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Since I have been so repeatedly charged by Mr. Williams with indecent and injurious treatment of Mr. Stoddard, (whom doubtless I ought to treat with much respect,) I may expect, from what appears of Mr. Williams’s disposition this way, to be charged with ill treatment of him too. I desire therefore that it may be justly considered by the reader, what is, and what is not, injurious or unhandsome treatment of an author in a controversy. And here I would crave leave to say, that I humbly conceive, a distinction ought to be made between opposing and exposing a cause, or the arguments used to defend it, and reproaching persons. He is a weak writer indeed, who undertakes to confute an opinion, but dares not expose the nakedness and absurdity of it, nor the weakness or inconsistence of the methods taken and arguments used by any to maintain it, for fear he should be guilty of speaking evil of these things, and be charged with reproaching them. If an antagonist is angry at this, he thereby gives his readers too much occasion of suspicion towards himself, as chargeable with weakness, or bitterness.
I therefore now give notice, that I have taken full liberty in this respect; only endeavouring to avoid pointed and exaggerating expressions. If to set forth what I suppose to be the true absurdity of Mr. Williams’s scheme, or any part of it, that it may be viewed justly in all its nakedness; withal observing the weakness of the defence he has made, not fearing to show wherein it is weak, and how the badness of his cause obliges him to be inconsistent with himself, inconsistent with his own professed principles in religion, and with things conceded and asserted by him in the book especially under consideration; and declaring particularly wherein I think his arguments, fail whether it be in begging the question, or being impertinent and beside the question, or arguing in effect against himself; also observing wherein Mr. W. has made misrepresentations of words or things; I say, if to do these things be reproaching him, and injurious treatment of him, then I have injured him.—But I think I should be foolish, if I were afraid to do that (and to do it as thoroughly as I can) which must be the design of my writing, if I write at all in opposition to his tenets, and to the defence he makes of them.
Indeed if I misrepresent what he says, in order to make it appear in the worst colours; altering his words to another sense, to make them appear more ridiculous; or adding other words, that carry the sense beyond the proper import of his words, to heighten the supposed absurdity, and give me greater advantage to exclaim; if I set myself to aggravate matters, and strain them beyond bounds, making mighty things of mere trifles: or if I use exclamations and invectives, instead of arguments; then Mr. W. might have just cause to complain, and the reader would have just reason for disgust. But whether I have done so, or not, must be judged by the reader; of whom I desire nothing more than the most impartial and exact consideration of the merits of the cause, and examination of the force and weight of every argument. I desire, that no bitter reproachful invectives, no vehement exclamations, no supercilious assuming words and phrases, may be taken for reasoning, on either side. If the reader thinks he finds any such in what I have written, I am willing he should set them aside as nothing worth; carefully distinguishing between them, and the strength of the argument. I desire not, that the cause should be judged of by the skill which either Mr. W. or I do manifest, in flinging one at another.
If in places where the argument pinches most, and there is the greatest appearance of strong reason, in Mr. W’s book, I do, (as some other disputants,) instead of entering thoroughly into the matter, begin to flounce and fling, and divert the reader’s attention to the argument, by the noise of big words, or magisterial and disdainful expressions; let the reader take it (as justly he may) for a shrewd sign of a consciousness of the weakness of my cause in that particular, 486 or at least of a distrust of my own ability to defend myself well in the reader’s apprehension, and to come off with a good grace any other way.
In this case, I shall not think it any injustice done me by the reader, though he suspects that I feel myself pressed, and begin to be in trouble, for fear I should not seem to come off like a champion, if I should trust to mere reasoning. I can uprightly say, I never have endeavoured by such means to evade a proper consideration of any part of Mr. W.‘s reasoning; nor have designedly contrived, in this or any other method, to free myself from the trouble of a just answer to any thing material in his book; and I have been especially careful to speak most particularly to the main parts of his scheme, and such of his reasonings as I could suppose those of his readers who are on his side, would be most likely to have their chief dependence on, and to think most difficult to be answered.
With regard to my method in this reply, I judged it most convenient to reduce my remarks on Mr. W.‘s principles, and the parts of his scheme, and kinds of arguing, which repeatedly appear in various parts of his book, to their proper heads. I thought this tended to give the reader a clearer and more comprehensive view of the whole controversy, and the nature of the arguments; and that it also would make my work the shorter. For otherwise, I must have had the same things, or things of the same nature, to have observed often, as I found them repeated in different parts of this book, and the same remarks to make over and over again.—And that the reader may not be without any advantages which he might have had in the other method, of keeping, in my reply, to the order in which things lie in the book answered, following my author from one page and paragraph to another, I have therefore subjoined a table, by which the reader may readily turn to what is said on each particular, that is wont to be brought into this debate, on one side or the other. 563563 This is now incorporated with the General Index.
With regard to my citations from Mr. W.‘s book, I have never designedly altered his words: and where I have for brevity’s sake referred to any sentiment of his, without citing the words at large, I have used care not to change or heighten the sense, or in any respect to vary from the just import of what he delivers. And that the reader may himself more easily and readily judge of the fairness of my citations and references, I have mentioned the page, and the part of the page, where the thing referred to is to be found: supposing each page to be divided into five equal parts, I have noted the several parts of the page by the letters a. b. c. d. e. So that when I have referred to the top of the page, or the first fifth part of it, I have mentioned the number of the page, and added the letter a. to the number: and if the middle, or third fifth part, then I have added the letter c.—and so of the rest, as the reader will see. I have ever done thus, unless the thing referred to is to be found through the whole or great part of the page. I have also done the same very often, where I have occasion to cite other authors. Only when I have before quoted the same thing, I am not always so exact and particular in noting the place again, in my second quotation or reference.
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