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DEMOCRITUS AND THE ABDERANIANS. Jean de La Fontaine

How I the base and vulgar hate:
Profane, unjust, and obstinate!
So ever prone, with lip and eye,
To turn the truth to calumny!

The master of great Epicurus
Suffered from this rabble once;
Which shows e′en learning can′t secure us
From the malice of the dunce.
By all the people of his town
Was cried, "Democritus is mad!"
But in his own land, well ′tis known,
No prophet credit ever had.
The truth within a nutshell lies:
His friends were fools,—and he was wise.
The error spread to such extent,
That, at length, a deputation,
With letters from Abdera′s nation,
To famed Hippocrates was sent,
With humble, earnest hope that he
For madness might find remedy.
"Our fellow-townsman," weeping said
The deputation, "lost his head
Through too much reading. Would that he
Had only read as much as we!
To know how truly he insane is,
He says, for instance, nought more plain is,
Than that this earth is only one
Of million others round the sun;
And all these shining worlds are full
Of people, wise as well as dull.
And, not content with dreaming thus,
With theories strange he puzzles us;
Asserting that his brain consists
Of some queer kind of airy mists.
And, more than this, he says, that though
He measures stars from earth below,
What he himself is he don′t know!
Long since, in friendly conversation,
He was the wit of all the nation;
But now alone he′ll talk and mumble:
So, great physician, if you can,
Pray come and cure this poor old man."
Hippocrates, by all this jumble,
Was not deceived, but still he went;—
And here we see how accident
Can bring such meetings ′tween ourselves
As scarce could managed be by elves.
Hippocrates arrived, to find
That he whom all men called a fool
Was sage, and wise, and calm, and cool,—
Still searching for the innate mind
In heart and brain of beast and man.
Retired beneath a leafy grove,
Through which a murmuring brooklet ran,
The sage, with patient ardour, strove
The labyrinths of a skull to scan.
Beside him lay full many a scroll
By ancients written; and his soul
Was wrapt in learned thought so wholly,
That scarce he saw his friend advance:
Their greeting was but just a glance;—
For sages right well know the folly
Of idle compliment and word.
So, throwing off all forms absurd,
They spoke, in language large and free,
Of man, his soul and destiny;
And then discussed the secret springs
Which move all bad or holy things.
But ′tis not meet that I rehearse
Such weighty words in humble verse.

From this short story we may see
How much at fault the mob may be;
And this being so, pray tell me why
Some venture to proclaim aloud
That in the clamour of the crowd
We hear the voice of Deity?

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