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prosperity and unhappiness of each other; and is in several respects serviceable to virtue, and to promote good behaviour in the world. And provided there be not too much time spent in it, if it were considered only in the way of gratification and delight, men must have strange notions of God and of religion, to think that he can be offended with it, or that it is any way inconsistent with the strictest virtue. But the truth is, such sort of conversation, though it has no particular good tendency, yet it has a general good one; it is social and friendly, and tends to promote humanity, good naturé, and civility. Therefore as the end and use, so likewise the abuse of speech, relates to the one or other of these; either to business, or to conversation. As to the former; deceit in the management of business and affairs does not properly belong to the subject now before us; though one may just mention that multitude, that endless number of words, with which business is perplexed, when a much fewer would, as it should seem, better serve the purpose; but this must be left to those who understand the matter. The government of the tongue, considered as a subject of itself, relates chiefly to conversation, to that kind of discourse which usually fills up the time spent in friendly meetings and visits of civility: and the danger is, lest persons entertain themselves and others at the expense of their wisdom and their virtue, and to the injury or offence of their neighbour. If they will take heed and keep clear of these, they may be as free, and easy, and unreserved, as they can desire. The cautions to be given for avoiding them, and to render conversation innocent and agreeable, fall under the following particulars: silence; talking of indifferent things; and, which makes up too great a part of conversation, giving of characters, speaking well or evil of others.
The wise man observes, that "there is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence." One meets with people in the world who seem never to have made the last of these observations. And yet these great talkers do not at all speak from their having any thing to say, as every sentence shows, but only from their inclination to be talking. Their conversation is merely an exercise of the tongue; no other human faculty has any share in it. It is strange these persons can help reflecting, that, unless they have in truth a superior capacity, and are in an extraordinary manner furnished for conversation, if they are entertaining, it is at their own expense. Is it possible that it should never come into people's thoughts to suspect, whether or no it be to their advantage to shew so very much of themselves? "O that ye would altogether hold your peace, and it should be your wisdom." (Job xiii. 5.) Remember likewise there are persons who love fewer words, an inoffensive sort of people, and who deserve some regard, though of too still and composed tempers for you. Of this number was the son of Sirach: for he plainly speaks from experience, when he says, "As hills of sand are to the steps of the aged, so is one of many words to a quiet man." But one would think it should be obvious to every one, that when they are in company with their superiors of any kind, in years, knowledge, and experience, when proper and useful subjects are discoursed of which they cannot bear apart in, that these are times for silence, when they should learn to hear and be attentive; at least in their turn. It is indeed a very unhappy way these people are in; they in a manner cut themselves out from all advantage of conversation, except that of being entertained with their own talk; their business in coming into company not being at all to be informed to hear, to learn-but to display themselves, or rather to exert their faculty and talk without any design at all. And if we consider conversation as an entertainment-as somewhat to unbend the mindas a diversion from the cares, the business, and the sorrows of life, it is of the very nature of it, that the discourse be mutual. This, I say, is implied in the very notion of what we distinguish by conversation, or being in company. Attention to the continued discourse of one alone grows more painful often than the cares and
business we came to be diverted from. He, therefore, who imposes this upon us, is guilty of a double offence; by arbitrarily enjoining silence upon all the rest, and likewise by obliging them to this painful attention. I am sensible these things are apt to be passed over, as too little to come into a serious discourse; but in reality men are obliged, even in point of morality and virtue, to observe all the decencies of behaviour. The greatest evils in life have had their rise from somewhat which was thought of too little importance to be attended to. And as to the matter we are now upon, it is absolutely necessary to be considered for if people will not maintain a due government over themselves, in regarding proper times and seasons for silence, but will be talking; they certainly, whether they design it or not at first, will go on to scandal, and evil speaking, and divulging secrets. If it were needful to say any thing farther to persuade men to learn this lesson of silence, one might put them in mind how insignificant they render themselves by this excessive talkativeness; insomuch that if they do chance to say any thing which deserves to be attended to and regarded, it is lost in the variety and abundance which they utter of another sort. The occasions of silence then are obvious, and one would think should be easily distinguished by every body; namely, when a man has nothing to say, or nothing but what is better unsaid: better, either in regard to the particular persons he is present with, or from its being an interruption to conversation itself, or to conversation of a more agreeable kind; or better, lastly, with regard to himself. I will end this particular with two reflections of the wise man; one of which in the strongest manner exposes the ridiculous part of this licentiousness of the tongue : and the other, the great danger and viciousness of it. "When he that is a fool walketh by the wayside, his wisdom faileth him, and he saith to every one that he is a fool." (Eccles. x. 3.) The other is, "In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin." (Prov. x. 19.)
As to the government of the tongue in respect to talking upon indifferent subjects, after what has been said concerning the due, government of it in respect to the occasions and times for silence, there is little more necessary than only to caution men to be fully satisfied that the subjects are indeed of an indifferent nature; and not to spend too much time in conversation of this kind. But persons must be sure to take heed that the subject of their discourse be at least of an indifferent nature; that it be no way offensive to virtue, religion, or good manners; that it be not of a licentious dissolute sort, this leaving always ill impressions upon the mind; that it be no way injurious or vexatious to others; and that too much time be not spent this way, to the neglect of those duties and offices of life which belong to their station and condition in the world. But though there is not any necessity that men should aim at being important and weighty in every sentence they speak, yet since useful subjects, at least of some kinds, are as entertaining as others, a wise man, even when he desires to unbend his mind from business, would choose that the conversation might turn upon somewhat instructive.
The last thing is, the government of the tongue, as relating to discourse of the affairs of others, and giving of characters. These are, in a manner, the same; and one can scarce call it an indifferent subject, because discourse upon it almost perpetually runs into somewhat criminal. And first of all, it were very much to be wished that this did not take up so great a part of conversation; because it is indeed a subject of a dangerous nature. Let any one consider the various interests, competitions, and little misunderstandings which arise amongst men, and he will soon see that he is not unprejudiced and impartial; that he is not, as I may speak, neutral enough, to trust himself with talking of the character and concerns of his neighbour in a free, careless, and unreserved manner. There is perpetually, and often it is not attended to, a rivalship amongst people of one kind or another, in respect of
wit, beauty, learning, or fortune, and that one thing will insensibly influence them to speak to the disadvantage of others, even where there is no formed malice or ill design. Since, therefore, it is so hard to enter into this subject without offending, the first thing to be observed is, that people should learn to decline it, to get over that strong inclination most have to be talking of the concerns and behaviour of their neighbour. But since it is impossible that this subject should be wholly excluded conversation, and since it is necessary that the characters of men should be known; the next thing is, that it is a matter of importance what is said, and, therefore, that we should be religiously scrupulous and exact to say nothing, either good or bad, but what is true. I put it thus, because it is in reality of as great importance to the good of society that the characters of bad men should be known, as that the characters of good men should. People who are given to scandal and detraction, may indeed make an ill use of this observation; but truths which are of service towards regulating our conduct, are not to be disowned, or even concealed, because a bad use may be made of them. But this would be effectually prevented, if these two things were attended to: First, That though it is equally of bad, consequence to society that men should have either good or ill characters which they do not deserve, yet when you say somewhat good of a man which he does not deserve, there is no wrong done him in particular; whereas when you say evil of a man which he does not deserve, here is a direct formal injury, a real piece of injustice, done him, This, therefore, makes a wide difference; and gives us, in point of virtue, much greater latitude in speaking well, than ill, of others. Secondly, A good man is friendly to his fellow creatures, and a lover of mankind;, and so will upon every occasion, and often without any, say all the good he can to every body; but so far as he is good, will never be disposed to speak evil of any, unless there be some other reason for it besides barely that it is true. If he be charged with having given an ill character, he will scarce think it a sufficient justification of himself to say it was a true one, unless he can also give some farther account how he came to do so: a just indignation against particular instances of villany, where they are great and scandalous; or to prevent an innocent man from being deceived and betrayed, when he has great trust and confidence in one who does not deserve it. Justice must be done to every part of a subject when we are considering it. If there be a man who bears a fair character in the world, whom yet we know to be without faith or honesty, to be really an ill man; it must be allowed in general, that we shall do a piece of service to society by letting such an one's true character be known. This is no more than what we have an instance of in our Saviour himself, though he was mild and gentle beyond example. (Mark xii. 38, 40.) However, no words can express too strongly the caution which should be used in such a case as this.
Upon the whole matter, if people would observe the obvious occasions of silence, if they would subdue the inclination to tale-bearing, and that eager desire to engage attention, which is an original disease in some minds, they would be in little danger of offending with their tongue, and would in a moral and religious sense have due government over it. I will conclude with some precepts and reflections of the son of Sirach upon this subject; "Be swift to hear, and if thou hast understanding, answer thy neighbour; if not, lay thy hand upon thy mouth. Honour and shame is in talk. A man of an ill tongue is dangerous in his city, and he that is rash in his talk shall be hated. A wise man will hold his tongue till he see opportunity but a babbler and a fool will regard no time. A backbiting tongue hath disquieted many; strong cities hath it pulled down, and overthrown the houses of great men. Tha tongue of a man is his fall; but if thou love to hear, thou shalt receive understanding."
[END OF THE FIRST QUARTER.] ·