Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > Russian, Scandinavian, etc.
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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vol. XIV: Russian—Scandinavian—Miscellaneous
 
Poison for a Fly
By Adam Gottlob Oehlenschläger (1779–1850)
 
From “Aladdin”

ALADDIN and APOTHECARY.
Alad.  (aside).  Oh, bliss of blisses, to have found my love,
And ’scaped the clutches of impending death!
Yes, I shall hurl her tyrant from his throne.
The clear, bright springtime dances through my blood,
And all my boyhood’s gamesomeness comes back.        5
See yonder silly druggist, how he stands
The picture of an overblown conceit!
Necessity commands me to employ
Fell poison’s deadly chalice. Be it so!
But since ’tis stern necessity commands,        10
Since virtue needs must come to grips with vice,
Banter and whim, as music does in war,
Shall drown the wail and anguish of the fray.
(Aloud.)  Good friend, I’d wager me a trifle now,
You are the owner of this shop yourself.        15
  Apoth.  And who may you be, pray, that crow so loud?
  Alad.  I’ve just arrived from Alexandria.
I clean the boots, or, to be more precise,
The slippers of a great philosopher.
  Apoth.  What want you?        20
  Alad.  Friend, canst read?
  Apoth.  Scarce were I else a pharmacopolist.
  Alad.  Canst read, I mean,
Words fairly out and out? Apothecaries
Never go farther in the common way        25
Than bare first syllables. That more than these
Are never seen upon their boxes, friend,
Has shortened many an honest fellow’s days.
  Apoth.  And who are you, that in your rusty cloak
Dare thus insult me with such saucy quips?        30
In my own shop I’ll have fair words, I say.
  Alad.  Fair words—that’s my vocation; for my master
Is a grammarian. Does he not teach me
To trim and give a polish to my speech?
But if you really can read, if all        35
Your talk be not mere vaporing and wind,
Give me what’s writ on this prescription here.
  Apoth.  What do I see? You want this powder, this?
  Alad.  And quickly too. Don’t keep me waiting—come!
  Apoth.  The foul fiend fly away with you, say I!        40
  Alad.  The first of hucksters, thou, that ever sent
A customer to the devil.
  Apoth.  No huckster I, and you no customer.
  Alad.  Then what is your vocation? No huckster, eh?
  Apoth.  You see in me a leech of skill, an artist,        45
A pharmacopolist, a man of science,
A doctor, a mediciner at least.
  Alad.  And what, think you, am I?
  Apoth.  A knave without the money for to buy
A drug so rare and of such potency.        50
What wouldst thou do with it? ’Tis poison.
Wouldst thou poison thyself?
  Alad.  Myself? No—other folks.
  Apoth.  How, other folks? Better and better still!
Come with me to the cadi.        55
  Alad.  Tush! I have counsel for your ear.
  Apoth.  Counsel for me?
  Alad.  Always hear people out before you judge.
  Apoth.  You’re bent on poisoning?
Did you not say as much? If ’twere yourself,        60
It would not matter much. But other folks—
That was the word, and said without a blush!
And pray, sir, who may these same others be?
A pretty scrape you’d land me in! But whom
Would you send post-haste to the realm of shades?        65
  Alad.  Flies.
  Apoth.        Flies?
  Alad.            Wasps.
  Apoth.                Wasps?
  Alad.  Gadflies—hm.
  Apoth.  Kill gadflies with a powder of such price?
  Alad.  Pish, man! I’m better off than you suppose.
It will not put me out so very much        70
To treat my flies to something savory.  (Gives him a piece of gold.)
  Apoth.  (obsequiously).  This puts the case in quite another light.
(Aside.)  Outside the man is rather rough, no doubt,
But he’s a proper fellow at the core.
(Aloud.)  That’s quite another matter. Ah, dear sir,        75
You’re not offended at my hasty words?
One must be circumspect in things like these;
One’s bound to have a kind of conscience, eh?
  Alad.  Spoke like an oracle. But tell me, friend,
Suppose I’d kill a fly—I mean outright—        80
How much of this would do the business?
  Apoth.  That stands in mathematical relation,
If one may say so, to the insect’s size.
Suppose it be an average sort of beast:
In sugared water drop the veriest grain,        85
And you will slay them by the thousand,
As with ass’s jaw-bone Samson slew his foes.  (Gives him the powder.)
  Alad.  But how, pray, if the fly were of your size?
  Apoth.  How—my size? There, you’re at your quips again!
You have some mischief in your thoughts, I swear.        90
As big as me? Almighty Prophet! why,
The biggest horse-fly’s not so big as that!
  Alad.  You have a shrewd wit of your own, ’tis clear.
I do protest, ’tis flies I mean to kill;
But, as they’re lodged within a mortal’s head,        95
I must convey the powder through his lips.
  Apoth.  Now, by the Prophet’s grave, I’ll give th’ alarm!
  Alad.  Indeed you won’t! You’ve wit enough to see
How easy ’twere for me to stop your mouth,
Should it grow clamorous, by a knock-down blow,        100
Or by this powder flirted down your throat.
  Apoth.  A murrain on thee for a murderous knave!
Go, kill whome’er you please—I care not!
Kill flies, wasps, gadflies, gnats, philosophers,
Men and mosquitoes—anything you will,        105
So you but spare myself, my wife, and Hassan,
My little pet, my bandy-leggèd boy.
  Alad.  Pah! Fare you well—’tis but a jest, you know,
A harmless jest—no more.  (Exit.)
  Apoth.  Who knows, now, what a rogue like this may do?        110
But he paid handsomely—and promptly too.
One must wink hard, and pocket many a slight,
Who would not lose his customers outright.
 
 
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