Chapter 41

  1. Veracity

Veracity, or the habitual observance of truth, is a bright and shining quality on the part of any one who strives to make the most of life’s possibilities. It irradiates all of his surroundings, making plain the path of duty, and hence the path which leads to the most enduring success. It is the bond of union and the basis of human happiness. Without this virtue, there is no reliance upon language, no confidence in friendship, no security in promises and oaths.

Truth is always consistent with itself, and needs nothing to help it out. It is always near at hand, and sits upon our lips, and is ready to drop out before we are aware; whereas a lie is troublesome, and sets a man’s invention upon the rack; and one trick needs many more to make it good. It is dangerous to deviate far from the strict rule of veracity, even on the most trifling occasions. However guileless may be our intentions, the habit, if indulged, may take root, and gain on us under the cover of various pretenses, till it usurps a leading influence. Nothing appears so low and mean as lying and dissimulation; and it is observable that only weak animals endeavor to supply by craft the defects of strength which nature has given them. Dissimulation in youth is the forerunner of perfidy in old age. Its first appearance is the fatal omen of growing depravity and future shame. It degrades parts and learning, obscures the luster of every accomplishment, and sinks us into contempt.

The path of falsehood is a perplexing maze. After the first departure from sincerity, it is not in our power to stop. One artifice unavoidably leads on to another, till, as the intricacies of the labyrinth increase, we are left entangled in our snare. Falsehood is difficult to be maintained. When the materials of a building are solid stone, very rude architecture will suffice; but a structure of rotten materials needs the most careful adjustment to make it stand at all. The love of truth and right is the grand spring source of integrity. The study of truth is perpetually joined with the love of virtue. For there is no virtue which derives not its original from truth; as, on the contrary, there is no vice which has not its beginning in a lie. Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all society.

Strict veracity requires something more than merely the speaking of truth. There are lying looks as well as lying words; dissembling smiles, deceiving signs, and even a lying silence. Not to intend what you speak is to give your heart the lie with your tongue; and not to perform what you promise is to give your tongue the lie with your actions. Deception exhibits itself in many forms—in reticency on the one hand or exaggeration on the other; in disguise or concealment; in pretended concurrence in others’ opinions; in assuming an attitude of conformity which is deceptive; in making promises, or in allowing them to be implied, which are never intended to be performed; or even in refraining from speaking the truth when to do so is a duty. There are also those who are all things to all men, who say one thing and do another. But those who are essentially insincere fail to evoke confidence, and, in the end discover that they have only deceived themselves while thinking they were deceiving others.

Lying is in some cases the offspring of perversity and vice, and in many others of sheer moral cowardice. Plutarch calls lying the vice of a slave. There is no vice, says Lord Bacon, that so covers a man with shame as to be found false and perfidious. Every lie, great or small, is the brink of a precipice, the depth of which nothing but Omniscience can fathom. Denying a fault always doubles it. All that a man can get by lying and dissembling is that he will not be believed when he speaks the truth. A liar is subject to two misfortunes, neither to believe nor to be believed. If falsehood, says Montaigne, like truth, had but one face, we should be upon better terms; for we should then, take the contrary of what the liar says for certain truth.

We are not called upon to speak all that we know; that would be folly. But what a man says should be what he thinks; otherwise it is knavery. No wrong is ever made better, but always worse, by a falsehood. Even when detection does not follow, suspicion is always created. Wrong is but falsehood put in practice. The Chinese have a proverb which says, “A lie has no legs, and can not stand;” but it has wings and can fly far and wide. You never can unite, though you may try ever so hard, the antagonistic elements of truth and falsehood. The man who forgets a great deal that has happened has a better memory than he who remembers a great deal that never happened.

After all, the most natural beauty in the world is honesty and moral truth; for all beauty is truth. True features make the beauty of a face, and true proportions the beauty of architecture, as true measure that of harmony and music. In poetry, truth still is the perfection. Fiction must be governed by truth, and can only please by its resemblance to truth. The appearance of reality is necessary to agreeably represent any passion, and to be able to move others we must be moved ourselves, or at least seem to be so upon some probable ground. Falsehood itself is never so susceptible as when she baits her hook with truth, and no opinions so fatally mislead us as those that are not wholly wrong. No watch so effectually deceives the wearer as those that are sometimes right.

Such are the imperfections of mankind that the duplicities, the temptations, and the infirmities that surround us have rendered the truth, and nothing but the truth, as hazardous and contraband a commodity as a man can possibly deal in. Colton says that “pure truth, like pure gold, has been found unfit for circulation;” and another has said, “It is dangerous to follow truth too near lest she should kick out your teeth.” The trouble consists not in obeying the behests of strict veracity, but in lack of prudence and ordinary caution. While all we tell should be the truth, it is not always necessary to tell all the truth, unless the other one have a right to know. Silence is always an alternative with truth. Remember that the silken cords of love must ever be linked with those of truth; otherwise they will but gall and irritate, instead of guiding into paths of rectitude.

, In, pager

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