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The Prose Works of Jonathan Swift, Vol. III.: Swift's Writings on Religion and the Church, Vol. I. by Jonathan Swift

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Would not such a gentleman justly think himself highly injured, though
his Lordship did not affirm that the said gentleman had his picklocks or
combustibles ready, that he had attempted his daughter, and drawn his
sword against his father in order to stab him? Whereas, in the other
case, this writer affirms over and over, that all attempts for
introducing Popery and slavery are already made, the whole business
concerted, and that little less than a miracle can prevent our ruin.

Thirdly, I could heartily wish his Lordship would not undertake to
charge the opinions of one or two, and those probably nonjurors, upon
the whole body of the nation that differs from him. Mr. Lesley writ a
"Proposal for a Union with the Gallican Church;" somebody else has
"carried the necessity of priesthood in the point of baptism farther
than popery;" a third has "asserted the independency of the church on
the state, and in many things arraigned the supremacy of the crown."
Then he speaks in a dubious insinuating way, as if some other popish
tenets had been already advanced: And at last concludes in this affected
strain of despondency, "What will all these things end in? and on what
design are they driven? Alas, it is too visible!" 'Tis as clear as the
sun, that these authors are encouraged by the ministry with a design to
bring in Popery; and in Popery all these things will end.

I never was so uncharitable as to believe, that the whole party of which
his Lordship professeth himself a member, had a real formed design of
establishing atheism among us. The reason why the Whigs have taken the
atheists, or freethinkers, into their body, is because they wholly agree
in their political schemes, and differ very little in church power and
discipline. However, I could turn the argument against his Lordship with
very great advantage, by quoting passages from fifty pamphlets wholly
made up of Whiggism and atheism, and then conclude; "What will all these
things end in? And on what design are they driven? Alas, it is too

Lastly, I would beg his Lordship not to be so exceedingly outrageous
upon the memory of the dead; because it is highly probable, that, in a
very short time he will be one of the number. He has in plain words
given Mr. Wharton the character of a "most malicious, revengeful,
treacherous, lying, mercenary villain." To which I shall only say, that
the direct reverse of this amiable description is what appears from the
works of that most learned divine, and from the accounts given me by
those who knew him much better than the Bishop seems to have done. I
meddle not with the moral part of his treatment. God Almighty forgive
his Lordship this manner of revenging himself; and then there will be
but little consequence from an accusation which the dead cannot feel,
and which none of the living will believe.

***** ***** ***** *****









Of the deistical writers of the early eighteenth century, Anthony
Collins (1676-1729) is, perhaps, the most celebrated. He was born near
Hounslow and educated at Eton and Cambridge. His writings were mainly
attacks on Christianity, and, in addition to the "Discourse on
Freethinking," he published: "Discourse of the Grounds and Reasons of
the Christian Religion;" "Scheme of Literal Prophecy Considered;"
"Priestcraft in Perfection;" "Historical and Critical Essay on the
Thirty-Nine Articles;" and "A Philosophical Enquiry concerning Human
Liberty." Most of these writings engaged him in many and violent
controversies with some of the ablest divines of his time. Among these,
beside Swift, may be named, Whiston, Hare, Hoadly, Bentley, and Samuel
Clarke. Steele, also, had his fling at Collins, and thought that "if
ever man deserved to be denied the common benefits of air and water, it
is the author of 'A Discourse upon Freethinking'" ("Guardian," No. 3).
But then Steele's opinion on such a matter was of no great moment. What
was of more, was the fact that the school to which Collins belonged
found a decided opponent in Locke, from the writings of whom the members
of the school professed to draw their strongest arguments. For a
philosophical appreciation of Toland, Collins, and the rest, see Mr.
Leslie Stephen's "English Thought in the Eighteenth Century" (chaps.
iii. and iv. of vol. i. 1881).

Swift took an entirely different attitude towards Collins from that
assumed by the professional controversialists. He refused to take him
seriously, and no doubt he felt that ridicule would as effectually serve
his purpose as another method. Moreover, he sought to use the
opportunity for scoring a point against the Whigs, by insisting on the
political side of the matter, and, in the person of an assumed defender
of Collins, betrayed undoubted Whig leanings. Swift, at this time, was
deep in work, pamphleteering for Harley and St. John. He had already
written "The Conduct of the Allies," and "Some Remarks on the Barrier
Treaty," and was soon to write "The Public Spirit of the Whigs." The
assumed and sarcastic defence of Collins must be taken as a Swiftian
dodge to bring odium and suspicion on the opponents of the Tory
ministry, by showing that the propounders of the hateful and ridiculous
atheism were themselves Whigs.

Sir Henry Craik, in a note to his reprint of this tract ("Selections
from Swift," Oxford, 1893, vol. ii. p. 42), agrees with Scott as to the
motive which urged Swift in writing it. "In this later tract," he says,
"Swift makes no attempt to cloak his enmity; and he boldly assumes the
character of a Whig as the propounder of those atheistical absurdities,
which he wished, as a useful political move, but without any scrupulous
regard to fairness, to represent as part and parcel of the tenets of
that party." "What gave colour," says Scott, "though only a colour, to
his charge was, that Toland, Tindal, Collins, and most of those who
carried to licence their abhorrence of Church-government, were naturally
enough enrolled among that party in politics who professed most
attachment to freedom of sentiment." It must not, however, be forgotten,
that Swift's attachment to his Church, as it influenced him against the
Whigs, would naturally influence him against the deistical writers also,
and that he must be credited, to that extent, with honesty of purpose.
That these writers were Whigs was, if one may so put it, an accident, of
which it would have been more than a human act for Swift not to take
advantage, for party purposes.

Curiously enough, none of Swift's more modern biographers have thought
this imitation of Collins's "Discourse" worthy of a mention; yet it is,
in its way, as fine a performance as his castigation of Bishop Burnet
and his "Introduction." The fooling is admirably carried on, and the
intention, as explained in the introduction, is excellently well
realized. It frightened Collins into Holland. To appreciate the
cleverness with which it has been done, one should read Swift's
"Abstract" side by side with Collins's "Discourse."

The pamphlet was advertised for sale in "The Examiner" for Tuesday,
January 26th, 1712-13. In His "Letters to Stella" (January 16th and
21st, 1712-13), Swift makes the following references to it: "I came home
at seven, and began a little whim which just came into my head, and will
make a three-penny pamphlet. It shall be finished in a week; and, if it
succeeds, you shall know what it is; otherwise not. ... I was to-day
with my printer, to give him a little pamphlet I have written; but not
politics. It will be out by Monday."

The present text is based on that of the first edition, collated with
those given by Nichols, Hawkesworth and Scott. None of the
"Miscellanies" prints this tract, nor is it given in Faulkner's edition
of 1735-38 (6 vols.). It is fully annotated and edited by Nichols in the
first volume of his "Supplement to Swift's Works" (1779).

[T. S.]





Our party having failed, by all their political arguments, to
re-establish their power; the wise leaders have determined, that the
last and principal remedy should be made use of, for opening the eyes of
this blinded nation; and that a short, but perfect, system of their
divinity, should be published, to which we are all of us ready to
subscribe, and which we lay down as a model, bearing a close analogy to
our schemes in religion. Crafty, designing men, that they might keep the
world in awe, have, in their several forms of government, placed a
_Supreme Power_ on earth, to keep human-kind in fear of being hanged;
and a supreme power in heaven, for fear of being damned. In order to
cure men's apprehensions of the former, several of our learned members
have writ many profound treatises on Anarchy; but a brief complete body
of Atheology seemed yet wanting, till this irrefragable Discourse
appeared. However, it so happens, that our ablest brethren, in their
elaborate disquisitions upon this subject, have written with so much
caution, that ignorant unbelievers have edified very little by them. I
grant that those daring spirits, who first adventured to write against
the direct rules of the gospel, the current of antiquity, the religion
of the magistrate, and the laws of the land, had some measures to keep;
and particularly when they railed at religion, were in the right to use
little artful disguises, by which a jury could only find them guilty of
abusing heathenism or popery. But the mystery is now revealed, that
there is no such thing as mystery or revelation; and though our friends
are out of place and power, yet we may have so much confidence in the
present ministry, to be secure, that those who suffer so many free
speeches against their sovereign and themselves, to pass unpunished,
will never resent our expressing the freest thoughts against their
religion; but think with Tiberius, that if there be a God, he is able
enough to revenge any injuries done to himself, without expecting the
civil power to interpose.[1]

[Footnote 1: Swift was evidently very fond of this reference, since he
uses it several times in his writings. [T. S.]]

_By these reflections I was brought to think, that the most ingenious
author of the Discourse upon Freethinking, in a letter to Somebody,
Esq.; although he hath used less reserve than any of his predecessors,
might yet have been more free and open. I considered, that several
well-witters to infidelity, might be discouraged by a show of logic, and
a multiplicity of quotations, scattered through his book, which to
understandings of that size, might carry an appearance of something like
book-learning, and consequently fright them from reading for their
improvement; I could see no reason why these great discoveries should be
hid from our youth of quality, who frequent Whites and Tom's; why they
should not be adapted to the capacities of the Kit-Cat and Hanover
Clubs,[2] who might then be able to read lectures on them to their
several toasts: and it will be allowed on all hands, that nothing can
sooner help to restore our abdicated cause, than a firm universal belief
of the principles laid down by this sublime author._

[Footnote 2: These were chocolate houses of the time, supported mainly
by the aristocracy and the gamblers. White's is still in existence, and
has had the honour of having had a special history written about it.
Tom's was in Russell Street, and so-called after its landlord, Tom West.
The Kit-Cat Club was the resort of the Whig wits of the day, and the
Hanover Club of those who favoured the Hanover succession. [T. S.]]

For I am sensible that nothing would more contribute to "the continuance
of the war" and the restoration of the late ministry, than to have the
doctrines delivered in this treatise well infused into the people. I
have therefore compiled them into the following Abstract, wherein I have
adhered to the very words of our author, only adding some few
explanations of my own, where the terms happen to be too learned, and
consequently a little beyond the comprehension of those for whom the
work was principally intended, I mean the nobility and gentry of our
party. After which I hope it will be impossible for the malice of a
Jacobite, highflying, priestridden faction, to misrepresent us. The few
additions I have made are for no other use than to help the transition,
which could not otherwise be kept in an abstract; but I have not
presumed to advance anything of my own; which besides would be needless
to an author who hath so fully handled and demonstrated every
particular. I shall only add, that though this writer, when he speaks of
priests, desires chiefly to be understood to mean the English clergy,
yet he includes all priests whatsoever, except the ancient and modern
heathens, the Turks, Quakers, and Socinians.



I send you this apology for Freethinking,[3] without the least hopes of
doing good, but purely to comply with your request; for those truths
which nobody can deny, will do no good to those who deny them. The
clergy, who are so impudent to teach the people the doctrines of faith,
are all either cunning knaves or mad fools; for none but artificial,
designing men, and crack-brained enthusiasts, presume to be guides to
others in matters of speculation, which all the doctrines of
Christianity are; and whoever has a mind to learn the Christian
religion, naturally chooses such knaves and fools to teach them. Now the
Bible, which contains the precepts of the priests' religion, is the most
difficult book in the world to be understood; it requires a thorough
knowledge in natural, civil, ecclesiastical history, law, husbandry,
sailing, physic, pharmacy, mathematics, metaphysics, ethics, and
everything else that can be named: And everybody who believes it ought
to understand it, and must do so by force of his own freethinking,
without any guide or instructor.

[Footnote 3: The chief strain of Collins's "Discourse" is an eulogium
upon the necessity and advantage of Freethinking; in which it is more
than insinuated that the advocates of revealed religion are enemies to
the progress of enlightened inquiry. This insidious position is
ridiculed in the following parody. [S.]]

How can a man think at all, if he does not think freely? A man who does
not eat and drink freely, does not eat and drink at all. Why may not I
be denied the liberty of freeseeing, as well as freethinking? Yet nobody
pretends that the first is unlawful, for a cat may look on a king;
though you be near-sighted, or have weak or sore eyes, or are blind, you
may be a free-seer; you ought to see for yourself, and not trust to a
guide to choose the colour of your stockings, or save you from falling
into a ditch.

In like manner, there ought to be no restraint at all on thinking freely
upon any proposition, however impious or absurd. There is not the least
hurt in the wickedest thoughts, provided they be free; nor in telling
those thoughts to everybody, and endeavouring to convince the world of
them; for all this is included in the doctrine of freethinking, as I
shall plainly show you in what follows; and therefore you are all along
to understand the word freethinking in this sense.

If you are apt to be afraid of the devil, think freely of him, and you
destroy him and his kingdom. Freethinking has done him more mischief
than all the clergy in the world ever could do; they believe in the
devil, they have an interest in him, and therefore are the great
supports of his kingdom. The devil was in the States-General before they
began to be freethinkers. For England and Holland[4] were formerly the
Christian territories of the devil; I told you how he left Holland; and
freethinking and the revolution banished him from England; I defy all
the clergy to shew me when they ever had such success against him. My
meaning is, that to think freely of the devil, is to think there is no
devil at all; and he that thinks so, the devil's in him if he be afraid
of the devil.

[Footnote 4: Collins is supposed to have imbibed his freethinking
philosophy during his repeated visits to Holland. [S.]]

But, within these two or three years, the devil has come into England
again, and Dr. Sacheverell[5] has given him commission to appear in the
shape of a cat, and carry old women about upon broomsticks: And the
devil has now so many "ministers ordained to his service," that they
have rendered freethinking odious, and nothing but the second coming of
Christ can restore it.

[Footnote 5: See note on p. 147.]

The priests tell me, I am to believe the Bible, but freethinking tells
me otherwise in many particulars: The Bible says, the Jews were a nation
favoured by God; but I who am a freethinker say, that cannot be, because
the Jews lived in a corner of the earth, and freethinking makes it
clear, that those who live in corners cannot be favourites of God. The
New Testament all along asserts the truth of Christianity, but
freethinking denies it; because Christianity was communicated but to a
few; and whatever is communicated but to a few, cannot be true; for that
is like whispering, and the proverb says, that there is no whispering
without lying.

Here is a society in London for propagating freethinking throughout the
world, encouraged and supported by the Queen and many others. You say,
perhaps, it is for propagating the Gospel. Do you think the missionaries
we send will tell the heathens that they must not think freely? No,
surely; why then, it is manifest, those missionaries must be
freethinkers, and make the heathens so too. But why should not the king
of Siam, whose religion is heathenism and idolatry, send over a parcel
of his priests to convert us to his church, as well as we send
missionaries there? Both projects are exactly of a piece, and equally
reasonable; and if those heathen priests were here, it would be our duty
to hearken to them, and think freely whether they may not be in the
right rather than we. I heartily wish a detachment of such divines as Dr
Atterbury, Dr. Smallridge,[6] Dr. Swift, Dr. Sacheverell, and some others,
were sent every year to the farthest part of the heathen world, and that
we had a cargo of their priests in return, who would spread freethinking
among us; then the war would go on, the late ministry be restored, and
faction cease, which our priests inflame by haranguing upon texts, and
falsely call that preaching the Gospel.

[Footnote 6: Dr. Smallridge, it will be remembered, was the gentleman
who indignantly denied the authorship of "A Tale of a Tub" (see vol. i.
of this edition). He became Bishop of Bristol in 1714, and died in 1719.
His style was well thought of at the time. [T.S.]]

I have another project in my head, which ought to be put in execution,
in order to make us freethinkers: It is a great hardship and injustice,
that our priests must not be disturbed while they are prating in the
pulpit. For example: Why should not William Penn the Quaker, or any
Anabaptist, Papist, Muggletonian, Jew, or Sweet-Singer,[7] have liberty
to come into St Paul's Church, in the midst of divine service, and
endeavour to convert first the aldermen, then the preacher, and
singing-men? Or pray, why might not poor Mr. Whiston,[8] who denies the
divinity of Christ, be allowed to come into the Lower House of
Convocation, and convert the clergy? But, alas! we are overrun with such
false notions, that, if Penn or Whiston should do their duty, they would
be reckoned fanatics, and disturbers of the holy synod, although they
have as good a title to it as St Paul had to go into the synagogues of
the Jews; and their authority is full as divine as his.

[Footnote 7: The Sweet-Singers were a fanatical sect of wailers, founded
in Scotland, but which had no long life. [T.S.]] Christ himself commands
us to be freethinkers; for he bids us search the scriptures, and take
heed what and whom we hear; by which he plainly warns us, not to believe
our bishops and clergy; for Jesus Christ, when he considered that all
the Jewish and heathen priests, whose religion he came to abolish, were
his enemies, rightly concluded that those appointed by him to preach his
own gospel, would probably be so too; and could not be secure, that any
set of priests, of the faith he delivered, would ever be otherwise;
therefore it is fully demonstrated that the clergy of the Church of
England are mortal enemies to Christ, and ought not to be believed.

[Footnote 8: Yet Whiston, who receives this side-cut, was himself an
anxious combatant of Collins, in his "Reflections on an Anonymous
Pamphlet, entitled, 'A Defence of Freethinking.'" 1713. [S.]]

But, without the privilege of freethinking, how is it possible to know
which is the right Scripture? Here are perhaps twenty sorts of
Scriptures in the several parts of the world, and every set of priests
contend that their Scripture is the true one. The Indian Brahmins have a
book of scripture called the Shaster; the Persees their Zundivastaw;[9]
the Bonzes in China have theirs, written by the disciples of Fo-he, whom
they call _God and Saviour of the world, who was born to teach the way
of salvation, and to give satisfaction for all men's sins_: which, you
see, is directly the same with what our priests pretend of Christ. And
must we not think freely, to find out which are in the right, whether
the Bishops or the Bonzes? But the Talapoins, or heathen clergy of Siam,
approach yet nearer to the system of our priests; they have a Book of
Scripture written by Sommonocodam, who, the Siamese say, was "born of a
virgin," and was "the God expected by the Universe;" just as our priests
tell us, that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, and was the
Messiah so long expected. The Turkish priests, or dervises, have their
Scripture which they call the Alcoran. The Jews have the Old Testament
for their Scripture, and the Christians have both the Old and the New.
Now among all these Scriptures, there cannot above one be right; and how
is it possible to know which is that, without reading them all, and then
thinking freely, every one of us for ourselves, without following the
advice or instruction of any guide, before we venture to choose? The
parliament ought to be at the charge of finding a sufficient number of
these Scriptures, for every one of Her Majesty's subjects, for there are
twenty to one against us, that we may be in the wrong: But a great deal
of freethinking will at last set us all right, and every one will adhere
to the Scripture he likes best; by which means, religion, peace, and
wealth, will be for ever secured in Her Majesty's realms.

[Footnote 9: Swift means here, of course, the Zendavesta, the
commentaries on the sacred books of the Parsees. Not that Swift could
have known much of these Oriental religions; but the names were good
enough for his purpose. [T.S.]]

And it is the more necessary that the good people of England should have
liberty to choose some other Scripture, because all Christian priests
differ so much about the copies of theirs, and about the various
readings of the several manuscripts, which quite destroys the authority
of the Bible: for what authority can a book pretend to, where there are
various readings?[10] And for this reason, it is manifest that no man
can know the opinions of Aristotle or Plato, or believe the facts
related by Thucydides or Livy, or be pleased with the poetry of Homer
and Virgil, all which books are utterly useless, upon account of their
various readings. Some books of Scripture are said to be lost, and this
utterly destroys the credit of those that are left: some we reject,
which the Africans and Copticks receive; and why may we not think
freely, and reject the rest? Some think the scriptures wholly inspired,
some partly; and some not at all. Now this is just the very case of the
Bramins, Persees, Bonzes, Talapoins, Dervises, Rabbis, and all other
priests, who build their religion upon books, as our priests do upon
their Bibles; they all equally differ about the copies, various readings
and inspirations, of their several Scriptures, and God knows which are
in the right: Freethinking alone can determine it.

[Footnote 10: In the discourse on "Freethinking," p. 80, Collins insists
much on a passage in Victor of Tunis, from which he infers, that the
Gospels were corrected and altered in the fourth century. [S.]]

It would be endless to show in how many particulars the priests of the
Heathen and Christian churches, differ about the meaning even of those
Scriptures which they universally receive as sacred. But, to avoid
prolixity, I shall confine myself to the different opinions among the
priests of the Church of England, and here only give you a specimen,
because even these are too many to be enumerated.

I have found out a bishop, (though indeed his opinions are condemned by
all his brethren,) who allows the Scriptures to be so difficult, that
God has left them rather as a trial of our industry than a repository of
our faith, and furniture of creeds and articles of belief; with several
other admirable schemes of freethinking, which you may consult at your

The doctrine of the Trinity is the most fundamental point of the whole
Christian religion. Nothing is more easy to a freethinker, yet what
different notions of it do the English priests pretend to deduce from
Scripture, explaining it by "specific unities, eternal modes of
subsistence," and the like unintelligible jargon? Nay, it is a question
whether this doctrine be fundamental or no; for though Dr. South and
Bishop Bull affirm it, yet Bishop Taylor and Dr. Wallis deny it.[11] And
that excellent freethinking prelate, Bishop Taylor, observes, that
Athanasius's example was followed with too much greediness; by which
means it has happened, that the greater number of our priests are in
that sentiment, and think it necessary to believe the Trinity, and
incarnation of Christ.[12]

[Footnote 11: Dr. Robert South (1633-1716), rector of Islip. The
reference by Swift is to his controversy with Sherlock on the doctrine
of the Trinity. The two disputants got into such depths that both were
charged with heresy.

Dr. George Bull (1634-1710), Bishop of St. David's, wrote the "Defensio
Fidei Nicenae." For his exposition of the necessity for the belief in the
divinity of the Son of God he received the thanks of Bossuet.

Dr. Jeremy Taylor, Bishop of Down and Connor (1613-1667), and author of
"Holy Living" and "Holy Dying," wrote also "Unum Necessarium, or the
Doctrine and Practice of Repentance." His treatment, in this work, of
the doctrine of original sin was considered heterodox by Bishop Warner
and Dr. Sanderson, and a controversy ensued, in the course of which
Taylor was imprisoned in Chepstow Castle on a charge of being concerned
in a Royalist insurrection.

Dr. John Wallis (1616-1703), here referred to, is the famous
mathematician and divine, and one of the original members of the Royal
Society. He is mentioned in the text by Swift because of a work he
published on the Trinity, which brought him into collision with the
Arians. But the Doctor seems to have been addicted to views of a
controversial nature, for his opinions on infant baptism and the keeping
of the Sabbath found many objectors. He was Savilian Professor of
Geometry at Oxford in 1648. [T.S.]]

[Footnote 12: See Swift's opinion of controversies on this subject in
his "Sermon upon the Trinity." [S.]]

Our priests likewise dispute several circumstances about the
resurrection of the dead, the nature of our bodies after the
resurrection, and in what manner they shall be united to our souls. They
also attack one another "very weakly with great vigour," about
predestination. And it is certainly true, (for Bishop Taylor and Mr.
Whiston the Socinian say so,) that all churches in prosperity alter
their doctrines every age, and are neither satisfied with themselves,
nor their own confessions; neither does any clergyman of sense believe
the Thirty-nine Articles.

Our priests differ about the eternity of hell torments. The famous Dr
Henry More,[13] and the most pious and rational of all priests, Dr
Tillotson,[14] (both freethinkers,) believe them to be not eternal. They
differ about keeping the sabbath, the divine right of episcopacy, and
the doctrine of original sin; which is the foundation of the whole
Christian religion; for if men are not liable to be damned for Adam's
sin, the Christian religion is an imposture: Yet this is now disputed
among them; so is lay baptism; so was formerly the lawfulness of usury,
but now the priests are common stock-jobbers, attorneys, and scriveners.
In short there is no end of disputing among priests, and therefore I
conclude, that there ought to be no such thing in the world as priests,
teachers, or guides, for instructing ignorant people in religion; but
that every man ought to think freely for himself.

[Footnote 13: Dr. Henry More (1614-1687), the Platonist theologian,
wrote a philosophical poem entitled, "Psycho-Zoia, or the Life of the
Soul" (1640). [T.S.]]

[Footnote 14: Dr. John Tillotson (1630-1694) succeeded Bancroft as
Archbishop of Canterbury. He published some eloquent sermons and several
controversial tracts against Catholicism. [T.S.]]

I will tell you the meaning in all this; the priests dispute every point
in the Christian religion, as well as almost every text in the Bible;
and the force of my argument lies here, that whatever point is disputed
by one or two divines, however condemned by the Church, not only that
particular point, but the whole article to which it relates, may
lawfully be received or rejected by any freethinker. For instance,
suppose More and Tillotson deny the eternity of hell torments, a
freethinker may deny all future punishments whatsoever. The priests
dispute about explaining the Trinity; therefore a freethinker may reject
one or two, or the whole three persons; at least he may reject
Christianity, because the Trinity is the most fundamental doctrine of
that religion. So I affirm original sin, and that men are now liable to
be damned for Adam's sin, to be the foundation of the whole Christian
religion; but this point was formerly, and is now disputed, therefore, a
freethinker may deny the whole. And I cannot help giving you one farther
direction, how I insinuate all along, that the wisest freethinking
priests, whom you may distinguish by the epithets I bestow them, were
those who differed most from the generality of their brethren.

But besides, the conduct of our priests in many other points, makes
freethinking unavoidable; for some of them own, that the doctrines of
the Church are contradictory to one another, as well as to reason; which
I thus prove: Dr. Sacheverell says in his speech at his trial, That by
abandoning passive obedience we must render ourselves the most
inconsistent Church in the world: Now 'tis plain, that one inconsistency
could not make the most inconsistent Church in the world; _ergo_, there
must have been a great many inconsistencies and contradictory doctrines
in the Church before. Dr. South describes the incarnation of Christ, as
an astonishing mystery, impossible to be conceived by man's reason;
_ergo_, it is contradictory to itself, and to reason, and ought to be
exploded by all freethinkers.

Another instance of the priests' conduct, which multiplies freethinkers,
is their acknowledgment of abuses, defects, and false doctrines, in the
Church; particularly that of eating black pudding,[15] which is so
plainly forbid in the Old and New Testament, that I wonder those who
pretend to believe a syllable in either will presume to taste it. Why
should I mention the want of discipline, and of a sideboard at the
altar, with complaints of other great abuses and defects made by some of
the priests, which no man can think on without freethinking, and
consequently rejecting Christianity?

[Footnote 15: Collins in his pamphlet quotes a Dr. Grabe, who, following
the Jewish code of rules as regards food, considered the eating of blood
one of the points on which the Church did not insist against. In the
text Swift ridicules this in the reference to "black pudding." [T. S.]]

When I see an honest freethinking bishop endeavour to destroy the power
and privileges of the Church, and Dr. Atterbury angry with him for it,
and calling it "dirty work," what can I conclude, by virtue of being a
freethinker, but that Christianity is all a cheat?

Mr. Whiston has published several tracts, wherein he absolutely denies
the divinity of Christ: A bishop tells him, "Sir, in any matter where
you have the Church's judgment against you, you should be careful not to
break the peace of the Church, by writing against it, though you are
sure you are in the right."[16] Now my opinion is directly contrary; and
I affirm, that if ten thousand freethinkers thought differently from the
received doctrine, and from each other, they would be all in duty bound
to publish their thoughts (provided they were all sure of being in the
right) though it broke the peace of the Church and state ten thousand

[Footnote 16: Swift's "Sermon on the Trinity," as well as a passage in
his "Thoughts upon Religion," shews the weight which he attached to this
important argument. [S.]]

And here I must take leave to tell you, although you cannot but have
perceived it from what I have already said, and shall be still more
amply convinced by what is to follow; that freethinking signifies
nothing, without freespeaking and freewriting. It is the indispensable
duty of a freethinker, to endeavour forcing all the world to think as he
does, and by that means make them freethinkers too. You are also to
understand, that I allow no man to be a freethinker, any further than as
he differs from the received doctrines of religion. Where a man falls
in, though by perfect chance, with what is generally believed, he is in
that point a confined and limited thinker; and you shall see by and by,
that I celebrate those for the noblest freethinkers in every age, who
differed from the religion of their countries in the most fundamental
points, and especially in those which bear any analogy to the chief
fundamentals of religion among us.

Another trick of the priests is, to charge all men with atheism, who
have more wit than themselves; which therefore I expect will be my case
for writing this discourse: This is what makes them so implacable
against Mr. Gildon, Dr. Tindal, Mr. Toland,[17] and myself, and when they
call us wits, atheists, it provokes us to be freethinkers.

[Footnote 17: See notes on pp. 9, 79, 80, 82.]

Again; the priests cannot agree when their Scripture was written. They
differ about the number of canonical books, and the various readings.
Now those few among us who understand Latin, are careful to tell this to
our disciples, who presently fall a-freethinking, that the Bible is a
book not to be depended upon in anything at all.

There is another thing, that mightily spreads freethinking, which I
believe you would hardly guess. The priests have got a way of late of
writing books against freethinking; I mean treatises in dialogue, where
they introduce atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians offering their
several arguments. Now these freethinkers are too hard for the priests
themselves in their own books; and how can it be otherwise? For if the
arguments usually offered by atheists, are fairly represented in these
books, they must needs convert everybody that reads them; because
atheists, deists, sceptics, and Socinians, have certainly better
arguments to maintain their opinions, than any the priests can produce
to maintain the contrary.

Mr. Creech,[18] a priest, translated Lucretius into English, which is a
complete system of atheism; and several young students, who were
afterwards priests, wrote verses in praise of this translation. The
arguments against Providence in that book are so strong, that they have
added mightily to the number of freethinkers.

[Footnote 18: This is Thomas Creech, the translator of Horace, to whom
Swift refers in "The Battle of the Books" (see vol. i. p. 180). The
translation of Lucretius was published in English verse in 1682. [T.

Why should I mention the pious cheats of the priests, who in the New
Testament translate the word _ecclesia_ sometimes the _church_, and
sometimes the _congregation_; and _episcopus_, sometimes a _bishop_, and
sometimes an _overseer_? A priest,[19] translating a book, left out a
whole passage that reflected on the king, by which he was an enemy to
political freethinking, a most considerable branch of our system.
Another priest, translating a book of travels,[20] left out a lying
miracle, out of mere malice, to conceal an argument for freethinking. In
short, these frauds are very common in all books which are published by
priests: But however, I love to excuse them whenever I can: And as to
this accusation, they may plead the authority of the ancient fathers of
the Church, for forgery, corruption, and mangling of authors, with more
reason than for any of their articles of faith. St Jerom, St Hilary,
Eusebius Vercellensis, Victorinus,[21] and several others, were all
guilty of arrant forgery and corruption: For when they translated the
works of several freethinkers, whom they called heretics, they omitted
all their heresies or freethinkings, and had the impudence to own it to
the world.

[Footnote 19: Collins refers to the Rev. Mr. Brown, who translated
Father Paul's "Letters," and omitted the words, "If the King of England
[James I.] were not more a doctor than a king."]

[Footnote 20: Baumgarten's "Travels." [T. S.]]

[Footnote 21: Jerome, or St. Hieronymus (_circa_ 340-420), wrote the
Latin vulgate translation of the Scriptures. Is accepted as one of the
Fathers of the Church.

St. Hilary, another accepted Father, was bishop of Poictiers. He died
367 or 368.

The Eusebius here named was Bishop of Vercelli, a city of Liguria. He
flourished about A.D. 360, and distinguished himself at the Council of
Milan in A.D. 355, for his attacks against Arianism. He was exiled to
Upper Thebais, with several other bishops who refused to subscribe to
the condemnation of Athanasius; but was recalled with Lucifer, bishop of
Cagliari, Sardinia. In conjunction with Athanasius he attended an
Alexandrian synod which declared the Trinity consubstantial. He
travelled much, in the Eastern provinces and Italy, engaging in
missionary work. He died about A.D. 373.

Fabius Marius Victorinus was born in Africa, and died at Rome in 370. He
was a distinguished orator, grammarian, and rhetorician. His chief work
was a treatise entitled "De Orthographia." He also wrote many
theological books. [T. S.]]

From these many notorious instances of the priests' conduct, I conclude
they are not to be relied on in any one thing relating to religion; but
that every man must think freely for himself.

But to this it may be objected, that the bulk of mankind is as well
qualified for flying as thinking, and if every man thought it his duty
to think freely, and trouble his neighbour with his thoughts (which is
an essential part of freethinking,) it would make wild work in the
world. I answer; whoever cannot think freely, may let it alone if he
pleases, by virtue of his right to think freely; that is to say, if such
a man freely thinks that he cannot think freely, of which every man is a
sufficient judge, why, then, he need not think freely, unless he thinks

Besides, if the bulk of mankind cannot think freely in matters of
speculation, as the being of a God, the immortality of the soul, &c. why
then, freethinking is indeed no duty: But then the priests must allow,
that men are not concerned to believe whether there is a God or no. But
still those who are disposed to think freely, may think freely if they

It is again objected, that freethinking will produce endless divisions
in opinion, and by consequence disorder society. To which I answer;

When every single man comes to have a different opinion every day from
the whole world, and from himself, by virtue of freethinking, and thinks
it his duty to convert every man to his own freethinking (as all we
freethinkers do) how can that possibly create so great a diversity of
opinions, as to have a set of priests agree among themselves to teach
the same opinions in their several parishes to all who will come to hear
them? Besides, if all people were of the same opinion, the remedy would
be worse than the disease; I will tell you the reason some other time.

Besides, difference in opinion, especially in matters of great moment,
breeds no confusion at all. Witness Papist and Protestant, Roundhead and
Cavalier, Whig and Tory, now among us. I observe, the Turkish empire is
more at peace within itself, than Christian princes are with one
another. Those noble Turkish virtues of charity and toleration, are what
contribute chiefly to the flourishing state of that happy monarchy.
There Christians and Jews are tolerated, and live at ease, if they can
hold their tongues and think freely, provided they never set foot within
the mosques, nor write against Mahomet: A few plunderings now and then
by the janissaries are all they have to fear.

It is objected, that by freethinking, men will think themselves into
atheism; and indeed I have allowed all along, that atheistical books
convert men to freethinking. But suppose that to be true; I can bring
you two divines who affirm superstition and enthusiasm to be worse than
atheism, and more mischievous to society, and in short it is necessary
that the bulk of the people should be atheists or superstitious.

It is objected, that priests ought to be relied on by the people, as
lawyers and physicians, because it is their faculty.

I answer, 'Tis true, a man who is no lawyer is not suffered to plead for
himself; but every man may be his own quack if he pleases, and he only
ventures his life; but in the other case the priest tells him he must be
damned: Therefore do not trust the priest, but think freely for
yourself, and if you happen to think there is no hell, there certainly
is none, and consequently you cannot be damned; I answer further, that
wherever there is no lawyer, physician, or priest, the country is
paradise. Besides, all priests, (except the orthodox, and those are not
ours, nor any that I know,) are hired by the public to lead men into
mischief; but lawyers and physicians are not, you hire them yourself.

It is objected, (by priests no doubt, but I have forgot their names)
that false speculations are necessary to be imposed upon men, in order
to assist the magistrate in keeping the peace, and that men ought
therefore to be deceived, like children, for their own good. I answer,
that zeal for imposing speculations, whether true or false (under which
name of speculations I include all opinions of religion, as the belief
of a God, Providence, immortality of the soul, future rewards and
punishments, &c.) has done more hurt than it is possible for religion to
do good. It puts us to the charge of maintaining ten thousand priests in
England, which is a burden upon society never felt upon any other
occasion; and a greater evil to the public than if these ecclesiastics
were only employed in the most innocent offices of life, which I take to
be eating and drinking. Now if you offer to impose anything on mankind
besides what relates to moral duties, as to pay your debts, not pick
pockets, nor commit murder, and the like; that is to say, if, besides
this, you oblige them to believe in God and Jesus Christ, what you add
to their faith will take just so much off from their morality. By this
argument it is manifest, that a perfect moral man must be a perfect
atheist; every inch of religion he gets loses him an inch of morality:
For there is a certain _quantum_ belongs to every man, of which there is
nothing to spare. This is clear from the common practice of all our
priests, they never once preach to you to love your neighbour, to be
just in your dealings, or to be sober and temperate. The streets of
London are full of common whores, publicly tolerated in their
wickedness; yet the priests make no complaints against this enormity,
either from the pulpit or the press: I can affirm, that neither you nor
I, sir, have ever heard one sermon against whoring since we were boys.
No, the priests allow all these vices, and love us the better for them,
provided we will promise not "to harangue upon a text," nor to sprinkle
a little water in a child's face, which they call baptizing, and would
engross it all to themselves.

Besides, the priests engage all the rogues, villains, and fools in their
party, in order to make it as large as they can: By this means they
seduced Constantine the Great[22] over to their religion, who was the
first Christian emperor, and so horrible a villain, that the heathen
priests told him they could not expiate his crimes in their church; so
he was at a loss to know what to do, till an AEgyptian bishop assured
him, that there was no villainy so great, but was to be expiated by the
sacraments of the Christian religion; upon which he became a Christian,
and to him that religion owes its first settlement.

[Footnote 22: The reference here is to the luminous cross which
Constantine said he saw in the heavens, and which influenced him to
embrace Christianity. [T. S.]]

It is objected, that freethinkers themselves are the most infamous,
wicked, and senseless of all mankind.

I answer, first, we say the same of priests, and other believers. But
the truth is, men of all sects are equally good and bad; for no religion
whatsoever contributes in the least to mend men's lives.

I answer, secondly, that freethinkers use their understanding, but those
who have religion do not; therefore the first have more understanding
than the others; witness Toland, Tindal, Gildon[23], Clendon, Coward,
and myself. For, use legs and have legs.

[Footnote 23: John Clendon, of the Middle Temple, published in
1709-1710, "Tractatus Philosophico-Theologicus de Persona; or, a
Treatise of the Word Person." This singular book appears to have been
written principally to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity was very
well explained by an Act of Parliament, 9 and 10 Will. III. It was
complained of in the House of Commons, March 25th, 1710, and was judged
to be a scandalous, seditious, and blasphemous libel .... and was burnt
by the common hangman at the same time with Tindal's "Rights." [N.] ]

I answer, thirdly, that freethinkers are the most virtuous persons in
the world; for all freethinkers must certainly differ from the priests,
and from nine hundred ninety-nine of a thousand of those among whom they
live; and are therefore virtuous of course, because everybody hates

I answer, fourthly, that the most virtuous people in all ages have been
freethinkers; of which I shall produce several instances[24].

[Footnote 24: What follows is in ridicule of a long list of
freethinkers, as he calls them, with which Collins has graced his
discourse; in which he includes not only the ancient philosophers, but
the inspired prophets, and even "King Solomon the wise." [S.] ]

Socrates was a freethinker; for he disbelieved the gods of his country,
and the common creeds about them, and declared his dislike when he heard
men attribute "repentance, anger, and other passions to the gods, and
talk of wars and battles in heaven, and of the gods getting women with
child," and such like fabulous and blasphemous stones. I pick out these
particulars, because they are the very same with what the priests have
in their Bibles, where repentance and anger are attributed to God; where
it is said, there was "war in heaven;" and that "the Virgin Mary was
with child by the Holy Ghost," whom the priests call God; all fabulous
and blasphemous stories. Now, I affirm Socrates to have been a true
Christian. You will ask, perhaps, how that can be, since he lived three
or four hundred years before Christ? I answer, with Justin Martyr, that
Christ is nothing else but reason, and I hope you do not think Socrates
lived before reason. Now, this true Christian Socrates never made
notions, speculations, or mysteries, any part of his religion, but
demonstrated all men to be fools who troubled themselves with enquiries
into heavenly things. Lastly, 'tis plain that Socrates was a
freethinker, because he was calumniated for an atheist, as freethinkers
generally are, only because he was an enemy to all speculations and
inquiries into heavenly things. For I argue thus, that if I never
trouble myself to think whether there be a God or no, and forbid others
to do it, I am a freethinker, but not an atheist.

Plato was a freethinker, and his notions are so like some in the Gospel,
that a heathen charged Christ with borrowing his doctrine from Plato.
But Origen[25] defends Christ very well against this charge, by saying
he did not understand Greek, and therefore could not borrow his doctrine
from Plato. However their two religions agreed so well, that it was
common for Christians to turn Platonists, and Platonists Christians.
When the Christians found out this, one of their zealous priests (worse
than any atheist) forged several things under Plato's name, but
conformable to Christianity, by which the heathens were fraudulently

[Footnote 25: Origen, a Father of the Church, was born about 185. He
carried to extremes the celibate life taught in the Gospel; and his
"Treatise against Celsus" contains, according to St. Jerome and
Eusebius, the refutation of "all the objections which have been made,
and all which ever will be made against Christianity." [T. S.] ]

Epicurus was the greatest of all freethinkers, and consequently the most
virtuous man in the world. His opinions in religion were the most
complete system of atheism that ever appeared. Christians ought to have
the greatest veneration for him, because he taught a higher point of
virtue than Christ; I mean the virtue of friendship, which in the sense
we usually understand it, is not so much as named in the New Testament.

Plutarch was a freethinker, notwithstanding his being a priest; but
indeed he was a heathen priest. His freethinking appears by showing the
innocence of atheism, (which at worst is only false reasoning,) and the
mischiefs of superstition; and explains what superstition is, by calling
it a conceit of immortal ills after death, the opinion of hell torments,
dreadful aspects, doleful groans, and the like. He is likewise very
satirical upon the public forms of devotion in his own country (a
qualification absolutely necessary to a freethinker) yet those forms
which he ridicules, are the very same that now pass for true worship in
almost all countries: I am sure some of them do so in ours; such as
abject looks, distortions, wry faces, beggarly tones, humiliation, and

Varro,[26] the most learned among the Romans, was a freethinker; for he
said, the heathen divinity contained many fables below the dignity of
immortal beings; such, for instance, as Gods BEGOTTEN and PROCEEDING
from other Gods. These two words I desire you will particularly remark,
because they are the very terms made use of by our priests in their
doctrine of the Trinity: He says likewise, that there are many things
false in religion, and so say all freethinkers; but then he adds; "which
the vulgar ought not to know, but it is expedient they should believe."
In this last he indeed discovers the whole secret of a statesman and
politician, by denying the vulgar the privilege of freethinking, and
here I differ from him. However, it is manifest from hence, that the
Trinity was an invention of statesmen and politicians.

[Footnote 26: Marcus Terentius Varro (born B.C. 117) was the friend of
Cicero. He was a profound grammarian, historian, and philosopher. The
expression Swift applies to him as "the most learned among the Romans"
is one by which he is generally called. [T. S.] ]

The grave and wise Cato the censor will for ever live in that noble
freethinking saying--"I wonder," said he, "how one of our priests can
forbear laughing when he sees another!" (For contempt of priests is
another grand characteristic of a freethinker). This shews that Cato
understood the whole mystery of the Roman religion "as by law
established." I beg you, sir, not to overlook these last words,
"religion as by law established." I translate _hanisfax,_ into the
general word, _priest_. Thus I apply the sentence to our priests in
England, and, when Dr. Smallridge sees Dr. Atterbury, I wonder how either
of them can forbear laughing at the cheat they put upon the people, by
making them believe their "religion as by law established."

Cicero, that consummate philosopher, and noble patriot, though he was a
priest, and consequently more likely to be a knave; gave the greatest
proofs of his freethinking. First, he professed the sceptic philosophy,
which doubts of everything. Then, he wrote two treatises;[27] in the
first, he shews the weakness of the Stoics' arguments for the being of
the Gods: In the latter, he has destroyed the whole revealed religion of
the Greeks and Romans (for why should not theirs be a revealed religion
as well as that of Christ?) Cicero likewise tells us, as his own
opinion, that they who study philosophy, do not believe there are any
Gods: He denies the immortality of the soul, and says, there can be
nothing after death.

[Footnote 27: "De Natura Deomm." [T. S.] ]

And because the priests have the impudence to quote Cicero in their
pulpits and pamphlets, against freethinking; I am resolved to disarm
them of his authority. You must know, his philosophical works are
generally in dialogues, where people are brought in disputing against
one another: Now the priests when they see an argument to prove a God,
offered perhaps by a Stoic, are such knaves or blockheads, to quote it
as if it were Cicero's own; whereas Cicero was so noble a freethinker,
that he believed nothing at all of the matter, nor ever shews the least
inclination to favour superstition, or the belief of a God, and the
immortality of the soul; unless what he throws out sometimes to save
himself from danger, in his speeches to the Roman mob; whose religion
was, however, much more innocent and less absurd, than that of popery at
least: And I could say more--but you understand me.

Seneca was a great freethinker, and had a noble notion of the worship of
the gods, for which our priests would call any man an atheist: He laughs
at morning devotions, or worshipping upon Sabbath-days; he says God has
no need of ministers and servants, because he himself serves mankind.
This religious man, like his religious brethren the Stoics, denies the
immortality of the soul, and says, all that is feigned to be so terrible
in hell, is but a fable: Death puts an end to all our misery, &c. Yet
the priests were anciently so fond of Seneca, that they forged a
correspondence of letters between him and St. Paul.

Solomon himself, whose writings are called "the word of God," was such a
freethinker, that if he were now alive, nothing but his building of
churches could have kept our priests from calling him an atheist. He
affirms the eternity of the world almost in the same manner with
Manilius,[28] the heathen philosophical poet, (which opinion entirely
overthrows the history of the creation by Moses, and all the New
Testament): He denies the immortality of the soul, assures us that men
die like beasts, and that both go to one place.

[Footnote 28: Marcus Manilius, who probably flourished under Theodosius
the Great, was a Latin poet, who wrote a poem entitled "Astronomica."
[T.S.] ]

The prophets of the Old Testament were generally freethinkers: you must
understand, that their way of learning to prophesy was by music and
drinking.[29] These prophets writ against the established religion of
the Jews, (which those people looked upon as the institution of God
himself,) as if they believed it was all a cheat: that is to say, with
as great liberty against the priests and prophets of Israel, as Dr.
Tindal did lately against the priests and prophets of our Israel, who
has clearly shewn them and their religion to be cheats. To prove this,
you may read several passages in Isaiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Jeremiah, &c.,
wherein you will find such instances of freethinking, that, if any
Englishman had talked so in our days, their opinions would have been
registered in Dr. Sacheverell's trial, and in the representation of the
Lower House of Convocation, and produced as so many proofs of the
profaneness, blasphemy, and atheism of the nation; there being nothing
more profane, blasphemous, or atheistical in those representations, than
what these prophets have spoke, whose writings are yet called by our
priests, "the word of God." And therefore these prophets are as much
atheists as myself, or as any of my freethinking brethren whom I lately
named to you.

[Footnote 29: Collins, after making the charge, which has been repeated
by all freethinkers down to Thomas Paine, that the prophets acquired
their fervour of spirit by the aid of music and wine, allows,
nevertheless, that they were great freethinkers, and "writ with as great
liberty against the established religion of the Jews, which the people
looked on as the institution of God himself as if they looked upon it
all to be imposture."--_Discourse_, p. 153, _et sequen._ [S.] ]

Josephus was a great freethinker: I wish he had chosen a better subject
to write on, than those ignorant, barbarous, ridiculous scoundrels, the
Jews, whom God (if we may believe the priests) thought fit to choose for
his own people. I will give you some instances of his freethinking. He
says, Cain travelled through several countries, and kept company with
rakes and profligate fellows; he corrupted the simplicities of former
times, &c., which plainly supposes men before Adam, and consequently
that the priests' history of the creation by Moses, is an imposture. He
says, the Israelites' passing through the Red Sea, was no more than
Alexander's passing at the Pamphilian sea; that as for the appearance of
God at Mount Sinai, the reader may believe it as he pleases; that Moses
persuaded the Jews he had God for his guide, just as the Greeks
pretended they had their laws from Apollo. These are noble strains of
freethinking, which the priests knew not how to solve, but by thinking
as freely: For one of them says, that Josephus writ this to make his
work acceptable to the heathens, by striking out everything that was

Origen, who was the first Christian that had any learning, has left a
noble testimony of his freethinking; for a general council has
determined him to be damned; which plainly shews he was a freethinker,
and was no saint; for people were only sainted because of their want of
learning and excess of zeal; so that all the fathers, who are called
saints by the priests, were worse than atheists.

Minutius Felix[30] seems to be a true modern latitudinarian,
freethinking Christian; for he is against altars, churches, public
preaching, and public assemblies; and likewise against priests; for, he
says, there were several great flourishing empires before there were any
orders of priests in the world.

[Footnote 30: Marcus Minutius Felix is said to have been born in Africa.
He flourished in the third century, and wrote a defence of Christianity,
in dialogue form, entitled, "Octavius." The work has been translated
into English by Lord Hailes. [T.S.]]

Synesius,[31] who had too much learning and too little zeal for a saint,
was for some time a great freethinker; he could not believe the
resurrection till he was made a bishop, and then pretended to be
convinced by a lying miracle.

[Footnote 31: Synesius of Cyrene, born 379, is the Platonic philosopher
who became Bishop of Ptolemais. [T.S.]]

To come to our own country: My Lord Bacon was a great freethinker, when
he tells us, that whatever has the least relation to religion, is
particularly liable to suspicion; by which he seems to suspect all the
facts whereon most of the superstitions (that is to say, what the
priests call the religions) of the world are grounded. He also
prefers atheism before superstition.

Mr. Hobbes was a person of great learning, virtue, and freethinking,
except in the high church politics.

But Archbishop Tillotson is the person whom all English freethinkers own
as their head; and his virtue is indisputable for this manifest reason;
that Dr. Hickes, a priest, calls him an atheist; says, he caused several
to turn atheists, and to ridicule the priesthood and religion. These
must be allowed to be noble effects of freethinking. This great prelate
assures us, that all the duties of the Christian religion, with respect
to God, are no other but what natural light prompts men to, except the
two sacraments, and praying to God in the name and mediation of Christ.
As a priest and prelate, he was obliged to say something of
Christianity; but pray observe, sir, how he brings himself off. He
justly affirms that even these things are of less moment than natural
duties; and because mothers' nursing their children is a natural duty,
it is of more moment than the two sacraments, or than praying to God in
the name and by the mediation of Christ. This freethinking archbishop
could not allow a miracle sufficient to give credit to a prophet who
taught anything contrary to our natural notions: By which it is plain,
he rejected at once all the mysteries of Christianity.

I could name one-and-twenty more great men, who were all freethinkers;
but that I fear to be tedious: For, 'tis certain that all men of sense
depart from the opinions commonly received; and are consequently more or
less men of sense, according as they depart more or less from the
opinions commonly received; neither can you name an enemy to
freethinking, however he be dignified or distinguished, whether
archbishop, bishop, priest, or deacon, who has not been either "a
crack-brained enthusiast, a diabolical villain, or a most profound
ignorant brute."

Thus, sir, I have endeavoured to execute your commands, and you may
print this Letter, if you please; but I would have you conceal my name.
For my opinion of virtue is, that we ought not to venture doing
ourselves harm, by endeavouring to do good.

I am yours, &c.

_I have here given the public a brief, but faithful abstract of this
most excellent Essay; wherein I have all along religiously adhered to
our author's notions, and generally to his words, without any other
addition than that of explaining a few necessary consequences, for the
sake of ignorant readers; for, to those who have the least degree of
learning, I own they will be wholly useless. I hope I have not, in any
single instance, misrepresented the thoughts of this admirable writer.
If I have happened to mistake through inadvertency, I entreat he will
condescend to inform me, and point out the place, upon which I will
immediately beg pardon both of him and the world. The design of his
piece is to recommend freethinking, and one chief motive is the example
of many excellent men who were of that sect. He produces as the
principal points of their freethinking; that they denied the Being of a
God, the Torments of Hell, the Immortality of the Soul, the Trinity,
Incarnation, the history of the creation by Moses, with many other such
"fabulous and blasphemous stories," as he judiciously calls them: And he
asserts, that whoever denies the most of these, is the completest
freethinker, and consequently the wisest and most virtuous man. The
author, sensible of the prejudices of the age, does not directly affirm
himself an atheist; he goes no further than to pronounce that atheism is
the most perfect degree of freethinking; and leaves the reader to form
the conclusion. However, he seems to allow, that a man may be a
tolerable freethinker, though he does believe a God; provided he utterly
rejects "Providence, Revelation, the Old and New Testament, Future
Rewards and Punishments, the Immortality of the Soul," and other the
like impossible absurdities. Which mark of superabundant caution,
sacrificing truth to the superstition of priests, may perhaps be
forgiven, but ought not to be imitated by any who would arrive (even in
this author's judgment) at the true perfection of freethinking._

***** ***** ***** *****





Discoursing one day with a prelate of the kingdom of Ireland, who is a
person of excellent wit and learning, he offered a notion applicable to
the subject we were then upon, which I took to be altogether new and
right. He said, that the difference betwixt a madman and one in his
wits, in what related to speech, consisted in this; that the former
spoke out whatever came into his mind, and just in the confused manner
as his imagination presented the ideas: The latter only expressed such
thoughts as his judgment directed him to choose, leaving the rest to die
away in his memory; and that, if the wisest man would, at any time,
utter his thoughts in the crude indigested manner as they come into his
head, he would be looked upon as raving mad. And, indeed, when we
consider our thoughts, as they are the seeds of words and actions, we
cannot but agree that they ought to be kept under the strictest
regulation; and that in the great multiplicity of ideas which one's mind
is apt to form, there is nothing more difficult than to select those
which are most proper for the conduct of life. So that I cannot imagine
what is meant by the mighty zeal in some people for asserting the
freedom of thinking; because, if such thinkers keep their thoughts
within their own breasts, they can be of no consequence, farther than to
themselves. If they publish them to the world, they ought to be
answerable for the effects their thoughts produce upon others. There are
thousands in this kingdom, who, in their thoughts, prefer a republic, or
absolute power of a prince, before a limited monarchy; yet, if any of
these should publish their opinions, and go about, by writing or
discourse, to persuade the people to innovations in government, they
would be liable to the severest punishments the law can inflict; and
therefore they are usually so wise as to keep their sentiments to
themselves. But, with respect to religion, the matter is quite
otherwise: and the public, at least here in England, seems to be of
opinion with _Tiberius_, that _Deorum injuriae diis curae_. They leave it
to God Almighty to vindicate the injuries done to himself, who is no
doubt sufficiently able, by perpetual miracles, to revenge the affronts
of impious men. And, it should seem, that is what princes expect from
him, though I cannot readily conceive the grounds they go upon; nor why,
since they are God's vicegerents, they do not think themselves at least
equally obliged to preserve their master's honour as their own; since
this is what they expect from those they depute, and since they never
fail to represent the disobedience of their subjects, as offences
against God. It is true, the visible reason of this neglect is obvious
enough: The consequences of atheistical opinions, published to the
world, are not so immediate, or so sensible, as doctrines of rebellion
and sedition, spread in a proper season. However, I cannot but think the
same consequences are as natural and probable from the former, though
more remote: And whether these have not been in view among our great
planters of infidelity in England, I shall hereafter examine.

***** ***** ***** *****








No stronger proof could be adduced of Swift's genuine and earnest belief
in the dignity of a clergyman of the Church than this letter. In spite
of the sarcasms which here and there are levelled against the mediocre
members of the class, it is evident Swift felt that these might be made
worthy teachers and preachers of the doctrines of an institution
founded, in his opinion, for the best regulation of mankind. The letter
serves also to present us with an outline of a picture of the clergyman
of his day; and if this picture be not flattering, it seems faithfully
to reflect the social conditions which we know to have prevailed at the

The letter was written in the years of quiet which Swift enjoyed between
the pamphleteering crusade against the Whigs, when Harley and St. John
were in power, and the famous social and political troubles which began
with Wood's halfpence.

The text of this letter is practically that of the first edition; but I
have collated this with the texts given by Hawkesworth, Scott, the first
volume of the "Miscellanies" of 1728, and the second volume of the
"Miscellanies" of 1745. In the original edition, and in the reprints
published to the time of Faulkner's collected edition, the title reads
"A Letter to a Young Gentleman," etc.



By a Person of QUALITY.

It is certainly known, that the following Treatise was writ in Ireland
by the Reverend Dr. Swift, Dean of St. Patrick's in that Kingdom.

Dublin, _January the 9th,_ 1719-20.


Although it was against my knowledge or advice, that you entered into
holy orders, under the present dispositions of mankind toward the
Church, yet since it is now supposed too late to recede, (at least
according to the general practice and opinion,) I cannot forbear
offering my thoughts to you upon this new condition of life you are
engaged in.

I could heartily wish that the circumstances of your fortune, had
enabled you to have continued some years longer in the university; at
least till you were ten years standing; to have laid in a competent
stock of human learning, and some knowledge in divinity, before you
attempted to appear in the world: For I cannot but lament the common
course, which at least nine in ten of those who enter into the ministry
are obliged to run. When they have taken a degree, and are consequently
grown a burden to their friends, who now think themselves fully
discharged, they get into orders as soon as they can; (upon which I
shall make no remarks,) first solicit a readership, and if they be very
fortunate, arrive in time to a curacy here in town, or else are sent to
be assistants in the country, where they probably continue several
years, (many of them their whole lives,) with thirty or forty pounds
a-year for their support, till some bishop, who happens to be not
overstocked with relations, or attached to favourites, or is content to
supply his diocese without colonies from England, bestows upon them some
inconsiderable benefice, when it is odds they are already encumbered
with a numerous family. I should be glad to know what intervals of life
such persons can possibly set apart for the improvement of their minds;
or which way they could be furnished with books, the library they
brought with them from their college being usually not the most
numerous, or judiciously chosen. If such gentlemen arrive to be great
scholars, it must, I think, be either by means supernatural, or by a
method altogether out of any road yet known to the learned. But I
conceive the fact directly otherwise, and that many of them lose the
greatest part of the small pittance they receive at the university.

I take it for granted, that you intend to pursue the beaten track, and
are already desirous to be seen in a pulpit, only I hope you will think
it proper to pass your quarantine among some of the desolate churches
five miles round this town, where you may at least learn to read and to
speak before you venture to expose your parts in a city congregation;
not that these are better judges, but because, if a man must needs
expose his folly, it is more safe and discreet to do so before few
witnesses, and in a scattered neighbourhood. And you will do well if you
can prevail upon some intimate and judicious friend to be your constant
hearer, and allow him with the utmost freedom to give you notice of
whatever he shall find amiss either in your voice or gesture; for want
of which early warning, many clergymen continue defective, and sometimes
ridiculous, to the end of their lives; neither is it rare to observe
among excellent and learned divines, a certain ungracious manner, or an
unhappy tone of voice, which they never have been able to shake off.

I should likewise have been glad, if you had applied yourself a little
more to the study of the English language, than I fear you have done;
the neglect whereof is one of the most general defects among the
scholars of this kingdom, who seem not to have the least conception of a
style, but run on in a flat kind of phraseology, often mingled with
barbarous terms and expressions, peculiar to the nation: Neither do I
perceive that any person, either finds or acknowledges his wants upon
this head, or in the least desires to have them supplied. Proper words
in proper places, make the true definition of a style. But this would
require too ample a disquisition to be now dwelt on: however, I shall
venture to name one or two faults, which are easy to be remedied, with a
very small portion of abilities.

The first is the frequent use of obscure terms, which by the women are
called hard words, and by the better sort of vulgar, fine language; than
which I do not know a more universal, inexcusable, and unnecessary
mistake, among the clergy of all distinctions, but especially the
younger practitioners. I have been curious enough to take a list of
several hundred words in a sermon of a new beginner, which not one of
his hearers among a hundred could possibly understand, neither can I
easily call to mind any clergyman of my own acquaintance who is wholly
exempt from this error, although many of them agree with me in the
dislike of the thing. But I am apt to put myself in the place of the
vulgar, and think many words difficult or obscure, which they will not
allow to be so, because those words are obvious to scholars, I believe
the method observed by the famous Lord Falkland[1] in some of his
writings, would not be an ill one for young divines: I was assured by an
old person of quality who knew him well, that when he doubted whether a
word was perfectly intelligible or no, he used to consult one of his
lady's chambermaids, (not the waiting-woman, because it was possible she
might be conversant in romances,) and by her judgment was guided whether
to receive or reject it. And if that great person thought such a caution
necessary in treatises offered to the learned world, it will be sure at
least as proper in sermons, where the meanest hearer is supposed to be
concerned, and where very often a lady's chambermaid may be allowed to
equal half the congregation, both as to quality and understanding. But I
know not how it comes to pass, that professors in most arts and sciences
are generally the worst qualified to explain their meanings to those who
are not of their tribe: a common farmer shall make you understand in
three words, that his foot is out of joint, or his collar-bone broken,
wherein a surgeon, after a hundred terms of art, if you are not a
scholar, shall leave you to seek. It is frequently the same case in law,
physic, and even many of the meaner arts.

[Footnote 1: Lucius Cary, second Viscount Falkland (1610-1643), who was
killed at the battle of Newbury in the great Civil War, was a generous
patron of learning and of the literary men of his day. He was himself a
fine scholar and able writer. Clarendon has recorded his character in
the seventh book of his "History of the Great Rebellion": "A person of
such prodigious parts of learning and knowledge, of that inimitable
sweetness and delight in conversation, of so flowing and obliging an
humanity and goodness to mankind, that, if there were no other brand
upon this odious and accursed Civil War than that single loss, it must
be infamous and execrable to all posterity." Falkland has been made the
hero of a romance by Lord Lytton. [T. S. ] ]

And upon this account it is, that among hard words, I number likewise
those which are peculiar to divinity as it is a science, because I have
observed several clergymen, otherwise little fond of obscure terms, yet
in their sermons very liberal of those which they find in ecclesiastical
writers, as if it were our duty to understand them; which I am sure it
is not. And I defy the greatest divine to produce any law either of God
or man, which obliges me to comprehend the meaning of _omniscience,
omnipresence, ubiquity, attribute, beatific vision,_ with a thousand
others so frequent in pulpits, any more than that of _eccentric,
idiosyncracy, entity,_ and the like. I believe I may venture to insist
farther, that many terms used in Holy Writ, particularly by St Paul,
might with more discretion be changed into plainer speech, except when
they are introduced as part of a quotation.[2]

[Footnote 2: Swift refers to this point in his "Thoughts on Religion,"
and regrets that the explanation of matters of doctrine, which St. Paul
expressed in the current eastern vocabulary, should have been
perpetuated in terms founded on the same terminology. [T. S.] ]

I am the more earnest in this matter, because it is a general complaint,
and the justest in the world. For a divine has nothing to say to the
wisest congregation of any parish in this kingdom, which he may not
express in a manner to be understood by the meanest among them. And this
assertion must be true, or else God requires from us more than we are
able to perform. However, not to contend whether a logician might
possibly put a case that would serve for an exception, I will appeal to
any man of letters, whether at least nineteen in twenty of those
perplexing words might not be changed into easy ones, such as naturally
first occur to ordinary men, and probably did so at first to those very
gentlemen who are so fond of the former.

We are often reproved by divines from the pulpits, on account of our
ignorance in things sacred, and perhaps with justice enough. However, it
is not very reasonable for them to expect, that common men should
understand expressions which are never made use of in common life. No
gentleman thinks it safe or prudent to send a servant with a message,
without repeating it more than once, and endeavouring to put it into
terms brought down to the capacity of the bearer: yet after all this
care, it is frequent for servants to mistake, and sometimes to occasion
misunderstandings among friends. Although the common domestics in some
gentlemen's families have more opportunities of improving their minds
than the ordinary sort of tradesmen.

It is usual for clergymen who are taxed with this learned defect, to
quote Dr. Tillotson, and other famous divines, in their defence; without
considering the difference between elaborate discourses upon important
occasions, delivered to princes or parliaments, written with a view of
being made public, and a plain sermon intended for the middle or lower
size of people. Neither do they seem to remember the many alterations,
additions, and expungings, made by great authors in those treatises
which they prepare for the public. Besides, that excellent prelate
above-mentioned, was known to preach after a much more popular manner in
the city congregations: and if in those parts of his works he be any
where too obscure for the understandings of many who may be supposed to
have been his hearers, it ought to be numbered among his omissions.

The fear of being thought pedants hath been of pernicious consequence to
young divines. This hath wholly taken many of them off from their
severer studies in the university, which they have exchanged for plays,
poems, and pamphlets, in order to qualify them for tea-tables and
coffee-houses. This they usually call "polite conversation; knowing the
world; and reading men instead of books." These accomplishments, when
applied to the pulpit, appear by a quaint; terse, florid style, rounded
into periods and cadences, commonly without either propriety or meaning.
I have listen'd with my utmost attention for half an hour to an orator
of this species, without being able to understand, much less to carry
away one single sentence out of a whole sermon. Others, to shew that
their studies have not been confined to sciences, or ancient authors,
will talk in the style of a gaming ordinary, and White Friars[3], when I
suppose the hearers can be little edified by the terms _palming,
shuffling, biting, bamboozling_ and the like, if they have not been
sometimes conversant among pick-pockets and sharpers. And truly, as they
say, a man is known by his company, so it should seem that a man's
company may be known by his manner of expressing himself, either in
public assemblies, or private conversation.

[Footnote 3: See note on "Alsatia," p. 100. [T. S.] ]

It would be endless to run over the several defects of style among us; I
shall therefore say nothing of the mean and paltry (which are usually
attended by the fustian), much less of the slovenly or indecent. Two
things I will just warn you against; the first is the frequency of flat
unnecessary epithets, and the other is the folly of using old threadbare
phrases, which will often make you go out of your way to find and apply
them, are nauseous to rational hearers, and will seldom express your
meaning as well as your own natural words.

Although, as I have already observed, our English tongue is too little
cultivated in this kingdom; yet the faults are nine in ten owing to
affectation, and not to the want of understanding. When a man's thoughts
are clear, the properest words will generally offer themselves first,
and his own judgment will direct him in what order to place them, so as
they may be best understood. Where men err against this method, it is
usually on purpose, and to shew their learning, their oratory, their
politeness, or their knowledge of the world. In short, that simplicity
without which no human performance can arrive to any great perfection,
is nowhere more eminently useful than in this.

I have been considering that part of oratory which relates to the moving
of the passions; this I observe is in esteem and practice among some
church divines, as well as among all the preachers and hearers of the
fanatic or enthusiastic strain. I will here deliver to you (perhaps with
more freedom than prudence) my opinion upon the point.

The two great orators of Greece and Rome, Demosthenes and Cicero, though
each of them a leader (or as the Greeks call it a demagogue) in a
popular state, yet seem to differ in their practice upon this branch of
their art; the former who had to deal with a people of much more
politeness, learning, and wit, laid the greatest weight of his oratory
upon the strength of his arguments, offered to their understanding and
reason: whereas Tully considered the dispositions of a sincere, more
ignorant, and less mercurial nation, by dwelling almost entirely on the
pathetic part.

But the principal thing to be remembered is, that the constant design of
both these orators in all their speeches, was to drive some one
particular point, either the condemnation or acquittal of an accused
person, a persuasive to war, the enforcing of a law, and the like; which
was determined upon the spot, according as the orators on either side
prevailed. And here it was often found of absolute necessity to inflame
or cool the passions of the audience, especially at Rome where Tully
spoke, and with whose writings young divines (I mean those among them
who read old authors) are more conversant than with those of
Demosthenes, who by many degrees excelled the other at least as an
orator. But I do not see how this talent of moving the passions can be
of any great use toward directing Christian men in the conduct of their
lives, at least in these northern climates, where I am confident the
strongest eloquence of that kind will leave few impressions upon any of
our spirits deep enough to last till the next morning, or rather to the
next meal.[4]

[Footnote 4: Swift's own sermons rarely appealed to the emotions; they
were, in his own phrase, political pamphlets, and aimed at convincing
the reason. [T. S.] ]

But what hath chiefly put me out of conceit with this moving manner of
preaching, is the frequent disappointment it meets with. I know a
gentleman, who made it a rule in reading, to skip over all sentences
where he spied a note of admiration at the end. I believe those
preachers who abound in _epiphonemas_,[5] if they look about them, would
find one part of their congregation out of countenance, and the other
asleep, except perhaps an old female beggar or two in the aisles, who
(if they be sincere) may probably groan at the sound.

[Footnote 5: _Epiphonema_ is a figure in rhetoric, signifying a
sententious kind of exclamation. [S.] ]

Nor is it a wonder, that this expedient should so often miscarry, which
requires so much art and genius to arrive at any perfection in it, as
any man will find, much sooner than learn by consulting Cicero himself.

I therefore entreat you to make use of this faculty (if you ever be so
unfortunate as to think you have it) as seldom, and with as much caution
as you can, else I may probably have occasion to say of you as a great
person said of another upon this very subject. A lady asked him coming
out of church, whether it were not a very moving discourse? "Yes," said
he, "I was extremely sorry, for the man is my friend."

If in company you offer something for a jest, and nobody second you in
your own laughter, nor seems to relish what you said, you may condemn
their taste, if you please, and appeal to better judgments; but in the
meantime, it must be agreed you make a very indifferent figure; and it
is at least equally ridiculous to be disappointed in endeavouring to
make other folks grieve, as to make them laugh.

A plain convincing reason may possibly operate upon the mind both of a
learned and ignorant hearer as long as they live, and will edify a
thousand times more than the art of wetting the handkerchiefs of a whole
congregation, if you were sure to attain it.

If your arguments be strong, in God's name offer them in as moving a
manner as the nature of the subject will properly admit, wherein reason
and good advice will be your safest guides; but beware of letting the
pathetic part swallow up the rational: For I suppose, philosophers have
long agreed, that passion should never prevail over reason.

As I take it, the two principal branches of preaching are first to tell
the people what is their duty, and then to convince them that it is so.
The topics for both these, we know, are brought from Scripture and
reason. Upon this first, I wish it were often practised to instruct the
hearers in the limits, extent, and compass of every duty, which requires
a good deal of skill and judgment: the other branch is, I think, not so
difficult. But what I would offer them both, is this; that it seems to
be in the power of a reasonable clergyman, if he will be at the pains,
to make the most ignorant man comprehend what is his duty, and to
convince him by argument drawn to the level of his understanding, that
he ought to perform it.

But I must remember that my design in this paper was not so much to
instruct you in your business either as a clergyman or a preacher, as to
warn you against some mistakes which are obvious to the generality of
mankind as well as to me; and we who are hearers, may be allowed to have
some opportunities in the quality of being standers-by. Only perhaps I
may now again transgress by desiring you to express the heads of your
divisions in as few and clear words as you possibly can, otherwise, I
and many thousand others will never be able to retain them, nor
consequently to carry away a syllable of the sermon.

I shall now mention a particular wherein your whole body will be
certainly against me, and the laity almost to a man on my side. However
it came about, I cannot get over the prejudice of taking some little
offence at the clergy for perpetually reading their sermons[6]; perhaps
my frequent hearing of foreigners, who never made use of notes, may have
added to my disgust. And I cannot but think, that whatever is read,
differs as much from what is repeated without book, as a copy does from
an original. At the same time, I am highly sensible what an extreme
difficulty it would be upon you to alter this method, and that, in such
a case, your sermons would be much less valuable than they are, for want
of time to improve and correct them. I would therefore gladly come to a
compromise with you in this matter. I knew a clergyman of some
distinction, who appeared to deliver his sermon without looking into his
notes, which when I complimented him upon, he assured me he could not
repeat six lines; but his method was to write the whole sermon in a
large plain hand, with all the forms of margin, paragraph, marked page,
and the like; then on Sunday morning he took care to run it over five or
six times, which he could do in an hour; and when he deliver'd it, by
pretending to turn his face from one side to the other, he would (in his
own expression) pick up the lines, and cheat his people by making them
believe he had it all by heart. He farther added, that whenever he
happened by neglect to omit any of these circumstances, the vogue of the
parish was, "Our doctor gave us but an indifferent sermon to-day." Now
among us, many clergymen act too directly contrary to this method, that
from a habit of saving time and paper, which they acquired at the
University, they write in so diminutive a manner, with such frequent
blots and interlineations, that they are hardly able to go on without
perpetual hesitations or extemporary expletives: And I desire to know
what can be more inexcusable, than to see a divine and a scholar, at a
loss in reading his own compositions, which it is supposed he has been
preparing with much pains and thought for the instruction of his people?
The want of a little more care in this article, is the cause of much
ungraceful behaviour. You will observe some clergymen with their heads
held down from the beginning to the end, within an inch of the cushion,
to read what is hardly legible; which, besides the untoward manner,
hinders them from making the best advantage of their voice: others again
have a trick of popping up and down every moment from their paper to the
audience, like an idle school-boy on a repetition day.

[Footnote 6: "The custom of reading sermons," notes Scott, "seems
originally to have arisen in opposition to the practice of Dissenters,
many of whom affected to trust to their Inspiration in their _extempore_
harangues." [T. S.] ]

Let me entreat you, therefore, to add one half-crown a year to the
article of paper; to transcribe your sermons in as large and plain a
manner as you can, and either make no interlineations, or change the
whole leaf; for we your hearers would rather you should be less correct
than perpetually stammering, which I take to be one of the worst
solecisms in rhetoric: And lastly, read your sermon once or twice for a
few days before you preach it: to which you will probably answer some
years hence, "that it was but just finished when the last bell rang to
church:" and I shall readily believe, but not excuse you.

I cannot forbear warning you in the most earnest manner against
endeavouring at wit in your sermons, because by the strictest
computation, it is very near a million to one that you have none; and
because too many of your calling have consequently made themselves
everlastingly ridiculous by attempting it. I remember several young men
in this town, who could never leave the pulpit under half a dozen
conceits; and this faculty adhered to those gentlemen a longer or
shorter time exactly in proportion to their several degrees of dulness:
accordingly, I am told that some of them retain it to this day. I
heartily wish the brood were at an end.

Before you enter into the common insufferable cant of taking all
occasions to disparage the heathen philosophers, I hope you will differ
from some of your brethren, by first enquiring what those philosophers
can say for themselves. The system of morality to be gathered out of the
writings or sayings of those ancient sages, falls undoubtedly very short
of that delivered in the Gospel, and wants besides, the divine sanction
which our Saviour gave to His. Whatever is further related by the
evangelists, contains chiefly, matters of fact, and consequently of
faith, such as the birth of Christ, His being the Messiah, His Miracles,
His death, resurrection, and ascension. None of which can properly come
under the appellation of human wisdom, being intended only to make us
wise unto salvation. And therefore in this point nothing can justly be
laid to the charge of the philosophers further than that they were
ignorant of certain facts that happened long after their death. But I am
deceived, if a better comment could be anywhere collected, upon the
moral part of the Gospel, than from the writings of those excellent men;
even that divine precept of loving our enemies, is at large insisted on
by Plato, who puts it, as I remember, into the mouth of Socrates.[7] And
as to the reproach of heathenism, I doubt they had less of it than the
corrupted Jews in whose time they lived. For it is a gross piece of
ignorance among us to conceive that in those polite and learned ages,
even persons of any tolerable education, much less the wisest
philosophers did acknowledge or worship any more than one almighty
power, under several denominations, to whom they allowed all those
attributes we ascribe to the Divinity: and as I take it, human
comprehension reacheth no further: neither did our Saviour think it
necessary to explain to us the nature of God, because I suppose it would
be impossible without bestowing on us other faculties than we possess at
present. But the true misery of the heathen world appears to be what I
before mentioned, the want of a Divine Sanction, without which the
dictates of the philosophers failed in the point of authority, and
consequently the bulk of mankind lay indeed under a great load of
ignorance even in the article of morality, but the philosophers
themselves did not. Take the matter in this light, it will afford field
enough for a divine to enlarge on, by showing the advantages which the
Christian world has over the heathen, and the absolute necessity of
Divine Revelation, to make the knowledge of the true God, and the
practice of virtue more universal in the world.

[Footnote 7: This is in the "Crito" of Plato, where Socrates says it is
wrong to do harm to our enemies. [T. S.] ]

I am not ignorant how much I differ in this opinion from some ancient
fathers in the Church, who arguing against the heathens, made it a
principal topic to decry their philosophy as much as they could: which,
I hope, is not altogether our present case. Besides, it is to be
considered, that those fathers lived in the decline of literature; and
in my judgment (who should be unwilling to give the least offence)
appear to be rather most excellent, holy persons, than of transcendent
genius and learning. Their genuine writings (for many of them have
extremely suffered by spurious editions) are of admirable use for
confirming the truth of ancient doctrines and discipline, by shewing the
state and practice of the primitive church. But among such of them as
have fallen in my way, I do not remember any whose manner of arguing or
exhorting I could heartily recommend to the imitation of a young divine
when he is to speak from the pulpit. Perhaps I judge too hastily; there
being several of them in whose writings I have made very little
progress, and in others none at all. For I perused only such as were
recommended to me, at a time when I had more leisure and a better
disposition to read, than have since fallen to my share.[8]

[Footnote 8: Swift must refer here to the years he spent at Moor Park,
in the house of Sir William Temple. The "Tale of a Tub," however, shows
that he had not idled his time, and that his acquaintance with the
writings of the fathers was fairly intimate. [T, S.] ]

To return then to the heathen philosophers, I hope you will not only
give them quarter, but make their works a considerable part of your
study: To these I will venture to add the principal orators and
historians, and perhaps a few of the poets: by the reading of which, you
will soon discover your mind and thoughts to be enlarged, your
imagination extended and refined, your judgment directed, your
admiration lessened, and your fortitude increased; all which advantages
must needs be of excellent use to a divine, whose duty it is to preach
and practise the contempt of human things.

I would say something concerning quotations, wherein I think you cannot
be too sparing, except from Scripture, and the primitive writers of the
Church. As to the former, when you offer a text as a proof of an
illustration, we your hearers expect to be fairly used, and sometimes
think we have reason to complain, especially of you younger divines,
which makes us fear that some of you conceive you have no more to do
than to turn over a concordance, and there having found the principal
word, introduce as much of the verse as will serve your turn, though in
reality it makes nothing for you. I do not altogether disapprove the
manner of interweaving texts of scripture through the style of your
sermons, wherein however, I have sometimes observed great instances of
indiscretion and impropriety, against which I therefore venture to give
you a caution.

As to quotations from ancient fathers, I think they are best brought in
to confirm some opinion controverted by those who differ from us: in
other cases we give you full power to adopt the sentence for your own,
rather than tell us, "as St. Austin excellently observes." But to
mention modern writers by name, or use the phrase of "a late excellent
prelate of our Church," and the like, is altogether intolerable, and for
what reason I know not, makes every rational hearer ashamed. Of no
better a stamp is your "heathen philosopher" and "famous poet," and
"Roman historian," at least in common congregations, who will rather
believe you on your own word, than on that of Plato or Homer.

I have lived to see Greek and Latin almost entirely driven out of the
pulpit, for which I am heartily glad. The frequent use of the latter was
certainly a remnant of Popery which never admitted Scripture in the
vulgar language; and I wonder, that practice was never accordingly
objected to us by the fanatics.

The mention of quotations puts me in mind of commonplace books, which
have been long in use by industrious young divines, and I hear do still
continue so. I know they are very beneficial to lawyers and physicians,
because they are collections of facts or cases, whereupon a great part
of their several faculties depend; of these I have seen several, but
never yet any written by a clergyman; only from what I am informed, they
generally are extracts of theological and moral sentences drawn from
ecclesiastical and other authors, reduced under proper heads, usually
begun, and perhaps finished, while the collectors were young in the
church, as being intended for materials or nurseries to stock future
sermons. You will observe the wise editors of ancient authors, when they
meet a sentence worthy of being distinguished, take special care to have
the first word printed in capital letters, that you may not overlook it:
Such, for example, as the INCONSTANCY of FORTUNE, the GOODNESS of PEACE,
men INSOLENT, and ADVERSITY HUMBLE; and the like eternal truths, which
every ploughman knows well enough before Aristotle or Plato were
born.[9] If theological commonplace books be no better filled, I think
they had better be laid aside, and I could wish that men of tolerable
intellectuals would rather trust their own natural reason, improved by a
general conversation with books, to enlarge on points which they are
supposed already to understand. If a rational man reads an excellent
author with just application, he shall find himself extremely improved,
and perhaps insensibly led to imitate that author's perfections,
although in a little time he should not remember one word in the book,
nor even the subject it handled: for books give the same turn to our
thoughts and way of reasoning, that good and ill company do to our
behaviour and conversation; without either loading our memories, or
making us even sensible of the change. And particularly I have observed
in preaching, that no men succeed better than those who trust entirely
to the stock or fund of their own reason, advanced indeed, but not
overlaid by commerce with books. Whoever only reads in order to
transcribe wise and shining remarks, without entering into the genius
and spirit of the author, as it is probable he will make no very
judicious extract, so he will be apt to trust to that collection in all
his compositions, and be misled out of the regular way of thinking, in
order to introduce those materials, which he has been at the pains to
gather and the product of all this will be found a manifest incoherent
piece of patchwork.

[Footnote 9: Thus in first edition. Scott and Hawkesworth have: "though
he never heard of Aristotle or Plato." [T.S.]]

Some gentlemen abounding in their university erudition, are apt to fill
their sermons with philosophical terms and notions of the metaphysical
or abstracted kind, which generally have one advantage, to be equally
understood by the wise, the vulgar, and the preacher himself. I have
been better entertained, and more informed by a chapter[10] in the
"Pilgrim's Progress," than by a long discourse upon the will and the
intellect, and simple or complex ideas. Others again, are fond of
dilating on matter and motion, talk of the fortuitous concourse of
atoms, of theories, and phenomena, directly against the advice of St
Paul, who yet appears to have been conversant enough in those kinds of

[Footnote 10: Thus in first edition. Scott and Hawkesworth have "a few
pages" instead of "a chapter" [T. S ]]

I do not find that you are anywhere directed in the canons or articles,
to attempt explaining the mysteries of the Christian religion. And
indeed since Providence intended there should be mysteries, I do not see
how it can be agreeable to piety, orthodoxy or good sense, to go about
such a work. For, to me there seems to be a manifest dilemma in the case
if you explain them, they are mysteries no longer, if you fail, you have
laboured to no purpose. What I should think most reasonable and safe for
you to do upon this occasion is, upon solemn days to deliver the
doctrine as the Church holds it, and confirm it by Scripture. For my
part, having considered the matter impartially, I can see no great
reason which those gentlemen you call the freethinkers can have for
their clamour against religious mysteries, since it is plain, they were
not invented by the clergy, to whom they bring no profit, nor acquire
any honour. For every clergyman is ready either to tell us the utmost he
knows, or to confess that he does not understand them; neither is it
strange that there should be mysteries in divinity as well as in the
commonest operations of nature.

And here I am at a loss what to say upon the frequent custom of
preaching against atheism, deism, freethinking, and the like, as young
divines are particularly fond of doing especially when they exercise
their talent in churches frequented by persons of quality, which as it
is but an ill compliment to the audience; so I am under some doubt
whether it answers the end.

Because persons under those imputations are generally no great
frequenters of churches, and so the congregation is but little edified
for the sake of three or four fools who are past grace. Neither do I
think it any part of prudence to perplex the minds of well-disposed
people with doubts, which probably would never have otherwise come into
their heads. But I am of opinion, and dare be positive in it, that not
one in an hundred of those who pretend to be freethinkers, are really so
in their hearts. For there is one observation which I never knew to
fail, and I desire you will examine it in the course of your life, that
no gentleman of a liberal education, and regular in his morals, did ever
profess himself a freethinker: where then are these kind of people to be
found? Among the worst part of the soldiery made up of pages, younger
brothers of obscure families, and others of desperate fortunes; or else
among idle town fops, and now and then a drunken 'squire of the country.
Therefore nothing can be plainer, than that ignorance and vice are two
ingredients absolutely necessary in the composition of those you
generally call freethinkers, who in propriety of speech, are no thinkers
at all. And since I am in the way of it, pray consider one thing
farther: as young as you are, you cannot but have already observed, what
a violent run there is among too many weak people against university
education. Be firmly assured, that the whole cry is made up by those who
were either never sent to a college; or through their irregularities and
stupidity never made the least improvement while they were there. I have
at least[11] forty of the latter sort now in my eye; several of them in
this town, whose learning, manners, temperance, probity, good-nature,
and politics, are all of a piece. Others of them in the country,
oppressing their tenants, tyrannizing over the neighbourhood, cheating
the vicar, talking nonsense, and getting drunk at the sessions. It is
from such seminaries as these, that the world is provided with the
several tribes and denominations of freethinkers, who, in my judgment,
are not to be reformed by arguments offered to prove the truth of the
Christian religion, because reasoning will never make a man correct an
ill opinion, which by reasoning he never acquired: for in the course of
things, men always grow vicious before they become unbelievers; but if
you would once convince the town or country profligate, by topics drawn
from the view of their own quiet, reputation, health, and advantage,
their infidelity would soon drop off: This I confess is no easy task,
because it is almost in a literal sense, to fight with beasts. Now, to
make it clear, that we are to look for no other original of this
infidelity, whereof divines so much complain, it is allowed on all
hands, that the people of England are more corrupt in their morals than
any other nation at this day under the sun: and this corruption is
manifestly owing to other causes, both, numerous and obvious, much more
than to the publication of irreligious books, which indeed are but the
consequence of the former. For all the writers against Christianity
since the Revolution have been of the lowest rank among men in regard to
literature, wit, and good sense, and upon that account wholly
unqualified to propagate heresies, unless among a people already

[Footnote 11: Scott and Hawkesworth print "above forty." [T. S.]]

In an age where everything disliked by those who think with the majority
is called disaffection, it may perhaps be ill interpreted, when I
venture to tell you that this universal depravation of manners is owing
to the perpetual bandying of factions among us for thirty years past;
when without weighing the motives of justice, law, conscience, or
honour, every man adjusts his principles to those of the party he hath
chosen, and among whom he may best find his own account: But by reason
of our frequent vicissitudes, men who were impatient of being out of
play, have been forced to recant, or at least to reconcile their former
tenets with every new system of administration. Add to this, that the
old fundamental custom of annual parliaments being wholly laid aside,
and elections growing chargeable, since gentlemen found that their
country seats brought them in less than a seat in the House, the voters,
that is to say, the bulk of the common people have been universally
seduced into bribery, perjury, drunkenness, malice, and slanders.

Not to be further tedious, or rather invidious, these are a few among
other causes which have contributed to the ruin of our morals, and
consequently to the contempt of religion: For imagine to yourself, if
you please, a landed youth, whom his mother would never suffer to look
into a book for fear of spoiling his eyes, got into parliament, and
observing all enemies to the clergy heard with the utmost applause, what
notions he must imbibe; how readily he will join in the cry; what an
esteem he will conceive of himself; and what a contempt he must
entertain, not only for his vicar at home, but for the whole order.

I therefore again conclude, that the trade of infidelity hath been taken
up only for an expedient to keep in countenance that universal
corruption of morals, which many other causes first contributed to
introduce and to cultivate. And thus, Mr. Hobbes' saying upon reason may
be much more properly applied to religion: that, "if religion will be
against a man, a man will be against religion." Though after all, I have
heard a profligate offer much stronger arguments against paying his
debts, than ever he was known to do against Christianity; indeed the
reason was, because in that juncture he happened to be closer pressed by
the bailiff than the parson.

Ignorance may perhaps be the mother of superstition; but experience hath
not proved it to be so of devotion: for Christianity always made the
most easy and quickest progress in civilized countries. I mention this
because it is affirmed that the clergy are in most credit where
ignorance prevails (and surely this kingdom would be called the paradise
of clergymen if that opinion were true) for which they instance England
in the times of Popery. But whoever knows anything of three or four
centuries before the Reformation, will find the little learning then
stirring was more equally divided between the English clergy and laity
than it is at present. There were several famous lawyers in that period,
whose writings are still in the highest repute, and some historians and
poets who were not of the Church.[12] Whereas now-a-days our education
is so corrupted, that you will hardly find a young person of quality
with the least tincture of knowledge, at the same time that many of the
clergy were never more learned, or so scurvily treated. Here among us,
at least, a man of letters out of the three professions, is almost a
prodigy. And those few who have preserved any rudiments of learning are
(except perhaps one or two smatterers) the clergy's friends to a man:
and I dare appeal to any clergyman in this kingdom, whether the greatest
dunce in the parish be not always the most proud, wicked, fraudulent,
and intractable of his flock.

[Footnote 12: What Swift calls learning was, in his day, the property,
so to speak, of professional men, such as divines, lawyers, and
university teachers. The common man was too poor or too much taxed to
acquire it; the aristocrat often too lazy or too fond of
pleasure-seeking to bother about it. The Pre-Reformation days, to which
Swift refers, could boast such men as Fabyan, Hall, Chaucer, Gower, and
Caxton, as well as Lord Berners, Sir Thomas More, and Lydgate, who were
not, in any sense, professional men. [T.S.]]

I think the clergy have almost given over perplexing themselves and
their hearers with abstruse points of Predestination, Election, and the
like; at least it is time they should; and therefore I shall not trouble
you further upon this head.

I have now said all I could think convenient with relation to your
conduct in the pulpit: your behaviour in life[13] is another scene, upon
which I shall readily offer you my thoughts, if you appear to desire
them from me by your approbation of what I have here written; if not, I
have already troubled you too much.

[Footnote 13: Scott and Hawkesworth print "your behaviour in the world."
The above is the reading of the first edition. [T. S.]]

I am, Sir,
Your Affectionate
Friend and Servant

January 9th.

***** ***** ***** *****





The years between that which saw the publication of the "Drapier
Letters," and that which rang with the fame of "Gulliver's Travels,"
were busy fighting years for Swift. Apart from his vigorous championship
of the Test, and his war against the Dissenters, he espoused the cause
of the inferior clergy of his own Church, as against the bishops. The
business of filling the vacant sees of Ireland had degenerated into what
we should now call "jobbery"; and during the period of Sir Robert
Walpole's administration it was rarely that an Irishman was selected. On
any question, therefore, which affected the welfare of the lower clergy,
it will at once be seen, that the Lords Spiritual, sitting in the Irish
Upper House, would find little difficulty in coming to a solution. That
the solution should also be one which only increased the clergy's
difficulties, might be expected from a body which aimed chiefly at
acquiring wealth and power for itself.

In the reign of Charles I. an act was passed, "prohibiting all bishops,
and other ecclesiastical corporations, from setting their lands for
above the term of twenty-one years: the rent reserved to be half the
real value of such lands at the time they were set." As Swift points
out, about the time of the Reformation, a trade was carried on by the
popish bishops, who felt that their terms of office would be short, and
who, consequently, to get what benefit they could while in office, "made
long leases and fee-farms of great part of their lands, reserving very
inconsiderable rents, sometimes only a chiefry." It was owing to a
continuance in this traffic by the bishops when they became Protestants,
and to a recognition of the injustice of such alienation, that the
legislature passed the act. In 1723, however, an attempt was made for
its repeal. Swift was not the man to permit the bishops to have their
way, if he could help it. His opinion of Irish bishops is well known.
"No blame," he said, "rested with the court for these appointments.
Excellent and moral men had been selected upon every occasion of
vacancy, but it unfortunately happened, that as these worthy divines

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