There be so many false points of praise that a man may justly hold it a suspect. Some praises proceed merely of flattery; and if he be an ordinary flatterer, he will have certain common attributes, which may serve every man: if he be a cunning flatterer, he will follow the arch-flatterer, which is a mans self, and wherein a man thinketh best of himself therein the flatterer will uphold him most: but if he be an impudent flatterer, look wherein a man is conscious to himself that he is most defective, and is most out of countenance in himself, that will the flatterer entitle him to perforce, spreta conscientia.
Sensible women have often been the dupes of designing men in the following way: they have taken an opportunity of praising them to their own confidante, but with a solemn injunction to secrecy. The confidante, however, as they know, will infallibly inform her principal the first moment she sees her; and this is a mode of flattery which always succeeds. Even those females who nauseate flattery in any other shape will not reject it in this: just as we can hear the light of the sun without pain when reflected by the moon.
Every man willingly gives value to the praise which he receives, and considers the sentence passed in his favour as the sentence of discernment. We admire in a friend that understanding that selected us for confidence; we admire more in a patron that judgment which, instead of scattering bounty indiscriminately, directed it to us; and, if the patron be an author, those performances which gratitude forbids us to blame, affection will easily dispose as to exalt.
Avoid flatterers, for they are thieves in disguise; their praise is costly, designing to get by those they bespeak; they are the worst of creatures; they lie to flatter, and flatter to cheat; and, which is worse, if you believe them, you cheat yourselves most dangerously.
Take care thou be not made a fool by flatterers, for even the wisest men are abused by these. Know, therefore, that flatterers are the worst kind of traitors; for they will strengthen thy imperfections, encourage thee in all evils, correct thee in nothing, but so shadow and paint all thy vices and follies, as thou shalt never, by their will, discern evil from good, or vice from virtue: and because all men are apt to flatter themselves, to entertain the addition of other mens praises is most perilous. Do not, therefore, praise thyself, except thou wilt be counted a vainglorious fool; neither take delight in the praise of other men, except thou deserve it, and receive it from such as are worthy and honest and will withal warn thee of thy faults; for flatterers have never any virtue; they are ever base, creeping, cowardly persons. A flatterer is said to be a beast that biteth smiling; it is said by Isaiah in this manner: My people, they that praise thee seduce thee, and disorder the paths of thy feet: and David desired God to cut out the tongue of a flatterer. But it is hard to know them from friends, they are so obsequious and full of protestation; for as a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend. A flatterer is compared to an ape, who because she cannot defend the house like a dog, labour as an ox, or bear burdens as a horse, doth therefore yet play tricks and provoke laughter.
The most servile flattery is lodged the most easily in the grossest capacity; for their ordinary conceit draweth a yielding to their greaters, and then have they not wit to discern the right degree of duty.
But of all mankind, there are none so shocking as these injudicious civil people. They ordinarily begin upon something that they know must be a satisfaction; but then, for fear of the imputation of flattery, they follow it with the last thing in the world of which you would be reminded. It is this that perplexes civil persons. The reason that there is such a general outcry among us against flatterers is, that there are so very few good ones. It is the nicest art in this life, and is a part of eloquence which does not want the preparation that is necessary to all other parts of it, that your audience should be your well-wishers; for praise from an enemy is the most pleasing of all commendations.
Among all the diseases of the mind, there is not one more epidemical or more pernicious than the love of flattery. For as where the juices of the body are prepared to receive the malignant influence, there the disease rages with most violence; so in this distemper of the mind, where there is ever a propensity and inclination to suck in the poison, it cannot be but that the whole order of reasonable action must be overturned; for, like music, it
First we flatter ourselves, and then the flattery of others is sure of success. It awakens our self-love within, a party which is ever ready to revolt from our better judgment and join the enemy without.
I have been considering why poets have such ill success in making their court, since they are allowed to be the greatest and best of all flatterers: the defect is that they flatter only in print or in writing.