The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories HTML version

My First Lie, And How I Got Out Of It
As I understand it, what you desire is information about 'my first lie, and how I got out of
it.' I was born in 1835; I am well along, and my memory is not as good as it was. If you
had asked about my first truth it would have been easier for me and kinder of you, for I
remember that fairly well. I remember it as if it were last week. The family think it was
week before, but that is flattery and probably has a selfish project back of it. When a
person has become seasoned by experience and has reached the age of sixty-four, which
is the age of discretion, he likes a family compliment as well as ever, but he does not lose
his head over it as in the old innocent days.
I do not remember my first lie, it is too far back; but I remember my second one very
well. I was nine days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and
I advertised it in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most
agreeable way and got a ration between meals besides.
It was human nature to want to get these riches, and I fell. I lied about the pin--
advertising one when there wasn't any. You would have done it; George Washington did
it, anybody would have done it. During the first half of my life I never knew a child that
was able to rise about that temptation and keep from telling that lie. Up to 1867 all the
civilised children that were ever born into the world were liars-- including George. Then
the safety-pin came in and blocked the game. But is that reform worth anything? No; for
it is reform by force and has no virtue in it; it merely stops that form of lying, it doesn't
impair the disposition to lie, by a shade. It is the cradle application of conversion by fire
and sword, or of the temperance principle through prohibition.
To return to that early lie. They found no pin and they realised that another liar had been
added to the world's supply. For by grace of a rare inspiration a quite commonplace but
seldom noticed fact was borne in upon their understandings--that almost all lies are acts,
and speech has no part in them. Then, if they examined a little further they recognised
that all people are liars from the cradle onwards, without exception, and that they begin to
lie as soon as they wake in the morning, and keep it up without rest or refreshment until
they go to sleep at night. If they arrived at that truth it probably grieved them--did, if they
had been heedlessly and ignorantly educated by their books and teachers; for why should
a person grieve over a thing which by the eternal law of his make he cannot help? He
didn't invent the law; it is merely his business to obey it and keep still; join the universal
conspiracy and keep so still that he shall deceive his fellow-conspirators into imagining
that he doesn't know that the law exists. It is what we all do--we that know. I am speaking
of the lie of silent assertion; we can tell it without saying a word, and we all do it--we that
know. In the magnitude of its territorial spread it is one of the most majestic lies that the
civilisations make it their sacred and anxious care to guard and watch and propagate.
For instance. It would not be possible for a humane and intelligent person to invent a
rational excuse for slavery; yet you will remember that in the early days of the
emancipation agitation in the North the agitators got but small help or countenance from