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The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/The Description of a Salamander

THE DESCRIPTION OF A SALAMANDER. 1706.


Pliny, Nat. Hist. lib. x. c. 67. lib. xxix. c. 4.


AS mastiff dogs in modern phrase are
Call'd Pompey, Scipio, and Cæsar;
As pies and daws are often styl'd
With Christian nicknames, like a child;
As we say monsieur to an ape,
Without offence to human shape;
So men have got, from bird and brute,
Names that would best their natures suit.
The Lion, Eagle, Fox, and Boar,
Were heroes titles heretofore,
Bestow'd as hieroglyphicks fit
To show their valour, strength, or wit:
For what is understood by fame,
Beside the getting of a name?
But, e'er since men invented guns,
A different way their fancy runs:
To paint a hero, we inquire
For something that will conquer fire.
Would you describe Turenne or Trump?
Think of a bucket or a pump.
Are these too low? — then find out grander,
Call my lord Cutts a Salamander.
'Tis well; — but, since we live among
Detractors with an evil tongue,
Who may object against the term,
Pliny shall prove, what we affirm:
Pliny shall prove and we'll apply,
And I'll be judg'd by standers by.
First, then, our author has defin'd
This reptile of the serpent kind,
With gaudy coat and shining train;
But loathsome spots his body stain:
Out from some hole obscure he flies,
When rains descend, and tempests rise,
Till the sun clears the air; and then
Crawls back neglected to his den.
So, when the war has rais'd a storm,
I've seen a snake in human form,
All stain'd with infamy and vice,
Leap from the dunghill in a trice,
Burnish, and make a gaudy show,
Become a general, peer, and beau,
Till peace has made the sky serene;
Then shrink into its hole again.
"All this we grant — why then look yonder.
Sure that must be a salamander!"
Farther, we are by Pliny told,
This serpent is extremely cold;
So cold, that put it in the fire,
'Twill make the very flames expire:
Besides, it spews a filthy froth
(Whether through rage or lust, or both)
Of matter purulent and white,
Which, happening on the skin to light,
And there corrupting to a wound,
Spreads leprosy and baldness round.
So I have seen a batter'd beau,
By age and claps grown cold as snow,
Whose breath or touch, where'er he came,
Blew out love's torch, or chill'd the flame:
And should some nymph, who ne'er was cruel,
Like Charlton cheap, or fam'd Du-Ruel,
Receive the filth which he ejects,
She soon would find the same effects,
Her tainted carcase to pursue,
As from the salamander's spew;
A dismal shedding of her locks,
And, if no leprosy, a pox.
"Then I'll appeal to each by-stander,
If this be not a salamander?"