"Square And Above Board"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: A seventeenth century literary fad was the writing of "characters," the originals of this type having been invented by Theophrastus (322? B.C.–288 B.C.), a Greek. The object was to write a short essay upon a human characteristic, profession, trade, calling, or something of the sort; the pieces were always couched in general terms. In "Of the Honest Man," Bishop Hall says that the honest man does not consider what he might do, but what he should do; justice is his first guide, expedience his second. His simple uprightness allows him to be victimized by the crafty, but he laments their faithlessness more than his own credulity. His word is his oath, and he is honest and upright, even in acting as an executor of a dead man's estate, scorning to swindle a dead friend. All his dealings are square and above board: here Hall employs a figure of speech derived from card playing. The person who deals above the board acts in the sight of everyone, and everyone can have visual evidence of his honesty. The author says:

When he is made his friend's executor, he defrays debts, pays legacies; and scorneth to gain by orphans, or to ransack graves: and therefore will be true to a dead friend, because he sees him not. All his dealings are square, and above the board: he bewrays the fault of what he sells, and restores the overseen gain of a false reckoning. He esteems a bribe venomous, though it come gilded over with the color of gratuity. His cheeks are never stained with the blushes of recantation; neither doth his tongue falter to make good a lie, with the secret glosses of double or reserved senses: and when his name is traduced his innocency bears him out with courage: then, lo, he goes on in the plain way of truth, and will either triumph in his integrity, or suffer with it.