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The Wolf And Shepherds. A Fable - Poem by James Beattie

Laws, as we read in ancient sages,
Have been like cobwebs in all ages:
Cobwebs for little flies are spread,
And laws for little folks are made;
But if an insect of renown,
Hornet or beetle, wasp or drone,
Be caught in quest of sport or plunder,
The flimsy fetter flies in sunder.
Your simile perhaps may please one
With whom wit holds the place of reason:
But can you prove that this in fact is
Agreeable to life and practice?
Then hear, what in his simple way
Old Æsop told me t' other day.
In days of yore, but (which is very odd)
Our author mentions not the period,
We mortal men, less given to speeches,
Allow'd the beasts sometimes to teach us.
But now we all are prattlers grown,
And suffer no voice but our own;
With us no beast has leave to speak,
Although his honest heart should break.
'Tis true, your asses and your apes,
And other brutes in human shapes,
And that thing made of sound and show,
Which mortals have misnamed a beau,
(But in the language of the sky
Is call'd a two-legg'd butterfly),
Will make your very heartstrings ache
With loud and everlasting clack,
And beat your auditory drum,
Till you grow deaf, or they grow dumb.
But to our story we return:
'Twas early on a Summer morn,
A Wolf forsook the mountain den,
And issued hungry on the plain.
Full many a stream and lawn he past
And reach'd a winding vale at last;
Where from a hollow rock he spied
The shepherds drest in flowery pride.
Garlands were strew'd, and all was gay,
To celebrate a holiday.
The merry tabor's gamesome sound
Provoked the sprightly dance around.
Hard by a rural board was rear'd,
On which in fair array appear'd
The peach, the apple, and the raisin,
And all the fruitage of the season.
But, more distinguish'd than the rest,
Was seen a wether ready drest,
That smoking, recent from the flame,
Diffused a stomach-rousing steam.
Our Wolf could not endure the sight,
Courageous grew his appetite:
His entrails groan'd with tenfold pain,
He lick'd his lips, and lick'd again:
At last, with lightning in his eyes,
He bounces forth, and fiercely cries:
'Shepherds, I am not given to scolding,
But now my spleen I cannot hold in.
By Jove, such scandalous oppression
Would put an elephant in passion.
You, who your flocks (as you pretend)
By wholesome laws from harm defend,
Which make it death for any beast,
How much soe'er by hunger press'd,
To seize a sheep by force or stealth,
For sheep have right to life and health;
Can you commit, uncheck'd by shame,
What in a beast so much you blame?
What is a law, if those who make it
Become the forwardest to break it?
The case is plain: you would reserve
All to yourselves, while others starve.
Such laws from base self-interest spring,
Not from the reason of the thing—'
He was proceeding, when a swain
Burst out,—'And dares a wolf arraign
His betters, and condemn their measures,
And contradict their wills and pleasures?
We have establish'd laws, 'tis true,
But laws are made for such as you.
Know, sirrah, in its very nature
A law can't reach the legislature.
For laws, without a sanction join'd,
As all men know, can never bind;
But sanctions reach not us the makers,
For who dares punish us, though breakers?
'Tis therefore plain, beyond denial,
That laws were ne'er design'd to tie all;
But those, whom sanctions reach alone:
We stand accountable to none.
Besides, 'tis evident, that, seeing
Laws from the great derive their being,
They as in duty bound should love
The great, in whom they live and move,
And humbly yield to their desires:
'Tis just what gratitude requires.
What suckling, dandled on the lap,
Would tear away its mother's pap?
But hold—Why deign I to dispute
With such a scoundrel of a brute?
Logic is lost upon a knave,
Let action prove the law our slave.'
An angry nod his will declared
To his gruff yeoman of the guard;
The full-fed mongrels, train'd to ravage,
Fly to devour the shaggy savage.
The beast had now no time to lose
In chopping logic with his foes;
'This argument,' quoth he, 'has force,
And swiftness is my sole resource.'
He said, and left the swains their prey,
And to the mountains scour'd away.


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