Page images
PDF
EPUB

а

has offended against his Maker. This is the true ground of his self-reproach and self-condemnation.

A falsehood has been defined “any departure in words (and we might add, or in actions) from the reality of things, made with an intention to deceive.” Where such intention does not obtain, as in narratives professedly fictitious, or in the complimentary modes of subscribing a letter which custom dictates, there is no violation of veracity. In a word, the essence of a falsehood consists in the design to deceive. Agreeably to this principle, we must pronounce every equivocation an untruth. And so we must say, that the guilt of lying is imputable to the person who indulges a propensity not very uncommon in company, of attempting to embellish a relation, and lend it higher interest, by the addition of unreal circumstances. More criminal is the conduct of the tradesman who seeks to hide the faults, or exaggerate the merits of his merchandize; or who with an eye to a larger profit, declares that he paid for what he offers for sale more than it actually cost him; or who, to avoid the unpleasant task of offending those whom he does not like to trust, assures them, that he has just sold the last of the article which they want. We think, too, notwithstanding what Dr. Paley has intimated to the contrary, that the lady who directs her servant to say to the visitant at the door, that she is “not at home,” when she is sitting up in her chamber or nursery, is a liar in as strict a sense as any of which the term is susceptible. With regard to the case of a prisoner when arraigned for trial, pleading “not guilty," we have only to say, that while much allowance is no doubt due to the infirmity of human nature in such a situation, a criminal under the influence of proper views and feelings, cannot do otherwise than at once acknowledge the offence which he has committed. The writer

to whom we have just referred, and who, in our humble opinion, is a most unsound and dangerous casuist, mentions as another instance of falsehoods which he accounts innocent, “an advocate's asserting the justice, or his belief of the justice, of his client's cause.” We trust, for the honour of the profession of law, that but few of its members would subscribe to such a doctrine in theory, even if they have been tempted sometimes to adopt it in practice. Nor can we besitate to condemn the deception so often practised by physicians, relatives, and friends, with a view to cheer the languid spirits of the sick, and promote their recovery. We well know, that they who act in this manner, may do so from the most benevolent motives. And we would not be understood as intimating that persons afflicted with sickness should be unnecessarily alarmed, or that it is improper, in any case, to employ means calculated to enliven their minds, and counteract the injurious effects of despondency. Indeed, we have witnessed instances, in which we could not help thinking, that such means were not sufficiently resorted to, since we were persuaded, that they could hardly exert the least unfavourable influence on individuals, respecting whose piety and actual fitness for death, no doubt could be reasonably entertained. But at the same time that we say this, we contevd that it is culpable in a high degree, to flatter with the delusive hope of life, an impenitent sinner, whom the lapse of a few hours or days will convey to the retributions of eternity.

The question may now arise, is it ever consistent with duty to depart from the truth? Some ethical writers of high repute, have not scrupled to answer this query in the affirmative. They have given it as their formal and deliberate judgment, that cases may occur, in which a falsehood, if not positively virtuous and commendable, is at least excusable. Their views on this point have been thus briefly stated : 6 As the virtue or the vice of actions depends, in a great measure, on the utility or the injury of their consequences, whenever the benefit of the immediate consequences of a departure from the truth, as the rescuing of an innocent life from the fury or iniquity of an assassin or robber, evidently and greatly exceeds the remote consequences of the example, in such cases, but in no others, can it be justified.” This argument, however, appears to us inconclusive, because it assumes premises which we cannot yield. It is built on the general doctrine, that utility is the foundation of virtue: a doctrine, which, though it has been most ably and plausibly defended, does not comport with a just and rigid analysis of our moral feelings. Let us have a care how we detract, in any degree, from the obligation of veracity-an obligation so solemn, that we tremble even to think of its infringement. It may be safely affirmed, that the theoretical standard of morality cannot be raised too high; that our speculative ideas relative to all the great questions of right and wrong, cannot be too rigid. We should pot, indeed, actually expect too much from fallen human nature, in the most trying situations in which it can be placed. But that pbilosopher does little benefit to society, whose speculations tend, in any particular, to impair the principles and relax the laws of immutable rectitude. We are at a loss to conjecture the good that is to follow from admitting, that there are emergencies in which to depart from the truth may be innocent.

The Psalmist, continuing his description of the character of a pious man, says, “ He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour."

This verse is directed principally against the calum

[ocr errors]

niator-the man who falsely, or without a sufficient motive, assaults the character of another, and endeavours to rob him of that which constitutes the chief value of existence.

There is no one, we presume, who will not admit, and who does not feel, that to speak evil of another, is a sin involving a high degree of moral turpitude. And yet how widely prevalent is this sin, among all classes of society! Who of us, dear hearers, can plead entire exemption from its polluting influence? Is it not a lamentable fact, that we are all more or less prone to detract from the merits, and to magnify the faults of one another? Yes, wbatever may be the motive which prompts us-malice, envy, or a mere fondness for idle chat,- we take too much pleasure in animadverting upon the history and conduct of our neighbours and friends. It affords us more gratification to disclose, than to bury in oblivion, what we may have heard or seen to their disadvantage. Nor does it mend the matter, that we put on an air of deep concern, or that we enjoin the strictest secrecy on those with whom we converse.

There is not in all the intercourse of life a stronger evidence of human weakness and human corruption, than that which the whole process of confidential communication supplies.

We have alluded to the guilt of slander. We may add, that like all other sins, it is fraught with folly. It is calculated, in the nature of things, to do an essential injury to him who commits it. He will discover, sooner or later, that what he has said to the disadvantage of others, has contributed, in some way, to impair bis own peace and happiness. The case of the slanderer presents no exception to that general law of providence and revelation, which connects our interest with our duty. On this point, we cannot forbear quoting the sound and

а

mon.

pungent remark of a French author. It is to this effect : “ He of whom you speak evil, may become acquainted with what you have said, and he will be your enemy; he may remain in ignorance of it, and even though what you have said were true, you would still have to reproach yourself with the meanness of attacking one who had no opportunity of defending bimself. If slander is to be secret, it is the crime of a coward; if it is to become known, it is the crime of a madman."

The sin of which we now speak, bas been distinguished into two kinds; viz. malicious slander, and inconsiderate slander. Of these the latter is by far the more com

We think so favourably of human nature as to believe, that there are few comparatively who could be base enough to invent, or even give currency to a report detrimental to the reputation of an individual, with the deliberate intention of injuring him. But we fear, or

. ratber we know, that there are many who allow themselves, in unguarded moments, to speak with too much freedom respecting absent persons. How often are cersorious remarks and insinuations thrown out, to relieve the tedium of a dinner party, or evening assemblage, and to infuse interest into casual conversation! It has been said by some who profess to be experienced observers, that the introduction of cards into company has always a perceptible and salutary effect in saving reputations. How this is, we shall not take upon us to decide. But we venture to affirm, that the same desirable end might be attained far more honourably and effectually by subjecting the tongue and the heart to the influence of correct moral and religious principles.

And here let us observe, that slander is very often grafted on that kind of curiosity, which it is too common for persons to feel respecting the history, character and

a

« PreviousContinue »