No. 594. Wednesday, September 15, 1714.

--Absentem qui rodit amicum, Qui non defendit, alio culpante; solutos Qui captat risus hominum, famamque dicacis, Fingere qui non visa potest, commissa tacere Qui nequit, hic niger est: hunc tu Romane caveto.'

Were all the Vexations of Life put together, we should find that a great Part of them proceed from those Calumnies and Reproaches which we spread abroad concerning one another.

There is scarce a Man living who is not, in some Degree, guilty of this Offence; tho', at the same time, however we treat one another, it must be confessed, that we all consent in speaking ill of the Persons who are notorious for this Practice. It generally takes its Rise either from an Ill-will to Mankind, a private Inclination to make our selves esteemed, an Ostentation of Wit, a Vanity of being thought in the Secrets of the World, or from a Desire of gratifying any of these Dispositions of Mind in those Persons with whom we converse.

The Publisher of Scandal is more or less odious to Mankind, and criminal in himself, as he is influenced by any one or more of the foregoing Motives. But whatever may be the Occasion of spreading these false Reports, he ought to consider, that the Effect of them is equally prejudicial and pernicious to the Person at whom they are aimed. The Injury is the same, tho' the Principle from whence it proceeds may be different.

As every one looks upon himself with too much Indulgence, when he passes a Judgment on his own Thoughts or Actions, and as very few would be thought guilty of this abominable Proceeding, which is so universally practised, and, at the same time, so universally blamed, I shall lay down three Rules by which I would have a Man examine and search into his own Heart, before he stands acquitted to himself of that evil Disposition of Mind which I am here mentioning.

First of all, Let him consider whether he does not take Delight in hearing the Faults of others.

Secondly, Whether he is not too apt to believe such little blackning Accounts, and more inclined to be credulous on the uncharitable than on the good-natured Side.

Thirdly, Whether he is not ready to spread and propagate such Reports as tend to the Disreputation of another. These are the several Steps by which this Vice proceeds, and grows up into Slander and Defamation.

In the first Place, A Man who takes delight in hearing the Faults of others, shows sufficiently that he has a true Relish of Scandal, and consequently the Seeds of this Vice within him. If his mind is gratified with hearing the Reproaches [which [1]] are cast on others, he will find the same Pleasure in relating them, and be the more apt to do it, as he will naturally imagine every one he converses with is delighted in the same manner with himself. A Man should endeavour therefore to wear out of his Mind this criminal Curiosity, which is perpetually heightened and inflamed by listening to such Stories as tend to the Disreputation of others.

In the second Place, a Man should consult his own Heart, whether he be not apt to believe such little blackening Accounts, and more enclined to be credulous on the uncharitable, than on the good-natured Side.

Such a Credulity is very vicious in it self, and generally arises from a Man's Consciousness of his own secret Corruptions. It is a pretty Saying of Thales, Falshood is just as far distant from Truth, as the Ears are from the Eyes. [2] By which he would intimate, that a wise Man should not easily give Credit to the Reports of Actions which he has not seen. I shall, under this Head, mention two or three remarkable Rules to be observed by the Members of the celebrated Abbey de la Trape, as they are Published in a little French Book. [3]

The Fathers are there ordered, never to give an Ear to any Accounts of Base or Criminal Actions; to turn off all such Discourse if possible; but in Case they hear any thing of this Nature so well attested that they cannot disbelieve it, they are then to suppose, that the criminal Action may have proceeded from a good Intention in him who is guilty of it. This is perhaps carrying Charity to an Extravagance, but it is certainly much more Laudable, than to suppose, as the ill-natured part of the World does, that indifferent, and even Good Actions, proceed from bad Principles and wrong Intentions.

In the third Place, a Man should examine his Heart, whether he does not find in it a secret Inclination to propagate such Reports, as tend to the Disreputation of another.

When the Disease of the Mind, which I have hitherto been speaking of, arises to this Degree of Malignity it discovers its self in its worst Symptoms, and is in danger of becoming incurable. I need not therefore insist upon the Guilt in this last Particular, which every one cannot but disapprove, who is not void of Humanity, or even common Discretion. I shall only add, that whatever Pleasure any Man may take in spreading Whispers of this Nature, he will find an infinitely greater Satisfaction in conquering the Temptation he is under, by letting the Secret die within his own Breast.

[Footnote 1: [that]]

[Footnote 2: Stobaji, Serm. 61.]

[Footnote 3: Felibien, Description de l'Abbaye de la Trappe, Paris, 1671, reprinted in 1682. It is a letter from M. Felibien to the Duchess of Liancon.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. 1 Sat iv. 81.
'He that shall rail against his absent friends,
Or hears them scandalized, and not defends;
Sports with their fame, and speaks whate'er he can,
And only to be thought a witty man;
Tells tales, and brings his friends in disesteem;
That man's a knave; be sure beware of him.'