From “Truth Of Intercourse” by Robert Louis StevensonPosted: July 3, 2012
The cruellest 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.
A fact may be an exception; but the feeling is the law, and it is that which you must neither garble nor belie.
The whole tenor of a conversation is a part of the meaning of each separate statement; the beginning and the end define and travesty the intermediate conversation.
You never speak to God; you address a fellow-man, full of his own tempers; and to tell truth, rightly understood, is not to state the true facts, but to convey a true impression; truth in spirit, not truth to letter, is the true veracity.
To reconcile averted friends a Jesuitical discretion is often needful, not so much to gain a kind hearing as to communicate sober truth.
Women have an ill name in this connection; yet they live in as true relations; the lie of a good woman is the true index of her heart.
“It takes,” says Thoreau in the noblest and most useful passage I remember to have read in any modern author, “two to speak truth–one to speak and another to hear.” He must be very little experienced, or have no great zeal for truth, who does not recognise the fact. A grain of anger or a grain of suspicion produces strange acoustical effects, and makes the ear greedy to remark offence. Hence we find those who have once quarrelled carry themselves distantly, and are ever ready to break the truce.
To speak truth there must be moral equality or else no respect; and hence between parent and child intercourse is apt to degenerate into a verbal fencing bout, and misapprehensions to become ingrained.
And there is another side to this, for the parent begins with an imperfect notion of the child’s character, formed in early years or during the equinoctial gales of youth; to this he adheres, noting only the facts which suit with his preconception; and wherever a person fancies himself unjustly judged, he at once and finally gives up the effort to speak truth.
With our chosen friends, on the other hand, and still more between lovers (for mutual understanding is love’s essence), the truth is easily indicated by the one and aptly comprehended by the other. A hint taken, a look understood, conveys the gist of long and delicate explanations; and where the life is known even yea and nay become luminous.
In the closest of all relations–that of a love well founded and equally shared–speech is half discarded, like a roundabout, infantile process or a ceremony of formal etiquette; and the two communicate directly by their presences, and with few looks and fewer words contrive to share their good and evil and uphold each other’s hearts in joy. For love rests upon a physical basis; it is a familiarity of nature’s making and apart from voluntary choice.
Understanding has in some sort outrun knowledge, for the affection perhaps began with the acquaintance; and as it was not made like other relations, so it is not, like them, to be perturbed or clouded. Each knows more than can be uttered; each lives by faith, and believes by a natural compulsion; and between man and wife the language of the body is largely developed and grown strangely eloquent. The thought that prompted and was conveyed in a caress would only lose to be set down in words–ay, although Shakespeare himself should be the scribe.
Yet it is in these dear intimacies, beyond all others, that we must strive and do battle for the truth. Let but a doubt arise, and alas! all the previous intimacy and confidence is but another charge against the person doubted.
“What a monstrous dishonesty is this if I have been deceived so long and so completely!” Let but that thought gain entrance, and you plead before a deaf tribunal. Appeal to the past; why, that is your crime! Make all clear, convince the reason; alas! speciousness is but a proof against you. “If you can abuse me now, the more likely that you have abused me from the first.”
For a strong affection such moments are worth supporting, and they will end well; for your advocate is in your lover’s heart, and speaks her own language; it is not you but she herself who can defend and clear you of the charge. But in slighter intimacies, and for a less stringent union? Indeed, is it worth while?
We are all incompris, only more or less concerned for the mischance; all trying wrongly to do right; all fawning at each other’s feet like dumb, neglected lap-dogs. Sometimes we catch an eye–this is our opportunity in the ages–and we wag our tail with a poor smile.
“Is that all?” All? If you only knew! But how can they know? They do not love us; the more fools we to squander life on the indifferent.
But the morality of the thing, you will be glad to hear, is excellent; for it is only by trying to understand others that we can get our own hearts understood; and in matters of human feeling the clement judge is the most successful pleader.
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Stevenson and Samoa
In 1890 Stevenson bought land on Upolu, one of the Samoan islands and built a large house near the village of Vailima.
The Samoan climate and lifestyle suited Stevenson and he continued to write, keeping to a strict schedule.
Apart from Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, the household included Fanny’s daughter Belle (Isobel) Strong and her husband and son, Fanny’s son Lloyd Osbourne and various other friends and relatives who came for extended visits. The family was very close, with Belle acting as Stevenson’s secretary while Lloyd collaborated with him on some of his writing.
Robert and Fanny were on friendly terms with some of the colonial leaders and their families and also helped the Samoans in many ways. The Samoans grew to love him, calling him ‘Tusitala’ (Samoan for ‘storyteller’) and often consulting him for advice.
Robert Louis Stevenson died suddenly on the evening of 3 December 1894, aged 44 years old. He’d worked on his writing as usual during the day and collapsed, probably from a brain hemorrhage, while opening a bottle of wine and talking to his wife.
The Samoans loved Stevenson and insisted on surrounding his body with a watch-guard during the night. The next day they carried him on their shoulders to nearby Mount Vaea, where he’d asked to be buried. They buried him on a spot overlooking the sea which you can still visit today. After her husband died, Fanny returned to the United States where she died in 1914. Her ashes were brought back to Samoa and interred with her husband. The Stevenson’s home, which is near the Samoan capital Apia, is now a museum and is open to the public five days a week.