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On that Odd Letter of the Drum

To the Author of the Pennsylvania Gazette.

SIR, Burlington, April 27. 1730.

As I am your sincere Friend and Well-wisher, it is with a great deal of Pleasure I have observed your prudent Management of the News-Paper, in which, till last Week, there has been no one Thing seen that might justly give Offence either to Church or State, or to any private Person: But when I reflect how good a Judge you are of what is or is not proper to be published in that manner, I am puzzled to think what could induce you to insert that odd Letter of the Drum in your last Gazette. I am satisfied you know better than to imagine that such a Thing would please the Generality of your Readers, or that it might be instrumental in doing Good to any one Creature living; I believe you have had no Reason to be piqu’d against the Gentlemen there reflected on; and as to the Wit and Humour which some Persons of reputed Taste pretend to discern in it, I protest I can see none, and I think that true Wit and Humour cannot be employ’d in ridiculing Things serious and sacred. Whoever was the Writer of it, notwithstanding his seeming Reflection on Spinosists, Hobbists, and most impious Freethinkers, his Design is apparent, To bring the Dispensers of Religion among us into Contempt, and to weaken our Belief of the Divine Writings; a Design, in my Opinion, very unworthy an honest Man and a good Subject, even tho’ he was of no Religion at all. His depreciating the Holy Scriptures, by insinuating that the Story of the Drummer of Tedsworth is a better attested One than that of Saul and the Witch of Endor, as also his satyrical Sneer at the Meeting of those Reverend Gentlemen to prevent the Growth of Atheism, I pass over at present without any further Remark; and as I apprehend that Arguments drawn from the Truth of our Religion, will have but little Weight with this Writer, in dissuading him from such a Way of indulging his satyrical Humour, I would only request him to consider these Things seriously, to wit, That wise Men have in all Ages thought Government necessary for the Good of Mankind; and, that wise Governments have always thought Religion necessary for the well ordering and well-being of Society, and accordingly have been ever careful to encourage and protect the Ministers of it, paying them the highest publick Honours, that their Doctrines might thereby meet with the greater Respect among the common People; And that if there were no Truth in Religion, or the Salvation of Men’s Souls not worth regarding, yet, in consideration of the inestimable Service done to Mankind by the Clergy, as they are the Teachers and Supporters of Virtue and Morality, without which no Society could long subsist, prudent Men should be very cautious how they say or write any thing that might bring them into Contempt, and thereby weaken their Hands and render their Labours ineffectual. If this Writer is a Man of good Sense, as I am willing to think he is, I am persuaded this single Consideration will be sufficient to prevail with him never more to employ his Pen in so unjustifiable a manner.

Wise Men have in all Ages thought Government necessary for the Good of Mankind, & wise Governments have always thought Religion necessary for the well ordering & well-being of Society, & accordingly have been ever careful to encourage & protect the Ministers of it. -Ben Franklin

For my Part, I am entirely unacquainted with the Fact, the Relation of which this Writer pretends to have at first believ’d, till the Story of the Jamaica Curate stagger’d his Faith. If he really believ’d the Relation at first, I cannot see why that Story should stagger his Faith in the least: For tho’ one Man’s Ears may be as good as another’s when both are awake and in Company, it does not thence follow that one Man may not sleep sounder than another when in Bed. Besides, as far as we know, there is nothing absolutely impossible in the Thing it self: We cannot be certain there are no Spirits existing; it is rather highly probable that there are: But we are sure that if Spirits do exist, we are very ignorant of their Natures, and know neither their Motives nor Methods of Acting, nor can we tell by what Means they may render themselves perceptible to our Senses. Those who have contemplated the Nature of Animals seem to be convinced that Spirit can act upon Matter, for they ascribe the Motion of the Body to the Will and Power of the Mind. Anatomists also tell us, that there are Nerves of Communication from all Parts of the Body to the Brain: And Philosophers assure us, that the Vibrations of the Air striking on the Auditory Nerves, give to the Brain the Sensation of what we call Sound; and that the Rays of Light striking on the optic Nerves, communicate a Motion to the Brain which forms there the Image of that Thing from which those Rays were reflected: We find that a sudden Blow upon the Eye shakes the visual Nerve in the same Manner as when Light strikes it, and therefore we think we see a Light, when there is no such Thing at that Time visible without us, and no one standing by can see it, but the Person that is struck alone. Now, how can we be assur’d that it is not in the Power of a Spirit without the body to operate in a like manner on the Nerves of Sight, and give them the same Vibrations as when a certain Object appears before the Eye, (tho’ no such Object is really present) and accordingly make a particular Man see the Apparition of any Person or Thing at Pleasure, when no One else in Company can see it? May not such a Spirit likewise occasion the same Vibrations in the auditory Nerves as when the Sound of a Drum, or any other Sound, is heard, and thereby affect the Party in the same manner as a real Drum beating in the Room would do, tho’ no one hears it but himself. Perhaps I need not have said all this to a Person who believes the well-attested Story of the Drummer of Tedsworth, since there are many other Stories, equally incontestible with that, by which reasonable Men are convinc’d that Spirits do not only actually exist, but are able to make themselves sometimes both seen and heard.

In the Close of his Letter, after paying a Complement to your profound Learning and Judgment, he requests your Opinion, whether he ought to give Credit to the said Relation, tho’ it be attested by two Reverend Fathers. Since you have not thought proper to say any thing to it, I beg Leave to give the Gentleman my Opinion, which is, That he may very safely believe it, and that for the following Reasons.

1. Because, as I have shewn above, there is nothing absolutely impossible in the Thing it self.

2. Because they were Men of Probity, Learning and sound good Sense, who related this Fact to him upon their own Knowledge. If they were not such, ’tis presum’d they would not have been thought proper Persons to be made publick Instructors.

3. Because they both concur’d in the same Testimony; and it cannot be imagin’d what Interest they should have in contriving together to impose a Falshood of that Nature upon him; since they could expect Nothing but to be ridicul’d for their Pains, both by him and every other unthinking Sceptic in the Country.

If you insert this Epistle in your next Gazette, I shall believe you did not approve of That I have been writing against, and shall continue,

Your real Friend and constant Reader,

The Pennsylvania Gazette, May 7, 1730