Oaths Are Silly

To a nice observer, it would have been worth while to remark the difference in tone and manner between the Resident and Havelaar on this occasion. Both had often attended such a solemnity [the reading of the decree of the Governor-General, whereby Mr. Max Havelaar was appointed Assistant Resident]; the difference which I refer to was not, therefore, occasioned by their being more or less affected by a novel and unwonted spectacle, but was only a consequence of the very different characters of the two persons. The Resident, it is true, spoke a little quicker than he was used to do, because he only had to read the decree and oaths, which saved him the trouble of seeking for the last words of what he had to say; but still all went on with a gravity and a seriousness which must have inspired the superficial spectator with a very high idea of the importance which he attached to this matter.

Havelaar, on the contrary, had something in expression of countenance, voice, and mien, when with uplifted finger he repeated the oath, as if he would say, “Of course, without ‘any oath,’ I should do that.” Any one having a knowledge of men would have had more confidence in his freedom from constraint than in the sedateness of the Resident. Is it not ridiculous indeed to think that the man whose vocation it is to do justice, the man into whose hands is given the weal or woe of thousands, should think himself bound by a few uttered sounds, if his heart does not feel itself obliged even without those sounds to do so (emphasis mine)?

We believe of Havelaar, that he would have protected the poor and oppressed wheresoever he might meet them, even if he had promised by “God Almighty” the reverse (emphasis mine).

From Max Havelaar by Multatuli.

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  1. […] Multatuli (1860), Max Havelaar. One of the best novels of the 19th century in any language, provided you can get past the first chapter or two. Even though Multatuli is clearly mocking the kind of then prevalent preachy, moralistic, long-winded narrator, it’s the kind of parody that is almost indistinguishable from what its mocking, at least for a contemporary reader. I have previously quoted what I considered to be a particularly poignant passage. […]

    July 4, 2016 @ 12:24Permalink
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