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Poem by John Gay

Part II. Fable 1. The Dog and the Fox

To a Layer

  I know you lawyers can with ease
  Twist words and meanings as you please;
  That language, by your skill made pliant,
  Will bend to favour every client;
  That 'tis the fee directs the sense,
  To make out either side's pretence.
  When you peruse the clearest case,
  You see it with a double face:
  For scepticism's your profession;
  You hold there's doubt in all expression.

     Hence is the bar with fees supplied,
  Hence eloquence takes either side.
  Your hand would have but paltry gleaning
  Could every man express his meaning.
  Who dares presume to pen a deed.
  Unless you previously are fee'd?
  'Tis drawn; and, to augment the cost,
  In dull prolixity engrossed.
  And now we're well secured by law,
  Till the next brother find a flaw.

  Read o'er a will. Was't ever known,
  But you could make the will your own;
  For when you read,'tis with intent
  To find out meanings never meant.
  Since things are thus, se defendendo_,
  I bar fallacious innuendo.
     Sagacious Porta's[6] skill could trace
  Some beast or bird in every face.
  The head, the eye, the nose's shape,
  Proved this an owl, and that an ape.

  When, in the sketches thus designed,
  Resemblance brings some friend to mind,
  You show the piece, and give the hint,
  And find each feature in the print:
  So monstrous like the portrait's found,
  All know it, and the laugh goes round.
  Like him I draw from general nature;
  Is't I or you then fix the satire?
     So, sir, I beg you spare your pains
  In making comments on my strains.

  All private slander I detest,
  I judge not of my neighbour's breast:
  Party and prejudice I hate,
  And write no libels on the state.
     Shall not my fable censure vice,
  Because a knave is over-nice?
  And, lest the guilty hear and dread,
  Shall not the decalogue be read?
  If I lash vice in general fiction,
  Is't I apply, or self-conviction?

  Brutes are my theme. Am I to blame,
  If men in morals are the same?
  I no man call an ape or ass:
  Tis his own conscience holds the glass;
  Thus void of all offence I write;
  Who claims the fable, knows his right.
     A shepherd's dog unskilled in sports,
  Picked up acquaintance of all sorts:
  Among the rest, a fox he knew;
  By frequent chat their friendship grew.

     Says Reynard--' 'Tis a cruel case,
  That man should stigmatise our race,
  No doubt, among us rogues you find,
  As among dogs, and human kind;
  And yet (unknown to me and you)
  There may be honest men and true.
  Thus slander tries, whate'er it can,
  To put us on the foot with man,
  Let my own actions recommend;
  No prejudice can blind a friend:

  You know me free from all disguise;
  My honour as my life I prize.'
     By talk like this, from all mistrust
  The dog was cured, and thought him just.
     As on a time the fox held forth
  On conscience, honesty, and worth,
  Sudden he stopp'd; he cocked his ear;
  And dropp'd his brushy tail with fear.
     'Bless us! the hunters are abroad--
  What's all that clatter on the road?'

     'Hold,' says the dog, 'we're safe from harm;
  'Twas nothing but a false alarm.
  At yonder town, 'tis market day;
  Some farmer's wife is on the way;
  'Tis so, (I know her pyebald mare)
  Dame Dobbins, with her poultry ware.'
     Reynard grew huff. Says he, 'This sneer
  From you I little thought to hear.
  Your meaning in your looks I see;
  Pray, what's Dame Dobbins, friend, to me?

  Did I e'er make her poultry thinner?
  Prove that I owe the Dame a dinner.'
  'Friend,' quoth the cur, 'I meant no harm;
  Then, why so captious? why so warm?
  My words in common acceptation,
  Could never give this provocation.
  No lamb (for ought I ever knew)
  May be more innocent than you.'
     At this, galled Reynard winced and swore
  Such language ne'er was given before:

     'What's lamb to me? the saucy hint--
  Show me, base knave, which way you squint,
  If t'other night your master lost
  Three lambs, am I to pay the cost?
  Your vile reflections would imply
  That I'm the thief. You dog, you lie.'
     'Thou knave, thou fool,' the dog replied,
  'The name is just, take either side;
  Thy guilt these applications speak;
  Sirrah,'tis conscience makes you squeak.'

     So saying, on the fox he flies,
  The self-convicted felon dies.

John Gay

John Gay's other poems:
  1. Sweet William's Farewell to Black-Ey'd Susan
  2. To a Young Lady, with Some Lampreys
  3. An Elegy on a Lap-dog
  4. If the Heart of a Man
  5. The Quidnunckis

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