Mary Astell

A Fair Way




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       A Third [mistake] may be his talking for Peace and Union in one Page (p.I), and in a little while being very angry at any thing that looks like preventing Posterity, from keeping up a Succession of  Dissenters in this Nation. This is, says he, a striking at the Root of the Dissenters Interest  (p. 4, 5); their Interest then, say I, is the main of their Religion; and Division is the Principal Article of their Faith. The Dissenters either believe our Communion Sinful and Damnable, or they do not believe it so; if the first, then they do that which so much provokes Short-ways, when he supposes it done by Mr. S.18 towards Dissenters (p. 13), they exclude us from hopes of Salvation;18  nay, they themselves do wilfully commit a Sin for filthy Lucres sake, as often as they become Occasional Conformists  for Preferment . But if our Communion is not absolutely Sinful, but only would be so to them, because they doubt of it, and because their Consciences are tender, which is the only justifiable Reason for granting Liberty of Conscience; what necessity of Nursing up their Children in the same Doubts and Scruples? which, make the best of them, are but Weaknesses; must the Off-springs Consciences needs be of the same Cut and Fashion with their Fore-father? And were it not better both for their own Posterity, and for the Nation in general (to which certainly these great Pretenders to Publick Spiritedness ought to have some regard) to lay the Seeds of Dissention as much out of their childrens way as possible, and not beat into their Heads such Fancies and Prejudices as would ne'er come there, were they not drove in by an aukward Education, or afterwards taken up upon Worldly and Unchristian Views, and for Temporal Advantage?  Short-ways may call it Nonsense  as long as he please (p.5),20 but surely could a Method be found out to prevent Posterity from falling into the Separation, it would be one of the greatest Benefits could be done this Kingdom, and no manner of Prejudice to the Toleration Suppressing of their Schools would be a very good and necessary Work, were it like to destroy a Faction; which sure could do no manner of hurt to a truly Conscientious Dissenter. As for such as would keep up the Party and Separation to perpetuity, unless we're resolv'd to wink very hard and to take no warning of the Precipice, they plainly shew us, that the Ruin of the Church is the thing they are resolv'd on, and that their fear of being prevented in this Design is the only matter that Alarms them, how loudly soever they may Clamour, with their pretended Fears of their own Destruction.
       Fourthly, It is not true that Mr. Sacheverel is the Real Author of the Shortest-Way, or else your Friend Defoe is a Plagiary; that Original of Honesty, Truth and Ingenuity, being Printed among his Handicrafts, with his own shining Face in the front of them. As for Mr. Sacheverel, and those other Gentlemen whom Short-ways is so free with, they are of Age let them answer for themselves.

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18 Henry Sacheverell.
19 Defoe, More Short-Ways, p. 13, denied the charges made by Sacheverell against the Dissenters of 'Phanaticism' and 'Diabolical Prejudices' (see especially Sacheverell, Nature and Mischief, pp. 14-15). He accuses Sacheverell of staking out an exclusivist position that none of the 'Eminent Persons' of his own Church would support: 'none of 'em would ever Advance a Notion so Black, so full of Malice, and so empty of Charity, that we are under Diabolical Prejudices, and consequently cannot be sav'd out of your Church, this is Popery in its Exalted Extreams'.
20 Astell refers to one of the arguments against Dissent reported by Defoe (More Short-Ways, p. 5): 'That this design of suppressing their Schools does not Affect the Dissenters, they may serve God according to the Toleration their own Way, it only prevents Posterity following their Method.' To this Defoe responded 'this is such jesting with the dissenters, and such a civil way of telling them they are all Fools, that it can hardly be allow'd to pass without a little Satyr upon the Nonsence of it'. It is an argument that, undeterred, Astell repeats.

Astell, Mary. Political Writings. Patricia Springborg, ed.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 93-4.

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