William Winwood Reade

If indeed there were a judgment-day, it would be for man to appear at the bar not as a criminal but as accuser.
As the saints and prophets were often forced to practise long vigils and fastings and prayers before their ecstasies would fall upon them and their visions would appear, so Virtue in its purest and most exalted form can only be acquired by means of severe and long continued culture of the mind. Persons with feeble and untrained intellects may live according to their conscience; but the conscience itself will be defective. … To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty; and when this truth is fairly recognized by men, the religion which teaches that the intellect should be distrusted and that it should be subservient to faith, will inevitably fall.

William Winwood Reade (December 26, 1838April 24, 1875) was a Scottish philosopher, historian, anthropologist and explorer born in Perthshire, Scotland. His best-known book, The Martyrdom of Man, was a controversial freethinking study of world history.

SourcedEdit

The Martyrdom of Man (1872)Edit

Quotations are cited from the Thinker's Library edition (1943)
  • It is a sure criterion of the civilisation of ancient Egypt that the soldiers did not carry arms except on duty, and that the private citizens did not carry them at all.
    • "War", p. 13
  • It may safely be asserted that the art of war will soon be reduced to a simple question of expenditure and credit, and that the largest purse will be the strongest arm.
    • "War", pp. 24-5
  • The essence of religion is inertia; the essence of science is change. It is the function of the one to preserve, it is the function of the other to improve. If, as in Egypt, they are firmly chained together, either science will advance, in which case the religion will be altered, or the religion will preserve its purity, and science will congeal.
    • "War", p. 27
  • Open the book of universal history at what period we may, it is always the India trade which is the cause of internal industry and foreign negotiation.
    • "War", p. 40
  • All doctrines relating to the creation of the world, the government of man by superior beings, and his destiny after death, are conjectures which have been given out as facts, handed down with many adornments by tradition, and accepted by posterity as "revealed religion". They are theories more or less rational which uncivilised men have devised in order to explain the facts of life, and which civilised men believe that they believe.
    • "Religion", p. 138
  • As a single atom man is an enigma: as a whole he is a mathematical problem. As an individual he is a free agent, as a species the offspring of necessity.
    • "Religion", pp. 143-4
  • If Christianity were true religious persecution would become a pious and charitable duty: if God designs to punish men for their opinions it would be an act of mercy to mankind to extinguish such opinions. By burning the bodies of those who diffuse them many souls would be saved that would otherwise be lost, and so there would be an economy of torment in the long run. It is therefore not surprising that enthusiasts should be intolerant.
    • "Religion", p. 178
  • Doubt is the offspring of knowledge: the savage never doubts at all.
    • "Religion", p. 189
  • If we look into ourselves we discover propensities which declare that our intellects have arisen from a lower form; could our minds be made visible we should find them tailed.
    • "Liberty", p. 314
  • The philosophic spirit of inquiry may be traced to brute curiosity, and that to the habit of examining all things in search of food. Artistic genius is an expansion of monkey imitativeness.
    • "Liberty", p. 315
  • There is a certain class of people who prefer to say that their fathers came down in the world through their own follies rather than to boast that they rose in the world through their own industry and talents. It is the same shabby-genteel sentiment, the same vanity of birth, which makes men prefer to believe that they are degenerated angels rather than elevated apes.
    • "Liberty", p. 315
  • We live between two worlds; we soar in the atmosphere; we creep upon the soil; we have the aspirations of creators and the propensities of quadrupeds. There can be but one explanation of this fact. We are passing from the animal into a higher form, and the drama of this planet is in its second act.
    • "Liberty", p. 316
  • Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought nothing out but loads of dung. That was their return cargo. London turns dirt into gold. Rome turned gold into dirt.
    • "Intellect", pp. 383-4
  • A religion so cheerless, a philosophy so sorrowful, could never have succeeded with the masses of mankind if presented only as a system of metaphysics. Buddhism owed its success to its catholic spirit and its beautiful morality.
    • "Intellect", p. 385
  • In Europe itself it is not probable that war will ever absolutely cease until science discovers some destroying force so simple in its administration, so horrible in its effects, that all art, all gallantry, will be at an end, and battles will be massacres which the feelings of mankind will be unable to endure.
    • "Intellect", pp. 405-6
  • As for the system of the Commune, which makes it impossible for a man to rise or fall, it is merely the old caste system revived; if it could be put into force, all industry would be disheartened, emulation would cease, and mankind would go to sleep.
    • "Intellect", p. 408
  • If indeed there were a judgment-day, it would be for man to appear at the bar not as a criminal but as accuser.
    • "Intellect", p. 417
  • As the saints and prophets were often forced to practise long vigils and fastings and prayers before their ecstasies would fall upon them and their visions would appear, so Virtue in its purest and most exalted form can only be acquired by means of severe and long continued culture of the mind. Persons with feeble and untrained intellects may live according to their conscience; but the conscience itself will be defective. … To cultivate the intellect is therefore a religious duty; and when this truth is fairly recognized by men, the religion which teaches that the intellect should be distrusted and that it should be subservient to faith, will inevitably fall.
    • p. 540

Criticism of The Martyrdom of ManEdit

  • The first rational exposition of the relations of mankind to the mystery which shrouds the how and wherefore of man’s existence.
  • One book that has influenced the writer very strongly is Winwood Reade's Martyrdom of Man…It is still an extraordinarily inspiring presentation of human history as one consistent process.
  • Reade was an emancipating writer because he seemed to speak as man to man to resolve history into an intelligible pattern in which there was no need for miracles. Even if he was wrong, he was grown-up.
    • George Orwell Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (1970) vol. 4, p. 147.

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Last modified on 28 January 2014, at 15:40