Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Vain Jackdaw

The Vain Jackdaw, an illustration by JVL, in Aesop's Fables, Jonathan Cape, 1989

Here is a version of the fable written by Christopher Smart in 1760, 
a verse translation of Phaedrus's fable

The Vain Jackdaw
Lest any one himself should plume,
And on his neighbour’s worth presume;
But still let Nature’s garb prevail -
Esop has left this little tale:
A Daw, ambitious and absurd,
Pick’d up the quills of Juno’s bird;
And, with the gorgeous spoil adorn’d,
All his own sable brethren scorn’d,
And join’d the peacocks - who in scoff
Stripp’d the bold thief, and drove him off.
The Daw, thus roughly handled, went
To his own kind in discontent:
but they in turn contemn the spark,
And brand with many a shameful mark.
Then one he formerly disdain’d,
“Had you,” said he, “at home remain’d -
Content with Nature’s ways and will,
You had not felt the peacock’s bill;
Nor ’mongst the birds of your own dress
Had been deserted in distress.”

Moral: Fine feathers do not make a fine bird.

Text: Christopher Smart (Phaedrus 1/3, 1760).

Selected Parallels: Babrius 72. Phaedrus 1/3. Avianus 15. Caxton, Romulus 2/15.  La Fontaine 4/9. L’Estrange 1/33. Perry 472 and cf 129. cf TMI J951.2.


  1. Hi JVL, your work is beautiful, and to see some of it every day is quite a treat. When I have a bad day I think well there's always JVL's pictures to salvage some goodness from the day. Could I possibly feature you on my blog with a few of your pictures and link to your blog? Thank you, Liz Folk

  2. Hello Liz - What a very kind message. It is always pleasing to hear that someone likes your work and I thank you for saying so. Sure, you may put my pictures on your blog and I’ll look forward to seeing what you do. Many thanks for writing. All the best John VL.

  3. Thank you so much John--the post is up!--
    Let me know if you'd like any changes. Kept it brief as I agonize with words. Was hard to choose which drawings, I love so many. The works says it all, great stuff, so much fun!! Thanks for sharing it all, Liz

    1. Liz - Just got back from a holiday in Suffolk. What you have chosen is fine and many thanks indeed for your interest - John