Life of Thomas Paine by Clio Rickman
Preface to Rickman’s “Life”
The two following letters are explanatory of the reasons why the publication of the life of Mr. Paine has been so long delayed, and are so well calculated to excite the candor of the reader toward the work, that no apology is offered for making them a part of the preface.
“To the Editor of the Universal Magazine:
“On Mr. Clio Rickman’s Supposed Undertaking of the ‘Life of Thomas Paine’
“Sir: The public has been, within the last year or two, led to expect a Life of the celebrated Thomas Paine, from the pen of Mr. Clio Rickman, well known, on various accounts, to be more thoroughly qualified for that task than any other person in this country.
“This information, however, I repeat as I received it, uncertain whether it came abroad in any authenticated shape; and can only add, that no doubt need be entertained of sufficient attention from the public in times like the present, to a well-written life of that extraordinary character, whose principles and precepts are at this moment in full operation over the largest and richest portion of the habitable globe, and which in regular process of time may, from the efficacious influence of the glorious principles of freedom, become the grand theater of civilization.
“I have often desired to make a communication of this kind to your magazine, but am particularly impelled thereto at this moment, from observing in some periodical publications devoted to political and religious bigotry, a sample of their usual sophistical accounts of the last moments of men who have been in life eminent for the independence and freedom of their opinions; but the whole that the bigot to whom I allude has been able to effect in the case of Mr. Paine, amounts to an acknowledgment that the philosopher died steadfast to those opinions of religion in which he had lived; and the disappointment is plain enough to be seen, that similar forgeries could not, with any prospect of success, be circulated concerning Paine’s tergiversation and death-bed conversion, which were so greedily swallowed for a length of time by the gulls of fanaticism respecting Voltaire, D’Alembert, and others, until the Monthly Review, in the real spirit of philosophy, dispelled the imposition.
“The late ‘Life of Thomas Paine’ by Cheetham of New York, gave rise to the above magazine article. Cheetham, humph! Now should it not rather be spelled Cheat’em, as applicable to every reader of that farrago of imposition and malignity, miscalled the ‘Life of Paine’?
“Probably it may be but a traveling name in order to set another book a-traveling, for the purpose of scandalizing and maligning the reputation of a defunct public man, instead of the far more difficult task of confuting his principles.
“Nothing can be more in course than this conjecture, authorized indeed by the following fact, with which I believe the public is, to this day, unacquainted; namely, that Mr. Chalmers publicly at a dinner acknowledged himself the author of that very silly and insipid catchpenny, formerly sent abroad under the misnomer of a ‘Life of Thomas Paine, by F. Oldys, of America.’
“The chief view of this application is to ascertain whether or not Mr. Rickman really intends to undertake the work in question.
“I am, Sir, etc., etc.
Universal Magazine, December, 1811.
“Mr. Clio Rickman’s Reply to Politicos
“Sir: If you had done me the favor of a call, I would readily have satisfied all your inquiries about the ‘Life of Mr. Paine.’
“It is true I had the memoirs of that truly wise and good man in a great state of forwardness about a year ago; but a series of the most severe and dreadful family distresses since that time have rendered me incapable of completing them.
“Though an entire stranger to me (for I have not the least idea from whom the letter I am replying to came), I feel obliged to you for the liberal opinion therein expressed of me and of my fitness for the work.
“I have taken great pains that the life of my friend should be given to the world as the subject merits; and a few weeks, whenever I can sit down to it, will complete it.
“Unhappily, Cheetham is the real name of a real apostate. He lived, when Mr. Paine was my inmate in 1792, at Manchester, and was a violent and furious idolater of his.
“That Mr. Paine died in the full conviction of the truth of the principles he held when living I shall fully prove, and should have answered the contemptible trash about his death, so industriously circulated, but that the whole account exhibited on the face of it fanatical fraud; and it was pushed forward in a mode and manner so ridiculous and glaringly absurd, as to carry with it its own antidote.
“Such Christians would be much better employed in mending their own lives, and showing in them an example of good manners and morals, than in calumniating the characters and in detailing silly stories of the deaths of those Deists who have infinitely outstripped them, in their journey through life, in every talent and virtue, and in diffusing information and happiness among their fellowmen.
“I again beg the favor of a call, as the circumstances attached to the query of yours, and the delays and hindrances, which are of a family and distressing nature, to the publication of Mr. Paine’s life, are better adapted for private than for public discussion.
“I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
It may not be necessary for me to promise anything further than to say, that I affect not to rank with literary men, nor, as they rise, do I wish it; that authorship is neither my profession nor pursuit; and that, except in an undeviating attention to truth, and a better acquaintance with Mr. Paine and his life than any other man, I am perhaps the most unfit to arrange it for the public eye.
What I have hitherto written and published has arisen out of the moment, has been composed on the spur of the occasion, inspired by the scenery and circumstances around me, and produced abroad and at home, amid innumerable vicissitudes, the hurry of travel, business, pleasure, and during a life singularly active, eventful and checkered.
Latterly, too, that life has been begloomed by a train of ills which have trodden on each other’s heel, and which, added to the loss of my inspirer, my guide, my genius, and my muse; of her, the most highly qualified and best able to assist me, have rendered the work peculiarly irksome and oppressive.
In the year 1802, on my journey from France, I had the misfortune to lose my desk of papers – a loss I have never lamented more than on the present occasion. Among these were Mr. Paine’s letters to me, particularly those from France in the most interesting years to Europe, 1792, 1793. Not a scrap of these, together with some of his poetry, could I ever recover. By this misfortune the reader will lose much entertaining and valuable matter.
These memoirs  have remained untouched from 1811 till now, and have not received any addition of biographical matter since. They were written by that part of my family who were at hand, as I dictated them; by those loved beings of whom death has deprived me, and from whom other severe ills have separated me. The manuscript, on these and many other accounts, awakens “busy meddling memory,” and tortures me with painful remembrances; and save that it is a duty I owe to the public and to the memory and character of a valued friend, I should not have set about its arrangement.
My heart is not in it. There are literary productions, which, like some children, though disagreeable to everybody else, are still favorites with the parent: this offspring of mine is not of this sort, it hath no such affection.
Thus surrounded, and every way broken in upon by the most painful and harassing circumstances, I claim the reader’s candor; and I now literally force myself to the publication of Mr. Paine’s Life, lest it should again be improperly done, or not be done at all, and the knowledge of so great and good a man be thereby lost to the world.
The engraving of Mr. Paine, prefixed to this work, is the only true likeness of him; it is from his portrait by Romney, and is perhaps the greatest likeness ever taken by any painter: to that eminent artist I introduced him in 1792, and it was by my earnest persuasion that he sat to him.
Mr. Paine in his person was about five feet ten inches high; and rather athletic; he was broad-shouldered, and latterly stooped a little.
His eye, of which the painter could not convey the exquisite meaning, was full, brilliant, and singularly piercing; it had in it the “muse of fire.” In his dress and person he was generally very cleanly, and wore his hair cued, with side curls, and powdered, so that he looked altogether like a gentleman of the old French school.
His manners were easy and gracious; his knowledge was universal and boundless; in private company and among friends his conversation had every fascination that anecdote, novelty and truth could give it. In mixed company and among strangers he said little, and was no public speaker.
Thus much is said of him in general, and in this place, that the reader may the better bear us company in his Life.
Life of Thomas Paine by Thomas Clio Rickman 
The following memoirs of Mr. Paine, if they have no other merit, at least have that of being true.
Europe and America have for years been in possession of his works: these form the most important part of his life, and these are publicly sold and generally read; nor will the spirit of inquiry and sound reasoning, which the publication of them is so well calculated to promote, be long confined to any part of the world; for, to use his own words, “An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot. It will succeed where diplomatic management would fail. It is neither the Rhine, the Channel, nor the Ocean, that can arrest its progress. It will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer.”
“What manner of man” Mr. Paine was, his works will best exhibit, and from these his public, and much of his private character, will be best ascertained. But, as solicitude about the life of a great man and an extraordinary writer is common to all, it is here attempted to be gratified.
The Life of Mr. Paine by Francis Oldys was written seventeen years before Mr. Paine’s death; and was in fact, drawn up by a person employed by a certain lord, and who was to have five hundred pounds for the job, if he calumniated and belied him to his lordship’s and the Ministry’s satisfaction.
A continuation of this Life, printed at Philadelphia in 1796, is in the same strain as the above, and equally contemptible.
A most vile and scandalous memoir of Paine, with the name of William Cobbett as the author, though we hope he was not so, appeared in London about the year 1795 with this motto:
A life that’s one continued scene Of all that’s infamous and mean.
Mr. James Cheetham’s Life of Mr. Paine, published at New York after Mr. Paine’s death in 1809, is a farrago of still more silly, trifling, false and malicious matter. It is an outrageous attack upon Paine which bears upon the face of it, idle gossiping and gross misrepresentation.
The critique of this Life, in the British Review for June, 1811, consists of more corrupt trash about Mr. Paine than even Cheetham’s book and is in its style inflated and bombastic to a laughable excess. Whence this came, and for what purpose published, the candid will readily discern and cannot but lament the too frequent abuse, both by the tongue and by the pen, of characters entirely unknown to those who libel them, and by whom, if they were known, they would be approved and esteemed.
Indeed the whole of these works are so ridiculously overstrained in their abuse that they carry their own antidote with them.
The Life by Cheetham is so palpably written to distort, disfigure, mislead, and vilify, and does this so bunglingly, that it defeats its own purposes, and becomes entertaining from the excess of its labored and studied defamation.
It is indeed “guilt’s blunder,” and subverts all it was intended to accomplish. It is filled with long details of uninteresting American matter, bickering letters of obscure individuals, gossiping stories of vulgar fanatics, prejudiced political cant and weak observations on theology.
It may be supposed, from my long and affectionate intercourse with Mr. Paine, that these memoirs will have an opposite bias, and portray a too flattering and exalted character of him.
To this I reply, that I am not disposed to advocate the errors or irregularities of any man, however intimate with him, nor to suffer the partialities of friendship to prevent the due appreciation of character, or induce me to disregard the hallowed dictates of truth.
Paine was of those –
Who, wise by centuries before the crowd, Must by their novel systems, though correct, Of course offend the wicked, weak and proud – Must meet with hatred, calumny, neglect.
In his retirement to America, toward the close of his life, Mr. Paine was particularly unfortunate; for, as the author of the “Age of Reason,” he could not have gone to so unfavorable a quarter of the world.
A country abounding in fanatics, could not be a proper one for him whose mind was bold, inquiring, liberal and soaring, free from prejudice, and who from the principle was a Deist.
Of all wrath, fanatical wrath is the most intense, nor can it be a matter of surprise that Mr. Paine received from great numbers in America, an unwelcome reception, and was treated with neglect and illiberality.
It is true on his return to that country in 1802, he received great attention from many of those who remembered the mighty influence of his writings in the gloomy period of the Revolution; and from others who had since embraced his principles; but these attentions were by many not long continued.
Thousands, who had formerly looked up to Mr. Paine as the principal founder of the Republic, had imbibed a strong dislike to him on account of his religious principles; and thousands more, who were opposed to his political principles, seized hold of the mean and dastardly expedient of attacking those principles through the religious feelings and prejudices of the people. The vilest calumnies were constantly vented against him in the public papers, and the weak-minded were afraid to encounter the popular prejudice.
The letter he wrote to General Washington also estranged him from many of his old friends, and has been to his adversaries a fruitful theme of virulent accusation, and a foundation on which to erect a charge of ingratitude and intemperance. It must certainly be confessed that his naturally warm feelings, which could ill brook any slight, particularly where he was conscious he so little deserved it, appear to have led him to form a somewhat precipitate judgment of the conduct of the American President, with regard to his (Mr. Paine’s) imprisonment in France, and to attribute to design and wilful neglect what was probably only the result of inattention or perhaps of misinformation; and under the influence of this incorrect impression he seems to have indulged, rather too hastily, suspicions of Washington’s political conduct with respect to England.
But surely some little allowance should be made for the circumstances under which he wrote; just escaped from the horrors of a prison where he had been for several months confined under the sanguinary reign of Robespierre, when death strode incessantly through its cells, and the guillotine floated in the blood of its wretched inhabitants; and if, with the recollection of these scenes of terror fresh in his memory, and impressed with the idea that it was by Washington’s neglect that his life had been thus endangered, he may have been betrayed into a style of severity which was perhaps not quite warranted, we can only lament, without attaching blame to either, that anything jarring should have occurred between two men who were both stanch supporters of the cause of freedom, and thus have given the enemies of liberty occasion to triumph because its advocates were not more than mortal.
The dark and troublous years of the Revolution having passed away, and a government being firmly established, wealth possessed more influence than patriotism; and, a large portion of the people consisting of dissenters, fanaticism was more predominant than toleration, candor and charity.
These causes produced the shameful and ungrateful neglect of Mr. Paine in the evening of his days, of that Paine who by his long, faithful, and disinterested services in the Revolution, and afterwards by inculcating and enforcing correct principles, deserved, above all other men, the most kind and unremitting attention from, and to be held in the highest estimation by, the American people.
There were indeed a chosen and enlightened few, who, like himself “bold enough to be honest and honest enough to be bold,” feeling his value, continued to be his friends to his last hour.
Paine was not one of the great men who live amid great events, and forward and share their splendor; he created them; and, in this point of view, he was a very superior character to Washington.
Mr. Paine having ever in his mind the services he had rendered the United States, of whose independence he was the principal author and means, it cannot be a matter of wonder that he was deeply hurt and affected at not being recognized and treated by the Americans as he deserved, and as his labors for their benefit merited.
Shunned where he ought to have been caressed, coldly neglected where he ought to have been cherished, thrown into the background where he ought to have been prominent, and cruelly treated and calumniated by a host of ignorant and canting fanatics, it cannot be a subject of surprise, though it certainly must of regret, that he sometimes, toward the close of his life, fell into the too frequent indulgence of stimulants, neglected his appearance, and retired, mortified and disgusted, from an ill-judging, unkind, unjust world, into obscurity, and the association of characters in an inferior social position.
In this place it is absolutely necessary to observe that during his residence with me in London, in and about the year 1792, and in the course of his life previous to that time, he was not in the habit of drinking to excess; he was clean in his person, and in his manners polite and engaging; and ten years after this, when I was with him in France, he did not drink spirits, and wine he took moderately; he even objected to any spirits being laid in as a part of his sea stock, observing to me, that though sometimes, borne down by public and private affliction, he had been driven to excesses in Paris, the cause and effect would cease together, and that in America he should live as he liked, and as he ought to live.
That Mr. Paine had his failings is as true as that he was a man, and that some of them grew on him at a very advanced time of life, arising from the circumstances before detailed, there can be no doubt: but to magnify these, to give him vices he had not, and seek only occasions of misrepresenting and vilifying his character, without bringing forward the great and good traits in it, is cruel, unkind, and unjust.
“Let those who stand take heed lest they fall.” They too, when age debilitates the body and mind, and unexpected trials and grievances assail them, may fall into errors that they now vauntingly value themselves in not having. Singularly blest are they who are correct in their conduct; they should be happy and thankful that they are so; and instead of calumniating and being hard upon, should compassionate those who are not.
The throwers of the first stone would indeed be few if the condition were complied with on which it should be cast. That Mr. Paine in his declining years became careless of his personal appearance, and maybe, somewhat parsimonious, is in some measure true; but, to these errors of his old age, we ought to oppose his being the principal agent in creating the government of the American States; and that through his efforts millions have now the happiness of sitting at ease under their own vines and their own fig trees; his fair and upright conduct through life, his honest perseverance in principles which he might have had immense sums for relinquishing, or for being silent about, his never writing for money or making his works matter of pecuniary advantage to himself, but, on the contrary, as will be exemplified in these memoirs, his firmness in resisting all such emolument and in not listening to the voice of the briber.
Even amidst the violent party abuse of the day there were contemporary writers who knew how to appreciate Mr. Paine’s talents and principles, and to speak of him as he deserved.*
- Footnote: There were also public meetings held, and addresses to him from Nottingham, Norwich, etc., etc., from the Constitutional Society in London, to which belonged persons of great affluence and influence, and some of the best informed, best intentioned, and most exalted characters. From these and from many other bodies of men were published the highest testimonies of thanks and approbation of Mr. Paine and his political works. These addresses and the resolutions of the public meetings may be seen in the papers and hand bills of the day.
“We are now,” says one of these, “to treat of a real great man, a noble of nature, one whose mind is enlarged and wholly free from prejudice; one who has most usefully and honorably devoted his pen to support the glorious cause of general liberty and the rights of man. In his reply to Mr. Burke’s miserable rhapsody in favor of oppression, popery, and tyranny, he has urged the most lucid arguments, and brought forward truths the most convincing. Like a powerful magician he touches with his wand the hills of error and they smoke; the mountains of inhumanity and they melt away.”
“Had Thomas Paine,” says another most enlightened writer in 1795, in reply to Cheetham, Cobbett, Oldys, etc., “been nothing superior to a vagabond seaman, a bankrupt stay-maker, a discarded exciseman, a porter in the streets of Philadelphia, or whatever else the insanity of Grub Street chooses to call him, hundreds of thousands of copies of his writing had never announced his name in every village on the globe where the English language is spoken, and very extensively where it is not; nor would the rays of royal indignation have illuminated that character which they cannot scorch.”
Even Mr. Burke, writing on one of Mr. Paine’s works, “Common Sense,” says, “that celebrated pamphlet, which prepared the minds of the people for independence.”
It has been a fashion among the enemies of Mr. Paine, when unable to cope with his arguments, to attack his style, which they charge with inaccuracy and want of elegance; and some, even of those most friendly to his principles have joined in this captious criticism. It had not, perhaps, all the meretricious ornaments and studied graces that glitter in the pages of Burke, which would have been so many obscurities in the eyes of that part of the community for whose perusal his writings were principally intended, but it is singularly nervous and pointed; his arguments are always forcibly stated, nor does a languid line ever weary the attention of the reader. It is true, he never studied variety of phrase at the expense of perspicuity. His object was to enlighten, not to dazzle; and often, for the sake of more forcibly impressing an idea on the mind of the reader, he has made use of verbal repetitions which to a fastidious ear may perhaps sound unmusical. But although, in the opinion of some, his pages may be deficient in elegance, few will deny that they are copious in matter; and, if they sometimes fail to tickle the ear, they will never fail to fill the mind.
Distinctness and arrangement are the peculiar characteristics of his writings: this reflection brings to mind an observation once made to him by an American girl, “that his head was like an orange – it had a separate apartment for everything it contained.”
Notwithstanding this general character of his writings, the bold and original style of thinking which everywhere pervades them often displays itself in a luxuriance of imagery, and a poetic elevation of fancy, which stand unrivaled in the pages of our English classics.
Thomas Paine was born at Thetford in the County of Norfolk in England, on the twenty-ninth of January, 1736. His father, Joseph Paine, who was the son of a reputable farmer, followed the trade of a stay-maker, and was by religious profession a Quaker. His mother’s maiden name was Frances Cocke, a member of the Church of England, and daughter of an attorney at Thetford.
They were married at the parish church of Euston, near Thetford, the twentieth of June, 1734.
His father, by this marriage out of the Society of Quakers, was disowned by that community.
Mr. Paine received his education at the grammar school at Thetford, under the Rev. William Knowles, master; and one of his schoolmates at that time was the late Counsellor Mingay.
He gave very early indication of talents and strong abilities, and addicted himself when a mere boy, to reading poetical authors; but this disposition his parents endeavored to discourage.
When a child he composed some lines on a fly being caught in a spider’s web, and produced when eight years of age, the following epitaph on a crow which he buried in the garden:
Here lies the body of John Crow, Who once was high but now is low: Ye brother Crows take warning all, For as you rise, so must you fall.
At this school his studies were directed merely to the useful branches of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and he left it at thirteen years of age, applying, though he did not like it, to his father’s business for nearly five years.
In the year 1756, when about twenty years of age, he went to London, where he worked some time in Hanover Street, Long Acre, with Mr. Morris, a noted stay-maker.
He continued but a short time in London, and it is probable about this time made his seafaring adventure of which he thus speaks: “At an early age, raw and adventurous, and heated with the false heroism of a master [Rev. Mr. Knowles, master of the grammar school at Thetford] who had served in a man-of-war, I began my fortune, and entered on board the Terrible, Captain Death. From this adventure I was happily prevented by the affectionate and moral remonstrances of a good father, who from the habits of his life, being of the Quaker profession, looked on me as lost; but the impression, much as it affected me at the time, wore away, and I entered afterwards in the King of Prussia privateer, Captain Mendez, and went with her to sea.”
This way of life Mr. Paine soon left, and about the year 1758, worked at his trade for near twelve months at Dover. In April, 1759, he settled as a master stay-maker at Sandwich, and the twenty-seventh of September following married Mary Lambert, the daughter of an exciseman of that place In April, 1760, he removed with his wife to Margate, where she died shortly after, and he again mingled with the crowds of London.
In July, 1761, disgusted with the toil and little gain of his late occupation, he renounced it for ever, and determined to apply himself to the profession of an exciseman, toward which, as his wife’s father was of that calling, he had some time turned his thoughts.
At this period he sought shelter under his father’s roof at Thetford, that he might prosecute, in quiet and retirement, the object of his future course. Through the interest of Mr. Cocksedge, the recorder of Thetford, after fourteen months of study, he was established as a supernumerary in the excise, at the age of twenty-five.
In this situation at Grantham and Alford, etc., he did not continue more than two or three years, when he relinquished it in August, 1765, and commenced it again in July, 1766.
In this interval he was teacher at Mr. Noble’s academy in Leman Street, Goodman’s Fields, at a salary of twenty-five pounds a year. In a similar occupation he afterwards lived for a short time, at Kensington, with a Mr. Gardner.
I remember when once speaking of the improvement he gained in the above capacities and some other lowly situations he had been in, he made this observation. “Here I derived considerable information; indeed I have seldom passed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge.”
During this residence in London, Mr. Paine attended the philosophical lectures of Martin and Ferguson, and became acquainted with Dr. Bevis of the Temple, a great astronomer. In these studies and in the mathematics he soon became a proficient.
In March, 1768, he was settled as an exciseman at Lewes, in Sussex, and there, on the twenty-sixth of March, 1771, married Elizabeth Olive, shortly after the death of her father, whose trade of a tobacconist he entered into and carried on.
In this place he lived several years in habits of intimacy with a very respectable, sensible, and convivial set of acquaintance, who were entertained with his witty sallies, and informed by his more serious conversations.
In politics he was at this time a Whig, and notorious for that quality which has been defined perseverance in a good cause and obstinacy in a bad one. He was tenacious of his opinions, which were bold, acute, and independent, and which he maintained with ardor, elegance, and argument.
At this period, at Lewes, the White Hart Evening Club was the resort of a social and intelligent circle who, out of fun, seeing that disputes often ran very warm and high, frequently had what they called the “Headstrong Book.” This was no other than an old Greek Homer which was sent the morning after a debate vehemently maintained, to the most obstinate haranguer of the club: this book had the following title, as implying that Mr. Paine the best deserved and most frequently obtained it.
THE HEADSTRONG BOOK, OR ORIGINAL BOOK OF OBSTINACY, WRITTEN BY **** ****, OF LEWES, IN SUSSEX, AND REVISED AND CORRECTED BY THOMAS PAINE. ------- Eulogy on Paine. Immortal Paine, while mighty reasoners jar, We crown thee General of the Headstrong War; Thy logic vanish'd error, and thy mind No bounds, but those of right and truth, confined. Thy soul of fire must sure ascend the sky, Immortal Paine, thy fame can never die; For men like thee their names must ever save From the black edicts of the tyrant grave.
My friend Mr. Lee, of Lewes, in communicating this to me in September, 1810, said: “This was manufactured nearly forty years ago, as applicable to Mr. Paine, and I believe you will allow, however indifferent the manner, that I did not very erroneously anticipate his future celebrity.”
During his residence at Lewes, he wrote several excellent little pieces in prose and verse, and among the rest the celebrated song on the death of General Wolfe, beginning
“In a mouldering cave where the wretched retreat.””
It was about this time he wrote ” The Trial of Farmer Carter’s Dog Porter,” in the manner of a drama, a work of exquisite wit and humor.
In 1772 the excise officers throughout the kingdom formed a design of applying to Parliament for some addition to their salaries. Upon this occasion Mr. Paine, who, by this time, was distinguished among them as a man of talent, was fixed upon as a fit person, and solicited to draw up their case, and this he did in a very succinct and masterly manner. This case makes an octavo pamphlet, and four thousand copies were printed by Mr. William Lee, of Lewes. It is entitled “The Case of the Salary of the Officers of Excise, and Thoughts on the Corruption Arising from the Poverty of Excise Officers.” No application, however, notwithstanding this effort, was made to Parliament.
In April, 1774, the goods of his shop were sold to pay his debts. As a grocer, he trafficked in excisable articles, and being suspected of unfair practices, was dismissed the excise after being in it twelve years. Whether this reason was a just one or not never was ascertained; it was, however, the ostensible one. Mr. Paine might perhaps have been in the habit of smuggling, in common with his neighbors. It was the universal custom along the coast, and more or less the practise of all ranks of people, from lords and ladies, ministers and magistrates, down to the cottager and laborer.
As Mr. Paine’s being dismissed the excise has been a favorite theme with his abusers it may be necessary here to relate the following fact:
At the time he was an exciseman at Lewes, he was so approved for doing his duty that Mr. Jenner, principal clerk in the excise office, London, had several times occasion to write letters from the Board of Excise, thanking Mr. Paine for his assiduity in his profession, and for his information and calculations forwarded to the office.
In May following Mr. Paine and his wife separated by mutual agreement, articles of which were finally settled on the fourth of June. Which of them was in this instance wrong, or whether either of them was so, must be left undetermined, as on this subject no knowledge or judgment can be formed. They are now both removed, where, as we are told, none “are either married or given in marriage,” and where, consequently, there can be no disagreements on this score. This I can assert, that Mr. Paine always spoke tenderly and respectfully of his wife, and several times sent her pecuniary aid, without her knowing even whence it came.
Toward the end of the year 1774, he was strongly recommended to the great and good Dr. Franklin, “the favor of whose friendship,” he says, “I possessed in England and my introduction to this part of the world [America] was through his patronage.”*
- Footnote: Crisis, No. 3.
Mr. Paine now formed the resolution of quitting his native country, and soon crossed the Atlantic; and, as he himself relates, arrived in Philadelphia in the winter, a few months before the battle of Lexington, which was fought in April, 1775.
It appears that his first employment in the new world was with Mr. Aitken, a book-seller, as editor of the Pennsylvanian Magazine; and his introduction to that work, dated January 24, 1775, is thus concluded: “Thus encompassed with difficulties, this first number of the Pennsylvanian Magazine entreats a favorable reception, of which we shall only say, that like the early snow-drop it comes forth in a barren season, and contents itself with foretelling the reader that choicer flowers are preparing to appear.”
Soon after his return [sic] to America, as foreign supplies of gunpowder were stopped, he turned his attention to chemistry, and set his fertile talents to work in endeavoring to discover some cheap and expeditious method of furnishing Congress with saltpeter, and he proposed, in the Pennsylvanian Journal, November 2, 1775, the plan of a saltpeter association for voluntarily supplying the national magazines with gunpowder.
His popularity in America now increased daily, and from this era he became a great public character and an object of interest and attention in the world. In 1776, on the tenth of January, he published the celebrated and powerfully discriminating pamphlet, “Common Sense.” Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to this work is the effect it so rapidly had on the people, who had before no predisposition toward its principles.
Even Mr. Cheetham, whom no one will suspect of flattering Mr. Paine, thus forcibly describes the effects of “Common Sense” on the people of America:
“This pamphlet of forty octavo pages, holding out relief by proposing independence to an oppressed and despairing people, was published in January, 1776, speaking a language which the colonists had felt, but not thought of. Its popularity, terrible in its consequences to the parent country, was unexampled in the history of the press. At first involving the colonists, it was thought, in the crime of rebellion, and pointing to a road leading inevitably to ruin, it was read with indignation and alarm, but when the reader, (and everybody read it), recovering from the first shock, re-perused it, its arguments nourishing his feelings, and appealing to his pride, reanimated his hopes and satisfied his understanding, that ‘Common Sense,’ backed up by the resources and force of the colonies, poor and feeble as they were, could alone rescue them from the unqualified oppression with which they were threatened. The unknown author, in the moments of enthusiasm which succeeded, was an angel sent from heaven to save from all the horrors of slavery by his timely, powerful and unerring councils, a faithful but abused, a brave but misrepresented people.”
“Common Sense,” it appears, was universally read and approved; the first edition sold almost immediately, and the second with very large additions was before the public soon after.
Owing to this disinterested conduct of Mr. Paine, it appears that though the sale of “Common Sense” was so great, he was in debt to the printer -L-29 12s 1d. This liberality and conscientious discharge of his duty with respect to his serviceable writings, as he called them, he adopted through life. “When I bring out my poetical and anecdotical works,” he would often say to me, “which will be little better than amusing, I shall sell them; but I must have no gain in view, must make no traffic of my political and theological writings. They are with me a matter of principle and not a matter of money; I cannot desire to derive benefit from them or make them the subject to attain it.”
In the course of this year, 1776, Mr. Paine accompanied the army with General Washington, and was with him in his retreat from the Hudson River to the Delaware. At this period our author stood undismayed, amid a flying Congress, and the general terror of the land. The Americans, he loudly asserted, were in possession of resources sufficient to authorize hope, and he labored to inspire others with the same sentiments which animated himself. To effect this, on the nineteenth of December he published “The Crisis,” wherein, with a masterly hand, he stated every reason for hope, and examined all the motives for apprehension. This work he continued at various intervals, till the Revolution was established. The last number appeared on the nineteenth of April, 1783, the same day a cessation of hostilities was proclaimed.
In 1777, Congress unanimously, and unknown to Mr. Paine, appointed him Secretary in the Foreign Department, and from this time a close friendship continued between him and Dr. Franklin. From his office went all letters that were officially written by Congress, and the correspondence of Congress rested afterwards in his hands. This appointment gave Mr. Paine an opportunity of seeing into foreign courts, and their manner of doing business and conducting themselves. In this office, which obliged him to reside with Congress wherever it fled, or however it was situated, Mr. Paine deserved the highest praise for the clearness, firmness and magnanimity of his conduct. His uprightness and entire fitness for this office did not, however, prevent intrigue and interestedness, or defeat cabal; for a difference being fomented between Congress and him, respecting one of their commissioners then in Europe (Mr. Silas Deane), he resigned his secretaryship on the eighth of January, 1779, and declined, at the same time, the pecuniary offers made him by the ministers of France and Spain, M. Gerard and Don Juan Mirralles.
This resignation of, or dismissal from his situation as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has been so variously mentioned and argued upon, that the reader is referred to the tedious detail of it in the journals of the day, if he has patience to wade through so much American temporary and party political gossip. Mr. Paine’s own account in his letter to Congress shortly is, “I prevented Deane’s fraudulent demand being paid, and so far the country is obliged to me, but I became the victim of my integrity.”
The party junto against him say he was guilty of a violation of his official duty, etc.
And here I shall leave it, as the bickerings of parties in America, in the year 1779, cannot be worth a European’s attention; and as to the Americans themselves they have various means, by their legislatural records, registers of the day, and pamphlets, then and since, to go into the subject if they think it of importance enough.
About this time Mr. Paine had the degree of Master of Arts conferred on him by the University of Philadelphia, and in 1780 was chosen a member of the American Philosophical Society, when it was revived by the Legislature of the Province of Pennsylvania.
In February, 1781, Colonel Laurens, amidst the financial distress of America, was sent on mission to France in order to obtain a loan, and Mr. Paine, at the solicitation of the Colonel, accompanied him.
Mr. Paine, in his letter to Congress, intimates that this mission originated with himself, and takes upon himself the credit of it.
They arrived in France the following month, obtained a loan of ten millions of livres and a present of six millions, and landed in America the succeeding August with two millions and a half in silver. His value, his firmness, his independence, as a political character, were now universally acknowledged; his great talents, and the high purposes to which he devoted them, made him generally sought after and looked up to, and General Washington was foremost to express the great sense he had of the excellence of his character and the importance of his services, and would himself have proposed to Congress a great remuneration of them, had not Mr. Paine positively objected to it as a bad precedent and an improper mode.
In August, 1782, he published his spirited letter to the Abbe Raynal; of this letter a very sensible writer observes, “that it displays an accuracy of judgment and strength of penetration that would do honor to the most enlightened philosopher. It exhibits proofs of knowledge so comprehensive, and discrimination so acute, as must in the opinion of the best judges place the author in the highest ranks of literature.”
On the twenty-ninth of October he brought out his excellent letter to the Earl of Shelburne, on his speech in the House of Lords, July 10, 1782.
To get an idea of the speech of this Earl it may not be necessary to quote more than the following sentence: “When Great Britain acknowledges American independence the sun of Britain’s glory is set forever.”
“When the war ended,” says Mr. Paine, “I went from Philadelphia to Borden Town on the East end of the Delaware, where I have a small place. Congress was at this time at Prince Town, fifteen miles distant, and General Washington had taken his headquarters at Rocky Hill, within the neighborhood of Congress, for the purpose of resigning his commission, the object for which he had accepted it being accomplished, and of retiring to private life. While he was on this business he wrote me the letter which I here subjoin:”
“Rocky Hill, September 10,1783.
“I have learned since I have been at this place that you are at Borden Town. Whether for the sake of retirement or economy I know not; be it for either, for both, or whatever it may, if you will come to this place and partake with me, I shall be exceedingly happy to see you at it. Your presence may remind Congress of your past services to this country, and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best services with freedom; as they will be rendered cheerfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your works, and who with much pleasure, subscribes himself,
“Your sincere friend, G. Washington.
In 1785, Congress granted Mr. Paine three thousand dollars for his services to the people of America, as may be seen by the following document:
“Friday, August 26, 1785.
“On the report of a committee consisting of Mr. Gerry, Mr. Petet and Mr. King, to whom was referred a letter of the thirteenth from Thomas Paine,
“Resolved, That the early, unsolicited, and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine, in explaining the principles of the late Revolution, by ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of liberty and civil government, have been well received by the citizens of these states, and merit the approbation of Congress; and that in consideration of these services, and the benefits produced thereby, Mr. Paine is entitled to a liberal gratification from the United States.”
“Monday, October 3, 1785.
“On a report of a committee consisting of Mr. Gerry, Mr. Howell and Mr. Long, to whom were referred sundry letters from Mr. Thomas Paine, and a report on his letter of the fourteenth of September,
“Resolved, That the Board of Treasury take order for paying to Mr. Thomas Paine, the sum of three thousand dollars, for the considerations of the twenty-third of August last.” – Journals of Congress.
The State of Pennsylvania, in which he first published “Common Sense” and the “Crisis,” in 1785, presented him, by an act of Legislature, five hundred pounds currency. New York gave him the estate at New Rochelle, in the county of Westchester, consisting of more than three hundred acres of land in high cultivation. On this estate was an elegant stone house, 125 by 28 feet, besides outhouses; the latter property was farmed much to his advantage, during his long stay in Europe, by some friends, as will hereafter be more fully noticed.
Mr. Monroe, when Ambassador in England, once speaking on this subject at my house, said that Mr. Paine would have received a very large remuneration from the State of Virginia, but that while the matter was before the Assembly, and he was extremely popular and in high favor, he published reasons against some proceedings of that State which he thought improper, and thereby lost, by a majority of one, the high reward he would otherwise have received;* – a memorable instance of the independence of his mind, and of his attachment to truth and right above all other considerations. A conduct exactly opposite to that of the pensioned Burke, whose venality cannot be better pointed out than in the following conversation with Mr. Paine, after dining together at the Duke of Portland’s at Bulstrode.
- Footnote: This work was entitled “Public Good, being an Examination of the Claim of Virginia to Vacant Western Territory.”
Burke was very inquisitive to know how the Americans were disposed toward the King of England, when Mr. Paine, to whom the subject was an ungracious one, and who felt teased, related the following anecdote:
At a small town, in which was a tavern bearing the sign of the King’s head, it was insisted on by the inhabitants that a memento so odious should not continue up, but there was no painter at hand to change it into General Washington, or any other favorite, so the sign was suffered to remain, with this inscription under it:
This is the sign of the Loggerhead!
Burke, who at this moment was a concealed pensioner, though a public oppositionist, replied, peevishly: “Loggerhead or any other head, he has many good things to give away, and I should be glad of some of them.”
This same Mr. Burke, in one of his speeches in the House of Commons, said, “kings were naturally fond of low company,” and “that many of the nobility act the part of flatterers, parasites, pimps and buffoons, etc.,” but his character will be best appreciated by reading Mr. Paine’s “Letter to the Addressers.”
In 1786 he published in Philadelphia “Dissertation on Government, the Affairs of the Bank, and Paper Money,” an octavo pamphlet of sixty-four pages. The bank alluded to is the Bank of North America, of which he thus speaks:
“In the year 1780, when the British Army, having laid waste the Southem States, closed its ravages by the capture of Charleston, when the financial sources of Congress were dried up, when the public treasury was empty, and the army of independence paralyzed by want, a voluntary subscription for its relief was raised in Philadelphia.” This voluntary fund, amounting to three hundred thousand pounds, afterwards converted into a bank by the subscribers, headed by Robert Morris, supplied the wants of the army; probably the aids which it furnished enabled Washington to carry into execution his well-concerted plan against Cornwallis. Congress, in the year 1781, incorporated the subscribers to the fund, under the title of the Bank of North America. In the following year it was further incorporated by an Act of the Pennsylvanian Assembly. Mr. Paine liberally subscribed five hundred dollars to this fund.
After the establishment of the independence of America, of the vigorous and successful exertions to attain which glorious object he had been the animating principle, soul and support; feeling his exertions no longer requisite in that country, he embarked for France, and arrived in Paris early in 1787, carrying with him his fame as a literary man, an acute philosopher, and most profound politician.
At this time he presented to the Academy of Science the model of a bridge which he invented, the principle of which has been since so highly celebrated and approved.
From Paris he arrived in England the third of September, just thirteen years after his departure for Philadelphia. Prompted by that filial affection which his conduct had ever manifested, he hastened to Thetford to visit his mother, on whom he settled an allowance of nine shillings a week. Of this comfortable solace she was afterwards deprived by the bankruptcy of the merchant in whom the trust was vested.
Mr. Paine resided at Rotherham in Yorkshire during part of the year 1788, where an iron bridge upon the principle alluded to was cast and erected, and obtained for him among the mathematicians of Europe a high reputation. In the erection of this, a considerable sum had been expended, for which he was hastily arrested by the assignees of an American merchant, and thrown into confinement. From this, however, and the debt, he cleared himself in about three weeks.*
- Footnote: More or less upon this plan of Mr. Paine’s, the different iron bridges in Europe have been constructed.
The publication of Mr. Burke’s “Reflections on the French Revolution,” produced in reply from Mr. Paine his great, universally known, and celebrated work, “Rights of Man.” The first part of this work was written partly at the Angel, of Islington, partly in Harding Street, Fetter Lane, and finished at Versailles. In February, 1791, this book made its appearance in London, and many hundred thousand copies were rapidly sold. In May following he went again to France and was at Paris at the time of the flight of the King, and also on his return. On this memorable occasion he made this observation: “You see the absurdity of your system of government; here will be a whole nation disturbed by the folly of one man.” Upon this subject also he made the following reply to the Marquis Lafayette, who came into his bedroom before he was up, saying, “The birds are flown.” “’Tis well, I hope there will be no attempt to recall them.”
On the thirteenth of July he returned to London, but did not attend the celebration of the anniversary of the French Revolution the following day, as has been falsely asserted.
On the twentieth of August he drew up the address and declaration of the gentlemen who met at the Thatched House Tavern.
The language of this address is bold and free, but not more so than that of the late Lord Chatham, or of that once violent advocate of reform, the late Mr. Pitt, better known by the title of the “Enemy of the Human Race.”
On the subject of the address at the Thatched House Tavern, which Mr. Paine did write, it is impossible not to quote Cheetham’s “Life,” just to exhibit his blindness and ignorance, and to show how prejudice had warped this once idolizer of Mr. Paine: “Home Tooke, perhaps the most acute man of his age, was at this meeting; and as it was rumored, Paine observes, that the great grammarian was the author of the address, he takes the liberty of mentioning the fact, that he wrote it himself. I never heard of the rumor, which was doubtless a fiction formed and asserted by Paine merely to gratify his egotism. No one could mistake the uncouth and ungrammatical writings of one, for the correct and elegant productions of the other.” But what can be expected from him who calls “Common Sense” a wretched work; the “Rights of Man” a miserable production, and “Burke’s Reflections” a book of the proudest sagacity?
What can be expected from him who a few years before writing the above, in England deified Mr. Paine, and called his writings immortal?
Life of Thomas Paine Part Two Thomas Clio Rickman 1819
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 Augaean 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.*
- Footnote: The reader is referred to Brissot’s paper, Le Patriot Franc,ois, 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 enrages, 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 Barrere, 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 Barrere 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, Thomas Paine, who on this Table in the Year 1792, wrote several of his invaluable Works."
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, Banc,al, 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 Barrere, 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 -L-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.”
This anecdote is only related as a fact. Of the sincerity of the compliment, those may judge who know Bonaparte’s principles best.
- Footnote: 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.
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 -L-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:
THOMAS PAINE, AUTHOR OF COMMON SENSE, 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.*
* Footnote: 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.