« ZurückWeiter »
themselves: this is to slander mankind, first in the gross, then in retail, as occasion serves.
These seem to be the chief kinds of slander, and most common ways of practising it. In which description, the folly of it must be clear : but to render this still more apparent, it will be farther displayed in the next discourse.
GENERAL declamations against vice and sin are indeed excellently useful, as rousing men to consider and look about them : but they do often want effect, because they only raise confused apprehensions of things, and indeterminate propensions to action; the which usually, before men throughly perceive or resolve what they should practise, do decay and vanish. As he that cries out fire doth stir up people, and inspireth them with a kind of hovering tendency every way, yet no man thence to purpose moveth, until he be distinctly informed where the mischief is; then do they, who apprehend themselves concerned, run hastily to oppose it: so, till we particularly discern where our offences lie, (till we distinctly know the heinous nature and the mischievous consequences of them.) we scarce will effectually apply ourselves to correct them. Whence it is requisite that men should be particularly acquainted with their sins, and by proper arguments be dissuaded from them.
In order whereto I have now selected one sin to describe, and to dissuade from, being in nature as vile, and in practice as common, as any other whatever that hath prevailed among men. It is slander, a sin which in all times and places hath been epidemical and rife; but which especially doth seem to reign and rage in our age and country.
There are principles innate to men, which ever have, and
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