The Scepticks think, 'twas long ago,

First Line The Scepticks think, 'twas long ago,
Author Matthew Prior
Date 1709

Narrative Poem.

Transcribed from Poems on Several Occasions. London: Printed for JACOB TONSON at Shakespear's-Head over against Katharine-Street in the Strand, and JOHN BARBER upon Lambeth-Hill. MDCCXVIII., 1708, pp. 118-124. (ESTC T075639). Eighteenth Century Poetry Online.


The Scepticks think, 'twas long ago,

Since Gods came down Incognito,

To see Who were Their Friends or Foes,

And how our Actions fell or rose:

That since They gave Things their Beginning;

And set this Whirligig a Spinning;

Supine They in their Heav'n remain,

Exempt from Passion, and from Pain:

And frankly leave us Human Elves,

To cut and shuffle for our selves:

To stand or walk, to rise or tumble,

As Matter, and as Motion jumble.


The Poets now, and Painters hold

This Thesis both absurd and bold:

And your good-natur'd Gods, They say,

Descend some twice or thrice a-day:

Else all these Things We toil so hard in,

Would not avail one single Farthing:

For when the Hero We rehearse,

To grace His Actions, and Our Verse;

'Tis not by dint of Human Thought,

That to his Latium He is brought:

Iris descends by Fate's Commands,

To guide his Steps thro' Foreign Lands:

And Amphitrite clears his Way

From Rocks and Quick-sands in the Sea.


And if You see Him in a Sketch;

 (Tho' drawn by Paulo or Carache)

He shows not half his Force and Strength,

Strutting in Armour, and at Length:

That He may make his proper Figure,

The Piece must yet be four Yards bigger:

The Nymphs conduct Him to the Field:

One holds his Sword, and One his Shield:

Mars standing by asserts his Quarrel:

And Fame flies after with a Lawrel.


These Points, I say, of Speculation

 (As 'twere to save or sink the Nation)

Men idly learned will dispute,

Assert, object, confirm, refute:

Each mighty angry, mighty right,

With equal Arms sustains the Fight;

'Till now no Umpire can agree 'em:

So both draw off, and sing Te Deum.


Is it in Equilibrio,

If Deities descend or no?

Then let th'Affirmative prevail,

As requisite to form my Tale:

For by all Parties 'tis confest,

That those Opinions are the best,

Which in their Nature most conduce

To present Ends, and private Use.


Two Gods came therefore from above,

One Mercury, the t'other Jove:

The Humour was (it seems) to know,

If all the Favours They bestow,

Could from our own Perverseness ease Us;

And if our Wish injoy'd would please Us.


Discoursing largely on this Theme,

O'er Hills and Dales Their Godships came;

'Till well nigh tir'd at almost Night,

They thought it proper to alight.


Note here, that it as true as odd is,

That in Disguise a God or Goddess

Exerts no supernat'ral Powers;

But acts on Maxims much like Ours.


They spy'd at last a Country Farm,

Where all was snug, and clean, and warm;

For Woods before, and Hills behind

Secur'd it both from Rain and Wind:

Large Oxen in the Fields were lowing:

Good Grain was sow'd: good Fruit was growing:

Of last Year's Corn in Barns great Store;

Fat Turkeys gobbling at the Door:

And Wealth (in short) with Peace consented,

That People here should live contented:

But did They in Effect do so?

Have Patience, Friend; and Thou shalt know.


The honest Farmer and his Wife,

To Years declin'd from Prime of Life,

Had struggl'd with the Marriage Noose;

As almost ev'ry Couple does:

Sometimes, My Plague! sometimes, My Darling!

Kissing to Day, to Morrow snarling;

Jointly submitting to endure

That Evil, which admits no Cure.


Our Gods the outward Gate unbarr'd:

Our Farmer met 'em in the Yard;

Thought They were Folks that lost their Way;

And ask'd them civily to stay:

Told 'em, for Supper, or for Bed

They might go on, and be worse sped. —


So said, so done: the Gods consent:

All three into the Parlour went:

They complement: They sit: They chat;

Fight o'er the Wars; reform the State:

A thousand knotty Points They clear;

Till Supper and my Wife appear.


Jove made his Leg, and kiss'd the Dame:

Obsequious Hermes did the same.

Jove kiss'd the Farmer's Wife, You say.

He did — but in an honest Way:

Oh! not with half that Warmth and Life,

With which He kiss'd Amphitryon's Wife. —


Well then, Things handsomly were serv'd:

My Mistress for the Strangers carv'd.

How strong the Beer, how good the Meat,

How loud They laught, how much They eat,

In Epic sumptuous would appear;

Yet shall be pass'd in Silence here:

For I should grieve to have it said,

That by a fine Description led,

I made my Episode too long,

Or tir'd my Friend, to grace my Song.


The Grace-Cup serv'd, the Cloth away,

Jove thought it time to show his Play:

Landlord and Landlady, He cry'd,

Folly and Jesting laid aside,

That Ye thus hospitably live,

And Strangers with good Chear receive,

Is mighty grateful to your Betters,

And makes ev'n Gods themselves your Debtors.

To give this Thesis plainer Proof,

You have to Night beneath your Roof

A Pair of Gods: (nay never wonder)

This Youth can Fly, and I can Thunder.

I'm Jupiter, and He Mercurius,

My Page, my Son indeed, but spurious.

Form then Three Wishes, You and Madam:

And sure, as You already had 'em,

The Things desir'd in half an Hour

Shall all be here, and in your Pow'r.


Thank Ye, great Gods, the Woman says:

Oh! may your Altars ever blaze.

A Ladle for our Silver Dish

Is what I want, is what I Wish. —

A Ladle! cries the Man, a Ladle!

'Odzooks, Corisca, You have pray'd ill:

What should be Great, You turn to Farce:

I Wish the Ladle in your A—.


With equal Grief and Shame my Muse

The Sequel of the Tale pursues:

The Ladle fell into the Room,

And stuck in old Corisca's Bum.

Our Couple weep Two Wishes past,

And kindly join to form the last,

To ease the Woman's aukward Pain,

And get the Ladle out again.




This Commoner has Worth and Parts,

Is prais'd for Arms, or lov'd for Arts:

His Head achs for a Coronet:

And Who is Bless'd that is not Great?


Some Sense, and more Estate, kind Heav'n

To this well-lotted Peer has giv'n:

What then? He must have Rule and Sway:

And all is wrong, 'till He's in Play.


The Miser must make up his Plumb,

And dares not touch the hoarded Sum:

The sickly Dotard wants a Wife,

To draw off his last Dregs of Life.


Against our Peace We arm our Will:

Amidst our Plenty, Something still

For Horses, Houses, Pictures, Planting,

To Thee, to Me, to Him is wanting.

That cruel Something unpossess'd

Corrodes, and levens all the rest.

That Something, if We could obtain,

Would soon create a future Pain:

And to the Coffin, from the Cradle,

'Tis all a Wish, and all a Ladle.