Page images
PDF
EPUB

pany. Attention to the continued discourse of one alone grows more painful often than the cares and business we came to be diverted from. He, therefore, who imposes this upon us, is guilty of a double offence ; by arbitrarily enjoining silence upon all the rest, and likewise by obliging them to this painful attention. I am sensible these things are apt to be passed over, as too little to come into a serious discourse ; but in reality men are obliged, even in point of morality and virtue, to observe all the decencies of behaviour. The greatest evils in life have had their rise from somewhat which was thought of too little importance to be attended to.

And as to the matter we are now upon, it is absolutely necessary to be considered : for if people will not maintain a due government over themselves, in regarding proper times and seasons for silence, but will be talking; they certainly, whether they design it or not at first, will go on to scandal, and evil speaking, and divulging secrets. If it were needful to say anything farther to persuade men to learn this lesson of silence, one might put them in mind how insignificant they render themselves by this excessive talkativeness; insomuch that if they do chance to say anything which deserves to be attended to and regarded, it is lost in the variety and abundance which they utter of another sort. The occasions of silence then are obvious, and one would think should be easily distinguished by every body; namely, when a man has nothing to say, or nothing but what is better unsaid : better, either in regard to the particular persons he is present with, or from its being an interruption to conversation itself, or to conversation of a more agreeable kind; or better, lastly, with regard to himself. I will end this particular with two reflections of the wise man; one of which in the strongest manner exposes the ridiculous part of this licentiousness of the tongue; and the other, the great danger and viciousness of it. When he that is a fool walketh by the wayside, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool.” (Eccles. x. 3.) The other is, In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin." (Prov. x. 19.)

As to the government of the tongue in respect to talking upon indifferent subjects, after what has been said concerning the due government of it in respect to the occasions and times for silence, there is little more necessary than only to caution men to be fully satisfied that the subjects are indeed of an indifferent nature ; and not to spend too much time in conversation of this kind. But persons must be sure to

63

[ocr errors]

take heed that the subject of their discourse be at least of an indifferent nature; that it be no way offensive to virtue, religion, or good manners; that it be not of a licentious dissolute sort, this leaving always ill impressions upon the mind; that it be no way injurious or vexatious to others; and that too much time be not spent this way, to the neglect of those duties and offices of life which belong to their station and condition in the world. But though there is not any necessity that men should aim at being important and weighty in every sentence they speak, yet since useful subjects, at least of some kinds, are as entertaining as others, a wise man, even when he desires to unbend his mind from business, would choose that the conversation might turn upon somewhat instructive.

The last thing is, the government of the tongue as relating to discourse of the affairs of others, and giving of characters. These are, in a manner, the same; and one can scarce call it an indifferent subject, because discourse upon it almost perpetually runs into somewhat criminal. And first of all, it were very much to be wished that this did not take up so great a part of conversation ; because it is indeed a subject of a dangerous nature. Let any one consider the various interests, competitions, and little misunderstandings which arise amongst men, and he will soon see that he is not unprejudiced and impartial ; that he is not, as I may speak, neutral enough, to trust himself with talking of the character and concerns of his neighbour, in a free, careless, and unreserved manner. There is perpetually, and often it is not attended to, a rivalship amongst people of one kind or another, in respect to wit, beauty, learning, or fortune, and that one thing will insensibly influence them to speak to the disadvantage of others, even where there is no formed malice or ill design. Since, therefore, it is so hard to enter into this subject without offending, the first thing to be observed is, that people should learn to decline it, to get over that strong inclination most have to be talking of the concerns and behaviour of their neighbour. But since it is impossible that this subject should be wholly excluded conversation, and since it is necessary that the characters of men should be known; the next thing is, that it is a matter of importance what is said, and, therefore, that we should be religiously scrupulous and exact to say nothing, either good or bad, but what is true. I put it thus, because it is in reality of as great importance to the good of society that the characters of bad men should be known, as that the characters of good men should. People who are given to scandal and detraction, may indeed make an ill use of this observation; but truths which are of service towards regulating our conduct, are not to be disowned, or even concealed, because a bad use may be made of them. But this would be effectually prevented, if these two things were attended to : First, That though it is equally of bad consequence to society that men should have either good or ill characters which they do not deserve, yet when you say somewhat good of a man which he does not deserve, there is no wrong done him in particular; whereas when you say evil of a man which he does not deserve, here is a direct formal injury, a real piece of injustice, done him. This, therefore, makes a wide difference; and gives us, in point of virtue, much greater latitude in speaking well, than ill, of others. Secondly, A good man is friendly to his fellow creatures, and a lover of mankind; and so will upon every occasion, and often without any, say all the good he can of every body; but so far as he is good, will never be disposed to speak evil of any, unless there be some other reason for it besides barely that it is true. If he be charged with having given an ill character, he will scarce think it a sufficient justification of himself to say it was a true one, unless he can also give some farther account how he came to do so : a just indignation against particular instances of villainy, where they are great and scandalous; or to prevent an innocent man from being deceived and betrayed, when he has great trust and confidence in one who does not deserve it. Justice must be done to every part of a subject when we are considering it. If there be a man who bears a fair character in the world, whom yet we know to be without faith or honesty, to be really an ill man; it must be allowed in general, that we shall do a piece of service to society by letting such an one's true character be known. This is no more than what we have an instance of in our Saviour himself, though he was mild and gentle beyond example. (Mark xii. 38, 40.) However, no words can express too strongly the caution which should be used in such a case as this.

Upon the whole matter, if people would observe the obvious occasions of silence, if they would subdue the inclination to tale bearing, and that eager desire to engage attention, which is an original disease in some minds; they would be in little danger of offending with their tongue, and would in a moral and religious sense have due government over it. I will conclude with some precepts and reflections of the son of Sirach upon this subject : "Be swift to hear, and if thou hast understanding, answer thy neighbour; if not, lay thy hand upon thy mouth. Honour and shame is in talk. A man of an ill tongue is dangerous in his city, and he that is rash in his talk shall be hated. A wise man will hold his tongue, till he see opportunity; but a babbler and a fool will regard no time. A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many; strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men. The tongue of a man is his fall ; but if thou love to hear, thou shalt receive understanding."

9.--ROGER ASCHAM AND LADY JANE GREY.

LANDOR.

[WALTER SAVAGE LANDOR, an eminent living writer, was born in 1775. He published a volume of poems when he was eighteen; and has at various periods of his life enriched the poetry of his country with productions of no common merit. Mr. Landor was the early friend of Southey ; but, unlike his friend, his early opinions have clung to him through life. This circumstance may account for some of the asperity, and some of the neglect, which it has been Mr. Landor's fate to encounter—in many respects very undeservedly. The first series of his · Imaginary Conversations,' from which the following dialogue is extracted, was published in 1824; a second series appeared in 1836. His complete works were, in 1846, collected in two large closely printed volumes, sold at a cheap rate; and we have no doubt that the collection will be acceptable to a great body of readers, who will thus, for the first time, make the acquaintance of an author who, although his opinions may sometimes be singular and paradoxical, has a genuine love for all that is beautiful and ennobling in human thoughts and actions, and who has rarely been excelled as a prose writer in fertility and

power. As a fit introduction to this Conversation, we subjoin a passage from Roger Ascham's celebrated Scholemaster,' describing the character and pursuits of Lady Jane Grey :

“ And one example, whether love or fear doth work more in a child, for virtue and learning, I will gladly report, which may be heard with some pleasure, and followed with more profit. Before I went into Germany, I came to Brodegate in Leicestershire, to take my leave of that noble Lady Jane Grey, to whom I was exceedingly much beholding. Her parents, the Duke and the Duchess, with all the household, gentlemen and gentlewomen, were hunting in the park ; I found her in her chamber reading Phædon Platonis in Greek, and that with as much delight, as some gentlemen would read a merry tale in Bocace. After salutation, and duty done, with some other talk, I asked her why she would lose such pastime in the park : smiling she answered me: 'I wis, all their sport in the park is but a shadow to that pleasure hat I find in Plato; alas, good folk, they never felt what true pleasure meant.' And how came you, madam,' quoth I, “to this deep knowledge of pleasure, and what did chiefly allure you unto it, seeing not many women, but very few men, have attained thereunto ?' I will tell you,' quoth she, "and tell you a truth, which perchance ye will marvel at. One of the greatest benefits that ever God gave me, is, that he sent me so sharp and severe parents, and so gentle a schoolmaster. For when I am in presence either of father or mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing anything else, I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly as God made the world, or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes, with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other

ways which I will not name, for the honour I bear them, so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr. Elmer, who teacheth me, so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing, whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because, whatsoever I do else, but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus

my

book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me. I remember this talk gladly, both because it is so worthy of memory, and because also it was the last talk that ever I had, and the last time that ever I saw that noble and worthy lady."]

Ascham. Thou art going, my dear young lady, into a most awful state; thou art passing into matrimony and great wealth. God hath willed it: submit in thankfulness.

Thy affections are rightly placed and well distributed. Love is a secondary passion in those who love most, a primary in those who love least. He who is inspired by it in a high degree, is inspired by honour in a higher : it never reaches its plenitude of growth and perfection but in the most exalted minds. Alas! alas!

« PreviousContinue »