By: LARRY SITES Re: Deathbeds 1 Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 INFIDEL DEAT

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

By: LARRY SITES Re: Deathbeds 1 Bank of Wisdom, Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 **** **** INFIDEL DEATH-BEDS by C.W. Foote New Revised and Much Enlarged Edition by A.D. McLaren INFIDEL death-beds have been a fertile theme of pulpit eloquence. The priests of Christianity often inform their congregations that Faith is an excellent soft pillow, and Reason a horrible hard bolster, for the dying head. Freethought, they say, is all very well in the days of our health and strength, when we are buoyed up by the pride of carnal intellect; but ah! how poor a thing it is when health and strength fail us, when, deserted by our self-sufficiency, we need the support of a stronger power. In that extremity the proud Freethinker turns to Jesus Christ, renounces his wicked skepticism, implores pardon of the Savior he has despised, and shudders at the awful scenes that await him in the next world should the hour of forgiveness be past. Pictorial art has been pressed into the service of this plea for religion, and in such orthodox periodicals as the British Workman, to say nothing of the hordes of pious inventions which are circulated as tracts, expiring skeptics have been portrayed in agonies of terror, gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, rolling their eyes, and exhibiting every sign of despair. One minister of the gospel, the Rev. Erskine Neale, has not thought it beneath his dignity to compose an extensive series of these holy frauds, under the title of Closing Scenes. This work was, at one time, very popular and influential; but its specious character having been exposed, it has fallen into disrepute, or at least into neglect. The real answer to these arguments, if they may be called such, is to be found in the body of the present work. I have narrated in a brief space, and from the best authorities, the "closing scenes" in the lives of many eminent Freethinkers during the last three centuries. They are not anonymous persons without an address, who cannot be located in time or space, and who simply serve "to point a moral or adorn a tale." Their manor are in most cases historical, and in some cases familiar to fame; great poets, philosophers, historians, and wits, of deathless memory, who cannot be withdrawn from the history of our race without robbing it of much of its dignity and splendor. In some instances I have prefaced the story of their deaths with a short, and in others with a lengthy, record of their lives. The ordinary reader cannot be expected to possess a complete acquaintance with the career and achievements of every great soldier of progress; and I have therefore considered it prudent to afford such information as might be deemed necessary to a proper appreciation of the character, the greatness, and the renown, of the subjects of my sketches. When the hero of the story has been the object of calumny or misrepresentation, when his death has been falsely related, and simple facts, have been woven into a tissue of lying absurdity, I have not been content with a bare narration of the truth; I have carried the war into the enemy's camp, and refuted their mischievous libels. One of our greatest living thinkers entertains "the belief that the English mind, not readily swayed by rhetoric, moves freely under the pressure of facts." [NOTE: Dr. E.B. Taylor: Preface to second edition of; "PRIMITIVE CULTURES] I may therefore venture to hope that the facts I have recorded will have their proper effect on the reader's mind. Yet it may not be impolitic to examine the orthodox argument as to death-bed repentance. Carlyle, in his Essay on Voltaire, utters a potent warning against anything of the kind: -- Surely the parting agonies of a fellow-mortal, when the spirit of our brother, rapt in the whirlwinds and thick ghastly vapors of death, clutches blindly for help, and no help is there, are not the scenes where a wise faith would seek to exult, when it can no longer hope to alleviate! For the rest, to touch farther on those their idle tales of dying horrors, remorse, and the like; to write of such, to believe them, or disbelieve them, or in anywise discuss them, were but a continuation of the same inaptitude. He who, after the imperturbable exit of so many Cartouches and Thurtells, in every age of the world can continue to regard the manner of a man's death as a test of his religions orthodoxy, may boast himself impregnable to merely terrestrial logic. [ESSAYS; Vol. II, p. 161 (Peoples Edition)] There is a great deal of truth in this vigorous passage. I fancy, however, that some of the dupes of priestcraft are not absolutely impregnable to terrestrial logic, and I discuss the subject for their sakes, even at the risk of being held guilty of "inaptitude." Throughout the world the religion of mankind is determined by the geographical accident of their birth. In England men grow up Protestants; in Italy, Catholics; in Russia, Greek Christians; in Turkey, Mohammedans; in India, Brahmans; in China, Buddhists or Confucians. What they are taught in their childhood they believe in their manhood; and they die in the faith in which they have lived. Here and there a few men think for themselves. If they discard the faith in which they have been educated, they are never free from its influence. it meets them at every turn, and is constantly, by a thousand ties, drawing them back to the orthodox fold. The stronger resist this attraction, the weaker succumb to it. Between them is the average man, whose tendency will depend on several things. If he is isolated, or finds but few sympathizers, he may revert to the ranks of faith; if he finds many of the same opinion with himself, he will probably display more fortitude. Even Freethinkers are gregarious, and in the worst as well as the best sense of the words, the saying of Novalis is true -- "My thought gains infinitely when it is shared by another." But in all cases of reversion, the skeptic invariably turns to the creed of his own country. What does this prove? Simply the power of our environment, and the force of early training. When "infidels" are few, and their relatives are orthodox, what could be more natural than what is called "a death-bed recantation?" Their minds are enfeebled by disease, or the near approach of death; they are surrounded by persons who continually urge them to be reconciled to the popular faith; and is it astonishing if they sometimes yield to these solicitations? Is it wonderful if, when all grows dim, and the priestly carrion-crow of the death-chamber mouths the perfunctory shibboleths, the weak brain should become dazed, and the poor tongue mutter a faint response? Should the dying man be old, there is still less reason for surprise. Old age yearns back to the cradle, and as Dante Rossetti says: -- "Life all past Is like the sky when the sun sets in it, Clearest where furthest off." The "recantation" of old men, if it occurs, is easily understood. Having been brought up in a particular religion, their earliest and tenderest memories may be connected with it; and when they lie down to die they may mechanically recur to it, just as they may forget whole years of their maturity, and vividly remember the scenes of their childhood. Those who have read Thackeray's exquisitely faithful and pathetic narrative of the death of old Col. Newcome, will remember that as the evening chapel bell tolled its last note, he smiled, lifted his head a little, and cried Adsum! ("I am present"), the boy's answer when the names were called at school. Cases of recantation, if they were ever common, which does not appear to be true, are now exceedingly rare; so rare, indeed, that they are never heard of except in anonymous tracts, which are evidently concocted for the glory of God, rather than the edification of Man. Skeptics are at present numbered by thousands, and they can nearly always secure at their bedsides the presence of friends who share their unbelief. Every week, the Freethought journals report quietly, and as a matter of course, the peaceful end of "infidels" who, having lived without hypocrisy, have died without fear. They are frequently buried by their heterodox friends, and never a week passes without the Secular Burial. Service, or some other appropriate words, being read by skeptics over a skeptic's grave. Christian ministers know this. They usually confine themselves, therefore, to the death-bed stories of Paine and Voltaire, which have been again and again refuted. Little, if anything, is said about the eminent Freethinkers who have died in the present generation. The priests must wait half a century before they can hope to defame them with success. Our cry to these pious sutlers is Hands off!" Refute the arguments of Freethinkers, if you can; but do not obtrude your disgusting presence in the death chamber, or vent your malignity over their tombs. Supposing, however, that every Freethinker turned Christian on his death-bed. It is a tremendous stretch of fancy, but I make it for the sake of argument. What does it prove? Nothing, as I said before, but the force of our surroundings and early training. It is a common saying among Jews, when they hear of a Christian proselyte, "Ah, wait till he comes to die!" As a matter of fact, converted Jews generally die in the faith of their race; and the same is alleged as to the native converts that are made by our missionaries in India. Heine has a pregnant passage on this point. Referring to Joseph Schelling, who was "an apostate to his own thought," who deserted the altar he had himself consecrated," and returned to the crypts of the past," Heine rebukes the "old believers," who cried Kyrie eleison ("Lord, have mercy in honor of such a conversion." That," he says proves nothing for their doctrine. It only proves that man turns to religion when he is old and fatigued, when his physical and mental force has left him, when he can no longer enjoy nor reason. So many Freethinkers are converted on their death-beds! ... But at least do not boast of them. These legendary conversions belong at best to pathology, and are a poor evidence for your cause. After all, they only prove this, that it was impossible for you to convert those Freethinkers while they were healthy in body and mind." [NOTE: [De l'Allemagne, Vol. I, p. 174] Renan has some excellent words on the same subject in his delightful volume of autobiography. After expressing a rooted preference for a sudden death, he continues: "I should be grieved to go through one of those periods of feebleness, in which the man who has possessed strength and virtue is only the shadow and ruins of himself, and often, to the great joy of fools, occupies himself in demolishing the life he had laboriously built up. Such an old age is the worst gift the gods can bestow on man. If such a fate is reserved for me, I protest in advance against the fatuities that a softened brain may make me say or sign. It is Renan sound in heart and head, such as I am now, and not Renan half destroyed by death, and no longer himself, as I shall be if I decompose gradually, that I wish people to listen to and believe." [NOTE: Souvenirs d'Enfance et de Jeunesse, p. 377] To find the best passage on this topic in our own literature we must go back to the seventeenth century, and to Selden's 'Table Talk,' a volume in which Coleridge found "more weighty bullion sense" than he "ever found in the same number of pages of any uninspired writer." Selden lived in a less mealy-mouthed age than ours, and what I am going to quote smacks of the blunt old times; but it is too good to miss, and all readers who are not prudish will thank me for citing it. "For a priest," says Selden, "to turn a man when he lies a dying, is just like one that has a long time solicited a woman, and cannot obtain his end; at length he makes her drunk, and so lies with her." It is a curious thing that the writer of these words helped to draw up the Westminster Confession of faith. For my own part, while I have known many Freethinkers who were steadfast to their principles in death, I have never known a single case of recantation. The fact is, Christians are utterly mistaken on this subject. it is quite intelligible that those who believe in a vengeful. God, and an everlasting hell, should tremble on "the brink of eternity"; and it is natural that they should ascribe to others the same trepidation. But a moment's reflection must convince them that this is fallacious. The only terror in death is the apprehension of what lies beyond it, and that emotion is impossible to a sincere disbeliever. Of course the orthodox may ask, "But is there a sincere disbeliever?" To which I can only reply, like Diderot, by asking, "Is there a sincere Christian?" Professor Tyndall, while repudiating Atheism himself, has borne testimony to the earnestness of others who embrace it. "I have known some of the most pronounced among them," he says, "not only in life but in death - seen them approaching with open eyes the inexorable goal, with no dread of a hangman's whip, with no hope of a heavenly crown, and still as mindful of their duties, and as faithful in the discharge of them, as if their eternal future depended on their latest deeds." [NOTE: Fortnightly Review, November 1877] Lord Bacon said, "I do not believe that any man fears to be dead, but only the stroke of death." True, and the physical suffering, and the pang of separation, are the same for all. Yet the end of life is as natural as its beginning, and the true philosophy of existence is nobly expressed in the lofty sentence of Spinoza, "A free man thinks less of nothing than of death." "So live, that when thy summons comes to join The innumerable caravan, which moves To that mysterious realm, where each shall take His chamber in the silent halls of death, Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night, Scourged to his dungeon, but sustained and soothed By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave, Like one who wraps the drapery of his conch About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams." [Bryan, Thanatopsies] Since Don Ward has joined his lying CHRISTIAN brother Alan Kern in implying that Darwin recanted and became a christan on his death bed and since I just found a lovely file chocked full of just such CHRISTIAN lies, I post a bit from it. Here's the list and if anyone is listed in any specific individual, let me know and I will extract and post that one. Most of them are only a paragraph or so. Makes one wonder why a religion supposedly based upon truth has to resort to lying about people after they die. Hey, if they lie about their disbelievers, why would they be above lying about their gods? INDEX. The names marked with an asterisk were not included in previous editions. PART I. Page Page Amberley, Lord............ 6 Frederick the Great...... 29 Baskerville, John......... 6 Gambetta................. 30 Bayle, Pierre............. 6 Garibaldi................ 31 Benthara, Jeremy.......... 7 Gendre, Isaac............ 31 Bert, Paul................ 8 Gibbon................... 32 Bolingbroke, Lord......... 9 Godwin................... 33 Goethe 33 Grote, George............ 35 *Bradlaugh, Charles........ 10 Helvetius................ 35 Broussais, Frangois.......11 Bruno, Giordano........... 12 Helvetius................ 35 Buckle, Henry Thomas...... 13 Hetherington, Henry...... 36 *Burton, Sir Richard F. ... 13 Hobbes, Thomas........... 38 Byron, Lord............... 15 Holyoake, Austin......... 39 Carlile, Richard.......... 16 *Holyoake, George J...... 40 Clifford, William X. ..... 16 Hugo, Victor............. 41 Clootz, Anacharsis........ 17 Hume, David............. 42 Collins, Anthony.......... 17 *Ingersoll, Robert G..... 44 Comte, Augusts............ 18 *Jefferies, Richard ..... 45 Condoreet................. 18 *Julian the Apostate..... 46 *Conway, Moneure D......... 19 *Tessin,................. go Cooper, Robert............ 20 Littre................... 47 D'Alembert ..,............ 20 *Lloyd, J. T............. 49 Danton.................... 20 *Martin, Emma............ 50 Darwin, Charles Robert ... 21 Martineau, Harriet....... 50 Darwin, Erasmus........... 22 *Meredith, George........ 51 Delambre.................. 23 Meslier, Jean............ 52 Diderot, Denis............ 23 Mill, James.............. 52 Dolet, Enenne............. 25 Mill, John Stuart........ 52 Eliot, George............. 26 Mirabeau................. 53 *Ferrer, Francisco......... 26 *Ostwald, Wilhelm........ 55 *Fenerbacb, l,tidwig A. ... 27 Owen, Robert............. 55 *Foote, George William .... 27 Paine, Thomas............ 56 Palmer, Courtlandt........ 60 Strauss.................. 69 Rabelais.................. 60 *Swinburne................ 69 Reade, Winwood............ 61 *Symes, Joseph............ 70 *Robertson, J. M........... 62 Toland, John............. 71 Roland, Madame............ 63 Vanini................... 71 Sand, George.............. 64 Volney................... 72 Schiller.................. 64 Voltaire................. 73 Shelley................... 65 Watson, James............ 76 *Spencer, Herbert.......... 66 Watts, John.............. 77 Spinoza................... 67 Woolston, Thomas......... 77 Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 INFIDEL DEATH-BEDS Larry Sites JC's Fireman: Luke 12:49 Freq FORGERY.ZIP, Falisfy Fundi father fakery INFIDEL DEATH-BEDS ROBERT GREEN INGERSOLL. INGERSOLL was born in the small town of Dresden, State of New York, on August 11, 1833. His father was a Minister of the Congregational Chureh, and the boy was brought up in an evangelical atmosphere, though he never accepted some of the dogmas which he was taught. At an early age he expressed his abhorrence of the idea of an eternal hell. In 1854 he was admitted to the Bar and soon gained a large practice. The Civil War broke out in 1861, and he raised for the anti- slavery cause a regiment of Illinois cavalry, of which he was appointed colonel. During the war he was taken prisoner by the Confederate troops. In 1866 he was appointed Attorney-General of Illinois, and would most certainly have been Governor of the State but for the religious prejudice against him. Ingersoll's eloquence, wit, and keen logic in controversy made him a great asset to the popular Freethought Movement, and to an almost equal degree it caused him to be bitterly attacked and slandered by the clergy, especially by the ultra-evangelical Talmage. What above all else excited orthodox opposition was Ingersoll's habit of laughing at the absurdities of Christianity. This play of wit and satire is noticeable in The Mistakes of Moses, probably the best known of his Freethought writings. Among his pamphlets and reported speeches, which have had a wide circulation throughout the English-speaking world, but are far too numerous for detailed reference here, may be mentioned 'Ghosts,' 'What must I do to be saved?' and 'Real Blasphemy.' Perhaps he is seen at his literary best in the Reply to Gladstone, which appeared originally in the North American Review for June, 1888. The replies to his assaults on the faith would alone form a small library. His attitude to the whole question of a future life is perfectly Agnostic. In 'Faith and Fact,' 1887 (P. 12) he declares: "I know no more (of the immortality of the soul) than the lowest savage, no more than a doctor of divinity -- that is to say, nothing." In God and Man, 1888 (p. 11) he is emphatic concerning the worthlessness of what is called the Christian hope: "It offers no consolation to any good and loving man." He pours all that refined scorn of which he was a master on the promise of a future life to the oppressed as compensation for their sufferings here (Repairing the Idols, 1888, pp. 6-8). At the grave of the child, Harry Miller, speaking of the questign, "Whither?" he said: "The poor barbarian weeping over his dead can answer the question as intelligently and satisfactorily as the robed priests of the most authentic creed." (Appendix to Mistakes of Moses.) Ingersoll died of angina pectoris on July 21, 1899. He passed away very peacefully and his last words were, "I am better now." But it was not to be expected that so great an "infidel" would be spared the familiar story of a death-bed recantation, despite the fact that all the details of his last moments are well known. His friend, W.J. Armstrong, summed them up concisely in the Los Angeles Times Magazine: "He died unexpectedly and suddenly, after conversing cheerfully a few minutes before with the members of his family." (The Freethinker, October 4, 1908). Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 INFIDEL DEATH-BEDS THOMAS PAINE. GEORGE WASHINGTON has been called the hero of American Independence, but Thomas Paine shares with him the honor. The sword of the one, and the pen of the other, were both necessary in the conflict which prepared the ground for building the Republic of the United States. While the farmer-general fought with unabated hope in the darkest hours of misfortune, the soldier-author wrote the stirring appeals which kindled and sustained enthusiasm in the sacred cause of liberty. Common Sense was the precursor of the Declaration of Independence. The Rights of Man, subsequently written and published in England, advocated the same principles where they were equally required. Replied to by Government in a prosecution for treason, it brought the author so near to the gallows that he was only saved by flight. Learning afterwards that 'The Rights of Man' can never be realized while the people are deluded and degraded by priestcraft and superstition, Paine attacked Christianity in 'The Age of Reason.' That vigorous, logical, and witty volume has converted thousands of Christians to Freethought. It was answered by bishops, denounced by the clergy, and prosecuted for blasphemy. But it was eagerly read in fields and workshops, brave men fought round it as a standard of freedom; and before the battle ended the face of society was changed. Thomas Paine was born at Thetford, in Norfolk, on January 29, 1736. His skepticism began at the early age of eight, when he was shocked by a sermon on the Atonement, which represented God as killing his own son when he could not revenge himself in any other way. Becoming acquainted with Dr. Franklin in London, Paine took his advice and emigrated to America in the autumn of 1774. A few months later his 'Common Sense' announced the advent of a masterly writer. More than a hundred thousand copies were sold, yet Paine lost money by the pamphlet, for he issued it, like all his other writings, at the lowest price that promised to cover expenses. Congress, in 1777, appointed him Secretary to the Committee for Foreign Affairs. Eight years later it granted him three thousand dollars on account of his early, unsolicited, and continued labors in explaining the principles of the late Revolution." In the same year the State of Pennsylvania presented him with 500 pounds and the State of New York gave him three hundred acres of valuable land. Returning to England in 1787, Paine devoted his abilities to engineering. He invented the arched iron bridge, and the first structure of that kind in the world, the cast-iron bridge over the Wear at Sunderland, was made from his model. Yet he appears to have derived no more profit from this than from his writings. Burke's 'Reflections' appeared in 1790. Paine lost no time in replying, and his 'Rights of Man' was sold by the hundred thousand. The Government tried to suppress the work by bribery; and that failing, a prosecution was begun. Paine's defence was conducted by Erskine, but the jury returned a verdict of Guilty "without the trouble of deliberation." The intended victim of despotism was, however, beyond its reach. He had been elected by the departments of Calais and Versailles to sit in the National Assembly. A splendid reception awaited him at Calais, and his journey to Paris was marked by popular demonstrations. At the trial of Louis XVI., he spoke and voted for banishment instead of execution. He was one of the Committee appointed to frame the Constitution of 1703, but in the close of that year, having become obnoxious to the Terrorists, be was deprived of his seat as "a foreigner," and imprisoned in the Luxembourg for no better reason. At the time of his arrest be had written the first part of 'The Age of Reason.' While in prison he composed the second part, and as he expected every day to be guillotined, it was penned in the very presence of Death. Liberated on the fall of Robespiere, Paine returned to America; not, however, without great difficulty, for the British cruisers were ordered to intercept him. From 1802 till his death he wrote and published many pamphlets on religious and other topics, including the third part of 'The Age of Reason.' His last years were full of pain, caused by an abscess in the side, which was brought on by his imprisonment in Paris. He expired, after intense suffering, on June 8, 1809, placidly and without a struggle. [Life of Thomas Paine. By Clio Hickman. 1819. p. 187] Paine's last hours were disturbed by pious visitors who wished to save his immortal soul from the wrath of God: -- One afternoon a very old lady, dressed in a large scarlet-hooded cloak, knocked at the door and inquired for Thomas Paine. Mr. Jarvis, with whom Mr, Paine resided, told her he was asleep. "I am very sorry," she said, "for that, for I want to see him particularly." Thinking it a pity to make an old woman call twice, Mr. Jarvis took her into Mr. Paine's bedroom and awoke him. He rose upon one elbow; then, with an expression of eye that made the old woman stagger back a step or two, he asked, "What do you want?" "Is your name Paine?" "Yes." "Well, then, I come from Almighty God to tell you, that if you do not repent of your sins, and believe in our blessed Savior Jesus Christ, you will be damned and --" "Poh, poh, it is not true; you were not sent with any such impertinent message: Jarvis make her go away -- pshaw! he would not send such a foolish old woman about his messages; go away, go back, shut the door." -- [Hickman, pp. 182-183.] Two weeks before his death, his conversion was attempted by two Christian ministers, the Rev. Mr. Milledollar and the Rev. Mr. Cunningham: -- The latter gentleman said, "Mr. Paine, we visit you as friends and neighbors; you have now a full view of death, you cannot live long, and whoever does not believe in Jesus Christ will assuredly be damned." "Let me," said Mr. Paine, "have none of your popish stuff; get away with you, good morning, good morning." The Rev. Mr. Milledollar attempted to address him, but he was interrupted in the same language. When they were gone he said to Mrs. Heddon, his housekeeper, "do not let them come here again; they intrude upon me." They soon renewed their visit, but Mrs. Hedden told them they could not be admitted, and that she thought the attempt useless, for if God did not change his mind, she was sure no human power could. [Rickman, p. 184] Another of these busybodies was the Rev. Mr. Hargrove, a Swedenborgian or New Jerusalemite minister. This gentleman told Paine that his sect had found the key for interpreting the Scriptures, which had been lost for four thousand years. "Then," said Paine, "it must have been very rusty." Even his medical attendant did not scruple to assist in this pious enterprise. Dr. Manley's letter to Cheetham, one of Paine's biographers, says that he visited the dying skeptic at midnight, June 5-6, two days before he expired. After tormenting him with many questions, to which he made no answer, Dr. Manley proceeded as follows: -- Mr. raine, you have not answered my questions; will you answer them? Allow me to ask again, do you believe, or -- let me qualify the question -- do you wish to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? After a pause of some minutes he answered, "I have no wish to believe on that subject." I then left him, and know not whether he afterwards spoke to any person on the subject. Sherwin confirms this statement. He prints a letter from Mr. Clark, who spoke to Dr. Manley on the subject. "I asked him plainly," said Mr. Clark, "Did Mr. Paine recant his religious sentiments? I would thank you for an explicit answer, sir. He said, "No, he did not." [Sherwin's Life of Paine, p. 225.] Mr. Willet Hicks, a Quaker gentleman who frequently called on Paine in his last illness, as a friend and not as a soul-snatcher, bears similar testimony. "In some serious conversation I had with him a short time before his death," declared Mr. Hicks, "he said his sentiments respecting the Christian religion were precisely the same as they were when he wrote 'The Age of Reason.'" [Cheetham's Life of Paine, p. 152.] Lastly, we have the testimony of Cheetham himself, who was compelled to apologize for libelling Paine during his life, and whose biography of the great skeptic is a continuous libel. Even Cheetham is bound to admit that Paine "died as he had lived, an enemy to the Christian religion." Notwithstanding this striking harmony of evidence as to Paine's dying in the principles of Freethought, the story of his "recantation " gradually developed, until at last it was told to the children in Sunday-schools, and even published by the Religious Tract Society. Nay, it is being circulated to this very day, as no less true than the Gospel itself, although it was triumphantly exposed by William Cobbett over a century ago. "This is not a question of religion," said Cobbett, "it is a question of moral truth. Whether Mr. Paine's opinions were correct or erroneous, has nothing to do with this matter." Cobbett investigated the libel on Paine on the very spot where it originated. Getting to the bottom of the matter, he found that the source of the mischief was Mary Hinsdale, who had formerly been a servant to Mr. Willet Hicks. This gentleman sent Paine many little delicacies in his last illness, and Mary Hinsdale conveyed them. According to her story, Paine made a recantation in her presence, and assured her that if ever the Devil had an agent on earth, he who wrote 'The Age of Reason' was undoubtedly that person. When she was hunted out by Cobbett, however, "she shuffled, she evaded, she affected not to understand," and finally said she had " no recollection of any person or thing she saw at Thomas Paine's house." Cobbett's summary of the whole matter commends itself to every sensible reader: -- This is, I think, a pretty good instance of the lengths to which hypocrisy will go. The whole story, as far as it related to recantation . . . is a lie from beginning to end. Mr. Paine declares in his last Will that he retains all his publicly expressed opinions as to religion. His executors, and many other gentlemen of undoubted veracity, had the same declaration from his dying lips. Mr. Willett Hicks visited him to nearly the last. This gentleman says that there was no change of opinion intimated to him; and will any man believe that Paine would have withheld from Mr. Hicks that which he was so forward to communicate to Mr. Hicks's servant girl? ['Republican,' February 13, 1824, Vol. IX., p. 221.] We have to remember that the first part of 'The Age of Reason' was entrusted to Joel Barlow, when Paine was imprisoned at Paris, and the second part was written in gaol in the very presence of Death. Dr. Bond, an English surgeon, who was by no means friendly to Paine's opinions, visited him in the Luxembourg, and gave the following testimony: -- Mr. Paine, while hourly expecting to die, read to me parts of his 'Age of Reason;' and every night when I left him to be separately locked up, and expected not to see him alive in the morning, he always expressed his firm belief in the principles of that book, and begged I would tell the world such were his dying opinions. [Rickman, p. 192] Surely when a work was written in such circumstances it is absurd to charge the author with recanting his opinions through fear of death. Citing once more the words of his enemy Cheetham, it is incontestible that Thomas Paine "died as he had lived, an enemy to the Christian religion." One of Paine's intimate friends, Colonel Fellows, was met by Walt Whitman, the American poet, soon after 1840 in New York. Whitman became well-acquainted with the Colonel, who was then about seventy-eight years of age, and described him as "a remarkably fine old man." From conversations with him, Whitman became convinced that Paine had been greatly calumniated. Thirty-five years later, addressing a meeting at Lincoln Hall, Philadelphia, on Sunday, January 28, 1887, the democratic poet said: "Thomas Paine had a noble personality, as exhibited in presence, face, voice, dress, manner, and what may be called his atmosphere and magnetism, especially the later years of his life. I am sure of it. Of the foul and foolish fictions yet told about the circumstances of his decease, the absolute fact is that as he lived a good life, after its kind, he died calmly and philosophically, as became him." [Walt Whitman, specimen Days in America (English edition), p. 150; Conway, 'The Life of Thomas Paine,' ii, 432] Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 INFIDEL DEATH-BEDS CHARLES ROBERT DARWIN. DARWIN, the great evolutionist, whose fame is as wide as civilization, was born at Shrewsbury in 1809. Intended for a clergyman, he became a naturalist; and although his bump of reverence was said to be large enough for ten priests, he passed by gentle stages into the most extreme skepticism. From the age of forty he was, to use his own words, a complete disbeliever in Christianity. Further reflection showed him that Nature bore no evidence of design, and the prevalence of struggle and suffering in the world compelled him to reject the doctrine of infinite benevolence. He professed himself an Agnostic, regarding the problem of the universe as beyond our solution, "For myself," he wrote, "I do not believe in any revelation. As for a future life, every man must judge for himself between conflicting vague probabilities." Robert Lewins, M.D., knew Darwin personally, and had discussed this question with him. Darwin was much less reticent to Lewins than he had shown himself in a letter to Haeckel. In answer to a direct question "as to the bearing of his researches on the existence of an anima, or soul in man, he distinctly stated that, in his opinion, a vital or spiritual principle, apart from inherent somatic (bodily) energy, had no more locus standi in the human than in the other races of the animal kingdom" ('What is Religion?' by Constance Naden, p. 52). Yet the Church buried him in Westminster Abbey "in the sure and certain hope of a glorious resurrection. Darwin died on April 19, 1882, in the plenitude of his fame, having outlived the opposition of ignorance and bigotry, and witnessed the triumph of his ideas. His last moments are described by his eldest son Francis: -- No special change occurred during the beginning of April, but on Saturday 15th he was seized with giddiness while sitting at dinner in the evening, and fainted in an attempt to reach his sofa. On the 17th he was again better, and in my temporary absence recorded for me the progress of an experiment in which I was engaged. During the night of April 18th, about a quarter to twelve, he had a severe attack and passed into a faint, from which he was brought back to consciousness with great difficulty. He seemed to recognize the approach of death, and said "I am not the least afraid to die." All the next morning he suffered from terrible nausea and faintness, and hardly rallied before the end came. No one in his senses would have supposed that he was "afraid to die," yet it is well to have the words recorded by the son who was present. In the second edition of 'Infidel Deathbeds' this notice ended with the words: "Pious ingenuity will be unable to traduce the deathbed of Charles Darwin." But "pious ingenuity" is not easily slain. Sir Francis Darwin as recently as January, 1916, had to refute a lying story about his father's agonizing deathbed, and the story cropped up again, with embellishments, in The Churchman's Magazine for March, 1925. ERASMUS DARWIN. ERASMUS DARWIN, the physician, and grandfather of the great Charles Darwin, was born on December 12, 1731. His death took place on April 10, 1802. While driving from patient to patient, Erasmus Darwin composed a lengthy Poem, in which he anticipated many of the ideas of modern evolution. His skepticism was strongly pronounced. He believed in God, but not in Christianity. Even the Unitarians were too orthodox for him; indeed, he called Unitarianism a feather-bed to catch a falling Christian. His death was singularly peaceful. "At about seven o'clock," said his grandson, "he was seized with a violent shivering fit, and went into the kitchen to warm himself; he retired to his study, lay on the sofa, became faint and cold, and was moved into an armchair, where, without pain or emotion of any kind, he expired a little before nine o'clock." ['Charles Darwin,' Life of Erasmus Darwin, p. 126] A few years before, writing to a friend, he said, When I think of dying it is always without pain or fear." Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201 SOME CHRISTIAN DEATH-BEDS. INTRODUCTORY NOTE:. In the fierce duels between Roman Catholics and Protestants we find in evidence the same mendacities as both have circulated in regard to Freethinkers. A pamphlet entitled 'The Dying Pillow,' compiled by the Rev. W. Wileman, which ran through twelve editions, presents a number of prominent Roman Catholics in the same category as Voltaire and other "infidels" in their "terror-stricken" anticipation of death. Roman Catholics retort by recounting the last Days of Luther and contrasting the death-bed of Mary Queen of Scots with Elizabeth's. Here the Christian is essentially true to his nature and his creed. He is "on the safe side," and craven timidity in the face of death is considered a necessary consequence of obstinate apostasy. BONIFACE VIII. (Pope). BENEDETTO GAETANO was born in 1235, and proclaimed Pope Boniface VIII. in 1294. He consistently used his office to enrich his nephew. Dante (Inferno) calls him the "Prince of the New Pharisees." L.C. Jane says that he aimed "to free the Church from all obligations to the State"; that ultimately he fell a victim to the hostility of a single Roman family, the Colonna; and that "his death in a frenzy of impotent rage and cursing marks the fall of the universal dominion of the Papacy." ('The Interpretation of History,' p. 103). He died in 1303, having for two days refused food, through fear of poison. His last days are described by Gregorovius as "beyond measure terrible." Feelings of fear, suspicion, revenge and loneliness tortured his spirit. It was reported that he shut himself up in his room, "beat his head in frenzy against the wall, and was at last found dead in his bed." ('Rome in the Middle, Ages,' V. 595.) LEO X. (POPE). GIOVANNI DE' MEDICI became Leo X. in 1513. He was a scholar and liberally supported poets and artists. He excommunicated Luther and conferred on our Henry VIII. the title "Defender of the Faith." He is reported to have exclaimed, "Quantas divitias nobis dedit haec de Christo, fabula! (What a lot of wealth this fable about Christ has brought us!). He certainly delighted in the things of sense, and to his contemporaries appeared one of the most magnificent of Popes. He died in 1521. According to one report he was poisoned; according to another he contracted a loathsome disease, a disease with which every "class, married or unmarried, clergy or laity," was then said to be infected. (J.W. Draper, 'Historry of the, Intellectual Development of Europe,' ii. 232). Gregorovius says: "An incurable malady, exile, imprisonment,enemies, a conspiracy of cardinals, wars, lastly the loss of all his nearest relations and friends darkened the joyous days of the Pope." Bank of Wisdom Box 926, Louisville, KY 40201


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank