The Works of the Rev. Jonathan Swift/Volume 7/The Fable of Midas


MIDAS, we are in story told,
Turn'd every thing he touch'd to gold:
He chipp'd his bread; the pieces round
Glitter'd like spangles on the ground:
A codling, ere it went his lip in,
Would straight become a golden pippin:
He call'd for drink; you saw him sup
Potable gold in golden cup:
His empty paunch that he might fill,
He suck'd his victuals through a quill:
Untouch'd it pass'd between his grinders,
Or 't had been happy for gold-finders:
He cock'd his hat, you would have said
Mambrino's helm adorn'd his head:
Whene'er he chanc'd his hands to lay
On magazines of corn or hay,
Gold ready coin'd appeared, instead
Of paltry provender and bread;
Hence by wise farmers we are told,
Old hay is equal to old gold;
And hence a critick deep maintains,
We learn'd to weigh our gold by grains.
This fool had got a lucky hit;
And people fancy'd he had wit.
Two gods their skill in musick try'd,
And both chose Midas to decide;
He against Phœbus' harp decreed,
And gave it for Pan's oaten reed:
The god of wit, to show his grudge,
Clapt asses' ears upon the judge;
A goodly pair, erect and wide,
Which he could neither gild nor hide.
And now the virtue of his hands
Was lost among Pactolus' sands,
Against whose torrent while he swims,
The golden scurf peels off his limbs:
Fame spreads the news, and people travel
From far to gather golden gravel;
Midas, expos'd to all their jeers,
Had lost his art, and kept his ears.
This tale inclines the gentle reader
To think upon a certain leader;
To whom from Midas down, descends
That virtue in the finger's ends.
What else by perquisites are meant,
By pensions, bribes, and three per cent?
By places and commissions sold,
And turning dung itself to gold?
By starving in the midst of store,
As t'other Midas did before?
None e'er did modern Midas choose,
Subject or patron of his Muse,
But found him thus their merit scan,
That Phœbus must give place to Pan:
He values not the poet's praise,
Nor will exchange his plums for bays.
To Pan alone rich misers call;
And there's the jest, for Pan is all.
Here English wits will be to seek,
Howe'er, 'tis all one in the Greek.
Besides, it plainly now appears
Our Midas too has asses' ears;
Where every fool his mouth applies,
And whispers in a thousand lies;
Such gross delusions could not pass
Through any ears but of an ass.
But gold defiles with frequent touch;
There's nothing fouls the hand so much:
And scholars give it for the cause
Of British Midas' dirty paws;
Which, while the senate strove to scour,
They wash'd away the chemick power.
While he his utmost strength apply'd,
To swim against this popular tide,
The golden spoils flew off apace,
Here fell a pension, there a place:
The torrent merciless imbibes
Commissions, perquisites, and bribes;
By their own weight sunk to the bottom;
Much good may do them that have caught 'em!
And Midas now neglected stands,
With asses' ears, and dirty hands.