Joseph Addison (1672-1719) was an English poet, essayist, and statesman. His excellent short essays, the best of which were published in The Spectator from 1711 to 1712, ranged from satire to religious commentary to allegory to comments on art and society. I especially enjoy the graceful and inventive writing in his comic essays. My favorite is given below.
The Transmigration of Pug, The Monkey
Will Honeycomb told us that Jack Freelove, who was a fellow of whim, made love to one of those ladies who throw away all their fondness upon parrots, monkeys, and lap-dogs. Upon going to pay her a visit one morning he wrote a very pretty epistle upon this hint. Jack, says Will, was conducted into the parlor, where he diverted himself for some time with her favorite monkey, which was chained in one of the windows; till at length observing a pen and ink lie by him, he writ the following letter to his mistress, in the person of her monkey; and upon her not coming down so soon as he expected, left it in the window and went about his business. The lady soon after coming into the parlor, and seeing her monkey look upon a paper with great earnestness, took it up and to this day is in some doubt — says Will — whether it was written by Jack or the Monkey:
"Madam — Not having the gift of speech, I have for a long time waited in vain for an opportunity of making myself known to you; and having at present the convenience of pen, ink, and paper by me, I gladly take the occasion of giving you my history in writing, which I could not do by word of mouth:
"You must know, Madam, that about a thousand years ago I was an Indian Brachman, and versed in all those mysterious secrets which your European philosopher, called Pythagoras, is said to have learned from our fraternity. I had so ingratiated myself by my great skill in the occult sciences with a Daemon whom I used to converse with, that he promised to grant me what ever I should ask of him. I desired that my soul might never pass into the body of a brute creature; but this he told me was not in his power to grant me. I then begged that into whatever creature I should chance to transmigrate, I might still retain my memory, and be conscious that I was the same person who had lived in different animals.
"This he told me was within his power, and accordingly promised, on the word of a Daemon, that he would grant me what I desired. From that time forth I lived so very unblamably that I was made President of a College of Brachmans — an office which I discharged with great integrity till the day of my death.
"I was then shuffled into another human body, and acted my part so well in it that I became First Minister to a Prince who lived upon the banks of the Ganges. I here lived in great honor for several years, but by degrees lost all the innocence of the Brachman, being obliged to rifle and oppress the people to enrich my sovereign; till at length I became so odious that my master, to recover his credit with his subjects, shot me through the heart with an arrow as I was one day addressing myself to him at the head of his army.
"Upon my next remove I found myself in the woods under the shape of a Jackall, and soon lifted myself into the service of a lion. I used to yelp near his den about midnight, which was his time of rousing and seeking after his prey. He always followed me in the rear, and when I had run down a fat buck, a wild goat, or a hare, after he had feasted very plentifully upon it himself, would now and then throw me a bone that was half-picked, for my encouragement; but unsuccessful in two or three chases, he gave me such a confounded grip in his anger that I died of it.
"In my next transmigration I was again set upon two legs, and became an Indian Tax-gatherer; but having been guilty of great extravagances, and being married to an expensive jade of a wife, I ran so cursedly in debt that I durst not show my head. I could no sooner step out of my house but I was arrested by somebody or other that lay in wait for me. As I ventured abroad one night in the dusk of the evening, I was taken up and hurried into a dungeon, where I died a few months after.
"My soul then entered into a flying fish, and in that state I led a most melancholy life for the space of six years. Several fishes of prey pursued me when I was in the water, and if I betook myself to my wings, it was ten to one but I had a flock of birds aiming at me. As I was one day flying amidst a fleet of English ships, I observed a huge Sea-gull whetting his bill and hovering just over my head. Upon my dipping into the water to avoid him, I fell into the mouth of a monstrous shark that swallowed me down in an instant.
"I was some years afterward, to my great surprise, an eminent Banker in Lombard Street; and remembering how I had formerly suffered for want of money, became so very sordid and avaricious that the whole town cried shame upon me. I was a miserable little old fellow to look upon, for I had in a manner starved myself, and was nothing but skin and bone when I died.
"I was afterward very much troubled and amazed to find myself dwindled to an Emmet. I was heartily concerned to make so insignificant a figure, and did not know but some time or other I might be reduced to a mite, if I did not mend my manners. I therefore applied myself with great diligence to the offices that were allotted to me, and was generally looked upon as the notablest ant in the whole molehill. I was at last picked up, as I was groaning under a burden, by an unlucky cock-sparrow that lived in the neighborhood, and had before made great depredations upon our commonwealth.
"I then bettered my condition a little, and lived a whole summer in the shape of a Bee; but being tired of the painful and penurious life I had undergone in my last two transmigrations, I fell into the other extreme and turned Drone. As I one day headed a party to plunder a hive, we were received so warmly by the swarm which defended it that we were for the most part left dead upon the spot.
"I might tell of many other transmigrations which I went through: How I was a Town Rake, and afterward did penance in a bay Gelding for ten years; as also how I was a Tailor, a Shrimp, and a Tom-tit. In the last of these my shapes I was shot in the Christmas holidays by a young jackanapes, who would needs try his new gun upon me.
"But I shall pass over these, and several other stages of life to remind you of the young Beau, who made love to you about six years since. You may remember, Madam, how he masked and danced, and sung, and played a thousand tricks to gain you; and how he was at last carried off by a cold that he had got under your window one night in a serenade. I was that unfortunate young fellow whom you were then so cruel to.
"Not long after my shifting that unlucky body, I found myself upon a hill in Ethiopia, where I lived in my present grotesque shape, till I was caught by a servant of the English factory and sent over into Great Britain. I need not inform you how I came into your hand. You see, Madam, this is not the first time you have had me in a chain. I am, however, very happy in this my captivity, as you often bestow on me those kisses and caresses which I would have given the world for when I was a man. I hope this discovery of my person will not tend to my disadvantage; but that you will still continue your accustomed favors to Your most devoted and humble Servant, Pug.
"P. S. I would advise your little Shock-dog to keep out of my way; for, as I look upon him to be the most formidable of my rivals, I may chance one time or other to give him such a snap as he won't like." — The Spectator. No. 343.