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The Government Of The Tongue by Richard Allestree

Section VIII. Of Flattery.

The last of Verbal injuries to our Neighbor which I shall mention, is Flattery. This is indeed the fatalest wound of the Tongue, carries least Smart, but infinitely more of Danger, and is as much superior to the former, as a Gangrene is to a Gall or Scratch; this may be sore and vexing, but that stupifying and deadly. Flattery is such a Mystery, such a Riddle of iniquity, that its very softnesses are its cruelest rigor, its Balm corrodes, and (to comprise all in the Psalmist's excellent Description) its words are smoother than oil, and yet be they very swords. Psa.56.21.

2. But besides the mischiefs of it to the Patient, tis the most dishonoring, the most vilifying thing to the Agent. I shall not need to empanel a Jury either of Moralists or Divines, every man's own breast sufficiently instructing him in the unworthiness of it. Tis indeed a Collective, accumulative Baseness, its being in its Elements a compound and a complex of the most sordid, hateful qualities incident to Mankind. I shall instance in three viz. Lying, Servility, and Treachery, which being detestably deformed single must in conjunction make up a loathsome Monstrous guilt. Now, though Flattery has two Branches, yet these lie so at the Root as equally to influence both: for whether you take it as it is the giving of praise where it is not due, or the professing of kindness which is not real, these Properties are still is Constitutive parts.

3. And first we may take Lying to be the very corner Stone of the Fabric; for take it away, and the Whole falls to the ground. A Parasite would make but a lean trade of it, that should confine himself to truth. For though tis possible so to order the manner and circumstances, as to flatter even in the representing a man's real virtues to him, yet commonly if they do not falsify as to the kind, they are forced to do it as to the degree. Besides, as there are but few such subjects of Flattery, so neither are men of that Worth so receptive of it. Such sort of addresses are less dangerous to those who have the perspicuity to see through them: so that these Merchants are under a necessity of dealing with the more ignorant Chapmen, and with them their counterfeit wares will go off best. It is indeed strange to consider, with what gross impudent falsehoods men of this trade will court their Patrons. How many in former ages have not only amassed together all sublunary excellencies, but have even ransacked heaven to supply their Flattery, Deified their Princes, and persuaded them they were gods, who at last found they were to die like men? And though this strain be not out-dated, yet perhaps tis not that the vice is grown more modest, but that Atheism has robbed it of that Topic. Those that believe no God, would rather seem to annihilate than magnify the person to whom they should apply the title. But I do not find that the practice has any other bounds. A great man's vices shall still be called virtues, his deformities beauties, and his most absurd follies the height of ingenuity. Such a subtle Alchemist is this Parasite, that he turns all he touches into gold, imaginary indeed as to the deluded Person, but oft-times real to himself. Nor is Lying less natural to the other part of Flattery, the Profession of service and kindness. This needs no evidencing, and to attempt it would be a self-Confutation: for if those Professions be true, they are not Flattery, therefore, if they be Flattery, they must needs be Lies. It will be almost as needless to expatiate on the Baseness and meanness of that sin; for though there is no Subject that affords more matter for Declamation, yet Lying is a thing that is ashamed of itself, and therefore may well be remitted to its own convictions. Tis Aristotle's observation, that all Elements but the Earth, had some Philosopher or other, that gave it his vote to be the first productive Principle of all things: and I think we may now say, that all Crimes have had their Abettors and fautors, somebody that would stand up in their defense; only Lying is so much the dregs and refuse of wickedness, that none had yet had Chemistry enough to sublimate it, to bring it into such a reputation, that any man will think fit to own it: the greater wonder that what is under so universal a reproach, should be so commonly admitted in practice. But by this we may make an estimate, what the whole body of Flattery is, when in one limb of it we find so much corruption.

4. A Second is Servility and Abjectness of humor: and of this there needs no other proof than has been already given; this charge being implicitly involved in the former of Lying, the condescending to that, being a mark of a disingenuous spirit. And accordingly, the nobler Heathens looked on it as the vice of Slaves and vassals, below the liberty of a free man, as well as an honest. But though I need no other evidence to make good the accusation, yet every Sycophant furnishes me with many supernumerary proofs. Look upon such a one, and you shall see his eyes immovably fixed on his Patron's face, watching each look, each glance, and in every change of his countenance (like a Star-gazer) reading his own destiny, his Ears chained (like galley-slaves at the oar) to his dictate, sucking in the most insipid discourses with as much greediness as if they were the Apothegms of the seven Sages, his Tongue turned only to Panegyrics and acclamations, his feet in winged motion upon every nod or other signification of his pleasure: in a word, his whole body (as if it had not other animal spirits than what it derived from him) varies its postures, its exercises, as he finds agreeable to the humor he is to serve. And can humanity contrive to debase itself more? Yes it can, and does too often, by enslaving its Diviner part too, taking up not only opinions, but even crimes also in compliance, playing the incarnate Devil, and helping to act those villainies which Satan can only suggest: and if this be not a state of abject slavery, sure there is none in the world. Plutarch tells us, that Philoxenus for despising some dully Poetry of Dionysius, was by him condemned to dig in the quarries: from whence being by the mediation of friends remanded, at his return Dionysius produced some other of his verses, which as soon as Philoxenus had read, he made no reply, but calling to the waiters, said, Let them carry me again to the quarries. And if a heathen Poet could prefer a corporeal slavery before a mental, what name of reproach is low enough for them, who can submit to both, in pursuit of those poor sordid advantages they project by their Flatteries. Nor is this baseness more observable in these mean fawnings and observances, than it is in the protestations of kindness and Friendship. Love is the greatest gift any man has to bestow, and Friendship the sacredest of all moral bonds: and to prostitute these to little pitiful designs, is sure one of the basest cheats we can put upon our common nature, in thus debasing her purest and most current coin, which by these frequent adulterations is become so Suspected, that scarce any man knows what he receives. But Christian Charity is yet worse used in this case: for that obliging to all sincerity, is hereby induced to give gold for dross, exhibit that Love indeed and in truth, which is returned only in word and in Tongue, 1 John 3.18. And so it does in those who observe its rules: but in those who own, yet observe them not, tis yet a greater sufferer, by laboring under the scandal of all their dissimulations. It was one the Character give Christians, even by their Enemies, Behold, how they love one another: but God knows we may now be pointed out by a very differing mark, Behold, how they deceive and delude one another. And sure this violation we herein offer to our religion, does not allay but aggravate the baseness of this practice: for if in the other we fell ourselves, in this we fell our God too, sacrifice our interest in Him to get a surreptitious title to the favor of a man. And this, I conceive, does in the second place not much commend the Art of Flattery, which is built up of so vile materials.

5. And to complete this infamous composition, in the third place Treachery comes in; a crime of so odious a kind, that to name it is to implead it: yet how intrinsic a part this is of Flattery, will need no great skill to evidence, daily experience sufficiently doing it. Tis a common observation of Flatterers, that they are like the Heliotrope, open only towards the sun, but shut and contract themselves at night, and in cloudy weather. Let the object of their adoration be but eclipsed, they can see none of those excellencies which before dazzled their eyes: and how ever inconstant they may seem to others, they are indeed very constant to themselves, true to their fixed principle, of courting the greatness not the man; in pursuit whereof their old Idol is often made a sacrifice to their new: all malicious discovery is made of their falling friend, to buy an interest in the rising one. Of this there are such crowds of examples in Story, that it would be impertinent to single out any, especially in an age that is fitter to furnish presidents for the future, than to borrow of the past times. But supposing the Parasite not actually guilty of this base revolt, (which yet he seldom fails to be upon occasion) yet is he no less Treacherous even in the height of his Blandishments; and while he most courts a man, he does the most ruinously undermine him. For first he abuses him in his understanding, precludes him form that which wise men have judged the most essential part of Learning, the knowledge of himself, from which tis the main business of the Flatterer to divert him. And to this abuse there is another inevitably consequent: for this ignorance of his faults or follies, necessarily condemns him to the continuing in them, it being impossible for him to think of correcting either the one or the other, who is made believe he has neither. This is like the treachery of a bribed officer in a Garrison, who will not let the weak parts be fortified, and lays the man as open to assaults, as that doth the Town. Yet this is not all, he does not only provide for the continuance, but the improving of his crimes and errors, which alas, are too prolific of themselves, but being cultivated and manured with perpetual soothings and encouragements, grow immeasurably luxuriant. And accordingly, we see that men used only to applauses are so fooled with them that their insolences are intolerable. And this they are sometimes taught to their cost, when they happen among free men, who will not submit to all they say, nor commend all they do. And finding these uneasy contradictions when they come abroad, they are willing to return to their most complaisant company: and so this Sycophant Devil having once got them within his circle, may enchant them as he pleases, lead them from one wickedness to another. And as Caligula and other voluptnous Emperors, by being adored as gods, sunk in their sensuality below the Nature of man, so these celebrated Persons are by that false veneration animated to all those reproachful practices, which may expose them to a real contempt: their follies, as well as their vices still get had, till they answer the description the Wise man give of the old Giants, Who fell away in the strength of their foolishness. Ecclus.16.7.

6. And sure he that betrays a man to all these mischiefs, may well be thought perfidious. But that which infinitely amplifies and enhances the Treachery is, that all this is acted under the notion and disguise of a friend; a relation so venerable, that methinks tis the nearest secular transcript of the treason, which is storied of those who have administered Poison in the Eucharist. The Name of a friend is such an endearment, as nothing human can equal. All other natural or civil ties take their greatest force from this. What signifies an unfriendly Parent, or Brother, or Wife? Tis friendship only that is the cement which really and effectively combines mankind: and therefore we may observe, that God reckoning up other relations, illustrates them by several notes of endearment, but when he come to that of friendship, tis the friend who is as thine own soul, Deut.13.6. nothing below the highest instance was thought expressive enough of that union. What a Legion of Fiends then possesseth man that can break these chains, Matt.5.4. nay, that can hammer and forge those very chains into Daggers and Stilettos, and make their friendship an engine of ruin? This is certainly the blackest color wherein we can view a Parasite, his false light makes the shadow the more dismal: as the Ape has a peculiar deformity above other brutes by that awkward and ungraceful resemblance he has to a man, so sure a Flatterer is infinitely the more hateful for being the ugly counterfeit of a Friend. And as this Treachery lies at the bottom of the Panegyrics, so also does it of all the caresses and exuberant kindness of a Flatterer, which if they aimed not at any particular end of circumvention must yet in the general be Treacherous by being false. A man looks on the love of his friend as one of the riches possessions (upon which account the Philosopher thought friends were to be inventoried as well as goods.) What a defeat and discomfiture is it to a man, when he comes to use this wealth, to find it all false metal, such as will not answer any of those purposes of which he depended on it. There cannot sure be a greater Treachery, than first to raise a confidence and then deceive it. But besides this fundamental falseness, there are also many incidental Treacheries, which fall in upon occasion of particular designs. A pretence of kindness is the universal stale to all base projects: by this men are robbed of their fortunes, and women of their honor: in a word all the wolfish designs walk under this sheep's clothing, and as the world goes, men have more need to beware of those who call themselves friends, than those who own themselves enemies.

7. These are those lineaments of this vice of Flattery, which sure do together make up a face of most extreme deformity. I might upon a true account add another, and charge it with Folly too. I am sure according to the Divine estimate it is always so: and truly it does not seldom prove so in the secular also. Men of this art do sometimes drop their vizard before they have got the prize, and then there is nothing in the world that appears so contemptible, so silly; a barefaced Flatterer being everybody's scorn. The short is, wherever this game is played there is always a fool in the case: if the Parasite be detected, it falls to his share: if he be not, to his whom he deludes. But at the best tis but subtlety and cunning he can boast of; and if he can in his own fancy raise that to the opinion of true wisdom, tis a sign he is come round to practice his deceits upon himself, and is as much his own Flatterer as he has been others.

8. And now I know not whether it be more shame or wonder, to see that men can so put off ingenuity, and the native greatness of their kind, as to descend to so base, so ignoble a vice: yet alas, we daily see it done, and not only by the scum and refuse of the people, such as Job speaks of, who are viler than the earth. Chap.30.8. but by Persons of all conditions. Flattery, like a spring forced upward ascends, as cares are by the wise man said to descend, Ecclus.40.4. from him that weareth a linen frock to him that weareth a crown: all intermedial degrees are but like pipes, which as they suck from below, so transmit it still upwards. There are few so low but find somebody to cajole and Flatter them. Some interest or other may sometimes be to be served even upon the meanest, and those that fine themselves thus solicited for benefits, are easily taught by it how to address to their immediate superiors, from whom they expect greater: and as tis thus handed from one rank to another, the art still is more subtilized and refined. (God help poor Princes the while, who commonly meet with the Elixir, and quintessence of this venom.) And thus it passes through all states and conditions: as they are passive on the one side, and are Flattered by some, so they are active on the other, and Flatter others.

9. I Say all conditions, I do not say all Persons in those conditions, for no truly generous soul can stoop so low: but tis too evident to what a low ebb Generosity as well as Christianity is grown, by the numbers of those who thus degrade themselves, every little petty interest being thought worth these base submissions. And truly, it is hard to find by what Topic of persuasion to assault such men. The meanness, or the sin will scarce be dissuasives to those who have reconciled themselves to both: if anything can be pertinently said to them, it must be upon the score of Interest, for that being their grand principle, they can with no pretence disclaim the inferences drawn thence.

10. Let them therefore, duly balance the advantages they project from this practice with the mischiefs and dangers of it. What they expect is commonly either Honor or wealth, these they hope may be acquired by their prostrations to those who can dispense or procure them. Tis true, as Honor signifies Greatness and power, it is sometimes attained by it, but then as it signifies Reputation and esteem, tis as sure to be lost. He that thus ascends, may be looked on with fear, but never with reverence. Now I think tis no good bargain to exchange this second notion of Honor for the first, for besides the difference in the intrinsic value, tis to be considered how tottering a Pinnacle unmerited Greatness is. He that raised him to satisfy his humor at one time, can (with more ease and equal justice) throw him down at another: and when such a man does fall, he falls without pity, so without remedy, has no foundation on which to rebuild his fortune. His Sycophanting arts being detected, that Game is not to be played the second time: whereas a man of a clear reputation, though his barque be split, yet he saves his Cargo, has something left towards setting up again, and so is in capacity of receiving benefit not only from his own industry, but the friendship of others. A sound piece of Timber, if it be not thought fit for one use, yet will be laid by for another: and an honest man will probably at one time or other be thought good for something.

11. As for the other aim, that of Wealth, tis very possible that may sometimes be compassed; and well it may, the Flatterer having several Springs to feed it by. For he that has a great Patron, has the advantage of his countenance and Authority, he has that of his bounty and liberality, and he has another (sometimes greater than both) that of his negligence and deceivablenesss. But yet all these acquisition are may times like Fairy money, what is brought one night, is taken away the next. Men of this mold seldom know how to bear prosperity temperately, and it is no new thing to see a Privado carry it so high, as to awaken the jealousy of his promoter, which being assisted by the busy industry of those who envy his fortune, twill be easy enough to find some flaw in his Gettings, by which to unravel the whole Web: an event that has been oft experimented not only in the private managery of Families, but in the most public administrations. And these are such hazards, that laid altogether would much recommend to any the Moral of Horaces's Fable, and make one choose the country Mouse's plain fare and safety, rather tan the delicacies of the City with so much danger. This then is the state of the prosperous Parasite: but alas, how many are there who never arrive to this but are kicked down ere they have climbed the two or three first rounds of the Ladder, whose designs be so humble, as not to aspire above a Major-Domo or some such domestic preferment, for in this trade there are adventurers of all sizes? But upon all these considerations, methinks it appears no very inviting one to any. At the long run an honest freedom of speech will more recommend a man, than all these sneaking flatteries: we have a very wise man's word for it, he that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favor, than he that flattereth with his lips. Prov.28.23.

12. But after all that hath or can be said, the suppression of Flattery will most depend upon those Persons to whom it is addressed: if it be not repulsed there, nothing else will discourage it, and if it be, tis crushed in the egg, and can produce no viper. These Vultures prey only on carcasses, on such stupid minds, as have not life and vigor enough to fray them away. Let but Persons of quality entertain such customers with a severe brow, with some smart expression of dislike, those Leeches will immediately fall off. In Sparta when all laws against theft proved ineffectual, at last they fixed the penalty on them that were robbed, and by that did the business: and in the present case, if twere made as infamous to be flattered as tis to flatter, I believe it might have the like effect. Indeed, there is pretence enough to make it so: for first, as to Wit, the advantage is clear on the Flatterer's side: he must be allowed to have more of that (which in this age is more than a counterpoise to honesty;) and as for virtue, the balance (as to the principle motive;) seems to hang pretty even, tis the vice of Avarice that tempts the one to Flatter, and the vice of Pride that makes it acceptable to the other. The truth is, there is the bottom of the matter: tis that secret confederate within that exposes men to those assaults from without. We have generally such an appetite to praise, that we greedily such it in without staying to examine whether it belong to us or no, or whether it be designed as a kindness or an abuse. Other injuries rush upon us with violence, and give us notice of their approach: they may be said to come like water into our bowels; but this like oil into our bones, Psa.109.18. penetrates easily, undiscernibly, by help of that native propension we have to receive it. Tis therefore, the near concern of all, especially of those whose quality most exposes them, to keep a guard upon that treacherous inmate, not to let that step into the scale to make a base Sycophant out-weigh a true friend, and whenever they are attacked with extravagant Encomiums, let them fortify themselves with the Dilemma, Either they have those excellencies they are praised for, or they have not: if they have not, tis an apparent cheat and gull, and he is of a pitiful, forlorn understanding that delights to be fooled: but if they have, they are too good to be exposes to such worms who will instantly wither the fairest gourd, Jonah 4.7.

For as it is said of the Grand Signior, that no grass grows where his horse once treads: so we may say of the Flatterer, no virtue ever prospers where he is admitted: if he finds any he hugs it till he stifles it, if he find none, he so indisposes the soil that no future seeds can ever take root. In fine, he is a mischief beyond the description of any Character. O let not men then act this part to themselves by being their own Parasites! and then twill be an easy thing to escape all others.

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