The Ant in Office

Moral: No Moral. Suggest us a moral of this fable in comment section.
You tell me that my verse is rough,
And to do mischief like enough;
Bid me eschew, in honest rhymes,
Follies of countries and crimes.
You ask me if I ever knew
Court chaplains thus lawn sleeves pursue?
I meddle not with gown or lawn;
I, therefore, have no need to fawn.
If they must soothe a patron’s ear,
Not I—I was not born to bear;
All base conditions I refuse,
Nor will I so debase the muse.
Though I ne’er flatter nor defame,
Yet would I fain bring guilt to shame;
And I corruption would expose,
Though all corrupted were my foes.
I no man’s property invade,—
Corruption ‘s an unlawful trade;
So bribery also. Politicians
Should be tied down to such conditions;
If they were stinted of their tools,
Less were their train of knaves and fools.
Were such the case, let us review
The dreadful mischiefs to ensue.
Some silver services ‘twould stint,
But that would aggrandise the Mint;
Some ministers find less regard,
But bring their servants more reward;
Fewer informers, fewer spies,
But that would swell the year’s supplies;
An annual job or two might drop,
We should not miss it ‘midst the crop;
Some pensions, haply, be refused,
The Civil List be less abused;
It might the ministry confound,
And yet the State stand safe and sound.
Next, let it well be understood
I only mean my country’s good—
I wish all courtiers did the same.
I wish to bar no honest claim;
I wish the nation out of debt;
No private man had cause to fret;
Yet law and public good to be
The pole−stars of the Ministry;
I wish corruption, bribery, pension,
Were things there were no need to mention;
I wish to strike a blow at vice,—
Fall where it may, I am not nice;
Although the Law—the devil take it!—
Can scandalum magnatum make it.
I vent no scandal, neither judge
Another’s conscience; on I trudge,
And with my satire take no aim,
Nor knave nor steward name by name.
Yet still you think my fable bears
Allusion unto State affairs.
I grant it does so; but, what then?—
I strike at motives, not at men.
If hands corrupted harm the nation,
I bar no reader’s application.
There was an Ant, of flippant tongue,
Who oft the ears of senates wrung;
Whether he knew the thing or no,
Assurance sat upon his brow;
Who gained the post whereto he strained—
The grain−controllership attained.
But then old laws were very strict,
And punished actions derelict.
Accounts were passed by year and year,
The auditors would then appear,
And his controllership of grain
Must his accounts and stock explain.
He put a balance−sheet in—cooked,
An honest emmet o’er it looked,
And said, “The hoard of grain is low;
But the accounts themselves don’t show
By any vouchers what the stocks are.
Really, such documents but mocks are.”
“Sir,” the controller said, “would you
Have us pass everything to view?
Divulge all matters to all eyes,
Proclaim to winds state mysteries?
‘Twould lay us open to our foes;
You see all that we dare disclose;
And, on my honour, the expense
Is lavished on the swarm’s defence.”
They passed the balance−sheet—again
Next year’s shewed “deficit of grain;”
And thus again controller pleaded:
“Much secret service has been needed,
For famines threaten: turkey broods
Have been most clamorous for foods.
Turkey invasions have cost dear,
And geese were numerous last year.
Really, these secrets told are ruin,
And tend much to the realm’s undoing.”
Again, without examination,
They thanked his good administration.
A third and fourth time this recurred,
An auditor would then be heard:
“Are we but tools,” he said, “of rogues?
Through us corruption disembogues
Her mighty flood; for every grain
We touch we vouch at least for twain.
Where have they vanished? nay, in bribes.
They have depoverished our tribes.”
Then followed an investigation,
And a report unto the nation.
The Ant was punished, and his hoard—
All that remained of it—restored.

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