Relentless Ruffians, Fell Attorneys, And . . .

Reading Susan Jacoby’s long grumble about the dearth of women in the “secularist movement” (why does it have to be a movement?) my eye was caught by this:

Atheists to this day are constantly accused of being shrill, but in a sexist atmosphere shrill seems shriller when it’s a woman who is speaking.  As a Massachusetts newspaper wrote in the 1850s of Ernestine Rose, an immigrant from Poland who is another overlooked female figure in the history of American atheism, “We know of no object more deserving of contempt, loathing, and abhorrence than a female atheist. We hold the vilest strumpet from the stews to be by comparison respectable.”

Dr. Johnson got there first, in his description of 1730s London:

Here malice, rapine, accident, conspire,
And now a rabble rages, now a fire;
Their ambush here relentless ruffians lay,
And here the fell attorney prowls for prey;
Here falling houses thunder on your head,
And here a female atheist talks you dead.

Johnson’s imitations of Juvenal are well worth the trouble.  Here (and here, and here) is another one.

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