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Flowers of Freethought_Second Series - By George W. Foote - 1894

Flowers of Freethought_Second Series - By George W. Foote - 1894

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Published by st27383
A little more than a year ago I put forth a collection of articles under
the title of _Flowers of Freethought_. The little volume met with a
favorable reception, and I now issue a Second Series. -

As I said in the former Preface, I refrain from personalities, which
is all that can be demanded of a fair controversialist. There are
sentences, and perhaps passages, in this volume, that some people will
not like; but they are about things that _I_ do not like. A propagandist
should use his pen as a weapon rather than a fencing foil. At any
rate, my style is my own; it is copied from no model, or set of models;
although I confess to a predilection for the old forthright literature
of England, before "fine writing" was invented, or "parliamentary"
eloquence came into vogue, or writers were anxious to propitiate an
imaginary critic at their elbows--the composite ghost, as it were, of
all the ignoramuses, prigs, bigots, fools, and cowards on this planet.

It only remains to say that the articles in this volume are of the same
general character as those in its predecessor. They were written at
different intervals during the past ten or twelve years. I have not
attempted to classify them. In several instances I have appended
the date of first publication, as it seemed necessary, or at least
convenient.
A little more than a year ago I put forth a collection of articles under
the title of _Flowers of Freethought_. The little volume met with a
favorable reception, and I now issue a Second Series. -

As I said in the former Preface, I refrain from personalities, which
is all that can be demanded of a fair controversialist. There are
sentences, and perhaps passages, in this volume, that some people will
not like; but they are about things that _I_ do not like. A propagandist
should use his pen as a weapon rather than a fencing foil. At any
rate, my style is my own; it is copied from no model, or set of models;
although I confess to a predilection for the old forthright literature
of England, before "fine writing" was invented, or "parliamentary"
eloquence came into vogue, or writers were anxious to propitiate an
imaginary critic at their elbows--the composite ghost, as it were, of
all the ignoramuses, prigs, bigots, fools, and cowards on this planet.

It only remains to say that the articles in this volume are of the same
general character as those in its predecessor. They were written at
different intervals during the past ten or twelve years. I have not
attempted to classify them. In several instances I have appended
the date of first publication, as it seemed necessary, or at least
convenient.

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* July 22, 1888.

One result of the recent duel between M. Floquet and the melodramatic
General Boulanger is that Bishop Freppel has moved in the Chamber of
Deputies for the legal abolition of private combats. That a bishop
should do this is remarkable. If Bishop Freppel possessed any sense of
humor, he would leave the task to laymen. His Church did not establish
duelling; on the contrary, she censured it; but it was countenanced by
her principles, and her protest was unavailing. The judicial combat was
an appeal to God, like the ordeal by fire or water, or the purgation by
oath. The Church patronised those forms of superstition which brought
men to her altars, and ministered to her profit and power, and she
opposed those superstitions which were inimical to her interest. When
legal proofs failed and suits were undecided; when persons were accused
of crimes, of which they could neither be proved guilty nor held
guiltless; or when they lay under gross suspicion of wrong, the Church
proffered the ordeal. She invited the litigants, or the suspected
parties, to handle hot iron, plunge their arms into boiling liquid, or
be thrown into water deep enough to drown them; and if they underwent
such treatment without injury, she held them innocent. Another device
was the oath. The parties went to the Church altar and swore their
innocence or the justice of their cause. But all these methods gave
room for chicane. Kings and knights protested that the oath led to
indiscriminate perjury, that if the priests' hands were tickled with
money the hot iron was only painted, and that a suitable fee could
render the boiling liquid innocuous to the skin of a baby. They
therefore drew their swords, exclaiming, "Away with this priestly
jugglery! These weapons are better than fire or water or oil, and God
can decide the right in single combat as in the Churchman's ordeal."

"Is it not true," asked King Gundobald of Bishop Avitus, "that the event
of national wars and private combats is directed by the judgment of God;
and that his providence awards the victory to the juster cause?" The
Bishop could not answer "No," for if he did he would have demolished the
whole Church system of ordeals, so he yielded to the arguments of his
sovereign.

Single combats, under the Gothic code, were fought according to judicial
forms. They were held, Robertson says, "as solemn appeals to the
omniscience and justice of the Supreme Being." Shakespeare is careful to

to notice this feature. When Bolingbroke and Norfolk, in _Richard II._,
challenge each other as traitors, the king consents to their duel in the
following terms:

At Coventry, upon Saint Lambert's day: There shall your swords and
lances arbitrate The swelling difference of your settled hate. Since we
cannot atone you, we shall see Justice design the victor's chivalry.

Modern duelling is thus a survival of the old judicial combat. The
"point of honor" is the excuse for a practice which has lost its
original sanction. The appeal to God is forgotten, and the duellists
talk of "satisfaction." Illogical no doubt, but this is only one of many
customs that survive their original meaning.

Now the Church cannot hold itself guiltless in regard to this folly. She
cherished the superstition on which it rested. She taught the policy
of appealing to God, and only frowned on the particular method which
brought no grist to her mill. Her own methods were still more senseless.
Unless the laws of nature were constantly subverted, her ordeals must
have operated at random when they were not regulated by fraud. The hand
of guilt might be harder than that of innocence, and more likely to bear
a moment's contact with hot iron or boiling oil. Besides, as Montesquieu
observes, the poltroon stood the poorest chance in the judicial combat,
and the poltroon was more likely to be guilty than the man of courage.
The weak, of course, were at the mercy of the strong; but in one point,
at least, the combat had an obvious advantage over the other ordeals.

How amusing it must have been to a sceptic, if such then existed, to
see the opposition between the nobles and the clergy. The nobles
said "Fight!" and the clergy cried "That is impious." The clergy said
"Swear!" and the nobles cried "That is sacrilege and leads to perjury."

No less amusing was the turn which combat took in Spain in the eleventh
century. There was a struggle between the Latin and the Gothic liturgy.
Aragon yielded to the papal pressure, but Castile thought the contest
should be decided by the sword. Accordingly, Mosheim tells us, two
champions were chosen; they fought, and the Latin liturgy was defeated.
But the Romish party was not satisfied. The two liturgies were thrown
into a fire, and the result of the ordeal was another triumph for
the Goths. Still the divine decisions are frail when opposed to the
interests of the Church. Queen Constantia, who controlled King Alphonso,
sided with the pontiff of Rome, and the priest and the lady carried the
day.

Though incorporated in the judicial system of Christendom, the duel is
scorned by the Turks, and was unknown to the Greeks and Romans. Lord
Bacon remarks this in one of his admirable law tracts:

"All memory doth consent that Greece and Rome were the most valiant and
generous nations of the world; and, that which is more to be noted, they
were free estates, and not under a monarchy; whereby a man would think
it a great deal the more reason that particular persons should have

righted themselves; and yet they had not this practice of duels, nor
anything that bare show thereof." (_Charge against Duels._)

Bacon observes that the most valorous and generous nations scorn this
practice. Why then did it obtain so long in Christendom? Was it because
the Northern and Western nations were cowardly and selfish? Nothing
of the kind; it was because they were superstitious, and their
superstition was cherished by the Church. Even at the present day the
Church calls international combat an appeal to God; regimental banners
are consecrated by priests, and laid up in temples when dilapidated;
and Catholic and Protestant priests alike implore victory for their
respective sides in time of war. And why not? Is not the Bible God "the
Lord of Hosts" and "a man of war"? Did he not teach David's fingers to
fight? Were not Joshua and Jehu, the two greatest tigers in history, his
chosen generals? Why then should he be averse to international
butchery in Europe? Should he not rejoice in the next bloody cockpit of
featherless bipeds? And is it not hard to see his infinite appetite for
blood reduced to content itself with an occasional duel, in which not
enough of the sanguine fluid is shed to make a small black-pudding?
Bishop Freppel is ill-advised. He should not rob his Deity of his last
consolation.

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