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The System of Nature, Vol. 2 by Baron D'Holbach

Part 7 out of 7

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will drive from thine heart those appalling fears which overwhelm thee;
those inquietudes that distract thee; those transports which agitate
thee; those hatreds that separate thee from thy fellow man, whom thou
shouldst love as thyself. Return to nature, to humanity, to thyself!
Strew flowers over the road of life: cease to contemplate the future;
live to thine own happiness; exist for thy fellow creatures; retire into
thyself, examine thine own heart, then consider the sensitive beings by
whom thou art surrounded: leave to their inventors those systems which
can effect nothing towards thy felicity. Enjoy thyself, and cause others
also to enjoy, those comforts which I have placed with a liberal hand,
for all the children of the earth; who all equally emanate from my
bosom: assist them to support the sorrows to which necessity has
submitted them in common with thyself. Know, that I approve thy
pleasures, when without injuring thyself, they are not fatal to thy
brethren, whom I have rendered indispensably necessary to thine own
individual happiness. These pleasures are freely permitted thee, if thou
indulgest them with moderation; with that discretion which I myself have
fixed. Be happy, then, O man! Nature invites thee to participate in it;
but always remember, thou canst not be so alone; because I invite all
mortals to happiness as well as thyself; thou will find it is only in
securing their felicity that thou canst consolidate thine own. Such is
the decree of thy destiny: if thou shalt attempt to withdraw thyself
from its operation, recollect that hatred will pursue thee; vengeance
overtake thy steps; and remorse be ever ready at hand to punish the
infractions of its irrevocable mandates.

"Follow then, O man! in whatever station thou findest thyself, the
routine I have described for thee, to obtain that happiness to which
thou hast an indispensable right to challenge pretension. Let the
sensations of humanity interest thee for the condition of other men, who
are thy fellow creatures; let thine heart have commisseration for their
misfortunes: let thy generous hand spontaneously stretch forth to lend
succour to the unhappy mortal who is overwhelmed by his destiny; always
bearing in thy recollection, that it may fall heavy upon thyself, as it
now does upon him. Acknowledge, then, without guile, that every
unfortunate has an inalienable right to thy kindness. Above all, wipe
from the eyes of oppressed innocence the trickling crystals of agonized
feeling; let the tears of virtue in distress, fall upon thy sympathizing
bosom; let the genial glow of sincere friendship animate thine honest
heart; let the fond attachment of a mate, cherished by thy warmest
affection, make thee forget the sorrows of life: be faithful to her
love, responsible to her tenderness, that she may reward thee by a
reciprocity of feeling; that under the eyes of parents united in
virtuous esteem, thy offspring may learn to set a proper value on
practical virtue; that after having occupied thy riper years, they may
comfort thy declining age, gild with content thy setting sun, cheer the
evening of thine existence, by a dutiful return of that care which thou
shalt have bestowed on their imbecile infancy.

"Be just, because equity is the support of human society! Be good,
because goodness connects all hearts in adamantine bonds! Be indulgent,
because feeble thyself, thou livest with beings who partake of thy
weakness! Be gentle, because mildness attracts attention! Be thankful,
because gratitude feeds benevolence, nourishes generosity! Be modest,
because haughtiness is disgusting to beings at all times well with
themselves. Forgive injuries, because revenge perpetuates hatred! Do
good to him who injureth thee, in order to shew thyself more noble than
he is; to make a friend of him, who was once thine enemy! Be reserved in
thy demeanor, temperate in thine enjoyment, chaste in thy pleasures,
because voluptuousness begets weariness, intemperance engenders disease;
forward manners are revolting: excess at all times relaxes the springs
of thy machine, will ultimately destroy thy being, and render thee
hateful to thyself, contemptible to others.

"Be a faithful citizen; because the community is necessary to thine own
security; to the enjoyment of thine own existence; to the furtherance of
thine own happiness. Be loyal, but be brave; submit to legitimate
authority; because it is requisite to the maintenance of that society
which is necessary to thyself. Be obedient to the laws; because they
_are_, or _ought to be_, the expression of the public will, to which
thine own particular will ought ever to be subordinate. Defend thy
country with zeal; because it is that which renders thee happy, which
contains thy property, as well as those beings dearest to thine heart:
do not permit this common parent of thyself, as well as of thy fellow
citizens, to fall under the shackles of tyranny; because from thence it
will be no more than thy common prison. If thy country, deaf to the
equity of thy claims, refuses thee happiness--if, submitted to an unjust
power, it suffers thee to be oppressed, withdraw thyself from its bosom
in silence, but never disturb its peace.

"In short, be a man; be a sensible, rational being; be a faithful
husband; a tender father; an equitable master; a zealous citizen; labour
to serve thy country by thy prowess; by thy talents; by thine industry;
above all, by thy virtues. Participate with thine associates those gifts
which nature has bestowed upon thee; diffuse happiness, among thy fellow
mortals; inspire thy fellow citizens with content; spread joy over all
those who approach thee, that the sphere of thine actions, enlivened by
thy kindness, illumined by thy benevolence, may re-act upon thyself; be
assured that the man who makes others happy cannot himself be miserable.
In thus conducting thyself, whatever may be the injustice of others,
whatever may be the blindness of those beings with whom it is thy
destiny to live, thou wilt never be totally bereft of the recompense
which is thy due; no power on earth be able to ravish from thee that
never failing source of the purest felicity, inward content; at each
moment thou wilt fall back with pleasure upon thyself; thou wilt neither
feel the rankling of shame, the terror of internal alarm, nor find thy
heart corroded by remorse. Thou wilt esteem thyself; thou wilt be
cherished by the virtuous, applauded and loved by all good men, whose
suffrages are much more valuable than those of the bewildered multitude.
Nevertheless, if externals occupy thy contemplation, smiling
countenances will greet thy presence; happy faces will express the
interest they have in thy welfare; jocund beings will make thee
participate in their placid feelings. A life so spent, will each moment
be marked by the serenity of thine own soul, by the affection of the
beings who environ thee; will be made cheerful by the friendship of thy
fellows; will enable thee to rise a contented, satisfied guest from the
general feast; conduct thee gently down the declivity of life, lead thee
peaceably to the period of thy days; for die thou must: but already thou
wilt survive thyself in thought; thou wilt always live in the
remembrance of thy friends; in the grateful recollection of those beings
whose comforts have been augmented by thy friendly attentions; thy
virtues will, beforehand have erected to thy fame an imperishable
monument: if heaven occupies itself with thee, it will feel satisfied
with thy conduct, when it shall thus have contented the earth.

"Beware, then, how thou complainest of thy condition; be just, be kind,
be virtuous, and thou canst never be wholly destitute of felicity. Take
heed how thou enviest the transient pleasure of seductive crime; the
deceitful power of victorious tyranny; the specious tranquillity of
interested imposture; the plausible manners of venal justice; the shewy,
ostentatious parade of hardened opulence. Never be tempted to increase
the number of sycophants to an ambitious despot; to swell the catalogue
of slaves to an unjust tyrant; never suffer thyself to be allured to
infamy, to the practice of extortion, to the commission of outrage, by
the fatal privilege of oppressing thy fellows; always recollect it will
be at the expence of the most bitter remorse thou wilt acquire this
baneful advantage. Never be the mercenary accomplice of the spoilers of
thy country; they are obliged to blush secretly whenever they meet the
public eye.

"For, do not deceive thyself, it is I who punish, with an unerring hand,
all the crimes of the earth; the wicked may escape the laws of man, but
they never escape mine. It is I who have formed the hearts, as well an
the bodies of mortals; it is I who have fixed the laws which govern
them. If thou deliverest thyself up to voluptuous enjoyment, the
companions of thy debaucheries may applaud thee; but I shall punish thee
with the most cruel infirmities; these will terminate a life of shame
with deserved contempt. If thou givest, thyself up to intemperate
indulgences, human laws may not correct thee, but I shall castigate thee
severely by abridging thy days. If thou art vicious, thy fatal habits
will recoil on thine own head. Princes, those terrestrial divinities,
whose power places them above the laws of mankind, are nevertheless
obliged to tremble under the silent operation of my decrees. It is I who
chastise them; it is I who fill their breasts with suspicion; it is I
who inspire them with terror; it is I who make them writhe under
inquietude; it is I who make them shudder with horror, at the very name
of august truth; it is I who, amidst the crowd of nobles who surround
them, make them feel the inward workings of shame; the keen anguish of
guilt; the poisoned arrows of regret; the cruel stings of remorse; it is
I who, when they abuse my bounty, diffuse weariness over their benumbed
souls; it is I who follow uncreated, eternal justice; it is I who,
without distinction of persons, know how to make the balance even; to
adjust the chastisement to the fault; to make the misery bear its due
proportion to the depravity; to inflict punishment commensurate with the
crime. The laws of man are just, only when they are in conformity with
mine; his judgements are rational, only when I have dictated them: my
laws alone are immutable, universal, irrefragable; formed to regulate
the condition of the human race, in all ages, in all places, under all

"If thou doubtest mine authority, if thou questionest the irresistible
power I possess over mortals, contemplate the vengeance I wreak on all
those who resist my decrees. Dive into the recesses of the hearts of
those various criminals, whose countenances, assuming a forced smile,
cover souls torn with anguish. Dost thou not behold ambition tormented
day and night, with an ardour which nothing can extinguish? Dost not
thou see the mighty conquerer become the lord of devastated solitudes;
his victorious career, marked by a blasted cultivation, reign
sorrowfully over smoking ruins; govern unhappy wretches who curse him in
their hearts; while his soul, gnawed by remorse, sickens at the gloomy
aspect of his own triumphs? Dost thou believe that the tyrant, encircled
with his flatterers, who stun him with their praise, is unconscious of
the hatred which his oppression excites; of the contempt which his vices
draw upon him; of the sneers which his inutility call forth; of the
scorn which his debaucheries entail upon his name? Dost thou think that
the haughty courtier does not inwardly blush at the galling insults he
brooks; despise, from the bottom of his soul, those meannesses by which
he is compelled to purchase favours; feel at his heart's core the
wretched dependence in which his cupidity places him.

"Contemplate the indolent child of wealth, behold him a prey to the
lassitude of unmeasured enjoyment, corroded by the satiety which always
follows his exhausted pleasures. View the miser with an emaciated
countenance, the consequence of his own penurious disposition, whose
callous heart is inaccessible to the calls of misery, groaning over the
accumulating load of useless treasure, which at the expense of himself,
he has laboured to amass. Behold the gay voluptuary, the smiling
debauchee, secretly lament the health they have so inconsiderately
damaged so prodigally thrown away: see disdain, joined to hatred, reign
between those adulterous married couples, who have reciprocally violated
the sacred vows they mutually pledged at the altar of Hymen; whose
appetencies have rendered them the scorn of the world; the jest of their
acquaintance; polluted tributaries to the surgeon. See the liar deprived
of all confidence; the knave stript of all trust; the hypocrite
fearfully avoiding the penetrating looks of his inquisitive neighbour;
the impostor trembling at the very name of formidable truth. Bring under
your review the heart of the envious, uselessly dishonored; that withers
at the sight of his neighbour's prosperity. Cast your eyes on the frozen
soul of the ungrateful wretch, whom no kindness can warm, no benevolence
thaw, no beneficence convert into a genial fluid. Survey the iron
feelings of that monster whom the sighs of the unfortunate cannot
mollify. Behold the revengeful being nourished with venemous gall, whose
very thoughts are serpents; who in his rage consumes himself. Envy, if
thou canst, the waking slumbers of the homicide; the startings of the
iniquitous judge; the restlessness of the oppressor of innocence; the
fearful visions of the extortioner; whose couches are infested with the
torches of the furies. Thou tremblest without doubt at the sight of that
distraction which, amidst their splendid luxuries, agitates those
farmers of the revenue, who fatten upon public calamnity--who devour the
substance of the orphan--who consume the means of the widow--who grind
the hard earnings of the poor: thou shudderest at witnessing the remorse
which rends the souls of those reverend criminals, whom the uninformed
believe to be happy, whilst the contempt which they have for themselves,
the unerring shafts of secret upbraidings, are incessantly revenging an
outraged nation. Thou seest, that content is for ever banished the
heart; quiet for ever driven from the habitations of those miserable
wretches on whose minds I have indelibly engraved the scorn, the infamy,
the chastisement which they deserve. But, no! thine eyes cannot sustain
the tragic spectacle of my vengeance. Humanity obliges thee to partake
of their merited sufferings; thou art moved to pity for these unhappy
people, to whom consecrated errors renders vice necessary; whose fatal
habits make them familiar with crime. Yes; thou shunnest them without
hating them; thou wouldst succour them, if their contumacious perversity
had left thee the means. When thou comparest thine own condition, when
thou examinest thine own soul, thou wilt have just cause to felicitate
thyself, if thou shalt find that peace has taken up her abode with thee;
that contentment dwells at the bottom of thine own heart. In short, thou
seest accomplished upon them, as well as, upon thyself, the unalterable
decrees of destiny, which imperiously demand, that crime shall punish
itself, that virtue never shall be destitute Of remuneration."

Such is the sum of those truths which are contained in the _Code of
Nature_; such are the doctrines, which its disciples can announce. They
are unquestionably preferable to that supernatural superstition which
never does any thing but mischief to the human species. Such is the
worship that is taught by that sacred reason, which is the object of
contempt with the theologian; which meets the insult of the fanatic; who
only estimates that which man can neither conceive nor practise; who
make his morality consist in fictitious duties; his virtue in actions
generally useless, frequently pernicious to the welfare of society; who
for want of being acquainted with nature, which is before their eyes,
believe themselves obliged to seek in ideal worlds imaginary motives, of
which every thing proves the inefficacy. The motive which the morality
of nature employs, is the self-evident interest of each individual, of
each community, of the whole human species, in all times, in every
country, under all circumstances. Its worship is the sacrifice of vice,
the practise of real virtues; its object is the conservation of the
human race, the happiness of the individual, the peace of mankind; its
recompences are affection, esteem, and glory; or in their default,
contentment of mind, with merited self-esteem, of which no power will
ever be able to deprive virtuous mortals; its punishments, are hatred,
contempt, and indignation; which society always reserves for those who
outrage its interests; from which even the most powerful can never
effectually shield themselves.

Those nations who shall be disposed to practise a morality so wise, who
shall inculcate it in infancy, whose laws shall unceasingly confirm it,
will neither have occasion for superstition, nor for chimeras. Those who
shall obstinately prefer figments to their dearest interests, will
certainly march forward to ruin. If they maintain themselves for a
season, it is because the power of nature sometimes drives them back to
reason, in despite of those prejudices which appear to lead them on to
certain destruction. Superstition, leagued with tyranny, for the waste
of the human species, are themselves frequently obliged to implore the
assistance of a reason which they contemn; of a nature which they
disdain; which they debase; which they endeavour to crush under the
ponderous bulk of artificial theories. Superstition, in all times so
fatal to mortals, when attacked by reason, assumes the sacred mantle of
public utility; rests its importance on false grounds, founds its rights
upon the indissoluble alliance which it pretends subsists between
morality and itself; notwithstanding it never ceases for a single
instant to wage against it the most cruel hostility. It is,
unquestionably, by this artifice, that it has seduced so many sages. In
the honesty of their hearts, they believe it useful to politics;
necessary to restrain the ungovernable fury of the passions; thus
hypocritical superstition, in order to mask to superficial observers,
its own hideous character, like the ass with the lion's skin, always
knows how to cover itself with the sacred armour of utility; to buckle
on the invulnerable shield of virtue; it has therefore, been believed
imperative to respect it, notwithstanding it felt awkward under these
incumbrances; it consequently has become a duty to favor imposture,
because it has artfully entrenched itself behind the altars of truth;
its ears, however, discover its worthlessness; its natural cowardice
betrays itself; it is from this intrenchment we ought to drive it; it
should be dragged forth to public view; stripped of its surreptitious
panoply; exposed in its native deformity; in order that the human race
may become acquainted with its dissimulation; that mankind may have a
knowledge of its crimes; that the universe may behold its sacrilegious
hands, armed with homicidal poniards, stained with the blood of nations,
whom it either intoxicates with its fury, or immolates without pity to
the violence of its passions.

The MORALITY OF NATURE is the only creed which her interpreter offers to
his fellow citizens; to nations; to the human species; to future races,
weaned from those prejudices which have so frequently disturbed the
felicity of their ancestors. The friend of mankind cannot be the friend
of delusion, which at all times has been a real scourge to the earth.
The APOSTLE OF NATURE will not be the instrument of deceitful chimeras,
by which this world is made only an abode of illusions; the adorer of
truth will not compromise with falsehood; he will make no covenant with
error; conscious it must always be fatal to mortals. He knows that the
happiness of the human race imperiously exacts that the dark unsteady
edifice of superstition should be razed to its foundations; in order to
elevate on its ruins a temple suitable to peace--a fane sacred to
virtue. He feels it is only by extirpating, even to the most slender
fibres, the poisonous tree, that during so many ages has overshadowed
the universe, that the inhabitants of this world will be able to use
their own optics--to bear with steadiness that light which is competent
to illumine their understanding--to guide their wayward steps--to give
the necessary ardency to their souls. If his efforts should he vain; if
he cannot inspire with courage, beings too much accustomed to tremble;
he will, at least, applaud himself for having dared the attempt.
Nevertheless, he will not judge his exertions fruitless, if he has only
been enabled to make a single mortal happy: if his principles have
calmed the conflicting transports of one honest soul; if his reasonings
have cheered up some few virtuous hearts. At least he will have the
advantage of having banished from his own mind the importunate terror of
superstition; of having expelled from his own heart the gall which
exasperates zeal; of having trodden under foot those chimeras with which
the uninformed are tormented. Thus, escaped from the peril of the storm,
he will calmly contemplate from the summit of his rock, those tremendous
hurricanes which superstition excites; he will hold forth a succouring
hand to those who shall be willing to accept it; he will encourage them
with his voice; he will second them with his best exertions, and in the
warmth of his own compassionate heart, he will exclaim:

O NATURE; sovereign of all beings! and ye, her adorable daughters,
VIRTUE, REASON, and TRUTH! remain for ever our revered protectors: it is
to you that belong the praises of the human race; to you appertains the
homage of the earth. Shew, us then, O NATURE! that which man ought to
do, in order to obtain the happiness which thou makest him desire.
VIRTUE! Animate him with thy beneficent fire. REASON! Conduct his
uncertain steps through the paths of life. TRUTH! Let thy torch illumine
his intellect, dissipate the darkness of his road. Unite, O assisting
deities! your powers, in order to submit the hearts of mankind to your
dominion. Banish error from our mind; wickedness from our hearts;
confusion from our footsteps; cause knowledge to extend its salubrious
reign; goodness to occupy our souls; serenity to dwell in our bosoms.
Let imposture, confounded, never again dare to shew its head. Let our
eyes, so long, either dazzled or blindfolded, be at length fixed upon
those objects we ought to seek. Dispel for ever those mists of
ignorance, those hideous phantoms, together with those seducing
chimeras, which only serve to lead us astray. Extricate us from that
dark abyss into which we are plunged by superstition; overthrow the
fatal empire of delusion; crumble the throne of falsehood; wrest from
their polluted hands the power they have usurped. Command men, without
sharing your authority with mortals: break the chains that bind them
down in slavery: tear away the bandeau by which they are hoodwinked;
allay the fury that intoxicates them; break in the hands of sanguinary,
lawless tyrants, that iron sceptre with which they are crushed to exile;
the imaginary regions, from whence fear has imported them, those
theories by which they are afflicted. Inspire the intelligent being with
courage; infuse energy into his system, that, at length, he may feel his
own dignity; that he may dare to love himself; to esteem his own actions
when they are worthy; that a slave only to your eternal laws, he may no
longer fear to enfranchise himself from all other trammels; that blest
with freedom, he may have the wisdom to cherish his fellow creature; and
become happy by learning to perfection his own condition; instruct him
in the great lesson, that the high road to felicity, is prudently to
partake himself, and also to cause others to enjoy, the rich banquet
which thou, O Nature! hast so bountifully set before him. Console thy
children for those sorrows to which their destiny submits them, by those
pleasures which wisdom allows them to partake; teach them to be
contented with their condition; to banish envy from their mind; to yield
silently to necessity. Conduct them without alarm to that period which
all beings must find; _let them learn that time changes all things, that
consequently they are made neither to avoid its scythe nor to fear its







At a time when we are on the eve of an important change in our political
affairs, which must evidently lead either to the recovery and re-
establishment of our liberties, or to a military despotism, those who
are connected with the press ought to use every exertion to enlighten
their fellow-citizens, and to assert their right of canvassing, in the
most free and unrestrained manner, every subject connected with the
happiness of man.

The priesthood have ever been convenient tools in the hands of tyrants,
to keep the bulk of the people in a degraded servility. By the
superstitious and slavish doctrines which they infuse into their minds,
they prevent them from thinking for themselves and asserting their own
independence. At a moment when national schools are erecting in every
quarter of the country, not with a sincere desire of enlightening the
rising generation, but with the insidious design of instilling into
their minds the doctrines of "Church and King," in order to bolster up a
little longer the present rotten, tottering, and corrupt system: at a
moment, too, when thousands of fanatic preachers are traversing the
country, with a view to subjugate the human mind to the baleful empire
of visonary enthusiasm and sectarian bigotry to the utter extinction of
every noble, manly, liberal, and pilanthropic principle;--at such a
moment as this, we thought that the "SYSTEM OF NATURE" could not fail to
render essential service to the cause both of civil and religious
liberty. No work, ancient or modern, has surpassed it, in the eloquence
and sublimity of its language, or in the facility with which it treats
the most abtruse and difficult subjects. It is, without exception, the
boldest effort the human mind has yet produced, in the investigation of
morals and theology--in the destruction of priestcraft and superstition
--and in developing the sources of all those passions and prejudices
which have proved so fatal to the tranquillity of the world.

The republic of letters has never produced an author whose pen was so
well calculated to emancipate mankind from all those trammels with which
the nurse, the schoolmaster and the priest have successively locked up
their noblest faculties, before they were capable of reasoning and
judging for themselves. The frightful apprehensions of the gloomy bigot,
and all the appalling terrors of superstition, are here utterly
annihilated, to the complete satisfaction of every unbiassed and
impartial person.--These we considered as necessary observations to
make, previous to any attempt at the biography of the author.

Biography may be reckoned among the most interesting of literary
productions. Its intrinsic value is such, that, though capable of
extraordinary embellishment from the hand of genius, yet no inferiority
of execution can so degrade it, as to deprive it of utility. Whatever
relates even to man in general, considered only as an aggregate of
active and intelligent beings, has a strong claim upon our notice; but
that which relates to our author, as distinguished from the rest of his
species, moving in a more exalted sphere, and towering above them by the
resplendent excellencies of his mind, seems to me to be peculiarly
calculated for our contemplation, and ought to form the highest pleasure
of our lives. There is a principle of curiosity implanted in us, which
leads us, in an especial manner, to investigate our fellow creatures;
the eager inquisitiveness with which the mechanic seeks to know the
history of his fellow-workmen and the ardour with which the philosopher,
the poet, or the historian hunts for details that may familiarize him
with, a Descartes or a Newton, with a Milton, a Hume, or a Gibbon--
spring from the same source. Their object, however, may perhaps vary;
for, in the former, it may be for the sake of detraction, invidious
cavil, or malice; in the latter, it is a sweet homage paid by the human
heart to the memory of departed genius.

It has been repeatedly observed that the life of a scholar affords few
materials for biography. This is only negatively true;--could every
scholar have a Boswell, the remark would vanish; or were every scholar a
Rousseau, a Gibbon, or a Cumberland it would be equally nugatory. What
can present higher objects of contemplation--what can claim more
forcibly our attention--where can we seek for subjects of a more
precious nature, than in the elucidation of the operations of mind, the
acquisition of knowledge, the gradual expansion of genius; its
application, its felicities, its sorrows, its wreaths of fame, its cold,
undeserved neglect? Such scenes, painted by, the artist himself, are a
rich bequest to mankind: even when traced by the hand of friendship or
the pencil of admiration, they possess a permanent interest in our
hearts. I cannot conceive a life more worthy of public notice, more
important, more interesting to human nature, than the life of a literary
man, were it executed according to the ideas I have formed of it: did it
exhibit a faithful delineation of the progress of intellect, from the
cradle upwards; did it portray, in accurate colors, the production of
what we call genius: by what accident it was first awakened; what were
its first tendencies; how directed to a particular object; by what means
it was nourished and unfolded; the gradual progress of its operation in
the production of a work; its hopes and fears; its delights; its
miseries; its inspirations; and all the thousand fleeting joys that so
often invest its path but for a moment, and then fade like the dews of
the morning. Let it contain too a transcript of the many nameless
transports that float round the heart, that dance in the gay circle
before the ardent gazing eye, when the first conception of some future
effort strikes the mind; how it pictures undefined delights of fame and
popular applause; how it anticipates the bright moments of invention,
and dwells with prophetic ecstasy on the felicitous execution of
particular parts, that already start into existence by the magic touch
of a heated imagination. Let it depict the tender feelings of solitude,
the breathings of midnight silence, the scenes of mimic life, of imaged
trial, that often occupy the musing mind; let it be such a work, so
drawn, so coloured, and who shall pronounce it inferior? Who rather will
not confess that it presents a picture of human nature, where every
heart may find some corresponding harmony? When, therefore, it is said,
that the life of a scholar is barren, it is so only because it has never
been properly delineated; because those parts only have been selected
which are common, and fail to distinguish him from the common man;
because we have never penetrated into his closet, or into his heart;
because we have drawn him only as an outward figure, and left unnoticed
that internal structure that would delight, astonish, and improve. And
then, when we compare the life of such a man with the more active one of
a soldier, a statesman, or a lawyer, we pronounce it insipid,
uninteresting. True;--the man of study has not fought for hire--he has
not slaughtered at the command of a master: he would disdain to do so.
Though unaccompanied with the glaring actions of public men, which
confound and dazzle by their publicity, but shrink from the estimation
of moral truth, it would present a far nobler picture; yes, and a more
instructive one:--the calm disciple of reason meditates in silence; he
walks his road with innoxious humility; he is poor, but his mind is his
treasure; he cultivates his reason, and she lifts him to the pinnacle of
truth; he learns to tear away the veil of self-love, folly, pride, and
prejudice, and bares the human heart to his inspection; he corrects and
amends; he repairs the breaches made by passion; the proud man passes
him by, and looks upon him with scorn; but he feels his own worth, that
ennobling consciousness which swells in every vein, and inspires him
with true pride--with manly independence: to such a man I could sooner
bow in reverence, than to the haughtiest, most successful candidate for
the world's ambition. But of such men, for the reason I have already
mentioned, our information is scanty. While of others, who have
commanded a greater share of public notoriety, venal or mistaken
admiration has given more than we wished to know. Among these respected
individuals of human nature, may be placed Mirabaud. Had Mirabaud been
an Englishman, who doubts but that we should have possessed at least
ample details of the usual subjects of biographical notice; while all
that has been collected among his own countrymen, is a scanty memoir in
a common dictionary. That we are doomed to remain ignorant of the life
of such men, speaks a loud disgrace.--I lament it.

JOHN BAPTISTE MIRABAUD, was born at Paris in the year 1674. He
prosecuted his infantile studies under the direction of his parents, and
was afterwards entered a member of the _Congregation of the Priests of
the Oratory_, where he passed several years, and produced some very bold
writings, which were never intended for publication.

He was subsequently appointed tutor to the princesses of the House of
Orleans, and then took the resolution of destroying the greater part of
the manuscripts that he produced while a member of the _Congregation_;
but the treachery of some of his friends, to whom he had confided his
manuscripts, rendered this precaution useless, for some of his works
were published during the time he remained the preceptor to his royal
pupils; among which number may be reckoned his "New Liberties of
Thought," a work but little calculated for gaining him friends in the
purlieus of the Court of Orleans. The "Origin and Antiquity of the
World," in three parts, was also published at this period, and from the
publication of this work, may be dated the resolution of M. de Mirabaud
to quit his office of preceptor, which he relinquished, having become
more independent; he now gave himself up entirely to his philosophical
studies, and produced the "System of Nature," with which he was assisted
by Diderot, D'Alembert, Baron D'Olbac, and others.

The profound metaphysical knowledge displayed throughout the System of
Nature, and the doctrines which are therein advanced, warrants the
conclusion, that it is at once the most decisive, boldest, and most
extraordinary work, that the human understanding ever had the courage to
produce. The study of metaphysics his generally been considered the most
terrific to the indolent mind; but the clear and perspicuous reasoning
of a Mirabaud, who has united the most profound argument, with the most
fascinating eloquence, charm and instruct us at the same time. But it
was not, to be expected that such doctrines as are contained in the
System of Nature, would he advanced without meeting with some opposition
from the superficial and bigoted metaphysicians, who feel an interest in
upholding a system of delusion and superstition. No! certainly not,
Their interest was threatened, and their _craft_ in danger, and the
consequence was, that the _Atheist_ or _Disciple of Nature_, has been
abused with every scurrilous epithet, "full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing."

Atheism is stigmatized with having "opened a wide door for libertinism,
destroying the social and moral compact; and striking a deadly blow at
religion. It is asserted that the atheist, who by his opinions has
deprived himself of the hope and consolation of a future life, has no
motive for the practise of virtue, or to contribute to the well being of
society. Deprived of a chimera which religion every where presents him,
he wanders through the cheerless gloom of scepticism, regardless of the
consequences of an abandoned life. Without a God, he acknowledges no
benefactor; without divine laws, he knows no rule for the conduct of
life, and submits to no law but his passions. An enemy to all social
order, he spurns at human laws, and breaks through every barrier opposed
to his wickedness." Under such colours is an atheist painted: a short
digression must be suffered to examine this picture, and to disprove the
assertions so sweepingly made.

I admit that atheism strikes a deadly blow at religion; because under
the cloak of religion, mankind have been oppressed in all ages; but that
it encourages libertinism, or destroys the "social and moral compact," I
have yet to learn. In all organized governments, men are restrained from
crime and compelled to submission by laws supposed to be made for the
general benefit. These laws are the effect of the first formation of
society for mutual preservation. Here then is a sufficient motive for
the one as well as the other, to contribute to the well-being of
society. The laws of Nature are the same in effect on the atheist and
the religionist. If man be led captive by his passions, and gives
himself to debauchery and voluptuousness, nature will punish him with
bodily infirmities and a debilitated mind. If he be intemperate, she
will shorten his days and bring him to the grave with the most poignant
remorse. The fatal effects of his vicious propensities will fall upon
his own head. A disturber of social order will live in continual fear of
the vengeance of society, and that very fear is a more dreadful
punishment than the just vengeance which perhaps he escapes. It renders
life burdensome, and makes a man hateful to himself. Can men have
stronger motives for the practise of virtue? The atheist is in full
possession of these motives, and the religionist is most completely
swayed by them, whatever may be his pretensions to others derived from
religion. But we are assured he has other motives; more powerful
incentives, in the promise of future rewards and punishments. This, like
all other chimerical doctrines, cannot be maintained if we look at the
general practise of mankind. Let us trace the effects of this doctrine,
or rather let us examine the actions, conduct, and character of men
professing it, and we shall see how little influence it has over them.
The bulk of society believe they shall answer in a future life for the
deeds done in the present. Nay, I hardly think one in a hundred thousand
will say they doubt it. What then is its effect? With this dreadful
sentence, _"Thou shalt go into everlasting punishment,"_ continually
sounded in their ears, do we not daily see the greatest enormities
committed? Are not the most horrid crimes perpetrated in all parts of
the world? The most vicious propensities and the most extravagant
follies are almost indiscriminately gratified. Is not vice frequently
triumphant, and virtue compelled to seek her own reward in retirement?
The laws of society are broken by the most flagrant injustice, and the
laws of nature outraged by the most shocking depravity. All this evil
exists in nations believing themselves to be accountable beings after
death. Where then are the beneficial effects arising, to mankind from
the promulgation of this doctrine? Men who cannot be restrained from
doing evil by human laws, have no dread of any other. Their whole lives
and conduct confirm this. Others who live in submission to the laws of
society, give themselves up to those vicious habits, (without fear of
divine laws) which the law does not take cognizance of. Men, not wholly
depraved, or not without the pale of society, generally respect the
laws, and fear the bad opinion of others. Hence we observe, when
interest or passion leads them into secret vices, they invariably play
the hypocrite; and although they are aware of the denunciations of their
God, whom they acknowledge is a witness to all their actions, while they
preserve their fair fame they still persevere. In fact, they live as if
they disbelieved in his existence; and yet the greatest criminal, the
most depraved wretch, would shudder at being told there is no God. The
atheist, as a man, is liable to commit the same crimes, and fall into
the same vices as the believer; but because he is an atheist, is he a
worse criminal than the other? In one respect, I conceive he is not so
bad. He only acts in defiance of _human_ laws,--he only offends men; the
other infringes _both divine_ and _human_;--he defies both God and man.
Both are injurious to society and themselves, and both are actuated by
the came motives.

Again we are told, that the well disposed part of mankind are rendered
more virtuous, and the vicious less vicious by this doctrine. How are we
to know that? If the virtuous man acts uprightly, does good to his
fellow creatures, restrains his passions, and returns good for evil,
experience teaches him it is his interest so to do. Those who are
viciously disposed are only deterred from crime by penal laws. Societies
cannot long exist, where evil has the ascendency. Without social laws,
this would really be the case, notwithstanding the threats of an
avenging God. If men were told they would not be answerable for the evil
committed in this life to human laws, but that God would punish them
after death, it is evident the human race would soon be exterminated. On
the other hand, tell them their crimes will never be punished by God,
or, in other words, there is no other God than NATURE, but that the laws
of men will avenge the offences against society; so long as those laws
are administered with justice and impartiality, so long will such
society continue to improve. Hence it is evident that the system which
will maintain order in society by itself, must be the best and most
rational. A good government without religion would be more solid and
lasting, and tend more to the preservation of mankind, than all the
theocratical or ecclesiastical governments that ever the world was
subject to.--Thus much for the opponents of atheism.

It has been asserted with a perverse obstinacy, by the advocates for the
existence of a deity, that the SYSTEM OF NATURE was never written by the
author whose name it bears.--It is granted that it was not published
during his life: but that circumstance forms no reason why such a
conclusion should be drawn. The persecutions which the atheists have
endured, were a sufficient excuse for the work not appearing in any form
during the life time of its venerable author. The Athenians sought to
try Diagoras the Melian, for atheism; but he fled from Athens, and a
price was offered for his head. Protagoras was banished from Athens, and
his books burnt, because he ventured to assert, that he knew nothing of
the gods. Stephen Dolet was burnt at Paris for atheism. Giordano Bruno
was burnt by the Inquisitors in Italy. Lucilio Vanini was burnt at
Thoulouse, through the kind offices of an Attorney-General. Bayle was
under the necessity of fleeing to Holland. Casimio Liszynski was
executed at Grodno;--and Akenhead at Edinborough. And the body of the
eloquent and erudite Hume, was obliged to be watched many nights by his
friends, lest it should be taken up by the fanatics, who considered him
one of the greatest monsters of iniquity, because he did not happen to
believe as they believed.--With these pictures of Christian persecution
before his eyes, is it surprising that M. de Mirabaud should adopt the
resolution of suffering the SYSTEM OF NATURE to appear as a posthumous
work? That the same fate would have attended him, the most devout
Christian will not undertake to deny.

However the sentiments of M. de Mirabaud may be condemned by the
fanatics, all those who knew him bear the most brilliant testimony of
his integrity, candour, and the soundness of his understanding; in a
word, to his social virtues, and the innocence of his manners. He died
universally regretted, at Paris, the twenty-fourth of June, 1760, in the
eighty-sixth year of his age.

The following works, written by him at different periods, were never
published:--_The Life of Jesus Christ. Impartial Reflections on the
Gospel. The Morality of Nature. An Abridged History of the Priesthood;
Ancient and Modern. The Opinions of the Ancients concerning the Jews._ A
wretched mutilated edition of this last work was published at Amsterdam,
in 1740, in two small volumes, under the title of _Miscellaneous


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