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ON THE

LEGALITY AND EXPEDIENCY

OF

PROSECUTIONS

FOR

RELIGIOUS OPINIO tf.

TO WHICH IS ANNEXED,

AN APOLOGY FOR THE VICES OF THE LOWER
ORDERS.

By JONATHAN DUNCAN, Esq.

Liberty, absolute liberty, full and perfect liberty—is the thing that we
desire.—Locke.

LONDON:

J. And H. L. HUNT, 38, TAVISTOCK STREET,
CO VENT GARDEN.

[graphic]

/. Davyt Printer, Queen Street, Seven Dials.

REMARKS

ON

PROSECUTIONS

FOR

RELIGIOUS OPINION.

Men of all parties are pretty generally agreed in opinion, that the injudicious prosecutions .instituted by the Society for the Suppression of Vice, instead of arresting the circulation of blasphemous and seditious publications, contributed more effectually than the united exertions of Carlisle and his confederates, to disseminate among the lower orders of Society, a spirit of scepticism and irreligion, That Mr. Wilberforce and his friends were actuated by the purest and most disinterested motives, courtesy obliges us to admit; but their zeal unfortunately overstepped their prudence, and their pious exertions in defence of Christianity, though attended with partial success, were, upon the whole, detrimental to the cause they desired to befriend. An obscure individual set their power at defiance; an emporium of blasphemy was established in the heart of the capital; the writings of Paine

and Palmer were publicly exhibited for sale; and the booksellers, irritated by the repeated attacks of the Society, brought out the most objectionable tracts of Hume, Diderot, and Spinoza, in the cheapest possible editions, in order that the poison of infidelity might be more abundantly diffused through the lowest orders of the community.

The hostility of the suppressors, and the denunciations of the courts of law, were treated with contemptuous scorn: a favourable verdict proved of no advantage to the friends of the church; the infliction of ruinous fines and long imprisonment, instead of subduing the courage of the defendants, inflamed their animosity, and the reports of the trials, which detailed the most obnoxious extracts from the prosecuted libels, operated as advertisements to the most distant counties. The convicted bookseller went to his dungeon, and so far the society triumphed; but the object was rather to suppress the work, than punish the individual, and in this they totally failed. The doors of the "Temple of the Deist" remained open, and were crowded from day-break till midnight: so dense was the throng, that, in the middle of the day, the street was rendered almost impassable; and the lucrative speculations of Carlisle quickly raised up a host of competitors, who were eager to share the profits of a trade, the returns of which amply compensated for the disgrace and danger of the occupation.

This rivalry produced the most deplorable results. Each bookseller exercised all his ingenuity to obtain a preference in the market; obscenity was added to impiety, and sedition to obscenity; plates and lascivious engravings exhibited in. the shop windows, arrested the gaze of curiosity; and modesty and decorum. were outraged with impunity, in the most crowded thoroughfares of the metropolis. The Society for the Suppression of Vice now perceived their error; but the mischief was irremediable. Their opposition conferred on Carlisle a celebrity, which, had he been left unmolested, he never could have acquired. His determined resolution and undaunted courage gained him numerous adherents; and the severe penalties inflicted upon him, his wife and sister, excited compassion, and palliated the odium of his conduct. Many who abhorred his tenets admired his fortitude, while his avowed partizans extolled him as a martyr to his principles, and the cause of free inquiry. To him may be applied the remark which Junius made on the prosecution of Wilkes: "The gentle breath of peace would have left

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