The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll
Dresden Edition, V:447
[Hand-typed by Cliff Walker]
The Observer's Second Attack
From the N.Y. Observer of Nov. 1, 1877
TOM PAINE AGAIN
In the Observer of September 27th, in response to numerous calls from different parts of the country for information, and in fulfillment of a promise, we presented a mass of testimony, chiefly from persons with whom we had been personally acquainted, establishing the truth of our assertions in regard to the dissolute life and miserable end of Paine. It was not a pleasing subject for discussion, and an apology, or at least an explanation, is due to our readers for resuming it, and for occupying so much space, or any space, in exhibiting the truth and the proofs in regard to the character of a man who had become so debased by his intemperance, and so vile in his habits, as to be excluded, for many years before and up to the time of his death, from all decent society.
Our reasons for taking up the subject at all, and for presenting at this time so much additional testimony in regard to the facts of the case, are these: At different periods for the last fifty years, efforts have been made by Infidels to revive and honor the memory of one whose friends would honor him most by suffering his name to sink into oblivion, if that were possible. About two years since, Rev. O. B. Frothingham, of this city, came to their aid, and undertook a sort of championship of Paine, making in a public discourse this statement: "No private character has been more foully calumniated in the name of God than that of Thomas Paine." (Mr. Frothingham, it will be remembered, is the one who recently, in a public discourse, announced the downfall of Christianity, although he very kindly made the allowance that, "it may be a thousand years before its decay will be visible to all eyes." It is our private opinion that it will be at least a thousand and one.) Rev. John W. Chadwick, a minister of the same order of unbelief, who signs himself, "Minister of the Second Unitarian Society in Brooklyn," has devoted two discourses to the same end, eulogizing Paine. In one of these, which we have before us in a handsomely printed pamphlet, entitled, "Method and Value of his (Paine's) Religious Teachings," he says: "Christian usage has determined that an Infidel means one who does not believe in Christianity as a supernatural religion; in the Bible as a supernatural book; in Jesus as a supernatural person. And in this sense Paine was an Infidel, and so, thank God, am I." It is proper to add that Unitarians generally decline all responsibility for the utterances of both of these men, and that they compose a denomination, or rather two denominations, of their own.
There is also a certain class of Infidels who are not quite prepared to meet the odium that attaches to the name; they call themselves Christians, but their sympathies are all with the enemies of Christianity, and they are not always able to conceal it. They have not the courage of their opinions, like Mr. Frothingham and Mr. Chadwick, and they work only sideways toward the same end. We have been no little amused since our last article on this subject appeared, to read some of the articles that have been written on the other side, though professedly on no side, and to observe how sincerely these men deprecate the discussion of the character of Paine, as an unprofitable topic. It never appeared to them unprofitable when the discussion was on the other side.
Then, too, we have for months past been receiving letters from different parts of the country, asking authentic information on the subject and stating that the followers of Paine are making extraordinary efforts to circulate his writings against the Christian religion and in order to give currency to these writings they are endeavoring to rescue his name from the disgrace into which it sank during the latter years of his life. Paine spent several of his last years in furnishing a commentary upon his Infidel principles. This commentary was contained in his besotted, degraded life and miserable end, but his friends do not wish the commentary to go out in connection with his writings. They prefer to have them read without the comments by their author. Hence this anxiety to free the great apostle of Infidelity from the obloquy which his life brought upon his name; to represent him as a pure, noble, virtuous man, and to make it appear that he died a peaceful, happy death, just like a philosopher.
But what makes the publication of the facts in the case still more imperative at this time is the wholesale accusation brought against the Christian public by the friends and admirers of Paine. Christian ministers as a class, and Christian journals are expressly accused of falsifying history, of defaming "the mighty dead!" (meaning Paine,) &c., &c. In the face of all these accusations it cannot be out of place to state the facts and to fortify the statement by satisfactory evidence, as we are abundantly able to do.
The two points on which we proposed to produce the testimony are, the character of Paine's life (referring of course to his last residence in this country, for no one has intimated that he had sunk into such besotted drunkenness until about the time of his return to the United States in 1802), and the real character of his death as consistent with such a life, and as marked further by the cowardliness, which has been often exhibited by Infidels in the same circumstances.
It is nothing at all to the purpose to show, as his friends are fond of doing, that Paine rendered important service to the cause of American Independence. This is not the point under discussion and is not denied. No one ever called in question the valuable service that Benedict Arnold rendered to the country in the early part of the Revolutionary war; but this, with true Americans, does not suffice to cast a shade of loveliness or even to spread a mantle of charity over his subsequent career. Whatever share Paine had in the personal friendship of the fathers of the Revolution he forfeited by his subsequent life of beastly drunkenness and degradation, and on this account as well as on account of his blasphemy he was shunned by all decent people.
We wish to make one or two corrections of misstatements by Paine's advocates, on which a vast amount of argument has been simply wasted. We have never stated in any form, nor have we ever supposed, that Paine actually renounced his Infidelity. The accounts agree in stating that he died a blaspheming Infidel, and his horrible death we regard as one of the fruits, the fitting complement of his Infidelity. We have never seen anything that encouraged the hope that he was not abandoned of God in his last hours. But we have no doubt, on the other hand, that having become a wreck in body and mind through his intemperance, abandoned of God, deserted by his Infidel companions, and dependent upon Christian charity for the attentions he received, miserable beyond description in his condition, and seeing nothing to hope for in the future, he was afraid to die, and was ready to call upon God and upon Christ for mercy, and ready perhaps in the next minute to blaspheme. This is what we referred to in speaking of Paine's death as cowardly. It is shown in the testimony we have produced, and still more fully in that which we now present. The most wicked men are ready to call upon God in seasons of great peril, and sometimes ask for Christian ministrations when in extreme illness; but they are often ready on any alleviation of distress to turn to their wickedness again, in the expressive language of Scripture, "as the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire."
We have never stated or intimated, nor, so far as we are aware, has any one of our correspondents stated, that Paine died in poverty. It has been frequently and truthfully stated that Paine was dependent on Christian charity for the attentions he received in his last days, and so he was. His Infidel companions forsook him and Christian hearts and hands ministered to his wants, notwithstanding the blasphemies of his death-bed.
Nor has one of our correspondents stated, as alleged, that Paine died at New Rochelle. The Rev. Dr. Wickham, who was a resident of that place nearly fifty years ago, and who was perfectly familiar with the facts of his life, wrote that Paine spent "his latter days" on the farm presented to him by the State of New York, which was strictly true, but made no reference to it as the place of his death.
Such misrepresentations serve to show how much the advocates of Paine admire "truth."
With these explanations we produce further evidence in regard to the manner of Paine's life and the character of his death, both of which we have already characterized in appropriate terms, as the following testimony will show.
In regard to Paine's "personal habits," even before his return to this country, and particularly his aversion to soap and water, Elkana Watson, a gentleman of the highest social position, who resided in France during a part of the Revolutionary war, and who was the personal friend of Washington, Franklin, and other patriots of the period, makes some incidental statements in his "Men and Times of the Revolution." Though eulogizing Paine's efforts in behalf of American Independence, he describes him as "coarse and uncouth in his manners, loathsome in his appearance, and a disgusting egotist." On Paine's arrival at Nantes, the Mayor and other distinguished citizens called upon him to pay their respects to the American patriot. Mr. Watson says: "He was soon rid of his respectable visitors, who left the room with marks of astonishment and disgust." Mr. W., after much entreaty, and only by promising him a bundle of newspapers to read while undergoing the operation, succeeded in prevailing on Paine to "stew, for an hour, in a hot bath." Mr. W. accompanied Paine to the bath, and "instructed the keeper, in French, (which Paine did not understand,) gradually to increase the heat of the water until 'le Monsieur serait bien bouille' (until the gentleman shall be well boiled;) and adds that "he became so much absorbed in his reading that he was nearly parboiled before leaving the bath, much to his improvement and my satisfaction."
William Carver has been cited as a witness in behalf of Paine, and particularly as to his "personal habits." In a letter to Paine, dated December 2, 1776, he bears the following testimony:
"A respectable gentleman from New Rochelle called to see me a few days back, and said that everybody was tired of you there, and no one would undertake to board and lodge you. I thought this was the case, as I found you at a tavern in a most miserable situation. You appeared as if you had not been shaved for a fortnight, and as to a shirt, it could not be said that you had one on. It was only the remains of one, and this, likewise, appeared not to have been off your back for a fortnight, and was nearly the color of tanned leather; and you had the most disagreeable smell possible; just like that of our poor beggars in England. Do you remember the pains I took to clean you? that I got a tub of warm water and soap and washed you from head to foot, and this I had to do three times before I could get you clean." (And then follow more disgusting details.)
"You say, also, that you found your own liquors during the time you boarded with me; but you should have said, 'I found only a small part of the liquor I drank during my stay with you; this part I purchased of John Fellows, which was a demijohn of brandy containing four gallons, and this did not serve me three weeks.' This can be proved, and I mean not to say anything that I cannot prove; for I hold truth as a precious jewel. It is a well-known fact, that you drank one quart of brandy per day, at my expense, during the different times that you have boarded with me, the demijohn above mentioned excepted, and the last fourteen weeks you were sick. Is not this a supply of liquor for dinner and supper?"
This chosen witness in behalf of Paine, closes his letter, which is full of loathsome descriptions of Paine's manner of life, as follows:
"Now, sir, I think I have drawn a complete portrait of your character; yet to enter upon every minutiae would be to give a history of your life, and to develop the fallacious mask of hypocrisy and deception under which you have acted in your political as well as moral capacity of life."
(Signed) "WILLIAM CARVER."
Carver had the same opinion of Paine to his dying day. When an old man, and an Infidel of the Paine type and habits, he was visited by the Rev. E.F. Hatfield, D.D., of this city, who writes to us of his interview with Carver, under date of Sept. 27, 1877:
"I conversed with him nearly an hour, I took special pains to learn from him all that I could about Paine, whose landlord he had been for eighteen months. He spoke of him as a base and shameless drunkard, utterly destitute of moral principle. His denunciations of the man were perfectly fearful, and fully confirmed, in my apprehension, all that had been written of Paine's immorality and repulsiveness."
Cheetham's Life of Paine, which was published the year that he died, and which has passed through several editions (we have three of them now before us) describes a man lost to all moral sensibility and to all sense of decency, a habitual drunkard, and it is simply incredible that a book should have appeared so soon after the death of its subject and should have been so frequently republished without being at once refuted, if the testimony were not substantially true. Many years later, when it was found necessary to bolster up the reputation of Paine, Cheetham's Memoirs were called a pack of lies. If only one-tenth part of what he publishes circumstantially in his volume, as facts in regard to Paine, were true, all that has been written against him in later years does not begin to set forth the degraded character of the man's life. And with all that has been written on the subject we see no good reason to doubt the substantial accuracy of Cheetham's portrait of the man whom he knew so well.
Dr. J.W. Francis. well-known as an eminent physician, of this city, in his Reminiscences of New York, says of Paine:
"He who, in his early days, had been associated with, and had received counsel from Franklin, was, in his old age, deserted by the humblest menial; he, whose pen has proved a very sword among nations, had shaken empires, and made kings tremble, now yielded up the mastery to the most treacherous of tyrants, King Alcohol"
The physician who attended Paine during his last illness was Dr. James R. Manley, a gentleman of the highest character. A letter of his, written in October of the year that Paine died, fully corroborates the account of his state as recorded by Stephen Grellet in his Memoirs, which we have already printed. He writes:
"New York, October 2, 1809: I was called upon by accident to visit Mr. Paine, on the 25th of February last, and found him indisposed with fever, and very apprehensive of an attack of apoplexy, as he stated that he had that disease before, and at this time felt a great degree of vertigo, and was unable to help himself as he had hitherto done, on account of an intense pain above the eyes. On inquiry of the attendants I was told that three or four days previously he had concluded to dispense with his usual quantity of accustomed stimulus and that he had on that day resumed it. To the want of his usual drink they attributed his illness, and it is highly probable that the usual quantity operating upon a state of system more excited from the above privations, was the cause of the symptoms of which he then complained.... And here let me be permitted to observe (lest blame might attach to those whose business it was to pay any particular attention to his cleanliness of person) that it was absolutely impossible to effect that purpose. Cleanliness appeared to make no part of his comfort; he seemed to have a singular aversion to soap and water; he would never ask to be washed, and when he was he would always make objections; and it was not unusual to wash and to dress him clean very much against his inclinations. In this deplorable state, with confirmed dropsy, attended with frequent cough, vomiting and hiccough, he continued growing from bad to worse till the morning of the 8th of June, when he died. Though I may remark that during the last three weeks of his life his situation was such that his decease was confidently expected every day, his ulcers having assumed a gangrenous appearance, being excessively fetid, and discolored blisters having taken place on the soles of his feet without any ostensible cause, which baffled the usual attempts to arrest their progress; and when we consider his former habits, his advanced age, the feebleness of his constitution, his constant habit of using ardent spirits ad libitum till the commencement of his last illness, so far from wondering that he died so soon, we are constrained to ask, How did he live so long? Concerning his conduct during his disease I have not much to remark, though the little I have may be somewhat interesting. Mr. Paine professed to be above the fear of death, and a great part of his conversation was principally directed to give the impression that he was perfectly willing to leave this world, and yet some parts of his conduct were with difficulty reconcilable with his belief. In the first stages of his illness he was satisfied to be left alone during the day, but he required some person to be with him at night, urging as his reason that he was afraid that he should die when unattended, and at this period his deportment and his principle seemed to be consistent; so much so that a stranger would judge from some of the remarks he would make that he was an Infidel. I recollect being with him at night, watching; he was very apprehensive of a speedy dissolution, and suffered great distress of body, and perhaps of mind (for he was waiting the event of an application to the Society of Friends for permission that his corpse might be deposited in their grave-ground, and had reason to believe that the request might be refused), when he remarked in these words, 'I think I can say what they made Jesus Christ to say -- "My God, my God! why hast thou forsaken me? "He went on to observe on the want of that respect which he conceived he merited, when I observed to him that I thought his corpse should be matter of least concern to him; that those whom he would leave behind him would see that he was properly interred, and, further, that it would be of little consequence to me where I was deposited provided I was buried; upon which he answered that he had nothing else to talk about, and that he would as lief talk of his death as of anything, but that he was not so indifferent about his corpse as I appeared to be.
"During the latter part of his life, though his conversation was equivocal, his conduct was singular; he could not be left alone night or day; he not only required to have some person with him, but he must see that he or she was there, and would not allow his curtain to be closed at any time; and if, as it would sometimes unavoidably happen, he was left alone, he would scream and halloo until some person came to him. When relief from pain would admit, he seemed thoughtful and contemplative, his eyes being generally closed, and his hands folded upon his breast, although he never slept without the assistance of an anodyne. There was something remarkable in his conduct about this period (which comprises about two weeks immediately preceding his death), particularly when we reflect that Thomas Paine was the author of the 'Age of Reason.' He would call out during his paroxysms of distress, without intermission, 'O Lord help me! God help me! Jesus Christ help me! Lord help me! ' etc., repeating the same expressions without the least variation, in a tone of voice that would alarm the house. It was this conduct which induced me to think that he had abandoned his former opinions, and I was more inclined to that belief when I understood from his nurse (who is a very serious and, I believe, pious woman), that he would occasionally inquire, when he saw her engaged with a book, what she was reading, and, being answered, and at the same time asked whether she should read aloud, he assented, and would appear to give particular attention.
"I took occasion during the nights of the fifth and sixth of June to test the strength of his opinions respecting revelation. I purposely made him a very late visit; it was a time which seemed to suit exactly with my errand; it was midnight, he was in great distress, constantly exclaiming in the words above mentioned, when, after a considerable preface, I addressed him in the following manner, the nurse being present: 'Mr. Paine, your opinions, by a large portion of the community, have been treated with deference, you have never been in the habit of mixing in your conversation words of coarse meaning; you have never indulged in the practice of profane swearing; you must be sensible that we are acquainted with your religious opinions as they are given to the world. What must we think of your present conduct? Why do you call upon Jesus Christ to help you? Do you believe that he can help you? Do you believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ? Come, now, answer me honestly. I want an answer from the lips of a dying man, for I verily believe that you will not live twenty-four hours.' I waited some time at the end of every question; he did not answer, but ceased to exclaim in the above manner. Again I addressed him; 'Mr. Paine, you have not answered my questions; will you answer them? Allow me to ask again, do you believe? or let me qualify the question, do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?' After a pause of some minutes, he answered, 'I have no wish to believe on that subject.' I then left him, and knew not whether he afterward spoke to any person on any subject, though he lived, as I before observed, till the morning of the 8th. Such conduct, under usual circumstances, I conceive absolutely unaccountable, though, with diffidence, I would remark, not so much so in the present instance; for though the first necessary and general result of conviction be a sincere wish to atone for evil committed, yet it may be a question worthy of able consideration whether excessive pride of opinion, consummate vanity, and inordinate self-love might not prevent or retard that otherwise natural consequence. For my own part, I believe that had not Thomas Paine been such a distinguished Infidel he would have left less equivocal evidences of a change of opinion. Concerning the persons who visited Mr. Paine in his distress as his personal friends, I heard very little, though I may observe that their number was small, and of that number there were not wanting those who endeavored to support him in his deistical opinions, and to encourage him to 'die like a man,' to 'hold fast his integrity,' lest Christians, or, as they were pleased to term them, hypocrites, might take advantage of his weakness, and furnish themselves with a weapon by which they might hope to destroy their glorious system of morals. Numbers visited him from motives of benevolence and Christian charity, endeavoring to effect a change of mind in respect to his religious sentiments. The labor of such was apparently lost, and they pretty generally received such treatment from him as none but good men would risk a second time, though some of those persons called frequently."
The following testimony will be new to most of our readers. It is from a letter written by Bishop Fenwick (Roman Catholic Bishop of Boston), containing a full account of a visit which he paid to Paine in his last illness. It was printed in the United States Catholic Magazine for 1846; in the Catholic Herald of Philadelphia, October 15, 1846; in a supplement to the Hartford Courant, October 23, 1847; and in Littell's Living Age for January 22, 1848, from which we copy. Bishop Fenwick writes:
"A short time before Paine died I was sent for by him. He was prompted to this by a poor Catholic woman who went to see him in his sickness, and who told him, among other things, that in his wretched condition if anybody could do him any good it would be a Roman Catholic priest. This woman was an American convert (formerly a Shaking Quakeress) whom I had received into the church but a few weeks before. She was the bearer of this message to me from Paine. I stated this circumstance to F. Kohlmann, at breakfast, and requested him to accompany me. After some solicitation on my part he agreed to do so, at which I was greatly rejoiced, because I was at the time quite young and inexperienced in the ministry, and was glad to have his assistance, as I knew, from the great reputation of Paine, that I should have to do with one of the most impious as well as infamous of men. We shortly after set out for the house at Greenwich where Paine lodged, and on the way agreed on a mode of proceeding with him.
"We arrived at the house; a decent-looking elderly woman (probably his housekeeper,) came to the door and inquired whether we were the Catholic priests, for said she, 'Mr. Paine has been so much annoyed of late by other denominations calling upon him that he has left express orders with me to admit no one to-day but the clergymen of the Catholic Church. Upon assuring her that we were Catholic clergymen she opened the door and showed us into the parlor. She then left the room and shortly after returned to inform us that Paine was asleep, and, at the same time, expressed a wish that we would not disturb him, 'for,' said she, 'he is always in a bad humor when roused out of his sleep. It is better we wait a little till he be awake.' We accordingly sat down and resolved to await a more favorable moment. 'Gentlemen,' said the lady, after having taken her seat also, 'I really wish you may succeed with Mr. Paine, for he is laboring under great distress of mind ever since he was informed by his physicians that he cannot possibly live and must die shortly. He sent for you to-day because he was told that if any one could do him good you might. Possibly he may think you know of some remedy which his physicians are ignorant of. He is truly to be pitied. His cries when he is left alone are heart-rending. 'O Lord help me! 'he will exclaim during his paroxysms of distress -- 'God help me -- Jesus Christ help me!' repeating the same expressions without the least variation, in a tone of voice that would alarm the house. Sometimes he will say, 'O God, what have I done to suffer so much! 'then, shortly after, 'But there is no God,' and again a little after, 'Yet if there should be, what would become of me hereafter.' Thus he will continue for some time, when on a sudden he will scream, as if in terror and agony, and call out for me by name. On one of these occasions, which are very frequent, I went to him and inquired what he wanted. 'Stay with me,' he replied, 'for God's sake, for I cannot hear to be left alone.' I then observed that I could not always be with him, as I had much to attend to in the house. 'Then,' said he, 'send even a child to stay with me, for it is a hell to be alone.' 'I never saw,' she concluded, 'a more unhappy, a more forsaken man. It seems he cannot reconcile himself to die.'
"Such was the conversation of the woman who had received us, and who probably had been employed to nurse and take care of him during his illness. She was a Protestant, yet seemed very desirous that we should afford him some relief in his state of abandonment, bordering on complete despair. Having remained thus some time in the parlor, we at length heard a noise in the adjoining passage-way, which induced us to believe that Mr. Paine, who was sick in that room, had awoke. We accordingly proposed to proceed thither, which was assented to by the woman, and she opened the door for us. On entering, we found him just getting out of his slumber. A more wretched being in appearance I never beheld. He was lying in a bed sufficiently decent of itself, but at present besmeared with filth; his look was that of a man greatly tortured in mind; his eyes haggard, his countenance forbidding, and his whole appearance that of one whose better days had been one continued scene of debauch. His only nourishment at this time, as we were informed, was nothing more than milk punch, in which he indulged to the full extent of his weak state. He had partaken, undoubtedly, but very recently of it, as the sides and corners of his mouth exhibited very unequivocal traces of it, as well as of blood, which had also followed in the track and left its mark on the pillow. His face, to a certain extent, had also been besmeared with it."
Immediately upon their making known the object of their visit, Paine interrupted the speaker by saying: "That's enough, sir; that's enough," and again interrupting him, "I see what you would be about. I wish to hear no more from you, sir. My mind is made up on that subject. I look upon the whole of the Christian scheme to be a tissue of absurdities and lies, and Jesus Christ to be nothing more than a cunning knave and impostor." He drove them out of the room, exclaiming: "Away with you and your God, too; leave the room instantly; all that you have uttered are lies -- filthy lies; and if I had a little more time I would prove it, as I did about your impostor, Jesus Christ."
This, we think, will suffice. We have a mass of letters containing statements confirmatory of what we have published in regard to the life and death of Paine, but nothing more can be required.