Chapter XIV Truth: Justice In Word

Truth is not Violent.––If our thoughts are not our own, if what we think of other people is a matter of justice or of Injustice, so also a certain manner of words is due from us to all other persons with whom we speak; and if we do not say these words we are unjust to our neighbours. If we say a false thing to another and are believed, our neighbour has a right to be angry with us; and, if he does not believe, he has a right to despise us. We have done him a hurt, not to his body perhaps, but to his mind and soul, which smart and are sore under such a hurt in much the same way as our flesh smarts and is sore after a blow. Very likely a professional 'champion' gets used to bruises; certainly, a person who puts himself in the way of hearing and reading what is false learns to think untruly, and must of necessity speak falsely, even if he does not intentionally tell lies. Truth is in every Mansoul, waiting upon justice; but Truth is never violent, and there be many clamorous ones at hand to drown her voice. It rests with us to choose whom we shall hear. Botticelli's 'Calumny.'––There is a picture [Photographs of Botticelli's 'Calumny' may be had from Mr. G. Cole, 17 Via Torna Buoni, Florence, from I lira (10d.) and upwards.] in the Uffizi painted by Sandro Botticelli––in a passion of grief and righteous anger at the martyrdom of his friend and teacher, Savonarola,––wherein you see the clamorous crew who drown the words of Truth. But the figures are surprising. You expect the painter to depict these Dæmons as wrinkled hags, ugly and forbidding. We should none of us offend if sin came to us looking hateful; and Botticelli, painting from an account of a picture by the old Greek painter, Apelles, puts in the foreground a lady young and fair, with a mantle of heavenly blue over a white robe of innocence, but which reveals through slashes the black garment below. She looks composed and drops her eyes as if in regret, whilst with her right hand she drags forward, by the hair of his head, the naked and prostrate fizure of Innocence. This is Calumny.

On either hand are two other beautiful maidens, clothed in fair robes, apparently dressing the hair of Calumny, in reality whispering in her ears. The one is Insidiousness, who by soft, persuasive words makes the lies of Calumny look like the Truth; and the other is Envy, fair also, for Envy of others always takes the guise of Fairness and justice to ourselves.

Holding the left wrist of Calumny is the dark, cowled figure of Treachery, who stretches out his hand to King Midas upon his throne in order to demand a hearing. His long ears show the character of this king, for Falsehood and all her crew, Calumny, Envy, and the rest, are, in the end, but Folly. Suspicion whispers into the one and Prejudice into the other of the long ears of Midas, and he leans his ear now to the one and now to the other, so that their words are the only sounds that can reach him. The action of the picture takes place in a beautiful loggia, richly decorated with sculpture, for it is not in places where men work hard and live simply that Calumny and her ministers prosper. Quite in the background stands the naked Truth, pure and beautiful, averting her eyes from the evil spectacle and raising her hand to heaven, sure of a hearing there; and between her and tortured Innocence stands the dark figure of Remorse. It would be well to keep a copy of this picture before our eyes, not only for the sake of its beauty, but because it should keep us in mind of many things––that the whole brood of Falsehood, Calumny, Envy, Folly, Prejudice, Suspicion come to us in pleasant places and by insidious ways,––that they torture the innocent and drive holy Truth away by the din of many voices in our ears.

Calumny.––Truth may be driven away, but she is there; and we must keep still hearts to hear her words and obedient tongues to speak them. Calumny, we all know, is the speaking of injurious words about other people. We must keep our tongues from evil-speaking, lying, and slandering; and Wesley says that to speak evil of another when it is true is to slander, and when it is false, is to lie. Most persons are careful to cherish Truth in all they say about the people in their own homes, but how many of us are equally careful in speaking of people who live next door or in the next street? It is so easy to say that Jones is a sneak and Brown is a cad, that Mrs. Jones does not feed her servants properly or that Mrs. Brown over-dresses her children; that Minna cribs from Maria's translation, that Harrison does not give full weight. Such things as these, about the people we have dealings with, are lightly said, often without intention; but two things have happened––our neighbour's character has received a wound; and Truth, perhaps the most beautiful inmate of the House of Heart, has also received a hurt at our hands.

Insidiousness and Envy.––But it is not always from thoughtlessness that we let Insidiousness persuade us of the untrue thing, which, by and by, we speak. Envy is an ever-present Dæmon, ready with a calumnious word for those who excel us. If they dance better, we do not care about dancing, and they must waste a great deal of time upon it. If they dress better, it is because they spend far too much money and thought on their clothes. If they speak better, Envy calls it affectation. If they are handsomer than we, Envy says that beauty is skin-deep, and there's not much in a handsome face if it goes with an empty head. In the Middle Ages people were afraid of Envy, and counted it one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Now, we forget that there is such a vice; and when we allow ourselves in grudging thoughts about the possessions or advantages of others, we say, 'It's not fair'; that is, we cover our injustice to others with a mantle of what we call justice and fairness to ourselves. But we deceive ourselves, and every sin of deceit disables us from uttering truth.

Calumnious Hearing and Calumnious Reading.––It is not only by calumnious talk that Truth is wounded. Calumnious hearing or calumnious reading may do her to death; and a simple rule will help us to discern what manner of speaking and reading is calumnious. Truth is never violent; and the newspaper or magazine or book, the party or the public speech, which makes strong and bitter charges against the other side, we may be sure is, for the moment, calumnious; and, if we steep ourselves in such speaking or reading, the punishment that will come upon us is that we shall become incapable of discerning Truth and shall rejoice in evil speaking.

Fanaticism.––This is what happens to people when they become fanatics. It is not that they will not believe what is said on the other side, but that they cannot; they have lost the power; and efforts to convince them are futile. A man may be a fanatic for peace or a fanatic for war, a fanatic for religion or a fanatic for atheism. In fact, it is sad that good as well as evil causes may have their fanatics, who injure what they would support by their incapacity to see more than one side of a question. A good cause may also have its martyrs; but a martyr is not a clamorous person; he suffers, but does not shout, for the cause he has at heart. It was good and refreshing, after the calumnious clamour of the press on both sides and in several countries, to come upon a book by a British officer wherein the courage and endurance of Boer and Briton alike were duly honoured, and the Boer women who followed their husbands into the trenches were spoken of with kindliness and reverence. There are few better equipments for a citizen than a mind capable of discerning the Truth, whether it lie on the side of our party or on that of our opponents. But this just mind can only be preserved by those who take heed what they hear, and how.

The Sovereign Good.––"But howsoever," as Bacon says, "these things are thus in men's depraved judg- ments and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it; the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it; and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it; is the sovereign good of human nature."