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the words, accordingly, which now denote something offensive, were originally euphemisms, and gradually became appropriated to a bad sense. Thus (to take one example out of a multitude), 'wicked' seems to have originally meant 'lively;' being formed from 'quick,' or 'wick,' i.e. alive. This latter is the word now in use in Cumberland for 'alive.' And hence the live—i.e. burning —part of a lamp or candle, is called the wick.
'Certainly there is a great difference between a cunning man and a wise man,—not only in point of honesty, but in point of ability.'
Whatever a man may be, intellectually, he labours under this disadvantage if he is of low moral principle, that he knows only the weak and bad parts of human nature, and not the better.
It was remarked by an intelligent Roman Catholic that the Confessional trains the priest to a knowledge not of human nature, but of mental nosology. 'It may therefore qualify them,' he said, 'for the treatment of a depraved, but not of a pure mind.'
Now, what the Confessional is to the priest, that a knave's own heart is to him. He can form no notion of a nobler nature than his own. He is like the goats in Robinson Crusoe's island, who saw clearly everything below them, but very imperfectly what was above them; so that Robinson Crusoe could never get at them from the valleys, but when he came upon them from the hill-top, took them quite by surprise.
Miss Edgeworth describes such a person as one who divides all mankind into rogues and fools, and when he meets with an honest man of good sense, does not know what to make of him. Nothing, it is said, more puzzled Buonaparte. He would offer a man money; if that failed, he would talk of glory, or promise him rank and power: but if all these temptations failed, he set him down for an idiot, or a half-mad dreamer. Conscience was a thing he could not understand. Other things, then, being equal, an honest man has this advantage over a knave, that ho understands more of human nature: for he knows that mw honest man exists; and concludes that there must be more; and he also knows, if he is not a mere simpleton, that there are some who are knavish; but the knave can seldom be brought to believe in the existence of an honest man. The honest man may be deceived in particular persons; but the knave is sure to be deceived whenever he comes across an honest man who is not a mere fool.
There are some writers of fiction whose productions have lately (1854) obtained considerable reputation, who have given spirited and just representations of particular characters, but an unnatural picture of society as a whole, from omitting (what they appear to have no notion of) all characters of good sense combined with good principle. They seem to have formed no idea of any, but what one may call evndei? and icaKOT)6ei<;; —simpletons and crafty knaves; together with some who combine portions of each; profligacy with silliness. But all their worthy people are represented as weak, and all those of superior intelligence as morally detestable. One of these writers was, in conversation, reprobating as unjust the censure passed on slavery, and maintaining that any ill-usage of a slave was as rare in America, as a hump-back or a club-foot among us;—quite an exception. If so, the Americans must be a curious contrast to all that his fictions represent; for, in them, all of superior intelligence, and most of those of no superior intelligence, are just the persons who would make the most tyrannical slave-masters; being not only utterly unprincipled, but utterly hard-hearted, and strangers to all human feeling!
The sort of advantage which those of high moral principle possess, in the knowledge of mankind, is analogous to that which Man possesses over the brute. Man is an animal, as well as the brute; but he is something more. He has, and therefore can understand, most of their appetites and propensities: but he has also faculties which they want, and of which they can form no notion. Even so, the bodily appetites, and the desire of gain, and other propensities, are common to the most elevated and the most degraded of mankind; but the latter are deficient in the higher qualifications which the others possess; and can, accordingly, so little understand them, that, as Bacon remarks, 'of the highest virtues, the vulgar have no perception.' (Snpremarum sensus nullus.)
'These small wares and petty points of cunning are infinite. . . .'
To these small wares, enumerated by Bacon, might be added a very hackneyed trick, which yet is wonderfully successful— to affect a delicacy about mentioning particulars, and hint at what you could bring forward, only you do not wish to give offence. 'We could give many cases to prove that such and such a medical system is all a delusion, and a piece of quackery; but we abstain, through tenderness for individuals, from bringing names before the Public.' 'I have observed many things —which, however, I will not particularize—which convince me that Mr. Such-a-one is unfit for his office; and others have made the same remark; but I do not like to bring them forward,' &c. &c.
Thus an unarmed man keeps the unthinking in awe, by assuring them that he has a pair of loaded pistols in his pocket, though he is loth to produce them.
To deal in obscure hints, boastfully put forward, is a stratagem analogous to that by which the famous Montrose is recorded to have gained one of his victories, over very superior numbers. He placed almost all his men in the two wings; with nothing in the centre but some thickets among which a very few men were dispersed, who were to show themselves here and there amidst the bushes, so as to give the impression of a concealed force, which the enemy did not venture to attack.
The following trick is supposed (for no certain knowledge could be, or ever can be, obtained) to have been successfully practised in a transaction which occurred in the memory of persons now living:—A person whose conduct was about to undergo an investigation which it could not well stand, communicated to one who was likely to be called on as a witness, all the details—a complete fabrication—of some atrocious misconduct: and when the witness narrated the conversation, utterly denied the whole, and easily proved that the things described could not possibly have occurred. The result was, a universal acquittal, and a belief that all the accusations were the result of an atrocious conspiracy. But those who best knew the characters of the parties, were convinced that the witness had spoken nothing but the truth as to the alleged conversation, and had been tricked by the accused party, who had invented a false accusation in order to defeat a true one.
One not very uncommon device of some cunning people is an affectation of extreme simplicity; which often has the effect, for the time at least, of throwing the company off their guard. And their plan is to affect a hasty, blunt, and what the French call 'brusque' manner. The simple are apt to conclude that he who is not smooth and cautious, must be honest, and what they call 'a rough diamond;' in reality, a rough diamond—all but the diamond. Thus Hastings says of Richard III.:—
'I think there's ne'er a man in Christendom
Another device is, an affectation of extreme modesty. It is a well-known and common art of the orator to extol the ingenuity and eloquence of an opponent, that the effect of what he says may be attributed rather to his ability than to the strength of his cause, and that the hearers may even be led to feel a distrust and dread of him. We commonly find a barrister— especially when he has a weak cause—complimenting his 'learned brother' on the skill with which he has pleaded.
But in other cases besides those of public orations, an excessive distrust of superior ability is a kind of fallacy by which weak men often mislead themselves, and cunning ones seek to mislead others. When you have offered strong and unanswerable reasons in favour of some conclusion, or some line of conduct, a person of exquisite modest humility will perhaps reply, 'Of course I am not so presumptuous as to attempt to argue with you; I know well your superior ability and learning; I have no doubt you could easily defeat me in any discussion; but you must allow me to retain my own opinion.'
Thus, if you are supposed to be an able reasoner, all the reasons you can offer are, on that ground, to go for nothing! The discount at which all you can say is to be taken, amounts fo a hundred per cent, or more. You must submit to what is called in Chess a stale-mate.
Sometimes indeed, even when there is no matter in immediate dispute, a man of reputed ability will be altogether shunned by some persons, just as cautious people (according to Dean Swift's illustration) keep out of the way of a gun, which may go off, they know not how, and do mischief.
A late eminent writer once sought the acquaintance of a clergyman who was a very near neighbour, merely as such, and not with a view to any controversial discussion; and the other declined all intercourse; alleging that he was fully convinced his neighbour was heretical, but so far his superior in learning and ability that he could not presume to engage in any discussion with him, and was afraid of some impression being made on himself. This is exactly the ground on which the Emperor Charles V.1 always refused a hearing to the Lutheran divines.
And in another instance, a man refused, to the end of his life, to hold any intercourse with one nearly connected with him, as 'believing him to be a man who could prove anything.' He did not allege any abuse of this supposed power; but took for granted that whoever has the power to do evil will be sure to use it .
Thucydides records (B. 8) the prejudice entertained by the Athenians against one of their most eminent citizens, Antiphon, to whom they were unwilling to allow a hearing, because they had so high an opinion of his abilities that they thought him likely to make a skilful defence. And so they paid him the undesirable compliment of condemning him unheard.
Of course, if we have any good reason for suspecting a man's uprightness, or candour, we should be the more on our guard against him in proportion to his ability. And, universally, it would be rash for the unlearned to take for granted that they are bound to yield at once to every argument and objection urged by a learned and skilful controversialist, unless they can find an immediate answer. They should take time to consider, and should seek some champion on the opposite side, able to supply their deficiency. But it surely cannot be right that any one should be altogether denied a hearing, merely on the ground of his possessing superior intelligence. It is, no doubt, a compendious mode of getting rid of strong and unanswerable reasons, to make them go for nothing, merely because urged by
See an able article on his life in the Edinhunjh lienor, Jan. 185$.