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Last updated:07 May 2015

Thomas Paine Collection

From WCML Bulletin No 2, 1992

The Thomas Paine collection was assembled by Adrian and Christopher Brunel over a period of some fifty years. It consists of books, pamphlets, prints, tokens and ephemera. The books are not only by and about Paine but also reflect the contemporary scene of the 1790s in America, France and Britain. Paine played a significant part in the affairs of each of these countries and influenced events there.

The collection reflects the polemics and controversies of the time. As a playwright and film director, it was natural that Adrian Brunel should choose Paine as the subject of a number of plays. Christopher, his son, added to the book collection and extensively to the tokens.1

Thomas Paine : sketch of Thomas Paine

Sketch of Thomas Paine

Richard Price , a dissenting minister, fired the first shot in the fierce pamphlet war in which Paine played a central part. A Discourse on the Love of our Country was delivered on 4 November 1789. Price stated that the principles of the revolution of 1689 gave:-
"...the right to choose our own government, to cashier them for misconduct, and to form a government for ourselves."2

Edmund Burke's Reflection on the French revolution was written in reply to Price.3 He defended the privileges and power of the ruling aristocracy, reverence for tradition and authority, and condemned the common people as "The swinish multitude".4 Paine was infuriated by Burke's book especially as he had been friendly with him. Paine spoke for the governed in a class divided society where the rich plundered the poor of their rights; Government appeared as Court parasitism, taxes as robbery to benefit rich pensioners and also to pay for wars of conquest.Cover of The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

Paine's answer to Burke was The Rights of Man.5 Part 1 was first published in London in 1791 and Part 2 a year later. Fifty thousand copies of Part 1 were sold before Part 2 was issued. In the second part, Paine argued for a republican government, against the monarchy, for democracy, against aristocracy and that the rights of man means the rights of all to representation. He linked political and economic demands. He advocated a graduated income tax to alleviate the conditions of the poor, family allowances, education of all children and old age pensions as a right for all.

While The Rights of Man remained an expensive volume, Paine was not prosecuted. But after a sixpenny edition was brought out on 21 May 1792, he was prosecuted and a Royal Proclamation was issued condemning the book.6 At the trial the Attorney General stated that it was, "ushered into the world in all shapes and sizes, thrust into the hands of subjects of every description, even children's sweetmeats being wrapped in it."7

In America, where Paine's Commonsense and Crisis Papers had already had a tremendous impact. The Rights of Man was first published in 1791. The publisher printed as a Foreword, an extract from a letter from the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, "I am extremely pleased to find this will be reprinted and that something is at length to be said publicly against the political heresies which have sprung up against us." This was a direct attack on the Vice President, John Adams whose adherents flocked to his defence. The subsequent controversy considerably enhanced the sales of the book and it was translated into many languages and printed in many cities both in Europe and America.8

Paine replied in stinging terms to the Royal Proclamation and to the charge of seditious libel. He called it, Address to the Addressers9 and it was published in October 1792, by Symonds and Rickman both of whom were prosecuted for doing so. Paine outlined a plan for a convention to review English law. He suggested that only those found worthy should be retained whilst the remainder should be scrapped.

Although Paine managed to escape to France just in time to avoid arrest, the trial went ahead.10 Paine was defended by Thomas Erskine who was noted for his vigorous defence of constitutional rights.11 A pensioner judge and a venal and packed jury found Paine guilty and as a result he was outlawed. There were many replies and hostile reviews of The Rights of Man,12 but in Paris it was enthusiastically acclaimed and Paine was elected as Deputy to the National Assembly by four Departments.

Cover of The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

The Age of Reason

Whilst in Paris, Paine wrote The Age of Reason.13 This is an attack on revealed religion exposing the myths, dogmas and absurdities of the Bible. In its place he substituted the religion of humanity and international brotherhood. He was immediately called an atheist and strongly condemned although in fact he was a deist.14 Among the numerous attacks on Paine15 the Brunel collection has six editions of Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff's An Apology for the Bible in a Series of Letters to Thomas Paine.16

During more than two hundred years, much of Paine's writing has been reprinted. In some instances as separate works but also in numerous collected and selected volumes.17 Over seventy biographies have been published about Paine both in book and pamphlet form. The Collection contains over forty of them including all the early ones.18

There are two books in the Brunel collection of particular and special interest and importance. One belonged to Thomas Walker,19 the leader of the Manchester radicals in the 1790's, who defended his house in the Parsonage against a Church and King mob. This volume contains a scurrilous Life of Paine, The Trial of Paine and The Two Trials of Daniel Isaac Eaton20 for publishing Paine. It also includes a very rare tract, The Case of Thomas Spence. There are several annotations throughout the volume. The Trial of Thomas Paine is inscribed "To Thomas Walker Esq. from the Hon. Thomas Erskine", while on page 196 Walker wrote:

"How instinctively conscious the supporters of despotism are that the whole system is fraud - wrong and error - if they were conscious that it was right they would court enquiry."

The other volume of special interest is The Political Works of Thomas Paine21 published by T.M. Wheeler at the office of the Chartist Co-operative Land Society. This volume contains a two page preface by the Executive Committee of the National Charter Association and the final item is the People's Charter adopted at Birmingham in 1842. The Preface states that the aim of the Chartists was to, "enrich the popular mind with the principles of political truth, create an ardent desire for the possession of liberty, as well as to dispel those mists of obloquy with which malignant bigotry, stupid prejudice, and stolid ignorance have enveloped his character."

Among many books which cover the social scene and political events in Britain, France and America are Frances Plowden's Jura Anglorum: Rights of Englishmen published in London in 1742, The Collected Works of Benjamin Franklin, London in three volumes and Lives of Remarkable Characters who have Distinguished Themselves from the Commencement of the French Revolution to the Present Time. This is also in three volumes published in London in 1814.

A Free Born Englishman - a cartoon about Thomas Paine

A Free Born Englishman

The collection contains, apart from books, a number of contemporary prints by Gillray which are mainly anti-radical. There are press cuttings of book reviews and accounts of Paine exhibitions and celebrations and leaflets and correspondence of the Thomas Paine Society. There are also invaluable catalogues and bibliographies which assist one in finding a way in the world of the 1790's. Some of the most interesting material are the typescripts of Adrian Brunel's plays written for radio and stage production.

Although Paine wrote two hundred years ago, his thinking and ideas are still relevant today. He possessed a gift of clarity of exposition - calling a spade a spade - that still appeals to his readers. In his farewell article to his readers in The Observer newspaper, Neal Ascherson wrote,22

"You sent me a great many letters over several years, about Paine. Again, the version that Paine was forgotten proved to be quite false. Instead, a powerful Paineite tradition turns out to have survived, underground at times, since the 1790's. It wasn't unexpected to find that among Scottish readers, or Welsh. But I had not imagined that there were still so many English radicals who used Tom Paine's analysis on their own nation.

It's worth spelling out what this implies. An alternative version of British history has survived, dating back to the Enlightenment, which regards our 'constitution' as an authoritarian sham. This version recognises the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament as a tyrannous archaism, the people should be sovereign, and the parliament they elect should be subject to a written Constitution. That Constitution would define the rights of the citizens, and allow the citizens to sue the State in court when those rights are violated."



1. The most comprehensive Paine collection was made by Richard Gimbel and it is now deposited in the library of the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia. There is a copy of the catalogue in the Working Class Movement Library. The Brunel collection is comparable with the Ambrose Barker collection in Thetford, a catalogue of which was published in 1979. The WCML acquired the Brunel collection as a bequest from Christopher Brunel and Margaret Kentfield in 1989.

2. A copy of Price's Discourse is in the WCML (5th edition 1770 with addition)

3. There are seven copies of Burke's Reflections in the Brunel collection, including the first, second and fourth published in 1790. There is also the 1910 and 1950 edition. Burke's Reflections - 1793 edition is bound with Paine's Rights of Man 1792. There is also a New York edition of both works in one volume published in 1961.

4. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the French Revolution 1790 (p117). This phrase, "the swinish multitude" evoked an angry reply in many satirical pamphlets and periodicals. Thomas Spence called one of his periodicals Pigs Meat or lessons for the swinish multitude. The three volumes of the third edition are in the WCML. Each has a print as a frontispiece showing the pig trampling the orb and sceptre, the symbols of royalty, underfoot.

5. The Brunel collection contains about fifty editions of The Rights of Man. By 1793 two hundred thousand copies had been sold, and by 1809 it was claimed that one and a half million copies had been sold. Of these early editions, the Brunel collection contains the Fourth, two copies of the Fifth, two of the Sixth, the Seventh, two of the Eighth and the Thirteenth of Part One only. Part Two was published by J. Jordan and there are copies of the Third, Fourth, two of the Fifth, two of the Eighth and the Ninth.

6. The sixpenny edition was published by H.D. Symonds. The Brunel collection contains multiple copies of the First edition of Part One and single copies of the First edition of Part Two.

7. The Whole Proceedings on the Trial of Thomas Paine for a Libel, taken in shorthand by Joseph Gurney 1793. 2nd ed., page 47.

8. It was published in New York, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Paris, Chicago, London, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, Dublin. Rennes, Glasgow, Greenock, Boston, Albany, Londonderry. Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Lundenburg (Vermont). The Brunel collection contains the French edition printed in Paris in 1791 and 1792, the Dublin editions of 1791 and 1792, the Greenock 1832 and the Dutch edition printed in Amsterdam in 1793. There is also a copy of the vest pocket edition published by B.D. Cousins in 1837.

9. There are four editions of The Address to the Addressers apart from those in collected works and bound volumes of pamphlets.

10. There are seven versions of The Trial, among them that of Joseph Gurney and J.S. Jordan.

11. In addition to Reports of the Trial, Erskine's speeches are contained in The Speeches of the Hon. Thomas Erskine collected by James Ridgeway. Four volumes, 1810

12. The Brunel collection contains about fifteen of these replies to The Rights Of Man. Included are: A Letter to Mr Paine on his Late Publication, Dublin 1792; C.H. Elliot, The Republican Refuted, 1791; T. Hardy, The Patriot, 1793; J. Hunt, Rights of Englishmen, 1791; Remarks on Mr Paine's Pamphlet, Dublin 1791; P. White, Rational Freedom, Edinburgh 1792; A Protest against Thomas Paine's Rights of Man, 1792.

13. There are thirty editions of The Age of Reason in the Brunel collection excluding those in collected works or bound in with other works. The First edition was printed by Barrois in Paris and sold by Daniel Isaac Eaton at the Cork and Swine in 1794.

14. In A Discourse Delivered to the Society of Theophilanthropists in Paris in 1797, Paine made a frontal attack on atheism. A reprint in 1798 was published by J. Johnson under the title, Atheism Refuted or a Discourse to Prove the Existence of a God. There is a copy in the Brunel collection and one in the Library of Congress. The copy in the Gimbel collection was photocopied from the latter.

15. Among the replies to The Age of Reason in the Brunel collection are: E. Winchester, A Defence of Revelation, London 1796; W. Grisenthwaite, A Refutation of the Argument Brought Against the Truth of Christianity, London 1825; G. Wakefield, An Examination of The Age Of Reason. London 1794; Joseph Priestley, An Answer to Mr Paine's Age of Reason, London 1796; Reply of the Bishop of Llandaff to the Second Part of The Age of Reason, London 1819.

16. These are, the Second and Third editions of 1796, a Belfast edition in the same year, the 1817 edition and one published by the American Tract Society under the title Reply to Paine, which is not dated.

17. It was not until E. Truelove published The Complete Works in 1850 that a satisfactory collection appeared.

18. The first two biographies of Paine by George Chalmers and James Cheetham were hostile. Those that followed, by C. Rickman and W.T. Sherwin were sympathetic. The definitive Life was written by M.C. Conway and published in two volumes in New York in 1892.

19. For Thomas Walker see Frida Knight The Strange case of Thomas Walker, London 1957.

20. Daniel Isaac Eaton (c1752-1814) was a courageous radical publisher who was persecuted and put on trial nine times. His trial in March, 1812 for publishing the Third Part of Paine's Age Of Reason resulted in imprisonment for eighteen months. This stung Shelley to write his spirited Letter to Lord Ellenborough entitled Blasphemy.

21. Not recorded in the Chartist Bibliography by J.F.C. Harrison and Dorothy Thompson

22. Observer 29.10.89

Thomas Paine: Voice of the Common People

Thomas Paine: Voice of the Common People