Avoid telling an "awkward, feeble, leaky lie," says Mark Twain

Mark Twain, age 55

From Advice to Youth, by Mark Twain, written when he was about 47, from a lecture given to a group of young girls. This portion of his lecture, on lying, has been split into paragraphs.

Now as to the matter of lying. You want to be very careful about lying; otherwise you are nearly sure to get caught. Once caught, you can never again be in the eyes to the good and the pure, what you were before. Many a young person has injured himself permanently through a single clumsy and ill finished lie, the result of carelessness born of incomplete training.

Some authorities hold that the young aught not to lie at all. That of course, is putting it rather stronger than necessary; still while I cannot go quite so far as that, I do maintain, and I believe I am right, that the young ought to be temperate in the use of this great art until practice and experience shall give them that confidence, elegance, and precision which alone can make the accomplishment graceful and profitable.

Patience, diligence, painstaking attention to detail - these are requirements; these in time, will make the student perfect; upon these only, may he rely as the sure foundation for future eminence.

Think what tedious years of study, thought, practice, experience, went to the equipment of that peerless old master who was able to impose upon the whole world the lofty and sounding maxim that “Truth is mighty and will prevail”- the most majestic compound fracture of fact which any of woman born has yet achieved.

For the history of our race, and each individual’s experience, are sewn thick with evidences that a truth is not hard to kill, and that a lie well told is immortal.

There is in Boston a monument of the man who discovered anesthesia; many people are aware, in these latter days, that that man didn’t discover it at all, but stole the discovery from another man. Is this truth mighty, and will it prevail? Ah no, my hearers, the monument is made of hardy material, but the lie it tells will outlast it a million years.

An awkward, feeble, leaky lie is a thing which you ought to make it your unceasing study to avoid; such a lie as that has no more real permanence than an average truth. Why, you might as well tell the truth at once and be done with it. A feeble, stupid, preposterous lie will not live two years - except it be a slander upon somebody. It is indestructible, then of course, but that is no merit of yours.

A final word: begin your practice of this gracious and beautiful art early - begin now. If I had begun earlier, I could have learned how.

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