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instances proceed upon and produce the same principle; to wit, the observation we set out with, that the law of honor prescribes and regulates the duties only between equals; and though it may be right as far as it goes in most instances betwixt such and amongst such, it is altogether regardless of what is due from us on the one hand to our inferiors, or from them to us on the other. And these merely are two capital defects in the law, when it is considered as, or set up for, a complete rule of life.
But this is not all; we have something further to accuse the law of honor of; and that is, in one word, the licentious indulgence of our natural passions. If I was to describe the law of honor freely, I should call it a system of rules well contrived, by persons in the higher stations of life, to facilitate their intercourse with each other. Now such persons being occupied in a great measure in the pursuit of pleasure, it is not to be expected that they should lay down rules to themselves which trench upon their pleasures, or subject them to any great restraint in that which composes the business and object of their lives. And this remark will be verified by experience. The law of honor is careful to exclude all fraud, chicanery, falsehood, concealment in the mutual dealings of persons of honor; but I do not find that it lays much, if any, stress upon the virtues of chastity, sobriety, moderation, economy; because such stress would greatly check and contract the pleasures and pursuits of this description of men. There are some duties which the law of honor does embrace; but the violation of them contains 'not any great breach of it. These are decorum, civility, good manners, or the avoiding any of that shuffling and cunning which makes it impossible, or highly inconvenient, to deal with any man. The requiring strictness in those virtues would bear hard upon the manner of life of persons who come most within the reach and influence of the rule of honor. It is upon the same principle that the great christian duty of the forgiveness of injuries, of which you hear and read so much in the scripture, has no place at all amongst the virtues of a man of honor. Indeed it is hard to say whether, if the law of honor were to decide upon it, it would be judged a virtue or a vice; whether it would not be pronounced meanness, rather than magnanimity ; an instance of weakness and pusillanimity, rather than of chastised affections or a sense of duty. Resentment is a natural passion, and it costs no little selfmortification to quell and quiet it ; and mortification of any sort is not to be looked for in this class of mankind.
The substance of our assertion is, that the rule and law of honor is not alone a right or sufficient rule to go by; and I will comprise the sum of what I have delivered in support of the assertion in two or three queries.
First; Is it not true that a person may be negligent of every act of duty to the Divine Being, of every act of service, worship, or devotion whatever, without any impeachment of his honor?
Secondly; Is it not true, that the same person may be tyrannical and overbearing in his family and among his servants; rigorous in the extreme in the treatment of his dependents; utterly without any share of liberality to the poor? Is it not true that a person may be all these without impeachment of his honor ?
Thirdly ; Is it not true, that he may likewise distress or ruin his tradesman by dilatory and irregular payment, or by absolute insolvency, and yet pass for a man of honor among those who claim that title ?
Fourthly ; Is it not true, that he may live in the habitual guilt of fornication, adultery, drunkenness, prodigality, and be capable of the most desperate revenge, without impeachment of his honor?
Fifthly and lastly ; If these things be so, is the law of honor a safe rule of life? Is it enough to satisfy any man who is concerned for his final happiness, ta be able to say of himself that he is, or to hear others call him, a man of honor ; without inquiring whether he hath also fulfilled the duties, and compared himself with the measure of God's word, explained and applied by the sound judgment of unprejudiced reason?
PROVERBS XX. 7.
The just man walketh in his integrity.
[N. B.-Passages in it borrowed from Ogden.]
It is an old question amongst moralists, whether mere justice, or as we commonly call it, honesty, be a virtue. All allow
a that dishonesty is a vice, and a very great one ; but whether the contrary of it be a virtue, or only a strict debt and obligation, has been sometimes controverted. Thus to steal, is a very grievous sin ; but merely to keep his hand from picking
; and stealing, would hardly entitle a man to be called virtuous; nor the paying his lawful debt; nor the discharge of those demands which he is bound, and obliged, and compellable to discharge. None of these, it is said, though they may entitle a man to the name of honest, give him either the name or the characteristic of virtuous. On the contrary, no duties are of greater importance to society than these; perhaps hardly any of so great. Society might subsist without generosity, but without honesty it could not subsist at all. Therefore human laws are all calculated to enforce honesty. There is place, there is opportunity, there is a call for, there is a want of, higher degrees of goodness; but in these men may and indeed must be left, so far as human laws are concerned, to themselves. The essential thing for society is honesty. Therefore in that, men must not be left to themselves. When conscience will not do its office, the laws must. There may be a thousand violations of christian duty, which the laws of men neither can reach, nor would reach if they could, because they ought to be voluntary; but honesty is so necessary, so essential
, so fundamental a part of social order, that the laws of society, not in one but in all countries of the world where there are any laws, punish the violation of it with exemplary severity, and every considerate man acknowledges the justice and necessity of such proceedings. Different views, therefore, of the question, make us see it in different lights. If we look to the character of the person who is merely honest and no more, we do not seem to see any thing for which to call him virtuous. If we look to
the conduct itself, we find few virtues of such great importance; and that is the matter which has raised the doubt
I will now explain to you the consideration which I think resolves the difficulty. The true distinction in the case is, whether a man may be honest upon principle, or honest out of policy. That will be found to be the exact distinction. If a man be honest from principle, his honesty is a virtue, and will carry him a great way in the discharge of all social virtues ; which form not the whole, far from it, but an important part of the christian character. The difference between honesty and other duties is, that there are so many strong external reasons for being honest, that it is extremely possible for a man to be so, without any internal principle whatever. In point of fact, many persons, I believe, are honest, without any internal principle of duty whatever. With regard to others, therefore, it may be always doubtful, whether this honesty proceed from principle or from policy. But that is not the whole, or the most important part of the doubt. It may be doubtful even to ourselves, from which of these two motives even our own honesty springs.
The fear of the law, without question, keeps many persons honest. They do that of their own accord, in the first instance, which they know the law would compel them to do in the second, with a great addition of inconvenience and expense. Such a man may never, in the course of his life, be the subject of an action or lawsuit; yet if he act from the consideration here described, and only from that consideration, he acts as much through fear of the law, as if he was under its compulsion; and what he does is as little connected either with a moral or religious principle, as if the law did it for him.
Another man shall discharge the demands upon him, which strict honesty, according to the common signification of the term, requires at his hands, out of mere policy ; because he sees plainly that no person would knowingly deal with him if he did not. If he is to draw an advantage from any kind of business, he must observe the rules by which business is regulated. To see this, is only to see his own interest, and is a case rendered so plain by daily and constant experience, that few persons, in fact, miss of seeing it. Yet there may be no principle at the heart all this while. There may be regularity in his transactions, yet no principle at his heart.
A third finds, what it is impossible to live in the world without finding very soon, the numerous advantages of a good
character ; and that character is deeply concerned in the precision and pnctuality of his dealings. He looks steadily to his reputation in business. That he knows to be essential to his success; bis prospects, his fortune, depend upon it. He something farther than the rest. He does not look to the law, for the terrors of the law ; he never intends to let the matter come to that. He does not merely take care so to deal with others, as that others will continue to deal with him, but he is anxious to establish a character for honesty, knowing how serviceable, how important, and how valuable a possession such a character may prove. But though he may carry his conduct somewhat farther than the others, he may be as destitute as they of either moral or religious principle.
The truth is, in all those acts which fall under the meaning of this term honesty, especially pecuniary honesty, there are so many external motives which bear upon our conduct and direct it, that it is impossible almost to know in others, and not very easy to know in ourselves, whether what we do springs from virtuous and religious principles or not. Yet a vast deal depends upon that difference, when the character is to be estimated in a religious view; or even when the general question is to be resolved whether honesty itself be a virtue or not.
All that a teacher can do, and, so far as he can do it, it may be important, is to point out some of the tests by which a man may satisfy his own conscience, how far the integrity which he observes in his dealings, his honesty, in a word, be the fruit of a right and religious disposition, or be the effect of mere worldly considerations.
Now one of these tests is, when a transaction is of a nature to be perfectly secret; when the truth of it is known only to ourselves, all others who were privy to it being dead or absent; when if we do what is right, we acquire no reputation ; if we do what is wrong, we incur no censure, because the whole world except ourselves are in ignorance of what is either right or wrong in the business. When this happens, as it sometimes does to almost every man who is engaged much in the affairs of the world, then to act with complete fidelity, and with as scrupulous a regard to justice and equity, as if we were acting in the face and under the direction of a court of justice, fully informed in all the facts and circumstances of the case ; I say, so to act, and to be conscious of having so acted, forms a fair presumption that our honesty is honesty upon principle.
Secondly; merely to render what is due to those who can claim and assert their right, is, as we have said, an equivocal