The Fables of La Fontaine - A New Edition, With Notes
by Jean de La Fontaine
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Ye knaves, for you is this recital, You'll often meet Dame Stork's requital.

[23] Phaedrus, I. 26; also in Aesop.


Wise counsel is not always wise, As this my tale exemplifies. A boy, that frolick'd on the banks of Seine, Fell in, and would have found a watery grave, Had not that hand that planteth ne'er in vain A willow planted there, his life to save. While hanging by its branches as he might, A certain sage preceptor came in sight; To whom the urchin cried, 'Save, or I'm drown'd!' The master, turning gravely at the sound, Thought proper for a while to stand aloof, And give the boy some seasonable reproof. 'You little wretch! this comes of foolish playing, Commands and precepts disobeying. A naughty rogue, no doubt, you are, Who thus requite your parents' care. Alas! their lot I pity much, Whom fate condemns to watch o'er such.' This having coolly said, and more, He pull'd the drowning lad ashore.

This story hits more marks than you suppose. All critics, pedants, men of endless prose,— Three sorts, so richly bless'd with progeny, The house is bless'd that doth not lodge any,— May in it see themselves from head to toes. No matter what the task, Their precious tongues must teach; Their help in need you ask, You first must hear them preach.

[24] A fable telling this story is in the collection of Arabic fables which bear the name of Locman, or Lokman, a personage some identify with Aesop himself. Lokman is said to have flourished about 1050 B.C.; and even as the "Phrygian slave"—Aesop was said to have been very ugly, so Lokman is described as "an ugly black slave." See Translator's Preface. Rabelais also has a version of the story of this fable, vide Gargantua, Book I. ch. xlii.


A cock scratch'd up, one day, A pearl of purest ray, Which to a jeweller he bore. 'I think it fine,' he said, 'But yet a crumb of bread To me were worth a great deal more.'

So did a dunce inherit A manuscript of merit, Which to a publisher he bore. ''Tis good,' said he, 'I'm told, Yet any coin of gold To me were worth a great deal more.'

[25] Phaedrus, III. 11.


"The artist by his work is known."— A piece of honey-comb, one day, Discover'd as a waif and stray, The hornets treated as their own. Their title did the bees dispute, And brought before a wasp the suit. The judge was puzzled to decide, For nothing could be testified Save that around this honey-comb There had been seen, as if at home, Some longish, brownish, buzzing creatures, Much like the bees in wings and features. But what of that? for marks the same, The hornets, too, could truly claim. Between assertion, and denial, The wasp, in doubt, proclaim'd new trial; And, hearing what an ant-hill swore, Could see no clearer than before. 'What use, I pray, of this expense?' At last exclaim'd a bee of sense. 'We've labour'd months in this affair, And now are only where we were. Meanwhile the honey runs to waste: 'Tis time the judge should show some haste. The parties, sure, have had sufficient bleeding, Without more fuss of scrawls and pleading. Let's set ourselves at work, these drones and we, And then all eyes the truth may plainly see, Whose art it is that can produce The magic cells, the nectar juice.' The hornets, flinching on their part, Show that the work transcends their art. The wasp at length their title sees, And gives the honey to the bees. Would God that suits at laws with us Might all be managed thus! That we might, in the Turkish mode, Have simple common sense for code! They then were short and cheap affairs, Instead of stretching on like ditches, Ingulfing in their course all riches,— The parties leaving for their shares, The shells (and shells there might be moister) From which the court has suck'd the oyster.[27]

[26] Phaedrus, III. 12. [27] The court has suck'd the oyster.—The humorous idea of the lawyers, the litigants, and the oyster, is more fully treated in Fable IX., Book IX.


The oak one day address'd the reed:— 'To you ungenerous indeed Has nature been, my humble friend, With weakness aye obliged to bend. The smallest bird that flits in air Is quite too much for you to bear; The slightest wind that wreathes the lake Your ever-trembling head doth shake. The while, my towering form Dares with the mountain top The solar blaze to stop, And wrestle with the storm. What seems to you the blast of death, To me is but a zephyr's breath. Beneath my branches had you grown, That spread far round their friendly bower, Less suffering would your life have known, Defended from the tempest's power. Unhappily you oftenest show In open air your slender form, Along the marshes wet and low, That fringe the kingdom of the storm. To you, declare I must, Dame Nature seems unjust.' Then modestly replied the reed: 'Your pity, sir, is kind indeed, But wholly needless for my sake. The wildest wind that ever blew Is safe to me compared with you. I bend, indeed, but never break. Thus far, I own, the hurricane Has beat your sturdy back in vain; But wait the end.' Just at the word, The tempest's hollow voice was heard. The North sent forth her fiercest child, Dark, jagged, pitiless, and wild. The oak, erect, endured the blow; The reed bow'd gracefully and low. But, gathering up its strength once more, In greater fury than before, The savage blast O'erthrew, at last, That proud, old, sky-encircled head, Whose feet entwined the empire of the dead![29]

[28] The groundwork of this fable is in Aesop, and also in the Fables of Avianus. Flavius Avianus lived in the fifth century. His Aesopian Fables were written in Latin verse. Caxton printed "The Fables of Avian, translated into Englyshe" at the end of his edition of Aesop. [29] This fable and "The Animals Sick of the Plague" (Fable I., Book VII.), are generally deemed La Fontaine's two best fables. "The Oak and the Reed" is held to be the perfection of classical fable, while "The Animals Sick of the Plague" is esteemed for its fine poetic feeling conjoined with its excellent moral teaching. See Translator's Preface.

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Were I a pet of fair Calliope, I would devote the gifts conferr'd on me To dress in verse old Aesop's lies divine; For verse, and they, and truth, do well combine; But, not a favourite on the Muses' hill, I dare not arrogate the magic skill, To ornament these charming stories. A bard might brighten up their glories, No doubt. I try,—what one more wise must do. Thus much I have accomplish'd hitherto:— By help of my translation, The beasts hold conversation, In French, as ne'er they did before. Indeed, to claim a little more, The plants and trees,[2] with smiling features, Are turn'd by me to talking creatures. Who says, that this is not enchanting? 'Ah,' says the critics, 'hear what vaunting! From one whose work, all told, no more is Than half-a-dozen baby stories.'[3] Would you a theme more credible, my censors, In graver tone, and style which now and then soars? Then list! For ten long years the men of Troy, By means that only heroes can employ, Had held the allied hosts of Greece at bay,— Their minings, batterings, stormings day by day, Their hundred battles on the crimson plain, Their blood of thousand heroes, all in vain,— When, by Minerva's art, a horse of wood, Of lofty size before their city stood, Whose flanks immense the sage Ulysses hold, Brave Diomed, and Ajax fierce and bold, Whom, with their myrmidons, the huge machine Would bear within the fated town unseen, To wreak upon its very gods their rage— Unheard-of stratagem, in any age. Which well its crafty authors did repay.... 'Enough, enough,' our critic folks will say; 'Your period excites alarm, Lest you should do your lungs some harm; And then your monstrous wooden horse, With squadrons in it at their ease, Is even harder to endorse Than Renard cheating Raven of his cheese. And, more than that, it fits you ill To wield the old heroic quill.' Well, then, a humbler tone, if such your will is:— Long sigh'd and pined the jealous Amaryllis For her Alcippus, in the sad belief, None, save her sheep and dog, would know her grief. Thyrsis, who knows, among the willows slips, And hears the gentle shepherdess's lips Beseech the kind and gentle zephyr To bear these accents to her lover.... 'Stop!' says my censor: 'To laws of rhyme quite irreducible, That couplet needs again the crucible; Poetic men, sir, Must nicely shun the shocks Of rhymes unorthodox.' A curse on critics! hold your tongue! Know I not how to end my song? Of time and strength what greater waste Than my attempt to suit your taste?

Some men, more nice than wise, There's nought that satisfies.

[1] Phaedrus, Book IV. 7. [2] The plants and trees.—Aristotle's rule for pure fable is that its dramatis personae should be animals only—excluding man. Dr. Johnson (writing upon Gay's Fables) agrees in this dictum "generally." But hardly any of the fabulists, from Aesop downwards, seem to have bound themselves by the rule; and in this fable we have La Fontaine rather exulting in his assignment of speech, &c., not only to the lower animals but to "plants and trees," &c., as well as otherwise defying the "hard to suit," i.e., the critics. [3] Half-a-dozen baby stories.—Here La Fontaine exalts his muse as a fabulist. This is in reply to certain of his critics who pronounced his work puerile, and pretended to wish him to adopt the higher forms of poetry. Some of the fables of the first six Books were originally published in a semi-private way before 1668. See the Translators Preface. La Fontaine defends his art as a writer of fables also in Book III. (Fable I.); Book V. (Fable I.); Book VI. (Fable I.); Book VII. (Introduction); Book VIII. (Fable IV.), and Book IX. (Fable I).


Old Rodilard,[5] a certain cat, Such havoc of the rats had made, 'Twas difficult to find a rat With nature's debt unpaid. The few that did remain, To leave their holes afraid, From usual food abstain, Not eating half their fill. And wonder no one will That one who made of rats his revel, With rats pass'd not for cat, but devil. Now, on a day, this dread rat-eater, Who had a wife, went out to meet her; And while he held his caterwauling, The unkill'd rats, their chapter calling, Discuss'd the point, in grave debate, How they might shun impending fate. Their dean, a prudent rat, Thought best, and better soon than late, To bell the fatal cat; That, when he took his hunting round, The rats, well caution'd by the sound, Might hide in safety under ground; Indeed he knew no other means. And all the rest At once confess'd Their minds were with the dean's. No better plan, they all believed, Could possibly have been conceived, No doubt the thing would work right well, If any one would hang the bell. But, one by one, said every rat, 'I'm not so big a fool as that.' The plan, knock'd up in this respect, The council closed without effect.

And many a council I have seen, Or reverend chapter with its dean, That, thus resolving wisely, Fell through like this precisely.

To argue or refute Wise counsellors abound; The man to execute Is harder to be found.

[4] Faerno and Abstemius both have fables upon this subject. Gabriel Faerno (1500-1561) was an Italian writer who published fables in Latin. Perrault translated these into French verse, and published them at Paris in 1699. Faerno was also a famous editor of Terence. Laurentius Abstemius, or Astemio, was an Italian fabulist of the fifteenth century. After their first publication his fables often appeared in editions of Aesop. [5] Rodilard.—The name no doubt taken from the famous cat Rodilardus (bacon-gnawer), in Rabelais, Pantagruel, IV., ch. LXVII.


A wolf, affirming his belief That he had suffer'd by a thief, Brought up his neighbour fox— Of whom it was by all confess'd, His character was not the best— To fill the prisoner's box. As judge between these vermin, A monkey graced the ermine; And truly other gifts of Themis[7] Did scarcely seem his; For while each party plead his cause, Appealing boldly to the laws, And much the question vex'd, Our monkey sat perplex'd. Their words and wrath expended, Their strife at length was ended; When, by their malice taught, The judge this judgment brought: 'Your characters, my friends, I long have known, As on this trial clearly shown; And hence I fine you both—the grounds at large To state would little profit— You wolf, in short, as bringing groundless charge, You fox, as guilty of it.'

Come at it right or wrong, the judge opined No other than a villain could be fined.[8]

[6] Phaedrus, I. 10. [7] Themis.—The goddess of Justice. [8] So Philip of Macedon is said to have decided a suit by condemning the defendant to banishment and the plaintiff to follow him. The wisdom of each decision lies in taking advantage of a doubtful case to convict two well-known rogues of—previous bad character.


Two bulls engaged in shocking battle, Both for a certain heifer's sake, And lordship over certain cattle, A frog began to groan and quake. 'But what is this to you?' Inquired another of the croaking crew. 'Why, sister, don't you see, The end of this will be, That one of these big brutes will yield, And then be exiled from the field? No more permitted on the grass to feed, He'll forage through our marsh, on rush and reed; And while he eats or chews the cud, Will trample on us in the mud. Alas! to think how frogs must suffer By means of this proud lady heifer!' This fear was not without good sense. One bull was beat, and much to their expense; For, quick retreating to their reedy bower, He trod on twenty of them in an hour.

Of little folks it oft has been the fate To suffer for the follies of the great.

[9] Phaedrus, I. 30.


A blundering bat once stuck her head Into a wakeful weasel's bed; Whereat the mistress of the house, A deadly foe of rats and mice, Was making ready in a trice To eat the stranger as a mouse. 'What! do you dare,' she said, 'to creep in The very bed I sometimes sleep in, Now, after all the provocation I've suffer'd from your thievish nation? Are you not really a mouse, That gnawing pest of every house, Your special aim to do the cheese ill? Ay, that you are, or I'm no weasel.' 'I beg your pardon,' said the bat; 'My kind is very far from that. What! I a mouse! Who told you such a lie? Why, ma'am, I am a bird; And, if you doubt my word, Just see the wings with which I fly. Long live the mice that cleave the sky!' These reasons had so fair a show, The weasel let the creature go.

By some strange fancy led, The same wise blunderhead, But two or three days later, Had chosen for her rest Another weasel's nest, This last, of birds a special hater. New peril brought this step absurd; Without a moment's thought or puzzle, Dame weasel oped her peaked muzzle To eat th' intruder as a bird. 'Hold! do not wrong me,' cried the bat; 'I'm truly no such thing as that. Your eyesight strange conclusions gathers. What makes a bird, I pray? Its feathers. I'm cousin of the mice and rats. Great Jupiter confound the cats!' The bat, by such adroit replying, Twice saved herself from dying.

And many a human stranger Thus turns his coat in danger; And sings, as suits, where'er he goes, 'God save the king!'—or 'save his foes!'[11]

[10] Aesop. [11] Or save his foes!—La Fontaine's last line is—"Vive le roi! Vive la ligue!" conveying an allusion to the "Holy League" of the French Catholic party, which, under the Guises, brought about the war with Henry III. and the Huguenots, which ended, for a time, in the edict of Nantes, promulgated by Henry IV. in 1598.


A bird, with plumed arrow shot, In dying case deplored her lot: 'Alas!' she cried, 'the anguish of the thought! This ruin partly by myself was brought! Hard-hearted men! from us to borrow What wings to us the fatal arrow! But mock us not, ye cruel race, For you must often take our place.'

The work of half the human brothers Is making arms against the others.

[12] Aesop.


A bitch, that felt her time approaching, And had no place for parturition, Went to a female friend, and, broaching Her delicate condition, Got leave herself to shut Within the other's hut. At proper time the lender came Her little premises to claim. The bitch crawl'd meekly to the door, And humbly begg'd a fortnight more. Her little pups, she said, could hardly walk. In short, the lender yielded to her talk. The second term expired; the friend had come To take possession of her house and home. The bitch, this time, as if she would have bit her, Replied, 'I'm ready, madam, with my litter, To go when you can turn me out.' Her pups, you see, were fierce and stout.

The creditor, from whom a villain borrows, Will fewer shillings get again than sorrows. If you have trusted people of this sort, You'll have to plead, and dun, and fight; in short, If in your house you let one step a foot, He'll surely step the other in to boot.

[13] Phaedrus, I. 19. See the Translator's Preface.


John Rabbit, by Dame Eagle chased, Was making for his hole in haste, When, on his way, he met a beetle's burrow. I leave you all to think If such a little chink Could to a rabbit give protection thorough. But, since no better could be got, John Rabbit there was fain to squat. Of course, in an asylum so absurd, John felt ere long the talons of the bird. But first, the beetle, interceding, cried, 'Great queen of birds, it cannot be denied, That, maugre my protection, you can bear My trembling guest, John Rabbit, through the air. But do not give me such affront, I pray; And since he craves your grace, In pity of his case, Grant him his life, or take us both away; For he's my gossip, friend, and neighbour.' In vain the beetle's friendly labour; The eagle clutch'd her prey without reply, And as she flapp'd her vasty wings to fly, Struck down our orator and still'd him; The wonder is she hadn't kill'd him. The beetle soon, of sweet revenge in quest, Flew to the old, gnarl'd mountain oak, Which proudly bore that haughty eagle's nest. And while the bird was gone, Her eggs, her cherish'd eggs, he broke, Not sparing one. Returning from her flight, the eagle's cry, Of rage and bitter anguish, fill'd the sky. But, by excess of passion blind, Her enemy she fail'd to find. Her wrath in vain, that year it was her fate To live a mourning mother, desolate. The next, she built a loftier nest; 'twas vain; The beetle found and dash'd her eggs again. John Rabbit's death was thus revenged anew. The second mourning for her murder'd brood Was such, that through the giant mountain wood, For six long months, the sleepless echo flew. The bird, once Ganymede, now made Her prayer to Jupiter for aid; And, laying them within his godship's lap, She thought her eggs now safe from all mishap; The god his own could not but make them— No wretch, would venture there to break them. And no one did. Their enemy, this time, Upsoaring to a place sublime, Let fall upon his royal robes some dirt, Which Jove just shaking, with a sudden flirt, Threw out the eggs, no one knows whither. When Jupiter inform'd her how th' event Occurr'd by purest accident, The eagle raved; there was no reasoning with her; She gave out threats of leaving court, To make the desert her resort, And other brav'ries of this sort. Poor Jupiter in silence heard The uproar of his favourite bird. Before his throne the beetle now appear'd, And by a clear complaint the mystery clear'd. The god pronounced the eagle in the wrong. But still, their hatred was so old and strong, These enemies could not be reconciled; And, that the general peace might not be spoil'd,— The best that he could do,—the god arranged, That thence the eagle's pairing should be changed, To come when beetle folks are only found Conceal'd and dormant under ground.

[14] Aesop.


'Go, paltry insect, nature's meanest brat!' Thus said the royal lion to the gnat. The gnat declared immediate war. 'Think you,' said he, 'your royal name To me worth caring for? Think you I tremble at your power or fame? The ox is bigger far than you; Yet him I drive, and all his crew.' This said, as one that did no fear owe, Himself he blew the battle charge, Himself both trumpeter and hero. At first he play'd about at large, Then on the lion's neck, at leisure, settled, And there the royal beast full sorely nettled. With foaming mouth, and flashing eye, He roars. All creatures hide or fly,— Such mortal terror at The work of one poor gnat! With constant change of his attack, The snout now stinging, now the back, And now the chambers of the nose; The pigmy fly no mercy shows. The lion's rage was at its height; His viewless foe now laugh'd outright, When on his battle-ground he saw, That every savage tooth and claw Had got its proper beauty By doing bloody duty; Himself, the hapless lion, tore his hide, And lash'd with sounding tail from side to side. Ah! bootless blow, and bite, and curse! He beat the harmless air, and worse; For, though so fierce and stout, By effort wearied out, He fainted, fell, gave up the quarrel. The gnat retires with verdant laurel. Now rings his trumpet clang, As at the charge it rang. But while his triumph note he blows, Straight on our valiant conqueror goes A spider's ambuscade to meet, And make its web his winding-sheet.

We often have the most to fear From those we most despise; Again, great risks a man may clear, Who by the smallest dies.

[15] Aesop.


A man, whom I shall call an ass-eteer, His sceptre like some Roman emperor bearing, Drove on two coursers of protracted ear, The one, with sponges laden, briskly faring; The other lifting legs As if he trod on eggs, With constant need of goading, And bags of salt for loading. O'er hill and dale our merry pilgrims pass'd, Till, coming to a river's ford at last, They stopp'd quite puzzled on the shore. Our asseteer had cross'd the stream before; So, on the lighter beast astride, He drives the other, spite of dread, Which, loath indeed to go ahead, Into a deep hole turns aside, And, facing right about, Where he went in, comes out; For duckings two or three Had power the salt to melt, So that the creature felt His burden'd shoulders free. The sponger, like a sequent sheep, Pursuing through the water deep, Into the same hole plunges Himself, his rider, and the sponges. All three drank deeply: asseteer and ass For boon companions of their load might pass; Which last became so sore a weight, The ass fell down, Belike to drown, His rider risking equal fate. A helper came, no matter who. The moral needs no more ado— That all can't act alike,— The point I wish'd to strike.

[16] Aesop.


To show to all your kindness, it behoves: There's none so small but you his aid may need. I quote two fables for this weighty creed, Which either of them fully proves. From underneath the sward A rat, quite off his guard, Popp'd out between a lion's paws. The beast of royal bearing Show'd what a lion was The creature's life by sparing— A kindness well repaid; For, little as you would have thought His majesty would ever need his aid, It proved full soon A precious boon. Forth issuing from his forest glen, T' explore the haunts of men, In lion net his majesty was caught, From which his strength and rage Served not to disengage. The rat ran up, with grateful glee, Gnaw'd off a rope, and set him free.

By time and toil we sever What strength and rage could never.

[17] Aesop. In the original editions of La Fontaine's Fables, XI. and XII. are printed together, and headed "Fables XI. et XII."


The same instruction we may get From another couple, smaller yet.

A dove came to a brook to drink, When, leaning o'er its crumbling brink, An ant fell in, and vainly tried, In this, to her, an ocean tide, To reach the land; whereat the dove, With every living thing in love, Was prompt a spire of grass to throw her, By which the ant regain'd the shore.

A barefoot scamp, both mean and sly, Soon after chanced this dove to spy; And, being arm'd with bow and arrow, The hungry codger doubted not The bird of Venus, in his pot, Would make a soup before the morrow. Just as his deadly bow he drew, Our ant just bit his heel. Roused by the villain's squeal, The dove took timely hint, and flew Far from the rascal's coop;— And with her flew his soup.

[18] Aesop.


To an astrologer who fell Plump to the bottom of a well, 'Poor blockhead!' cried a passer-by, 'Not see your feet, and read the sky?'

This upshot of a story will suffice To give a useful hint to most; For few there are in this our world so wise As not to trust in star or ghost, Or cherish secretly the creed That men the book of destiny may read. This book, by Homer and his pupils sung, What is it, in plain common sense, But what was chance those ancient folks among, And with ourselves, God's providence? Now chance doth bid defiance To every thing like science; 'Twere wrong, if not, To call it hazard, fortune, lot— Things palpably uncertain. But from the purposes divine, The deep of infinite design, Who boasts to lift the curtain? Whom but himself doth God allow To read his bosom thoughts? and how Would he imprint upon the stars sublime The shrouded secrets of the night of time? And all for what? To exercise the wit Of those who on astrology have writ? To help us shun inevitable ills? To poison for us even pleasure's rills? The choicest blessings to destroy, Exhausting, ere they come, their joy? Such faith is worse than error—'tis a crime. The sky-host moves and marks the course of time; The sun sheds on our nicely-measured days The glory of his night-dispelling rays; And all from this we can divine Is, that they need to rise and shine,— To roll the seasons, ripen fruits, And cheer the hearts of men and brutes. How tallies this revolving universe With human things, eternally diverse? Ye horoscopers, waning quacks, Please turn on Europe's courts your backs, And, taking on your travelling lists The bellows-blowing alchemists, Budge off together to the land of mists. But I've digress'd. Return we now, bethinking Of our poor star-man, whom we left a drinking. Besides the folly of his lying trade, This man the type may well be made Of those who at chimeras stare When they should mind the things that are.

[19] Aesop. Diogenes Laertius tells the story of this fable of Thales of Miletus. "It is said that once he (Thales) was led out of his house by an old woman for the purpose of observing the stars, and he fell into a ditch and bewailed himself. On which the old woman said to him—'Do you, O Thales, who cannot see what is under your feet, think that thou shalt understand what is in heaven?'"—Diogenes Laertius, Bohn's edition.


Once in his bed deep mused the hare, (What else but muse could he do there?) And soon by gloom was much afflicted;— To gloom the creature's much addicted. 'Alas! these constitutions nervous,' He cried, 'how wretchedly they serve us! We timid people, by their action, Can't eat nor sleep with satisfaction; We can't enjoy a pleasure single, But with some misery it must mingle. Myself, for one, am forced by cursed fear To sleep with open eye as well as ear. "Correct yourself," says some adviser. Grows fear, by such advice, the wiser? Indeed, I well enough descry That men have fear, as well as I.' With such revolving thoughts our hare Kept watch in soul-consuming care. A passing shade, or leaflet's quiver Would give his blood a boiling fever. Full soon, his melancholy soul Aroused from dreaming doze By noise too slight for foes, He scuds in haste to reach his hole. He pass'd a pond; and from its border bogs, Plunge after plunge, in leap'd the timid frogs, 'Aha! I do to them, I see,' He cried, 'what others do to me. The sight of even me, a hare, Sufficeth some, I find, to scare. And here, the terror of my tramp Hath put to rout, it seems, a camp. The trembling fools! they take me for The very thunderbolt of war! I see, the coward never skulk'd a foe That might not scare a coward still below.'

[20] Aesop.


Upon a tree there mounted guard A veteran cock, adroit and cunning; When to the roots a fox up running, Spoke thus, in tones of kind regard:— 'Our quarrel, brother, 's at an end; Henceforth I hope to live your friend; For peace now reigns Throughout the animal domains. I bear the news:—come down, I pray, And give me the embrace fraternal; And please, my brother, don't delay. So much the tidings do concern all, That I must spread them far to-day. Now you and yours can take your walks Without a fear or thought of hawks. And should you clash with them or others, In us you'll find the best of brothers;— For which you may, this joyful night, Your merry bonfires light. But, first, let's seal the bliss With one fraternal kiss.' 'Good friend,' the cock replied, 'upon my word, A better thing I never heard; And doubly I rejoice To hear it from your voice; And, really there must be something in it, For yonder come two greyhounds, which I flatter Myself are couriers on this very matter. They come so fast, they'll be here in a minute. I'll down, and all of us will seal the blessing With general kissing and caressing.' 'Adieu,' said fox; 'my errand's pressing; I'll hurry on my way, And we'll rejoice some other day.' So off the fellow scamper'd, quick and light, To gain the fox-holes of a neighbouring height, Less happy in his stratagem than flight. The cock laugh'd sweetly in his sleeve;— 'Tis doubly sweet deceiver to deceive.

[21] Aesop.


The bird of Jove bore off a mutton, A raven being witness. That weaker bird, but equal glutton, Not doubting of his fitness To do the same with ease, And bent his taste to please, Took round the flock his sweep, And mark'd among the sheep, The one of fairest flesh and size, A real sheep of sacrifice— A dainty titbit bestial, Reserved for mouth celestial. Our gormand, gloating round, Cried, 'Sheep, I wonder much Who could have made you such. You're far the fattest I have found; I'll take you for my eating.' And on the creature bleating He settled down. Now, sooth to say, This sheep would weigh More than a cheese; And had a fleece Much like that matting famous Which graced the chin of Polyphemus;[23] So fast it clung to every claw, It was not easy to withdraw. The shepherd came, caught, caged, and, to their joy, Gave croaker to his children for a toy.

Ill plays the pilferer the bigger thief; One's self one ought to know;—in brief, Example is a dangerous lure; Death strikes the gnat, where flies the wasp secure.

[22] Aesop; and Corrozet. [23] Polyphemus.—The Cyclop king: vide Homer's Odyssey, Book IX.


The peacock[25] to the queen of heaven Complain'd in some such words:— 'Great goddess, you have given To me, the laughing-stock of birds, A voice which fills, by taste quite just, All nature with disgust; Whereas that little paltry thing, The nightingale, pours from her throat So sweet and ravishing a note, She bears alone the honours of the spring.'

In anger Juno heard, And cried, 'Shame on you, jealous bird! Grudge you the nightingale her voice, Who in the rainbow neck rejoice, Than costliest silks more richly tinted, In charms of grace and form unstinted,— Who strut in kingly pride, Your glorious tail spread wide With brilliants which in sheen do Outshine the jeweller's bow window? Is there a bird beneath the blue That has more charms than you? No animal in everything can shine. By just partition of our gifts divine, Each has its full and proper share; Among the birds that cleave the air, The hawk's a swift, the eagle is a brave one, For omens serves the hoarse old raven, The rook's of coming ills the prophet; And if there's any discontent, I've heard not of it.

'Cease, then, your envious complaint; Or I, instead of making up your lack, Will take your boasted plumage from your back.'

[24] Phaedrus, III. 17. [25] The peacock was consecrated to Juno the "Queen of Heaven," and was under her protection.


A bachelor caress'd his cat, A darling, fair, and delicate; So deep in love, he thought her mew The sweetest voice he ever knew. By prayers, and tears, and magic art, The man got Fate to take his part; And, lo! one morning at his side His cat, transform'd, became his bride. In wedded state our man was seen The fool in courtship he had been. No lover e'er was so bewitch'd By any maiden's charms As was this husband, so enrich'd By hers within his arms. He praised her beauties, this and that, And saw there nothing of the cat. In short, by passion's aid, he Thought her a perfect lady.

'Twas night: some carpet-gnawing mice Disturb'd the nuptial joys. Excited by the noise, The bride sprang at them in a trice; The mice were scared and fled. The bride, scarce in her bed, The gnawing heard, and sprang again,— And this time not in vain, For, in this novel form array'd, Of her the mice were less afraid. Through life she loved this mousing course, So great is stubborn nature's force.

In mockery of change, the old Will keep their youthful bent. When once the cloth has got its fold, The smelling-pot its scent, In vain your efforts and your care To make them other than they are. To work reform, do what you will, Old habit will be habit still. Nor fork[27] nor strap can mend its manners, Nor cudgel-blows beat down its banners. Secure the doors against the renter, And through the windows it will enter.

[26] Aesop. [27] Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret.—Hor. Epist. Bk. I. 10.—Translator.


The king of animals, with royal grace, Would celebrate his birthday in the chase. 'Twas not with bow and arrows, To slay some wretched sparrows; The lion hunts the wild boar of the wood, The antlered deer and stags, the fat and good. This time, the king, t' insure success, Took for his aide-de-camp an ass, A creature of stentorian voice, That felt much honour'd by the choice. The lion hid him in a proper station, And order'd him to bray, for his vocation, Assured that his tempestuous cry The boldest beasts would terrify, And cause them from their lairs to fly. And, sooth, the horrid noise the creature made Did strike the tenants of the wood with dread; And, as they headlong fled, All fell within the lion's ambuscade. 'Has not my service glorious Made both of us victorious?' Cried out the much-elated ass. 'Yes,' said the lion; 'bravely bray'd! Had I not known yourself and race, I should have been myself afraid!' If he had dared, the donkey Had shown himself right spunky At this retort, though justly made; For who could suffer boasts to pass So ill-befitting to an ass?

[28] Phaedrus, I. 11: Aesop.


If what old story says of Aesop's true, The oracle of Greece he was, And more than Areopagus[30] he knew, With all its wisdom in the laws. The following tale gives but a sample Of what has made his fame so ample. Three daughters shared a father's purse, Of habits totally diverse. The first, bewitched with drinks delicious; The next, coquettish and capricious; The third, supremely avaricious. The sire, expectant of his fate, Bequeathed his whole estate, In equal shares, to them, And to their mother just the same,— To her then payable, and not before, Each daughter should possess her part no more. The father died. The females three Were much in haste the will to see. They read, and read, but still Saw not the willer's will. For could it well be understood That each of this sweet sisterhood, When she possess'd her part no more, Should to her mother pay it o'er? 'Twas surely not so easy saying How lack of means would help the paying. What meant their honour'd father, then? Th' affair was brought to legal men, Who, after turning o'er the case Some hundred thousand different ways, Threw down the learned bonnet, Unable to decide upon it; And then advised the heirs, Without more thought, t' adjust affairs. As to the widow's share, the counsel say, 'We hold it just the daughters each should pay One third to her upon demand, Should she not choose to have it stand Commuted as a life annuity, Paid from her husband's death, with due congruity.' The thing thus order'd, the estate Is duly cut in portions three. And in the first they all agree To put the feasting-lodges, plate, Luxurious cooling mugs, Enormous liquor jugs, Rich cupboards,—built beneath the trellised vine,— The stores of ancient, sweet Malvoisian wine, The slaves to serve it at a sign; In short, whatever, in a great house, There is of feasting apparatus. The second part is made Of what might help the jilting trade— The city house and furniture, Exquisite and genteel, be sure, The eunuchs, milliners, and laces, The jewels, shawls, and costly dresses. The third is made of household stuff, More vulgar, rude, and rough— Farms, fences, flocks, and fodder, And men and beasts to turn the sod o'er. This done, since it was thought To give the parts by lot Might suit, or it might not, Each paid her share of fees dear, And took the part that pleased her. 'Twas in great Athens town, Such judgment gave the gown. And there the public voice Applauded both the judgment and the choice. But Aesop well was satisfied The learned men had set aside, In judging thus the testament, The very gist of its intent. 'The dead,' quoth he, 'could he but know of it, Would heap reproaches on such Attic wit. What! men who proudly take their place As sages of the human race, Lack they the simple skill To settle such a will?' This said, he undertook himself The task of portioning the pelf; And straightway gave each maid the part The least according to her heart— The prim coquette, the drinking stuff, The drinker, then, the farms and cattle; And on the miser, rude and rough, The robes and lace did Aesop settle; For thus, he said, 'an early date Would see the sisters alienate Their several shares of the estate. No motive now in maidenhood to tarry, They all would seek, post haste, to marry; And, having each a splendid bait, Each soon would find a well-bred mate; And, leaving thus their father's goods intact, Would to their mother pay them all, in fact,'— Which of the testament Was plainly the intent. The people, who had thought a slave an ass, Much wonder'd how it came to pass That one alone should have more sense Than all their men of most pretence.

[29] Phaedrus, IV. 5. [30] Areopagus.—This was the Athenian Court of Justice at Mars Hill. It is said to have been called Areiopagos (the Hill of Mars) because, according to tradition, the first trial there was that of Mars for the murder of Halirrhotius.

* * * * *



To M. De Maucroix.[2]

Because the arts are plainly birthright matters, For fables we to ancient Greece are debtors; But still this field could not be reap'd so clean As not to let us, later comers, glean. The fiction-world hath deserts yet to dare, And, daily, authors make discoveries there. I'd fain repeat one which our man of song, Old Malherbe, told one day to young Racan.[3] Of Horace they the rivals and the heirs, Apollo's pets,—my masters, I should say,— Sole by themselves were met, I'm told, one day, Confiding each to each their thoughts and cares. Racan begins:—'Pray end my inward strife, For well you know, my friend, what's what in life, Who through its varied course, from stage to stage, Have stored the full experience of age; What shall I do? 'Tis time I chose profession. You know my fortune, birth, and disposition. Ought I to make the country my resort, Or seek the army, or to rise at court? There's nought but mixeth bitterness with charms; War hath its pleasures; hymen, its alarms. 'Twere nothing hard to take my natural bent,— But I've a world of people to content.' 'Content a world!' old Malherbe cries; 'who can, sir? Why, let me tell a story ere I answer.'

'A miller and his son, I've somewhere read, The first in years, the other but a lad,— A fine, smart boy, however, I should say,— To sell their ass went to a fair one day. In order there to get the highest price, They needs must keep their donkey fresh and nice; So, tying fast his feet, they swung him clear, And bore him hanging like a chandelier. Alas! poor, simple-minded country fellows! The first that sees their load, loud laughing, bellows, "What farce is this to split good people's sides? The most an ass is not the one that rides!" The miller, much enlighten'd by this talk, Untied his precious beast, and made him walk. The ass, who liked the other mode of travel, Bray'd some complaint at trudging on the gravel; Whereat, not understanding well the beast, The miller caused his hopeful son to ride, And walk'd behind, without a spark of pride. Three merchants pass'd, and, mightily displeased, The eldest of these gentlemen cried out, "Ho there! dismount, for shame, you lubber lout! Nor make a foot-boy of your grey-beard sire; Change places, as the rights of age require." "To please you, sirs," the miller said, "I ought." So down the young and up the old man got. Three girls next passing, "What a shame!" says one, "That boy should be obliged on foot to run, While that old chap, upon his ass astride, Should play the calf, and like a bishop ride!" "Please save your wit," the miller made reply, "Tough veal, my girls, the calf as old as I." But joke on joke repeated changed his mind; So up he took, at last, his son behind. Not thirty yards ahead, another set Found fault. "The biggest fools I ever met," Says one of them, "such burdens to impose. The ass is faint, and dying with their blows. Is this, indeed, the mercy which these rustics Show to their honest, faithful, old domestics? If to the fair these lazy fellows ride, 'Twill be to sell thereat the donkey's hide!" "Zounds!" cried the miller, "precious little brains Hath he who takes, to please the world, such pains; But since we're in, we'll try what can be done." So off the ass they jump'd, himself and son, And, like a prelate, donkey march'd alone. Another man they met. "These folks," said he, "Enslave themselves to let their ass go free— The darling brute! If I might be so bold, I'd counsel them to have him set in gold. Not so went Nicholas his Jane[4] to woo, Who rode, we sing, his ass to save his shoe." "Ass! ass!" our man replied; "we're asses three! I do avow myself an ass to be; But since my sage advisers can't agree, Their words henceforth shall not be heeded; I'll suit myself." And he succeeded.

'For you, choose army, love, or court; In town, or country, make resort; Take wife, or cowl; ride you, or walk; Doubt not but tongues will have their talk.'

[1] The story of this fable has been used by most of the fabulists, from Aesop downwards. [2] In the original editions this fable is dedicated "A. M. D. M." which initials stand for "To M. De Maucroix," Canon of Rheims, an early and late friend and patron of the poet. See Translator's Preface. [3] Old Malherbe and young Racan.—French poets. Malherbe was born in 1556, and died in 1628. La Fontaine owed to Malherbe's works the happy inspiration which led him to write poetry. See Translator's Preface. Honorat de Bueil, Marquis de Racan, was born at La Roche Racan in 1589. As a poet he was a pupil of Malherbe. His works were praised by Boileau, and he was one of the earliest members of the French Academy. [4] Nicholas and his Jane.—An allusion to an old French song.


Perhaps, had I but shown due loyalty, This book would have begun with royalty, Of which, in certain points of view, Boss[6] Belly is the image true, In whose bereavements all the members share: Of whom the latter once so weary were, As all due service to forbear, On what they called his idle plan, Resolved to play the gentleman, And let his lordship live on air. 'Like burden-beasts,' said they, 'We sweat from day to day; And all for whom, and what? Ourselves we profit not. Our labour has no object but one, That is, to feed this lazy glutton. We'll learn the resting trade By his example's aid.' So said, so done; all labour ceased; The hands refused to grasp, the arms to strike; All other members did the like. Their boss might labour if he pleased! It was an error which they soon repented, With pain of languid poverty acquainted. The heart no more the blood renew'd, And hence repair no more accrued To ever-wasting strength; Whereby the mutineers, at length, Saw that the idle belly, in its way, Did more for common benefit than they.

For royalty our fable makes, A thing that gives as well as takes Its power all labour to sustain, Nor for themselves turns out their labour vain. It gives the artist bread, the merchant riches; Maintains the diggers in their ditches; Pays man of war and magistrate; Supports the swarms in place, That live on sovereign grace; In short, is caterer for the state.

Menenius[7] told the story well: When Rome, of old, in pieces fell, The commons parting from the senate. 'The ills,' said they, 'that we complain at Are, that the honours, treasures, power, and dignity, Belong to them alone; while we Get nought our labour for But tributes, taxes, and fatigues of war.' Without the walls the people had their stand Prepared to march in search of other land, When by this noted fable Menenius was able To draw them, hungry, home To duty and to Rome.[8]

[5] Aesop. Rabelais also has a version: Book III. ch. 3. [6] Boss.—A word probably more familiar to hod-carriers than to lexicographers; qu. derived from the French bosseman, or the English boatswain, pronounced bos'n? It denotes a "master" of some practical "art." Master Belly, says Rabelais, was the first Master of Arts in the world.—Translator. The name used by La Fontaine is "Messer Gaster." To which he puts a footnote stating that he meant "L'estomac." He took the name from Rabelais, Book IV., ch. 57, where it occurs thus:—"Messer Gaster est le premier maitre es arts de ce monde.... Son mandement est nomme: Faire le fault, sans delay, ou mourir." [7] Menenius.—See Translator's Preface. [8] Rome.—According to our republican notions of government, these people were somewhat imposed upon. Perhaps the fable finds a more appropriate application in the relation of employer to employed. I leave the fabulists and the political economists to settle the question between them.—Translator.


A wolf, whose gettings from the flocks Began to be but few, Bethought himself to play the fox In character quite new. A shepherd's hat and coat he took, A cudgel for a crook, Nor e'en the pipe forgot: And more to seem what he was not, Himself upon his hat he wrote, 'I'm Willie, shepherd of these sheep.' His person thus complete, His crook in upraised feet, The impostor Willie stole upon the keep. The real Willie, on the grass asleep, Slept there, indeed, profoundly, His dog and pipe slept, also soundly; His drowsy sheep around lay. As for the greatest number, Much bless'd the hypocrite their slumber, And hoped to drive away the flock, Could he the shepherd's voice but mock. He thought undoubtedly he could. He tried: the tone in which he spoke, Loud echoing from the wood, The plot and slumber broke; Sheep, dog, and man awoke. The wolf, in sorry plight, In hampering coat bedight, Could neither run nor fight.

There's always leakage of deceit Which makes it never safe to cheat. Whoever is a wolf had better Keep clear of hypocritic fetter.

[9] The story of this fable is traced to Verdizotti, an Italian poet who lived about 1535-1600.


A certain commonwealth aquatic, Grown tired of order democratic, By clamouring in the ears of Jove, effected Its being to a monarch's power subjected. Jove flung it down, at first, a king pacific. Who nathless fell with such a splash terrific, The marshy folks, a foolish race and timid, Made breathless haste to get from him hid. They dived into the mud beneath the water, Or found among the reeds and rushes quarter. And long it was they dared not see The dreadful face of majesty, Supposing that some monstrous frog Had been sent down to rule the bog. The king was really a log, Whose gravity inspired with awe The first that, from his hiding-place Forth venturing, astonish'd, saw The royal blockhead's face. With trembling and with fear, At last he drew quite near. Another follow'd, and another yet, Till quite a crowd at last were met; Who, growing fast and strangely bolder, Perch'd soon upon the royal shoulder. His gracious majesty kept still, And let his people work their will. Clack, clack! what din beset the ears of Jove? 'We want a king,' the people said, 'to move!' The god straight sent them down a crane, Who caught and slew them without measure, And gulp'd their carcasses at pleasure; Whereat the frogs more wofully complain. 'What! what!' great Jupiter replied; 'By your desires must I be tied? Think you such government is bad? You should have kept what first you had; Which having blindly fail'd to do, It had been prudent still for you To let that former king suffice, More meek and mild, if not so wise. With this now make yourselves content, Lest for your sins a worse be sent.'

[10] Aesop: Phaedrus, I. 2.


A fox once journey'd, and for company A certain bearded, horned goat had he; Which goat no further than his nose could see. The fox was deeply versed in trickery. These travellers did thirst compel To seek the bottom of a well. There, having drunk enough for two, Says fox, 'My friend, what shall we do? 'Tis time that we were thinking Of something else than drinking. Raise you your feet upon the wall, And stick your horns up straight and tall; Then up your back I'll climb with ease, And draw you after, if you please.' 'Yes, by my beard,' the other said, ''Tis just the thing. I like a head Well stock'd with sense, like thine. Had it been left to mine, I do confess, I never should have thought of this.' So Renard clamber'd out, And, leaving there the goat, Discharged his obligations By preaching thus on patience:— 'Had Heaven put sense thy head within, To match the beard upon thy chin, Thou wouldst have thought a bit, Before descending such a pit. I'm out of it; good bye: With prudent effort try Yourself to extricate. For me, affairs of state Permit me not to wait.'

Whatever way you wend, Consider well the end.

[11] Aesop; also in Phaedrus, IV. 9.


A certain hollow tree Was tenanted by three. An eagle held a lofty bough, The hollow root a wild wood sow, A female cat between the two. All busy with maternal labours, They lived awhile obliging neighbours. At last the cat's deceitful tongue Broke up the peace of old and young. Up climbing to the eagle's nest, She said, with whisker'd lips compress'd, 'Our death, or, what as much we mothers fear, That of our helpless offspring dear, Is surely drawing near. Beneath our feet, see you not how Destruction's plotted by the sow? Her constant digging, soon or late, Our proud old castle will uproot. And then—O, sad and shocking fate!— She'll eat our young ones, as the fruit! Were there but hope of saving one, 'Twould soothe somewhat my bitter moan.' Thus leaving apprehensions hideous, Down went the puss perfidious To where the sow, no longer digging, Was in the very act of pigging. 'Good friend and neighbour,' whisper'd she, 'I warn you on your guard to be. Your pigs should you but leave a minute, This eagle here will seize them in it. Speak not of this, I beg, at all, Lest on my head her wrath should fall.' Another breast with fear inspired, With fiendish joy the cat retired. The eagle ventured no egress To feed her young, the sow still less. Fools they, to think that any curse Than ghastly famine could be worse! Both staid at home, resolved and obstinate, To save their young ones from impending fate,— The royal bird for fear of mine, For fear of royal claws the swine. All died, at length, with hunger, The older and the younger; There staid, of eagle race or boar, Not one this side of death's dread door;— A sad misfortune, which The wicked cats made rich. O, what is there of hellish plot The treacherous tongue dares not! Of all the ills Pandora's box[13] outpour'd, Deceit, I think, is most to be abhorr'd.

[12] Phaedrus, II. 4. [13] Pandora's box.—Pandora, the Eve of the Grecian mythology, was sent to earth with all the human ills and Hope in a box, whence all but Hope escaped.—Vide Elton's Hesiod, Works and Days, I. 114, Bohn's edition, &c.


Each has his fault, to which he clings In spite of shame or fear. This apophthegm a story brings, To make its truth more clear. A sot had lost health, mind, and purse; And, truly, for that matter, Sots mostly lose the latter Ere running half their course. When wine, one day, of wit had fill'd the room, His wife inclosed him in a spacious tomb. There did the fumes evaporate At leisure from his drowsy pate. When he awoke, he found His body wrapp'd around With grave-clothes, chill and damp, Beneath a dim sepulchral lamp. 'How's this? My wife a widow sad?' He cried, 'and I a ghost? Dead? dead?' Thereat his spouse, with snaky hair, And robes like those the Furies wear, With voice to fit the realms below, Brought boiling caudle to his bier— For Lucifer the proper cheer; By which her husband came to know— For he had heard of those three ladies— Himself a citizen of Hades. 'What may your office be?' The phantom question'd he. 'I'm server up of Pluto's meat, And bring his guests the same to eat.' 'Well,' says the sot, not taking time to think, 'And don't you bring us anything to drink?'

[14] Aesop.


When Nature angrily turn'd out Those plagues, the spider and the gout,— 'See you,' said she, 'those huts so meanly built, These palaces so grand and richly gilt? By mutual agreement fix Your choice of dwellings; or if not, To end th' affair by lot, Draw out these little sticks.' 'The huts are not for me,' the spider cried; 'And not for me the palace,' cried the gout; For there a sort of men she spied Call'd doctors, going in and out, From whom, she could not hope for ease. So hied her to the huts the fell disease, And, fastening on a poor man's toe, Hoped there to fatten on his woe, And torture him, fit after fit, Without a summons e'er to quit, From old Hippocrates. The spider, on the lofty ceiling, As if she had a life-lease feeling. Wove wide her cunning toils, Soon rich with insect spoils. A maid destroy'd them as she swept the room: Repair'd, again they felt the fatal broom. The wretched creature, every day, From house and home must pack away. At last, her courage giving out, She went to seek her sister gout, And in the field descried her, Quite starved: more evils did betide her Than e'er befel the poorest spider— Her toiling host enslaved her so, And made her chop, and dig, and hoe! (Says one, "Kept brisk and busy, The gout is made half easy.") 'O, when,' exclaim'd the sad disease, 'Will this my misery stop? O, sister spider, if you please, Our places let us swop.' The spider gladly heard, And took her at her word,— And flourish'd in the cabin-lodge, Not forced the tidy broom to dodge The gout, selecting her abode With an ecclesiastic judge, Turn'd judge herself, and, by her code, He from his couch no more could budge. The salves and cataplasms Heaven knows, That mock'd the misery of his toes; While aye, without a blush, the curse, Kept driving onward worse and worse. Needless to say, the sisterhood Thought their exchange both wise and good.

[15] The story of this fable is told in Petrarch, (Epistles, III. 13) and by others.


The wolves are prone to play the glutton. One, at a certain feast, 'tis said, So stuff'd himself with lamb and mutton, He seem'd but little short of dead. Deep in his throat a bone stuck fast. Well for this wolf, who could not speak, That soon a stork quite near him pass'd. By signs invited, with her beak The bone she drew With slight ado, And for this skilful surgery Demanded, modestly, her fee. 'Your fee!' replied the wolf, In accents rather gruff; 'And is it not enough Your neck is safe from such a gulf? Go, for a wretch ingrate, Nor tempt again your fate!'

[16] Phaedrus, I. 8; and Aesop.


A picture once was shown, In which one man, alone, Upon the ground had thrown A lion fully grown. Much gloried at the sight the rabble. A lion thus rebuked their babble:— 'That you have got the victory there, There is no contradiction. But, gentles, possibly you are The dupes of easy fiction: Had we the art of making pictures, Perhaps our champion had beat yours!'

[17] Aesop.


A fox, almost with hunger dying, Some grapes upon a trellis spying, To all appearance ripe, clad in Their tempting russet skin, Most gladly would have eat them; But since he could not get them, So far above his reach the vine— 'They're sour,' he said; 'such grapes as these, The dogs may eat them if they please!'

Did he not better than to whine?

[18] Aesop: Phaedrus, IV. 3.


The pleasures of a poultry yard Were by a swan and gosling shared. The swan was kept there for his looks, The thrifty gosling for the cooks; The first the garden's pride, the latter A greater favourite on the platter. They swam the ditches, side by side, And oft in sports aquatic vied, Plunging, splashing far and wide, With rivalry ne'er satisfied. One day the cook, named Thirsty John, Sent for the gosling, took the swan, In haste his throat to cut, And put him in the pot. The bird's complaint resounded In glorious melody; Whereat the cook, astounded His sad mistake to see, Cried, 'What! make soup of a musician! Please God, I'll never set such dish on. No, no; I'll never cut a throat That sings so sweet a note.'

'Tis thus, whatever peril may alarm us, Sweet words will never harm us.

[19] Aesop.


By-gone a thousand years of war, The wearers of the fleece And wolves at last made peace; Which both appear'd the better for; For if the wolves had now and then Eat up a straggling ewe or wether, As often had the shepherd men Turn'd wolf-skins into leather. Fear always spoil'd the verdant herbage, And so it did the bloody carnage. Hence peace was sweet; and, lest it should be riven, On both sides hostages were given. The sheep, as by the terms arranged, For pups of wolves their dogs exchanged; Which being done above suspicion, Confirm'd and seal'd by high commission, What time the pups were fully grown, And felt an appetite for prey, And saw the sheepfold left alone, The shepherds all away, They seized the fattest lambs they could, And, choking, dragg'd them to the wood; Of which, by secret means apprised, Their sires, as is surmised, Fell on the hostage guardians of the sheep, And slew them all asleep. So quick the deed of perfidy was done, There fled to tell the tale not one!

From which we may conclude That peace with villains will be rued. Peace in itself, 'tis true, May be a good for you; But 'tis an evil, nathless, When enemies are faithless.

[20] Aesop.


A lion, mourning, in his age, the wane Of might once dreaded through his wild domain, Was mock'd, at last, upon his throne, By subjects of his own, Strong through his weakness grown. The horse his head saluted with a kick; The wolf snapp'd at his royal hide; The ox, too, gored him in the side; The unhappy lion, sad and sick, Could hardly growl, he was so weak. In uncomplaining, stoic pride, He waited for the hour of fate, Until the ass approach'd his gate; Whereat, 'This is too much,' he saith; 'I willingly would yield my breath; But, ah! thy kick is double death!'

[21] Phaedrus, I. 21.


From home and city spires, one day, The swallow Progne flew away, And sought the bosky dell Where sang poor Philomel.[23] 'My sister,' Progne said, 'how do you do? 'Tis now a thousand years since you Have been conceal'd from human view; I'm sure I have not seen your face Once since the times of Thrace. Pray, will you never quit this dull retreat?' 'Where could I find,' said Philomel, 'so sweet?' 'What! sweet?' cried Progne—'sweet to waste Such tones on beasts devoid of taste, Or on some rustic, at the most! Should you by deserts be engross'd? Come, be the city's pride and boast. Besides, the woods remind of harms That Tereus in them did your charms.' 'Alas!' replied the bird of song, 'The thought of that so cruel wrong Makes me, from age to age, Prefer this hermitage; For nothing like the sight of men Can call up what I suffer'd then.'

[22] Aesop. [23] Progne and Philomel.—Progne and Philomela, sisters, in mythology. Progne was Queen of Thrace, and was changed into a swallow. Her sister was changed into a nightingale; vide Ovid, Metamorphoses.


I hate that saying, old and savage, "'Tis nothing but a woman drowning." That's much, I say. What grief more keen should have edge Than loss of her, of all our joys the crowning? Thus much suggests the fable I am borrowing. A woman perish'd in the water, Where, anxiously, and sorrowing, Her husband sought her, To ease the grief he could not cure, By honour'd rites of sepulture. It chanced that near the fatal spot, Along the stream which had Produced a death so sad, There walk'd some men that knew it not. The husband ask'd if they had seen His wife, or aught that hers had been. One promptly answer'd, 'No! But search the stream below: It must nave borne her in its flow.' 'No,' said another; 'search above. In that direction She would have floated, by the love Of contradiction.' This joke was truly out of season;— I don't propose to weigh its reason. But whether such propensity The sex's fault may be, Or not, one thing is very sure, Its own propensities endure. Up to the end they'll have their will, And, if it could be, further still.

[24] Verdizotti.


A weasel through a hole contrived to squeeze, (She was recovering from disease,) Which led her to a farmer's hoard. There lodged, her wasted form she cherish'd; Heaven knows the lard and victuals stored That by her gnawing perish'd! Of which the consequence Was sudden corpulence. A week or so was past, When having fully broken fast. A noise she heard, and hurried To find the hole by which she came, And seem'd to find it not the same; So round she ran, most sadly flurried; And, coming back, thrust out her head, Which, sticking there, she said, 'This is the hole, there can't be blunder: What makes it now so small, I wonder, Where, but the other day, I pass'd with ease?' A rat her trouble sees, And cries, 'But with an emptier belly; You enter'd lean, and lean must sally.' What I have said to you Has eke been said to not a few, Who, in a vast variety of cases,[26] Have ventured into such-like places.

[25] Aesop: also in Horace, Epistles, Book I. 7. [26] A vast variety of cases.—Chamfort says of this passage: "La Fontaine, with his usual delicacy, here alludes to the king's farmers and other officers in place; and abruptly quits the subject as if he felt himself on ticklish ground."


A story-writer of our sort Historifies, in short, Of one that may be reckon'd A Rodilard the Second,—[28] The Alexander of the cats, The Attila,[29] the scourge of rats, Whose fierce and whisker'd head Among the latter spread, A league around, its dread; Who seem'd, indeed, determined The world should be unvermined. The planks with props more false than slim, The tempting heaps of poison'd meal, The traps of wire and traps of steel, Were only play compared with him. At length, so sadly were they scared. The rats and mice no longer dared To show their thievish faces Outside their hiding-places, Thus shunning all pursuit; whereat Our crafty General Cat Contrived to hang himself, as dead, Beside the wall with downward head, Resisting gravitation's laws By clinging with his hinder claws To some small bit of string. The rats esteem'd the thing A judgment for some naughty deed, Some thievish snatch, Or ugly scratch; And thought their foe had got his meed By being hung indeed. With hope elated all Of laughing at his funeral, They thrust their noses out in air; And now to show their heads they dare; Now dodging back, now venturing more; At last upon the larder's store They fall to filching, as of yore. A scanty feast enjoy'd these shallows; Down dropp'd the hung one from his gallows, And of the hindmost caught. 'Some other tricks to me are known,' Said he, while tearing bone from bone, 'By long experience taught; The point is settled, free from doubt, That from your holes you shall come out.' His threat as good as prophecy Was proved by Mr. Mildandsly; For, putting on a mealy robe, He squatted in an open tub, And held his purring and his breath;— Out came the vermin to their death. On this occasion, one old stager, A rat as grey as any badger, Who had in battle lost his tail, Abstained from smelling at the meal; And cried, far off, 'Ah! General Cat, I much suspect a heap like that; Your meal is not the thing, perhaps, For one who knows somewhat of traps; Should you a sack of meal become, I'd let you be, and stay at home.'

Well said, I think, and prudently, By one who knew distrust to be The parent of security.

[27] Phaedrus, Book IV. 2: also in Aesop, and Faerno. [28] Rodilard the Second.—Another allusion to Rabelais's cat Rodilardus. See Fable II., Book II. [29] Attila.—The King of the Huns, who, for overrunning half Europe, was termed the Scourge of God.

* * * * *



To Mademoiselle De Sevigne.[2]

Sevigne, type of every grace In female form and face, In your regardlessness of men, Can you show favour when The sportive fable craves your ear, And see, unmoved by fear, A lion's haughty heart Thrust through by Love's audacious dart? Strange conqueror, Love! And happy he, And strangely privileged and free, Who only knows by story Him and his feats of glory! If on this subject you are wont To think the simple truth too blunt, The fabulous may less affront; Which now, inspired with gratitude, Yea, kindled into zeal most fervent, Doth venture to intrude Within your maiden solitude, And kneel, your humble servant.— In times when animals were speakers, Among the quadrupedal seekers Of our alliance There came the lions. And wherefore not? for then They yielded not to men In point of courage or of sense, Nor were in looks without pretence. A high-born lion, on his way Across a meadow, met one day A shepherdess, who charm'd him so, That, as such matters ought to go, He sought the maiden for his bride. Her sire, it cannot be denied, Had much preferr'd a son-in-law Of less terrific mouth and paw. It was not easy to decide— The lion might the gift abuse— 'Twas not quite prudent to refuse. And if refusal there should be, Perhaps a marriage one would see, Some morning, made clandestinely. For, over and above The fact that she could bear With none but males of martial air, The lady was in love With him of shaggy hair. Her sire, much wanting cover To send away the lover, Thus spoke:—'My daughter, sir, Is delicate. I fear to her Your fond caressings Will prove rough blessings. To banish all alarm About such sort of harm, Permit us to remove the cause, By filing off your teeth and claws. In such a case, your royal kiss Will be to her a safer bliss, And to yourself a sweeter; Since she will more respond To those endearments fond With which you greet her.' The lion gave consent at once, By love so great a dunce! Without a tooth or claw now view him— A fort with cannon spiked. The dogs, let loose upon him, slew him, All biting safely where they liked.

O, tyrant Love! when held by you, We may to prudence bid adieu.

[1] Aesop, also Verdizotti. [2] Mademoiselle de Sevigne.—Francoise-Marguerite de Sevigne, afterwards Madame de Grignan, the daughter of the celebrated Madame de Sevigne. The famous Sevigne "Letters" were for the most part addressed to Madame de Grignan. For some account of Madame de Sevigne and La Fontaine, see the Translator's Preface; also note to Fable XI. Book VII.


A shepherd, neighbour to the sea, Lived with his flock contentedly. His fortune, though but small, Was safe within his call. At last some stranded kegs of gold Him tempted, and his flock he sold, Turn'd merchant, and the ocean's waves Bore all his treasure—to its caves. Brought back to keeping sheep once more, But not chief shepherd, as before, When sheep were his that grazed the shore, He who, as Corydon or Thyrsis, Might once have shone in pastoral verses, Bedeck'd with rhyme and metre, Was nothing now but Peter. But time and toil redeem'd in full Those harmless creatures rich in wool; And as the lulling winds, one day, The vessels wafted with a gentle motion, 'Want you,' he cried, 'more money, Madam Ocean? Address yourself to some one else, I pray; You shall not get it out of me! I know too well your treachery.'

This tale's no fiction, but a fact, Which, by experience back'd, Proves that a single penny, At present held, and certain, Is worth five times as many, Of Hope's, beyond the curtain; That one should be content with his condition, And shut his ears to counsels of ambition, More faithless than the wreck-strown sea, and which Doth thousands beggar where it makes one rich,— Inspires the hope of wealth, in glorious forms, And blasts the same with piracy and storms.

[3] Aesop.


A fly and ant, upon a sunny bank, Discuss'd the question of their rank. 'O Jupiter!' the former said, 'Can love of self so turn the head, That one so mean and crawling, And of so low a calling, To boast equality shall dare With me, the daughter of the air? In palaces I am a guest, And even at thy glorious feast. Whene'er the people that adore thee May immolate for thee a bullock, I'm sure to taste the meat before thee. Meanwhile this starveling, in her hillock, Is living on some bit of straw Which she has labour'd home to draw. But tell me now, my little thing, Do you camp ever on a king, An emperor, or lady? I do, and have full many a play-day On fairest bosom of the fair, And sport myself upon her hair. Come now, my hearty, rack your brain To make a case about your grain.' 'Well, have you done?' replied the ant. 'You enter palaces, I grant, And for it get right soundly cursed. Of sacrifices, rich and fat, Your taste, quite likely, is the first;— Are they the better off for that? You enter with the holy train; So enters many a wretch profane. On heads of kings and asses you may squat; Deny your vaunting I will not; But well such impudence, I know, Provokes a sometimes fatal blow. The name in which your vanity delights Is own'd as well by parasites, And spies that die by ropes—as you soon will By famine or by ague-chill, When Phoebus goes to cheer The other hemisphere,— The very time to me most dear. Not forced abroad to go Through wind, and rain, and snow, My summer's work I then enjoy, And happily my mind employ, From care by care exempted. By which this truth I leave to you, That by two sorts of glory we are tempted, The false one and the true. Work waits, time flies; adieu:— This gabble does not fill My granary or till.'

[4] Phaedrus, IV. 23.


A lover of gardens, half cit and half clown, Possess'd a nice garden beside a small town; And with it a field by a live hedge inclosed, Where sorrel and lettuce, at random disposed, A little of jasmine, and much of wild thyme, Grew gaily, and all in their prime To make up Miss Peggy's bouquet, The grace of her bright wedding day. For poaching in such a nice field—'twas a shame; A foraging, cud-chewing hare was to blame. Whereof the good owner bore down This tale to the lord of the town:— 'Some mischievous animal, morning and night, In spite of my caution, comes in for his bite. He laughs at my cunning-set dead-falls and snares; For clubbing and stoning as little he cares. I think him a wizard. A wizard! the coot! I'd catch him if he were a devil to boot!' The lord said, in haste to have sport for his hounds, 'I'll clear him, I warrant you, out of your grounds; To morrow I'll do it without any fail.'

The thing thus agreed on, all hearty and hale, The lord and his party, at crack of the dawn, With hounds at their heels canter'd over the lawn. Arrived, said the lord in his jovial mood, 'We'll breakfast with you, if your chickens are good. That lass, my good man, I suppose is your daughter: No news of a son-in-law? Any one sought her? No doubt, by the score. Keep an eye on the docket, Eh? Dost understand me? I speak of the pocket.' So saying, the daughter he graciously greeted, And close by his lordship he bade her be seated; Avow'd himself pleased with so handsome a maid, And then with her kerchief familiarly play'd,— Impertinent freedoms the virtuous fair Repell'd with a modest and lady-like air,— So much that her father a little suspected The girl had already a lover elected. Meanwhile in the kitchen what bustling and cooking! 'For what are your hams? They are very good looking.' 'They're kept for your lordship.' 'I take them,' said he; 'Such elegant flitches are welcome to me.' He breakfasted finely his troop, with delight,— Dogs, horses, and grooms of the best appetite. Thus he govern'd his host in the shape of a guest, Unbottled his wine, and his daughter caress'd. To breakfast, the huddle of hunters succeeds, The yelping of dogs and the neighing of steeds, All cheering and fixing for wonderful deeds; The horns and the bugles make thundering din; Much wonders our gardener what it can mean. The worst is, his garden most wofully fares; Adieu to its arbours, and borders, and squares; Adieu to its chiccory, onions, and leeks; Adieu to whatever good cookery seeks.

Beneath a great cabbage the hare was in bed, Was started, and shot at, and hastily fled. Off went the wild chase, with a terrible screech, And not through a hole, but a horrible breach, Which some one had made, at the beck of the lord, Wide through the poor hedge! 'Twould have been quite absurd Should lordship not freely from garden go out, On horseback, attended by rabble and rout. Scarce suffer'd the gard'ner his patience to wince, Consoling himself—'Twas the sport of a prince; While bipeds and quadrupeds served to devour, And trample, and waste, in the space of an hour, Far more than a nation of foraging hares Could possibly do in a hundred of years.

Small princes, this story is true, When told in relation to you. In settling your quarrels with kings for your tools, You prove yourselves losers and eminent fools.


One's native talent from its course Cannot be turned aside by force; But poorly apes the country clown The polish'd manners of the town. Their Maker chooses but a few With power of pleasing to imbue; Where wisely leave it we, the mass, Unlike a certain fabled ass, That thought to gain his master's blessing By jumping on him and caressing. 'What!' said the donkey in his heart; 'Ought it to be that puppy's part To lead his useless life In full companionship With master and his wife, While I must bear the whip? What doth the cur a kiss to draw? Forsooth, he only gives his paw! If that is all there needs to please, I'll do the thing myself, with ease.' Possess'd with this bright notion,— His master sitting on his chair, At leisure in the open air,— He ambled up, with awkward motion, And put his talents to the proof; Upraised his bruised and batter'd hoof, And, with an amiable mien, His master patted on the chin, The action gracing with a word— The fondest bray that e'er was heard! O, such caressing was there ever? Or melody with such a quaver? 'Ho! Martin![6] here! a club, a club bring!' Out cried the master, sore offended. So Martin gave the ass a drubbing,— And so the comedy was ended.

[5] Aesop. [6] Martin.—La Fontaine has "Martin-baton," a name for a groom or ostler armed with his cudgel of office, taken from Rabelais.


The weasels live, no more than cats, On terms of friendship with the rats; And, were it not that these Through doors contrive to squeeze Too narrow for their foes, The animals long-snouted Would long ago have routed, And from the planet scouted Their race, as I suppose.

One year it did betide, When they were multiplied, An army took the field Of rats, with spear and shield, Whose crowded ranks led on A king named Ratapon. The weasels, too, their banner Unfurl'd in warlike manner. As Fame her trumpet sounds, The victory balanced well; Enrich'd were fallow grounds Where slaughter'd legions fell; But by said trollop's tattle, The loss of life in battle Thinn'd most the rattish race In almost every place; And finally their rout Was total, spite of stout Artarpax and Psicarpax, And valiant Meridarpax,[8] Who, cover'd o'er with dust, Long time sustain'd their host Down sinking on the plain. Their efforts were in vain; Fate ruled that final hour, (Inexorable power!) And so the captains fled As well as those they led; The princes perish'd all. The undistinguish'd small In certain holes found shelter, In crowding, helter-skelter; But the nobility Could not go in so free, Who proudly had assumed Each one a helmet plumed; We know not, truly, whether For honour's sake the feather, Or foes to strike with terror; But, truly, 'twas their error. Nor hole, nor crack, nor crevice Will let their head-gear in; While meaner rats in bevies An easy passage win;— So that the shafts of fate Do chiefly hit the great.

A feather in the cap Is oft a great mishap. An equipage too grand Comes often to a stand Within a narrow place. The small, whate'er the case, With ease slip through a strait, Where larger folks must wait.

[7] Phaedrus, Book IV. 6. [8] Names of rats, invented by Homer.—Translator.


It was the custom of the Greeks For passengers o'er sea to carry Both monkeys full of tricks And funny dogs to make them merry. A ship, that had such things on deck, Not far from Athens, went to wreck. But for the dolphins, all had drown'd. They are a philanthropic fish, Which fact in Pliny may be found;— A better voucher who could wish? They did their best on this occasion. A monkey even, on their plan Well nigh attain'd his own salvation; A dolphin took him for a man, And on his dorsal gave him place. So grave the silly creature's face, That one might well have set him down That old musician of renown.[10] The fish had almost reach'd the land, When, as it happen'd,—what a pity!— He ask'd, 'Are you from Athens grand?' 'Yes; well they know me in that city. If ever you have business there, I'll help you do it, for my kin The highest offices are in. My cousin, sir, is now lord mayor.' The dolphin thank'd him, with good grace, Both for himself and all his race, And ask'd, 'You doubtless know Piraeus, Where, should we come to town, you'll see us.' 'Piraeus? yes, indeed I know; He was my crony long ago.' The dunce knew not the harbour's name, And for a man's mistook the same. The people are by no means few, Who never went ten miles from home, Nor know their market-town from Rome, Yet cackle just as if they knew. The dolphin laugh'd, and then began His rider's form and face to scan, And found himself about to save From fishy feasts, beneath the wave, A mere resemblance of a man. So, plunging down, he turn'd to find Some drowning wight of human kind.

[9] Aesop. [10] Arion.—Translator. According to Herodotus, I. 24 (Bonn's ed., p. 9), Arion, the son of Cyclon of Methymna, and famous lyric poet and musician, having won riches at a musical contest in Sicily, was voyaging home, when the sailors of his ship determined to murder him for his treasure. He asked to be allowed to play a tune; and as soon as he had finished he threw himself into the sea. It was then found that the music had attracted a number of dolphins round the ship, and one of these took the bard on its back and conveyed him safely to Taenarus.


A pagan kept a god of wood,— A sort that never hears, Though furnish'd well with ears,— From which he hoped for wondrous good. The idol cost the board of three; So much enrich'd was he With vows and offerings vain, With bullocks garlanded and slain: No idol ever had, as that, A kitchen quite so full and fat. But all this worship at his shrine Brought not from this same block divine Inheritance, or hidden mine, Or luck at play, or any favour. Nay, more, if any storm whatever Brew'd trouble here or there, The man was sure to have his share, And suffer in his purse, Although the god fared none the worse. At last, by sheer impatience bold, The man a crowbar seizes, His idol breaks in pieces, And finds it richly stuff'd with gold. 'How's this? Have I devoutly treated,' Says he, 'your godship, to be cheated? Now leave my house, and go your way, And search for altars where you may. You're like those natures, dull and gross, From, which comes nothing but by blows; The more I gave, the less I got; I'll now be rich, and you may rot.'

[11] Aesop.


A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen Bedeck'd with Argus tail of gold and green,[13] High strutting, with elated crest, As much a peacock as the rest. His trick was recognized and bruited, His person jeer'd at, hiss'd, and hooted. The peacock gentry flock'd together, And pluck'd the fool of every feather. Nay more, when back he sneak'd to join his race, They shut their portals in his face.

There is another sort of jay, The number of its legs the same, Which makes of borrow'd plumes display, And plagiary is its name. But hush! the tribe I'll not offend; 'Tis not my work their ways to mend.

[12] Aesop; Phaedrus, I. 3. [13] Argus tail of gold and green.—According to mythology, Argus, surnamed Panoptes (or all-seeing), possessed a hundred eyes, some of which were never closed in sleep. At his death Juno either transformed him into the peacock, or transferred his hundred eyes to the tail of that, her favourite, bird. "Argus tail of gold and green," therefore, means tail endowed with the eyes of Argus.


The first who saw the humpback'd camel Fled off for life; the next approach'd with care; The third with tyrant rope did boldly dare The desert wanderer to trammel. Such is the power of use to change The face of objects new and strange; Which grow, by looking at, so tame, They do not even seem the same. And since this theme is up for our attention, A certain watchman I will mention, Who, seeing something far Away upon the ocean, Could not but speak his notion That 'twas a ship of war. Some minutes more had past,— A bomb-ketch 'twas without a sail, And then a boat, and then a bale, And floating sticks of wood at last!

Full many things on earth, I wot, Will claim this tale,—and well they may; They're something dreadful far away, But near at hand—they're not.

[14] Aesop.


They to bamboozle are inclined, Saith Merlin,[16] who bamboozled are. The word, though rather unrefined, Has yet an energy we ill can spare; So by its aid I introduce my tale. A well-fed rat, rotund and hale, Not knowing either Fast or Lent, Disporting round a frog-pond went. A frog approach'd, and, with a friendly greeting, Invited him to see her at her home, And pledged a dinner worth his eating,— To which the rat was nothing loath to come. Of words persuasive there was little need: She spoke, however, of a grateful bath; Of sports and curious wonders on their path; Of rarities of flower, and rush, and reed: One day he would recount with glee To his assembled progeny The various beauties of these places, The customs of the various races, And laws that sway the realms aquatic, (She did not mean the hydrostatic!) One thing alone the rat perplex'd,— He was but moderate as a swimmer. The frog this matter nicely fix'd By kindly lending him her Long paw, which with a rush she tied To his; and off they started, side by side. Arrived upon the lakelet's brink, There was but little time to think. The frog leap'd in, and almost brought her Bound guest to land beneath the water. Perfidious breach of law and right! She meant to have a supper warm Out of his sleek and dainty form. Already did her appetite Dwell on the morsel with delight. The gods, in anguish, he invokes; His faithless hostess rudely mocks; He struggles up, she struggles down. A kite, that hovers in the air, Inspecting everything with care, Now spies the rat belike to drown, And, with a rapid wing, Upbears the wretched thing, The frog, too, dangling by the string! The joy of such a double haul Was to the hungry kite not small. It gave him all that he could wish— A double meal of flesh and fish.

The best contrived deceit Can hurt its own contriver, And perfidy doth often cheat Its author's purse of every stiver.

[15] Aesop. [16] Merlin.—This is Merlin, the wizard of the old French novels.


A fable flourished with antiquity Whose meaning I could never clearly see. Kind reader, draw the moral if you're able: I give you here the naked fable. Fame having bruited that a great commander, A son of Jove, a certain Alexander, Resolved to leave nought free on this our ball, Had to his footstool gravely summon'd all Men, quadrupeds, and nullipeds, together With all the bird-republics, every feather,— The goddess of the hundred mouths, I say, Thus having spread dismay, By widely publishing abroad This mandate of the demigod, The animals, and all that do obey Their appetite alone, mistrusted now That to another sceptre they must bow. Far in the desert met their various races, All gathering from their hiding-places. Discuss'd was many a notion. At last, it was resolved, on motion, To pacify the conquering banner, By sending homage in, and tribute. With both the homage and its manner They charged the monkey, as a glib brute; And, lest the chap should too much chatter, In black on white they wrote the matter. Nought but the tribute served to fash, As that must needs be paid in cash. A prince, who chanced a mine to own, At last, obliged them with a loan. The mule and ass, to bear the treasure, Their service tender'd, full of pleasure; And then the caravan was none the worse, Assisted by the camel and the horse. Forthwith proceeded all the four Behind the new ambassador, And saw, erelong, within a narrow place, Monseigneur Lion's quite unwelcome face. 'Well met, and all in time,' said he; 'Myself your fellow traveller will be. I wend my tribute by itself to bear; And though 'tis light, I well might spare The unaccustom'd load. Take each a quarter, if you please, And I will guard you on the road; More free and at my ease— In better plight, you understand, To fight with any robber band.' A lion to refuse, the fact is, Is not a very usual practice: So in he comes, for better and for worse; Whatever he demands is done, And, spite of Jove's heroic son, He fattens freely from the public purse. While wending on their way, They found a spot one day, With waters hemm'd, of crystal sheen; Its carpet, flower-besprinkled green; Where pastured at their ease Both flocks of sheep and dainty heifers, And play'd the cooling breeze— The native land of all the zephyrs. No sooner is the lion there Than of some sickness he complains. Says he, 'You on your mission fare. A fever, with its thirst and pains, Dries up my blood, and bakes my brains; And I must search some herb, Its fatal power to curb. For you, there is no time to waste; Pay me my money, and make haste.' The treasures were unbound, And placed upon the ground. Then, with a look which testified His royal joy, the lion cried, 'My coins, good heavens, have multiplied! And see the young ones of the gold As big already as the old! The increase belongs to me, no doubt;' And eagerly he took it out! 'Twas little staid beneath the lid; The wonder was that any did. Confounded were the monkey and his suite. And, dumb with fear, betook them to their way, And bore complaint to Jove's great son, they say— Complaint without a reason meet; For what could he? Though a celestial scion, He could but fight, as lion versus lion.

When corsairs battle, Turk with Turk, They're not about their proper work.

[17] The story of this fable has been traced to Gilbert Cousin, in whose works it figures with the title "De Jovis Ammonis oraculo." Gilbert Cousin was Canon of Nozeret, and wrote between 1506 and 1569.


The horses have not always been The humble slaves of men. When, in the far-off past, The fare of gentlemen was mast, And even hats were never felt, Horse, ass, and mule in forests dwelt. Nor saw one then, as in these ages, So many saddles, housings, pillions; Such splendid equipages, With golden-lace postilions; Such harnesses for cattle, To be consumed in battle; As one saw not so many feasts, And people married by the priests. The horse fell out, within that space, With the antler'd stag, so fleetly made: He could not catch him in a race, And so he came to man for aid. Man first his suppliant bitted; Then, on his back well seated, Gave chase with spear, and rested not Till to the ground the foe he brought. This done, the honest horse, quite blindly, Thus thank'd his benefactor kindly:— 'Dear sir, I'm much obliged to you; I'll back to savage life. Adieu!' 'O, no,' the man replied; 'You'd better here abide; I know too well your use. Here, free from all abuse, Remain a liege to me, And large your provender shall be.' Alas! good housing or good cheer, That costs one's liberty, is dear. The horse his folly now perceived, But quite too late he grieved. No grief his fate could alter; His stall was built, and there he lived, And died there in his halter. Ah! wise had he one small offence forgot! Revenge, however sweet, is dearly bought By that one good, which gone, all else is nought.

[18] Phaedrus, IV. 4; Horace (Epistles, Book I. 10), and others.


The great are like the maskers of the stage; Their show deceives the simple of the age. For all that they appear to be they pass, With only those whose type's the ass. The fox, more wary, looks beneath the skin, And looks on every side, and, when he sees That all their glory is a semblance thin, He turns, and saves the hinges of his knees, With such a speech as once, 'tis said, He utter'd to a hero's head. A bust, somewhat colossal in its size, Attracted crowds of wondering eyes. The fox admired the sculptor's pains: 'Fine head,' said he, 'but void of brains!' The same remark to many a lord applies.

[19] Aesop: Phaedrus, I. 7 (The Fox and the Tragic Mask).


As went the goat her pendent dugs to fill, And browse the herbage of a distant hill, She latch'd her door, and bid, With matron care, her kid;— 'My daughter, as you live, This portal don't undo To any creature who This watchword does not give: "Deuce take the wolf and all his race!"' The wolf was passing near the place By chance, and heard the words with pleasure, And laid them up as useful treasure; And hardly need we mention, Escaped the goat's attention. No sooner did he see The matron off, than he, With hypocritic tone and face, Cried out before the place, 'Deuce take the wolf and all his race!' Not doubting thus to gain admission. The kid, not void of all suspicion, Peer'd through a crack, and cried, 'Show me white paw before You ask me to undo the door.' The wolf could not, if he had died, For wolves have no connexion With paws of that complexion. So, much surprised, our gormandiser Retired to fast till he was wiser. How would the kid have been undone Had she but trusted to the word The wolf by chance had overheard! Two sureties better are than one; And caution's worth its cost, Though sometimes seeming lost.

[20] Corrozet; and others.


This wolf another brings to mind, Who found dame Fortune more unkind, In that the greedy, pirate sinner, Was balk'd of life as well as dinner. As saith our tale, a villager Dwelt in a by, unguarded place; There, hungry, watch'd our pillager For luck and chance to mend his case. For there his thievish eyes had seen All sorts of game go out and in— Nice sucking calves, and lambs and sheep; And turkeys by the regiment, With steps so proud, and necks so bent, They'd make a daintier glutton weep. The thief at length began to tire Of being gnaw'd by vain desire. Just then a child set up a cry: 'Be still,' the mother said, 'or I Will throw you to the wolf, you brat!' 'Ha, ha!' thought he, 'what talk is that! The gods be thank'd for luck so good!' And ready at the door he stood, When soothingly the mother said, 'Now cry no more, my little dear; That naughty wolf, if he comes here, Your dear papa shall kill him dead.' 'Humph!' cried the veteran mutton-eater. 'Now this, now that! Now hot, now cool! Is this the way they change their metre? And do they take me for a fool? Some day, a nutting in the wood, That young one yet shall be my food.' But little time has he to dote On such a feast; the dogs rush out And seize the caitiff by the throat; And country ditchers, thick and stout, With rustic spears and forks of iron, The hapless animal environ. 'What brought you here, old head?' cried one. He told it all, as I have done. 'Why, bless my soul!' the frantic mother said,— 'You, villain, eat my little son! And did I nurse the darling boy, Your fiendish appetite to cloy?' With that they knock'd him on the head. His feet and scalp they bore to town, To grace the seigneur's hall, Where, pinn'd against the wall, This verse completed his renown:— "Ye honest wolves, believe not all That mothers say, when children squall!"

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