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.
- 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 ↩