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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Sick Man and the Angel

By John Gay (1685–1732)

From the ‘Fables’

IS there no hope? the Sick Man said.

The silent doctor shook his head,

And took his leave with signs of sorrow,

Despairing of his fee to-morrow.

When thus the Man with gasping breath:—

I feel the chilling wound of death;

Since I must bid the world adieu,

Let me my former life review.

I grant, my bargains well were made,

But all men overreach in trade;

’Tis self-defense in each profession;

Sure, self-defense is no transgression.

The little portion in my hands,

By good security on lands,

Is well increased. If unawares,

My justice to myself and heirs

Hath let my debtor rot in jail,

For want of good sufficient bail;

If I by writ, or bond, or deed,

Reduced a family to need,—

My will hath made the world amends;

My hope on charity depends.

When I am numbered with the dead,

And all my pious gifts are read,

By heaven and earth ’twill then be known,

My charities were amply shown.

An Angel came. Ah, friend! he cried,

No more in flattering hope confide.

Can thy good deeds in former times

Outweigh the balance of thy crimes?

What widow or what orphan prays

To crown thy life with length of days?

A pious action’s in thy power;

Embrace with joy the happy hour.

Now, while you draw the vital air,

Prove your intention is sincere:

This instant give a hundred pound;

Your neighbors want, and you abound.

But why such haste? the Sick Man whines:

Who knows as yet what Heaven designs?

Perhaps I may recover still;

That sum and more are in my will.

Fool, says the Vision, now ’tis plain,

Your life, your soul, your heaven was gain;

From every side, with all your might,

You scraped, and scraped beyond your right;

And after death would fain atone,

By giving what is not your own.

Where there is life there’s hope, he cried;

Then why such haste?—so groaned and died.