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So much of the happiness of social life is derived from the use of language, and so profitless would the mere power of language be, but for the truth that dictates it, that the ab. sence of the confidence which is placed in our declarations, may not merely be in the highest degree injurious to the individual, but would tend, if general, to throw back the whole race of mankind into that barbarism from which they have emerged.
Walking one morning in the garden at an hour when there is little to listen to, except the small twittering of the wakeful Jark, the distant footsteps of the cattle, and the coarse voices of their drivers, preparing to go forth to their labour, I desired at least to hear, what all who will listen may hear, a word of truth from the still voice of nature. There is so striking an affinity between the moral and the natural world, resembling consequences so surely resulting from resembling causes, one might imagine the world of things inanimate had been formed and framed but as a picture to show forth what is passing within us, and warn us of the things that affect our moral welfare: a fable, as it were, of which we are to find the moral, and apply it to ourselves. There is scarcely a moment of our lives in which, if we be pleased to pause and look around, we may not learn a useful lesson from something that is passing among the natural objects that surround us.
The garden that morning was very gaily dressed.
The Moss-rose drooped its head, overladen with the weight of dew that was upon it, more beautiful in its tears than when opening in full splendour to the mid-day sun. The pale Lily, delicate and colourless, seemed in its spotless purity to shun the charms that embellished other flowers. And the Pink, and the gay Pansy, and numberless others, were there, all ranged in correct and beautiful order, unmixed with any noxious or unsightly weed: except that on one single spot I marked the first germ of something that did not seem to be a flower, and yet, having no distinct form, could not well be determined to be a weed. I paused a moment in thought to pull it up; but what harm was there in it? It bore but two small leaves, and why not let it grow? And so it grew—and in a few weeks it spread far and wide its rank, luxuriant branches; the flowers that crept upon the soil were smothered beneath it, while its taller neighbours were encompassed by its leaves. And each morning as I renewed my walk, I marked the growth of the unsightly weed, spreading farther and farther to mar the neatness and beauty of the bed of flowers. Its roots had mingled with the roots of the tender flowers; its branches had interwoven with their branches, and it would now be a task of difficulty to part them without injury:
And on the last morning that I walked there, I bethought myself of what this weed might resemble; that from so small and innocent a beginning, had grown into such speedy and abundant mischief. Alas! there were many things that it resembled but too closely. Many were the vices that came into my mind as the results of early indulgence. But in as much as this garden had been richly cultivated and fairly kept, and but for the rapid growth of this
neglected weed, had seemed almost without a blemish, there was one thing in particular it seemed to me to resemble; for I had known that vice to subsist in minds of considerable cultivation, and hide itself under very highly-polished manners; the single blemish of an otherwise fair and spotless character.
As the ground, accursed for our sake, when left unwatched, brings forth the poisonous weed, so the human heart, if unchecked in its propensities, will bring forth evil: but none, perhaps, so spontaneously as falsehood. There seems to be from earliest infancy a disposition to it, and it is generally the first great fault a child becomes guilty of.
Falsehood, in its grosser form, is so palpable a sin, and so revolting, that we need say nothing here to prove it so. The full-grown weed not any one would spare, could they find means to root it out. But the weed was a weed, before it seemed so, and the poison was already in its root.
And so are there forms of falsehood that excite no disgust, and create but small alarm, if any, when first detected in the character-nay, are too often fostered and encouraged.
When Anna told a direct falsehood in her infancy, she should have been corrected with seriousness: the guilt of it would then have been made plain to her, and every proper means should have been employed to prevent a recurrence of the fault. But no one gave heed to the slight inaccuracies into which she was betrayed by a lively imagination and a hurried mode of expression; her mistakes excited mirth, and were not unfrequently repeated in her presence as proofs of wit or subjects of amusement. So welcome a lesson was promptly learned, and what was at first carelessness, soon became design. The plain and simple truth gained no attention; a very little VOL. I.
exaggeration would make mirth for herself and her companions. In all this Anna meant no sin: and during her childhood, perhaps, it scarcely seemed to amount to sin, because it deceived no one, and injured no one. But the rank weed grew apace. From exaggerating by design, she grew so accustomed to it, that it became almost impossible to her to speak literally. One hour was, by her reckoning, always three-five hundred stood for twenty; every rood was a mile, and every common accident a marvel, if not an impossibility.
These may seem trifles, but they did not long continue so. The prattle of the child grew into the converse of the woman; and where was then the truth too sacred to be sacrificed to Anna's wit? The words of others distorted, their actions misconstrued, and their affairs misstated, to make them ridiculous and herself amusing. From exaggeration to invention is but a pass imperceptible: no matter who was wronged or who deceived: habit had absorbed the sense of wrong; and a laugh had become the price current for a lie. These lies, perhaps, were not meant to injure; but every falsehood may injure, whatever be intended. Anna, at first, gave pain without knowing it. But she could not stop here. There are occasions in every one's life where a falsehood may seem to serve our present interests -where a falsehood may gratify our resentment, may shield us from disgrace,
or secure us a triumph over those who contend with us. Would Anna pause when these occasions came? Would she, who told falsehoods daily without a motive, hesitate when it could serve some important purpose? When passion was excited and interest at stake, would she, for the first time in her life, stop to consider the criminality of saying what was not true? No-Anna
will surely tell at last, if it serves her purpose, the most injurious and deliberate falsehood.
Now, however the world may join in with the laugh, however willingly the idle may listen and the thoughtless applaud, such a character is not esteemed. The gay and the giddy may seek them when they would be amused, but friendship takes them not to her bosom: feeling holds no communion with them: sorrow asks of them no comfort: wisdom takes with them no counsel: candour, simplicity, and good sense, shrink instinctively from their touch. However brilliant, and however entertaining, however innocent even in intention, the person whose words are habitually not true, is lowered in the scale of moral creatures their opinions have very little weight; their testimony is but little regarded, and their sincerity but rarely trusted; even though they were never yet guilty of a mischievous deception. But we must look higher than this. There is One above us who himself is Truth, and to whom all that is not, must be hateful. He has promised to bring into judgment every idle word, and has already passed sentence upon the guilt of " whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.” Surely they are dangerous weapons these for us to make sport with. With the utmost caution which we may use, we shall not escape the condemnation, should He be extreme to mark our words. There is so much deception in our hearts, that we rarely even know the truth exactly; and there is so much temptation to disguise, or discolour it, that perhaps scarcely a day goes by us in which we are not betrayed into some evasion. The weed is too surely indigenous to the soil, and every hour that we spare to check its growth, we spare an enemy that will spoil the beauty of our garden. The best, and the sweetest, and the purest,