Mary Barber, “A True Tale”


“A True TALE”

A Mother, who vast Pleasure finds
In modelling her Childrens Minds;
With whom, in exquisite Delight,
She passes many a Winter Night;
Mingles in ev’ry Play, to find                                              5
What Byas Nature gave the Mind;
Resolving thence to take her Aim,
To guide them to the Realms of Fame;
And wisely make those Realms their Way
To Regions of eternal Day;                                                 10
Each boist’rous Passion to controul,
And early humanize the Soul;
In simple Tales, beside the Fire,
The noblest Notions would inspire:
Her Children, conscious of her Care,                                15
Transported, hung around her Chair.

OF Scripture-Heroes she would tell,
Whose Names they lisp’d, ere they could spell:
The Mother then, delighted, smiles;
And shews the Story on the Tiles.                                      20

AT other Times, her Themes would be
The Sages of Antiquity;
Who left immortal Names behind,
By proving Blessings to their Kind.
Again, she takes another Scope,                                         25
And tells of A​DDISON,​ and P​OPE.

STUDIOUS to let her Children know
The various Turns of Things below; —-
How Virtue here was oft oppres’d,
To shine more glorious with the Bless’d;                          30
Told T​ULLY​’s​ ​and the G​RACCHI’​s​ D​oom,
The Patriots, and the Pride of ​Rome.
Then bless’d the ​Drapier’​s happier Fate,
Who ​sav’d, a​nd lives to ​guard​ the State.

SOME Comedies gave great Delight,                          35
And entertain’d them many a Night:
Others could no Admittance find,
Forbid, as Poison to the Mind:
Those Authors Wit and Sense, said she,
But heighten their Impiety.                                                   40

THIS ​happy Mother met, one Day,
The Book of Fables, writ by GAY;
And told her Children, Here’s a Treasure,
A Fund of Wisdom, and of Pleasure!
Such Morals, and so finely writ;                                           45
Such Decency, good Sense, and Wit!
Well has the Poet found the Art,
To raise the Mind, and mend the Heart.

HER fav’rite Son the Volume seiz’d;
And, as he read, seem’d highly pleas’d;                               50
Made such Reflections ev’ry Page;
The Mother thought above his Age;
Delighted read, but scarce was able
To finish the concluding Fable.

WHAT ​ails my Child? the Mother cries:                          55
Whose Sorrows now have fill’d your Eyes?
O dear Mamma, can he want Friends,
Who writes for such exalted Ends?
Oh base, degen’rate human Kind!
Had I a Fortune to my Mind,                                                    60
Should G​AY ​complain? But now, alas!
Thro’ what a World am I to pass?
Where Friendship is an empty Name,
And Merit scarcely paid in Fame?

RESOLV’D ​to lull his Woes to Rest,                                   65
She tells him, He should hope the best:
This has been yet G​AY’​s Case, I own;
But now his Merit’s amply known.
Content that tender Heart of thine:
He’ll be the Care of C​AROLINE.                                                 70
Who thus instructs the royal Race,
Must have a Pension, or a Place.

MAMMA, ​if you were Q​UEEN, ​says he,
And such a Book were writ for me,
I find ‘tis so much to your Taste,                                               75
That G​AY​ would keep his Coach at least.

MY ​Son, what you suppose, is true:
I see its Excellence in you.
Poets who write to mend the Mind,
A royal Recompence should find.                                             80
But I am barr’d by Fortune’s Frowns,
From the best Privilege of Crowns;
The glorious, godlike Pow’r to bless,
And raise up Merit in Distress.

BUT, dear Mamma, I long to know,                                    85
Were you the Q​UEEN​, what you’d bestow.

WHAT I’d bestow, says she, my Dear?
At least, ​a thousand Pounds a Year.


​26​ADDISON Joseph Addison (​1672-1719​), popular periodical essayist, poet, and dramatist; ​POPE Alexander Pope (1688-1744), poet, satirist, and translator of Homer (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

31TULLY Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC-43 BC)​, a Roman orator who was executed by his political enemies; the GRACCHI’s Doom Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus, (169-164? BC-133 BC), “Roman tribune who sponsored agrarian reforms to restore the class of independent farmers and who was assassinated in a riot sparked by his senatorial opponents”, and his brother, Gaius Sempronius Gracchus ​(160-153 BC?-121BC), “Roman tribune who reenacted the agrarian reforms of his brother” and who committed suicide before his political enemies could execute him (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

33 ​​the Drapier’s happy fate A reference to Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), who published a series of seven pamphlets known as Drapier’s Letters (1724-1725) that was “part of a successful campaign to prevent the imposition of a new, and debased, coinage on Ireland” (Encyclopedia Britannica).

42The Book of Fables writ by GAY John Gay (​1685-1735)​, English poet and dramatist, whose ​Fables​ was published in 1727 and dedicated to William, Duke of Cumberland, the six-year-old son of the newly-crowned King George II (1683-1760) and Queen Caroline.

54​ the concluding Fable “Fable L: The Hare and many Friends” was the last of the 50 poems that make up Gay’s Fables.

70 He’ll be the care of CAROLINE ​In dedicating Fables to Prince William, Gay was hoping to court favor with the Prince’s mother, Queen Caroline (1683-1737), known to be a patron of the arts. In the end, he was offered the post of Gentleman Usher to Princess Louisa, then two years old.  Feeling snubbed, Gay declined the position.

Source:  Poems on Several Occasions​ (London, 1735), pp. 7-12.   [Google Books]

Edited by Autumn Goldstein Harris

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