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Poem by John Gay


Part II. Fable 3. The Baboon and the Poultry


To a Levee-Hunter

  We frequently misplace esteem,
  By judging men by what they seem,
  To birth, wealth, power, we should allow
  Precedence, and our lowest bow.
  In that is due distinction shown,
  Esteem is virtue's right alone.
     With partial eye we're apt to see
  The man of noble pedigree.
  We're prepossess'd my lord inherits
  In some degree his grandsire's merits;

  For those we find upon record:
  But find him nothing but my lord.
     When we with superficial view,
  Gaze on the rich, we're dazzled too.
  We know that wealth well understood,
  Hath frequent power of doing good:
  Then fancy that the thing is done,
  As if the power and will were one.
  Thus oft the cheated crowd adore
  The thriving knaves that keep them poor.

     The cringing train of power survey:
  What creatures are so low as they!
  With what obsequiousness they bend!
  To what vile actions condescend!
  Their rise is on their meanness built,
  And flattery is their smallest guilt.
  What homage, rev'rence, adoration,
  In every age, in every nation,
  Have sycophants to power addressed!
  No matter who the power possessed.

  Let ministers be what they will,
  You find their levees always fill.
  Even those who have perplexed a state,
  Whose actions claim contempt and hate,
  Had wretches to applaud their schemes,
  Though more absurd than madmen's dreams.
  When barbarous Moloch was invoked,
  The blood of infants only smoked!
  But here (unless all history lies)
  Whole realms have been a sacrifice.

  Look through all Courts--'Tis power we find,
  The general idol of mankind,
  There worshipped under every shape;
  Alike the lion, fox, and ape
  Are followed by time-serving slaves,
  Rich prostitutes, and needy knaves.
     Who, then, shall glory in his post?
  How frail his pride, how vain his boast!
  The followers of his prosperous hour
  Are as unstable as his power.

  Power by the breath of flattery nursed,
  The more it swells, is nearer burst.
  The bubble breaks, the gewgaw ends,
  And in a dirty tear descends.
     Once on a time, an ancient maid,
  By wishes and by time decayed,
  To cure the pangs of restless thought,
  In birds and beasts amusement sought:
  Dogs, parrots, apes, her hours employed;
  With these alone she talked and toyed.

     A huge baboon her fancy took,
  (Almost a man in size and look,)
  He fingered everything he found,
  And mimicked all the servants round.
  Then, too, his parts and ready wit
  Showed him for every business fit.
  With all these talents, 'twas but just
  That pug should hold a place of trust:
  So to her fav'rite was assigned
  The charge of all her feathered kind.

  'Twas his to tend 'em eve and morn,
  And portion out their daily corn.
     Behold him now with haughty stride,
  Assume a ministerial pride.
  The morning rose. In hope of picking,
  Swans, turkeys, peacocks, ducks and chicken,
  Fowls of all ranks surround his hut,
  To worship his important strut.
  The minister appears. The crowd
  Now here, now there, obsequious bowed.

  This praised his parts, and that his face,
  T'other his dignity in place.
  From bill to bill the flattery ran:
  He hears and bears it like a man:
  For, when we flatter self-conceit,
  We but his sentiments repeat.
     If we're too scrupulously just,
  What profit's in a place of trust?
  The common practice of the great,
  Is to secure a snug retreat.

  So pug began to turn his brain
  (Like other folks in place) on gain.
     An apple-woman's stall was near,
  Well stocked with fruits through all the year;
  Here every day he crammed his guts,
  Hence were his hoards of pears and nuts;
  For 'twas agreed (in way of trade)
  His payments should in corn be made.
     The stock of grain was quickly spent,
  And no account which way it went.

  Then, too, the poultry's starved condition
  Caused speculations of suspicion.
  The facts were proved beyond dispute;
  Pug must refund his hoards of fruit:
  And, though then minister in chief,
  Was branded as a public thief.
  Disgraced, despised, confined to chains,
  He nothing but his pride retains.
     A goose passed by; he knew the face,
  Seen every levee while in place.

     'What, no respect! no reverence shown?
  How saucy are these creatures grown!
  Not two days since,' says he, 'you bowed
  The lowest of my fawning crowd.'
     'Proud fool,' replies the goose,Уtis true,
  Thy corn a fluttering levee drew!
  For that I joined the hungry train,
  And sold thee flattery for thy grain.
  But then, as now, conceited ape,
  We saw thee in thy proper shape.'



                      John Gay


John Gay's other poems:
  1. Part II. Fable 17. Ay and No
  2. Sweet William's Farewell To Black-Ey'd Susan
  3. The Quidnunckis
  4. To A Young Lady, With Some Lampreys
  5. Part II. Fable 13. Plutus, Cupid, and Time


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