The Jester and the little Fishes. A Fable. Immitated from the French.
MS Folger, 288-9*.
Far, from Societies where I haue place
Be all half Witts, and Acters of grimace;
Buffoons, and Mimmicks, quoters of old saws,
The easy purchasers of dull Applause;
Still, plagues to men of true, but modest sence,
Who, must not take, though Jesters give offence:
Nor, yett, oppose the Laughers, and the cry,
And but by Silence, their assent deny.
A Jester, was the man, of whom we treate
Though now, more Innocent was his conceit
Receiv'd a Guest, at such a plenteous Board
As did of Fish, all rarites affoard,
It griev'd him sore, that next to him were plac'd
By chance, or malice, but the worst and least,
Whilst, at the upper end, his greedy Eye
Survey'd such Fish, as Killigrew might buy;
A Smelt at length, from out his slender cheer
He draws, and seems to whisper in itts ear;
The luckyer feeders, for a moment ceas'd,
To penetrate the meaning of the jest;
No jest, he cries, but forreign news I try
To learn, by conuersation with the Fry,
A Scott, my Friend, come Akers has of Land,
Which, since no Corn, nor Tree wou'd on them stand,
He turn'd to pounds, and thought his fortune made
By joyning in the Caledonian Trade;
So, cross'd the waves, but now, and rumours come
Th'unhappy youth, abroad has found his Doom;
To know the truth, and sett my thoughts att ease,
I question'd with these Pigmies of the Seas,
Who modestly reply, with loosen'd tongue,
For Dariens Istmus they were far too yong,
Nor from the Shoar, a League cou'd hard'ly keep
But, send me, to those Monsters of the Deep
Which round the world a yearly course maintain
Till now, here dress'd, they swim in sawce again,
Cou'd I, but speak, with one of those full-grown,
My Friend's disaster might be thoroughly known;
Whether, detain'd by Death, by want, or wind,
The Project broke, he stayes so long behind?
None, need demand, if his invention took,
Who for his teeth, thus made his tongue the book.
A Jest, well tim'd , though from a worthless Man
Often obtains, more then true merit can.
1903 Reynolds prints Folger text, 168-9.
La Fontaine, "Le Rieur et les Poissons," VIII, 8, 214-5.
Satire from the heart, a wholly free imitation, bitter and wry stylized narrative of court life, with references to famous personalities from Stuart court (e.g., of to Thomas Killigrew who became a bye-word for corrupt wealth) and smuggling. The opening 9 lines wholly her own; many realistic details of table manners. The concluding moral is her own: "A Jest, well tim'd, though from a worthless Man/Often obtains, more then true merit can."
Page Last Updated 8 January 2003