Page images


SERM. still be pronounced corrupt, however my words or actions may be unsullied or me. ritorious, how is it possible that I should ever clear myself!

There are many other modes of injuring the reputation of another, to which he who deals in scandal has recourse: one man will tell all the failings of his neighbour, and suppress all his good qualities; another, in representing a particular transaction, will tell only the truth perhaps, but will not tell the whole truth, and by what he omits will fix as deep a stigma on the person or persons concerned, as if he had invented and related of them something more than the truth; a third will destroy reputations by broken hints and expressive signs, and by an apparent unwillingness to speak openly (what possibly has not the least foundation) will stamp on it a greater degree of credit.

A fourth slanderer, and perhaps the most


most dangerous and pernicious of all, SERM. vents his calumnies under the disguise of benevolence; and with an affectation of candour, pretending to vindicate those whom he has heard, or feigns that he has heard attacked, overwhelms them with the deeper obloquy. Sometimes he will effect his purpose by designedly bringing forward weak arguments in their defence; sometimes, under the pretext of wiping off one false accusation, he will insinuate many more; denying or doubting the imputation of one crime, he will allow that the person accused is guilty in many other respects: now he will praise a man inordinately before his enemies, on purpose to draw from them an attack on him; at another time he will attribute to his acquaintances good qualities, in which they are notoriously deficient, for the pleasure of hearing himself contradicted, or to bring into doubt those virtues which they really possess.


I have still farther to observe, that there are scandalous ears as well as scandalous tongues, and that he who encourages such kind of conversation, by greedily and with pleasure listening to it, who, though he does not concur, shews plainly how much he delights in it, who, by artful questions and affected doubts, draws on the calumniator to launch out and to expatiate, is scarcely less guilty than the person whose vice he thus fosters, and manifests that he approves.

I shall now proceed to point out the chief motives by which men, who are guilty of this odious vice, are actuated, and in so doing evince its wickedness; and I shall conclude with shewing the impolicy of it, and the dangers with which the practice of it is attended. The retailers of what is supposed harmless scandal will be startled, perhaps, when they hear that their vice, as well as that of the



more decided slanderer, almost always has SERM. its origin in one or all of the following bad passions in pride, in envy, in malice.

The destroyer of characters is, I think, most commonly actuated by pride; it so happens, that from the desire of distinction, which in a greater or less degree is felt by all men, we have established in our own mind a sort of competition for it with every one around us; we are desirous of surpassing, or at least of having the fame of surpassing them in whatever excellencies fall within our sphere. In the generous, noble-minded man, this desire operates in endeavours to raise himself by the most vigorous exertions to the same devel with those whom he sees most distinguished, or even to elevate himself above them; and this being the case, as he values the preservation of his own fame, when he shall have become eminent, he scorns, as well from interest as from

SERM. principle, to detract from the merits of



But far too many aim at the accomplishment of their wishes by what they suppose a nearer and an easier way; conscious that they are either unequal, or too indolent to exalt themselves to the same situation with those whose praises they hear, they endeavour to degrade these distinguished personages to their own obscurity, that they may in some measure exchange places with them; for they erroneously suppose, that as the deserving are depressed, the worthless are exalted, and therefore, when they are calumniating another, or detracting from his merits, his depression is but a secondary motive with them, their own elevation is the first.

A second root of scandal and detraction is envy this is very similar in its nature to the species of pride above-mentioned, but yet it is not quite the same; it is even still

« PreviousContinue »