Henry M. Stanley's life was saddened but not embittered by the slanders which were heaped upon him. Instead, he was all the more careful to be truthful and just in his dealings with his fellow men. "I do not belong to that large herd of unthinking souls who say, 'Surely, where there is so much smoke there must be a fire.' Whenever, in the press or in society, a charge is leveled at some person, I put on the brake of reason, to prevent being swept along by the general rage for scandal and abuse, and hold myself unconscious of the charge until it is justified by conviction. No man who addresses himself to me is permitted to launch judgment out in that rash newspaper way, widiout being made to reflect that he knew less about die matter dian he assumed he did."
It is difficult to overtake a whisper which quickly swells to a loud and raucous shout. Some years ago, when the character of a prominent man was being assailed, a number of men formed what they called the "Trace-It-Down Club." Their search showed that the evil report was pure calumny. In a multitude of cases this is so. Slander has a swift foot and, once started, is almost impossible to overtake.
In her story of Amos Barton in Scenes from Clerical Life, when evil surmises were made as to an innocent friendship, George Eliot thus describes the spread and the growth of the slander: "I can only ask my reader, Did you ever upset your ink bottle and watch in helpless agony the rapid spread of Stygian blackness over your fair manuscript or fairer table cover? With a like inky swiftness did gossip now blacken the reputation of Amos Barton, causing the unfriendly to scorn, and even the friendly to stand aloof at a time when difficulties of another kind were fast thickening around him."
The original whisperer and slanderer could make little headway or do little injury were he not able to enlist the assistance and service of many who repeat his whisper. This is possible only because of that sad trait in human nature which delights in hearing evil of others. There are, alas, many who rejoice in iniquity. So the wicked whisper is repeated, sometimes with an injunction that it is to go no farther and sometimes with an expression of mock sorrow or concern. This sorrow and concern are hypocritical, because if there were such genuine sorrow and concern it would prove itself by a refusal to repeat the whisper.
Daniel rose so high that he attracted to himself the arrows of slander and defamation. This is one of the prices which distinction and ability must ever pay.
He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find
The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow;
He who surpasses or subdues mankind,
Must loo down on the hate of those below.—Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
Slander shows its hideous speech, first of all, in the defamation of men in public life. In his life of Julius Caesar, James Froude writes: "The disposition to speak evil of men who have risen a few degrees above their contemporaries is a feature of human nature as common as it is base; and when to envy there is added fear or hatred, malicious anecdotes spring like mushrooms in a forcing pit."
Hannah More had a good way of dealing with talebearers. Whenever she was told anything that was derogatory of another, her invariable reply was: 'Come, we will go and ask if this is true.' The effect was sometimes ludicrously painful. The talebearer was taken aback, stammered a qualification, or begged that no notice be taken of the statement. But the good lady was inexorable; off she took the scandalmonger to the scandalized to make inquiry and compare accounts. It is not likely that anybody ever a second time ventured to repeat a gossipy story to Hannah More.
But what if the report is true? Even if it be true, by repeating it unnecessarily you violate the law of Christian love. Listen to this:
If you are tempted to reveal
A tale by someone told
About another, make it pass,
Before you speak, three gates of gold.
Three narrow gates: first, Is it true?
Then, Is it needful? In your mind
Give truthful answer. And the next
Is last and narrowest—Is it kind?
And if to reach your lips at last,
It passes through these gateways three,
Then you may tell the tale, nor fear
What the results of speech may be.—Henry Durbanville
(Ps. 15. 1-3; 101. 5; 1 Tim. 3. 11; Titus 3. 2)
Note—The word translated 'slanderer' is in the feminine, and literally means `she-devil'.
An evangelist, when someone approached him with a story about a sister, said to the gossip, 'Before you say anything about that person, I should like to ask you three questions:
First, will it do me any good if you tell me your story?
Second, will it do you any good to tell it?
Third, will it do the sister about whom you have come to tell me any good?'
Needless to say, the slander was never uttered.
(2 Thess. 3. 11; 1 Tim. 5. 13; 1 Pet. 4. 15)
Two friends were inseparable. One day one of them heard a story about his friend, believed it without making enquiries as to its truth, and passed it on. As it went, it grew. His friend heard of it, and their friendship was broken. The man thus maligned was taken seriously ill and lay on his deathbed. His friend who had spread the slander, heard of his illness and came to see him, confess his wrong, and ask his forgiveness, which was readily given by the dying man.
`Now,' said the dying man, 'I want you to do something for me. Take my feather pillow and scatter the feathers in the garden.' Though he thought it a strange request, the visitor carried it out and returned to his friend's bedside. 'Now', said the dying man, `go and gather the feathers up again.' That is impossible,' said the other. 'Just so,' said the wronged man, 'I frankly and willingly forgive you for scattering those stories about me, but even my forgiveness cannot revoke the evil that has been done. Slanderous stories scattered abroad cannot be recalled.'
(Titus 3. 2; James 4. 11; 1 Pet. 2. 1)
When Peter the Great heard anyone evil spoken of he would say, "Tell me, has he a bright side? Let me hear what good things you have noticed in him."—Selected
The business man's wife, who had called at his office, regarded the pretty young stenographer with a baleful eye.
"You told me that your typewriter was an old maid," she accused.
The husband, at a loss, faltered in his reply, but at last contrived:
"Yes, but she's sick today, and sent her grandchild in her place."