The Imitating Animals

Heaven set forth Man. Animals were imitating his features they did not individually have. Fate set them straight that Man would control all of them.

Man was given control over the animals.

JBR CollectionJBR Collection

When Heaven of old, what time this world began,
Sent forth her last best work, her fav’rite Man,
Each brute at once, with dread and wonder, saw
A being formed to give creation law.
The shaggy Lion with regret beheld
His own rude strength by manly sense excelled;
The Fox, less strong, though infinite in art,
Thought bulk and vigour Man’s superior part:
In short, all creatures found in him alone
Some happier power that still surpassed their own;
His form, his mind, as each stood fair to view,
Now here, now there, the growl of envy drew.
Disgust so gen’ral diff’rent symptoms showed,
In fiercer natures scorn indignant glowed;
These to wild woods with sullen rage retired,
Averse to see what seeing they admired.
While part, more docile, mimic skill addressed,
To catch the likeness each imagined best;
Some habit one, some airs another got,
Defect or excellence, no matter what.
The Dog observed with what familiar grace
The civil purpose marked the human face;
‘Twas his the civil purpose to prefer,
And, lo! a flatterer grafted on a cur.
The power of speech the Parrot’s wonder claimed,
With rival voice each object’s sound he named:
Sounds indiscriminate, things right or wrong,
For ever vibrate on the blockhead’s tongue:
Oh! grand distinction from the vulgar herd,
See Man’s worst part re-echoed by a bird!
The Ape, with whimsical ambition fired,
Man’s dext’rous hand and ready wit admired;
So apt a mimic soon displayed his powers,
And apish parts were taught to rival ours.
The Cat from Man her grave demeanour took:
The measured stalk, fixed eye, and solemn look.
Fate saw from these to more the madness spread,
She saw–and thus, with indignation, said:
“Yes, servile throng, your purpose shall succeed,
Ye vile apostates from the lot decreed;
The ill-judged likeness you have sought retain,
But ye shall live, a mean domestic train,
The thralls of him with whom your folly vied,
Slaves of his wants, his pleasures, and his pride.”


[Note: The Northcote fable is the same poem as in the JBR Collection above. Only the illustrations associated with the fable in the Northcote book are displayed here.]

JN Fable 033

Sketch: James Northcote; Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: G.W. Bonner (1828)

JN Fable 033a

Wood drawing: William Harvey; Engraving: A.J. Mason (1828)