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Poem by John Gay

Part II. Fable 11. The Pack-horse and the Carrier

To a young Nobleman

  Begin, my lord, in early youth,
  To suffer, nay, encourage truth:
  And blame me not for disrespect,
  If I the flatterer's style reject;
  With that, by menial tongues supplied,
  You're daily cocker'd up in pride.
     The tree's distinguished by the fruit,
  Be virtue then your sole pursuit;
  Set your great ancestors in view,
  Like them deserve the title too;

  Like them ignoble actions scorn:
  Let virtue prove you greatly born.
     Though with less plate their sideboard shone,
  Their conscience always was their own;
  They ne'er at levees meanly fawned,
  Nor was their honour yearly pawned;
  Their hands, by no corruption stained,
  The ministerial bribe disdained;
  They served the crown with loyal zeal;
  Yet, jealous of the public weal,

  They stood the bulwark of our laws,
  And wore at heart their country's cause;
  By neither place or pension bought,
  They spoke and voted as they thought.
  Thus did your sires adorn their seat;
  And such alone are truly great.
     If you the paths of learning slight,
  You're but a dunce in stronger light;
  In foremost rank the coward placed,
  Is more conspicuously disgraced.

  If you to serve a paltry end,
  To knavish jobs can condescend,
  We pay you the contempt that's due;
  In that you have precedence too.
  Whence had you this illustrious name?
  From virtue and unblemished fame.
  By birth the name alone descends;
  Your honour on yourself depends:
  Think not your coronet can hide
  Assuming ignorance and pride.

  Learning by study must be won,
  'Twas ne'er entailed from son to son.
  Superior worth your rank requires;
  For that mankind reveres your sires;
     If you degenerate from your race,
  Their merits heighten your disgrace.
     A carrier, every night and morn,
  Would see his horses eat their corn:
  This sunk the hostler's vails, 'tis true;
  But then his horses had their due.

  Were we so cautious in all cases,
  Small gain would rise from greater places.
     The manger now had all its measure;
  He heard the grinding teeth with pleasure;
  When all at once confusion rung;
  They snorted, jostled, bit, and flung:
  A pack-horse turned his head aside,
  Foaming, his eye-balls swelled with pride.
     'Good gods!' says he, 'how hard's my lot!
  Is then my high descent forgot?

  Reduced to drudgery and disgrace,
  (A life unworthy of my race,)
  Must I too bear the vile attacks
  Of rugged scrubs, and vulgar hacks?
  See scurvy Roan, that brute ill-bred,
  Dares from the manger thrust my head!
  Shall I, who boast a noble line,
  On offals of these creatures dine?
  Kicked by old Ball! so mean a foe!
  My honour suffers by the blow.

  Newmarket speaks my grandsire's fame,
  All jockies still revere his name:
  There yearly are his triumphs told,
  There all his massy plates enrolled.
  Whene'er led forth upon the plain,
  You saw him with a livery train;
  Returning too with laurels crowned,
  You heard the drums and trumpets sound.
  Let it then, sir, be understood,
  Respect's my due; for I have blood.'

     'Vain-glorious fool!' the carrier cried,
  'Respect was never paid to pride.
  Know, 'twas thy giddy wilful heart
  Reduced thee to this slavish part.
  Did not thy headstrong youth disdain
  To learn the conduct of the rein?
  Thus coxcombs, blind to real merit,
  In vicious frolics fancy spirit.
  What is't to me by whom begot?
  Thou restive, pert, conceited sot.

  Your sires I reverence; 'tis their due:
  But, worthless fool, what's that to you?
  Ask all the carriers on the road,
  They'll say thy keeping's ill bestowed.
  Then vaunt no more thy noble race,
  That neither mends thy strength or pace.
  What profits me thy boast of blood?
  An ass hath more intrinsic good.
  By outward show let's not be cheated;
  An ass should like an ass be treated.'

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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