The Elephant and the Bookseller

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Fable X

The man who, with undaunted toils,
Sails unknown seas to unknown soils,
With various wonders feasts his sight:
What stranger wonders does he write!
We read, and in description view
Creatures which Adam never knew:
For, when we risk no contradiction,
It prompts the tongue to deal in fiction.
Those things that startle me or you,
I grant are strange; yet may be true.

Who doubts that elephants are found
For science and for sense renowned?
Borri records their strength of parts,
Extent of thought, and skill in arts;
How they perform the law's decrees,
And save the state the hangman's fees;
And how by travel understand
The language of another land.
Let those, who question this report,
To Pliny's ancient page resort;

How learn'd was that sagacious breed!
Who now (like them) the Greek can read!
   As one of these, in days of yore,
Rummaged a shop of learning o'er;
Not, like our modern dealers, minding
Only the margin's breadth and binding;
A book his curious eye detains,
Where, with exactest care and pains,
Were every beast and bird portrayed,
That e'er the search of man surveyed,

Their natures and their powers were writ,
With all the pride of human wit.
The page he with attention spread,
And thus remarked on what he read:
   'Man with strong reason is endowed;
A beast scarce instinct is allowed.
But let this author's worth be tried,
'Tis plain that neither was his guide.
Can he discern the different natures,
And weigh the power of other creatures

Who by the partial work hath shown
He knows so little of his own?
How falsely is the spaniel drawn!
Did man from him first learn to fawn?
A dog proficient in the trade!
He the chief flatterer nature made!
Go, man, the ways of courts discern,
You'll find a spaniel still might learn.
How can the fox's theft and plunder
Provoke his censure or his wonder;

From courtiers' tricks, and lawyers' arts,
The fox might well improve his parts.
The lion, wolf, and tiger's brood,
He curses, for their thirst of blood:
But is not man to man a prey?
Beasts kill for hunger, men for pay.'
   The bookseller, who heard him speak,
And saw him turn a page of Greek,
Thought, what a genius have I found!
Then thus addressed with bow profound:

'Learn'd sir, if you'd employ your pen
Against the senseless sons of men,
Or write the history of Siam,
No man is better pay than I am;
Or, since you're learn'd in Greek, let's see
Something against the Trinity.'
   When wrinkling with a sneer his trunk,
'Friend,' quoth the elephant, 'you're drunk;
E'en keep your money and be wise:
Leave man on man to criticise;

For that you ne'er can want a pen
Among the senseless sons of men.
They unprovoked will court the fray:
Envy's a sharper spur than pay.
No author ever spared a brother;
Wits are game-cocks to one another.'



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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