The Two Crabs

A child crab is berated by the parent crab for walking awkwardly. The child crab points out the parent should set the example.

Example is the best precept.

Eliot-JacobsEliot/Jacobs Version

One day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand. “Child,” said the mother, “you are walking very ungracefully. You should accustom yourself, to walking straight forward.” “Mother,” said the young one, “set the example yourself, and I will follow you.”

Aesop For ChildrenAesop For Children (The Young Crab and His Mother)

Crab and Mother

Milo Winter (1919)

“Why in the world do you walk sideways like that?” said a Mother Crab to her son. “You should always walk straight forward with your toes turned out.”

“Show me how to walk, mother dear,” answered the little Crab obediently, “I want to learn.”

So the old Crab tried and tried to walk straight forward. But she could walk sideways only, like her son. And when she wanted to turn her toes out she tripped and fell on her nose.


Do not tell others how to act unless you can set a good example.

Townsend VersionTownsend version

A crab said to her son, “Why do you walk so one-sided, my child? It is far more becoming to go straight forward.” The young Crab replied: “Quite true, dear Mother; and if you will show me the straight way, I will promise to walk in it.” The Mother tried in vain, and submitted without remonstrance to the reproof of her child.


Example is more powerful than precept.

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

“My dear,” called out an old Crab to her daughter one day, “why do you sidle along in that awkward manner? Why don’t you go forward like other people?” “Well, mother,” answered the young Crab, “it seems to me that I go exactly like you do. Go first and show me how, and I will gladly follow.”

Samuel CroxallSamuel Croxall

Croxall - Two CrabsIT is said to be the nature of a Crab-fish to go backward: however, a Mother-Crab, one day, reproved her daughter, and was in a great passion with her for her untoward awkward gait, which she desired her to alter, and not to move in a way so contradictory to the rest of the world. Indeed, mother, says the young Crab, 1 walk as decently as I can, and to the best of my knowledge; but, if you would have me go otherwise, I beg you would be so good as to practise it first, and show me, by your own example, how you would have me behave myself.


The man, who is so impertinent as to rebuke others for a misbehaviour of which he himself is guilty, must be either a hypocrite, a senseless creature, or an impudent fellow. It is strange that mankind, being so apt to act wrong in most particulars, should at the same time be so prone to calumny and detraction. One would think that they who err so notoriously and frequently themselves, should be rather tender in concealing, than officious in carping at the faults of their fellow sinners; especially, considering that it is natural to be misled by our passions and appetites into some excess or other, but unnatural and inhuman to impeach others of miscarriages, of which ourselves are equally guilty. Granting it were ever so proper, or so much our duty to find fault with others, yet we must have a great share of impudence, if we can bear to do it while we know ourselves liable to the same imputations, Example is a thousand times more instructive, or at least persuasive, than precept: for, though the rules for virtue were even more pressing and numerous than they are, yet let but the fashion run upon vice, as it most commonly does, and you see how ready and conformable the world shows itself to every part of it.

Crane Poetry VisualCrane Poetry Visual

Two Crabs

“So awkward, so shambling a gait!”
Mrs Crab did her daughter berate,
Who rejoined, “It is true
I am backward; but you
Needed lessons in walking quite late.”

Look at home.

1001Cancer et Filius Eius

Cancer dicebat filio, “Mi fili, ne sic obliquis semper gressibus incede, sed recta via perge.” Cui ille “Mi pater,” respondit, “libenter tuis praeceptis obsequar, si te prius idem facientem videro.”

Perry #322