Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IX. Tragedy: Humor
Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IX. Tragedy: Humor.  1904.
Humorous Poems: II. Miscellaneous
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790)
A Conversational Pleasantry

SOME wit of old—such wits of old there were,
Whose hints showed meaning, whose allusions care—
By one brave stroke to mark all human kind,
Called clear, blank paper every infant mind:
Where still, as opening sense her dictates wrote,        5
Fair virtue put a seal, or vice a blot.
The thought was happy, pertinent, and true;
Methinks a genius might the plan pursue.
I (can you pardon my presumption?)—I,
No wit, no genius, yet for once will try.        10
Various the paper various wants produce,—
The wants of fashion, elegance, and use.
Men are as various; and, if right I scan,
Each sort of paper represents some man.
Pray note the fop, half powder and half lace;        15
Nice, as a bandbox were his dwelling-place;
He ’s the gilt-paper, which apart you store,
And lock from vulgar hands in the ’scrutoire.
Mechanics, servants, farmers, and so forth
Are copy-paper of inferior worth;        20
Less prized, more useful, for your desk decreed;
Free to all pens, and prompt at every need.
The wretch whom avarice bids to pinch and spare,
Starve, cheat, and pilfer, to enrich an heir,
Is coarse brown paper, such as pedlers choose        25
To wrap up wares, which better men will use.
Take next the miser’s contrast, who destroys
Health, fame, and fortune in a round of joys;
Will any paper match him? Yes, throughout;
He ’s a true sinking-paper, past all doubt.        30
The retail politician’s anxious thought
Deems this side always right, and that stark naught;
He foams with censure; with applause he raves;
A dupe to rumors and a tool of knaves;
He ’ll want no type, his weakness to proclaim,        35
While such a thing as foolscap has a name.
The hasty gentleman, whose blood runs high,
Who picks a quarrel, if you step awry,
Who can’t a jest, a hint, or look endure,—
What is he?—what? Touch-paper, to be sure.        40
What are our poets, take them as they fall,
Good, bad, rich, poor, much read, not read at all?
They and their works in the same class you ’ll find;
They are the mere waste-paper of mankind.
Observe the maiden, innocently sweet!        45
She ’s fair, white paper, an unsullied sheet;
On which the happy man whom fate ordains
May write his name, and take her for his pains.
One instance more, and only one I ’ll bring;
’T is the great man who scorns a little thing;        50
Whose thoughts, whose deeds, whose maxims, are his own,
Formed on the feelings of his heart alone,
True, genuine, royal paper is his breast;
Of all the kinds most precious, purest, best.

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