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Σχέτλις, ποικιλομήτα, δόλων ατ', εκ ά έμελλης
Μύθων τε κλοπίων, οί του πεδόθεν φίλοι είσιν. Odyss. 13. Sır,-- reckon myself one of the most accomplished liars of the day. I tell a lie the most readily, the most ingeniously, the most unblushingly of any of my acquaintance. But that is not all : not only are my lips false, but I lie with my eyes, I lie with my gestures, I lie with my habitual carriage : my shovel-shaped hat is a lie, my snuff-coloured dittoes and bob-wig are lies, the bright polish of my Day and Martin blacking is a lie; in short every thing about me, from the deafness of my ears to the shuffle in my heels, is a mere imposition and a thorough falsehood.
So completely indeed am I embued with the spirit of deception, that I do not think I should now make
communication if I had not a sort of conviction that you will not believe me. Lucian thought himself excused for writing lies in his true history, because he gave fair notice; and I consider myself as derogating in nothing from the unity and simplicity of my character, by telling truths that will mislead more than the most ingenious fictions. I have often pondered most seriously but without being able to arrive at any satisfactory solution of the difficulty, upon the reasons which have induced mankind to resent so deeply the imputation of falsehood, and to consider it as a stain upon the reputation, which nothing but blood can wash away. Their whole reasonings on this subject seem to me very capricious and absurd. For, admitting their own premises, and allowing (what I am very far from being disposed to concede) that a lie has something in its nature so very discreditable, yet “all the blood of all the Howards” cannot alter the nature of things, and make that true which is in itself false ; and I cannot conceive how a man grows a bit the less a liar, by becoming a murderer into the bargain. But, leaving this point to nicer casuists, I must take leave to remark, that the preliminary absurdity is not less of being so mortally offended at the imputation itself; seeing not only that all mankind, more or less, indulge in this figure of rhetoric, but that children and savages (those nearest to a state of nature) are the most egregious liars. Is there a nation in the civilized world that does not pride itself most upon those
of its early history, which are the most palpably and extravagantly false? Have not the Greeks their Hercules, and their Cadmus, and their Theseus, and above all, that arch impostor and liar, their Ulysses ? Have not the Romans their Romulus and their Quintus Curtius ? the Peruvians their Manco Capac ? the Irish their Milesius, and the English their Trojan Brute? If lying be so terrible an offence, why do we read with so much pleasure, Herodotus, and Livy, and Vertot. Liars, says the proverb, should have good memories :--they require also ingenuity, invention, the promptitude of an improvisatore, and the lucid comprehension of intellect of a first-rate mechanist. Liars also require great judgment, in order to see clearly when a lie will and will not tell, and likewise to take care that it be not thrown away on an inadequate subject. This I take to be the moral of the apologue of the Shepherd's Boy and the Wolf, which figures in the first book we you lie”
put into the hands of children. That mendacious guardian of the sheepfold was in the habit of calling “wolf” from mere wantonness and sport, to laugh at his comrades,-a most reprehensible practice; whereas, had he kept this fiction for some great occasion, he would not have lost his lambs.
Besides the qualifications already enumerated, a liar requires great self-possession; that modification of courage which confers command of countenance; and that species of perseverance which is falsely called obstinacy, and which enables the liar to bear up against the clearest evidence, and to assert the most hardily when proof weighs the heaviest against him. From all these considerations, I am inclined, then, to think, that the importance attached to giving the lie depends upon its being a slur upon the understanding ; and that “ means nothing more than, "you are found out,” you want the talent of lying like truth," "you are a bungling blockhead, and use a weapon without understanding its management:"-the criminality, like that of the Spartan pickpocket, being placed altogether in the detection. The same indeed is the case with respect to borough traffic, cheating at cards, crim. con.robbing "the King's exchequer," and many other pleasurable and profitable amusements of the like nature.
Having premised thus much concerning the art of lying, I shall proceed with the immediate object of my letter--a sketch of my own life. I received from my parents what is called a liberal education; and, after spending three years at college, was articled to an attorney, with whom I was initiated into the mysteries of the law. My master's office was a climate congenial to my nature. I was particularly delighted with those theoretical tamperings with the truth, called "fictions of the law :" the process of ejectment, with all its gratuitous suppositions of actions that never were done, and of things that never happened, was my especial delight; but my joy was without bounds, when, on entering into the practice of the law, I found a field so thoroughly adapted to my talents and dispositions. My progress accordingly was rapid. I was early admitted a partner in the business, and I have no doubt that I should have speedily made a great fortune, but unluckily being entrapped in giving evidence by a close hunks of a counsellor, and thus compelled to speak the truth against my inclination, I was very abruptly struck off the roll, and dismissed to exercise my talents in some other profession.
“The world was all before me, where to choose," and I chose to become a paragraph-collector for the daily journals. It is astonishing the scope this employment affords to a man of bright parts and mendacious disposition ! His writings may be considered as the chronicles of whatever is not: accidents that never happened, fires that never burned, floods that never quitted the bed of their river, feats of horsemanship and of pedestrian exertion that were never performed, battles that were never fought, treaties that were never signed, marriages which were never celebrated, fêtes that were never given, “lame ducks” that never waddled,” ghosts that never appeared, volcanoes, storms, earthquakes, duels, murders, and highway-robberies, all mere entes rationis, and children born with more heads and members than ever were found in the bottles of a show-anatomist. The political intelligence of such a writer is like the decree of Demosthenes alluded
to by Æschines. His criticisms have the decided advantage of not forestalling the works they review, but rather enhance the pleasure of the reader, by the surprise of finding so wide a disagreement between reality and representation. His family anecdotes are perfect additions to national biography; while, if he sometimes insinuates an imaginary fault in the character of his heroes, he fully makes amends by a corresponding supposition of virtues liberally conferred upon the objects of his paid panegyrics.
From this department of my natural vocation I was driven, something like Sir Francis Wronghead, by saying ay when I should have said no: for, by an unlucky mistake, I sent a paragraph intended for an Opposition paper to a Court journal. It was inserted without examination, and the Minister was accused in his own demi-official gazette of a gross peculation! The hubbub was extreme; the editor was rated, and lost half his pension; the proprietor was but that must not be told); and I was kicked out of the office, and threatened with an indictment for libel.
Being reduced very low in circumstances by this unfortunate event, my next appearance was in the character of a mute at a funeral. But the change in my fortunes rendered my rueful countenance so faithful an index of the mind, and my sorrows were so genuinely unaffected, that I soon became discontented with a station so uncongenial to my talents, and embraced the offer of a quack doctor to write the statements of his cures, and to give the last touches of pathos to the deplorable cases of incurable malady, which he had most miraculously restored to health and longevity.
The next step I took is not difficult to foresee. From lying for others I commenced liar on my own account, by stepping into my employer's shoes, pirating his nostrums, parodying his handbills, and turning Æsculapius myself. I shall not tell you the names under which I practised, for I am sure you would not believe me: suffice it to say, that by dint of impudence, threats, flattery, and a female coterie, I succeeded as well as the best of the regulars, be he who he may, and soon wormed myself into a genteel livelihood. Had I been as prudent as clever, I should soon have realized a handsome fortune ; but ce qui vient par la fúte s'en retourne par le tambour. I gave sumptuous entertainments, kept a dashing equipage, and played deep, in order to make my way in genteel life; and before I could qualify for a vote at the India House, a newer and more audacious impostor obtained possession of public credulity. I was obliged to abandon my profession --my patients having first abandoned me.
Reduced to the lowest in my hopes, and without a shilling I could call
my own, I found resources in my genius which arose even from my very distress. A liar, indeed, if any one, may boast lorsque je suis bien comprimé, &c.; for if necessity be the mother of invention, a liar can never be so truly great as when his necessities are the most pressing. Thus it happened that at my utmost need, and when absolutely without a dinner, I found my way into the Rotunda at the Bank, and unhesitatingly bought ten thousand Consols · for the account.'
The profession of a stockjobber was certainly made for me, or I for the profession--that, of all other trades, is the one in which “nothing is, but thinking makes it so.” No one ever was more ingenious in his fictions, nor laid them more cleverly at the door of a creditable authority, than I. No one ever played the game of brag with more confidence, swaggering away a fierce bull, at the very moment when speculating for a fall, and undoing by my subaltern agents what I affected to do myself. No one ever concealed mortification with a more smiling exterior : no one was more ingenious in letting his friends into a good thing, and taking equal advantage of their scepticism and their credulity. When really possessed of news, I have told it in a way that every one has thought it a “ taste of my own quality;" and I have let the world into the secret of fictitious intelligence, by dropping a “most confidential letter” where it was sure to be found. Regularly twice a week I contrived to be seen leaving the Foreign Office, in Downing-street, upon no better grounds than an acquaintance with the housekeeper ; and I had frequent expresses from France, that contained nothing but an old Drapeau blanc, or the last new caricature.
But, not to betray all “ the secrets of my prison-house,” it is enough to say, that with such talents failure was difficult, and I soon became rich enough to feel the full force of Jonathan Wild's axiom,“ that a lie is too precious a thing to be wasted." Accordingly I began to think establishing myself in the world, and of looking out for a wife.
Never, in the long course of my multifarious career, did I so much need the full extent of my resources as in my character of a lover. That is a part in which the honestest and the fairest dealers of us all are sure to dissemble:—what then might not be expected from my talents and habits? The whole art and mystery of courtship consists in disguising vices, feigning virtues, concealing deficiencies, and counterfeiting raptures, in gross adulation, an affected oversight of female follies, a false air of forbearance and indulgence, a calm temper, and the transversion of every defect, moral and physical, in the objects of our preference, into a beauty or a perfection : always bearing in mind that this must be practised with rigour in the exact proportion in which, after the
ceremony, the lady is to be treated with neglect and contempt. Is the party a porpoise ? nothing is so becoming as en bon point. Is she a walking skeleton? nothing so elegant as a svelte nymph-like figure. Is she a fool? what charming simplicity! Is she a shrew? how pregnant her wit! Then the small-pox gives an interesting variety to a countenance; a nose like a knocker confers expression; bad teeth prevent an eternal senseless giggle; and a foul breath is--absolutely imperceptible!
What, however, adds to the charm and the difficulty of these practices, is the reciprocity of the contest. We are not only required to carry the war into the enemy's country, but to protect our own frontiers. The lady is often the greatest liar of the two: her interest in deception is the most urgent, and her education is not unfrequently directed to this “ one thing needful;” so that it is often, in these cases, à fripon, fripon et demi; and happy is the man who is only duped in the arrangements of the settlement.
The first lady with whom I engaged was one of this class; and it is not saying a little of her to tell, that she was as great an adept in simulation and dissimulation as myself. Her devoted tenderness, her affecting sensibility, her thousand nameless attentions, so gratifying to vanity, and therefore so winning, had nearly united me to the veriest she-tiger that ever gave battle; but the fortunate fall of a looking-glass so threw the lady off her centre, as to give me a very intelligible notice to quit; which I accepted accordingly: and, backing out with the best grace I could muster, made my bow, and for that time escaped unhurt.
The next lady I addressed was, in her way, also a perfect living lie. She was of a certain age-the most uncertain, as Lord Byron justly remarks, in female biography.
I never heard nor could engage
Which surely is exceedingly absurd. She seldom appeared in open day without a veil, but sat at home in rooms shaded with a verandah, and farther protected from the intrusion of too much light by muslin curtains. She remained much on a sofa, and rarely ventured to cross an open space without taking somebody's arm, or at least drawing a large square shawl over her shoulders to conceal the stiffness of her movements. Her hair was black and profuse, and her teeth white and regular: both, as Martial has it, were her own; for the artists who sold them had been duly paid. Her age was eight-and-twenty-an age at which, for many years, she had pertinaciously stuck; though latterly, those who best knew her affirmed, that she began to retrograde, and become annually younger as life advanced. This affirmation, however, I was the less disposed to credit, as the party herself was observed to allude to the subject much less frequently than formerly, and therefore did not give her friends such opportunities of knowing the truth from the best source. perhaps, too girlish and flirting for the time of life at which she chose to remain, but then it betrayed a most winning innocence. Her passion was sentiment and fine feeling, and, except in the arrangement of her marriage-articles, her notions were romantic and high-flown. I had hitherto been so closely occupied in watching the progress of my own deceits, in measuring every look, and guarding every expression of my own carriage, that I had paid comparatively but little attention to others; especially to those of the softer sex, with whom I had maintained but little intercourse. Like the “good saint,” I
What the wily sex could do. It is not, therefore, surprising, that with such an antagonist I was nearly bitten; anıl the "fair ruin" (to quote once more the Irish Anacreon) had nearly brought matters to an issue, when an issue which accident discovered, not " lawfully begotten," prevented our joining issue, and so put an end abruptly to the projected marriage.
It is not my present purpose to detail a long series of love-adventures : suffice it, that at length I did marry; when the truth, most involuntarily on both parts, soon came to light. The lady had much fewer charms and many more debts than she had pretended, while my pecuniary obligations were at least ten times as many as I had ever ventured to disturb her peace of mind by alluding to. She had also concealed a long episode in her early life, not very compatible with virgin innocence; and I for my part did not mention a certain sentimental friendship I maintained with a widow, who benevolently reared
Her air was,