No. 389. Tuesday, May 27, 1712. Budgell.

Meliora pii docuere parentes.'

Nothing has more surprized the Learned in England, than the Price which a small Book, intitled Spaccio della Bestia triom fante, [1] bore in a late Auction. This Book was sold for [thirty [2]] Pound. As it was written by one Jordanus Brunus, a professed Atheist, with a design to depreciate Religion, every one was apt to fancy, from the extravagant Price it bore, that there must be something in it very formidable.

I must confess that happening to get a sight of one of them my self, I could not forbear perusing it with this Apprehension; but found there was so very little Danger in it, that I shall venture to give my Readers a fair Account of the whole Plan upon which this wonderful Treatise is built.

The Author pretends that Jupiter once upon a Time resolved on a Reformation of the Constellations: for which purpose having summoned the Stars together, he complains to them of the great Decay of the Worship of the Gods, which he thought so much the harder, having called several of those Celestial Bodies by the Names of the Heathen Deities, and by that means made the Heavens as it were a Book of the Pagan Theology. Momus tells him, that this is not to be wondered at, since there were so many scandalous Stories of the Deities; upon which the Author takes occasion to cast Reflections upon all other Religions, concluding, that Jupiter, after a full Hearing, discarded the Deities out of Heaven, and called the Stars by the Names of the Moral Virtues.

This short Fable, which has no Pretence in it to Reason or Argument, and but a very small Share of Wit, has however recommended it self wholly by its Impiety to those weak Men, who would distinguish themselves by the Singularity of their Opinions.

There are two Considerations which have been often urged against Atheists, and which they never yet could get over. The first is, that the greatest and most eminent Persons of all Ages have been against them, and always complied with the publick Forms of Worship established in their respective Countries, when there was nothing in them either derogatory to the Honour of the Supreme Being, or prejudicial to the Good of Mankind.

The Platos and Ciceros among the Ancients; the Bacons, the Boyles, and the Lockes, among our own Countrymen, are all Instances of what I have been saying; not to mention any of the Divines, however celebrated, since our Adversaries challenge all those, as Men who have too much Interest in this Case to be impartial Evidences.

But what has been often urged as a Consideration of much more Weight, is, not only the Opinion of the Better Sort, but the general Consent of Mankind to this great Truth; which I think could not possibly have come to pass, but from one of the three following Reasons; either that the Idea of a God is innate and co-existent with the Mind it self; or that this Truth is so very obvious, that it is discoverd by the first Exertion of Reason in Persons of the most ordinary Capacities; or, lastly, that it has been delivered down to us thro' all Ages by a Tradition from the first Man.

The Atheists are equally confounded, to which ever of these three Causes we assign it; they have been so pressed by this last Argument from the general Consent of Mankind, that after great search and pains they pretend to have found out a Nation of Atheists, I mean that Polite People the Hottentots.

I dare not shock my Readers with a Description of the Customs and Manners of these Barbarians, who are in every respect scarce one degree above Brutes, having no Language among them but a confused [Gabble [3]] which is neither well understood by themselves or others.

It is not however to be imagin'd how much the Atheists have gloried in these their good Friends and Allies.

If we boast of a Socrates, or a Seneca, they may now confront them with these great Philosophers the Hottentots.

Tho even this Point has, not without Reason, been several times controverted, I see no manner of harm it could do Religion, if we should entirely give them up this elegant Part of Mankind.

Methinks nothing more shews the Weakness of their Cause, than that no Division of their Fellow-Creatures join with them, but those among whom they themselves own Reason is almost defaced, and who have little else but their Shape, which can entitle them to any Place in the Species.

Besides these poor Creatures, there have now and then been Instances of a few crazed People in several Nations, who have denied the Existence of a Deity.

The Catalogue of these is however very short; even Vanini [4] the most celebrated Champion for the Cause, professed before his Judges that he believed the Existence of a God, and taking up a Straw which lay before him on the Ground, assured them, that alone was sufficient to convince him of it; alledging several Arguments to prove that 'twas impossible Nature alone could create anything.

I was the other day reading an Account of Casimir Liszynski, a Gentleman of Poland, who was convicted and executed for this Crime. [5] The manner of his Punishment was very particular. As soon as his Body was burnt his Ashes were put into a Cannon, and shot into the Air towards Tartary.

I am apt to believe, that if something like this Method of Punishment should prevail in England, such is the natural good Sense of the British Nation, that whether we rammed an Atheist [whole] into a great Gun, or pulverized our Infidels, as they do in Poland, we should not have many Charges.

I should, however, propose, while our Ammunition lasted, that instead of Tartary, we should always keep two or three Cannons ready pointed towards the Cape of Good Hope, in order to shoot our Unbelievers into the Country of the Hottentots.

In my Opinion, a solemn judicial Death is too great an Honour for an Atheist, tho' I must allow the Method of exploding him, as it is practised in this ludicrous kind of Martyrdom, has something in it proper [enough] to the Nature of his Offence.

There is indeed a great Objection against this Manner of treating them. Zeal for Religion is of so active a Nature, that it seldom knows where to rest; for which reason I am afraid, after having discharged our Atheists, we might possibly think of shooting off our Sectaries; and, as one does not foresee the Vicissitude of human Affairs, it might one time or other come to a Man's own turn to fly out of the Mouth of a Demi-culverin.

If any of my Readers imagine that I have treated these Gentlemen in too Ludicrous a Manner, I must confess, for my own part, I think reasoning against such Unbelievers upon a Point that shocks the Common Sense of Mankind, is doing them too great an Honour, giving them a Figure in the Eye of the World, and making People fancy that they have more in them than they really have.

As for those Persons who have any Scheme of Religious Worship, I am for treating such with the utmost Tenderness, and should endeavour to shew them their Errors with the greatest Temper and Humanity: but as these Miscreants are for throwing down Religion in general, for stripping Mankind of what themselves own is of excellent use in all great Societies, without once offering to establish any thing in the Room of it; I think the best way of dealing with them, is to retort their own Weapons upon them, which are those of Scorn and Mockery.


[Footnote 1: The book was bought in 1711 for £28 by Mr. Walter Clavel at the sale of the library of Mr. Charles Barnard. It had been bought in 1706 at the sale of Mr. Bigot's library with five others for two shillings and a penny. Although Giordano Bruno was burnt as a heretic, he was a noble thinker, no professed atheist, but a man of the reformed faith, who was in advance of Calvin, a friend of Sir Philip Sydney, and as good a man as Mr. Budgell.]

[Footnote 2: Fifty]

[Footnote 3: Gabling]

[Footnote 4: Vanini, like Giordano Bruno, has his memory dishonoured through the carelessness with which men take for granted the assertions of his enemies. Whether burnt or not, every religious thinker of the sixteenth century who opposed himself to the narrowest views of those who claimed to be the guardians of orthodoxy was remorselessly maligned. If he was the leader of a party, there were hundreds to maintain his honour against calumny. If he was a solitary searcher after truth, there was nothing but his single life and work to set against the host of his defamers. Of Vanini's two books, one was written to prove the existence of a God, yet here is Mr. Budgell calling him the most celebrated champion for the cause of atheism.]

[Footnote 5: Casimir Lyszynski was a Polish Knight, executed at Warsaw in 1689, in the barbarous manner which appears to tickle Mr. Budgell's fancy. It does not appear that he had written anything.]

Translation of motto:
'Their pious sires a better lesson taught.'