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Robert Ingersoll On Diderot

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On Diderot

Robert Green Ingersoll

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Diderot was born in 1713. His parents were in what may be
called the humbler walks of life. Like Voltaire he was educated by
the Jesuits. He had in him something of the vagabond, and was for
several years almost a beggar in Paris. He was endeavoring to live
by his pen. In that day and generation, a man without a patron,
endeavoring to live by literature, was necessarily almost a beggar.
He nearly starved -- frequently going for days without food.
Afterward, when he had something himself, he was as generous as the
air. No man ever was more willing to give, and no man less willing
to receive, than Diderot.

He wrote upon all conceivable subjects, that he might have
bread. He even wrote sermons, and regretted it all his life. He and
D'Alembert were the life and soul of the Encyclopedia. With
infinite enthusiasm he helped to gather the knowledge of the world
for the use of each and all. He harvested the fields of thought,
separated the grain from the straw and chaff, and endeavored to
throw away the seeds and fruit of superstition. His motto was,
"Incredulity is the first step towards philosophy."

He had the vices of most Christians -- was nearly as immoral
as the majority of priests. His vices he shared in common, his
virtues were his own. All who knew him united in saying that he had
the pity of a woman, the generosity of a prince, the self-denial of
an anchorite, the courage of Caesar, and the enthusiasm of a poet.
He attacked with every power of his mind the superstition of his
day. He said what he thought. The priests hated him. He was in
favor of universal education -- the church despised it. He wished
to put the knowledge of the whole world within reach of the

He wished to drive from the gate of the Garden of Eden the
cherubim of superstition, so that the child of Adam might return to
eat once more the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Every Catholic
was his enemy. His poor little desk was ransacked by the police
searching for manuscripts in which something might be found that
would justify the imprisonment of such a dangerous man. Whoever, in
1750, wished to increase the knowledge of mankind was regarded as
the enemy of social order.

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The intellectual superstructure of France rests upon the
Encyclopedia. The knowledge. given to the people was the impulse,
the commencement, of the revolution that left the church without an
altar and the king without a throne. Diderot thought for himself,
and bravely gave his thoughts to others. For this reason he was
regarded as a criminal. He did not expect his reward in another
world. He did not do what he did to please some imaginary God. He
labored for mankind. He wished to lighten the burdens of those who
should live after him. Hear these noble words:

"The more man ascends through the past, and the more he
launches into the future, the greater he will be, and all these
philosophers and ministers and truth-telling men who have fallen
victims to the stupidity of nations, the atrocities of priests, the
fury of tyrants, what consolation was left for them in death? This:
That prejudice would pass, and that posterity would pour out the
vial of ignominy upon their enemies. O Posterity! Holy and sacred
stay of the unhappy and the oppressed; thou who art just, thou who
art incorruptible, thou who findest the good man, who unmaskest the
hypocrite, who breakest down the tyrant, may thy sure faith, thy
consoling faith never, never abandon me!" Posterity is for the
philosopher what the other world is for the devotee.

Diderot took the ground that, if orthodox religion be true
Christ was guilty of suicide. Having the power to defend himself he
should have used it.

Of course it would not do for the church to allow a man to die
in peace who had added to the intellectual wealth of the world. The
moment Diderot was dead, Catholic priests began painting and
recounting the horrors of his expiring moments. They described him
as overcome with remorse, as insane with fear; and these falsehoods
have been repeated by the Protestant world, and will probably be
repeated by thousands of ministers after we are dead. The truth is,
he had passed his three-score years and ten. He had lived for
seventy-one years. He had eaten his supper. He had been conversing
with his wife. He was reclining in his easy chair. His mind was at
perfect rest. He had entered, without knowing it, the twilight of
his last day. Above the horizon was the evening star, telling of
sleep. The room grew still and the stillness was lulled by the
murmur of the street. There were a few moments of perfect peace.
The wife said, "He is asleep." She enjoyed his repose, and breathed
softly that he might not be disturbed. The moments wore on, and
still he slept. Lovingly, softly, at last she touched him. Yes, he
was asleep. He had become a part of the eternal silence.

The worst religion of the world was the Presbyterianism of
Scotland as it existed in the beginning of the eighteenth century.
The Kirk had all the faults of the Church of Rome without a
redeeming feature. The Kirk hated music, painting, statuary, and
architecture. Anything touched with humanity -- with the dimples of
joy -- was detested and accursed. God was to be feared -- not

Life was a long battle with the Devil. Every desire was of
Satan. Happiness was a snare, and human love was wicked, weak and
vain. The Presbyterian priest of Scotland was as cruel, bigoted and
heartless as the familiar of the Inquisition.

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One case will tell it all;

In the beginning of this, the nineteenth century, a boy
seventeen years of age, Thomas Aikenhead, was indicted and tried at
Edinburgh for blasphemy. He had denied the inspiration of the
Bible. He had on several occasions, when cold, jocularly wished
himself in hell that he might get warm. The poor, frightened boy
recanted -- begged for mercy; but he was found guilty, hanged,
thrown in a hole at the foot of the scaffold, and his weeping
mother vainly begged that his bruised and bleeding body might be
given to her.

This one case, multiplied again and again, gives you the
condition of Scotland when, on the 26th of April, 1711, David Hume
was born.

David Hume was one of the few Scotchmen of his day who were
not owned by the church. He had the manliness to examine historical
and religious questions for himself, and the courage to give his
conclusions to the world. He was singularly capable of governing
himself, He was a philosopher, and lived a calm and cheerful life,
unstained by an unjust act, free from all excess, and devoted in a
reasonable degree to benefiting his fellow-men. After examining the
Bible he became convinced that it was not true. For failing to
suppress his real opinion, for failing to tell a deliberate
falsehood, he brought upon himself the hatred of the church.

Intellectual honesty is the sin against the Holy Ghost, and
whether God will forgive this sin or not his church has not, and
never will.

Hume took the ground that a miracle could not be used as
evidence until the fact that it had happened was established. But
how can a miracle be established? Take any miracle recorded in the
Bible, and how could it be established now? You may say: Upon the
testimony of those who wrote the account. Who were they? No one
knows. How, could you prove the resurrection of Lazarus? Or of the
widow's son? How could you substantiate, today, the ascension of
Jesus Christ? In what way could you prove that the river Jordan was
divided upon being struck by the coat of a prophet? How is it
possible now to establish the fact that the fires. of a furnace
refused to burn three men? Where are the witnesses? Who, upon the
whole earth, has the slightest knowledge upon this subject?

He insisted that at the bottom of all good was the useful;
that human happiness was an end worth working and living for; that
origin and destiny were alike unknown; that the best religion was
to live temperately and to deal justly with our fellowmen; that the
dogma of inspiration was absurd, and that an honest man had nothing
to fear. Of course the Kirk hated him. He laughed at the creed.

To the lot of Hume fell ease, respect, success, and honor.
While many disciples of God were the sport and prey of misfortune,
he kept steadily advancing. Envious Christians bided their time.
They waited as patiently as possible for the horrors of death to
fall upon the heart and brain of David Hume. They knew that all the
furies would be there, and that God would get his revenge.

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Adam Smith, author of the "Wealth of Nations," speaking of
Hume in his last sickness, says that in the presence of death "his
cheerfulness was so great, and his conversation and amusements ran
so much in the usual strain, that, notwithstanding all his bad
symptoms, many people could not believe he was dying. A few days
before his death Hume said: 'I am dying as fast as my enemies -- if
I have any, could wish, and as easily and tranquilly as my best
friends could desire.'"

Col. Edmondstoune shortly afterward wrote Hume a letter, of
which the following is an extract:

"My heart is full. could not see you this morning. I thought
it was better for us both. You cannot die -- you must live in the
memory of your friends and acquaintances; and your works will
render you immortal. I cannot conceive that it was possible for any
one to dislike you, or hate you. He must be more than savage who
could be an enemy to a man with the best head and heart and the
most amiable manners. Adam Smith happened to go into his room while
he was reading the above letter, which he immediately showed him.
Smith said to Hume that he was sensible of how much he was
weakening, and that appearances were in many respects bad; yet,
that his cheerfulness was so great and the spirit of life still
seemed to be so strong in him, that he could not keep from,
entertaining some hopes.

Hume answered, "When I lie down in the evening I feel myself
weaker than when I arose in the morning; and when I rise in the
morning, weaker than when I lay down in the evening. I am sensible,
besides, that some of my vital parts are affected so that I must
soon die."

"Well." said Mr. Smith, "if it must be so, you have at least
the satisfaction of leaving all your friends, and the members of
your brother's family in particular, in great prosperity."

He replied that he was so sensible of his situation that when
he was reading Lucian's Dialogues of the Dead, among all the
excuses which are alleged to Charon for not entering readily into
his boat, he could not find one that fitted him. He had no house to
finish; he had no daughter to provide for; he had no enemies upon
whom he wished to revenge himself; "and I could not well," said he,
"imagine what excuse I could make to Charon in order to obtain a
little delay. I have done everything of consequence which I ever
meant to do, and I could, at no time expect to leave my relations
and friends in a better situation than that in which I am now
likely to leave them; and I have, therefore, every reason to die

"Upon further consideration," said he, "I thought I might say
to him, 'Good Charon, I have been correcting my works for a new
edition. Allow me a little time that I may see how the public
receives the alterations.' 'But,' Charon would answer, 'when you
have seen the effect of this, you will be for making other
alterations. There will be no end to such excuses; so, my honest
friend, please step into the boat.' 'But,' I might still urge,
'have a little patience, good Charon; I have been endeavoring to

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open the eyes of the public; if I live a few years longer, I may
have the satisfaction of seeing the downfall of some of the
prevailing systems of superstition.' And Charon would then lose all
temper and decency, and would cry out, 'You loitering rogue, that
will not happen these many hundred years. Do you fancy I will grant
you a lease for so long a time? Get into the boat this instant.'"

To the Comtesse de Boufflers, the dying man, with the perfect
serenity that springs from an honest and loving life, writes:

"I see death approach gradually without any anxiety or regret.
* * * I salute you with great affection and regard, for the last

On the 25th of August, 1776, the philosopher, the historian,
the infidel, the honest man, and a benefactor of his race, in the
composure born of a noble life, passed quietly and panglessly away.

Dr Black wrote the following account of his death;

"Monday, 26 August, 1776.

"Dear Sir: Yesterday, about four o'clock in the afternoon, Mr.
Hume expired. The near approach of his death became evident on the
evening between Thursday and Friday, when his disease became
exhaustive, and soon weakened him so much that he could no longer
rise from his bed. He continued to the last perfectly sensible, and
free from much pain or feeling of distress. He never dropped the
smallest expression of impatience; but when he had occasion to
speak to the people about him, always did it with all affection and
tenderness. * * * When he became very weak, it cost him an effort
to speak, and he died in such happy composure of mind that nothing
could exceed it."

Dr. Cullen writes Dr. Hunter on the 17th of September, 1776,
from which the following extracts are made:

"You desire an account of Mr. Hume's last days, and I give it
to you with great pleasure. * * * It was truly an example des
grands hommes qui sont morts en plaisantant; and to me, who have
been so often shocked with the horrors of superstition, the
reflection on such a death is truly agreeable. For many weeks
before his death he was very sensible of his gradual decay; and his
answer to inquiries after his health was, several times, that he
was going as fast as his enemies could wish, and as easily as his
friends could desire. He passed most of the time in his
drawing-room, admitting the visits of his friends, and with his
usual spirit conversed with them upon literature and politics and
whatever else was started. In conversation he seemed to be
perfectly at ease; and to the last abounded with that pleasantry
and those curious and entertaining anecdotes which ever
distinguished him. * * * His senses and judgment did not fail him
to the last hour of his life. He constantly discovered a strong
sensibility of the attention and care of his friends; and midst
great uneasiness and languor never betrayed any peevishness or
impatience." (Here follows the conversation with Charon.) "These
are a few particulars which may, perhaps, appear trivial; but to

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me, no particulars seem trivial which relate to so great a man. It
is perhaps from trifles that we can best distinguish the
tranquilness and cheerfulness of the philosopher at a time when the
most part of mankind are under disquiet, and sometimes even horror.
I consider the sacrifice of the cock as a more certain evidence of
the tranquillity of Socrates than his discourse on immortality."

The Christians took it for granted that this serene and placid
man died filled with remorse for having given his real opinions,
and proceeded to describe, with every incident and detail of
horror, the terrors of his last moments. Brainless clergymen,
incapable of understanding what Hume had written, knowing only in
a general way that he had held their creeds in contempt, answered
his arguments by maligning his character.

Christians took it for granted that he died in horror and
recounted the terrible scenes.

When the facts of his death became generally known to
intelligent men, the ministers redoubled their efforts to maintain
the old calumnies, and most of them are in this employment even
unto this day. Finding it impossible to tell enough falsehoods to
hide the truth, a few of the more intelligent among the priests
admitted that Hume not only died without showing any particular
fear, but was guilty of unbecoming levity. The first charge was
that he died like a coward; the next that he did not care enough,
and went through the shadowy doors of the dread unknown with a
smile upon his lips. The dying smile of David Hume scandalized the
believers in a God of love. They felt shocked to see a man dying
without fear who denied the miracles of the Bible; who had spent a
life investigating the opinions of men; in endeavoring to prove to
the world that the right way is the best way; that happiness is a
real and substantial good, and that virtue is not a termagant with
sunken cheeks and hollow eyes.

Christians hated to admit that a philosopher had died serenely
without the aid of superstition -- one who had taught that man
could not make God happy by making himself miserable, and that a
useful life, after all, was the best possible religion. They
imagined that death would fill such a man with remorse and terror.
He had never persecuted his fellowmen for the honor of God, and
must needs die in despair. They were mistaken.

He died as he had lived. Like a peaceful river with green and
shaded banks he passed, without a murmur, into that waveless sea
where life at last is rest.


One of the greatest thinkers was Benedict Spinoza, a Jew, born
at Amsterdam, in 1632. He studied medicine and afterward theology.
He endeavored to understand what he studied. In theology he
necessarily failed. Theology is not intended to be understood, --
it is only to be believed. It is an act, not of reason, but of
faith. Spinoza put to the rabbis so many questions, and so
persistently asked for reasons, that he became the most troublesome
of students. When the rabbis found it impossible to answer the

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questions, they concluded to silence the questioner. He was tried,
found guilty, and excommunicated from the synagogue.

By the terrible curse of the Jewish religion, he was made an
outcast from every Jewish home. His father could not give him
shelter. His mother could not give him bread -- could not speak to
him, without becoming an outcast herself. All the cruelty of
Jehovah, all the infamy of the Old Testament, was in this curse. In
the darkness of the synagogue the rabbis lighted their torches, and
while pronouncing the curse, extinguished them in blood, imploring
God that in like manner the soul of Benedict Spinoza might be

Spinoza was but twenty-four years old when he found himself
without kindred, without friends, surrounded only by enemies. He
uttered no complaint. He earned his bread with willing hands, and
eheerfully divided his crust with those still poorer than himself.

He tried to solve the problem of existence. To him, the
universe was One. The Infinite embraced the All. The All was God.
According to his belief, the universe did not; commence to be. It
is; from eternity it was; to eternity it will be.

He was right. The universe is all there is, or was, or will
be. It is both subject and object, contemplator and contemplated,
creator and created, destroyer and destroyed, preserver and
preserved, and hath within itself all causes, modes, motions and

In this there is hope. This is a foundation and a star. The
Infinite is the All. Without the All, the Infinite cannot be. I am
something. Without me, the Infinite cannot exist.

Spinoza was a naturalist -- that is to say, a pantheist. He
took the ground that the supernatural is, and forever will be, an
infinite impossibility. His propositions are luminous as stars, and
each of his demonstrations is a Gibraltar, behind which logic sits
and smiles at all the sophistries of superstition.

Spinoza has been hated because he has not been answered. He
was a real republican. He regarded the people as the true and only
source of political power. He put the state above the church, the
people above the priest. He believed in the absolute liberty of
worship, thought and speech. In every relation of life he was just,
true, gentle, patient, modest and loving. He respected the rights
of others, and endeavored to enjoy his own, and yet he brought upon
himself the hatred of the Jewish and the Christian world. In his
day, logic was blasphemy, and to think was the unpardonable sin.
The priest hated the philosopher, revelation reviled reason, and
faith was the sworn foe of every fact.

Spinoza was a philosopher, a philanthropist. He lived in a
world of his own. He avoided men. His life was an intellectual
solitude. He was a mental hermit. Only in his own brain he found
the liberty he loved. And yet the rabbis and the priests, the
ignorant zealot and the cruel bigot, feeling that this quiet,
thoughtful, modest man was in some way forging weapons to be used
against the church, hated him with all their hearts.

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He did not retaliate. He found excuses for their acts. Their
ignorance, their malice, their misguided and revengeful zeal
excited only pity in his breast. He injured no man. He did not live
on alms. He was poor -- and yet, with the wealth of his brain, he
enriched the world. On Sunday, February 21, 1677, Spinoza, one of
the greatest and subtlest of metaphysicians -- one of the noblest
and purest of human beings, -- at the age of forty-four, passed
tranquilly away; and notwithstanding the curse of the synagogue
under which he had lived and most lovingly labored, death left upon
his lips the smile of perfect peace.

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Reproducible Electronic Publishing can defeat censorship.

Bank of WisdomThe Bank of Wisdom is a collection of the most thoughtful, scholarly and factual books. These computer books are reprints of suppressed books and will cover American and world history; the Biographies and writings of famous persons, and especially of our nations Founding Fathers. They will include philosophy and religion. all these subjects, and more, will be made available to the public in electronic form, easily copied and distributed, so that America can again become what its Founders intended --

The Free Market-Place of Ideas.

The Bank of Wisdom is always looking for more of these old, hidden, suppressed and forgotten books that contain needed facts and information for today. If you have such books please contact us, we need to give them back to America.

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