The Elephant and the Bookseller

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 renown’d?
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 portray’d,
That e’er the search of man survey’d;
Their natures and their powers were writ
With all the pride of human wit.
The page, he, with attention spread,
And thus remark’d on what he read:
“Man with strong reason is endow’d,
A beast, scarce instinct is allow’d:
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 address’d 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 unprovok’d, will court the fray:
Envy’s a sharper spur than pay.
No author ever spared a brother;
Wits are game-cocks, to one another.