Oliver Goldsmith, "An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog" (1766)

Good people all, of every sort,
Give ear unto my song;
And if you find it wondrous short,
It cannot hold you long.

In Islington there was a man,
Of whom the world might say
That still a godly race he ran,
Whene'er he went to pray.

A kind and gentle heart he had,
To comfort friends and foes;
The naked every day he clad,
When he put on his clothes.

And in that town a dog was found,
As many dogs there be,
Both mongrel, puppy, whelp and hound,
And curs of low degree.

This dog and man at first were friends;
But when a pique began,
The dog, to gain some private ends,
Went mad and bit the man.

Around from all the neighbouring streets
The wondering neighbours ran,
And swore the dog had lost his wits,
To bite so good a man.

The wound it seemed both sore and sad
To every Christian eye;
And while they swore the dog was mad,
They swore the man would die.

But soon a wonder came to light,
That showed the rogues they lied:
The man recovered of the bite,
The dog it was that died.

The dog, as we know, is Friedrich Nietzsche; as soon as we see this we are in a position to blame the "neighbours." Why are they liars, not dupes? This depends on what their mistake is.

Everything depends on the following lines: "And while they swore the dog was mad,/ They swore the man would die." They could be making either of two mistakes:

1) They think the man is as good as he seems; they don't suspect that he is (in his selfishness) circulating a more deadly poison than any mad dog could offer.
2) They know how corrupt the man is, since they are likewise corrupt, themselves. But they don't realize the power of their corruption, and how easily it is translated into wickedness, even murder.

In both cases the dog is a figure of sensibility, the mad philosopher/prophet/poet who either heals or infects the community. In the first case, the dog works in the service of the community by purging it of an isolated villain. Yet this is, on the outside, indistinguishable from the second case, where the community is attacked, and where the dog is an enemy. The real situation of sensibility is somewhere between the two: the community is at large corrupt, but the dog-bite is an act of martyrdom. The dog hasn't, as in the first case above, simply exposed the wicked man; it has exposed the whole community's belief in the harmlessness of corruption (here, selfishness).

The dog, as we know, is Clarissa Harlowe.

Related terms:

a dictionary of sensibility
term list
source bibliography
critical bibliography