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part ii: OF RELATIVE DUTIES WHICH ARE INDETERMINATE - William Paley, The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy 
The Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy, Foreword by D.L. Le Mahieu (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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OF RELATIVE DUTIES WHICH ARE INDETERMINATE
I use the term Charity neither in the common sense of bounty to the poor, nor in St. Paul’s sense of benevolence to all mankind: but I apply it at present, in a sense more commodious to my purpose, to signify the promoting the happiness of our inferiors.
Charity, in this sense, I take to be the principal province of virtue and religion: for, whilst worldly prudence will direct our behaviour towards our superiors, and politeness towards our equals, there is little beside the consideration of duty, or an habitual humanity which comes into the place of consideration, to produce a proper conduct towards those who are beneath us, and dependant upon us.
There are three principal methods of promoting the happiness of our inferiors.
1. By the treatment of our domestics and dependants.
2. By professional assistance.
3. By pecuniary bounty.
A party of friends setting out together upon a journey, soon find it to be the best for all sides, that while they are upon the road, one of the company should wait upon the rest; another ride forward to seek out lodging and entertainment; a third carry the portmanteau; a fourth take charge of the horses; a fifth bear the purse, conduct and direct the route; not forgetting, however, that, as they were equal and independent when they set out, so they are all to return to a level again at their journey’s end. The same regard and respect; the same forbearance, lenity, and reserve in using their service; the same mildness in delivering commands; the same study to make their journey comfortable and pleasant, which he whose lot it was to direct the rest, would in common decency think himself bound to observe towards them; ought we to show to those who, in the casting of the parts of human society, happen to be placed within our power, or to depend upon us.
Another reflection of a like tendency with the former is, that our obligation to them is much greater than theirs to us. It is a mistake to suppose, that the rich man maintains his servants, tradesmen, tenants, and labourers: the truth is, they maintain him. It is their industry which supplies his table, furnishes his wardrobe, builds his houses, adorns his equipage, provides his amusements. It is not the estate, but the labour employed upon it, that pays his rent. All that he does, is to distribute what others produce; which is the least part of the business.
Nor do I perceive any foundation for an opinion, which is often handed round in genteel company, that good usage is thrown away upon low and ordinary minds; that they are insensible of kindness, and incapable of gratitude. If by “low and ordinary minds” are meant the minds of men in low and ordinary stations, they seem to be affected by benefits in the same way that all others are, and to be no less ready to requite them: and it would be a very unaccountable law of nature if it were otherwise.
Whatever uneasiness we occasion to our domestics, which neither promotes our service, nor answers the just ends of punishment, is manifestly wrong; were it only upon the general principle of diminishing the sum of human happiness.
By which rule we are forbidden,
1. To enjoin unnecessary labour or confinement from the mere love and wantonness of domination.
2. To insult our servants by harsh, scornful, or opprobrious language.
3. To refuse them any harmless pleasures:
And, by the same principle, are also forbidden causeless or immoderate anger, habitual peevishness, and groundless suspicion.
The prohibitions of the last chapter extend to the treatment of slaves, being founded upon a principle independent of the contract between masters and servants.
I define slavery to be “an obligation to labour for the benefit of the master, without the contract or consent of the servant.”
This obligation may arise, consistently with the law of nature, from three causes:
1. From crimes.
2. From captivity.
3. From debt.
In the first case, the continuance of the slavery, as of any other punishment, ought to be proportioned to the crime; in the second and third cases, it ought to cease, as soon as the demand of the injured nation, or private creditor, is satisfied.
The slave-trade upon the coast of Africa is not excused by these principles. When slaves in that country are brought to market, no questions, I believe, are asked about the origin or justice of the vendor’s title. It may be presumed, therefore, that this title is not always, if it be ever, founded in any of the causes above assigned.
But defect of right in the first purchase is the least crime with which this traffic is chargeable. The natives are excited to war and mutual depredation, for the sake of supplying their contracts, or furnishing the market with slaves. With this the wickedness begins. The slaves, torn away from parents, wives, children, from their friends and companions, their fields and flocks, their home and country, are transported to the European settlements in America, with no other accommodation on ship-board than what is provided for brutes. This is the second stage of cruelty; from which the miserable exiles are delivered, only to be placed, and that for life, in subjection to a dominion and system of laws, the most merciless and tyrannical that ever were tolerated upon the face of the earth; and from all that can be learned by the accounts of the people upon the spot, the inordinate authority which the plantation-laws confer upon the slave-holder is exercised, by the English slave-holder especially, with rigour and brutality.
But necessity is pretended; the name under which every enormity is attempted to be justified. And, after all, what is the necessity? It has never been proved that the land could not be cultivated there, as it is here, by hired servants. It is said that it could not be cultivated with quite the same conveniency and cheapness, as by the labour of slaves: by which means, a pound of sugar, which the planter now sells for sixpence, could not be afforded under sixpence-halfpenny—and this is the necessity.
The great revolution which has taken place in the Western world may probably conduce (and who knows but that it was designed?) to accelerate the fall of this abominable tyranny: and now that this contest, and the passions which attend it, are no more, there may succeed perhaps a season for reflecting, whether a legislature which had so long lent its assistance to the support of an institution replete with human misery, was fit to be trusted with an empire the most extensive that ever obtained in any age or quarter of the world.
Slavery was a part of the civil constitution of most countries, when Christianity appeared; yet no passage is to be found in the Christian Scriptures, by which it is condemned or prohibited. This is true; for Christianity, soliciting admission into all nations of the world, abstained, as behoved it, from intermeddling with the civil institutions of any. But does it follow, from the silence of Scripture concerning them, that all the civil institutions which then prevailed were right? or that the bad should not be exchanged for better?
Besides this, the discharging of slaves from all obligation to obey their masters, which is the consequence of pronouncing slavery to be unlawful, would have had no better effect than to let loose one half of mankind upon the other. Slaves would have been tempted to embrace a religion, which asserted their right to freedom; masters would hardly have been persuaded to consent to claims founded upon such authority; the most calamitous of all contests, a bellum servile, might probably have ensued, to the reproach, if not the extinction, of the Christian name.
The truth is, the emancipation of slaves should be gradual, and be carried on by provisions of law, and under the protection of civil government. Christianity can only operate as an alterative. By the mild diffusion of its light and influence, the minds of men are insensibly prepared to perceive and correct the enormities, which folly, or wickedness, or accident, have introduced into their public establishments. In this way the Greek and Roman slavery, and since these, the feudal tyranny, has declined before it. And we trust that, as the knowledge and authority of the same religion advance in the world, they will banish what remains of this odious institution.
This kind of beneficence is chiefly to be expected from members of the legislature, magistrates, medical, legal, and sacerdotal professions.
1. The care of the poor ought to be the principal object of all laws; for this plain reason, that the rich are able to take care of themselves.
Much has been, and more might be, done by the laws of this country, towards the relief of the impotent, and the protection and encouragement of the industrious poor. Whoever applies himself to collect observations upon the state and operation of the poor-laws, and to contrive remedies for the imperfections and abuses which he observes, and digests these remedies into acts of parliament; and conducts them, by argument or influence, through the two branches of the legislature, or communicates his ideas to those who are more likely to carry them into effect; deserves well of a class of the community so numerous, that their happiness forms a principal part of the whole. The study and activity thus employed, is charity, in the most meritorious sense of the word.
2. The application of parochial relief is intrusted, in the first instance, to overseers and contractors, who have an interest in opposition to that of the poor, inasmuch as whatever they allow them comes in part out of their own pocket. For this reason, the law has deposited with justices of the peace a power of superintendence and control; and the judicious interposition of this power is a most useful exertion of charity, and oft-times within the ability of those who have no other way of serving their generation. A country gentleman of very moderate education, and who has little to spare from his fortune, by learning so much of the poor-law as is to be found in Dr. Burn’s Justice, and by furnishing himself with a knowledge of the prices of labour and provision, so as to be able to estimate the exigencies of a family, and what is to be expected from their industry, may, in this way, place out the one talent committed to him, to great account.
3. Of all private professions, that of medicine puts it in a man’s power to do the most good at the least expense. Health, which is precious to all, is to the poor invaluable: and their complaints, as agues, rheumatisms, &c. are often such as yield to medicine. And, with respect to the expense, drugs at first hand cost little, and advice costs nothing, where it is only bestowed upon those who could not afford to pay for it.
4. The rights of the poor are not so important or intricate, as their contentions are violent and ruinous. A lawyer or attorney, of tolerable knowledge in his profession, has commonly judgement enough to adjust these disputes, with all the effect, and without the expense, of a law-suit; and he may be said to give a poor man twenty pounds, who prevents his throwing it away upon law. A legal man, whether of the profession or not, who, together with a spirit of conciliation, possesses the confidence of his neighbourhood, will be much resorted to for this purpose, especially since the great increase of costs has produced a general dread of going to law.
Nor is this line of beneficence confined to arbitration. Seasonable counsel, coming with the weight which the reputation of the adviser gives it, will often keep or extricate the rash and uninformed out of great difficulties.
Lastly, I know not a more exalted charity than that which presents a shield against the rapacity or persecution of a tyrant.
5. Betwixt argument and authority (I mean that authority which flows from voluntary respect, and attends upon sanctity and disinterestedness of character) something may be done, amongst the lower orders of mankind, towards the regulation of their conduct, and the satisfaction of their thoughts. This office belongs to the ministers of religion; or rather, whoever undertakes it, becomes a minister of religion. The inferior clergy, who are nearly upon a level with the common sort of their parishioners, and who on that account gain an easier admission to their society and confidence, have in this respect more in their power than their superiors: the discreet use of this power constitutes one of the most respectable functions of human nature.
I. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor.
II. The manner of bestowing it.
III. The pretences by which men excuse themselves from it.
I. The obligation to bestow relief upon the poor.
They who rank pity amongst the original impulses of our nature rightly contend, that, when this principle prompts us to the relief of human misery, it indicates the Divine intention, and our duty. Indeed, the same conclusion is deducible from the existence of the passion, whatever account be given of its origin. Whether it be an instinct or a habit, it is in fact a property of our nature, which God appointed; and the final cause for which it was appointed, is to afford to the miserable, in the compassion of their fellow-creatures, a remedy for those inequalities and distresses which God foresaw that many must be exposed to, under every general rule for the distribution of property.
Beside this, the poor have a claim founded in the law of nature, which may be thus explained: All things were originally common. No one being able to produce a charter from Heaven, had any better title to a particular possession than his next neighbour. There were reasons for mankind’s agreeing upon a separation of this common fund; and God for these reasons is presumed to have ratified it. But this separation was made and consented to, upon the expectation and condition that every one should have left a sufficiency for his subsistence, or the means of procuring it: and as no fixed laws for the regulation of property can be so contrived, as to provide for the relief of every case and distress which may arise, these cases and distresses, when their right and share in the common stock were given up or taken from them, were supposed to be left to the voluntary bounty of those who might be acquainted with the exigencies of their situation, and in the way of affording assistance. And, therefore, when the partition of property is rigidly maintained against the claims of indigence and distress, it is maintained in opposition to the intention of those who made it, and to his, who is the Supreme Proprietor of every thing, and who has filled the world with plenteousness, for the sustentation and comfort of all whom he sends into it.
The Christian Scriptures are more copious and explicit upon this duty than upon almost any other. The description which Christ hath left us of the proceedings of the last day, establishes the obligation of bounty beyond controversy: “When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory, and before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. And inasmuch as ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”* It is not necessary to understand this passage as a literal account of what will actually pass on that day. Supposing it only a scenical description of the rules and principles, by which the Supreme Arbiter of our destiny will regulate his decisions, it conveys the same lesson to us; it equally demonstrates of how great value and importance these duties in the sight of God are, and what stress will be laid upon them. The apostles also describe this virtue as propitiating the Divine favour in an eminent degree. And these recommendations have produced their effect. It does not appear that, before the times of Christianity, an infirmary, hospital, or public charity of any kind, existed in the world; whereas most countries in Christendom have long abounded with these institutions. To which may be added, that a spirit of private liberality seems to flourish amidst the decay of many other virtues; not to mention the legal provision for the poor, which obtains in this country, and which was unknown and unthought of by the most humanised nations of antiquity.
St. Paul adds upon the subject an excellent direction, and which is practicable by all who have any thing to give: “Upon the first day of the week (or any other stated time) let every one of you lay by in store, as God hath prospered him.” By which I understand St. Paul to recommend what is the very thing wanting with most men, the being charitable upon a plan; that is, upon a deliberate comparison of our fortunes with the reasonable expenses and expectation of our families, to compute what we can spare, and to lay by so much for charitable purposes in some mode or other. The mode will be a consideration afterwards.
The effect which Christianity produced upon some of its first converts, was such as might be looked for from a divine religion, coming with full force and miraculous evidence upon the consciences of mankind. It overwhelmed all worldly considerations in the expectation of a more important existence: “And the multitude of them that believed, were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things in common. Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses, sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” Acts, iv. 32.
Nevertheless, this community of goods, however it manifested the sincere zeal of the primitive Christians, is no precedent for our imitation. It was confined to the Church at Jerusalem; continued not long there; was never enjoined upon any (Acts, v. 4); and, although it might suit with the particular circumstances of a small and select society, is altogether impracticable in a large and mixed community.
The conduct of the apostles upon the occasion deserves to be noticed. Their followers laid down their fortunes at their feet: but so far were they from taking advantage of this unlimited confidence, to enrich themselves, or to establish their own authority, that they soon after got rid of this business, as inconsistent with the main object of their mission, and transferred the custody and management of the public fund to deacons elected to that office by the people at large. (Acts, vi.)
II. The manner of bestowing bounty; or the different kinds of charity.
Every question between the different kinds of charity, supposes the sum bestowed to be the same.
There are three kinds of charity which prefer a claim to attention.
The first, and in my judgement one of the best, is to give stated and considerable sums, by way of pension or annuity, to individuals or families, with whose behaviour and distress we ourselves are acquainted. When I speak of considerable sums, I mean only that five pounds, or any other sum, given at once, or divided amongst five or fewer families, will do more good than the same sum distributed amongst a greater number in shillings or half-crowns; and that, because it is more likely to be properly applied by the persons who receive it. A poor fellow, who can find no better use for a shilling than to drink his benefactor’s health, and purchase half an hour’s recreation for himself, would hardly break into a guinea for any such purpose, or be so improvident as not to lay it by for an occasion of importance, e.g. for his rent, his clothing, fuel, or stock of winter’s provision. It is a still greater recommendation of this kind of charity, that pensions and annuities, which are paid regularly, and can be expected at the time, are the only way by which we can prevent one part of a poor man’s sufferings—the dread of want.
2. But as this kind of charity supposes that proper objects of such expensive benefactions fall within our private knowledge and observation, which does not happen to all, a second method of doing good, which is in every one’s power who has the money to spare, is by subscription to public charities. Public charities admit of this argument in their favour, that your money goes farther towards attaining the end for which it is given, than it can do by any private and separate beneficence. A guinea, for example, contributed to an infirmary, becomes the means of providing one patient at least with a physician, surgeon, apothecary, with medicine, diet, lodging, and suitable attendance; which is not the tenth part of what the same assistance, if it could be procured at all, would cost to a sick person or family in any other situation.
3. The last, and, compared with the former, the lowest exertion of benevolence, is in the relief of beggars. Nevertheless, I by no means approve the indiscriminate rejection of all who implore our alms in this way. Some may perish by such a conduct. Men are sometimes overtaken by distress, for which all other relief would come too late. Beside which, resolutions of this kind compel us to offer such violence to our humanity, as may go near, in a little while, to suffocate the principle itself; which is a very serious consideration. A good man, if he do not surrender himself to his feelings without reserve, will at least lend an ear to importunities which come accompanied with outward attestations of distress; and after a patient audience of the complaint, will direct himself, not so much by any previous resolution which he may have formed upon the subject, as by the circumstances and credibility of the account that he receives.
There are other species of charity well contrived to make the money expended go far: such as keeping down the price of fuel or provision, in case of monopoly or temporary scarcity, by purchasing the articles at the best market, and retailing them at prime cost, or at a small loss; or the adding of a bounty to particular species of labour, when the price is accidentally depressed.
The proprietors of large estates have it in their power to facilitate the maintenance, and thereby to encourage the establishment, of families (which is one of the noblest purposes to which the rich and great can convert their endeavours), by building cottages, splitting farms, erecting manufactories, cultivating wastes, embanking the sea, draining marshes, and other expedients, which the situation of each estate points out. If the profits of these undertakings do not repay the expense, let the authors of them place the difference to the account of charity. It is true of almost all such projects, that the public is a gainer by them, whatever the owner be. And where the loss can be spared, this consideration is sufficient.
It is become a question of some importance, under what circumstances works of charity ought to be done in private, and when they may be made public without detracting from the merit of the action, if indeed they ever may; the Author of our religion having delivered a rule upon this subject which seems to enjoin universal secrecy: “When thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth; that thy alms may be in secret, and thy Father, which seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly.” (Matt. vi. 3, 4). From the preamble to this prohibition I think it, however, plain, that our Saviour’s sole design was to forbid ostentation, and all publishing of good works which proceeds from that motive. “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven; therefore, when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do, in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.” ver. 2. There are motives for the doing our alms in public, beside those of ostentation, with which therefore our Saviour’s rule has no concern: such as to testify our approbation of some particular species of charity, and to recommend it to others; to take off the prejudice which the want, or, which is the same thing, the suppression, of our name in the list of contributors might excite against the charity, or against ourselves. And, so long as these motives are free from any mixture of vanity, they are in no danger of invading our Saviour’s prohibition; they rather seem to comply with another direction which he has left us: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” If it be necessary to propose a precise distinction upon the subject, I can think of none better than the following: When our bounty is beyond our fortune and station, that is, when it is more than could be expected from us, our charity should be private, if privacy be practicable: when it is not more than might be expected, it may be public: for we cannot hope to influence others to the imitation of extraordinary generosity, and therefore want, in the former case, the only justifiable reason for making it public.
Having thus described several different exertions of charity, it may not be improper to take notice of a species of liberality, which is not charity, in any sense of the word: I mean the giving of entertainments or liquor, for the sake of popularity; or the rewarding, treating, and maintaining, the companions of our diversions, as hunters, shooters, fishers, and the like. I do not say that this is criminal; I only say that it is not charity; and that we are not to suppose, because we give, and give to the poor, that it will stand in the place, or supersede the obligation, of more meritorious and disinterested bounty.
III. The pretences by which men excuse themselves from giving to the poor.
1. “That they have nothing to spare,” i.e. nothing for which they have not provided some other use; nothing which their plan or expense, together with the savings they have resolved to lay by, will not exhaust: never reflecting whether it be in their power, or that it is their duty, to retrench their expenses, and contract their plan, “that they may have to give to them that need”: or, rather, that this ought to have been part of their plan originally.
2. “That they have families of their own, and that charity begins at home.” The extent of this plea will be considered, when we come to explain the duty of parents.
3. “That charity does not consist in giving money, but in benevolence, philanthropy, love to all mankind, goodness of heart,” &c. Hear St. James: “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them, Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?” (James, ii. 15, 16.)
4. “That giving to the poor is not mentioned in St. Paul’s description of charity, in the thirteenth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians.” This is not a description of charity, but of good-nature; and it is not necessary that every duty be mentioned in every place.
5. “That they pay the poor-rates.” They might as well allege that they pay their debts: for the poor have the same right to that portion of a man’s property which the laws assign to them, that the man himself has to the remainder.
6. “That they employ many poor persons”—for their own sake, not the poor’s—otherwise it is a good plea.
7. “That the poor do not suffer so much as we imagine; that education and habit have reconciled them to the evils of their condition, and make them easy under it.” Habit can never reconcile human nature to the extremities of cold, hunger, and thirst, any more than it can reconcile the hand to the touch of a red-hot iron: besides, the question is not, how unhappy any one is, but how much more happy we can make him.
8. “That these people, give them what you will, will never thank you, or think of you for it.” In the first place, this is not true: in the second place, it was not for the sake of their thanks that you relieved them.
9. “That we are liable to be imposed upon.” If a due inquiry be made, our merit is the same: beside that the distress is generally real, although the cause be untruly stated.
10. “That they should apply to their parishes.” This is not always practicable: to which we may add, that there are many requisites to a comfortable subsistence, which parish relief does not supply; and that there are some, who would suffer almost as much from receiving parish relief as by the want of it; and, lastly, that there are many modes of charity to which this answer does not relate at all.
11. “That giving money, encourages idleness and vagrancy.” This is true only of injudicious and indiscriminate generosity.
12. “That we have too many objects of charity at home, to bestow any thing upon strangers; or, that there are other charities, which are more useful, or stand in greater need.” The value of this excuse depends entirely upon the fact, whether we actually relieve those neighbouring objects, and contribute to those other charities.
Beside all these excuses, pride, or prudery, or delicacy, or love of ease, keep one half of the world out of the way of observing what the other half suffer.
Resentment may be distinguished into anger and revenge.
By anger, I mean the pain we suffer upon the receipt of an injury or affront, with the usual effects of that pain upon ourselves.
By revenge, the inflicting of pain upon the person who has injured or offended us, farther than the just ends of punishment or reparation require.
Anger prompts to revenge; but it is possible to suspend the effect, when we cannot altogether quell the principle. We are bound also to endeavour to qualify and correct the principle itself. So that our duty requires two different applications of the mind; and, for that reason, anger and revenge may be considered separately.
“Be ye angry, and sin not”; therefore all anger is not sinful; I suppose, because some degree of it, and upon some occasions, is inevitable.
It becomes sinful, or contradicts, however, the rule of Scripture, when it is conceived upon slight and inadequate provocations, and when it continues long.
1. When it is conceived upon slight provocations: for, “charity suffereth long, is not easily provoked.” “Let every man be slow to anger.” Peace, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, are enumerated among the fruits of the Spirit, Gal. v. 22, and compose the true Christian temper, as to this article of duty.
2. When it continues long: for, “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
These precepts, and all reasoning indeed on the subject, suppose the passion of anger to be within our power; and this power consists not so much in any faculty we possess of appeasing our wrath at the time (for we are passive under the smart which an injury or affront occasions, and all we can then do, is to prevent its breaking out into action), as in so mollifying our minds by habits of just reflection, as to be less irritated by impressions of injury, and to be sooner pacified.
Reflections proper for this purpose, and which may be called the sedatives of anger, are the following: the possibility of mistaking the motives from which the conduct that offends us proceeded; how often our offences have been the effect of inadvertency, when they were construed into indications of malice; the inducement which prompted our adversary to act as he did, and how powerfully the same inducement has, at one time or other, operated upon ourselves: that he is suffering perhaps under a contrition, which he is ashamed, or wants opportunity, to confess; and how ungenerous it is to triumph by coldness or insult over a spirit already humbled in secret; that the returns of kindness are sweet, and that there is neither honour, nor virtue, nor use, in resisting them—for, some persons think themselves bound to cherish and keep alive their indignation, when they find it dying away of itself. We may remember that others have their passions, their prejudices, their favourite aims, their fears, their cautions, their interests, their sudden impulses, their varieties of apprehension, as well as we: we may recollect what hath sometimes passed in our minds, when we have gotten on the wrong side of a quarrel, and imagine the same to be passing in our adversary’s mind now; when we became sensible of our misbehaviour, what palliations we perceived in it, and expected others to perceive; how we were affected by the kindness, and felt the superiority, of a generous reception and ready forgiveness; how persecution revived our spirits with our enmity, and seemed to justify the conduct in ourselves which we before blamed. Add to this, the indecency of extravagant anger; how it renders us, whilst it lasts, the scorn and sport of all about us, of which it leaves us, when it ceases, sensible and ashamed; the inconveniences and irretrievable misconduct into which our irascibility has sometimes betrayed us; the friendships it has lost us; the distresses and embarrassments in which we have been involved by it; and the sore repentance which, on one account or other, it always cost us.
But the reflection calculated above all others to allay the haughtiness of temper which is ever finding out provocations, and which renders anger so impetuous, is that which the Gospel proposes; namely, that we ourselves are, or shortly shall be, suppliants for mercy and pardon at the judgement-seat of God. Imagine our secret sins disclosed and brought to light; imagine us thus humbled and exposed; trembling under the hand of God; casting ourselves on his compassion; crying out for mercy; imagine such a creature to talk of satisfaction and revenge; refusing to be entreated, disdaining to forgive; extreme to mark and to resent what is done amiss—imagine, I say, this, and you can hardly frame to yourself an instance of more impious and unnatural arrogance.
The point is, to habituate ourselves to these reflections, till they rise up of their own accord when they are wanted, that is, instantly upon the receipt of an injury or affront, and with such force and colouring, as both to mitigate the paroxysms of our anger at the time, and at length to produce an alteration in the temper and disposition itself.
All pain occasioned to another in consequence of an offence or injury received from him, further than what is calculated to procure reparation, or promote the just ends of punishment, is so much revenge.
There can be no difficulty in knowing when we occasion pain to another; nor much in distinguishing whether we do so, with a view only to the ends of punishment, or from revenge; for, in the one case we proceed with reluctance, in the other with pleasure.
It is highly probable from the light of nature, that a passion, which seeks its gratification immediately and expressly in giving pain, is disagreeable to the benevolent will and counsels of the Creator. Other passions and pleasures may, and often do, produce pain to some one: but then pain is not, as it is here, the object of the passion, and the direct cause of the pleasure. This probability is converted into certainty, if we give credit to the authority which dictated the several passages of the Christian Scriptures that condemn revenge, or, what is the same thing, which enjoin forgiveness.
We will set down the principal of these passages; and endeavour to collect from them, what conduct upon the whole is allowed towards an enemy, and what is forbidden.
“If ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”—“And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him: so likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.”—“Put on bowels of mercy, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”—“Be patient towards all men; see that none render evil for evil to any man.”—“Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for, in so doing, thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”*
I think it evident, from some of these passages taken separately, and still more so from all of them together, that revenge, as described in the beginning of this chapter, is forbidden in every degree, under all forms, and upon every occasion. We are likewise forbidden to refuse to an enemy even the most imperfect right: “if he hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink”;† which are examples of imperfect rights. If one who has offended us solicit from us a vote to which his qualifications entitle him, we may not refuse it from motives of resentment, or the remembrance of what we have suffered at his hands. His right, and our obligation which follows the right, are not altered by his enmity to us, or by ours to him.
On the other hand, I do not conceive that these prohibitions were intended to interfere with the punishment or prosecution of public offenders. In the eighteenth chapter of St. Matthew, our Saviour tells his disciples; “If thy brother who has trespassed against thee neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man, and a publican.” Immediately after this, when St. Peter asked him, “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” Christ replied, “I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven”; that is, as often as he repeats the offence. From these two adjoining passages compared together, we are authorised to conclude that the forgiveness of an enemy is not inconsistent with the proceeding against him as a public offender; and that the discipline established in religious or civil societies, for the restraint or punishment of criminals, ought to be upholden.
If the magistrate be not tied down with these prohibitions from the execution of his office, neither is the prosecutor; for the office of the prosecutor is as necessary as that of the magistrate.
Nor, by parity of reason, are private persons withholden from the correction of vice, when it is in their power to exercise it; provided they be assured that it is the guilt which provokes them, and not the injury; and that their motives are pure from all mixture and every particle of that spirit which delights and triumphs in the humiliation of an adversary.
Thus it is no breach of Christian charity, to withdraw our company or civility when the same tends to discountenance any vicious practice. This is one branch of that extrajudicial discipline, which supplies the defects and the remissness of law; and is expressly authorised by St. Paul (1 Cor. v. 11.); “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one, no not to eat.” The use of this association against vice continues to be experienced in one remarkable instance, and might be extended with good effect to others. The confederacy amongst women of character, to exclude from their society kept-mistresses and prostitutes, contributes more perhaps to discourage that condition of life, and prevents greater numbers from entering into it, than all the considerations of prudence and religion put together.
We are likewise allowed to practise so much caution as not to put ourselves in the way of injury, or invite the repetition of it. If a servant or tradesman has cheated us, we are not bound to trust him again; for this is to encourage him in his dishonest practices, which is doing him much harm.
Where a benefit can be conferred only upon one or few, and the choice of the person upon whom it is conferred is a proper object of favour, we are at liberty to prefer those who have not offended us to those who have; the contrary being nowhere required.
Christ, who, as hath been well demonstrated,* estimated virtues by their solid utility, and not by their fashion or popularity, prefers this of the forgiveness of injuries to every other. He enjoins it oftener; with more earnestness; under a greater variety of forms; and with this weighty and peculiar circumstance, that the forgiveness of others is the condition upon which alone we are to expect, or even ask, from God, forgiveness for ourselves. And this preference is justified by the superior importance of the virtue itself. The feuds and animosities in families and between neighbours, which disturb the intercourse of human life, and collectively compose half the misery of it, have their foundation in the want of a forgiving temper; and can never cease, but by the exercise of this virtue, on one side, or on both.
Duelling as a punishment is absurd; because it is an equal chance, whether the punishment fall upon the offender, or the person offended. Nor is it much better as a reparation: it being difficult to explain in what the satisfaction consists, or how it tends to undo the injury, or to afford a compensation for the damage already sustained.
The truth is, it is not considered as either. A law of honour having annexed the imputation of cowardice to patience under an affront, challenges are given and accepted with no other design than to prevent or wipe off this suspicion; without malice against the adversary, generally without a wish to destroy him, or any other concern than to preserve the duellist’s own reputation and reception in the world.
The unreasonableness of this rule of manners is one consideration; the duty and conduct of individuals, while such a rule exists, is another.
As to which, the proper and single question is this, whether a regard for our own reputation is, or is not, sufficient to justify the taking away the life of another?
Murder is forbidden; and wherever human life is deliberately taken away, otherwise than by public authority, there is murder. The value and security of human life make this rule necessary; for I do not see what other idea or definition of murder can be admitted, which will not let in so much private violence, as to render society a scene of peril and bloodshed.
If unauthorised laws of honour be allowed to create exceptions to divine prohibitions, there is an end of all morality, as founded in the will of the Deity: and the obligation of every duty may, at one time or other, be discharged by the caprice and fluctuations of fashion.
“But a sense of shame is so much torture; and no relief presents itself otherwise than by an attempt upon the life of our adversary.” What then? The distress which men suffer by the want of money is oftentimes extreme, and no resource can be discovered but that of removing a life which stands between the distressed person and his inheritance. The motive in this case is as urgent, and the means much the same, as in the former: yet this case finds no advocate.
Take away the circumstance of the duellist’s exposing his own life, and it becomes assassination; add this circumstance, and what difference does it make? None but this, that fewer perhaps will imitate the example, and human life will be somewhat more safe, when it cannot be attacked without equal danger to the aggressor’s own. Experience, however, proves that there is fortitude enough in most men to undertake this hazard; and were it otherwise, the defence, at best, would be only that which a highwayman or housebreaker might plead, whose attempt had been so daring and desperate, that few were likely to repeat the same.
In expostulating with the duellist, I all along suppose his adversary to fall. Which supposition I am at liberty to make, because, if he have no right to kill his adversary, he has none to attempt it.
In return, I forbear from applying to the case of duelling the Christian principle of the forgiveness of injuries; because it is possible to suppose the injury to be forgiven, and the duellist to act entirely from a concern for his own reputation: where this is not the case, the guilt of duelling is manifest, and is greater.
In this view it seems unnecessary to distinguish between him who gives, and him who accepts, a challenge: for, on the one hand, they incur an equal hazard of destroying life; and on the other, both act upon the same persuasion, that what they do is necessary, in order to recover or preserve the good opinion of the world.
Public opinion is not easily controlled by civil institutions: for which reason I question whether any regulations can be contrived, of sufficient force to suppress or change the rule of honour, which stigmatises all scruples about duelling with the reproach of cowardice.
The insufficiency of the redress which the law of the land affords, for those injuries which chiefly affect a man in his sensibility and reputation, tempts many to redress themselves. Prosecutions for such offences, by the trifling damages that are recovered, serve only to make the sufferer more ridiculous. This ought to be remedied.
For the army, where the point of honour is cultivated with exquisite attention and refinement, I would establish a Court of Honour, with a power of awarding those submissions and acknowledgements, which it is generally the purpose of a challenge to obtain; and it might grow into a fashion, with persons of rank of all professions, to refer their quarrels to this tribunal.
Duelling, as the law now stands, can seldom be overtaken by legal punishment. The challenge, appointment, and other previous circumstances, which indicate the intention with which the combatants met, being suppressed, nothing appears to a court of justice, but the actual rencounter; and if a person be slain when actually fighting with his adversary, the law deems his death nothing more than manslaughter.
“If it be possible, live peaceably with all men”; which precept contains an indirect confession that this is not always possible.
The instances* in the fifth chapter of Saint Matthew are rather to be understood as proverbial methods of describing the general duties of forgiveness and benevolence, and the temper which we ought to aim at acquiring, than as directions to be specifically observed; or of themselves of any great importance to be observed. The first of these is, “If thine enemy smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”; yet, when one of the officers struck Jesus with the palm of his hand, we find Jesus rebuking him for the outrage with becoming indignation; “If I have spoken evil, bear witness of the evil; but if well, why smitest thou me?” (John xviii. 43.) It may be observed, likewise, that the several examples are drawn from instances of small and tolerable injuries. A rule which forbade all opposition to injury, or defence against it, could have no other effect, than to put the good in subjection to the bad, and deliver one half of mankind to the depredation of the other half; which must be the case, so long as some considered themselves as bound by such a rule, whilst others despised it. Saint Paul, though no one inculcated forgiveness and forbearance with a deeper sense of the value and obligation of these virtues, did not interpret either of them to require an unresisting submission to every contumely, or a neglect of the means of safety and self-defence. He took refuge in the laws of his country, and in the privileges of a Roman citizen, from the conspiracy of the Jews (Acts xxv. 11.); and from the clandestine violence of the chief captain (Acts xxii. 25.). And yet this is the same apostle who reproved the litigiousness of his Corinthian converts with so much severity. “Now, therefore, there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded?”
On the one hand, therefore, Christianity excludes all vindictive motives, and all frivolous causes of prosecution; so that where the injury is small, where no good purpose of public example is answered, where forbearance is not likely to invite a repetition of the injury, or where the expense of an action becomes a punishment too severe for the offence; there the Christian is withholden by the authority of his religion from going to law.
On the other hand, a law-suit is inconsistent with no rule of the Gospel, when it is instituted,
1. For the establishing of some important right.
2. For the procuring a compensation for some considerable damage.
3. For the preventing of future injury.
But since it is supposed to be undertaken simply with a view to the ends of justice and safety, the prosecutor of the action is bound to confine himself to the cheapest process which will accomplish these ends, as well as to consent to any peaceable expedient for the same purpose; as to a reference, in which the arbitrators can do, what the law cannot, divide the damage, when the fault is mutual; or to a compounding of the dispute, by accepting a compensation in the gross, without entering into articles and items, which it is often very difficult to adjust separately.
As to the rest, the duty of the contending parties may be expressed in the following directions:
Not by appeals to prolong a suit against your own conviction.
Not to undertake or defend a suit against a poor adversary, or render it more dilatory or expensive than necessary, with the hope of intimidating or wearing him out by the expense.
Not to influence evidence by authority or expectation;
Nor to stifle any in your possession, although it make against you.
Hitherto we have treated of civil actions. In criminal prosecutions, the private injury should be forgotten, and the prosecutor proceed with the same temper, and upon the same motives, as the magistrate; the one being a necessary minister of justice as well as the other, and both bound to direct their conduct by a dispassionate care of the public welfare.
In whatever degree the punishment of an offender is conducive, or his escape dangerous, to the interest of the community, in the same degree is the party against whom the crime was committed bound to prosecute, because such prosecutions must in their nature originate from the sufferer.
Therefore great public crimes, as robberies, forgeries, and the like, ought not to be spared, from an apprehension of trouble or expense in carrying on the prosecution, from false shame, or misplaced compassion.
There are many offences, such as nuisances, neglect of public roads, forestalling, engrossing, smuggling, sabbath-breaking, profaneness, drunkenness, prostitution, the keeping of lewd or disorderly houses, the writing, publishing, or exposing to sale, lascivious books or pictures, with some others, the prosecution of which, being of equal concern to the whole neighbourhood, cannot be charged as a peculiar obligation upon any.
Nevertheless, there is great merit in the person who undertakes such prosecutions upon proper motives; which amounts to the same thing.
The character of an informer is in this country undeservedly odious. But where any public advantage is likely to be attained by information, or other activity in promoting the execution of the laws, a good man will despise a prejudice founded in no just reason, or will acquit himself of the imputation of interested designs by giving away his share of the penalty.
On the other hand, prosecutions for the sake of the reward, or for the gratification of private enmity, where the offence produces no public mischief, or where it arises from ignorance or inadvertency, are reprobated under the general description of applying a rule of law to a purpose for which it was not intended. Under which description may be ranked an officious revival of the laws against Popish priests, and dissenting teachers.
Examples of ingratitude check and discourage voluntary beneficence; and in this, the mischief of ingratitude consists. Nor is the mischief small; for after all is done that can be done, towards providing for the public happiness, by prescribing rules of justice, and enforcing the observation of them by penalties or compulsion, much must be left to those offices of kindness, which men remain at liberty to exert or withhold. Now not only the choice of the objects, but the quantity and even the existence of this sort of kindness in the world, depends, in a great measure, upon the return which it receives: and this is a consideration of general importance.
A second reason for cultivating a grateful temper in ourselves, is the following: The same principle, which is touched with the kindness of a human benefactor, is capable of being affected by the divine goodness, and of becoming, under the influence of that affection, a source of the purest and most exalted virtue. The love of God is the sublimest gratitude. It is a mistake, therefore, to imagine, that this virtue is omitted in the Christian Scriptures; for every precept which commands us “to love God, because he first loved us,” presupposes the principle of gratitude, and directs it to its proper object.
It is impossible to particularise the several expressions of gratitude, inasmuch as they vary with the character and situation of the benefactor, and with the opportunities of the person obliged; which variety admits of no bounds.
It may be observed, however, that gratitude can never oblige a man to do what is wrong, and what by consequence he is previously obliged not to do. It is no ingratitude to refuse to do, what we cannot reconcile to any apprehensions of our duty; but it is ingratitude and hypocrisy together, to pretend this reason, when it is not the real one: and the frequency of such pretences has brought this apology for non-compliance with the will of a benefactor into unmerited disgrace.
It has long been accounted a violation of delicacy and generosity to upbraid men with the favours they have received: but it argues a total destitution of both these qualities, as well as of moral probity, to take advantage of that ascendency which the conferring of benefits justly creates, to draw or drive those whom we have obliged into mean or dishonest compliances.
Speaking is acting, both in philosophical strictness, and as to all moral purposes: for if the mischief and motive of our conduct be the same, the means which we use make no difference.
And this is in effect what our Saviour declares, Matt. xii. 37: “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned”: by thy words, as well, that is, as by thy actions; the one shall be taken into the account as well as the other, for they both possess the same property of voluntarily producing good or evil.
Slander may be distinguished into two kinds; malicious slander, and inconsiderate slander.
Malicious slander is the relating of either truth or falsehood, for the purpose of creating misery.
I acknowledge that the truth or falsehood of what is related varies the degree of guilt considerably; and that slander, in the ordinary acceptation of the term, signifies the circulation of mischievous falsehoods: but truth may be made instrumental to the success of malicious designs as well as falsehood; and if the end be bad, the means cannot be innocent.
I think the idea of slander ought to be confined to the production of gratuitous mischief. When we have an end or interest of our own to serve, if we attempt to compass it by falsehood, it is fraud; if by a publication of the truth, it is not without some additional circumstance of breach of promise, betraying of confidence, or the like, to be deemed criminal.
Sometimes the pain is intended for the person to whom we are speaking; at other times, an enmity is to be gratified by the prejudice or disquiet of a third person. To infuse suspicions, to kindle or continue disputes, to avert the favour and esteem of benefactors from their dependents, to render some one whom we dislike contemptible or obnoxious in the public opinion, are all offices of slander; of which the guilt must be measured by the intensity and extent of the misery produced.
The disguises under which slander is conveyed, whether in a whisper, with injunctions of secrecy, by way of caution, or with affected reluctance, are all so many aggravations of the offence, as they indicate more deliberation and design.
Inconsiderate slander is a different offence, although the same mischief actually follow, and although the mischief might have been foreseen. The not being conscious of that design which we have hitherto attributed to the slanderer, makes the difference.
The guilt here consists in the want of that regard to the consequences of our conduct, which a just affection for human happiness, and concern for our duty, would not have failed to have produced in us. And it is no answer to this crimination to say, that we entertained no evil design. A servant may be a very bad servant, and yet seldom or never design to act in opposition to his master’s interest or will: and his master may justly punish such servant for a thoughtlessness and neglect nearly as prejudicial as deliberate disobedience. I accuse you not, he may say, of any express intention to hurt me; but had not the fear of my displeasure, the care of my interest, and indeed all the qualities which constitute the merit of a good servant, been wanting in you, they would not only have excluded every direct purpose of giving me uneasiness, but have been so far present to your thoughts, as to have checked that unguarded licentiousness by which I have suffered so much, and inspired you in its place with an habitual solicitude about the effects and tendency of what you did or said. This very much resembles the case of all sins of inconsideration; and, amongst the foremost of these, that of inconsiderate slander.
Information communicated for the real purpose of warning, or cautioning, is not slander.
Indiscriminate praise is the opposite of slander, but it is the opposite extreme; and, however it may affect to be thought to be excess of candour, is commonly the effusion of a frivolous understanding, or proceeds from a settled contempt of all moral distinctions.
[* ]Matthew, xxv. 31.
[* ]Matt. vi. 14, 15: xviii. 34, 35. Col. iii. 12, 13. 1 Thess. v. 14, 15. Rom. xii. 19, 20, 21.
[† ]See also Exodus, xxiii. 4. “If thou meet thine enemy’s ox, or his ass, going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again; if thou see the ass of him that hateth thee, lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.”
[* ]See a View of the Internal Evidence of the Christian Religion.
[* ]“Whoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also: and if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also; and whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”