John Gay

Part II. Fable 12. Pan and Fortune

Yo a young Heir

  Soon as your father's death was known,
  (As if the estate had been their own)
  The gamesters outwardly express'd
  The decent joy within your breast.
  So lavish in your praise they grew,
  As spoke their certain hopes in you.
     One counts your income of the year,
  How much in ready money clear.
     'No house,' says he, 'is more complete;
  The garden's elegant and great.

  How fine the park around it lies!
  The timber's of a noble size!
  Then count his jewels and his plate.
  Besides, 'tis no entailed estate.
  If cash run low, his lands in fee
  Are, or for sale, or mortgage free.'
     Thus they, before you threw the main,
  Seem to anticipate their gain.
  Would you, when thieves were known abroad,
  Bring forth your treasures in the road?

     Would not the fool abet the stealth,
  Who rashly thus exposed his wealth?
     Yet this you do, whene'er you play
  Among the gentlemen of prey.
  Could fools to keep their own contrive,
  On what, on whom could gamesters thrive?
  Is it in charity you game,
  To save your worthy gang from shame?
  Unless you furnished daily bread,
  Which way could idleness be fed?

     Could these professors of deceit
  Within the law no longer cheat,
  They must run bolder risks for prey,
  And strip the traveller on the way.
  Thus in your annual rents they share,
  And 'scape the noose from year to year.
  Consider, ere you make the bet,
  That sum might cross your tailor's debt.
  When you the pilfering rattle shake,
  Is not your honour too at stake?

  Must you not by mean lies evade
  To-morrow's duns from every trade?
  By promises so often paid,
  Is yet your tailor's bill defrayed?
  Must you not pitifully fawn,
  To have your butcher's writ withdrawn?
  This must be done. In debts of play
  Your honour suffers no delay:
  And not this year's and next year's rent
  The sons of rapine can content.

     Look round. The wrecks of play behold,
  Estates dismembered, mortgaged, sold!
  Their owners, not to jails confined,
  Show equal poverty of mind.
  Some, who the spoil of knaves were made,
  Too late attempt to learn their trade.
  Some, for the folly of one hour,
  Become the dirty tools of power,
  And, with the mercenary list,
  Upon court-charity subsist.

     You'll find at last this maxim true,
  Fools are the game which knaves pursue.
     The forest (a whole century's shade)
  Must be one wasteful ruin made.
  No mercy's shewn to age or kind;
  The general massacre is signed.
  The park too shares the dreadful fate,
  For duns grow louder at the gate,
  Stern clowns, obedient to the squire,
  (What will not barbarous hands for hire?)

  With brawny arms repeat the stroke.
  Fallen are the elm and reverend oak.
  Through the long wood loud axes sound,
  And echo groans with every wound.
     To see the desolation spread,
  Pan drops a tear, and hangs his head:
  His bosom now with fury burns:
  Beneath his hoof the dice he spurns.
  Cards, too, in peevish passion torn,
  The sport of whirling winds are borne.

     'To snails inveterate hate I bear,
  Who spoil the verdure of the year;
  The caterpillar I detest,
  The blooming spring's voracious pest;
  The locust too, whose ravenous band
  Spreads sudden famine o'er the land.
  But what are these? The dice's throw
  At once hath laid a forest low.
  The cards are dealt, the bet is made,
  And the wide park hath lost its shade.

  Thus is my kingdom's pride defaced,
  And all its ancient glories waste.
  All this,' he cries, 'is Fortune's doing:
  'Tis thus she meditates my ruin.
  By Fortune, that false, fickle jade,
  More havoc in one hour is made,
  Than all the hungry insect race,
  Combined, can in an age deface.'
     Fortune, by chance, who near him pass'd,
  O'erheard the vile aspersion cast.

     'Why, Pan,' says she, 'what's all this rant?
  'Tis every country-bubble's cant;
  Am I the patroness of vice?
  Is't I who cog or palm the dice?
  Did I the shuffling art reveal, 105
  To mark the cards, or range the deal?
  In all the employments men pursue,
  I mind the least what gamesters do.
  There may (if computation's just)
  One now and then my conduct trust:

  I blame the fool, for what can I,
  When ninety-nine my power defy?
  These trust alone their fingers' ends,
  And not one stake on me depends.
  Whene'er the gaming board is set,
  Two classes of mankind are met:
  But if we count the greedy race,
  The knaves fill up the greater space.
  'Tis a gross error, held in schools,
  That Fortune always favours fools.

  In play it never bears dispute;
  That doctrine these felled oaks confute.
  Then why to me such rancour show?
  'Tis folly, Pan, that is thy foe.
  By me his late estate he won,
  But he by folly was undone.'

English Poetry - E-mail