‘On the Decay of the Art of Lying’, is a short essay written by Mark Twain under the name of Samuel Clemens. Written in 1880 for a meeting of the Historical and Antiquarian Club of Hartford, Connecticut, it would later be published in ‘The Stolen White Elephant Etc’. It was entered for the $30 prize which it did not win.
I have just recorded an version of this essay that I love so much which can be found here!
As Dr House was always fond of stating on his TV show, everybody lies, and in this essay Twain agrees. Throughout the text he has no issues with lying in general, in fact he is an advocate for lying and sees it as a virtue, a good and right act when undertaken correctly. His concern is that the skill in lying, the thoughtfulness and care that should go into a good lie is being lost. People are lying all over the place without fully understanding the snowball effects. Always humorous in his writing Twain here carefully insults the club he is writing for by hiding the insults in a complement.
I have always been a Mark Twain fan. More than his Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Fin characters, I have always preferred his short stories and essays. They are so sharp and observant and sometimes quite hard hitting. This particular piece leaves you pondering the lies you tell.
As a Christian I believe that lying is always wrong, it is a commandment after all, however the world takes a much vaguer view of this. There are white lies, politic lies and lies of omission, some lies we even consider a kindness. So what to do when the truth seems worse than a lie? Is sarcasm a lie, clearly stating something that blatantly isn’t so? Or perhaps not as the truth is intended to be conveyed anyway. Twain also suggests that the truth told with bad intent or in a harsh manner is no better thn a lie.
More audio recordings can be found under the audiobooks menu.