Calvin Blanchard, “My Undertaking and Its Auspices” (1861)

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In the back pages of his Religio-political physics: or, The science and art of man’s deliverance from ignorance-engendered mysticism, and its resulting theo-moral quackery and governmental brigandage (1861), Calvin Blanchard, libertarian positivist publisher and bookseller, included a short essay, “My Undertaking and its Auspices,” which addressed his mission as a publisher and, in a humorous way, suggested that, despite all sorts of apparent resistance to “infidel literature,” most people were really on his side. The piece is a nice specimen of Blanchard’s prose, and also a nice contrast with the position laid out by Henry Edger in his Modern Times, the Labor Question, and the Family. Blanchard and Edger were to two Comptean positivists most connected in early American libertarian circles.

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[Calvin Blanchard]

In 1854, Comte’s Positive Philosophy and Feuerbach’s Essence of Christianity fell under my observation. Many years before I had read Fourier. His system, by itself, however, seemed to me to lack foundation. But Comte furnished that foundation, and Feuerbach’s demonstration of the naturalness of “supernaturalism” precluded the possibility of my coming to any other conclusion in the premises than that the religious idea was the index to, and nature’s guaranty for, that Heaven on earth, of which Fourier was the prophet, but which he, unfortunately, attempted to minutely describe at too great a distance, and thus fell into vagaries, with respect to particulars, which did much to obscure, and bring into contempt, his most profound and transcendently brilliant discoveries.

I now determined to do all that lay in my power to forward that human perfection which was no longer a mere vague abstraction, but a mathematically calculable certainty. I soon placed before the American public, “The Positive Philosophy” of Auguste Comte, “The Essence of Christianity,” by Ludwig Feuerbach, and Fourier’s “Social Destiny of Man.”

It is but justice to. Messrs. D. Appleton & Co. to say that before I commenced publishing liberal books, they imported an edition of The Positive Philosophy; a work as much more powerful in the destruction of theology, than anything before written, as Sharp’s rifles and artillery are more destructive than pop-guns and bows and arrows.

Also, the Messrs. Harper & Brothers had the honor to precede me in the publication of “Howitt’s History of Priestcraft.” They also, as I do, publish that silencer of Moses—that most powerful antidote to superstition, priestcraft, and old fogyism, “Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.”

In fact the largest publishers both in France, Germany, England, and the United States are finding it for their interest to publish, not only the most thorough of what are vulgarly called “infidel books,” but even those books which recognize the rights of the human passions. To such an extent have passional rights come to be respected, that our more fashionable periodicals increased their circulation immensely by laying before their readers that unanswerable plea for the freedom of the affections, purporting to be a letter from the truly Honorable Mrs. Mary Gurney.

Do the Harpers, the Browns, the Littles, the Bohns, the Appletons, the Longmans, and the numerous other eminent publishers who are putting forth books which are sapping the very foundation of “our holy religion” in a “quiet way,” as their Christian (?) apologists term it, sincerely believe what they profess to? When I professed the religion of Christianity (which was only whilst I remained ignorant of the fact that its truth had been understandingly disputed), I was as sincere as I am now that I profess the religion of science, and I most solemnly declare, that I would have suffered martyrdom in its most horrible form, sooner than I would have published Higgins’s “Anacalypsis,” Comte’s “Positive Philosophy,” Theodore Parker’s works, Buckle’s “History of Civilization in England,” Hume’s “Essays,” the “Vestiges of Creation,” Howitt’s “History of Priestcraft,” Humboldt’s “Letters to Von Ense,” or hundreds of similar works now put forth in “a quiet way,” by Christian (?) publishers. I most earnestly entreat the Christian (?) apologists, for the “quiet” method of “damning souls” and demoralizing mankind,” to reflect one moment on the character of the scheme which they are apologizing for. Do but this, and whatever may be your conclusions as to religion, you will respect, aye, love me ever afterward for this hint.

The “Essence of Science” I published in 1859, and “The Religion of Science” in 1860. These give a view of the results which a practical application of Comte, Feuerbach and Fourier must produce. They show conclusively, that nature is sufficient; that she spontaneously tends to perfection. And they demonstrate how man can so facilitate the process, that this great aim of nature may be attained with rapid and constantly increasing speed. Up to the present time, so great has been the demand for books liberal not only with respect to opposition to theology and its governmental superstructure, but with respect to the long-crushed rights of the human passions, that my publications are now forty-four in number, of large size on the average, and many of them have, without recourse to auction sales or to the fraudulent and gambling credit system, reached their fifth edition.


The clergy have been most encouraging purchasers of my books, as their preaching attests. Scarcely a discourse do they deliver in which they do not allude to some of them, or their contents, and in a manner exactly calculated to arouse curiosity respecting, and to stir up inquiry for them. The best points in their sermons are suggested by my publications, as all know who have heard the one and read the other. The books which I publish, and similar ones, are now far more consulted by the higher clergy than is the Bible itself. Evidently, they long to be able to preach the religion of science, to expand the infant mind by means of it, instead of cramping it all but to death within the narrow compass of the religion of mystery. As, throughout Nature, the good which is capable of arising from use, is in exact proportion to the evil which arises from abuse, what conceivable good may we not with certainty expect from that now most abominable of abuses, the church?


From the wealthy—from those who are heartily sick of the mockery of the gilding which little more than hides their misery from those who cannot afford whitewash for theirs—who see that the way which I am showing is the only one whereby wealth can be made valuable to any extent worth mentioning, have I also received most substantial support. But I must not mention names. We must “wait a little longer” (and I am encouraged to think not very long) before it will be popularly glorious to reward the toils and strengthen the hands of those who are laboring for the religion of science and its practical liberty and goodness.


Terrified by superstition, and brow-beaten and constrained by old fogyism, their silver-toned voices and sweet lips may filter out No, but their ravishing eyes say Yes. Their inmost heart-aspirations are for the triumph of a religious and social system which will develop them beyond a blemish; thus banishing their jealousies of each other, and rendering them very goddesses at whose feet it will be the highest bliss of man, commensurately developed, to adore. In their inmost hearts, they long for the time when love will be universally reciprocal, and when lovers may, secure from harm and consequent disgrace, spontaneously luxuriate in each other’s embraces.


Mankind express their fears that the intelligible perfection which I, an apostle of the religion of science preach, is “too good to be true.” They thus naively own that their very hearts’ desire is for the triumph of the religion of science and for my success. Is not happiness the wish of all? Can any one object to Heaven on earth? Why believe in a millennium incomprehensibly producible, instead of in one demonstrably practicable?


even do not hate me; they but delude themselves when they think so. Man’s own ignorance is the only thing which he really hates. It is his ignorance alone which stands between him and perfect, and sufficiently lasting happiness; ignorance with respect to the modifications and harmonies of which the substantial is precisely as susceptible as that figment of the imagination, the “spiritual,” is incoherently fancied to be. There is, there can be, no despotism, no evil, of which the kind of ignorance just named is not the sole cause.


The Religious Press, even, indirectly aids me!

a newspaper unctuous of holiness, in an elaborate general notice of all the books published by me, says that they are “without suppression,” and that I have “wit enough to see that honesty is the best policy;” which high eulogium contrasts ludicrously enough with its author’s simultaneous feint of reproving me for my course as a publisher

Is it a rare specimen of “honesty,” and therefore deserving of special praise, for an American publisher to put forth books of vital importance to mankind “without suppression?” Have either of the editors of “The World” (one of whom I am told is a “Shakspeare Scholar“) ever been employed in mutilating European books for the edification of the American public, a public which glories in nothing so much as in being its own best judge in all matters pertaining to religion, government and morals?

The censorship of the press is so odious, that it has to be exercised with great caution and due formality, even in imperial France. Do publishers, in “free” America, dare to erect themselves into the most insufferable of tyrants? And am I the only publisher on whom this Great Democratic Republic can safely rely?” “The World’s” praise is either alarmingly significant, or altogether too complimentary. I am well assured that the views of “The Worldsub rosâ, both with respect to “the flesh” and “the devil,” are “all right,” that its whole body editorial inwardly prefers truth to falsehood; and that they would fain displace books which perpetuate mystery, despotism and old fogyism by those which advocate intelligibility; which demonstrate how to achieve actual liberty; which show how abominably the sexual relations have hitherto been fooled with, and how to remedy that and every other evil. But whoever dares not say so in a straightforward manner evidently has not yet, as “The World” says that I have, made the grand discovery that “honesty is the best policy.”

The World” evidently does not discern the signs of the times. It libels the intelligence of the age, and underrates nineteenth century advancement in not daring to approve my course and recommend my publications, without feigning to be doing the contrary.

Does “The World” expect or desire to be believed sincere by those whose opinions it values, and whose judgments it respects, when it affirms that the renowned “Decameron” of Boccaccio,* and the world-famous “Confessions” of Jean Jacques Rousseau, are works of “slender literary merit?” “The Confessions,” says Lord Brougham, “is the greatest triumph ever won by diction.”

Does “The World” sincerely wish it to be understood that it judges Dryden, Ovid, and Johannes Secundus to be authors of “slender literary merit?”

Nor shall “The World” excuse itself for advertising my publications “gratis,” under the pretext of exposing me for attempting to bribe it to puff them. At the risk of appearing ungrateful, even, I assert, upon my honor, that I never, either “anonymously” or “personally,” offered, or instigated to be offered, pay to any one for “puffing” or praising my books; that I knew nothing whatever concerning a recent “Puff Gratis,” both of myself and my books, until I read it in “The World.” When I cannot do business except by such contemptible methods, I will retire, or, at least be consistent enough to publish only such books as are conceived in falsehood, and can best be palmed off through corruption.

I am duly grateful to “The World” for its evident good intentions toward me as a publisher of “Books which are Books,” and which are reliable, or “without suppression,” and, in return, I will give it a piece of information. Mankind, with the exception of the pitiably unintelligent, are now so sick of mystery, and its superincumbent political, social, and moral inefficiency and abomination, that they simply endure these together with the gammon which hypocritical cowards perpetrate in consequence thereof, because they do not well see how to get rid of them, they patiently suffer these, whilst waiting for the triumph of the intelligible and satisfactory religion of science, and its corresponding governmental or social art. If you have anything useful, or which after duly considering, you deem useful and practical, to offer on religious and social subjects, or, if you wish to direct attention to useful books in relation thereto, and guide the thinking public to where such books are sold, let what you say indicate directly what you mean. All but downright fools will like you the better for it, and, what is of vastly more importance to yourself, or should be, you will thus justly secure your own respect and esteem.

If we really have an inquisition in this country, a power somehow lurking in our social structure—in our “model republic,” which overrides its own “free” ” Constitution,” vetoes Protestantism, and belies all our boasts of liberty, a power before whom reformers, or their friends have cause to quail, and falter and prevaricate, as “The World” seemingly does, measures cannot be too promptly taken to eliminate that abomination, to purge our democratic republic of what, to it, is immeasurably more humiliating and disgraceful than it can be in Spain, or in any country where civilization has not advanced to Protestantism and its correlative, the “elective franchise.”

* Such writers as Ben Jonson, Dryden, Moliere, and even Shakspeare, have, surreptitiously, I am sorry to say, taken Boccacio for their model; and Roscoe, and even Milton, seem at a loss for terms strong enough to express their admiration of the genius which conceived “The Decameron.”


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.