Fables of Æsop and Other Eminent Mythologists/Fable XIII
A Fox and a Raven
A Certain Fox spyd out a Raven upon a Tree with a Morsel in his mouth, that let his Chops a watering; but how to come at it was the Question. Ah thou Blessed Bird! (says he) the Delight of Gods, and of Men! and so he lays himself forth upon the Gracefulness of the Ravens Person, and the Beauty of his Plumes; His Admirable Gift of Augury, &c. And now, says the Fox, If thou hadst but a Voice answerable to the rest of thy Excellent Qualities, the Sun in the Firmament could not shew the World such Another Creature. This Nauseous Flattery sets the Raven immediately a Gaping as Wide as ever he could stretch, to give the Fox a taste of his Pipe; but upon the Opening of his Mouth, he drops his Breakfast, which the Fox presently Chopt up, and then bad him remember, that whatever he had said of his Beauty, he had spoken Nothing yet of his Brains.
This Fable shews us the Danger and the Nature of Flattery. It calls Good Things by ill Names, and ill by Good; but it will never be out of Credit, so long as there are Knaves to Give it, and Fools to Take it. It is never more Pernicious than in the Courts of Great Princes, because a good deal of it looks like Duty; as in private Cases, it carries a face of Friendship. The way to Rise is to Please, and whatever is gotten by't, comes by Treachery. 'Tis a Design that endangers both Body, Soul, and Estate; and not One Man of a Million that's Proof against it. But Great and Good Men will rather look for their Character in the Writings and Precepts of the Philosophers, than in the Hyperboles of their Flatterers. For they know very well that Wise Books are the Only True Friends.
There's a Fawning, Crafty Knave, and a Vain, Easie Fool, well met, in this Fable of the Fox and the Raven; which is no more at last, than One fort of Rascal Cajoling Another; And then to shew us, both that Impudence will stick at Nothing, and that a Self Conceited Fop will swallow Any thing, the Raven's Beauty forsooth, and his Voice are the Topiques, that Reynard has made choice of to Dilate upon. The two main Ends of Flattery, are Profit, or Safety, though there are many others too that are less Principal; but in some respect or other, Reducible to these Heads. The One is too Mercenary, and the Other too Servile, for a man of Worth. There are also several sorts and degrees of it under this Division; and divers ways of Address and Application. But Flattery is Flattery still, and the Moral extends to All.
'Tis in it felt an Unmanly, Slavish Vice; but it is much Worse yet for the Alliance it has to Hypocrisie: for while we make other people think Better of themselves than they Deserve, we make them think Better of Us too than We Deserve: For Self-love and Vanity on the One hand, Assisls the Falseness and the Confidence on the Other, while it serves to confirm weak Minds in the Opinion they had of Themselves before; and makes them Parties, effectually, in a Conspiracy, to their Own Ruin. The Measures, and the Artifices of it are Many, and in divers Cases so like Sincerity, that what betwixt Custom and the Nature of the Thing, it looks, in truth, like a Virtue, and a Duty; that is to say, where it is so manag'd, as to be rather Instructive than puffing up. As for Example, for a body to say, [This or That was Wisely foreseen,] Or [You intend, I presume, to go This or That Way to Work:] and the like. Such an Insinuation as this is, carries the Force in it of a Tacite, and a prudent Advice; for it both serves to point out the Reason of the thing, and it preserves the Decency of that Respect which ought to go along with it. 'Tis a good Hint, the very suggesting of such or such a Precaution, though the consideration perhaps never came near the t' others Thought. But there is a curtain Habitual Meanness of Soul, which has so far prevail'd in the World, that Common Civility is no less Tainted by Course and Custom, than Friendship and Conversation is by Corruption.
It is the Parasites Act to cast himself into all Shapes that may sort with the Figure of his Patron, in what Poll, Function, or Administration soever; and to frame the Air and Countenance of his Words, Looks, and Actions accordingly, with a respeclt to his Power, Wisdom, Conduct, Bravery, Generosity, Justice, or what other Subject he thinks fit to treat upon. So that let him be never so Persidious, Shallow, Rash, Timorous, Eavious, Malicious, Proud, Covetous, &c a Little Court Holy-Water Washes off all Stains. And what is this upon the Main now, but an Exchange of Air for Substance, and parting with All that either is, or ought to be Dear to us, for a Song. The Flatterer, first Counsels his Patron to his Loss; and then betrays him into the making himself Ridiculous; as what can be more so, than for a Raven to Value Himself upon his Croaking, or an Asse on his Braying? The only Benefit or Good of Flattery is this; that by Hearing what we are Not; we may be Instructed what we Ought to be.