I cannot imagine, that a Man who disperses a Libel is less desirous of doing Mischief than the Author himself. But what shall we say of the Pleasure which a Man takes in the reading of a Defamatory Libel? Is it not an heinous Sin in the Sight of God? We must distinguish in this Point. This Pleasure is either an agreeable Sensation we are afflicted with, when we meet with a witty Thought which is well expressed, or it is a Joy which we conceive from the Dishonour of the Person who is defamed. I will say nothing to the first of these Cases; for perhaps some would think that my Morality is not severe enough, if I should affirm that a Man is not Master of those agreeable Sensations, any more than of those occasioned by Sugar or Honey, when they touch his Tongue; but as to the second, every one will own that Pleasure to be a heinous Sin. The Pleasure in the first Case is of no Continuance; it prevents our Reason and Reflection, and may be immediately followed by a secret Grief, to see our Neighbour’s Honour blasted. If it does not cease immediately, it is a Sign that we are not displeased with the Ill-nature of the Satyrist, but are glad to see him defame his Enemy by all kinds of Stories; and then we deserve the Punishment to which the Writer of the Libel is subject. I shall here add the Words of a Modern Author. St. Gregory upon excommunicating those Writers who had dishonoured Castorius, does not except those who read their Works; because, says he, if Calumnies have always been the delight of the Hearers, and a gratification of those Persons who have no other Advantage over honest Men, is not he who takes Pleasure in reading them as guilty as he who composed them? It is an uncontested Maxim, that they who approve an Action would certainly do it if they could; that is, if some Reason of Self-love did not hinder them. There is no difference, says Cicero, between advising a Crime, and approving it when committed. The Roman Law confirmed this Maxim, having subjected the Approvers and Authors of this Evil to the same Penalty. We may therefore conclude, that those who are pleased with reading Defamatory Libels, so far as to approve the Authors and Dispersers of them, are as guilty as if they had composed them: for if they do not write such Libels themselves, it is because they have not the Talent of Writing, or because they will run no hazard .
The Author produces other Authorities to confirm his Judgment in this particular.
[Footnote 1: Dissertation upon Defamatory Libels. Sec.17.]
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No. 452. Friday, August 8, 1712. Addison.
‘Est natura Hominum Novitatis avida.’
Plin. apud Lill.