Front Page Titles (by Subject) APPENDIX, No. II, p. 242.: OF THE MODE OF EXCLUDING VISITORS - An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. I.
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APPENDIX, No. II, p. 242.: OF THE MODE OF EXCLUDING VISITORS - William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Vol. I. 
An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, and its Influence on General Virtue and Happiness, vol. 1 (London: G.G.J. and J. Robinson, 1793).
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APPENDIX, No. II, p. 242.
OF THE MODE OF EXCLUDING VISITORS
its impropriety argued—from the situation in which it places, 1. the visitor—2. the servant.—objections:—pretended necessity of this practice, 1. to preserve us from intrusion—2. to free us fromdisagreeableacquaintancexe.—characters of the honest and dishonest man in this respect compared.
THIS principle respecting the observation of truth in theBOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. Its impropriety argued: common intercourses of life cannot perhaps be better illustrated, than from the familiar and trivial case, as it is commonly supposed to be, of a master directing his servant to say he is not at home, as a means of freeing him from the intrusion of impertinent guests. No question of morality can be foreign to the science of politics; nor will those few pages of the present work be found perhaps the least valuable, which here and in other places* are dedicated to the refutation of errors, that by their extensive influence have perverted the foundation of moral and political justice.
BOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. from the situation in which it places, 1. the visitor: Let us first, according to the well known axiom of morality, put ourselves in the place of the person whom this answer excludes. It seldom happens but that he is able, if he be in possession of any discernment, to discover with tolerable accuracy whether the answer he receives be true or false. There are a thousand petty circumstances by which falshood continually detects itself. The countenance and the voice of the servant, unless long practised indeed in this lesson of deceit, his cold and reserved manner in the one case, and his free, ingenuous and unembarrassed air in the other, will almost always speak a language less ambiguous than his lips. But let us suppose only that we vehemently suspect the truth. It is not intended to keep us in ignorance of the existence of such a practice. He that adopts it, is willing to avow in general terms that such is his system, or he makes out a case for himself much less favourable than I was making out for him. The visitor then who receives this answer, feels in spite of himself a contempt for the prevarication of the person he visits. I appeal to the feelings of every man in the situation described, and I have no doubt that he will find this to be their true state in the first instance, however he may have a set of sophistical reasonings at hand by which he may in a few minutes reason down the first movements of indignation. He feels that the trouble he has taken and the civility he intended intitled him at least to truth in return.
Having put ourselves in the place of the visitor, let us nextBOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. 2. the servant put ourselves in the place of the poor despised servant. Let us suppose that we are ourselves destined as sons or husbands to give this answer that our father or our wife is not at home, when he or she is really in the house. Should we not feel our tongues contaminated with the base plebeian lie? Would it be a sufficient opiate to our consciences to say that “such is the practice, and it is well understood?” It never can be understood: its very intention is, not to be understood. We say that “we have certain arguments that prove the practice to be innocent.” Are servants only competent to understand these arguments? Surely we ought best to be able to understand our own arguments, and yet we shrink with abhorrence from the idea of personally acting upon them.
Whatever sophistry we may have to excuse our error, nothing is more certain than that our servants understand the lesson we teach them to be a lie. It is accompanied by all the retinue of falshood. Before it can be gracefully practised, the servant must be no mean proficient in the mysteries of hypocrisy. By the easy impudence with which it is uttered, he best answers the purpose of his master, or in other words the purpose of deceit. By the easy impudence with which it is uttered, he best stifles the upbraidings of his own mind, and conceals from others the shame imposed on him by his despotic task-master. Before this can be sufficiently done, he must have discarded the ingenuous BOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. frankness by means of which the thoughts find easy commerce with the tongue, and the clear and undisguised countenance which ought to be the faithful mirror of the mind. Do you think, when he has learned this degenerate lesson in one instance, that it will produce no unfavourable effects upon his general conduct? Surely, if we will practise vice, we ought at least to have the magnanimity to practise it in person, not cowardlike corrupt the principles of another, and oblige him to do that which we have not the honesty to dare to do for ourselves.
Objections: But it is said, “that this lie is necessary, and that the intercourse Pretended necessity of this practice, 1. to preserve us from intrusion: of human society cannot be carried on without it.” What, is it not as easy to say, “I am engaged,” or “indisposed,” or as the case may happen, as “I am not at home?” Are these answers more insulting, than the universally suspected answer, the notorious hypocrisy of “I am not at home?”
The purpose indeed for which this answer is usually employed is a deceit of another kind. Every man has in the catalogue of his acquaintance some that he particularly loves, and others to whom he is indifferent, or perhaps worse than indifferent. This answer leaves the latter to suppose, if they please, that they are in the class of the former. And what is the benefit to result from this indiscriminate, undistinguishing manner of treating our neighbours? Whatever benefit it be, it no doubt exists in considerable vigour in the present state of polished society,BOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. where forms perpetually intrude to cut off all intercourse between the feelings of mankind; and I can scarcely tell a man on the one hand “that I esteem his character and honour his virtues,” or on the other “that he is fallen into an error which will be of prejudicial consequence to him,” without trampling upon all the barriers of politeness. But is all this right? Is not the esteem or the disapprobation of others among the most powerful incentives to virtue or punishments of vice? Can we even understand virtue and vice half so well as we otherwise should, if we be unacquainted with the feelings of our neighbours respecting them? If there be in the list of our acquaintance any person whom we particularly dislike, it usually happens that it is for some moral fault that we perceive or think we perceive in him. Why should he be kept in ignorance of our opinion respecting him, and prevented from the opportunity either of amendment or vindication? If he be too wise or too foolish, too virtuous or too vicious for us, why should he not be ingenuously told of his mistake in his intended kindness to us, rather than be suffered to find it out by six months enquiry from our servants?
This leads us to yet one more argument in favour of this disingenuous2. to free us from disagreeable acquaintance practice. We are told, “there is no other by which we can rid ourselves of disagreeable acquaintance.” How long shall this be one of the effects of polished society, to persuade us BOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. that we are incapable of doing the most trivial offices for ourselves? You may as well tell me, “that it is a matter of indispensible necessity to have a valet to put on my stockings.” In reality the existence of these troublesome visitors is owing to the hypocrisy of politeness. It is that we wear the same indiscriminate smile, the same appearance of cordiality and complacence to all our acquaintance. Ought we to do thus? Are virtue and excellence entitled to no distinctions? For the trouble of these impertinent visits we may thank ourselves. If we practised no deceit, if we assumed no atom of cordiality and esteem we did not feel, we should be little pestered with these buzzing intruders. But one species of falshood involves us in another; and he, that pleads for these lying answers to our visitors, in reality pleads the cause of a cowardice, that dares not deny to vice the distinction and kindness that are exclusively due to virtue.
Characters of the honest and dishonest man in this respect compared The man who acted upon this system would be very far removed from a Cynic. The conduct of men formed upon the fashionable system is a perpetual contradiction. At one moment they fawn upon us with a servility that dishonours the dignity of man, and at another treat us with a neglect, a sarcastic insolence, and a supercilious disdain, that are felt as the severest cruelty, by him who has not the firmness to regard them with neglect. The conduct of the genuine moralist is equable and uniform. He loves all mankind, he desires the benefit of all, and this love and this desire are legible in his conduct. Does he remind us of our faults? It is with no mixture of asperity,BOOK IV. CHAP. IV. Appendix, No. II. of selfish disdain and insolent superiority. Of consequence it is scarcely possible he should wound. Few indeed are those effeminate valetudinarians, who recoil from the advice, when they distinguish the motive. But, were it otherwise, the injury is nothing. Those who feel themselves incapable of suffering the most benevolent plain dealing, would derive least benefit from the prescription, and they avoid the physician. Thus is he delivered, without harshness, hypocrisy and deceit, from those whose intercourse he had least reason to desire; and the more his character is understood, the more his acquaintance will be select, his company being chiefly sought by the ingenuous, the well disposed, and those who are desirous of improvement.
[*]Vide Appendices to Book II, Chap. II.