A MAN whose house had taken fire,


A Fable. By the same.

Primary Text:

No MS; 1717 Pope's Own (rpt 1935/75 Ault), 133-5*.
A MAN whose house had taken fire.
Which did the engines help require,
Ran to the corner where it stood,
And thus besought the useful wood.
I beg you'd use your utmost sped,
To help a neighbour at his need.
My timber crackles in the flames,
Tho' it to yours relation claims:
In the same forrest it was bred,
From the same rot too, as 'tis said.
Then let a brother aid a brother,
Tho' fortune difers one from t'other
And justly you the foremost stand,
Who can two elements command.
Whilst my poor rafters lay supine,
In common use, nor wisht to shine.
But pray consider what I feel,
And quickly ply each spring and wheel.
In this tough leather and these ropes
And your good will lie all my hopes.
The engine this discourse endur'd,
But still unactive and immur'd.
And tho' petition'd, stirr'd no more,
From the church porch than the church-door.
Whilst in a rage the man went on,
And cry'd, I shall be quite undone!
Through your neglect must beg for life
My self, my chidren, and my wife.
I'le give you half of what you save --
The engine still was mute and grave.
And seem'd as haughty to distress
As men of rank who wealth possess
When all despairing now, the wretch
Fell into more reviling speech:
And told it, he the time could trace
When it had no such power or place,
But lay ev'n in his yard a log,
The scrubbing post of every hog:
Nor cou'd relieve or shield a friend,
No more than he who did depend.
And now implor'd it once for all,
To jog before his house should fall.
A passenger who heard him prate,
And found such help would come too late,
Told him, to end his noisy jear,
He must go bribe the Engineer.


Great men do our misfortunes see,
No more than this unsoftned tree.
Then lose not, on himself, a word,
But gain the man that sways my Lord.


Finch may be remembering some story of a man who tried to borrow someone's engine for saving his house, but she moralizes her story by combining two Aesopic types: fables of complaining or ungrateful trees or timber used to build houses, e.g. 1692 L'Estrange, "Trees Streight and Crooked, No. 266, "The Oxen and a Piece of Timber," No. 265, "Oxen and Timber," No. 294; and fables (these are usually French) of peasants trying to save their houses, 1693 Esope en belle humeur, "D'un Paisan, et des Souris," 256; Finch is closer to the French: the cited fable dramatizes the story of a man who sets his house on fire and punishes his servants for laughing instead of helping him.


A curious choice. It may spring from Finch's experience of patronage in Kent since she and Heneage rose to become Lord and Countess. She is sardonic.


A third harsh fable late in life which appeared in Pope's 1717 anonymous miscellany. The impersonal quality of all three suggests they were written for publication. For Finch's prefatory panegyric for Pope's acknowledged 1717 Mr Pope's Works, see " THE Muse, of ev'ry heav'nly gift allow'd".
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Page Last Updated 8 January 2003