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In constructing an allegory as an introduction to the following Essays, the author has had respect to the common prejudice against whatever appears to be personal. It was necessary for him to exhibit the errors with which he had to conflict, and this he thought would be the most inoffensive mode, and also the safest, of bringing them before the reader, upon the principle of the motto he has chosen,
Diligite homines : interficite errores. It has not been his desire to expose any individuals to shame, and therefore he has suppressed the names of the writers out of whose works he has gathered his examples of false doctrine and pernicious sentiment. In this he has also been actuated by a directly opposite consideration to that which influenced Pascal, in his celebrated Provincial Letters, exposing the dark and destructive subtleties of the Jesuits. He gave the names of the authors whom he quoted, and when questioned as to his reason for it, he made answer—“ If I lived in a city where there were a dozen fountains, and I certainly knew there was one which was poisoned, I should be obliged to advertise all the world to draw no water from that fountain; and as they might think it was a pure imagination on my part, I should be obliged to name him who had poisoned it, rather than expose all the city to the danger of being poisoned by it.” Begging the great philosopher's pardon, however good this reason might be for him to act upon in his day, our observation has led us to adopt the reverse; for such is the morbid curiosity of mankind in general to taste forbidden fruit, that you have only to proclaim a book to be a bad book, to set all men reading it. We think it much wiser, therefore, not thus to advertise other men's errors, but only to exhibit a glass in which they may be seen.
It is the remark of an old writer, that “there is not a better, more vehement, or mightier thing to make a man understand withal, than an allegory.” (Tyndale.) The author trusts that this will prove to be not theory but reality, in regard to the allegory which he has constructed, every circumstance of which is intended to have a hidden meaning. The same writer says that “allegories make a man quickwitted." It is to exercise the wit of the ingenious, and at the same time to amuse the lovers of the grotesque in fancy, such a creature as a sevenheaded serpent has been imagined, to symbolise the spirit of error; and it may perhaps afford no unprofitable employment to those who are fond of mystery, to set themselves to trace out the relation of the seven heads of this monstrum horrendum, to the seven heads of discussion taken up in the seven subsequent Essays.