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Lying Shopkeepers

Veritas Luce clarior.

A Friend of mine was the other Day cheapening some Trifles at a Shopkeepers, and after a few Words, they agreed on a Price; at the lapping up this Purchase, the Mistress of the Shop told him, People were grown very hard, for she actually lost by every thing she sold: How then is it possible, replied my Friend, that you can keep on your Business? Indeed, Sir, answer’d she, I must of Necessity shut my Doors, had I not a very great Trade. The Reason, said my Friend, with a Sneer, is admirable.

There are a great many Retailers, who falsly imagine that being Historical (the modern Phrase for Lying) is much for their Advantage; and some of them have a Saying, That ’tis a Pity Lying is a Sin, it is so useful in Trade; tho’, if they would examine into the Reason why a Number of Shopkeepers raise considerable Estates, while others, who have set out with better Fortunes have become Bankrupts; they will find, that the former made up with Truth, Diligence and Probity, what they wanted in Stock, and the latter have been guilty of imposing on such Customers as they found had no Skill in their Goods. The former’s Character raises a Credit which supplies the Want of Fortune, and their fair Dealing, brings them Custom; whereas none will return to buy of him, by whom he has been once defrauded. If People in Trade would judge rightly, we might buy blindfold, and they would save, both to themselves and Customers, the uneasiness of Haggling.

Though there are Numbers of Shopkeepers, who scorn that mean Vice of Lying, and whose Word may very safely be relied on; yet there are too many, who will endeavour to deceive, and, backing their Falsities with Asseverations, pawn their Salvation to raise their Price. As Example works more than Precept, and my sole View being the Good and Interest of my Countrymen, whom I could wish without Vice or Folly, I shall shew the Esteem of Truth, and the Abbhorrence of Falsity among the Antients.

Augustus triumphing over Mark Anthony and Cleopatra, among other Captives, brought to Rome a Priest about 60 Years old. The Senate being inform’d that this Man was never detected in a Lie, and thought never to have been guilty of one, not only restored him to his Liberty, but made him a High Priest, and raised him a Statue. This Priest thus honoured, was an Aegyptian, and an Enemy to Rome, but this Virtue cover’d all Obstacles: Whereas Pamphilus was a Roman Citizen, whose Body was deny’d Burial, his Estate confiscated, his House raz’d, and his Wife and Children banished the Roman Territories, for his having been a noted and irreclaimable Liar. Can there be a greater Demonstration of Respect to Truth than this of the Romans, who raised an Enemy to the greatest Honour, and exposed a Citizen’s Family to the greatest Contumely!

There is no Excuse for Lying, neither is there any equally despicable and dangerous with a Liar, no Man being in Safety who frequents his Company; for who will lie (says the English Proverb) will swear; and such an one may take away my Life, turn my Family a begging, and ruin my Reputation, whenever he shall find it for his Interest: For if a Man will lie and swear in his Shop to get a Trifle, why should we question his doing of it, when he may hope to make his Fortune by his Perjury! the Crime is in itself so mean, that to call a Man a Liar, is every where esteem’d an Affront not to be forgiven. If any have Lenity enough to allow the Dealer’s Excuse for this base Practice, yet I believe they will allow none for the Gentleman who is addicted to this Vice, and must look upon him as a Wretch undeserving the Name; and that the World does so, is visible, by the Contempt with which he is mentioned whenever there is Occasion to name him.

Epimenides the Philosopher, gave the Rhodians this Definition of Truth, That she was Companion of the Gods, the Joy of Heaven, the Light of the Earth, the Basis of Justice, and the Foundation of good Policy. Eschines told the same People, that Truth was a Virtue, without which, Force was enfeebled, Justice corrupted; Humility was Dissimulation, Patience intolerable, Chastity dissembled, Liberty lost, and Pity superfluous. Pharmacus the Philosopher; told the Romans, that Truth was the Centre in which all Things rested; a Chart to sail by, a Remedy for all Evils, and a Light to the whole World. Anaxarchus speaking of Truth, to the Lacedemonians, said, It was Health incapable of Sickness; Life not subject to Death; an Elixir which healeth all; a Sun not to be obscur’d; a Moon without Eclipse; an Herb which never withereth; a Gate that is never closed, and a Path which never fatigues the Traveller.

But if we are blind to the Beauties of Truth, it’s astonishing that we should not open our Eyes to the Inconveniencies of Falsities; for a Man given to Romance, must be always on his Guard, for Fear of contradicting, and exposing himself to the Derision of his Hearers: For the most Historical would avoid the odious Character; tho’ ’tis impossible for any, with all their Circumspection, to travel long in this Road, without being discover’d; and then what Shame, what Confusion follows! he is continually anxious to hide himself from the Knowledge of the World, and loads his Memory with Trifles, for fear of being taken with his own Words. Whereas, who is a Votary to Truth, never hesitates for an Answer, never wrecks his Invention, to make the Sequel quadrate with the foregoing Part of his Discourse; is not obliged to burden his Memory with minute Circumstances, since Truth easily recollects them, speaks openly, and will repeat the same Things often, without varying; which a Liar can hardly do, without that necessary Gift, a good Memory.

The Pennsylvania Gazette, November 19, 1730