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or divert him from his purpose. The particular consequence is by the supposition beneficial; and as to the general consequence, the worst that can happen is, that the madman, the robber, the assassin, will not trust you again; which is sufficiently compensated by the immediate benefit which you propose by the falsehood.
It is upon this principle, that, by the laws of war, it is allowed to deceive an enemy by feints, false colours, spies, false intelligence, or the Hike; but by no means in treaties, truces, signals of ca'pitulation or surrender: and the difference is, that the former supposes hostilities to continue ; but the latter are calculated to terminate or suspend them. In the conduct of war there is no place for confidence between the contending parties; but in whatever relates to the termination of war, the most religious fidelity is expected, because without it wars could not cease, nor the victors be secure but by the destruction of the vanquished.
Many people indulge in serious discourse a habit of fiction and exaggeration, in the accounts they give of themselves, of their acquaintance, or of the extraordinary things which they have seen or heard; and so long as the facts they relate are indifferent, and their narratives, though false, are inoffensive, it may seem a superstitious regard for truth to censure them merely for truth's sake.
But this liberty in conversation defeats its own end. Much of the pleasure and all the benefit of conversation depends upon our own opinion of the speaker's veracity, for which this rule leaves
no foundation. be extremely perplexed, who considers the speaker, or believes that the speaker considers himself, as under no obligation to adhere to truth, but according to the particular importance of what he relates.
The faith indeed of a hearer must
But beside, and above both these reasons, white lies always introduce others of a darker complexion. I have seldom known any one who deserted truth in trifles, that could be trusted in matters of importance. Nice distinctions are out of the question, upon occasions, like those of speech, which return every hour.
The habit therefore of lying, when once formed, is easily extended to serve the designs of malice or interest; like all habits, it spreads indeed of itself. As there may be falsehoods which are not lies, so there may may be lies without literal or direct falsehood; as when the literal and grammatical signification of a sentence is different from the popular and customary meaning, It is the wilful deceit that makes the lie; and we wilfully deceive when our expressions are not true in the sense in which we believe the hearer to apprehend them: besides, that it is absurd to contend for any sense of words in opposition to usage; for all senses of words are founded upon usage, and upon nothing else. Or a man may act a lie, as by pointing his finger in a wrong direction when a traveller inquires of him his road; or when a tradesman shuts up his windows to induce his creditors to believe that he is abroad: for to all moral purposes, and therefore as to veracity, speech and action are the same; speech being only a mode of action.
Or, lastly, there may be lies of omission. A writer of English history, who, in his account of the reign of Charles the First, should wilfully suppress any evidence of that prince's despotic measures and designs, might be said to be a liar; for by entitling his book a History of England, he engages to tell the whole truth of the history, or at least all that he knows of it. Paley.
ON THE PRACTICE OF SWEARING.
As there are some vices which the vulgar have presumed to copy from the great, so there are others which the great have condescended to borrow from the vulgar. Among these, I cannot but set down the shocking practice of cursing and swearing; a practice, which (to say nothing at present of its impiety and profaneness) is low and indelicate, and places the man of quality on the same level with the chairman at his door. A gentleman would forfeit all pretensions to that title, who should choose to embellish his discourse with the oratory of Billingsgate, and converse in the style of an oyster-woman; but it is accounted no disgrace to him to use the same coarse expressions of cursing and swearing with the meanest of the mob. For my own part, I cannot see the difference between a By-gad, or a Gad dem-me, minced and softened by a genteel pronunciation from well-bred lips, and the same expression bluntly bolted out from the broad mouth of a porter or hackney-coachman.
I shall purposely wave making any reflections on the impiety of this practice, as I am satisfied they would have but little weight either with the beau-monde or the canaille. The swearer of either station, devotes himself piecemeal, as if it were, to destruction; pours out anathemas against his eyes, his heart, his soul, and every part of his body; nor does he scruple to extend the same good wishes to the limbs and joints of his friends and acquaintance. This they both do with the same fearless unconcern; but with this only difference, that the gentleman swearer damns himself and others with the greatest civility and goodbreeding imaginable.
My predecessor the Tatler gives us an account of a certain humourist, who got together a party of noted swearers to dinner with him, and ordered their discourses to be taken down in shorthand; which being afterwards repeated to them, they were extremely startled and surprised at their own common talk. A dialogue of this nature would be no improper supplement to Swift's Polite Conversation; though, indeed, it would appear too shocking to be set down in print. But I cannot help wishing, that it were possible to draw out a catalogue of the fashionable oaths and curses in present use at Arthur's, or at any other polite assembly: by which means the company themselves would be led to imagine, that their conversation had been carried on between the lowest of the mob: and they would blush to find, that they had gleaned the choicest phrases from lanes and alleys, and enriched their discourse with the elegant dialect of Wapping and Broad St. Giles's.
The legislature has indeed provided against this offence, by affixing a penalty on every delinquent according to his station; but this law, like those made against gaming, is of no effect; while the genteeler sort of swearers put forth the same execrations at the hazard-table or in the tenniscourts, which the more ordinary gamesters repeat, with the same impunity, over the shuffle-board or in the skittle alley. Indeed, were this law to be rigorously put in execution, there would appear to be little or no proportion in the punishment: since the gentleman would escape by depositing his crown; while the poor wretch, who cannot raise a shilling, must be clapt into the stocks, or sent to Bridewell. But as the offence is exactly the same, I would also have no distinction made in the treatment of the offenders: and it would be a most ridiculous but a due mortification to a man of quality, to be obliged to thrust his leg through the same stocks with a carman or a coal; heaver; since he first degraded himself, and qualified himself for their company, by talking in the same mean dialect.
I am aware that it will be pleaded in excuse for this practice, that oaths and curses are intended only as mere expletives, which serve to round a period, and give a grace and spirit to conversation. But there are still some old-fashioned crea tures, who adhere to their common acceptation, and cannot help thinking it a very serious matter, that a man should devote his body to the devil, or call down damnation on his soul. Nay, the swearer himself, like the old man in the fable call