The Age of Reason

By Thomas Paine, 1796


IN the opening year, 1793, when revolutionary France had beheaded its
king, the wrath turned next upon the King of kings, by whose grace
every tyrant claimed to reign. But eventualities had brought among
them a great English and American heart — Thomas Paine. He had
pleaded for Louis Caper — "Kill the king but spare the man." Now he
pleaded, — "Disbelieve in the King of kings, but do not confuse with
that idol the Father of Mankind!"

In Paine's Preface to the Second Part of "The Age of Reason" he
describes himself as writing the First Part near the close of the
year 1793. "I had not finished it more than six hours, in the state
it has since appeared, before a guard came about three in the
morning, with an order signed by the two Committees of Public Safety
and Surety General, for putting me in arrestation." This was on the
morning of December 28. But it is necessary to weigh the words just
quoted — "in the state it has since appeared." For on August 5,
1794, Francois Lanthenas, in an appeal for Paine's liberation, wrote
as follows: "I deliver to Merlin de Thionville a copy of the last
work of T. Payne [The Age of Reason], formerly our colleague, and in
custody since the decree excluding foreigners from the national
representation. This book was written by the author in the beginning
of the year '93 (old style). I undertook its translation before the
revolution against priests, and it was published in French about the
same time. Couthon, to whom I sent it, seemed offended with me for
having translated this work."

Under the frown of Couthon, one of the most atrocious colleagues of
Robespierre, this early publication seems to have been so effectually
suppressed that no copy bearing that date, 1793, can be found in
France or elsewhere. In Paine's letter to Samuel Adams, printed in
the present volume, he says that he had it translated into French, to
stay the progress of atheism, and that he endangered his life "by
opposing atheism." The time indicated by Lanthenas as that in which
he submitted the work to Couthon would appear to be the latter part
of March, 1793, the fury against the priesthood having reached its
climax in the decrees against them of March 19 and 26. If the moral
deformity of Couthon, even greater than that of his body, be
remembered, and the readiness with which death was inflicted for the
most theoretical opinion not approved by the "Mountain," it will
appear probable that the offence given Couthon by Paine's book
involved danger to him and his translator. On May 31, when the
Girondins were accused, the name of Lanthenas was included, and he
barely escaped; and on the same day Danton persuaded Paine not to
appear in the Convention, as his life might be in danger. Whether
this was because of the "Age of Reason," with its fling at the
"Goddess Nature" or not, the statements of author and translator are
harmonized by the fact that Paine prepared the manuscript, with
considerable additions and changes, for publication in English, as he
has stated in the Preface to Part II.

A comparison of the French and English versions, sentence by
sentence, proved to me that the translation sent by Lanthenas to
Merlin de Thionville in 1794 is the same as that he sent to Couthon
in 1793. This discovery was the means of recovering several
interesting sentences of the original work. I have given as footnotes
translations of such clauses and phrases of the French work as
appeared to be important. Those familiar with the translations of
Lanthenas need not be reminded that he was too much of a literalist
to depart from the manuscript before him, and indeed he did not even
venture to alter it in an instance (presently considered) where it
was obviously needed. Nor would Lanthenas have omitted any of the
paragraphs lacking in his translation. This original work was divided
into seventeen chapters, and these I have restored, translating their
headings into English. The "Age of Reason" is thus for the first time
given to the world with nearly its original completeness.

It should be remembered that Paine could not have read the proof of
his "Age of Reason" (Part I.) which went through the press while he
was in prison. To this must be ascribed the permanence of some
sentences as abbreviated in the haste he has described. A notable
instance is the dropping out of his estimate of Jesus the words
rendered by Lanthenas "trop peu imite, trop oublie, trop meconnu."
The addition of these words to Paine's tribute makes it the more
notable that almost the only recognition of the human character and
life of Jesus by any theological writer of that generation came from
one long branded as an infidel.

To the inability of the prisoner to give his work any revision must
be attributed the preservation in it of the singular error already
alluded to, as one that Lanthenas, but for his extreme fidelity,
would have corrected. This is Paine's repeated mention of six
planets, and enumeration of them, twelve years after the discovery of
Uranus. Paine was a devoted student of astronomy, and it cannot for a
moment be supposed that he had not participated in the universal
welcome of Herschel's discovery. The omission of any allusion to it
convinces me that the astronomical episode was printed from a
manuscript written before 1781, when Uranus was discovered.
Unfamiliar with French in 1793, Paine might not have discovered the
erratum in Lanthenas' translation, and, having no time for copying,
he would naturally use as much as possible of the same manuscript in
preparing his work for English readers. But he had no opportunity of
revision, and there remains an erratum which, if my conjecture be
correct, casts a significant light on the paragraphs in which he
alludes to the preparation of the work. He states that soon after his
publication of "Common Sense" (1776), he "saw the exceeding
probability that a revolution in the system of government would be
followed by a revolution in the system of religion," and that "man
would return to the pure, unmixed, and unadulterated belief of one
God and no more." He tells Samuel Adams that it had long been his
intention to publish his thoughts upon religion, and he had made a
similar remark to John Adams in 1776. Like the Quakers among whom he
was reared Paine could then readily use the phrase "word of God" for
anything in the Bible which approved itself to his "inner light," and
as he had drawn from the first Book of Samuel a divine condemnation
of monarchy, John Adams, a Unitarian, asked him if he believed in the
inspiration of the Old Testament. Paine replied that he did not, and
at a later period meant to publish his views on the subject. There is
little doubt that he wrote from time to time on religious points,
during the American war, without publishing his thoughts, just as he
worked on the problem of steam navigation, in which he had invented a
practicable method (ten years before John Fitch made his discovery)
without publishing it. At any rate it appears to me certain that the
part of "The Age of Reason" connected with Paine's favorite science,
astronomy, was written before 1781, when Uranus was discovered.

Paine's theism, however invested with biblical and Christian
phraseology, was a birthright. It appears clear from several
allusions in "The Age of Reason" to the Quakers that in his early
life, or before the middle of the eighteenth century, the people so
called were substantially Deists. An interesting confirmation of
Paine's statements concerning them appears as I write in an account
sent by Count Leo Tolstoi to the London 'Times' of the Russian sect
called Dukhobortsy (The Times, October 23, 1895). This sect sprang up
in the last century, and the narrative says:

"The first seeds of the teaching called afterwards 'Dukhoborcheskaya'
were sown by a foreigner, a Quaker, who came to Russia. The
fundamental idea of his Quaker teaching was that in the soul of man
dwells God himself, and that He himself guides man by His inner word.
God lives in nature physically and in man's soul spiritually. To
Christ, as to an historical personage, the Dukhobortsy do not ascribe
great importance … Christ was God's son, but only in the sense in
which we call, ourselves 'sons of God.' The purpose of Christ's
sufferings was no other than to show us an example of suffering for
truth. The Quakers who, in 1818, visited the Dukhobortsy, could not
agree with them upon these religious subjects; and when they heard
from them their opinion about Jesus Christ (that he was a man),
exclaimed 'Darkness!' From the Old and New Testaments,' they say, 'we
take only what is useful,' mostly the moral teaching. … The moral
ideas of the Dukhobortsy are the following: — All men are, by
nature, equal; external distinctions, whatsoever they may be, are
worth nothing. This idea of men's equality the Dukhoborts have
directed further, against the State authority. … Amongst themselves
they hold subordination, and much more, a monarchical Government, to
be contrary to their ideas."

Here is an early Hicksite Quakerism
carried to Russia long before the birth of Elias Hicks, who recovered
it from Paine, to whom the American Quakers refused burial among
them. Although Paine arraigned the union of Church and State, his
ideal Republic was religious; it was based on a conception of
equality based on the divine son-ship of every man. This faith
underlay equally his burden against claims to divine partiality by a
"Chosen People," a Priesthood, a Monarch "by the grace of God," or an
Aristocracy. Paine's "Reason" is only an expansion of the Quaker's
"inner light"; and the greater impression, as compared with previous
republican and deistic writings made by his "Rights of Man" and "Age
of Reason" (really volumes of one work), is partly explained by the
apostolic fervor which made him a spiritual, successor of George Fox.

Paine's mind was by no means skeptical, it was eminently instructive.
That he should have waited until his fifty-seventh year before
publishing his religious convictions was due to a desire to work out
some positive and practicable system to take the place of that which
he believed was crumbling. The English engineer Hall, who assisted
Paine in making the model of his iron bridge, wrote to his friends in
England, in 1786: "My employer has Common Sense enough to disbelieve
most of the common systematic theories of Divinity, but does not seem
to establish any for himself." But five years later Paine was able to
lay the corner-stone of his temple: "With respect to religion itself,
without regard to names, and as directing itself from the universal
family of mankind to the 'Divine object of all adoration, it is man
bringing to his Maker the fruits of his heart; and though those
fruits may differ from each other like the fruits of the earth, the
grateful tribute of every one, is accepted." ("Rights of Man." See my
edition of Paine's Writings, ii., p. 326.) Here we have a
reappearance of George Fox confuting the doctor in America who
"denied the light and Spirit of God to be in every one; and affirmed
that it was not in the Indians. Whereupon I called an Indian to us,
and asked him 'whether or not, when he lied, or did wrong to anyone,
there was not something in him that reproved him for it?' He said,
'There was such a thing in him that did so reprove him; and he was
ashamed when he had done wrong, or spoken wrong.' So we shamed the
doctor before the governor and the people." (Journal of George Fox,
September 1672.)

Paine, who coined the phrase "Religion of Humanity" (The Crisis, vii.,
1778), did but logically defend it in "The Age of Reason," by denying
a special revelation to any particular tribe, or divine authority in
any particular creed of church; and the centenary of this much-abused
publication has been celebrated by a great conservative champion of
Church and State, Mr. Balfour, who, in his "Foundations of Belief,"
affirms that "inspiration" cannot be denied to the great Oriental
teachers, unless grapes may be gathered from thorns.

The centenary of the complete publication of "The Age of Reason,"
(October 25, 1795), was also celebrated at the Church Congress,
Norwich, on October 10, 1895, when Professor Bonney, F.R.S., Canon of
Manchester, read a paper in which he said: "I cannot deny that the
increase of scientific knowledge has deprived parts of the earlier
books of the Bible of the historical value which was generally
attributed to them by our forefathers. 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

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 I'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

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. Denis, No. 63. Mr. J.G. Alger, whose
researches in personal details connected with the Revolution are
original and useful, recently showed me in the National Archives at
Paris, some papers connected with the trial of Georgeit, Paine's
landlord, by which it appears that the present No. 63 is not, as I
had supposed, the house in which Paine resided. Mr. Alger accompanied
me to the neighborhood, but we were not able to identify the house.
The arrest of Georgeit is mentioned by Paine in his essay on
"Forgetfulness" (Writings, iii., 319). When his trial came on one of
the charges was that he had kept in his house "Paine and other
Englishmen," — Paine being then in prison, — but he (Georgeit) was
acquitted of the paltry accusations brought against him by his
Section, the "Faubourg du Nord." This Section took in the whole east
side of the Faubourg St. Denis, whereas the present No. 63 is on the
west side. After Georgeit (or Georger) had been arrested, Paine was
left alone in the large mansion (said by Rickman to have been once
the hotel of Madame de Pompadour), and it would appear, by his
account, that it was after the execution (October 31, 1793) Of his
friends the Girondins, and political comrades, that he felt his end
at hand, and set about his last literary bequest to the world, —
"The Age of Reason," — in the state in which it has since appeared,
as he is careful to say. There was every probability, during the
months in which he wrote (November and December 1793) that he would
be executed. His religious testament was prepared with the blade of
the guillotine suspended over him, — a fact which did not deter
pious mythologists from portraying his death-bed remorse for having
written the book.

In editing Part I. of "The Age of Reason," I follow closely the first
edition, which was printed by Barrois in Paris from the manuscript,
no doubt under the superintendence of Joel Barlow, to whom Paine, on
his way to the Luxembourg, had confided it. Barlow was an American
ex-clergyman, a speculator on whose career French archives cast an
unfavorable light, and one cannot be certain that no liberties were
taken with Paine's proofs.

I may repeat here what I have stated in the outset of my editorial
work on Paine that my rule is to correct obvious misprints, and also
any punctuation which seems to render the sense less clear. And to
that I will now add that in following Paine's quotations from the
Bible I have adopted the Plan now generally used in place of his
occasionally too extended writing out of book, chapter, and verse.

Paine was imprisoned in the Luxembourg on December 28, 1793, and
released on November 4, 1794. His liberation was secured by his old
friend, James Monroe (afterwards President), who had succeeded his
(Paine's) relentless enemy, Gouvemeur Morris, as American Minister in
Paris. He was found by Monroe more dead than alive from
semi-starvation, cold, and an abscess contracted in prison, and taken
to the Minister's own residence. It was not supposed that he could
survive, and he owed his life to the tender care of Mr. and Mrs.
Monroe. It was while thus a prisoner in his room, with death still
hovering over him, that Paine wrote Part Second of "The Age of

The work was published in London by H.D. Symonds on October 25, 1795,
and claimed to be "from the Author's manuscript." It is marked as
"Entered at Stationers Hall," and prefaced by an apologetic note of
"The Bookseller to the Public," whose commonplaces about avoiding
both prejudice and partiality, and considering "both sides," need not
be quoted. While his volume was going through the press in Paris,
Paine heard of the publication in London, which drew from him the
following hurried note to a London publisher, no doubt Daniel Isaacs

"SIR, — I have seen advertised in the London papers the second
Edition [part] of the Age of Reason, printed, the advertisement says,
from the Author's Manuscript, and entered at Stationers Hall. I have
never sent any manuscript to any person. It is therefore a forgery to
say it is printed from the author's manuscript; and I suppose is done
to give the Publisher a pretence of Copy Right, which he has no title

"I send you a printed copy, which is the only one I have sent to
London. I wish you to make a cheap edition of it. I know not by what
means any copy has got over to London. If any person has made a
manuscript copy I have no doubt but it is full of errors. I wish you
would talk to Mr. - upon this subject as I wish to know by what
means this trick has been played, and from whom the publisher has got
possession of any copy.

"PARIS, December 4, 1795,"

Eaton's cheap edition appeared January 1, 1796, with the above letter
on the reverse of the title. The blank in the note was probably
"Symonds" in the original, and possibly that publisher was imposed
upon. Eaton, already in trouble for printing one of Paine's political
pamphlets, fled to America, and an edition of the "Age of Reason" was
issued under a new title; no publisher appears; it is said to be
"printed for, and sold by all the Booksellers in Great Britain and
Ireland." It is also said to be "By Thomas Paine, author of several
remarkable performances." I have never found any copy of this
anonymous edition except the one in my possession. It is evidently
the edition which was suppressed by the prosecution of Williams for
selling a copy of it.

A comparison with Paine's revised edition reveals a good many
clerical and verbal errors in Symonds, though few that affect the
sense. The worst are in the preface, where, instead of "1793," the
misleading date "1790" is given as the year at whose close Paine
completed Part First, — an error that spread far and wide and was
fastened on by his calumnious American "biographer," Cheetham, to
prove his inconsistency. The editors have been fairly demoralized by,
and have altered in different ways, the following sentence of the
preface in Symonds: "The intolerant spirit of religious persecution
had transferred itself into politics; the tribunals, styled
Revolutionary, supplied the place of the Inquisition; and the
Guillotine of the State outdid the Fire and Faggot of the Church."
The rogue who copied this little knew the care with which Paine
weighed words, and that he would never call persecution "religious,"
nor connect the guillotine with the "State," nor concede that with
all its horrors it had outdone the history of fire and faggot. What
Paine wrote was: "The intolerant spirit of church persecution had
transferred itself into politics; the tribunals, styled
Revolutionary, supplied the place of an Inquisition and the
Guillotine, of the Stake."

An original letter of Paine, in the possession of Joseph Cowen,
ex-M.P., which that gentleman permits me to bring to light, besides
being one of general interest makes clear the circumstances of the
original publication. Although the name of the correspondent does not
appear on the letter, it was certainly written to Col. John Fellows
of New York, who copyrighted Part I. of the "Age of Reason." He
published the pamphlets of Joel Barlow, to whom Paine confided his
manuscript on his way to prison. Fellows was afterwards Paine's
intimate friend in New York, and it was chiefly due to him that some
portions of the author's writings, left in manuscript to Madame
Bonneville while she was a freethinker were rescued from her devout
destructiveness after her return to Catholicism. The letter which Mr.
Cowen sends me, is dated at Paris, January 20, 1797.

"SIR, — Your friend Mr. Caritat being on the point of his departure
for America, I make it the opportunity of writing to you. I received
two letters from you with some pamphlets a considerable time past, in
which you inform me of your entering a copyright of the first part of
the Age of Reason: when I return to America we will settle for that

"As Doctor Franklin has been my intimate friend for thirty years past
you will naturally see the reason of my continuing the connection
with his grandson. I printed here (Paris) about fifteen thousand of
the second part of the Age of Reason, which I sent to Mr. F[ranklin]
Bache. I gave him notice of it in September 1795 and the copy-right
by my own direction was entered by him. The books did not arrive till
April following, but he had advertised it long before.

"I sent to him in August last a manuscript letter of about 70 pages,
from me to Mr. Washington to be printed in a pamphlet. Mr. Barnes of
Philadelphia carried the letter from me over to London to be
forwarded to America. It went by the ship Hope, Cap: Harley, who
since his return from America told me that he put it into the post
office at New York for Bache. I have yet no certain account of its
publication. I mention this that the letter may be enquired after, in
case it has not been published or has not arrived to Mr. Bache.
Barnes wrote to me, from London 29 August informing me that he was
offered three hundred pounds sterling for the manuscript. The offer
was refused because it was my intention it should not appear till it
appeared in America, as that, and not England was the place for its

"You ask me by your letter to Mr. Caritat for a list of my several
works, in order to publish a collection of them. This is an
undertaking I have always reserved for myself. It not only belongs to
me of right, but nobody but myself can do it; and as every author is
accountable (at least in reputation) for his works, he only is the
person to do it. If he neglects it in his life-time the case is
altered. It is my intention to return to America in the course of the
present year. I shall then [do] it by subscription, with historical
notes. As this work will employ many persons in different parts of
the Union, I will confer with you upon the subject, and such part of
it as will suit you to undertake, will be at your choice. I have
sustained so much loss, by disinterestedness and inattention to money
matters, and by accidents, that I am obliged to look closer to my
affairs than I have done. The printer (an Englishman) whom I employed
here to print the second part of 'the Age of Reason' made a
manuscript copy of the work while he was printing it, which he sent
to London and sold. It was by this means that an edition of it came
out in London.

"We are waiting here for news from America of the state of the
federal elections. You will have heard long before this reaches you
that the French government has refused to receive Mr. Pinckney as
minister. While Mr. Monroe was minister he had the opportunity of
softening matters with this government, for he was in good credit
with them tho' they were in high indignation at the infidelity of the
Washington Administration. It is time that Mr. Washington retire, for
he has played off so much prudent hypocrisy between France and
England that neither government believes anything he says.

"Your friend, etc.,

It would appear that Symonds' stolen edition must have got ahead of
that sent by Paine to Franklin Bache, for some of its errors continue
in all modern American editions to the present day, as well as in
those of England. For in England it was only the shilling edition
that revised by Paine — which was suppressed. Symonds, who
ministered to the half-crown folk, and who was also publisher of
replies to Paine, was left undisturbed about his pirated edition, and
the new Society for the suppression of Vice and Immorality fastened
on one Thomas Williams, who sold pious tracts but was also convicted
(June 24, 1797) of having sold one copy of the "Age of Reason."
Erskine, who had defended Paine at his trial for the "Rights of Man,"
conducted the prosecution of Williams. He gained the victory from a
packed jury, but was not much elated by it, especially after a
certain adventure on his way to Lincoln's Inn. He felt his coat
clutched and beheld at his feet a woman bathed in tears. She led him
into the small book-shop of Thomas Williams, not yet called up for
judgment, and there he beheld his victim stitching tracts in a
wretched little room, where there were three children, two suffering
with Smallpox. He saw that it would be ruin and even a sort of murder
to take away to prison the husband, who was not a freethinker, and
lamented his publication of the book, and a meeting of the Society
which had retained him was summoned. There was a full meeting, the
Bishop of London (Porteus) in the chair. Erskine reminded them that
Williams was yet to be brought up for sentence, described the scene
he had witnessed, and Williams' penitence, and, as the book was now
suppressed, asked permission to move for a nominal sentence. Mercy,
he urged, was a part of the Christianity they were defending. Not one
of the Society took his side, — not even "philanthropic" Wilberforce
and Erskine threw up his brief. This action of Erskine led the
Judge to give Williams only a year in prison instead of the three he
said had been intended.

While Williams was in prison the orthodox colporteurs were
circulating Erskine's speech on Christianity, but also an anonymous
sermon "On the Existence and Attributes of the Deity," all of which
was from Paine's "Age of Reason," except a brief "Address to the
Deity" appended. This picturesque anomaly was repeated in the
circulation of Paine's "Discourse to the Theophilanthropists" (their
and the author's names removed) under the title of "Atheism Refuted."
Both of these pamphlets are now before me, and beside them a London
tract of one page just sent for my spiritual benefit. This is headed
"A Word of Caution." It begins by mentioning the "pernicious
doctrines of Paine," the first being "that there is No GOD" (sic,)
then proceeds to adduce evidences of divine existence taken from
Paine's works. It should be added that this one dingy page is the
only "survival" of the ancient Paine effigy in the tract form which I
have been able to find in recent years, and to this no Society or
Publisher's name is attached.

The imprisonment of Williams was the beginning of a thirty years' war
for religious liberty in England, in the course of which occurred
many notable events, such as Eaton receiving homage in his pillory at
Choring Cross, and the whole Carlile family imprisoned, — its head
imprisoned more than nine years for publishing the "Age of Reason."
This last victory of persecution was suicidal. Gentlemen of wealth,
not adherents of Paine, helped in setting Carlile up in business in
Fleet Street, where free-thinking publications have since been sold
without interruption. But though Liberty triumphed in one sense, the
"Age of Reason." remained to some extent suppressed among those whose
attention it especially merited. Its original prosecution by a
Society for the Suppression of Vice (a device to, relieve the Crown)
amounted to a libel upon a morally clean book, restricting its
perusal in families; and the fact that the shilling book sold by and
among humble people was alone prosecuted, diffused among the educated
an equally false notion that the "Age of Reason" was vulgar and
illiterate. The theologians, as we have seen, estimated more justly
the ability of their antagonist, the collaborator of Franklin,
Rittenhouse, and Clymer, on whom the University of Pennsylvania had
conferred the degree of Master of Arts, — but the gentry confused
Paine with the class described by Burke as "the swinish multitude."
Skepticism, or its free utterance, was temporarily driven out of
polite circles by its complication with the out-lawed vindicator of
the "Rights of Man." But that long combat has now passed away. Time
has reduced the "Age of Reason" from a flag of popular radicalism to
a comparatively conservative treatise, so far as its negations are
concerned. An old friend tells me that in his youth he heard a sermon
in which the preacher declared that "Tom Paine was so wicked that he
could not be buried; his bones were thrown into a box which was
bandied about the world till it came to a button-manufacturer; and
now Paine is travelling round the world in the form of buttons!" This
variant of the Wandering Jew myth may now be regarded as unconscious
homage to the author whose metaphorical bones may be recognized in
buttons now fashionable, and some even found useful in holding
clerical vestments together.

But the careful reader will find in Paine's "Age of Reason" something
beyond negations, and in conclusion I will especially call attention
to the new departure in Theism indicated in a passage corresponding
to a famous aphorism of Kant, indicated by a note in Part II. The
discovery already mentioned, that Part I. was written at least
fourteen years before Part II., led me to compare the two; and it is
plain that while the earlier work is an amplification of Newtonian
Deism, based on the phenomena of planetary motion, the work of 1795
bases belief in God on "the universal display of himself in the works
of the creation and by that repugnance we feel in ourselves to bad
actions, and disposition to do good ones." This exaltation of the
moral nature of man to be the foundation of theistic religion, though
now familiar, was a hundred years ago a new affirmation; it has led
on a conception of deity subversive of last-century deism, it has
steadily humanized religion, and its ultimate philosophical and
ethical results have not yet been reached.

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