The Eagle, The Jackdaw, and The Magpie

A Jackdaw and Magpie vied for importance at the Eagle’s court. Asked which took precedence, the Eagle said that the greater fool would be.

Only fools try to be self-important.

Eagle, Jackdaw, and Magpie

Ernest Griset (1874)

The kingly Eagle kept his court with all the formalities of sovereign state, which was duly attended by all his plumed subjects in their highest feathers. But these solemn assemblies were frequently disturbed by the impertinent conduct of two, who assumed the importance of highfliers, and these were no other than the Jackdaw and the Magpie, who were for ever contending for precedence which neither of them would give up to the other; and the contest ran so high that at length they mutually agreed to appeal to the sovereign Eagle for his decision in this momentous affair. The Eagle gravely answered that he did not wish to make any invidious distinction by deciding to the advantage of either party, but would give them a rule by which they might determine it between themselves; “for,” added he, “the greater fool of the two shall in future always take precedence, but which of you it may be yourselves must settle.”


[Note: The Northcote fable is the same fable as in the JBR Collection above. Only the illustrations and Application associated with the fable in the Northcote book are displayed here.]


In this Fable is shewn the extreme folly of coveting with such avidity those trifling claims of superiority (which wit or whim can by a breath invalidate or turn into ridicule,) in preference to those truly noble qualities of the mind, knowledge and virtue, which may bid defiance to wit, argument, or power itself, to destroy or render them ridiculous. Every person has just as much pride as he wants sense. J. N.

JN Fable 042

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: H. White (1828)

JN Fable 042a

Wood drawing: William Harvey (1828)