Cato's Letter No. 138

Cato's Farewell.

John Trenchard & Thomas Gordon (Saturday, July 27, 1723)

SIR, As I have with a success which no man has yet met with (if I regard the number of my readers, and the sale of these papers) carried on a weekly performance, under this and another title,[*] for near four years; in doing which, it was impossible that I could have any other view but the good of my country and of mankind; by shewing them the advantage and the beauty of civil and ecclesiastical liberty, and the odious deformity of priestcraft and tyranny: As I have vindicated Almighty God, and the religion which he has taught us, from the superstition, follies, and wickedness of men, who would prostitute it to ambition and avarice, and build a visionary empire upon the plain and simple precepts of Christianity; and have endeavoured to remove all the rubbish, grimace, and pageantry, with which it has been long stifled and oppressed, by shewing to the world, and I think proving, that true piety consists only in honouring the deity, and in doing good to men, and not in postures, cringes, and canting terms, and in barren and useless speculations: As I think I have unanswerably shewn that civil governments were instituted by men, and for the sake of men, and not for the pride and lust of governors; and consequently that men have a right to expect from them protection and liberty, and to oppose rapine and tyranny wherever they are exercised; and have thereby vindicated our present establishment, which can pretend to no other title.

As I have done all this openly, and in the face of the world, and have defied and called upon all the merciless and detestable advocates for superstition and slavery, to shew that I have transgressed the rules of morality or religion, or the peace and happiness of society in any respect; and no one has yet dared to enter the lists against me; from whence I may reasonably hope that I have removed many of the prejudices imbibed by education and custom, and set many of my countrymen free from the wild, wicked, and servile notions, strongly infused and planted in their minds by craft and delusion: I shall now with cheerfulness lay down this paper, which I am well informed will be continued by an able hand, under another name, and upon various subjects; and it is probable that I may so far join in the undertaking, as to give my assistance now and then, when proper occasions require it; at least, I am not determined not to do so.

There are some papers, especially those signed Diogenes, which have given an undesigned offence to some, whose persons I honour, and whose opinions I reverence. For I have no regard to the persons, and narrow notions of bigots, who will renounce any opinion as soon as it appears to be rational, and would rather make nonsense of it, than not make it a mystery. It is a principle become constitutional to me, that God gave us our understandings to use them, and that we cannot offend him in carrying them as far as they will carry us. However, as the principal question handled in those papers is a matter of mere speculation, understood but by few, and to be understood but by few, the belief or disbelief of it can no way affect human society; and whether it be true or not, the actions of men will be the same, and men will be alike actuated by the motives that operate upon them, and equally pursue what they take to be their advantage upon the whole, at the time, and in the circumstances which they are then in, whether they be obliged to do so, or choose to do so without being necessitated to that choice.

What led me into this thought, is the observation which runs almost through the world, that the bulk of mankind in all ages, and in all countries, are violently attached to the opinions, customs, and even habits, which they have been used to; that sounds, shews, prejudices, vain and idle terrors, phantoms, delusions, and sometimes diet and physick, are more prevalent with them, and operate more upon them than true and strong reasons; and that all animals of the same species act in the same manner, and have the same passions, sensations and affections, with very little alterations: All which I could not account for, but by supposing those operations to be mechanical, and the results of their several constitutions, as they were altered and modified by habit, and by different occasions or motives of making use of them, such as acted upon them.

For the rest, I saw, with a sensible concern, the many mischiefs, which the leaders and deceivers of parties and factions in religion did to the world, by throwing Godís judgments at one another, and impiously confining his providence and mercies to themselves; and by applying the common phenomena and events of nature to their own advantage, and interpreting the same as denunciations of his wrath against their enemies; by which unhallowed presumption they have raised up and inflamed implacable hatred, animosities and uncharitableness amongst men of the same nation, who are all brethren. I have therefore shewn, that the Almighty dispenses his favours to all his creatures; that his sun shines upon the just and the unjust; and that it is the highest and most daring boldness in any sort of men to search into, and to pretend to unriddle the secret dispensations of his providence; to know his mind before he unfolds it; to throw about such balls of contention and wrath; and to make the condition of men, already too miserable by the lot of nature, still more miserable.

I saw the many evils and barbarous consequences arising from the idle and foolish stories of witches, spirits, and apparitions, first infused into our tender minds by nurses, chamber-maids, and old women, and afterwards continued and improved by tutors and priests; which impressions and stories the wisest and bravest men often carry about them to their graves, and which make them always uneasy till they go thither; insomuch, that numbers of people dare not be alone, nor go about their necessary affairs, in the night-time; but are kept in constant dread of phantoms and non-entities; and multitudes of innocents have been murdered under the appearance of justice upon Satanís confederates. I have therefore shewn, that there is no foundation in nature, in reason or in religion, for these fairy tales; that they are inconsistent with the mercies, and even with the being, of the great and good God; and that the telling or believing these tales, is endeavouring to give an empire to the Devil at the expence of the Almighty.

It is certain, that the capacities of men would carry them much farther than they are suffered to go, if they were not cramped by custom and narrow education, and by narrow principles taken from those who design and derive advantages from this their ignorance. I have therefore lamented to see men of large and extensive genius, such as seemed designed by nature to carry human knowledge many degrees further than it has yet gone, seemed designed to manumit their country and mankind from the servile and wicked notions infused into them by prating pedants, and babbling impostors; I say, I have lamented to see such extensive capacities employed and conversant only about whims, idle speculations, empty notions, fairy-dreams, and party-distinctions, all tending to contract and imbitter the mind, to stifle and oppress the faculties, and to render men dupes and machines to the ambition, pride, and avarice of selfish and haughty ecclesiasticks, or of corrupt statesmen. Nor can I see how this great evil can ever be cured, till we change the education of our youth; and let gentlemen be bred by gentlemen, and not by monks and pedants; whom yet I would suffer to dream on with their bellies full of college-ale, and their heads full of college-distinctions; but think that they ought not to be trusted with the education of our nobility and gentry, till they have some themselves.

And now I beg leave again to repeat, that it was impossible I could engage in this undertaking so troublesome to myself, and I hope of some benefit to my countrymen, with any view to my own personal advantage. I hope that no one will think so meanly of my understanding, to believe that I intended to make my court to any of the powers of this world, by attacking vice, corruption and folly wheresoever and in whomsoever they were found. I knew that I was to walk over burning plough-shares; that I must provoke numerous and powerful societies and parties; that I must disturb nests of hornets, and sometimes venture too near the lionís den, and perhaps within the reach of Joveís thunder; that men in possession of reverence would not bear being told, that they did not deserve it; that those who rioted in power, and upon the publick misfortune, would very unwillingly hear that they were trusted with that power for the publick advantage, and not for their own; that they were obliged by all the motives of honour, virtue, and religion, to serve and protect the people out of whose industry and wealth they were so highly rewarded; and that they deserved the severest punishment if they did otherwise. I had all this before my eyes: But armed with innocence, and animated by love to God and mankind, I resolved to brave the danger, in defiance of the worst that could happen to myself, in the service of my country; and I have braved it. I have now the pleasure to see great numbers of my fellow-subjects approve my endeavours, and embrace my opinions. I therefore here lay down this paper, and with it the most virtuous and noble subject that can employ the human soul; the subject of religion and government.

T and G I am, &c.


[*] The Independent Whig.

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