Page images
PDF
EPUB

any employment, provided he has been loud and frequent in declaring himself hearty for the government. It is true, he is a man of pleasure, and a freethinker; that is, in other words, he is profligate in his morals, and a despiser of religion; but in point of party, he is one to be confided in; he is an assertor of liberty and property; he rattles it out against popery and arbitrary power, and priestcraft and high church. It is enough: he is a person fully qualified for any employment, in the court or the navy, the law or the revenue; where he will be sure to leave no arts untried, of bribery, fraud, injustice, oppression, that he can practise with any hope of impunity. No wonder such men are true to a government where liberty runs high, where property, however attained, is so well secured, and where the administration is at least so gentle : it is impossible they could choose any other constitution without changing to their loss.

Fidelity to a present establishment is indeed the principal means to defend it from a foreign enemy, but without other qualifications, will not prevent corruptions from within; and states are more often ruined by these than the other.

To conclude: whether the proposals I have offered toward a reformation be such as are most prudent and convenient may probably be a question, but it is none at all whether some reformation be absolutely necessary; because the nature of things is such that if abuses be not remedied they will certainly increase, nor ever stop till they end in the subversion of a commonwealth. As there must always of necessity be some corruptions, so, in a well-instituted state the executive power will be always contending against them by reducing things (as Machiavel speaks) to their first principles, never letting abuses grow inveterate or multiply so far that it will be hard to find remedies, and perhaps impossible to apply them. As he that would keep his house in repair must attend every little breach or flaw, and supply it immediately, else time alone will bring all to ruin, how much more the common accidents of storms and rain ? He must live in perpetual danger of his house falling about his ears, and will find it cheaper to throw it quite down and build it again from the ground, perhaps upon a new foundation, or at least in a new form, which may neither be so safe nor so convenient. as the old.

REMARKS UPON A BOOK

ENTITLED “THE RIGHTS OF THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH,” &c.,

WRITTEN IN THE YEAR 1708, BUT LEFT UNFINISHED.

BEFORE I enter upon a particular examination of this treatise, it will be convenient to do two things :

First, To give some account of the author, together with the motives that might probably engage him in such a work; and,

Secondly, To discover the nature and tendency in general of the work itself.

The first of these, although it has been objected against, seems highly reasonable, especially in books that instil pernicious principles. For, although a book is not intrinsically much better or worse according to the stature or complexion of the author, yet when it happens to make a noise, we are apt and curious, as in other noises, to look about from whence it comes. But, however, there is something more in the matter.

If a theological subject be well handled by a layman, it is better received than if it came from a divine, and that for reasons obvious enough, which, although of little weight in themselves, will ever have a great deal with mankind.

But when books are written with ill intentions, to advance dangerous opinions or destroy foundations, it may be then of real use to know from what quarter they come, and go a good way toward their confutation. For instance, if any man should write a book against the lawfulness of punishing felony with death, and upon inquiry the author should be found in Newgate under condemnation for robbing a house, his arguments would, not very unjustly, lose much of their force from the circumstances he lay under; so, when Milton writ his book of divorces, it was presently rejected as an occasional treatise, because everybody knew he had a shrew for his wife. Neither can there be any reason imagined why he might not, after he was blind, have writ another upon the danger and inconvenience of eyes. But it is a piece of logic which will hardly pass on the world, that because one man has a sore nose therefore all the town should put plasters upon theirs. So, if this treatise about the rights of the church should prove to be the work of a man steady in his principles, of exact morals, and profound learning,

a

a true lover of his country, and a hater of Christianity—as what he really believes to be a cheat upon mankind, whom he would undeceive purely for their good-it might be apt to check unwary men, even of good dispositions toward religion. But if it be found the production of a man soured with age and misfortunes, together with the consciousness of past miscarriages; of one who, in hopes of preferment, was reconciled to the popish religion ; of one wholly prostitute in life and principles, and only an enemy to religion because it condemns them : in this case—and this last I find is the universal opinion - he is likely to have few proselytes beside those who, from a sense of their vicious lives, require to be perpetually supplied by such amusements as this, which serve to flatter their wishes and debase their understandings.

I know there are some who would fain have it that this discourse was written by a club of freethinkers, among whoin the supposed author only came in for a share: but sure we cannot judge so meanly of any party without affronting the dignity of mankind. If this be so, and if here be the product of all their quotas and contributions, we must needs allow that freethinking is a most confinedo and limited talent. It is true, indeed, the whole discourse seems to be a motley, inconsistent composition, made up of various shreds of equal fineness, although of different colors. It is a bundle of incoherent maxims and assertions that frequently destroy one another: but still there is the same flatness of thought and style, the same weak advances toward wit and raillery, the same petulancy and pertness of spirit, the same train of superficial reading, the same threadbare quotation, the same affectation of forming general rules upon false and scanty premises; and lastly, the same vapid venom sprinkled over the whole, which, like the dying impotent bite of a trodden benumbed snake, may be nauseous and offensive, but cannot be very dangerous.

And, indeed, I am so far from thinking this libel to be born of several fathers, that it has been the wonder of several others, as well as myself, how it was possible for any man who appears to have gone the common circle of academical education; who has taken so universal a liberty, and has so entirely laid aside all regards, not only of Christianity but common truth and justice; one who is dead to all sense of shame, and seems to be past the getting or losing of a reputation, should, with so many advantages, and upon so unlimited a subject, come out with so poor, so jejune a production. Should we pity or be amazed at so perverse a talent, which, instead

It may

of qualifying an author to give a new turn to old matters, disposes him quite contrary to talk in an old beaten trivial manner upon topics wholly new; to make so many sallies into pedantry without a call upon a subject the most alien, and in the very moments he is declaiming against it, and in an age, too, where it is so violently exploded, especially among those readers he proposes to entertain?

I know it will be said, that this is only to talk in the common style of an answerer, but I have not so little policy. If there were any hope of reputation or merit from such victory, I should be apt, like others, to cry up the courage and conduct of an enemy. Whereas to detect the weakness, the malice, the sophistry, the falsehood, the ignorance of such a writer, requires little more than to rank his perfections in such an order, and place them in such a light, that the commonest reader may form a judgment of them.

still be a wonder how so heavy a book, written upon a subject in appearance so little instructive or diverting, should survive to three editions, and consequently find a better reception than is usual with such bulky, spiritless volumes; and this in an age that pretends so soon to be nauseated with what is tedious and dull. To which I can only return, that as burning a book by the common hangman is a known expedient to make it sell, so to write a book that deserves such treatment is another; and a third, perhaps as effectual as either, is to ply an insipid, worthless tract with grave and learned answers, as Dr. Hickes, Dr. Potter, and Mr. Wotton have done. Such performances, however commendable, have glanced a reputation upon the piece, which owes its life to the strength of those hands and weapons that were raised to destroy it; like flinging a mountain upon a worm, which, instead of being bruised, by the advantage of its littleness lodges under it unhurt.

But neither is this all. For the subject, as unpromising as it seems at first view, is no less than that of Lucretius, to free men's minds from the bondage of religion; and this not by little hints and by piecemeal, after the manner of those little atheistical tracts that steal into the world, but in a thorough wholesale manner, by making religion, church, Christianity, with all their concomitants, a perfect contrivance of the civil power. It is an imputation often charged on this sort of men, that, by their invectives against religion, they can possibly propose no other end than that of fortifying themselves and others against the reproaches of a vicious life, it being necessary for men of libertine practices to embrace libertine principles, or else they cannot act in consistence with any reason,

a

a

a

or preserve any peace of mind. Whether such authors have this design, (whereof I think they have never gone about to acquit themselves,) thus much is certain, that no other use is made of such writings; neither did I ever hear this author's book justified by any person, either Whig or Tory, except such who are of that profligate character. And I believe whoever examines it will be of the same opinion; although, indeed, such wretches are so numerous, that it seems rather surprising why the book has had no more editions than why it should have so many.

Having thus endeavored to satisfy the curious with some account of this author's character, let us examine what might probably be the motives to engage him in such a work. I shall say nothing of the principal, which is a sum of money: because that is not a mark to distinguish him from any other trader with the press. I will say nothing of revenge and malice, from resentment of the indignities and contempt he has undergone for his crime of apostacy. To this passion he has thought fit to sacrifice order, propriety, discretion, and common sense, as may be seen in every page of his book; but I am deceived, if there were not a third motive as powerful as the other two; and that is, vanity. About the latter end of king James's reign, he had almost finished a learned discourse in defence of the church of Rome, and to justify his conversion; all which, upon the revolution, was quite out of season. Having thus prostituted his reputation, and at once ruined his hopes, he had no recourse left but to show his spite against religion in general, the false pretensions to which had proved so destructive to his credit and fortune : and at the same time, loath to employ the speculations of so many years to no purpose, by an easy turn, the same arguments he had made use of to advance popery were full as properly levelled by him against Christianity itself; like the image which, while it was new and handsome, was worshipped for a saint, and when it came to be old and broken was still good enough to make a tolerable devil. And therefore every reader will observe, that the arguments for popery are much the strongest of any in his book, as I shall further remark when I find them in my way.

There is one circumstance in his title-page, which I take to be not amiss, where he calls his book “ Part the First.” This is a project to fright away answerers, and make the poor advocates for religion believe he still keeps further vengeance in petto. be allowed, he has not wholly lost time while he was of the Romish communion. This very trick he learned from his old father the

« PreviousContinue »