Page images
PDF
EPUB

never fail to detect for us the peccant part in the vain customs of men, and to lead us into the pure and solid excellence of the Chris. tian character.

Having again insistel upon this point, I may now proceed to discuss a subject, to which it will be desirable to allot the reinainder of the present chapter; viz. plainness of speech, behaviour, and apparel. This plainness is one of the most obvious of our characteristics. Wherever we bend our steps, and in whatever business we are engaged, it continually meets the eye or the ear of those among whom we dwell, and manifests itself in a variety of particulars, which, through little, are striking. But obvious and constantly perceptible as are these minor features of our conduct and conversation, there is reason to believe that the grounds on which we have adopted them, are by no means generally understood : and, indeed, the laxity apparent in so many individuals of our own body, with respect to these peculiarities, affords a strong presumption, that the principles from which they spring have not been sufficiently considered even among ourselves. It is a prevalent notion in the world, and one which many young persons in the Society have, probably, been led to entertain, that the peculiarities in question are employed only because of their expediency; and that they are to be regarded in no other light than that of a sectarian badge, intended for the purpose of distinguishing and separating us from the rest of mankind. In treating, then, on the peculiar plainness of Friends—a subject, which according to my view, is fraught with no little interest-I shallen. deavor to show, that our practice, in this respect, is by no means adopted merely because it is considered expedient; but that, on the contrary, it is truly grounded on the law of God;-that, in point of fact, it is one result (perfectly consistent with others already mentioned) of a complete view of Christian morality.

[blocks in formation]

The phraseology which prevails in the modern world, and, with the exception of Friends, among Christians of all denominations, is replete with a variety of expressions, used either in addressing or describing persons, which are of a nature simply complimentary, and bave no fuundation in truth. The terms to which I allude are fa

miliar to every one, but, for the sake of clearness, the principal of them may now be specified.

The word Sir, or Madam, is very generally employed, both in speech and in writing, as a form of address; and of written addresses, to any individual, one of these words mostly forms the commencement. He who makes use of such terms, professes that the person to whom he is speaking or writing is his lord or his lady. Such I conceive to be the generally acknowledged meaning of the expressions in question; for the word Sir is obviously a contraction of the French term Seigneur, Lord;' and Madam, also derived from the French, plainly signifies My lady. This verbal profession of subjection to the individual addressed is frequently completed by a declaration, very usual at the conclusion of letters, that the writer is the humble or obedient servant, or most humble or most obedient servant, of the person to whom he writes; and among foreigners. more particularly, expressions to the same effect are accumulated with a profuseness which renders the art of complimenting conspicuously ridiculous.

Precisely on a similiar principle the man is called Mister, the boy, Master, the married woman, Mistress, and the unmarried woman, Miss-being the same term contracted. These expressions severally denote that the persons to whom they are applied, are placed in a situation of authority or mastery over others, and, if I mistake not, more particularly over the individual by whom the terms in question are employed. They, therefore, represent that which is, by way of compliment supposed, but which, generally speaking, is never: heless untrue.

Again, by a similar abuse of language, epithets expressive of a high degree of personal excellence are applied pro for a, and worthily or unworthily, (as it may happen,) 10 a number of individuals who hold certain offices, or enjoy particular stations, in religious or civil society. Thus, whatever be their real characterwhatever their conduct or conversation, either in public or in private life-a king is his most gracious Majos!y - a duke, his Grace-a

1 Johnson derives Sir, from the French Sire, an expression denoting the rank and authority of a father ; but, when we consider the use of the French word Monsieur, and the easy transition from Seigneur to Sieur, and from Sieur to Sir, little doub: can remain that the latter is the true origin of the English term.

peer of another rank, and a member of the privy council, Right Honorable—a son of a peer and a judge, Honorable--an archbishop, Nlost Reverend—a bishop, Right Reverenda dean, Very. Reverend-an archdeacon, Venerablea priest or deacon, Rererend. Similar terms are often applied in the loose extravagance of compliment, to other individuals who are destitute both of office and of high station. Those who are acquainted with the language and manners of the Italians, must be well aware, for example, how frequently and indiscriminately they employ their illustrissimo and (ccellenza. In the common parlance of Spain, every gentleman is addressed as Your Worship: and in this country, persons of no peculiar virtue or eminence are often represented, at the conclusio of letters which they receive, as being so honorable, that it is an honor to be their most humble servants. Again, among modern Latin critics, a member of their own fraternity, however obscure, is seldom, if ever, mentioned without the passing declaration, that he is most celebrated. So common is become the celeberrimus, on such occasions, that it is now reduced into the particle cel., and is in this shape prefixed to the name of every writer of the description now mentioned, almost as regularly as is the English contraction Mi., to those of other men. Not unfrequently, indeed, do these authors attach to the name of any brother critic whom they may happen to cite, a Greek term, which may be considered the highest point of complimentary phraseology; for it denotes nothing less than that the writer cited is entirely excellent, or that he comprehends in his own person a universalily of learning and talent.'

In Great Britain, as in other civilized states, there are a variety of legal dignities, corresponding with certain situations in the body politic, and constituting what is usually called rank. The lowest of these dignities is that of an Esquire, which legally appertains to many individuals, and especially to all those persons who hold any office or commission under the king. Now, the world appears to imagine that the possession of some title or other is indispensable to the character of a gentleman; and, therefore, by a falsification of speech, perfectly similar, in principle, to those already noticed, every person of gentlemanlike station in life, who is destitute of all legal dignity, is denominated an Esquire. The gentleman, to whom

1δ πάνυ.

a letter is directed without the addition of that title, is considered, in the world, to be almost affronted by the omission,

But, among the various modes of expression, upon which it is my present object to treat, the most common and, at the same time, most absurd, is the application to individuals of pronouns and verbs in the plural number The use of the plural form of the first personal pronoun, instead of the singular, is commonly adopted, in their public rescripts and other documents, by monarchs, and, some. times, by other persons placed in a situation of high authority. The common style of a royal mandate or declaration is as follows:“We George,” or “We Frederick," or" We William, command or declare, &c.;" and the fiction, which such a form of speech represents, appears to be precisely this--that the monarch is not to be regared as an individual, but as many persons combined-that in that single man are centered the authority, wisdom, dignity, and power of many. Since this rhetorical fiction is thus employed, by powerful and exalted personages, as a mark of their superior dig. nity and authority, it easily became a matter of compliment among men in general, to apply it in their addresses one to another. Such a custom, in its early commencement, was probably adopted only as a mark of respect to superiors; and unquestionably, for a long period of time, it found no place in addresses made to inferiors But even this distinctionis gradually wearing away; a form of speech which was at one time a mark of distinction is become universally familiar: the Thou and Thee, in the daily communications between man and man, are disused; and every individual, as if supposed to consist of several persons combined, is addressed with plural pronouns and plural verbs.?

Now, we apprehend that our heavenly Guide, whose Spirit is expressly called “the Spirit of Truth," and whose will is directly opposed to all unrighteous vanities, of whatsoever magnitude and description they may be, has taught us, in our communications one with another, and with our fellow-men, to abstain from the use of

* In Germany, the art of complimentary phraseology is carried to a very high point. The German, in addressing his superiors or his equals, is not content with the commonly-received use of the plural pronouns and verbs, But, for the sake of manifesting a yet more profound deference and respect Trecites them in the third person. Thus, instead of “ Wilt thou eat or drink ?” he would say to his honored guest, “ Will they eat or drink ?”

these various complimentary fictions. The substitution of a plain mode of expression, in the place of one so nearly universal, has, indeed, the effect of rendering us singular; and the singularity which is thus occasioned, and which sometimes entails upon us ridicule and contempt, is often in no slight degree mortifying to the natural inclinations, especially to those of the young and tender mind. Nevertheless, we are persuaded that this is one of the particulars of conduct, in which, however trifling the subject may appear to some persons, a duty is laid upon us to deny onrselves, patiently to endure the cross, and faithfully to bear our testimony against the customs prevalent in the world at large. It is plain, according to our view of the subject, that the common mode of speech, from which we have thus been led to abstain, is at variance with certain acknowledged principles in the divine law. Such a phraseology may very fairly be deemed objectionable; first, because it is intended to flatter the pride of man; and secondly, because it is inconsistent with truth,

I. It was one of the charges which our Saviour adduced against the unbelieving Jews, that they received honour "one of another," and sought not "the honour that cometh from Gud only;" and truly, a similar character is still very generally prevalent among

While they neglect to strive after that true "glory” which is the end of a "patient continuance in well doing;" there is nothing on the pursuit of which they are more generally intent than the honour of the world—the honour which is bestowed by man. Tobe exalted among our fellow-creatures, to receive the tribute of their homage and the incense of their flattery, to be the objects of their eulogy and polite submission —are circumstances perfectly adapted to the pride of our own hearts, and grateful, beyond almost any other worldly advantages, to the natural disposition of the human mind. Here it may be observed, that the eager desire to be thus exalted, admired and commended, is closely and almost inseparably connected (though, perhaps, in a somewhat hidden manner) with a spirit of undue fear and subserviency toward our fellow.men. And this, probably, is the reason why those persons who are themselves the most desirous of receiving adulation, are often the most ready to bestow it. There appears to exist, among the children of this 1 John v. 44.

* Rom. ii. 7.

men.

« PreviousContinue »