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“My dear Dr. Cotton, how do you do? I have not seen you this age.” “My dear Madam, I hope I see you well; as for myself, what with my old complaint, and the great fatigue of attending to my duties in the prison, which you know my zeal will not allow me to neglect, I enjoy altogether but a poor state of health.” “Ah!my dear, Sir, believe me, I feel for you. And such an addition too as I hear you have to your, before too heavy, duties! Why, I am told there are eight poor, lost, deluded wretches, placed under your care for the heinous offence of blasphemy!” “ Alas! my dear Madam, it is but too true; yet, I hope it will turn out to their advantage; I am doing all in my power to bring them to a sense of the merits of our dear Redeemer; and I trust, I shall not labour in vain. I bave already supplied them with Bibles and Common Prayer Books, and, likewise, that excellent work, the “ Apology for the Bible,” by Bishop Watson, w bo was so condescending as to notice these blaspbemers.” “ My worthy Dr. Cotton, they have nothing to fear under such good keeping, and so I told our good old friend Mrs. Allfaith. Poor soul! to see how she was affected by the dismal tidings! She had hoped to see the wbole world but as one man in the cause of GOD AND THE LAMB; and now, to hear of such infidels springing up in her latter days, to leave so much undone! Oh! Sir, you cannot conceive how she felt it!” “ My dear Madam, say no more, you know I am but too sensitive. I cannot describe to you what I have felt myself; but assure the good Old Lady, the next time you see her, that I am doing all in my power. See! I am never forgetful of these poor creatures-here are four volumes of “ Anti-Infidel Tracts,” and four of Lord Lyttleton's “ Observations on the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul,” which I am just going to take to them, so good morning, my dear Madam.”
How nicely these books cover your bypocrisy! Wbat could you do without such an excuse? But enough on this head: you know my opinions: remove them if you can and think it worth while.
Now, Sir, in the second place, you carry, as the common phrase goes, two faces uuder one bat: you have one face for us, apother for the authorities of the prison. Before us you are all cant, and pretend that there is nothing in your power that you would not do to make us comfortable; yet, you do nothing. Thirdly and lastly: you are, like most other priests, food of a little petty authority ; fond of commanding; foud of being obeyed; and, no doubt, this penchant of yours, among the generality of the prisoners, is pretty well gratified; but not so with us. Men, who can think and act for themselves, will not easily brook compulsion. If you thiok we do not see through your double dealing, you are mistaken. “I think you had all better attend chapelmind, do not misunderstand me-I oniy give you a RINTbut the Act of Parliament compels every prisoner to attend.” Mild way of hinting this truly! But wbat bas become of your Act of Parliament, since we hinted to you, that if compelled to attend chapel, we should publish weekly a comment on your sermons? From all that I can see of Acts of Parliament and Gaol Restrictions, they are but so many words to rover the whims and caprices of those who hold offices in The prison; at least, they are subservient to such purposes; . stretched to an extent never intended, or thrown aside, justi as it suits their convenience. From you nothing better can be expected. The Christians have never as yet been liberal towards their opponents, and a bypocrite is ever worse than a conscientious believer: the latter is governed by the education he has received; wbile the former is only acting to advance his own selfish views. You creep about to our rooms at all hours of the day, and every little trifling thing in our conduct that does not suit your taste, you are pleased to HINT sbould be altered; and if, on your next visit, it is not altered to your liking, out comes an order from the Keeper! But thanks to that spirit which enables us to look down on such petty authorities with contempt, your HINTS and the Keeper's orders have about equal weight. So much for you: now for your “ excellent and admirable Lectures.”
“ To say, therefore, that things are by nature what they are, is to say a plain falsehood, if we mean, that they are so by any necessity in their own nature; for then they must always have been such as we see them; and not the least part of any thing could possibly have been at all different from what it is: which is the wildest imagination in the world." I do neap to say, in the absence of any proof, or even plausible theory, which could warrant a contrary conclusion, that every thing acts from a necessity or acting power inherent in itself or in the bodies which surround it; and I call on you Dr. Cotton, or any of your brethren of the cloth, to prove that it is a “a plain falsehood.” Is it a plajn falsehood to say, that aqueous vapour both ascends and (when condensed) descends by its own nature? Is it a plain falsehood to say, that thunder and lightning are the natural effect of different currents coming in contact? But if these
and all other phenomena are not the effect of natural causes, how are they to be effected ? If you refer to that phantom of your imagination which your call God, I call on you to prove that an immaterial God exists, that he has power to controul nature, and in wbat manner this power is exerted. To say that (without the aid of a supernatural power) things must always have been such as we see them, is a false inference, and shows the author's total ignorauce even of the most common phenomena of nature. Instead of being a dull inapimate mass, as the Archbishop would have us believe, every particle of matter is in a continual state of action; and this action, it is evident, arises from its own essence, or nature. If there be a supernatural almighty power, he cannot give us a better specimen of his power, than by stopping for a time some of those motions which we consider to arise from natural causes; such for instance as the daily motion of the earth on its axis, or its - annual motion round the sun. I agree with the Archbishop that such a belief as he describes would be one of the “ wildest imaginations in the world.” Yet, really, Doctor, I believe there are many equally wild-equally unreasonable. For instance, tbe Cbristians, 1 (will not say you for one, because, I believe you to be a hypocrite) believe that this eartb, the sun, moon, stars,
&c. were created about 6,000 years ago, by a God who -bas existed from all eternity. Some believe this God to be in the shape of a man; others, to get clear of this absurdity, say, that he has no sbape—that there is notbing material about him. If both of these beliefs are not among the most absurd notious—the wildest imaginations, then I know not in wbat absurdity consists. If this God bath a sbape, he must be material, and could not have existed without matter: if without shape, he is nothing.
“ What hath po understanding (says the Archbishop) bath in stríctness of speech, no power; cannot act, but only be acted upon : as all mere matter is ; wbich never moves but as it is moved.” But I will assert, confident that I can maintain it, that what is called the understanding, the will or intelligence “ bath in strictness of speech no power;" tbat intelligence, separate from “ mere matter," is but a word, a NON-entity; aud that so far from intelligence being prior to, and the cause of matter, it is but the result of different bodies of matter acting on each other. To say that matter cannot act, and can only be acted upon, is the beigbt of absurdity; our every day experience convinces us to the contrary. But,
on the other side, it may be truly said of the understanding or intelligence, wbat the Achbishop says of matter, that it “ never moves but as it is moved.” When a man is first brought into the world, he hath no understanding; but if his faculties of reception be perfect-if the elements of communication by which surrounding objects can act on bis brain, (or that sensitive part of bis body, the root of which is the brain,) be in every respect calculated to perform their. functions, he soon begins to have ideas; every new object occasions a new idea, and these ideas impressed on, and retained by, the brain, constitute wbat we call mind, intelligence, or understanding. If these channels of commemoration be imperfect-if from some defect they fail to convey the impressions made by surrounding objects to the sensitive fluids which pervade his frame, he obtains no ideas, no intelligence, no understanding. And even when his organization is complete, when from time and experience he has become possessed of an understanding superior to the greater part of his fellow-men, how soon may he be deprived of it, and yet retain life? 'The fall from ever so trifling a height, the fall of a stone, or even the super-abundance of certain fluids, will destroy, in many cases irrecoverably, every trace of the intelligent being! See then on wbat a slender thread hangs the boasted intelligence or soul of man! -tbis soul, which theologians would have us to believe is to live to all eternity, and of which, exaggerated and personified, they make their God-their supernatural almighty power, who, they pretend, existed before, and was the creator of matter, and is now its governor and director! See the vanity of man, who would thus make a God, of that little wbich raises him in the scale above the otber parts of the animal world! It is true that with our present limited knowledge, we cannot clearly perceive, and consequently cannot prove, to demonstration the exact manner in which the mind is formed by surrounding objects, or bow the will or mind is connected with, or is enabled to govern or direct, the active motions of the body. Yet, when we see that certain effects regularly follow certain coinbivations of objects, and that these effects are dever produced in the absence of such combinations, it is not too much to say, that the action of these bodies on each other produces the effect; and that all our ideas are the effects produced by an inherent motion or action between the component parts of the body itself, or by the action of surrouuding bodies.
In the remainder of this and the following paragraph the
Bishop merely appeals to the ignorance of the reader. It is bere the priest alwaysexerts bis utmost strength; well knowing that no longer than the people are kept in ignorance will his dogmatical doctrines be believed, and bis avaricious appetite supplied. It was the knowledge that an ignorant, rather than an enlightened people, would best suit their purpose, that has ever prompted the priests to oppose every scheme that tended to enlighten mankind. On an ignorant people they can palm their absurd doctrines: an enligbtened people will discover the attempted imposture. Over an ignorant people, they can rule with despotic sway: with an enlightened people they must be content with equality. Knowledge is to them of all things the most detrimental, wbile ignorance is their greatest support. Consequently, we find, that priests of all denominations fly to ignorance as their last strong hold, and which they will no doubt aitempt to retain, as long as they have a chance of success or a weapon left.
“ Look around you (says the Bishop) see wbat marks of understanding and wisdom appear: turn your eyes upon yourselves: how fearfully and wonderfully are we made.” With an ignorant Christian this appeal may answer the purpose for which it was intended to make ignorance a substitute for what, on the part of the priest, ought to be demonstrative proof. But with the Materialist, the sophistry of such arguments is easily detected; with bim such an appeal has no weight. Accustomed to the study of nature, many thiugs to the Christian inexplicable, are to him easy and comprehensible; and although he cannot trace to their source all the phenomena which surround bim, he does not feel authorised to ascribe them to a power of wbich be neither has, nor can obtain, a single idea. On the contrary he will own his ignorance and attempt to improve bis knowledgewill attempt, by studiously seeking to unravel the apparently mysterious and intricate parts of nature, to make them comprehensible to himself and bis fellow-men: at least, he will not build up a phantom to rule over nature, merely because he is uot capable of following her through all her varied modes of action.
The Archbishop next proceeds to speak of the wisdom, goodness, and power, manifested in wbat he calls the creation; and to bring it forward iu proof of his “ one God the Father Almighty.” To this subject I shall pay particular attention in my next letter; for the present, Sir, I conclude, having only to request, that if you can prove me to be in