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

Horace (65–8 B.C.)

Town Mouse and Country Mouse

From “Satires,” translated by John Conington

THIS used to be my wish: a bit of land,

A house and garden with a spring at hand,

And just a little wood. The gods have crowned

My humble vows; I prosper and abound.

Nor ask I more, kind Mercury, save that thou

Wouldst give me still the goods thou giv’st me now;

If crime has ne’er increased them, nor excess

And want of thrift are like to make them less;

If I ne’er pray like this, “Oh, might that nook

Which spoils my field be mine by hook or crook!

Oh, for a stroke of luck like his, who found

A crock of silver, turning up the ground,

And, thanks to good Alcides, farmed as buyer

The very land where he had slaved for hire!”

If what I have contents me, hear my prayer;

Still let me feel thy tutelary care,

And let my sheep, my pastures, this and that,

My all, in fact (except my brains), be fat.

Now, lodged in my hill-castle, can I choose

Companion fitter than my homely muse?

Here no town duties vex, no plague-winds blow,

Nor autumn, friend to graveyards, works me wo.

Sire of the morning (do I call thee right,

Or hear’st thou Janus’ name with more delight?)

Who introducest, so the gods ordain,

Life’s various tasks, inaugurate my strain.

At Rome to bail I’m summoned. “Do your part,”

Thou bidd’st me; “quick, lest others get the start.”

So, whether Boreas roars, or winter’s snow

Clips short the day, to court I needs must go.

I give the fatal pledge, distinct and loud,

Then, pushing, struggling, battle with the crowd.

“Now, madman!” clamors some one, not without

A threat or two, “just mind what you’re about!

What! you must knock down all that’s in your way,

Because you’re posting to Mæcenas, eh?”

This pleases me, I own; but when I get

To black Esquiliæ, trouble waits me yet;

For other people’s matters in a swarm

Buzz round my head, and take my ears by storm:

“Sir, Roscius would be glad if you’d arrange

By eight A.M. to be with him on ’Change.”

“Quintus, the scribes entreat you to attend

A meeting of importance, as their friend.”

“Just get Mæcenas’ seal attached to these.”

“I’ll try.” “Oh, you can do it, if you please.”

Seven years, or rather eight, have well-nigh passed

Since with Mæcenas’ friends I first was classed,

To this extent, that, driving through the street,

He’d stop his car and offer me a seat,

Or make such chance remarks as “What’s o’clock?”

“Will Syria’s champion beat the Thracian cock?”

“These morning frosts are apt to be severe”—

Just chit-chat, suited to a leaky ear.

Since that auspicious date, each day and hour

Has placed me more and more in envy’s power:

“He joined his play, sat next him at the games;

A child of Fortune!” all the world exclaims.

From the high rostra a report comes down,

And like a chilly fog, pervades the town:

Each man I meet accosts me, “Is it so?

You live so near the gods, you’re sure to know

The news about the Dacians. Have you heard

No secret tidings?” “Not a single word.”

“Oh, yes, you love to banter us poor folk!”

“Nay, if I’ve heard a tittle, may I choke!”

“Will Cæsar grant his veterans their estates

In Italy, or t’other side the straits?”

I swear that I know nothing, and am dumb.

They think me deep, miraculously mum.

And so my day between my fingers slips,

While fond regrets keep rising to my lips.

Oh, my dear homestead in the country! when

Shall I behold your pleasant face again,

And, studying now, now dozing and at ease,

Imbibe forgetfulness of all this tease?

Oh, when, Pythagoras, shall thy brother bean,

With pork and cabbage, on my board be seen?

Oh, happy nights and suppers half divine,

When, at the home-gods’ altar, I and mine

Enjoy a frugal meal, and leave the treat

Unfinished for my merry slaves to eat!

Not bound by madcap rules, but free to choose

Big cups or small, each follows his own views.

You toss your wine off boldly, if you please,

Or gently sip, and mellow by degrees.

We talk not of our neighbor’s house or field,

Nor the last feat of Lepos, the light-heeled,

But matters which to know concerns us more,

Which none but at his peril can ignore;

Whether ’tis wealth or virtue makes men blest,

What leads to friendship, worth or interest,

In what the good consists, and what the end

And chief of goods, on which the rest depend;

While neighbor Cervius, with his rustic wit,

Tells old wives’ tales, this case or that to hit.

Should some one be unwise enough to praise

Arellius’ toilsome wealth, he straightway says:

“One day a country mouse in his poor home

Received an ancient friend, a mouse from Rome.

The host, though close and careful, to a guest

Could open still; so now he did his best.

He spares not oats or vetches; in his chaps

Raisins he brings, and nibbled bacon-scraps,

Hoping by varied dainties to entice

His town-bred guest, so delicate and nice,

Who condescended graciously to touch

Thing after thing, but never would take much,

While he, the owner of the mansion, sate

On threshed-out straw, and spelt and darnels ate.

At length the town mouse cries, ‘I wonder how

You can live here, friend, on this hill’s rough brow!

Take my advice, and leave these ups and downs,

This hill and dale, for humankind and towns.

Come, now, go home with me; remember, all

Who live on earth are mortal, great and small.

Then take, good sir, your pleasure while you may;

With life so short, ’twere wrong to lose a day.’

This reasoning made the rustic’s head turn round;

Forth from his hole he issues with a bound,

And they two make together for their mark,

In hopes to reach the city during dark.

The midnight sky was bending over all,

When they set foot within a stately hall,

Where couches of wrought ivory had been spread

With gorgeous coverlets of Tyrian red,

And viands piled up high in baskets lay,

The relics of a feast of yesterday.

The town mouse does the honors, lays his guest

At ease upon a couch with crimson dressed,

Then nimbly moves in character of host,

And offers in succession boiled and roast;

Nay, like a well-trained slave, each wish prevents,

And tastes before the titbits he presents.

The guest, rejoicing in his altered fare,

Assumes in turn a genial diner’s air,

When, hark, a sudden banging of the door!

Each from his couch is tumbled on the floor.

Half dead, they scurry round the room, poor things,

While the whole house with barking mastiffs rings.

Then says the rustic, ‘It may do for you,

This life, but I don’t like it; so, adieu.

Give me my hole, secure from all alarms;

I’ll prove that tares and vetches still have charms.’”