The Right Way to Shake off a Viper
Too commonly calling for consideration
What shall good men do when they are evil spoken of?
By Cotton Mather
With a Preface of
Dr. Increase Mather
The Second Impression
1 Cor. 4.12, 13 being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day.
2 Corinthians 6:4, 8 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience,—, …By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true.
Boston: Printed by S. Kneeland, for
Gerrish and Sold at his Shop 1720
Of the very Reverend
Dr. Increase Mather
In mens’ defaming their neighbors (especially such as have deserved better usage), there is no little evil. Not only does our Savior Christ instruct us to do as we would be done by, but the moral philosophers among the Gentiles, by the light of Nature, say, Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris. Nevertheless, as great an evil as it is, many are guilty of it. And many of the best and most serviceable men in the world have been exposed unto it. The holy prophets heard the defaming of many. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, being defamed, yet bless those there were most abusive to htem. Nor was there any man in the world more defamed than He has been the Savior of it; who has taught his disciples to forgive their enemies, to bless those that curse them, and to do good unto those that hate them.
The essay now to be offered unto the reader was printed in London nine years ago. But I never saw it until within these few days; nor lift I to inquire after the author. I find in it not only erudition and ingenuity, a gospel spirit of real piety: and that the author (whoever he be) is a person of great reading and acquaintance with learned writers; and has made his knowledge subservient unto his religion. I have therefore advised the reprinting of it in Boston, hoping that God will bless it, both for the condition of them who are concerned as trangressors, and for the consolation of them who may be concerned as sufferers, by defamations.
Boston, Sept. 1, 1720
The Occasion of the Ensuing Essay
It has been earnestly wished by some, yea, it has been the firstborn of their wishes, that whatever special temptation and affliction befalls them, the glorious Lord may have some revenues of glory; yea, and his people also some revenues of service from it.
There are those who have seen their desire in this then remarkably accomplished; and it has been sweet uno them; it has been remarkably sweetened the bitters of all their exercises [trials]. I would you should understand, brethren, that the things happened to me have fallen out rather unto the furtherance of the Gospel. But then, if we are at any time exercised with injurious defamations, why should not thing temptation and affliction be approved as well as the rest, and the Church of Christ, wherein the case occurs to all that will live godly be interested (if we can attain to it) in the improvement of it [making good use of it]?
It is a pleasant criticism of Cocceius that the Church is compared to a garden of nuts; partly because good men must, like nuts, be well knocked and broken before others can get that good which is to be gotten out of them.
If the Reader et any good by an essay now put into his hands, let him adore the faithfulness of the glorious Lord who ordered a servant of His to be knocked with some calumnies and reproaches; which awakened him (instead of answering and confuting them as ’tis easy for him to do) to set himself upon strengthening his brethren with a discourse on a case wherein very many are concerned. It must be confessed that he had also in this essay a very particular eye to another servant of God whose watchfulness and faithfulness and industry had not excused him from unkind usage (which every wise man looks for) in an evil world.
Plutarch wrote a treatise De Capienda ad hostibus utilitate, How to Profit from One’s Enemies. But Plutarch was a stranger to such maxims as this essay is composed of. And both the author and his friend has great cause to take satisfaction in the divine providence that has brought them forth for the service of the people to whom we owe our all.
The famous Dod had been so greatly defamed by an office of the College whereto he belonged that his vexation upon it threw him into a fever. But God sanctified it for so much good unto him that he sent for his defaming accuser and for the sake of the good he had gained by him heartily forgave him all the wrong he had suffered from him. Anon [quickly thereafter] the accuser himself saw and owned his error.
If the author of this essay may not only gain the good proposed in it, but also do the good that is intended by the writing of it; he will have superabundant reason to forgive those that have been abusive to him; yea, though instead of a smaller number and worthier of a better name, their Name were Legion.
Among the assaults upon him, he has had first and last above a dozen pamphlets published against him unapt ay one of which he never made the least reply; except it were that which the University of Hemstadt made unto an abuse put upon them, Visum eat non alio remedy quad generous silentio & pio contempt utendum knobs esse (Silence and contempt they thought the best reply). This unreplying silence has not proceeded form the weakness of his cause, but from the strength of it. For what loss of time is it (ill to be spared of a short life!) to draw a saw with a people who have no reason or honor in them? These children of unreasonableness write nothing worthy of a reasonable man’s consideration. They themselves arm the considerate Reader with their own refutation. To recite what they say is to refute it. The men and their pens have been such that still when his adversary has written a book he might well take it upon his shoulder and bind it as a crown unto him. The invectives of such people, we have been taught by an archangel; ho little notice and with what patience is to be taken of them.
And sometimes there is occasion to think, how Maximus Tyrius resolves the case: Whether being injured we make a return [give an answer] or no? Say he,“’Tis not at all convenient that an honest man should wrestle a fall with one of another character [a different character then him]; for they were not brought up under the same tutors or unto the same exercises nor do they expect the same success or applause of what they do; so that, All that he does is this. At the take of Cadiz, For Philip, and all the Spanish galleys sired on Sir Walter Raleigh in the van [at the head of] the English navy; Raleigh scored their first and answered with a flourish of trumpets without shooting a gun, till he saw his time and then did notable execution. He takes leave to say he will not once first on any libelers or revilers. He wishes what is here exposed may be acceptable a melody to good men as a flourish of trumpets.
There may come a time for such things to be done as may render the adversaries ashamed of their abusiveness.
One who is not the most unexceptionable author in the world, though a mighty clerk, a very great scholar and writer (Monsieur Le Clerc) has written a discourse beyond ll exception upon that problem, An Semper Respondendum Calumiis Theologorum written against a man are always answered by him. He wisely answers, “No, by no means; ’tis perfect loss of time. Do you go on writing such books as will be of lasting benefit to making. Those books will be your sufficient and perpetual vindication. The sober part of mankind will be so far from regarding the calumnies published against you, they will but abhor the publishers.
This agrees well with what Sarricius wrote unto Salmasius when he three away his time in answering many books written against him. Non dubito quin the aculeate dicta angant quietemque tuam perturbent sed semel te opertet claudere Aures omnibus ills maledictis, homineque ulcifei composione operum que te digna sint. Amiable revenge truly! to say nothing unto the calumniators but to write something that mankind shall be better for.
If Divines [theologians] writing against a man (which none such ever did yet against the author of this essay that he been sensible of), are so little to be regarded what then are men who proclaim themselves little better than atheists and the profane pamphlets by such en darted against him? The first of a dirt of a street as little to be regarded!
Virtuous men it seems have had the opinion of a paper which I have seen, dispersed among a people so instructed and so disposed that in a little more than one week’s time it was with very near an universal abhorrence chased out of the world. It strangely disappeared at once and hardly anyone man would so expose his own reputation as to be known to countenance it. That atheistical paper had a collections of gross and vile falsehoods wherein the author of this essay is belied with an uncommon degree of malignity. He has been at a loss about a proper conduct on this occasion. On each of the passages (which traduce him in the point wherein if he ever did well and as became an honest man in his life it was in those points!). He might give the answer which honest Valorous Magnus thought it enough to repeat on every charge which his adversary then falsely made upon him; “Mentiris impudentissime: ’Tis a most impudent lie!”
But one the one side had he consulted flesh and blood, the cry would have been, Nos haec patiemur inulti? An Aristotle would have told him, It is a slavish thing when we are used contumeliously to suffer it without returns. An Socrates would have told him, You must think a base thing to be outdone by your enemies in ill turns as by your friends in good ones. AsTerence taught us at school that evil maxim, Veteran serenade injuries invites nova. And should he employ an hundredth part of that armor of righteousness both on the righthand and on the left, that is, both defensive and offensive wherewith he is furnished on this occasion the poor men could not but repent of their having meddled with him.
On the other side Christianity prescribes a world of silence and patience and goodness upon such provocations; and we have an admirable Savior and pattern, who, as sheep before his shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth. [Isaiah 53:7]. He resolved therefor to treat that lil with silence, and as unworthy of an answer, in the conscience of every man who had any real virtue or honor in him. Indeed, if a man were not altogether so richly favored of the Lord abroad it were not little favor to have that within which may comfort him in the testimony of the conscience.
It is a pleasant answer from an honest man unto a passionate Lord, after he had patiently heard I’m call him abundance of bad names, Your honor may speak as you please, but I believe not a word of it. For I know myself to be an honest man. However this course taken by him: He knew no person of the least credibility in the world would ever assert such things to his face or in hi slife; and should be but merely mention the names of those blades who divulged the libel this alone would be (though his own sufficient vindication) yet such an exquisite piece of revenge upon his enemies as is not agreeable with his principles.
Wherefore he remains wholly silent for the present. But lest, after his death, any wicked men should go on to make an advantage of such thing as they have done by this renewed grand father before him, he leaves behind him such well-attested instruments of manuscript as being produced will forever bury in confusion all attempts to wound religion by wounding of a servant of it. We may and should speak upon some wrongs; not for the revenging of ourselves but for the suppressing of lies that my hurt our usefulness.
In the meantime, he would be loath to come short of a Mosunius (commted for by Grotius) who protested he would never sue any man upon action of defamation or safer another to do it upon his behalf. He may go on in doing all the good offices for his people that he can; he is invulnerable. Some names as so oiled that no ink will stick upon them.
It was the counsel of Sadoletus to Erasmus, You see, he counsel, e a full and final answer to all the calumnies that should be cast upon him. ’Tis hoped that the author of this essay will have no need of any other answer to calumnies. This one book [the book which follows] is answer enough; after this, he need never trouble himself about any more he may go on in the better work which his hand finds to do, and not turn aside for any.