John Gay

(30 June 1685 – 4 December 1732 / Barnstaple, England)

Fable XLII. The Juggler


A juggler long through all the town
Had raised his fortune and renown;
You'd think (so far his art transcends)
The devil at his fingers' ends.
Vice heard his fame, she read his bill;
Convinced of his inferior skill,
She sought his booth, and from the crowd
Defied the man of art aloud:
'Is this, then, he so famed for sleight?
Can this slow bungler cheat your sight!

Dares he with me dispute the prize?
I leave it to impartial eyes.'
Provoked, the juggler cried, “tis done.
In science I submit to none.'
Thus said, the cups and balls he played;
By turns, this here, that there, conveyed.
The cards, obedient to his words,
Are by a fillip turned to birds.
His little boxes change the grain:
Trick after trick deludes the train.

He shakes his bag, he shows all fair;
His fingers spreads, and nothing there;
Then bids it rain with showers of gold,
And now his ivory eggs are told.
But when from thence the hen he draws,
Amazed spectators hum applause.
Vice now stept forth, and took the place
With all the forms of his grimace.
'This magic looking-glass,' she cries,
(There, hand it round) 'will charm your eyes.'

Each eager eye the sight desired,
And every man himself admired.
Next to a senator addressing:
'See this bank-note; observe the blessing,
Breathe on the bill.' Heigh, pass! 'Tis gone.
Upon his lips a padlock shone.
A second puff the magic broke,
The padlock vanished, and he spoke.
Twelve bottles ranged upon the board,
All full, with heady liquor stored,

By clean conveyance disappear,
And now two bloody swords are there.
A purse she to a thief exposed,
At once his ready fingers closed;
He opes his fist, the treasure's fled;
He sees a halter in its stead.
She bids ambition hold a wand;
He grasps a hatchet in his hand.
A box of charity she shows,
'Blow here;' and a churchwarden blows,

'Tis vanished with conveyance neat,
And on the table smokes a treat.
She shakes the dice, the boards she knocks,
And from all pockets fills her box.
She next a meagre rake address'd:
'This picture see; her shape, her breast!
What youth, and what inviting eyes!
Hold her, and have her.' With surprise,
His hand exposed a box of pills,
And a loud laugh proclaimed his ills.

A counter, in a miser's hand,
Grew twenty guineas at command.
She bids his heir the sum retain,
And 'tis a counter now again.
A guinea with her touch you see
Take every shape, but charity;
And not one thing you saw, or drew,
But changed from what was first in view.
The juggler now in grief of heart,
With this submission owned her art:

'Can I such matchless sleight withstand?
How practice hath improved your hand!
But now and then I cheat the throng;
You every day, and all day long.'

Submitted: Tuesday, April 20, 2010

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