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Poems Every Child Should Know by  Mary E. Burt




[165] I learned "A Modest Wit" as a reading-lesson when I was a child. It has clung to me and so I cling to it. It is just as good as it ever was. It is a sharp thrust at power that depends on externalities. Selleck Osborne. (——.)

A supercilious nabob of the East—

Haughty, being great—purse-proud, being rich—

A governor, or general, at the least,

I have forgotten which—

Had in his family a humble youth,

Who went from England in his patron's suit,

An unassuming boy, in truth

A lad of decent parts, and good repute.

This youth had sense and spirit;

But yet with all his sense,

Excessive diffidence

Obscured his merit.

One day, at table, flushed with pride and wine,

His honour, proudly free, severely merry,

Conceived it would be vastly fine

To crack a joke upon his secretary.

"Young man," he said, "by what art, craft, or trade,

Did your good father gain a livelihood?"—

"He was a saddler, sir," Modestus said,

"And in his time was reckon'd good."

"A saddler, eh! and taught you Greek,

Instead of teaching you to sew!

Pray, why did not your father make

A saddler, sir, of you?"


Each parasite, then, as in duty bound,

The joke applauded, and the laugh went round.

At length Modestus, bowing low,

Said (craving pardon, if too free he made),

"Sir, by your leave, I fain would know

Your father's trade!"

"My father's trade! by heaven, that's too bad!

My father's trade? Why, blockhead, are you mad?

My father, sir, did never stoop so low—

He was a gentleman, I'd have you know."

"Excuse the liberty I take,"

Modestus said, with archness on his brow,

"Pray, why did not your father make

A gentleman of you?"


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