Lamentation on Lying

Asenath Nicholson
Chapter VIII (10) | Start of Chapter

I reached the house of the shopkeeper, and presenting my dread letter, was kindly received, and kindly entertained. The master had grown rich by dint of the best of management; his father, it is said, having given him a barrel of flour, telling him to make his fortune on that, which he did. He was a baker, now a thrifty shopkeeper. But I had a little cause of regret here, for I heard one evening loud talking and singing over head, and one of the sons apologised by saying a few friends had walked in to spend the evening by themselves. "Will you go up and see them? If you wish to see all Ireland, there is a part of it, and they will be proud to see you." Without getting my answer, he went to the room, and told the company an American lady was wishing to see them. "Welcome, welcome. Bid her speed." I entered, and found six men and two girls, who had been drinking till quite merry.

"What will ye have, lady? We are glad to see an American." "I am a tetotaler, and wish you were all the same." I soon found this was no place for exhortation. They had taken a little beyond the "moderation," and when one cried one thing, and one another,

I was quite glad to make my courtesy, after being told by an old man that, beggin' my pardon, he believed I was a nonsensical woman, goin' about the country. They all cried out, "A blackguard, she is a dacent body." And I was glad to make my escape from this hornet's nest; but my lecture to the family, when I went down, was still more unpalatable; for they sold the "good creature" moderately; and "what right had I to trouble myself?" seemed to be the feeling, when I was treated hospitably, though this was not said. Some unpleasant things followed, in which a servant was involved, which I regretted; for though she was blameable, yet she did as most servants do in all Ireland, and did as she was trained; and leaving all personalities out of the question, I would say, that the habit of teaching servants to say the "mistress is out," and telling lies of convenience, leads to most serious consequences. And though this is not confined to Ireland, yet here it has full play; and not among Roman Catholics only—all, all are poisoned, and often have I found myself totally led wrong by some wink or inuendo from the mistress to the servant, and when I have admonished the servant, "What can I do? I must please the mistress, or lose the place." The habit of deceiving, if it can be done adroitly, without detection, and answer the present demand, is not thought sinful by many from whom I should have expected better things. The lower order are always in the fault, when this habit is mentioned; but children and servants are what their mothers and mistresses make them, in most cases.

I was once seated at a dinner-table in a fashionable Protestant family; and the mother, who was a widow, had three young daughters at her side, when she entertained her guests with a recital of a cunning lie, deeply laid, which succeeded happily, in cautioning a young man to do better; and she ended by saying, "Did I not do it admirably? He never detected the lie; and don't you think I am a good manager?" All answered in the affirmative, that it was most excellently done. The daughters joined in the acclamation, and all went off most flatteringly. The servant was in the room when part of this happy lie was related.

Is this a solitary case? I wish it were; but many of the like have I met all over Ireland. I speak not in anger, but in kindness. It is a dangerous evil; an evil which, when diffused through society, is a fatal blot upon the character; and here let me beg you not to deceive yourselves, supposing that it is confined to Protestants or Romans, higher or lower order; it is everywhere.

In the city of New York, some five years ago, the female members of a congregation appointed a meeting to agree that they would employ no more Catholic servants, because they were so intriguing, and their children, who must be in contact with them, were learning to be deceptive and be liars. Thus these girls must lose their places, because they practised what they had supposed was praiseworthy. When I mingled in society in this country, I could see no difference in any religion or party; I found, to my sorrow, all were implicated, with exception of some few families, and the peasantry of the mountains. "Where is boasting then? it is excluded."

Pardon this digression, and pardon this preaching. It is not my ill-will towards Ireland, but my good-will; it is not my hatred, but my love, that makes me speak thus. I would that she had not a stain upon her garments. I would that all I have said on this point were an error.

"But you would be a very unsafe guest," said a shrewd lady, very much given to this fashionable intrigue, "if you are seeing and exposing these habits." Unsafe indeed! unsafe! I cannot sympathize with such unsafety. I never was afraid any stranger would come in contact with myself and servants, lest they should detect our intrigues. The family where I was stopping had treated me kindly, and had done no uncommon wrong; but I ventured to tell them the wrong, which was certainly taking great liberty as a guest; and I would not place them behind any family of the gentry in activity in business, hospitality to the poor, thrifty management, and respectability, as the world has baptized it.

Ireland’s Welome to the Stranger is one of the best accounts of Irish social conditions, customs, quirks and habits that you could wish for. The author, Mrs Asenath Nicholson, was an American widow who travelled extensively in Ireland on the eve of the Great Famine and meticulously observed the Irish peasantry at work and play, as well as noting their living conditions and diet. The book is also available from Kindle.