« PreviousContinue »
soul for the enjoyment of a separate state. For this reason, as they recommended moral duties to qualify and season the will for a future life, so they prescribed several contemplations and sciences to rectify the understanding. Thus Plato has called mathematical demonstrations the cathartics or purgatives of the soul, as being the most proper means to cleanse it from error, and to give it a relish of truth; which is the natural food and nourishment of the understanding, as virtue is the perfection and happiness of the will.
There are many authors who have shewn wherein the malignity of a lie consists, and set forth in proper colours the heinousness of the offence. I shall here consider one particular kind of this crime, which has not been so much spoken to; I mean that abominable practice of party-lying. This vice is so very predominant among us at present, that a man is thought of no prin. ciples, who does not propagate a certain system of lies. The coffee-houses are supported by them, the press is choked with them, eminent authors live upon them. Our bottle-conversation is so infected with them, that a party-lie, is grown as fashionable an entertainment, as a lively catch or a merry story: the truth of it is, half the great talkers in the nation would be struck dumb, were this fountain of discourse dried up. There is, however, one advantage resulting from this detestable practice; the very appearances of truth are so little regarded, that lies are at present discharged in the air, and begin to hurt nobody. When we hear a party-story from a stranger, we consider whether he is a Whig or a Tory that relates it, and immediately conclude they are words of course in which the honest gentleman designs to recommend his zeal, without any concern for his veracity. A man is looked upon as bereft of common sense, that gives credit to the relations of party.writers; nay, his own friends shake their heads at him, and consider him in no other light than as an officious tool, or a well-meaning ideot. When it was formerly the fashion to husband a lie, and trump it up in some extraordinary emer. gency, it generally did execution, and was not a little serviceable to the faction that made use of it: but at present every man is
upon his guard, the artifice has been too often repeated to take effect.
I have frequently wondered to see men of probity, who would scorn to utter a falsehood for their own particular advantage, give so readily into a lie when it is become the voice of their faction, notwithstanding they are thoroughly sensible of it as such. How is it possible for those who are men of honour in their persons, thus to become notorious liars in their party? If we look into the bottom of this matter, we may find, I think, three reasons for it, and at the same time discover the insufficiency of these reasons to justify so criminal a practice.
In the first place, men are apt to think that the guilt of a lie, and consequently the punishment, may be very much diminished, if not wholly worn out, by the multitudes of those who partake in it. Though the weight of a falsehood would be too heavy for one to bear, it grows light in their imaginations, when it is shared among many. But in this case a man very much deceives himself; guilt, when it spreads through numbers, is not so properly divided as multiplied; every one is criminal in proportion to the offence which he commits, not to the number of those who are his companions in it. Both the crime and the penalty lie as heavy upon every individual of an offending multitude, as they would upon any single person, had none shared with him in the offence. In a word, the division of guilt is like that of matter; though it may not be separated into infinite portions, every portion shall have the whole essence of matter in it, and consist of as many parts as the whole did before it was divided.
But in the second place, though multitudes, who join in a lie, cannot exempt themselves from the guilt, they may from the shame of it. The scandal of a lie is in a manner lost and anni. hilated, when diffused among several thousands; as a drop of the blackest tincture wears away and vanishes, when mixed and confused in a considerable body of water; the blot is still in it, but is not able to discover itself. This is certainly a very great motive to several party-offenders, who avoid crimes, not as they are prejudicial to their virtue, but to their reputation. It is enough to shew the weakness of this reason, which palliates guilt without removing it, that every man who is influenced by it declares himself in effect an infamous hypocrite, prefers the appearance of virtue to its reality, and is determined in his conduct neither by the dictates of his own conscience, the suggestions of true honour, nor the principles of religion.
The third and last great motive for men's joining in a popular falsehood, or, as I have hitherto called it, a party-lie, notwithstanding they are convinced of it as such, is the doing good to a cause which every party may be supposed to look upon as the most meritorious. The unsoundness of this principle has been so often exposed, and is so universally acknowledged, that a man must be an utter stranger to the principles, either of natural religion or Christianity, who suffers himself to be guided by it. If a man might promote the supposed good of his country by the blackest calumnies and falsehoods, our nation abounds more in patriots than any other of the Christian world. When Pompey was desired not to set sail in a tempest that would hazard his life, 'It is necessary for me (says he) to sail, but it is not necessary for me to live :' every man should say to himself, with the
* Neither. The disjunctive “neither” is improperly used, when more than two things come under consideration. The author should either have left out," the suggestions of true honour,” or, he should have said, " is not determined by the dictates of his own conscience, the suggestions of true honour, or the principles of religion.”—H.
same spirit, It is my duty to speak truth, though it is not my duty to be in an office. One of the fathers has carried this point so high as to declare, ' He would not tell a lie, though he were sure to gain heaven by it. However extravagant such a protestation may appear, every one will own, that a man may say very reasonably, 'He would not tell a lie, if he were sure to gain hell by it;' or, if you have a mind to soften the expression, that he would not tell a lie to gain any temporal reward by it, when he should run the hazard of losing much more than it was possible for him to gain.
No. 511. THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16.
Quis non invenit turbâ quod amaret in illa ?
OVID. Ars Am. 1, 175.
- Who could fail to find, In such a crowd, a mistress to his mind ?
" Dear Spec. “ FINDING that my last letter took, I do intend to continue my epistolary correspondence with thee, on those dear confounded creatures, women. Thou knowest, all the little learning I am master of is upon that subject; I never looked in a book, but for their sakes. I have lately met with two pure stories for a Spectator, which I am sure will please mightily, if they pass through thy hands. The first of them I found by chance in an English book called Herodotus, that lay in my friend Dapperwit's window, as I visited him one morning. It luckily opened in the place where I met the following account. He tells us that it was the manner among the Persians to have several fairs in the king. dom, at which all the young unmarried women were annually ex. posed to sale. The men who wanted wives came hither to pro
vide themselves; every woman was given to the highest bidder, and the money which she fetched laid aside for the public use, to be employed as thou shalt hear by and by. By this means the richest people had the choice of the market, and culled out the most extraordinary beauties. As soon as the fair was thus picked, the refuse was to be distributed
and among those who could not go to the price of a beauty. Several of these married the agreeables, without paying a farthing for them, unless somebody chanced to think it worth his while to bid for them, in which case the best bidder was always the purchaser. you must know, Spec., it happened in Persia, as it does in our own country, that there were as many ugly women as beauties or agreeables; so that by consequence, after the magistrates had put off a great many, there were still a great many that stuck upon their hands. In order, therefore, to clear the market, the money which the beauties had sold for, was disposed of among the ugly; so that a poor man, who could not afford to have a beauty for his wife, was forced to take up with a fortune; the greatest portion being always given to the most deformed. To this the author adds, that every poor man was forced to live kindly with his wife, or in case he repented of his bargain, to return her portion with her to the next public sale.
“What I would recommend to thee on this occasion is, to establish such an imaginary fair in Great Britain : thou couldst make it very pleasant, by matching women of quality with coblers and carmen, or describing titles and garters leading off in great ceremony, shopkeepers and farmers' daughters. Though, to tell thee the truth, I am confoundedly afraid that as the love of money prevails in our island more than it did in Persia, we should find that some of our greatest men would chuse out the portions, and rival one another for the richest piece of deformity; and that on the contrary, the toasts and belles would be bought
VOL. V, -22*