Read To Miss Elsie Dean of A Woman of the World, free online book, by Ella Wheeler Wilcox, on

Regarding the Habit of Exaggeration

During your visit here with my niece, I became much interested in you.

Zoe had often written me of her affection for you, and I can readily understand her feeling, now that I have your personal acquaintance.

You have no mother, and your father, you say, absorbed in business, like so many American fathers, seems almost a stranger.  Even the most devoted fathers, rarely understand their daughters.

Now, I want to take the part of a mother and write you to-day, as I would write my own daughter, had one been bestowed upon me with the many other blessings which are mine.

I could not ask for a fairer, more amiable, or brighter daughter than you, nor one possessed of a kinder or more unselfish nature.

You are lovable, entertaining, industrious, and refined.

But you possess one fault which needs eradicating, or at least a propensity which needs directing.

It is the habit of exaggeration in conversation.

I noticed that small happenings, amusing or exciting, became events of colossal importance when related by you.

I noticed that brief remarks were amplified and grew into something like orations when you repeated them.

I confess that you made small incidents more interesting, and insignificant words acquired poetic meaning under your tongue.

And I confess also that you never once wronged or injured any one by your exaggerations-save yourself.

Zoe often said to me, “Isn’t it wonderful how Elsie’s imagination lends a halo to the commonest event,” and all your friends know that you have this habit of hyperbole in conversation.

Now, in your early girlhood, it is lightly regarded as “Elsie’s way.”  Later, in your maturity, I fear it will be called a harsher name.

When you come to the time of life that larger subjects than girlish pranks and badinage engage your mind, it will be necessary for you to be more exact in your descriptions of occurrences and conversations.  Besides this, there is the heritage of your unborn children to consider.  I once knew a little girl who possessed the same vivid imagination, and allowed it to continue unchecked through life.  She married, and her son, to-day, is utterly devoid of fine moral senses.  He is a mental monstrosity-incapable of telling the truth.  His falsehoods are many and varied, and his name is a synonym of untruth.  He relates, as truth, the most marvellous exploits in which he really never took part, and describes scenes and places he has never visited, save through the pages of some novel.

His lack of moral sense has blighted his mother’s life, and she is wholly unconscious that he is only an exaggerated edition of herself.

I think, as a rule, such imaginations as you possess belong to the literary mind.  I would advise you to turn your attention to story-writing, and in that occupation you will find vent for your romantic tendencies.

Meanwhile watch yourself and control your speech.

Learn to be exact.

Tell the truth in small matters, and do not allow yourself to indulge in seemingly harmless white lies of exaggeration.

There are times when we should refrain from speaking all the truth, but we should refrain by silence or an adroit change of subject.  We should not feel called upon to relate all the unpleasant truths we know of people.

When asked what we know of some acquaintance, we are justified in telling the worthy and commendable traits, and saying nothing of the faults.

Therefore, while to suppress a portion of the truth is at times wise and kind, to distort it, or misstate facts, is never needed and never excusable.

When you and Zoe came from your drive one day you were full of excitement over an adventure with a Greek road merchant.

As you told the story, the handsome peddler had accosted you at the exit of the post-office and asked you to look at his wares.

When you declined he became familiar, paid a compliment to Zoe’s beauty, and assured her that a certain lace shawl in his possession would be irresistible draped about her face.

Then he had pursued the carriage on his wheel and continued to “make eyes” and pay compliments to the very gate of my home, where he abandoned the chase.

The facts were, according to further investigation, that the man paid a simple trade compliment in reference to the shawl and its becomingness to a pretty face, mounted his wheel and rode away, as it happened, in the same direction you and Zoe were taking.

Again, you related a bit of repartee between Zoe and a caller, which I had chanced to over-hear, and out of two short sentences you made a small brochure, most amusing, but most untrue.

It was complimentary to both Zoe and her caller, yet it was not the conversation which took place, and therefore was not truthful.

These are trifling incidents, yet they are the straws, telling that the wind blows from the marsh-lands of inexactness-not from the mountain tops of truth.

Once a woman loses a sense of the great value of absolute truthfulness, she has blurred the clear mirror of her soul.

Put yourself upon a diet of facts, my sweet young friend, and cure this propensity, harmless enough now, but dangerous for your future.

Watch your tongue that it does not say five or six when it should say two, or yards when it should say inches.

Even in the smallest matters, practise the habit of being exact.

You will thank me for this advice sometime, even if it seems unreasonable to you to-day, and remember, I would not take the liberty or the trouble to so advise you, did I not love you and feel anxious for your welfare.