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future state, and lull themselves into a stupid security against the terrors of it. If one were to take the word priestcraft out of the mouths of these shal. low monsters, they would be immediately struck dumb. It is by the help of this single term that they endeavour to disappoint the good works of the most learned and venerable order of men, and harden the hearts of the ignorant against the very light of nature, and the common received notions of mankind. We ought not to treat such miscreants as these upon the foot of fair disputants; but to pour out contempt upon them, and speak of them with scorn and infamy, as the pests of society, the revilers of human nature, and the blasphemers of a Being, whom a good man would rather die than hear dishonoured. Cicero, after having mentioned the great heroes of knowledge that recommended this divine doctrine of the immortality of the soul, calls those small pretenders to wisdom, who declared against it, certain minute philosophers, using a diminutive even of the word little, to express the despicable opinion he had of them. The contempt he throws upon them in another passage, is yet more remarkable; where, to show the mean thoughts he entertains of them, he declares “he would rather be in the wrong with Plato, than in the right with such company.” There is indeed nothing in the world so ridiculous as one of these grave philosophical Free-thinkers, that hath neither passions nor appetites to gratify, no heats of blood, nor vigour of constitution, that can turn his systems of infidelity to his advantage, or raise pleasures out of them which are inconsistent with the belief of an hereafter. One that has neither wit, gallantry, mirth, or youth, to indulge by these notions, but only a poor, joyless, uncomfortable vanity of distinguishing himself from the rest of mankind, is raa VOL. III.
ther to be regarded as a mischievous lunatic, than a mistaken philosopher. A chaste infidel, a speculative libertine, is an animal that I should not believe to be in nature, did I not sometimes meet with this species of men, that plead for the indulgence of their passions in the midst of a severe studious life, and talk against the immortality of the soul over a dish of coffee.
I would fain ask a minute philosopher, what good he proposes to mankind by the publishing of his doctrines ? Will they make a man a better citizen, or father of a family; a more endearing husband, friend, or son? Will they enlarge his public or private virtues, or correct any of his frailties or vices? What is there either joyful or glorious in such opinions ? do they either refresh or enlarge our thoughts ? do they contribute to the happiness, or raise the dignity, of human nature? The only good, that I have ever heard pretended to, is, that they banish terrors, and set the mind at ease. But whose terrors do they banish? It is certain, if there were any strength in their arguments, they would give great disturbance to minds that are influenced by virtue, honour, and morality, and take from us the only comforts and supports of affliction, sickness, and old age. The minds, therefore, which they set at ease, are only those of impenitent criminals and malefactors, and which, to the good of mankind, should be in perpetual terror and alarm.
I must confess, nothing is more usual than for a free-thinker, in proportion as the insolence of scepticism is abated in him by years and knowledge, or humbled and beaten down by sorrow or sickness, to reconcile himself to the general conceptions of reasonable creatures; so that we frequently see the apostates turning from their revolt towards the end of their lives, and employing the refuse of their parts in promoting those truths which they had before endeavoured to invalidate.
The history of a gentleman in France is very well known, who was so zealous a promoter of infidelity, that he had got together a select company of disciples, and travelled into all parts of the kingdom to make converts. In the midst of his fantastical success he fell sick, and was reclaimed to such a sense of his condition, that after he had passed some time in great agonies and horrors of mind, he begged those who had the care of burying him, to dress his body in the habit of a capuchin, that the devil might not run away with it; and, to do further justice upon himself, desired them to tie an halter about his neck, as a mark of that ignominious punishment, which, in his own thoughts, he had so justly deserved. · I would not have persecution so far disgraced, as to wish these vermin might be animadverted on by any legal penalties; though I think it would be highly reasonable, that those few of them who die in the professions of their infidelity, should have such tokens of infamy fixed upon them, as might distinguish those bodies which are given up by the owners to oblivion and putrefaction, from those which rest in hope, and shall rise in glory. But at the same time that I am against doing them the honour of the notice of our laws, which ought not to suppose there are such criminals in being, I have often wondered, how they can be tolerated in any mixed conversations, while they are venting these absurd opinions; and should think, that if, on any such occasions, half a dozen of the most robust Christians in the company would lead one of these gentlemen to a pump, or convey him into a blanket, they would do very good service both to church and state. I do not know how the laws stand in this
particular; but I hope, whatever knocks, bangs, or thumps, might be given with such an honest intention, would not be construed as a breach of the peace. I dare say they would not be returned by the person who receives them; for whatever these fools may say in the vanity of their hearts, they are too wise to risk their lives, upon the uncertainty of their opinions.
When I was a young man about this town, I frequented the ordinary of the Black-horse in Holborn, where the person that usually presided at the table was a rough old-fashioned gentleman, who, according to the customs of those times, had been the Major and Preacher of a regiment. It happened one day that a noisy young officer, bred in France, was venting some new-fangled notions, and speaking, in the gaiety of his humour, against the dispensations of Providence. The Major, at first, only desired him to talk more respectfully of one for whom all the company had an honour; but finding him run on in his extravagance, began to reprimand him after a more serious manner. “ Young man,” said he, “do not abuse your Benefactor whilst you are eating his bread. Consider whose air you breathe, whose presence you are in, and who it is that gave you the power of that very speech, which you make use of to his dishonour.” The young fellow, who thought to turn matters into a jest, asked him, “ if he was going to preach ?” but at the same time desired him “ to take care what he said when he spoke to a man of honour.” “A man of honour !” says the Major; “thou art an infidel and a blasphemer, and I shall use thee as such.” In short, the quarrel ran so high, that the Major was desired to walk out. Upon their coming into the garden, the old fellow advised his antagonist to consider the place into which one pass might drive him; but, finding him grow upon him to a degree of scurrility, as believing the advice proceeded from fear; « Sirrah," says he, “ if a thunderbolt does not strike thee dead before I come at thee, I shall not fail to chastise thee for thy profaneness to thy Maker, and thy sauciness to his servant.” Upon this he drew his sword, and cried out with a loud voice, “ The sword of the Lord and of Gideon!” which so terrified his antagonist, that he was immediately disarmed, and thrown upon his knees. In this posture he begged his life; but the Major refused to grant it, before he had asked pardon for his offence in a short extemporary prayer, which the old gentleman dictated to him upon the spot; and which his proselyte repeated after him in the presence of the whole ordinary, that were now gathered about him in the garden.
N. 136. TUESDAY, FEB. 21, 1709-10.
Doprendi miserum est: Fabio vel judice vincam.
HOR. 1. Sat. II. ver, ult.
White's Chocolate-house, February 18.
The History of Tom VARNISH. Because I have a professed aversion to long beginnings of stories, I will go into this at once, by telling you, that there dwells near the Royal Exchange as happy a couple as ever entered into wed,