The Soft Answer
by T. S. Arthur
"I'll give him law to his heart's content, the scoundrel!" said Mr.
Singleton, walking backwards and forwards, in a state of angry
"Don't call harsh names, Mr. Singleton," said Lawyer Trueman,
looking up from the mass of papers before him, and smiling, in a
quiet, benevolent way, that was peculiar to him.
"Every man should be known by his true name. Williams is a
scoundrel, and so he ought to be called!" responded the client, with
"Did you ever do a reasonable thing in your life, when you were
angry?" asked Mr. Trueman whose age and respectability gave him the
license to speak thus freely to his young friend, for whom he was
endeavoring to arrange some business difficulty with a former partner.
"I can't say that I ever did, Mr. Trueman.— But now, I have good
reason for being angry; and the language I use in reference to
Williams is but the expression of a sober and rational conviction,"
replied Singleton, a little more calmly.
"Did you not pronounce him a scoundrel before you received his
reply to your last letter," asked Mr. Trueman.
"No, I did not. But that letter confirmed my previously formed
impression of his character."
"But I cannot find in that letter any evidence proving your late
partner to be a dishonest man. He will not agree to your proposed mode
of settlement, because he does not see it to be the most proper way."
"He won't agree to it, because it is an honest and equitable method
of settlement, that is all! He wants to over-reach me, and is
determined to do so if he can!" responded Mr. Singleton, still
"There you are decidely wrong," said the lawyer. "You have both
allowed yourselves to become angry, and are both unreasonable, and, if
I must speak plainly, I think you the most unreasonable, in the
present case. Two angry men can never settle any business properly.
You have very unnecessarily increased the difficulties in the way of
a speedy settlement, by writing Mr. Williams an angry letter which he
has responded to in a like unhappy temper. Now, if I am to settle
this business for you, I must write all letters that pass to Mr.
Williams in future."
"But how can you properly express my views and feelings?"
"That I do not wish to do, if your views and feelings are to remain
as they now are, for any thing like adjustment of the difficulties
under such circumstances, I should consider hopeless," replied Mr.
"Well, let me answer this letter, and after that, I promise that
you shall have your own way."
"No, I shall consent to no such thing. It is the reply to that
letter which is to modify the negotiation for a settlement in such a
way as to bring success or failure; and I have no idea of allowing
you, in the present state of your mind, to write such a one as will
most assuredly defeat an amicable arrangement."
Singleton paused for some time, before making a reply. He had been
forming in his mind a most cutting and bitter rejoinder to the letter
just alluded to, and he was very desirous that Mr. Williams should
have the benefit of knowing that he thought him a "tricky and
deliberate scoundrel," with other opinions of a similar character. He
found it, therefore, impossible to make up his mind to let the
unimpassioned Mr. Trueman write this most important epistle.
"Indeed I must write this letter, Mr. Trueman," he said,"
"There are some things that I want to say to him, that I know you
won't write. You don't seem to consider the position in which he has
placed me by that letter, nor what is obligatory upon me as a man of
honor. I never allow any man to reflect upon me, directly of
indirectly, without a prompt response."
"There is, in the Bible," said Mr. Trueman, "a passage that is
peculiarly applicable in the present case. It is this—A soft
answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.— I
have found this precept, in a life that has numbered more than double
your years, to be one that may be safely and honorably adopted, in all
cases. You blame Mr. Williams for writing you an angry letter, and
are indignant at certain expressions contained therein. Now, is it any
more right for you to write an angry letter, with cutting epithets,
than it is for him?"
"But, Mr. Trueman—"
"I do assure you, my young friend," said the lawyer interrupting
him, "that I am acting in this case for your benefit, and not for my
own; and, as your legal adviser, you must submit to my judgment, or I
cannot consent to go on."
"If I will promise not to use any harsh language, will you not
consent to let me write the letter?" urged the client.
"You and I, in the present state of your mind, could not possibly
come at the same conclusion in reference to what is harsh and what is
mild," said Mr. Trueman, "therefore I cannot consent that you shall
write one word of the proposed reply. I must write it."
"Well, I suppose, then I shall have to submit. When will it be
"Come this afternoon, and I will give you the draft, which you can
copy and sign."
In the afternoon Mr. Singleton came and received the letter
prepared by Mr. Trueman. It ran thus, after the date and formal
"I regret that my proposition did not meet your approval. The mode
of settlement which I suggested was the result of a careful
consideration of our mutual interests. Be kind enough to suggest to
Mr. Trueman, my lawyer, any plan which you think will lead to an
amicable adjustment of our business. You may rely upon my consent to
it, if it meets his approbation."
"Is it possible, Mr. Trueman, that you expect me to sign
such a cringing letter as that?" said Mr. Singleton, throwing it down,
and walking backwards and forwards with great irritation of manner.
"Well, what is your objection to it," replied Mr. Trueman, mildly,
for he was prepared for just such an exhibition of feelings.
"Objection! How can you ask such a question? Am I to go on my knees
to him and beg him to do me justice. No! I'll sacrifice every cent
I've got in the world first, the scoundrel!"
"You wish to have your business settled, do you not?" asked Mr.
Trueman, looking him steadily in the face.
"Of course I do!—Honorably settled!"
"Well, let me hear what you mean by an honorable settlement?"
"Why I mean—"
The young man hesitated a moment, and Mr. Trueman said,
"You mean a settlement in which your interest shall be equally
considered with that of Mr. Williams."
"Yes, certainly. And that—"
"And that," continued Mr. Trueman, "Mr. Williams, in the
settlement, shall consider and treat you as a gentleman."
"Certainly I do. But that is more than he has done!"
"Well, never mind. Let what is past go for as much as it worth. The
principal point of action is in the present."
"But I'll never send that mean, cringing letter, though."
"You mistake its whole tenor, I do assure you, Mr. Singleton. You
have allowed your angry feelings to blind you. You, certainly,
carefully considered, before you adopted it, the proposed basis of a
settlement, did you not."
"Of course I did."
"So the letter which I have prepared for you, states. Now as an
honest and honorable man, you are, I am sure, willing to grant to him
the same privilege which you asked for yourself, viz, that of
proposing a plan of settlement. Your pro position does not seem to
please him: now it is but fair that he should be invited to state how
he wishes the settlement to be made. And in giving such an
invitation, a gentleman should use gentlemanly language."
"But, he don't deserve to be treated like a gentleman. In fact, he
has no claim to the title," the young man.
"If he has none, as you say, you profess to be a
gentleman, and all gentlemen should prove by their actions and their
words that they are gentle men."
"I can't say that I am convinced by what you say, but, as you seem
so bent on having it your own way, why, here, let me copy the thing
and sign it," said the young man, suddenly changing his manner.
"There now!" he added, passing across the table the brief letter he
had copied, "I suppose he'll think me a low spirited fellow, after he
gets that. But he's mistaken. After it's all over, I'll take good
care to tell him, that it didn't contain my sentiments!
Mr. Trueman smiled, as he took the letter, and went on to fold and
"Come to-morrow afternoon, and I think we'll have things in a
pretty fair way," he said, looking up with his usual pleasant smile,
as he finished the direction of the letter.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Singleton," he said, as that gentleman entered
his office on the succeeding day.
"Good afternoon," responded the young man. "Well, have you heard
from that milk and water letter of yours? I can't call it mine."
"Yes, here is the answer. Take a seat, and I will read it to you,"
said the old gentleman.
"Well, let's hear it."
"Dear George—I have your kind, reasonable, and gentlemanly note
of yesterday, in reply to my harsh, unreasonable, and ungentlemanly
one of the day before. We have both been playing the fool; but you
are ahead of me in becoming sane. I have examined, since I got your
proposition for a settlement, and it meet my views precisely. My
foolish anger kept me from seeing it before. Let our mutual friend,
Mr. Trueman, arrange the matter, according to the plan mentioned, and
I shall most heartily acquiesce. Yours, &c."
"He never wrote that letter in the world!" exclaimed Singleton,
starting to his feet."
"You know his writing, I presume," said Mr. Trueman, handing him
"It's Thomas Williams' own hand, as I live!" ejaculated Singleton,
on glancing at the letter.— "My old friend, Thomas Williams, the
best natured fellow in the world!" he continued, his feelings
undergoing a sudden and entire revolution. "What a fool I have been!"
"And what a fool I have been!" said Thomas Williams,
advancing from an adjoining room, at the same time extending his hand
"God bless you, my old friend!" exclaimed Singleton, grasping his
hand. "Why what has been the matter with us both?"
"My young friends," said old Mr. Trueman, one of the kindest
hearted men in the world, rising and advancing towards them. "I have
known you long, and have always esteemed you both. This pleasant
meeting and reconciliation, you perceive, is of my arrangement. Now
let me give you a precept that will both make friends, and keep
friends. It has been my motto through life; and I don't know that I
have an enemy in the world. It is
"A soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up