Quod si Platonis musa personat verum,
Quod quisque discit, immemor recordatur.
Truth in Platonick ornaments bedeck’d,
Inforc’d we love, unheeding recollect.
It is reported of the Persians, by an ancient writer, that the sum of their education consisted in teaching youth to ride, to shoot with the bow, and to speak truth.
The bow and the horse were easily mastered, but it would have been happy if we had been informed by what arts veracity was cultivated, and by what preservatives a Persian mind was secured against the temptations to falsehood.
There are, indeed, in the present corruption of mankind, many incitements to forsake truth; the need of palliating our own faults, and the convenience of imposing on the ignorance or credulity of others, so frequently occur; so many immediate evils are to be avoided, and so many present gratifications obtained, by craft and delusion, that very few of those who are much entangled in life, have spirit and constancy sufficient to support them in the steady practice of open veracity.
In order that all men may be taught to speak truth, it is necessary that all likewise should learn to hear it; for no species of falsehood is more frequent than flattery, to which the coward is betrayed by fear, the dependant by interest, and the friend by tenderness. Those who are neither servile nor timorous, are yet desirous to bestow pleasure; and while unjust demands of praise continue to be made, there will always be some whom hope, fear, or kindness, will dispose to pay them.
The guilt of falsehood is very widely extended, and many whom their conscience can scarcely charge with stooping to a lie, have vitiated the morals of others by their vanity, and patronized the vice they believe themselves to abhor.
Truth is, indeed, not often welcome for its own sake; it is generally unpleasing, because contrary to our wishes and opposite to our practice; and as our attention naturally follows our interest, we hear unwillingly what we are afraid to know, and soon forget what we have no inclination to impress upon our memories.
For this reason many arts of instruction have been invented, by which the reluctance against truth may be overcome; and as physick is given to children in confections, precepts have been hidden under a thousand appearances, that mankind may be bribed by pleasure to escape destruction.
While the world was yet in its infancy, Truth came among mortals from above, and Falsehood from below. Truth was the daughter of Jupiter and Wisdom; Falsehood was the progeny of Folly impregnated by the Wind. They advanced with equal confidence to seize the dominion of the new creation, and, as their enmity and their force were well known to the celestials, all the eyes of heaven were turned upon the contest.
Truth seemed conscious of superiour power and juster claim, and therefore came on towering and majestick, unassisted and alone; Reason, indeed, always attended her, but appeared her follower, rather than companion. Her march was slow and stately, but her motion was perpetually progressive, and when once she had grounded her foot, neither gods nor men could force her to retire.
Falsehood always endeavoured to copy the mien and attitudes of Truth, and was very successful in the arts of mimickry. She was surrounded, animated, and supported by innumerable legions of appetites and passions, but like other feeble commanders, was obliged often to receive law from her allies. Her motions were sudden, irregular, and violent; for she had no steadiness nor constancy. She often gained conquests by hasty incursions, which she never hoped to keep by her own strength, but maintained by the help of the passions, whom she generally found resolute and faithful.
It sometimes happened that the antagonists met in full opposition. In these encounters, Falsehood always invested her head with clouds, and commanded Fraud to place ambushes about her. In her left hand she bore the shield of Impudence, and the quiver of Sophistry rattled on her shoulder. All the Passions attended at her call; Vanity clapped her wings before, and Obstinacy supported her behind. Thus guarded and assisted, she sometimes advanced against Truth, and sometimes waited the attack; but always endeavoured to skirmish at a distance, perpetually shifted her ground, and let fly her arrows in different directions; for she certainly found that her strength failed, whenever the eye of Truth darted full upon her.
Truth had the awful aspect though not the thunder of her father, and when the long continuance of the contest brought them near to one another, Falsehood let the arms of Sophistry fall from her grasp, and holding up the shield of Impudence with both her hands, sheltered herself amongst the Passions.
Truth, though she was often wounded, always recovered in a short time; but it was common for the slightest hurt, received by Falsehood, to spread its malignity to the neighbouring parts, and to burst open again when it seemed to have been cured.
Falsehood, in a short time, found by experience that her superiority consisted only in the celerity of her course, and the changes of her posture. She therefore ordered Suspicion to beat the ground before her, and avoid with great care to cross the way of Truth, who, as she never varied her point, but moved constantly upon the same line, was easily escaped by the oblique and desultory movements, the quick retreats, and active doubles which Falsehood always practised, when the enemy began to raise terrour by her approach.
By this procedure Falsehood every hour encroached upon the world, and extended her empire through all climes and regions. Wherever she carried her victories she left the Passions in full authority behind her; who were so well pleased with command, that they held out with great obstinacy when Truth came to seize their posts, and never failed to retard her progress, though they could not always stop it. They yielded at last with great reluctance, frequent rallies, and sullen submission; and always inclined to revolt when Truth ceased to awe them by her immediate presence.
Truth, who, when she first descended from the heavenly palaces, expected to have been received by universal acclamation, cherished with kindness, heard with obedience, and invited to spread her influence from province to province, now found that wherever she came she must force her passage. Every intellect was precluded by prejudice, and every heart preoccupied by passion. She indeed advanced, but she advanced slowly; and often lost the conquests which she left behind her, by sudden insurrections of the appetites, that shook off their allegiance, and ranged themselves again under the banner of her enemy.
Truth, however, did not grow weaker by the struggle, for her vigour was unconquerable; yet she was provoked to see herself thus baffled and impeded by an enemy, whom she looked on with contempt, and who had no advantage but such as she owed to inconstancy, weakness, and artifice. She, therefore, in the anger of disappointment, called upon her father Jupiter to reestablish her in the skies, and leave mankind to the disorder and misery which they deserved, by submitting willingly to the usurpation of falsehood.
Jupiter compassionated the world too much to grant her request, yet was willing to ease her labours and mitigate her vexation. He commanded her to consult the muses by what methods she might obtain an easier reception, and reign without the toil of incessant war. It was then discovered, that she obstructed her own progress by the severity of her aspect, and the solemnity of her dictates; and that men would never willingly admit her till they ceased to fear her, since by giving themselves up to falsehood, they seldom make any sacrifice of their ease or pleasure, because she took the shape that was most engaging, and always suffered herself to be dressed and painted by desire. The muses wove, in the loom of Pallas, a loose and changeable robe, like that in which falsehood captivated her admirers; with this they invested truth, and named her fiction. She now went out again to conquer with more success; for when she demanded entrance of the passions, they often mistook her for falsehood, and delivered up their charge: but when she had once taken possession, she was soon disrobed by reason, and shone out, in her original form, with native effulgence and resistless dignity.