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But is there no insincerity in professing that “ I am sorry?” By no means. I may feel a decided disinclination to accept an invitation, and at the same time regret that I cannot oblige my acquaintance by compliance. 1 may experience, and should experience, real sorrow, if the impediment arises from any thing irregular in his mode of life. And with such sentiments I may, in perfect candour, accompany my refusal with an expression of sorrow; reserving to myself, as every wise man will, those secret reasons and motives, which it would be, perhaps, only mischievous to divulge.
But what if there be no serious motive, no moral consideration, nothing that can be called a reason in the case,-can 1, in these circumstances, refuse an invitation in the usual form? Can I, in short, profess myself, with truth, “ sorry” at not being able to accept it, when my own whim or fancy is the only obstacle? In soberness, I do not think I can, I see no possible argument by which such expressions can in this case be reconciled with truth, unless we admit the ridiculous supposition that the writer is heartily sorry he is whimsical and capricious.
But, in fact, when we look for a high and delicate sense of truth, we naturally look for a great deal more. We expect to find a symmetry of character, an assemblage of those virtues, without which a mere insulated love of truth would be absolutely monstrous. And perhaps the advocates for truth have unintentionally betrayed its cause in nothing more than in even supposing it in association with depravity or folly, and in giving rules for cases where the sole intricacy arises from the impossibility of consistently preserving truth, where good sense and good nature are deliberately violated. In such an instance, then, were I asked how a man shall reconcile sincerity with caprice; how, where a courteous invitation is rejected from mere whim, that rejection shall be worded so as to accord with truth, my answer should be this : “ Cease to be whimsical and capricious, and there will be no difficulty in the case.” Leaving then such persons to the correction of their follies, we may safely pronounce, that no sober and consistently moral man is obliged to depart from established custom, in the particular we are now considering.
Let persons object as they please to thus gravely moralizing on the wording of a card ; for my part, I conceive that no instance can be trivial in which the sincerely conscientious are disburdened of one needless scruple, or
in which truth is vindicated from the charge of involving in its strictest exercise either coarseness or indecorum. If, in fact, this charge were founded, the whole symmetry of the christian character would be at an end, and that charity, which“ rejoiceth in the truth," and which “ behaveth itself not anseemly,” would be self-contradictory, and, consequently, unattainable.
That sincerity and politeness are not indeed always reconcilable, we freely grant, and we have already noticed one instance in which they are not so. But whence does this arise ? Not surely from the contrariety of the two, but from the intervention of counteracting causes : just as two pure and congenial liquids may refuse to blend, or, by their blending, may produce a noxious compound, if committed to an impure vessel. But is it, therefore, necessary, or wise, to throw both, or either of them, away? No, the fault is in the vessel, and not in the liquids, and you have only to cleanse the former to produce the effect you want. Let us then apply this principle to ourselves. The christian virtues are all harmonious and congenial; but christian virtues can live and centre only in a christian heart. If we find, then, in ourselves any obstruction to their kindly blending and harmonious exercise, shall we renounce them altogether? or shall we, if that were possible, be content with being virtuous by halves ? Shall we not rather look to our own hearts, and purify the medium in which they refuse to blend ?
But, in reality, truth and politeness are so far from inconsistent, that it is, perhaps, the union of these two virtues which gives the last finishing to the christian character. For let it be observed, that, reconcilable as we admit them to be, the sole principle on which they are so, is that which, in all ages, has been the acknowledged criterion of true goodness, namely, that we be inwardly what we would appear outwardly. What, in fact, can follow from a sincere desire to please, accompanied by a no less real hatred of all false pretences, but a constant endeavour to cultivate kind, and benevolent, and charitable affections ; that, so as far as is possible, we
: ; may live in the habitual exercise of “ love without dissimulation ?" Nor is this mere speculation. I have myself known, in living persons, the united disinclination to falsify or to offend, produce a general softening of the character. I have seen it lead to the closest self-discipline, to the exclusion of hasty prejudice, of capricious dislike, of unnecessary
singularity, and in constant daily action, as an influential, corrective, and governing principle.
One more observation, and I have done. Will it be thought visionary if I suggest, that a wise and delicate regard to truth naturally imparts a peculiar grace to polished conversation ?-and that not merely by its native dignity and simplicity, but by a certain dexterity and felicity of address, which imperceptibly results from it. Blunt truth and blunt falsehood are at least agreed in one thing,—they are both straight forward ; they require no choice of terms, no suitableness of manner, no fitness of occasion. Every animal endued with speech, can offend by truth, or flatter by a lie. But there is in intellectual things, as in corporeal substances, a line of beauty: and this probably derives its claim to preference from the same source in both; the curbed or undulating line, or movement, bespeaking ease and softness : not, as it were, advancing to its destined point with a directness which implies necessity, nor with a defiance of obstruction which implies resistance; but (to exemplify what could not perhaps be otherwise described) flowing like a gentle river, which moves only where it can move with grace; which yields to every obstacle,