In Gulliver's Travels Jonathan Swift gives us his opinion of ingratitude to friends and benefactors when he thus describes the laws of the Lilliputians: "Ingratitude is reckoned among them a capital crime; for they reason thus, that whoever makes ill return to his benefactors must needs be a common enemy to the rest of mankind, from whom he hath received no obligation. And, therefore, such a man is not fit to live." Though severe, the reasoning is sound: If a man does ill to one who has helped him, how much more will he do to those who have not helped him in any way?
On one occasion Talleyrand, being told that a certain public officer was saying evil things against him, exclaimed, "That surprises me; I have never done him a favor."
When the ministry of Robert Walpole fell, and a hostile vote was being taken in the House of Commons, Walpole, watching those who voted against him, said to the one who sat near him, "Young man, I will tell you the history of all these men as they come in: That fellow I saved from the gallows. And that one, from starvation. This other one's son I promoted."
Even the Saviour himself was hurt and wounded by ingratitude; and if he, who then can be insensitive to its wounds? Some think that Shakespeare sounded the depths of mortal sorrow and suffering in that tremendous scene in King Lear, where the aged king and father, cast out by his unnatural daughters, wanders on the gloomy heath at night and utters his apostrophe to wind and rain, thunder and lightning. He had learned
How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is
To have a thankless child!
Ingratitude in all its degrees is an ugly thing, but most loathsome it is when it shows itself in a child.
Ingratitude, thou marble-hearted fiend,
More hideous when thou show'st thee in a child
Than the sea-monster!
When Colonel Gardiner, whose remarkable conversion is related by Philip Doddridge, was suddenly arrested on his path of evil and turned to God, he felt himself doomed to eternal punishment. But the thing which troubled him most of all, he said, was not the thought of that punishment, but the realization that he had been such a monster of ingratitude to the God of holiness, who had loved him and given his Son to die for him. Those two elements, then, fear of the judgments of God and fear of that self-judgment which is even more severe, if that be possible, act as restraining influences upon man's conduct. That was what Joseph meant when in his hour of temptation he cried out, "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Gen. 39:9).