Fortune: an Apologue.

Fortune, an Apologue. By J. Cunningham.

John Cunningham

In John Cunningham's apologue a beast fable frames an allegorical depiction of Fortune. The Ass complains to Jove that of all beasts he has been singularly ignored by Dame Fortune. Jove takes the case under advisement, and sends messengers to bring Fortune to answer to the charge. She proves very difficult to find. To no avail the messengers consult with Avarice, Wisdom, Contemplation, and Poverty, when, fortuituously, they spy a glittering fairy dome, which turns out to be the abode where Fortune conceals herself. She is brought to the bar of justice, and replies to the charge made against her, "Ask him, high Jupiter — (reply'd the dame) | In what he has excell'd his long-ear'd class! | Is Fortune (a divinity) to blame | That she descends not to regard — an Ass?" Jove advises the Ass to observe the ways of more noble beasts, and try to do better. Not seen.

Monthly Review: "If Mr. Cunningham is not a first-rate poet, he is still a more indifferent philosopher: for the moral he deduces from his Apologue, that 'Wisdom's of happiness the certain source, | And folly the original of ill,' does not appear to be generally true. With regard to moral evil, indeed, the different agency of wisdom and folly may have considerable influence; but natural and accidental evils, which we undergo independently of our own powers, are, perhaps, the heaviest objects of complaint" 32 (1765) 185.

Jove and his senators, in sage debate
For Man's felicity, were settling laws,
When a rude roar that shook the sacred gate,
Turn'd their attention to enquire the cause.

A long-ear'd wretch, the loudest of his race,
In the rough garniture of grief array'd,
Came brawling to the high imperial place,
"Let me have justice, Jupiter!" — he bray'd.

"I am an Ass, of innocence allow'd
The type, yet Fortune persecutes me still;
While foxes, wolves, and all the murd'ring crowd,
Beneath her patronage can rob and kill.

"The pamper'd horse (he never toil'd so hard!)
Favour and friendship from his owner finds;
For endless diligence, — (a rough reward!)
I'm cudgel'd by a race of paltry hinds.

"On wretched provender compell'd to feed!
The rugged pavement ev'ry night my bed!
For me, dame Fortune never yet decreed
The gracious comforts of a well-thatch'd shed.

"Rough and unseemly's my irreverent hide!
Where can I visit, thus uncouthly drest?
That outside elegance the dame deny'd,
For which her fav'rites are too oft caress'd.

"To suff'ring virtue, sacred Jove, be kind!
From Fortune's tyranny pronounce me free!
She's a deceiver if she says she's blind,
She sees, propitiously sees all — but me."

The plaintiff could articulate no more:
His bosom heav'd a most tremendous groan!
The race of long ear'd wretches join'd the roar,
'Till Jove seem'd tott'ring on his high-built throne.

The Monarch, with an all-commanding sound,
(Deepen'd like thunder thro' the rounds of space)
Gave order, — That dame Fortune should be found,
To answer, as she might, the plaintiff's case.

Soldiers and citizens, a seemly train!
And lawyers and physicians, sought her cell;
With many a schoolman — But their search was vain:
Few can the residence of Fortune tell.

Where the wretch Avarice was wont to hide
His gold, his emeralds, and rubies rare;
'Twas rumour'd that dame Fortune did reside,
And Jove's ambassadors were posted there.

Meagre and wan, in tatter'd garments drest,
A feeble porter at the gate they found:
Doubled with wretchedness — with age distrest,
And on his wrinkled forehead Famine frown'd.

"Mortals avaunt, (the trembling spectre cries)
Ere you invade those sacred haunts, beware!
To guard Lord Avarice, from rude surprize,
I am the centinel — my name is Care.

"Doubts, Disappointments, Anarchy of mind,
These are the soldiers that surround his hall:
And ev'ry Fury that can lash mankind,
Rage, Rancour, and Revenge attend his call.

"Fortune's gone forth, you seek a wand'ring dame,
A settled residence the harlot scorns:
Curse on such visitants, she never came,
But with a cruel hand she scatter'd thorns!

"To the green vale, yon shelt'ring hills surround,
Go forward, you'll arrive at Wisdom's cell:
Would you be taught where Fortune may be found,
None can direct your anxious search so well."

Forward they went, o'er many a dreary spot:
(Rough was the road, as if untrod before)
'Till from the casement of a low-roof'd cot
Wisdom perceiv'd them, and unbarr'd her door.

Wisdom, (she knew of Fortune but the name)
Gave to their questions a serene reply:
"Hither, (she said) if e'er that Goddess came,
I saw her not — she pass'd unnotic'd by.

"Abroad with Contemplation oft I roam,
And leave to Poverty my humble cell:
She's my domestic, never stirs from home,
If Fortune has been here, 'tis she can tell.

"The matron eyes us from yon mantling shade,
And see her sober footsteps this way bent!
Mark by her side a little rose-lipp'd maid,
'Tis my young daughter, and her name's Content."

As Poverty advanc'd with lenient grace,
"Fortune (she cry'd) hath never yet been here:
But Hope, a gentle neighbour of this place,
Tells me, her highness may, in time, appear.

"Felicity, no doubt, adorns their lot,
On whom her golden bounty beams divine!
Yet tho' she never reach our rustic cot,
Patience will visit us — we sha'n't repine."

After a vast (but unavailing) round,
The messengers returning in despair,
On an high hill a fairy mansion found,
And hop'd the Goddess, Fortune, might be there.

The dome, so glitt'ring, it amaz'd the sight,
('Twas adamant, with gems encrusted o'er)
Had not a casement to admit the light,
Nor could Jove's deputies descry the door.

But eager to conclude a tedious chace,
And anxious to return from whence they came,
Thrice they invok'd the Genius of the place,
Thrice utter'd, awfully, Jove's sacred name.

As Echo from the hill announc'd high Jove,
Illusion and her fairy dome withdrew:
(Like the light mists by early sunbeams drove)
And Fortune stood reveal'd to public view.

Oft for that happiness high courts deny'd,
To this receptacle dame Fortune ran:
When harrass'd, it was here she us'd to hide,
From the wild suits of discontented Man.

Prostrate, the delegates their charge declare,
(Happy the courtier that salutes her feet!)
Fortune receiv'd them with a flatt'ring air,
And join'd them 'till they reach'd Jove's judgement seat.

Men of all ranks at that illustrious place
Were gather'd; tho' from diff'rent motives keen:
Many — to see dame Fortune's radiant face,
Many — by radiant Fortune to be seen.

Jove smil'd, as on a fav'rite he esteems,
He gave her, near his own, a golden seat:
Fair Fortune's an adventurer, it seems,
The deities themselves are glad to greet.

"Daughter, (says Jupiter) you're sore accus'd!
Clamour incessantly reviles your name!
If by the rancour of that wretch abus'd,
Be confident, and vindicate your fame.

"Tho' pester'd daily with complaints from Man,
Through this conviction I record them not—
Let my kind providence do all it can,
None of that species ever lik'd his lot.

"But the poor quadrupede that now appeals!
Can wanton cruelty the weak pursue!
Large is the catalogue of woes he feels,
And all his wretchedness he lays to you."

"Ask him, high Jupiter — (reply'd the dame)
In what he has excell'd his long-ear'd class!
Is Fortune (a divinity) to blame
That she descends not to regard — an Ass?"

Fame enter'd in her rolls the sage reply;
The dame, defendant, was discharg'd with grace!
"Go — (to the plaintiff, said the Sire) and try
By merit to surmount your low-born race.

"Learn from the Lion to be just and brave,
Take from the Elephant instruction wise;
With gracious breeding like the Horse behave,
Nor the sagacity of Hounds despise.

"These useful qualities with care imbibe,
For which some quadrupedes are justly priz'd:
Attain those talents that adorn each tribe,
And you'll no longer be a wretch despis'd."

[Poems (1771) 129-37]