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Review Of A Free Enquiry Into The Nature And Origin Of Evil
by [?]

“Poverty is what all could not possibly have been exempted from, not only by reason of the fluctuating nature of human possessions, but because the world could not subsist without it; for, had all been rich, none could have submitted to the commands of another, or the necessary drudgeries of life; thence all governments must have been dissolved, arts neglected, and lands uncultivated, and so an universal penury have overwhelmed all, instead of now and then pinching a few. Hence, by the by, appears the great excellence of charity, by which men are enabled, by a particular distribution of the blessings and enjoyments of life, on proper occasions, to prevent that poverty, which, by a general one, omnipotence itself could never have prevented; so that, by enforcing this duty, God, as it were, demands our assistance to promote universal happiness, and to shut out misery at every door, where it strives to intrude itself.

“Labour, indeed, God might easily have excused us from, since, at his command, the earth would readily have poured forth all her treasures, without our inconsiderable assistance; but, if the severest labour cannot sufficiently subdue the malignity of human nature, what plots and machinations, what wars, rapine, and devastation, what profligacy and licentiousness, must have been the consequences of universal idleness! So that labour ought only to be looked upon, as a task kindly imposed upon us by our indulgent creator, necessary to preserve our health, our safety, and our innocence.”

I am afraid, that “the latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning.” If God could easily have excused us from labour, I do not comprehend why he could not possibly have exempted all from poverty. For poverty, in its easier and more tolerable degree, is little more than necessity of labour; and, in its more severe and deplorable state, little more than inability for labour. To be poor is to work for others, or to want the succour of others, without work. And the same exuberant fertility, which would make work unnecessary, might make poverty impossible.

Surely, a man who seems not completely master of his own opinion, should have spoken more cautiously of omnipotence, nor have presumed to say what it could perform, or what it could prevent. I am in doubt, whether those, who stand highest in the scale of being, speak thus confidently of the dispensations of their maker:

“For fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.”

Of our inquietudes of mind, his account is still less reasonable: “Whilst men are injured, they must be inflamed with anger; and, whilst they see cruelties, they must be melted with pity; whilst they perceive danger, they must be sensible of fear.” This is to give a reason for all evil, by showing, that one evil produces another. If there is danger, there ought to be fear; but, if fear is an evil, why should there be danger? His vindication of pain is of the same kind: pain is useful to alarm us, that we may shun greater evils, but those greater evils must be pre-supposed, that the fitness of pain may appear.

Treating on death, he has expressed the known and true doctrine with sprightliness of fancy, and neatness of diction. I shall, therefore, insert it. There are truths which, as they are always necessary, do not grow stale by repetition

“Death, the last and most dreadful of all evils,
is so far from being one, that it is the infallible
cure for all others.

To die, is landing on some silent shore,
Where billows never beat, nor tempests roar.
Ere well we feel the friendly stroke, ’tis o’er.


For, abstracted from the sickness and sufferings usually attending it, it is no more than the expiration of that term of life God was pleased to bestow on us, without any claim or merit on our part. But was it an evil ever so great, it could not be remedied, but by one much greater, which is, by living for ever; by which means, our wickedness, unrestrained by the prospect of a future state, would grow so insupportable, our sufferings so intolerable by perseverance, and our pleasures so tiresome by repetition, that no being in the universe could be so completely miserable, as a species of immortal men. We have no reason, therefore, to look upon death as an evil, or to fear it as a punishment, even without any supposition of a future life: but, if we consider it, as a passage to a more perfect state, or a remove only in an eternal succession of still-improving states, (for which we have the strongest reasons,) it will then appear a new favour from the divine munificence; and a man must be as absurd to repine at dying, as a traveller would be, who proposed to himself a delightful tour through various unknown countries, to lament, that he cannot take up his residence at the first dirty inn, which he baits at on the road.