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depends. To endeavour to lessen and degrade any person, upon the grounds of an unjust and ill-founded prejudice, is therefore to deprive them of a portion of their just influence; and if we are conscious that that influence would be virtuously exerted, we become answerable to God for the consequences.
Hence arises the more than impropriety of making such reports of insulated facts, or of expressions casually dropped in the unsuspicious carelessness of confidential intercourse, as may make an impression injurious to the character. Hence, too, arises the gross injustice of reporting an expression drawn forth in the heat of argument; or a sentiment sported in jest, as if they were serious and decisive indications of the dispositions, and opinions, and prin
Vol. i. F ciples, ciples, of the person who uttered them. v
To explain how unjust this would be, take the following instance. Suppose that in the midst of one of your sportive sallies, your papa had turned to me, with a smile, and said, "what a little fool this is!" and that I, treasuring up the expression, should now go about gravely and tell my friends,
"that Lord thought his daughter
"a fool, and that he had told me so;" in what light would you consider my conduct? And yet it is thus, in a thousand instances, that words are, in reporting them, so far perverted from their real meaning, as to serve the purposes of falsehood. Let it, then, through the whole course of your life, be a rule to you, to be no less careful of giving a false impression, than of uttering direct and notorious untruths.
Those who speak without reflection, and who are incapable of generalising their ideas, or of taking in the whole of any subject, if they have not had their minds deeply imbued with a sense of justice, may be said to do nothing else than tell lies through life. And since there are too many who thus lightly speak, it becomes due to justice, not only to be careful of what impressions we give, but to be careful of what impressions we receive.
A pure and candid mind will always be more ready to believe, and more pleased to report, good than evil. But there is a spurious candour which annihilates all moral distinctions between good and evil, and against this I would zealously warn you. A bad and a vicious action, is a bad and vicious action, F 2 let let the person who performed it be what and who they will. No eminence of station, no charm of manners, no personal graces, no engaging qualities, can make that right which is in its nature essentially wrong. If the friend whom we most dearly love, sins against the laws of God and man, we must, in our hearts, pronounce the action sinful. But if we judge our own hearts, and have a proper sense of our own weakness, grief, untinctured by the arrogance of pride or the malignity of contempt, will accompany the sentence. We can have no pleasure in dwelling upon the faults of the most faulty; but we must not pronounce the faulty faultless.
Occasions may, in the course of life occur, when, in justice to the innocent, and in order to protect
them, we may find ourselves obliged to expose the guilty. But happily such occasions do not often occur; and though, when they do, it becomes our duty, even at the risk of every personal evil, to act according to the dictates of conscience, we ought, even in such instances, to go not one single step beyond what is absolutely necessary. The evil which we can do no good by revealing, we are not called upon to reveal. We must not, indeed, pretend to approve where we disapprove, especially where we highly and seriously disapprove; but, unless where a higher duty interposes, we may and ought (except to the parties concerned) to be silent. Nor if we be once determined what line of conduct we ought to pursue, should we suffer ourselves to be diverted from that line of conduct by any offence committed directly F 3 against