Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

wilfully made, or made, as is sometimes the case, from indifference to truth.

A False Promise is a crime, substantially of the same nature with a Lie, in the proper sense. A lie is a false declaration of existing facts. A false promise is a false declaration of future facts.

Perjury is a false declaration either of present or future facts, wilfully made, accompanied by an oath. Perjury in evidence is a false declaration, under oath, of existing facts. Perjury under an oath of office or trust is a false declaration of future facts. The future facts, here referred to, are universally such, as are supposed to be under our own control ; and are chiefly such, as are involved in our own conduct. Such at least, is the case, when the oath, or promise, is lawfully made.

Mankind are guilty of Lying, that is, substantially guilty, in the following ways.

1. In voluntary declarations of facts, which are known to be false.

For example; every narration, known to be false, is a lie. Equally such is every description, of a similar nature.

2. In declaring that to be true, which we believe to be otherwise, although, in the end, it should be found, that the truth was really declared.

To our minds that is true, or false, which after careful examination we believe to be so. Before we make our declarations, we are bound to examine as impartially, and as thoroughly, as

After such an examination, if we declare, agreeably to the best knowledge, which we are able thus to obtain, and with no more confidence than such an examination warrants, our veracity is, I apprehend, unimpeachable. We may indeed mistake; but are in no sense guilty of lying. But if we declare that, which is contrary to our belief, although the declaration should be exactly true, we are still intentionally, and therefore in the criminal sense, liars.

3. In rashly asserting what is not true, when the assertion springs from a sinful Neglect of Examining.

Inconsiderate and rash men assert roundly, although they do not know that, which they assert, to be true; and have no suffi

we can.

[ocr errors]

cient reasons for believing it to be true. This conduct is derived only from the want of a just sense of the importance of Truth, and the value of Veracity. Such a sense will prompt every man, who possesses it, to examine before he asserts; to assert with watchfulness and caution; and, where he does not feel bimself warranted to make unqualified declarations, to express bis belief, his opinion, or his apprehension.

No excuse can be given for this indifference to truth. To mankind its importance is infinite. The sacrifice of it is, in all instances, an injury, which can neither be repaired, nor recalled. Every man is bound to regard it in this manner, to enable himself to speak truth only, whenever he speaks at all. He therefore, who by a voluntary negligence is led rashly to make false assertions, is without excuse.

4. In professing to declare the whole truth, and yet concealing a part of it, with an intention to deceive.

A wilful deception is here intended, and accomplished: the very thing, which constitutes the essence of Lying. The means, indeed, differ ; but the spirit, the guilt, and the purpose, are the same.

There is, I acknowledge, a prudent and justifiable concealment, as well as a guilty one. What others have not a right to know, we are not bound to declare. Nor are we, of course, bound to disclose the whole of a subject in many cases, where we may be willing to communicate a part. But in every case, our disclosures, and our concealments, must be exactly accordant with our professions. The writer, who professes to record the whole of a story, is inexcusable, if he narrate only a part; although every thing which he actually declares, may be true. The witness, who, under the oath of evidence, withholds any thing which he knows, pertaining to the subject in debate, is perjured.

5. In Colouring the subject of our declarations so as to give it a different aspect from the irue one.

This is an extensive field of falsehood; too extensive, indeed, to be thoroughly explored at the present time.

A common mode of transgressing, in the way here generally described, is to represent the conduct of others truly, perhaps, es

to the principal facts, and to surround it with such circumstances, annex to it such appendages, and attribute it lo such motives, as, taken together, will give it an appearance either partially, or wholly, false; and as is common in instances of this nature, very injurious to them.

Another mode of transgressing in this way is to exhibit the opinions, or doctrines of others, not in language which they would acknowledge, but in language of our own choice; selected for the purpose of rendering such opinions or doctrines, absurd and deformed, and of rendering those, who hold them, odious to others. This is, almost of course, accompanied with, what is exactly of the same nature, charging upon them consequences, which we make, and they disclaim.

The doctrines of the Reformation have, in a very remarkable manner, been followed, and persecuted, with this species of falsehood. It is at least extraordinary, if not singular, that these doctrines are never, or very rarely if ever, represented by those who oppose them, in such terms, as are used by those who profess them; but in terms, which materially vary the nature of the doctrines. In this manner it is plainly intended to make them objects of alarm, and abhorrence, to others; and to engage by this obliquity of representation the passions of mankind in a course of hostility against their defenders. Every class of men have undoubtedly a right to express their own opinions in their own terms; and to admit, or reject, such consequences of their opinions, as they think proper. The doctrines may indeed be fairly impeached, and by argument shown to be absurd, if it can be done; and any consequences may, so far as it can be shown by reason, be proved to follow from them. But to vary the terms, in which the doctrine is exhibited, from those, in which it is declared by its defenders, and to charge them with holding it in such a manner, as we are pleased to express it: to draw consequences from it at our own pleasure, and exhibit them as the opinions of those, with whom we contend, although disclaimed by them; is plainly disingenuous, false, and criminal.

Another example of the same nature is presented to us by Constructive Narration.

By this I intend that Narration, in which the writer, or speaker, construes events, together with the actions, motives, and characters, of those, concerned in them, in such a manner, as he pleases; that is, in a manner, accordant with his own views, interests, passions and prejudices; and interweaves his constructions in the recital, without giving any notice of this fact, so as to make them an inseparable part of the Narrative. The reader, here, is unable to tell what is fact, and what is construction; and of course, unless preserved from it by superior discernment, is betrayed into a belief of all the errors, created by the prejudices of the writer. A great part of modern history is, if I mistake not, written in this unfortunate manner; and, in this respect, differs essentially, and unhappily, from the ancient manner of Narration. Falsehood is here taught in a mode, which seems often to defy detection, and which, at least in my view, is inexcusable.

The ridicule of what is true, just, good, honourable, or sacred, is an evil of the same nature. The things, represented by him, who uses the ridicule, are commonly real; and, were they represented in their own native and true colours, would not be, and could not be, made ridiculous. But they are falsely coloured ; are violently connected with appendages, with which they have naturally no connection; are distorted, maimed, and forced into every unnatural and monstrous attitude. The ridiculousness and absurdity, which cannot be found in the things themselves, are fastened upon them. When presented to the eye, once, in this association, created by the hand of ill-natured ingenuity, it will be difficult for the mind to disjoin them asterwards. In this manner, things of the most important, solemn and venerable nature, having been once seen in the light of absurdity through an artificial association, are often regarded as absurd, and contemptible, through life. No excuse can be pleaded for this unworthy and disingenuous conduct.

Of the same nature are, also, what are called Marvellous sto. ries. Persons of a lively imagination are prone greatly to admire almost every thing, which they see or hear, and to find an excessive pleasure in whatever is really wonderful. With this disposition they are led to represent almost all things, which they relate, as extraordinary and surprizing. Were we to give full credit to what they say; we should be ready to believe, that

their lives had passed only through scenes of a marvellous kind, and that they had hardly ever met with ordinary beings, or ordinary events. The language of these persons is, lo à great extent, made up of superlatives only; and their images are drawn only in the strongest and most glowing colours.

Such persons have, I acknowledge, as little intention to deceive in many, perhaps in most, instances, as other men. Still, through an eagerness to enhance every thing, which they relate, the representations, which they give, are continually untrue ; and the apprehensions, which they excite, are regularly erroneous. There may be, there often is, no intentional deception in their thoughts. Still, they continually deceive ; and that of choice; that they may enjoy the pleasure, found in the indulgence of an eager imagination.

6. In Flatlery and Censure.

Flattery is the ascription of good qualities to others, which they do not possess, or in greater degrees than they possess them. Sometimes, this ascription is the result of the mere warmth of affection ; and is then, though not wholly undeserying of censure, undoubtedly less criminal than in other cases. No warmth of affection, and no worth in the object of it, will however justify us in speaking that, which is not true. Usually, it is dictated by sinister views, and intended to be the means of accomplishing unworthy purposes. In this case, the author of it is a palpable, though a very pleasing, liar. The purpose, which he has in view, is a sinful one ; and the means, which he adopts, to compass it, are always sinful and contemptible. Accordingly, mankind have proverbially declared the Aatterer to be an odious and despicable wretch.

Censure is, often, just and vindicable; often a duty; and not unfrequently a proof of superior worth. This, however, invariably supposes, that the censure is deserved; that it is demanded by the nature of the case; and that it is administered, solely to promote the good of the censured, and not to gratify the pride, or ill nature, of the censurer. But as the word is used above, it is intended to denote a false denial of good qualities, or a false ascription of bad ones, adopted, to gratify our own unworthy feelings, and 10 wound those of another. Falsehood of this naVol. IV.

44

« AnteriorContinuar »