1826 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

David Mallet

Richard Ryan, in Poetry and Poets: being a Collection of the choicest Anecdotes relative to the Poets of every Age and Nation (1826) 1:270-72.



MALLET was not only a great free-thinker, but a very free speaker of his free thoughts. He made no scruple to disseminate his sceptical opinions wherever he could with any propriety introduce them. At his own table, indeed, the lady of the house, who was a staunch advocate for her husband's opinions, would often, in the warmth of argument, say, "Sir, we Deists." — She once made use of this expression, in a mixed company, to David Hume, who refused the intended compliment, by asserting that he was a very good Christian; for the truth of which, he appealed to a worthy clergyman present; and this occasioned a laugh, which a little disconcerted the lady and Mr. Mallet.

The lecture upon the non-credenda of the Free-thinkers was repeated so often, and urged with so much earnestness, that the inferior domestics soon became as able disputants as the heads of the family. The fellow who waited at table being thoroughly convinced that for any of his misdeeds he should have no after-account to make, was resolved to profit by the doctrine, and made off with many things of value, particularly plate. Luckily he was so closely pursued, that he was brought back with his spoil to his master's house, who examined him before some of his select friends. At first the man was sullen, and would answer no questions put to him; but being urged to give a reason for his infamous behaviour, he resolutely said, "Sir, I had heard you so often talk of the impossibility of a future state, and that after death there was no reward for virtue, or punishment for vice, that I was tempted to commit the robbery." "Well, but, you rascal!" replied Mallet, "had you no fear of the gallows?" — "Sir," said the fellow, looking sternly at his master, "what is that to you, if I had a mind to venture that? You had removed my greatest terror, why should I fear the lesser?"