The Eagle and The Sycophant-Bird

Eagle attended a concert of birds and screeched in reply. All clapped except a Sycophant who issued false praise the Eagle accepted and others appreciated.

The highest art of flattery conveys praise in an indirect manner.


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Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: R. Branston (1828)

The powerful Eagle, although he kept up his dignity, would sometimes relax into familiar converse with his humble inferiors; and, on a time, chose to have a concert performed by his most favoured birds. When several of them had strained their throats for his amusement, it put him in such high glee and good humour that he must needs attempt a song himself; and he began his horrid screams, at which his auditors clapt their wings in applause. When the noise had ceased, a sycophant-bird, well known as a profound flatterer, and a mimicking satirist, came forward, and bluntly said: “I have heard worse singers than your excellency.” At this the Eagle looked grave, and all the feathered company turned up their eyes with astonishment. “Yes,” continued the artful flatterer: “I have heard the Nightingale.” This premeditated subtle speech of sycophancy highly delighted the deceived Eagle, and abashed the dull assembly by his art.


The highest degree of flattery consists in a certain artful way of conveying praise in an indirect manner. Sir Francis Bacon gives one instance in his “Advancement of Learning,” of a high compliment made to Tiberius, as follows: In a full debate upon public affairs in the senate, one of the assembly rose up, and with a very grave air, said he thought for the honour and dignity of the Commonwealth, that Tiberius should be declared a God, and have divine worship paid him. The Emperor was surprized at the proposal, and demanded of him to declare whether he (Tiberius) had ever made any application to incline him to that overture? The Senator answered, with a bold and haughty tone: “Sir, in matters that concern the Commonwealth, I will be governed by no man.”

Thus the person flattered receives you into his confidence at once; and the sudden change in his heart, from the expectation of an ill-wisher, to find you his friend, makes you in full favour in a moment. The spirits that were raised so suddenly against you, are as suddenly turned in your favour.

But here we may see the odious appearance and pernicious effects which may be produced, when wit or superior abilities are applied to a vicious purpose; for at the same time that we admire the ingenuity, we despise and hate the intention and the practice. J. N.

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Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: S. Slader (1828)