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I am sensible how difficult it is for an author to speak of his own performances in such a manner as not to intrench upon the rules of decency. If he gives a favourable character of them, this will be interpreted as a proof of his vanity, any appearance of which is usually turned to his disadvantage. And on the other hand, if he should make no mention of his own books at all, where the nature of the design in which he is engaged makes it proper for him to mention them, this might perhaps be censured as a false and affected modesty. It is no easy matter to keep clear of these extremes, and for this reason it would have been a particular pleasure to me to have seen this work undertaken by another hand; but as this hath not been done, I have chosen rather to attempt it myself, than that a work, which I cannot but think might be of real service, should be neglected. It cannot be expected, that a distinct notice should be taken of all the writers that have appeared among us against revealed religion for this century past. This, if it could be executed, would take too large a compass, and be of no great use. A view of the principal, or, at least, of those of them who have made the greatest noise, may be sufficient. And the design is not to give an historical account of the authors, or of their personal characters, but to give some idea of their writings, which alone we have properly to do with.
The method proposed, and for the most part pursued, is this. The several writers are mentioned in the order of time in which they appeared. Some account is given of their writings, and of the several schemes they have advanced, as far as the cause of revelation is concerned. And great care has been taken to make a fair representation of them, according to the best judgment I could form of their design Some observations are added, which may help to lead the reader into a just notion of those writings, and to detect and obviate the ill tendency of them. There is also an account subjoined of the answers that were published, not all of them, but some of the most remarkable, or such as have come under the author's special notice. And very probably some have been omitted, which might well deserve to be particularly mentioned.
This may suffice to give a general idea of the following work; at the end of which there are some reflections subjoined, which seem naturally to arise upon such a view as is here given. Observations are made on the conduct of the Deists in the management of the argument. And the whole concludes with a brief representation of the evidences of the Christian religion, and its excellent nature and tendency.LELAND,
CONSTRUCTION OF SOCIETY.
Birth and fortune are evidently the two circumstances which principally set one man above another. They are the two great sources of personal distinction, and are therefore the principal causes which naturally establish authority and subordination among men. Among nations of shepherds both those causes operate with their full force. The great shepherd or herdsman, respected on account of his great wealth, and of the great number of those who depend upon him for subsistence, and revered on account of the nobleness of his birth, and of the immemorial antiquity of his illustrious family, has a natural authority over all the inferior shepherds or herdsmen of his horde or clan. He can command the united force of a greater number of people than any of them. His military power is greater than that of any of them. In time of war they are all of them naturally disposed to muster themselves under his banner, rather than under that of
any other person, and his birth and fortune thus naturally procure to him some sort of executive power. By commanding, too, the united force of a greater number of people than any of them, he is best able to compel any one of them, who may have injured another, to compensate the wrong. He is the person, therefore, to whom all those who are too weak to defend themselves naturally look up for protection. It is to him that they naturally complain of the injuries which they imagine have been done to them, and his interposition in such cases is more easily submitted to, even by the person complained of, than that of any other person would be. His birth and fortune thus naturally procure him some sort of: judicial authority.
It is in the age of shepherds, in the second period of society, that the inequality of fortune first begins to take place, and introduces among men a degree of authority and subordination which could not possibly exist before. It thereby introduces some degree of that civil government which is indispensably necessary for its own preservation; and it seems to do this naturally, and even independent of the consideration of that necessity. The consideration of that necessity comes, no doubt, afterwards to contribute very much to maintain and secure that authority and subordination. The rich, in particular, are necessarily interested to support that order of things which can alone secure them in the possession of their own advantages. Men of inferior wealth combine to defend those of superior wealth in the possession of their property, in order that men of superior wealth may combine to defend them in the possession of theirs. All the inferior shepherds and herdsmen feel that the security of their own herds and flocks depends upon the security of those of the great shepherd or herdsman; the maintenance of their lesser authority depends upon that of his greater authority; and that upon their subordination to him depends his powar
of keeping their inferiors in subordination to them. They constitute a sort of little nobility, who feel themselves interested to defend the property, and to support the authority, of their own little sovereign, in order that he may be able to defend their property and to support their authority. Civil government, so far as it is in reality instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.—ADAM SMITH. From 1759 to 1790.
DESCRIPTION OF AN HONEST STATESMAN.
You are so little accustomed to receive any marks of respect or esteem from the public, that if, in the following lines, a compliment or expression of applause should escape me, I fear you would consider it as a mockery of your established character, and perhaps an insult to your understanding. You have nice feelings, my lord, if we may judge from your resentments. Cautious, therefore, of giving offence, where you have so little deserved it, I shall leave the illustration of your virtues to other hands. Your friends have a privilege to play upon the easiness of your temper, or possibly they are better acquainted with your good qualities than I am. You have done good by stealth. The rest is upon record. You have still ample room for speculation when panegyric is exhausted. You are, indeed, a very considerable man.
The highest rank; a splendid fortune ; and a name glorious till it was yours, were sufficient to have supported you with meaner abilities than I think you possess.
From the first, you derive a constitutional claim to respect; from the second, a natural extensive authority ;—the last created a partial expectation of hereditary virtues. The use you have made of these uncommon advantages, might have been more honourable to yourself, but could not be more instructive to mankind. We may trace it in the veneration of your country, the choice of your friends, and in the accomplishment of every sanguine hope which the public might have conceived from the illustrious name of Russell.
The eminence of your station gave you a commanding prospect of your duty. The road which led to honour was open to your view.
You could not lose it by mistake, and you had no temptation to depart from it by design. Compare the natural dignity and importance of the richest peer in England; the noble independence which he might have maintained in Parliament, and the real interest and respect which he might have acquired, not only in Parliament, but through the whole kingdom; compare these glorious distinctions with the ambition of holding a share in Government, the emoluments of a place, the sale of a borough, or the purchase of a corporation; and though you may not regret the virtues which create respect, you may see with anguish how much real importance and authority you have lost. Consider the character of an independent, virtuous Duke of Bedford ; imagine what he might be in this country, then reflect one moment upon what you are.
If it be possible for me to withdraw my attention from the fact, I will tell you in theory what such a man might bo. Conscious of his weight and importance, his conduct in Parliament would be directed by nothing but the constitutional duty of a peer.
He would consider himself as a guardian of the laws. Willing to support the just measures of Government, but determined to observe the conduct of the minister with suspicion, he would oppose the violence of faction with as much firmness as the encroachments of prerogative. He would be as little capable of bargaining with the minister for places for himself, or his dependents, as of descending to mix himself in the intrigues of opposition. Whenever an important question called for his opinion in Parliament, he would be heard by the most