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perhaps, he has starved himself to purchase, and, probably would hazard his life to secure; to rob him, at the same time, of his happiness and peace of mind, perhaps his bread,-the bread, may be, of a virtuous family-and all this, as Solomon says of the madman, who casteth fire-brands, arrows and death, and sayeth, Am I not in sport? -All this, out of wantonness, and oftner from worse motives ;-the whole appears such a complication of badness, as requires no words or warmth of fancy to aggravate. Pride, treachery, envy, hypocrisy, malice, cruelty, and self-love, may have been said, in one shape or other, to have occasioned all the frauds and mischiefs that ever happened in the world: But the chances against a coincidence of them all in one person, are so many, that one would have supposed the character of a common slanderer as rare and difficult a production in nature, as that of a great genius, which seldom happens above once in an age.
But, whatever was the case when St. James wrote his epistle, we have been very successful, in latter days, and have found out the art, by a proper management of light and shade, to compound all these vices together, so as to give body and strength to the whole, whilst no one but a discerning artist is able to discover the labors that join in finishing the picture.-And indeed, like many other bad originals in the world-it stands in need of all the diguise it has.-For who could be enamored of a character, made up of so loathsome a compound,-could they behold it naked,in its crooked and deformed shape,—with all its natural and detested infirmities laid open to pub. lic view?
And therefore, it were to be wished, that one could do in this malignant case of the mind,what is generally done for the public good, in the
more malignant and epidemical cases of the body, that is, when they are found infectious,to write a history of the distemper, and ascertain all the symptoms of the malady,—so that every one might know whom he might venture to go near, with tolerable safety to himself.-But, alas! the symptoms of this appear in so many strange and contradictory shapes, and vary so wonderfully with the temper and habit of the patient, that they are not to be classed-or reduced to any one regular system.
Ten thousand are the vehicles in which this deadly poison is prepared and communicated to the world; and by some artful hands, it is done by so subtle and nice an infusion, that it is not to be tasted or discovered, but by its effects.
How frequently is the honesty and integrity of a man disposed of by a smile and a shrug?-How many good and generous actions have been sunk into oblivion, by a distrustful look,-or stamped with the imputation of proceeding from bad motives by a mysterious and seasonable whisper ?
Look into companies of those, whose gentle natures should disarm them,-we shall find no better account. How large a portion of chastity is sent out of the world by distant hints, nodded away, and cruelly winked into suspicion, by the envy of those, who are past all temptation of it themselves? -How often does the reputation of a helpless creature bleed by a reportwhich the party, who is at the pains to propagate it, beholds with much pity and fellow-feeling,that she is heartily sorry for it—hopes in Gop it is not true- -however, as archbishop Tillotson wittily observes upon it, is resolved, in the mean time, to give the report her pass, that, at least, it may have fair play to take its fortune in the world, -to be believed or not, according to the charity of those into whose hands it shall happen to fall?
So fruitful is this vice in variety of expedients, to satiate, as well as disguise itself. But if these smoother weapons cut so sore, -what shall we say of open and unblushing scandal-subjected to no caution-tied down to no restraints? If the one, like an arrow shot in the dark, does nevertheless so much secret mischief,- this, like the pestilence which rageth at noon-day, sweeps all before it, levelling without distinction, the good and the bad; a thousand fall beside it, and ten thousand on its right hand; they fall- -SO rent and torn in this tender part of them, so unmercifully butchered, as sometimes never to recover, either of the wounds, or the anguish of heart-which they have occasioned.
But there is nothing so bad, which will not ad. mit of something to be said in its defence.
And here it may be asked,-Whether the inconveniencies and ill effects which the world feels -from the licentiousness of this practice,-are not sufficiently counterbalanced by the real influence it has upon mens lives and conduct ? That if there was no evil-speaking in the world, thousands would be encouraged to do ill, and would rush into many indecorums, like a horse into the battle, were they sure to escape the tongues of men.
That if we take a general view of the world,we shall find, that a great deal of virtue,—at least of the outward appearance of it, is not so much from any fixed principle, as the terror of what the world will say, and the liberty it will take upon the occasions we shall give.
That if we descend to particulars, numbers are every day taking more pains to be well spoken of, than what would actually enable them to live so as to deserve it.
That there are many, of both sexes, who can support life well enough without honor or chasti
ty, who without reputation, (which is but the opinion which the world has of the matter), would hide their heads in shame, and sink down in utter despair of happiness. No doubt the tongue is a weapon which does chastise many indecorums which the laws of men will not reach,-and keeps many in awe, whom conscience will not; and where the case is indisputably flagrant, the speaking of it in such words as it deserves, scarce comes within the prohibition.-In many cases, it is hard to express ourselves so, as to fix a distinction betwixt opposite characters, and sometimes it may be as much a debt we owe to virtue, and as great a piece of justice to expose a vicious character, and paint it in its proper colors, as it is to speak well of the deserving, and describe his particular virtues. And indeed, when we inflict this punishment upon the bad, merely out of principle, and without indulgencies to any private passion of our own,-it is a case which happens so seldom, that one might venture to except it.
However, to those, who in this objection are really concerned for the cause of virtue, I cannot help recommending what would much more effectually serve her interest, and be a surer token of their zeal and attachnment to her;-and that is, -in all such plain instances, where it seems to be a duty to fix a distinction betwixt the good and the bad, to let their actions speak it instead of their words, or at least to let them both speak one language. We all of us talk so loud against vicious characters, and are so unanimous in our cry against them, that an unexperienced man who only trusted his ears, would imagine the whole world was in an uproar about it, and that mankind were all associating together, to hunt vice utterly out of the world. Shift the scene,— and let him behold the reception which vice meets with, he will see the conduct and behavior of
the world towards it, so opposite to their declarations, he will find all he heard, so contradicted by what he saw,-as to leave him in doubt; which of his senses he is to trust,-or in which of the two cases mankind were really in earnest. Was their virtue enough in the world to make a general stand against this contradiction,—that is,was every one who deserved to be ill-spoken ofsure to be ill-looked on-too; was it a certain consequence of the loss of a man's character,to lose his friends,-to lose the advantages of his birth and fortune,-and thenceforth be universally shunned, universally slighted
Was no quality a shelter against the indecorums of the other sex, but was every woman, without distinction,-who had justly forfeited her reputation, from that moment was she sure to forfeit likewise all claim to civility and respect
Or, in a word-could it be established as a law in our ceremonial, that wherever characters in either sex were become notorious,—it should be deemed infamous, either to pay or receive a visit from them, and that the door should be shut against them in all public places, till they had satisfied the world, by giving testimony of a better life-A few such plain and honest maxims, faithfully put in practice,—would force us upon some degree of reformation. Till this is done, it avails little that we have no mercy upon them with our tongues, since they escape, without feeling any other inconvenience.
We all cry out, that the world is corrupt-and I fear, too justly ;-but we never reflect, what we have to thank for it, and that it is our open countenance of vice, which gives the lie to our private censures of it, which is its chief protection and encouragement. To those, however, who still believe that evil-speaking is some terror to evildoers, one may answer, as a great man has done