"A Miller, His Son, and Their Ass" by Anne Kingsmill Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661 - 1720)
This curious Piece, which I shall now impart,
Fell from Malherbe, a Master in his Art,
To Racan, fill'd with like poetick Fire,
Both tuneful Servants of Apollo's Choir:
Rivals and Heirs to the Horatian Lyre:
Who meeting him, one Day, free and alone,
(For still their Thoughts were to each other known)
Thus ask'd his Aid–Some useful Counsel give,
Thou who, by living long, hast learnt to live;
Whose Observation nothing can escape;
Tell me, how I my course of Life shall shape:
To something I wou'd fix ere't be too late.
You know my Birth, my Talents, my Estate:
Shall I with these content, all Search resign,
And to the Country my Desires confine?
Or in the Court, or Camp, advancement gain?
The World's a mixture of Delight and Pain:
Tho' rough it seems, there's Pleasure in the Wars,
And Hymen's Joys are not without their Cares.
I need not ask, to what my Genius tends,
But wou'd content the World, the Court, my Friends.
Please all the World (in haste) Malherbe replies?
How vain th' Attempt will prove in him, that tries,
Learn from a Fable, I have somewhere found,
Before I answer all that you propound.
A Miller and his Son (the Father old,
The Boy about some fifteen Years had told)
Designed their Ass to sell, and for the Fair,
Some distance off, accordingly prepare.
But lest she in the walk should lose her Flesh,
And not appear, for Sale, so full and fresh,
Her Feet together ty'd; between them two
They heav'd her up; and on the Rusticks go:
Till those, who met them bearing thus the Ass,
Cry'd, Are these Fools about to act a Farce?
Surely the Beast (howe'er it seem to be)
Is not the greatest Ass of all the Three.
The Miller in their Mirth his Folly finds,
And down he sets her, and again unbinds;
And tho' her grumbling shew'd, she lik'd much more
The lazy way, she travell'd in before,
He minds her not; but up the Boy he sets
Upon her Back, and on the Crupper gets.
Thus on they jog, when of Three Men that pass'd,
The eldest thinking Age to be disgrac'd,
Call'd to the Youth, ho! you, young Man for shame!
Come down, lest Passengers your Manners blame,
And say, it ill becomes your tender Years
To ride before a Grandsire with grey Hairs.
Truly, the Gentlemen are in the right,
The Miller cries, and makes the Boy alight;
Then forward slides himself into his place,
And with a Mind content renews his pace:
But much he had not gain'd upon his way,
Before a Troop of Damsels, neat and gay,
(Partial to Youth) to one another cry'd,
See, how with walking by that Dotard's side,
The Boy is tir'd; whilst with a Prelate's state
He rides alone, and dangling in the Seat,
Hangs like a Calf thrown up, across the Beast.
The Miller, thinking to have spoiled that Jest,
Reply'd, he was too Old for Veal to pass,
But after more on him, and on his Ass,
He stands convinc'd, and takes his Son again
To ride at ease himself, still next the Mane.
Yet ere he'd thirty Paces borne the Lad,
The next they met, cry'd---Are these Fellows mad!
Have they no Pity thus t'o'erload the Jade!
Sure, at the Fair, they for her Skin may trade.
See, how's she spent, and sinks beneath their strokes!
The Miller, whom this most of all provokes,
Swears by his Cap, he shews his want of Brains,
Who thus to please the World, bestows his Pains.
Howe'er we'll try, if this way't may be done;
And off he comes, and fetches down his Son.
Behind they walk, and now the Creature drive,
But cou'd no better in their Purpose thrive;
Nor scape a Fellow's Censure, whom they meet,
That cries, to spare the Ass they break their Feet;
And whilst unladen at her ease she goes,
Trudge in the Dirt, and batter out their Shooes;
As if to burthen her they were afraid,
And Men for Beasts, not Beasts for Men were made.
The Proverb right, the Cart before the Horse.
The Miller, finding things grow worse and worse,
Cries out, I am an Ass, it is agreed,
And so are all, who wou'd in this succeed.
Hereafter, tho' Reproof or Praise I find,
I'll neither heed, but follow my own Mind,
Take my own Counsel, how my Beast to sell.
This he resolv'd, and did it, and did well.
For you, Sir, Follow Love, the Court, the War;
Obtain the Crosier, or the City's Furr;
Live single all your Days, or take a Wife;
Trust me, a Censure waits each state of Life.