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OF TRUTH 1
What is truth? said jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer. Certainly there be that delight in giddiness, and count it a bondage to fix a belief, affecting free-will in thinking, as well as in acting. And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients. But it is not only the difficulty and labor which men take in finding out of truth, nor again that when it is found it imposeth upon men's thoughts, that doth bring lies in favor, but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself. One of the later school of the Grecians examineth the matter, and is at a stand to think what should be in it, that men should love lies, where neither they make for pleasure, as with poets, nor for advantages, as with the merchant, but for the lie's sake. But I cannot tell. This same truth is a naked and open day-light, that doth not shew the masques and mummeries and triumphs of the world half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. Truth may perhaps come to the price of a pearl, that sheweth best by day; but it will not rise to the price of a diamond or carbuncle, that sheweth best in varied lights. A mixture of a lie doth ever add pleasure. Doth any man doubt that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and 1 First published in 1625.
the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves? One of the Fathers, in great severity, called poesy vinum dæmonum, because it filleth the imagination; and yet it is but with the shadow of a lie. But it is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in and settleth in it that doth the hurt such as we spake of before. But howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature. The first creature of God, in the works of the days, was the light of the sense; the last was the light of reason; and his sabbath work ever since is the illumination of his Spirit. First he breathed light upon the face of the matter or chaos; then he breathed light into the face of man; and still he breatheth and inspireth light into the face of his chosen. The poet that beautified the sect that was otherwise inferior to the rest saith yet excellently well: “It is a pleasure to stand upon the shore, and to see ships tossed upon the sea; a pleasure to stand in the window of a castle, and to see a battle and the adventures thereof below; but no pleasure is comparable to the standing upon the vantage ground of Truth (a hill not to be commanded, and where the air is always clear and serene) and to see the errors, and wanderings, and mists, and tempests, in the vale below”; so always that this prospect be with pity, and not with swelling or pride. Certainly, it is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth.
To pass from theological and philosophical truth to the truth of civil business, it will be acknowledged, even by those that practise it not, that clear and round dealing is the honor of man's nature; and that mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it. For these winding and crooked courses are the goings of the serpent, which goeth basely upon the belly, and not upon the feet. There is no vice that doth so cover a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. And therefore Montaigne saith prettily, when he inquired the reason why the word of the lie should be such a disgrace and such an odious charge? Saith he, “If it be well weighed, to say that a man lieth is as much to say as that he is brave towards God and a coward towards men.” For a lie faces God, and shrinks from man. Surely the wickedness of falsehood and breach of faith cannot possibly be so highly expressed as in that it shall be the last peal to call the judgments of God upon the generations of men, it being foretold, that when Christ cometh, "He shall not find faith upon the earth.”
ON GOING A JOURNEY 1
William Hazlitt was born at Maidstone, Kent, 1778, and died in 1830. He was a gloomy, quarrelsome character. De Quincey, who, however, seldom praised any one, said of him that he "smiled upon no man, nor exchanged tokens of fame with the nearest of fraternities.” Hazlitt's education was deficient and his literary training meager. His first bid for fame was a dull book entitled On the Principles of Human Action. He was not a philosopher, nor an original thinker of any sort. In the strictest sense, he was a “man of letters," one who, compelled by circumstances, wrote for bread, not one who was impelled to expression by an inner necessity. He became an essayist, a critic, commenting upon the works and ways of other men, the most difficult of things in literature to do well. In addition to the philosophic attempt mentioned above, his only contribution to literature apart from essays and criticism was a Life' of Napoleon, which displays a most sympathetic interest in the career of the Emperor of the French. "Miscellaneous comment" perhaps sums up the nature of nearly all his work. The best of it was upon the English drama, though his critical estimates of authors and public men among his contemporaries still bear the stamp of coming from an eyewitness of their activities. Nearly all of his writings appeared first in newspapers, magazines, and reviews. He was an able contributor, a sort of glorified journalist. His skill was workmanlike, though it frequently revealed his petulant temperament. What he wrote held the attention of his time, amused, and even instructed. His style was sparkling, sometimes shrill, usually incisive, occasionally brilliant; perhaps it would now be called showy. Charles Lamb said of Hazlitt, “I should belie my own conscience if I said less than that I think W. H. to be, in his natural and healthy state, one of the wisest and finest spirits living. ... I think I shall go to my grave without finding, or expecting to find, such another companion.”
One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors nature is company enough
I am then never less alone than when alone. 1 First published in the New Monthly Magazine, London, 1822.
“The fields his study, nature was his book.”.
I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I am in the country, I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for criticizing hedge-rows and black cattle. I go out of town in order to forget the town and all that is in it. There are those who for this purpose go to watering-places, and carry the metropolis with them. I like more elbow-room and fewer incumbrances. I like solitude, when I give myself up to it, for the sake of solitude; nor do I ask for
a friend in my retreat, Whom I may whisper, solitude is sweet."
The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel, do, just as one pleases. We go a journey chiefly to be free of all impediments and of all inconveniences; to leave ourselves behind, much more to get rid of others. It is because I want a little breathing-space to muse on indifferent matters, where Contemplation
"May plume her feathers and let grow her wings,
that I absent myself from the town for a while, without feeling at a loss the moment I am left by myself. Instead of a friend in a post-chaise or in a Tilbury to exchange good things with and vary the same stale topics over again, for once let me have a truce with impertinence. Give me the clear blue sky over my head and the green turf beneath my feet, a winding road before me, and a three hours' march to dinner-and then to thinking! It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone heaths.