Still, as of old, the world is encircled in the coils of a vast serpent; and the name of the serpent is Gossip. Wherever man is, there may you hear its sibilant whisper, and its foul spawn squirm and sting and poison in nests of hidden noisomeness, myriad as the spores of corruption in a putrefying carcass, varying in size from some hydra-headed infamy endangering whole nations and even races with its deadly breath, to the microscopic wrigglers that multiply, a million a minute, in the covered cesspools of private life.
Printed history is so infested with this vermin, in the form of secret memoirs, back-stairs diarists, and boudoir eavesdroppers, that it is almost impossible to feel sure of the actual fact of any history whatsoever. The fame of great personages may be literally compared to the heroic figures in the well-known group of the Laocooen, battling in vain with the strangling coils of the sea-serpent of Poseidon. We scarcely know what to believe of the dead; and for the living, is it not true, as Tennyson puts it, that “each man walks with his head in a cloud of poisonous flies”?
What is this evil leaven that seems to have been mixed in with man’s clay at the very beginning, making one almost ready to believe in the old Manichean heresy of a principle of evil operating through nature, everywhere doing battle with the good? Even from the courts of heaven, as we learn from the Book of Job, the gossip was not excluded; and how eternally true to the methods of the gossip in all ages was Satan’s way of going to work in that immortal allegory! Let us recall the familiar scene with a quoted verse or two:
Now there was a day when the
sons of God came to present themselves
before the Lord, and Satan [otherwise, the Adversary] came also
And the Lord said unto Satan,
“Whence comest thou?” Then Satan
answered the Lord, and said: “From going to and fro in the earth,
and from walking up and down in it.”
And the Lord said unto Satan:
“Hast thou considered my servant Job,
that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright
man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?”
Then Satan answered the Lord,
and said, “Doth Job fear God for
Here we have in a nutshell the whole modus operandi of the gossip in all ages, and as he may be observed at any hour of the day or night, slimily engaged in his cowardly business. “Going to and fro in the earth, walking up and down in it,” everywhere peering and listening, smiling and shrugging, here and there dropping a hint, sowing a seed, leering an innuendo; seldom saying, only implying; leaving everywhere trails of slime, yet trails too vague and broken to track him by, secure in his very cowardice.
“Doth Job fear God for nought?” He only asks, observe. Affirms nothing. Only innocently wonders. Sows a doubt, that’s all—and leaves it to work.