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

James Merrick (1720–1769)

The Chameleon

OFT has it been my lot to mark

A proud, conceited, talking spark,

With eyes that hardly served at most

To guard their master ’gainst a post;

Yet round the world the blade has been,

To see whatever could be seen.

Returning from his finish’d tour,

Grown ten times perter than before,

Whatever word you chance to drop,

The travell’d fool your mouth will stop.

“Sir, if my judgment you’ll allow,

I’ve seen, and sure I ought to know.”

So begs you’d pay a due submission,

And acquiesce in his decision.

Two travellers of such a cast,

As o’er Arabia’s wilds they pass’d,

And on their way, in friendly chat,

Now talk’d of this, and then of that,

Discoursed awhile, ’mongst other matter,

Of the Chameleon’s form and nature.

“A stranger animal,” cries one,

“Sure never lived beneath the sun:

A lizard’s body lean and long,

A fish’s head, a serpent’s tongue,

Its foot with triple claw disjoin’d,

And what a length of tail behind!

How slow its pace! And then its hue!

Who ever saw so fine a blue?”

“Hold, there!” the other quick replies;

“’Tis green; I saw it with these eyes,

As late with open mouth it lay,

And warm’d it in the sunny ray.

Stretch’d at its ease the beast I view’d,

And saw it eat the air for food.”

“I’ve seen it, sir, as well as you,

And must again affirm it blue.

At leisure I the beast survey’d

Extended in the cooling shade.”

“’Tis green, ’tis green, sir, I assure ye.”

“Green!” cries the other in a fury;

“Why, sir, d’ye think I’ve lost my eyes?”

“’Twere no great loss,” the friend replies;

“For if they always serve you thus,

You’ll find them but of little use.”

So high at last the contest rose,

From words they almost came to blows,

When luckily came by a third;

To him the question they referr’d,

And begg’d he’d tell them, if he knew,

Whether the thing was green or blue.

“Sirs,” cries the umpire, “cease your pother;

The creature’s neither one nor t’other.

I caught the animal last night,

And view’d it o’er by candle-light.

I mark’d it well; ’twas black as jet.

You stare! But, sirs, I’ve got it yet,

And can produce it.” “Pray, sir, do;

I’ll lay my life the thing is blue.”

“And I’ll be sworn, that when you’ve seen

The reptile, you’ll pronounce him green.”

“Well, then, at once to ease the doubt,”

Replies the man, “I’ll turn him out;

And when before your eyes I’ve set him,

If you don’t find him black, I’ll eat him.”

He said; and full before their sight

Produced the beast, and lo! ’twas white.

Both stared; the man look’d wondrous wise.

“My children,” the Chameleon cries

(Then first the creature found a tongue),

“You all are right, and all are wrong.

When next you talk of what you view,

Think others see as well as you;

Nor wonder if you find that none

Prefers your eyesight to his own.”