The Cynic is one who never sees a good quality in a man, and never fails to see a bad one.
He is the human owl, vigilant in darkness and blind to light, mousing for vermin,
and never seeing noble game.
The Cynic puts all human actions into only two classes – Openly bad, and secretly bad.
All virtue and generosity and disinterestedness are merely the appearance of good, but selfish at the bottom. He holds that no man does a good thing except for profit.
The effect of his conversation upon your feelings is to chill and sear them; to send you away sore and morose. His criticisms and innuendoes fall indiscriminately upon every lovely thing, like frost upon flowers. If a man is said to be pure and chaste, he will answer:
Yes, in the day time. If a woman is pronounced virtuous, he will reply: yes, as yet.
Mr. A is a religious man: Yes, on Sundays.
Mr. B. has just joined the church: certainly, the elections are coming on.
Such a man is generous: of other men’s money. This man is obliging: to lull suspicion and cheat you. That man is upright: because he is naïve.
Thus his eye strains out every good quality and takes in only the bad. To him religion is hypocrisy, honesty a preparation for fraud, virtue only want of opportunity, and undeniable purity, asceticism. The live long day he will coolly sit with sneering lip, uttering sharp speeches in the quietest manner, and in polished phrase, transfixing every character which is presented: His words are softer than oil, yet are they drawn swords.
All this, to the young, seems a wonderful knowledge of human nature; they honor a man who appears to have found out mankind. They begin to indulge themselves in flippant sneers; and with supercilious brow, and impudent tongue, wagging to and empty brain, call to naught the wise, the long tried, and the venerable.
I do believe that man is corrupt enough; but something of good has survived his wreck; something of evil restrained, and something partially restored; yet, I look upon the human heart as a mountain of fire. I dread its crater. I tremble when I see its lava roll the fiery stream. Therefore, I am the more glad, if upon the old crust of past eruptions, I can find a single flower springing up. So far from rejecting appearances of virtue in the corrupt heart of a depraved race, I am eager to see their light as ever a mariner was to see a star in a stormy night…..
Henry Ward Beecher, one of the finest preachers of the 19th century.