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No. XLIV. Saturday, April 7, 1753.
Arcanum neque tu scrutaberis ullius unquam;. Commifumque teges, et vino tortus, et irá. Hori
OWE the following paper to an unknown correspon dent, who sent it to Mr. Payne a few days ago, directed to the Adventurer. As I have no objection to the general principles upon which it is written, I have taken the first opportunity to communicate it to the public: the subject is unquestionably of great importance; aud as I think it is far from being exhaufted, it may possibly produce another lucubration.
Amongst all the beauties and excellencies of the an-cient writers, of which I profess myself an admirer, there are none which strike me with more veneration, than the precepts they have delivered to us for our conduct in society. The fables of the poets, and the narrations of the historians, amaze and delight us with their respective qualifications; but we feel ourselves particularly concerned, when a moral virtue, or a social obligation is set before us, the practice of which is our: indispensible duty: and, perhaps, we are more ready
to observe these instructions, or at least acquiesce sooner in the propriety of them, as the authority of the teacher is unquestionable, the address not particularly confined or levelled, and the censure consequently less: dogmatical.
Of all the virtues which the ancients possessed, the zeal and fidelity of tlreir friendships appear to me as the highest distinctions of their characters. Private perfons, and particular affinities amongst them, have been long celebrated and admired : and if we examine their conduct as companions, we shall find, that the rites of their religion were not more sacred, more strongly ratified, or more severely preserved, than their laws of fociety.
The table of friendship, and the altar of sacrifice, were equally uncontaminated : the mysteries of Bacchus were enveloped with as many leaves as those of Ceres; and the profanation of either deity excluded the offenders from the assemblies of men; the revealer was judged accursed, and impiety was thought to accompany his steps.
Without inveighing against the practice of the pre-sent times, or comparing it with that of the past, I shall only remark, that if we cannot meet together upon the honest principles of social beings, there is reason to fear, that'we are placed in the most unfortunate and lamentable æra since the creation of mankind. It is not the increase of vices inseparable from humanity that alarms us, the riots of the licentious, or the outrages of the profligate'; but it is the absence of that integrity, the neglect of that virtue, the contempt of that honour, which by connecting individuals formed fociety, and without which fociety can no longer subfift.
Few men are calculated for that clofe connection, which we distinguish by the appellation of friendship; and we well know the difference between a friend and an acquaintance: the acquaintance is in a post of progression, and after having pafled through a course of proper experience, and given fufficient evidence of his merit, takes a new title, and ranks himself higher. He must now be considered as in a place of consequence; in which all the ornaments of our nature are neceffary to support him. But the great requisites, those without which all others are useless, are fidelity and taci. turnity. He must not only be superior to loquacious imbecillity, he must be well able to repress the attacks of curiosity, and to resist those powerful engines that will be employed against him, wine and resentment. Such are the powers that he must constantly exert, after a truft is reposed in him : and that he may not overload himself, let him not add to his charge, by his own inquiries; let it be a devolved, not an acquired commiffion. Thus accoutred,
They who mysteries reveal, Beneath
roof shall never live, Shall never hoist with me the doubtful fail.
There are as few instigations in this country to a breach of confidence, as fincerity can rejoice under. The betrayer is for ever shut out from the ways of
men, and his discoveries are deemed the effe&s of malice. We wisely imagine, he must be actuated by other motives than the promulgation of truth; and we receive his evidence, however we may use it, with contempt. Political exigencies may require a ready reception of such private advices; but though the necessities of government admit the intelligence, the wisdom of it but barely encourages the intelligencer. There is no name so odious to us, as that of an Informer. The very alarm in our streets at the approach of one, is a sufficient proof of the general abhorrence of this character.
Since these are the consequential conditions upon which men acquire this denomination, it may be asked, what are the inducements to the treachery. I do not fuppose it always proceeds from the badness of the mind; and indeed I think it isimpossible that it should : weakness discovers what malignity propagates ; till at last, confirmation is required, with all the folemnity of proof, from the first author of the report ; who only designed to gratify his own loquacity, or the importunity of his companion. An idle vanity inclines us to enumerate our parties of mirth and friendship ; and we believe our importance is increased, by a recapitulation of the discourse, of which we were such distinguished sharers: and to shew that we were esteemed fit to be entrusted with affairs of great concern and privacy, we notably give in our detail of them.
There is, besides, a very general inclination amongst us to hear a secret, to whomsoever it relates, known or inknown to us, of whatever import, serious or trifling, so it be but a secret: the delight of telling it, and of hearing it, are nearly proportionate and equal. The
poffeffor of the valuable treasure appears indeed rather to have the advantage ; and he seems to claim his fu. periority. I have discovered at once in a large com. pany, by an air and deportment that is affumed upon such occasions, who it is that is conscious of this happy charge: he appears restless and full of doubt for a confiderable time; has frequent consultations with himself, like a bee undetermined where to settle in a variety of sweets; till at last one happy ear attracts him more forcibly than the rest, and there he fixes, “ stealing and “ giving odours.”
In a little time it becomes a matter of great amazement, that the whole town is as well acquainted with the story, as the two who were so busily engaged ; and the consternation is greater, as each reporter is confi. dent, that he only communicated it to one person. “ A report,” fays Strada, “ thus transmitted from one
“ is like a drop of water at the top of a house; 66 it descends but from tile to tile, yet at last makes its
way to the gutter, and then is involved in the gene“ ral stream.” And if I may add to the comparison, the drop of water, after its progress through all the channels of the streets, is not more contaminated with filth and dirt, than a fimple story, after it has passed through the mouths of a few modern tale-bearers.