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from ignorance,--(I here use the word in relation to the habits of reasoning as well as to the previous knowledge requisite for the due comprehension of the subject,)—and hindrances from predominant passions. *
From both these the law of conscience commands us to abstain, because such being the ignorance and such the passions of the supposed auditors, we ought to deduce the impracticability of conveying not only adequate but even right notions of our own convictions : much less does it permit us to avail ourselves of the causes of this impracticability in order to procure nominal proselytes, each of whom will have a different, and all a false, conception of those notions that were to be conveyed for their truth's sake alone. Whatever is, or but for some defect in our moral character would have been, foreseen as preventing the conveyance of our thoughts, makes the attempt an act of self-contradiction : and whether the faulty cause exist in our choice of unfit words or our choice of unfit auditors, the result is the same and so is the guilt. · We have voluntarily communicated falsehood.
Thus, without reference to consequences, if only one short digression be excepted—from the sole principle of self-consistence or moral integrity, we have evolved the clue of right reason, which we are bound to follow in the communication of truth. Now then let me appeal to the judgment and experience of the reader, whether he who most faithfully adheres to the letter of the law of conscience will not likewise act in strictest correspondence to the maxims of prudence and sound policy. I am at least unable to recollect a single instance, either in history or in my personal experience, of a preponderance of injurious consequences from the publication of any truth, under the observance of the moral conditions above stated : much less can I even imagine any case, in which truth, as truth, can be pernicious. But if the assertor of the indifferency of truth and falsehood in their own natures, attempt to justify his position by confining the word truth, in the first instance, to the correspondence of given words to given facts, without reference to the total impression left by such words, what is this more than to assert, that articulated sounds are things of moral indifferency;—and that we may relate a fact accurately, and nevertheless deceive grossly and wickedly? Blifil related accurately Tom Jones's riotous joy
* See Lay Sermon addressed to the higher and middle classes. VI.
during his benefactor's illness, only omitting that this joy was occasioned by the physician's having pronounced him out of danger. Blifil was not the less a liar for being an accurate matter-of-fact liar. Tell-truths in the service of falsehood we find everywhere, of various names and various occupations, from the elderly young *women that discuss the love affairs of their friends and acquaintances at the village tea-tables, to the anonymous calumniators of literary merit in reviews, and the more daring malignants, who dole out discontent, innovation and panic, in political journals : and a most pernicious race of liars they are! But who ever doubted it ?_Why should our moral feelings be shocked, and the holiest words with all their venerable associations be profaned, in order to bring forth a truism ! But thus it is for the most part with the venders of startling paradoxes. In the sense in which they are to gain for their author the character of a bold and original thinker, they are false even to absurdity; and the sense in which they are true and harmless, conveys so mere a truism, that it even borders on nonsense. How often have we heard “ The rights of man--hurra !—The sovereignty of the peoplehurra !”—roared out by men who, if called upon in another place and before another audience, to explain themselves, would give to the words a meaning, in which the most monarchical of their political opponents would admit them to be true, but which would contain nothing new, or strange, or stimulant, nothing to flatter the pride, or kindle the passions, of the populace!
At profanum vulgus lectorum quomodo arcendum est? Librisne nostris jubeamus, ut coram indignis obmutescant ? Si linguis, ut dicitur, emortuis utamur, eheu! ingenium quoque nobis emortuum jacet : sin aliter,--Minerva secreta crassis ludibrium divulgamus, et Dianam nostram impuris hujus sceculi Acteonibus nudam proferimus. Respondeo : ad incommoditates hujusmodi evitandas, nec Græce nec Latine scribere opus est. Sufficiet, nos sicca luce usos fuisse et strictiore argumentandi methodo. Sufficiet, innocenter, utiliter scripscisse : eventus est apud lectorem. Nuper emptum est a nobis Ciceronianum istud De Officiis, opus quod semper pæne Christiano dignum putabamus. Mirum ! libellus factus fuerat famosissimus. Credisne? Vix: at quomodo? Maligno quodam, nescio quem, plena margine et super tergo, annotatum est, et exemplis, calumniis potius, superfætatum! Sic et qui introrsum uritur inflammationes animi vel Catonianis (ne dicam, sacrosanctis) paginis accipit. Omni aura mons, omnibus scriptis mens ignita, vescitur.
RUDOLPHI LANGII, Epist. ad amicum quemdam Italicum, in qua
linguæ patriæ et hodiernæ usum defendit et eruditis commendat.
Nec me fallit, ut in corporibus hominum sic in animis multiplici passione affectis, medicamenta verborum multis inefficacia visum iri. Sed nec illud quoque me prceterit, ut invisibiles animorum morbos, sic invisibilia esse remedia. Falsis opinionibus circumventi veris sententiis liberandi sunt, ut qui audiendo ceciderant audiendo consurgant.
PETRARCH. Prefat. in lib. de remed. utriusque fortunæ, sub fin.
But how are we to guard against the herd of promiscuous readers ? Can we bid our books be silent in the presence of the unworthy? If we employ what are called the dead languages, our own genius, alas ! becomes flat and dead : and if we embody our thoughts in the words native to them or in which they were conceived, we divulge the secrets of Minerva to the ridicule of blockheads, and expose our Diana to the Actæons of a sensual age. I reply: that in order to avoid inconveniences of this kind, we need write neither in Greek nor in Latin. It will be enough, if we abstain from appealing to the bad passions and low appetites, and confine ourselves to a strictly consequent method of reasoning.
To have written innocently, and for wise purposes, is all that can be required of us : the event lies with the reader. I purchased lately Cicero's work, De Oficiis, which I had always considered as almost worthy of a Christian. To my surprise it had become a most flagrant libel. Nay! but how -Some one, I know not who, out of the fruitfulness of his own malignity, had filled all the margins and other blank spaces with annotations-a true superfætation of examples, that is, of false and slanderous tales! In like manner, the slave of impure desires will turn the pages of Cato, not to say, Scripture itself, into occasions and excitements of wanton imaginations. There is no wind but fans a volcano, no work but feeds a combustible mind.
I am well aware, that words will appear to many as inefficacious medicines when administered to minds agitated with manifold passions, as when they are muttered by way of charm over bodily ailments. But neither does it escape me, on the other hand, that as the diseases of the mind are invisible, invisible must the remedies likewise be. Those who have been entrapped by false opinions are to be liberated by convincing truths: that thus having imbibed the poison through the ear they may receive the antidote by the same channel.
That our elder writers to Jeremy Taylor inclusively quoted to excess, it would be the very blindness of partiality to deny. More than one might be mentioned, whose works are well characterized in the words of Milton, as a paroxysm of citations, pampered metaphors, and aphorisming pedantry. On the other hand, it seems to me that we now avoid quotations with an anxiety that offends in the contrary extreme. Yet it is the beauty and independent worth of the citations far more than their appropriateness which have made Johnson's Dictionary popular even as a reading book—and the mottos with the translations of them are known to add considerably to the value of the Spectator. With this conviction I have taken more than common pains in the selection of the mottos for The Friend : and of two mottos equally appropriate prefer always that from the book which is least likely to have come into my readers' hands. For I often please myself with the fancy, now that I may have saved from oblivion the only striking passage in a whole volume, and now that I may have attracted notice to a writer undeservedly forgotten. If this should be attributed to a silly ambition in the display of various reading, I can do no more than deny any consciousness of having been so actuated : and for the rest, I must console myself by the reflection, that if it be one of the most foolish, it is at the same time one of the most harmless, of human vanities.
The passages prefixed lead at once to the question, which will probably have more than once occurred to the reflecting reader of the preceding essay. How will these rules apply to the most important mode of communication ? to that, in which one man
may utter his thoughts to myriads of men at the same time, and to myriads of myriads at various times and through successions of generations ? How do they apply to authors, whose foreknowledge assuredly does not inform them who, or how many, or of what description, their readers will be ? How do these rules apply to books, which once published, are as likely to fall in the way of the incompetent as of the judicious, and will be fortunate indeed if they are not many times looked at through the thick mists of ignorance, or amid the glare of prejudice and passion ?I answer in the first place, that this is not universally true. The readers are not seldom picked and chosen. Relations of certain pretended miracles performed a few years ago, at Holywell, in consequence of prayers to the Virgin Mary, on female servants, and these relations moralized by the old Roman Catholic arguments without the old Protestant answers, have to my knowledge been sold by travelling pedlers in villages and farm-houses, not only in a form which placed them within the reach of the narrowest means, but sold at a price less than their prime cost, and doubtless, thrown in occasionally as the make-weight in a bargain of pins and stay-tape. Shall I be told, that the publishers and reverend authorizers of these base and vulgar delusions had exerted no choice as to the purchasers and readers ? But waiving this, or rather having first pointed it out, as an important exception, I further reply,—that if the author have clearly and rightly established in his own mind the class of readers, to which he means to address his communications; and if both in this choice, and in
scientiously observe all the conditions which reason and conscience have been shown to dictate, in relation to those for whom the work was designed; he will, in most instances, have effected his design and realized the desired circumscription. The posthumous work of Spinoza—(Ethica ordine geometrico demonstrata)
-may, indeed, accidentally fall into the hands of an incompetent reader. But (not to mention, that it is written in a dead language), it will be entirely harmless, because it must needs be utterly unintelligible. I venture to assert, that the whole first book, De Deo, might be read in a literal English translation to any congregation in the kingdom, and that no individual who had not been habituated to the strictest and most laborious processes of reasoning, would even suspect its orthodoxy or piety, however