Item of the Day: Gay’s Fables [1733]

Full Title: Fables by the late Mr. Gay. In Two Volumes. Glasgow: Printed for Alexander M’ckenzie, [1733].




Remote from cities liv’d a Swain,

Unvex’d with all the cares of gain;

His head was silver’d o’er with age,

And long experience made him sage;

In summer’s heat and winter’s cold

He fed his flock, and penn’d the fold;

His hours in cheerful labour flew,

Nor envy nor ambition knew;

His wisdom and his honest fame

Through all the country rais’d his name. 

           A deep Philosopher (whose rules

Of moral life were drawn from schools)

The Shepherd’s homely cottage sought,

And thus explore’d his reach of thought.

            Whence is thy learning? Hath thy toil

O’er books consum’d the midnight-oil?

Hast thou old Greece and Rome survey’d,

And the vast sense of Plato weigh’d?

Hath Socrates thy soul refin’d,

And hath thou fathom’d Tully’s mind?

Or, like the wise Ulysses thrown

By various fates on realms unknown,

Hast thou through many cities stray’d,

Their customs, laws, and manners weigh’d?

            The Shepherd modestly repley’d.

I ne’er the paths of learning try’d;

Nor have I roam’d in foreign parts

To read mankind, their laws and arts;

For man is practis’d in disguise,

He cheats the most discerning eyes:

Who by that search shall wiser grow,

When we ourselves can never know?

The little knowledge I have gain’d,

Was all from simple nature drain’d;

Hence my life’s maxims took their rise,

Hence grew my settled hate to vice.

            The daily labours of the bee

Awake my soul to industry

Who can observe the careful ant,

And not provide for future want?

My dog (the trustiest of his kind)

With gratitude inflames my mind:

I mark his true, his faithful way,

And in my service copy Tray.

In constancy, and nuptial love,

I learn my duty from the dove.

The hen, who from the chilly air

With pious wing protects her care;

And every fowl that flies at large,

Instructs me in a parent’s charge.

            From nature too I take my rule,

To shun contempt and ridicule.

I never with important air

In conversation over bear.

Can grave and formal pass for wise,

When men the solemn owl despise?

My tongue within my lips I rein;

For who talks much, must talk in vain.

We from the wordy torrent fly:

Who listen to the chatt’ring pye?

Nor would I, with felonious flight,

By stealth invade my neighbor’s right.

Rapacious animals we hate:

Kites, hawks, and wolves deserve their fate.

Do not we just abhorrence find

Against the toad and serpent kind:

But envy, calumny, and spite,

Bear stronger venom in their bite.

Thus every object of creation

Can furnish hints to contemplation:

And from the most minute and mean

A virtuous mind can morals gleam.

            Thy fame is just, the sage replies;

Thy virtue proves thee truly wise.

Pride often guides the author’s pen,

Books as affected are as men:

But he who studies nature’s laws,

From certain truth his maxims draws;

And those, without our schools suffice

To make men moral, good, and wise.



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Filed under 1730's, Literature, Poetry, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

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