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an able man. But this spurious modesty is, in truth, a fallacy by which (as has been above said) the weak impose on themselves, and the crafty on others.
All Fallacies are pieces of cunning, when used designedly. For by a fallacy is commonly understood any unsound mode of arguing, which appears to demand our conviction, and to be decisive of the question in hand, when in fairness it is not. And many are the contrivances which the sophist, who brings forward the fallacy, deliberately uses to withdraw our attention (his art closely resembling the juggler's) from the quarter where it lies.1
Much ingenious artifice is often used to evade the odium of urging a man to do something you wish him to do, or of dissuading, or preventing him from doing what you wish him not to do, or of refusing to grant something you are asked for, &c.
The story, which has become proverbial, of 'pray don't nail his ears to the pump,' is a type of one class of these manoeuvres; where you suggest something, or hold out a temptation, under the pretext of dissuading.
When an illustrious personage was doubting about coming to England, being offered by government an ample pension for staying abroad, and threatened with a trial (in case of refusal) for alleged misconduct, one of the advisers of the party, wishing for troubled waters, in hopes of catching some fish, said, 'I entreat and implore you to accept the offer, if you are at all conscious that any of the accusations against you are veilfounded. By all means stay abroad, unless you are quite sure of being able to establish your innocence.' This, of course, produced the effect he designed; since it made a consent to remain absent amount to a confession of guilt.
Again, the granting of some permission, coupled with some condition which you know cannot or will not be fulfilled, is practically a prohibition.
1 8se Elementt of Logic, b. iii.,' On Fallacies.'
It may be as well to mention here that one of the Fallacies there treated of (§ 18, List paragraph) having lately been—much to my surprise—brought forward »nd elaborately defended, I have thought it needful to print a short postscript, giving a somewhat fuller description of it than I had before thought necessary.
The Fallacy in question consists in confounding together two different questions;
(1) 'Whether a certain conclusion is established by this particular argument; and
(2) 'Whether the conclusion is true.' The subject is more fully discussed in tho Articles on 'Cumulative Evidence' in the United Church Journal for August and for October, 185("; and also in my edition of Paley's Evidencet.
It is said that a gentleman, who was desirous to distribute Bibles among his poor neighbours, found them willing and desirous to receive them, if permitted by their clergy. He accordingly applied to their bishop; who applauded his liberality, and expressed his hearty concurrence; only requiring that each person should come and ask his permission, which he promised, never to refuse, except for some special reason. The gentleman, however, found, to his surprise, that no one of his poor neighbours went to ask this permission. At length he was told the cause; viz., that if any man of humble station waits on the bishop, it is understood that this is to obtain absolution for some heinous sin, beyond what the priest has power to pardon; and thus his character is for ever blasted. Thus the bishop was enabled to say that he had never refused any man permission to obtain a Bible!
Again, a gentleman residing in Brittany, wished, it is said, to distribute Bibles among the people, and found he had to apply to the Authorities for a licence, which the law of France requires, in order to prevent the hawking of seditious publications. The official applied to did not like broadly to refuse, but granted a licence for the distribution of French Bibles; which are quite unintelligible to the poor Bretons. What was wanted was, of course, a licence to distribute Bibles in their own tongue, which is a dialect of Welsh. But this could not be obtained. He had granted a licence for the sale of Bibles, and that was enough!'
Even so the stork in the fable was welcome to as much soup as she could pick up with her bill, and the wolf to as much mince-meat as he could get out of a narrow-necked bottle. And according to the proverbial caution 'You should never rub your eye except with your elbow.'
Again, a person who had the control of a certain public hall, was asked for the use of it for a meeting of a society established in express opposition to an Institution he was connected with. He might, on that ground, very fairly have refused permission, or have frankly retracted it, on consideration, if hastily and inconsiderately granted. But he readily granted the use of the hall; and then afterwards inserted the condition that none of the speakers were to say anything against his institution; and as this was, of course, the principal topic designed to be dwelt on, the condition was refused, and the permission withdrawn. He could no more go straight to any object, than a hare in going from her form to her pasture.
1 I do not vouch for the correctness of the above two anecdotes, but merely for having heard them, and having no reason to think them improbable.
A skilful sophist will avoid a direct assertion of what he means unduly to assume; because that might direct the reader's attention to the consideration of the question, whether it be true or not; since that which is indisputable does not need so often to be asserted. It succeeds better, therefore, to allude to the proposition, as something curious and remarkable: just as the Royal Society were imposed on by being asked to account for the fact that a vessel of water received no addition to its weight by a live fish being put into it. While they were seeking for the cause, they forgot to ascertain the fact; and thus admitted, without suspicion, a mere fiction. So also, an eminent Scotch writer, instead of asserting that 'the advocates of logic have been worsted and driven from the field in every controversy' (an assertion which, if made, would have been the more readily ascertained to be perfectly groundless), merely observes, that 'it is a circumstance not a little remarkable.'
'There be that can pack the cards, and yet cannot play well.'
Those whom Bacon here so well describes, are men of a clear and quick sight, but short-sighted. They are ingenious in particulars, but cannot take a comprehensive view of a whole. Such a man may make a good captain, but a bad general. He may be clever at surprising a piquet, but would fail in the management of a great army and the conduct of a campaign. He is like a chess-player who takes several pawns, but is checkmated.
One who is clever, but not wise—skilful in the details of any transaction, but erroneous in his whole system of conduct— resembles a clock whose minute-hand is in good order, but the hour-hand hose; so that while it measures accurately small portions of time, it is, on the whole, perhaps several hours wrong.
Goldsmith introduces, in The Vicar of Wakefield, a clever rogue, despising a plain straightforward farmer, whom he generally contrives to cheat once a year; yet he confesses that, in spite of this, the farmer went on thriving, while he was always poor.
Indeed, it is a remarkable circumstance in reference to cunning persons, that they are often deficient, not only in comprehensive far-sighted wisdom, but even in prudent, cautious circumspection.
There was a man of this description, who delighted in taking in every one he had to deal with, and was most ingenious and successful in doing so. And yet his own estate, which was a very large one, he managed very ill; and he bequeathed it absolutely to his widow, whom he might have known to be in unde> standing a mere child, and who accordingly became the prey of fortune-hunters.
Numerous are the cases in which the cunning are grossly taken in by the cunning. Liars are often credulous.
Many travellers have given curious accounts of the subtilty of the North American Indians, in stealing upon their enemies so as to take them by surprise: how they creep silently through the bushes, and carefully cover up their footmarks, &c . 13ut these writers take no notice of the most curious circumstance of all, which is, that the enemies they thus surprise are usually Indians of the same race—men accustomed to practise just the same arts themselves. The ingenuity and caution of these people is called forth, and admirably displayed, on the occasion of their setting out on a warlike expedition; but they have no settled habit of even ordinary prudence. When not roused to the exertion of their faculties by some pressing emergency, they are thoughtless and careless, and liable to be surprised, in their turn. To fortify their villages, so as to make a surprise impossible, or to keep up a regular patrol of sentries to watch for the approach of an enemy, has never occurred to them! A savage is often a cunning, but never a wise, or even a prudent Being. And even so, among us, many who are skilful in playing tricks on others are often tricked themselves.
Sometimes, indeed, the more crafty of two knaves will take in the other by calculating on his knavery, and thus knowing how to bait his hook. For instance, there is a story told of a merchant who applied to the Agent of an insurance-office to effect a Pollicy' on a ship. Immediately after, he heard of the loss of his ship; and suspecting that perhaps (as was the fact) the insurance might be not completed, he wrote off to the Agent desiring him not to proceed with the business, for that 'he had heard of that ship.' The Agent, taking for granted that he had heard of its safety, hurried to the office, completed the business, and then wrote to the merchant by return of post, expressing his concern that the countermand had arrived a few hours too late, and that the insurance had been effected. Thus the merchant obtained his payment, because he could prove that he had written to forbid the insurance.
One may be allowed to exult in the defeat of a crafty man who has outwitted himself, and fallen 'into the pit that he digged for others.' The following is an anecdote which I have heard, though I do not pledge myself for its truth. A curate of a London parish, of most exemplary conduct, was accustomed to remonstrate very freely with any of his People whose life was not what it should have been. They wished much to get rid of him, but could find no pretext for complaint either to the hector or the Bishop. They therefore hit upon this cunning plan: they drew up and signed, a Memorial to the Bishop, setting forth the admirable character of the Curate, lamenting that his eminent worth should not be rewarded, and earnestly recommending him for preferment. Soon after, this very living, quite unexpectedly became vacant: whereupon the Bishop considering how acceptable as well as deserving he appeared to be, presented him to it, informing him of the Memorial. The good man thanked his People with tearful eyes, rejoicing that they had taken in good part his freedom of speech, and assuring them that he would continue all his life the course which had won their approbation.
In a Tale of Crabbe's (founded on a fact) which is published in his posthumous Works, the case is described of a wortldess spendthrift who disinherited himself, by burning his father's Will to avoid the payment of a legacy. He expected to inherit as heir-at-law; but by his act he gave validity to a former Will which left all the property to another.
1 This is the right spelling of the word; which in evidently a contraction of poUicilum, a promise, aud has no connexion with politics.