Read LETTER III - FALSEHOOD AND TRUTHFULNESS of The Young Lady's Mentor, free online book, by A Lady, on

I do not accuse you of being a liar far from it; on the contrary, I believe that if truth and falsehood were distinctly placed before you, and the opportunity of a deliberate choice afforded you, you would rather expose yourself to serious injury than submit to the guilt of falsehood. It is, therefore, with the more regret that your conscientious friends observe a daily-growing disregard of absolute truth in your statement of indifferent things, and, à plus forte raison, in your statement of your own side of the question as opposed to that of another. There are, unfortunately, a thousand opportunities and temptations to the exaggerated mode of expression for which I blame you; and these temptations are generally of so trifling a nature, that the whole energies of the conscience are never awakened to resist them, as might be the case were the evil to others and the disgrace to yourself more strikingly manifest. Few people seem to be at all aware of the difficulties that really attend speaking the exact truth, or they would shrink from indulging in any habits that immeasurably increase these difficulties, increase it, indeed, to such a degree, that some minds appear to have lost the very power of perceiving truth; so that, even when they are extremely anxious to be correct in their statement, there is a total incapacity of transmitting a story to another in the way that they themselves received it. This is one of the most striking temporal punishments of sin, one of those that are the inevitable consequences of the sin itself, and quite independent of the other punishments which the revealed will of God attaches to it. The persons of whom I speak must sooner or later perceive that no dependence is placed on their statements, that even when respect and affection for their other good qualities may prevent a clear recognition of the falsehood of their character, yet that they are now never applied to for information on any matters of importance. Perhaps, to those who have any sensitiveness of observation, such doubts are even the more painful the more vaguely they are implied. For myself, I have long acquired the habit of translating the assertions and the stories of the persons of whom I speak into the language in which I judge they originally existed. By the aid of a small degree of ingenuity, it is not very difficult to ascertain, from the nature of the refracting medium, the degree and the direction of the change that has taken place in the pure ray of truth.

Yet such people as these often deserve pity as much as blame: they are, perhaps, unconscious of the degree in which habit has made them insensible to the perversion of truth in their statements; and even now they scarcely believe that what seems to them so true should appear and really be false to others. The intellectual effects of such habits are equally injurious with the moral ones. All natural clearness and distinctness of intellect becomes gradually obscured; the memory becomes perplexed; the very style of writing acquires the taint of the perverted mind. Truth is impressed upon every line of Dr. Arnold’s vigorous diction, while other writers of equal, perhaps, but less respectable eminence, betray, even in their mode of expression, the habitual want of honesty in their character and in their statements.

In your case, none of the habits of which I have spoken are, as yet, firmly implanted. A warm temper, ardent feelings, and a vivid imagination are, as yet, the only causes of your errors. You have still time and power to struggle against them, as the chains of habit have not been added to those of nature. But, before the struggle begins, you must be convinced of its necessity; and this is probably the point on which you are entirely incredulous. Listen to me, then, while I help you to discover the hidden mysteries of a heart that “is deceitful above all things,” and let the self-examination I urge upon you be prompt, be immediate. Let it be exercised through the day that is coming; watch the manner in which you express yourself on every subject; observe, especially those temptations which will assail you to venture upon greater deviations from truth than those which you think you may harmlessly indulge in, under the sanction of vivid imagination, poetic fancy, &c. This latter part of the examination may throw great light on the subject: people are not assailed frequently and strongly by temptations that have never, at any former time, been yielded to.

I have reason to believe that, as one of the preparations for such self-examination, you entertain a deep sense of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, and feel an anxious desire to approve yourself as a faithful servant to your heavenly Master. I do not, therefore, suppose that at present any temptation would induce you to incur the guilt of a deliberate falsehood. The perception of moral evil may, however, be so blunted by habits of mere carelessness, that I should have no dependence on your adhering for many future years to even this degree of plain, downright truth, unless those habits are decidedly broken through. But do not, from this, imagine that I consider a distinct, decided falsehood more, but rather less, dangerous for the future of your character than those lighter errors of which I have spoken. Though you may sink so far, in course of time, as to consider even a direct lie a very small transgression of the law of God, you will never be able to persuade yourself that it is entirely free from sin. The injury, too, to our neighbour, of a direct lie, can be so much more easily guarded against, that, for the sake of others, I am far more earnest in warning you against equivocation than against decided falsehood. It is sadly difficult for the injured person to ward off the effects of a deceitful glance, a misleading action, an artful insinuation. No earthly defence is of any avail here, as the sorrows of many a wounded heart can testify; but for such injured ones there is a sure, though it may be a long-suffering, Defender. He is the Judge of all the earth; and even in this world he will visit, with a punishment inevitably involved in the consequences of their crime, those who have in any manner deceived their neighbour to his hurt.

I do not, however, accuse you of exaggerating or equivocating from malice alone: no, more frequently it is for the sake of mere amusement, or, at the worst, in cowardly self-defence; that is, you prefer throwing the blame by insinuation upon an innocent person to bearing courageously what you deserve yourself. In most cases, indeed, you can plead in excuse that the blame is not of any serious nature; that the insinuated accusation is slight enough to be entirely harmless: so it may appear to you, but so it frequently happens not to be. This insinuated accusation, appearing to you so unimportant, may have some peculiar relations that make it more injurious to the slandered one than the original blame could have been to yourself. It may be the means of separating her from her chief friend, or shaking her influence in quarters where perhaps it was of great importance to her that it should be preserved unimpaired. When we lay sinful hands on the complicated machinery of God’s providence, it is impossible for us to see how far the derangement may extend.

You may, during the course of this coming day, have an opportunity of giving your own version of a matter in which another was concerned with you, and in which, if the blame is thrown on her, she will have no opportunity of defending herself. Be on your guard, then; have a noble courage; fear nothing but the meanness and the wickedness of accusing the absent and the defenceless. The opportunity offered you to-day of speaking conscientiously, however trifling it may in itself appear, may possibly be the turning point of your life; may lead you on to future habits of cowardice and deceit, or may impart to you new vigilance and energy for future victories over temptation.

You may, also, during the course of this day, be strongly tempted as to the mode of repeating what another has said in conversation: the slightest turn in the expression of the sentence, the insertion or omission of one little word, the change of a weaker to a stronger expression, may exactly adapt to your purpose the sentence you are tempted to repeat. You may also often be able to say to yourself that you are giving the impression of the real meaning of the speaker, only withheld by herself because she had not courage to express it. Opportunities such as these are continually offering themselves to you, and you have ingenuity enough to make the desired change in the repeated sentence so effectual, that there will be no danger of contradiction, even if the betrayed person should discover that she is called upon to defend herself. I have heard this so cleverly done, that the success was complete, and the poor slandered one lost, in consequence, her admirer or her friend, or at least much of her influence over them. You, too, may in like manner succeed: but what is the loss of others in comparison of the penalty of your success? The punishment of successful sin is not to be escaped.

In any of the cases I here bring forward as illustrations, as helps to your self-examination, I am not supposing that there is any tangible, positive, wilful deceit in your heart, or that you deliberately contemplate any very serious injury being inflicted on the persons whose conversations and actions you misrepresent. On the contrary, I know that you are not thus hardened in sin. With regard, however, to the deceit not assuming any tangible form in your own eyes, you ought to remember the solemn words, “Thou, O God I seest me;” and what is sin in his eyes can only fail to be so in ours from the neglect of strict self-examination and prayer that the Spirit of the Lord may search the very depths of the heart. Sins of ignorance seem to assume even a deeper dye than others, when the ignorance only arises from wilful neglect of the means of knowledge so abundantly and freely bestowed. When you once begin in right earnest to try to speak the truth from your heart, in the smallest as well as in the greatest things, you will be surprised to find how difficult it is. Carelessness, false shame, a desire for admiration, a vanity that leads you to disclaim any interest in that which you cannot obtain, these are all temptations that beset your path, and ought to terrify you against adding the chains of habit to so many other difficulties.

There is one more point of view in which I wish you to consider this subject; that, namely, of “honesty being the best policy.” There is no falsehood that is not found out in the end, and so turned to the shame of the person who is guilty of it. You may perpetually dread, even at present, the eye of the discriminating observer; she can see through you, even at the very moment of your committal of sin; she quickly discovers that it is your habit to depreciate people or things, only because you are not in your turn valued by them, or because you cannot obtain them; she can see, in a few minutes’ conversation, that it is your habit to say that you are admired and loved, that your society is eagerly sought for by such and such people, whether it be the case or not. Quick observers discover in a first interview what others will not fail to discover after a time. They will then cease to depend upon you for information on any subject in which your own interest or your vanity is concerned. They will turn up their eyes in wonder, from habit and politeness, not from belief. They will always suspect some hidden motive for your words, instead of the one you put forward; nay, your giving one reason for your actions will, by itself alone, set them on the search to discover a different one. All this, perhaps, will in many cases take place without their accusing you, even in their secret thoughts, of being a liar. They have only a vague consciousness that you are, it may be involuntarily, quite incapable of giving correct information.

The habitual, the known truth-speaker, occupies a proud position. Alas! that it should be so rare. Alas! that, even among professedly religious people, there should be so few who speak the truth from the heart; so few to whom one can turn with a fearless confidence to ask for information on any points of personal interest. I need not to be told that it is during childhood that the formation of strict habits of truthfulness is at once most sure and most easy. The difficulty is indeed increased ten thousandfold, when the neglect of parents has suffered even careless habits on this point to be contracted. The difficulties, however, though great, are not insuperable to those who seek the freely-offered grace of God to help them in the conflict. The resistance to temptation, the self-control, will indeed be more difficult when the effort begins later in life; but the victory will be also the more glorious, and the general effects on the character more permanent and beneficial. Not that this serves as any excuse for the cruel neglect of parents, for they can have no certainty that future repentance will be granted for those habits of sin, the formation of which they might have prevented.

Dwelling, however, even in thought, on the neglect of our parents can only lead to vain murmurings and complainings, and prevent the concentration of all our energies and interest upon the extirpation of the dangerous root of evil.

In this case, as in all others, though the sin of the parent is surely visited on the children, the very visitation is turned into a blessing for those who love God. To such blessed ones it becomes the means of imparting greater strength and vigour to the character, from the perpetual conflicts to which it is exposed in its efforts to overcome early habits of evil.

Thus even sin itself is not excepted from the all things that work together for good to them that love God."