Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

The liar, and only the liar, is invariably and universally despised, abandoned, and disowned: he has no domestic consolations, which he can oppose to the censure of mankind; he can retire to no fraternity, where his crimes may stand in the place of virtues; but is given up to the hisses of the multitude, without friend and without apologist. It is the peculiar condition of falsehood, to be equally detested by the good and bad: “ The devils,” says Sir Thomas Brown, “ do not tell lies to one another; “ for truth is necessary to all societies: nor can the " society of hell subsist without it.”

It is natural to expect, that a crime thus generally detested should be generally avoided; at least, that none should expose himself to unabated and unpitied infamy, without an adequate temptation; and that to guilt so easily detected, and so severely punished, an adequate temptation would not readily be found.

Yet so it is, that in defiance of censure and contempt, truth is frequently violated; and scarcely the most vigilant and unremitted circumspection will fecure him that mixes with mankind, from being hourly deceived by men of whom it can scarcely be imagined, that they mean any injury to him or profit to themselves; even where the subject of conversation could not have been expected to put the passions in motion, or to have excited either hope or fear, op zeal or malignity, sufficient to induce any man to. put his reputation in hazard, however little he might value it, or to overpower the love of truth, however weak might be its influence.

The casuists have very diligently distinguished lies into their several classes, according to their various

degrees

C 3

degrees of malignity: but they have, I think, generally omitted that which is most common, and, perhaps, not least mischievous; which, since the moralists have not given it a name, I shall distinguish as the lie of wanity.

To vanity may justly be imputed most of the falfehoods, which every man perceives hourly playing upon his ear, and, perhaps, meft of those that are propagated with success. To the lie of commerce, and the lie of malice, the motive is so apparent, that they are seldom negligently or implicitly received : suspicion is always watchful over the practices of interest; and whatever the hope of gain, or desire of mischief, can prompt one man to affert, another is by reafons equally cogent incited to refute. But vanity pleates herielf with such night gratifications, and looks forward to pleasure so remotely confequential, that her practices raise no alarm, and her fratagems are not easly discovered.

Vanity is, indeed, often fuffered to pass unpursued by fufpicion, becaule he that would watch her motons, can never be at reít: fraud and malice are bounded in their influence; fome opportunity of time and place is neceitary to their agency; but scarce any man is abitracted one moment from his vanity; and he, to whom truth affords no gratifications, is generally inclined to seek them in falies hou is.

It is remarked by Sir Keme!ın Dizdy, “ that every « man has a defire to appear superior to others,

though it were only in having seen what they have

not feen.” Such an accidental advantage, since ii neither implies merit, nor contirs dignity, one 5

would

would think should not be desired so much as to be counterfeited: yet even this vanity, trilling as it is, produces innumerable narratives, all equally false; but more or less credible in proportion to the skill or confidence of the relater. How many may a man of diffusive conversation count among his acquainta ances, whose lives have been signalized by numberlefs escapes; who never cross the river but in a storm, or take a journey into the country without more adventures than befel the knights-errant of ancient times in pathless forests or enchanted castlés ! How many muft he know, to whom portents and prodigies are of daily occurrence; and for whom nature is hourly working wonders invisible to every other eye, only to supply them with subjects of conversa. tion!

Others there are that amuse themselves with the diffemination of falsehood, at greater hazard of detection and disgrace; men marked out by fome lucky planet for universal confidence and friendship, who have been consulted in every difficulty, entrusted with every secret, and fummoned to every transaction : it is the fupreme felicity of these men, to stun all companies with noisy information ; to still doubt, and overbear opposition, with certain knowledge or authentic intelligence. A liar of this kind, with a strong memory or brisk imagination, is often the oracle of an obscure club, and, till time discovers his impostures, dictates to his hearers with uncontrouled authority; for if a publick question be started, he was present at the debate; if a new fashion be mencioned, he was at court the first day of its appearance; if a new performance of literature draws the

attention

Ç 4

attention of the peblick, he has patronised the author, and seen his work in manuscript; if a criminal of eminence be condemned to die, he often predicted his fate, and endeavoured his reformation : and who that lives at a distance from the scene of action, will dare to contradict a man, who reports from his own eyes and ears, and to whom all persons and affairs are thus intimately known?

This kind of falsehood is generally successful for. a time, because it is practiled at first with timidity and caution : but the prosperity of the liar is of short duration; the reception of one story is always an inciteinent to the forgery of another lefs probable; and he goes on to triumph over tacit credulity, till pride or reason rises up against him, and his companions will no longer endure to see him wiler than them, selves,

It is apparent, that the inventors of all these fictions intend some exaltation of themtelves, and are led off by the pursuit of honour froin their attendance upon truth: their narratives always imply fome consequence in favour of their courage, their sagacity, or their activity, their familiarity with the learned, or their reception among the great; they are always bribed by the present pleasure of seeing theinselves superior to those that surround them, and receiving the homage of filent attention and envious admiration.

But vanity is sometimes excited to fiction by less visible gratifications: the present age abounds with a race of liars who are content with the consciousness of tallehood, and whose pride is to deceive others without any gain or glory to themselves. Of this tribe it is the supreme pleasure to remark a lady in

the

the playhouse or the park, and to publish, under the character of a man suddenly enamoured, an advertisement in the news of the next day, containing a minute description of her person and her dress. From this artifice, however, no other effect can be expected, than perturbations which the writer can never see, and conjectures of which he never can be informed : some mischief, however, he hopes he has done, and to have done mischief, is of some importance. He sets his invention to work again, and · produces a narrative of a robbery or a murder, with all the circumstances of time and place accurately adjusted. This is a jest of greater effect and longer duration : if he fixes his scene at a proper distance, he may for several days keep a wife in terror for her husband, or a mother for her son; and please himself with reflecting, that by his abilities and address some addition is made to the miseries of life.

There is, I think, an ancient law of Scotland, by which leasing-making was capitally punished. I am, indeed, far from desiring to increase in this kingdom the number of executions; yet I cannot but think, that they who destroy the confidence of society, weaken the credit of intelligence, and interrupt the fecurity of life; harass the delicate with shame, and perplex the timorous with alarms; might very properly be awakened to a sense of their crimes, by denunciations of a whipping-post or pillory : since many are so insensible of right and wrong, that they have no standard of action but the law; nor feel guilt, but as they dread punishment.

« ZurückWeiter »