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opposition. Your wisest course, therefore, with such a man will be, after having laid before him your reasons, to recommend him to reflect calmly on them, and so leave him to consult his pillow. And it will often happen that he will reason himself into your views. Leave the arrow sticking in his prejudice, and it will gradually bleed to death.
With another man, of a very different character, it will be wise to pursue an opposite course. If you urge him with the strongest reasons, and answer all his objections, and then leave him apparently a convert, you will find the next time you meet him, that you have all to do over again; everything that you had said having faded away. Your only security with such a man, is to continue pressing him, till he has distinctly given his consent, or plainly declared his acquiescence;—till you have brought him, as it were, formally to pass the Act in the Parliament of his own mind, and to have thus committed himself in your favour.
Of course, you must watch for any symptoms that may indicate which kind of man you have to deal with.
It is worth remarking that a person who has been led by plausible arguments to adopt some erroneous notions, is not unlikely to be reasoned out of them, but not so, if he has adopted them from some feeling, fancy, or unreasoning prejudice, or under some half-mad delusion; or from the influence of strong passion, or of self-interest. In such a case, though he may bring forward what are meant for arguments to justify his conviction, it will be but lost labour to refute those arguments. He will bring forward others, no matter how futile; and when all are refuted, he will still adhere to his belief. It may be laid down as a general rule, with few or no exceptions, that what did not come in by the door of Reason, will not be driven out at that door.
A person under partial derangement, will often be haunted by a delusion which he half suspects to be such, but which he cannot completely shake off; like a troublesome Dream which we sometimes suspect to be but a dream, but are unable (especially in sickness) to get rid of. In such a case, if you attempt to argue the man out of his delusion, you will be the more likely to confirm him in it; because he will set himself earnestly to defend it. It will be better to try to draw off his attention to some other subject; as poor Cowper's was, for a time, by his translation of Homer. And thus there will be a little chance of its spontaneously fading away from his' mind altogether.
And the like holds good with respect to all convictions founded in such prejudices as I have just alluded to. If the man is left to himself, the passion may perhaps cool; the fanciful notion may as it were evaporate of itself; and on beginning to think rationally he may cure his own error himself. Small as the chance may be, of such a cure, there is, I conceive, no other chance. Your arguments only arouse pertinacious opposition; and, as Lady Macbeth says of her husband,
'Questioa' enrages him; he grows worse and worse.'
Keason hasno authority except over her own children.
Another caution to be observed is, that in combating, whether as a speaker, or a writer, deep-rooted prejudices, and maintaining unpopular truths, the point to be aimed at should be, to adduce what is sufficient, and not much more than is sufficient to 'prove your conclusion. If you can but satisfy men that your opinion is decidedly more probable than the opposite, you will have carried your point more effectually than if you go on, much beyond this, to demonstrate, by a multitude of the most forcible arguments, the extreme absurdity of thinking differently, till you have affronted the self-esteem of some, and awakened the distrust of others. 'Some will be stung by a feeling of shame passing off into resentment, which stops their ears against argument. They could have borne perhaps to change their opinion; but not, so to change it as to tax their former opinion with the grossest folly. They would be so sorry to think they had been blinded to such an excess, and are so angry with him who is endeavouring to persuade them to think so, that these feelings determine them not to think it. They try (and it is an attempt which few persons ever make in vain) to shut their eyes against an humiliating conviction: and thus, the very triumphant force of the reasoning adduced, serves to harden them against admitting the conclusion: much as one may conceive Roman soldiers desperately holding out an untenable fortress to the last extremity, from apprehension of being made to pass under the yoke by the victors, should they surrender.
1 Question. Discustion.
'Others again, perhaps comparatively strangers to the question, and not prejudiced, or not strongly prejudiced, against your conclusion, but ready to admit it if supported by sufficient arguments, will sometimes, if your arguments are very much beyond what is sufficient, have their suspicions roused by this very circumstance. 'Can it be possible,' they will say, 'that a conclusion so very obvious as this is made to appear, should not have been admitted long ago? Is it conceivable that such and such eminent philosophers, divines, statesmen, &c., should have been all their lives under delusions so gross?' Hence they are apt to infer, either that the author has mistaken the opinions of those he imagines opposed to him, or else, that there is some subtle fallacy in his arguments.'1
This is a distrust that reminds one of the story related by a French writer, M. Say, of some one who, lor a wager, stood a whole day on one of the bridges in Paris, offering to sell a fivefranc piece for one franc, and (naturally) not finding a purchaser. In this way the very clearness and force of the demonstration will, with some minds, have an opposite tendency to the one desired. Labourers who are employed in driving wedges into a block of wood, are careful to use blows of no greater force than is just sufficient. If they strike too hard, the elasticity of the wood will throw out the wedge.
It may be noticed here that the effect produced by any writing or speech of an argumentative character, on any subjects on which diversity of opinion prevails, may be compared—supposing the argument to be of any weight—to the effects of a fire-engine on a conflagration. That portion of the water which falls on solid stone walls, is poured out where it is not needed. That, again, which falls on blazing beams and rafters, is cast off in volumes of hissing steam, and will seldom avail to quench the fire. But that which is poured on wood-work that is just beginning to kindle, may stop the burning; and that which wets the rafters not yet ignited, but in danger, may save them from catching fire. Even so, those who already concur with the writer as to some point, will feel gratified with, and perhaps bestow high commendation on an able defence of the opinions they already held; and those, again, who have fully made up their minds on the opposite side, are more likely to be displeased than to be convinced. But both of these parties are left nearly in the same mind as before. Those, however, who are in a hesitating and doubtful state, may very likely be decided by forcible arguments. And those who have not hitherto considered the subject, may be induced to adopt opinions which they find supported by the strongest reasons. But the readiest and warmest approbation a writer meets with, will usually be from those whom he has not convinced, because they were convinced already. And the effect the most important and the most difficult to be produced, he will usually, whan he does produce it, hear the least of. Those whom he may have induced to reconsider, and gradually to alter, previously fixed opinions, are not likely, for a time at least, to be very forward in proclaiming the change.
1 Elements of llheloric, Part I. ch. iii.
It is worth observing however that as a stream of water will sometimes a little allay the fierceness of a flame which it cannot extinguish, so, very forcible reasons even when they fail to convince some who have resolutely made up their minds, will sometimes a little mitigate their violence, when they come to reflect that it is at least evident there is something to be said on both sides.
One of the most troublesome kinds of person to deal with, in any kind of negotiation, is a caviller. Of these, some are such from insidious design, and some from intellectual deficiency. A caviller is on the look-out for objections, valid or invalid, to everything that is proposed, or done, or said; and will seldom fail to find some. No power, no liberty, can be entrusted to any one, which may not, possibly or conceivably, be abused; and the caviller takes for granted that it always will be abused; —that everything that is left to any one's discretion, must be left to his indiscretion;—and that, in short, no one will ever be restrained from doing any thing that he may do, by a sense of honour, or by common prudence, or by regard for character.
It would be easy for such a man to prove a priori, that it L* impossible for such a system as the British Constitution to work well, or to continue to subsist at all. The King may put his veto on a Bill which has passed both Houses; and when this is done, the Public will refuse supplies; and so, the government must come to a dead lock. Or, the King may create a great batch of Peers, and bribe a majority of the Commons, and so make himself absolute. Or again, the King may pardon all criminals, and thus nullify the administration of justice. Or again, he may appoint to all the Bishopricks, and to a 'great number of livings, men of Socinian or Bomish tendencies, who will explain away all our formularies, and wholly subvert the system of our Church.
The institution of an Order of persons called Parochial Visitors, having the office of assisting and acting under the Minister of each parish, and serving as a medium of communication between him and the parishioners, and standing in a relation to each, analogous to that of the attendants in an hospital towards the physician and the patients—this has been assailed in a similar way by cavillers. 'Are these Visitors,' it was said, 'to have the cure of souls? Are they to expound Scripture to the people, and give them religious instruction and admonitions, just as the pastor does? K so, they ought to be regularly ordained clergymen; and should be called curates. Or, are they merely to be the bearers of communications between the people and the pastor, and not to venture, without his express orders, to read a passage of Scripture to a sick man, or to explain to him the meaning of such words as 'Publican' or 'Pharisee? In that case they will fall into contempt as triflere.'
If you answer that they are not to be so rigidly restricted as that; but are to reserve for the Minister any important or difficult points; the caviller will reply—' And who is to be the judge what are the most important and difficult points, and what the easier and more obvious? If this is to be left to the discretion of the Visitor himself, he will take everything into his own hands; but if it is to be referred to the Minister, then, the Visitor will be nothing but a mere messenger.' In like manner it might be asked, whether the nurse in an hospital is to administer or withhold medicines, and perform surgical operations, at discretion, and, in short, to usurp all the functions of the physician, or whether-she is not to be allowed to smooth a