Thomas Paine Age of Reason
Thomas Paine Age Of Reason - Editor's Introduction
WITH SOME RESULTS OF RECENT RESEARCHES.
IN the opening year, 1793, when revolutionary France had
beheaded its king, the wrath turned next upon the King of kings, by
whose grace every tyrant claimed to reign. But eventualities had
brought among them a great English and American heart -- Thomas
Paine. He had pleaded for Louis Caper -- "Kill the king but spare
the man." Now he pleaded, -- "Disbelieve in the King of kings, but
do not confuse with that idol the Father of Mankind!"
In Paine's Preface to the Second Part of "The Age of Reason"
he describes himself as writing the First Part near the close of
the year 1793. "I had not finished it more than six hours, in the
state it has since appeared, before a guard came about three in the
morning, with an order signed by the two Committees of Public
Safety and Surety General, for putting me in arrestation."
on the morning of December 28. But it is necessary to weigh the
words just quoted -- "in the state it has since appeared." For on
August 5, 1794, Francois Lanthenas, in an appeal for Paine's
liberation, wrote as follows: "I deliver to Merlin de Thionville a
copy of the last work of T. Payne [The Age of Reason], formerly our
colleague, and in custody since the decree excluding foreigners
from the national representation.
This book was written by the
author in the beginning of the year '93 (old style). I undertook
its translation before the revolution against priests, and it was
published in French about the same time. Couthon, to whom I sent
it, seemed offended with me for having translated this work."
Under the frown of Couthon, one of the most atrocious
colleagues of Robespierre, this early publication seems to have
been so effectually suppressed that no copy bearing that date,
1793, can be found in France or elsewhere. In Paine's letter to
Samuel Adams, printed in the present volume, he says that he had it
translated into French, to stay the progress of atheism, and that
he endangered his life "by opposing atheism."
The time indicated by
Lanthenas as that in which he submitted the work to Couthon would
appear to be the latter part of March, 1793, the fury against the
priesthood having reached its climax in the decrees against them of
March 19 and 26. If the moral deformity of Couthon, even greater
than that of his body, be remembered, and the readiness with which
death was inflicted for the most theoretical opinion not approved
by the "Mountain," it will appear probable that the offence given
Couthon by Paine's book involved danger to him and his translator.
On May 31, when the Girondins were accused, the name of Lanthenas
was included, and he barely escaped; and on the same day Danton
persuaded Paine not to appear in the Convention, as his life might
be in danger. Whether this was because of the "Age of Reason," with
its fling at the "Goddess Nature" or not, the statements of author
and translator are harmonized by the fact that Paine prepared the
manuscript, with considerable additions and changes, for
publication in English, as he has stated in the Preface to Part II.
A comparison of the French and English versions, sentence by
sentence, proved to me that the translation sent by Lanthenas to
Merlin de Thionville in 1794 is the same as that he sent to Couthon
in 1793. This discovery was the means of recovering several
interesting sentences of the original work. I have given as
footnotes translations of such clauses and phrases of the French
work as appeared to be important.
Those familiar with the
translations of Lanthenas need not be reminded that he was too much
of a literalist to depart from the manuscript before him, and
indeed he did not even venture to alter it in an instance
(presently considered) where it was obviously needed. Nor would
Lanthenas have omitted any of the paragraphs lacking in his
This original work was divided into seventeen
chapters, and these I have restored, translating their headings
into English. The "Age of Reason" is thus for the first time given
to the world with nearly its original completeness.
It should be remembered that Paine could not have read the
proof of his "Age of Reason" (Part I.) which went through the press
while he was in prison. To this must be ascribed the permanence of
some sentences as abbreviated in the haste he has described. A
notable instance is the dropping out of his estimate of Jesus the
words rendered by Lanthenas "trop peu imite, trop oublie, trop
The addition of these words to Paine's tribute makes it
the more notable that almost the only recognition of the human
character and life of Jesus by any theological writer of that
generation came from one long branded as an infidel.
To the inability of the prisoner to give his work any revision
must be attributed the preservation in it of the singular error
already alluded to, as one that Lanthenas, but for his extreme
fidelity, would have corrected.
This is Paine's repeated mention of
six planets, and enumeration of them, twelve years after the
discovery of Uranus. Paine was a devoted student of astronomy, and
it cannot for a moment be supposed that he had not participated in
the universal welcome of Herschel's discovery.
The omission of any
allusion to it convinces me that the astronomical episode was
printed from a manuscript written before 1781, when Uranus was
discovered. Unfamiliar with French in 1793, Paine might not have
discovered the erratum in Lanthenas' translation, and, having no
time for copying, he would naturally use as much as possible of the
same manuscript in preparing his work for English readers.
had no opportunity of revision, and there remains an erratum which,
if my conjecture be correct, casts a significant light on the
paragraphs in which he alludes to the preparation of the work. He
states that soon after his publication of "Common Sense" (1776), he
"saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of
government would be followed by a revolution in the system of
religion," and that "man would return to the pure, unmixed, and
unadulterated belief of one God and no more."
He tells Samuel Adams
that it had long been his intention to publish his thoughts upon
religion, and he had made a similar remark to John Adams in 1776.
Like the Quakers among whom he was reared Paine could then readily
use the phrase "word of God" for anything in the Bible which
approved itself to his "inner light," and as he had drawn from the
first Book of Samuel a divine condemnation of monarchy, John Adams,
a Unitarian, asked him if he believed in the inspiration of the Old
Paine replied that he did not, and at a later period
meant to publish his views on the subject. There is little doubt
that he wrote from time to time on religious points, during the
American war, without publishing his thoughts, just as he worked on
the problem of steam navigation, in which he had invented a
practicable method (ten years before John Fitch made his discovery)
without publishing it.
At any rate it appears to me certain that
the part of "The Age of Reason" connected with Paine's favorite
science, astronomy, was written before 1781, when Uranus was
Paine's theism, however invested with biblical and Christian
phraseology, was a birthright. It appears clear from several
allusions in "The Age of Reason" to the Quakers that in his early
life, or before the middle of the eighteenth century, the people so
called were substantially Deists.
An interesting confirmation of
Paine's statements concerning them appears as I write in an account
sent by Count Leo Tolstoi to the London 'Times' of the Russian sect
called Dukhobortsy (The Times, October 23, 1895). This sect sprang
up in the last century, and the narrative says:
"The first seeds of the teaching called afterwards
'Dukhoborcheskaya' were sown by a foreigner, a Quaker, who came to
Russia. The fundamental idea of his Quaker teaching was that in the
soul of man dwells God himself, and that He himself guides man by
His inner word. God lives in nature physically and in man's soul
To Christ, as to an historical personage, the
Dukhobortsy do not ascribe great importance ... Christ was God's
son, but only in the sense in which we call, ourselves 'sons of
God.' The purpose of Christ's sufferings was no other than to show
us an example of suffering for truth.
The Quakers who, in 1818,
visited the Dukhobortsy, could not agree with them upon these
religious subjects; and when they heard from them their opinion
about Jesus Christ (that he was a man), exclaimed 'Darkness!' From
the Old and New Testaments,' they say, 'we take only what is
useful,' mostly the moral teaching. ... The moral ideas of the
Dukhobortsy are the following: --
All men are, by nature, equal;
external distinctions, whatsoever they may be, are worth nothing.
This idea of men's equality the Dukhoborts have directed further,
against the State authority. ... Amongst themselves they hold
subordination, and much more, a monarchical Government, to be
contrary to their ideas."
Here is an early Hicksite Quakerism carried to Russia long
before the birth of Elias Hicks, who recovered it from Paine, to
whom the American Quakers refused burial among them. Although Paine
arraigned the union of Church and State, his ideal Republic was
religious; it was based on a conception of equality based on the
divine son-ship of every man.
This faith underlay equally his
burden against claims to divine partiality by a "Chosen People," a
Priesthood, a Monarch "by the grace of God," or an Aristocracy.
Paine's "Reason" is only an expansion of the Quaker's "inner
light"; and the greater impression, as compared with previous
republican and deistic writings made by his "Rights of Man" and
"Age of Reason" (really volumes of one work), is partly explained
by the apostolic fervor which made him a spiritual, successor of
Paine's mind was by no means skeptical, it was eminently
instructive. That he should have waited until his fifty-seventh
year before publishing his religious convictions was due to a
desire to work out some positive and practicable system to take the
place of that which he believed was crumbling.
The English engineer
Hall, who assisted Paine in making the model of his iron bridge,
wrote to his friends in England, in 1786: "My employer has Common
Sense enough to disbelieve most of the common systematic theories
of Divinity, but does not seem to establish any for himself."
five years later Paine was able to lay the corner-stone of his
temple: "With respect to religion itself, without regard to names,
and as directing itself from the universal family of mankind to the
'Divine object of all adoration, it is man bringing to his Maker
the fruits of his heart; and though those fruits may differ from
each other like the fruits of the earth, the grateful tribute of
every one, is accepted." ("Rights of Man." See my edition of
Paine's Writings, ii., p. 326.)
Here we have a reappearance of
George Fox confuting the doctor in America who "denied the light
and Spirit of God to be in every one; and affirmed that it was not
in the Indians. Whereupon I called an Indian to us, and asked him
'whether or not, when he lied, or did wrong to anyone, there was
not something in him that reproved him for it?'
He said, 'There was
such a thing in him that did so reprove him; and he was ashamed
when he had done wrong, or spoken wrong.' So we shamed the doctor
before the governor and the people." (Journal of George Fox,
Paine, who coined the phrase "Religion of Humanity (The
Crisis, vii., 1778), did but logically defend it in "The Age of
Reason," by denying a special revelation to any particular tribe,
or divine authority in any particular creed of church; and the
centenary of this much-abused publication has been celebrated by a
great conservative champion of Church and State, Mr. Balfour, who,
in his "Foundations of Belief," affirms that "inspiration" cannot
be denied to the great Oriental teachers, unless grapes may be
gathered from thorns.
The centenary of the complete publication of "The Age of
Reason," (October 25, 1795), was also celebrated at the Church
Congress, Norwich, on October 10, 1895, when Professor Bonney,
F.R.S., Canon of Manchester, read a paper in which he said: "I
cannot deny that the increase of scientific knowledge has deprived
parts of the earlier books of the Bible of the historical value
which was generally attributed to them by our forefathers.
The story of Creation in the Book of Genesis, unless we play fast and
loose either with words or with science, cannot be brought into
harmony with what we have learnt from geology. Its ethnological
statements are imperfect, if not sometimes inaccurate. The stories
of the Fall, of the Flood, and of the Tower of Babel, are
incredible in their present form.
Some historical element may
underlie many of the traditions in the first eleven chapters in
that book, but this we cannot hope to recover." Canon Bonney
proceeded to say of the New Testament also, that the Gospels are
not so far as we know, strictly contemporaneous records, so we must
admit the possibility of variations and even inaccuracies in
details being introduced by oral tradition."
The Canon thinks the
interval too short for these importations to be serious, but that
any question of this kind is left open proves the Age of Reason
fully upon us. Reason alone can determine how many texts are as
spurious as the three heavenly witnesses (i John v. 7), and like it
"serious" enough to have cost good men their lives, and persecutors
their charities. When men interpolate, it is because they believe
their interpolation seriously needed.
It will be seen by a note in
Part II. of the work, that Paine calls attention to an
interpolation introduced into the first American edition without
indication of its being an editorial footnote. This footnote was:
"The book of Luke was carried by a majority of one only. Vide
Moshelm's Ecc. History." Dr. Priestley, then in America, answered
Paine's work, and in quoting less than a page from the "Age of
Reason" he made three alterations, -- one of which changed "church
mythologists" into "Christian mythologists," -- and also raised the
editorial footnote into the text, omitting the reference to
Having done this, Priestley writes: "As to the gospel of
Luke being carried by a majority of one only, it is a legend, if
not of Mr. Paine's own invention, of no better authority whatever."
And so on with further castigation of the author for what he never
wrote, and which he himself (Priestley) was the unconscious means
of introducing into the text within the year of Paine's
If this could be done, unintentionally by a conscientious and
exact man, and one not unfriendly to Paine, if such a writer as
Priestley could make four mistakes in citing half a page, it will
appear not very wonderful when I state that in a modern popular
edition of "The Age of Reason," including both parts, I have noted
about five hundred deviations from the original.
These were mainly
the accumulated efforts of friendly editors to improve Paine's
grammar or spelling; some were misprints, or developed out of such;
and some resulted from the sale in London of a copy of Part Second
surreptitiously made from the manuscript.
These facts add
significance to Paine's footnote (itself altered in some
editions!), in which he says: "If this has happened within such a
short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of printing, which
prevents the alteration of copies individually; what may not have
happened in a much greater length of time, when there was no
printing, and when any man who could write, could make a written
copy, and call it an original, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
Nothing appears to me more striking, as an illustration of the
far-reaching effects of traditional prejudice, than the errors into
which some of our ablest contemporary scholars have fallen by
reason of their not having studied Paine.
Professor Huxley, for
instance, speaking of the freethinkers of the eighteenth century,
admires the acuteness, common sense, wit, and the broad humanity of
the best of them, but says "there is rarely much to be said for
their work as an example of the adequate treatment of a grave and
difficult investigation," and that they shared with their
adversaries "to the full the fatal weakness of a priori
philosophizing." [NOTE: Science and Christian Tradition, p. 18
(Lon. ed., 1894).]
Professor Huxley does not name Paine, evidently
because he knows nothing about him. Yet Paine represents the
turning-point of the historical freethinking movement; he renounced
the 'a priori' method, refused to pronounce anything impossible
outside pure mathematics, rested everything on evidence, and really
founded the Huxleyan school.
He plagiarized by anticipation many
things from the rationalistic leaders of our time, from Strauss and
Baur (being the first to expatiate on "Christian Mythology"), from
Renan (being the first to attempt recovery of the human Jesus), and
notably from Huxley, who has repeated Paine's arguments on the
untrustworthiness of the biblical manuscripts and canon, on the
inconsistencies of the narratives of Christ's resurrection, and
various other points.
None can be more loyal to the memory of
Huxley than the present writer, and it is even because of my sense
of his grand leadership that he is here mentioned as a typical
instance of the extent to which the very elect of free-thought may
be unconsciously victimized by the phantasm with which they are
He says that Butler overthrew freethinkers of the
eighteenth century type, but Paine was of the nineteenth century
type; and it was precisely because of his critical method that he
excited more animosity than his deistical predecessors.
He compelled the apologists to defend the biblical narratives in
detail, and thus implicitly acknowledge the tribunal of reason and
knowledge to which they were summoned. The ultimate answer by
police was a confession of judgment.
A hundred years ago England
was suppressing Paine's works, and many an honest Englishman has
gone to prison for printing and circulating his "Age of Reason."
The same views are now freely expressed; they are heard in the
seats of learning, and even in the Church Congress; but the
suppression of Paine, begun by bigotry and ignorance, is continued
in the long indifference of the representatives of our Age of
Reason to their pioneer and founder. It is a grievous loss to them
and to their cause.
It is impossible to understand the religious
history of England, and of America, without studying the phases of
their evolution represented in the writings of Thomas Paine, in the
controversies that grew out of them with such practical
accompaniments as the foundation of the Theophilanthropist Church
in Paris and New York, and of the great rationalist wing of
Quakerism in America.
Whatever may be the case with scholars in our time, those of
Paine's time took the "Age of Reason" very seriously indeed.
Beginning with the learned Dr. Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff,
a large number of learned men replied to Paine's work, and it
became a signal for the commencement of those concessions, on the
part of theology, which have continued to our time; and indeed the
so-called "Broad Church" is to some extent an outcome of "The Age
It would too much enlarge this Introduction to cite
here the replies made to Paine (thirty-six are catalogued in the
British Museum), but it may be remarked that they were notably
free, as a rule, from the personalities that raged in the pulpits.
I must venture to quote one passage from his very learned
antagonist, the Rev. Gilbert Wakefield, B.A., "late Fellow of Jesus
College, Cambridge." Wakefield, who had resided in London during
all the Paine panic, and was well acquainted with the slanders
uttered against the author of "Rights of Man," indirectly brands
them in answering Paine's argument that the original and
traditional unbelief of the Jews, among whom the alleged miracles
were wrought, is an important evidence against them. The learned
"But the subject before us admits of further illustration from
the example of Mr. Paine himself. In this country, where his
opposition to the corruptions of government has raised him so many
adversaries, and such a swarm of unprincipled hirelings have
exerted themselves in blackening his character and in
misrepresenting all the transactions and incidents of his life,
will it not be a most difficult, nay an impossible task, for
posterity, after a lapse of 1700 years, if such a wreck of modern
literature as that of the ancient, should intervene, to identify
the real circumstances, moral and civil, of the man?
And will a
true historian, such as the Evangelists, be credited at that future
period against such a predominant incredulity, without large and
mighty accessions of collateral attestation? And how transcendently
extraordinary, I had almost said miraculous, will it be estimated
by candid and reasonable minds, that a writer whose object was a
melioration of condition to the common people, and their
deliverance from oppression, poverty, wretchedness, to the
numberless blessings of upright and equal government, should be
reviled, persecuted, and burned in effigy, with every circumstance
of insult and execration, by these very objects of his benevolent
intentions, in every corner of the kingdom?"
After the execution of Louis XVI., for whose life Paine
pleaded so earnestly, -- while in England he was denounced as an
accomplice in the deed, -- he devoted himself to the preparation of
a Constitution, and also to gathering up his religious compositions
and adding to them. This manuscript I suppose to have been prepared
in what was variously known as White's Hotel or Philadelphia House,
in Paris, No. 7 Passage des Petits Peres.
This compilation of early
and fresh manuscripts (if my theory be correct) was labelled, "The
Age of Reason," and given for translation to Francois Lanthenas in
March 1793. It is entered, in Qudrard (La France Literaire) under
the year 1793, but with the title "L'Age de la Raison" instead of
that which it bore in 1794, "Le Siecle de la Raison." The latter,
printed "Au Burcau de l'imprimerie, rue du Theatre-Francais, No.
4," is said to be by "Thomas Paine, Citoyen et cultivateur de
I'Amerique septentrionale, secretaire du Congres du departement des
affaires etrangeres pendant la guerre d'Amerique, et auteur des
ouvrages intitules: LA SENS COMMUN et LES DROITS DE L'HOMME."
When the Revolution was advancing to increasing terrors,
Paine, unwilling to participate in the decrees of a Convention
whose sole legal function was to frame a Constitution, retired to
an old mansion and garden in the Faubourg St. Denis, No. 63. Mr.
J.G. Alger, whose researches in personal details connected with the
Revolution are original and useful, recently showed me in the
National Archives at Paris, some papers connected with the trial of
Georgeit, Paine's landlord, by which it appears that the present
No. 63 is not, as I had supposed, the house in which Paine resided.
Mr. Alger accompanied me to the neighborhood, but we were not able
to identify the house. The arrest of Georgeit is mentioned by Paine
in his essay on "Forgetfulness" (Writings, iii., 319). When his
trial came on one of the charges was that he had kept in his house
"Paine and other Englishmen," -- Paine being then in prison, -- but
he (Georgeit) was acquitted of the paltry accusations brought
against him by his Section, the "Faubourg du Nord."
took in the whole east side of the Faubourg St. Denis, whereas the
present No. 63 is on the west side. After Georgeit (or Georger) had
been arrested, Paine was left alone in the large mansion (said by
Rickman to have been once the hotel of Madame de Pompadour), and it
would appear, by his account, that it was after the execution
(October 31, 1793) Of his friends the Girondins, and political
comrades, that he felt his end at hand, and set about his last
literary bequest to the world, -- "The Age of Reason," -- in the
state in which it has since appeared, as he is careful to say.
There was every probability, during the months in which he wrote
(November and December 1793) that he would be executed. His
religious testament was prepared with the blade of the guillotine
suspended over him, -- a fact which did not deter pious
mythologists from portraying his death-bed remorse for having
written the book.
In editing Part I. of "The Age of Reason," I follow closely
the first edition, which was printed by Barrois in Paris from the
manuscript, no doubt under the superintendence of Joel Barlow, to
whom Paine, on his way to the Luxembourg, had confided it. Barlow
was an American ex-clergyman, a speculator on whose career French
archives cast an unfavorable light, and one cannot be certain that
no liberties were taken with Paine's proofs.
I may repeat here what I have stated in the outset of my
editorial work on Paine that my rule is to correct obvious
misprints, and also any punctuation which seems to render the sense
less clear. And to that I will now add that in following Paine's
quotations from the Bible I have adopted the Plan now generally
used in place of his occasionally too extended writing out of book,
chapter, and verse.
Paine was imprisoned in the Luxembourg on December 28, 1793,
and released on November 4, 1794. His liberation was secured by his
old friend, James Monroe (afterwards President), who had succeeded
his (Paine's) relentless enemy, Gouvemeur Morris, as American
Minister in Paris.
He was found by Monroe more dead than alive from
semi-starvation, cold, and an abscess contracted in prison, and
taken to the Minister's own residence. It was not supposed that he
could survive, and he owed his life to the tender care of Mr. and
Mrs. Monroe. It was while thus a prisoner in his room, with death
still hovering over him, that Paine wrote Part Second of "The Age
The work was published in London by H.D. Symonds on October
25, 1795, and claimed to be "from the Author's manuscript." It is
marked as "Entered at Stationers Hall," and prefaced by an
apologetic note of "The Bookseller to the Public," whose
commonplaces about avoiding both prejudice and partiality, and
considering "both sides," need not be quoted.
While his volume was
going through the press in Paris, Paine heard of the publication in
London, which drew from him the following hurried note to a London
publisher, no doubt Daniel Isaacs Eaton:
"SIR, -- I have seen advertised in the London papers the
second Edition [part] of the Age of Reason, printed, the
advertisement says, from the Author's Manuscript, and entered at
Stationers Hall. I have never sent any manuscript to any person. It
is therefore a forgery to say it is printed from the author's
manuscript; and I suppose is done to give the Publisher a pretence
of Copy Right, which he has no title to.
"I send you a printed copy, which is the only one I have sent
to London. I wish you to make a cheap edition of it. I know not by
what means any copy has got over to London. If any person has made
a manuscript copy I have no doubt but it is full of errors. I wish
you would talk to Mr. ----- upon this subject as I wish to know by
what means this trick has been played, and from whom the publisher
has got possession of any copy.
"PARIS, December 4, 1795,"
Eaton's cheap edition appeared January 1, 1796, with the above
letter on the reverse of the title. The blank in the note was
probably "Symonds" in the original, and possibly that publisher was
imposed upon. Eaton, already in trouble for printing one of Paine's
political pamphlets, fled to America, and an edition of the "Age of
Reason" was issued under a new title; no publisher appears; it is
said to be "printed for, and sold by all the Booksellers in Great
Britain and Ireland."
It is also said to be "By Thomas Paine,
author of several remarkable performances." I have never found any
copy of this anonymous edition except the one in my possession. It
is evidently the edition which was suppressed by the prosecution of
Williams for selling a copy of it.
A comparison with Paine's revised edition reveals a good many
clerical and verbal errors in Symonds, though few that affect the
sense. The worst are in the preface, where, instead of "1793," the
misleading date "1790" is given as the year at whose close Paine
completed Part First, -- an error that spread far and wide and was
fastened on by his calumnious American "biographer," Cheetham, to
prove his inconsistency.
The editors have been fairly demoralized
by, and have altered in different ways, the following sentence of
the preface in Symonds: "The intolerant spirit of religious
persecution had transferred itself into politics; the tribunals,
styled Revolutionary, supplied the place of the Inquisition; and
the Guillotine of the State outdid the Fire and Faggot of the
The rogue who copied this little knew the care with which
Paine weighed words, and that he would never call persecution
"religious," nor connect the guillotine with the "State," nor
concede that with all its horrors it had outdone the history of
fire and faggot.
What Paine wrote was: "The intolerant spirit of
church persecution had transferred itself into politics; the
tribunals, styled Revolutionary, supplied the place of an
Inquisition and the Guillotine, of the Stake."
An original letter of Paine, in the possession of Joseph
Cowen, ex-M.P., which that gentleman permits me to bring to light,
besides being one of general interest makes clear the circumstances
of the original publication. Although the name of the correspondent
does not appear on the letter, it was certainly written to Col.
John Fellows of New York, who copyrighted Part I. of the "Age of
Reason." He published the pamphlets of Joel Barlow, to whom Paine
confided his manuscript on his way to prison. Fellows was
afterwards Paine's intimate friend in New York, and it was chiefly
due to him that some portions of the author's writings, left in
manuscript to Madame Bonneville while she was a freethinker were
rescued from her devout destructiveness after her return to
Catholicism. The letter which Mr. Cowen sends me, is dated at
Paris, January 20, 1797.
"SIR, -- Your friend Mr. Caritat being on the point of his
departure for America, I make it the opportunity of writing to you.
I received two letters from you with some pamphlets a considerable
time past, in which you inform me of your entering a copyright of
the first part of the Age of Reason: when I return to America we
will settle for that matter.
"As Doctor Franklin has been my intimate friend for thirty
years past you will naturally see the reason of my continuing the
connection with his grandson. I printed here (Paris) about fifteen
thousand of the second part of the Age of Reason, which I sent to
Mr. F[ranklin] Bache. I gave him notice of it in September 1795 and
the copy-right by my own direction was entered by him. The books
did not arrive till April following, but he had advertised it long
"I sent to him in August last a manuscript letter of about 70
pages, from me to Mr. Washington to be printed in a pamphlet. Mr.
Barnes of Philadelphia carried the letter from me over to London to
be forwarded to America. It went by the ship Hope, Cap: Harley, who
since his return from America told me that he put it into the post
office at New York for Bache.
I have yet no certain account of its
publication. I mention this that the letter may be enquired after,
in case it has not been published or has not arrived to Mr. Bache.
Barnes wrote to me, from London 29 August informing me that he was
offered three hundred pounds sterling for the manuscript. The offer
was refused because it was my intention it should not appear till
it appeared in America, as that, and not England was the place for
"You ask me by your letter to Mr. Caritat for a list of my
several works, in order to publish a collection of them. This is an
undertaking I have always reserved for myself. It not only belongs
to me of right, but nobody but myself can do it; and as every
author is accountable (at least in reputation) for his works, he
only is the person to do it. If he neglects it in his life-time the
case is altered. It is my intention to return to America in the
course of the present year.
I shall then [do] it by subscription,
with historical notes. As this work will employ many persons in
different parts of the Union, I will confer with you upon the
subject, and such part of it as will suit you to undertake, will be
at your choice. I have sustained so much loss, by disinterestedness
and inattention to money matters, and by accidents, that I am
obliged to look closer to my affairs than I have done.
(an Englishman) whom I employed here to print the second part of
'the Age of Reason' made a manuscript copy of the work while he was
printing it, which he sent to London and sold. It was by this means
that an edition of it came out in London.
"We are waiting here for news from America of the state of the
federal elections. You will have heard long before this reaches you
that the French government has refused to receive Mr. Pinckney as
minister. While Mr. Monroe was minister he had the opportunity of
softening matters with this government, for he was in good credit
with them tho' they were in high indignation at the infidelity of
the Washington Administration. It is time that Mr. Washington
retire, for he has played off so much prudent hypocrisy between
France and England that neither government believes anything he
"Your friend, etc.,
It would appear that Symonds' stolen edition must have got
ahead of that sent by Paine to Franklin Bache, for some of its
errors continue in all modern American editions to the present day,
as well as in those of England. For in England it was only the
shilling edition -- that revised by Paine -- which was suppressed.
Symonds, who ministered to the half-crown folk, and who was also
publisher of replies to Paine, was left undisturbed about his
pirated edition, and the new Society for the suppression of Vice
and Immorality fastened on one Thomas Williams, who sold pious
tracts but was also convicted (June 24, 1797) of having sold one
copy of the "Age of Reason." Erskine, who had defended Paine at his
trial for the "Rights of Man," conducted the prosecution of
Williams. He gained the victory from a packed jury, but was not
much elated by it, especially after a certain adventure on his way
to Lincoln's Inn.
He felt his coat clutched and beheld at his feet
a woman bathed in tears. She led him into the small book-shop of
Thomas Williams, not yet called up for judgment, and there he
beheld his victim stitching tracts in a wretched little room, where
there were three children, two suffering with Smallpox.
He saw that
it would be ruin and even a sort of murder to take away to prison
the husband, who was not a freethinker, and lamented his
publication of the book, and a meeting of the Society which had
retained him was summoned. There was a full meeting, the Bishop of
London (Porteus) in the chair.
Erskine reminded them that Williams
was yet to be brought up for sentence, described the scene he had
witnessed, and Williams' penitence, and, as the book was now
suppressed, asked permission to move for a nominal sentence. Mercy,
he urged, was a part of the Christianity they were defending. Not
one of the Society took his side, -- not even "philanthropic"
Wilberforce -- and Erskine threw up his brief. This action of
Erskine led the Judge to give Williams only a year in prison
instead of the three he said had been intended.
While Williams was in prison the orthodox colporteurs were
circulating Erskine's speech on Christianity, but also an anonymous
sermon "On the Existence and Attributes of the Deity," all of which
was from Paine's "Age of Reason," except a brief "Address to the
This picturesque anomaly was repeated in the
circulation of Paine's "Discourse to the Theophilanthropists"
(their and the author's names removed) under the title of "Atheism
Refuted." Both of these pamphlets are now before me, and beside
them a London tract of one page just sent for my spiritual benefit.
This is headed "A Word of Caution." It begins by mentioning the
"pernicious doctrines of Paine," the first being "that there is No
GOD" (sic,) then proceeds to adduce evidences of divine existence
taken from Paine's works. It should be added that this one dingy
page is the only "survival" of the ancient Paine effigy in the
tract form which I have been able to find in recent years, and to
this no Society or Publisher's name is attached.
The imprisonment of Williams was the beginning of a thirty
years' war for religious liberty in England, in the course of which
occurred many notable events, such as Eaton receiving homage in his
pillory at Choring Cross, and the whole Carlile family imprisoned,
-- its head imprisoned more than nine years for publishing the "Age
This last victory of persecution was suicidal.
Gentlemen of wealth, not adherents of Paine, helped in setting
Carlile up in business in Fleet Street, where free-thinking
publications have since been sold without interruption.
But though Liberty triumphed in one sense, the "Age of Reason." remained to
some extent suppressed among those whose attention it especially
merited. Its original prosecution by a Society for the Suppression
of Vice (a device to, relieve the Crown) amounted to a libel upon
a morally clean book, restricting its perusal in families; and the
fact that the shilling book sold by and among humble people was
alone prosecuted, diffused among the educated an equally false
notion that the "Age of Reason" was vulgar and illiterate.
The theologians, as we have seen, estimated more justly the ability of
their antagonist, the collaborator of Franklin, Rittenhouse, and
Clymer, on whom the University of Pennsylvania had conferred the
degree of Master of Arts, -- but the gentry confused Paine with the
class described by Burke as "the swinish multitude."
its free utterance, was temporarily driven out of polite circles by
its complication with the out-lawed vindicator of the "Rights of
Man." But that long combat has now passed away. Time has reduced
the "Age of Reason" from a flag of popular radicalism to a
comparatively conservative treatise, so far as its negations are
An old friend tells me that in his youth he heard a
sermon in which the preacher declared that "Tom Paine was so wicked
that he could not be buried; his bones were thrown into a box which
was bandied about the world till it came to a button-manufacturer;
"and now Paine is travelling round the world in the form of
This variant of the Wandering Jew myth may now be
regarded as unconscious homage to the author whose metaphorical
bones may be recognized in buttons now fashionable, and some even
found useful in holding clerical vestments together.
But the careful reader will find in Paine's "Age of Reason"
something beyond negations, and in conclusion I will especially
call attention to the new departure in Theism indicated in a
passage corresponding to a famous aphorism of Kant, indicated by a
note in Part II.
The discovery already mentioned, that Part I. was
written at least fourteen years before Part II., led me to compare
the two; and it is plain that while the earlier work is an
amplification of Newtonian Deism, based on the phenomena of
planetary motion, the work of 1795 bases belief in God on "the
universal display of himself in the works of the creation and by
that repugnance we feel in ourselves to bad actions, and
disposition to do good ones."
This exaltation of the moral nature
of man to be the foundation of theistic religion, though now
familiar, was a hundred years ago a new affirmation; it has led on
a conception of deity subversive of last-century deism, it has
steadily humanized religion, and its ultimate philosophical and
ethical results have not yet been reached.
Religion and History
[ Deism ] [
Islam ] [
Gnosticism ] [
Christianity ] [
Judaism ] [
Unitarianism ] [
[ Pantheism ] [
Fundamentalism ] [
Evolution ] [
Original Sin ] [
Trinity ] [
End Times ]
[ Apostle Paul ] [
Apostle John ] [
John Calvin ] [
St. Augustine ] [
[ Martin Luther ] [
Real Jesus ] [
Paganism ] [
The Devil ] [
New Age ] [
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