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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jonathan Swift (1667–1745)

A South Sea Ballad

IN London stands a famous pile,

And near that pile an Alley,

Where many crowds for riches toil,

And wisdom stoops to folly.

Here sad and joyful, high and low,

Court Fortune for her graces,

And as she smiles or frowns, they show

Their gestures and grimaces.

Here stars and garters do appear,

Among our lords the rabble;

To buy and sell, to see and hear

The Jews and Gentiles squabble.

Here crafty courtiers are too wise

For those who trust to Fortune;

They see the cheat with clearer eyes,

Who peep behind the curtain.

Our greatest ladies hither come,

And ply in chariots daily;

Oft pawn their jewels for a sum

To venture in the Alley.

Young wenches, too, from Drury Lane,

Approach the ’Change in coaches,

To fool away the gold they gain

By their obscene debauches.

Long heads may thrive by sober rules,

Because they think, and drink not,

But headlongs are our thriving fools,

Who only drink, and think not.

The lucky rogues, like spaniel dogs,

Leap into South Sea water,

And there they fish for golden frogs,

Not caring what comes arter.

’Tis said that alchemists of old

Could turn a brazen kettle,

Or leaden cistern, into gold,

That noble, tempting metal:

But if it here may be allowed

To bring in great and small things,

Our cunning South Sea, like a god,

Turns nothing into all things.

Oh, Britain! bless thy present state,

Thou only happy nation,

So oddly rich, so madly great,

Since bubbles came in fashion.

Successful rakes exert their pride,

And count their airy millions,

While homely drabs in coaches ride,

Brought up to town on pillions.

Few men who follow reason’s rules

Grow fat with South Sea diet;

Young rattles and unthinking fools

Are those who flourish by it.

Old musty jades, and pushing blades,

Who’ve least consideration,

Grow rich apace; while wiser heads

Are struck with admiration.

A race of men who, t’other day,

Lay crush’d beneath disasters,

Are now by stock brought into play,

And made our lords and masters.

But should our South Sea Babel fall,

What numbers would be frowning!

The losers then must ease their gall

By hanging or by drowning.

Five hundred millions, notes and bonds,

Our stocks are worth in value;

But neither lie in goods, or lands,

Or money, let me tell you.

Yet, though our foreign trade is lost,

Of mighty wealth we vapour;

When all the riches that we boast

Consist in scraps of paper.