Plato? George Francis Train? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: Truth tellers often face an unhappy fate in cautionary fables. They are derided, misunderstood, persecuted, or ignored. The famous ancient philosopher Plato supposedly said:
The young and old are taught falsehoods. The person who dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.
I have not been able to locate a solid citation. Would you please help?
Quote Investigator: Researchers have found no substantive evidence that Plato made this remark. The earliest close match known to QI appeared in the 1871 book “Pen Sketches of Nebraskans” by A. C. Edmunds. An eccentric American railroad financier, presidential aspirant, and world traveler named George Francis Train received credit for the following. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1
Strange times are these, in which we live, forsooth; When young and old are taught in Falsehood’s school:—And the man who dares to tell the truth, Is called at once a lunatic and fool.
The statement was an epigraph to a profile titled “George Francis Train: The Man of Destiny”. In 1872 Train campaigned to become President of the United States, and a collection of his speeches was published under the title “The People’s Candidate for President, 1872”. According to this work Train caused a sensation when he spoke the quotation: 2
You want sobriety, industry and morality in the exemplification of the character of your public men. I challenge an accusation against myself. [Applause.]
Strange times are those in which we live, forsooth,
When old and young are taught in falsehood’s school,
And the one man that dares to tell the truth
Is called at once a lunatic and fool.
The phrasing was slightly different in these two instances, e.g., the 1871 version contained “young and old”, whereas the 1872 version contained “old and young”.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
In 1888 J. C. Street published a book of esoteric and occult knowledge called “The Hidden Way Across the Threshold: Or, The Mystery which Hath Been Hidden for Ages and Generations”. Street re-assigned the quotation to Plato: 3
For the Great Truths of Spirit harmonies, and God’s Great Love have been written from all eternity on the starry scriptures of the sky, and man needs to only lift his eyes above the ground to behold them, when the Love of Spirit enters into his Soul and illuminates his being.
“Strange times are these in which we live, forsooth;
When old and young are taught in FALSEHOOD’S school!
And the one man that dares to tell the TRUTH
Is called at once a ‘LUNATIC’ and ‘FOOL’!”
How can a world progress in Spiritual understanding while money is the sole moving power, and self-interest in the abstract the guiding star, and all this vainglory, artfulness, and duplicity are called civilization.
In 1918 “My Tussle with the Devil: And Other Stories” was published by someone using the odd pseudonym “O. Henry’s Ghost”. The introduction of effusive praise was written by another pseudonymous personality named “Parma”: 4
The sledge hammer blows wielded by the personality of O Henry can only dull to insensibility and bring forth a murmur of “I think” and “I believe,” while the darting shafts of O. Henry’s Ghost will pierce the clouds and bring forth the chorus of “I know” to those who, having eyes—see—and having ears—hear!
It is today the same as when Plato said:
“Strange times are these in which we live, forsooth:
When old and young are taught in Falsehood’s School!
And the one man who dares to tell the Truth
Is called at once a ‘Lunatic’ and ‘Fool.'”
The quotation has continued to circulate in modern times with an attribution to Plato. The 2015 book “The Greening of Pharmaceutical Engineering” included this instance: 5
Plato said, “Strange times are these in which we live when old and young are taught falsehoods. And the one man that dares to tell the truth is called at once a lunatic and fool.” Few question the notion that this ‘strange times’ is now when it comes to politics.
In conclusion, the earliest evidence in 1871 and 1872 suggests that this quotation was crafted by George Francis Train. It remains possible that Train was quoting someone else, but he did not give an ascription and QI has not found any citations before 1871. The ascription to Plato occurred more than 125 years ago, but no substantive support has been located.
Image Notes: Image of Plato from a cropped section of the “School of Athens” by Raffaello Sanzio circa 1509. Jester graphic from Openclips at Pixabay. Portrait of George Francis Train accessed via the Nebraska History website at nebraskahistory.org.
(Great thanks to PatriotFan whose inquiry led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Also, thanks to the volunteer editors at Wikipedia who located the 1871 citation.)
- 1871, Pen Sketches of Nebraskans with Photographs by A. C. Edmunds, George Francis Train: The Man of Destiny, Start Page 5, Quote Page 5, R. & J. Wilbur, Lincoln, Nebraska. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1872, The People’s Candidate for President, 1872, George Francis Train, (Collection of speeches by George Francis Train), Edited by John Wesley Nichols, Quote Page 44, Publisher not identified. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1888, The Hidden Way Across the Threshold: Or, The Mystery which Hath Been Hidden for Ages and Generations by J. C. Street (Third edition introduction is dated December 1888), Quote Page 578, William Rider & Son, London. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 1918, My Tussle with the Devil: And Other Stories by O. Henry’s Ghost, Introduction: The Barrage Fire by Parma, Start Page 3, Quote Page 7, Published by I. M. Y. Company, New York. (Google Books Full View) link ↩
- 2015, The Greening of Pharmaceutical Engineering, Volume 1, Authors: M. R. Islam, Jaan S. Islam, Gary M. Zatzman, M. Safiur Rahman, M. A. H. Mughal, Chapter 1: Introduction, Subsection: 1.2 Are we Trained to Develop Contempt for Conscience and Addiction to Selfishness?, Unnumbered Page, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken, New Jersey, and Scrivener Publishing, Salem, Massachusetts. (Google Books Preview) ↩