You cain’t pray a lie.
– Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Never tell the truth to people who are not worthy of it.
– Notebook, 1902
The Scot is always believed, yet he never tells anything but lies; whereas the captain is never believed, although he never tells a lie, so far as I can judge. If he should say his uncle was a male person, he would probably say it in such a way that nobody would believe it; at the same time the Scot could claim that he had a female uncle and not stir a doubt in anybody’s mind. My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anybody would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe. – Mark Twain, Following The Equator, chpt. LXII
Recent news of spewing lava from Mount Kilauea reminds me of Clemens stories during his travels in Hawaii, written in Roughing It.
Recurring elements of Twain’s writings, frequently play on the differences between lies and the truth. His vivid imagination, boldly colors these stories making them humorous, tragic, and thought provoking. All subjects, topics, and mores were “fair game” to Clemens’ wit and satire.
I especially enjoy these absurdities, and take delight in sharing them.
Subsequent blogs will have more Markiss stories; as you read them, reflect on these questions:
1) Do Twain’s grossly exaggerated stories illustrating lies, promote the truth, or promote telling lies?
2) Is this technique an example of reverse psychology?
3) Is Mark Twain advocating for greater humanity and the brotherhood of man?
Markiss, King of Liars – from Roughing It, published in 1872.
I stumbled upon one curious character in the Island of Mani. He became a sore annoyance to me in the course of time. My first glimpse of him was in a sort of public room in the town of Lahaina. He occupied a chair at the opposite side of the apartment, and sat eyeing our party with interest for some minutes, and listening as critically to what we were saying as if he fancied we were talking to him and expecting him to reply. I thought it very sociable in a stranger. Presently, in the course of conversation, I made a statement bearing upon the subject under discussion—and I made it with due modesty, for there was nothing extraordinary about it, and it was only put forth in illustration of a point at issue. I had barely finished when this person spoke out with rapid utterance and feverish anxiety:
“Oh, that was certainly remarkable, after a fashion, but you ought to have seen my chimney—you ought to have seen my chimney, sir! Smoke! I wish I may hang if—Mr. Jones, you remember that chimney—you must remember that chimney! No, no—I recollect, now, you warn’t living on this side of the island then. But I am telling you nothing but the truth, and I wish I may never draw another breath if that chimney didn’t smoke so that the smoke actually got caked in it and I had to dig it out with a pickaxe! You may smile, gentlemen, but the High Sheriff’s got a hunk of it which I dug out before his eyes, and so it’s perfectly easy for you to go and examine for yourselves.”
The interruption broke up the conversation, which had already begun to lag, and we presently hired some natives and an out-rigger canoe or two, and went out to overlook a grand surf-bathing contest.