Herald and Husband-Man

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The Herald and Husband-Man. Fable XII
by Christopher Smart
From Fables.

The HERALD and HUSBAND-MAN


 

FABLE XII.

— Nobilitas sola est atque unica virtus. Juvenal.[1]

I with friend Juvenal agree,
Virtue's the true nobility;
Has of herself sufficient charms,
Altho' without a coat of arms.
5 HONESTUS does not know the rules,
Concerning Or and Fez, and Gules[2].
Yet sets the wond'ring eye to gaze on,
Such deeds no herald e'er could blaze on.
Tawdry atchievements out of place,
10 Do but augment a fool's disgrace;
A coward is a double jest,
Who has a lion for his crest;
And things are come to such a pass,
Two horses may support an ass;
15And on a Gamester or Buffoon,
A moral motto's a lampoon.
An honest rustic having done
His master's work 'twixt sun and sun,
Retir'd to dress a little spot,
20Adjoining to his homely cot,
Where pleas'd, in miniature, he found
His landlord's culinary ground,
Some herbs that feed, and some that heal,
The winter's medicine or meal.
25The sage, which in his garden seen,
No man need ever die[3]I ween;
The marjoram comely to behold,
With thyme, and ruddiest marygold,
And mint and penny-royal sweet,
30To deck the cottage windows meet;
And baum, that yields a finer juice
Than all that China can produce;
With carrots red, and turnips white,
And leeks, Cadwallader's delight;
35And all the savory crop that vie
To please the palate and the eye.
Thus, as intent, he did survey
His plot, a Herald came that way,
A man of great escutcheon'd knowledge,
40 And member of the motley college.
Heedless the peasant pass'd he by,
Indulging this soliloquy;
"Ye gods! what an enormous space,
'Twixt man and man does nature place;
45While some by deeds of honour rise,
To such a height, as far out-vies
The visible diurnal sphere;[4]
While others, like this rustic here,
Grope in the groveling ground content,
50Without or lineage or descent.
Hail, Heraldry! mysterious art,
Bright patroness of all desert,
Mankind would on a level lie,
And undistinguish'd live and die;
55 Depriv'd of thy illustrious aid,
Such! so momentous is our trade."

      "Sir, says the clown, why sure you joke,
(And kept on digging as he spoke)
And prate not to extort conviction,
60But merrily by way of fiction.
Say, do your manuscripts attest,
What was old father Adam's crest;
Did he a nobler Coat receive
In right of marrying Mrs. Eve;
65Or had supporters when he kiss'd her,
On dexter side, and side sinister;
Or was his motto, prithee speak,
English, French, Latin, Welch, or Greek;
Or was he not, without a lye,
70 Just such a nobleman as I?
Virtue, which great defects can stifle,
May beam distinction on a trifle;
And honour, with her native charms,
May beautify a coat of arms;
75 Realities sometimes will thrive,
E'en by appearance kept alive;
But by themselves, Gules, Or, and Fez,
Are cyphers, neither more or less:
Keep both thy head and hands from crimes,
80``Be honest in the worst of times:
Health's on my countenance impress'd,
And sweet content's my daily guest,
My fame alone I build on this,
And Garter King at Arms may kiss.


17??


Notes

Written: 17??, published posthumously: 1791.

  1. "Nobility is the one and only virtue". (Or: "Nobility is the one only virtue". Or: "Virtue alone is true nobility".). Juvenal, Satires, VIII, line 20 (37).
  2. 6. Or and Fez, and Gules: heraldic terms. Or is gold, Fez (fesse) a horisontal band across the shield, Gules red (The note by Karina Williamson).
  3. 26. Note: Cur moriatur Homo, cui salvia crescit in horto? [The Latin expression, “Cur moriatur homo cui salvia crescit in horto?” (Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?), is a cogent summary of sage’s reputation among ancient and medieval herbalists. Culpeper associated sage with Jupiter, the almighty god of Roman mythology, and credited the herb with a wide variety of healing powers. See hsl.virginia.edu ]
  4. 47. The visible diurnal sphere; John Milton, Paradise Lost vii. 22.

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This work was published before January 1, 1923, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.