Virginibus Puerisque "The Cruelest Lies Are Often Told In Silence"

Robert Louis Stevenson

"The Cruelest Lies Are Often Told In Silence"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: In "The Truth of Intercourse," Stevenson begins by saying that, despite the currency of a proverb to the opposite effect, it is easier to tell a lie than to tell the truth, inasmuch as truth is so hard to ascertain. He notes that "The habitual liar may be a very honest fellow, and live truly with his wife and friends; while another man who never told a formal falsehood in his life may yet be himself one lie–heart and face, from top to bottom." Later in the essay Stevenson tries to show that truth is "something more difficult than to refrain from open lies." For example, one may avoid falsehood and yet not tell the truth; we can speak the truth or avoid it: on the one hand, a man can speak so pithily as to avoid truth; on the other, he can speak at such length as to avoid it:

The cruelest lies are often told in silence. A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator. And how many loves have perished because, from pride, or spite, or diffidence, or that unmanly shame which withholds a man from daring to betray emotion, a lover, at the critical point of the relation, has but hung his head and held his tongue? And again, a lie may be told by a truth, or a truth conveyed through a lie. Truth to facts is not always truth to sentiment; and part of the truth, as often happens in answer to a question, may be the foulest calumny. . . .