FOR Socrates a House was built


The House of Socrates

Primary Text:

No MS; 1713 Misc, 124*.
[Page 124]

FOR Socrates a House was built,
  Of but inferiour Size;
Not highly Arch'd, nor Carv'd, nor Gilt;
  The Man, 'tis said, was Wise.

But Mob despis'd the little Cell,
  That struck them with no Fear;
Whilst Others thought, there should not dwell
  So great a Person there.

How shou'd a due Recourse be made
  To One, so much Admir'd?
Where shou'd the spacious Cloth be laid,
  Or where the Guests retir'd?

Believe me, quoth the list'ning Sage,
  'Twas not to save the Charge;
That in this over-building Age,
  My House was not more large.

[Page 125]

But this for faithful Friends, and kind,
  Was only meant by me;
Who fear that what too streight you find,
  Must yet contracted be.

Here is La Fontaine's:

Socrate un jour faisant bâtir,
Chacun censurait son ouvrage:
L'un trouvait les dedans, pour ne lui point mentir,
Indignes d'un tel personnage;
L'autre blâmait la face, et tous étaient d'avis
Que les appartements en étaient trop petits.
Quelle les mais pour lui! L'on y tournait à peine.
Plût au ceil que de vrais amis,
Telle qu'elle est, dit-il, elle pût être pleine!
Le bon Socrate avait raison
De trouver pour ceux-là trop grande sa maison.
Chacun se dit ami; mais fol qui s'y repose:
Rien n'est plus commun que ce nom,
Rien n'est plus rare que la chose
(Book IV, Fable 17).

Secondary Ed:

Rpt of 1713: 1903 Reynolds, 186-7.


La Fontaine," La Parole de Socrate," IV, 7, 123.


Finch is close to La Fontaine in form as well as spirit; her tone of aloof wry bitterness perfect. This is one of my favorites among all her poems. The poem on how rare is friendship in this world is a common one in Aesopic verse. A later rendition by Gay is alluded to by Austen at the opening of Northanger Abbey:

John Gay's "The Hare and His Many Friends"

Friendship, like love, is but a name,
Unless to one you stint the flame.
The child, whom many fathers share,
Hath seldom known a father's care;
'Tis thus in friendship; who depend
On many, rarely find a friend.

A hare, who, in a civil way,
Comly'd with ev'ry thing, like Gay,
Was known by all the bestial train,
Who haunt the wood, or graze the plain:
Her care was, never to offend,
And ev'ry creature was her friend.

As forth she went at early dawn
To taste the dew-besprinkled lawn,
Behind she hears the hunter's cries,
And from the deep-mouth'd thunder flies;
She starts, she stops, she pants for breath,
She hears the near advance of death,
She doubles to mis-lead the hound,
And measures back her mazy round;
'Till, fainting in the publick way,
Half dead with fear she gasping lay.

What transport in her bosom grew,
When first the horse appear'd in view!

Let me, says she, your back ascend,
And owe my safety to a friend,
You know my feet betray my fligh,
To friendship ev'ry burden's light.

The horse reply'd, poor honest puss,
It grieves my heart to see thee thus;
Be comforted, relief is near;
For all your friends are in the rear.

She next the stately bull implor'd;
And thus reply'd the might lord.
Since ev'ry beast alive can tell
That I sincerely wish you well,
I may, without offence, pretend
To take the freedom of a friend;
Love calls me hence; a fav'rite cow
Expects me near yon barley mow:
And when a lady's in the case,
You know, all other things give place.
To leave you thus might seem unkind
Be see, the goat is just behind.

The goat remark'd her pulse was high,
Her languid head, her heavy eye
My back, says she, may do you harm;
The sheep's at hand, and wool is warm.

The sheep was feeble, and complain'd
His sides a load of wool sustain'd,
Said he was slow, confest his fears;
For hounds eat sheep as well as hares.

She now the trotting calf addrest,
To save from death a friend distrest.

Shall I, says he, of tender age,
In this important carte engage?
Older and abler past you by;
How strong are those! how weak am I!
Should I presume to bear you hence,
Those friends of mine may take offence.
Excuse me then. You know my heart.
But dearest friends, alas, must part!
How shall we all lament: adieu.
For see the hounds are just in view. Ellen

Gay's fables are much better known than Finch's, perhaps because they are harder, darker, unqualified. Women poets suffer not only from sheer neglect but from their curbing of themselves.

Contact Ellen Moody.
Pagemaster: Jim Moody.
Page Last Updated 8 January 2003