George Washington or the Myth

“‘Do not steal.
“‘Do not lie.
“‘Do not deceive one another.
“‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.
“‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.
“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

  • Leviticus 19:11-13

“As I understand it, what you desire is information about ‘my first lie, and how I got out of it.’  I was born in 1835; I am well along, and my memory is not as good as it was.  If you had asked about my first truth it would have been easier for me and kinder of you, for I remember that fairly well; I remember it as if it were last week.  The family think it was week before, but that is flattery and probably has a selfish project back of it.  When a person has become seasoned by experience and has reached the age of sixty-four, which is the age of discretion, he likes a family compliment as well as ever, but he does not lose his head over it as in the old innocent days.
“I do not remember my first lie, it is too far back, but I remember my second one very well.  I was nine days old at the time, and had noticed that if a pin was sticking in me and I advertised it in the usual fashion, I was lovingly petted and coddled and pitied in a most agreeable way and got a ration between meals besides.  It was human nature to want to get these riches, and I fell.  I lied about the pin – advertising one when there wasn’t any.  You would have done ti; George Washington did it; anybody would have done it.  During the first half of my life I never knew a child that was able to rise above that temptation and keep from telling that lie.  Up to 1867 all the civilized children that were ever born into the world were liars – including George.  Then the safety-pin came in and blocked the game.  But is that reform worth anything?  No; for it is reform by force and has no virtue in it; it merely stops that form of lying; it doesn’t impair the disposition to lie, by a shade.  It is the cradle application of conversion by fire and sword, or of the temperance principle through prohibition.”

  • Mark Twain, “My First Lie, and How I Got Out of It”, from The Comic Mark Twain Reader

“The cherry tree myth is the most well-known and longest enduring legend about George Washington. In the original story, when Washington was six years old he received a hatchet as a gift and damaged his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered what he had done, he became angry and confronted him. Young George bravely said, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Washington’s father embraced him and rejoiced that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees.
“Ironically, this iconic story about the value of honesty was invented by one of Washington’s first biographers, an itinerant minister and bookseller named Mason Locke Weems. After Washington’s death in 1799 people were anxious to learn about him, and Weems was ready to supply the demand. As he explained to a publisher in January 1800, “Washington you know is gone! Millions are gaping to read something about him…My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute…I then go on to show that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues.”  Weems’ biography, The Life of Washington, was first published in 1800 and was an instant bestseller. However the cherry tree myth did not appear until the book’s fifth edition was published in 1806.”

  •, Cherry Tree Myth

There are a great many commandments beyond the Ten Commandments.  Leviticus 19 is a prime example.  There are far too many, it seems, to commit to memory, but deep inside, we know that what we did was not the proper thing.  The Apostle Paul puts it so well, “For all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God” Romans 3:23.  That takes care of the Ten Commandments and all those other ones.

I also like what Timothy Keller said in an interview, that no one sin sends us to Hell.  He went on to explain that not having a right relationship with God does that.

But the Mark Twain quote had me in stitches and all that I can say is “Guilty as charged!”  I try to be truthful in the posts, although some are purely fictional.  But I sometimes forget key details and fill in the gaps of my memory.  Now, I may have said something that was absolutely truthful long before last week, but then again, I doubt if my family would flatter me by saying that it was the week before.  They keep saying, “Dad is a great storyteller, and exaggeration never got in his way of telling a ‘true’ story.”  And my wife wants me to quit talking about her, because I make her sound like a Saint.  Then again, I doubt if she has read EVERYTHING that I have written about her.  But does not someone’s humility in not wishing to be bragged about make her sound even more “saintly?”

But I am not alone.  Mason Weems wrote a “truthful” biography of George Washington and one of the most often told stories from the book about George Washington never telling a lie was a lie.  Brilliant!

As for the “pins” of the Mark Twain tale, I used safety pins in diapers when I babysat my niece.  I used safety pins on my own children and occasionally, I would stick them even with a safety pin.  It was the matter of multiple folds and a dull pin digging through each layer.  Yes, paper diapers had been invented when I had children, but they were notorious for leaking in the early development of the product.  We only used disposable diapers when on long trips, for convenience.  And we changed them often to prevent changing clothing, blankets, etc.

I wonder if the younger generations, younger than I am, were reading Twain’s tale and scratching their heads wondering what was he talking about when he was mentioning the pins.  Simple – cloth diapers used pins, and until the safety pin was invented, it was quite easy to stick the child with a pin, somewhere in the hip area, if you folded it right.  Of course, the diaper came in one size, and as the child grew, you had to fold the diaper differently.  Hey, I am an engineer.  I know these things.  Okay, in being honest, my wife had great spatial reasoning and she came up with the new way to fold the diaper as the boys grew – and without three sets of engineering drawings and countless calculations.

I have been told that to keep your story straight, always use the truth.  Remembering the lies is so much harder.  But some of my exaggerations may come from not remembering the facts of the original story in the first place.  When you get halfway through and you cannot remember whether the fish weighed eight pounds or nine pounds, I would choose nine pounds.  Hey!  If I had said ten pounds, knowing that the fish was not double digits in weight, that would be a LIE!!!  You know to go from single digit to double digit!  And come on, everyone exaggerates their fish stories!!!  Now my sister might claim that the fish was slightly under eight pounds, but she is a lot older than I am.  Who has the better memory?!  As the “true story” goes, it keeps the story progressing to the point where my Dad cut the fish into filleted steaks and eight people had their fill from me catching a large-mouthed bass on a rusty hook.  Okay, one was a one-year-old nephew and may not have eaten any, but the other six, besides the teen-ager (me), were hungry adults!  Wow, this being precisely truthful is HARD!!!

But if I do not tell all the truth about Jesus, it is because there are things that He reveals that are beyond words; there are things that He has done for me that I do not even know about; and there are ways that I feel that are such feelings that words could never express it.

Jesus is the One who is the Truth, the Way, and the Life.  And no one comes to the Father, but by Him.  That is one truth that we can count on.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


Add yours →

  1. they just don’t make them like Mr. Twain any more….

    Liked by 3 people

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