Excerpt from “Democritus, his Dream. Or, The Contention Betweene the Elephant and The Flea” by Peter Woodhouse

The Elephant has been boasting that he is the greatest of all the animals and the Flea, overhearing him from within a dog’s ear, has challenged him to prove it. The Elephant has insisted on taking the matter to arbitration and gives his case first. This is part of the Flea’s response:

I see a Soldier’s service is forgot,
In time of peace the worlde regards us not.
But to proceed; he prates of fortitude,
And, that he’s valiant would faine conclude.
He counts strength valour, but judgeth wrong
Who saith the Oake hath valour: yet ’tis strong.
But he (he saith) hath many battailes fought,
I, but true valour never danger sought.
Rashnes, it selfe doth into perill thrust:
Thats onely valour where the quarrel’s just.
But when as unsought danger doth betide,
His prowesse then true valour will not hide.
For such as without all foresight are bolde
Foole hardye, and not valiant we holde.
Let this great warriour, I pray you shewe
For what just cause these warres he did pursue:
What, is he mute? then I the cause will tell,
For that his Lord to fight did him compell.
He saith that man his help doth ofte times crave,
It’s false, he doth commaund him as his slave.
No, do not thinke such judgements to delude,
Amongst some fooles vaunt of thy servitude.
Men use your service often to their cost,
For one day’s wonne through you, there are three lost.
Not warre alone, but other fearfull things,
(And chiefly such as death ofte with it brings)
Are fortitudes true objects: heerin lyes
His chiefest force these perrils to despise.
When man with pressing nayle seekes me to kill,
My guts about my heeles, I march on still.
And though in this great broyle I was neere slaine,
The daunger past, I boldely bite againe.
Was thy Syre’s valour (thinkst thou) like to this,
When as thou fought gainst proud Semiramis?
Hast thou no wound? may be thou wilt not start,
But I fight having lost my hinder parte;
Even halfe my body being tane away,
I flye not, but dare still maintaine the fray.
I dare adventure in each dangerous place,
And beard the boldest Ruffen to his face:
What dare I not? I knowe that I am free,
And doe enioy most perfect libertie.

From: Woodhouse, Peter and Grosart, Alexander B. (ed.), Democritus, his Dream. Or, The Contention Betweene the Elephant and The Flea. Of Peter Woodhouse (1605). Edited, with Introduction, Notes and Illustrations, 1877, Charles E. Simms: Manchester, pp. 24-26.
(https://archive.org/details/democritushisdr00woodgoog)

Date: 1605

By: Peter Woodhouse (fl. 1605)

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