Virtue its own reward? Alas!
And what a poor one as a rule!
Be Virtuous and Life will pass
Like one long term of Sunday-School.
(No prospect, truly, could one find
More unalluring to the mind.)
You may imagine that it pays
To practice Goodness. Not a bit!
You cease receiving any praise
When people have got used to it;
‘Tis generally understood
You find it easy to be good.
The Model Child has got to keep
His fingers and his garments white;
In church he may not go to sleep,
Nor ask to stop up late at night.
In fact he must not ever do
A single thing he wishes to.
He may not paddle in his boots,
Like naughty children, at the Sea;
The sweetness of Forbidden Fruits
Is not, alas! for such as he.
He watches, with pathetic eyes,
His weaker brethren make mud-pies.
He must not answer back, oh no!
However rude grown-ups may be,
But keep politely silent, tho’
He brim with scathing repartee;
For nothing is considered worse
Than scoring off Mamma or Nurse.
He must not eat too much at meals.
Nor scatter crumbs upon the floor;
However vacuous he feels,
He may not pass his plate for more;
–Not tho’ his every organ ache
For further slabs of Christmas Cake.
He is enjoined to choose his food
From what is easy to digest;
A choice which in itself is good,
But never what he likes the best.
(At times how madly he must wish
For just one real unwholesome dish!)
And, when the wretched urchin plays
With other little girls and boys,
He has to show unselfish ways
By giving them his choicest toys;
His ears he lets them freely box,
Or pull his lubricated locks.
His face is always being washed,
His hair perpetually brushed,
And thus his brighter side is squashed,
His human instincts warped and crushed;
Small wonder that his early years
Are filled with “thoughts too deep for tears.”
He is commanded not to waste
the fleeting hours of childhood’s days
By giving way to any taste
For circuses or matinees;
For him the entertainments planned
Are “Lectures on the Holy Land.”
He never reads a story book
By Rider H. or Winston C.,
In vain upon his desk you’d look
For tales by Richard Harding D.;
Nor could you find upon his shelf
The works of Rudyard — or myself!
He always fears that he may do
Some action that is infra dig.,
And so he lives his short life through
In the most noxious role of Prig.
(“Short life” I say, for it’s agreed
The Good die very young indeed.)
Ah me! How sad it is to think
He could have lived like me — or you!
With practice and a taste for drink,
Our joys he might have known, he too!
And shared the pleasure we have had
In being gloriously bad!
The Naughty Boy gets much delight
From doing what he should not do;
But, as such conduct isn’t Right,
He sometimes suffers for it, too.
Yet, what’s a spanking to the fun
Of leaving vital things Undone?
If he’s notoriously bad,
But for a day should change his ways,
His parents will be all so glad,
They’ll shower him with gifts and praise!
(It pays a connoisseur in crimes
To be a perfect saint at times.)
Of course there always lies the chance
That he is charged with being ill,
And all his innocent romance
Is ruined by a rhubarb pill.
(Alas! “Tis not alone the Good
That are so much misunderstood.)
But, as a rule, when he behaves
(Evincing no malarial signs),
His friends are all his faithful slaves,
Until he once again declines
With easy conscience, more or less,
To undiluted wickedness.
The Wicked flourish like the bay,
At Cards or Love they always win,
Good Fortune dogs their steps all day,
They fatten while the Good grow thin.
The Righteous Man has much to bear;
The Bad becomes a Bullionaire!
For, though he be the greatest sham,
Luck favours him his whole life through;
At “Bridge” he always makes a Slam
After declaring “Sans atout”;
With ev’ry deal his fate has planned
A hundred Aces in his hand.
And it is always just the same;
He somehow manages to win,
By mere good fortune, any game
That he may be competing in.
At Golf no bunker breaks his club,
For him the green provides no “rub.”
At Billiards, too, he flukes away
(With quite unnecessary “side”);
No matter what he tries to play,
For him the pockets open wide;
He never finds both balls in baulk,
Or makes mis-cues for want of chalk.
He swears; he very likely bets;
He even wears a flaming necktie;
Inhales Egyptian cigarettes
And has a “Mens Insconscia Recti”
Yet, spite of it all, one must confess
That naught succeeds like his excess.
There’s no occasion to be Just,
No need for motives that are fine,
To be Director of a Trust,
Or Manager of a Combine;
Your corner is a public curse,
Perhaps; but it will your purse.
Then stride across the Public’s bones,
Crush all opponents under you,
Until you “rise on stepping-stones
Of their dead selves”; and, when you do,
The widow’s and the orphan’s tears
Shall comfort your declining years!
But having had your boom in oil,
And made your millions out of it,
Would you propose to cease from toil?
Great Vanderfeller! Not a bit!
You’ve got to labour, day and night,
Until you die — and serve you right!
Then, when you stop this frenzied race,
And others in your office sit,
You’ll leave the world a better place,
— The better for your leaving it!
For there’s a chance perhaps your heir
May spend what you’ve collected there.
Myself, how lucky I must be,
That need not fear so gross and end;
Since fortune has not favoured me
With many million pounds to spend.
(Still, did that fickle Dame relent,
I’d show you how they should be spent!)
I am not saint enough to feel
My shoulder ripen to a wing,
Nor have I wits enough to steal
His title from the Copper King;
And there’s a vasty gulf between
The Man I Am and Might Have Been;
But tho’ at dinner I may take
Too much of Heidsick (extra dry),
And underneath the table make
My simple couch just where I lie,
My mode of roosting on the floor
Is just a trick and nothing more.
And when, not Wisely but too Well,
My thirst I have contrived to quench,
the stories I am apt to tell
May be, perhaps, a trifle French;
(For ’tis in anecdote, no doubt,
That what’s Bred in the Beaune comes out.)
It does not render me unfit
To give advice, both wise and right,
Because I do not follow it
Myself as closely as I might;
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
To point the proper road to you.
And this I’m sure of, more or less,
And trust that you will all agree,
The Elements of Happiness
Consist in being — just like Me;
No sinner, nor a saint perhaps,
But — well, the very best of chaps.
Share the Experience I have had,
Consider all I’ve known and seen,
And Don’t be Good, and Don’t be Bad,
But cultivate a Golden Mean.
* * * * * *
What makes Existence really nice
Is Virtue — with a dash of Vice.
Streamer, Col. D. [Harry Graham]. Perverted Proverbs. NY: R. H. Russell, 1903