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out to their friends, and children, as enemies, as gins and snares.
which they were ever cautiously to spy out, and eagerly to avoid.
Every company, into which they enter, after their character is known, feels a sudden pressure upon its thoughts, and an alarm for its peace and safety. The aspect is changed at once. The features, relaxed by ease, friendship, and confidence, are suddenly contracted, and fixed. The eye quits its smile of serenity and pleasure; and settles itself in the attitude of vigilance, apprehensive and ill-boding; and the conversation, which sprang from the heart, reciprocated friendship, and awakened delight, is chilled down in a moment into general, unmeaning observations; adopted, only because they have no meaning, and because no tale of mischief can be told about them. When such a man resides in a neighbourhood; a thick cloud hangs over all its enjoyments. When he removes; it is again covered with cheerfulness and sunshine. With a criminality, often greater, we slander others by giving accounts concerning them, which are true. No excuse is more frequently, or more confidently, pleaded as an ample justification of malignant stories concerning others, than this; that they are true. The author of ill-natured tales, or remarks, is not indeed chargeable, in this case, with the crime of falsehood. Still, he may be really, and eminently, criminal. If the good name of our neighbour be injured; the great evil in question is done. If it be injured by us; the evil is done by us. If we have injured it with pleasure; our malevolence is real; and therefore our guilt is real. That guilt also may be as great, or greater, in the eye of God, than any, which even we ourselves have attributed to the inventor of a slanderous story. Be it so, that our neighbour has slipped: and that he has sinned against God. Still, if his sin remain with him, he may repent; and his repentance may render his character better, and his hopes brighter, than ours. Still, his talents may be employed for the benefit of himself, his family, and mankind. All this benefit, and all the comfort which he, and his, might enjoy, we may thus prevent, and blast for ever. My neighbour is a merchant. In a course of honest industry, he is reduced by misfortunes to failing circumstances. The fact is known to me. I publish it. His creditors, anxious to secure, as far as may be, their own property, seize upon his effects; and perhaps confine him in a prison. Thus he may be completely ruined by a story, which I have told; and a story, which is true. Thus, also, his family are reduced to want; and see their hopes of support, education, usefulness, and comfort, finally destroyed. Had I, with the prudence and benevolence, which Christianity inspires, confined this secret within my own breast; the industry of my neighbour, his skill in business, his integrity, and the credit which he had merited, and gained, by these qualifications, would have enabled him to continue in trade without interruption; and probably to acquire all the necessary means of comfort and prosperity for himself and his family. These blessings I have prevented; and am chargeable with the prevention. I have not, indeed, told a falsehood; but I have done mischief, which is incalculable, and which a falsehood, in the case supposed, could not have done. Why have I done this mischief? There was no necessity, that my neighbour should be injured; that his failings should be published; that his character should be lowered; that his misfortunes should be announced to the world; that the peace of his family should be wounded, their enjoyments cut off, and their hopes blasted in the bud. In all this there is no profit to me, nor to mankind: nor, unless I am possessed of the spirit of a fiend, can there be any pleasure. It is evident, therefore, beyond debate, that he, who tells a mischievous story, and that he, who by declaring his belief of a mischievous story, told by others, lends it the credit and sanction of his own authority, are essentially, and alike, guilty of slander. In the conduct specified, both, also, are without exCuse. - So long as persons of reputation will either repeat the false stories of others, invented for the purpose of lowering, or destroy. ing, character; or will publish malignant truths, concerning others; the peace, the good name, and the comfort, of mankind will be invaded and destroyed. 2. Slander may be practised without inventing, or repeating, malignant stories, whether true or false.
This may be done, in the first place, by listening to the slanderous stories of others. He, who listens to a story of this nature without expressing his disapprobation, declares by his conduct, the strongest of all attestations, that he considers it as meriting his attention, and, in some degree, his belief. This belief, and even this attention, from persons of respectability, will give the slander a weight, and currency, which it could never have derived from the inventor. Those, who see us listen in this manner, will conclude of course, that the slander, in our view, has 'foundation, and importance. Hence they will be induced both to believe, and to report, what, otherwise, they would have disregarded. The inventor of slander derives all his consequence, and all his encouragement, from the countenance, lent to him by others. But to believe is to countenance him : to listen is to countenance him. By listening to him, therefore, we give life and activity to his mischievous fabrications; and lend them most of their power to do hurt. Besides, by doing this we keep the spirit of slander alive in his breast; and make him feel secure of the consequence, which he hopes to gain by this course of conduct: the consequence, which is his principal motive to sin. In this manner, we contribute to the existence of future slanders, and, in a manner possessed of no contemptible efficacy, aid the diffusion of calumny through the world. This nuisance to society, this pest to mankind, we sustain, cherish, and send abroad, to destroy the peace of those around us. How plainly is he, who acts in this manner, a nuisance to his fellow-men Both Reason and Revelation, both common sense and common good nature, demand, on the contrary, that, whenever our neighbour's character is attacked, we should appear openly in his defence. In very few ways can we so often, or so greatly, befriend others, as by supporting their good name; and in very few cases will our kindness be so deeply, or so gratefully, felt. The person, thus attacked, is absent of course; and cannot, therefore, defend himself. If we do not defend him ; he is left naked to the attack, and to all its malignant consequences. Our silence cannot but injure him seriously. It may be the means of his ruin. Who would not wish, in such a case, to have his own character defended ? Who, then, is not bound to defend that of another ? Were this great Law of righteousness duly felt; were its injunctions, as they respect the case under consideration, faithfully obeyed; what a horde of busy-bodies, tale-bearers, and calumniators, would be broken down ' What an endless multitude of base and snaky efforts against the peace of society, and the comfort of families, would in this way be crushed at once ' o
Secondly. If our silence, when tales of slander are reported, is thus injurious to others : the declaration, that we believe them, is still more criminal.
A multitude of persons not only suffer slander to pass without censure, or opposition, but readily believe it; and without hesitation declare this belief. If they do not repeat it to others; their consciences appear to be satisfied. Even when they give it no credit, they suffer others quietly to repeat it, not only without animadversion, but without even hinting their disbelief. Through a company of such persons a calumny rolls on without an impediment; without a single generous effort to check its progress. On the contrary, it fares like a Spy in a venal, mercenary army, whom none will detect, and whose escape all will favour, because all are hollow-hearted and false. If it is attended with evidence moderately plausible, they declare their belief of it; and thus help it onward to the belief of others. If it be supported by no evidence whatever, they will not declare their disbelief of it: thus suffering it to proceed without interruption, and to gain credit wherever it may.
There is in the human breast a strong propensity to Censoriousness. We need no instruction to teach us, that our fellowmen are by every censure, which adheres to them, lowered beneath their customary level. Nor do we discern with less readiness, that whatever sinks those around us, raises comparatively ourselves. With this self-exaltation, despicable as are the means by which it is achieved, we, whenever we become the authors of it, are despicable enough to be gratified: and the gratification, base and contemptible as it is, is still eagerly sought, and highly enjoyed, by many such minds, as are found in the present world.
When these persons hear the characters of others aspersed, they hear it with pleasure; and with pleasure believe the aspersion. Their faith, here, is not given to evidence: it does not wait for evidence. If evidence be furnished, indeed, it is so much the better; because it is expected to command the faith of others also. But no evidence is necessary to insure the faith of these persons. The tale pleases, because it involves the degradation of a neighbour; a rival; a superior; or some other object of jealousy. It is believed, because they wish it to be true. Still, many such persons are too cautious to rehearse it again; and with their avoidance of this additional injury, their cold, heartless consciences are satisfied. III. The Evils of Slander are either Personal, or Public. 1. The Personal Evils of Slander, by which I intend the sufferings experienced from it by Individuals, are the pain felt, and the injuries derived, from the loss of a Good name. A good name is the Estimation, in which we are holden by others on account of our good qualities, and our good conduct. Such a name is declared by God Himself to be better than precious ointment. Eccles. vii. 1. And in Proverbs xxii. 1, a good name is said to be better than great riches, and loving-favour, that is, the favourable emotions, exercised towards such, as possess a good name, better than silver and gold. Silver and gold, particularly when possessed in such accumulations, as constitute great riches, are, proverbially, the supreme objects, which this world furnishes, of human desires. As such, they are customarily used, as objects of comparison, to illustrate the value of things eminently precious. Thus, in the Scriptures themselves, we are informed, that the Law of the Lord is more to be chosen than the most fine gold. Thus, also, Job says of the Wisdom, which is the obedience of that Law, that it cannot be gotten for gold; neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. Precious ointment, as intended by a Jewish writer, probably denotes that, which was used to anoint the High Priest, and the kings of the Jewish nation. The materials, of which it was composed, are well known to have been pre-eminently costly and valuable; far more so, than the most fine gold. In this point of
view, precious ointment was in the mouth of an Israelite, perWol. IV. 49