The Age of George III

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The Letters of Junius

Letter LV: To the Printer of the Public Advertiser, 26 August 1771.

[228] SIR,

THE enemies of the people having now nothing better to object to my friend Junius, are, at last, obliged to quit his politics, and to rail at him for crimes he is not guilty of. His vanity and impiety are now the perpetual topics of their abuse. I do not mean to lessen the force of such charges, supposing they were true, but to show that they are not founded. If I admitted the premises, I should readily agree in all the consequences drawn from them. Vanity, indeed, is a venial error, for it usually carries its own punishment with it; but if I thought Junius capable of uttering a disrespectful word of the religion of his country, I should be the first to renounce and give him up to the public contempt and indignation. As a man, I am satisfied that he is a christian, upon the most sincere conviction: as a writer, he would be grossly inconsistent with his political principles, if he dared to attack a religion, established by those laws, which it seems to be the purpose of his life to defend. Now for the proofs. Junius is accused of an impious allusion to the holy sacrament, where he says, that, "if Lord Weymouth be denied the cup, there would be no keeping him within the pale of the ministry." Now, sir, I affirm, that this passage refers entirely to a ceremonial in the Roman Catholic Church, which denies the cup to the laity. It has no manner of relation to the protestant creed; and is in this country as fair an object of ridicule as transubstantiation, or any other part of Lord Peter's History, in the Tale of a Tub.

But Junius is charged with equal vanity and impiety, in comparing his writings to the Holy Scriptures. The formal protest he makes against any such comparison avails him nothing. It becomes necessary then to show that the charge destroys itself. If he be vain, he cannot be impious.

A vain man does not usually compare himself to an object which it is his design to undervalue. On the other hand, if he be impious, he cannot be vain; for his [229] impiety, if any, must consist in his endeavouring to degrade the Holy Scriptures, by a comparison with his own contemptible writings. This would be folly, indeed, of the grossest nature, but where lies the vanity? I shall now be told, "Sir, what you say is plausible enough; but still you must allow, that it is shamefully impudent in Junius to tell us that his works will live as long as the Bible." My answer is, Agreed: but first prove that he has said so. Look at his words, and you will find that the utmost he expects is, that the Bible and Junius will survive the commentaries of the Jesuits; which may prove true in a fortnight. The most malignant sagacity cannot show that his works are, in his opinion, to live as long as the Bible. Suppose I were to foretell, that Jack and Tom would survive Harry, does it follow that Jack must live as long as Tom? I would only illustrate my meaning, and protest against the least idea of profaneness.

Yet this is the way in which Junius is usually answered, arraigned, and convicted. These candid critics never remember any thing he says in honour of our holy religion: though it is true that one of his leading arguments is made to rest "upon the internal evidence, which the purest of all religions carries with it." I quote his words; and conclude from them, that he is a true and hearty christian, in substance, not in ceremony; though possibly he may not agree with my reverend lords the bishops, or with the head of the church, "that prayers are morality, or that kneeling is religion."


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