The Courtier and Proteus

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Whene'er a courtier's out of place
The country shelters his disgrace;
   Where, doomed to exercise and health,
His house and gardens own his wealth,
He builds new schemes in hopes to gain
The plunder of another reign;
Like Philip's son, would fain be doing,
And sighs for other realms to ruin.
   As one of these (without his wand)
Pensive, along the winding strand

Employed the solitary hour,
In projects to regain his power;
The waves in spreading circles ran,
Proteus arose, and thus began:
   'Came you from Court? For in your mien
A self-important air is seen.
   He frankly owned his friends had tricked him
And how he fell his party's victim.
   'Know,' says the god, 'by matchless skill
I change to every shape at will;

But yet I'm told, at Court you see
Those who presume to rival me.'
   Thus said. A snake with hideous trail,
Proteus extends his scaly mail.
   'Know,' says the man, 'though proud in place,
All courtiers are of reptile race.
Like you, they take that dreadful form,
Bask in the sun, and fly the storm;
With malice hiss, with envy gloat,
And for convenience change their coat;

With new-got lustre rear their head,
Though on a dunghill born and bred.'
   Sudden the god a lion stands;
He shakes his mane, he spurns the sands;
Now a fierce lynx, with fiery glare,
A wolf, an ass, a fox, a bear.
   'Had I ne'er lived at Court,' he cries,
'Such transformation might surprise;
But there, in quest of daily game,
Each able courtier acts the same.

Wolves, lions, lynxes, while in place,
Their friends and fellows are their chase.
They play the bear's and fox's part;
Now rob by force, now steal with art.
They sometimes in the senate bray;
Or, changed again to beasts of prey,
Down from the lion to the ape,
Practise the frauds of every shape.'
   So said, upon the god he flies,
In cords the struggling captive ties.

   'Now, Proteus, now, (to truth compelled)
Speak, and confess thy art excelled.
Use strength, surprise, or what you will,
The courtier finds evasions still:
Not to be bound by any ties,
And never forced to leave his lies.'

The Fables, Volume 1 (1727)
Introduction The Shepard and the Philosopher
Fable I The Lion, the Tiger, and the Traveller
Fable II The Spaniel and the Cameleon
Fable III The Mother, the Nurse, and the Fairy
Fable IV The Eagle, and the Assembly of Animals
Fable V The wild Boar and the Ram
Fable VI The Miser and Plutus
Fable VII The Lion, the Fox, and the Geese
Fable VIII The Lady and the Wasp
Fable IX The Bull and the Mastiff
Fable X The Elephant and the Bookseller
Fable XI The Peacock, the Turkey, and the Goose
Fable XII Cupid, Hymen, and Plutus
Fable XIII The Tame Stag
Fable XIV The Monkey who had seen the World
Fable XV The Philosopher and the Pheasants
Fable XVI The Pin and the Needle
Fable XVII The Shepherd's Dog and the Wolf
Fable XVIII The Painter who pleased Nobody and Everybody
Fable XIX The Lion and the Cub
Fable XX The Old Hen and the Cock
Fable XXI The Rat-catcher and Cats
Fable XXII The Goat without a Beard
Fable XXIII The Old Woman and her Cats
Fable XXIV The Butterfly and the Snail
Fable XXV The Scold and the Parrot
Fable XXVI The Cur and the Mastiff
Fable XXVII The Sick Man and the Angel
Fable XXVIII The Persian, the Sun, and the Cloud
Fable XXIX The Fox at the point of Death
Fable XXX The Setting-dog and the Partridge
Fable XXXI The Universal Apparition
Fable XXXII The Two Owls and the Sparrow
Fable XXXIII The Courtier and Proteus
Fable XXXIV The Mastiffs
Fable XXXV The Barley-mow and the Dunghill
Fable XXXVI Pythagoras and the Countryman
Fable XXXVII The Farmer's Wife and the Raven
Fable XXXVIII The Turkey and the Ant
Fable XXXIX The Father and Jupiter
Fable XL The Two Monkeys
Fable XLI The Owl and the Farmer
Fable XLII The Jugglers
Fable XLIII The Council of Horses
Fable XLIV The Hound and the Huntsman
Fable XLV The Poet and the Rose
Fable XLVI The Cur, the Horse, and the Shepherd's Dog
Fable XLVII The Court of Death
Fable XLVIII The Gardener and the Hog
Fable XLIX The Man and the Flea
Fable L The Hare and many Friends

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