There is one Piece of Sophistry practised by both Sides, and that is the taking any scandalous Story that has been ever whispered or invented of a Private Man, for a known undoubted Truth, and raising suitable Speculations upon it. Calumnies that have been never proved, or have been often refuted, are the ordinary Postulatums of these infamous Scriblers, upon which they proceed as upon first Principles granted by all Men, though in their Hearts they know they are false, or at best very doubtful. When they have laid these Foundations of Scurrility, it is no wonder that their Superstructure is every way answerable to them. If this shameless Practice of the present Age endures much longer, Praise and Reproach will cease to be Motives of Action in good Men.
There are certain Periods of Time in all Governments when this inhuman Spirit prevails. Italy was long torn in Pieces by the Guelfes and Gibellines, and France by those who were for and against the League: But it is very unhappy for a Man to be born in such a stormy and tempestuous Season. It is the restless Ambition of artful Men that thus breaks a People into Factions, and draws several well-meaning [Persons ] to their Interest by a Specious Concern for their Country. How many honest Minds are filled with uncharitable and barbarous Notions, out of their Zeal for the Publick Good? What Cruelties and Outrages would they not commit against Men of an adverse Party, whom they would honour and esteem, if instead of considering them as they are represented, they knew them as they are? Thus are Persons of the greatest Probity seduced into shameful Errors and Prejudices, and made bad Men even by that noblest of Principles, the Love of their Country. I cannot here forbear mentioning the famous Spanish Proverb, If there were neither Fools nor Knaves in the World, all People would be of one Mind.
For my own part, I could heartily wish that all honest Men would enter into an Association, for the Support of one another against the Endeavours of those whom they ought to look upon as their Common Enemies, whatsoever Side they may belong to. Were there such an honest [Body of Neutral ] Forces, we should never see the worst of Men in great Figures of Life, because they are useful to a Party; nor the best unregarded, because they are above practising those Methods which would be grateful to their Faction. We should then single every Criminal out of the Herd, and hunt him down, however formidable and overgrown he might appear: On the contrary, we should shelter distressed Innocence, and defend Virtue, however beset with Contempt or Ridicule, Envy or Defamation. In short, we should not any longer regard our Fellow Subjects as Whigs or Tories, but should make the Man of Merit our Friend, and the Villain our Enemy.
[Footnote 1: Among his Moral Essays is that showing ’How one shall be helped by Enemies.’ In his ‘Lives,’ also, Plutarch applauds in Pericles the noble sentiment which led him to think it his most excellent attainment never to have given way to envy or anger, notwithstanding the greatness of his power, nor to have nourished an implacable hatred against his greatest foe. This, he says, was his only real title to the name of Olympius.]