Born: Jan­ua­ry 8, 1720, Read­ing, Berk­shire, Eng­land.

Died: Jan­ua­ry 5, 1769, Read­ing, Berk­shire, Eng­land.

Buried: St. Lau­rence Church, Read­ing, Berk­shire, Eng­land.


Educated at Ox­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, Mer­rick be­came a Fel­low of Tri­ni­ty Col­lege. He took Ho­ly Or­ders, but was could not work in a par­ish due to ill health.



The Chameleon

Oft has it been my lot to mark
A proud, conceited, talking spark,
With eyes that hardly served at most
To guard their master ’gainst a post;
Yet round the world the blade has been,
To see whatever could be seen.
Returning from his finished tour,
Grown ten times perter than before,
Whatever word you chance to drop,
The traveled fool your mouth will stop.
Sir, if my judgment you’ll allow,
I’ve seen, and sure I ought to know.

So begs you’d pay a due submission,
And acquiesce in his decision.

Two travelers of such a cast,
As o’er Arabia’s wilds they pass’d,
And on their way, in friendly chat,
Now talked of this, and then of that,
Discoursed awhile, ’mongst other matter,
Of the Chameleon’s form and nature.
A stranger animal, cries one,
Sure never lived beneath the sun:
A lizard’s body lean and long,
A fish’s head, a serpent’s tongue,
Its foot with triple claw disjoined,
And what a length of tail behind!
How slow its pace! And then its hue!
Who ever saw so fine a blue?

Hold, there! the other quick replies;
’Tis green; I saw it with these eyes,
As late with open mouth it lay,
And warmed it in the sunny ray.
Stretched at its ease the beast I viewed,
And saw it eat the air for food.

I’ve seen it, sir, as well as you,
And must again affirm it blue.
At leisure I the beast surveyed
Extended in the cooling shade.

’Tis green, ’tis green, sir, I assure ye.
Green! cries the other in a fury;
Why, sir, d’ye think I’ve lost my eyes?
’Twere no great loss, the friend replies;
For if they always serve you thus,
You’ll find them but of little use.

So high at last the contest rose,
From words they almost came to blows,
When luckily came by a third;
To him the question they referred,
And begged he’d tell them, if he knew,
Whether the thing was green or blue.

Sirs, cries the umpire, cease your pother;
The creature’s neither one nor t’other.
I caught the animal last night,
And viewed it o’er by candle-light.
I marked it well; ’twas black as jet.
You stare! But, sirs, I’ve got it yet,
And can produce it.
Pray, sir, do;
I’ll lay my life the thing is blue.

And I’ll be sworn, that when you’ve seen
The reptile, you’ll pronounce him green.

Well, then, at once to ease the doubt,
Replies the man, I’ll turn him out;
And when before your eyes I’ve set him,
If you don’t find him black, I’ll eat him.

He said; and full before their sight
Produced the beast, and lo! ’twas white.
Both stared; the man looked wondrous wise.
My children, the Chameleon cries
(Then first the creature found a tongue),
You all are right, and all are wrong.
When next you talk of what you view,
Think others see as well as you;
Nor wonder if you find that none
Prefers your eyesight to his own.

James Merrick (1720–1769)



Help Needed

If you know where to get a good pic­ture of Mer­rick (head & shoul­ders, at least 200×300 pix­els),