In a far country where I once lived the ladies used to go around paying
calls, under the humane and kindly pretence of wanting to see each
other; and when they returned home, they would cry out with a glad
voice, saying, "We made sixteen calls and found fourteen of them out"
--not meaning that they found out anything important against the
fourteen--no, that was only a colloquial phrase to signify that they
were not at home--and their manner of saying it expressed their lively
satisfaction in that fact. Now their pretence of wanting to see the
fourteen--and the other two whom they had been less lucky with--was that
commonest and mildest form of lying which is sufficiently described as a
deflection from the truth. Is it justifiable? Most certainly. It is
beautiful, it is noble; for its object is, not to reap profit, but to
convey a pleasure to the sixteen. The iron-souled truth-monger would
plainly manifest, or even utter the fact that he didn't want to see
those people--and he would be an ass, and inflict totally unnecessary
pain. And next, those ladies in that far country--but never mind, they
had a thousand pleasant ways of lying, that grew out of gentle impulses,
and were a credit to their intelligence and an honor to their hearts.
Let the particulars go.
The men in that far country were liars, every one. Their mere howdy-do
was a lie, because they didn't care how you did, except they were
undertakers. To the ordinary inquirer you lied in return; for you made
no conscientious diagnostic of your case, but answered at random, and
usually missed it considerably. You lied to the undertaker, and said
your health was failing--a wholly commendable lie, since it cost you
nothing and pleased the other man. If a stranger called and interrupted
you, you said with your hearty tongue, "I'm glad to see you," and said
with your heartier soul, "I wish you were with the cannibals and it was
dinner-time." When he went, you said regretfully, "Must you go?" and
followed it with a "Call again;" but you did no harm, for you did not
deceive anybody nor inflict any hurt, whereas the truth would have made
you both unhappy.