The Writings Of Thomas Paine
Author of “The Life Of Thomas Paine,” “Omitted Chapters Of History Disclosed In The Life And Papers Of Edmund Randolph,” “George Washington And Mount Vernon,” etc.
G.P. PUTNAM’S SONS
LONDON 27 WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET
24 BEDFORD STREET, STRAND
GENERAL INTRODUCTION, WITH LAST GLEANINGS, HISTORICAL AND BIOGRAPHICAL
BEFORE sending out this final volume, I have rambled again in some of the fields harvested in my seven years’ labor on the Life and Works of Thomas Paine, and present the more important gleanings in these preliminary pages.
I recently obtained from a solicitor of Rotherham, Mr. Rising,a letter (on whose large seal part of the P remains), written by Paine from London to Thomas Walker, Esq., a member of the firm which manufactured the large model of the iron bridge invented by the author, and exhibited at Paddington in June, 1790. The letter is dated February 26, 1789, and the first part, which relates to the bridge, is quoted in Appendix E. The political part, here given, relates to the controversy which arose on the insanity of he Prince of Wales by hereditary right, while the Pitt Ministry maintained that the Prince had no right during the King’s lifetime,more than any other person, though it was “expedient” to select him as the Regent, with restrictions on his power imposed by the two Houses of Parliament. Paine writes:
“With respect to News and Politics, the King is certainly greatly amended, but what is to follow from it is a matter of much uncertainty. How far the Nation may be safe with a man of a deranged mind at the head of it, and who, ever since he took up the notion of quitting England and going to live in Hanover, has been continually planning to entangle England with German connections,which if followed must end in a war, is a matter that will occasion various opinions. However unfortunate it may have been for the sufferer, the King’s malady has been no disservice to the Nation;he was burning his fingers very fast in the German war, and whether he is enough in his senses to keep out of the fire is a matter of doubt.
“You mention the Rotherham Address as complimenting Mr. Pitton the success of his administration, and for asserting and supporting the Rights of the People. I differ exceedingly from you in this opinion, and I think the conduct of the Opposition much nearer to the principles of the Constitution, than what the conduct of the Ministry was. So far from Mr. Pitt asserting and supporting the Rights of the people, it appears to me taking them away — but as a man ought not to make an assertion without giving his reasons,I will give you mine.
“The English Nation is composed of two orders of men — Peers and Commoners. By Commoners is properly meant every man in the Nation not having the title of Peer. And it is the existence of those two orders, setting up distinct and opposite Claims, the one hereditary and the other elective, that makes it necessary to establish a third order, or that known by the name of the Regal Power, or the Power of the Crown.
“The Regal Power is the Majesty of the Nation collected to a center, and residing in the person exercising the Regal Power. The Right therefore of the Prince is a Right standing on the Right of the whole Nation. But Mr. Pitt says it stands on the Right of Parliament. Is not Parliament composed of two houses, one of which is itself hereditary, and over which the people have no control,and in the establishment of which they have no election; and the other house the representative of only a small part of the nation?How then can the Rights of the People be asserted and supported by absorbing them into an hereditary house of Peers? Is not one hereditary power or Right as dangerous as the other? And yet the Addressers have all gone on the Error of establishing Power in the house of Peers, over whom, as I have already said, they have no control, for the inconsistent purpose of opposing it in the prince over whom they have some control.
“It was one of those Cases in which there ought to have been a National Convention for the express purpose: for if Government be permitted to alter itself, or any of the parts be permitted to alter the other, there is no fixed Constitution in the Country. And if the Regal Power, or the person exercising the Regal Power,either as King or Regent, instead of standing on the universal ground of the Nation, be made the mere Creature of Parliament, it is, in my humble opinion, equally as inconsistent and unconstitutional as if Parliament was the mere Creature of the Crown.
“It is a common Idea in all countries that to take Power from the Prince is to give liberty to the people. But Mr. Pitt’s conduct is almost the reverse of this: his is to take power from one part of the Government to add it to another; for he has increased the Power of the Peers, not the Rights of the People. — I must give him credit for his ingenuity if I do not for his principles, and the less so because the object of his conduct is now visible, which was to [keep] themselves in pay after they should be out off[avor], by retaining, thro’ an Act of Parliament of their own making, between four and five hundred thousand pounds of the Civil List in their own hands. This is the key of the whole business; and it was for this and not for the Rights of the people that he set up the Right of Parliament, because it was only by that means that the spoil could be divided. If the restrictions had been that he should not declare war, or enter into foreign alliances without the consent of Parliament, the objects would have been national and would have had some sense in them; but it is, that he should not have all the money. If Swift was alive he would say —- on such Patriotism.’
“How they will manage with Ireland I have no opportunity of learning, as I have not been at the other end of the Town since the Commission arrived. Ireland will certainly judge for itself, and not permit the English Parliament or Doctors to judge for her. –Thus much for Politics.”
The letter just quoted is the more remarkable because the Prince Regent was particularly odious to Paine. The reader will find this issue of the Regency dealt with in the Rights of Man (ii., p. 371 of this edition), but it may be remarked in passing that this supposed purblind enemy of thrones was found in 1789maintaining that the monarch, however objectionable, was more related to the people than a non-representative Parliament, and that in 1793 he pleaded for the life of Louis XVI.
The last paragraph in the above extract shows that Paine was already in sympathy with Irish discontent. I have a little scrap of his writing (early 1792) which appears to be from the draft of a note to one of the associations in London, respecting the Society of United Irishmen, whose Declaration was issued in October, 1791:
“I have the honor of presenting the Gentlemen present a letter I have received from the United Irishmen of Dublin informing me of my having been elected an honorary member of their Society. By this adoption of me as one of their body I have the pleasure of considering myself on their” — [caeteradesunt].
The tremendous effect produced in Ireland by Paine’s answer to Burke is indicated in the Charlemont Papers (Hist. MSS. Com. 1894). Mr. Thomas Shore first called attention to the items concerning Paine in the London ‘Freethinker,’ March and April, 1896. Although a Liberal Whig. In 1791 (April ii) Sheridan writes from Downpatrick to Charlemont;
“I find from the newspapers that the Whigs of the capital (a society of which I am a member, and into which I entered with the best intentions) have, in my absence, and without my knowledge, named and published me one of a committee for disseminating Mr. Paine’s pamphlet in reply to Mr. Burke’s ‘Reflections on the French Revolution.’ I have read that pamphlet; it appears to me designed to level all distinction, and to have this object in view — a total overthrow of the Constitution. With this opinion I must naturally feel it indecent, in my public situation as a member of parliament, a citizen, a barrister and (what I value least) one of his majesty’s counsel, to disseminate that work, but I am at a loss how to act. My first intention was to contradict it publicly. I fear a misinterpretation of my motives, and I dislike public differences with men in whose cause I am an humble assistant.”
Two days later Charlemont replies:
“Thinking exactly as you do of Paine’s very entertaining, very ingenious, but very dangerous performance . . . yet how to advise upon this occasion I do not well know. A serious public contradiction would not be pleasant, and possibly not in noxious. Perhaps the best method may be to expostulate between jest and earnest with some of your brethren on the liberty they have taken, and to declare in all companies, without being too serious, your real opinion of the tendency of the pamphlet, giving it, however, its due praise, for much merit it certainly has. . . . Men connected with the popular party will often be brought into scrapes of this sort, as the people who sometimes do not go too far will seldom go far enough.”
It is evident that Paine had a powerful following, and that it was not at that time prudent for a Whig politician to repudiate him. Soon after we find Earl Charlemont writing from Dublin, May 9, 1791, to Dr. Alexander Haliday, Belfast: “I did,indeed, suppose that Paine’s pamphlet, which is, by the way, a work of great genius, would be well received in your district;yet, in my opinion, it ought to be read with some degree of caution. He does, indeed, tear away the bandage from the public eye; but in tearing it off there may be some danger of injuring the organ.” In reply to a radical outburst from Haliday, Charlemont writes (July 30, 1791): “Though I admire Mr. Paine, I am by no means a convert to his doctrine concerning our constitution, and cannot help thinking that some approbation of this constitution, as it ought to be, should at all times be joined with the applause which we so justly bestow on the emancipation of a great people from utter slavery.” Charlemont was a friend and correspondent of Burke, and frankly expressed his differences of opinion, but Holiday gave him proofs of a dishonorable proceeding on Burke’s part, eleven years before(borrowing a manuscript play of Haliday’s in confidence, showing it to Sheridan, and never returning it, professing that it was lost), and pronounced him (Burke) a snake in the grass.Thereafter no communication appears between Charlemont and Burke.
The prosecution of the second Part of the Rights of Man,and the panic caused by massacres in France, thinned the ranks of Paine’s eminent friends, while the popularity of his work increased. Malone, writing from London to Charlemont, December 3,1792, says: “For several weeks past not less than four thousand per week of Paine’s despicable and nonsensical pamphlet have been issued forth, for almost nothing, and dispersed all over the kingdom. At Manchester the innovators bribe the poor by drink to hear it read.” And on December 22, four days after Paine’s trial,Malone has the satisfaction of reporting: “That vain fellow Erskine has been going about this month past, saying he would make a speech in defence of Paine’s nonsensical and impudent libel on the English constitution, that would astonish the world,and make him to be remembered when Pitt and Fox and Burke, etc.,were all forgotten. After speaking for four hours, and fainting in the usual form, the jury, without suffering the attorney-general to reply, found Paine guilty.” Malone (Edmund, the Shakespearian) was an admirable Irishman, but he seems to have been taken off his feet by ‘the court-panic in London. There is a touch of comedy in finding him bringing out a quarto with a republican publisher.
“This person,” he tells Charlemont, November 15, 1793, “a Mr. George Robinson, is unluckily too a determined republican, on which account alone I am sorry that I have employed him. In consequence of his political frenzy he at this moment is apprehensive of judgment being pronounced against him by the king’s bench for selling Paine’s pamphlet, and may probably be punished for his zeal in the ‘good old cause,’ as they called it in the last century, by six months’ imprisonment. I shall not have the smallest pity for him. To do any act whatever that may tend to forward the principles maintained by the diabolical ruffians in France is so highly criminal that I hope the chief justice will inflict the most exemplary punishment on all the favorers of that vile system, whenever he can lay hold on them.”
Robinson had been found guilty August 10, and when called up for judgment seems to have escaped with a fine (Sherwin’s”Paine,” p. 138). Before leaving the Charlemont Papers it may be remarked that in no case does the Earl respond to Malone’s acrimonious language against Paine, and even when the good Catholic has before him the author’s direst offenses, he limits himself in writing to Haliday (long since scared) to a mild sentence: “So Paine has now attacked Washington! No wonder; he has lately dared to attack heaven.”
From the papers of Francis Place (British Museum), it appears that the work of repressing political discussion was begun by the Lord Mayor, who on November 27, 1792, closed the debating society which had been meeting at the King’s Arms, Cornhill. (By the diary of Paine’s friend, John Hall, I find that after the information had been lodged against Paine, all of the debating societies in London were intimidated, and the King’s Arms debate had come down to the question, “Whether a husband obstinate and ignorant, or a man of parts, though tyrannical, was the most eligible for woman of refined sensibilities?” Hall adds:” Did not stay a to the end, but it seemed to be going in favor of the sensible man, the tyrant.” Whether the Lord Mayor scented sedition in such questions or not, John Hall, after some absence from London, enters in his diary, November 26, “Could not find where Debating Society met.”)
In the Francis Place MSS., 27, 809, p. 268, there is a list of the prosecutions in 1793; and in 27, 812, pp. 10, 12, are documents showing that about the middle of June, 1792,subscriptions had been opened, for the defence of Paine, by both the “London Corresponding Committee and the “Constitutional Society.” In MSS. 27, 817, p. 24, “Mr. Payne” (sic) and Rickman are in the list of those who met in the London Coffee House, May9, 1792, and founded the Society of Friends of the People.”
Paine was elected a member of the French National Convention by four departments — Oise, Puy-de-Dome, the Somme, and Pas-de-Calais, and decided to sit for the latter. Among the manuscripts of Genet, the first Minister sent by the Convention to the United States, confided to me by his son, George Clinton Genet of New York, I find a memorandum of great historical interest, which maybe inserted here in advance of the monograph I hope to prepare concerning that much-wronged ambassador. In this memorandum Genet– a brother of Madame Campan — states that his appointment to the United States was in part because of the position his family had held at Court, and with a View to the banishment of the royal family to that country. (It had already been arranged that Paine should move for this in the Convention.) I now quote Genet:
Roux Facillac, who had been very intimate in my father’s family at Versailles, met me one morning [January 14, 1793] and wished me to spend the evening at Le Brun’s, where I had been invited. He accompanied me there and we met Brissot, Guadet, Leonnet, Ducos, Fauchet, Thomas Paine, and most of the Gironde leaders. … Tom Paine, who did not pretend to understand French, took no part in the conversation, and sat quietly sipping his claret. “Ask Paine, Genet,” said Brissot, “what effect the execution of Capet would have in America? “Paine replied to my enquiry by simply saying “bad, very bad.” The next day Paine presented to the Convention his celebrated letter demanding in the name of Liberty, and the people of the United States, that Louis should be sent to the United States. Vergniaux enquired of me what effect I thought it would have in Europe, I replied in a few words that it would gratify the enemies of France who had not forgiven Louis the acceptance of the Constitution nor the glorious results of the American Revolution. . . . “Genet,” continued Le Brun, “how would you like to go to the United States and take Capet and his family with you?
The next day, January 15, Genet was appointed by Le Brun (Minister of Foreign Affairs), and Paine’s appeal was made in the Convention; but there is reason to believe that Le Brunos servant was a spy; and the conversation, reported to the Jacobins soon after its occurrence, “contributed,” Genet believed, “to the early fall of Louis.”
I will now call attention to a passage in “The Journal of aSpy in Paris during the Reign of Terror,” recently published, andwill place it beside an extract from Paine’s memorial to Monroe while in prison.
The Spy. Paine, 1794. "April 2, 1793. He "However discordant the [Paine] is said to be moving late American Minister heaven and earth to get Gouverneur Morris and the late himself recognized as an French Committee of Public 'American Citizen,' and Safety were, it suited the thereon liberated. . . The purpose of both that I should Minister of the American be continued in arrestation. States [Gouverneur Morris] is The former wished to prevent too shrewd to allow such a my return to America that I fish to go over and swim in should not expose his his waters, if he can prevent misconduct; and the latter, it; and avows to Robespierre lest I should publish to the that he knows nothing of any world the history of its rights of naturalization wickedness. Whilst that Min- claimed by Paine." ister and the Committee continued I had no expectation of liberty. I speak here of the Committee of which Robespierre was a member."
Here then is corroboration, were it needed, of the criminal treachery of Morris to both Paine and Washington, of which I have given unanswerable documentary evidence (vol. iii., chap. 21),although I had not then conceived that Morris’ guilt extended to personal incitements of Robespierre against Paine.
Morris knew well that “naturalization,” though an effective word to use on Robespierre, had nothing to do with the citizenship acquired at the American Revolution by persons of alien birth, such as Paine, Hamilton, Robert Morris, — to name three who had held high offices in the United States. But, as Monroe stated, all Americans of 1776 were born under the British flag, and needed no formal process to make them citizens.
Mr. J.G. Alger, author of “Englishmen in the French Revolution,” and “Glimpses of the French Revolution,” whose continued researches in Paris promise other original and striking works, has graciously sent me a document of much interest just discovered by him in the National Archives, where it is marked U1021. It is the copy of a “Declaration” made by Paine, the original being buried away in the chaos of Fouquier-Tinville documents. The Declaration was made on October 8, 1794, in connection with the trial of Denis Julien, accused of having been a Spy of Robespierre and his party in the Luxembourg prison. It was proved that on June 29, 1794, Julien had been called on in the prison, where he was detained, to inform the revolutionary tribunal concerning the suspected conspiracy among the prisoners.He said that he knew nothing; that his room was at the extremity of the building divided off from the mass of prisoners, and he could not pronounce against any one. (Wallon’s “Hist. Tribunal Revolutionnaire,” iv., p. 409.) Wallon, however, had not discovered this document found by Mr. Alger, which shows that Paine was long a room-mate of Julien in the prison where his(Paine’s) Declaration was demanded and given as follows:
“Denis Julien was my room mate from the time of his entering the Luxembourg prison at the end of the month of Ventose [about the middle of March] till towards the end of Messidor [about the middle of July], at which date I was visited with a violent fever which obliged me to go into a room better suited to the condition I was in. It is for the time when we were room mates that I shall speak of him, as being within my personal knowledge. I shall not go beyond that date, because my illness rendered me incapable of knowing anything of what happened in the prison or elsewhere, and my companions on their part, all the time that my recovery remained doubtful, were silent to me on all that happened. The first news which they told me was of the fall of Robespierre. I state all this so that the real reason why I do not speak of any of the allegations preferred against Julien in the summoning of him as a witness before the revolutionary tribunal, in the case of persons accused of conspiracy, may be clearly known, and that my silence on that case may not be attributed to any unfavorable reticence. Of his conduct during the time of our room intimacy, which lasted more than four months, I can speak fully. He appeared to me during all that time a man of strict honor, probity, and humanity, incapable of doing anything repugnant to those principles. We found ourselves in entire agreement in the horror which we felt for the character of Robespierre, and in the opinion which we formed of his hypocrisy, particularly on the occasion of his harangue on the Supreme Being, and on the atrocious perfidy which he showed in proposing the bloody law of the 22 Prairial [June 10, 1794]; and we communicated our opinions to each other in writing, and these confidential notes we wrote in English to prevent the risk of our being understood by the prisoners, and for our own safety we threw them into the fire as soon as read. As I knew nothing of the denunciations which took place at the Luxembourg, or of the judgments and executions which were the consequence, until at least a month after the event, I can only say that when I was informed of them, as also of the appearance of Julien as a witness in that affair, I concluded from the opinion which I had already formed of him that he had been an unwilling witness, or that he had acted with the view of rendering service to the accused, and I have now no reason to believe otherwise. That the accused were not guilty of any anti- revolutionary conduct is also what I believe, but the fact was that all the prisoners saw themselves shut up like sheep in a pen to be sacrificed in turn just as they daily saw their companions were, and the expression of discontent which the misery of such a situation forced from them was converted into a conspiracy by the spies of Robespierre who were posted in the prison. — Luxembourg, 7 Vendemiaire, Year 3.”
Julien was discharged without trial. The answers he had given to the Revolutionary Committee, quoted above, unknown of course to Paine, justified his opinion of Julien, though the fact of his being summoned at all looks as if Julien had been placed with Paine as an informer. In the companionship of the author Julien may have found a change of heart! Mr. Alger in a note tome remarks, “What a picture of the prisoners’ distrust of each other!” The document also brings before us the notable fact that,though at its date, fourteen weeks after the fall of Robespierre,the sinister power of Gouverneur Morris’ accomplices on the Committee of Public Safety still kept Paine in prison, his testimony to the integrity of an accused man was called for and apparently trusted.
The next extract that I give is a clipping from a London paper of 1794, the name not given, preserved in a scrap-book extending from 1776 to 1827, which I purchased many years ago at the Bentley sale.
“GENERAL O’HARA AND MR. THOMAS PAYNE — These well known Gentlemen are at Paris — both kept at the Luxembourg — imprisoned, indeed, but in a mitigated manner as to accommodations, apartments, table, intercourse, and the liberty of the garden — which our well-informed readers know is very large. The ground plan of the Luxembourg is above six acres. In this confinement General O’Hara and Mr. Thomas Payne have often met, and their meeting has been productive of a little event in some sort so unexpected as to be added to the extraordinary vicissitudes of which the present time is so teeming. The fact was that General O’Hara wanted money; and that through Mr. Thomas Payne he was able to get what he wanted. The sum was 200 pounds sterling. The General’s bill, through other channels tried in vain, was negotiated by Mr. Thomas Payne.”
The story of this money, and how Paine contrived to keep it,is told in vol. iii., p. 396, n. The mitigations of punishment alluded to in the paragraph did not last long; the last months of Paine’s imprisonment were terrible. O’Hara, captured at Toulon and not released until August, 1795, was the General who carried out the sword of Cornwallis for surrender at Yorktown.
Charles Nodier, in his “Souvenirs de la Revolution et deI’ Empire ” (Paris, 1850), has some striking sketches of Paine and his friends in the last years of the eighteenth century. Nodierhad no sympathy with Paine’s opinions, but was much impressed by the man. I piece together some extracts from various parts of his rambling work.
“One of our dinners at Bonneville’s has left such an impression on me that when I am thinking of these things it seems like a dream. There were six of us in the Poet’s immense sitting room. It had four windows looking on the street. The cloth was spread on an oblong table, loaded at each end with bronzes, globes, maps, books, crests, and portraits. The only one of the guests whom I knew was the impenetrable Seyffert, with his repertory of ideas a thousand times more profound, but also a thousand times more obscure than the cave of Trophonius. Old Mercier came in and sat down with his chin resting on his big ivory-topped cane. … The fifth guest was a military man, fifty years of age, with a sort of inverted curled up face, reserved in conversation, like a man of sense, common in manners, like a man of the people. They called him a Pole. The last guest was an Anglo-American, with a long, thin, straight head, all in profile as it were, without any expression; for gentleness, benevolence, shyness, give little scope for it. … This Anglo-American was Thomas Payne, and the Tartar with sullen looks was Kosciusko. … Thomas Payne, whom I seldom saw, has left on me the impression of a well-to-do man, bold in principle, cautious in practice; liable to yield himself up to revolutionary movements, incapable of accepting the dangerous consequences; good by nature, and a sophist by conviction. … On the whole an honest and unpretending person who, in the most fatal day of our annals, exhibited every courage and virtue; and of whom history, in order to be just to his memory, ought to forget nothing but his writings.”
At a somewhat later period Paine was met in Paris by the eminent engraver, Abraham Raimbach, Corresponding Member of the Institute of France, whose “Recollections,” privately printed,were loaned me by Mr. Henry Clifton. I am permitted by Mr. W.L.Raimbach, grandson of the engraver, to use this family volume.Raimbach probably had met Paine between 1800 and 1802, and writes:
“He was at this time constantly to be seen at an obscure cabaret in an obscure street in the fauxbourg St. Germain (Cafe Jacob, rue Jacob). The scene as we entered the room from the street — it was on the ground floor — was, under the circumstances, somewhat impressive. It was on a summer’s evening, and several tables were occupied by men, apparently tradesmen and mechanics, some playing at the then universal game of dominoes, others drinking their bottle of light, frothy, but pleasant beer, or their little glass of liqueur. while in a retired part of the room sat the once- dreaded demagogue, the supposed conspirator against thrones and altars, the renowned Thomas Paine! He was in conversation with several well-dressed Irishmen, who soon afterwards took leave, and we placed ourselves at his table. His general appearance was mean and poverty-stricken. The portrait of him engraved by Sharp from Romney’s portrait is a good likeness, but he was now much withered and careworn, tho’ his dark eye still retained its sparkling vigor. He was fluent in his speech, of mild and gentle demeanor, clear and distinct in enunciation, and his voice exceedingly soft and agreeable. The subject of his talk being of course political, resembled very much his printed opinions; and the dogmatic form in which he delivered them seemed to evince his own perfect self-conviction of their truth.”
Raimbach mentions having afterwards understood that Colonel Bosville, of Yorkshire, was very kind to him, and enabled Paineto return to America. Lewis Goldsmith says that Sir Francis Burdett and Mr. William Bosville made him a present of 300 louisd’ors, with which he remunerated Bonneville, with whom he had resided nearly six years. Goldsmith’s article on Paine (Anti-Gallican Monitor, February 28, 1813) contains a good many errors,but some shrewd remarks:
“From what I knew of this man, who once made such a noise in this country and America, I judge him to have been harmless and inoffensive; and I firmly believe that if he could have imagined that his writings would have caused bloodshed be would never have written at all. . . . He never was respected by any party in France, as he certainly was not an advocate of (what was falsely called) French liberty, — that system which enforced Republican opinions by drowning, shooting, and the guillotine. … He even saw several foreigners, who like himself were staunch admirers of the French Revolution, led to the scaffold — such as Anacharsis Clootz, Baron Trenk, etc. — and had Robespierre lived eight days longer Paine would have certainly followed them, as his name was already on the Proscribed list of the Public Accuser. . . . I have no doubt that if Paine, on his return to America, had found the head of the government of that country [Jefferson] to be that stern Republican which he professed to be, he would have written some account of the French Revolution, and of the horrid neglect which he experienced there from Robespierre as well as from Buonaparte; for if the former designed to take away his life, the latter refused him the means of living. . . . I must in justice to him declare that he left France a decided enemy to the Revolution in that country, and with an unconquerable aversion to Buonaparte, against whom he indulged himself in speaking in severe terms to almost every person of his acquaintance in Paris.”
The last of my gleanings were gathered at Bromley, in Kent,where Paine went on April 21, 1792, “to compose,” says his friend Hall, “the funeral sermon of Burke,” but local tradition says, to write the Age of Reason.Paine, as a private letter proves, was anxious for a prosecution of his Rights of Man,which Burke had publicly proposed, and no doubt began at Bromley his pamphlet with the exposure of Burke’s pension. However, when Paine sought refuge from the swarm of radicals and interviewers besetting him in his London lodgings, it is highly probable that he wished to continue his meditations on religious subjects and add to his manuscripts, begun many years before, ultimately pieced together in the Age of Reason.Under the guidance of Mr. Coles Childs, present owner of Bromley Palace, I visited Mr. How, an intelligent watchmaker, who remembers when a boy of twelve hearing his father say that Paine occupied “Church Cottage,” and there wrote the Age of Reason.There is also a local tradition that Paine used to write on the same work while seated under the”Tom Paine Tree,” which is on the palace estate. “Church Cottage”was ecclesiastical property, may even have been the Vicarage, and Paine would pass by the beautiful palace of the Bishops of Rochester to his favorite tree. The legend which has singled out the heretical work of Paine as that which was written in an ecclesiastical mansion, and in an episcopal park, is too picturesque for severe criticism. The “Tom Paine Tree” is a very ancient oak, solitary in its field, and very noble. Mr. Childs pointed out to me some powerful but much rusted wires, amid the upper branches, showing that it had been taken care of. The interior surface of the trunk, which is entirely hollow, is completely charred. The girth at the ground must be twenty-five feet. Not a limb is dead: from the hollow and charred trunk a superb mass of foliage arises. I think Paine must have remember edit when writing patriotic songs for America in the Revolution, -“The Liberty Tree,” and the “Boston Patriot’s Song,” with its lines —
“Our mountains are crowned with imperial oak, Whose roots like our Liberty ages have nourished.”
From this high and clear spot one may almost see the homestead of Darwin who, more heretical than Paine, has Westminster Abbey for his monument; and whose neighbor, the Rev.Robert Ainslie, of Tromer Lodge, kept in his house the skull and right hand of Thomas Paine! Of the remains of Paine, exhumed by Cobbett in America, the brain came into the possession of Rev.George Reynolds, the skull into that of Rev. Robert Ainslie, both orthodox at the time, both subsequently unorthodox, possibly through some desire to know what thoughts had played through the lamp whose fragments had come into their hands. The daughter of Mr. Ainslie, the first wife of the late Sir Russell Reynolds,wrote me that she remembered the relics, but could not find them after her father’s death; if ever discovered they might well be given quiet burial or cremation at the foot of this “Tom Paine Tree.” However that may be, it is a Talking Oak, if one listens closely, and tells true fables of the charred and scarred and storm-beaten man, rooted deep in the conscience and soul of England, whose career, after its special issues are gone, is still crowned with living foliage. That none can doubt who witnessed the large Paine Exhibition in South Place Chapel, in December, 1895, or that in the Bradlaugh Club, January 29, 1896,and observes the steady demand for his works in England and America. Yet it is certain that comparatively few of those who cherish relics of Paine, and read his books, agree with his religious opinions, or regard his political theories as now practicable. Paine’s immortality among the people is derived mainly from the life and spirit which were in him, consuming all mean partitions between man and man, all arbitrary and unreal distinctions, rising above the cheap jingoism that calls itself patriotism, and affirming the nobler State whose unit is the man,whose motto is “My country is the world, to do good my religion.”
Personally I place a very high value on Paine’s writings in themselves, and not simply for their prophetic genius, their humane spirit, and their vigorous style. While his type of deism is not to me satisfactory, his religious spirit at times attains sublime heights; and while his republican formulas are at times impaired by his eagerness to adapt them to existing conditions, I do not find any writer at all, not even the most modern, who has equally worked out a scheme for harmonizing the inevitable rule of the majority with individual freedom and rights. Yet it is by no means on this my own estimate of Paine’s ideas that I rest the claims of his writings to attention and study. Their historical value is of the highest. Every page of Paine was pregnant with the life of his time. He was the ‘enfant terrible’ of the times that in America, England, France, made the history that is now our international heritage: he was literally the only man who came out with the whole truth, regardless of persons: his testimony is now of record, and the gravest issues of to-day cannot be understood until that testimony is mastered.
I especially invoke to the study of Paine’s Life, and of these volumes of his Writings, the historians, scholars,statesmen of the mother of nations — England. I have remarked a tendency in some quarters to preserve the old odium against Paine, no longer maintainable in respect of his religion or his character, by transferring it to his antagonism to the government of England in the last century. And it is probable that this prejudice may be revived by the republication in this edition of several of his pamphlets, notably that on the “Invasion of England” in the Appendix (to which some of Paine’s most important works have been relegated). But if thinking Englishmen will rid themselves of that counterfeit patriotism now called “Jingoism,”and calmly study those same essays, they will begin to understand that while Paine arraigned a transient misgovernment of England,his critics arraign England itself by treating attacks on minions of George III. as if hostile to the England of Victoria. The widespread hostility to England recently displayed in America has with some justice been traced to the kind of teaching that has gone on for nearly four generations in American schools under the name of history; but what remedy can there be for this disgraceful situation so long as English historians are ignorantly keeping their country, despite the friendship of its people for Americans, in the attitude of a party to a ‘vendetta’ transmitted from a discredited past? And much the same may be said concerning the strained relations between England and France, which constitute a most sad, and even scandalous, feature of our time. About a hundred years ago an English government was instigating parochial mobs to burn “Tom Paine” in effigy for writing the Rights of Man,little reflecting that it was making the nation it misgoverned into an effigy for American and French democrats to burn, on occasion, for a century to come. Paine, his name and his personal wrongs, passed out of the case altogether,like the heart of the hollow “Tom Paine Tree” at Bromley: but like its living foliage the principles he represented are still renewed, and flourish under new names and forms. But old names and forms are coined in prejudices. The Jeffersonian in America and the Girondin in France are now in power, and are sometimes victimized by a superstition that George III. is still monarch of England, and Pitt still his Minister. Meanwhile the credit of English Literature commands the civilized world. The next great writer will be the historian who shall without flattery, and within flexible justice and truth, examine and settle these long-standing accounts with the past; and to him I dedicate in advance these volumes, wherein he will find valuable resources and materials.
Here then close my labors on the history and the writings of the great Commoner of Mankind, founder of the Republic of the World, and emancipator of the human mind and heart,