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They tell us that gad-flies creep into the ears of bulls, and ticks into those of dogs. But I am sure the parasite lays so close siege and sticks so fast to the ears of the ambitious with the repeated praises of their worth, that it is no easy matter to shake him off again. And therefore it highly concerns them to have their apprehensions awake and upon the guard, critically to remark whether the high characters such men lavish out are intended for the person or the thing they would be thought to commend. And we may indeed suppose them more peculiarly designed for the things themselves, if they bestow them on persons absent rather than present; if they covet and aspire after the same qualities themselves which they magnify in others; if they admire the same perfections in the rest of mankind as well as in us, and are never found to falter and belie, either in word or action, the sentiments they have owned. And, what is the surest criterion in this case, we are to examine whether or no we are not really troubled at or ashamed of the commission of those very things for which they applaud us, and could not wish that we had said or acted the quite contrary; for our own consciences, which are above the reach of passion and will not be put upon by all the sly artifices of flattery, will witness against us and spurn at an undeserved commendation. But I know not how it comes to pass, that several persons had rather be pitied than comforted in adversity; and when they have committed a fault, look [p. 117] upon those as enemies and informers who endeavor to chide and lecture them into a sense of their guilt, but caress and embrace them as friends who soothe them up in their vices. Indeed they who continue their applauses to so inconsiderable a thing as a single action, a wise saying, or a smart jest, do only a little present mischief; but they who from single acts proceed to debauch even the habits of the mind with their immoderate praises are like those treacherous servants who, not content to rob the common heap in the granary, filch even that which was chosen and reserved for seed. For, whilst they entitle vice to the name of virtue, they corrupt that prolific principle of action, the genius and disposition of the soul, and poison the fountain whence the whole stream of life derives. Thucydides observes, that in the time of war and sedition the names of good and evil are wont to be confounded according to men's judgment of circumstances; as, fool-hardiness is called a generous espousal of a friend's quarrel, a provident delay is nicknamed cowardice, modesty a mere pretext for unmanliness, a prudent slow inspection into things downright laziness.1 In like manner, if you observe it, a flatterer terms a profuse man liberal, a timorous man wary, a mad fellow quick and prompt, a stingy miser frugal, an amorous youngster kind and good-natured, a passionate proud fool stout, and a mean-spirited slave courteous and observing. As Plato somewhere remarks, that a lover who is always a flatterer of his beloved object styles a flat nose lovely and graceful, an hawk nose princely, the black manly, and the fair the offspring of the Gods; and observes particularly that the appellation of honey-pale is nothing but the daub of a gallant who is willing to set off his mistress's pale complexion.2 Now indeed an ugly fellow bantered into an opinion that he is handsome, or a little man magnified into tall and portly, [p. 118] cannot lie long under the mistake nor receive any great injury by the cheat; but when vice is extolled by the name of virtue, so that a man is induced to sin not only without regret but with joy and triumph, and is hardened beyond the modesty of a blush for his enormities, this sort of flattery, I say, has been fatal even to whole kingdoms. It was this that ruined Sicily, by styling the tyranny of Dionysius and Phalaris nothing but justice and a hatred of villanous practices. It was this that overthrew Egypt, by palliating the ling's effeminacy, his yellings, his enthusiastic rants, and his beating of drums, with the more plausible names of true religion and the worship of the Gods. It was this that had very nigh ruined the stanch Roman temper, by extenuating the voluptuousness, the luxury, the sumptuous shows, and public profuseness of Antony, into the softer terms of humanity, good nature, and the generosity of a gentleman who knew how to use the greatness of his fortune. What but the charms of flattery made Ptolemy turn piper and fiddler ? What else put on Nero's buskins and brought him on the stage ? Have we not known several princes, if they sung a tolerable treble, termed Apollos; when they drank stoutly, styled Bacchuses; and upon wrestling, fencing, or the like, immediately dubbed by the name of Hercules, and hurried on by those empty titles to the commission of those acts which were infinitely beneath the dignity of their character?

1 Thucyd. III. 82.

2 Plat. Repub. V. 474 D.

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