Twain, Mark. "On the Decay of the Art of Lying".
"Essay, for Discussion, Read at a Meeting of the Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford, and Offered for the Thirty-Dollar Prize*. Now First Published. (*Did Not Take the Prize)."
The speaker grieves not at the perishing of the lie, which will not perish as long as the Club exists, but at the decay of the art of lying.
Lying is the necessity of our circumstances, a virtue which should be taught at school and cultivated. The speaker emphasizes the importance of judicious lying. An old proverb says that children and fools always speak the truth. What follows is that adults and wise persons never speak it. The speaker claims that everybody lies and gives examples from a far country.
For instance ladies habitually visit each other and lie that they are glad to see each other. When they come home, they express in a happy voice that they had sixteen engagements, but fourteen of them were out. They are happy they missed the fourteen.
Or when men ask their friends "howdy", it is a lie. They do not care, unless that they are undertakers. In this case the speaker recommends courteous lying. It is advisable to complain of one's failing health when speaking to an undertaker. It will please him and not hurt the liar in any way.
Injurious truth is as bad as an injurious lie. Silent lie may also be dangerous. The speaker gives again an example from a far country. A lady claims that she never lies, but when she has to fill in the blank to give information about the nurse which was staying by her sick son, she leaves a blank space. The nurse was perfect, her only fault was not wrapping up the child well when she was rearranging his bed. The narrator horrifies the lady with a vision of the nurse causing a death of another child. The lady then rushes to the family where the nurse now stays to find the child happy and healthy. The lady sends a note of faults of the nurse to the hospital the very next day.
The speaker emphasizes the necessity of training oneself in judicious lying. It is necessary to lie with a good intention in mind, to lie for others' advantage, to lie charitably. The speech concludes with the speaker addressing the public without flattering as "Old Masters".
AuthorTwain, Mark. (1835 - 1910).
Full Title"On the Decay of the Art of Lying".
Twain, Mark. "On the Decay of the Art of Lying". (1882). In: Alonzo Fitz and Other Stories. NY: First World Library, 2004.