Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
A Natural Philosopher
By Hannah More (17451833)
From History of Mr. Fantom
ABOUT this time he got hold of a famous little book written by the new philosopher, Thomas Paine, whose pestilent doctrines have gone about seeking whom they may destroy. These doctrines found a ready entrance into Mr. Fantoms mind; a mind at once shallow and inquisitive, speculative, and vain, ambitious and dissatisfied. As almost every book was new to him, he fell into the common error of those who begin to read late in life, that of thinking what he did not know himself, was equally new to others; and he was apt to fancy that he, and the author he was reading, were the only two people in the world who knew anything. This book led to the grand discovery. He had now found what his heart panted after, a way to distinguish himself. To start out a full-grown philosopher at once, to be wise without education, to dispute without learning, and to make proselytes without argument, was a short cut to fame, which well suited his vanity and his ignorance. He rejoiced that he had been so clever as to examine for himself, pitied his friends who took things upon trust, and was resolved to assert the freedom of his own mind. To a man fond of bold novelties and daring paradoxes, solid argument would be flat, and truth would be dull, merely because it is not new. Mr. Fantom believed, not in proportion to the strength of the evidence, but to the impudence of the assertion. The trampling on holy ground with dirty shoes, the smearing the sanctuary with filth and mire, the calling prophets and apostles by the most scurrilous names, was new, and dashing, and dazzling. Mr. Fantom, now being set free from the chains of slavery and superstition, was resolved to show his zeal in the usual way, by trying to free others. But it would have hurt his vanity had he known that he was the convert of a man who had written only for the vulgar, who had invented nothing, no, not even one idea of original wickedness; but who had stooped to rake up out of the kennel of infidelity all the loathsome dregs and offal dirt, which politer unbelievers had thrown away, as too gross and offensive for their better-bred readers.
Mr. Fantom, who considered that a philosopher and politician must set up with a little sort of stock in trade, now picked up all the commonplace notions against Christianity and government, which have been answered a hundred times over. These he kept by him ready cut and dried, and brought out in all companies with a zeal which would have done honour to a better cause, but which the friends to a better cause are not so apt to discover. He soon got all the cant of the new school. He prated about narrowness, and ignorance, and bigotry, and prejudice, and priestcraft, and tyranny, on the one hand; and on the other, of public good, the love of mankind, and liberality, and candour, and toleration, and, above all, benevolence. Benevolence, he said, made up the whole of religion, and all the other parts of it were nothing but cant, and jargon, and hypocrisy. By benevolence he understood a gloomy and indefinite anxiety about the happiness of people with whom he was utterly disconnected, and whom Providence had put it out of his reach either to serve or injure. And by the happiness this benevolence was so anxious to promote, he meant an exemption from the power of the laws, and an emancipation from the restraints of religion, conscience, and moral obligation.