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-The Description of a Salamander


From Pliny, "Hist. Nat.," lib. x, 67; lib. xxix.

    As mastiff dogs, in modern phrase, are
Call'd Pompey, Scipio, and Caesar;
As pies and daws are often styl'd
With Christian nicknames, like a child;
As we say Monsieur to an ape,
Without offence to human shape;
So men have got, from bird and brute,
Names that would best their nature suit.
The Lion, Eagle, Fox, and Boar,
Were heroes' titles heretofore,
Bestow'd as hi'roglyphics fit
To show their valour, strength, or wit:
For what is understood by fame,
Besides the getting of a name?
But, e'er since men invented guns,
A diff'rent way their fancy runs:
To paint a hero, we inquire
For something that will conquer fire.
Would you describe Turenne[1] or Trump?[2]
Think of a bucket or a pump.

Are these too low?--then find out grander, Call my LORD CUTTS a Salamander.[3] 'Tis well;--but since we live among Detractors with an evil tongue, Who may object against the term, Pliny shall prove what we affirm: Pliny shall prove, and we'll apply, And I'll be judg'd by standers by. First, then, our author has defined This reptile of the serpent kind, With gaudy coat, and shining train; But loathsome spots his body stain: Out from some hole obscure he flies, When rains descend, and tempests rise, Till the sun clears the air; and then Crawls back neglected to his den.[4]

So, when the war has raised a storm, I've seen a snake in human form, All stain'd with infamy and vice, Leap from the dunghill in a trice, Burnish and make a gaudy show, Become a general, peer, and beau, Till peace has made the sky serene, Then shrink into its hole again. "All this we grant--why then, look yonder, Sure that must be a Salamander!"

Further, we are by Pliny told, This serpent is extremely cold; So cold, that, put it in the fire, 'Twill make the very flames expire: Besides, it spues a filthy froth (Whether thro' rage or lust or both) Of matter purulent and white, Which, happening on the skin to light, And there corrupting to a wound, Spreads leprosy and baldness round.[5]

So have I seen a batter'd beau, By age and claps grown cold as snow, Whose breath or touch, where'er he came, Blew out love's torch, or chill'd the flame: And should some nymph, who ne'er was cruel, Like Carleton cheap, or famed Du-Ruel, Receive the filth which he ejects, She soon would find the same effects Her tainted carcass to pursue, As from the Salamander's spue; A dismal shedding of her locks, And, if no leprosy, a pox.

"Then I'll appeal to each bystander, If this be not a Salamander?"

[Footnote 1: The famous Mareschal Turenne, general of the French forces, called the greatest commander of the age.]

[Footnote 2: Admiral of the States General in their war with England, eminent for his courage and his victories.]

[Footnote 3: Who obtained this name from his coolness under fire at the siege of Namur. See Journal to Stella, "Prose Works," vol. ii, p. 267.--W. E. B.]

[Footnote 4: "Animal lacertae figura, stellatum, numquam nisi magnis imbribus proveniens et serenitate desinens."--Pliny, "Hist. Nat.," lib. x, 67.]

[Footnote 5: "Huic tantus rigor ut ignem tactu restinguat non alio modo quam glacies. ejusdem sanie, quae lactea ore vomitur, quacumque parte corporis humani contacta toti defluunt pili, idque quod contactum est colorem in vitiliginem mutat."--Lib. x, 67. "Inter omnia venenata salamandrae scelus maximum est. . . . nam si arbori inrepsit omnia poma inficit veneno, et eos qui ederint necat frigida vi nihil aconito distans."--Lib. xxix, 4, 23.--W. E. B.]

Jonathan Swift

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