THE art of stretching the truth is uncommonly general nowadays. Gooseberries are to be heard of weighing twice as much as possible, and unseen showers of frogs fall regularly when newspapers are slack. If a cart goes by and rattles the lid of an old woman's teapot, it is put down as an earthquake. Fine imaginations are not at all scarce. Certain people are always on the look out for wonders; and if they don't see them, they invent them. They see comets every night and hear some rare tale every day. All their molehills are mountains. All their ducks are swans. They have learned the multiplication table and use it freely. If they saw six dogs together, they would swear they saw a hundred hounds; yes, and they would get as red in the face as turkey-cocks if anybody looked a little doubtful. Before long they would persuade themselves that they saw ten thousand lions, for everything grows with them as fast as mushrooms and as big as Box Hill.
All things around them are wonderful, but as for themselves, nobody is fit to clean their boots. They are the cream of creation. They are as strong as Samson and could pull against John Ploughman's team - only they won't try it, for fear of hurting the horses. Their wealth is enormous; they could pay off the National Debt, only they have good reasons for not doing so just yet. If they keep shop, they turn over several millions in the year and only stop in business at all for the sake of their neighbors. They sell the best goods at the lowest prices, in fact, under cost price. None in the county is fit to hold a candle to them; their business is cock of the walk and king of the castle. If they take a farm, it is only for amusement and to show the poor ignorant natives how to do it. All their doings are wonders!
Like the wild beast show which stopped at our village the other day, they are the only, the original, and unrivaled! But they are quite as dead a sell as that fine affair was; all the best of it was outside on the pictures, and it's just the same with them. But; bless you, how they do draw the long bow. Hear them talk. It is all in capital letters and notes of admiration. "Did you ever see SUCH A NAG? Why, sir, it would beat the wind! THAT COW - let me call your attention to her. There is not such another in the county; JUST NOTICE THE SWING OF HER TAIL! Yes, sir, THAT BOY OF MINE is intelligent, far beyond his years. He's a PERFECT PRODIGY! Like his father, did you say? Very kind remark, sir, but there's a good deal of truth in it: though I say it, a man must get up early to beat me! I'M ONE TOO MANY FOR MOST PEOPLE! Just look over the farm, sir. was there ever SUCH A FIELD OF TURNIPS? The fly on the leaf? Not a bit, sir, that arises from the peculiar sort; it's A VERY RARE TURNIP, with ventilated leaves pricked through by nature to let the air in and out!
Too many moles did you say? Ah! thereby hangs a tale. Do you know OUR MOLES are a GREAT SINGULARITY: They throw up bigger hills than any others in England and are supposed to be of a FINE OLD BRITISH STOCK now almost lost. Did you notice that TREMENDOUS THISTLE? Is it not a rare specimen? Enough to make a Scotchman die of joy. That shows the EXTRAORDINARY richness of the soil; and indeed, sir, OUR LAST YEAR'S CROP OF REHEAT WAS SO AMAZINGLY HEAVY, I thought we should never get it home; it nearly broke the wagons; five had half the county here to see it threshed, and the oldest men in the parish said they never heard tell of the like. IT IS A MERCY THAT STEAM IS INVENTED, BECAUSE WE NEVER COULD HAVE THRESHED IT BY HAND."
When a man gets into this style of talk, it is no matter scat he is hammering at, he speaks of it as the finest, greatest, and most marvelous in the kingdom, or else the most awful, horrible, and dreadful in the world. His boots would not fit Goliath, but his tongue is much too big for the giant's mouth. He paints with a broom. He sugars his dumpling with a spade and lays on his butter with a trowel. His horse, his dog, his gun, his wife, his child, his singing, his planning, are all without equal; he is the pillar of the parish; he lives at Number One; and it would be hard to find a man fit to be number two to him. The water out of his well is stronger than wine; it rains pea soup into his cistern; his currant bushes grow grapes; you might live inside one of his pumpkins; and his flowers - well, he's heard that the Queen herself had the fellow plant to that geranium, only his was rather the better! The greatest wonder is that men of this kidney don't see that everybody is laughing at them; they must have bragged themselves blind. Everybody sees the bottom of their dish, and yet they go on calling it an ocean, as if they had none but flat fish to deal with.
I've known men who open their mouths like barn doors in boasting what they would do if they were in somebody else's shoes. If they were in Parliament they would abolish all taxes, turn workhouses into palaces, make the plumps run with beer, and set the Thames on fire; but all this depends on an if, and that if is a sort of five-barred gate which they have never got over. If the sky falls, we shall catch larks. If Jack Brag does but get the reins, he'll make the horses fly up to the moon. If is a fine word; when a man jumps on its back, it will carry him into worlds which were never created and make him see miracles which were never wrought. With an if you may put all London into a quart pot.
"If all the seas were one sea, What a great sea that should be! And if all the trees were one tree, What a great tree that would be! And if all the axes were one axe - What a great axe that would be! And if all the men were one man, What a Bleat man he would be! And if the great man took the great axe - And cut down the great tree, And let it fall into the great sea, What a splish splash that would be!"
"What nonsense!" says someone; so John Ploughman thinks, and therefore he puts it in as a specimen of the stupidity which tall talkers are so fond of. This is not half so silly as nine out of ten of their mighty nothings.
What some of these fellows have done! Now, would you believe it? (I say, "No, I would not.") They made their own fortunes in no time and made other people's, too. Their advice has been the means of filling many a bag with gold. What they said at a meeting fastened the people to their seats like cobblers wax. They were in a quarrel, and when all their party were nearly beaten, they settled off the opposition side at once with fit-rate wit and wisdom. King Solomon was a fool by comparison. As to religion, they were the first to set it up in the parish; and by their wonderful exertions, everything was begun. They laid the golden egg. People are not grateful, or they would almost worship them; it's shameful to see how they have been neglected, and even turned off of late, by the very people whom they have been the making of.
While they had a finger in the pie, all went well at the meeting; but now they have left, they say there's a screw loose, and they who live longest will see most. When they are in a modest humor, they borrow words from David and say, "The earth is dissolved, I bear up the pillars of it." It is thought that their death would fill the world with bones. If they remove their custom, people are expected to shut up their shops directly, and it is only their impudence that makes them hope to get a living after such customers are gone. When they feel a little natural pride at their great doings, then it's fine to hear them go on and on. Talk of blowing your own trumpet- they have a whole band of music, big drum and all, and keep all the instruments going first-rate to their own praise and glory.
I'd rather plow all day and be on the road with the wagon all night when it freezes your eyelashes off than listen to those great talkers; they make me as sick as a cat. I'd sooner go without eating till I was as lean as wash-leather than eat the best turkey that ever came on the table and be dinned all the while with their awful jaw. They talk on such a mighty big scale, and magnify everything so thunderingly, that you cannot believe them when they accidentally slip in a word or two of truth; and so you are apt to think that even their cheese is chalk. They are great liars, but they are hardly conscious of it; they have talked themselves into believing their own bombast. The frog thought herself equal to the cow and then began to puff herself out to make it true; they swell like her, and they will burst like her, if they don't mind. Everybody who knows these big talkers should take warning from them:
"Said I to myself, here's a lesson for me, This mm is a picture of what I might be."
We must try to state the truth, the whole; truth, and nothing but the truth. If we begin calling eleven inches a foot, we shall go on till we call one inch four and twenty. If we call a heifer a cow, we may one day call a dormouse a bullock. Once gone in for exaggeration, and you may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb; you have left the road of truth, and there is no telling where the crooked lane may lead you to. He who tells little lies will soon think nothing of great ones, for the principle is the same. Where there is a mouse hole, there will soon be a rat hole; and if the kitten comes the cat will follow. It seldom rains but it pours; a little untruth leads on to a perfect shower of lying.
Self-praise is no recommendation. A man's praise smells sweet when it come out of other men's mouths, but in his own, it stinks. Grow your own cherries, but don't sing your own praises.
Boasters are never worth a button with the shank off. A long tongue shows a short hand. Great talkers are little doers. Dogs that bark much run away when it is time to bite. The leanest pig squeaks most. It is not the hen which cackles most that lays most eggs. Saying and doing are two different things. It is the barren cow that bellows. There may be great noise of threshing where there is no wheat. Great boast equals little roast. Much froth means little beer. Drums sound loud because there is nothing in them. Good men know themselves too well to chant their own praises. Barges without cargoes float high on the canal, but the fuller they are, the lower they sink. Good cheese sells itself without puffery; good wine needs no bush; and when men are really excellent, people find it out without telling. Bounce is the sign of folly. Loud braying reveals an ass. If a man is ignorant and holds his tongue, no one will despise him; but if he rattles on with an empty pate and a tongue that brags like forty, he will write out his own name in capital letters, and they will be these: F.O.O.L.
As "by the ears the ass is known" - A truth as sure as parsons preach, "The man" as proverbs long have shown, "Is seen most plainly through his speech."