THE LADY AND THE PIE
OR, KNOW THYSELF
By Hannah More
A worthy squire, of sober life,
Had a conceited, boasting wife:
Of him she daily made complaint;
Herself she thought a very saint.
She loved to load mankind with blame
And on their errors build her fame.
Her favorite subject of dispute
Was Eve and the forbidden fruit.
“Had I been Eve,” she often cried,
“Man had not fallen, nor woman died;
I still had kept the orders given,
Nor for an apple lost my heaven;
To gratify my curious mind
I ne’er had ruined all mankind;
Nor, from a vain desire to know,
Entailed on all my race such wo.”
The squire replied, “I fear ’tis true
The same ill spirit lives in you;
Tempted alike, I dare believe
You would have disobeyed, like Eve.”
The lady stormed, and still denied
Sin, curiosity, and pride.
The squire, some future day at dinner,
Resolved to try this boastful sinner;
He grieved such vanity possessed her,
And thus in serious terms addressed her:—
“Madam, the usual splendid feast,
With which our wedding-day is graced,
With you I must not share today,
For business summons me away.
Of all the dainties I’ve prepared,
I beg not any may be spared;
Indulge in every costly dish;
Enjoy, ’tis what I really wish;
Only observe one prohibition,
Nor think it a severe condition;
On one small dish, which covered stands,
You must not dare to lay your hands;
Go—disobey not, on your life,
Or henceforth you’re no more my wife.”
The treat was served, the squire was gone,
The murmuring lady dined alone:
She saw whate’er could grace a feast,
Or charm the eye, or please the taste;
But while she ranged from this to that,
From venison haunch to turtle fat,
On one small dish she chanced to light,
By a deep cover hid from sight:
“O! here it is—yet not for me!
I must not taste, nay, dare not see;
Why place it there? or why forbid
That I so much as lift the lid?
Prohibited of this to eat,
I care not for the sumptuous treat;
I wonder if ’tis fowl or fish;
To know what’s there I merely wish.
I’ll look—O no; I lose for ever,
If I’m betrayed, my husband’s favor.
I own I think it vastly hard,
Nay, tyranny, to be debarred.
John, you may go—the wine’s decanted;
I’ll ring or call you when you’re wanted.”
Now left alone, she waits no longer;
Temptation presses more and stronger.
“I’ll peep—the harm can ne’er be much,
For though I peep, I will not touch;
Why I’m forbid to lift this cover,
One glance will tell, and then ’tis over.
My husband’s absent; so is John;
My peeping never can be known.”
Trembling, she yielded to her wish,
And raised the cover from the dish:
She starts—for, lo! an open pie,
From which six living sparrows fly.
She calls, she screams, with wild surprise.
“Haste, John, and catch these birds!” she cries.
John hears not; but to crown her shame,
In at her call her husband came.
Sternly he frowned as thus he spoke:
“Thus is your vowed allegiance broke!
Self-ignorance led you to believe
You did not share the sin of Eve.
Like hers, how blest was your condition!
Like Heaven’s, how small my prohibition!
Yet you, though fed with every dainty,
Sat pining in the midst of plenty;
This dish, thus singled from the rest,
Of your obedience was the test;
Your mind, unbroke by self-denial,
Could not sustain this slender trial.
Humility from this be taught;
Learn candor to another’s fault.
Go; know, like Eve, from this sad dinner,
You’re both a vain and curious sinner.”