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Poem by John Gay

Part I. Fable 18. The Painter Who Pleased Nobody and Everybody

  Lest men suspect your tale untrue,
  Keep probability in view.
  The traveller leaping o'er those bounds,
  The credit of his book confounds.
  Who with his tongue hath armies routed,
  Makes even his real courage doubted:
  But flattery never seems absurd;
  The flattered always take your word:
  Impossibilities seem just;
  They take the strongest praise on trust.

  Hyperboles, though ne'er so great,
  Will still come short of self-conceit.
     So very like a painter drew,
  That every eye the picture knew;
  He hit complexion, feature, air,
  So just, the life itself was there.
  No flattery with his colours laid,
  To bloom restored the faded maid;
  He gave each muscle all its strength,
  The mouth, the chin, the nose's length.

  His honest pencil touched with truth,
  And marked the date of age and youth.
  He lost his friends, his practice failed;
  Truth should not always be revealed;
  In dusty piles his pictures lay,
  For no one sent the second pay.
  Two busts, fraught with every grace
  A Venus' and Apollo's face,
  He placed in view; resolved to please,
  Whoever sat, he drew from these,

  From these corrected every feature,
  And spirited each awkward creature.
     All things were set; the hour was come,
  His pallet ready o'er his thumb,
  My lord appeared; and seated right
  In proper attitude and light,
  The painter looked, he sketched the piece,
  Then dipp'd his pencil, talked of Greece,
  Of Titian's tints, of Guido's air;
  'Those eyes, my lord, the spirit there

  Might well a Raphael's hand require,
  To give them all the native fire;
  The features fraught with sense and wit,
  You'll grant are very hard to hit;
  But yet with patience you shall view
  As much as paint and art can do.
  Observe the work.' My lord replied:
  'Till now I thought my mouth was wide;
  Besides, my mouth is somewhat long;
  Dear sir, for me, 'tis far too young.'

     'Oh! pardon me,' the artist cried,
  'In this, the painters must decide.
  The piece even common eyes must strike,
  I warrant it extremely like.'
     My lord examined it anew;
  No looking-glass seemed half so true.
     A lady came, with borrowed grace
  He from his Venus formed her face.
  Her lover praised the painter's art;
  So like the picture in his heart!

  To every age some charm he lent;
  Even beauties were almost content.
  Through all the town his art they praised;
  His custom grew, his price was raised.
  Had he the real likeness shown,
  Would any man the picture own?
  But when thus happily he wrought,
  Each found the likeness in his thought.

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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