The Gutenberg of clear thinking traced to Poughkeepsie
Gutenberg on the Hudson
The engaging book L I A R S published by F. W. Wilson of Poughkeepsie in 1911 is a remarkable condemnation and defense of lying. The author, whose name is not disclosed perhaps for reasons of personal safety, has possibly created an entirely original work but seems at first blush to owe something to earlier authors. If so, he may have began his book[let] on lies with a lie. I hope not. In particular an article in the Atlantic Monthly, Vol. XI February 1863 relentlessly comes up as a best, if not perfect, match in Google search for the article’s first paragraph. For me it’s a concern because this book has made me aware that life is a cesspool and I am in it. Perhaps Mr. Wilson is the unnamed author and true to his subject, demure. It’s a shame for this book reaches into the empyrean to deliver perspective on both personal and business relations and the current presidential election and its author deserves their due. For this honor I nominate Mr. Wilson.
For those who do not yet have a copy of this Gutenberg in the cradle a link is provided at the end of this article to the full text, all 4,544 words of it. It is a slim work, grand in comparison to the 272 words in the Gettysburg Address and brief when juxtaposed to War and Peace that in its original Russian and French editions is a svelte 460,000 words while the English version that has tortured American students for generations languorously proceeds to its conclusion north of 560,000. The author of the Poughkeepsie masterpiece gets in, gets started, gets done and is on his way home before the Little Princess, in Tolstoi’s third chapter utters, at the 1% mark.
“’Charming,’ sticking the needle into her work as if to testify that the interest and fascination of the story prevented her from going on with it.”
Whew that was close. For Tolstoi’s captives there would be mountains more of words to plow while for acolytes of the Poughkeepsie Shakespeare only bows to be taken. Brevity is the soul of wit.
More to the point War and Peace, in ponderous detail, details the French invasion of Russia and its impact on Russian society, a small event that without snow becomes mud. Mr. Wilson by comparison, with rapier sharp prose details the thunderous characteristic that separates men from all other living things, the ability of obfuscate, mislead and lie. A dog will like you or not, with mankind all the shades of warmth, need, desire and calculation converge to make the simple calculus of “what does he want and what does he mean” endlessly more complex. Mr. Wilson, with the precise insertion of the surgeon’s scalpel cuts right to the chase – thus saving other potential Tolstois from writer’s cramp and his and their readers from blindness.
Plunging in Mr. Wilson allows that “all men are liars” and I cannot, in all modesty disagree. Personal experience suggests that the line between truth and fiction is a distinction least clearly seen in the present, later obscured by time, forgiven by inheritors, forgotten by the disinterested and retained only by the few who coax grudges to life and water them daily. You’ve no doubt heard of the seven deadly sins. Make that eight.
In his work the Poughkeepsie seer sets out to help the shy and near-sighted to see their errors and then grades them by purpose and motive. For many readers a fair examination will clarify the reasons why they won’t be going to heaven, something they already knew but may have forgotten. The author will remind them.
The Gutenberg of clear thinking traced to Poughkeepsie
Distinctions - they are all in the fine print
Read this carefully, it will help you to discover your class as a liar.
If your lies are as the sand of the seas, don’t get discouraged; remember, there are others.
Price 15 Cents
Published by F. W. Wilson, Poughkeepsie, New York.
I want to enter a protest against the sweeping assertion that a lie is always an unmitigated evil. Instead, I want to urge discrimination between the one who lies like a loafer and a brute, and the one who lies like a gentleman – between the lie that is cursed by foul motive, and the lie that is sanctified and glorified by love and sacrifice.
By F. W. Wilson [attributed]
King David exclaimed in his haste, “All men are liars.” It is generally assumed that the assertion is incorrect because hastily uttered. It appears to be a snap judgment on mankind which mature and deliberate judgment might modify and tone down. Observe, however, that it states the exclamation was made in haste. It does not state that David’s opinion was hastily reached. There are many opinions deliberately formed not to be hastily expressed. David knew men pretty well and hit it off pretty pat at times. Out of his rich and varied experience that touched nearly all the keys of life’s chromatic scale he understood the moral tendency of the genus homo. From the deductions of history derived from a broad, observing and reflective experience we may safely infer that if David had taken a long time to deliberate upon the proposition, he would have reached the same conclusion.
According to the dictionary a lie is a willful deception, and a liar is one who willfully deceives. This is the definition boiled down so as to be readily understood. An innocent lie or innocent liar is a paradox. By innocent lie is not meant moral innocence, but a deception not known to the deceiver. A lie implies the conscious recognition of deception on the part of the liar. There may be such thing as innocent deception, but not an innocent liar. Whether it is a passé female made over, or a promoter of a salted mine, conscious deception lines one up with the liars.
All men are natural born liars. The writer asserts this with confidence and courage as he is a safe distance from the reader who carries a gun. Isn’t it strange how we agree to a general proposition which relates to humanity generally, and then gets hot under the collar when some one applies it to us? And that is due to the fact that we care more for reputation than we do for character. Reputation is what others think about us; character is what we are. We get on our hind legs and cuss when someone openly states that about us which we inwardly know to be true. So when I assert that all men are natural born liars I expect my readers to agree with me, each excepting himself. I fancy, however, when we come to analyze, classify and list all sorts and degrees of liars, we will discover that about all of humanity is gathered into the net. Let us glance at a few to see how they look.
The man who exaggerates is a liar. Exaggeration is truth distorted into a lie. A possible exception may exist where exaggeration is employed for emphasis without deception. But when the exaggeration is put forth and accepted as a fact in its entirety it becomes a lie. Whenever over-statement is used to gain a point that could not be gained by a statement perfectly true to fact the one who uses it is a liar.
The flatterer is a liar. But he is usually a popular liar, especially with the ladies. And his popularity increases in proposition as the ladies are in the sere and yellow. But the male animal enjoys the flavor of flattery no less than his sisters. Men will flutter around a dashing widow while honest and pure maidenly beauty decorates the wall, because the merry widow knows from experience that male vanity needs to be tickled. She flatters an old knock-kneed, bald-headed and wrinkled asthmatic into the delusion that is still in the class of gay young Lotharios, and he comes across with a rush. She plays to the gallery of a fool’s vanities, and plays him for a sucker. The “moth and the candle” is but another expression for the fool and flattery. Flattery is exaggeration applied to personal vanity. It is not always evil. Frequently it is the milk of human kindness drawn from the breast of love and sympathy. A word of flattery may give confidence to a soul trembling with the weakness of timid self-consciousness. It helps to overcome stage freight in the drama of life. It is not infrequently the savior of a soul. It suggests possibilities, and as such it tastes good. But some don’t know when they have enough. They just live and fatten on it. With eagerness they swallow all that comes their way, and greedily lick their chops for more. Flattery may be administered like a tonic or like an emetic. It depends upon the skill of the flatterer and the susceptibility of the flattered. But it is very dangerous when it is given and imbibed as an intoxicant. The one who dances through life to the tune of flattery stands a fair chance of waltzing into ruin. Flattery should be taken homeopathically.
The business liar everywhere abounds. His name is legion. He lies to us in his advertisements. Most bargain sales are lies. In his prices he plays for cupidity. In the Farmer’s and Fruit Dealer’s packages fixed so deceptively on the outside. Tree Salesmen’s elegantly pictured catalogues. In Milk and Meats preserved with very injurious drugs. Defective manufactured goods, with defects hidden by paint and otherwise. Everywhere exaggeration and flattery are the bait upon the business hook. The average businessman stoutly maintains that it is impossible to successfully conduct business upon the level. It is game where wit meets wit with the lie as the whetstone upon which wit is brought to an edge. The man who can be a success in business without being a liar at times is yet to be discovered. From the panacea for all ills to the mail order proposition the business liar is in evidence. Extract and eliminate the lie from legal practice and all lawyers will go broke. Put the practice of medicine upon a strictly honest basis and two-thirds of the medical colleges will close their doors. Let all nations be square with each other and disarmament will follow. The genius of war is the liar. From the huckster at your door to the financiers of nations the whole range of business is shot through and through with the lie. Confidence may be the soul of business; but too often it is confidence in the ability of liars.
Turning to s-o-c-i-e-t-y the liar stares us unblushingly in the face. In artistic lying the society queen makes the mining stock shark green with envy. A florid faced, society crazed mother angling for a rich libertine or titled rake for her daughter is a liar in full bloom. Social convention covers a multitude of lies. The smile on the face of society is “the smile on the face of the tiger.” Strip the mask from the face of society; tear the garments from its form, and virtue will cry out for a return to Eden where the fig leaf will not be required to cover the same and disease. Modern “High Society” is the lie socialized. Virtue is there, but on every side she greets a liar. Religion is there also; but too often it merely serves to make liars respectable. In Society, factory forms surmounted by store faces are personalized lies endeavoring to tease satisfaction from dissipation. The social game is a ghost dance around a lie. The most impossible person in so-called social circles is one who has the unfortunate habit of telling the truth. Society’s chief and most unforgiveable sin is not the evil act, but the folly of getting caught.
When Prohibition made its wild gallop through the South and apparently put most boozologists out of business in several States in a way embarrassing to Pullman cars and local dispensers, some enterprising and inventive genius brought forth a substitute labeled “near beer.” A friend of mine who knows “what’s what” tried it, and confidentially imparted the information that it was “near enough to suit him.” So there are near liars, persons who try to skate as near the line which separates truth from falsehood as possible without falling in. But one who knows the real thing when he sees it, will find upon close examination that about the only difference is in the label. Not a few ministers are near liars, and some are the real thing. In near lying, ministers have the unfortunate tendency to work on the principle that the end justifies the means. By making clever distinctions, by a nice sense of the esoteric and exoteric, by cautious mental observations and private interpretations in which language is most discourteously treated, ordination vows are tossed to the winds, and honor is traded for position. In the practical administration of the average church the parson is swept into the stream of social convention where he has to do violence to principles laid down from the pulpit, or seek another call. Most honest persons are migratory with their hands held close back of the ears, eager to catch the faintest sound which might be a call from God to real service, only to find upon the accepting it that it is a call to the same old thing and compromise. If a modern and learned minister tells the truth he breaks his ordination vows, and if he keeps his vows, then he don’t tell the truth. So he tries to a near liar and balance himself on a wire drawn between truth and orthodoxy. It is but a short step from the minister who is a near liar to the man-in-the-street who is a real liar. Possibly real liars would grow less, if near liars would diminish.
Liars present certain color effects. In the picture of life they are thrown in so as to modify the color scheme. There are green liars, white liars, yellow liars, red liars and black liars. They are so distinguished, not by the color of the skin, but by the color of the lie. Glance over the elucidation of the list below to discover your special tint in the color scheme of lying! “Know thyself” is excellent advice, and it is well to include in such knowledge just the sort of liar you are. If your lies are as the sands of the sea, don’t get discouraged; remember, there are others.
The Green Liar is the verdant and shallow person whose lie fails to vitally deceive. He is so clumsy at it that he gives it away in the bungling. He is usually self-satisfied, and complacently views his effort as a stroke of genius while his victim is smiling behind his hand. The Green Liar is the one who tells lies for the mere move of it without intending real harm. He regards it as a sort of joke. He delights in depicting adventures in which he is the hero. He narrates a story so often that he really convinces himself of its truth. One of the most interesting phases of abnormal psychology may be discovered in the green liar.
White Liars are those who lie without intending harm and sometimes with the purpose of doing good. The white lie comes from the tendency to follow the path of least resistance. It is often the easiest way out of an embarrassing situation. Most flattery falls under the white lie. Social convention fairly bristles with white lies. Some are accepted rules of good form. Most excuses are white lies. In the white lie lies the explanation of the remarkable and paradoxical feat of being out and in at the same time, when an undesirable visitor is at the door. In physics we are taught that it is impossibility for two bodies to occupy the same space at the same time; but by the magic key of the white lie we may unlock the door of mystery and discover and discover a body occupying two spaces at the same time. Most white liars are easily soiled. White readily shows dirt. It is mighty hard to keep a white lie clean. When it is kept perfectly clean and white it is not dangerous.
A Yellow Liar belongs to the yellow variety of man. Some persons are so utterly selfish, contemptible and cowardly that we say they have a yellow streak running all through them. Whatever they may say or do has the same tinge. So when they lie the lie bears their color. A yellow lie is one of those mean sneaking contemptible lies of false suggestion and insinuation which just keeps within legal limits. In yellow journalism we see the Yellow Liar boldly portrayed, and the yellow lie written largely. A Yellow Liar will lie for so much per. You can buy him at a discount anywhere. The yellow lie is one of the most insidiously dangerous of all lies. It respects no person. Fine and noble character is a pet target against which to fling its poisoned lance. It knows no chivalry, and no courtesy of war. The Yellow Liar is a human hyena who prowls among the carrion of scandal in the dark. We find the Yellow Liar everywhere that scandal abounds. He creeps into every corner from the slum saloon to the church social. Whether clothed in rags or arrayed in silks it is the same nasty thing.
Blood drips from some lies. Certain lies tear open old sores, carve jagged wounds, and pierce the heart. The liar who does this kind of lying is a Red Liar. He sees red and makes others see red.
Red Liars are so indifferent to human suffering that they exhibit a satanic delight in twisting the dagger which they have thrust into the vitals. Most of the blood of history has dripped from the daggers of red lies. Many a war has been waged to maintain a red lie or to promote the interests of a Red Liar. Whoever lies to make a heart bleed is a Red Liar.
The Black Lie springs out of a black heart. It sums up and expresses all the villainous features which may be extracted and compressed from all the other forms of lying. It is the lie without one redeeming feature. In its inception and expression there is nothing but concentrated meanness accentuated by hate. The Black Liar is the most dangerous foe with which humanity has to deal. He is “conceived in sin and born in iniquity.” Usually the motive of a black lie is revenge. It is cold-blooded and deliberate in its execution. It tears a reputation to pieces; it ruins homes; it estranges friends; it wrecks prosperity with a malignity and nonchalance sufficient to make the “cheek of darkness pale, and the knees of terror quake.” The Black Liar cannot be treated humorously. He is one of the most terribly serious items in the whole category of grave and impressive problems.
Artists, like poets, are born and not made. This is strikingly illustrated in some liars. Artistic talent appears to be well distributed over the entire range of human activities. It includes lying in its sweep. Some have brought lying down to a fine art. The Artistic Liar in the person of a brilliant lawyer may well be considered one of the chief assets of a modern business corporation. Diplomacy and artistic lying mean about the same thing. When a person tells a lie discreetly so that it leaves no sting we do not call him or her an artistic liar; we use the softer expression that he or she has “tact.” If you call a person an artistic liar he will be offended – but if you say that is tactful, he will feel complimented. All tact is not a lie, but a good slice of it is. The saving remnant of truthfulness in tact explains the reason why the Artistic Liar is one who can commit perjury on the witness stand without falling into the clutches of the law. He is generally known as a good witness when he beats the lawyers and the court at their own game. The Artistic Liar turns down a request for assistance so as to convey the impression that he is doing a favor. He is especially useful in the churches and philanthropic organizations. He is the shield for selfish respectability.
Once a Prince committed perjury to shield a lady from scandal. The world applauded and said: “He lied like a gentleman.” There is something fine in this. If there is any time that a man ought to lie, it is when he can lie like a gentleman in motive and style. Some men lie like imitation gentlemen. They have the style but not the gentleman’s motive. A gentleman will never lie to do harm. Watch a liar and study his lies and you will come very close to discovering whether he is the real thing as a gentleman. God alone knows how many lovely girls have been brought to ruin by men who lied in the style of a gentleman, but whose every word was poison. A girl should study the heart and not the style. But it would seem as if all the feminine world loves a liar, if he has the audacity and style of a gentleman. Divorce courts work overtime because most women do not know the distinction between a gentleman and a “gent.” No one can lie like a gentleman but a gentleman.
Graft Politicians – There seems to be no adequate words in the English language to describe this particular brand of Liars, nor to do justice to them. They love us before Election, and rob us after Election. Most of them are Lawyers - Their history is to be read in every Daily Paper, and if the Devil don’t get them – what’s the use in keeping a Devil?
Oftentimes the lying word is matched by the lying life. Frequently the lying word is the lying life vocalized. Religion is sadly discredited by false lives shattered under its mantle and preying on the good reputation of the Lord. The substantial church member who is suddenly discovered to be a scoundrel gives pain to the saints and joy to the cynic. Eminent respectability has a slight suggestion of suspicion attached to it during its ante-mortem career. It is not certain of its hold on public confidence until it has submitted to a post-mortem examination. It is well to honor smug respectability, but experience has taught us the wisdom of keeping our purse strings fast in hand.
Occasionally we are advised to keep still when the truth is called for, which leads me to remark that there is such a thing as a Silent Liar. Silence may at times give assent to falsehood. The silent lie which does harm is worse than any white lie. It is, at times, the blackest kind of lie. Hypocrisy is the silent lie defined in terms of ignoble character.
In the philosophy of life the lie is a necessary factor. It is the necessary foil to truth. Until truth may be safely handled by all men the lie will be necessary. Truth will, we believe, finally be supreme. It is the permanent order. But until that Utopian condition arrives the lie will be an essential factor in human evolution, even though its need may eventually pass away. It has arisen in response to a real need. And like many other good things gone wrong, the lie has too often quit serving man and gone to serving the Devil.
So, when we say that all men are natural born liars we do not, by any means, intend to convey the idea of total depravity. The question of depravity does not arise until the character of the lie is determined. A child is an instinctive liar. And as such it is obedient to the natural laws of self-preservation, and following the line of least resistance. Visions of Father’s cane or Mother’s slipper are a natural brake upon honest confession. Morality is a matter of education. A child’s lie is but the natural way suggested to gain its very naturally selfish ends, and is entirely non-normal until he is taught how, where and when a lie is an evil. And we had better go somewhat slow in telling him that all lying is a sin until we have a fair notion of the philosophy of lying ourselves. It is enough to make an angel to see an old liar of a parent mauling a little innocent child for telling a lie. A child needs discriminate instructions about the dangers and tendencies of a lie. Indiscriminate teaching results in a confusion of moral ideals. Confusion of moral ideals leads to moral instability, and, at times to moral insanity.
The late Mr. P. T. Barnum is credited with the assertion that “people want to be humbugged.” And it is a remarkable fact that most people prefer a fake to a genuine article. A veneered fake is more seductive than a plain fact. Men will, strange to say, cling to a religion and support it when they no longer believe any of its essential articles. Women know that most society is a lie, and most flatters liars, and yet they take the very wings of the morning and fly to greet it. Most of us love to be lied to when it gratifies vanity or satisfies curiosity without doing us any conscious harm. All the world loves a liar as well as a lover, provided he is a cheerful liar, and lies like a gentleman.
Is a lie ever proper? Sure. A lie is, at most, not an evil when its motive is good, its expression is free from wrong, and its results beneficial. Let a strong man stand by the bedside of his dying mother, and gaze upon her wrinkled and glorified face lighted up with the caught vision of faces beyond. Let him fall upon his knees with her arms gently stealing around him, as she strains him to her heart, and presses the last sweet and tender farewell kiss upon his brow. Let him recall his childhood, when at her divine knee he was told wonderful stories about Old Santa Claus. Do you think that in that moment, and in that presence so soon to be with the angels, he could consider her fiction leaping forth from the love and joy of a mother’s heart to make her darling full of bright cheer and happiness, wrong or improper? Only a man whose conscience had been frozen in the cold storage of Puritanism could for a moment entertain such a thought.
A man was arrested for beating his wife so brutally that she was fatally injured. While in the hospital during a conscious spell just before she passed away, he was brought to her for identification. When the question was put to her, and before she replied, she took an eager and long look into his face, reached out and threw her arms around his neck, drew him down close to her, pressed her battered and bruised face against his face, tenderly kissed him, answered “No” to the question of identification, and then fell back upon the pillow dead. She died with a lie upon her lips; but it was a lie glorified by love and forgiveness. I am sure that God and His angels smiled their approval. So when a lie is glorified and sanctified by love and true conscientiousness and does no one harm but good instead, or when, as in strategy of war, its aim and purpose are to do good, we may not class it among the sins of humanity.
But when selfishness and greed, harm to others or cowardice are discovered in the motive and in the effect a lie is a positive evil, and a liar is a person to be feared and let alone. Most lies fall into this class. Comparatively few lies are justifiable. It is well therefore to remember that an element of danger lurks in a lie, and that as a rule, liars and near liars are not to be trusted. Education of the moral perceptions is of marked importance in detecting lies and liars, and in discriminating between those which are innocuous and those which are positively bad. Children should be instructed at the beginning in the danger and tendency of lying, with discriminating firmness and care.
Traveling Salesmen of Calendars and other lines of goods have some sad experiences with the lying buyer who lies to them that he will but from them later, and later, and when (at much expense), they call when directed, he deceitfully tells them when to call again; although he has already bought from others. Sometimes employees have similar experience from employers who deceive them with promises of raise of wages.
The more of a liar a man is the quicker he will reach form his artillery when he is called a liar. An honorable and dignified man does not need a gun with which to defend his honor. A man’s honor that is dependent upon his quickness as a gun manipulator is ready for the fertilizer factory. A liar is very sensitive about his reputation. He cannot bear to be outclassed. But before we get red in the face with rage, and strut about like a turkey gobbler, threatening to mop up the street with the Irrator, meanwhile looking around for someone to hold us, to save the other chap from destruction, when some one calls us a liar, let us kind of size ourselves up and see just how much of a liar we really are. Most men can with justice say: “You’re another.”
As evolution keeps stretching its legs for longer strides we may confidently expect the lie and liars to be less in evidence, while we evolve the moral consciousness with clearer vision, and possess a firmer hand to perceive and handle truth, as it rises more and more from the ground of scientific research, philosophical comprehension and practical experience.
If you are a thinking person, the writer endeavors to awaken your thoughts on this question, and give you a mental message, a stimulating rub. Don’t get “riled,” you don’t have to agree with him. If you don’t like it, throw it away: we can stand it. We merely suggest that you think about liars intelligently; then look around and within you, and give your honest answer, without lying, to the question: If Diogenes should happen along with a search light instead of his ancient lantern, do you know where to direct him, or could you assist him in his hunt for an honest man?