AN interesting history of flattery might be written. It plays a large part in life. Human nature not only demands it, but shows a strong tendency to give it. We all think our own age less susceptible to it than other ages, just as we think ourselves less susceptible than other men. But this is probably a mistake. The demand and supply are always there ; it is only the method of administration which can be chronicled. If we look back, we wonder how the Roman Emperors stomached it in the form in which it was set before them ; we wonder how Qaeen Elizabeth could enjoy it, and how the men of the eighteenth century could pay money down for it. If we take it for granted that flattery, to be acceptable, must be believable, the matter is inexplicable. But is this true ? " Oh, irresistible power of flattery, though I know that this is a madman, I cannot help being taken with his applause," wrote Cervantes. For " madman " we can substitute a score of other terms, sycophant, for instance, or poet, or political follower, or prejudiced person, or even lover; what you will, the words still hold good. A very formal and fulsome dedication would please no one now. Nevertheless, prominent men accept whole books—not short prefaces—full of flattery. They arc pleased, apparently—at any rate, they are not nauseated— by fanciful biographies written not by men of genius but by anybody who can write at all. It is true our prominent men to-day have to stand a great deal of bitter criticism-- criticism which comes to the ears of all in a way it never came before. Perhaps some jam is necessary to get the powder down. Anyhow, it is asked for. Men are not children. They do not believe saccharine nonsense about themselves, but do they therefore dislike it ? It is always said, at least women always say, that men are more easily i flattered than their wives and daughters. Would it not be more accurate to say that leading rather a larger life they are susceptible to it over rather a larger surface ? Women like personal flattery and mind very much from whom it comes, value it almost entirely according to its source ; but men like it even where it is impersonal, where it concerns their work or their achievements, and comes, perhaps, from persons who never saw them and do not know or even much care what they are like, physically or mentally or morally. One wonders sometimes how that audacious flatterer Disraeli would have set to work had he had a royal master instead of a royal mistress to cajole. He might have failed ; anyhow, he would not have used the same trowel. In both cases it is impossible but that the trowel should from time to time have been seen. " De l'av,d,ace " was seemingly his motto, and he risked— indeed, he flouted—detection. So does every really success- ful flatterer. He managed to create by " the softness of habitual affability " a prejudice in his own favour, and after that the way was safe, or not too dangerous, for a bold man. It has been cynically said that " the want of fortitude, not martial but philosophic," stands in the way of many a man who might succeed by flattery. It never stood in Disraeli's.
If we look round among our friends, it is decidedly not the worst people who are most easily flattered or even the worst who innocently ask for flattery. It is, of course, a weakness to want it, but very often if only those people who need it so much stood in a position to get it properly supplied it would do them no harm. As it is, they cannot get it directly, and they try for it, so to say, by under hand methods. For instance, they choose deliberately to live among their inferiors. They like to be abler—some- times, perhaps, even better—very often richer than their company. The fact that they have a certain superiority makes them happy, although they have, as it were, arranged their social scenery to suit themselves. They know they have done so, just as greater men know the adulation they accept is not all genuine. They "flatter themselves" they are very superior people, but in their hearts they know that they " flatter themselves." We very much doubt if conceit is a common quality. If men were really self- satisfied, they would not want so much flattery. There is nothing so startling as to find a bit of real, genuine humility in a man we had put down perhaps for a conceited ass, or even perhaps for a very good fellow very conscious of the fact. We have all experienced this surprise. The hackneyed discussion about whether men like to be flattered on their weak or their strong points has always seemed to the present writer to be ridiculous. Of course they like it on their weak points. They hope that nobody knows what they know to their cost, that they are without some root virtue like courage or industry, or that they are semi-idiotic where some art or science is concerned, or that they are dull or testy by nature. They dream of themselves as heroes and geniuses, as wits or paragons of magnanimity. That someone else should think of them as coming even within a very long distance of these things, or should be able even to play at thinking so, is, of course, delightful. We have all felt the glow when the game is well played.
It is absurd to say that flatterers are always actuated by a low motive. It would be as true to say that a man who habitually teases and chaffs his acquaintance a little more than sympathy should permit is actuated always by cruelty. He is no doubt yielding to a temptation, but not such a bad temptation as that. Some people are always studying human nature. It is—in spite of Pope—sometimes rather a small study. They want to see what their fellow-creatures will do when they are a little bit pleased or a little bit tormented. Perhaps there is some desire to tyrannize in those who thus amuse themselves, but it is not a wish which goes very far, sometimes no deeper than manner. In other men and women the habit of flattery is simply a wish to please themselves. They like to be liked and, being rather stupid, they take what seems to them the most obvious means to popularity. It is rather a pleasant peculiarity than otherwise, though it is apt to discount itself. When these people are really moved by admiration or affection they cannot get themselves believed. There. is nothing for them but action, and so often when_ we are most anxious to express our good will action is out of our power. Dr. Johnson says in the Rambler : " Just praise is a. debt and flattery is a present." For all his diatribes he had a real indulgence for human nature. We cannot help being more pleased with a present than with our just dues. We like it even if .it is not always given from the very best motives. We once heard a woman say of a piece of what might have been called flattery : " I liked it. It made me feel so warm and undeserving." Such persons cannot be spoiled. No flattery can do them any harm. They have no cold, cynical armour in which to defend themselves from the pleasant onslaughts of well-meaning, or even ill-meaning, men. They take and enjoy their " presents," and keep their own opinion of themselves, often for all their affectations of satisfaction not a very good one.
It is difficult sometimes not to feel sick of the subject of auto-suggestion. It starts, however, a thousand whimsical as well as serious trains of thought. It will be a sad day for humanity if in the struggle to gain self- confidence men and women should turn a cure to a poison, and should finally destroy what is, after all, the most delicate, the most elusive, perhaps the highest, certainly, the most lovable quality in man—his hitherto unconquer- able humility.