Page images

those schemes of thinking, which conduce to the happiness and perfection of human nature. This evil comes upon us from the the works of a few solemn blockheads, that meet together with the zeal and seriousness of apostles, to extirpate common sense, and propagate infidelity. These are the wretches, who, without any show of wit, learning, or reason, publish their crude conceptions, with the ambition of appearing more wise than the rest of mankind, upon no other pretence, than that of dissenting from them. One gets by heart a catalogue of title pages and editions ; and immediately to become conspicuous, declares that he is an unbeliever. Another knows how to write a receipt, or cut up a dog, and forthwith argues against the immortality of the soul. I have known many a little wit, in the ostentation of his parts, rally the truth of the scripture, who was not able to read a chapter in it. These poor wretches talk. blasphemy for want of discourse, and are rather the objects of scorn or pity, than of our indignation; but the grave disputant, that reads, and writes, and spends all his time in convincing himself and the world that he is no better than a brute, ought to be whipped out of a government, as a blot to a civil society, and a defamer of mankind.' I love to consider an infidel, whether distinguished by the title of deist, atheist, or free-thinker, in three different lights; in his solitudes, his afflictions, and his last moments.

A wise man, that lives up to the principles of reason and virtue, if one considers him in his solitude, as taking in the system of the universe, observing the mutual dependance and harmony, by which the whole frame of it hangs together, beating down his passions, or swelling his thoughts with magnificent ideas of Proridence, makes a nobler figure in the eye of an intelligent being, than the greatest conqueror amidst the pomps and solemnities of a triumph. On the contrary, there is not a more ridiculous ani

· Toland is said to be the person alluded to in this severe passage.-G.

mal than an atheist in his retirement. His mind is incapable of rapture or elevation : he can only consider himself as an insignificant figure in a landscape, and wandering up and down in a field or a meadow, under the same terms as the meanest animals about him, and as subject to as total a mortality as they, with this aggravation, that he is the only one amongst them who lies under the apprehension of it.

In distresses, he must be of all creatures the most helpless and forlorn; he feels the whole pressure of a present calamity, without being relieved by the memory of any thing that is passed, or the prospect of any thing that is to come. Annihilation is the greatest blessing that he proposes to himself, and an halter or a pistol the only refuge he can fly to. But if you would behold one of these gloomy miscreants in his poorest figure you must consider him under the terrors, or at the approach, of death.

About thirty years ago I was a shipboard with one of these vermin, when there arose a brisk gale, which could frighten nobody but himself. Upon the rolling of the ship he fell upon his knees, and confessed to the chaplain, that he had been a vile atheist, and had denied a Supreme Being ever since he came to his estate. The good man was astonished, and a report immediately ran through the ship, that there was an atheist upon the upper deck. Several of the common seamen, who had never heard the word before, thought it had been some strange fish ; but they were more surprised when they saw it was a man, and heard out of his own mouth, ' That he never believed till that day that there was a God.' As he lay in the agonies of confession, one of the honest tars whispered to the boatswain, " That it would be a good deed to heave him overboard.' But we were now within sight of port, when of a sudden the wind fell, and the penitent relapsed, begging all of us that were present, as we were gentlemen, not to say any thing of what had passed.

He had not been ashore above two days, when one of the company began to rally him upon his devotion on shipboard, which the other denied in so high terms, that it produced the lie on both sides, and ended in a duel. The atheist was run through the body, and after some loss of blood, became as good a Christian as he was at sea, till he found that his wound was not mortal. He is at present one of the free-thinkers of the age, and now writing a pamphlet against several received opinions concerning the existence of fairies.b

As I have taken upon me to censure the faults of the age and country which I live in, I should have thought myself inexcusable to have passed over this crying one, which is the subject of my present discourse. I shall, therefore, from time to time, give my countrymen particular cautions against this distemper of the mind, that is almost become fashionable, and by that means more likely to spread. I have somewhere either read or heard a very memorable sentence, ' That a man would be a most insupportable monster, should he have the faults that are incident to his years, constitution, profession, family, religion, age and country; and yet every man is in danger of them all. For this reason, as I am an old man,

I take particular care to avoid being covetous, and telling long stories : as I am choleric, I forbear not only swearing, but all interjections of fretting, as Pugh! Pish! and the like. As I am a layman, I resolve not to conceive an aversion for s wise and good man, because his coat is of a different colour from mine. As I am descended of the ancient family of the Bickerstaffes, I never call a man of merit an upstart. As a protestant,

• The following improvement on the story of the atheist, certainly by Mr. Addison.

b The existence of fairies, A fine stroke of satire, to insinuate, that the efforts of our most applauded free-thinkers are, generally, as harmless as their intentions are malicious ; for that they only bend their force against some phantom of religion as priestcraft, the intolerance of the clergy, dc, and then plume themselves on the conceit that they have been combating Christianity. I do not suffer my zeal so far to transport me, as to name the Pope and the Devil together. As I am fallen into this degenerate age, I guard myself particularly against the folly I have been now speaking of. And as I am an Englishman, I am very cautious not to hate a stranger, or despise a poor Palatine.

Sir Richard Steele assisted in this paper. T.

No. 114. SATURDAY, DECEMBER 31, 1709.

Ut in vith, sic in studiis, pulcherrimum et humanissimum existimo, severitatem comita

temque miscere, ne illa in tristitiam, hæc in petulantiam procedat. -Plin. EPIST.

Sheer-Lane, December 30. I was walking about my chamber this morning in a very gay humour, when I saw a coach stop at my door, and a youth about fifteen alighting out of it, who I perceived to be the eldest son of my bosom friend, that I gave some account of in my paper of the 17th of the last month. I felt a sensible pleasure rising in me at the sight of him, my acquaintance having begun with his father when he was just such a stripling, and about that very age. When he came up to me, he took me by the hand, and burst into tears. I was extremely moved, and immediately said, Child, how does your father do ?' He began to reply, ‘My motherbut could not go on for weeping. I went down with him into the coach, and gathered out of him, that his mother was then dying, and that while the holy man was doing the last offices to her, he had taken that time to come and call me to his father, • Who (he said) would certainly break his heart, if I did not go and comfort him.' The child's discretion in coming to me of his own head, and the tenderness he showed for his parents, would have quite overpowered me, had I not resolved to fortify myself for the seasonable performances of those duties which I owed to my friend. As we were going, I could not but reflect upon the character of that excellent woman, and the greatness of his grief for the loss of one who has ever been the support to him under all other afflictions. How (thought I) will he be able to bear the hour of her death, that could not, when I was lately with him, speak of a sickness, which was then past, without sorrow.' We were now got pretty far into Westminster, and arrived at my friend's house. At the door of it I met Favonius,' not without a secret satisfaction to find he had been there. I had formerly conversed with him at his house; and as he abounds with that sort of virtue and knowledge which makes religion beautiful, and never leads the conversation into the violence and rage of party disputes, I listened to him with great pleasure. Our discourse chanced to be on the subject of Death, which he treated with such a strength of reason, and greatness of soul, that instead of being terrible, it appeared to a mind rightly cultivated, altogether to be contemned, or rather to be desired. As I met him at the door, I saw in his face a certain glowing of grief and humanity, heightened with an air of fortitude and resolution, which as I afterwards found, had such an irresistible force, as to suspend the pains of the dying, and the lamentation of the nearest friends who attended her. I went up directly to the room where she lay, and was met at the entrance by my friend, who, notwithstanding his thoughts bad been composed a little before, at the sight of me, turned away his face and wept. The little family of children renewed the expressions of their sorrow according to their several ages and degrees of understanding. The eldest daughter was in tears, busied in attendance upon her mother; others were kneeling about the bed-side: and what troubled me nuost was, to see a

· Dr. Smalridge, at that time minister of the new chapel in Tothill Fields.-G.

« PreviousContinue »