You are especially charged in this Degree to be modest and humble, and not vain-glorious nor filled with self-conceit. Be not wiser in your own opinion than the Deity, nor find fault with His works, nor endeavor to improve upon what He has done. Be modest also in your intercourse with your fellows, and slow to entertain evil thoughts of them, and reluctant to ascribe to them evil intentions. A thousand presses, flooding the country with their evanescent leaves, are busily and incessantly engaged in maligning the motives and conduct of men and parties, and in making one man think worse of another; while, alas, scarcely one is found that ever, even accidentally, labors to make man think better of his fellow.
Slander and calumny were never so insolently licentious in any country as they are this day in ours. The most retiring disposition, the most unobtrusive demeanor, is no shield against their poisoned arrows. The most eminent public service only makes their vituperation and invective more eager and more unscrupulous, when he who has done such service presents himself as a candidate for the people's suffrages.
The evil is wide-spread and universal. No man, no woman, no household, is sacred or safe from this new Inquisition. No act is so pure or so praiseworthy, that the unscrupulous vender of lies who lives by pandering to a corrupt and morbid public appetite will not proclaim it as a crime. No motive is so innocent or so laudable, that he will not hold it up as villainy. Journalism pries into the interior of private houses, gloats over the details of domestic tragedies of sin and shame, and deliberately invents and industriously circulates the most unmitigated and baseless falsehoods, to coin money for those who pursue it as a trade, or to effect a temporary result in the wars of faction.
We need not enlarge upon these evils. They are apparent to all and lamented over by all, and it is the duty of a Mason to do all in his power to lessen, if not to remove them. With the errors and even sins of other men, that do not personally affect us or ours, and need not our condemnation to be odious, we have nothing to do; and the journalist has no patent that makes him the Censor of Morals. There is no obligation resting on us to trumpet forth our disapproval of every wrongful or injudicious or improper act that every other man commits. One would be ashamed to stand on the street corners and retail them orally for pennies.
One ought, in truth, to write or speak against no other one in this world. Each man in it has enough to do, to watch and keep guard over himself. Each of us is sick enough in this great Lazaretto: and journalism and polemical writing constantly remind us of a scene once witnessed in a little hospital; where it was horrible to hear how the patients mockingly reproached each other with their disorders and infirmities: how one, who was wasted by consumption, jeered at another who was bloated by dropsy: how one laughed at another's cancer of the face; and this one again at his neighbor's lock-jaw or squint; until at last the delirious fever-patient sprang out of his bed, and tore away the coverings from the wounded bodies of his companions, and nothing was to be seen but hideous misery and mutilation. Such is the revolting work in which journalism and political partisanship, and half the world outside of Masonry, are engaged.
Very generally, the censure bestowed upon men's acts, by those who have appointed and commissioned themselves Keepers of the Public Morals, is undeserved. Often it is not only undeserved, but praise is deserved instead of censure, and, when the latter is not undeserved, it is always extravagant, and therefore unjust.
A Mason will wonder what spirit they are endowed withal, that can basely libel at a man, even, that is fallen. If they had any nobility of soul, they would with him condole his disasters, and drop some tears in pity of his folly and wretchedness: and if they were merely human and not brutal, Nature did grievous wrong to human bodies, to curse them with souls so cruel as to strive to add to a wretchedness already intolerable. When a Mason hears of any man that hath fallen into public disgrace, he should have a mind to commiserate his mishap, and not to make him more disconsolate. To envenom a name by libels, that already is openly tainted, is to add stripes with an iron rod to one that is flayed with whipping; and to every well-tempered mind will seem most inhuman and unmanly.
Even the man who does wrong and commits errors often has a quiet home, a fireside of his own, a gentle, loving wife and innocent children, who perhaps do not know of his past errors and lapses—past and long repented of; or if they do, they love him the better, because, being mortal, he hath erred, and being in the image of God, he hath repented. That every blow at this husband and father lacerates the pure and tender bosoms of that wife and those daughters, is a consideration that doth not stay the hand of the brutal journalist and partisan: but he strikes home at these shrinking, quivering, innocent, tender bosoms; and then goes out upon the great arteries of cities, where the current of life pulsates, and holds his head erect, and calls on his fellows to laud him and admire him, for the chivalric act he hath done, in striking his dagger through one heart into another tender and trusting one.
If you seek for high and strained carriages, you shall, for the most part, meet with them in low men. Arrogance is a weed that ever grows on a dunghill. It is from the rankness of that soil that she hath her height and spreadings. To be modest and unaffected with our superiors is duty; with our equals, courtesy; with our inferiors, nobleness. There is no arrogance so great as the proclaiming of other men's errors and faults, by those who understand nothing but the dregs of actions, and who make it their business to besmear deserving fames. Public reproof is like striking a deer in the herd: it not only wounds him, to the loss of blood, but betrays him to the hound, his enemy.
The occupation of the spy hath ever been held dishonorable, and it is none the less so, now that with rare exceptions editors and partisans have become perpetual spies upon the actions of other men. Their malice makes them nimble-eyed, apt to note a fault and publish it, and, with a strained construction, to deprave even those things in which the doer's intents were honest. Like the crocodile, they slime the way of others, to make them fall; and when that has happened, they feed their insulting envy on the life-blood of the prostrate. They set the vices of other men on high, for the gaze of the world, and place their virtues underground, that none may note them. If they cannot wound upon proofs, they will do it upon likelihoods: and if not upon them, they manufacture lies, as God created the world, out of nothing; and so corrupt the fair tempter of men's reputations; knowing that the multitude will believe them, because affirmations are apter to win belief, than negatives to uncredit them; and that a lie travels faster than an eagle flies, while the contradiction limps after it at a snail's pace, and, halting, never overtakes it. Nay, it is contrary to the morality of journalism, to allow a lie to be contradicted in the place that spawned it. And even if that great favor is conceded, a slander once raised will scarce ever die, or fail of finding many that will allow it both a harbor and trust.
This is, beyond any other, the age of falsehood. Once, to be suspected of equivocation was enough to soil a gentleman's escutcheon; but now it has become a strange merit in a partisan or statesman, always and scrupulously to tell the truth. Lies are part of the regular ammunition of all campaigns and controversies, valued according as they are profitable and effective; and are stored up and have a market price, like saltpetre and sulphur; being even more deadly than they.
If men weighed the imperfections of humanity, they would breathe less condemnation. Ignorance gives disparagement a louder tongue than knowledge does. Wise men had rather know, than tell. Frequent dispraises are but the faults of uncharitable wit: and it is from where there is no judgment, that the heaviest judgment comes; for self-examination would make all judgments charitable. If we even do know vices in men, we can scarce show ourselves in a nobler virtue than in the charity of concealing them: if that be not a flattery persuading to continuance. And it is the basest office man can fall into, to make his tongue the defamer of the worthy man.
There is but one rule for the Mason in this matter. If there be virtues, and he is called upon to speak of him who owns them, let him tell them forth impartially. And if there be vices mixed with them, let him be content the world shall know them by some other tongue than his. For if the evil-doer deserve no pity, his wife, his parents, or his children, or other innocent persons who love him Way; and the bravo's trade, practised by him who stabs the defenceless for a price paid by individual or party, is really no more respectable now than it was a hundred years ago, in Venice. Where we want experience, Charity bids us think the best, and leave what we know not to the Searcher of Hearts; for mistakes, suspicions, and envy often injure a clear fame; and there is least danger in a charitable construction.
And, finally, the Mason should be humble and modest toward the Grand Architect of the Universe, and not impugn His Wisdom, nor set up his own imperfect sense of Right against His Providence and dispensations, nor attempt too rashly to explore the Mysteries of God's Infinite Essence and inscrutable plans, and of that Great Nature which we are not made capable to understand.
Let him steer far away from all those vain philosophies, which endeavor to account for all that is, without admitting that there is a God, separate and apart from the Universe which is his work: which erect Universal Nature into a God, and worship it alone: which annihilate Spirit, and believe no testimony except that of the bodily senses: which, by logical formulas and dextrous collocation of words, make the actual, living, guiding, and protecting God fade into the dim mistiness of a mere abstraction and unreality, itself a mere logical formula.
Nor let him have any alliance with those theorists who chide the delays of Providence and busy themselves to hasten the slow march which it has imposed upon events: who neglect the practical, to struggle after impossibilities: who are wiser than Heaven; know the aims and purposes of the Deity, and can see a short and more direct means of attaining them, than it pleases Him to employ: who would have no discords in the great harmony of the Universe of things; but equal distribution of property, no subjection of one man to the will of another, no compulsory labor, and still no starvation, nor destitution, nor pauperism.
Let him not spend his life, as they do, in building a new Tower of Babel; in attempting to change that which is fixed by an inflexible law of God's enactment: but let him, yielding to the Superior Wisdom of Providence, content to believe that the march of events is rightly ordered by an Infinite Wisdom, and leads, though we cannot see it, to a great and perfect result,—let him be satisfied to follow the path pointed out by that Providence, and to labor for the good of the human race in that mode in which God has chosen to enact that good shall be effected: and above all, let him build no Tower of Babel, under the belief that by ascending he will mount so high that God will disappear or be superseded by a great monstrous aggregate of material forces, or mere glittering, logical formula; but, evermore, standing humbly and reverently upon the earth and looking with awe and confidence toward Heaven, let him be satisfied that there is a real God; a person, and not a formula; a Father and a protector, who loves, and sympathizes, and compassionates; and that the eternal ways by which He rules the world are infinitely wise, no matter how far they may be above the feeble comprehension and limited vision of man.
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