Life of Thomas Paine
Thomas Clio Rickman
Mr. Paine's life in London was a quiet round of philosophical leisure and enjoyment. It was occupied in writing, in a small epistolary correspondence, in walking about with me to visit different friends, occasionally lounging at coffee-houses and public places, or being visited by a select few. Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the French and American ambassadors, Mr. Sharp the engraver, Romney the painter, Mrs. Mrs. Wollstonecraft, Joel Barlow, Mr. Hull, Mr. Christie, Dr. Priestley, Dr. Towers, Colonel Oswald, the walking Stewart, Captain Sampson Perry, Mr. Tuffin, Mr. William Choppin, Captain De Stark, Mr. Horne Tooke, etc., etc., were among the number of his friends and acquaintance, and of course, as he was my inmate, the most of my associates were frequently his.
At this time he read but little, took his nap after dinner, and played with my family at some game in the evening, as chess, dominos, and drafts, but never at cards; in recitations, singing, music, etc., or passed it in conversation; the part he took in the latter was always enlightened, full of information, entertainment and anecdote. Occasionally we visited enlightened friends, indulged in domestic jaunts, and recreations from home, frequently lounging at the White Bear, Piccadilly, with his old friend, the walking Stewart, and other clever travelers from France, and different parts of Europe and America.
When by ourselves we sat very late, and often broke in on the morning hours, indulging the reciprocal interchange of affectionate and confidential intercourse. "Warm from the heart and faithful to its fires," was that intercourse, and gave to us the "feast of reason and the flow of soul."
The second part of "Rights of Man," which completed the celebrity of its author, and placed him at the head of political writers, was published in February, 1792. Never had any work so rapid and extensive a sale; and it has been calculated that near a million and a half of copies were printed and published in England.
From this time Mr. Paine generally resided in London, and principally with me, till the twelfth of September, 1792, when he sailed for France with Mr. Achilles Audibert, who came express from the French Convention to my house to request his personal assistance in their deliberations.
On his arrival at Calais a public dinner was provided, a royal salute was fired from the battery, the troops were drawn out, and there was a general rejoicing throughout the town. He has often been heard to remark that the proudest moment of his life was that in which, on this occasion, he set foot upon the Gallic shore.
In his own country he had been infamously treated, and at the time of his quitting Dover most rudely dealt with both by the officers who ransacked his trunks, and a set of hirelings who were employed to hiss, hoot and maltreat, and it is strongly suspected, to destroy him.
It depressed him to think that his endeavors to cleanse the Augæan stable of corruption in England should have been so little understood, or so ill appreciated as to subject him to such ignominious, such cowardly treatment. Yet seven hours after this, those very endeavors obtained him an honorable reception in France, and on his landing he was respectfully escorted, amidst the loud plaudits of the multitude, to the house of his friend, Mr. Audibert, the chief magistrate of the place, where he was visited by the commandant and all the municipal officers in form, who afterwards gave him a sumptuous entertainment in the town hall.
The same honor was also paid him on his departure for Paris.*
The reader is referred to Brissot's paper, Le Patriot François, and Le Journal de Gorsas, for minute particulars of Mr. Paine's introduction to the president of the Convention, to the ministers and different committees; his being appointed a deputy, a member of the committee of constitution, etc., etc., etc.
About the time of his arrival at Paris the National Convention began to divide itself into factions; the King's friends had been completely subdued by the suppression of the Feuillans, the affair of the tenth of August, and the massacre of the second and third of September; while the Jacobins, who had been hitherto considered as the patriotic party, became in their turns divided into different cabals, some of them wishing a federative government, others, the enragès, desiring the death of the King, and of all allied to the nobility; but none of those were republicans.
Those few deputies who had just ideas of a commonwealth, and whose leader was Paine, did not belong to the Jacobin Club.
I mention this, because Mr. Paine took infinite trouble to instil into their minds the difference between liberty and licentiousness, and the danger to the peace, good order, and welldoing of society, that must arise from letting the latter encroach upon the prerogatives of the former.
He labored incessantly to preserve the life of the King, and he succeeded in making some converts to his opinions on this subject; and his life would have been saved but for Barrère, who, having been appointed by Robespierre to an office he was ambitious of obtaining, and certainly very fit for, his influence brought with it forty votes; so early was corruption introduced into this assembly. For Calais, Mr. Paine was returned deputy to the Convention; he was elected as well for Versailles, but as the former town first did him the honor he became its representative. He was extremely desirous and expected to be appointed one of the deputies to Holland; a circumstance that probably would have taken place had not the Committee of Constitution delayed so long the production of the new form that the Jacobins anticipated them, and published proposals for a new constitution before the committee.
This delay was owing to the jealousy of Condorcet, who had written the preface, part of which some of the members thought should have been in the body of the work. Brissot and the whole party of the Girondites lost ground daily after this; and with them died away all that was national, just and humane: they were, however, highly to blame for their want of energy.
In the beginning of April, 1793, the Convention received the letter from Dumourier that put all France in a panic: in this letter he mentioned the confidence the army had in him, and his intention of marching to Paris to restore to France her constitutional King: this had the strongest effect, as it was accompanied by an address from the Prince of Coburg, in which he agreed to co-operate with Dumourier.
Mr. Paine, who never considered the vast difference between the circumstances of the two countries, France and America, suggested an idea that Dumourier might be brought about by appointing certain deputies to wait on him coolly and dispassionately, to hear his grievances, and armed with powers to redress them.
On this subject he addressed a letter to the Convention, in which he instanced the case of an American general who receded with the army under his command in consequence of his being dissatisfied with the proceedings of Congress. The Congress were panic-struck by this event, and gave up all for lost; and when the first impression of alarm subsided they sent a deputation from their own body to the general, who with his staff gave them the meeting; and thus matters were again reinstated. But there was too much impetuosity and faction in the French Convention to admit of such temperate proceedings.
Mr. Paine, however, had written the letter, and was going to Brissot's in order to meet Barrère for the purpose of proposing an adjustment, when he met a friend who had that moment left the Convention, who informed him that a decree had been passed offering one hundred thousand crowns for Dumourier's head, and another making it high treason to propose anything in his favor.
What the consequence of Mr. Paine's project might have been I do not know, but the offer of the Convention made hundreds of desperate characters leave Paris as speedily as possible, in hopes of the proffered reward; it detached the affection of the soldiers from their general, and made them go over to the enemy.
Toward the close of 1792 his "Letter to the Addressers" was published, which was sought after with the same avidity as his other productions.
Of this letter, which, with many other things, he wrote at my house, I have the original manuscript, and the table on which they were written is still carefully preserved by me. It has a brass plate in the center with this inscription, placed there by my direction on his quitting England:
"This Plate is inscribed
by Thomas Clio Rickman,
in remembrance of his dear friend,
who on this Table in the Year 1792,
wrote several of his invaluable
The "Letter to the Addressers" possesses all Mr. Paine's usual strength of reasoning, and abounds also in the finest strokes of genuine satire, wit and humor. About this time a prosecution took place against the publishers of "Rights of Man."
As the Proclamation which gave rise to the "Letter to the Addressers" is a curious document, and evinces the temper of the powers that were of that day, it is for the entertainment of the reader here inserted:
"The London Gazette, published by authority, from Saturday, May nineteenth, to Tuesday, May twenty-second.
"By the King, a Proclamation.
"Whereas, Divers wicked and seditious writings have been printed, published, and industriously dispersed, tending to excite tumult and disorder, by endeavoring to raise groundless jealousies and discontents in the minds of our faithful and loving subjects respecting the laws and happy constitution of government, civil and religious, established in this kingdom, and endeavoring to vilify, and bring into contempt, the wise and wholesome provisions made at the time of the glorious Revolution, and since strengthened and confirmed by subsequent laws for the preservation and security of the rights and liberties of our faithful and loving subjects: and whereas divers writings have also been printed, published, and industriously dispersed, recommending the said wicked and seditious publications to the attention of all our faithful and loving subjects:
"And whereas we have also reason to believe that correspondencies have been entered into with sundry persons in foreign parts with a view to forward the criminal and wicked purposes above mentioned: and whereas the wealth, happiness and prosperity of this kingdom do, under Divine Providence, chiefly depend upon a due submission to the laws, a just confidence in the integrity and wisdom of Parliament, and a continuance of that zealous attachment to that government and constitution of the kingdom which has ever prevailed in the minds of the people thereof: and whereas there is nothing which we so earnestly desire as to secure the public peace and prosperity, and to preserve to all our loving subjects the full enjoyment of their rights and liberties, both religious and civil:
"We, therefore, being resolved, as far as in us lies, to repress the wicked and seditious practices aforesaid, and to deter all persons from following so pernicious an example, have thought fit, by the advice of our Privy Council, to issue this our Royal Proclamation, solemnly warning all our loving subjects, as they tender their own happiness, and that of their posterity, to guard against all such attempts, which aim at the subversion of all regular government within this kingdom, and which are inconsistent with the peace and order of society: and earnestly exhorting them at all times, and to the utmost of their power, to avoid and discourage all proceedings, tending to produce tumults and riots: and we do strictly charge and command all our magistrates in and throughout our kingdom of Great Britain, that they do make diligent inquiry, in order to discover the authors and printers of such wicked and seditious writings as aforesaid, and all others who shall disperse the same: and we do further charge and command all our sheriffs, justices of the peace, chief magistrates in our cities, boroughs and corporations, and all other our officers and magistrates throughout our kingdom of Great Britain.
"That they do, in their several and respective stations, take the most immediate and effectual care to suppress and prevent all riots, tumults and other disorders, which may be attempted to be raised or made by any person or persons, which, on whatever pretext they may be grounded, are not only contrary to law, but dangerous to the most important interests of this kingdom: and we do further require and command all and every our magistrates aforesaid that they do from time to time transmit to one of our principal secretaries of state due and full information of such persons as shall be found offending as aforesaid, or in any degree aiding or abetting therein: it being our determination, for the preservation of the peace and happiness of our faithful and loving subjects, to carry the laws vigorously into execution against such offenders as aforesaid. Given at our Court at the Queen's House, the twenty-first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and ninety-two, in the thirty-second year of our reign. -- God save the King."
Soon after this, Mr. Paine's excellent "Letters" to Lord Onslow, to Mr. Dundas, and the Sheriff of Sussex were published.
Mr. Paine's trial for the second part of "Rights of Man" took place on the eighteenth of December, 1792, and he being found guilty, the booksellers and publishers who were taken up and imprisoned previously to this trial forbore to stand one themselves, and suffered judgment to go by default, for which they received the sentence of three years' imprisonment each. Of these booksellers and publishers I was one, but by flying to France I eluded this merciful sentence.
On the subject of these prosecutions I wrote to Mr. Fox, whom I well knew, and my intimate friend for years, Lord Stanhope, as I was myself the subject of two of them, and was well acquainted with the party factions of the day, and the iniquitous intrigues of the opposing leaders, in and out of office; for the writings of Mr. Paine, which were as broad as the universe, and having nothing to do with impure elections and auger-hole politics, gave equal offense to all sides.
In the course of these letters, which are still extant, it was impossible not to dwell on the absurdity of trial by jury in matters of opinion, and the folly of any body of men deciding for others in science and speculative discussion, in politics and religion. Is it not applying the institution of juries to purposes for which they were not intended, to set up twelve men to judge and determine for a whole nation on matters that relate to systems and principles of government? A matter of fact may be cognizable by a jury, and certainly ascertained with respect to offenses against common law and in the ordinary intercourses of society, but on matters of political opinion, of taste, of metaphysical inquiry, and of religious belief, everyone must be left to decide as his inquiries, his experience, and his conviction impel him.
If the arm of power in every country and on every doctrine could have enforced its tyranny, almost all we now possess, and that is valuable, would have been destroyed; and if all the governments and factions that have made the world miserable could have had their way, everything desirable in art, science, philosophy, literature, politics and religion, would have been by turns obliterated, and the Bible, the Testament, the Alcoran, the writings of Locke, Erasmus, Helvetius, Mercier, Milton, Shakespeare, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Swift, Bolanger, Hume, Penn, Tucker, Paine, Bacon, Bolingbroke, and of thousands of others on all sides would have been burned, nor would there be a printing press in the world.
It has happened happily for many years past, thanks to the art of printing and the means adopted to crush the circulation of knowledge, that the very modes employed to accomplish this end have not only proved abortive, but have given wings to truth, and diffused it into every corner of the universe. The publication of trials containing quotations from the works to be put down have disseminated their contents infinitely wider than they would else have reached, and have excited inquiries that would otherwise have lain dormant.
So ludicrously did this strike Mr. Paine that his frequent toast was, "The best way of advertising good books -- by prosecution."
As the attorney-general's attacks upon prosecuted works of a clever and profound description, and the judges' charges upon them contain nothing like argument or refutation, but follow up the criminating and absurd language of the indictment or ex-officio information, and breathe only declamation and ignorant abuse, they by their weakness expose the cause they espouse, and strengthen the truths they affect to destroy.
I shall close these observations by quoting two old and good humored lines:
|Treason does never prosper -- what's the reason?
When it prospers -- it is never treason!
This trial of Mr. Paine, and these sentences, subverted of course the very end they were intended to effect.
Mr. Paine was acknowledged deputy for Calais the twenty-first of September, 1792. In France, during the early part of the Revolution, his time was almost wholly occupied as a deputy of the Convention and as a member of the Committee of Constitution. His company was now coveted and sought after universally among every description of people, and by many who for some reasons never chose to avow it. With the Earl of Lauderdale and Dr. Moore, whose company he was fond of, he dined every Friday till Lord Gower's departure made it necessary for them to quit France, which was early in 1793.
About this period he removed from White's Hotel to one near the Rue de Richelieu, where he was so plagued and interrupted by numerous visitors, and sometimes by adventurers, that in order to have some time to himself he appropriated two mornings in a week for his levee days. To this indeed he was extremely averse, from the fuss and formality attending it, but he was nevertheless obliged to adopt it.
Annoyed and disconcerted with a life so contrary to his wishes and habits, and so inimical to his views, he retired to the Faubourg St. Denis, where he occupied part of the hotel that Madame de Pompadour once resided in.
Here was a good garden well laid out, and here, too, our mutual friend, Mr. Choppin, occupied apartments: at this residence, which for a town one was very quiet, he lived a life of retirement and philosophical ease, while it was believed he was gone into the country for his health, which by this time indeed was much impaired by intense application to business, and by the anxious solicitude he felt for the welfare of public affairs.
Here, with a chosen few, he unbent himself; among whom were Brissot, the Marquis de Chatelet le Roi, of the galerie de honore, and an old friend of Dr. Franklin's, Bançal, and sometimes General Miranda. His English associates were Christie and family, Mrs. Wollstonecraft, Mr. and Mrs. Stone, etc. Among his American friends were Captain Imlay, Joel Barlow, etc., etc. To these parties the French inmates were generally invited.
Joel Barlow was for many years Mr. Paine's intimate friend, and it was from Mr. Paine he derived much of the great knowledge and acuteness of talent he possessed.
Joel Barlow was a great philosopher, and a great poet; but there are spots in the sun, and I instance the following littleness in his conduct as a warning, and to prove how much of honest fame and character is lost by anything like tergiversation.
Joel Barlow has omitted the name of Mr. Paine in his very fine poem, "The Columbiad"; a name essential to the works, as the principal founder of the American Republic and of the happiness of its citizens.
Omitting the name of Mr. Paine in the history of America, and where the amelioration of the human race is so much concerned, is like omitting the name of Newton in writing the history of his philosophy, or that of God when creation is the subject; yet this, Joel Barlow has done, and done so, lest the name of Paine, combined with his theological opinions, should injure the sale of the poem. Mean and unhandsome conduct!
He usually rose about seven, breakfasted with his friends, Choppin, Johnson, and two or three other Englishmen, and a Monsieur La Borde, who had been an officer in the ci-devante garde du corps, an intolerable aristocrat, but whose skill in mechanics and geometry brought on a friendship between him and Paine: for the undaunted and distinguished ability and firmness with which he ever defended his own opinions when controverted, do not reflect higher honor upon him than that unbounded liberality toward the opinions of others which constituted such a prominent feature in his character, and which never suffered mere difference of sentiment, whether political or religious, to interrupt the harmonious intercourse of friendship, or impede the interchanges of knowledge and information.
After breakfast he usually strayed an hour or two in the garden, where he one morning pointed out the kind of spider whose web furnished him with the first idea of constructing his iron bridge; a fine model of which, in mahogany, is preserved at Paris.
The little happy circle who lived with him here will ever remember these days with delight: with these select friends he would talk of his boyish days, play at chess, whist, piques, or cribbage, and enliven the moments by many interesting anecdotes: with these he would play at marbles, scotch hops, battledores, etc., on the broad and fine gravel walk at the upper end of the garden, and then retire to his boudoir, where he was up to his knees in letters and papers of various descriptions. Here he remained till dinner time, and unless he visited Brissot's family, or some particular friend in the evening, which was his frequent custom, he joined again the society of his favorites and fellow-boarders, with whom his conversation was often witty and cheerful, always acute and improving, but never frivolous.
Incorrupt, straightforward and sincere, he pursued his political course in France, as everywhere else, let the government or clamor or faction of the day be what it might, with firmness, with clearness, and without a "shadow of turning."
In all Mr. Paine's inquiries and conversations he evinced the strongest attachment to the investigation of truth, and was always for going to the fountain head for information. He often lamented we had no good history of America, and that the letters written by Columbus, the early navigators, and others, to the Spanish Court, were inaccessible, and that many valuable documents, collected by Philip II, and deposited with the national archives at Simania, had not yet been promulgated. He used to speak highly of the sentimental parts of Raynal's "History."
It is not intended to enter into an account of the French Revolution, its progress, the different colors it took and aspects it assumed. The history of this most important event may be found at large detailed by French writers as well as those of other nations, and the world is left to judge of it.
It is unfortunate for mankind that Mr. Paine by imprisonment and the loss of his invaluable papers, was prevented giving the best, most candid, and philosophical account of these times. These papers contained the history of the French Revolution, and were no doubt a most correct, discriminating, and enlightened detail of the events of that important era. For these papers the historian, Gibbon, sent to France, and made repeated application, upon a conviction that they would be impartial, profound, and philosophical documents.
It is well known that Mr. Paine always lamented the turn affairs took in France, and grieved at the period we are now adverting to, when corrupt influence was rapidly infecting every department of the state. He saw the jealousies and animosities that were breeding, and that a turbulent faction was forming among the people that would first enslave and ultimately overwhelm even the Convention itself.
On the day of the trial of Marat, Mr. Paine dined at White's Hotel with Mr. Milnes, a gentleman of great hospitality and profusion, who usually gave a public dinner to twenty or thirty gentlemen once a week. At table, among many others besides Mr. Paine, was a Captain Grimstone, who was a lineal descendant from Sir Harbottle Grimstone, was a member of Cromwell's Parliament and an officer in his army. This man was a high aristocrat, a great gambler, and it was believed could not quit France on account of his being much in debt. He took little pains to conceal his political principles, and when the glass had freely circulated, a short time after dinner he attempted, loudly and impertinently, to combat the political doctrines of the philosopher; this was, to be sure, the viper biting at the file.
Mr. Paine, in few words, with much acuteness and address, continued exposing the fallacy of his reasoning, and rebutting his invectives.
The Captain became more violent, and waxed so angry, that at length, rising from his chair, he walked round the table to where Mr. Paine was sitting, and here began a volley of abuse, calling him incendiary, traitor to his country, and struck him a violent blow that nearly knocked him off his seat. Captain Grimstone was a stout young man about thirty, and Mr. Paine at this time nearly sixty.
The company, who suspected not such an outrage against everything decent, mannerly, and just, and who had occasion frequently during dinner to call him to order, were now obliged to give him in charge of the National Guard. It must be remembered that an act of the Convention had made it death to strike a deputy, and every one in company with the person committing the assault refusing to give up the offender was considered as an accomplice.
But a short period before this circumstance happened, nine men had been decapitated, one of whom had struck Bourdeur de L'oise, at Orleans. The other eight were walking with him in the street at the time.
Paine was extremely agitated when he reflected on the danger of his unprovoked enemy, and immediately applied to Barrère, at that time president of the Committee of Public Safety, for a passport for the unhappy man, who must otherwise have suffered death; and though he found the greatest difficulty in effecting this, he however persevered and at length accomplished it, at the same time sending Grimstone money to defray his traveling expenses; for his passport was of so short a duration that he was obliged to go immediately from his prison to the messagerie nationale.
Of Mr. Paine's arrest by Robespierre and his imprisonment, etc., we cannot be so well in formed as by himself in his own affecting and interesting letters.
While Mr. Paine was in prison he wrote much of his "Age of Reason," and amused himself with carrying on an epistolary correspondence with Lady S*** under the assumed name of The Castle in the Air, and her ladyship answered under the signature of The Little Corner of the World. This correspondence is reported to be extremely beautiful and interesting.
At this period a deputation of Americans solicited the release of Thomas Paine from prison; and as this document, and the way in which it is introduced in Mr. Sampson Perry's "History of the French Revolution," bear much interest, and are highly honorable to Mr. Paine, the deputation, and Mr. Perry, I give it in his own words:
"As an historian does not write in conformity to the humors or caprice of the day, but looks to the mature opinions of a future period, so the humble tracer of these hasty sketches, though without pretensions himself to live in after times, is nevertheless at once desirous of proving his indifference to the unpopularity of the moment, and his confidence in the justice posterity will exercise toward one of the greatest friends of the human race. The author is the more authorized to pass this eulogium on a character already sufficiently renowned, having had the means and the occasion of exploring his mind and his qualities, as well with suspicion as with confidence.
"The name of Thomas Paine may excite hatred in some, and inspire terror in others. It ought to do neither, he is the friend of all, and it is only because reason and virtue are not sufficiently prevalent, that so many do not love him: he is not the enemy of those even who are eager to have his fate at their disposal. The time may not be far off when they will be glad their fate were at his; but the cowardly as well as the brave have contributed to fill England with dishonor for silently allowing the best friends of the human race to be persecuted with a virulence becoming the darkest ages only.
"The physical world is in rapid movement, the moral advances perhaps as quick; that part of it which is dark now will be light; when it shall have but half revolved, men and things will be seen more clearly, and he will be most esteemed by the good who shall have made the largest sacrifice to truth and public virtue. Thomas Paine was suspected of having checked the aspiring light of the public mind by opinions not suitable to the state France was in. He was for confiding more to the pen, and doubting the effect of the guillotine.
"Robespierre said, that method would do with such a country as America, but could avail nothing in one highly corrupted like France. To disagree in opinion with a mind so heated was to incur all the resentment it contained. Thomas Paine had preserved an intimacy with Brissot from an acquaintance of long date, and because he spoke the English language; when Brissot fell, Paine was in danger, and, as his preface to the second part of the 'Rights of Man,' shows, he had a miraculous escape.
"The Americans in Paris saw the perilous situation of their fellow-citizen, of the champion of the liberty of more than one-quarter of the world; they drew up an address and presented it at the bar of the Convention; it was worded as follows:
"'Citizens! the French nation had invited the most illustrious of all foreign nations to the honor of representing her.
"'Thomas Paine, the apostle of liberty in America, a profound and valuable philosopher, a virtuous and esteemed citizen, came to France and took a seat among you. Particular circumstances rendered necessary the decree to put under arrest all the English residing in France.
"'Citizens! representatives! we come to demand of you Thomas Paine, in the name of the friends of liberty, in the name of the Americans your brothers and allies; was there anything more wanted to obtain our demand we would tell you. Do not give to the leagued despots the pleasure of seeing Paine in irons. We shall inform you that the seals put upon the papers of Thomas Paine have been taken off, that the Committee of General Safety examined them, and far from finding among them any dangerous propositions, they only found the love of liberty which characterized him all his lifetime, that eloquence of nature and philosophy which made him the friend of mankind, and those principles of public morality which merited the hatred of kings and the affection of his fellow-citizens.
"'In short, citizens! if you permit us to restore Thomas Paine to the embraces of his fellow-citizens we offer to pledge ourselves as security for his conduct during the short time he shall remain in France.'"
After his liberation he found a friendly asylum at the American Minister's house, Mr. Monroe, and for some years before Mr. Paine left Paris, he lodged at M. Bonneville's, associating occasionally with the great men of the day, Condorcet, Volney, Mercier, Joel Barlow, etc., etc., and sometimes dining-with Bonaparte and his generals.* He now indulged his mechanical turn and amused himself in bridge and ship modeling, and in pursuing his favorite studies, the mathematics and natural philosophy. "These models," says a correspondent of that time, "exhibit an extraordinary degree not only of skill but of taste in mechanics, and are wrought with extreme delicacy entirely by his own hands. The largest of these, the model of a bridge, is nearly four feet in length: the iron-works, the chains, and every other article belonging to it were forged and manufactured by himself. It is intended as a model of a bridge which is to be constructed across the Delaware, extending 480 feet with only one arch. The other is to be erected over a narrower river, whose name I forget, and is likewise a single arch, and of his own workmanship excepting the chains, which instead of iron are cut out of pasteboard, by the fair hands of his correspondent, The Little Corner of the World, whose indefatigable perseverance is extraordinary. He was offered £3,000 for these models and refused it. He also forged himself the model of a crane of a new description, which when put together exhibited the power of the lever to a most surprising degree."
When Bonaparte returned from Italy he called on Mr. Paine and invited him to dinner: in the course of his rapturous address to him he declared that a statue of gold ought to be erected to him in every city in the universe, assuring him that he always slept with his book "Rights of Man" under his pillow and conjured him to honor him with his correspondence and advice.
This anecdote is only related as a fact. Of the sincerity of the compliment, those may judge who know Bonaparte's principles best.
During this time he also published his "Dissertation on First Principles of Government," his "Essay on Finance," his first and second part of the "Age of Reason," his "Letter to Washington," his "Address to the Theophilanthropists," "Letter to Erskine," etc., etc. Poetry, too, employed his idle hours, and he produced some fine pieces, which the world will probably one day see.
Wearied with the direction things took in France, which he used to say, was "the promised land, but not the land of promise," he had long sighed for his own dear America.
"It is," he would say, "the country of my heart and the place of my political and literary birth. It was the American Revolution made me an author, and forced into action the mind that had been dormant and had no wish for public life, nor has it now." Mr. Paine made many efforts to cross the Atlantic, but they were ineffectual.
In July, 1802, Mr. Jefferson, the then President of America, in a letter to Mr. Paine writes thus:
"You express a wish in your letter to return to America by a national ship.
"Mr. Dawson, who brings over the treaty, and who will present you this letter, is charged with orders to the captain of the Maryland, to receive and accommodate you back if you can be ready to return at such a short warning. You will in general find us returned to sentiments worthy of former times; in these it will be your glory to have steadily labored, and with as much effect as any man living. That you may live long to continue your useful labors, and reap the reward in the thankfulness of nations, is my sincere prayer. Accept the assurance of my high esteem and affectionate attachment.
Washington, July, 1802.
By the Maryland, as Mr. Paine states, he did not go; and it was not till the first of September, 1802, after spending some time with him at Havre de Grace, that I took leave of him on his departure for America, in a ship named the London Pacquet, just ten years after his leaving my house in London.
The ardent desire which Mr. Paine ever had to retire to and dwell in his beloved America is strongly portrayed in the following letter to a female friend in that country, written some years before.
"You touch me on a very tender point when you say that my friends on your side of the water cannot be reconciled to the idea of my abandoning America even for my native England.
"They are right, I had rather see my horse 'Button' eating the grass of Borden Town or Morrisania, than see all the pomp and show of Europe.
"A thousand years hence, for I must indulge a few thoughts, perhaps in less, America may be what Europe now is. The innocence of her character that won the hearts of all nations in her favor may sound like a romance, and her inimitable virtue as if it had never been.
"The ruins of that liberty for which thousands bled may just furnish materials for a village tale, or extort a sigh from rustic sensibility, while the fashionable of that day, enveloped in dissipation, shall deride the principles and deny the fact.
"When we contemplate the fall of empires and the extinction of the nations of the ancient world we see but little more to excite our regret than the moldering ruins of pompous palaces, magnificent monuments, lofty pyramids, and walls and towers of the most costly workmanship; but when the empire of America shall fall, the subject for contemplative sorrow will be infinitely greater than crumbling brass or marble can inspire. It will not then be said, here stood a temple of vast antiquity, here rose a babel of invisible height, or there a palace of sumptuous extravagance; but here (ah! painful thought!) the noblest work of human wisdom, the grandest scene of human glory, and the fair cause of freedom, rose and fell! Read this, and then ask if I forget America."
There is so uncommon a degree of interest, and that which conveys an idea of so much heart intercourse in this letter, that the reader may be led to desire some knowledge of the person to whom it was addressed. This lady's name was I believe Nicholson, and afterwards the wife of Colonel Few; between her and Mr. Paine a very affectionate attachment and sincere regard subsisted, and it was no small mortification on his final return to New York to be totally neglected by her and her husband.
But against the repose of Mr. Paine's dying moments there seems to have been a conspiracy, and this lady after years of disregard and inattention sought Mr. Paine on his death bed.
Mr. Few was with her, but Mr. Paine, refusing to shake hands with her, said firmly and very impressively, "You have neglected me, and I beg you will leave the room."
Mrs. Few went into the garden, and wept bitterly.
Of Mr. Paine's reception in America and some interesting account of his own life and its vicissitudes, his "Letters to the Citizens of America," before noticed, speak better than I can.
These letters, under the care of Mr. Monroe, he sent me in 1804, and I published them, with the following one of his own accompanying them.
"My dear Friend,
"Mr. Monroe, who is appointed Minister Extraordinary to France, takes charge of this, to be delivered to Mr. Este, banker in Paris, to be forwarded to you.
"I arrived at Baltimore, thirtieth of October, and you can have no idea of the agitation which my arrival occasioned. From New Hampshire to Georgia (an extent of 1,500 miles) every newspaper was filled with applause or abuse.
"My property in this country has been taken care of by my friends, and is now worth six thousand pounds sterling; which put in the funds will bring me £400 sterling a year.
"Remember me in friendship and affection to your wife and family, and in the circle of our friends.
"I am but just arrived here, and the Minister sails in a few hours, so that I have just time to write you this. If he should not sail this tide I will write to my good friend Colonel Bosville, but in any case I request you to wait on him for me.
"Yours in friendship,
What course he meant to pursue in America, his own words will best tell, and best characterize his sentiments and principles: they are these:
"As this letter is intended to announce my arrival to my friends, and my enemies if I have any, for I ought to have none in America, and as introductory to others that will occasionally follow, I shall close it by detailing the line of conduct I shall pursue.
"I have no occasion to ask, nor do I intend to accept, any place or office in the Government.
"There is none it could give me that would in any way be equal to the profits I could make as an author (for I have an established fame in the literary world) could I reconcile it to my principles to make money by my politics or religion; I must be in everything as I have ever been, a disinterested volunteer. My proper sphere of action is on the common floor of citizenship, and to honest men I give my hand and my heart freely.
"I have some manuscript works to publish, of which I shall give proper notice, and some mechanical affairs to bring forward, that will employ all my leisure time.
"I shall continue these letters as I see occasion, and as to the low party prints that choose to abuse me, they are welcome; I shall not descend to answer them. I have been too much used to such common stuff to take any notice of it.
"City of Washington."
From this period to the time of his death, which was the ninth of June, 1809, Mr. Paine lived principally at New York, and on his estate at New Rochelle, publishing occasionally some excellent things in the Aurora newspaper, also "An Essay on the Invasion of England," "On the Yellow Fever," "On Gun-Boats, etc., etc.," and in 1807, "An Examination of the Passages in the New Testament, Quoted from the Old, and Called Prophecies Concerning Jesus Christ, etc."
This is a most acute, profound, clear, argumentative, and entertaining work, and may be considered and is now entitled "The Third Part of the Age of Reason."
In the course of Mr. Paine's life, he was often reminded of a reply he once made to this observation of Dr. Franklin's, "Where liberty is, there is my country:" Mr. Paine's retort was, "Where liberty is not, there is my country." And, unfortunately, he had occasion for many years in Europe to realize the truth of his axiom.
Soon after Mr. Paine's arrival in America, he invited over Mr. and Mrs. Bonneville and their children. At Bonneville's house at Paris he had for years found a home, a friendly shelter, when the difficulty of getting supplies of money from America, and other and many ills assailed him. Bonneville and his family were poor, and sunk in the world, Mr. Paine therefore, though he was not their inmate without remuneration, offered them an asylum with him in America. Mrs. Bonneville and her three boys, to whom he was a friend during his life and at his death, soon joined him there.
The particulars of Mr. Paine being shot at while sitting by his fireside at New Rochelle are given in his own letters. The bullet from the fire-arm shattered the glass over the chimney-piece very near to him. I find a letter in reply to one of mine, in which he writes, "the account you heard of a man's firing into my house is true -- the grand jury found the bill against him, and he lies over for trial."
In January, 1809, Mr. Paine became very feeble and infirm, so much so, as to be scarcely capable of doing anything for himself.
During this illness he was pestered on every hand with the intrusive and impertinent visits of the bigoted, the fanatic, and the designing. To entertain the reader, some specimens of the conduct of these intruders are here given.
He usually took a nap after dinner, and would not be disturbed let who would call to see him. One afternoon a very old lady dressed in a large, scarlet, hooded cloak knocked at the door and inquired for Thomas Paine. Mr. Jarvis, with whom Mr. Paine resided, told her he was asleep.
"I am very sorry," she said, "for that, for I want to see him particularly."
Thinking it a pity to make an old woman call twice, Mr. Jarvis took her into Mr. Paine's bed room, and awoke him. He rose upon one elbow, and then, with an expression of eye that made the old woman stagger back a step or two, he asked,
"What do you want?"
"Is your name Paine?"
"Well then, I come from Almighty God to tell you that if you do not repent of your sins, and believe in our Blessed Saviour Jesus Christ, you will be damned, and -- "
"Poh, poh, it is not true," replied Paine, "you were not sent with any such impertinent message. Jarvis make her go away: pshaw! He would not send such a foolish, ugly old woman about with His messages; go away, go back, shut the door."
The old lady retired, raised both her hands, kept them so, and without saying another word walked away in mute astonishment.
The following is a curious example of a friendly, neighborly visit.
About two weeks before his death he was visited by the Rev. Mr. Milledollar, a Presbyterian minister of great eloquence, and the Rev. Mr. Cunningham. The latter gentleman said:
"Mr. Paine, we visit you as friends and neighbors. You have now a full view of death, you cannot live long, and whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ will assuredly be damned."
"Let me," said Paine, "have none of your popish stuff. Get away with you. Good morning, Sir, good morning."
The Rev. Mr. Milledollar attempted to address him but he was interrupted in the same language. When they were gone, he said to Mrs. Hedden, his housekeeper, "do not let them come here again, they intrude upon me."
They soon renewed their visit, but Mrs. Hedden told them they could not be admitted, and that she thought the attempt useless, for if God did not change his mind, she was sure no human power could. They retired.
Among others, the Rev. Mr. Hargrove, minister of a new sect called the New Jerusalemites, once accosted him with this impertinent stuff:
"My name is Hargrove, Sir; I am a minister of the New Jerusalem Church. We, Sir, explain the Scripture in its true meaning; the key has been lost these four thousand years, and we have found it."
"Then," said Paine in his own neat way, "it must have been very rusty."
In his last moments he was very anxious to die, and also very solicitous about the mode of his burial; for as he was completely unchanged in his theological sentiments, he would on no account, even after death, countenance ceremonies he disapproved, containing doctrines and expressions of a belief which he conscientiously objected to, and had spent a great part of his life in combating.
He wished to be interred in the Quakers' burying ground, and on this subject he requested to see Mr. Willet Hicks, a member of the Society, who called on him in consequence.
Mr. Paine, after the usual salutations, said, "As I am going to leave one place it is necessary to provide another; I am now in my seventy-third year, and do not expect to live long; I wish to be buried in your burying ground."
He said his father was a Quaker, and that he thought better of the principles of that Society than any other, and approved their mode of burial. This request of Mr. Paine was refused, very much to the discredit of those who did so; and as the Quakers are not unused to grant such indulgences, in this case it seemed to arise from very little and unworthy motives and prejudices on the part of those who complied not with this earnest and unassuming solicitation.
The above named Quaker in a conversation of a serious nature with Mr. Paine, a short time before his death, was assured by him that his sentiments respecting the Christian religion were now precisely the same as when he wrote the "Age of Reason."
About the fourth of May, symptoms of approaching dissolution became very evident to himself, and he soon fell off his milk-punch, and became too infirm to take anything; complaining of much bodily pain.
On the eighth of June, 1809, about nine in the morning, he placidly, and almost without a struggle, died, as he had lived, a Deist.
Why so much consequence should be attached to what is called a recantation in a man's last moments of a belief or opinion held through life, a thing I never witnessed nor knew anyone who did, it is difficult to say, at least with any credit, to those who harp so much upon it. A belief or an opinion is none the less correct or true even if it be recanted, and I strenuously urge the reader to reflect seriously, how few there are who really have any fixed belief and conviction through life of a metaphysical or religious nature; how few who devote any time to such investigation, or who are not the creatures of form, education, and habit; and take upon trust tenets, instead of inquiring into their truth and rationality. Indeed it appears that those who are so loud about the recantation of philosophers, are neither religious, moral, or correct themselves, and exhibit not in their own lives, either religion in belief, or principle in conduct.
Paine was aged seventy-two years and five months. At nine of the clock in the forenoon of the ninth of June, the day after his decease, he was taken from his house at Greenwich, attended by seven persons, to New Rochelle; where he was afterwards interred on his own farm. A stone has been placed at the head of his grave according to the direction in his will, with the following inscription:
Died June 8,1809, Aged 72 Years and 5 Months.
The reader must from the foregoing pages be persuaded how unkindly teased and obtrusively tormented were the closing hours of Mr. Paine's life; hours that always should be soothed by tenderness, quietude, and every kind attention, and in which the mind generally loses all its strength and energy, and is as unlike its former self as its poor suffering companion the body.
|Infirmity doth still neglect all office,
Whereto our health is bound; we are not ourselves
When nature, being oppress'd, commands the mind
To suffer with the body. -- Shakespeare.
To a rational man it should seem that a Deist, if he be so from principle, and he is as likely to be so as any other religionist, is no more to be expected to renounce his principles on his deathbed or to abandon his belief at that moment, than the Christian, the Jew, the Mahometan, or any other religionist.
It will be seen that Mr. Paine very early, when a mere child, was inspired as it were with the anti-Christian principles which he held religiously through life.
His philosophical and astronomical pursuits could not but confirm him in the most exalted, the most divine ideas of a supreme being, and in the purity and sublimity of Deism.
A belief in millions of millions of inhabited worlds, millions of millions of miles apart, necessarily leads the mind to the worship of a God infinitely above the one described by those religionists who speak and write of Him as they do, and as if He were only the maker of our earth, and as alone being interested in what concerns it. In contemplating the immense works of God, "the creation" is the only book of revelation in which the Deist can believe; and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of God in His glorious works, and endeavoring to imitate Him in everything moral, scientific and mechanical. It cannot be urged too strongly, so much wrongheadedness if not wrongheartedness is there on this subject, that the religion of the Deist no more precludes the blessed hope of salvation than that of the Christian or of any other religion.
We see through different mediums, and in our pursuits and experience are unlike. How others have felt after reading maturely the "Age of Reason" and the "Rights of Man," and pursuing fairly, coolly, and assiduously the subjects therein treated, I leave to them; but for myself I must say, these works carried perfect conviction with them to my mind, and the opinions they contain are fully confirmed by much reading, by long, honest, unwearied investigation and observation.
The best and wisest of human beings both male and female that I have known through life have been Deists, nor did anything in the shape of their recantation either in life or death ever come to my knowledge, nor can I understand how a real, serious, and long-adopted belief can be recanted.
That Mr. Paine's religious belief had been long established and was with him a deep-rooted principle, may be seen by his conduct when imprisoned and extremely ill in the Luxembourg prison in 1794.*
See "Age of Reason," Part 1.
Mr. Bond, an English surgeon who was confined there at the same time, though by no means a friend to Mr. Paine's political or theological doctrines, gave me the following testimony of Mr. Paine's sentiments:
"Mr. Paine, while hourly expecting to die, read to me parts of his 'Age of Reason'; and every night when I left him to be separately locked up, and expected not to see him alive in the morning, he always expressed his firm belief in the principles of that book, and begged I would tell the world such were his dying opinions. He often said that if he lived he should prosecute further that work, and print it." Mr. Bond's frequent observation when speaking of Mr. Paine was, that he was the most conscientious man he ever knew.
While upon this subject, it will probably occur to the reader, as well as to the writer, how little belief from inquiry and principle there is in the world; and how much oftener religious profession is adopted from education, form, prudence, fear, and a variety of other motives, than from unprejudiced inquiry, a love of truth, of free discussion, and from entire conviction. Reasoning thus, it may fairly be inferred that men like Mr. Paine, a pious Deist, of deep research, laborious inquiry, and critical examination, are the most likely from disinterested motives to adopt opinions, and of course the least likely to relinquish them.
Before I quit the subject I give the following authentic document, received in a letter from New York:
"Sir: I witnessed a scene last night which occasioned sensations only to be felt, not to be described; the scene alluded to was no less extraordinary than the beholding the well-known Thomas Paine struggling to retain a little longer in connection his soul and body. For near an hour I sat by the bedside of that well-known character, to whom I was introduced by one of his friends. Could the memory have retained the suggestions of my mind in the moments when I was reviewing the pallid looks of him who had attempted to overthrow kingdoms and monarchies, of him who had astonished the world with the fruits of a vast mind, whose works have caused a great part of mankind to think and feel as they never did before, such suggestions would not be uninteresting to you. I could not contemplate the approaching dissolution of such a man, see him gasping for breath, without feelings of a peculiar nature. Poor Paine's body has given way before his mind, which is yet firm; mortification seems to have taken up its dwelling in his frame, and he will soon be no more. With respect to his principles he will die as he has lived; they are unaltered.
"Some Methodists went to him a few days ago to endeavor to make a convert of him, but he would not listen to their entreaties."
Before I take leave of my reader I would press upon his mind the necessity of candor; and if he be a Christian I must tell him he will cease to be so the moment he appeals to coercion and resorts to prosecution and to persecution in matters of belief and opinion: such conduct his own "New Testament" is decidedly against. It is better not to believe in a God than to believe unworthily of Him, and the less we make Him after our image the less we blaspheme Him. Let inquiry supersede calumny and censure, and let it be ever remembered that those systems in government and religion which will not bear discussion and investigation are not worth solicitude. Ignorance is the only original sin; spread information and knowledge, and virtue and truth will follow.
Oppose argument to argument, reason to reason, opinion to opinion, book to book, truth must prevail; and that which is of divine origin will bring itself through.
Set not attorney-generals and human laws at work, nor pay any religion which boasts an heavenly origin so bad a compliment, or libel its founders, by endeavoring to support it by such infamous means.
How paltry, how detestable, is that criticism which only seeks to find out and dwell on errors and inaccuracies; passing over in silence, what is grand, sublime, and useful! How still more paltry, and detestable, is that disposition, which seeks only to find out and dwell on the defects and foibles of character!
While Mr. Paine's enemies have labored, and are still laboring, to detect vices and errors in his life and manners, shall not his friends dwell on the immense good he has done in public life, on the happiness he has created for myriads, in private? Shall they not point to the abodes of delight and comfort, where live and flourish the blessings of domestic bliss; affection's dear intercourses, friendship's solaces, and love's sacred enjoyments? And there are millions of such abodes originating in his labors. Why seek occasion, surly critics and detractors! to maltreat and misrepresent Mr. Paine? He was mild, unoffending, sincere, gentle, humble, and unassuming; his talents were soaring, acute, profound, extensive, and original; and he possessed that charity, which covers a multitude of sins.