John Gay’s Fable 40: The Two Monkeys

They are shocked by their reception on attending Southwark fair: Men laugh at apes, they men contemn; / For what are we, but Apes to them?

"Simia quam similis turpissima bestia nobis / Men laugh at Apes, they men contemn; / For what are we, but Apes to them?" Singerie with four monkeys playing cards and drinking, a fifth monkey seated beyond at left. After David Teniers the Younger, 1798. Image: British Museum.


The learned, full of inward pride,
The fops of outward show deride;
The fop, with learning at defiance,
Scoffs at the pedant and the science:
The Don,[1]Spaniard. a formal solemn strutter,
Despises Monsieur’s airs and flutter,
While Monsieur mocks the formal fool,
Who looks, and speaks, and walks by rule.
Britain, a medley of the twain,
As pert as France, as grave as Spain;
In fancy wiser than the rest,
Laughs at them both, of both the jest.
Is not the poet’s chiming close
Censured by all the sons of prose?
While bards of quick imagination
Despise the sleepy prose narration.
Men laugh at apes, they men condemn:
For what are we but apes to them?

Two monkeys went to Southwark fair,
No critics had a sourer air:
They forced their way through draggled folks,
Who gaped to catch Jack Pudding’s jokes;
Then took their tickets for the show,
And got by chance, the foremost row.
To see their grave, observing face,
Provoked a laugh through all the place.

Brother says Pug, and turned his head,
The rabble’s monstrously ill bred.

Now through the booth loud hisses ran;
Nor ended till the show began.
The tumbler whirls the flip-flap[2]Rattle. round,
With somersets he shakes the ground;
The cord beneath the dancer springs;
Aloft in air the vaulter swings;
Distorted now, now prone depends
Now through his twisted arms ascends;
The crowd in wonder and delight,
With clapping hands applaud the fight.

With smiles, quoth Pug, if pranks like these
The giant apes of reason please,
How would they wonder at our arts;
They must adore us for our parts.
High on the twig I’ve seen you cling;
Play, twist and turn in airy ring:
How can those clumsy things like me,
Fly with a bound from tree to tree?
But yet, by this applause, we find
These emulators of our kind
Discern our worth, our parts regard,
Who our mean mimics thus reward.

Brother, the grinning mate replies,
In this I grant that man is wise.
While good example they pursue,
We must allow some praise is due;
But when they strain beyond their guide,
I laugh to scorn the mimic pride.
For how fantastic is the fight,
To meet men always bolt upright,
Because we sometimes walk on two!
I hate the imitating crew.

Brandon on simia quam similis nobis.


Similar posts


  1. That is a deep and enjoyable thing to read that had me wondering and smiling at the same time.

    Greetings from The House of Commons (or Wetherspoons in Bristol as its known locally).

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *