Volume 1: Letters and Early Epistolary Writings
Edited by Philip Barnard, Elizabeth Hewitt, and Mark L. Kamrath
"I listen with respect to your advice on the subject of Christianity, but, my friend, we are far from well understanding each other on the subject. How ambiguous is the meaning of that word? How difficult to ascertain its true meaning? You talk of it as if you thoroughly understood it. You are aware that there are a thousand sects in the world, who call themselves Christians, who differ essentially from each other in their practical and speculative creed, that there are sects who affirm the humanity of Christ, and deny the eternity of future punishment, and whose religion justifies every freak of fickleness, and caprice of the passions. Have you determined which of these is true? Are you qualified, by your present ignorance of languages and history, to decide, those intricate and obscure questions? If you are, I am not. . . .
It is not the rational business of men to settle what is the creed of Moses, of Christ, of Mohamet, of Confucius, of Pythagoras or Solon. It is indeed not without use: it is, in a certain degree, properly the theme of historical curiosity, but the chief business is to ascertain the dictates of moral duty, by consulting his understanding, and measuring the opinions of others whatever may be their pretensions, by the standard of his own judgement.— You say I have mistaken the Christian tenets. It is of little moment: I deny that religious sanctions are friendly to morality. I deny the superhuman authority of any teacher: and a future retribution. Were these affirmed by Jesus Christ or merely by you? It is indifferent: The truth is the same independantly of any one's assertion or authority."
from "Letter to Joseph Bringhurst, October 24, 1795"
- This volume will include all 183 of Brown's known letters. Correspondents include Anthony Bleeker, Thomas Pym Cope, William Dunlap, Albert Gallatin, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Miller, John Howard Payne, and Elihu Hubbard Smith.
- An edition of Brown's letters will yield great insight into his personal life as well as the issues that preoccupied his contemporaries. Letters, for example, to Samuel Miller, Joseph Bringhurst, and his brother James Brown contain considerable information about the 18th century (such as a retrospective look at its accomplishments), Brown's understanding and reception of Godwinism relative to Christianity, and the psychological effects of Yellow Fever on Philadelphia.