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Convinced I am, that if Jesus could now return upon earth, it would vex him not a little to see how his words and doings have been warped and mystified, and to find that the record of that life which he appears to have sacrificed in attacking one superstition, had been made the corner-stone on which to erect another.
Yet withal, I do not set myself up as an apologist for all that we may fairly suppose Jesus to have said and done. Perfection is not the attribute of humanity; and the sage of Nazareth had doubtless his faults and failings, like other men.
I only say that I see so much of enlightened benevolence even in the garbled transcript of his sayings and doings as contained in his biography, that I cannot but rank him as one of the benefactors of his species and reformers of his times, and that I cannot but regret that he found no better biographers than Matthew and his fellow evangelists. *
Your defence of the morality of the Pentateuch, I leave with our readers. Your explanation of contradictions by supposing careless scribes, is very probably correct, and is proof positive that the Bible is not an infallible record. Your opinion regarding Ezekiel is a matter of taste, in which I differ from you. Your argument adduced in proof that I and all Hicksite quakers are atheists, has already several times been replied to. Your questions are but samples of a thousand regarding the world and its origin which it is very easy and very useless to ask, and quite impossible to answer. When I pretend to all knowledge, it will be time enough to put them to me.
It is some time since I have chanced upon such a flagrant, but I will suppose unintentional, confounding of dates and events as is contained in the conclusion of your last letter. I must needs dissect it for the benefit of our readers.
First, you have a long list of grievances and outrages, viz. : 1. Transfer of ecclesiastical benefices to the municipalities. 2. Declaration of independence of the See of Rome. 3. A bjuration of the miserable Gobet. 4. Old story of the goddess of reason.
5. Decrees of death being an eternal sleep; shutting up of chirches ; &c.
6. Drownings at Nantes, &c.
All these you adduce as triumphant refutation of my formerly expressed opinion, that “there never was a period when the power of truth and of justice shone more conspicuously than in the first months of the revolution.”+ rius, had suffered death, by the sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate." Tacitus wrote about the year 110 to 120.
* Our readers will find opinions so exactly similar to these in Jefferson's Memoirs (see his letters to Willium Short of the 13th April and 4th August, 1820,) that had not these very views been given by us in the Free Enquirer, long before the publication of his M irs, we might well have been ima. gined to have borrowed them from thence.
+ The words here italicised you saw fit, in quoting from me, to omit
Now, sir, you know, or ought to know, that the French Revolution commenced in 1789; you know, or ought to know, that no excesses whatever were committed for two whole years thereafter; you know, or ought to know, that a more daring, a more honest, and a more moderate public body, has rarely if ever (even on the admission of its enemies) been charged with the destinies of a nation, than the National Assembly of 1789,* from its very first sitting in June, 1789, to its voluntary dissolution in April, 1791. You yourself must have admiredmor, if you have not, every friend of freedom who ever perused the stirring story has--the glorious spirit that dictated the famous Tennis Court oath ;t the admirable and dignified daring of the celebrated 23rd of June :: the enthusiastic disinterestedness of the memorable 4th of August ; f and so through a long list of wise laws, and noble sacrifices to liberty, until the great federation of the 14th of July, 1790; when the king and the people met, as a father and his family, on the Champ de Mars; and when the amiable and imbecile Louis took that oath, which, had he kept, what years of slaughter, and then of slavery, might have been spared to his ill-fated people!
You know, sir, or ought to know, that these two years exhibited one scene of alternate haughtiness and weakness on the part of the French court and its monarch, just as Louis happened to be governed by his own better judgment, or by the advice of his false courtiers, or of the intriguing and unfortunate Marie Antoinette, and one scene of mingled firmness and forbearance on the part of the Assembly; that the nation hailed, almost with rapture, the least appearance of returning moderation in Louis,ll and that it was not till they had been cheated and outraged, again and again, by a corrupt and hypocritical court, that they learned to distrust, and to act with severity. You know, or ought to know, that of the six accusations already noticed, the two first only have any thing to do with the decrees of the Assembly or with the events of these two years; which alone I have ever thought of approving.
The Assembly did (December 2, 1789,) put the nation in
* It was expressly to this body alone, not to the National Convention of 1792, that I formerly applied the same approbatory terms. All this you most strangely overlook.
+ Mignet. p. 37. The oath "that they would never separate until they had given a constitution to France."
| Mignet, p. 38, 39. The day when the Assembly declared," it should be dissolved only at the point of the bayonet.”
§ Mignet, pp. 64. On that day was the voluntary surrender of feudal rights, personal servitude, seignoral jurisdictions, immunities, perquisites, pluralities, monopolies, and all the long list of privileged abuses.
| Witness the deportment of the Assembly, when, on the 26th of June, 1789, Louis, warned by Laincourt of the sentiments of the people, visited their session. Witness also his reception by the Assembly, on the day of thicir dissolution, in April, 1791.
possession of the clerical_benefices ;* and shortly after did decree that the clergy of France were independent of the See of Rome: with all the rest they had as little to do as you or I have had. I approve both these measures. The clergy, as Mignet well expresses it, “were the depositories only of the benefices of which they were deprived.” And to leave the whole ecclesiastical establishment of regenerated France under the control of an ambitious and cunning Roman pontiff, would have been little less than an act of madness. Both these measures were purely political. It is not very marvellous, however, that Maury, on the part of the part of the clergy, and Cazalès, on that of the nobility, should denounce such propositions as robbery and persecution, and that the modern priesthood should echo the denunciation.
As to the opinion of that prince of novelists, that most seducing and most tory of modern writers, Walter Scott, it is perfectly in accordance with his conduct at a late anti-reform meeting at Roxburgh, Scotland, when, though in miserable health, the venerable defender of the things and powers that be, stood up and declared, “that if he were to lose his life in consequence of his attendance at that meeting, he would willingly yield his last breath in opposition to the measure now before parliament.”. To be sure, the infamous system of boroughmongering which that measure (the famous reform bill,) attacks, has hitherto filled the British senate with the paid creatures of an unprincipled aristocracy; but rotten boroughs, Sir Walter thinks, as well as ecclesiastical benefices, are property that has been bought and paid for; and he is willing to sacrifice his life to maintain the one, and his reputation to vindicate the truth of the other. Within his own splendid domain let the author of Waverley exert his fairy prerogative! No rebel will there rise up to question his authority, nor any revolution supervene to disturb the gorgeous dreams that arise at his bidding; but let him abstain from an attempt to perpetuate the magnificent follies he has spent a lifetime in describing; let him not transmute our admiration of the novelist into pity or reprobation of the man, nor force us to remember, that he to whose Promethean fancy we are indebted for the pleasant wiling away of many an idle hour, must yet be identified with the politician who opposed reform, and the historian who abused reformers.
* "The benefices of the clergy amounted to many millions of francs. If the nation charged itself with their debts, with the ecclesiastical service, with that of the hospitals, with the endowment of its ministers," (mark that !- the clergy were all to be provided for,) " there still remained sufficient to satisfy all the public rents, as well perpetual as for life, and to reimburse the expenditure of the officers of the judicature. The clergy struggled against this proposition. The discussion was very animated. It was proved, despite of its resistance, that the clergy were not the proprietors, but only the depositories, of the benefices consecrated to the allurs by the piety of the kings and the faithful; and that the nation, in furnishing the means of supporting the service, was entitled to resume possession of these benejices. The decree which put them in possession was carried on the 2nd of December. From that moment the hatred of the clergy to the revolution broke forth." – Mignet, p. 94. + The clergy sought to make them religious questions, it is true:
“ When the clergy saw the administration of the benefices transferred, they sought, by every means, to control the operations of the municipalities; at mid-day they excited the catholics against the protestants ; in the pulpit they alarmed their consciences; in the confessional they treated the sale as sacrilege; in the tribune they endeavoured to excite suspicion on the senti. ments of the Assembly. They originated. as much as possible, religious questions ; in order, by this means, to compromise and confound the cause of their nwn interest with that of religion.- Mignet, pp. 46, 97.
Speaking of the declaration of independence from the See of Rome, he says:
" It was not the work of philosophers, but of austere Christians, who wished to build up a church on the basis of the constitution, and to make them both concur in promoting the welfare of the state. The reduction of bishoprics to the number of departments, the conformity of the ecclesiastical with the civil boundaries, the nomination of bishops by the electors who were to choose the adininistrators and the deputies, the supe pression of chapters, and the replacing of canons by curates - such was this plan. No part of it made any encroachment on the dogmas or worship of the church. For a long time the bishops and other ecclesiastics were nominated by the people; and as to the diocesan limits, it was an opera. tion purely national, and which had nothing to do with religion. The support of the members of the clergy was moreover generously provided for ; and if the high dignitaries saw their revenues diminished, the cures, who formed the most numerous and most useful class, obtained un augumentotion of theirs."--Mignet, pp. 97, 98.
The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th, in your list of complaints, are, I repeat it, the acts of the Commune of Paris, composed of a few mad fanatics and foreign traitors, who, for some weeks, overawed the convention of 1793, and even found occasional imitators of their tyrannical follies throughout the provinces. The brief duration of their authority, destroyed by Robespierre, in December, 1793, is proof sufficient how little the nation was disposed to endure their extravagances. * And even that brief authority they owed to the enemies of liberty. In a revolution every thing depends upon a first refusal and a first struggle. On their heads who haughtily refused the mild and moderate reform proposed in 1789, and thus roused the passions of an oppressed and indignant people, and who, for more than two whole years, chafed that people's patience, basely abused their easy temper, and thus stirred up the sleeping elements of violence and anarchy, still adding fuel to the flame, by spreading over all France their own paid creatures, who, assuming the republican cloak, were rewarded according to the deep die of the atrocities they might succeed in instigating, and then in laying at the door of the prirciples they traitorously outragedon their heads be visited the shame of those deeds that are falsely charged to infidelity!
* The great fuss which is made about the “goddess of reason” procession is, by the way, very much overdone. Every one who witnessed the original Tammany celebrations, in this city, some thirty cr forty years ago, knows that the goddess of liberty” formed one in the procession, without any hue and cry being raised in consequence. And why not a goddess of reason as well as of liberty? Let us not take fright at our own shadows.
As to the 6th count in your indictment, regarding re. publican baptism” and “ republican marriage," " what could be stronger proof,” as Lafayette remarked to me, in a conversation to which I have already alluded, “what could be stronger proof that it was the salaried enemies of reform, not its hot-headed friends, who instigated these inhuman crimes, than that the name republican was thus carefully and officiously coupled with whatever was most revolting to the common feelings of mankind ?"
I have already exceeded the limits I had prescribed to myself, and must therefore await your reply.
ROBERT DALE OWEX.
TO ROBERT DALE OWEN.
New-York, September 3, 183]. SIR,
I am by no means disposed to shrink from the defence of the Bible as “a record froin heaven.” Indeed, if it is not such a record, it is not authentic; for it claims to be so. I shall not therefore admit, that it is liable even to the mistakes incident to common authentic history, much less to those of mere tradition. I shall not admit, that it contains a mixture of truth and falsehood, fable and history, like the works of ancient heathen writers, and that its miracles have no better proof than theirs. I am fully prepared to show the contrary. I am prepared to show, that its claims to a divine original are fully sustained. But were i not thus prepared, I could defend it on other grounds. All that the advocates of the Bible are bound to do, is, to show that there is rational evidence for believing it. I know of no obligation devolving on us, to furnish stronger proof of this book, than is necessary to prove any thing else. There is what men admit to be proof of past events, by which they discriminate between history and fable. There is what they deem to be sufficient evidence of things, to entitle them to credit. This consists, not in the nature of the things themselves, but in the nature of the evidences which attest them; as their rejection of some narrations in history, probable enough in themselves considered, but unsustained by the proper evidence, plainly shows. Nor do they reject the accounts of the prodigies and miracles contained in the ancient heathen writings because they