John Gay

Courtier And Proteus.

John Gay, a cousin of the poet John Gay, was an English philosopher, biblical scholar and Church of England clergyman.

The country shelters the disgrace
Of every courtier out of place:
When, doomed to exercise and health,
O'er his estate he scatters wealth;
There he builds schemes for others' ruin,
As Philip's son of old was doing.
A wandless one, upon the strand,
Wandered with heavy hours on hand:
The murmuring waters ran and broke;
Proteus arose, and him bespoke:
"Come ye from court, I ask? Your mien
Is so importantly serene."
The courtier answered, friends had tricked him,
And that he was a party's victim.
Proteus replied: "I hold the skill
To change to any shape at will.
But I am told at court there be
Fellows who more than rival me.
Now see a form that I can take:"
And Proteus rolled a scaly snake.
The man replied: "Of reptile race
Is every courtier, whilst in place.
Yes, they can take the dragon form,
Bask in the sun, and flee the storm;
With envy glare, with malice gloat,
And cast, like you your skin, - their coat!
And in a dunghill born and bred,
With new-born lustre rear the head."
Then Proteus as a lion stood,
And shook his mane and stirred the flood;
Then soused as waters, soared as fire,
Then as a tigress glared with ire.
"Such transformations might appal,
Had I not stood in regal hall.
We hunt the lion, utilise
The elements, without surprise.
Such forms indeed are things of prey,
And courtiers hunt them, though they bray.
They practise frauds in every shape,
Or as a lion or an ape."
So said, the courtier grasped the god,
Bound him with cords, dragged to the sod,
And said: "Now tell me, Proteus; tell,
Do men or ancient gods excel?
For you are bound to tell the truth,
Nor are your transformations sooth;
But courtiers are not bound by ties;
They consort not with truth, but lies;
Fix on him any form you will
A courtier finds evasion still."