Front Page Titles (by Subject) Number XXX.: The Subject of Libels continued and concluded. - The Independent Whig, vol. 4 (1747)
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Number XXX.: The Subject of Libels continued and concluded. - Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, vol. 4 (1747) 
The Independent Whig. Being a Collection of Papers All written, some of them published During the Late Rebellion (London: J. Peele, 1747). Vol. 4.
Part of: The Independent Whig, 4 vols.
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The Subject of Libels continued and concluded.
RUDE Behaviour is allowed by all to be inexcusable; yet it is by many often justified, when they see it used towards such as they dislike. Rude Writing, still more unpardonable, is excused and commended, if it annoy those whom we wish to see annoyed. Thus what is universally condemned is occasionally approved. We always find a Plea for what we love or hate, and Reason is pressed into the Service of the Passions. It is not always true, that those who love the Treason hate the Traitor, at least whilst he is committing it. They then chiefly begin to hate him, when they no longer want him. It is the same with Men of brutal Manners, whether exercised with their Tongues or their Pens. Those who are pleased with their foul Occupation will not immediately find their Persons odious.
I have seen with Concern a very sensible Man not only pleased with a very ugly, very unlike Character, merely because he hated the Person for whom it was drawn, but heard him commend the miserable Man who drew it, though he well knew him to be animated by Malice only, and that it wanted all just Resemblance of the Original.
From such Encouragement angry Writers, particularly Party-writers, are great Dealers in Characters, especially those of such eminent Men whom they consider as their Opponents. This Practice, which requires the utmost Delicacy and Tenderness, is generally pursued without any, but, on the contrary, with apparent Want of all Charity, Decency and Truth. As ’tis their great Drift to make Men odious, their great Study is to make them hideous; and when they imagine that they have made a Man appear bad, they think themselves justified in using him barbarously. They first labour to render him unpopular, then triumph, and sometimes live upon his Unpopularity. For whoever is the Object of their Slander, is industriously and confidently set up as the Object of public Hate.
’Tis pity such wicked Policy should have any Success; it is great pity it should have so much; since the best Men are often thus hunted down by the Rage and Clamour of the worst, and exposed to real Sufferings by the shameless Cry and Imputation of forged Guilt.
A Paper that once obtains to be popular, as many miserable Papers have been, grows at the same Time oracular, and all the Falshoods in it, like those uttered by the old Oracles, are believed without Scruple or Inquiry, because they come from thence; at least they are believed for a while, till they have had their Effect, and the bad Impressions are made; and they are the sooner made because they are bad. Most People, especially the lowest, are pleased to see exalted Characters depressed, and bright Characters sullied. This Practice alone has served to make many low Writers popular, and ingenious bitter Writers still more popular.
If dull Scurrility be pleasing, witty Scurrility adorned with Fancy and Stile, must be very pleasing. Even the best Men, though they condemn it, are curious to see it, and cannot help being entertained with it.
This good Reception of Abuse and Calumny will always be an Encouragement to Men of bad and bitter Hearts to be pouring out their Venom upon Men of Eminence and Name. For Abuse upon obscure Men cannot have equal Progress and Effect. It is therefore the best Policy in Revilers to aim high. But though such Policy may bring them Money, and, if they are ingenious Men, Praise, it will be Money basely earned, and but very partial Praise, since whilst the Wit is extolled, the Application of it will be detested. And for dull Scurrility, though it pass well with the Rabble, the Author will be taken for one of them, at least for a very dishonest Man, if he have a Capacity above them, and yet in such unmanly Instances condescends to theirs.
No generous Mind will blacken and wound merely because it can do so with Safety. The Terrors of the Law, and the Resentment of Particulars, may be evaded by very dull Skill and small Arts. But a candid Heart despises all crooked Dealings, and scorns to offend Truth and the Persons of Men, only because it can shelter itself behind Evasions and Reserves. Where-ever all the World applies the Spite of an Author, there he will be believed to have intended it; and if he know so much, he is an-answerable for all the rest. A Dash, or a foreign Feature thrown into a Picture, will be construed to proceed from the Caution or Cunning of the Painter, and one Stroke of Likeness though it infer no Blemish, shall be found to correspond with every aggravated and ugly Line in the whole Piece. The Ill-nature of the Author readily trusts to the Ill-nature of the Reader, to find out who it is he means.
The finest Poem may be burlesqued by a droll Imitator, the straitest Shape warped by a spiteful Pencil, and the fairest Character blackened by an ill-natured Pen.
Such Characters therefore, or any Character, ought never to be attempted but by the most candid and impartial Pens; such as those of Party-writers never are, nor can be; yet none are so forward as they to make such Attempts. Who would take the Representation of any Action, or the Character of any Person from those whose Business it is to misrepresent, to praise, and to depreciate, to heighten, to lessen and to blacken every Action and every Person? They profess to direct the public Choice, whom to hate and whom to love. They extol their own Friends and Measures only, condemn all the rest, and do both blindly. Are such Men to be credited? Would any Man now take the Account of the Times, and of those who lived in them, from Le Strange, Dyer or Abel Roper? Yet these Men were once in great Vogue, were much read, much credited by their different Parties, and in a good Degree guided their Passions.
Surely no Man who is angry at another is fit to draw his Character; yet Anger is generally the great Call, often the great Qualification, for such an Undertaking; an Undertaking which requires great Discernment, as well as a Temper altogether cool-and unprejudiced. Every angry Man expects that you should be as angry as he, and would interest all Men in his private Griefs, which he therefore covers and recommends under public Pretences and Zeal: If you do not adopt his Interest and Passions you are no longer a Friend to your Country, and must excuse him for representing you as an Enemy to it.
Every one ought to take Part with the Unhappy and Afflicted. Is a worthy Man disappointed, or a Sufferer upon any account? It should be Matter of Concern to every Man: But, if the Public do not suffer too, we cannot sympathize with him upon the public Account, though whilst he is under the Agitation of his Passions, which are always apt to darken and mislead the Mind, he may imagine his Cause and that of the Public to be the same. Does a bad, a worthless, or an insignificant Man, missing his unreasonable Aims, complain that Merit is neglected, and inveigh against such as have Favours to bestow, for bestowing them better than upon him? I do not conceive that the Public, or any Man in it, need be concerned otherwise than to condemn his Assurance, for interesting the Public, or any who regard it, in his private Importance. Yet by such Men the Public is sometimes appealed to, its Aid invoked, and the first and best Men belonging to it aspersed and insulted.
Whoever is heartily disposed to speak ill of another, will easily find something to say; or if he cannot find it, he may invent it———Both Facts and Qualities are readily coined by a willing Fancy, or blackened and aggravated by a malevolent Heart. Proceedings the most Advantageous to the People, may, by a malicious Representation of them, or even by an unpleasing Name given them, be rendered odious to the People. Measures the most Mischievous to the People, may, by plausible and false Colouring, be made dear and interesting to the People. The Reformation, with all its Tendency to rescue the People from Darkness and Thraldom, was far from being a popular Undertaking. The infernal Tribunal of the Inquisition, with all its Horrors, Barbarity and Flames, is adored as well as feared by the Populace.
A Dealer in satirical Characters is the most unfit Person in the World to draw that of others; for he is at once Witness, Judge and Executioner, and utterly unqualified for the Business which he professes. He shews the World that he is provoked, and thus furnishes the World with a good Reason for not being provoked too, though it be his great Aim to provoke the World to be as angry as he, and consequently as unfair. He is privately, perhaps mistakenly, piqued, and, scattering the envenomed Arrows of his Wrath at random, makes public Victims of innocent and worthy Men.
Who had a better or more adorable Character than Socrates? Yet the comic Poet Aristophanes presented such a frightful Picture of him to the Athenians, and forged such a false, but such a popular Charge, of Libertinism of Opinion, against that Divine Person, only for entertaining Notions of the Supreme Being derogatory to popular Superstition, and to the Plurality of Gods at Athens, that they condemned him to die. The pious Advocate for One God was put to Death as an Atheist. In the Eyes of Fools the highest Wisdom is Folly. The most sublime Truths pass with a Bigot for Impiety; and blind Guides have always most Followers.
By this Fate of Socrates, and the personal Malice of Aristophanes, which then had its Effect, the Character of Socrates is not hurt, but that of his spiteful Enemy greatly impaired. What aggravated his Malice, is, that many of his Plays were full of Jests and Buffoonries upon the Gods, and intended to expose them to public Derision. What shameless Assurance in such a Man, a professed Droll upon Divine Subjects, and even upon the Divinities themselves, to accuse any Man, especially so great and so good a Man, for Speculations about Religion!
Mr. dryden* gave a very pertinent Answer to a Romish Priest after the Revolution, who wanted him to employ his Wit against the Protestants. “Father, said the shrewd old Poet, my Zeal for you has already made me burn my Fingers: I have long experienced, that one who believes the Infallibility of a Man, worships a Wafer as his God, and trusts that you can create a Deity out of Dough, makes a ridiculous Figure in attempting to ridicule any religious Opinion, or any Notion about Religion, however ridiculous it be.”
What Characters are to be handled with Tenderness and Decency, if great Characters be not, especially by private and obscure Men? Virulence and Calumny are no Marks of Guilt, except in him who utters them: and the heaviest Charge in every Libel falls upon the Libeller. All the Blots he makes in a fair Character, are so many real ones upon his own; nor will any reasonable Man expect Truth and Candour out of a Mouth that foams with Rage, and flows with Spite. Ill-will is a furious Prompter; it delights in mangling Characters, in pulling down the Highest, in blackening the Fairest, in distorting the Uprightest, and in misrepresenting All.
If an impartial Hand were to draw that of the Chancellor Clarendon, he would appear to have been an able Minister, the cool Conductor of the Restoration; successfully employed afterwards in the Service of the Crown; a true Friend to the Constitution, a Patron of the Church, with Christian Temper towards Dissenters; zealous for the true Interest of the King, and kind to his Adherents; equally vigilant for that of the Laws, in Opposition to Sycopliants and unworthy Favourites, who in Flattery to the Person of the King, were undermining his Authority, by setting it above the Laws, which were its fastest and only Support.
This was his true Character. A far different, and a shocking one was given him by the hot Party-men, his Enemies. Upon that great public Change, as all the Cavaliers expected Favour and Places, there were twenty Candidates for one Preferment; and as some Employments still remained, for Reasons of State, in the Hands of the late Possessors, every disappointed Cavalier became a furious Malecontent, and a mortal Foe to the Chancellor. A Cry was soon raised against him, as neglecting the King’s Friends, hugging his Enemies, and tampering with the Presbyterians. That Cry increased and spread, and those Imputations were fast followed by more and blacker. He was corrupt in Office, an Enemy to the King, whom he had faithfully served, and just restored, and a Traitor to the State, which he had so lately saved. All who railed at him because they were out of Place, persisted to rail till they got in, and looking upon him as their Enemy, stuck at no Means to destroy him. Were such Men capable of any fair Conviction, of doing Justice to his great Merit, or even of seeing any in him?
Was the Treasurer Godolphin ever fairly represented by the Tories, after he employed the Whigs? Was his Successor ever truly painted by the Whigs, when he appeared at the Head of the Tories, or by the Tories when they fansied him still leavened with Whiggism? Were they not both the Buts of infinite Scurrility? Folly was found in their wisest Counsels, Malignity and Mischief in their fairest Intentions; the meanest Libellers, who knew least of them, had the most to say against them; and there was no End of Libels in all Shapes, in Pamphlets and Songs, Characters and Queries. Such is the Condition of human Life, such the Lot of human Society, that for a Pique or a Joke, or a little Gain, public Tranquillity is risked, and the greatest Persons worried and belyed.
The late Duke of Marlborough will ever be a Name of immortal Renown to the English Nation; the wisest Counsellor, the greatest General of his Time, equal to those of any Time; superior, in the Cabinet and the Field, not only to public Enemies, but even to Fortune and Faction; but exposed to popular Hate and Scorn, by the pestilent Breath of Libellers and the Gall of Party; all his Merit and Fame, all his Victories and Laurels unable to support him against Invectives and Whispers; he triumphing Abroad over a Power dreadful for half a Century to all Europe, and impotent Calumny triumphing over him at Home; his many Victories and Conquests, many of them unbloody, all of them complete and glorious, decried as idle and even destructive, all by the same Men, who had before celebrated him as victorious without Loss of Men; Sine clade victor.
These Instances sufficiently shew, that the highest Services may be decried, the best Men traduced, and the greatest Merit rendered unpopular, by Prejudice and Clamour, by very low Means, and by very mean Instruments.
In all great Changes, during all public Ferments, and public Difficulties, War subsisting, new Taxes imposed, or old ones increased, Trade decreasing, great Events expected, great Attention raised, many hoping, many fearing, more disappointed than gratified, all prone to Censuring, if public Measures fall wrong, as the best may, they will be believed to have been concerted wrong, at least so represented, and thus the wisest be made unpopular. Nor is Innocence and Ability any Defence against popular Clamour, though raised by Art and Malice, and spread by Credulity and Folly. Even the best Counsels are most hateful to such as hate the Authors of them.
The Sum of a malicious Character may be true, the Facts true, yet the Character falsly drawn, by Aggravations thrown in and multiplied; by Facts omitted, or half stated, or untruly stated; and the whole Character, in itself blameless and amiable, shall appear hideous by these Aggravations and Omissions.
Ridicule, when ’tis outrageous, is itself ridiculous; that is, when it adds Facts and Colours, omits the best Features, and invents bad ones. Sometimes Malice alone draws and falsifies the whole Character, yet confidently represents it for true.
Under this Liberty taken with Characters, the most Unexceptionable can never be safe. They who take it are to be considered as the Carnifices gloriæ, as the Levellers and Assassines of great Merit and Fame. It can belong only to the lowest and the worst Characters to blacken the highest and the best.
The accomplished Adrianus Turnebus, a Name zealously celebrated by Scaliger, Thuanus, and all the able Pens of his Time, deserves more Applause from his own short and true Testimony concerning himself, than from all his learned Writings, numerous and excellent as they are. “It has, says he, been always a Caution with me, tenderly and sacredly observed, Never to shew any Inclination to advance my own Fame, by blasting that of any Man* .”
[* ]Mr. Dryden having turned Papist, or pretended to do so, in King James’s Time, to demonstrate his Sincerity, and himself a good Courtier, wrote the Hind and Panther, in Defence of Popery; a Poem which had some good Lines in it, but much weak Reasoning; which was soon after ridicul’d in a Conversation between the City Mouse and the Country Mouse.
[* ]Hoc semper religiosé cautéque servavi, ne mihi per cujuscunque injuriam, viderer unquam Famam quærere voluisse. Adrian. Turneb. Adversar.