Comet (1832-1833)

The Comet (1832-1833)

Prospectus: To you, who inculcate the bliss of ignorance, and condemn inquiry into the intention of Scripture writings, as blasphemous . . . . To you, who make the law subservient to your purposes, and its executors pander to your appetites,- and paralyze the daily press with your frown . . . . To you who forbid the exercise of free speech, and take credit for toleration of thought . . . . To you, whose torpedinous touch benumbs the press, and from whom, the appearance of this our Comet, will doubtless excite a demoniac yell of surprise; the yell of admission that your power, great as (oh, shame to the nation!) it is, yet unable to crush what it cannot controvert; To you, who mistake metaphor for literality, and allegory for historical fact, the first volume of the Comet is dedicated.

Examined: 1:1 (Apr. 19, 1832) – 1:26 (Jan. 27, 1833).

Editor/Publisher: H.M. Duhecquet[1], New York, New York.

Frequency: Weekly.

Subjects/Features: Evidences of Christianity, Authenticity of the Bible, Silvarum Liber, and Correspondence.

Reprints/Extracts: Robert Taylor, Devil’s Pulpit, Discourses of the Lady at the Rotunda, and Yahoo: A Satirical Rhapsody.

Periodical Reprints from: The Isis (London), Boston Investigator, and the Delaware Free Press (Wilmington, De.).

Selections:

The Movement

Objects, Initiatives, and Status

“Philosophical Library Association.” 1:19 (Dec. 9, 1832): 316-18. Featuring a short address in which the lecturer argues that, “The weakness of skepticism arises from a lethargic feeling, which would dictate that if we think freely, it is no matter how the rest of the world do: a truly selfish position. The times demand exertion. In almost every country Christianity is growing more overweening. In England the leaders of our cause, Taylor and Carlile, are both in prison for blasphemy. Had we any efficient leaders, it remains to be seen how far Christian malice would affect them. There is no better way to oppose such power than by uniting ourselves, and liberals generally, into a Society.”

“Infidelity.” 2:14 (May 5, 1833): 222-23. Reprinted from the Republican Journal (Me.), it is reported that according to the Portland Courier, there are twenty Infidel papers in the United States, all coming into existence since 1828.

“Another Liberal Paper.” 2:17 (May 26, 1833): 271-72. The editor announces the appearance of the Mohawk Liberal (Little Falls, N.Y.) and states that from “the specimen before us, it bids fair to prove another thorn in the poor priest’s flesh.”

Biographical Sketches

“Memoir of the Reverend Robert Taylor.” 1:1, 3 (Apr. 19, May 3, 1832): 2-7, 35-41.

Religion

 Christianity

“One Hundred Dollar Premium.” 1:7 (May 31, 1832): 111. Reprinted from the Boston Investigator. Offering a one hundred dollar premium “to any Clergyman who will produce proof, or show any conclusive evidence that either of the Gospels were written by the persons whose names they bear; Or Secondly, That they were written within a half a century of the time the events therein recorded are said to have taken place. Or, Thirdly, that the persons of whom they treat, to wit, Jesus, and his twelve disciples, ever existed. Or, Fourthly, and lastly, That the principal and most important facts and events as therein recorded, ever happened.”

“Tammany Hall. Remarks by G.H. in the Course of the debate at the Tammany Hall on the Following Question: “Is the Mosaical Account of the Creation of the World in Accordance with Reason and Philosophy?” 1:9 (June 14, 1832): 139-44. The author starts, “In solving this question, it has appeared to me that the negative is clearly demonstrable on the following grounds: 1st Because the account itself is entirely fabulous. 2d Because it is in direct opposition to the Chronological history of all other nations. 3d Because, even if it were authenticated, it is contradictory in a variety of particulars. And, 4th Because it contains statements, which are known to be in direct opposition to the Sciences of Geography, Geology, Chemistry, Astronomy, and Physiology. On either of these grounds, the unreasonableness and unphilosophical nature of what is called the Mosaical account of the Creation, can be shown to be sufficiently apparent. But when taken together, they form a body of evidence which renders it impossible for all the subtility of all the learned men in the world to give the story even the appearance of probability.”

Benjamin Webb. “Future Rewards and Punishments.” 1:16-17 (Nov. 18-25, 1832): 254-56, 268-70. Reprinted from the Delaware Free Press. Webb comments, “There can be no position more delusive than to suppose it necessary to prove a doctrine false, before we denounce its enforcement as “execrable.” Nearly all the evils of life are produced by disputes upon subjects of which we can know nothing, and consequently we must ever remain ignorant of either their truth or falsity.”

“A Glossary for The Bible, Chiefly designed for Children.” 1:18 (Dec. 2, 1832): 276-82. Defining God as “the Idol of human nature’s imaginary perfection,” and King as “a generally useless and mischievous public officer.”

“Tammany Hall. Remarks by G.H. in the Course of the debate at the Tammany Hall on the Following Question: Is the Bible Account of the Flood Consonant with Truth?” 1:19, 22 (Dec. 9, 30, 1832): 297-302, 345-49; 2:2 (Feb. 10, 1833): 27-30. The author begins his remarks by asking, “In the 6th Chapter of Genesis, it is assigned as a reason for God’s destroying the inhabitants of the earth by a flood, that their wickedness had become intolerable. . . . Why did he not give them better dispositions? It rested with himself. Why punish them for the necessary results of his own mismanagement and ordination? He might have made them angels. Why did he choose to make them devils, and then wonder and complain that they were so? Did he take any pains to instruct them better, to reform them? No, he knew the career of wickedness to which he had destined them. He let them run it without any kind of interference on his part; and then exterminated the whole human race for actions due to himself, and for dispositions he had implanted! Is it possible to represent deity in a more disgusting and horrible light? Can anyone in his right mind believe a story so abhorrent to common sense?”

“Fragments of a Letter on the Subject of Religion.” 2:8-10 (Mar. 24- Apr. 7, 1833): 122-28, 140-44, 154-57. This article features excerpts from a priest’s letter in which he defends himself against ostracism for blasphemy, and which the editor contends provides an “able and powerful expose of Biblical imposition, wickedness, abomination and folly.” One of the “fragments” reads: “Many persons, who consider Religion to be a mere human fabrication, designed to frighten men into their duty, defend it on the ground of expediency. I by no means think their arguments conclusive. In the first place, it has not answered the purpose for which it was devised; and if we may judge of the future from the past, it never will. In spite of a menaced eternity of damnation, vice still prowls about the world; its hateful countenance glares upon us at every turn, and too often skulks near us undetected in the masquerade of hypocritical piety. Religion has not only failed in producing any permanent good effect upon society, it has actually been the cause of extensive mischief.”

Freedom of Speech

 Case of Thomas Cooper [2]

 “Dr. Cooper’s Case.” 1:23 (Jan. 6, 1833): 353-66. Thomas Cooper, President of the University of South Carolina, faced dismissal for publishing religious opinions which offended students, parents, and the citizens of South Carolina. This brief account includes a summary of Cooper’s defense on constitutional grounds.

Silvarum Liber[3]

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. No. II.” 1:5 (May 17, 1832): 77-80. Speaking about the “Terrors of the Death-Bed,” the author notes, “It is curious that we, who boast so much of our knowledge of the immortality of the soul, and of the glad hopes of an after-life, should take such pains to make the image of death melancholy.”

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. No. IV.” 1:8 (June 7, 1832): 122-27. In an essay on the “Longing for Immortality,” the author begins, “Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not; this gives us no concern – why then should it trouble us that a time will come when we shall cease to be?”

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. No. V.” 1:10 (June 21, 1832): 156-58. The author asks, “In every science, we are told, a writer ought to seek and publish the truth. Must the science of morality be an exception?”

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. No. XI.” 1:18 (Dec. 2, 1832): 286-87. Under the heading “Faith,” the author begins, “faith is the foundation, the prop, the only support of what is called the Christian religion. But faith, or belief, is not essentially truth, but a state of mind which bars and shuts out investigation and discussion, which are the only means whereby truth can be elucidated, and separated from error and falsehood. The New Testament, is a compilation of idle stories, absurd and unnatural adventures, sprinkled with a slight seasoning of moral scraps, impudently taken from Pagan nations, and unavowedly applied by the purloiners for their own ends and purposes. B y Faith, the Christians destroy their intellectual faculties, in order to swallow these absurdities. Faith always militates against reason.”

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. No. XVI.” 1:23 (Jan. 6, 1833): 366-68. The author remarks, “Reason, truth, and demonstration, are the only authorities in philosophy; and therefore the faith of no man is a proper foundation of the faith of another, unless his doctrine be sustained by reason, truth and demonstration. We only know nature in the degree in which it is cognizable by our senses, and not otherwise; and as our senses take cognizance only of material existences, or of matter in various sensities and forms, all our reflections and reasonings must be founded on knowledge thus acquired.”

H.D.R. “Silvarum Liber. Second Series – No. IV.” 2:5 (Mar. 3, 1833): 75-80. The author points out that, “The great obstacle and terror of imposters, and fanatics is freedom of inquiry, which implies the exercise of reason; a formidable foe indeed! No wonder they are forever attacking it, and forever trying to weaken and destroy it, by all the arts of calumny- all the efforts of malice. By implicit belief, without examination, imposters prosper, and communities are kept in gross ignorance, and servility.”

“Lady of the Rotunda” and “Editress” of The Isis

“The First Discourse of the Lady of the Rotunda.” 1:2 (Apr. 26, 1832): 17-23. The author exclaims, “Of tyranny I can only speak in denunciation: I am, in all its shapes, its enemy. Whether it come upon us in the name of heaven, garnished with holy cant and solemn drawling, in robed or mitred vaunting, or in his assumptions, in simple black and downcast looks, who calls himself the man of God; or whether it come in the name of the kind, his ministers, the parliament, the law; or the administration of the law; whether it be from master to servant, from husband to wife, or from father to child; or whether it be in the customs of society, the manners of the people, or in long established institutions, I am still its enemy.”

“”The Lady of the Rotunda” to the Readers of “The Isis.”” 1:3 (May 3, 1832): 33-35. The “Lady of the Rotunda” introduces herself as a “young and single woman of twenty-eight” details her plans to lecture (twice every Sunday and three times in the course of the week), and requests editorial assistance with The Isis from Robert Taylor and Richard Carlile.

“The Second Discourse of “The Lady at the Rotunda.”” 1:4 (May 10, 1832): 49-56. The Lady states, “though the word atheist gives so much offence, a word which I do not adopt because of the perversion of its meaning and the ignorant horror associated with it, you can make no other correct definition of it than that it signifies a wise man, who does not run after any folly or mystery, or riddle, or allegory, about the planetary system, but who confines his ideas to the earth and to the things which really concern him, and utters no language beyond his knowledge.”

“A Lecture on “The Times” by “The Lady at the Rotunda.”” 1:6 (May 24, 1832): 81-88.

“The Editress of The Isis to her Readers.” 1:15, 20 (Nov. 11, Dec. 16, 1832): 235-39, 314-16. Under this title appears a series of letters between the “editress of the Isis” and the “Home Office,” concerning the conditions of Robert Taylor’s imprisonment.

The Fourth Discourse of “The Lady at the Rotunda.” An Inquiry how far the Human Character is Formed by Education or External Circumstances.” 1:17 (Nov. 25, 1832): 259-68. The author states that, “The consideration of this subject must be brought under four general heads, because they are four classes of pretension to explain it. In the order of seniority they will stand thus: the Astrologer- the Physiologist- the Educationist- the Phrenologist.”

“Richard Carlile. “To the Lady at the Rotunda.” 1:18 (Dec. 2, 1832): 273-74. Carlile notifies the Lady of the Rotunda of his intent to build a “Temple of Knowledge,” near his home on Fleet Street, which will seat a “thousand persons within four walls, under a roof, and nothing more” and where they will not have to pay either rent or taxes.

Hermes. “To the Editress of the Isis.” 1:18 (Dec. 2, 1832): 275-76. The author writes, “You are the High Priestess of the Temple of Truth and Reason. You will win the applause of all good and intelligent men and women, not under the influence of withering prejudice; and, like your Manchester correspondents, I pray that you may escape the malice of Evangelism, a malice more malignant than any cholera. The poisoned arrow of the flying Parthian is not so deadly as the odium theologicum, as you see in the cruel sentence upon that most learned and most amiable man, the Rev. Robert Taylor.”

“The Fifth Discourse of “The Lady at the Rotunda.” The Unknown Tongues.” 1:19 (Dec. 9, 1832): 289-97. The Lady points out that, “The tongue most unknown is the tongue of truth. It has been cut, wounded, tied, suppressed, mangled, and ill-used in every possible way, for now near 1800 years. The tongue of truth is the fiery tongue, that kindles knowledge, and illuminates intellect. It alights on the heads of those who fervently seek it. It gives them the power of utterance. It speaks daggers to tyrants and to bad men generally, and rouses the revenge of misplaced authority.”

“The Editress to her Readers.” 1:25 (Jan. 20, 1833): 396 -97. The editress concludes her letter, “Free discussion is the panacea for all human ills. To the promotion of more ample discussion, I will devote the energies of my life. I will live for it and that only. I will associate with none who fear it. I will respect no such fears.”

“Richard Carlile. “To the Lady at the Rotunda.” 1:25 (Jan. 20, 1833): 397-98. Carlile contends that, “Eminence is produced by the originality of great undertakings and accomplishments. Imitation, however close, is not imminence. Frances Wright is a woman of splendid and original talent, of great eloquence, of full masculine understanding, great energy of purpose and action, and has done many things wonderful for a woman to do; yet, though I cannot flatter you, to say that you are yet her equal in knowledge, in experience, or in eloquence, I do flatter myself that you will become so before you reach her age; and I am sure that you have left her no chance of excelling you in greatness of soul, and in a resigned defiance to religious persecution.”

Richard Carlile. “To the Lady of the Rotunda.” 2:7 (Mar. 17, 1833): 109-11. Carlile confesses that, “I do hope to be in England what Paine was in America, the successful champion of republicanism; and more than this, I hope to finish that in this country, which Paine began in France, or to bring about so much of the overthrow of the existing superstition, as to establish and put in full legal practice the great moral principle of free discussion.”

Notes:

The editor reminds his readers that the “only object in publishing our weekly paper was to reprint The Devil’s Pulpit, and the Discourses of the Lady at the Rotunda.” 1:3 (May 3, 1832): 48.

No numbers issued from July 12 to Oct. 21, 1832.

“Index to Volume I of The Comet.” 1:26 (Jan. 26, 1833): 413-416.

Volume 2, number 15 is erroneously dated May 5, rather than May 12, 1833.

“Index to Volume II of The Comet.” 2:26 (July 28, 1833): 414-15.

Endnotes:

[1] In the last issue of The Comet, the editor revealed that, “H.M. Duhecquet; H.D. Robinson, the present editor of the Free Enquirer; and H.D.R., a contributor to both the Free Enquirer and The Comet, are one and the same- a Unity in Trinity.” “To the Readers of the Comet.” 2:26 (July 28, 1833): 414.

[2] President of South Carolina College – Cooper was tried on a charge of infidelity and acquitted.

[3] The editor describes this regular feature as consisting of:  “short original articles, and extracts of a curious or amusing kind . . . . a sort of literary chit-chat. 1:5 (May 17, 1832): 77.

 

 

 

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