Jane Taylor


A monk, when his rites sacerdotal were o’er,

In the depth of his cell with his stone-covered floor,

Resigning to thought his chimerical brain,

Once formed the contrivance we now shall explain.


Perhaps it was only by patience and care,

At last, that he brought his invention to bear.

In youth ’t was projected, but years stole away,

And ere ’t was complete he was wrinkled and gray;

But success is secure, unless energy fails;

And at length he produced THE PHILOSOPHER’S SCALES.


What were they?” you ask. You shall presently see;

These scales were not made to weigh sugar and tea.

O no; for such properties wondrous had they,

That qualities, feelings, and thoughts they could weigh,

Together with articles small or immense,

From mountains or planets to atoms of sense.


Naught was there so bulky but there it would lay,

And naught so ethereal but there it would stay,

And naught so reluctant but in it must go:

All which some examples more clearly will show.


The first thing he weighed was the head of Voltaire,

Which retained all the wit that had ever been there.

As a weight, he threw in a torn scrap of a leaf,

Containing the prayer of the penitent thief;

When the skull rose aloft with so sudden a spell

That it bounced like a ball on the roof of the cell.


One time he put in Alexander the Great,

With the garment that Dorcas had made for a weight;

And though clad in armor from sandals to crown,

The hero rose up, and the garment went down.


A long row of almshouses, amply endowed

By a well-esteemed Pharisee, busy and proud,

Next loaded one scale; while the other was pressed

By those mites the poor widow dropped into the chest:

Up flew the endowment, not weighing an ounce,

And down, down the farthing-worth came with a bounce.


By further experiments (no matter how)

He found that ten chariots weighed less than one plough;

A sword with gilt trapping rose up in the scale,

Though balanced by only a ten-penny nail;

A shield and a helmet, a buckler and spear,

Weighed less than a widow’s uncrystallized tear.

A lord and a lady went up at full sail,

When a bee chanced to light on the opposite scale;

Ten doctors, ten lawyers, two courtiers, one earl,

Ten counsellors’ wigs, full of powder and curl,

All heaped in one balance and swinging from thence,

Weighed less than a few grains of candor and sense;

A first-water diamond, with brilliants begirt,

Than one good potato just washed from the dirt;

Yet not mountains of silver and gold could suffice

One pearl to outweigh, — ’t was THE PEARL OF GREAT PRICE.


Last of all, the whole world was bowled in at the grate,

With the soul of a beggar to serve for a weight,

When the former sprang up with so strong a rebuff

That it made a vast rent and escaped at the roof!

When balanced in air, it ascended on high,

And sailed up aloft, a balloon in the sky;

While the scale with the soul in ‘t so mightily fell

That it jerked the philosopher out of his cell.




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