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

Horace (65–8 B.C.)

Blessings of Wisdom and Wealth

From “Epistles,” translated by John Conington

THEME of my earliest Muse in days long past,

Theme that shall be hereafter of my last,

Why summon back, Mæcenas, to the list

Your worn-out swordsman, pensioned and dismissed?

My age, my mind, no longer are the same

As when I first was ’prenticed to the game.

Veianius fastens to Alcides’ gate

His arms, then nestles in his snug estate.

Think you once more upon the arena’s marge

He’d care to stand and supplicate discharge?

No, I’ve a mentor who, not once nor twice,

Breathes in my well-rinsed ear his sound advice:

“Give rest in time to that old horse, for fear

At last he founder ’mid the general jeer.”

So now I bid my idle songs adieu,

And turn my thoughts to what is right and true;

I search and search, and, when I find, I lay

The wisdom up against a rainy day.

But what’s my sect? you ask me; I must be

A member, sure, of some fraternity!

Why, no; I’ve taken no man’s shilling; none

Of all your fathers owns me for his son.

Just where the weather drives me, I invite

Myself to take up quarters for the night.

Now, all alert, I cope with life’s rough main,

A loyal follower in true virtue’s train;

Anon, to Aristippus’ camp I flit,

And say, the world’s for me, not I for it.

Long as the night to him whose love is gone,

Long as the day to slaves that must work on,

Slow as the year to the impatient ward

Who finds a mother’s tutelage too hard,

So long, so slow, the moments that prevent

The execution of my high intent,

Of studying truths that rich and poor concern,

Which young and old are lost unless they learn.

Well, if I cannot be a student, yet

There’s good in spelling at the alphabet.

Your eyes will never see like Lynceus’; still

You rub them with an ointment when they’re ill.

You cannot hope for Glyco’s stalwart frame;

Yet you’d avoid the gout that makes you lame.

Some point of moral progress each may gain,

Though to aspire beyond it should prove vain.

Say, is your bosom fevered with the fire

Of sordid avarice or unchecked desire?

Know, there are spells will help you to allay

The pain, and put good part of it away.

You’re bloated by ambition? Take advice:

Yon book will ease you if you read it thrice.

Run through the list of faults; whate’er you be,

Coward, pickthank, spitfire, drunkard, debauchee,

Submit to culture patiently; you’ll find

Her charms can humanize the rudest mind.

To fly from vice is virtue; to be free

From foolishness is wisdom’s first degree.

Think of some ill you feel a real disgrace,

The loss of money or the loss of place;

To keep yourself from these, how keen the strain!

How dire the sweat of body and of brain!

Through tropic heat, o’er rocks and seas you run

To farthest India, poverty to shun,

Yet scorn the sage who offers you release

From vagrant wishes that disturb your peace.

Take some provincial pugilist, who gains

A paltry cross-way prize for all his pains;

Place on his brow Olympia’s chaplet; earned

Without a struggle, would the gift be spurned?

Gold counts for more than silver, all men hold;

Why doubt that virtue counts for more than gold?

“Seek money first, good friends, and virtue next,”

Each Janus lectures on the well-worn text.”

Lads learn it for their lessons; gray-haired men,

Like schoolboys, drawl the singsong o’er again.

You lack, say, some six thousand of the rate

The law has settled as a knight’s estate;

Though soul, tongue, morals, credit, all the while

Are yours, you reckon with the rank and file.

But mark those children at their play; they sing:

“Deal fairly, youngster, and we’ll crown you king.”

Be this your wall of brass, your coat of mail,

A guileless heart, a cheek no crime turns pale.

Which is the better teacher, tell me, pray,

The law of Roscius, or the children’s lay

That crowns fair dealing, by Camillus trolled,

And manly Curius, in the days of old;

The voice that says, “Make money, money, man;

Well, if so be; if not, which way you can,”

That from a nearer distance you may gaze

At honest Pupius’ all too moving plays;

Or that which bids you meet with dauntless brow

The frowns of Fortune, ay, and shows you how?

Suppose the world of Rome accosts me thus:

“You walk where we walk; why not think with us,

Be ours for better or for worse, pursue

The things we love, the things we hate eschew?”

I answer, as sly Reynard answered when

The ailing lion asked him to his den:

“I’m frightened at those footsteps; every track

Leads to your home, but ne’er a one leads back.”

Nay, you’re a perfect Hydra; who shall choose

Which view to follow out of all your views?

Some farm the taxes; some delight to see

Their money grow by usury, like a tree;

Some bait a widow-trap with fruits and cakes,

And net old men, to stock their private lakes.

But grant that folks have different hobbies; say,

Does one man ride one hobby one whole day?

“Baiæ’s the place!” cries Crœsus. All is haste;

The lake, the sea, soon feel their master’s taste.

A new whim prompts; ’tis, “Pack your tools to-night!

Off for Teanum with the dawn of light!”

The nuptial bed is in his hall; he swears

None but a single life is free from cares.

Is he a bachelor? All human bliss,

He vows, is centered in a wedded kiss!

How shall I hold this Proteus in my gripe?

How fix him down in one enduring type?

Turn to the poor: their megrims are as strange;

Bath, cockloft, barber, eating-house, they change;

They hire a boat; your born aristocrat

Is not more squeamish, tossing in his yacht.

If, when we meet, I’m cropped in awkward style

By some uneven barber, then you smile;

You smile if, as it haps, my gown’s askew;

If my shirt’s ragged while my tunic’s new.

How, if my mind’s inconsequent, rejects

What late it longed for, what it loathed affects,

Shifts every moment, with itself at strife,

And makes a chaos of an ordered life,

Builds castles up, then pulls them to the ground,

Keeps changing round for square, and square for round?

You smile not; ’tis an every-day affair;

I need no doctor’s, no, nor keeper’s care.

Yet you’re my patron, and would blush to fail

In taking notice of an ill-pared nail.

So, to sum up: the sage is half divine,

Rich, free, great, handsome, king of kings; in fine,

A miracle of health from toe to crown,

Mind, heart, and head, save when his nose runs down.