The Owl’s Assembly Of Birds

An Owl held a party. Dove wanted to leave early but as others left and were insulted by the Owl Dove stayed and left last so no-one would hear the insult.

Slander wounds; do not berate others.


NorthcoteNorthcote

JN Fable 055

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: J. Jackson (1828)

An Owl assuming airs of quality, would needs have a splendid rout, to which all the beauties of feather were invited, whom she received in the most polite and affable manner, with cordial expressions of friendship and pleasure; but last of all the company in came the Dove, who declared herself to be in such haste as only just able to appear and pay her compliments of ceremony, being obliged to attend on her young brood; however, she could not but observe, that as each of the visitors departed, the Owl did not fail to make her remarks on their characters. After the Magpie was gone, “There,” said the Owl, “goes the most selfish thief that ever lived, she cannot be trusted in any house but will slily steal whatever she can lay her beak on, and hide it in holes and comers like a miser, even things that are of no kind of use to her, merely from covetousness.” Next went away the Parrot:—” A good riddance,” said the Owl, “from that prating fool, who is continually babbling without knowing the least particle of the subject she is talking about, then she swears like a trooper, and tells lies like a varlet.” ‘Then the Peacock took his leave:—”Did you observe,” said the Owl, “the airs of that vain idiot, filled with pride, affectation, and conceit of his beauty—I wish he would but look at his legs and be humble.” Next the Goose withdrew—”What a mass of awkwardness, stupidity, and vulgarity,” cried the Owl, “I wonder such creatures are not ashamed to appear in polite company; but such characters have no feeling for themselves or any ooe else.” Next the Kite disappeared;—” There goes a precious piece of goods,” said she: “one that would eat her own mother alive rather than deprive herself of a meal.”

In this manner the Owl ran on till the whole company were departed except the Dove, who remained alone with her. “How is this,” said the Owl, “did not you say and declare when you first came in, that you were in such haste that you could not tarry a moment, and now forsooth you have seen all the company out, this is very strange indeed!”—”Why, to tell you the plain truth,” replied the Dove, “when I heard you give such satirical descriptions of each of your visitors after they had left the company, I found it absolutely requisite, as the only means Df protecting my own character, to remain till there was no one left to hear it: and I will give you this advice, which you will find by experience to be good, that if you go on at this rate, you will be shunned by every Bird that has but feathers enough in its wings to fly from you. And when you do venture abroad it must only be in the night, otherwise you will be followed and hooted at as a common detractor and a pest to society.”

Application

There is something very terrible in unjustly attacking men in a way to prejudice their honour or fortune; but indeed where crimes are enormous, the delinquent deserves little pity, yet the reporter may deserve less; as it has been observed by a great author on the government of the tongue, where, speaking of uncharitable truths, he says, “a discovery of this kind serves not to reclaim, but enrages the offender, and precipitates him into farther degrees of ill.” Modesty and fear of shame is one of those natural restraints, which the wisdom of heaven has put upon mankind; and he that stumbles, may yet by a check of that bridle recover again: but when by a public detection he is fallen under that infamy be feared, he will then be apt to discard all caution, and think he owes himself the utmost pleasures of vice, as the price of his reputation. Nay, perhaps he advances further, and sets up for a reversed sort of fame, by being eminently wicked; and be who before was but a clandestine disciple, becomes a doctor of impiety.

This sort of reasoning most certainly induced our wise legislators to repeal that law, which put the stamp of infamy on the face of felons; thus putting them beyond the power of retrieving their character, or indeed of thinking it possible.

The great mischief of slander is, that one knows neither how to ward off the stroke, nor to cure the wound it gives. J. N.

JN Fable 055a

Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: J. Jackson (1828)