Life of Thomas Paine
Thomas Clio Rickman
Life and Writings of Thomas Paine
edited and annotated by
Daniel Edwin Wheeler
Vincent Parke and Company
Life of Thomas Paine
Thomas Clio Rickman
Electronic Conversion by Cliff Walker, 1998
Small Caps are set in Bold
Preface to Rickman's "Life"
The two following letters are explanatory of the reasons why the publication of the life of Mr. Paine has been so long delayed, and are so well calculated to excite the candor of the reader toward the work, that no apology is offered for making them a part of the preface.
"To the Editor of the Universal Magazine:
"On Mr. Clio Rickman's Supposed Undertaking of the 'Life of Thomas Paine'
"Sir: The public has been, within the last year or two, led to expect a Life of the celebrated Thomas Paine, from the pen of Mr. Clio Rickman, well known, on various accounts, to be more thoroughly qualified for that task than any other person in this country.
"This information, however, I repeat as I received it, uncertain whether it came abroad in any authenticated shape; and can only add, that no doubt need be entertained of sufficient attention from the public in times like the present, to a well-written life of that extraordinary character, whose principles and precepts are at this moment in full operation over the largest and richest portion of the habitable globe, and which in regular process of time may, from the efficacious influence of the glorious principles of freedom, become the grand theater of civilization.
"I have often desired to make a communication of this kind to your magazine, but am particularly impelled thereto at this moment, from observing in some periodical publications devoted to political and religious bigotry, a sample of their usual sophistical accounts of the last moments of men who have been in life eminent for the independence and freedom of their opinions; but the whole that the bigot to whom I allude has been able to effect in the case of Mr. Paine, amounts to an acknowledgment that the philosopher died steadfast to those opinions of religion in which he had lived; and the disappointment is plain enough to be seen, that similar forgeries could not, with any prospect of success, be circulated concerning Paine's tergiversation and death-bed conversion, which were so greedily swallowed for a length of time by the gulls of fanaticism respecting Voltaire, D'Alembert, and others, until the Monthly Review, in the real spirit of philosophy, dispelled the imposition.
"The late 'Life of Thomas Paine' by Cheetham of New York, gave rise to the above magazine article. Cheetham, humph! Now should it not rather be spelled Cheat'em, as applicable to every reader of that farrago of imposition and malignity, miscalled the 'Life of Paine'?
"Probably it may be but a traveling name in order to set another book a-traveling, for the purpose of scandalizing and maligning the reputation of a defunct public man, instead of the far more difficult task of confuting his principles.
"Nothing can be more in course than this conjecture, authorized indeed by the following fact, with which I believe the public is, to this day, unacquainted; namely, that Mr. Chalmers publicly at a dinner acknowledged himself the author of that very silly and insipid catchpenny, formerly sent abroad under the misnomer of a 'Life of Thomas Paine, by F. Oldys, of America.'
"The chief view of this application is to ascertain whether or not Mr. Rickman really intends to undertake the work in question.
"I am, Sir, etc., etc.
Universal Magazine, December, 1811.
"Mr. Clio Rickman's Reply to Politicos
"Sir: If you had done me the favor of a call, I would readily have satisfied all your inquiries about the 'Life of Mr. Paine.'
"It is true I had the memoirs of that truly wise and good man in a great state of forwardness about a year ago; but a series of the most severe and dreadful family distresses since that time have rendered me incapable of completing them.
"Though an entire stranger to me (for I have not the least idea from whom the letter I am replying to came), I feel obliged to you for the liberal opinion therein expressed of me and of my fitness for the work.
"I have taken great pains that the life of my friend should be given to the world as the subject merits; and a few weeks, whenever I can sit down to it, will complete it.
"Unhappily, Cheetham is the real name of a real apostate. He lived, when Mr. Paine was my inmate in 1792, at Manchester, and was a violent and furious idolater of his.
"That Mr. Paine died in the full conviction of the truth of the principles he held when living I shall fully prove, and should have answered the contemptible trash about his death, so industriously circulated, but that the whole account exhibited on the face of it fanatical fraud; and it was pushed forward in a mode and manner so ridiculous and glaringly absurd, as to carry with it its own antidote.
"Such Christians would be much better employed in mending their own lives, and showing in them an example of good manners and morals, than in calumniating the characters and in detailing silly stories of the deaths of those Deists who have infinitely outstripped them, in their journey through life, in every talent and virtue, and in diffusing information and happiness among their fellowmen.
"I again beg the favor of a call, as the circumstances attached to the query of yours, and the delays and hindrances, which are of a family and distressing nature, to the publication of Mr. Paine's life, are better adapted for private than for public discussion.
"I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
It may not be necessary for me to promise anything further than to say, that I affect not to rank with literary men, nor, as they rise, do I wish it; that authorship is neither my profession nor pursuit; and that, except in an undeviating attention to truth, and a better acquaintance with Mr. Paine and his life than any other man, I am perhaps the most unfit to arrange it for the public eye.
What I have hitherto written and published has arisen out of the moment, has been composed on the spur of the occasion, inspired by the scenery and circumstances around me, and produced abroad and at home, amid innumerable vicissitudes, the hurry of travel, business, pleasure, and during a life singularly active, eventful and checkered.
Latterly, too, that life has been begloomed by a train of ills which have trodden on each other's heel, and which, added to the loss of my inspirer, my guide, my genius, and my muse; of her, the most highly qualified and best able to assist me, have rendered the work peculiarly irksome and oppressive.
In the year 1802, on my journey from France, I had the misfortune to lose my desk of papers -- a loss I have never lamented more than on the present occasion. Among these were Mr. Paine's letters to me, particularly those from France in the most interesting years to Europe, 1792, 1793. Not a scrap of these, together with some of his poetry, could I ever recover. By this misfortune the reader will lose much entertaining and valuable matter.
These memoirs  have remained untouched from 1811 till now, and have not received any addition of biographical matter since. They were written by that part of my family who were at hand, as I dictated them; by those loved beings of whom death has deprived me, and from whom other severe ills have separated me. The manuscript, on these and many other accounts, awakens "busy meddling memory," and tortures me with painful remembrances; and save that it is a duty I owe to the public and to the memory and character of a valued friend, I should not have set about its arrangement.
My heart is not in it. There are literary productions, which, like some children, though disagreeable to everybody else, are still favorites with the parent: this offspring of mine is not of this sort, it hath no such affection.
Thus surrounded, and every way broken in upon by the most painful and harassing circumstances, I claim the reader's candor; and I now literally force myself to the publication of Mr. Paine's Life, lest it should again be improperly done, or not be done at all, and the knowledge of so great and good a man be thereby lost to the world.
The engraving of Mr. Paine, prefixed to this work, is the only true likeness of him; it is from his portrait by Romney, and is perhaps the greatest likeness ever taken by any painter: to that eminent artist I introduced him in 1792, and it was by my earnest persuasion that he sat to him.
Mr. Paine in his person was about five feet ten inches high; and rather athletic; he was broad-shouldered, and latterly stooped a little.
His eye, of which the painter could not convey the exquisite meaning, was full, brilliant, and singularly piercing; it had in it the "muse of fire." In his dress and person he was generally very cleanly, and wore his hair cued, with side curls, and powdered, so that he looked altogether like a gentleman of the old French school.
His manners were easy and gracious; his knowledge was universal and boundless; in private company and among friends his conversation had every fascination that anecdote, novelty and truth could give it. In mixed company and among strangers he said little, and was no public speaker.
Thus much is said of him in general, and in this place, that the reader may the better bear us company in his Life.
Life of Thomas Paine
by Thomas Clio Rickman
The following memoirs of Mr. Paine, if they have no other merit, at least have that of being true.
Europe and America have for years been in possession of his works: these form the most important part of his life, and these are publicly sold and generally read; nor will the spirit of inquiry and sound reasoning, which the publication of them is so well calculated to promote, be long confined to any part of the world; for, to use his own words, "An army of principles will penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot. It will succeed where diplomatic management would fail. It is neither the Rhine, the Channel, nor the Ocean, that can arrest its progress. It will march on the horizon of the world, and it will conquer."
"What manner of man" Mr. Paine was, his works will best exhibit, and from these his public, and much of his private character, will be best ascertained. But, as solicitude about the life of a great man and an extraordinary writer is common to all, it is here attempted to be gratified.
The Life of Mr. Paine by Francis Oldys was written seventeen years before Mr. Paine's death; and was in fact, drawn up by a person employed by a certain lord, and who was to have five hundred pounds for the job, if he calumniated and belied him to his lordship's and the Ministry's satisfaction.
A continuation of this Life, printed at Philadelphia in 1796, is in the same strain as the above, and equally contemptible.
A most vile and scandalous memoir of Paine, with the name of William Cobbett as the author, though we hope he was not so, appeared in London about the year 1795 with this motto:
|A life that's one continued scene
Of all that's infamous and mean.
Mr. James Cheetham's Life of Mr. Paine, published at New York after Mr. Paine's death in 1809, is a farrago of still more silly, trifling, false and malicious matter. It is an outrageous attack upon Paine which bears upon the face of it, idle gossiping and gross misrepresentation.
The critique of this Life, in the British Review for June, 1811, consists of more corrupt trash about Mr. Paine than even Cheetham's book and is in its style inflated and bombastic to a laughable excess. Whence this came, and for what purpose published, the candid will readily discern and cannot but lament the too frequent abuse, both by the tongue and by the pen, of characters entirely unknown to those who libel them, and by whom, if they were known, they would be approved and esteemed.
Indeed the whole of these works are so ridiculously overstrained in their abuse that they carry their own antidote with them.
The Life by Cheetham is so palpably written to distort, disfigure, mislead, and vilify, and does this so bunglingly, that it defeats its own purposes, and becomes entertaining from the excess of its labored and studied defamation.
It is indeed "guilt's blunder," and subverts all it was intended to accomplish. It is filled with long details of uninteresting American matter, bickering letters of obscure individuals, gossiping stories of vulgar fanatics, prejudiced political cant and weak observations on theology.
It may be supposed, from my long and affectionate intercourse with Mr. Paine, that these memoirs will have an opposite bias, and portray a too flattering and exalted character of him.
To this I reply, that I am not disposed to advocate the errors or irregularities of any man, however intimate with him, nor to suffer the partialities of friendship to prevent the due appreciation of character, or induce me to disregard the hallowed dictates of truth.
Paine was of those --
|Who, wise by centuries before the crowd,
Must by their novel systems, though correct,
Of course offend the wicked, weak and proud --
Must meet with hatred, calumny, neglect.
In his retirement to America, toward the close of his life, Mr. Paine was particularly unfortunate; for, as the author of the "Age of Reason," he could not have gone to so unfavorable a quarter of the world.
A country abounding in fanatics, could not be a proper one for him whose mind was bold, inquiring, liberal and soaring, free from prejudice, and who from the principle was a Deist.
Of all wrath, fanatical wrath is the most intense, nor can it be a matter of surprise that Mr. Paine received from great numbers in America, an unwelcome reception, and was treated with neglect and illiberality.
It is true on his return to that country in 1802, he received great attention from many of those who remembered the mighty influence of his writings in the gloomy period of the Revolution; and from others who had since embraced his principles; but these attentions were by many not long continued.
Thousands, who had formerly looked up to Mr. Paine as the principal founder of the Republic, had imbibed a strong dislike to him on account of his religious principles; and thousands more, who were opposed to his political principles, seized hold of the mean and dastardly expedient of attacking those principles through the religious feelings and prejudices of the people. The vilest calumnies were constantly vented against him in the public papers, and the weak-minded were afraid to encounter the popular prejudice.
The letter he wrote to General Washington also estranged him from many of his old friends, and has been to his adversaries a fruitful theme of virulent accusation, and a foundation on which to erect a charge of ingratitude and intemperance. It must certainly be confessed that his naturally warm feelings, which could ill brook any slight, particularly where he was conscious he so little deserved it, appear to have led him to form a somewhat precipitate judgment of the conduct of the American President, with regard to his (Mr. Paine's) imprisonment in France, and to attribute to design and wilful neglect what was probably only the result of inattention or perhaps of misinformation; and under the influence of this incorrect impression he seems to have indulged, rather too hastily, suspicions of Washington's political conduct with respect to England.
But surely some little allowance should be made for the circumstances under which he wrote; just escaped from the horrors of a prison where he had been for several months confined under the sanguinary reign of Robespierre, when death strode incessantly through its cells, and the guillotine floated in the blood of its wretched inhabitants; and if, with the recollection of these scenes of terror fresh in his memory, and impressed with the idea that it was by Washington's neglect that his life had been thus endangered, he may have been betrayed into a style of severity which was perhaps not quite warranted, we can only lament, without attaching blame to either, that anything jarring should have occurred between two men who were both stanch supporters of the cause of freedom, and thus have given the enemies of liberty occasion to triumph because its advocates were not more than mortal.
The dark and troublous years of the Revolution having passed away, and a government being firmly established, wealth possessed more influence than patriotism; and, a large portion of the people consisting of dissenters, fanaticism was more predominant than toleration, candor and charity.
These causes produced the shameful and ungrateful neglect of Mr. Paine in the evening of his days, of that Paine who by his long, faithful, and disinterested services in the Revolution, and afterwards by inculcating and enforcing correct principles, deserved, above all other men, the most kind and unremitting attention from, and to be held in the highest estimation by, the American people.
There were indeed a chosen and enlightened few, who, like himself "bold enough to be honest and honest enough to be bold," feeling his value, continued to be his friends to his last hour.
Paine was not one of the great men who live amid great events, and forward and share their splendor; he created them; and, in this point of view, he was a very superior character to Washington.
Mr. Paine having ever in his mind the services he had rendered the United States, of whose independence he was the principal author and means, it cannot be a matter of wonder that he was deeply hurt and affected at not being recognized and treated by the Americans as he deserved, and as his labors for their benefit merited.
Shunned where he ought to have been caressed, coldly neglected where he ought to have been cherished, thrown into the background where he ought to have been prominent, and cruelly treated and calumniated by a host of ignorant and canting fanatics, it cannot be a subject of surprise, though it certainly must of regret, that he sometimes, toward the close of his life, fell into the too frequent indulgence of stimulants, neglected his appearance, and retired, mortified and disgusted, from an ill-judging, unkind, unjust world, into obscurity, and the association of characters in an inferior social position.
In this place it is absolutely necessary to observe that during his residence with me in London, in and about the year 1792, and in the course of his life previous to that time, he was not in the habit of drinking to excess; he was clean in his person, and in his manners polite and engaging; and ten years after this, when I was with him in France, he did not drink spirits, and wine he took moderately; he even objected to any spirits being laid in as a part of his sea stock, observing to me, that though sometimes, borne down by public and private affliction, he had been driven to excesses in Paris, the cause and effect would cease together, and that in America he should live as he liked, and as he ought to live.
That Mr. Paine had his failings is as true as that he was a man, and that some of them grew on him at a very advanced time of life, arising from the circumstances before detailed, there can be no doubt: but to magnify these, to give him vices he had not, and seek only occasions of misrepresenting and vilifying his character, without bringing forward the great and good traits in it, is cruel, unkind, and unjust.
"Let those who stand take heed lest they fall." They too, when age debilitates the body and mind, and unexpected trials and grievances assail them, may fall into errors that they now vauntingly value themselves in not having. Singularly blest are they who are correct in their conduct; they should be happy and thankful that they are so; and instead of calumniating and being hard upon, should compassionate those who are not.
The throwers of the first stone would indeed be few if the condition were complied with on which it should be cast. That Mr. Paine in his declining years became careless of his personal appearance, and maybe, somewhat parsimonious, is in some measure true; but, to these errors of his old age, we ought to oppose his being the principal agent in creating the government of the American States; and that through his efforts millions have now the happiness of sitting at ease under their own vines and their own fig trees; his fair and upright conduct through life, his honest perseverance in principles which he might have had immense sums for relinquishing, or for being silent about, his never writing for money or making his works matter of pecuniary advantage to himself, but, on the contrary, as will be exemplified in these memoirs, his firmness in resisting all such emolument and in not listening to the voice of the briber.
Even amidst the violent party abuse of the day there were contemporary writers who knew how to appreciate Mr. Paine's talents and principles, and to speak of him as he deserved.*
There were also public meetings held, and addresses to him from Nottingham, Norwich, etc., etc., from the Constitutional Society in London, to which belonged persons of great affluence and influence, and some of the best informed, best intentioned, and most exalted characters. From these and from many other bodies of men were published the highest testimonies of thanks and approbation of Mr. Paine and his political works. These addresses and the resolutions of the public meetings may be seen in the papers and hand bills of the day.
"We are now," says one of these, "to treat of a real great man, a noble of nature, one whose mind is enlarged and wholly free from prejudice; one who has most usefully and honorably devoted his pen to support the glorious cause of general liberty and the rights of man. In his reply to Mr. Burke's miserable rhapsody in favor of oppression, popery, and tyranny, he has urged the most lucid arguments, and brought forward truths the most convincing. Like a powerful magician he touches with his wand the hills of error and they smoke; the mountains of inhumanity and they melt away."
"Had Thomas Paine," says another most enlightened writer in 1795, in reply to Cheetham, Cobbett, Oldys, etc., "been nothing superior to a vagabond seaman, a bankrupt stay-maker, a discarded exciseman, a porter in the streets of Philadelphia, or whatever else the insanity of Grub Street chooses to call him, hundreds of thousands of copies of his writing had never announced his name in every village on the globe where the English language is spoken, and very extensively where it is not; nor would the rays of royal indignation have illuminated that character which they cannot scorch."
Even Mr. Burke, writing on one of Mr. Paine's works, "Common Sense," says, "that celebrated pamphlet, which prepared the minds of the people for independence."
It has been a fashion among the enemies of Mr. Paine, when unable to cope with his arguments, to attack his style, which they charge with inaccuracy and want of elegance; and some, even of those most friendly to his principles have joined in this captious criticism. It had not, perhaps, all the meretricious ornaments and studied graces that glitter in the pages of Burke, which would have been so many obscurities in the eyes of that part of the community for whose perusal his writings were principally intended, but it is singularly nervous and pointed; his arguments are always forcibly stated, nor does a languid line ever weary the attention of the reader. It is true, he never studied variety of phrase at the expense of perspicuity. His object was to enlighten, not to dazzle; and often, for the sake of more forcibly impressing an idea on the mind of the reader, he has made use of verbal repetitions which to a fastidious ear may perhaps sound unmusical. But although, in the opinion of some, his pages may be deficient in elegance, few will deny that they are copious in matter; and, if they sometimes fail to tickle the ear, they will never fail to fill the mind.
Distinctness and arrangement are the peculiar characteristics of his writings: this reflection brings to mind an observation once made to him by an American girl, "that his head was like an orange -- it had a separate apartment for everything it contained."
Notwithstanding this general character of his writings, the bold and original style of thinking which everywhere pervades them often displays itself in a luxuriance of imagery, and a poetic elevation of fancy, which stand unrivaled in the pages of our English classics.
Thomas Paine was born at Thetford in the County of Norfolk in England, on the twenty-ninth of January, 1736. His father, Joseph Paine, who was the son of a reputable farmer, followed the trade of a stay-maker, and was by religious profession a Quaker. His mother's maiden name was Frances Cocke, a member of the Church of England, and daughter of an attorney at Thetford.
They were married at the parish church of Euston, near Thetford, the twentieth of June, 1734.
His father, by this marriage out of the Society of Quakers, was disowned by that community.
Mr. Paine received his education at the grammar school at Thetford, under the Rev. William Knowles, master; and one of his schoolmates at that time was the late Counsellor Mingay.
He gave very early indication of talents and strong abilities, and addicted himself when a mere boy, to reading poetical authors; but this disposition his parents endeavored to discourage.
When a child he composed some lines on a fly being caught in a spider's web, and produced when eight years of age, the following epitaph on a crow which he buried in the garden:
|Here lies the body of John Crow,
Who once was high but now is low:
Ye brother Crows take warning all,
For as you rise, so must you fall.
At this school his studies were directed merely to the useful branches of reading, writing, and arithmetic, and he left it at thirteen years of age, applying, though he did not like it, to his father's business for nearly five years.
In the year 1756, when about twenty years of age, he went to London, where he worked some time in Hanover Street, Long Acre, with Mr. Morris, a noted stay-maker.
He continued but a short time in London, and it is probable about this time made his seafaring adventure of which he thus speaks: "At an early age, raw and adventurous, and heated with the false heroism of a master [Rev. Mr. Knowles, master of the grammar school at Thetford] who had served in a man-of-war, I began my fortune, and entered on board the Terrible, Captain Death. From this adventure I was happily prevented by the affectionate and moral remonstrances of a good father, who from the habits of his life, being of the Quaker profession, looked on me as lost; but the impression, much as it affected me at the time, wore away, and I entered afterwards in the King of Prussia privateer, Captain Mendez, and went with her to sea."
This way of life Mr. Paine soon left, and about the year 1758, worked at his trade for near twelve months at Dover. In April, 1759, he settled as a master stay-maker at Sandwich, and the twenty-seventh of September following married Mary Lambert, the daughter of an exciseman of that place In April, 1760, he removed with his wife to Margate, where she died shortly after, and he again mingled with the crowds of London.
In July, 1761, disgusted with the toil and little gain of his late occupation, he renounced it for ever, and determined to apply himself to the profession of an exciseman, toward which, as his wife's father was of that calling, he had some time turned his thoughts.
At this period he sought shelter under his father's roof at Thetford, that he might prosecute, in quiet and retirement, the object of his future course. Through the interest of Mr. Cocksedge, the recorder of Thetford, after fourteen months of study, he was established as a supernumerary in the excise, at the age of twenty-five.
In this situation at Grantham and Alford, etc., he did not continue more than two or three years, when he relinquished it in August, 1765, and commenced it again in July, 1766.
In this interval he was teacher at Mr. Noble's academy in Leman Street, Goodman's Fields, at a salary of twenty-five pounds a year. In a similar occupation he afterwards lived for a short time, at Kensington, with a Mr. Gardner.
I remember when once speaking of the improvement he gained in the above capacities and some other lowly situations he had been in, he made this observation. "Here I derived considerable information; indeed I have seldom passed five minutes of my life, however circumstanced, in which I did not acquire some knowledge."
During this residence in London, Mr. Paine attended the philosophical lectures of Martin and Ferguson, and became acquainted with Dr. Bevis of the Temple, a great astronomer. In these studies and in the mathematics he soon became a proficient.
In March, 1768, he was settled as an exciseman at Lewes, in Sussex, and there, on the twenty-sixth of March, 1771, married Elizabeth Olive, shortly after the death of her father, whose trade of a tobacconist he entered into and carried on.
In this place he lived several years in habits of intimacy with a very respectable, sensible, and convivial set of acquaintance, who were entertained with his witty sallies, and informed by his more serious conversations.
In politics he was at this time a Whig, and notorious for that quality which has been defined perseverance in a good cause and obstinacy in a bad one. He was tenacious of his opinions, which were bold, acute, and independent, and which he maintained with ardor, elegance, and argument.
At this period, at Lewes, the White Hart Evening Club was the resort of a social and intelligent circle who, out of fun, seeing that disputes often ran very warm and high, frequently had what they called the "Headstrong Book." This was no other than an old Greek Homer which was sent the morning after a debate vehemently maintained, to the most obstinate haranguer of the club: this book had the following title, as implying that Mr. Paine the best deserved and most frequently obtained it.
ORIGINAL BOOK OF OBSTINACY,
**** ****, OF LEWES, IN SUSSEX,
AND REVISED AND CORRECTED BY
Eulogy on Paine.
Immortal Paine, while mighty reasoners jar,
We crown thee General of the Headstrong War;
Thy logic vanish'd error, and thy mind
No bounds, but those of right and truth, confined.
Thy soul of fire must sure ascend the sky,
Immortal Paine, thy fame can never die;
For men like thee their names must ever save
From the black edicts of the tyrant grave.
My friend Mr. Lee, of Lewes, in communicating this to me in September, 1810, said: "This was manufactured nearly forty years ago, as applicable to Mr. Paine, and I believe you will allow, however indifferent the manner, that I did not very erroneously anticipate his future celebrity."
During his residence at Lewes, he wrote several excellent little pieces in prose and verse, and among the rest the celebrated song on the death of General Wolfe, beginning
|In a mouldering cave where the wretched retreat.|
It was about this time he wrote " The Trial of Farmer Carter's Dog Porter," in the manner of a drama, a work of exquisite wit and humor.
In 1772 the excise officers throughout the kingdom formed a design of applying to Parliament for some addition to their salaries. Upon this occasion Mr. Paine, who, by this time, was distinguished among them as a man of talent, was fixed upon as a fit person, and solicited to draw up their case, and this he did in a very succinct and masterly manner. This case makes an octavo pamphlet, and four thousand copies were printed by Mr. William Lee, of Lewes. It is entitled "The Case of the Salary of the Officers of Excise, and Thoughts on the Corruption Arising from the Poverty of Excise Officers." No application, however, notwithstanding this effort, was made to Parliament.
In April, 1774, the goods of his shop were sold to pay his debts. As a grocer, he trafficked in excisable articles, and being suspected of unfair practices, was dismissed the excise after being in it twelve years. Whether this reason was a just one or not never was ascertained; it was, however, the ostensible one. Mr. Paine might perhaps have been in the habit of smuggling, in common with his neighbors. It was the universal custom along the coast, and more or less the practise of all ranks of people, from lords and ladies, ministers and magistrates, down to the cottager and laborer.
As Mr. Paine's being dismissed the excise has been a favorite theme with his abusers it may be necessary here to relate the following fact:
At the time he was an exciseman at Lewes, he was so approved for doing his duty that Mr. Jenner, principal clerk in the excise office, London, had several times occasion to write letters from the Board of Excise, thanking Mr. Paine for his assiduity in his profession, and for his information and calculations forwarded to the office.
In May following Mr. Paine and his wife separated by mutual agreement, articles of which were finally settled on the fourth of June. Which of them was in this instance wrong, or whether either of them was so, must be left undetermined, as on this subject no knowledge or judgment can be formed. They are now both removed, where, as we are told, none "are either married or given in marriage," and where, consequently, there can be no disagreements on this score. This I can assert, that Mr. Paine always spoke tenderly and respectfully of his wife, and several times sent her pecuniary aid, without her knowing even whence it came.
Toward the end of the year 1774, he was strongly recommended to the great and good Dr. Franklin, "the favor of whose friendship," he says, "I possessed in England and my introduction to this part of the world [America] was through his patronage."*
Crisis, No. 3.
Mr. Paine now formed the resolution of quitting his native country, and soon crossed the Atlantic; and, as he himself relates, arrived in Philadelphia in the winter, a few months before the battle of Lexington, which was fought in April, 1775.
It appears that his first employment in the new world was with Mr. Aitken, a book-seller, as editor of the Pennsylvanian Magazine; and his introduction to that work, dated January 24, 1775, is thus concluded: "Thus encompassed with difficulties, this first number of the Pennsylvanian Magazine entreats a favorable reception, of which we shall only say, that like the early snow-drop it comes forth in a barren season, and contents itself with foretelling the reader that choicer flowers are preparing to appear."
Soon after his return [sic] to America, as foreign supplies of gunpowder were stopped, he turned his attention to chemistry, and set his fertile talents to work in endeavoring to discover some cheap and expeditious method of furnishing Congress with saltpeter, and he proposed, in the Pennsylvanian Journal, November 2, 1775, the plan of a saltpeter association for voluntarily supplying the national magazines with gunpowder.
His popularity in America now increased daily, and from this era he became a great public character and an object of interest and attention in the world. In 1776, on the tenth of January, he published the celebrated and powerfully discriminating pamphlet, "Common Sense." Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be paid to this work is the effect it so rapidly had on the people, who had before no predisposition toward its principles.
Even Mr. Cheetham, whom no one will suspect of flattering Mr. Paine, thus forcibly describes the effects of "Common Sense" on the people of America:
"This pamphlet of forty octavo pages, holding out relief by proposing independence to an oppressed and despairing people, was published in January, 1776, speaking a language which the colonists had felt, but not thought of. Its popularity, terrible in its consequences to the parent country, was unexampled in the history of the press. At first involving the colonists, it was thought, in the crime of rebellion, and pointing to a road leading inevitably to ruin, it was read with indignation and alarm, but when the reader, (and everybody read it), recovering from the first shock, re-perused it, its arguments nourishing his feelings, and appealing to his pride, reanimated his hopes and satisfied his understanding, that 'Common Sense,' backed up by the resources and force of the colonies, poor and feeble as they were, could alone rescue them from the unqualified oppression with which they were threatened. The unknown author, in the moments of enthusiasm which succeeded, was an angel sent from heaven to save from all the horrors of slavery by his timely, powerful and unerring councils, a faithful but abused, a brave but misrepresented people."
"Common Sense," it appears, was universally read and approved; the first edition sold almost immediately, and the second with very large additions was before the public soon after.
Owing to this disinterested conduct of Mr. Paine, it appears that though the sale of "Common Sense" was so great, he was in debt to the printer £29 12s 1d. This liberality and conscientious discharge of his duty with respect to his serviceable writings, as he called them, he adopted through life. "When I bring out my poetical and anecdotical works," he would often say to me, "which will be little better than amusing, I shall sell them; but I must have no gain in view, must make no traffic of my political and theological writings. They are with me a matter of principle and not a matter of money; I cannot desire to derive benefit from them or make them the subject to attain it."
In the course of this year, 1776, Mr. Paine accompanied the army with General Washington, and was with him in his retreat from the Hudson River to the Delaware. At this period our author stood undismayed, amid a flying Congress, and the general terror of the land. The Americans, he loudly asserted, were in possession of resources sufficient to authorize hope, and he labored to inspire others with the same sentiments which animated himself. To effect this, on the nineteenth of December he published "The Crisis," wherein, with a masterly hand, he stated every reason for hope, and examined all the motives for apprehension. This work he continued at various intervals, till the Revolution was established. The last number appeared on the nineteenth of April, 1783, the same day a cessation of hostilities was proclaimed.
In 1777, Congress unanimously, and unknown to Mr. Paine, appointed him Secretary in the Foreign Department, and from this time a close friendship continued between him and Dr. Franklin. From his office went all letters that were officially written by Congress, and the correspondence of Congress rested afterwards in his hands. This appointment gave Mr. Paine an opportunity of seeing into foreign courts, and their manner of doing business and conducting themselves. In this office, which obliged him to reside with Congress wherever it fled, or however it was situated, Mr. Paine deserved the highest praise for the clearness, firmness and magnanimity of his conduct. His uprightness and entire fitness for this office did not, however, prevent intrigue and interestedness, or defeat cabal; for a difference being fomented between Congress and him, respecting one of their commissioners then in Europe (Mr. Silas Deane), he resigned his secretaryship on the eighth of January, 1779, and declined, at the same time, the pecuniary offers made him by the ministers of France and Spain, M. Gérard and Don Juan Mirralles.
This resignation of, or dismissal from his situation as Secretary for Foreign Affairs, has been so variously mentioned and argued upon, that the reader is referred to the tedious detail of it in the journals of the day, if he has patience to wade through so much American temporary and party political gossip. Mr. Paine's own account in his letter to Congress shortly is, "I prevented Deane's fraudulent demand being paid, and so far the country is obliged to me, but I became the victim of my integrity."
The party junto against him say he was guilty of a violation of his official duty, etc.
And here I shall leave it, as the bickerings of parties in America, in the year 1779, cannot be worth a European's attention; and as to the Americans themselves they have various means, by their legislatural records, registers of the day, and pamphlets, then and since, to go into the subject if they think it of importance enough.
About this time Mr. Paine had the degree of Master of Arts conferred on him by the University of Philadelphia, and in 1780 was chosen a member of the American Philosophical Society, when it was revived by the Legislature of the Province of Pennsylvania.
In February, 1781, Colonel Laurens, amidst the financial distress of America, was sent on mission to France in order to obtain a loan, and Mr. Paine, at the solicitation of the Colonel, accompanied him.
Mr. Paine, in his letter to Congress, intimates that this mission originated with himself, and takes upon himself the credit of it.
They arrived in France the following month, obtained a loan of ten millions of livres and a present of six millions, and landed in America the succeeding August with two millions and a half in silver. His value, his firmness, his independence, as a political character, were now universally acknowledged; his great talents, and the high purposes to which he devoted them, made him generally sought after and looked up to, and General Washington was foremost to express the great sense he had of the excellence of his character and the importance of his services, and would himself have proposed to Congress a great remuneration of them, had not Mr. Paine positively objected to it as a bad precedent and an improper mode.
In August, 1782, he published his spirited letter to the Abbé Raynal; of this letter a very sensible writer observes, "that it displays an accuracy of judgment and strength of penetration that would do honor to the most enlightened philosopher. It exhibits proofs of knowledge so comprehensive, and discrimination so acute, as must in the opinion of the best judges place the author in the highest ranks of literature."
On the twenty-ninth of October he brought out his excellent letter to the Earl of Shelburne, on his speech in the House of Lords, July 10, 1782.
To get an idea of the speech of this Earl it may not be necessary to quote more than the following sentence: "When Great Britain acknowledges American independence the sun of Britain's glory is set forever."
"When the war ended," says Mr. Paine, "I went from Philadelphia to Borden Town on the East end of the Delaware, where I have a small place. Congress was at this time at Prince Town, fifteen miles distant, and General Washington had taken his headquarters at Rocky Hill, within the neighborhood of Congress, for the purpose of resigning his commission, the object for which he had accepted it being accomplished, and of retiring to private life. While he was on this business he wrote me the letter which I here subjoin:"
"Rocky Hill, September 10,1783.
"I have learned since I have been at this place that you are at Borden Town. Whether for the sake of retirement or economy I know not; be it for either, for both, or whatever it may, if you will come to this place and partake with me, I shall be exceedingly happy to see you at it. Your presence may remind Congress of your past services to this country, and if it is in my power to impress them, command my best services with freedom; as they will be rendered cheerfully by one who entertains a lively sense of the importance of your works, and who with much pleasure, subscribes himself,
"Your sincere friend,
In 1785, Congress granted Mr. Paine three thousand dollars for his services to the people of America, as may be seen by the following document:
"Friday, August 26, 1785.
"On the report of a committee consisting of Mr. Gerry, Mr. Petet and Mr. King, to whom was referred a letter of the thirteenth from Thomas Paine,
"Resolved, That the early, unsolicited, and continued labors of Mr. Thomas Paine, in explaining the principles of the late Revolution, by ingenious and timely publications upon the nature of liberty and civil government, have been well received by the citizens of these states, and merit the approbation of Congress; and that in consideration of these services, and the benefits produced thereby, Mr. Paine is entitled to a liberal gratification from the United States."
"Monday, October 3, 1785.
"On a report of a committee consisting of Mr. Gerry, Mr. Howell and Mr. Long, to whom were referred sundry letters from Mr. Thomas Paine, and a report on his letter of the fourteenth of September,
"Resolved, That the Board of Treasury take order for paying to Mr. Thomas Paine, the sum of three thousand dollars, for the considerations of the twenty-third of August last." -- Journals of Congress.
The State of Pennsylvania, in which he first published "Common Sense" and the "Crisis," in 1785, presented him, by an act of Legislature, five hundred pounds currency. New York gave him the estate at New Rochelle, in the county of Westchester, consisting of more than three hundred acres of land in high cultivation. On this estate was an elegant stone house, 125 by 28 feet, besides outhouses; the latter property was farmed much to his advantage, during his long stay in Europe, by some friends, as will hereafter be more fully noticed.
Mr. Monroe, when Ambassador in England, once speaking on this subject at my house, said that Mr. Paine would have received a very large remuneration from the State of Virginia, but that while the matter was before the Assembly, and he was extremely popular and in high favor, he published reasons against some proceedings of that State which he thought improper, and thereby lost, by a majority of one, the high reward he would otherwise have received;* -- a memorable instance of the independence of his mind, and of his attachment to truth and right above all other considerations. A conduct exactly opposite to that of the pensioned Burke, whose venality cannot be better pointed out than in the following conversation with Mr. Paine, after dining together at the Duke of Portland's at Bulstrode.
This work was entitled "Public Good, being an Examination of the Claim of Virginia to Vacant Western Territory."
Burke was very inquisitive to know how the Americans were disposed toward the King of England, when Mr. Paine, to whom the subject was an ungracious one, and who felt teased, related the following anecdote:
At a small town, in which was a tavern bearing the sign of the King's head, it was insisted on by the inhabitants that a memento so odious should not continue up, but there was no painter at hand to change it into General Washington, or any other favorite, so the sign was suffered to remain, with this inscription under it:
|This is the sign of the Loggerhead!|
Burke, who at this moment was a concealed pensioner, though a public oppositionist, replied, peevishly: "Loggerhead or any other head, he has many good things to give away, and I should be glad of some of them."
This same Mr. Burke, in one of his speeches in the House of Commons, said, "kings were naturally fond of low company," and "that many of the nobility act the part of flatterers, parasites, pimps and buffoons, etc.," but his character will be best appreciated by reading Mr. Paine's "Letter to the Addressers."
In 1786 he published in Philadelphia "Dissertation on Government, the Affairs of the Bank, and Paper Money," an octavo pamphlet of sixty-four pages. The bank alluded to is the Bank of North America, of which he thus speaks:
"In the year 1780, when the British Army, having laid waste the Southem States, closed its ravages by the capture of Charleston, when the financial sources of Congress were dried up, when the public treasury was empty, and the army of independence paralyzed by want, a voluntary subscription for its relief was raised in Philadelphia." This voluntary fund, amounting to three hundred thousand pounds, afterwards converted into a bank by the subscribers, headed by Robert Morris, supplied the wants of the army; probably the aids which it furnished enabled Washington to carry into execution his well-concerted plan against Cornwallis. Congress, in the year 1781, incorporated the subscribers to the fund, under the title of the Bank of North America. In the following year it was further incorporated by an Act of the Pennsylvanian Assembly. Mr. Paine liberally subscribed five hundred dollars to this fund.
After the establishment of the independence of America, of the vigorous and successful exertions to attain which glorious object he had been the animating principle, soul and support; feeling his exertions no longer requisite in that country, he embarked for France, and arrived in Paris early in 1787, carrying with him his fame as a literary man, an acute philosopher, and most profound politician.
At this time he presented to the Academy of Science the model of a bridge which he invented, the principle of which has been since so highly celebrated and approved.
From Paris he arrived in England the third of September, just thirteen years after his departure for Philadelphia. Prompted by that filial affection which his conduct had ever manifested, he hastened to Thetford to visit his mother, on whom he settled an allowance of nine shillings a week. Of this comfortable solace she was afterwards deprived by the bankruptcy of the merchant in whom the trust was vested.
Mr. Paine resided at Rotherham in Yorkshire during part of the year 1788, where an iron bridge upon the principle alluded to was cast and erected, and obtained for him among the mathematicians of Europe a high reputation. In the erection of this, a considerable sum had been expended, for which he was hastily arrested by the assignees of an American merchant, and thrown into confinement. From this, however, and the debt, he cleared himself in about three weeks.*
More or less upon this plan of Mr. Paine's, the different iron bridges in Europe have been constructed.
The publication of Mr. Burke's "Reflections on the French Revolution," produced in reply from Mr. Paine his great, universally known, and celebrated work, "Rights of Man." The first part of this work was written partly at the Angel, of Islington, partly in Harding Street, Fetter Lane, and finished at Versailles. In February, 1791, this book made its appearance in London, and many hundred thousand copies were rapidly sold. In May following he went again to France and was at Paris at the time of the flight of the King, and also on his return. On this memorable occasion he made this observation: "You see the absurdity of your system of government; here will be a whole nation disturbed by the folly of one man." Upon this subject also he made the following reply to the Marquis Lafayette, who came into his bedroom before he was up, saying, "The birds are flown." "'Tis well, I hope there will be no attempt to recall them."
On the thirteenth of July he returned to London, but did not attend the celebration of the anniversary of the French Revolution the following day, as has been falsely asserted.
On the twentieth of August he drew up the address and declaration of the gentlemen who met at the Thatched House Tavern.
The language of this address is bold and free, but not more so than that of the late Lord Chatham, or of that once violent advocate of reform, the late Mr. Pitt, better known by the title of the "Enemy of the Human Race."
On the subject of the address at the Thatched House Tavern, which Mr. Paine did write, it is impossible not to quote Cheetham's "Life," just to exhibit his blindness and ignorance, and to show how prejudice had warped this once idolizer of Mr. Paine: "Home Tooke, perhaps the most acute man of his age, was at this meeting; and as it was rumored, Paine observes, that the great grammarian was the author of the address, he takes the liberty of mentioning the fact, that he wrote it himself. I never heard of the rumor, which was doubtless a fiction formed and asserted by Paine merely to gratify his egotism. No one could mistake the uncouth and ungrammatical writings of one, for the correct and elegant productions of the other." But what can be expected from him who calls "Common Sense" a wretched work; the "Rights of Man" a miserable production, and "Burke's Reflections" a book of the proudest sagacity?
What can be expected from him who a few years before writing the above, in England deified Mr. Paine, and called his writings immortal?