G. W. (George William) Foote.

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Produced by David Widger


By G. W. Foote

Editor of "The Freethinker."







I republish in this little volume a few of my numerous articles
that have appeared in the _Secularist_, the _Liberal_, the _National
Reformer_, and the _Freethinker_, during the last five or six years.
I have included nothing (I hope) of merely ephemeral interest. Every
article in this collection was at least written carefully, and with an
eye to more than the exigencies of the moment. In disentombing them
from the cemeteries of periodical literature, where so many of their
companions lie buried, I trust I have not allowed parental love to
outrun discretion.

I have not thought it necessary to indicate, in each case, the journal
in which the reprinted articles were first published.

Should anyone object to the freedom of my style, or the asperity of
my criticism, I would ask him to remember that Christianity still
persecutes to the full extent of its power, and that a Creed which
answers argument with prosecution cannot expect tender treatment in
return; and I would also ask him, in the words of Ruskin, "to consider
how much less harm is done in the world by ungraceful boldness than by
untimely fear."

London, November 15th, 1882.


(November, 1882.)

The Archbishop of York is peculiarly qualified to speak on religion
and progress. His form of thanksgiving to the God of Battles for our
"victory" in Egypt marks him as a man of extraordinary intellect and
character, such as common people may admire without hoping to emulate;
while his position, in Archbishop Tait's necessitated absence from the
scene, makes him the active head of the English Church. Let us listen to
the great man.

Archbishop Thomson recently addressed "a working-men's meeting" in the
Drill Hall, Sheffield. It was densely crowded by six or seven thousand
people, and this fact was cited by the Archbishop as a proof that the
working classes of England have not yet lost interest in the Christian
faith. But we should very much like to know how it was ascertained
that all, or even the major portion, of the vast audience were
working-men. It is easy enough to give any meeting a name. We often hear
of a Conservative Working-men's banquet, with tickets at something like
a guinea each, a duke at the top of the table and a row' of lords
down each side. And our experience leads us to believe that nearly all
religious meetings of "working-men" are attended chiefly by the lower
middle classes who go regularly to church or chapel every Sunday of
their lives.

Even, however, if the whole six or seven thousand were working-men, the
fact would prove little; for Sheffield contains a population of three
hundred thousand, and it was not difficult for the clergy who thronged
the platform to get up a big "ticket" meeting, at which a popular
Archbishop was the principal speaker, and the eloquence was all to be
had for nothing.

The Archbishop's lecture, or sermon, or whatever it was, contained
nothing new, nor was any old idea presented in a new light. It was
simply a summary of the vulgar declamations against the "carnal mind"
with which we are all so familiar. Progress, said his Grace, was of two
kinds, intellectual and moral. Of the former sort we had plenty, but
of the latter not so much. He repudiated the notion that moral progress
would naturally keep pace with intellectual progress, and he denied that
righteousness could ever prevail without "some sanction from above."
This was the sum and substance of his discourse, and we have no
doubt that our readers have heard the same thing, in various forms of
language, some hundreds of times.

Like the rest of his tribe, Archbishop Thomson went abroad for all his
frightful warnings, and especially to France. He severely condemned the
French "pride in progress," which led to the Revolution. His Grace has
certainly a most original conception of history. Ordinary historians
tell us that the Revolution was caused by hunger, bad government, and
the rigidity of old institutions that could not accommodate themselves
to new ideas. But whatever were the causes, look at the results. Compare
the state of France before the Revolution with its condition now. The
despotic monarchy is gone; the luxurious and privileged aristocracy has
disappeared; and the incredibly wealthy and tyrannous Church is reduced
to humbleness and poverty. But the starving masses have become the most
prosperous on the face of the earth; the ignorant multitudes are well
educated; the platform and the press are free; a career is open to every
citizen; science, art, and literature have made immense strides; and
although Paris, like every great capital, may still, as Mr. Arnold says,
lack morality, there is no such flagrant vileness within her walls as
the corruptions of the _ancien régime_; no such impudent affronting of
the decencies of life as made the _parc aux cerfs_ for ever infamous,
and his Christian Majesty, Louis the Fifteenth, a worthy compeer of
Tiberius; no such shameless wickedness as made the orgies of the Duke of
Orleans and the Abbé Dubois match the worst saturnalia of Nero.

His Grace felt obliged to advert also to the Paris Commune, about which
his information seems to be equal to his knowledge of the Revolution. He
has the ignorance or audacity to declare that the Commune "destroyed a
city and ravaged the land;" when, as a matter of fact, the struggle was
absolutely confined to Paris, and the few buildings injured were in
the line of fire. This worthy prelate thinks destruction of buildings
a crime on the part of Communalists, but a virtue on the part of a
Christian power; and while denouncing the partial wreck of Paris, he
blesses the wholesale ruin of Alexandria.

His Grace ventures also to call the leading men of the Commune "drunken
dissolute villains." The beaten party is always wicked, and perhaps
Dr. Thomson will remember that Jesus Christ himself was accused of
consorting with publicans and sinners. Drunken dissolute villains do
not risk their lives for an idea. The men of the Commune may have been
mistaken, but their motives were lofty; and Millière, falling dead on
the Church steps before the Versailles bullets, with the cry of _Vive
l'Humanité_ on his lips, was as noble a hero as any crucified Galilean
who questioned why his God had forsaken him.

That intellectual and moral progress naturally go together, the
Archbishop calls "an absurd and insane doctrine," and he couples with
these epithets the honored names of Buckle and Spencer. Now it will
be well to have a clear understanding on this point. Are intellectual
causes dominant or subordinate? Even so intensely religious a man as
Lamennais unhesitatingly answers that they are dominant. He affirms, in
his _Du Passé et de l'Avenir du, Peuple_, that "intellectual development
has produced all other developments," and he adds: -

"It is represented that evil, as it appears in history, springs entirely
from the passions. This is quite false. The passions disturb the
existing order, whatever it may be, but they do not constitute it. They
have not that power. It is the necessary result of the received ideas
and beliefs. Thus the passions show themselves the same in all epochs,
and yet, in different epochs, the established order changes, and
sometimes fundamentally."

The truth is that the great moral conceptions are securely established,
and the only possible improvement in them must come from the increased
fineness and subtlety of our mental powers.

Civilisation and progress are, according to Archbishop Thomson, nothing
but "cobwebs and terms." He besought the working men of Sheffield not to
go for information to a big book written in some garret in London.
His Grace, who lives in a palace at other people's expense, has a very
natural dislike of any man of genius who may live in a garret at his
own. What has the place in which a book is written to do with its value?
"Don Quixote" and the "Pilgrim's Progress" were written in gaol; and for
all Archbishop Thomson knows to the contrary every gospel and epistle of
the New Testament may have been written in an attic or a cellar.

The Archbishop seems to hate the very idea of Progress. What has it
done, he asks, to abolish drunkenness and gambling? To which we reply
by asking what Christianity has done. Those vices are unmistakably here,
and on the face of it any objection they may furnish against Progress
must equally apply to Christianity. Nay more; for Christianity has had
an unlimited opportunity to reform the world, while Progress has been
hindered at every turn by the insolent usurpation of its rival.

Dr. Thomson admits that he cannot find a text in the Bible against
gambling, and assuredly he cannot find one in favor of teetotalism. On
the contrary he will find plenty of texts which recommend the "wine that
cheereth the heart of God and man;" and he knows that his master, Jesus
Christ, once played the part of an amateur publican at a marriage feast,
and turned a large quantity of water into wine in order to keep the
spree going when it had once begun.

We repeat that all the Archbishop's objections to Progress, based on the
moral defects of men, apply with tenfold force against Religion, which
has practically had the whole field to itself. And we assert that he is
grievously mistaken if he imagines that supernatural beliefs can ennoble
knaves or give wisdom to fools. When he talks about "Christ's blood shed
to purchase our souls," and specifies the first message of his creed
as "Come and be forgiven," he is appealing to our basest motives, and
turning the temple into a huckster's shop. Let him and all his tribe
listen to these words of Ruskin's: -

"Your honesty is _not_ to be based either on religion or policy. Both
your religion and policy must be based on _it_. Your honesty must be
based, as the sun is, in vacant heaven; poised, as the lights in the
firmament, which have rule over the day and over the night If you ask
why you are to be honest - you are, in the question itself, dishonored
'Because you are a man,' is the only answer; and therefore I said in
a former letter that to make your children _capable of honesty_ is
the beginning of education. Make them men first and religious men
afterwards, and all will be sound; but a knave's religion is always the
rottenest thing about him. - _Time and Tide_, p. 37."

These are the words of a real spiritual teacher. Archbishop Thomson will
never get within a million miles of their meaning; nor will anybody
be deceived, by the unctuous "Oh that" with which he concludes his
discourse, like a mental rolling of the whites of his eyes.

As we approach the end of his address, we begin to understand his
Grace's hatred of Progress. He complains that "intellectual progress
never makes a man conceive eternal hopes, never makes a man conceive
that he has an eternal friend in heaven, even the Son of God." Quite
true. Intellectual progress tends to bound our desires within the scope
of their realisation, and to dissipate the fictions of theology. It is
therefore inimical to all professional soul-savers, who chatter about
another world with no understanding of this; and especially to the
lofty teachers of religion who luxuriate in palaces, and fling jibes and
sneers at the toiling soldiers of progress who face hunger, thirst and
death. These rich disciples of the poor Nazarene are horrified when
the scorn is retorted on them and their creed; and Archbishop Thomson
expresses his "disgust" at our ridiculing his Bible and endeavoring to
bring his "convictions" into "contempt." It is, he says, "an offence
against the first principles of mutual sympathy and consideration." Yet
this angry complainant describes other people's convictions as "absurd
and insane." All the sympathy and consideration is to be on one side!
The less said about either the better. There can be no treaty or truce
in a war of principles, and the soldiers of Progress will neither take
quarter nor give it. Christianity must defend itself. It may try to kill
us with the poisoned arrows of persecution; but what defence can it
make against the rifleshot of common-sense, or how stand against the
shattering artillery of science? Every such battle is decided in its
commencement, for every religion begins to succumb the very moment it is


(February, 1879.)

Fling mud enough and some of it will stick. This noble maxim has been
the favorite of traducers in all ages and climes. They know that the
object of their malignity cannot always be on the alert to cleanse
himself from the filth they fling, especially if cast behind his
back; they know that lies, and especially slanderous lies, are hard to
overtake, and when caught harder to strangle; and therefore they feel
confident as to the ultimate fate of their victim if they can only
persevere long enough in their vile policy of defamation. For human
nature being more prone to believe evil than good of others, it
generally happens that the original traducers are at length joined by a
host of kindred spirits almost as eager and venomous as themselves, "the
long-neck'd geese of the world, who are ever hissing dispraise because
their natures are little;" while a multitude of others, not so
much malignant as foolish and given to scandal, lend their cowardly
assistance, and help to vilify characters far beyond the reach of their
emulation. And should such characters be those of men who champion
unpopular causes, there is no lie too black for belief concerning them,
no accusation of secret theft or hateful meanness or loathsome lust,
that will not readily gain credence. Mr. Tennyson speaks of -

That fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot

but what is that to the far fiercer and keener light which beats upon
the lives of the great heroes of progress? With all due deference to
the Poet Laureate, we conceive that kings and their kind have usually
extended to them a charity which covers a multitude of their sins. The
late king of Italy, for instance, was said to have had "the language of
a guardroom, the manners of a trooper, and the morals of a he-goat," yet
at his death how tenderly his faults were dealt with by the loyal press,
and how strongly were all his merits brought into relief. Our own royal
Sardanapalus, George the Fourth, although Leigh Hunt had the courage
to describe him aright and went to the gaol for so doing, was styled by
Society "the first gentleman in Europe." Yet Mazzini, Vittor Emmanuel's
great contemporary, whose aims were high and noble as his life was pure,
got little else than abuse from this same loyal press; and the Society
which adored George the Fourth charged Shelley himself with unspeakable
vices equalled only by the native turpitude of his soul.

Perhaps no man has suffered more from calumny than Thomas Paine. During
his lifetime, indeed, his traducers scarcely ever dared to vent their
malice in public, doubtless through fear of receiving a castigation
from his vigorous and trenchant pen. But after his death they rioted
in safety, and gave free play to the ingenuity of their malevolence.
Gradually their libels became current; thousands of people who knew
almost nothing of his life and less of his writings were persuaded that
Thomas Paine, "the Infidel," was a monster of iniquity, in comparison
with whom Judas appeared a saint, and the Devil himself nearly white;
and this estimate finally became a tradition, which the editors of
illustrated religious papers and the writers of fraudulent "Death-Bed
Scenes" did their best to perpetuate. In such hands the labor of
posthumous vilification might have remained without greatly troubling
those who feel an interest in Thomas Paine's honor through gratitude
for his work. The lowest scavengers of literature, who purvey religious
offal to the dregs of orthodoxy, were better employed thus than in a
reverse way, since their praise is so very much more dishonorable and
appalling than their blame. But when other literary workmen of loftier
repute descend to the level of these, and help them in their villainous
task, it becomes advisable that some one who honors the memory of the
man thus aspersed should interpose, and attempt that vindication which
he can no longer make for himself.

In reviewing Mr. Edward Smith's "Life of Cobbett," our principal
literary paper, the Athenæum, in its number for January 11th, went out
of its way to defame Paine's character. This is what it said: -

"A more despicable man than Tom Paine cannot easily be found among the
ready writers of the eighteenth century. He sold himself to the highest
bidder, and he could be bought at a very low price. He wrote well;
sometimes he wrote as pointedly as Junius or Cobbett. Neither excelled
him in coining telling and mischievous phrases; neither surpassed him in
popularity-hunting. He had the art, which was almost equal to genius, of
giving happy titles to his productions. When he denounced the British
Government in the name of 'Common Sense' he found willing readers in the
rebellious American colonists, and a rich reward from their grateful
representatives. When he wrote on behalf of the 'Rights of Man,' and in
furtherance of the 'Age of Reason,' he convinced thousands by his
title-pages who were incapable of perceiving the inconclusiveness of his
arguments. His speculations have long since gone the way of all shams;
and his charlatanism as a writer was not redeemed by his character as a
man. Nothing could be worse than his private life; he was addicted to
the most degrading of vices. He was no hypocrite, however, and he cannot
be charged with showing that regard for appearances which constitutes
the homage paid by vice to virtue. Such a man was well qualified for
earning notoriety by insulting Washington. Only a thorough-paced rascal
could have had the assurance to charge Washington with being
unprincipled and unpatriotic. Certainly Mr. Smith has either much to
learn, or else he has forgotten much, otherwise he could not venture to
suggest the erection of a monument 'recording the wisdom and political
virtues of Thomas Paine.'"

Now we have in this tirade all the old charges, with a new one which
the critic has either furnished himself or derived from an obscure
source - namely, that Paine "sold himself to the highest bidder." Let us
examine the last charge first. The critic curiously contradicts himself.
Paine, he admits, could "sometimes write as pointedly as Junius or
Cobbett," whose works sold enormously, and he had the art of devising
happy titles for his productions; yet, although he sold himself to the
highest bidder, he could be bought at a very low price! The fact is,
Paine was never bought at all. His was not a hireling pen. Whatever he
wrote he put his name to, and he never parted with the copyright of any
of his works, lest the Government or some friend of despotism should
procure their suppression. He also published his writings at a
ridiculously low price, so low indeed that he lost by them instead of
gaining. Of his "Common Sense," that fine pamphlet which stirred the
American colonists to battle against their oppressors, not less than a
hundred thousand copies were sold; yet he found himself finally indebted
to his printer £29 12s. 1d. Fifteen years later the English Government
tried through the publisher to get the copyright of the "Rights of Man;"
but though a large sum was offered, Paine refused on principle to let it
pass out of his own hands. The first part of this work was published
at a price which precluded any chance of profit; the publication of
the second part caused him to be tried and condemned for treason, the
penalty of the law being escaped only by flight. All publication of his
works, whether political or religious, was afterwards illegal. Thousands
of copies were circulated surreptitiously, or openly by men like Richard
Carlile, who spent nine years in prison for his sale of prohibited
books. But clearly Paine could derive no profit from this traffic in
his works, for he never set foot in England again. Thomas Paine wrote
in order to spread his political and religious views, and for no other
purpose. He was not a professional author, nor a professional critic,
and never needed payment for his literary work. And assuredly he got
none. Let the _Athenæum_ critic inform the world to whom Paine sold
himself, or who ever paid him a penny for his writings. Until he does so
we shall believe that the author of "Common Sense," the "Rights of Man,"
and the "Age of Reason," was honest in saying: "In a great affair, where
the good of mankind is at stake, I love to work for nothing; and so
fully am I under the influence of this principle, that I should lose
the spirit, the pride, and the pleasure of it, were I conscious that I
looked for reward."

Popularity-hunting, to use the critic's graceless phrase, was Paine's
next fault; but as, according to the same authority, he was guilty in
this respect only in the same sense as Junius was, the burden of his
iniquity cannot be very great.

Addiction to the most degrading of vices, is a charge difficult to
confute until we know specifically what vice is meant. Paine has been
accused of drunkenness; but by whom? Not by his intimate acquaintances,
who would have detected his guilt, but by his enemies who were never in
his society, and therefore could know nothing of his habits. Cheetham,
who first disseminated this accusation, was a notorious libeller, and
was more than once compelled to make a public apology for his lies;
but he was a shameless creature, and actually in his "Life" of Paine
resuscitated and amplified falsehoods for which he had tendered abject
apologies while his victim was alive. Even, however, if Paine had
yielded to the seductions of strong drink, he should be judged by the
custom of his own age, and not that of ours.

Mr. Leslie Stephen does not rail against Boswell for his drinking
powers; Burns is not outlawed for his devotion to John Barlycorn; Byron
and Sheridan are not beyond pardon because they often went drunk to bed;
and some of the greatest statesmen of last century and this, including
Pitt and Fox, are not considered the basest of men because they
exercised that right which Major O'Gorman claims for all Irishmen - "to
drink as much as they can carry." But no such plea is necessary, for
Paine was not addicted to drink, but remarkably abstemious. Mr. Fellows,
with whom he lived for more than six months, said that he never saw him
the worse for drink. Dr. Manley said, "while I attended him he never was
inebriated." Colonel Burr said, "he was decidedly temperate." And even
Mr. Jarvis, whom Cheetham cited as his authority for charging Paine with
drunkenness, authorised Mr. Vale, of New York, editor of the _Beacon_,
to say that _Cheetham lied_. Amongst the public men who knew Paine
personally were Burke, Home Tooke, Priestley, Lord Edward Fitzgerald,
Dr. Moore, Jefferson, Washington, Volney and Condorcet: but none of
these ever hinted at his love of drink. The charge of drunkeness is a
posthumous libel, circulated by a man who had publicly quarrelled with
Paine, who had been obliged to apologise for former aspersions, and who
after Paine's death was prosecuted and _condemned_ for libelling a lady
whom he had accused of undue familiarity with the principal object of
his malice.

Finding the charge of drunkenness unequivocally rebutted, Paine's
traducers advance that of licentiousness. But this is equally
unsuccessful. The authority relied on is still Cheetham, who in turn
borrowed from a no less disreputable source. A man named Carver had
quarrelled with Paine over money matters; in fact, he had been obliged
with a loan which he forgot to pay, and like all base natures he showed

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