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of satire, which are aimed at particular persons, and which are supported even with the appearance of truth, to be the marks of an evil mind, and highly criminal in themselves. Infamy, like other punishments, is under the direction and distribution of the magistrate, and not of any private person. Accordingly, we learn from a fragment of Cicero, that though there were very few capital punishments in the twelve tables, a libel or lampoon which took away the good name of another, was to be punished by death. But this is far from being our case. Our satire is nothing but ribaldry and Billingsgate. Scurrility passes for wit; and he who can call names in the greatest variety of phrases, is looked upon to have the shrewdest pen. By this means the honour of families is ruined; the highest posts and greatest titles are rendered cheap and vile in the sight of the people; the noblest virtues, and most exalted parts, exposed to the contempt of the vicious and ignorant. Should a foreigner, who knows nothing of our private factions, or one who is to act his part in the world, when our present heats and animosities are forgot; should, I say, such an one form to himself a notion of the greatest men of all sides in the British nation, who are now living, from the characters which are given them in some one or other of those abominable writings which are daily published among us, what a nation of monsters must we appear!
As this cruel practice tends to the utter subversion. of all truth and humanity among us, it deserves the utmost detestation and discouragement of all, who have either the love of their country, or the honour of their religion, at heart. I would, therefore, earnestly recommend it to the consideration of those who deal in these pernicious arts of writing, and of those who take pleasure in the reading of them. As for the first, I have spoken of them in former papers, and have not stuck to rank them with the murderer
and assassin. Every honest man sets as high a va→ lue upon a good name, as upon life itself; and I cannot but think that those who privily assault the one, would destroy the other, might they do it with the same secrecy and impunity.
As for persons who take pleasure in reading and dispersing such detestable libels, I am afraid they fall very little short of the guilt of the first composers. By a law of the Emperors Valentinian and Valens, it was made death for any person not only to write a libel, but if he met with one by chance, not to tear or burn it. But because I would not be thought singular in my opinion of this matter, I shall conclude my paper with the words of Monsieur Bayle, who was a man of great freedom of thought, as well as of exquisite learning and judgment.
"I cannot imagine, that a man who disperses a libel, is less desirous of doing mischief than the author himself. But what shall we say of the pleasure which a man takes in the reading of a defamatory libel? Is it not a heinous sin in the sight of God? We must distinguish in this point. This pleasure is either an agreeable sensation we are affected with, when we meet with a witty thought which is well expressed, or it is a joy which we conceive from the dishonour of the person who is defamed. I will say nothing to the first of these cases; for, perhaps, some would think that my morality is not severe enough, if I should affirm, that a man is not master of those agreeable sensations, any more than those occasioned by sugar, or honey, when they touch his tongue : but as to the second, every one will own that pleasure to be a heinous sin. The pleasure in the first case is of no continuance; it prevents our reason and reflection, and may be immediately followed by a secret grief, to see our neighbour's honour blasted. If it does not cease immediately, it is a sign that we are not displeased with the ill-nature of the satirist, but are glad to see him defame his enemy by all kinds Ee
of stories; and then we deserve the punishment to which the writer of the libel is subject. I shall here cadd the words of a modern author." St. Gregory, supon excommunicating those writers who had dishonoured Castorius, does not except those who read their works; because, (says he,) if calumnies have always been the delight of their hearers, and a gratification of those persons who have no other advantage over honest men, is not he who takes pleasure in reading them, as guilty as he who composed them? It is an uncontested maxim, that they who approve an action, would certainly do it if they could; that is, if some reason of self-love did not hinder them. There is no difference (says Cicero) between advising a crime, and approving it when committed. The Roman law confirmed this maxim, -having subjected the approvers and authors of this evil to the same penalty. We may therefore conclude, that those who are pleased with reading defamatory libels, so far as to approve the authors and dispersers of them, are as guilty as if they had composed them; for if they do not write such, libels themselves, it is because they have not the talent of writing, or because they will run no hazard.", : The author produces other authorities to confirm his judgment in this particular.
No. 452. FRIDAY, AUGUST 8.
Est natura hominum novitatis avida.
THERE is no humour in my countrymen, which I am more inclined to wonder at, than their general thirst after news. There are about half a dozen of ingenious men, who live very plentifully upon this curiosity of their fellow subjects. They all of them
receive the same advices from abroad, and very often in the same words; but their way of cooking it is so different, that there is no citizen, who has an eye to the public good, that can leave the coffee-house with peace of mind, before he has given every one of them a reading. These several dishes of news are so very agreeable to the palate of my countrymen, that they are not only pleased with them when they are served up hot, but when they are again set cold before them, by those penetrating politicians, who oblige the public with their reflections and observations, upon every piece of intelligence that is sent us from abroad. The text is given us by one set of writers, and the comment by another.
But, notwithstanding we have the same tale told us in so many different papers, and, if occasion requires, in so many articles of the same paper; notwithstanding in a scarcity of foreign posts, we hear the same story repeated, by different advices from Paris, Brussels, the Hague, and from every great town in Europe; notwithstanding the multitude of annotations, explanations, reflections, and various readings which it passes through, our time lies heavy on our hands, till the arrival of a fresh mail: we long to receive further particulars, to hear what will be the next step, or what will be the consequences of that which has been already taken. A westerly wind keeps the whole town in suspence, and puts a stop to conversation.
This general curiosity has been raised and inflamed by our late wars, and if rightly directed, might be of good use to a person who has such a thirst awa kened in him. Why should not a man, who takes delight in reading every thing that is new, apply himself to history, travels, and other writings of the same kind, where he will find perpetual fuel for his curiosity, and meet with much more pleasure and improvement, than in these papers of the week? An honest tradesman, who languishes a whole summer
m expectation of a battle, and perhaps is baulked at last, may here meet with half a dozen in a day. He may read the news of a whole campaign, in less time than he now bestows upon the products of any single post. Fights, conquests, and revolutions, lie thick together. The reader's curiosity is raised and satisfied every moment, and his passions disappointed or gratified, without being detained in a state of uncertainty from day to day, or lying at the mercy of sea and wind. In short, the mind is not here kept in a perpetual gape after knowledge, nor punished with that eternal thirst, which is the portion of all our modern newsmongers and coffee-house politicians.
All matters of fact, which a man did not know before, are news to him; and I do not see how any haberdasher in Cheapside, is more concerned in the present quarrel of the Cantons, than he was in that of the League. At least, I believe every one will allow me, it is of more importance to an Englishman to know the history of his ancestors, than that of his contemporaries, who live upon the banks of the Danube, or the Borysthenes. As for those who are of another mind, I shall recommend them the following letter, from a projector, who is willing to turn a penny by this remarkable curiosity of his countrymen.
"You must have observed, that men who fre quent coffee-houses, and delight in news, are pleased with every thing that is matter of fact, so it be what they have not heard before. A victory, or a defeat, are equally agreeable to them. The shutting of a cardinal's mouth pleases them one post, and the opening of it another. They are glad to hear the French court is removed to Marli, and are afterwards as much delighted with its return to Versailles. They read the advertisements with the same curiosity as the articles of public news; and are as pleased to