图书图片
PDF
ePub

pects them to be understood by others : and in this latter import we are always supposed to use the word, whenever we speak of truth absolutely, or as a possible subject of moral merit or demerit. It is verbally true, that in the sacred Scriptures it is written : As is the good, so is the sinner, and he that sweareth as he that feareth an oath. A man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry. There is one event unto all: the living know they shall die, but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward.* But he who should repeat these words, with this assurance, to an ignorant man in the hour of his temptation, lingering at the door of the alehouse, or hesitating as to the testimony required of him in the court of justice, would, spite of this verbal truth, be a liar, and the murderer of his brother's conscience. Veracity, therefore, not mere accuracy ; to convey truth, not merely to say it, is the point of duty in dispute : and the only difficulty in the mind of an honest man arises from the doubt, whether more than veracity, that is, the truth and nothing but the truth—is not demanded of him by the law of conscience ; whether it does not exact simplicity ; that is, the truth only, and the whole truth. If we can solve this difficulty, if we can determine the conditions under which the law of universal reason commands the communication of the truth independently of consequences, we shall then be enabled to judge whether there is any such probability of evil consequences from such communication, as can justify the assertion of its occasional criminality, as can perplex us in the conception, or disturb us in the performance, of our duty.

The conscience, or effective reason, commands the design of conveying an adequate notion of the thing spoken of, when this is practicable : but at all events a right notion, or none at all. A schoolmaster is under the necessity of teaching a certain rule in simple arithmetic empirically,—(do so and so, and the sum will always prove true) ;—the necessary truth of the rule—that is, that the rule having been adhered to, the sum must always prove true—requiring a knowledge of the higher mathematics for its demonstration. He, however, conveys a right notion, though he can not convey the adequate one.

* Eccles. viii. 15; ix. 2, 5.-Ed. VOL. II. ; '

C.

ESSAY VI.

Πολυμαθίη κάρτα μεν ωφελέει, κάρτα δε βλάπτει τον έχοντα. Ωφελέει μεν τον δεξιον άνδρα, βλάπτει δε τον ρηϊδίως φωνεϋντα πάν έπος και εν παντί δήμω. Χρη δε καιρού μέτρα είδέναι σοφίης γαρ ούτος όρος. Ει δε οι έξω καιρού ρήσιν μουσικών πεπνυμένως αείσουσιν, ου παρα δέχονται εν άργία γνώμην, αιτίην δ' έχουσι μωρίας.

ANAXARCHUS, apud Stobæum, Serm. xxxiv.* General knowledge and ready talent may be of very great benefit, but they may likewise be of very great disservice to the possessor. They are highly advantageous to the man of sound judgment, and dexterous in applying them ; but they injure your fluent holder-forth on all subjects in all companies. It is necessary to know the measures of the time and occasion: for this is the very boundary of wisdom (that by which it is defined, and distinguished from mere ability). But he, who without regard to the unfitness of the time and the audience, will soar in the high region of his fancies with his garland and singing robes about him, will not acquire the credit of seriousness amidst frivolity, but will be condemned for his silliness, as the greatest idler of the company, because the most unseasonable.

THE moral law, it has been shown, permits an inadequate communication of unsophisticated truth, on the condition that it alone is practicable, and binds us to silence when neither an adequate, nor even a right, exposition of the truth is in our power. We must first inquire then,—what is necessary to constitute, and what may allowably accompany, a right though inadequate notion,-and, secondly, what are the circumstances, from which we may deduce the impracticability of conveying even a right notion ; the presence or absence of which circumstances it therefore becomes our duty to ascertain. In answer to the first question, the conscience demands : 1. That it should be the wish and design of the mind to convey the truth only ; that if in addition to the negative loss implied in its inadequateness, the notion communicated should lead to any positive error, the cause should lie in

* Edit. Gaisford.—Ed.

the fault or defect of the recipient, not of the communicator, whose paramount duty, whose inalienable right, it is to preserve his own integrity,* the integral character of his own moral being. Selfrespect; the reverence which he owes to the presence of humanity in the person of his neighbor ; the reverential upholding of the faith of man in man ; gratitude for the particular act of confidence ; and religious awe for the divine purposes in the gift of language ; are duties too sacred and important to be sacrificed to the guesses of an individual, concerning the advantages to be gained by the breach of them. 2. It is further required, that the supposed error shall not be such as will pervert or materially vitiate the imperfect truth, in communicating which we had unwillingly, though not perhaps unwittingly, occasioned it. · A barbarian so instructed in the power and intelligence of the infinite Being as to be left wholly ignorant of his moral attributes, would have acquired none but erroneous notions even of the former. At the very best, he would gain only a theory to satisfy his curiosity with ; but more probably, would deduce the belief of a Moloch or a Baal. For the idea of an irresistible, invisible Being, naturally produces terror in the mind of uninstructed and unprotected man, and with terror there will be associated whatever has been accustomed to excite it, anger, vengeance, &c. ; as is proved by

* The best and most forcible sense of a word is often that which is contained in its etymology. The author of the poems, the Synagogue, frequently affixed to Herbert's Temple, gives the original purport of the word “integrity,” in the following lines of the fourth stanza of the eighth poem:*

Next to sincerity, remember still,
Thou must resolve upon integrity.
God will have all thou hast, thy mind, thy will,

Thy thoughts, thy words, thy works.And again, after some verses on constancy and humility, the poem concludes with

He that desires to see
The face of God, in his religion must

Sincere, entire, constant, and humble be. Having mentioned the name of Herbert, that model of a man, a gentleman, and a clergyman, let me add, that the quaintness of some of his thoughts, not of his diction, than which nothing can be more pure, manly, and unaffected, has blinded modern readers to the great general merit of his poems, which are for the most part exquisite in their kind.

* Church-Porch.-Ed.

the mythology of all barbarous nations. This must be the case with all organized truths ; the component parts derive their sig. nificance from the idea of the whole. Bolingbroke removed love, justice, and choice, from power and intelligence, and yet pretended to have left unimpaired the conviction of a Deity. He might as consistently have paralyzed the optic nerve, and then excused himself by affirming, that he had, however, not touched the eye.

The third condition of a right though inadequate notion is, that the error occasioned be greatly outweighed by the importance of the truth communicated. The rustic would have little reason to thank the philosopher, who should give him true conceptions of the folly of believing in ghosts, omens, dreams, &c. at the price of abandoning his faith in divine providence, and in the continued existence of his fellow-creatures after their death. The teeth of the old serpent planted by the Cadmuses of French literature, under Lewis XV., produced a plenteous crop of philosophers and truth-trumpeters of this kind, in the reign of his successor. They taught many truths, historical, political, physiological, and ecclesiastical, and diffused their notions so widely, that the very ladies and hair-dressers of Paris became fluent encyclopedists : and the sole price which their scholars paid for these treasures of new information, was to believe Christianity an imposture, the Scriptures a forgery, the worship, if not the belief, of God superstition, hell a fable, heaven a dream, our life without providence, and our death without hope. They became as gods as soon as the fruit of this Upas tree of knowledge and liberty had opened their eyes to perceive that they were no more than beasts—somewhat more cunning, perhaps, and abundantly more mischievous. What can be conceived more natural than the result,—that self-acknowledged beasts should first act, and next suffer themselves to be treated, as beasts. We judge by comparison. To exclude the great is to magnify the little. The disbelief of essential wisdom and goodness, necessarily prepares the imagination for the supremacy of cunning with malignity. Folly and vice have their appropriate religions, as well as virtue and true knowledge : and in some way or other fools will dance round the golden calf, and wicked men beat their timbrels and kettle-drums to,

-Moloch, horrid king, besmeared with blood Of human sacrifice and parents' tears.

My feelings have led me on, and in my illustration I had almost lost from my view the subject to be illustrated. One condition yet remains : that the error foreseen shall not be of a kind to prevent or impede the after acquirement of that knowledge which will remove it. Observe, how graciously nature instructs her human children. She can not give us the knowledge derived from sight without occasioning us at first to mistake images of reflection for substances. But the very consequences of the delusion lead inevitably to its detection; and out of the ashes of the error rises a new flower of knowledge. We not only see, but are enabled to discover by what means we see. So, too, we are under the necessity, in given circumstances, of mistaking a square for a round object : but ere the mistake can have any practical consequences, it is not only removed, but in its removal gives us the symbol of a new fact, that of distance. In a similar train of thought, though more fancifully, I might have elucidated the preceding condition, and have referred our hurrying enlighteners and revolutionary amputators to the gentleness of nature, in the oak and the beech, the dry foliage of which she pushes off only by the propulsion of the new buds, that supply its place. My friends! a clothing even of withered leaves is better than bareness.

Having thus determined the nature and conditions of a right notion, it remains to consider the circumstances which tend to render the communication of it impracticable, and oblige us of course, to abstain from the attempt-oblige us not to convey falsehood under the pretext of saying truth. These circumstances, it is plain, must consist either in natural or moral impediments. The former, including the obvious gradations of constitutional insensibility and derangement, preclude all temptation to misconduct, as well as all probability of ill-consequences from accidental oversight, on the part of the communicator. Far otherwise is it with the impediments from moral causes. These demand all the attention and forecast of the genuine lovers of truth in the matter, the manner, and the time of their communications public and private ; and these are the ordinary materials of the vain and the factious, determine them in the choice of their audiences and of their arguments, and to each argument give powers not its own. They are distinguishable into two sources, the streams from which, however, most often become confluent, namely, hindrances

« 上一页继续 »