Plutarch's How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend

English Translated from the Greek by Mr. Tullie of Queen's College. Edition by William W. Goodwin, Boston: Little, Brown, and Co., 1878.
Introduction and Annotation of text copyright ©2006 David Trumbull, Agathon Associates. All Rights Reserved.

¶ Introduction by David Trumbull. In this essay Plutarch treats not of the obvious "toadies" who seek to suck some advantage from association with a rich or powerful man, but of those more subtle flatterers who present a passable counterfeit of true friendship and who seemingly take an interest in one's welfare while, in fact, directing one on the path to ruin (Chapters 3-4). The flatterer ingratiates himself by means of feigned agreeableness and perverts our natural self-love to make us believe what is not true about ourselves. He is, in short, the enemy of truth. A friend, on the contrary seeks to profit you by speaking the truth. As Phocion said (Chapter 23) "I cannot be your friend and your flatterer."

Chapters one through five discuss the nature of the flatterer and of the friend and the necessity of a rule for distinguishing the one from the other. In chapters 12 and 13 he digresses on the ruin of great men seduced by flatterers. Plutarch's advice may be gathered into nine heads:

  1. A flatterer is mutable, inconstant, not his own man but ever-changing to be the man he thinks will appeal to his victim (Chaps. 6-8).
  2. A flatterer praises indiscriminately and copies rather his object's vices rather than virtues (Chap. 9).
  3. A flatterer is always seeking to please (Chaps. 10-11).
  4. Give a flatterer absurd advice and speak impertinently of his undertaking and he will agree with your disagreeable counsel (Chap. 14).
  5. A flatterer appeals to the lower, not the higher, nature of his victim (Chaps. 15-20).
  6. Beware of one who is too eager to seem a friend and who works too hard at gaining your trust (Chap. 21).
  7. The flatterer labors to please rather than profit you (Chaps. 22-23).
  8. A flatterer will seek to separate you from your true friends by speaking ill of them (Chap. 24).
  9. The surest prophylactic against the evils of the flatterer is a just opinion of oneself that will reject, as untruthful, the flatterer's insinuations (Chap. 25).

Plutarch argues that we need friends not merely for companionship, but as truth-tellers. Indeed, for Plutarch, a friend laboring to profit you, rather than please you, acts as does God, who gives us daily blessings whether we be mindful of them or not (Chap. 22). Truth-telling often requires the friend to reprove us, something the flatterer, ever fearful of losing our confidence, cannot do sincerely or effectively. This freedom of speech with which the friend reproves us for real faults is “a great, massy, and substantial weapon,” in the war against untruth and unseemly conduct (Chap. 17) and Plutarch gives over the remainder of the essay from chapter 26 to end to a discussion of the proper use of frank speech among friends. Friendship being so important, even divine in origin, if is fitting that the final 12 chapters are a manual on the exercise of friendship.

¶ Self-love leads one to hearken to a flatterer.
Here Begins Plutarch's Essay How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend.

[1] Plato is of opinion that it is very pardonable in a man to acknowledge that he has any extraordinary passion for himself; and yet the humor is attended with this ill consequent, besides several others, that it renders us incapable of making a right judgment of ourselves. For our affections usually blind our discerning faculties, unless we have learned to raise them above the sordid level of things congenial and familiar to us, to those which are truly noble and excellent in themselves. And hence it is that we are so frequently exposed to the attempts of a parasite, under the disguise and vizard of a friend. For self-love, that grand flatterer within, willingly entertains another from without, who will but soothe up and second the man in the good opinions he has conceived of himself. For he who deservedly lies under the character of one that loves to be flattered is doubtless sufficiently fond of himself: and through abundance of complaisance to his own person, not only wishes but thinks himself master of all those perfections which may recommend him to others. And though indeed it be laudable enough to covet such accomplishments, yet is it altogether unsafe for any man to fancy them inherent in him.

¶ A flatterer is an enemy of Truth. Now, if truth be a ray of the divinity, as Plato says it is, and the source of all the good that derives upon either Gods or men, then certainly the flatterer must be looked upon as a public enemy to all the Gods, and especially to Apollo; for he always acts counter to that celebrated oracle of his, Know thyself, endeavoring to make every man his own cheat, by keeping him ignorant of the good and ill qualities that are in him; whereupon the good never arrive at perfection, and the ill grow incorrigible.
¶ Flatterers attach themselves to those from whom they expect to gain some advantage.

¶ We must try our friends whether their friendship be of true coin or counterfeit.

[2] Did flattery, indeed, as most other misfortunes do, generally or altogether wait on the debauched and ignoble part of mankind, the mischief were of less consequence, and might admit of an easier prevention. But, as worms breed most in sweet and tender woods, so usually the most obliging, the most brave and generous tempers readiliest receive and longest entertain the flattering insect that hangs and grows upon them. And since, to use Simonides’s expression, it is not for persons of a narrow fortune, but for gentlemen of estates, to keep a good stable of horses; so never saw we flattery the attendant of the poor, the inglorious and inconsiderable plebeian, but of the grandees of the world, the distemper and bane of great families and affairs, the plague in kings’ chambers, and the ruin of their kingdoms. Therefore it is a business of no small importance, and one which requires no ordinary circumspection, so to be able to know a flatterer in every shape he assumes, that the counterfeit resemblance some time or other bring not true friendship itself into suspicion and disrepute. For parasites, — like lice, which desert a dying man, whose palled and vapid blood can feed them no longer, — never intermix in dry and insipid business where there is nothing to be got; but prey upon a noble quarry, the ministers of state and potentates of the earth, and afterwards lousily shirk off, if the greatness of their fortune chance to leave them. But it will not be wisdom in us to stay till such fatal junctures, and then try the experiment, which will not only be useless but dangerous and hurtful; for it is a deplorable thing for a man to find himself then destitute of friends, when he most wants them, and has no opportunity either of exchanging his false and faithless friend for a fast and honest one. And therefore we should rather try our friend, as we do our money, whether or not he be passable and current, before we need him. For it is not enough to discover the cheat to our cost, but we must so understand the flatterer, that he put no cheat upon us; otherwise we should act like those who must needs take poison to know its strength, and foolishly hazard their lives to inform their judgment. And as we cannot approve of this carelessness, so neither can we of that too scrupulous humor of those who, taking the measures of true friendship only from the bare honesty and usefulness of the man, immediately suspect a pleasant and easy conversation for a cheat. For a friend is not a dull tasteless thing, nor does the decorum of friendship consist in sourness and austerity of temper, but its very port and gravity is soft and amiable, —
Where Love and all the Graces do reside.

For it is not only a comfort to the afflicted,

To enjoy the courtesy of his kindest friend,
¶ The flatterer counterfeits the agreeableness of a friend. as Euripides speaks; but friendship extends itself to both fortunes, as well brightens and adorns prosperity as allays the sorrows that attend adversity. And as Evenus used to say that fire makes the best sauce, so friendship, wherewith God has seasoned the circumstances of our mortality, gives a relish to every condition, renders them all easy, sweet, and agreeable enough. And indeed, did not the laws of friendship admit of a little pleasantry and good humor, why should the parasite insinuate himself under that disguise? And yet he, as counterfeit gold imitates the brightness and lustre of the true, always puts on the easiness and freedom of a friend, is always pleasant and obliging, and ready to comply with the humor of his company. And therefore it is no way reasonable either, to look upon every just character that is given us as a piece of flattery; for certainly a due and seasonable commendation is as much the duty of one friend to another as a pertinent and serious reprehension; nay indeed, a sour querulous temper is perfectly repugnant to the laws of friendship and conversation; whereas a man takes a chiding patiently from a friend who is as ready to praise his virtues as to animadvert upon his vices, willingly persuading himself that mere necessity obliged him to reprimand, whom kindness had first moved to commend.
¶ Plutarch proposes to warn not of the obvious sorts of flatterers but of those whose counterfeit friendship, appearing the most sincere, is the hardest to detect. [3] Why then, some may say, it is infinitely difficult at this rate to distinguish a flatterer from a friend, since there is no apparent difference either betwixt the satisfaction they create or the praises they bestow. Nay, it is observable, that a parasite is frequently more obsequious and obliging than a friend himself. Well, the way then to discover the disparity? Why, I will tell you; if you would learn the character of a true subtle flatterer, who nicks his point secundum artem, you must not, with the vulgar, mistake those sordid smell-feasts and poor trencherslaves for your men, who begin to prate as soon as they have washed their hands in order to dinner, as one says of them, and ere they are well warmed with a good cut of the first dish and a glass of wine, betray the narrow soul that acts them by the nauseous and fulsome buffoonery they vent at table. For sure it needed no great sagacity to detect the flattery of Melanthius, the parasite of Alexander of Pherae, who, being asked how his master was murdered, made answer, With a thrust which went in at his side, but into my belly. Nor must we, again, confine our notions of flatterers to those sharping fellows who ply about rich men’s tables, whom neither fire nor sword nor porter can keep from supper; nor yet to such as were those female parasites of Cyprus, who going into Syria were nick-named Steps, because they cringed so to the great ladies of that country that they mounted their chariots on their backs.
¶ Great care must be taken in sifting the tares of the flatterer from the wheat of the true friend. [4] Well, but after all, who is this flatterer then, whom we ought so industriously to avoid?

I answer: He who neither professes nor seems to flatter; who never haunts your kitchen, is never observed to watch the dial that he may nick your supper-time; who won’t drink to excess, but will keep his brains about him; who is prying and inquisitive, would mix in your business, and wind himself into your secrets: in short, he who acts the friend, not with the air of a comedian or a satirist, but with the port and gravity of a tragedian. For, as Plato says, It is the height of injustice to appear just and be really a knave /1/. So are we to look upon those flatterers as most dangerous who walk not barefaced but in disguise, who make no sport but mind their business; for these often personate the true and sincere friend so exactly, that it is enough to make him fall under the like suspicion of a cheat, unless we be extremely curious in remarking the difference betwixt them. It is storied of Gobryas (one of the Persian nobility, who joined with Darius against the Magi), that he pursued one of them into a dark room, and there fell upon him; during the scuffle Darius came in and drew upon the enemy, but durst not push at him, lest perhaps he might wound his confederate Gobryas with the thrust; whereupon Gobryas bade him, rather than fail, run both through together /2/. But since we can by no means admit of that vulgar saying, Let my friend perish, so my enemy perish with him, but had rather still endeavor at the discovery of a parasite from a friend, notwithstanding the nearness of the resemblance, we ought to use our utmost care, lest at any time we indifferently reject the good with the bad, or unadvisedly retain the bad with the good, the friend and flatterer together. For as those wild grains which usually grow up with wheat, and are of the same figure and bigness with it, are not easily winnowed from it, — for they either cannot pass through the holes of the sieve, if narrow, or pass together with the wheat, if larger, — so is it infinitely difficult to distinguish flattery from friendship, because the one so exquisitely mixes with all the passions, humors, interests, and inclinations of the other. /3/

¶ Friendship being so necessary for our happiness and well-being, the flatterer is a most dangerous parasite. [5] Now because the enjoyment of a friend is attended with the greatest satisfaction incident to humanity, therefore the flatterer always endeavors to entrap us by rendering his conversation highly pleasant and agreeable. Again, because all acts of kindness and mutual beneficence are the constant attendants upon true friendship (on which account we usually say, A friend is more necessary than fire or water), therefore the flatterer is ready upon every occasion to obtrude his service upon you, and will with an indefatigable bustle and zeal seek to oblige you if he can.

In the next place, the parasite observes that all true friendship takes its origin from a concurrence of like humors and inclinations, and that the same passions, the same aversions and desires, are the first cement of a true and lasting friendship. He therefore composes his nature, like unformed matter, striving to fit and adapt it by imitation to the person on whom he designs, that it may be pliant and yielding to any impression that he shall think fit to stamp upon it; and, in fine, he so neatly resembles the original, that one would swear, —

Sure thou the very Achilles art, and not his son.
¶ A flatterer will even chide as does a true friend. But the most exquisite fineness of a flatterer consists in his imitation of that freedom of discourse which friends particularly use in mutually reprehending each other. For finding that men usually take it for what it really is, the natural language of friendship, as peculiar to it as certain notes or voices are to certain animals, and that, on the contrary, a shy sheepish reservedness looks both rude and unfriendly, he lets not even this proper character of a friend escape his imitation. But as skilful cooks use to correct luscious meats with sharp and poignant sauce, that they may not be so apt to overcharge the stomach; so he seasons his flattery now and then with a little smartness and severity, lest the fulsomeness of repeated dissimulation should pall and cloy the company. And yet his reprehensions always carry something in them that looks not true and genuine; he seems to do it, but with a kind of a sneering and grinning countenance at the best; and though his reproofs may possibly tickle the ear, yet they never strike effectually upon the heart. On these accounts then it is as difficult to discern a flatterer from a friend, as to know those animals again which always wear the livery of the last thing they touch upon. And therefore, since he puts so easily upon us under the disguise and appearance of a friend, it will be our business at present to unmask the hypocrite, and show him in other men’s shapes and colors, as Plato speaks, since he has none properly his own.
¶ The flatterer studies how he may appear to share the interests of his victim. [6] Well then, let us enquire regularly into this affair. We have already asserted, that friendship generally takes its rise from a conformity of tempers and dispositions, whereby different persons come to have the same taste of the like humors, customs, studies, exercises, and employs, as these following verses import: —
Old men with old, and boys with boys agree;
And women’s clack with women’s company.
Men that are crazy, full of sores and pain,
Love to diseased persons to complain.
And they who labor under adverse fate,
Tell their sad stories to th’ unfortunate.

The flatterer then, observing how congenial it is to our natures to delight in the conversation of those who are, as it were, the counterpart of ourselves, makes his first approaches to our affections at this avenue, where he gradually advances (like one making towards a wild beast in a pasture, with a design to tame and bring it to hand) by accommodating himself to the same studies, business, and color of life with the person upon whom he designs, till at last the latter gives him an opportunity to catch him, and becomes tractable by the man who strokes him. All this while the flatterer falls foul upon those courses of life, persons, and things he perceives his cully to disapprove, and again as extravagantly commends those he is pleased to honor with his approbation, still persuading him that his choice and dislike are the results of a solid and discerning judgment and not of passion.

¶ The flatterer, ever aping the interests of his victim, is seen to have no stable character of his own. [7] Well, then, by what signs or tokens shall we be able to know this counterfeit copy of ourselves from a true and genuine likeness?

In the first place, we must accurately remark upon the whole tenor of his life and conversation, whether or not the resemblance he pretends to the original be of any continuance, natural and easy, and all of a piece; whether he square his actions according to any one steady and uniform model, as becomes an ingenuous lover of conversation and friendship, which is all of one thread, and still like itself; for this is a true friend indeed. But the flatterer, who has no principles in him, and leads not a life properly his own, but forms and moulds it according to the various humors and caprices of those he designs to bubble, is never one and the same man, but a mere dapple or trimmer, who changes shapes with his company, like water that always turns and winds itself into the figure of the channel through which it flows. Apes, it seems, are usually caught by their antic mimicry of the motions and gesticulations of men; and yet the men themselves are trepanned by the same craft of imitation in a flatterer, who adapts himself to their several humors, fencing and wrestling with one, singing and dancing with another. If he is in chase of a spark that delights in a pack of dogs, he follows him at the heels, hollowing almost like Phaedra,

O what a pleasure ’tis, ye Gods, to wind
The shrill-mouthed horn and chase the dappled hind;

and yet the hunter himself is the game he designs for the toils. If he be in pursuit of some bookish young gentleman, then he is always a poring, he nourishes his reverend beard down to his heels, wears a tattered cloak, affects the careless indifference of a philosopher, and can now discourse of nothing under Plato’s triangles and rectangles. If he chance to fall into the acquaintance of a drunken, idle debauchee who has got an estate,

Then sly Ulysses throws away his rags,
¶ Of the changeableness of flatterers as illustrated by Dionysius of Syracuse and by Alcibiades.

¶ A man of integrity, such as Plato the philosopher, will be seen to always bear the same character.

puts off his long robe, mows down his fruitless crop of beard, drinks briskly, laughs modishly on the walks, and drolls handsomely upon the philosophical fops of the town. And thus, they say, it happened at Syracuse; for when Plato first arrived there and Dionysius was wonderfully hot upon the study of philosophy, all the areas in the king’s palace were full of nothing but dust and sand, by reason of the great concourse of geometricians who came to draw their figures and demonstrate there. But no sooner was Plato in disgrace at court, and Dionysius finally fallen from philosophy to wine and women, trifles and intemperance, than learning fell into a general disrepute, and the whole body of the people, as if bewitched by some Circe or other, became universally stupid, idle, and infatuated /4/. Besides this, I appeal to the practices of men notorious for flattery and popularity to back my observation. Witness he who topped them all, Alcibiades, who, when he dwelt at Athens, was as arch and witty as any Athenian of them all, kept his stable of horses, played the good fellow, and was universally obliging; and yet the same man at Sparta shaved close to the skin, wore his cloak, and never bathed but in cold water. When he sojourned in Thrace, he drank and fought like a Thracian; and again, in Tissaphernes’s company in Asia, he acted the part of a soft, arrogant, and voluptuous Asiatic. And thus, by an easy compliance with the humors and customs of the people amongst whom he conversed, he made himself master of their affections and interests /5/. So did not the brave Epaminondas nor Agesilaus, who, though they had to do with great variety of men and manners, and cities of vastly different politics, were still the same men, and everywhere, through the whole circle of their conversation, maintained a port and character worthy of themselves. And so was Plato the same man at Syracuse that he was in the Academy, the same in Dionysius’s court that he was in Dion’s.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 1: A flatterer is mutable, inconstant, not his own man but ever-changing to be the man he thinks will appeal to his victim. [8] But he who will take the pains to act the dissembler himself, by interchangeably decrying and extolling the same things, discourses, and ways of living, will easily perceive that the opinions of a flatterer are as mutable and inconstant as the colors of a polypus, that he is never consonant to himself nor properly his own man; that all his passions, his love and hatred, his joy and sorrow, are borrowed and counterfeit; and that, in a word, like a mirror, he only receives and represents the several faces or images of other men’s affections and humors. Do but discommend one of your acquaintance a little in his company, and he will tell you it is a wonder you never found him out all this while, for his part he never fancied him in his life. Change but your style and commend him, he presently swears you oblige him in it, gives you a thousand thanks for the gentleman’s sake, and believes your character of him to be just. Tell him you have thoughts of altering your course of life, as for instance, to retire from all public employs to privacy and ease; he immediately wishes that he had retreated long ago from the hurry and drudgery of business and the odium that attends it. Seem but again inclinable to an active life; Why now, says he, you speak like yourself; leisure and ease are sweet, it is true, but withal mean and inglorious. When you have thus trepanned him, it would be proper to cashier him with some such reply as this: —
How now, my friend! What, quite another man!

I abhor a fellow who servilely complies with whatsoever I propose, and keeps pace with me in all my motions, — my shadow can do that better than yourself, — but my friend must deal plainly and impartially, and assist me faithfully with his judgment. And thus you see one way of discerning a flatterer from a friend.

¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 2: A true friend praises what is worthy in a friend; a flatterer praises indiscriminately and copies rather his object's vices rather than virtues. [9] Another difference observable betwixt them in the resemblance they bear to each other is, that a true friend will not rashly commend nor imitate every thing, but only what really deserves it; for, as Sophocles says,
He shares with him his loves, but not his hates,

and will scorn to bear any part with him in any base and dishonorable actions, unless, as people sometimes catch blear eyes, he may chance insensibly to contract some ill habit or other by the very contagion of familiarity and conversation. Thus they say Plato’s acquaintance learned his stoop, Aristotle’s his lisp, and Alexander’s the inclination of his neck and the rapidity of his speech. For some persons, ere they are aware, get a touch of the humors and infirmities of those with whom they converse. But now as a true friend endeavors only to copy the fairest originals, so, on the contrary, the flatterer, like the chameleon, which puts on all colors but the innocent white, being unable to reach those strokes of virtue which are worth his imitation, takes care that no failure or imperfection escape him. As unskilful painters, when they cannot hit the features and air of a face, content themselves with the faint resemblance in a wrinkle, a wart, or a scar, so he takes up with his friend’s intemperance, superstition, cholericness, severity to his servants, distrust of his relations and domestics or the like. For, besides that a natural propensity to evil inclines him always to follow the worst examples, he imagines his assuming other men’s vices will best secure him from the suspicion of being disaffected towards them; for their fidelity is often suspected who seem dissatisfied with faults and wish a reformation. Which very thing lost Dion in the good opinion of Dionysius, Samius in Philip’s, Cleomenes in Ptolemy’s, and at last proved the occasion of their ruin. And therefore the flatterer pretends not only to the good humor of a companion, but to the faithfulness of a friend too, and would be thought to have so great a respect for you that he cannot be disgusted at the very worst of your actions, being indeed of the same make and constitution with yourself. Hence you shall have him pretend a share in the most common casualties that befall another, nay, in complaisance, feign even diseases themselves. In company of those who are thick of hearing, he is presently half deaf, and with the dim-sighted can see no more than they do. So the parasites about Dionysius at an entertainment, to humor his blindness, stumbled one upon another and jostled the dishes off his table.

¶ Beware of those who are too solicitous of sharing in one's sufferings. But there are others who refine upon the former by a pretended fellow-suffering in the more private concernments of life, whereby they wriggle themselves deeper into the affections of those they flatter; as, if they find a man unhappily married, or distrustful of his children or domestics, they spare not their own family, but immediately entertain you with some lamentable story of the hard fortune they have met with in their children, their wife, their servants, or relations. For, by the parallel circumstances they pretend to, they seem more passionately concerned for the misfortunes of their friends, who, as if they had already received some pawn and assurance of their fidelity, blab forth those secrets which they cannot afterwards handsomely retract, and dare not betray the least distrust of their new confidant for the future. I myself knew a man who turned his wife out of doors because a gentleman of his acquaintance divorced his, though the latter lady smelt the intrigue afterwards by the messages the flatterer sent to his wife after the pretended divorce and the private visits he was observed to make her. So little did he understand the flatterer who took these following verses for the description of a crab rather than his: —
The shapeless thing’s all over paunch and gut:
Who can the monster’s mighty hunger glut?
It crawls on teeth, and with a watchful eye
Does into every secret corner pry.

For this is the true portraiture of those sharpers, who, as Eupolis speaks, sponge upon their acquaintance for a dinner.

¶ Note that the flatterer, when imitating his victim, will always do so with an eye to giving the seeming pre-eminence to his victim. [10] But we will reserve these remarks for a more proper place. In the mean time I must not omit the other artifice observable in his imitation, which is this: that if at any time he counterfeit the good qualities of his friend, he immediately yields him the pre-eminence; whereas there is no competition, no emulation or envy amongst true friends, but whether they are equally accomplished or not, they bear the same even unconcerned temper of mind towards each other. But the flatterer, remembering that he is but to act another’s part, pretends only to such strokes as fall short of the original, and is willing to confess himself outdone in any thing but his vices, wherein alone he claims the precedency to himself; as, if the man he is to wheedle be difficult and morose, he is quite overrun with choler; if something superstitious, he is a perfect enthusiast; if a little in love, for his part he is most desperately smitten. I laughed heartily at such a passage, says one; But I had like to have died with laughter, says the other. But now in speaking of any laudable qualities, he inverts his style; as, I can run fast enough, says he, but you perfectly fly. I can sit an horse tolerably well, but alas! what’s that to this Hippocentaur for good horsemanship? I have a tolerable good genius for poetry, and am none of the worst versifiers of the age;
But thunder is the language of you Gods, not mine.

And thus at the same time he obliges his friend both in approving of his abilities by his owning of them, and in confessing him incomparable in his way by himself coming short of his example. These then are the distinguishing characters of a friend and flatterer, as far as concerns the counterfeit resemblance betwixt them.

¶ Plutarch observes that the friend is pleasing to be around because he is a friend, while the flatterer studies and practices to seem pleasing for an end that is contrary to friendship and contrary to the best interests of his victim. [11] But because, as we have before observed, it is common to them both to please (for a good man is no less taken with the company of his friends than an ill one is with a flatterer’s), let us discriminate them here too. And the way will be to have an eye to the end to which they direct the satisfaction they create, which may be thus illustrated. Your perfumed oils have a fine odoriferous scent, and so, it may be, have some medicines too; but with this difference, that the former are prepared barely for the gratification of the sense, whilst the other, besides their odor, purge, heal, and fatten. Again, the colors used by painters are certainly very florid and the mixture agreeable; and yet so it is in some medicinal compositions too. Wherein then lies the difference? Why, in the end or use for which they are designed, the one purely for pleasure the other for profit. In like manner the civilities of one friend to another, besides the main point of their honesty and mutual advantage, are always attended with an overplus of delight and satisfaction. Nay, they can now and then indulge themselves the liberty of an innocent diversion, a collation, or a glass of wine, and, believe me, can be as cheerful and jocund as the best; all which they use only as sauce, to give a relish to the more serious and weighty concernments of life. To which purpose was that of the poet,
With pleasing chat they did delight each other;

as likewise this too,

Nothing could part our pleasure or our love.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 3: A flatterer is always seeking to please, while a friend sometimes is agreeable; sometimes not. But the whole business and design of a flatterer is continually to entertain the company with some pastime or other, a little jest, a story well told, or a comical action; and, in a word, he thinks he can never overact the diverting part of conversation. Whereas the true friend, proposing no other end to himself than the bare discharge of his duty, is sometimes pleasant, and as often, it may be, disagreeable, neither solicitously coveting the one, nor industriously avoiding the other, if he judge it the more seasonable and expedient. For as a physician, if need require, will throw in a little saffron or spikenard to qualify his patient’s dose, and will now and then bathe him and feed him up curiously, and yet again another time will prescribe him castor,
Or poley, which the strongest scent doth yield
Of all the physic plants which clothe the field,

or perhaps will oblige him to drink an infusion of hellebore, — proposing neither the deliciousness of the one nor the nauseousness of the other as his scope and design, but only conducting him by these different methods to one and the same end, the recovery of his health, — in like manner the real friend sometimes leads his man gently on to virtue by kindness, by pleasing and extolling him, as he in Homer,

Dear Teucer, thou who art in high command,
Thus draw the bow with thy unerring hand;

and as another speaking of Ulysses,

How can I doubt, while great Ulysses stands
To lend his counsel and assist our hands?

and again, when he sees correction requisite, he will check him severely, as,

Whither, O Menelaus, wouldst thou run,
And tempt a fate which prudence bids thee shun?
¶ "We must suspect their conversation who aim at nothing but our gratification, without the least intermixture of reprehension. and perhaps he is forced another time to second his words with actions, as Menedemus reclaimed his friend Asclepiades’s son, a dissolute and debauched young gentleman, by shutting his doors upon him and not vouchsafing to speak to him. And Arcesilaus forbade Battus his school for having abused Cleanthes in a comedy of his, but after he had made satisfaction and an acknowledgment of his fault, took him into favor again. For we ought to grieve and afflict our friend with design merely of serving him, not of making a rupture betwixt us, and must apply our reprehensions only as pungent and acute medicines, with no other intent than the recovery of the patient. And therefore a friend — like a skilful musician who, to tune his instrument, winds up one string and lets down another — grants some things and refuses others according as their honesty or usefulness prompt him, whereby he often pleases, but is sure always to profit; whereas the parasite, who is continually upon the same humoring string, knows not how to let fall a cross word or commit a disobliging action, but servilely complies with all your desires, and is always in the tune you ask for. And therefore, as Xenophon reports of Agesilaus that he took some delight in being praised by those who would upon occasion dispraise him too, so ought we to judge that only he rejoices and pleases us really as a friend, who will, when need requires, thwart and contradict us; we must suspect their conversation who aim at nothing but our gratification, without the least intermixture of reprehension; and indeed we ought to have ready upon such occasions that repartee of a Lacedaemonian who, hearing King Charillus highly extolled for an excellent person, asked, How he could be so good a man, who was never severe to an ill one?
¶ How flatterers have ruined great men and destroyed kingdoms. [12] 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 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. 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. Now indeed an ugly fellow bantered into an opinion that he is handsome, or a little man magnified into tall and portly, 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 king’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?
¶ How, through the use of spurious arguments and by setting up straw men, the flatter tries to undermine even the those who are on the watch for his dangerous insinuation. [13] And therefore it will be then more especially our concern to look about us when a flatterer is upon the strain of praising; which he is sensible enough of, and accordingly avoids all occasion of suspicion when he attacks us on that side. If indeed he meets with a tawdry fop, or a dull country clown in a leathern jacket, he plays upon him with all the liberty imaginable; as Struthias by way of flattery insulted and triumphed over the sottishness of Bias, when he told him that he had out drunk King Alexander himself, and that he was ready to die of laughter at his encounter with the Cyprian. But if he chance to fall upon an apprehensive man, who can presently smoke a design, especially if he thinks he has an eye upon him and stands upon his guard, he does not immediately assault him with an open panegyric, but first fetches a compass, and softly winds about him, till he has in some measure tamed the untractable creature and brought it to his hand. For he either tells him what high characters he has heard of him abroad (introducing, as the rhetoricians do, some third person), how upon the exchange the other day he happily overheard some strangers and persons of great gravity and worth, who spake extreme honorably of him and professed themselves much his admirers; or else he forges some frivolous and false accusation of him, and then coming in all haste, as if he had heard it really reported, asks him seriously, if he can call to mind where he said or did such a thing. And immediately upon his denial of the matter of fact, which he has reason enough to expect, he takes occasion to fall upon the subject of his commendation; I wondered indeed, says he, to hear that you should calumniate your friend, who never used to speak ill of your enemies; that you should endeavor to rob another man of his estate, who so generously spend your own.
¶ The flatterer will disparage virtue, naming it want of spirit and narrow-mindedness.

¶ He will also appeal to his victim's vanity.

[14] Others again, like painters who enhance the lustre and beauty of a curious piece by the shades which surround it, slyly extol and encourage men in their vices by deriding and railing at their contrary virtues. Thus, in the company of the debauched, the covetous, and the extortioner, they run down temperance and modesty as mere rusticity; and justice and contentment with our present condition argue nothing in their phrase but a dastardly spirit and an impotence to action. If they fall into the acquaintance of lubbers who love laziness and ease, they stick not to explode the necessary administration of public affairs as a troublesome intermeddling in other men’s business, and a desire to bear office as an useless empty thirst after a name. To wheedle in with an orator, they scout a philosopher; and who so gracious as they with the jilts of the town, by laughing at wives who are faithful to their husbands’ beds as impotent and country-bred? And, what is the most egregious stratagem of all the rest, the flatterer shall traduce himself rather than want a fair opportunity to commend another; as wrestlers put their body in a low posture, that they may the better worst their adversaries. I am a very coward at sea, says he, impatient of any fatigue, and cannot digest the least ill language; but my good friend here fears no colors, can endure all hardness, is an admirable good man, bears all things with great patience and evenness of temper. If he meets with one who abounds in his own sense and affects to appear rigid and singular in his judgment, and, as an argument of the rectitude and steadiness thereof, is always telling you of that of Homer,
Let not your praise or dispraise lavish be,
Good Diomedes, when you speak of me,

he applies a new engine to move this great weight. To such a one he imparts some of his private concerns, as being willing to advise with the ablest counsel: he has indeed a more intimate acquaintance with others, but he was forced to trouble him at present: for to whom should we poor witless men have recourse (says he) when we stand in need of advice? Or whom else should we trust? And as soon as he has delivered his opinion, whether it be to the purpose or not, he takes his leave of him with a seeming satisfaction, as if he had received an answer from an oracle. Again, if he perceives a man pretends to be master of a style, he presently presents him with something of his own composing, requesting him to peruse and correct it. Thus Mithridates could no sooner set up for a physician, than some of his acquaintance desired to be cut and cauterized by him, — a piece of flattery that extended beyond the fallacy of bare words, — they imagining that he must needs take it as an argument of their great opinion of his skill, that they durst trust themselves in his hands.

For things divine take many shapes.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 4: Give him absurd advice and speak impertinently of his undertakings: a friend will remonstrate, a flatterer will agree with your disagreeable counsel. Now to discover the cheat which these insinuations of our own worth might put upon us (a thing that requires no ordinary circumspection), the best way will be to give him a very absurd advice, and to animadvert as impertinently as may be upon his works when he submits them to your censure. For if he makes no reply, but grants and approves of all you assert, and applauds every period with the eulogy of Very right! Incomparably well! — then you have trepanned him, and it is plain that, though
He counsel asked, he played another game,
To swell you with the opinion of a name.
¶ The flatterer entraps not only with his words, but with his silent action when he defers to his victim. [15] But to proceed. As some have defined painting to be mute poetry, so there is a sort of silent flattery which has its peculiar commendation. For as hunters are then surest of their game when they pass under the disguise of travellers, shepherds or husbandmen, and seem not at all intent upon their sport; so the eulogies of a parasite never take more effectually than when he seems least of all to commend you. For he who rises up to a rich man when he comes in company, or who, having begun a motion in the Senate, suddenly breaks off and gives some leading man the liberty of speaking his sense first in the point, such a man’s silence more effectually shows the deference he pays the other’s judgment than if he had avowedly proclaimed it. And hereupon you shall have them always placed in the boxes at the play-house, and perched upon the highest seats at other public entertainments; not that they think them suitable to their quality, but merely for the opportunity of gratifying great men by giving them place. Hence it is likewise, that they open first in all solemn and public assemblies, only that they may give place to another as an abler speaker, and they retract their opinion immediately, if any person of authority, riches, or quality contradict them. So that you may perceive all their concessions, cringes, and respects to be but mere courtship and complaisance, by this easy observation, that they are usually paid to riches, honor, or the like, rather than to age, art, virtue, or other personal endowments.

Thus dealt not Apelles with Megabyzus (one of the Persian nobility), who pretending once to talk I know not what about lines, shades, and other things peculiar to his art, the painter could not but take him up, telling him that his apprentices yonder, who were grinding colors, gazed strangely upon him, admiring his gold and purple ornaments, while he held his tongue, but now could not choose but titter to hear him offer at a discourse upon an argument so much out of his sphere. And when Croesus asked Solon his opinion of felicity, he told him flatly, that he looked upon Tellus, an honest though obscure Athenian, and Biton and Cleobis, as happier than he /6/. But the flatterer will have kings, governors, and men of estates, not only the most signally happy, but the most eminently knowing, the most virtuous, and the most prudent of mankind.

¶ It is said that a young prince or nobleman never arrives to a tolerable perfection in any thing he learns, except riding, because the horse, unlike his tutors, never flatters him. [16] And now some cannot endure to hear the Stoics, who centre all true riches, generosity, nobility, and royalty itself in the person of a wise man; but with the flatterer it is the man of money that is both orator and poet, and, if he pleases, painter and fiddler too, a good wrestler, an excellent footman, or any thing, for they never stand with him for the victory in those engagements; as Crisson, who had the honor to run with Alexander, let him designedly win the race, which the king being told of afterwards was highly disgusted at him. And therefore I like the observation of Carneades, who used to say that young princes and noblemen never arrived to a tolerable perfection in any thing they learned, except riding; for their preceptors spoil them at school by extolling all their performances, and their wrestling-masters by always taking the foil; whereas the horse, who knows no distinction betwixt a private man and a magistrate, betwixt the rich and the poor, will certainly throw his rider if he knows not how to sit him, let him be of what quality he pleases. And therefore it was but impertinently said of Bion upon this subject, that he who could praise his ground into a good crop were to blame if he bestowed any other tillage upon it. ’Tis granted: nor is it improper to commend a man, if you do him any real kindness thereby. But here is the disparity: that a field cannot be made worse by any commendations bestowed upon it, whereas a man immoderately praised is puffed up, burst, and ruined by it.
¶ With freedom of speech the friend reproves for real faults.

¶ The flatterer is silent on grave errors and reproves for the inconsequential lapses.

[17] Thus much then for the point of praising; proceed we in the next place to treat of freedom in their reprehensions. And indeed, it were but reasonable that, — as Patroclus put on Achilles’s armor and led his war-horse out into the field, yet durst not for all that venture to wield his spear, — so, though the flatterer wear all the other badges and ensigns of a friend, he should not dare to counterfeit the plain frankness of his discourse, as being “a great, massy, and substantial weapon,” peculiar to him.

But because, to avoid that scandal and offence which their drunken bouts, their little jests, and ludicrous babling humor might otherwise create, they sometimes put on the face of gravity, and flatter under the vizard of a frown, dropping in now and then a word of correction and reproof, let us examine this cheat too amongst the rest.

And indeed I can compare that trifling insignificant liberty of speech to which he pretends to nothing better than that sham Hercules which Menander introduces in one of his comedies, with a light hollow club upon his shoulder; for, as women’s pillows, which seem sufficiently stuffed to bear up their heads, yield and sink under their weight, so this counterfeit freedom in a flatterer’s conversation swells big and promises fair, that when it shrinks and contracts itself it may draw those in with it who lay any stress upon its outward appearance. Whereas the genuine and friendly reprehension fixes upon real criminals, causing them grief and trouble indeed, but only what is wholesome and salutary; like honey that corrodes but yet cleanses the ulcerous parts of the body, and is otherwise both pleasant and profitable. But of this in its proper place. We shall discourse at present of the flatterer who affects a morose, angry, and inexorable behavior towards all but those upon whom he designs, is peevish and difficult towards his servants, animadverts severely upon the failures of his relations and domestics, neither admires nor respects a stranger but superciliously contemns him, pardons no man, but by stories and complaints exasperates one against another, thinking by these means to acquire the character of an irreconcilable enemy to all manner of vice, that he may be thought one who would not spare his favorites themselves upon occasion, and would neither act nor speak any thing out of a mean and dastardly complaisance.

And if at any time he undertakes his friend, he feigns himself a mere stranger to his real and considerable crimes; but if he catch him in some petty trifling peccadillo, there he takes his occasion to rant him terribly and thunder him severely off; as, if he see any of his goods out of order, if his house be not very convenient, if his beard be not shaven or his clothes unfashionable, if his dog or his horse be not well looked after. But if he slight his parents, neglect his children, treat his wife scornfully, his friends and acquaintance disrespectfully, and squander away his estate, here he dares not open his mouth, and it is the safest way to hold his tongue. Just as if the master of a wrestling-school should indulge his young champion scholar in drinking and wenching, and yet rattle him about his oil-cruise and body-brush; or as if a schoolmaster should severely reprove a boy for some little fault in his pen or writing-book, but take no notice of the barbarisms and solecisms in his language. For the parasite is like him who hearing a ridiculous impertinent orator finds no fault with his discourse but delivery, blaming him only for having hurt his throat with drinking cold water; or like one who, being to peruse and correct some pitiful scribble, falls foul only upon the coarseness of the paper and the blots and negligence of the transcriber. Thus the parasites about Ptolemy, when he pretended to learning, would wrangle with him till midnight about the propriety of an expression, a verse, or a story; but not a word all this while of his cruelty, insults, superstition, and oppressions of the people. Just as if a chirurgeon should pare a man’s nails or cut his hair, to cure him of a fistula, wen, or other carnous excrescence.

¶ Examples of "reproofs" calculated to ingratiate. [18] But there are others behind, who outdo all the subtlety of the former, such as can claw and please, even whilst they seem to reprehend. Thus when Alexander had bestowed some considerable reward upon a jester, Agis the Argive, through mere envy and vexation, cried out upon it as a most absurd action; which the king overhearing, he turned him about in great indignation at the insolence, saying, What’s that you prate, sirrah? Why truly, replied the man, I must confess, I am not a little troubled to observe, that all you great men who are descended from Jupiter take a strange delight in flatterers and buffoons; for as Hercules had his Cercopians and Bacchus his Silenuses about him, so I see your majesty is pleased to have a regard for such pleasant fellows too. And one time when Tiberius Caesar was present at the senate, there stood up a certain fawning counsellor, asserting that all free-born subjects ought to have the liberty of speaking their sense freely, and should not dissemble or conceal any thing that they might conceive beneficial to the public; who, having thus awakened the attention of his audience, silence being made, and Tiberius impatient to hear the sequel of the man’s discourse, pursued it in this manner: I must tell you of a fault, Caesar, said he, for which we universally blame you, though no man yet has taken the confidence to speak it openly. You neglect yourself, endanger your sacred person by your too much labor and care, night and day, for the public. And he having harangued several things to the same effect, it is reported that Cassius Severus the orator subjoined: This man’s freedom of speech will ruin him.
¶ The flatterer may even praise a vice under the name of its corresponding virtue. [19] Such artifices as these, I confess, are not very pernicious, but there remains one of a most dangerous consequence to weak men; and that is when a flatterer fastens those vices upon them which are directly contrary to those they are really guilty of. As Himerius, an Athenian parasite, upbraided one of the most miserable and stingy misers of the whole town with carelessness and prodigality, telling him he was afraid he should live to see the day when both he and his children should go a begging. Or, on the contrary, when they object niggardliness and parsimony to one that is lavish and profuse, as Titus Petronius did to Nero. Or when they advise arbitrary and tyrannical princes to lay aside their too much moderation and their unprofitable and unseasonable clemency /7/. And like to these are they who shall pretend to be afraid of a half-witted idiot, as of some notable shrewd fellow; and shall tax an ill-natured censorious man, if at any time he speak honorably of a person of worth, of being too lavish in his commendations. You are always, say they, praising men that deserve it not; for who is he, or what remarkable thing did he ever say or do? But they have yet a more signal opportunity of exercising their talent, when they meet with any difference betwixt lovers or friends; for if they see brothers quarrel, or children despise their parents, or husbands jealous of their wives, they neither admonish them nor blame them for it, but inflame the difference. You don’t understand yourself, say they; you are the occasion of all this clutter by your own soft and submissive behavior. If there chance to have happened some little love-skirmish betwixt a miss and her gallant, then the flatterer interposes boldly and adds fresh fuel to the expiring flame, taking the gentleman to task, and telling him how many things he has done which looked a little hard, were not kind, and deserved a chiding.
Ungrateful man! can you forget her charms,
And former soft embraces in her arms?

Thus Antony’s friends persuaded him, when he was smitten with his beloved Cleopatra, that she doted on him, still calling him haughty and hard-hearted man. She, said they, has stripped herself of the glories of a crown and former grandeur, and now languishes with the love of you, attending the motion of your camp in the poor sordid figure of a concubine.

But you have steeled your heart, and can unmoved
Behold her grief, whom once you so much loved.

Now he was strangely pleased to hear of his little unkindness to his mistress, and was more taken with such a chiding than with the highest character they could have given him; but was not sensible that, under the color of a friendly admonition, they really corrupted and debauched him. For such a rebuke as this is just like the bites of a lecherous woman, for it only tickles and provokes, and pleases even whilst it pains you. And as pure wine taken singly is an excellent antidote against hemlock, but if mixed with it renders the poison incurable, because the heat of the wine quickens its circulation to the heart; so some rascally fellows, knowing very well that the liberty of reproving a friend is a quality very hardly compatible with flattery, and, as I may say, the best remedy against it, mix them both together, and flatter you under the very color and pretext of reprimanding you.

Upon the whole thereof, Bias seems not to have answered him very pertinently, who asked him which he thought was the most hurtful animal, when he replied, Of wild creatures a tyrant, and of tame ones a flatterer. For he might have answered more accurately, that some flatterers indeed are tame creatures, those shirks who ply about your bath and your table; but they whose calumnies, malignity, and inquisitive meddling humor, like so many gins and snares, reach the ladies’ very closets and bed-chambers, are wild, savage, and untractable.

¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 5: There is in each of us a higher and a lower nature; the friend appeals to the higher; the flatterer, the lower. [20] Now one way of arming ourselves against these assaults will be always to remember that, — since our souls are made up of two different parts, the one sincere, honest, and reasonable, the other brutish, false, and governed by passion, — the friend always adapts his advice and admonitions to the improvement of the better part (like a good physician, who preserves and advances an healthful constitution where he finds it), whilst the flatterer claws and tickles the irrational part of the man only, debauching it from the rules of right reason by the repeated suggestion of soft and sensual delights. For as there are some sorts of meat which assimilate neither with the blood nor with the spirits, and invigorate neither the nerves nor the marrow, but only provoke lust, swell the paunch, and breed putrid flabby flesh; so he who shall give himself the labor to observe will find that the discourses of a flatterer contribute nothing to the improvement of our prudence and understanding, but either only entertain us with the pleasure of some love-intrigue, or make us indiscreetly angry or envious, or blow us up into an empty troublesome opinion of ourselves, or increase our sorrows by pretending to share in them; or else they exasperate any inbred naughtiness that is in us, or our illiberality or distrustfulness, making them harsh, timorous, and jealous, with idle malicious stories, hints, and conjectures of his own. For he always fastens upon and pampers some distemper of the mind, growing, like a botch or bile, upon its inflamed or putrid part only. Are you angry? Revenge yourself, says he. Covet you any thing? Have it. Are you afraid? Fly. Suspect you this or that? Believe it.
¶ The flatterer is constant is this: he is ever the patron of the disordered passions of covetousness, shamelessness, and timidity. But if we find it something difficult to discover him in these attempts upon our passions, because they often violently overpower all the forces of our reason to the contrary, we may then trace him in other instances of his knavery; for he always acts consonant to himself. As, if you are afraid of a surfeit and thereupon are in suspense about your bath and diet, a friend indeed will advise you to act cautiously and take care of your health; but the flatterer persuades you to the bath, bids you feed freely and not starve yourself with mortification. If he observes you want briskness and spirit for action, as being unwilling to undergo the fatigue of a journey or a voyage, he will tell you presently, there is no haste; the business may be well enough deferred, or else transacted by proxy. If at any time you have promised to lend or give a friend a sum of money, and upon second thoughts gladly would, and yet are ashamed to retract your word, the flatterer puts his advice in the worse scale, and inclines the balance to the saving side, and strips you of your squeamish modesty, telling you that you ought not to be so prodigal, who live at great expense and have others to relieve besides him. And therefore, unless we be mere strangers to ourselves, — to our own covetousness, shamelessness, or timidity, — the flatterer cannot easily escape our discovery; for he is the great patron of these disorderly passions, endeavoring always to wind us up to excesses of this kind. But enough of this.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 6: Beware of one who is too eager to seem a friend and who works too hard at gaining your trust. [21] Let us in the next place discourse of the useful and kind offices which the flatterer seems cheerfully ready upon every occasion to perform, thereby rendering the disparity betwixt him and the true friend extremely perplexed and intricate.

For the temper of a friend, like the language of truth, is (as Euripides says) sincere, natural, without paint or varnish; but that of a flatterer, as it is corrupt and diseased in itself, so stands in need of many curious and exquisite remedies to correct it. And therefore you shall have friends upon an accidental rencounter, without either giving or receiving a formal salute, content themselves to speak their mutual kindness and familiarity in a nod and a smile; but the flatterer pursues you, runs to meet you, and extends his hand long before he comes at you; and if you chance but to see and salute him first, he swears you must excuse his rudeness, and will produce you witness that he did not see you, if you please. Thus again, a friend dwells not upon every trifling punctilio, is not ceremonious and punctual in the transacting of business, is not inquisitive, and does not intrude into every piece of service; but the parasite is all obedience, all perpetual indefatigable industry, admits no rival in his services, but will wait your commands, which if you lay not upon him, he seems mightily afflicted, the unhappiest man in the world!

¶ The flatterer stands in relation to the true friend as does a whore to a faithful wife.

¶ A friend will assist is an honest and good undertaking; the flatterer will agree with any proposal regardless of its propriety.

[22] Now these observations are argument enough to convince a man of any tolerable sense, that the friendship such men pretend to is not really virtuous and chaste, but rather a sort of impudent whorish love that obtrudes its embraces upon you.

But, to be more particular, let us first examine the disparity betwixt their promises. For our forefathers well observed, that the offers of a friend run in such terms as these:

If I can serve you, sir, if your request
Be feasible by me, I’ll do my best;

but the flatterer’s thus:

Command me freely what you will, I’ll do it.

For the comedians introduce such brave promises as these:

Come, sir, let me but fight that fellow there;
I’ll beat him soft as sponge or jellies are.

Besides, no real friend will assist in the execution of a design, unless, being first advised with, he approve of it as either honest or useful. Whereas the flatterer, though permitted to consult and give his opinion about an undertaking, not only out of a paltry desire to comply with and gratify his friend at any rate, but lest he should be looked upon as disaffected to the business, servilely closes with and advances his proposal, how unreasonable soever. For there are few rich men or princes of this mind:

Give me a friend, though a poor beggar he,
Or meaner than the meanest beggar be,
If he his thoughts but freely will impart,
And boldly speak the language of his heart;

for they, like actors in a tragedy, must have a chorus of their friends to join with them in the concert, or else the claps of the pit to encourage them. Whereupon Merope in the tragedy speaks thus:

Make choice of those for friends, who never knew
The arts of wheedling and betraying you;
But those poor rascals never entertain,
Who please you only with design to gain.

But alas! they invert the counsel, and abominate those who deal freely with them and advise them obstinately for the best, whilst pitiful cringing cheats and impostors are admitted not only into their houses, but into their affections and the nearest concernments of their life. You shall have some of them indeed more plain and simple than the rest, who confess themselves unworthy to consult about such weighty affairs, but are ready to serve you in the executive part of a design. But the more subtle hypocrite comes in at the consult, knits his brows, declares his consent by the gravity of a look or a nod, but speaks never a word, unless perchance, when the great man delivers his opinion, he cries, Lord! sir, you prevented me; I was just going to say so. For, as the mathematicians tell us that surfaces and lines, which are incorporeal and creatures of the understanding only, are neither bended nor moved nor extended of themselves, but are so affected together with the bodies whose extremities they are; so you shall observe the flatterer attends only the motion of another’s sense, opinion, or passion, without any principle of action in himself. So that the disparity betwixt them thus far is easily discernible.

¶ A friend will help without drawing attention to himself.

¶ A friend acts as does God, who gives us daily blessings whether we be mindful of them or not.

¶ The flatterer always is careful to have his beneficences noted.

And yet more easily in the manner they perform their good offices. For the kindness of a friend, like an animate creature, have their most proper virtues deep within, without any parade or pageantry on the outside. Nay, many times, as a faithful physician cures his patient when he least knows of it, so a true friend, either present or absent, as occasion serves, is solicitous about your concerns, when perhaps you know nothing of it. Such was the excellent Arcesilaus, as in his other actions, so particularly in his kindness to Apelles, native of Chios, whom finding extremely indigent in his sickness, he repeated his visit to him with twenty drachms in his pocket; and sitting by his bedside, You have got nothing here, said he, but Empedocles’s elements, fire, water, earth, and the surrounding air; neither, methinks, do you lie easily. And with that, stirring up his pillow, he put the money privately under his head; which when the good old woman his nurse found and in great wonder acquainted Apelles with, Aye, says he, smiling a little, this is a piece of Arcesilaus’s thievery. And the saying that children resemble their parents is found true also in philosophy. For when Cephisocrates was impeached of high treason, and Lacydes, an intimate acquaintance of Arcesilaus, with several others of his friends, stood by him at his trial, the counsel for the state desired that the prisoner’s ring, wherein lay the principal evidence against him, might be produced in court; which Cephisocrates hearing dropped it softly off his finger, and Lacydes observing it set his foot upon it and buried it in the ground. Whereupon being acquitted, and going afterwards to pay his respects and thanks to his judges, one of them (who, it seems, had taken notice of the passages) told him that his thanks were owing to Lacydes, and so related the whole story, when yet Lacydes had never mentioned it.

Thus I am varily persuaded the Gods confer several benefits upon us which we are not sensible of, upon no other motive in the world than the mere pleasure and satisfaction they take in acts of kindness and beneficence.

But on the contrary, the seemingly good offices of a flatterer have nothing of that sincerity and integrity, that simplicity and ingenuousness, which recommend a kindness, but are always attended with bustle and noise, hurry, sweat and contracting the brow, to enhance your opinion of the great pains he has taken for you; like a picture drawn in gaudy colors, with folded torn garments, and full of angles and wrinkles, to make us believe it an elaborate piece and done to the life.

Besides, the flatterer is so extremely troublesome in recounting the weary steps he has taken, the cares he has had upon him, the persons he has been forced to disoblige, with a thousand other inconveniencies he has labored under upon your account, that you will be apt to say, The business was never worth all this din and clutter about it.

For a kindness once upbraided loses its grace, turns a burden, and becomes intolerable. But the flatterer not only reproaches us with his services already past, but at the very instant of their performance; whereas, if a friend be obliged to speak of any civility done another, he modestly mentions it indeed, but attributes nothing to himself. Thus, when the Lacedaemonians supplied the people of Smyrna in great scarcity of provisions, and they gratefully resented and extolled the kindness; Why, replied the Spartans, it was no such great matter, we only robbed ourselves and our cattle of a dinner. For a favor thus bestowed is not only free and ingenuous, but more acceptable to the receiver, because he imagines his benefactor conferred it on him without any great prejudice to himself.

¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 7: A flatterer labors to please you; a friend, to profit you. [23] But the temper of a flatterer is discernible from that of a friend not only in the easiness of his promises and the troublesome impertinence that attends his good offices, but more signally in this, that the one is ready to promote any base and unworthy action, the other those only which are fair and honest. The one labors to please, the other to profit you. For a friend must not, as Gorgias would have him, beg another’s assistance in a just undertaking, and then think to compensate the civility by contributing to several that are unjust.
In wisdom, not in folly, should they join.
¶ As Phocion said to Antipater: "I cannot be your friend and your flatterer." And if, after all, he cannot prevail upon him, he may disengage himself with the reply of Phocion to Antipater; Sir, I cannot be both your friend and your flatterer, — that is, Your friend and not your friend at the same time /8/. For we ought to be assistant to him in his honest endeavors indeed, but not in his knaveries; in his counsels, not in his tricks; in appearing as evidence for him, but not in a cheat; and must bear a share in his misfortunes, but not in his acts of injustice. For if a man ought not to be as much as conscious of any unworthiness in his friend, how much less will it become him to partake in it? Therefore, as the Lacedaemonians, defeated and treating of articles of peace with Antipater, prayed him to command them any thing, howsoever grievous and burthensome to the subject, provided it were not base and dishonorable; so a friend, if you want his assistance in a chargeable, dangerous, and laborious enterprise, embarks in the design cheerfully and without reserve; but if such as will not stand with his reputation and honor, he fairly desires to be excused. Whereas, on the contrary, if you offer to put a flatterer upon a difficult or hazardous employment, he shuffles you off and begs your pardon. For but sound him, as you rap a vessel to try whether it be whole or cracked, full or empty; and he shams you off with the noise of some paltry, frivolous excuses. But engage him in any mean, sordid, and inglorious service, abuse him, kick him, trample on him, he bears all patiently and knows no affront. For as the ape, who cannot keep the house like a dog or bear a burden like an horse or plough like an ox, serves to be abused, to play the buffoon, and to make sport; so the parasite, who can neither plead your cause nor be your counsel nor espouse your quarrel, as being averse from all painful and good offices, denies you in nothing that may contribute to your pleasure, turns pander to your lust, pimps for a whore, provides you an handsome entertainment, looks that your bill be reasonable, and sneaks to your miss; but he shall treat your relations with disrespect and impudently turn your wife out of doors, if you commission him. So that you may easily discover him in this particular. For put him upon the most base and dirty actions; he will not spare his own pains, provided he can but gratify you.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 8: A friend delights in your friends, but a flatterer will seek to separate you from your true friends by speaking ill of them.

¶ Even the mighty Alexander entertained flatterers who turned him against his oldest faithful friends.

[24] There remains yet another way to discover him by his inclinations towards your intimates and familiars. For there is nothing more agreeable to a true and cordial acquaintance than to love and to be beloved with many; and therefore he always sedulously endeavors to gain his friend the affections and esteem of other men. For being of opinion that all things ought to be in common amongst friends, he thinks nothing ought to be more so than they themselves. But the faithless, the adulterate friend of base alloy, who is conscious to himself of the disservice he does true friendship by that false coin of it which he puts upon us, is naturally full of emulation /9/ and envy, even towards those of his own profession, endeavoring to outdo them in their common talent of babbling and buffoonry, whilst he reveres and cringes to his betters, whom he dares no more vie with than a footman with a Lydian chariot, or lead (to use Simonides’s expression) with refined gold. Therefore this light and empty counterfeit, finding he wants weight when put into the balance against a solid and substantial friend, endeavors to remove him as far as he can, like him who, having painted a cock extremely ill, commanded his servant to take the original out of sight; and if he cannot compass his design, then he proceeds to compliment and ceremony, pretending outwardly to admire him as a person far beyond himself, whilst by secret calumnies he blackens and undermines him. And if these chance to have galled and fretted him only and have not thoroughly done their work, then he betakes himself to the advice of Medius, that arch parasite and enemy to the Macedonian nobility, and chief of all that numerous train which Alexander entertained in his court. This man taught his disciples to slander boldly and push home their calumnies; for, though the wound might probably be cured and skinned over again, yet the teeth of slander would be sure to leave a scar behind them. By these scars, or (to speak more properly) gangrenes and cancers of false accusations, fell the brave Callisthenes, Parmenio, and Philotas /10/; whilst Alexander himself became an easy prey to an Agnon, Bagoas, Agesias, and Demetrius, who tricked him up like a barbarian statue, and paid the mortal the adoration due to a God. So great a charm is flattery, and, as it seems, the greatest with those we think the greatest men; for the exalted thoughts they entertain of themselves, and the desire of a universal concurrence in the same opinion from others, both add courage to the flatterer and credit to his impostures. Hills and mountains indeed are not easily taken by stratagem or ambuscade; but a weak mind, swollen big and lofty by fortune, birth, or the like, lies naked to the assaults of every mean and petty aggressor.
¶ HOW TO TELL A FLATTERER 9: The surest prophylactic against the evils of the flatterer is a just opinion of oneself that will reject, as untruthful, the flatterers insinuations. [25] And therefore we repeat here what we advised at our entrance into this discourse, that we cashier every vain opinion of ourselves and all self-love. For their inbred flattery only disposes and prepares us to a more favorable reception of that from without. For, if we did but square our actions according to the famous oracular precept of knowing ourselves, rate things according to their true intrinsic value, and withal, reflecting upon our own nature and education, consider what gross imperfections and failures mix with our words, actions, and affections, we should not lie so open to the attempts of every flatterer who designs upon us. For even Alexander himself, being reminded of his mortality by two things especially, the necessity of sleep and the use of women /11/, began to stagger in the opinion they had made him conceive of his godhead. And did we in like manner but take an impartial survey of those troubles, lapses, and infirmities incident to our nature, we should find we stood in no need of a friend to praise and extol our virtues, but of one rather that would chide and reprimand us for our vices. For first, there are but few who will venture to deal thus roundly and impartially with their friends, and fewer yet who know the art of it, men generally mistaking railing and ill language for a decent and friendly reproof. And then a chiding, like any other physic, if ill-timed, racks and torments you to no purpose, and works in a manner the same effect with pain that flattery does with pleasure. For an unseasonable reprehension may be equally mischievous with an unseasonable commendation, and force your friend to throw himself upon the flatterer; like water which, leaving the too precipitous and rugged hills, rolls down upon the humble valleys below. And therefore we ought to qualify and allay the sharpness of our reproofs with a due temper of candor and moderation, — as we would soften light which is too powerful for a distempered eye, — lest our friends, being plagued and ranted upon every trivial occasion, should at last fly to the flatterer’s shade for their ease and quiet. For all vice, Philopappus, is to be corrected by an intermediate virtue, and not by its contrary extreme, as some do who, to shake off that sheepish bashfulness which hangs upon their natures, learn to be impudent; to lay aside their country breeding, endeavor to be comical; to avoid the imputation of softness and cowardice, turn bullies; out of an abhorrence of superstition, commence atheists; and rather than be reputed fools, play the knave; forcing their inclinations, like a crooked stick, to the opposite extreme, for want of skill to set them straight.
¶ Having given us nine rules for telling the flatterer from a friend the remainder of this essay will treat of the proper use of that frankness of speech that friends enjoys. But it is highly rude to endeavor to avoid the suspicion of flattery by only being insignificantly troublesome, and it argues an ungenteel, unconversable temper in a man to show his just abhorrency of mean and servile ends in his friendship only by a sour and disagreeable behavior; like the freedman in the comedy, who would needs persuade himself that his railing accusation fell within the limits of that freedom in discourse which every one had right to with his equals. Since therefore it is absurd to incur the suspicion of a flatterer by an over-obliging and obsequious humor, and as absurd, on the other hand, in endeavoring to decline it by an immoderate latitude in our apprehensions, to lose the enjoyments and salutary admonitions of a friendly conversation, and since the measures of what is just and proper in this, as in other things, are to be taken from decency and moderation; the nature of the argument seems to require me to conclude it with a discourse upon this subject.
¶ In reproving a friend one is more likely to be heeded if there be no personal advantage to be gained by the reproof. [26] Now seeing this liberty of animadverting on other men’s failures is liable to so many exceptions, let us in the first place carefully purge it from all mixture of self-love and interest, lest any private motive, injury, grudge, or dissatisfaction of our own should seem to incite us to the undertaking. For such a chiding as this would not pass for an effect of kindness but of passion, and looks more like complaint than an admonition; for the latter has always something in it that sounds kind and yet awful, whereas the other betrays only a selfish and narrow disposition. And therefore we usually honor and revere our monitor, but contemn and recriminate upon a querulous accuser. As Agamemnon could by no means digest the moderate censures of Achilles, yet bore well enough with the severer reprimand of Ulysses,
O were thy sway the curse of meaner powers,
And thou the shame of any host but ours!

being satisfied of his wisdom and good intentions; for he rated him purely upon the account of the public, the other upon his own. And Achilles himself, though of a rough and untractable disposition and ready enough to find faults where there were none, yet heard Patroclus patiently when he ranted him thus:

Unpitying man! no Peleus caused thy birth,
Nor did the tender Thetis bring thee forth;
But rocks, hard as thy heart, and th’ angry sea
Clubbed to produce a monstrous man like thee.

For as Hyperides the orator desired the Athenians to consider not only whether his reflections were sharp, but also whether his sharpness was disinterested and incorrupt; so the reproofs of a friend, if they proceed from a sincere and disinterested affection, create veneration, awe, and confusion in the criminal to whom they are addressed. And if he once perceive that his friend, waiving all offences against himself, chides him purely for those committed against others, he can never hold out against the force of so powerful a rebuke; for the sweet and obliging temper of his monitor gives a keener edge to his admonitions. And therefore it has been wisely said, that especially in heats and differences with our friends we ought to have a peculiar regard to their honor and interest. Nor is it a less argument of friendship, for a man who is laid aside and out of favor himself to turn advocate in behalf of another equally despised and neglected; as Plato being in disgrace with Dionysius begged audience of him, which he readily granting in expectation of being entertained with an account of his grievances, Plato addressed himself to him after this manner: Sir, said he, if you were informed there were a certain ruffian come over into your island of Sicily with design to attempt upon your majesty’s person, but for want of an opportunity could not execute the villany, would you suffer him to go off unpunished? No, by no means, Plato, replied the king; for we ought to detest and revenge not only the overt acts but the malicious intentions of our enemies. Well then, on the other hand, said Plato, if there should come a person to court out of pure kindness and ambition to serve your majesty, and you would not give him an opportunity of expressing it, were it reasonable to dismiss him with scorn and disrespect? Whom do you mean, said Dionysius? Why, Aeschines, replied Plato, as honest and excellent a person as any in the school of Socrates, and of a very edifying conversation; who, having exposed himself to the difficulties of a tedious voyage that he might enjoy the happiness of a philosophical converse with your majesty, has met with nothing but contempt in return to the kindness he intended. This friendly and generous temper of mind so strangely affected Dionysius, that he hugged and embraced Plato, and treated Aeschines with a great deal of honor and magnificence.

¶ In reproving a friend it is more effective to avoid mockery and abusive language. [27] In the next place, let us free our discourse from all contumelious language, all laughter, mockery, and scurrility, which spoil the relish of our reprehensions. For, as when a chirurgeon makes an incision in the flesh he uses decent neatness and dexterity in the operation, without the affected and superfluous gesticulations of a quack or mountebank, so the lancing the sores of a friend may admit indeed of a little humor and urbanity, but that so qualified that it spoil not the seriousness and gravity requisite to the work. For boldness, insolence, and ill language destroy its force and efficacy. And therefore the fiddler reparteed handsomely enough upon Philip, when he undertook to dispute with him about the touch upon his instrument: God forbid that your majesty should be so unhappy as to understand a fiddle better than I do. But Epicharmus was too blunt upon Hiero, who invited him to supper a little after he had put some of his acquaintance to death, when he replied, Aye, but you could not invite me the other day to the sacrifice of my friends. And so was Antiphon too rude in his reflection upon Dionysius, when, on occasion of a discourse about the best sort of bronze, he told him that was the best in his opinion of which the Athenians made statues of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. For these scurrilous abusive jests are most certainly disagreeable and pain to no purpose, being but the product of an intemperate wit, and betraying the enmity and ill-nature of him who takes the liberty to use them; and whosoever allows himself in them does but wantonly sport about the brink of that pit which one day will swallow him up. For Antiphon was afterward executed under Dionysius; and Timagenes was in disgrace with Angustus Caesar, not for any extravagant freedom in his discourse, but only because he had taken up a foolish custom of never talking seriously but always scurrilously at every entertainment and walk where the emperor desired his company, —
Scorn all his joy, and laughter all his aim;

alleging the pleasantness of his humor as the cause of his favor at court.

Thus you shall meet with several smart and satirical reflections in a comedy; but the mixture of jest and fool in the play, like ill sauce to good meat, abates their poignancy and renders them insignificant; so that, upon the whole, the poet acquires only the character of a saucy and foul-mouthed buffoon, and the auditors lose that advantage which they might otherwise reap from remarks of that nature.

We may do well therefore to reserve our jollity and mirth for more suitable occasions, but we must by all means be serious and candid in our admonitions; which, if they be upon important points, must be so animated with our gestures, passion, and eagerness of voice, as to give them weight and credit and so awaken a tender concern in the persons to whom they are addressed.

¶ Don't reproach a friend when he is in his cups. We are again to time our reproofs as seasonably as we can; for a mistake in the opportunities, as it is of ill consequence in all other things, is so peculiarly in our reprehensions. And therefore, I presume, it is manifest, we ought not to fall foul upon men in their drink. For first, he who broaches any sour disagreeable discourse amidst the pleasantry and good humor of friends casts a cloud over the serenity of the company, and acts counter to the God Lysius, who, as Pindar words it, unties the band of all our cares. Besides, such unseasonable remonstrances are not without danger; for wine is apt to warm men into passion, and make them quarrel at the freedom you take. And in short, it is no argument of any brave and generous, but rather of an unmanly temper, not to dare to speak one’s sense when men are sober, but to keep barking like a cowardly cur at table. And therefore we need not enlarge any further upon this topic.
¶ When men are enjoying good fortune and are swelled with self-confidence they most need a friend place before them plainly the truth about their failings.

¶ On the other hand, the man who is "down and out" scarcely profits from reproof for past follies and stands rather in need of our humanity.

[28] But because several persons neither will nor dare take their friends to task whilst they thrive and flourish in the world, looking upon prosperity as a state above the reach of a rebuke, but pour forth their invectives like a river that has overflown its banks, insulting and trampling upon them, when Fortune has already laid them at their feet, out of a sort of satisfaction to see their former state and grandeur reduced to the same level of fortune with themselves; it may not be improper to discourse a little upon this argument, and make some reply to that question of Euripides, —
What need is there of friends when Fortune smiles?

I answer, to lower those lofty and extravagant thoughts which are usually incident to that condition; for wisdom in conjunction with prosperity is a rare talent and the lot of but few. Therefore most men stand in need of a borrowed prudence, to depress the tumors that attend an exuberant felicity; but when the turn of Fortune itself has abated the swelling, a man’s very circumstances are sufficient of themselves to read him a lecture of repentance, so that all other grave and austere corrections are then superfluous and impertinent; and it is on the contrary more proper in such traverses of Fortune to enjoy the company of a compassionate friend, who will administer some comfort to the afflicted and buoy him up under the pressure of his affairs. So Xenophon relates that the presence of Clearchus, a person of a courteous and obliging aspect, gave new life and courage to his soldiers in the heat of a battle or any other difficult rencounter. But he who chides and upbraids a man in distress, like him who applies a medicine for clearing the sight to a distempered and inflamed eye, neither works a cure nor allays the pain, but only adds anger to his sorrows and exasperates the patient. A man in health indeed will digest a friendly lecture for his wenching, drinking, idleness, continual recreations and bathing, or unseasonable eating; but for a sick man to be told that all this comes of his intemperance, voluptuousness, high feeding, or whoring, is utterly insupportable and worse than the disease itself. O impertinent man! will such a one say, the physicians prescribe me castor and scammony, and I am just making my last will and testament, and do you lie railing and preaching to me lectures of philosophy? And thus men in adversity stand more in need of our humanity and relief than of sharp and sententious reprimands. For neither will a nurse immediately scold at her child that is fallen, but first help him up, wash him, and put him in order again, and then chide and whip him. They tell us a story to this purpose of Demetrius Phalereus, that, when he dwelt an exile at Thebes in mean beggarly circumstances, he was once extremely concerned to observe the philosopher Crates making towards him, expecting to be treated by him with all the roughness of a cynical behavior. But when Crates had addressed himself courteously to him, and discoursed him upon the point of exile, endeavoring to convince him that it had nothing miserable or uneasy in it, but on the contrary rather rescued him from the nice and hazardous management of public affairs, — advising him withal to repose his confidence in himself and his own conscience, — Demetrius was so taken and encouraged by his discourse, that he is reported to have said to his friends, Cursed be those employs which robbed me so long of the acquaintance of such an excellent person. For

Soft, friendly words revive th’ afflicted soul;
But sharp rebukes are only for a fool.

And this is the way of generous and ingenuous friends. But they who servilely admire you in prosperity, — like old fractures and sprains, which (as Demosthenes speaks) always ache and pain us when some fresh disease has befallen the body, — stick close to you in the revolution of your fortune, and rejoice and enjoy the change. Whereas, if a man must needs have a remembrancer of a calamity which his own indiscretion hath pulled upon him, it is enough you put him in mind that he owes it not to your advice, for you often dissuaded him from the undertaking.

¶ Reproof should be timely. [29] Well then, you say, when is a keen reprehension allowable, and when may we chide a friend severely indeed? I answer, when some important occasion requires it, as the stopping him in the career of his voluptuousness, anger, or insolence, the repressing his covetous humor or any other foolish habit. Thus dealt Solon with Croesus, puffed up and debauched with the uncertain greatness of his fortune, when he bade him look to the end /12/. Thus Socrates humbled Alcibiades, forced him into unfeigned tears, and turned his heart, when he argued the case with him. Such, again, were the remonstrances and admonitions of Cyrus to Cyaxares, and of Plato to Dion, who, when the lustre and greatness of his achievements had fixed all men’s eyes upon him, wished him to beware of arrogance and self-conceit, as the readiest way to make all men abandon him. And Speusippus wrote to him, not to pride himself in the little applauses of women and children, but to take care to adorn Sicily with religion, justice, and wholesome laws, that he might render the Academy great and illustrious. So did not Euctus and Eulaeus, two of Perseus’s favorites; who fawned upon and complied with him as obsequiously as any courtier of them all during the success of his arms, but after his defeat at Pydna by the Romans inveighed bitterly against him, reminding him of his past faults, till the man out of mere anger and vexation stabbed them both on the spot. And so much concerning the timing our reproofs in general.
¶ Examples of friendly reproofs. [30] Now there are several other accidental occasions administered by our friends themselves, which a person heartily solicitous for their interest will lay hold of. Thus some have taken an opportunity of censuring them freely from a question they have asked, from the relation of a story, or the praise or dispraise of the same actions in other men which they themselves have committed.

Thus, they tell us, Demaratus coming from Corinth into Macedonia when Philip and his queen and son were at odds, and being after a gracious reception asked by the king what good understanding there was among the Grecians, replied, as being an old friend and acquaintance of his, Aye, by all means, sir, it highly becomes your majesty to enquire about the concord betwixt the Athenians and Peloponnesians, when you suffer your own family to be the scene of so much discord and contention. And as pert was that of Diogenes, who, entering Philip’s camp as he was going to make war upon the Grecians, was seized upon and brought before the king, who not knowing him asked him if he was a spy. Why, yes truly, said he, I am a spy upon your folly and imprudence, who without any necessity upon you are come hither to expose your kingdoms and your life to the uncertain decision of the cast of a die. This may perhaps seem a little too biting and satirical.

¶ Plutarch notes that a seasonable opportunity of reproving your friend for his vices is when some third person has already mortified him upon the same account. [31] Another seasonable opportunity of reproving your friend for his vices is when some third person has already mortified him upon the same account. For a courteous and obliging man will dexterously silence his accuser, and then take him privately to task himself, advising him — if for no other reason, yet to abate the insolence of his enemies — to manage himself more prudently for the future. For how could they open their mouths against you, what could they have to reproach you with, if you would but reform such and such vices which render you obnoxious to their censure? And by this means the offence that was given lies at his door who roughly upbraided him; whilst the advantage he reaps is attributed to the person who candidly advised him. But there are some who have got yet a genteeler way of chiding, and that is, by chastising others for faults which they know their friends really stand guilty of. As my master Ammonius, perceiving once at his afternoon lecture that some of his scholars had dined more plentifully than became the moderation of students, immediately commanded one of his freedmen to take his own son and whip him. For what? says he. The youngster, forsooth, must needs have vinegar sauce to his meat; and with that casting his eye upon us, he gave us to understand that we likewise were concerned in the reprehension.
¶ Plutarch tell us to be cautious how we rebuke a friend in company. [32] Again, we must be cautious how we rebuke a friend in company, always remembering the repartee made upon Plato on that account. For Socrates having fallen one day very severely upon an acquaintance of his at table, Plato could not forbear to take him up, saying, Had it not been more proper, sir, to have spoken these things in private? To which Socrates instantly replied, And had it not been more proper for you to have told me so in private too? And they say, Pythagoras one time ranted a friend of his so terribly before company, that the poor young man went and hanged himself; from which time the philosopher would never chide any man in the presence of another. For the discovery and cure of a vice, like that of a scandalous disease, ought to be in secret, and not like a public show transacted upon the theatre; for it is no way the part of a friend, but a mere cheat and trick, for one man to recommend himself to the standers-by and seek for reputation from the failures of another, like mountebank chirurgeons, who perform their operations on a stage to gain the greater practice. But besides the disgrace that attends a reproof of this nature (a thing that will never work any cure), we are likewise to consider that vice is naturally obstinate and loves to dispute its ground. For what Euripides says is true not only of love,
The more ’tis checked, the more it presses on,

but of any other imperfection. If you lay a man open publicly for it and tell all, you are so far from reforming him that you force him to brave it out. And therefore, as Plato advises that old men who would teach the younger fry reverence should learn to revere them first, so certainly modestly to reprimand is the way to meet with a modest return. For he who warily attacks the criminal works upon his good nature by his own, and so insensibly undermines his vices. And therefore it would be much more proper to observe the rule in Homer

To whisper softly in the ear,
Lest standers-by should chance to hear.
¶ Do not reprove a man in front of his wife or children. But above all, we ought not to discover the imperfections of an husband before his wife, nor of a father before his children, nor of a lover in company of his mistress, nor of masters in presence of their scholars, or the like; for it touches a man to the quick to be rebuked before those whom he would have think honorably of him. And I verily believe that it was not so much the heat of the wine as the sting of too public a reprehension, that enraged Alexander against Clitus /13/. And Aristomenes, Ptolemy’s preceptor, lost himself by awaking the king, who had dropped asleep one time at an audience of foreign embassadors; for the court parasites immediately took this occasion to express their pretendedly deep resentments of the disgrace done his majesty, suggesting that, if indeed the cares of the government had brought a little seasonable drowsiness upon him, he might have been told of it in private, but should not have had rude hands laid upon his person before so great an assembly; which so affected the king, that he presently sent the poor man a draught of poison, and made him drink it up. And Aristophanes says, Cleon blamed him for railing at Athens before strangers, whereby he incensed the Athenians against him. And therefore they who aim at the interest and reformation of their friends rather than ostentation and popularity, ought amongst other things to beware of exposing them too publicly.

Again, what Thucydides makes the Corinthians say of themselves, that they were persons every way qualified for the reprehension of other men, ought to be the character of every one who sets up for a monitor. For, as Lysander replied upon a certain Megarian, who in a council of allies and confederates had spoken boldly in behalf of Greece, This style of yours, sir, needs a state to back it /14/; so he who takes upon him the liberty of a censor must be a man of a regular conversation himself, — one like Plato, whose life was a continued lecture to Speusippus, or Xenocrates, who, casting his eye one time upon the dissolute Polemon at a disputation, reformed him with the very awfulness of his looks. Whereas the remonstrance of a lewd whiffling fellow will certainly meet with no better entertainment than that of the old proverbial repartee,

Physician, heal thyself.
¶ In reproving a friend it is well to acknowledge one's own failings, as Socrates who used his own professed ignorance to reveal the ignorance of the youths of Athens. [33] But because several accidental emergencies in conversation will now and then invite a man, though bad enough himself, to correct others, the most dexterous way of doing it will be to involve ourselves in the same guilt with those we reprehend; as in this passage of Homer,
Fie, what’s the matter, Diomede, that we
Have now forgot our former gallantry?

and in this other,

We are not worth one single Hector all.

Thus Socrates would handsomely twit the young men with their ignorance by professing his own, pretending for his part he had need with them to study morality and make more accurate enquiries into the truth of things. For a confession of the same guilt, and a seeming endeavor to reform ourselves as well as our friends, gives credit to the reprimand and recommends it to their affections. But he who gravely magnifies himself, whilst he imperiously detracts from others, as being a man forsooth of no imperfections, unless his age or a celebrated reputation indeed commands our attention, is only impertinent and troublesome to no purpose. And therefore it was not without reason that Phoenix, checking Achilles for his intemperate anger, confessed his own unhappiness in that particular, how he had like once to have slain his own father through a transport of passion had not the scandalous name of parricide held his hands; that the hero might not imagine he took that liberty with him because he had never offended in the like kind himself. For such inoffensive reproofs leave a deeper impress behind them, when they seem the result of sympathy rather than contempt.

But because a mind subject to the disorders of passion, like an inflamed eye that cannot bear a great and glaring light, is impatient of a rebuke, without some temperament to qualify and allay its poignancy, therefore the best remedy in this case will be to dash it with a little praise, as in the following:

Think, and subdue! on dastards dead to fame
I waste no anger, for they feel no shame;
But you, the pride, the flower of all our host,
My heart weeps blood to see your glory lost!
Where, Pandarus, are all thy honors now,
Thy winged arrows and unerring bow,
Thy matchless skill, thy yet unrivall’d fame,
And boasted glory of the Lycian name!

And such rebukes as these are also most effectual in reclaiming those that are ready to fall into gross enormities:

O where are Oedipus and all his riddles now?


Is this the speech of daring Hercules?

For a mixture of both together not only abates and takes off from that roughness and command which a blunt reprehension seems to carry along with it, but raises in a man a generous emulation of himself, whilst the remembrance of his past virtues shames him out of his present vices and makes him propose his former actions for his future example. But if you compare him with other men, as with his fellow-citizens, his contemporaries, or relations, then vice, which loves to dispute the victory, renders him uneasy and impatient under the comparison, and will be apt to make him grumble, and in an huff bid you be gone then to his betters and not trouble him any longer. And therefore we ought not to fall upon other men’s commendations before him whom we take the liberty to rebuke, unless indeed they be his parents; as Agamemnon in Homer, —

Ah! how unlike his sire is Tydeus’ son!

and Ulysses in the tragedy called the Scyrians, speaking to Achilles, —

Dost thou, who sprang from a brave Grecian race
By spinning thy great ancestors disgrace?
¶ It is not helpful to retort reproof for reproof. [34] It is in the next place very improper for a man immediately to retort or recriminate upon his monitor; for this is the way to occasion heats and animosities betwixt them, and will speak him rather impatient of any reproof at all than desirous to recompensate the kindness of one with another. And therefore it is better to take his chiding patiently for the present; and if he chance afterwards to commit a fault worth your remarking upon, you have then an opportunity of repaying him in his own coin. For being reminded, without the least intimation of a former pique or dissatisfaction, that he himself did not use to overlook the slips of his friend, he will receive the remonstrance favorably at your hands, as being the return of kindness rather than of anger and resentment.
¶ Among friends major faults should be reproved but trifling missteps should not be the cause of nagging. [35] Moreover, as Thucydides says that he is a wise man who will not venture to incur odium except for matters of the highest concernment /15/, so, when we do undertake the ungrateful office of censor, it ought to be only upon weighty and important occasions. For he who is peevish and angry at everybody and upon every trivial fault, acting rather with the imperious pedantry of a schoolmaster than the discretion of a friend, blunts the edge of his reprehensions in matters of an higher nature, by squandering, like an unskilful physician, that keen and bitter but necessary and sovereign remedy of his reproofs upon many slight distempers that require not so exquisite a cure. And therefore a wise man will industriously avoid the character of being a person who is always chiding and delights in finding faults. Besides that, whosoever is of that little humor that animadverts upon every trifling peccadillo only affords his friend a fairer occasion of being even with him one time or another for his grosser immoralities. As Philotimus the physician, visiting a patient of his who was troubled with an inflammation in his liver, but showed him his forefinger, told him: Sir, your distemper is not a whitlow. In like manner we may take occasion now and then to reply upon a man who carps at trifles in another, — his diversions, pleasantries, or a glass of wine, — Let the gentleman rather, sir, turn off his whore and leave off his dicing; for otherwise he is an admirable person. For he who is dispensed with in smaller matters more willingly gives his friend the liberty of reprimanding him for greater. But there is neither child nor brother nor servant himself able to endure a man of a busy inquisitive humor, who brawls perpetually, and is sour and unpleasant upon every inconsiderable occasion.
¶ We should also praise well-doing by our friends. [36] But since a weak and foolish friend, as Euripides says of old age, has its strong as well as its feeble part, we ought to observe both, and cheerfully extol the one before we fall foul upon the other. For as we first soften iron in the fire and then dip it in water, to harden it into a due consistence; so, after we have warmed and mollified our friend by a just commendation of his virtues, we may then safely temper him with a moderate reprehension of his vices. We may then say, Are these actions comparable to the other? Do you not perceive the advantages of a virtuous life? This is what we who are your friends require of you. These are properly your own actions, for which nature designed you; but for the other,
Let them for ever from you banished be,
To desert mountains or the raging sea.

For as a prudent physician had rather recover his patient with sleep and good diet than with castor and scammony, so a candid friend, a good father or schoolmaster, will choose to reform men’s manners by commendations rather than reproofs. For nothing in the world renders our corrections so inoffensive and withal so useful as to address ourselves to the delinquent in a kind, affectionate manner. And therefore we ought not to deal roughly with him upon his denial of the matter of fact, nor hinder him from making his just vindication; but we should rather handsomely help him out in his apology and mollify the matter. As Hector to his brother Paris,

Unhappy man, by passion overruled;

suggesting that he did not quit the field, in his encounter with Menelaus, out of cowardice, but mere anger and indignation. And Nestor speaks thus to Agamemnon:

You only yielded to the great impulse.
¶ Reproofs should be given in soft language.

¶ Turning a friend from vice he is already enmeshed in requires a different manner of words than does stopping him from entering into a new course of bad conduct.

For to tell a man that he did such a thing through ignorance or inadvertency is, in my opinion, a much more genteel expression than bluntly to say, “You have dealt unjustly or acted basely by me.” And to advise a man not to quarrel with his brother is more civil than to say, “Don’t you envy and malign him.” And “Keep not company with that woman who debauches you” is softer language than “Don’t you debauch her.”

And thus you see with what caution and moderation we must reprehend our friends in reclaiming them from vices to which they are already subjected; whilst the prevention of them doth require a clear contrary method. For when we are to divert them from the commission of a crime, or to check a violent and headstrong passion, or to push on and excite a phlegmatic lazy humor to great things, we may then ascribe their failings to as dishonorable causes as we please.

Thus Ulysses, when he would awaken the courage of Achilles, in one of the tragedies of Sophocles, tells him, that it was not the business of a supper that put him in such a fret, as he pretended, but because he was now arrived within sight of the walls of Troy. And when Achilles, in a great chafe at the affront, swore he would sail back again with his squadron and leave him to himself, Ulysses came upon him again with this rejoinder:

Come, sir, ’tis not for this you’d sail away;
But Hector’s near, it is not safe to stay.

And thus, by representing to the bold and valiant the danger of being reputed a coward, to the temperate and sober that of being thought a debauchee, and to the liberal and magnificent the chance of being called stingy and sordid, we spur them on to brave actions and divert them from base and ignominious ones.

¶ When wrong conduct has already harmed our friend we should commiserate, but when the wrong can yet be avoided we should speak forcefully. Indeed, when a thing is once done and past remedy, we ought to qualify and attemperate our reproofs, and commiserate rather than reprimand. But if it be a business of pure prevention, of stopping a friend in the career of his irregularities, our applications must be vehement, inexorable, and indefatigable; for this is the proper season for a man to show himself a true monitor and a friend indeed. But we see that even enemies reprove each other for faults already committed. As Diogenes said pertinently enough to this purpose, that he who would act wisely ought to be surrounded either with good friends or flagrant enemies; for the one always teach us well, and the other as constantly accuse us if we do ill.

But certainly it is much more eligible to forbear the commission of a fault by hearkening to the good advice of our friends, than afterwards to repent of it by reason of the obloquy of our enemies. And therefore, if for no other reason, we ought to apply our reprehensions with a great deal of art and dexterity, because they are the most sovereign physic that a friend can prescribe, and require not only a due mixture of ingredients in the preparation of them but a seasonable juncture for the patient to take them in.

¶ Finally, remember that the truth can hurt, so be gentle. [37] But because, as it has been before observed, reproofs usually carry something of trouble and vexation along with them, we must imitate skilful physicians, who, when they have made an incision in the flesh, leave it not open to the smart and torment that attends it, but chafe and foment it to assuage the pain. So he who would admonish dexterously must not immediately give a man over to the sting and anguish of his reprehensions, but endeavor to skin over the sore with a more mild and diverting converse; like stone-cutters, who, when they have made a fracture in their statues, polish and brighten them afterwards. But if we leave them in pain with their wounds and resentments, and (as it were) with the scars of our reproofs yet green upon them, they will hardly be brought to admit of any lenitive we shall offer for the future. And therefore they who will take upon them to admonish their friends ought especially to observe this main point, not to leave them immediately upon it, nor abruptly break off the conference with disobliging and bitter expressions.

Here Ends Plutarch's How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend.


/1/ Republic, II, 4.

/2/ Herodotus' Histories, III, 78.

/3/ Compare the Gospel parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13: 24-30).

/4/ See Plutarch's Life of Dion.

/5/ See Plutarch's Life of Alcibiades, 23.

/6/ See Plutarch's Life of Solon, 27.

/7/ Compare the Biblical account (2 Chronicles, chapter 10) of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, who hearkened to flatterers who bade him deal harshly with the people and, thus, lost the greater part of his kingdom.

/8/ See Plutarch's Life of Phocion, 30.

/9/ Emulation in this instance carries an older pejorative meaning of jealous rivalry not the laudatory quality we now understand by that term.

/10/ Philotas, unable to manage the envy of others, became suspect in another's plot against the life of Alexander the Great; Alexander, believing the false accusations had Philotas and his father Parmenio (one of Alexander's oldest friends) put to death. (Plutarch's Life of Alexander, 49).

/11/ Plutarch's Life of Alexander, 22

/12/ See Plutarch's Life of Solon, 27.

/13/ Plutarch's Life of Alexander, 50

/14/ Plutarch's Life of Lysander, 22

/15/ Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, II, 64.