Pope Imitating Swift Imitating Horace

Horace's satire was a sly commentary on his life among the great, as close friend to Maecenas, the wealthy advisor to Augustus.  In the first part of this imitation, Pope imagines his friend Dean Swift, a confidant of the Tory ministers, going over the same complaints about fame and influence.  Then, when he comes to Horace's famous fable of the two mice, he makes a stab at pretending it is composed by his friend Matthew Prior--also an important political advisor and diplomat, who wrote more homely verse.   Rather than make a detailed commentary on the poem, I'll be happy to answer any questions (if I can).


I've often wish'd that I had clear,
For life, six hundred pounds a-year,
A handsome house to lodge a friend,
A river at my garden's end,
A terrace-walk, and half a rood
Of land, set out to plant a wood.

Well, now I have all this and more,
I ask not to increase my store;
But here a grievance seems to lie,
All this is mine but till I die;
I can't but think 'twould sound more clever,
To me and to my heirs for ever.

If I ne'er got or lost a groat,
By any trick, or any fault;
And if I pray by reason's rules,
And not like forty other fools:
As thus, 'Vouchsafe, O gracious Maker!
To grant me this and t' other acre:
Or, if it be thy will and pleasure,
Direct my plough to find a treasure:'
But only what my station fits,
And to be kept in my right wits.
Preserve, Almighty Providence!
Just what you gave me, competence:
And let me in these shades compose
Something in verse as true as prose;
Removed from all the ambitious scene,
Nor puff'd by pride, nor sunk by spleen.

In short, I'm perfectly content,
Let me but live on this side Trent;
Nor cross the Channel twice a-year,
To spend six months with statesmen here.

I must by all means come to town,
'Tis for the service of the crown.
'Lewis, the Dean will be of use,
Send for him up, take no excuse.'
The toil, the danger of the seas;
Great ministers ne'er think of these;
Or let it cost five hundred pound,
No matter where the money's found,
It is but so much more in debt,
And that they ne'er consider'd yet.

'Good Mr Dean, go change your gown,
Let my lord know you're come to town.'
I hurry me in haste away,
Not thinking it is levee-day;
And find his honour in a pound,
Hemm'd by a triple circle round,
Checquer'd with ribbons blue and green:
How should I thrust myself between?
Some wag observes me thus perplex'd,
And smiling, whispers to the next,
'I thought the Dean had been too proud,
To jostle here among a crowd.'
Another in a surly fit,
Tells me I have more zeal than wit,
'So eager to express your love,
You ne'er consider whom you shove,
But rudely press before a duke.'
I own, I'm pleased with this rebuke,
And take it kindly meant to show
What I desire the world should know.

I get a whisper, and withdraw;
When twenty fools I never saw
Come with petitions fairly penn'd,
Desiring I would stand their friend.

This, humbly offers me his case--
That, begs my interest for a place--
A hundred other men's affairs,
Like bees, are humming in my ears.
'To-morrow my appeal comes on,
Without your help the cause is gone'--
The duke expects my lord and you,
About some great affair, at two--
'Put my Lord Bolingbroke in mind,
To get my warrant quickly sign'd:
Consider, 'tis my first request.'--
Be satisfied, I'll do my best:
Then presently he falls to tease,
'You may for certain, if you please; 80
I doubt not, if his lordship knew--
And, Mr Dean, one word from you'--

'Tis (let me see) three years and more,
(October next it will be four)
Since Harley bid me first attend,
And chose me for an humble friend;
Would take me in his coach to chat,
And question me of this and that;
As, 'What's o'clock?' and, 'How's the wind?'
'Who's chariot's that we left behind?'
Or gravely try to read the lines
Writ underneath the country signs;
Or, 'Have you nothing new to-day
From Pope, from Parnell, or from Gay?'
Such tattle often entertains
My lord and me as far as Staines,
As once a week we travel down
To Windsor, and again to town,
Where all that passes, _inter nos_,
Might be proclaim'd at Charing Cross. 100

Yet some I know with envy swell,
Because they see me used so well:
'How think you of our friend the dean?
I wonder what some people mean;
My lord and he are grown so great,
Always together, tete-a-tete:
What, they admire him for his jokes--
See but the fortune of some folks!'
There flies about a strange report
Of some express arrived at court;
I'm stopp'd by all the fools I meet,
And catechised in every street.
'You, Mr Dean, frequent the great;
Inform us, will the Emperor treat?
Or do the prints and papers lie?'
Faith, sir, you know as much as I.
'Ah, Doctor, how you love to jest!
Tis now no secret'--I protest
'Tis one to me--'Then tell us, pray,
When are the troops to have their pay?'
And, though I solemnly declare
I know no more than my Lord Mayor,
They stand amazed, and think me grown
The closest mortal ever known.

Thus in a sea of folly toss'd,
My choicest hours of life are lost;
Yet always wishing to retreat,
Oh, could I see my country-seat!
There, leaning near a gentle brook,
Sleep, or peruse some ancient book, 130
And there in sweet oblivion drown
Those cares that haunt the court and town.
O charming noons! and nights divine!
Or when I sup, or when I dine,
My friends above, my folks below,
Chatting and laughing all a-row;
The beans and bacon set before 'em,
The grace-cup served with all decorum:
Each willing to be pleased, and please,
And even the very dogs at ease!
Here no man prates of idle things,
How this or that Italian sings,
A neighbour's madness, or his spouse's,
Or what's in either of the Houses:
But something much more our concern,
And quite a scandal not to learn:
Which is the happier or the wiser,
A man of merit, or a miser?
Whether we ought to choose our friends,
For their own worth, or our own ends?
What good, or better, we may call,
And what, the very best of all?

Our friend Dan Prior told (you know)
A tale extremely a propos:
Name a town life, and in a trice,
He had a story of two mice.
Once on a time (so runs the fable)
A country mouse, right hospitable,
Received a town mouse at his board,
Just as a farmer might a lord. 160
A frugal mouse upon the whole.
Yet loved his friend, and had a soul,
Knew what was handsome, and would do 't,
On just occasion, coute qui coute,
He brought him bacon (nothing lean);
Pudding, that might have pleased a dean;
Cheese, such as men in Suffolk make,
But wish'd it Stilton, for his sake;
Yet, to his guest though no way sparing,
He eat himself the rind and paring,
Our courtier scarce could touch a bit,
But show'd his breeding and his wit;
He did his best to seem to eat,
And cried, 'I vow you're mighty neat.
But, lord! my friend, this savage scene!
For God's sake, come, and live with men:
Consider, mice, like men, must die,
Both small and great, both you and I:
Then spend your life in joy and sport,
(This doctrine, friend, I learn'd at court).'

The veriest hermit in the nation
May yield, God knows, to strong temptation.
Away they come, through thick and thin,
To a tall house near Lincoln's Inn;
('Twas on the night of a debate,
When all their lordships had sat late.)

Behold the place where, if a poet
Shined in description, he might show it;
Tell how the moonbeam trembling falls,
And tips with silver all the walls;
Palladian walls, Venetian doors,
Grotesco roofs, and stucco floors:
But let it (in a word) be said,
The moon was up, and men a-bed,
The napkins white, the carpet red:
The guests withdrawn had left the treat,
And down the mice sat, tete-a-tete.

Our courtier walks from dish to dish,
Tastes for his friend of fowl and fish;
Tells all their names, lays down the law,
'_Que ca est bon! Ah goutez ca!
That jelly's rich, this malmsey healing,
Pray, dip your whiskers and your tail in.'
Was ever such a happy swain?
He stuffs and swills, and stuffs again.
'I'm quite ashamed--'tis mighty rude
To eat so much--but all's so good.
I have a thousand thanks to give--
My lord alone knows how to live.'
No sooner said, but from the hall
Rush chaplain, butler, dogs, and all:
'A rat! a rat! clap to the door'--
The cat comes bouncing on the floor.
O for the heart of Homer's mice,
Or gods to save them in a trice!
(It was by Providence they think,
For your damn'd stucco has no chink.)
'An't please your honour, quoth the peasant,
This same dessert is not so pleasant:
Give me again my hollow tree,
A crust of bread, and liberty!'

Avatar photo

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

5 Responses

  1. Jacob Johnson says:

    Does “six thousand pounds a year” refer to any specific office or person who would have made this amount of money at the time?

  2. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Are you referring to the first line, which is “six hundred”? Horace’s original (Satires II.6) does not name a sum but speaks only of
    “modus agri non ita magnus” a piece of land not so big. In other words, a comfortable but not lavish living. For Horace, honorable poverty meant a pleasant house with garden, a few slaves, good food but no form of paid employment. In very rough terms 600 pounds would have a purchasing power of £71,000, which is something like $115,000. In other words a modest living but comfortable if one does not have to work for it.

  3. Avatar photo Thomas Fleming says:

    Probably worth a bit more since someone in Pope’s time could live partly off the land and would spend nothing on TV, computers, pornography, and prescription drugs.

  4. Jacob Johnson says:

    Yes, I should have typed “hundred”. Thank you for putting this into perspective.

  5. James D. says:

    I have to admit that when I read the title of this article, I thought it was going to be about Francis “The Talking Pope,” imitating Taylor Swift.