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But though the fear of disgrace or punishment, and the desire of a fair character, may give birth to a creditable but contracted and spurious kind of honesty, which has in it nothing of the dignity of virtue; yet the truly honest man, however low in circumstances or mean in parts, is one of Virtue's nobility.
The truly honest man would be just as honest without law as with it. Guided by the paramount authority of conscience, he neither withholds aught nor exacts aught on the mere plea that civil law is on his side.
The truly honest is he who makes it a cardinal point to do to others as he would be done unto; and who decides with justice, when self-interest and justice are in opposite scales.
The truly honest man is never ostentatious of his honesty. Ostentation of it is always an ill sign; it looks like putting on a patch to hide a blotch.
But enough of definition. One good example is worth a score of definitions: and the following example all will allow to be a good one-The anecdote is given in St.. Pierre's Studies of Nature.
“ In the last war in Germany, a captain of the cavalry was ordered out on a foraging party, He
himself at the head of his troops, and marched to the
quarter assigned him. It was a solitary valley in which hardly any thing but woods could be seen. In the midst of it stood a little cottage ; on perceiving it, he went up and knocked at the door; out comes an ancient Hernouten, with a beard silvered by age. “Father," says the officer,
“shew me a field where I can set my stroops a foraging.” “Presently," replied the Hernouten. old man walked before, and conducted them out of the valley. After a quarter of an hour's march, they found a fine field of barley :-" There is the very thing we want,” says the captain. “Have patience for a few minutes,” replies his guide," and you shall be satisfied.” They went on, and at the distance of about a quarter of a league farther, they arrived at another field of barley. The troop immediately dismounted, cut down the grain,
* Of the Moravian sect, commonly called the United Brethren.
trussed it up, and remounted. The officer, upon this, says to his conductor, “ Father, you have given yourself and us unnecessary trouble; the first field was much better than this." “ Very true, Sir," replied the good old man,“ but it is not mine."
Such an example of honesty, I repeat, is worth a score of definitions. Here we have not an abstract notion of honesty, but we see it as it were embodied. Here we behold the express form and visage of genuine christian honesty, acting on the principle of loving one's neighbor as one's self. And what though the exemplar was an obscure and lowly man, distinguished neither for parts nor learning? In the moral frame of his mind there was a nobleness of heavenly origin ; a nobleness far superior to eminent natural parts, which belong alike to the best and the worst of human beings.
Compare this humble Hernouten, or Moravian, with the illustrious chieftains who figured in that German war, and whose bloody deeds are emblazoned on the page of history. Compare his interestedness with their selfishness; his philanthropy with their greedy avarice and fell ambition ; his tender and scrupulous regard to the rights of his neighbor with their unfeeling spirit of plunder and rapine :- and judge which party is entitled to stand higher on the scale of genuine honor.
One of the best religious confessions extant, is that of Zaccheus, a rich publican, who probably had been not a little dishonest and extortionous : “ Lord, one half of my goods I give to the poor, and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold." This is practical orthodoxy.
Of the prevailing habit of Promise-Breaking in common
In the polite world forms of speech are used, which are not meant to be understood according to their obvious meaning. For instance, when one man says or
writes to another, Your humble servant, or Your most obedient, he intends not to bind himself to clean the boots of the one he thus addresses, or to do him any sort of menial service; and much less does he mean that he is ready and willing to yield him obedience in all cases whatsoever. It is hardly worth while, however, to enlarge upon this topic, as the aforesaid forms of speech have almost become obsolete, at least in these United States. Pledges of humble service and passive obedience, mutually given in the interchange of civilities, are now as rare in this country as they once were common. This is no matter of regret; for it is not a flower that has been plucked up, but a weed.
But there is one other form of words, which seems to have come into general abuse over this whole country; and it is the more to be lamented, as these last are words of grave import, as well as of obvious sense: I mean the phrase, so abundantly used — I promise to pay, In other times these words were passed with timid caution, and when passed, they were held sacred; but they are now words of mere form, meaning nothing; very like the old complimentary phrases-Your humble servantYour most obedient. Not but that the promisee always interprets the text, as of old, according to its literal or expressed meaning. But the promiser perverts the text, that he may accommodate it to his own heterodox notions; or, rather, after the Romish doctrine of mental reservation, he, mentally, interpolates the word Nevermaking it run thus, I promise (never) to pay.
It would be endless to recount all the mischiefs that are flowing in upon society from this prevailing heresy; nor is it needful, since the most of them are too obvious to escape notice. Wherefore, not to mention the vexatious disappointments, the indignant feelings, daily arising, in ten thousand instances, from this single source; nor yet to mention its destructive influence upon all confidence between man and man:-passing over these topics and others a kin to them, I shall consider the matter merely as it affects the interests of the delinquent party
Be it supposed that he is a man possessed of several estimable qualities; that he has a large stock of what is called good nature; that he is obliging and compassionate; that, in the main, he is a moral man; and, finally, that there is no apparent blemish in his character, save this alone. Give the delinquent all these good qualities, and yet “the dead fly in the precious ointment," spoils the whole coinpound.
There is a grain of immorality in every instance of voluntary word-breaking; and in this, as in every other vire, one step naturally leads to another.
The good natured man, who has neglected to fulfil his promise, is fain to cast about him for an excuse, and if he cannot find one, he makes it. This can hardly be done, for the first or second time, without a considerable struggle with moral principle. But it soon becomes feasible, and as natural almost as to breathe. In the process of this ill habit, he quite loses his moral feelings, as respects strict veracity; and almost every day he lives, he deals in fiction without any sort of compunction.
Nor is this all; he is the occasion of falsehood in others. He steps over to one of his neighbors to borrow. His neighbor respects him for his sundry good qualities, but knows well the particular infirmity of his character. He is loth to lose his friend, and quite as loth to hazard his money. What does he do? He, also, proceeds to frame fictitious excuses : “I am very sorry, Sir, that it is not in my power to oblige you. There is no man living that I should be more ready to serve; but-but" and then out comes the excuse, lie and all.
The man that makes it his general practice to shuffle off, as much as possible, the payment of his honest debts, not only forfeits all claims upon the confidence of society, but loses an essential part of self-respect. He often meets with fellow beings, with whom he cannot so much as interchange the custoinary salutation, without enduring the feelings of self-abasement, and in conversing with whom, he is compelled as it were to have recourse to prevarication and quibble.
And what does he gain by it in his secular affairs ? Nothing at all. He is a loser even there. If he frequently suffers the compulsory process of law, he is a ruined man.
Or if he procrastinates till he has quite
exhausted the patience of his creditors, and then pays, seemingly rather to avoid the expense of law, than from an honest principle, still he loses that credit which, to his secular affairs, might be au incalculable benefit; and, in seasons of pressing emergency, if he have not sufficient resources in himself, he can find them no where.
A strict regard to one's word or promise, is one of the first of social virtues. Wherefore young men, who are entering, or have just entered, the threshold of business, would do well to keep in memory the following maxims: Be as careful of taking, as of giving credit. Never run in debt beyond what you have a moral certainty, or at least a reasonable prospect, of being able to pay in sea
Never defer payment when it is needed, if you have the power to make it.
A word to those who prefer the honor of giving, to the duty of paying.-The claims of justice are paramount to the calls of generosity and even to the ordinary claims of charity; so that to give to some what is due to others, is not charity, but unrighteousness. Even the Corban, or the thing dedicated to a sacred use, was denounced by our Saviour, in instances wherein the dedication of the thing defrauded any of their just dues.
Of the heavy tax laid upon all worldly eminence.
The following advisory monition of an inspired prophet, tu his dear and familiar friend, contains a volume of instruction :- And seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not. Nothing is more certain than the vanity of human greatness, not only by reason of its being transitory and perishable, but, also, because it is often accompanied with much more than an ordinary share of trouble and vexation.
If we consider the first and greatest of all worldly distinctions, -I mean extraordinary gifts of vature,-even these, for the most part, are heavily taxed by the impar