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The story of Creation in the Book of Genesis, unless we
play fast and loose either with words or with science, cannot be brought
into harmony with what we have learnt from geology. Its ethnological
statements are imperfect, if not sometimes inaccurate. The stories of
the Fall, of the Flood, and of the Tower of Babel, are incredible in
their present form. Some historical element may underlie many of the
traditions in the first eleven chapters in that book, but this we cannot
hope to recover." Canon Bonney proceeded to say of the New Testament
also, that "the Gospels are not so far as we know, strictly
contemporaneous records, so we must admit the possibility of variations
and even inaccuracies in details being introduced by oral tradition."
The Canon thinks the interval too short for these importations to be
serious, but that any question of this kind is left open proves the Age
of Reason fully upon us. Reason alone can determine how many texts are
as spurious as the three heavenly witnesses (i John v. 7), and like
it "serious" enough to have cost good men their lives, and persecutors
their charities. When men interpolate, it is because they believe their
interpolation seriously needed. It will be seen by a note in Part II. of
the work, that Paine calls attention to an interpolation introduced into
the first American edition without indication of its being an editorial
footnote. This footnote was: "The book of Luke was carried by a majority
of one only. Vide Moshelm's Ecc. History." Dr. Priestley, then in
America, answered Paine's work, and in quoting less than a page from the
"Age of Reason" he made three alterations,--one of which changed "church
mythologists" into "Christian mythologists,"--and also raised the
editorial footnote into the text, omitting the reference to Mosheim.
Having done this, Priestley writes: "As to the gospel of Luke being
carried by a majority of one only, it is a legend, if not of Mr. Paine's
own invention, of no better authority whatever." And so on with further
castigation of the author for what he never wrote, and which he himself
(Priestley) was the unconscious means of introducing into the text
within the year of Paine's publication.

If this could be done, unintentionally by a conscientious and exact man,
and one not unfriendly to Paine, if such a writer as Priestley could
make four mistakes in citing half a page, it will appear not very
wonderful when I state that in a modern popular edition of "The Age
of Reason," including both parts, I have noted about five hundred
deviations from the original. These were mainly the accumulated efforts
of friendly editors to improve Paine's grammar or spelling; some were
misprints, or developed out of such; and some resulted from the sale
in London of a copy of Part Second surreptitiously made from the
manuscript. These facts add significance to Paine's footnote (itself
altered in some editions!), in which he says: "If this has happened
within such a short space of time, notwithstanding the aid of printing,
which prevents the alteration of copies individually; what may not have
happened in a much greater length of time, when there was no printing,
and when any man who could write, could make a written copy, and call it
an original, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John."

Nothing appears to me more striking, as an illustration of the
far-reaching effects of traditional prejudice, than the errors into
which some of our ablest contemporary scholars have fallen by reason of
their not having studied Paine. Professor Huxley, for instance, speaking
of the freethinkers of the eighteenth century, admires the acuteness,
common sense, wit, and the broad humanity of the best of them, but says
"there is rarely much to be said for their work as an example of the
adequate treatment of a grave and difficult investigation," and that
they shared with their adversaries "to the full the fatal weakness of
a priori philosophizing." [NOTE: Science and Christian Tradition, p.
18 (Lon. ed., 1894).] Professor Huxley does not name Paine, evidently
because he knows nothing about him. Yet Paine represents the
turning-point of the historical freethinking movement; he renounced the
'a priori' method, refused to pronounce anything impossible outside
pure mathematics, rested everything on evidence, and really founded the
Huxleyan school. He plagiarized by anticipation many things from the
rationalistic leaders of our time, from Strauss and Baur (being the
first to expatiate on "Christian Mythology"), from Renan (being the
first to attempt recovery of the human Jesus), and notably from Huxley,
who has repeated Paine's arguments on the untrustworthiness of the
biblical manuscripts and canon, on the inconsistencies of the narratives
of Christ's resurrection, and various other points. None can be more
loyal to the memory of Huxley than the present writer, and it is even
because of my sense of his grand leadership that he is here mentioned as
a typical instance of the extent to which the very elect of free-thought
may be unconsciously victimized by the phantasm with which they are
contending. He says that Butler overthrew freethinkers of the eighteenth
century type, but Paine was of the nineteenth century type; and it was
precisely because of his critical method that he excited more animosity
than his deistical predecessors. He compelled the apologists to defend
the biblical narratives in detail, and thus implicitly acknowledge
the tribunal of reason and knowledge to which they were summoned. The
ultimate answer by police was a confession of judgment. A hundred years
ago England was suppressing Paine's works, and many an honest Englishman
has gone to prison for printing and circulating his "Age of Reason."
The same views are now freely expressed; they are heard in the seats of
learning, and even in the Church Congress; but the suppression of Paine,
begun by bigotry and ignorance, is continued in the long indifference of
the representatives of our Age of Reason to their pioneer and founder.
It is a grievous loss to them and to their cause. It is impossible to
understand the religious history of England, and of America, without
studying the phases of their evolution represented in the writings
of Thomas Paine, in the controversies that grew out of them with such
practical accompaniments as the foundation of the Theophilanthropist
Church in Paris and New York, and of the great rationalist wing of
Quakerism in America.

Whatever may be the case with scholars in our time, those of Paine's
time took the "Age of Reason" very seriously indeed. Beginning with
the learned Dr. Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, a large number of
learned men replied to Paine's work, and it became a signal for the
commencement of those concessions, on the part of theology, which have
continued to our time; and indeed the so-called "Broad Church" is to
some extent an outcome of "The Age of Reason." It would too much enlarge
this Introduction to cite here the replies made to Paine (thirty-six are
catalogued in the British Museum), but it may be remarked that they
were notably free, as a rule, from the personalities that raged in
the pulpits. I must venture to quote one passage from his very learned
antagonist, the Rev. Gilbert Wakefield, B.A., "late Fellow of Jesus
College, Cambridge." Wakefield, who had resided in London during all the
Paine panic, and was well acquainted with the slanders uttered against
the author of "Rights of Man," indirectly brands them in answering
Paine's argument that the original and traditional unbelief of the Jews,
among whom the alleged miracles were wrought, is an important evidence
against them. The learned divine writes:

"But the subject before us admits of further illustration from the
example of Mr. Paine himself. In this country, where his opposition to
the corruptions of government has raised him so many adversaries,
and such a swarm of unprincipled hirelings have exerted themselves in
blackening his character and in misrepresenting all the transactions
and incidents of his life, will it not be a most difficult, nay an
impossible task, for posterity, after a lapse of 1700 years, if such a
wreck of modern literature as that of the ancient, should intervene, to
identify the real circumstances, moral and civil, of the man? And will
a true historian, such as the Evangelists, be credited at that future
period against such a predominant incredulity, without large and
mighty accessions of collateral attestation? And how transcendently
extraordinary, I had almost said miraculous, will it be estimated
by candid and reasonable minds, that a writer whose object was a
melioration of condition to the common people, and their deliverance
from oppression, poverty, wretchedness, to the numberless blessings of
upright and equal government, should be reviled, persecuted, and burned
in effigy, with every circumstance of insult and execration, by these
very objects of his benevolent intentions, in every corner of the
kingdom?" After the execution of Louis XVI., for whose life Paine
pleaded so earnestly,--while in England he was denounced as an
accomplice in the deed,--he devoted himself to the preparation of a
Constitution, and also to gathering up his religious compositions and
adding to them. This manuscript I suppose to have been prepared in what
was variously known as White's Hotel or Philadelphia House, in Paris,
No. 7 Passage des Petits Peres. This compilation of early and fresh
manuscripts (if my theory be correct) was labelled, "The Age of Reason,"
and given for translation to Francois Lanthenas in March 1793. It is
entered, in Qudrard (La France Literaire) under the year 1793, but with
the title "L'Age de la Raison" instead of that which it bore in
1794, "Le Siecle de la Raison." The latter, printed "Au Burcau de
l'imprimerie, rue du Theatre-Francais, No. 4," is said to be by "Thomas
Paine, Citoyen et cultivateur de l'Amerique septentrionale, secretaire
du Congres du departement des affaires etrangeres pendant la guerre
d'Amerique, et auteur des ouvrages intitules: LA SENS COMMUN et LES
DROITS DE L'HOMME."

When the Revolution was advancing to increasing terrors, Paine,
unwilling to participate in the decrees of a Convention whose sole legal
function was to frame a Constitution, retired to an old mansion
and garden in the Faubourg St.



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