When it came time for the first day of the week, Lord Lipton and his household went to the local parish church in their fashionable part of town, and as was his custom, Mr. Sandwell stood up to give a sermon, which went something like this:
“Our reading today in the historical books of the Bible concerning the rape of Tamar. It is not my attention today to dwell on the horrors of that rape, but rather to reflect upon the character of Amnon and on the inability of David to respond effectively to that rape.
Let us note first that the story begins when Amnon became obsessed with his half-sister, his close relative, in what was an incestuous relationship. Now, in biblical times just as in our own, it is acceptable for people to marry their cousins and it is acceptable for older men to marry younger women, common indeed for both things to happen, but there are still some lines that are not to be crossed. Tamar was a half-sister, and it was forbidden for Amnon to have her. That did not matter to her, because with a cousin of his he concocted a plan to bring Tamar, trusting and vulnerable, into his clutches so then he could do with her what he would by pretending to be sick and asking for a certain nourishing food to be made by her and brought by her to feed him directly, thus disarming any ability she would have to defend herself or seek help from someone else. And when he was done, his obsessive love turned into an obsessive hate and he rejected her coldly, having her thrown out like yesterday’s trash and leaving her in great distress, inconsolable.
For our purposes, though, what is important is that David did not respond to this outrage. And why not? Because he had just committed adultery with Bathsheba the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and had sent that good and righteous man to die. How could a man who had done such a thing have the credibility to tell his son, the crown prince, that he could not have who he wanted? We gain credibility through our good example, not through our titles and positions alone. We live in a world where the leaders of mankind often lack the credibility to speak out against evil because of their own. I do not speak, of course, of our Most Christian King, who is most uxorious with his wife, most godly in his conduct. But there are many people, even here, who have disqualified themselves to be fit judges of society because their own character is lacking.”
Here he paused for effect, and the response of the audience was to gasp and look around. He continued. “Our Lord and Savior once stood at the temple with a woman who had been brought to him being caught in adultery, and some leaders among the Jews were seeking for her death. Yet as he wrote on the ground they were convicted by their conscience and were unable to throw the first stone because they were themselves guilty of the same crime. Such people were hardened in their hearts. Let us not be so ourselves.”
With that he closed, and Lord Lipton peered up at the pulpit, wondering about why he had chosen to challenge his audience. Quietly he returned home and opened up his Bible to read some of the passages referred to in that message, and he wondered what message the minister had been trying to send. He was sure that there was something in particular that he was speaking of, but what it was remained unclear.
Lord Lipton took up his pen and wrote a short note to the Vicar, asking for a meeting so that he could discuss the message. Yet he found the message returned to him with a somewhat rude comment about not being someone who the vicar could be seen talking to. Lord Lipton was at a loss as to why this would be the case. Lord Lipton perhaps did not like the vicar and had a somewhat testy conversation, but it was not the sort of conversation that would justify a cessation of social relations whatsoever. Lord Lipton received the note and wondered what to do about it.
While Lord Lipton pondered Clarissa came to ask him about the sermon.
“What was the minister trying to say?”
“I’m not sure, to be honest. Often people speak what is not clear and obvious and leave the listener to figure it out for oneself.”
“I saw him looking at me as he spoke.”
“What was he saying when he did that?”
“He was talking about the vulnerability of the girl.”
“He was comparing you to Tamar?”
“Is that her name?
“Yes, that is her name.”
“I suppose so then.”
“Who would be Amnon then, I wonder.”
There was a pause after he spoke, neither of them wishing to speculate and break the reverie.
Meanwhile, at the home of Mr. Sandwell, there was a feeling of annoyance as Mr. Sandwell spoke to his guest. “Is Lord Lipton so hard a heart that he does not blink and does not flinch to hear a message preached at him?”
“Maybe he does not know you spoke to him.”
“Surely he cannot be so blind as to be unaware of it?”
“Where does he live, Yorkshire?”
“That is right, he lives in Yorkshire.”
“Does he read the sorts of newspapers where people have been gossiping about him? Has he not been on the road almost all of last week to get here? Perhaps he simply missed being talked about, and so the further hints and references would not mean anything.”
“Surely someone has told him, though, at this point, right?”
“Perhaps they have not.”
“And would it then fall to me to tell him? Should I put myself before his sword or pistol by telling him that I spoke a message in church assuming him to have been taking advantage of that girl?”
“What if he was not?”
“What if he was innocent?”
“Yes, what if he was innocent.”
“Would he be less enraged to be accused if he was innocent? Do you know the man?”
“I do not.”
“I have spoken to him once, and he was a man of unusual sharpness of mind, and a pretty fierce one from what I could tell. Whether he is innocent or guilty, I do not want to be the one who brings to his attention the accusations that have attached themselves to his name.”
“You are not a brave man, then?”
“No, I am not a courageous soldier.”
“What sort of man is Lord Lipton?”
“He spoke to me a bit of his background, that he was an ordinary man, not expecting to become Viscount, serving in the King’s business in the American colonies in great danger for many years.”
“You would assume him to be a brave man, then?”
“I would not want to be on the business end of his rapier or pistol, let me assure you of that.”
“You think he would kill the person responsible for spreading this report?”
“I think it quite possible that he would kill the person in cold blood whether it was true or a lie.”
“Are you curious to know whether it is the truth or not?”
“Am I the man’s counselor, the guardian of his soul? I would not wish to hear his confession or have to go through the effort to verify what he said.”
“Why not? Is he not an august enough personage for it to be worth the time?”
“Are you on his side anyway? You do not even know him.”
“I am at least inclined to give him a fair hearing. A man ought not to be condemned without an open trial, not least a man of open merits, of obvious patriotism, and the like. He clearly has enemies, but he may not be aware of what they are about.”
“Do you propose to do something about it?”
“I do not know what to do about it at this point, but I am inclined that someone should go to him.”
“How do you think he will react?”
“I do not know how he will react. But I do know that he deserves to be told.”
“Do you know if he has any friends?”
“I do not know who his friends or enemies have. I hope he has friends who are willing to stay with him and figure this out. I think it is outrageous that someone would accuse a peer in such a fashion with anonymity and impunity.”
“And you judge me for not being a better man?”
“I am not sure that I judge you,” the guest said.
“I feel judged by it all the same,” said the vicar.
“If you feel judged as a coward, then perhaps you ought to cultivate virtue.”
“You are lecturing me like he did.”
“I suppose I would like him if I got to know him.”
It was in such a mood that their conversation continued over tea and crumpets on a relaxing afternoon. We would be remiss if we did not go to another room where conversation was going on, for it is not as if the libelous press rested on the Lord’s Day as was custom to most in that city.
“Do you think we should print out any more writings about the notorious Lord Lipton?”
“Of course I do, we have just begun to write.”
“Do you not think he will be upset about it?”
“So far nothing has happened to us. Why not continue? We do have news to present, after all.”
“Very well, what report do you have of the Viscount and his evildoing?”
And with this the print was set up, to say something like the following: “Lord L has not only shown himself hardened in sin, but managed to take his young woman and her supposed governess to church services today and calmly sat while the preacher spoke against his evildoing and corruption. Who in London will stop this Lord from getting away scot free in this infamy.”
And so far the libelers had had a clear field of it. This is certainly not what a moralist would want to say. We want to think that those who lie will always find what is coming to them and that the righteous will not suffer. But that is not how the world works. Any remote familiarity with the way that the world works will indicate that a great many people suffer libels in the press and have little recourse because they are public figures, so that anything that is said can be said without suffering any penalty, no blush of shame, no payment in damages. To be sure, the wicked sometimes suffer, but in a world like our own we cannot rely on justice being done. The dark hearts of many an editor or journalist, after all, is darker than the ink of squids and octopuses used to print their lying words. Yet in this world such people fancy themselves as the defenders of truth and freedom. It does not take much familiarity with the world and its workings to see how this works.
And what did people think upon reading this? Well, had Lord Lipton been tried by a jury of his peers, he may have been viewed as guilty without even the chance of self-defense, because so far, at least publicly, not a word had yet been spoken in his defense, and the Lord himself was unaware that his reputation had been dragged through the mire. But at least the judges of his own class would have refrained from throwing the first stone, knowing the glass houses that they lived in. And had Lord Lipton been tried by a jury of servants, they would have been told on reliable authority that they trusted–namely from others like themselves–that the charges were wholly without merit, and so he would have been set free without any trouble at all. It is those who were in the middle classes who would have been his harshest critics. They viewed all peers as being immoral people and frequently thought themselves the moral superiors of their betters, being poisoned by envious hatred of elites. No fair trial could have been found by those who read gossip rags and fancied themselves righteous arbiters of truth and justice, and who delighted in seeing the great and powerful brought down low in the thinking of others.