The Ghost of Thomas Paine haunts the Church of England

Portrait of Thomas Paine in front of booksWhen Richard Dawkins recently claimed that Christians were “not really Christian at all”, he wasn’t breaking new ground.

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Paine, that oft-quoted American patriot, wrote a pamphlet that said basically the same thing.

The shop on Ave Maria lane

On the 19th October 1811, Henry Ben Raven Walked into a small bookshop in Ave Maria Lane.

“No,” Raven protested when presented with this fact, “I went on the 18th of October.”

Whenever Raven first entered the shop, the first person he saw was “a young woman, behind the counter, folding sheets.”

Mr. Raven knew that the shop had a certain book for sale, a book by the late Thomas Paine, a book called Thomas Paine’s Third Part of The Age of Reason. Mr. Raven asked for a copy of the book, and the woman folding sheets supplied it to him.

Apparently, when the woman went back to folding sheets, the owner of the bookshop, a Mr. Daniel Isaac Eaton, appeared.

Mr. Eaton had recently returned from America, and brought back with him a new mixture of soap that was said to cure certain ailments.

Mr. Raven asked Mr. Eaton how he knew that the book was indeed written by Thomas Paine, “as Paine had been dead some time.” Daniel Isaac Eaton explained that he found it from the editor of a well known journal in the United States. He then turned to page 89 in the book, and showed it to his customer.

However, this had nothing to do with Mr. Raven’s purchasing decision. Mr Raven had already paid the “shopwoman” for the book, before seeing Mr. Eaton.

Henry Ben Raven marked the book, so that he’d recognise it later. On the 6th of March, 1812, the same copy of the book was presented to Mr. Raven in court as he testified against Mr. Eaton. As both men knew, the punishment for selling Thomas Paine’s book could be severe. Eaton’s crime? “Libel against the king’s crown and dignity.”

(NEXT, Daniel Isaac Eaton tried for blasphemous libel. …)

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