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rest of mankind in any other circumstances; and felf-interest with equal force. His auditors may not have, and commonly have not, sufficient judgment to canvass his evidence: What judgment they have, they renounce by principle, in these sublime and mysterious subjects : Or if they were ever so willing to employ it, passion and a heated imagination disturb the regularity of its operations. Their credulity encreases his impudence: And his impudence overpowers their credulity.
Eloquence, when at its highest pitch, leaves , little room for reason or reflection; but addressing itself entirely to the fancy or affections, cap-' tivates the willing hearers, and subdues their understanding. Happily, this pitch it seldom attains. But what a Tully or a Demosthenes could scarcely effect over a Roman or Athenian audience, every Capuchin, every itinerant or stationary teacher can perforın over the generality of mankind, and in a higher degree, by touching such gross and vulgar passions.
The many instances of forged miracles, and prophecies, and supernatural events, which, in all ages, have either been detected by contrary evidence, or which detect themselves by their absurdity, prove sufficiently the strong propensity of mankind to the extraordinary and the marvellous, and ought reasonably to beget a suspicion against all relations of this kind. This is our natural way of thinking, even with regard to the most common and most credible events. For instance: There is no kind of report, which rises so easily,' and spreads so quickly, especially in country places and provincial towns, as those concerning marriages; infomuch .that two young persons of equal condition never see each other twice, but the whole neighbourhood immediately join them together. The pleasure of telling a piece of news so interest
ing, of propagating it, and of being the first reporters of it, spreads the intelligence. And this is so well known, that no man of sense gives attention to these reports, till he' find thein confirmed by some greater evidence. Do not the lame passions, and others still stronger, incline the generality of mankind to believe and report, with the greatest vehemence and assurance, all religious miracles?
Thirdly. It forms a strong presumption against all lupernatural and miraculous relations, that they are observed chiefly to abound among ignorant and barbarous nations; or if a civilized people has ever given admission to any of them, that people will be found to have received them from ignorant and barbarous ancestors, who transmitted them with that inviolable fanction and authority, which always attend received opinions. When we peruse the first histories of all nations, We are apt to imagine ourselves transported into lo ime new world; where the whole frame of nature is disjointed, and every element perforins its Operations in a different manner, from what it does at present. Battles, revolutions,' pestilence, famine, and death, are never the effect of thole natural causes, which we experience. ProGigies, omens, oracles, judgments, quite obscure the few natural events, that are intermingled with them. But as the former grow thinner every page, in proportion as we advance nearer the enlightened ages, we foon learn, that there is nothing inysterious or supernatural in the case, but that all proceeds from the usual propensity of mankind towards the marvellous, and that, thou gh this inclination may at intervals receive à Check from sense and learning, it can never be thoroughly extirpated from human nature.
It is strange, a judicious reader is apt to say, upon the perusal of these wonderful historians, that
such such prodigious events never happen in our days. But
it is nothing strange, I hope, that men should · lie in all ages. You must surely have seen in
stances enow of that frailty. You have yourself heard many such inarvellous relations started, which, being treated with scorn by all the wise and judicious, have at last been abandoned even by the vulgar. Be assured, that those renowned lies, which have spread and flourished. to such a monstrous height, arose from like beginnings; but being sown in a more proper soil, shot up at last into prodigies almost equal to those which they relate.
It was a wise policy in that false prophet, Alexander, who, though now forgotten, was once so famous, to lay the first scene of his impostures in Paphlagonia, where, as Lucian tells us, the people were extremely ignorant and stupid, and ready to swallow even the groffest delusion, People at a distance, who are weak enough to think the matter at all worth enquiry, have no opportunity of receiving better information. The stories come magnified to them by a hundred circumstances. Fools are industrious in propagating the imposture; while the wife and learned are contented, in general, to deride its absurdity, without informing themselves of the particular facts, by which it may be distinctly refuted. And thus the impostor above-mentioned was enabled to proceed, from his ignorant Paphlagonians, to the enlisting of votaries, even among the Grecian philosophers, and men of the most eminent rank and distinction in Rome : Nay, could. engage the attention of that fage emperor Marcus Aurelius; so far as to make him trust the success of a military expedition to his delusive prophecies.
The advantages are so great, of starting an imposture among an ignorant people, that, even though the delusion should be too gross to im- .
philofoting of votari Shorant Paphien
pose on the generality of them (which, though seldom, is sometimes the case) it has a much better chance for succeeding in remote countries, than if the first scene had been laid in a city renowned for arts and knowledge. The most ignorant and barbarous of these barbarians carry the report abroad. None of their countrymmen have a large correspondence, or sufficient credit and authority to contradict and beat down the delusion, Men's inclination to the marvellous has full opportunity to display itself. And thus a story, which is universally exploded in the place where it was first started, shall pass for certain at a thousand miles distance. But had Alexander fixed his residence at Athens, the philosophers of that renowned inart of learning had immediately spread, throughout the whole Roman empire, their sense of the matter; which, being supported by so great authority, and difplayed by all the force of reason and eloquence, had entirely opened the eyes of mankind. It is true ; Lucian, passing by chance through Paphlagonia, had an opportunity of performing this good office. But, though much to be wished, it does not always happen, that every Alexan- : der meets with a Lucian, ready to expose and detect his impostures.
I may add as a fourth reason, which diminishes the authority of prodigies, that there is no testimony for any, even those which have not been expressly detected, that is not opposed by an infinite number of witnesses; so that not only the miracle destroys the credit of testimony, but the testiinony destroys itself. To make this the better understood, let us consider, that, in matters of religion, whatever is different is contrary ; and that it is impossible the religions of ancient Rome, of Turkey, of Siam, and of China should, all of them, be established on any folid foundatiVOL. II.
on. Every miracle, therefore, pretended to have been wrought in any of these religions (and all of them abound in iniracles), as its direct scope is to establish the particular system to which it is attributed; so has it the same force, though more indirectly, to overthrow every other system. In destroying a rival system, it likewise destroys the credit of those miracles, on which that system was established; so that all the prodigies of different religions are to be regarded as contrary facts, and the evidences' of these prodigies, whether weak or strong, as opposite to each other. According to this method of reasoning, when we believe any miracle of Mahomet or his successors, we have for our warrant the testimony of a few barbarous Arabians: And on the other hand, we are to regard the authority of Titus Livius, Plutarch, Tacitus, and, in short, of all the authors and witnesses, Grecian, Chinese, and Roman Catholic, who have related any miracle in their particular religion; I say, we are to regard their testiinony in the same light as if they had mentioned that Mahometan miracle, and had in express term's contradicted it, with the same certainty as they have for the miracle they relate. This argument may appear over fubtile and refined; but is not in reality different from the reasoning of a judge, who supposes, that the credit of two witnesses, maintaining a crime against any one, is destroyed by the testimony of two others, who afirm him to have been two hundred leagues distant, at the same instant when the crime is said to have been committed.
One of the best attested miracles in all profane history, is that which Tacitus reports of Vespafian, who cured a blind man in Alexandria, by means of his spittle, and a lame man by the mere touch of his foot; in obedience to a vision of the god Serapis, who had enjoined them to have