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deed, the strictest adherence to truth in indifferent matters might be supported. Were falsehood admissible where no immediate ill consequences were anticipated, not only one of the great guards of virtue would be removed, but, in fact, the social compact would be dissolved: human conceits and fancies would supply the place of realities ; conversation would lose its interest, and society its relish; and the most important concerns of human life would be at the mercy of every fool, who might thus scatter arrows, firebrands, and death, and say, Am not I in sport?
But truth has a deeper foundation than expediency or utility. The well-being of society is its consequence, and its effect; but not in any sense the occasion of its existence ; though, as the great Hooker speaks of law, its voice be the " harmony of the world." Truth is, in fact, the reality of things; it is the light of the Eternal Sun shining on the universal system ; it is the very essence of Him, who emphatically styles himself, " The Truth,” communicated to all his works, and stamping on all things, in their various classes and kinds and natures, the image and superscription of their great First Cause. Truth, then, in man, is a conformity of his under
standing and of his words to God's order, to his will, and to his voice, which speaks in every thing. It is by this truth, in his heart and in his mouth, that he lives in subordination to the divine government ; that he moves within the track of the divine providence ; that he resigns himself to the divine disposal ; and makes God's will, and not his own, the rule and measure of his conduct.
Hence it follows, that falsehood is in its very nature criminal. Independently of consequences, or of wrong associations, it is sinful in its very essence; and in its simplest form bespeaks its original from him, who is the father of lies, and who was a liar from the beginning. If truth be the voice of God, shall we presume, in any instance, to extenuate a lie?— There may be, indeed, degrees of criminality in falsehood, as there are in blasphemy. It may not be the same offence to swear irreverently by the hairs of our head, as by heaven, or by the earth, or by the city of the great King : but, still, to falsehood, in every shape, we may most fairly accommodate the argument of which we are here reminded, and pronounce, beyond the possibility of contradiction, that if God has numbered the hairs of our heads; if his hand has formed them white, or black, and the truth of things
bas stamped them so; we cannot falsify even as to one of these, without lifting up our voice against (and shall I say, without in a certain sense denying ?) the God that is above.
If these observations have any weight, the white lie (if we understand thereby an innocent falsehood) can have no existence in the nature of things; and thus the practice of saying Not at home” is stripped of its last defence, and driven from this last “ refuge of lies.” It is time then, surely, Sir, for serious persons at least, to renounce it; to adopt other modes of repelling interruption or levity from their doors; or even, if they complain that this cannot otherwise be effected, rather to admit the occasional visits of intrusion, than to cherish falsehood in the very bosom of their domestic privacy.
I TAKE the liberty of offering some further observations, as supplementary to the little paper on “ Not at Home,” which appeared in your publication of May last.
There is one imposing argument, by which the advocates for this practice endeavour to secure its permanency. They contend that this is but one of a large class of forms, all precisely of the same kind; and that if we reject it, we must, to be consistent, go a great deal farther ; we must, in fact, renounce with it the use of terms, without which the common civilities of life could not be preserved. For instance, it is argued, that if we give up
Not at Home,” we cannot answer cards of invitation in the usual form ; we cannot say, “ We are sorry we cannot wait on ” an acquaintance, unless we feel an unmixed desire for his society, and are prevented by some strictly insurmountable impediment. Now, I conceive, that this consequence by no means follows.
I will suppose myself invited to dine abroad, and my inclination to do so counteracted by a prior engagement. No one can, I presume, charge me with the slightest breach of truth, if I decline in the usual way, though there is surely no absolute or physical impossibility in the case. Why, then, if I have sufficient reasons of another nature for refusing an invitation, am I not at liberty to use the same courtesy? If I feel that my time may be more profitably spent at home, or if I have grounds for fearing that, in the company I expect to meet, such conversation or amusements may be introduced as are unsuitable to my sentiments, surely I may consider these obstacles at least as important as a prior engagement to another place. In such cases, then, I use the term “ cannot,” in its received import, as implying, not a strict impossibility, but an impediment sufficiently real to influence my conduct.