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

John Quincy Adams (1767–1848)

The Wants of Man

  • “Man wants but little here below,
  • Nor wants that little long.”

  • “MAN wants but little here below,

    Nor wants that little long.”

    ’Tis not, with me exactly so—

    But ’tis so in the song.

    My wants are many, and if told,

    Would muster many a score;

    And were each wish a mint of gold,

    I still should long for more.

    What first I want is daily bread,

    And canvas-backs and wine;

    And all the realms of nature spread

    Before me when I dine;—

    Four courses scarcely can provide

    My appetite to quell,

    With four choice cooks from France beside,

    To dress my dinner well.

    What next I want, at heavy cost,

    Is elegant attire:

    Black sable furs for winter’s frost,

    And silks for summer’s fire,

    And cashmere shawls and Brussels lace

    My bosom’s front to deck;

    And diamond rings my hands to grace,

    And rubies for my neck.

    And then I want a mansion fair,

    A dwelling-house, in style,

    Four stories high for wholesome air,—

    A massive marble pile:

    With halls for banquets and for balls,

    All furnished rich and fine;

    With stabled studs in fifty stalls,

    And cellars for my wine.

    I want a garden and a park

    My dwelling to surround;

    A thousand acres (bless the mark),

    With walls encompassed round,

    Where flocks may range and herds may low,

    And kids and lambkins play,

    And flowers and fruits commingled grow

    All Eden to display.

    I want, when summer’s foliage falls,

    And autumn strips the trees,

    A house within the city’s walls

    For comfort and for ease;—

    But here, as space is somewhat scant

    And acres rather rare,

    My house in town I only want

    To occupy—a square.

    I want a steward, butler, cooks,

    A coachman, footman, grooms,

    A library of well-bound books,

    And picture-garnished rooms—

    Correggio’s ‘Magdalen’ and ‘Night,’

    The ‘Matron of the Chair,’

    Guido’s fleet coursers in their flight,

    And Claudes at least a pair.

    I want a cabinet profuse

    Of medals, coins, and gems;

    A printing-press for private use

    Of fifty thousand ems;

    And plants and minerals and shells,

    Worms, insects, fishes, birds,

    And every beast on earth that dwells,

    In solitude or herds.

    I want a board of burnished plate

    Of silver and of gold,

    Tureens of twenty pounds in weight

    With sculpture’s richest mold;

    Plateaus with chandeliers and lamps,

    Plates, dishes all the same;

    And porcelain vases with the stamps

    Of Sèvres or Angoulême.

    And maples of fair glossy stain

    Must form my chamber doors,

    And carpets of the Wilton grain

    Must cover all my floors.

    My walls, with tapestry bedecked,

    Must never be outdone;

    And damask curtains must protect

    Their colors from the sun.

    And mirrors of the largest pane

    From Venice must be brought;

    And sandal-wood and bamboo-cane

    For chairs and tables bought;

    On all the mantelpieces, clocks

    Of thrice-gilt bronze must stand,

    And screens of ebony and box

    Invite the stranger’s hand.

    I want (who does not want?) a wife,

    Affectionate and fair;

    To solace all the woes of life,

    And all its joys to share;

    Of temper sweet, of yielding will,

    Of firm yet placid mind;

    With all my faults to love me still

    With sentiment refined.

    And as Time’s car incessant runs

    And Fortune fills my store,

    I want of daughters and of sons

    From eight to half a score.

    I want (alas! can mortal dare

    Such bliss on earth to crave?)

    That all the girls be chaste and fair,

    The boys all wise and brave.

    And when my bosom’s darling sings

    With melody divine,

    A pedal harp of many strings

    Must with her voice combine.

    A piano, exquisitely wrought,

    Must open stand, apart,

    That all my daughters may be taught

    To win the stranger’s heart.

    My wife and daughters will desire

    Refreshment from perfumes,

    Cosmetic for the skin require

    And artificial blooms.

    The civet, fragrance shall dispense

    And treasured sweets return;

    Cologne revive the flagging sense,

    And smoking amber burn.

    And when, at night, my weary head

    Begins to droop and doze,

    A southern chamber holds my bed

    For nature’s soft repose;

    With blankets, counterpanes, and sheet,

    Mattress and bed of down,

    And comfortables for my feet,

    And pillows for my crown.

    I want a warm and faithful friend

    To cheer the adverse hour,

    Who ne’er to flatter will descend,

    Nor bend the knee to power—

    A friend to chide me when I’m wrong,

    My inmost soul to see;

    And that my friendship prove as strong

    For him as his for me.

    I want a kind and tender heart,

    For others’ wants to feel;

    A soul secure from Fortune’s dart,

    And bosom armed with steel

    To bear divine chastisement’s rod;

    And mingling in my plan,

    Submission to the will of God

    With charity to man.

    I want a keen, observing eye;

    An ever listening ear,

    The truth through all disguise to spy,

    And wisdom’s voice to hear;

    A tongue to speak at virtue’s need,

    In Heaven’s sublimest strain;

    And lips, the cause of man to plead,

    And never plead in vain.

    I want uninterrupted health

    Throughout my long career;

    And streams of never-failing wealth

    To scatter far and near,

    The destitute to clothe and feed,

    Free bounty to bestow,

    Supply the helpless orphan’s need,

    And soothe the widow’s woe.

    I want the genius to conceive,

    The talents to unfold

    Designs, the vicious to retrieve,

    The virtuous to uphold;

    Inventive power, combining skill;

    A persevering soul,

    Of human hearts to mold the will

    And reach from pole to pole.

    I want the seals of power and place,

    The ensigns of command,

    Charged by the people’s unbought grace,

    To rule my native land:

    Nor crown nor sceptre would I ask,

    But from my country’s will,

    By day, by night, to ply the task

    Her cup of bliss to fill.

    I want the voice of honest praise

    To follow me behind;

    And to be thought in future days

    The friend of human-kind:

    That after ages, as they rise,

    Exulting may proclaim,

    In choral union to the skies,

    Their blessings on my name.

    These are the wants of mortal man;

    I cannot want them long—

    For life itself is but a span

    And earthly bliss a song.

    My last great want, absorbing all,

    Is, when beneath the sod,

    And summoned to my final call—

    The mercy of my God.

    And oh! while circles in my veins

    Of life the purple stream,

    And yet a fragment small remains

    Of nature’s transient dream,

    My soul, in humble hope unscared,

    Forget not thou to pray,

    That this thy want may be prepared

    To meet the Judgment Day.