The Bee And The Butterflies

One Butterfly landed on top of a leaf, another below. One called the tree green and the other white. A Bee said both were right; top and bottom differ.

Get all the facts to avoid arguments.


JN Fable 018

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: C. Nesbit (1828)

One fine summer-morning it happened, that a couple of gay Butterflies lighted upon the leaves of a white poplar, one on the under-side of the leaf, and the other on the upper. The Butterfly on the under-side, in making his observations, said, “Surely this is the most singular tree of the forest, for while all others have green foliage, this curious tree has white leaves.” “What are you talking about,” said his companion on the upper side, “why truly you must have lost your eye-sight, for I can see distinctly that this tree is covered with leaves of the brightest green, equal to any tree that grows.”—”I positively deny it,” said the insect below, “and will maintain it, that there are none but white leaves on every branch.”

Upon this an industrious and inquisitive Bee who overheard them, perceiving that the disputants began to grow warm, and being desirous of preventing the fatal consequences which might be expected from such fierce champions, thus addressed them—”You should neither of you be so confident, until you have more deeply examined the properties of the subject of your dispute: seeing that it is from ignorance alone your anger proceeds, it is necessary for me to inform you, that the peculiarity of this tree consists in the upper side of the foliage being green, and the under white; therefore as each of you observes a different side, you are both right in your partial views, and both wrong in your general conclusion.”


This fable gives a lively representation of wrangling disputants in general, where equal ignorance prevails on both sides, and noise and vehemence become the substitutes for sound argument and reason. Then passion supplies the place of truth, when probably a little knowledge of the subject would quickly have settled the contest, if not have wholly prevented it. J. N.

JN Fable 018a

Wood drawing: William Harvey (1828)