No. 512. Friday, October 17, 1712. Addison.

Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo.'

There is nothing which we receive with so much Reluctance as Advice. We look upon the Man who gives it us as offering an Affront to our Understanding, and treating us like Children or Ideots. We consider the Instruction as an implicit Censure, and the Zeal which any one shews for our Good on such an Occasion as a Piece of Presumption or Impertinence. The Truth of it is, the Person who pretends to advise, does, in that particular, exercise a Superiority over us, and can have no other Reason for it, but that in comparing us with himself, he thinks us defective either in our Conduct or our Understanding. For these Reasons, there is nothing so difficult as the Art of making Advice agreeable; and indeed all the Writers, both Ancient and Modern, have distinguished themselves among one another, according to the Perfection at which they have arrived in this Art. How many Devices have been made use of, to render this bitter Potion palatable? Some convey their Instructions to us in the best chosen Words, others in the most harmonious Numbers, some in Points of Wit, and others in short Proverbs.

In the next place, if we look into human Nature, we shall find that the Mind is never so much pleased, as when she exerts her self in any Action that gives her an Idea of her own Perfections and Abilities. This natural Pride and Ambition of the Soul is very much gratified in the reading of a Fable: for in Writings of this kind, the Reader comes in for half of the Performance; every thing appears to him like a Discovery of his own; he is busied all the while in applying Characters and Circumstances, and is in this respect both a Reader and a Composer. It is no wonder therefore that on such Occasions, when the Mind is thus pleased with it self, and amused with its own Discoveries, that it is highly delighted with the Writing which is the occasion of it. For this reason the Absalom and Achitophel [1] was one of the most popular Poems that ever appeared in English. The poetry is indeed very fine, but had it been much finer, it would not have so much pleased, without a plan which gave the Reader an Opportunity of exerting his own Talents.

This oblique manner of giving Advice is so inoffensive, that if we look into ancient Histories, we find the wise Men of old very often chose to give Counsel to their Kings in Fables. To omit many which will occur to every one's Memory, there is a pretty Instance of this Nature in a Turkish Tale, which I do not like the worse for that little Oriental Extravagance which is mixed with it.

We are told that the Sultan Mahmoud, by his perpetual Wars abroad, and his Tyranny at home, had filled his Dominions with Ruin and Desolation, and half unpeopled the Persian Empire. The Visier to this great Sultan (whether an Humourist or an Enthusiast, we are not informed) pretended to have learned of a certain Dervise to understand the Language of Birds, so that there was not a Bird that could open his Mouth, but the Visier knew what it was he said. As he was one Evening with the Emperor, in their return from Hunting, they saw a couple of Owls upon a Tree that grew near an old Wall out of an Heap of Rubbish. I would fain know, says the Sultan, what those two Owls are saying to one another; listen to their Discourse, and give me an account of it. The Visier approached the Tree, pretending to be very attentive to the two Owls. Upon his return to the Sultan, Sir, says he, I have heard part of their Conversation, but dare not tell you what it is. The Sultan would not be satisfied with such an Answer, but forced him to repeat word for word every thing the Owls had said. You must know then, said the Visier, that one of these Owls has a Son, and the other a Daughter, between whom they are now upon a Treaty of Marriage. The Father of the Son said to the Father of the Daughter, in my hearing, Brother, I consent to this Marriage, provided you will settle upon your Daughter fifty ruined Villages for her Portion. To which the Father of the Daughter replied, Instead of fifty I will give her five hundred, if you please. God grant a long Life to Sultan Mahmoud; whilst he reigns over us, we shall never want ruined Villages.

The Story says, the Sultan was so touched with the Fable, that he rebuilt the Towns and Villages which had been destroyed, and from that time forward consulted the Good of his People. [2]

To fill up my Paper, I shall add a most ridiculous piece of natural Magic, which was taught by no less a Philosopher than Democritus, namely, that if the Blood of certain Birds, which he mentioned, were mixed together, it would produce a Serpent of such a wonderful Virtue, that whoever did eat it should be skill'd in the Language of Birds, and understand every thing they said to one another. Whether the Dervise abovementioned might not have eaten such a Serpent, I shall leave to the Determinations of the Learned.


[Footnote 1: Dryden's satire on the intrigues of the Duke of Monmouth and Lord Shaftesbury to exclude the King's brother from the Throne. Monmouth was Absalom, and Shaftesbury Achitophel.]

[Footnote 2: Pilpay's Fables.]

Translation of motto:
HOR. Ars Poet. ver. 344.
'Mixing together profit and delight.'