The Snail and The Butterfly

A Butterfly was seen by a Snail who berated it for its color. Butterfly responded he was colored by nature as are others. The Snail was a foil to this.

Don’t reject the ornamental when given by nature.


JN Fable 096

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

A gay Butterfly, whose spangled wings displayed all the varied colours of the rainbow, chanced in his airy voyage to light on a violet, where he was quickly espied by the protruding eyes of a crawling Snail, one filled with all the pride of independence; who, like Diogenes of old, carried his house upon his back, scorning to be helped by any. This cynic of dingy hue, approaching in a slow and solemn march, thus accosted the full-dressed little beau: “Thou tawdry, insignificant, painted, insect, hast thou no better employment than to flutter about in sunshine all the live-long day, only to show to vain mortals like thyself, thy gaudy embroidery? Let me tell thee, between ourselves, that I hold in much more esteem the solemn dignity of the dingy brown in which I am myself attired, than all the frivolous variety by which thou art characterized.”—”Conceited, short-sighted, pretending philosopher,” retorted the Butterfly, “know that you have been despising in me those qualities with which great nature has endowed me, and such as were not in my own power to bestow upon myself. Therefore I cannot but be thankful for them, and value myself the more, as one of Nature’s favourites in being thus adorned. Do we not evidently perceive the bent of Providence, shown through all its works, in that ample display of rich and varied colouring? How are all the feathered kind to be admired for their rich plumage, from the spangled Peacock to the gilded Humming Bird! See, how the innumerable insect tribe are all bedecked! The fruits of the earth also have all their varieties of bloom! The vegetable creation is as splendid as it is unbounded, clearly to be seen by every eye that has ever beheld a flower-garden in all its beauty! Indeed, all the elements conspire to deck with gaiety of hues the splendid mass, each contributing its ample portion. The sea teems with its pearls, and mother-of-pearls, whilst the inhabitants of the watery deep play around in scaly vestments of silver and of gold.

“The earth from its bowels delivers up its dazzling gems, and shining ores. And the air and fire which compose the heavens, display the vivid rainbow, and the glory of the rising and the setting sun. And permit me in return to whisper a secret in your ear:—it is such as yourself that serve as a foil to that splendour, which is Nature’s favourite garb.”


There are certain half-witted bigots, who think they please God by rejecting and despising every thing that is pleasant or ornamental, not contemplating the beautiful variety of the creation as the work of the Almighty, in which is so conspicuously. displayed his wisdom and his power, to which these zealots shut their eyes and turn their backs, to follow some idle whims, which conceit or caprice has put into their heads: thus quitting the study of nature, and the true knowledge of God, to contrive (with a stubborn perverseness,) how to make their dress plain, yet costly, that it may not be mistaken for the effects of poverty. Thus rank pride assumes the garb of humility.

But such should be told that this is not religion; but the sole produce of pride, stubbornness and ignorance, which tends to check honest industry, every kind of ingenuity, and the increase of all useful knowledge in the world. J. N.

JN Fable 096a

Wood drawing: William Harvey (1828)