There is nothing, says Plato, so delightful, as the hearing or the speaking of Truth. For this Reason there is no Conversation so agreeable as that of the Man of Integrity, who hears without any Intention to betray, and speaks without any Intention to deceive.
Among all the Accounts which are given of Cato, I do not remember one that more redounds to his Honour than the following Passage related by Plutarch. As an Advocate was pleading the Cause of his Client before one of the Prætors, he could only produce a single Witness in a Point where the Law required the Testimony of two Persons; upon which the Advocate insisted on the Integrity of that Person whom he had produced: but the Prætor told him, That where the Law required two Witnesses he would not accept of one, tho' it were Cato himself. Such a Speech from a Person who sat at the Head of a Court of Justice, while Cato was still living, shews us, more than a thousand Examples, the high Reputation this great Man had gained among his Contemporaries upon the Account of his Sincerity.
When such an inflexible Integrity is a little softened and qualified by the Rules of Conversation and Good-breeding, there is not a more shining Virtue in the whole Catalogue of Social Duties. A Man however ought to take great Care not to polish himself out of his Veracity, nor to refine his Behaviour to the Prejudice of his Virtue.
This Subject is exquisitely treated in the most elegant Sermon of the great British Preacher . I shall beg Leave to transcribe out of it two or three Sentences, as a proper Introduction to a very curious Letter, which I shall make the chief Entertainment of this Speculation.
'The old English Plainness and Sincerity, that generous Integrity of Nature, and Honesty of Disposition, which always argues true Greatness of Mind, and is usually accompanied with undaunted Courage and Resolution, is in a great Measure lost among us.
'The Dialect of Conversation is now-a-days so swelled with Vanity and Compliment, and so surfeited (as I may say) of Expressions of Kindness and Respect, that if a Man that lived an Age or two ago should return into the World again, he would really want a Dictionary to help him to understand his own Language, and to know the true intrinsick Value of the Phrase in Fashion; and would hardly, at first, believe at what a low Rate the highest Strains and Expressions of Kindness imaginable do commonly pass in current Payment; and when he should come to understand it, it would be a great while before he could bring himself with a good Countenance and a good Conscience, to converse with Men upon equal Terms and in their own Way.'
I have by me a Letter which I look upon as a great Curiosity, and which may serve as an Exemplification to the foregoing Passage, cited out of this most excellent Prelate. It is said to have been written in King Charles II.'s Reign by the Ambassador of Bantam , a little after his Arrival in England.
'The People, where I now am, have Tongues further from their Hearts than from London to Bantam, and thou knowest the Inhabitants of one of these Places does not know what is done in the other. They call thee and thy Subjects Barbarians, because we speak what we mean; and account themselves a civilized People, because they speak one thing and mean another: Truth they call Barbarity, and Falsehood Politeness. Upon my first landing, one who was sent from the King of this Place to meet me told me, That he was extremely sorry for the Storm I had met with just before my Arrival. I was troubled to hear him grieve and afflict himself upon my Account; but in less than a Quarter of an Hour he smiled, and was as merry as if nothing had happened. Another who came with him told me by my Interpreter, He should be glad to do me any Service that lay in his Power. Upon which I desir'd him to carry one of my Portmantaus for me, but instead of serving me according to his Promise, he laughed, and bid another do it. I lodged, the first Week, at the House of one, who desired me to think my self at home, and to consider his House as my own. Accordingly, I the next Morning began to knock down one of the Walls of it, in order to let in the fresh Air, and had packed up some of the Houshold-Goods, of which I intended to have made thee a Present: But the false Varlet no sooner saw me falling to Work, but he sent Word to desire me to give over, for that he would have no such Doings in his House. I had not been long in this Nation, before I was told by one, for whom I had asked a certain Favour from the Chief of the King's Servants, whom they here call the Lord-Treasurer, That I had eternally obliged him. I was so surpriz'd at his Gratitude, that I could not forbear saying, What Service is there which one Man can do for another, that can oblige him to all Eternity! However I only asked him, for my Reward, that he would lend me his eldest Daughter during my Stay in this Country; but I quickly found that he was as treacherous as the rest of his Countrymen.
'At my first going to Court, one of the great Men almost put me out of Countenance, by asking ten thousand Pardons of me for only treading by Accident upon my Toe. They call this kind of Lye a Compliment; for when they are Civil to a great Man, they tell him Untruths, for which thou wouldst order any of thy Officers of State to receive a hundred Blows upon his Foot. I do not know how I shall negociate any thing with this People, since there is so little Credit to be given to 'em. When I go to see the King's Scribe, I am generally told that he is not at home, tho' perhaps I saw him go into his House almost the very Moment before. Thou wouldest fancy that the whole Nation are Physicians, for the first Question they always ask me, is, how I do: I have this Question put to me above a hundred times a Day. Nay, they are not only thus inquisitive after my Health, but wish it in a more solemn Manner, with a full Glass in their Hands, every time I sit with them at Table, tho' at the same time they would perswade me to drink their Liquors in such Quantities as I have found by Experience will make me sick. They often pretend to pray for thy Health also in the same Manner; but I have more Reason to expect it from the Goodness of thy Constitution, than the Sincerity of their Wishes. May thy Slave escape in Safety from this doubled-tongued Race of Men, and live to lay himself once more at thy Feet in thy Royal City of Bantam.'
[Footnote 1: Tillotson. The Sermon 'Of Sincerity Towards God and Man.' Works, Vol. II., p. 6, folio ed.]
[Footnote 2: In 1682.]Translation of motto: