The Camelion: A Fable after Monsieur De La Motte

OFT has it been my lot to mark
A proud, conceited, talking spark,
With eyes, that hardly serv’d at most
To guard their master ‘gainst a post,
Yet round the world the blade has been
To see whatever cou’d be seen,
Returning from his finish’d tour,
Grown ten times perter than before;
Whatever word you chance to drop,
The travell’d fool your mouth will stop,
“Sir, if my judgment you’ll allow —
“I’ve seen — and sure I ought to know —
So begs you’d pay a due submission,
And acquiesce in his decision.
Two travellers of such a cast;
As o’er Arabia’s wild they past,
And on their way in friendly chat
Now talk’d of this and then of that,
Discours’d awhile ‘mongst other matter
Of the Camelion’s form and nature.
“A stranger animal, cries one,
“Sure never liv’d beneath the sun.
“A lizard’s body lean and long,
“A fish’s head, a serpent’s tongue,
“Its tooth with triple claw disjoin’d;
“And what a length of tail behind!
“How slow its pace, and then its hue —
“Who ever saw so fine a blue? “
“Hold there, the other quick replies,
“‘Tis green — I saw it with these eyes,
“As late with open mouth it lay,
“And warm’d it in the sunny ray;
“Stretch’d at its ease the beast I view’d,
“And saw it eat the air for food. “
“I’ve seen it, Sir, as well as you,
“And must again affirm it blue.
“At leisure I the beast survey’d
“Extended in the cooling shade. “
“Tis green, ’tis green, Sir, I assure ye —
“Green! cries the other in a fury —
“Why, Sir — d’ye think I’ve lost my eyes?”
“Twere no great loss, the friend replies,
“For, if they always serve you thus,
“You’ll find ’em but of little use.”
So high at last the contest rose,
From words they almost came to blows:
When luckily came by a third —
To him the question they refer’d;
And beg’d he’d tell ’em, if he knew,
Whether the thing was green or blue.
“Sirs, cries the umpire, cease your pother —
“The creature’s neither one nor t’ other.
“I caught the animal last night,
“And view’d it o’er by candle-light:
“I mark’d it well — ’twas black as jet —
“You stare — but Sirs, I’ve got it yet,
“And can produce it.” “Pray, Sir, do:
“I’ll lay my life, the thing is blue. “
“And I’ll be sworn, that when you’ve seen
“The reptile, you’ll pronounce him green.”
“Well then, at once to ease the doubt,
“Replies the man, I’ll turn him out:
“And when before your eyes I’ve set him,
“If you don’t find him black, I’ll eat him. “
He said; then full before their sight
Produc’d the beast, and lo! ’twas white. —
Both star’d, the man look’d wond’rous wise —
“My children,” the Camelion cries,
(Then first the creature found a tongue)
“You all are right, and all are wrong:
“When next you talk of what you view,
“Think others see, as well as you:
“Nor wonder, if you find that none
“Prefers your eye-sight to his own.”

James Merrick (1720 – 1769)