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NINTH comm ANDMENT.-SLANDER.
Exopts xx. 16.-Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbou.
IN the last discourse, but one, I proposed to consider False. hood under the two Heads of
Lying ; and,
The former of these I have discussed at length. I shall now proceed to the consideration of the latter; j shall arrange my Observations under the following heads.
I. The Nature of Slander;
II. The Modes in which it is practised;
III. The Evils of it; and,
IV. Dissuasives from it.
1. Slander may be thus defined. . It is that Conduct, which injuriously lessens, or destroys, another's Reputation.
In most cases, Words are made the vehicle of Slander. It may, however, be accomplished without words. When we are reasonably expected to give a fair character of another, we may easily, and deeply, slander him by our Silence. We may also accom. plish the same purpose by our Actions : as when we withhold our countenance from a man, who, in ordinary circumstances, might fairly expect to enjoy it; withdraw from him business, with which he has heretofore been entrusted; or turn him out of our service without alleging any reasons for our conduct. In these and the like cases, we give such proofs of sus ecting him, ourselves, as to entail upon him, in greater or less degrees, the suspicion of others.
Slander is perpetrated sometimes with design, and sometimes through inattention. In the former case, it is perpetrated with an intention to destroy happiness, in the latter from indifference to it. In the former case it springs from malice; in the latter, from that sordid insensibility to the interests of others, which is little less censurable. It will be unnecessary to distinguish them **. fre l
. Slander is most uently practised in the following Modes.
1. In direct and false %. wing
The Slanderer commences this malignant employment by inventing, and fabricating, tales of falsehood concerning the person, who is either the object of his hatred, or the subject of his diversion, To the fabricator of these tales all the subsequent mischief, which arises from them, is supremely chargeable. The second step is the rehearsing of such stories, after they have been told to us by others. In this step, we do not participate in all the guilt, which is attendant on the first. But both the guilt, and the mischief, are often greater. The spirit, with which we rehearse tales of slander, may be more malignant than that which gave birth to them; and the consequences may be incomparably worse. The inventor may have been a thoughtless, ignorant, giddy-minded man; without consideration, and without character. e, on the contrary, may possess reputation, forecast, and a correct knowledge of human concerns; may comprehend the whole efficacy of the tale; may perceive its falsehood; and may enjoy a base pleasure in giving it the most effectual operation. us, although not chargeable with the guilt of fabricating falsehood, we may become much more criminal than the fabricator. Whatever is our situation, we lend, in this case, our own weight to the story; and, in this manner, we sometimes do all, and not unfrequently most, of the mischief, of which the story becomes the instrument. The inventors of such tales are usually persons of no reputation; and, if reputable at first, they soon destroy their character by this very employment. , Were they, then, disregarded, and their tales not repeated; both would sink at once into absolute contempt. But when persons of a fair character take up such stories, and soberly rehearse them; the falsehood acquires new strength, and spreads with a new and most unhappy influence. This base coin they have not, indeed, made; but they have passed it; and given it a currency, which it could never have derived from the maker. Let no person, then, think himself at all justified in reciting a tale of slander by the very common indeed, 3. very wretched, excuse, dictated, and adopted, only by the coarsest and most vulgar morality; that they heard it from others. Guilt fastens on every traveller in this base and by-path, and at every step in his progress. Some persons perpetrate this iniquity with designs directly malicious. Some, from a busy, meddling disposition, always unsatisfied, unless when interfering in the concerns of others : and some, from a wish to be thought extensively acquainted with private history. All these are characterized in the Scriptures by the significant names of busy-bodies, and tale-bearers ; and are considered there, and every where else, as the disturbers and pests of society. They are characterized in the most disadvantageous manner, Levit. xix. 16. Thou shalt not go up and down as a tale-bearer among thy pool. ; neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour. I am the Lord. And again, in Prov. xxvi. 20, &c. The words of a tale-bearer are as wounds. Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out. They are classed with the worst of mankind, 1 Pet. iv. 15. Let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evil doer, or as a busy-body in other men’s matters The character, given of them in the Scriptures, is the character, given of them by Common sense. In every age, and country, they have been objects of contempt and abhorrence. Prudent men have every where shunned them; and pointed them 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 leasure; our malevolence is real; and therefore our guilt is real. hat guilt also may be as #. 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 i. 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 . be their own property, seize upon his effects; and perhaps confine him in a prison. hus 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 sup: port, education, usefulness, and comfort, finally destroyed. Had I, with the prudence and benevolence which Christianity inspires, confined this secret within my own breast; the indus of my . 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 Qxcuse. So long as persons of reputation will either repeat the false stories of others, invented for the purpose of lowering, or destroying, character; or will publish malignant truths, concerning oth: ers; 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 slanderers, and, in a manner possessed of no contemptible efficacy, aid the diffusion of calumn 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 ood nature, demand, on the contrary, that, whenever our neigh#. 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 o e 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 ef. forts against the peace of society, and the comfort of families, would in this way be crushed at once 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 i. 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