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James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892)

The Malefactor's Plea


              1Of sentences that stir my bile,
              2  Of phrases I detest,
              3There's one beyond all others vile;
              4  "He did it for the best."

              5Of course he did: I don't suppose,
              6  Nor can you think I should,
              7The man's among my deadliest foes,
              8  Or is not fairly good.

              9Of course he did it for the best:
            10  What should he do it for?
            11But did he do it? that's the test:
            12  I ask to know no more.

            13Alas! he did: and here am I,
            14  Quite ruined, half disgraced;
            15And you can really ask me why
            16  My wrath is not effaced:

            17And there is he, good worthy man,
            18  With self-esteem possessed,
            19Still saying, as of course he can,
            20  "I did it for the best."

            21No evil deed was ever done,
            22  Or honest man withstood,
            23Since first this weary world begun,
            24  Except for someone's good.

            25And can it signify to me
            26  Whose good he did it for?
            27Mine was it? thus 'twas wont to be,
            28  And will be ever more.

            29When inoffensive people plant
            30  A dagger in your breast,
            31Your good is what they really want:
            32  They do it for the best.


Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: J. K. Stephen, Quo Musa Tendis?, new edn. (Cambridge: Macmillan and Bowes, 1891), pp. 37-38. PR 5473 S4Q8 1891 Robarts Library.
First publication date: 1891
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1998.
Recent editing: 2:2002/2/6

Rhyme: abab cdcd bebe fgfg hbhb idid jeje kbkb


Other poems by James Kenneth Stephen