"On the 11th day of October, in the year 1712, having left my body locked up safe in my study, I repaired to the Grecian coffee-house, where, entring into the pineal gland of a certain eminent Free-thinker, I made directly to the highest part of it, which is the seat of the Understanding, expecting to find there a comprehensive knowledge of all things human and divine; but, to my no small astonishment, I found the place narrower than ordinary, insomuch that there was not any room for a miracle, prophesie, or separate spirit."
— Berkeley, George (1685-1753)
No. 39. Saturday, April 25
... Aegri somnia.--HOR.
My correspondent, who has acquired the faculty of entring into other men's thoughts, having, in pursuance to a former letter, sent me an account of certain useful discoveries he has made by the help of that invention, I shall communicate the same to the publick in this paper.
On the 11th day of October, in the year 1712, having left my body locked up safe in my study, I repaired to the Grecian coffee-house, where, entring into the pineal gland of a certain eminent Free-thinker, I made directly to the highest part of it, which is the seat of the Understanding, expecting to find there a comprehensive knowledge of all things human and divine; but, to my no small astonishment, I found the place narrower than ordinary, insomuch that there was not any room for a miracle, prophesie, or separate spirit.
'This obliged me to descend a story lower, into the Imagination, which I found larger, indeed, but cold and comfortless. I discovered Prejudice in the figure of a woman standing in a corner, with her eyes close shut, and her fore-fingers stuck in her ears; many words in a confused order, but spoken with great emphasis, issued from her mouth. These being condensed by the coldness of the place, formed a sort of mist, through which methought I saw a great castle with a fortification cast round it, and a tower adjoining to it that through the windows appeared to be filled with racks and halters. Beneath the castle I could discern vast dungeons, and all about it lay scattered the bones of men. It seemed to be garrisoned by certain men in black, of gigantick size, and most terrifick forms. But, as I drew near, the terror of the appearance vanished, and the castle I found to be only a church, whose steeple with its clock and bell-ropes was mistaken for a tower filled with racks and halters. The terrible Giants in black shrunk into a few innocent clergymen. The dungeons were turned into vaults designed only for the habitation of the dead, and the fortification proved to be a churchyard, with some scattered bones in it, and a plain stone wall round it.
'I had not been long here before my curiosity was raised by a loud noise that I heard in the inferior region. Descending thither I found a mob of the passions assembled in a riotous manner. Their tumultuary proceedings soon convinced me, that they affected a democracy. After much noise and wrangle, they at length all hearkened to Vanity, who proposed the raising of a great army of notions, which she offered to lead against those dreadful phantomes in the imagination that had occasioned all this uproar.
'Away posted Vanity, and I after her, to the store-house of ideas; where I beheld a great number of lifeless notions confusedly thrown together, but upon the approach of Vanity they began to crawl. Here were to be seen, among other odd things, sleeping deities, corporeal spirits, and worlds formed by chance; with an endless variety of heathen notions, the most irregular and grotesque imaginable. And with these were jumbled several of Christian extraction; but such was the dress and light they were put in, and their features were so distorted, that they looked little better than heathens. There was likewise assembled no small number of phantomes in strange habits, who proved to be idolatrous priests of different nations. Vanity gave the word, and straightway the Talopoins, Faquirs, Bramines and Bonzes drew up in a body. The right wing consisted of ancient heathen notions, and the left of Christians naturalized. All these together, for numbers, composed a very formidable army; but the precipitation of Vanity was so great, and such was their own inbred aversion to the tyranny of rules and discipline, that they seemed rather a confused rabble than a regular army. I could, nevertheless, observe, that they all agreed in a squinting look, or cast of their eyes towards a certain person in a masque, who was placed in the center, and whom by sure signs and tokens I discovered to be Atheism.
'Vanity had no sooner led her forces into the Imagination, but she resolved upon storming the castle, and giving no quarter. They began the assault with a loud outcry and great confusion, I, for my part, made the best of my way and re-entered my own lodging. Some time after, inquiring at a bookseller's for A Discourse on Free-thinking, which had made some noise, I met with the representatives of all those notions drawn up in the same confused order upon paper. Sage Nestor, I am
'Your most obedient humble servant,
'N.B. I went round the table, but could not find a wit or mathematician among them.'
I imagine the account here given may be useful in directing to the proper cure of a Free-thinker. In the first place, it is plain his Understanding wants to be opened and enlarged, and he should be taught the way to order and methodize his ideas; to which end the study of the mathematicks may be useful. I am farther of opinion, that as his Imagination is filled with amusements, arising from prejudice, and the obscure or false lights in which he sees things, it will be necessary to bring him into good company, and now and then carry him to church; by which means he may in time come to a right sense of religion, and wear off the ill impressions he has received. Lastly, I advise whoever undertakes the reformation of a modern Free-thinker, that above all things he be careful to subdue his Vanity; that being the principal motive which prompts a little genius to distinguish itself by singularities that are hurtful to mankind.
Or, if the passion of Vanity, as it is for the most part very strong in your Free-thinkers, cannot be subdued, let it be won over to the interest of religion, by giving them to understand that the greatest Genii of the age have a respect for things sacred; that their rhapsodies find no admirers, and that the name Freethinker has, like Tyrant of old, degenerated from its original signification, and is now supposed to denote something contrary to wit and reason. In fine, let them know that whatever temptations a few men of parts might formerly have had, from the novelty of the thing, to oppose the received opinions of Christians, yet that now the humour is worn out, and blasphemy and irreligion are distinctions which have long since descended down to lackeys and drawers.
But it must be my business to prevent all pretenders in this kind from hurting the ignorant and unwary. In order to this, I communicated an intelligence which I received of a gentleman's appearing very sorry that he was not well during a late fit of sickness, contrary to his own doctrine, which obliged him to be merry upon that occasion, except he was sure of recovering. Upon this advice to the world, the following advertisement got a place in the Post-boy.
'WHEREAS in the paper called the Guardian, of Saturday the 11th of April instant, a corollary reflection was made on Monsieur D----, a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences in Paris, author of a book lately published, entituled, A Philological Essay, or Reflections on the death of Free-thinkers, with the characters of the most eminent persons of both sexes, ancient and modern, that died pleasantly and unconcerned, etc. Sold by J. Baker in Pater-noster-Row, suggesting as if that gentleman, now in London, "was very much out of humour, in a late fit of sickness, till he was in a fair way of recovery:" This is to assure the publick, that the said gentleman never expressed the least concern at the approach of death, but expected the fatal minute with a most heroical and philosophical resignation; of which a copy of verses he writ, in the serene intervals of his distemper, is an invincible proof.'
All that I contend for is, that this gentleman was out of humour when he was sick; and the advertiser, to confute me, says, that 'in the serene intervals of his distemper,' that is, when he was not sick, he writ verses. I shall not retract my advertisement till I see those verses; and I'll chuse what to believe then, except they are under-written by his nurse, nor then neither, except she is an house-keeper. I must tie this gentleman close to the argument; for, if he had not actually his fit upon him, there is nothing courageous in the thing, nor does it make for his purpose, nor are they heroick verses.
The point of being merry at the hour of death is a matter that ought to be settled by divines; but the publisher of the Philological Essay produces his chief authorities from Lucretius, the earl of Rochester, and Mr. John Dryden, who were gentlemen that did not think themselves obliged to prove all they said, or else proved their assertions, by saying or swearing they were all fools that believed to the contrary. If it be absolutely necessary that a man should be facetious at his death, it would be very well if these gentlemen, Monsieur D and Mr. B----, would repent betimes, and not trust to a death-bed ingenuity; by what has appeared hitherto, they have only raised our longing to see their posthumous works.
The author of Poetae Rusticantis Literatum Otium is but a meer phraseologist; the philological publisher is but a translator; but I expected better usage from Mr. Abel Roper who is an original.
(Vol. 7, p. 188-92)
See also John Calhoun Stephens, ed., The Guardian (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1982).