.
Therefore, fince the book feems calculated to live at least as long as our language, and our taste admit no great alterations, I am content to convey fome apology along with it.
The greatest part of that book was finished about thirteen years fince, 1696, which is eight years before it was publishA 2
ed. The author was then young, his invention at the height, and his reading fresh in his head. By the affiftance of fome thinking, and much conversation, he had endeavoured to ftrip himself of as many real prejudices as he could; I fay real ones, because, under the notion of prejudices, he knew to what dangerous heights fome men have proceeded. Thus prepared, he thought the numerous and grofs corruptions in religion and learning might furnish matter for a fatyr, that would be useful and diverting. He refolved to proceed in a manner, that should be altogether new, the world having been already too long naufeated with endless repetitions upon every fubject. The abuses in religion he proposed to set forth in the allegory of the coats, and the three brothers, which was to make up the body of the discourse: those in learning he chose to introduce by way of digreffions. He was then a young gentleman much in the world, and wrote to the tafte of those who were like himfelf; therefore, in order to allure them, he gave a liberty to his pen, which might not fuit with maturer years, or graver characters,
characters, and which he could have eafily corrected with a very few blots, had he been master of his papers for a year or two before their publication.
Not that he would have governed his judgment by the ill-placed cavils of the four, the envious, the ftupid, and the tasteless, which he mentions with disdain. He acknowledges there are feveral youthful fallies, which from the grave and the wife may deserve a rebuke. But he defires to be anfwerable no farther than he is guilty, and that his faults may not be multiplied by the ignorant, the unnatural, and uncharitable applications of those, who have neither candor to fuppofe good meanings, nor palate to distinguish true ones. After which, he will forfeit his life, if any one opinion can be fairly deduced from that book, which is contrary to religion or morality.
Why should any clergyman of our church be angry to fee the follies of fanaticism and fuperftition expofed, though in the moft ridiculous manner; fince that is perhaps the most probable way to cure them, or at least to hinder them from farther spreading? Besides, though it was not A 3 intended
intended for their perufal, it rallies nothing but what they preach againft. It contains nothing to provoke them by the least scurrility upon their perfons or their functions. It celebrates the church of England as the most perfect of all others in difcipline and doctrine; it advances no opinion they reject, nor condemns any they receive. If the clergy's refentments lay upon their hands, in my humble opinion, they might have found more proper objects to employ them on: nondum tibi defuit hoftis; I mean those heavy, illiterate fcriblers, proftitute in their reputations, vicious in their lives, and ruined in their fortunes, who, to the fhame of good fenfe as well as piety, are greedily read, merely upon the ftrength of bold, falfe, impious affertions, mixed with
unmannerly reflections upon the priest
hood, and openly intended against all religion; in fhort, full of fuch principles as are kindly received, because they are levelled to remove those terrors, that religion tells men will be the consequence of immoral lives. Nothing like which is to be met with in this discourse, though fome of them are pleafed fo freely to cenfure it. And I wish, there