Aesop's Fables

by Aesop
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"Example Is The Best Precept"

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Last Updated on May 25, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 150

Context: "Example is always more efficacious than precept," says Samuel Johnson, in an allusion to Aesop. The usual expression is that example is the best teacher, although The Oxford Dictionary of English Proverbs elaborates as follows: In 1400 "ensampull yn doyng ys mor commendabull then ye techyng other prechyng;" in 1570 "One example is more valiable . . . than twenty preceptes;" and in 1708 "Example draws where precept fails,/ And sermons are less read than tales." The original tale, not definitely known to be a part of the Aesop canon, is as follows:

One fine day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand. "Child," said the mother, "you are walking very ungracefully. You should accustom yourself to walking straight forward without twisting from side to side."
"Pray, mother," said the young one, "do but set the example yourself, and I will follow you."
Example is the Best Precept.

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