The Poetry Corner

Satires And Epistles Of Horace Imitated. - Satire II. To Mr Bethel.

By Alexander Pope

What, and how great, the virtue and the art To live on little with a cheerful heart; (A doctrine sage, but truly none of mine) Let's talk, my friends, but talk before we dine; Not when a gilt buffet's reflected pride Turns you from sound philosophy aside; Not when from plate to plate your eyeballs roll, And the brain dances to the mantling bowl. Hear Bethel's sermon, one not versed in schools, But strong in sense, and wise without the rules. Go, work, hunt, exercise! (he thus began) Then scorn a homely dinner, if you can. Your wine lock'd up, your butler stroll'd abroad, Or fish denied (the river yet unthaw'd), If then plain bread and milk will do the feat, The pleasure lies in you, and not the meat. Preach as I please, I doubt our curious men Will choose a pheasant still before a hen; Yet hens of Guinea full as good I hold, Except you eat the feathers green and gold. Of carps and mullets why prefer the great, (Though cut in pieces ere my lord can eat) Yet for small turbots such esteem profess? Because God made these large, the other less. Oldfield,[128] with more than harpy throat endued, Cries, 'Send me, gods! a whole hog barbecued!' Oh, blast it, south-winds! till a stench exhale Rank as the ripeness of a rabbit's tail. By what criterion do ye eat, d' ye think, If this is prized for sweetness, that for stink? When the tired glutton labours through a treat, He finds no relish in the sweetest meat, He calls for something bitter, something sour, And the rich feast concludes extremely poor: Cheap eggs, and herbs, and olives still we see; Thus much is left of old simplicity! The robin redbreast till of late had rest, And children sacred held a martin's nest, Till beccaficos sold so devilish dear To one that was, or would have been, a peer. Let me extol a cat, on oysters fed, I'll have a party at the Bedford-head;[129] Or even to crack live crawfish recommend; I'd never doubt at court to make a friend. 'Tis yet in vain, I own, to keep a pother About one vice, and fall into the other: Between excess and famine lies a mean; Plain, but not sordid; though not splendid, clean. Avidien, or his wife (no matter which, For him you'll call a dog, and her a bitch) Sell their presented partridges, and fruits, And humbly live on rabbits and on roots: One half-pint bottle serves them both to dine, And is at once their vinegar and wine. But on some lucky day (as when they found A lost bank-bill, or heard their son was drown'd) At such a feast, old vinegar to spare, Is what two souls so generous cannot bear: Oil, though it stink, they drop by drop impart, But souse the cabbage with a bounteous heart. He knows to live, who keeps the middle state, And neither leans on this side, nor on that; Nor stops, for one bad cork, his butler's pay; Swears, like Albutius, a good cook away; Nor lets, like Naevius, every error pass, The musty wine, foul cloth, or greasy glass. Now hear what blessings temperance can bring: (Thus said our friend, and what he said I sing) First health: the stomach (cramm'd from every dish, A tomb of boil'd and roast, and flesh and fish, Where bile, and wind, and phlegm, and acid jar, And all the man is one intestine war) Remembers oft the school-boy's simple fare, The temperate sleeps, and spirits light as air. How pale each worshipful and reverend guest Rise from a clergy or a city feast! What life in all that ample body, say? What heavenly particle inspires the clay? The soul subsides, and wickedly inclines To seem but mortal, even in sound divines. On morning wings how active springs the mind That leaves the load of yesterday behind! How easy every labour it pursues! How coming to the poet every Muse! Not but we may exceed some holy time, Or tired in search of truth, or search of rhyme; Ill health some just indulgence may engage, And more the sickness of long life, old age; For fainting age what cordial drop remains, If our intemperate youth the vessel drains? Our fathers praised rank ven'son. You suppose, Perhaps, young men! our fathers had no nose. Not so: a buck was then a week's repast, And 'twas their point, I ween, to make it last; More pleased to keep it till their friends could come, Than eat the sweetest by themselves at home. Why had not I in those good times my birth, Ere coxcomb-pies or coxcombs were on earth? Unworthy he, the voice of fame to hear- That sweetest music to an honest ear-- (For, faith! Lord Fanny, you are in the wrong, The world's good word is better than a song,) Who has not learn'd, fresh sturgeon and ham-pie Are no rewards for want, and infamy! When luxury has lick'd up all thy pelf, Cursed by thy neighbours, thy trustees, thyself, To friends, to fortune, to mankind a shame, Think how posterity will treat thy name; And buy a rope, that future times may tell Thou hast at least bestow'd one penny well. 'Right,' cries his lordship, 'for a rogue in need To have a taste is insolence indeed: In me 'tis noble, suits my birth and state, My wealth unwieldy, and my heap too great.' Then, like the sun, let bounty spread her ray, And shine that superfluity away. Oh, impudence of wealth! with all thy store, How dar'st thou let one worthy man be poor? Shall half the new-built churches round thee fall? Make quays, build bridges, or repair Whitehall: Or to thy country let that heap be lent, As Marlbro's was, but not at five per cent. Who thinks that Fortune cannot change her mind, Prepares a dreadful jest for all mankind. And who stands safest? tell me, is it he That spreads and swells in puff'd prosperity, Or, blest with little, whose preventing care In peace provides fit arms against a war? Thus Bethel spoke, who always speaks his thought, And always thinks the very thing he ought: His equal mind I copy what I can, And as I love, would imitate the man. In South-sea days not happier, when surmised The lord of thousands, than if now excised; In forest planted by a father's hand, Than in five acres now of rented land. Content with little, I can piddle here On broccoli and mutton, round the year; But ancient friends (though poor, or out of play) That touch my bell, I cannot turn away. 'Tis true, no turbots dignify my boards, But gudgeons, flounders, what my Thames affords: To Hounslow Heath I point, and Bansted Down, Thence comes your mutton, and these chicks my own: From yon old walnut-tree a shower shall fall; And grapes, long lingering on my only wall, And figs from standard and espalier join; The devil is in you if you cannot dine: Then cheerful healths (your mistress shall have place) And, what's more rare, a poet shall say grace. Fortune not much of humbling me can boast; Though double tax'd, how little have I lost? My life's amusements have been just the same, Before and after standing armies came. My lands are sold, my father's house is gone; I'll hire another's; is not that my own, And yours, my friends? through whose free-opening gate None comes too early, none departs too late; (For I, who hold sage Homer's rule the best, Welcome the coming, speed the going guest). 'Pray Heaven it last!' (cries Swift) 'as you go on; I wish to God this house had been your own: Pity to build, without a son or wife: Why, you'll enjoy it only all your life.' Well, if the use be mine, can it concern one, Whether the name belong to Pope or Vernon? What's property, dear Swift? You see it alter From you to me, from me to Peter Walter; Or, in a mortgage, prove a lawyer's share; Or, in a jointure, vanish from the heir; Or in pure equity (the case not clear) The Chancery takes your rents for twenty year: At best, it falls to some ungracious son, Who cries, 'My father's damn'd, and all's my own.' Shades, that to Bacon could retreat afford, Become the portion of a booby lord; And Helmsley, once proud Buckingham's[130] delight, Slides to a scrivener or a city knight. Let lands and houses have what lords they will, Let us be fix'd, and our own masters still.