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ever will incline them to this offence. Eager appetites to secular and sensual goods; violent passions, urging the prosecution of what men affect; wrath and displeasure against those who stand in the way of compassing their desires; emulation and envy toward those who hap to succeed better, or to attain a greater share in such things; excessive self-love; unaccountable malignity and vanity, are in some degrees connatural to all men, and ever prompt them to this dealing, as appearing the most efficacious, compendious, and easy way of satisfying such appetites, of promoting such designs, of discharging such passions. Slander thence hath always been a principal engine, whereby covetous, ambitious, envious, ill-natured, and vain persons have strove to supplant their competitors, and advance themselves; meaning thereby to procure, what they chiefly prize and like, wealth, or dignity, or reputation, favor and power in the court, respect and interest with the people.
But from especial causes our age peculiarly doth abound in this practice for, besides the common dispositions inclining thereto, there are conceits newly coined, and greedily entertained by many, which seem purposely levelled at the disparagement of piety, charity, and justice, substituting interest in the room of conscience, authorising and commending, for good and wise, all ways serving to private advantage. There are implacable dissensions, fierce animosities, and bitter zeals sprung up; there is an extreme curiosity, niceness, and delicacy of judgment; there is a mighty affectation of seeming wise and witty by any means; there is a great unsettlement of mind, and corruption of manners, generally diffused over people from which sources it is no wonder that this flood hath so overflown, that no banks can restrain it, no fences are able to resist it; so that ordinary conversation is full with it, and no demeanor can be secure from it.
If we do mark what is done in many (might I not say, in most) companies, what is it, but one telling malicious stories of, or fastening odious characters on another? What do men commonly please themselves in so much, as in carping and harshly censuring, in defaming and abusing their neighbors? Is it not the sport and divertisement of many, to cast dirt in the faces of all they meet with; to bespatter any man with
foul imputations? Doth not in every corner a Momus lurk, from the venom of whose spiteful or petulant tongue no eminency of rank, dignity of place, or sacredness of office, no innocence or integrity of life, no wisdom or circumspection in behavior, no good nature, or benignity in dealing and carriage, can protect any person? Do not men assume to themselves a liberty of telling romances, and framing characters concerning their neighbor, as freely as a poet doth about Hector or Turnus, Thersites or Draucus? Do they not usurp a power of playing with, of tossing about, of tearing in pieces their neighbor's good name, as if it were the veriest toy in the world? Do not many, having a form of godliness,' (some of them demurely, others confidently, both without any sense of, or remorse for what they do,) backbite their brethren? Is it not grown so common a thing to asperse causelessly, that no man wonders at it, that few dislike, that scarce any detest it? that most notorious calumniators are heard, not only with patience, but with pleasure; yea are even held in vogue and reverence, as men of a notable talent, and very serviceable to their party; so that slander seemeth to have lost its nature, and not to be now an odious sin, but a fashionable humor, a way of pleasing entertainment, a fine knack, or curious feat of policy; so that no man at least taketh himself or others to be accountable for what is said in this way? Is not, in fine, the case become such, that whoever hath in him any love of truth, any sense of justice or honesty, any spark of charity toward his brethren, shall hardly be able to satisfy himself in the conversations he meeteth; but will be tempted, with the holy prophet, to wish himself sequestered from society, and cast into solitude; repeating those words of his, Oh that I had in the wilderness a lodging place of wayfaring men; that I might leave my people, and go from them: for they are—an assembly of treacherous men, and they bend their tongues like their bow for lies?' This he wished in an age so resembling ours, that I fear the description with equal patness may suit both: Take ye heed' (said he then; and may we not advise the like now?') every one of his neighbor, and trust ye not in any brother for every brother will utterly supplant, and every neighbor will walk with slanders. They will deceive every
one his neighbor, and will not speak the truth: they have taught their tongue to speak lies, and weary themselves to commit iniquity.'
Such being the state of things, obvious to experience, no discourse may seem more needful or useful, than that which serveth to correct or check this practice: the which I shall endeavor to do, 1. by describing the nature, 2. by declaring the folly of it; or showing it to be very true which the wise man here asserteth, he that uttereth slander is a fool.' The which particulars I hope so to prosecute, that any man shall be able easily to discern, and ready heartily to detest this practice.
I. For explication of its nature, we may describe slander to be the uttering false (or equivalent to false, morally false) speech against our neighbor, in prejudice to his fame, his safety, his welfare, or concernment in any kind, out of malignity, vanity, rashness, ill-nature, or bad design. That which is in holy Scripture forbidden and reproved under several names and notions; of bearing false witness, false accusation, railing censure, sycophantry, tale-bearing, whispering, backbiting, supplanting, taking up reproach: which terms some of them do signify the nature, others denote the special kinds, others imply the manners, others suggest the ends of this practice. But it seemeth most fully intelligible by observing the several kinds and degrees thereof; as also by reflecting on the divers ways and manners of practising it.
The principal kinds thereof I observe to be these:
1. The grossest kind of slander is that which in the decalogue is called bearing false testimony against our neighbor;' that is, flatly charging him with facts the which he never committed, and is nowise guilty of. As in the case of Naboth, when men were suborned to say, 'Naboth did blaspheme God and the king' and as was David's case, when he thus complained, False witnesses did rise up, they laid to my charge things that I knew not of.' This kind in the highest way (that is, in judicial proceedings) is more rare; and of all men, they who are detected to practise it are held most vile and infamous; as being plainly the most pernicious and perilous instruments of injustice, the most desperate enemies of all men's right and safety that can be. But also out of the court there are many
knights-errant of the post, whose business it is to run about scattering false reports; sometimes loudly proclaiming them in open companies, sometimes closely whispering them in dark corners; thus infecting conversation with their poisonous breath these no less notoriously are guilty of this kind, as bearing always the same malice, and sometimes breeding as ill effects.
2. Another kind is, affixing scandalous names, injurious epithets, and odious characters on persons, which they deserve not. As when Corah and his complices did accuse Moses of being ambitious, unjust, and tyrannical: when the Pharisees called our Lord an impostor, a blasphemer, a sorcerer, a glutton and wine-bibber, an incendiary and perverter of the people, one that 'spake against Cæsar,' and 'forbad to give tribute :' when the Apostles were charged of being pestilent, turbulent, factious and seditious fellows. This sort being very common, and thence in ordinary repute not so bad, yet in just estimation may be judged even worse than the former; as doing to our neighbor more heavy and more irreparable wrong. For it imposeth on him really more blame, and that such which he can hardly shake off: because the charge signifieth habit of evil, and includeth many acts; then, being general and indefinite, can scarce be disproved. He, for instance, that calleth a sober man drunkard, doth impute to him many acts of such intemperance; some really past, others probably future; and no particular time or place being specified, how can a man clear himself of that imputation, especially with those who are not throughly acquainted with his conversation? So he that calleth a man unjust, proud, perverse, hypocritical, doth load him with most grievous faults, which it is not possible that the most innocent person should discharge himself from.
3. Like to that kind is this, aspersing a man's actions with harsh censures and foul terms, importing that they proceed from ill principles, or tend to bad ends; so as it doth not or cannot appear. Thus when we say of him that is generously hospitable, that he is profuse; of him that is prudently frugal, that he is niggardly; of him that is cheerful and free in his conversation, that he is vain or loose; of him that is serious and resolute in a good way, that he is sullen or morose; of him that is con
spicuous and brisk in virtuous practice, that it is ambition or ostentation which acts him; of him that is close and bashful in the like good way, that it is sneaking stupidity, or want of spirit; of him that is reserved, that it is craft; of him that is open, that it is simplicity in him when we ascribe a man's liberality and charity to vain-glory or popularity; his strictness of life and constancy in devotion, to superstition or hypocrisy : when, I say, we pass such censures, or impose such characters, on the laudable or innocent practice of our neighbors, we are indeed slanderers, imitating therein the great calumniator, who thus did slander even God himself, imputing his prohibition of the fruit unto envy toward men; ( God,' said he, doth know, that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil;') who thus did ascribe the steady piety of Job, not to a conscientious love and fear of God, but to policy and selfish design; Doth Job fear God for nought?'
Whoever indeed pronounceth concerning his neighbor's intentions otherwise than as they are evidently expressed by words, or signified by overt actions, is a slanderer; because he pretendeth to know, and dareth to aver, that which he noways possibly can tell whether it be true; because the heart is exempt from all jurisdiction here, is only subject to the government and trial of another world; because no man can judge concerning the truth of such accusations; because no man can exempt or defend himself from them: so that apparently such practice doth thwart all course of justice and equity.
4. Another kind is, perverting a man's words or actions disadvantageously by affected misconstruction. All words are ambiguous and capable of different senses, (some fair, some more foul;) all actions have two handles, one that candor and charity will, another that disingenuity and spite may, lay hold on; and in such cases to misapprehend is a calumnious procedure, arguing malignant disposition and mischievous design. Thus when two men did witness that our Lord affirmed he ⚫ could demolish the temple, and rear it again in three days;' although he did indeed speak words to that purpose, meaning them in a figurative sense, discernible enough to those who would candidly have minded his drift and way of speaking; yet