Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. III. Seventeenth Century
Flattery of Epicurus
By Richard Bentley (16621742)
From Remarks on Collinss Discourse of Freethinking
BUT hes now come to Epicurus, a man distinguished in all ages as a great free-thinker, and I do not design to rob our growing sect of the honour of so great a founder. Hes allowed to stand firm in the list, in the right modern acceptation of the word. But when our writer commends his virtues towards his parents, brethren, servants, humanity to all, love to his country, chastity, temperance, and frugality; he ought to reflect that he takes the character from Laërtius, a domestic witness, and one of the sect; and consequently of little credit where he speaks for his master. I could draw a picture of Epicurus in features and colours quite contrary; and bring many old witnesses, who knew and saw him, to vouch for its likeness. But these things are trite and common among men of true letters; and our author and his pamphlet are too contemptible to require commonplaces in answer.
But the noble quality of all, the most divine of his and all virtues was his friendship; So cultivated in perfection by him and his followers, that the succession of his school lasted many hundred years after all the others had failed. This last part is true in the author from whom it is taken; but our gleaner here misunderstands it. The succession indeed continued at Athens, in the garden dedicated to it, longer than the other sects possessed their first stations. But its utterly false that professors of it lasted longer in general than those of the others. Quite contrary: tis well known that the Platonists, Peripatetics, and Stoics, or rather a jumble and compound of them all, subsisted long after the empire was Christian; when there was no school, no footstep of the Epicureans left in the world.
But how does our writer prove that this noble quality, friendship, was so eminently cultivated by Epicurus? Why, Cicero, says he, though otherwise a great adversary to his philosophical opinions, gives him this noble testimony. I confess it raises my scorn and indignation at this mushroom scribbler, to see him by and by, with an air of superiority, prescribing to the whole body of your clergy the true method of quoting Cicero. They consider not, says he, he writes in dialogue, but quote anything that fits their purpose, as Ciceros opinion, without attending to the person that speaks it; any false argument, which he makes the Stoic or Epicurean use, and which they have thought fit to sanctify, they urge it as Ciceros own. Out of his own mouth this pert teacher of his betters: [Greek].1
For this very noble testimony, which he urges here as Ciceros own, comes from the mouth of Torquatus, an Epicurean; and is afterwards refuted by Cicero in his own name and person. Nay, so purblind and stupid was our writer, as not to attend to the beginning of his own passage, which he ushers in thus docked and curtailed: Epicurus ita dicit, etc. Epicurus declares it to be his opinion, that friendship is the noblest, most extensive, and most delicious pleasure. Whereas in Torquatus it lies thus: The remaining head to be spoken to is friendship; which, if pleasure be declared to be the chief good, you affirm will be all gone and extinct: de qua Epicurus quidem ita dicit, concerning which Epicurus declares his opinion, etc. Where its manifest that affirmatis, you affirm, is spoken of and to Cicero. So that heres an Epicurean testimony, of small credit in their own case (though our writer has thought fit to sanctify it), slurred upon us for Ciceros; and where the very Epicurean declares that Cicero was of a contrary opinion.