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The Fables of La Fontaine - A New Edition, With Notes
by Jean de La Fontaine
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[21] Aesop; and others.



XVII.—THE WORDS OF SOCRATES.[22]

A house was built by Socrates That failed the public taste to please. Some blamed the inside; some, the out; and all Agreed that the apartments were too small. Such rooms for him, the greatest sage of Greece! 'I ask,' said he, 'no greater bliss Than real friends to fill e'en this.' And reason had good Socrates To think his house too large for these. A crowd to be your friends will claim, Till some unhandsome test you bring. There's nothing plentier than the name; There's nothing rarer than the thing.

[22] Phaedrus, III. 9.



XVIII.—THE OLD MAN AND HIS SONS.[23]

All power is feeble with dissension: For this I quote the Phrygian slave.[24] If aught I add to his invention, It is our manners to engrave, And not from any envious wishes;— I'm not so foolishly ambitious. Phaedrus enriches oft his story, In quest—I doubt it not—of glory: Such thoughts were idle in my breast. An aged man, near going to his rest, His gather'd sons thus solemnly address'd:— 'To break this bunch of arrows you may try; And, first, the string that binds them I untie.' The eldest, having tried with might and main, Exclaim'd, 'This bundle I resign To muscles sturdier than mine.' The second tried, and bow'd himself in vain. The youngest took them with the like success. All were obliged their weakness to confess. Unharm'd the arrows pass'd from son to son; Of all they did not break a single one. 'Weak fellows!' said their sire, 'I now must show What in the case my feeble strength can do.' They laugh'd, and thought their father but in joke, Till, one by one, they saw the arrows broke. 'See, concord's power!' replied the sire; 'as long As you in love agree, you will be strong. I go, my sons, to join our fathers good; Now promise me to live as brothers should, And soothe by this your dying father's fears.' Each strictly promised with a flood of tears. Their father took them by the hand, and died; And soon the virtue of their vows was tried. Their sire had left a large estate Involved in lawsuits intricate; Here seized a creditor, and there A neighbour levied for a share. At first the trio nobly bore The brunt of all this legal war. But short their friendship as 'twas rare. Whom blood had join'd—and small the wonder!— The force of interest drove asunder; And, as is wont in such affairs, Ambition, envy, were co-heirs. In parcelling their sire's estate, They quarrel, quibble, litigate, Each aiming to supplant the other. The judge, by turns, condemns each brother. Their creditors make new assault, Some pleading error, some default. The sunder'd brothers disagree; For counsel one, have counsels three. All lose their wealth; and now their sorrows Bring fresh to mind those broken arrows.

[23] Aesop, Avianus, and others. [24] Phrygan slave.—Aesop. See Translator's Preface.



XIX.—THE ORACLE AND THE ATHEIST.[25]

That man his Maker can deceive, Is monstrous folly to believe. The labyrinthine mazes of the heart Are open to His eyes in every part. Whatever one may do, or think, or feel, From Him no darkness can the thing conceal. A pagan once, of graceless heart and hollow, Whose faith in gods, I'm apprehensive, Was quite as real as expensive. Consulted, at his shrine, the god Apollo. 'Is what I hold alive, or not?' Said he,—a sparrow having brought, Prepared to wring its neck, or let it fly, As need might be, to give the god the lie. Apollo saw the trick, And answer'd quick, 'Dead or alive, show me your sparrow, And cease to set for me a trap Which can but cause yourself mishap. I see afar, and far I shoot my arrow.'

[25] Aesop.



XX.—THE MISER WHO HAD LOST HIS TREASURE.[26]

'Tis use that constitutes possession. I ask that sort of men, whose passion It is to get and never spend, Of all their toil what is the end? What they enjoy of all their labours Which do not equally their neighbours? Throughout this upper mortal strife, The miser leads a beggar's life. Old Aesop's man of hidden treasure May serve the case to demonstrate. He had a great estate, But chose a second life to wait Ere he began to taste his pleasure. This man, whom gold so little bless'd, Was not possessor, but possess'd. His cash he buried under ground, Where only might his heart be found; It being, then, his sole delight To ponder of it day and night, And consecrate his rusty pelf, A sacred offering, to himself. In all his eating, drinking, travel, Most wondrous short of funds he seem'd; One would have thought he little dream'd Where lay such sums beneath the gravel. A ditcher mark'd his coming to the spot, So frequent was it, And thus at last some little inkling got Of the deposit. He took it all, and babbled not. One morning, ere the dawn, Forth had our miser gone To worship what he loved the best, When, lo! he found an empty nest! Alas! what groaning, wailing, crying! What deep and bitter sighing! His torment makes him tear Out by the roots his hair. A passenger demandeth why Such marvellous outcry. 'They've got my gold! it's gone—it's gone!' 'Your gold! pray where?'—'Beneath this stone.' 'Why, man, is this a time of war, That you should bring your gold so far? You'd better keep it in your drawer; And I'll be bound, if once but in it, You could have got it any minute.' 'At any minute! Ah, Heaven knows That cash comes harder than it goes! I touch'd it not.'—'Then have the grace To explain to me that rueful face,' Replied the man; 'for, if 'tis true You touch'd it not, how plain the case, That, put the stone back in its place, And all will be as well for you!'

[26] Aesop, and others.



XXI.—THE EYE OF THE MASTER.[27]

A stag took refuge from the chase Among the oxen of a stable, Who counsel'd him, as saith the fable, To seek at once some safer place. 'My brothers,' said the fugitive, 'Betray me not, and, as I live, The richest pasture I will show, That e'er was grazed on, high or low; Your kindness you will not regret, For well some day I'll pay the debt.' The oxen promised secrecy. Down crouch'd the stag, and breathed more free. At eventide they brought fresh hay, As was their custom day by day; And often came the servants near, As did indeed the overseer, But with so little thought or care, That neither horns, nor hide, nor hair Reveal'd to them the stag was there. Already thank'd the wild-wood stranger The oxen for their treatment kind, And there to wait made up his mind, Till he might issue free from danger. Replied an ox that chew'd the cud, 'Your case looks fairly in the bud; But then I fear the reason why Is, that the man of sharpest eye Hath not yet come his look to take. I dread his coming, for your sake; Your boasting may be premature: Till then, poor stag, you're not secure.' 'Twas but a little while before The careful master oped the door. 'How's this, my boys?' said he; 'These empty racks will never do. Go, change this dirty litter too. More care than this I want to see Of oxen that belong to me. Well, Jim, my boy, you're young and stout; What would it cost to clear these cobwebs out? And put these yokes, and hames, and traces, All as they should be, in their places?' Thus looking round, he came to see One head he did not usually. The stag is found; his foes Deal heavily their blows. Down sinks he in the strife; No tears can save his life. They slay, and dress, and salt the beast, And cook his flesh in many a feast, And many a neighbour gets a taste. As Phaedrus says it, pithily, The master's is the eye to see:— I add the lover's, as for me.

[27] Phaedrus, II. 8 (The Stag and the Oxen); and others.



XXII.—THE LARK AND HER YOUNG ONES WITH THE OWNER OF A FIELD.[28]

"Depend upon yourself alone," Has to a common proverb grown. 'Tis thus confirm'd in Aesop's way:— The larks to build their nests are seen Among the wheat-crops young and green; That is to say, What time all things, dame Nature heeding, Betake themselves to love and breeding— The monstrous whales and sharks, Beneath the briny flood, The tigers in the wood, And in the fields, the larks. One she, however, of these last, Found more than half the spring-time past Without the taste of spring-time pleasures; When firmly she set up her will That she would be a mother still, And resolutely took her measures;— First, got herself by Hymen match'd; Then built her nest, laid, sat, and hatch'd. All went as well as such things could. The wheat-crop ripening ere the brood Were strong enough to take their flight, Aware how perilous their plight, The lark went out to search for food, And told her young to listen well, And keep a constant sentinel. 'The owner of this field,' said she, 'Will come, I know, his grain to see. Hear all he says; we little birds Must shape our conduct by his words.' No sooner was the lark away, Than came the owner with his son. 'This wheat is ripe,' said he: 'now run And give our friends a call To bring their sickles all, And help us, great and small, To-morrow, at the break of day.' The lark, returning, found no harm, Except her nest in wild alarm. Says one, 'We heard the owner say, Go, give our friends a call To help, to-morrow, break of day.' Replied the lark, 'If that is all, We need not be in any fear, But only keep an open ear. As gay as larks, now eat your victuals.—' They ate and slept—the great and littles. The dawn arrives, but not the friends; The lark soars up, the owner wends His usual round to view his land. 'This grain,' says he, 'ought not to stand. Our friends do wrong; and so does he Who trusts that friends will friendly be. My son, go call our kith and kin To help us get our harvest in.' This second order made The little larks still more afraid. 'He sent for kindred, mother, by his son; The work will now, indeed, be done.' 'No, darlings; go to sleep; Our lowly nest we'll keep.' With reason said; for kindred there came none. Thus, tired of expectation vain, Once more the owner view'd his grain. 'My son,' said he, 'we're surely fools To wait for other people's tools; As if one might, for love or pelf, Have friends more faithful than himself! Engrave this lesson deep, my son. And know you now what must be done? We must ourselves our sickles bring, And, while the larks their matins sing, Begin the work; and, on this plan, Get in our harvest as we can.' This plan the lark no sooner knew, Than, 'Now's the time,' she said, 'my chicks;' And, taking little time to fix, Away they flew; All fluttering, soaring, often grounding, Decamp'd without a trumpet sounding.

[28] Aesop (Aulus Gellus); Avianus.

* * * * *

BOOK V.

I.—THE WOODMAN AND MERCURY.[1]

To M. The Chevalier De Bouillon.[2]

Your taste has served my work to guide; To gain its suffrage I have tried. You'd have me shun a care too nice, Or beauty at too dear a price, Or too much effort, as a vice. My taste with yours agrees: Such effort cannot please; And too much pains about the polish Is apt the substance to abolish; Not that it would be right or wise The graces all to ostracize. You love them much when delicate; Nor is it left for me to hate. As to the scope of Aesop's plan,[3] I fail as little as I can. If this my rhymed and measured speech Availeth not to please or teach, I own it not a fault of mine; Some unknown reason I assign. With little strength endued For battles rough and rude, Or with Herculean arm to smite, I show to vice its foolish plight. In this my talent wholly lies; Not that it does at all suffice. My fable sometimes brings to view The face of vanity purblind With that of restless envy join'd; And life now turns upon these pivots two. Such is the silly little frog That aped the ox upon her bog. A double image sometimes shows How vice and folly do oppose The ways of virtue and good sense; As lambs with wolves so grim and gaunt, The silly fly and frugal ant. Thus swells my work—a comedy immense— Its acts unnumber'd and diverse, Its scene the boundless universe. Gods, men, and brutes, all play their part In fields of nature or of art, And Jupiter among the rest. Here comes the god who's wont to bear Jove's frequent errands to the fair, With winged heels and haste; But other work's in hand to-day.

A man that labour'd in the wood Had lost his honest livelihood; That is to say, His axe was gone astray. He had no tools to spare; This wholly earn'd his fare. Without a hope beside, He sat him down and cried, 'Alas, my axe! where can it be? O Jove! but send it back to me, And it shall strike good blows for thee.' His prayer in high Olympus heard, Swift Mercury started at the word. 'Your axe must not be lost,' said he: 'Now, will you know it when you see? An axe I found upon the road.' With that an axe of gold he show'd. 'Is't this?' The woodman answer'd, 'Nay.' An axe of silver, bright and gay, Refused the honest woodman too. At last the finder brought to view An axe of iron, steel, and wood. 'That's mine,' he said, in joyful mood; 'With that I'll quite contented be.' The god replied, 'I give the three, As due reward of honesty.' This luck when neighbouring choppers knew, They lost their axes, not a few, And sent their prayers to Jupiter So fast, he knew not which to hear. His winged son, however, sent With gold and silver axes, went. Each would have thought himself a fool Not to have own'd the richest tool. But Mercury promptly gave, instead Of it, a blow upon the head. With simple truth to be contented, Is surest not to be repented; But still there are who would With evil trap the good,— Whose cunning is but stupid, For Jove is never duped.

[1] Aesop. There is also a version of the story in Rabelais, Book IV, Prologue. [2] La Fontaine's dedication is in initials thus:—"A. M. L. C. D. B." which are interpreted by some as meaning, "To M. the Chevalier de Bouillon" (as above), and by others as meaning, "To Monseigneur le Cardinal de Bouillon." [3] Aesop's plan.—Here, as in the dedication of Book VII., Fable II., Book I., Fable I., Book III., Fable I., Book VI., Fable IV., Book VIII., and Fable I., Book IX., the poet treats of the nature and uses of Fable.



II.—THE EARTHEN POT AND THE IRON POT.[4]

An iron pot proposed To an earthen pot a journey. The latter was opposed, Expressing the concern he Had felt about the danger Of going out a ranger. He thought the kitchen hearth The safest place on earth For one so very brittle. 'For thee, who art a kettle, And hast a tougher skin, There's nought to keep thee in.' 'I'll be thy body-guard,' Replied the iron pot; 'If anything that's hard Should threaten thee a jot, Between you I will go, And save thee from the blow.' This offer him persuaded. The iron pot paraded Himself as guard and guide Close at his cousin's side. Now, in their tripod way, They hobble as they may; And eke together bolt At every little jolt,— Which gives the crockery pain; But presently his comrade hits So hard, he dashes him to bits, Before he can complain.

Take care that you associate With equals only, lest your fate Between these pots should find its mate.

[4] Aesop.



III.—THE LITTLE FISH AND THE FISHER.[5]

A little fish will grow, If life be spared, a great; But yet to let him go, And for his growing wait, May not be very wise, As 'tis not sure your bait Will catch him when of size. Upon a river bank, a fisher took A tiny troutling from his hook. Said he, ''Twill serve to count, at least, As the beginning of my feast; And so I'll put it with the rest.' This little fish, thus caught, His clemency besought. 'What will your honour do with me? I'm not a mouthful, as you see. Pray let me grow to be a trout, And then come here and fish me out. Some alderman, who likes things nice, Will buy me then at any price. But now, a hundred such you'll have to fish, To make a single good-for-nothing dish.' 'Well, well, be it so,' replied the fisher, 'My little fish, who play the preacher, The frying-pan must be your lot, Although, no doubt, you like it not: I fry the fry that can be got.'

In some things, men of sense Prefer the present to the future tense.

[5] Aesop.



IV.—THE EARS OF THE HARE.[6]

Some beast with horns did gore The lion; and that sovereign dread, Resolved to suffer so no more, Straight banish'd from his realm, 'tis said, All sorts of beasts with horns— Rams, bulls, goats, stags, and unicorns. Such brutes all promptly fled. A hare, the shadow of his ears perceiving, Could hardly help believing That some vile spy for horns would take them, And food for accusation make them. 'Adieu,' said he, 'my neighbour cricket; I take my foreign ticket. My ears, should I stay here, Will turn to horns, I fear; And were they shorter than a bird's, I fear the effect of words.' 'These horns!' the cricket answer'd; 'why, God made them ears who can deny?' 'Yes,' said the coward, 'still they'll make them horns, And horns, perhaps of unicorns! In vain shall I protest, With all the learning of the schools: My reasons they will send to rest In th' Hospital of Fools.'[7]

[6] Faerno. [7] Hospital of Fools, i.e., madhouse.



V.—THE FOX WITH HIS TAIL CUT OFF.[8]

A cunning old fox, of plundering habits, Great crauncher of fowls, great catcher of rabbits, Whom none of his sort had caught in a nap, Was finally caught in somebody's trap. By luck he escaped, not wholly and hale, For the price of his luck was the loss of his tail. Escaped in this way, to save his disgrace, He thought to get others in similar case. One day that the foxes in council were met, 'Why wear we,' said he, 'this cumbering weight, Which sweeps in the dirt wherever it goes? Pray tell me its use, if any one knows. If the council will take my advice, We shall dock off our tails in a trice.' 'Your advice may be good,' said one on the ground; 'But, ere I reply, pray turn yourself round.' Whereat such a shout from the council was heard, Poor bob-tail, confounded, could say not a word. To urge the reform would have wasted his breath. Long tails were the mode till the day of his death.

[8] Aesop; Faerno.



VI.—THE OLD WOMAN AND HER TWO SERVANTS.[9]

A beldam kept two spinning maids, Who plied so handily their trades, Those spinning sisters down below Were bunglers when compared with these. No care did this old woman know But giving tasks as she might please. No sooner did the god of day His glorious locks enkindle, Than both the wheels began to play, And from each whirling spindle Forth danced the thread right merrily, And back was coil'd unceasingly. Soon as the dawn, I say, its tresses show'd, A graceless cock most punctual crow'd. The beldam roused, more graceless yet, In greasy petticoat bedight, Struck up her farthing light, And then forthwith the bed beset, Where deeply, blessedly did snore Those two maid-servants tired and poor. One oped an eye, an arm one stretch'd, And both their breath most sadly fetch'd, This threat concealing in the sigh— 'That cursed cock shall surely die!' And so he did:—they cut his throat, And put to sleep his rousing note. And yet this murder mended not The cruel hardship of their lot; For now the twain were scarce in bed Before they heard the summons dread. The beldam, full of apprehension Lest oversleep should cause detention, Ran like a goblin through her mansion. Thus often, when one thinks To clear himself from ill, His effort only sinks Him in the deeper still. The beldam, acting for the cock, Was Scylla for Charybdis' rock.

[9] Aesop.



VII.—THE SATYR AND THE TRAVELLER.[10]

Within a savage forest grot A satyr and his chips Were taking down their porridge hot; Their cups were at their lips.

You might have seen in mossy den, Himself, his wife, and brood; They had not tailor-clothes, like men, But appetites as good.

In came a traveller, benighted, All hungry, cold, and wet, Who heard himself to eat invited With nothing like regret.

He did not give his host the pain His asking to repeat; But first he blew with might and main To give his fingers heat.

Then in his steaming porridge dish He delicately blew. The wondering satyr said, 'I wish The use of both I knew.'

'Why, first, my blowing warms my hand, And then it cools my porridge.' 'Ah!' said his host, 'then understand I cannot give you storage. 'To sleep beneath one roof with you, I may not be so bold. Far be from me that mouth untrue Which blows both hot and cold.'

[10] Aesop.



VIII.—THE HORSE AND THE WOLF.[11]

A wolf, what time the thawing breeze Renews the life of plants and trees, And beasts go forth from winter lair To seek abroad their various fare,— A wolf, I say, about those days, In sharp look-out for means and ways, Espied a horse turn'd out to graze. His joy the reader may opine. 'Once got,' said he, 'this game were fine; But if a sheep, 'twere sooner mine. I can't proceed my usual way; Some trick must now be put in play.' This said, He came with measured tread, As if a healer of disease,— Some pupil of Hippocrates,— And told the horse, with learned verbs, He knew the power of roots and herbs,— Whatever grew about those borders,— And not at all to flatter Himself in such a matter, Could cure of all disorders. If he, Sir Horse, would not conceal The symptoms of his case, He, Doctor Wolf, would gratis heal; For that to feed in such a place, And run about untied, Was proof itself of some disease, As all the books decide. 'I have, good doctor, if you please,' Replied the horse, 'as I presume, Beneath my foot, an aposthume.' 'My son,' replied the learned leech, 'That part, as all our authors teach, Is strikingly susceptible Of ills which make acceptable What you may also have from me— The aid of skilful surgery; Which noble art, the fact is, For horses of the blood I practise.' The fellow, with this talk sublime, Watch'd for a snap the fitting time. Meanwhile, suspicious of some trick, The wary patient nearer draws, And gives his doctor such a kick, As makes a chowder of his jaws. Exclaim'd the wolf, in sorry plight, 'I own those heels have served me right. I err'd to quit my trade, As I will not in future; Me nature surely made For nothing but a butcher.'

[11] Aesop; also in Faerno.



IX.—THE PLOUGHMAN AND HIS SONS.[12]

The farmer's patient care and toil Are oftener wanting than the soil.

A wealthy ploughman drawing near his end, Call'd in his sons apart from every friend, And said, 'When of your sire bereft, The heritage our fathers left Guard well, nor sell a single field. A treasure in it is conceal'd: The place, precisely, I don't know, But industry will serve to show. The harvest past, Time's forelock take, And search with plough, and spade, and rake; Turn over every inch of sod, Nor leave unsearch'd a single clod.' The father died. The sons—and not in vain— Turn'd o'er the soil, and o'er again; That year their acres bore More grain than e'er before. Though hidden money found they none, Yet had their father wisely done, To show by such a measure, That toil itself is treasure.

[12] Aesop.



X.—THE MOUNTAIN IN LABOUR.[13]

A mountain was in travail pang; The country with her clamour rang. Out ran the people all, to see, Supposing that the birth would be A city, or at least a house. It was a mouse!

In thinking of this fable, Of story feign'd and false, But meaning veritable, My mind the image calls Of one who writes, "The war I sing Which Titans waged against the Thunder-king."[14] As on the sounding verses ring, What will be brought to birth? Why, dearth.

[13] Phaedrus, IV. 22. [14] The War, &c.—The war of the Gods and Titans (sons of Heaven and Earth); vide Hesiod, Theogony, I. 1083, Bohn's ed.



XI.—FORTUNE AND THE BOY.[15]

Beside a well, uncurb'd and deep, A schoolboy laid him down to sleep: (Such rogues can do so anywhere.) If some kind man had seen him there, He would have leap'd as if distracted; But Fortune much more wisely acted; For, passing by, she softly waked the child, Thus whispering in accents mild: 'I save your life, my little dear, And beg you not to venture here Again, for had you fallen in, I should have had to bear the sin; But I demand, in reason's name, If for your rashness I'm to blame?' With this the goddess went her way. I like her logic, I must say. There takes place nothing on this planet, But Fortune ends, whoe'er began it. In all adventures good or ill, We look to her to foot the bill. Has one a stupid, empty pate, That serves him never till too late, He clears himself by blaming Fate!

[15] Aesop.



XII.—THE DOCTORS.[16]

The selfsame patient put to test Two doctors, Fear-the-worst and Hope-the-best. The latter hoped; the former did maintain The man would take all medicine in vain. By different cures the patient was beset, But erelong cancell'd nature's debt, While nursed As was prescribed by Fear-the-worst. But over the disease both triumph'd still. Said one, 'I well foresaw his death.' 'Yes,' said the other, 'but my pill Would certainly have saved his breath.'

[16] Aesop, and others.



XIII.—THE HEN WITH THE GOLDEN EGGS.[17]

How avarice loseth all, By striving all to gain, I need no witness call But him whose thrifty hen, As by the fable we are told, Laid every day an egg of gold. 'She hath a treasure in her body,' Bethinks the avaricious noddy. He kills and opens—vexed to find All things like hens of common kind. Thus spoil'd the source of all his riches, To misers he a lesson teaches. In these last changes of the moon, How often doth one see Men made as poor as he By force of getting rich too soon!

[17] Aesop.



XIV.—THE ASS CARRYING RELICS.[18]

An ass, with relics for his load, Supposed the worship on the road Meant for himself alone, And took on lofty airs, Receiving as his own The incense and the prayers. Some one, who saw his great mistake, Cried, 'Master Donkey, do not make Yourself so big a fool. Not you they worship, but your pack; They praise the idols on your back, And count yourself a paltry tool.'

'Tis thus a brainless magistrate Is honour'd for his robe of state.

[18] Aesop; also Faerno.



XV.—THE STAG AND THE VINE.[19]

A stag, by favour of a vine, Which grew where suns most genial shine, And form'd a thick and matted bower Which might have turn'd a summer shower, Was saved from ruinous assault. The hunters thought their dogs at fault, And call'd them off. In danger now no more The stag, a thankless wretch and vile, Began to browse his benefactress o'er. The hunters, listening the while, The rustling heard, came back, With all their yelping pack, And seized him in that very place. 'This is,' said he, 'but justice, in my case. Let every black ingrate Henceforward profit by my fate.' The dogs fell to—'twere wasting breath To pray those hunters at the death. They left, and we will not revile 'em, A warning for profaners of asylum.

[19] Aesop.



XVI.—THE SERPENT AND THE FILE.[20]

A serpent, neighbour to a smith, (A neighbour bad to meddle with,) Went through his shop, in search of food, But nothing found, 'tis understood, To eat, except a file of steel, Of which he tried to make a meal. The file, without a spark of passion, Address'd him in the following fashion:— 'Poor simpleton! you surely bite With less of sense than appetite; For ere from me you gain One quarter of a grain, You'll break your teeth from ear to ear. Time's are the only teeth I fear.'

This tale concerns those men of letters, Who, good for nothing, bite their betters. Their biting so is quite unwise. Think you, ye literary sharks, Your teeth will leave their marks Upon the deathless works you criticise? Fie! fie! fie! men! To you they're brass—they're steel—they're diamond!

[20] Phaedrus, Book IV. 8; also Aesop.



XVII.—THE HARE AND THE PARTRIDGE.

Beware how you deride The exiles from life's sunny side: To you is little known How soon their case may be your own. On this, sage Aesop gives a tale or two, As in my verses I propose to do. A field in common share A partridge and a hare, And live in peaceful state, Till, woeful to relate! The hunters' mingled cry Compels the hare to fly. He hurries to his fort, And spoils almost the sport By faulting every hound That yelps upon the ground. At last his reeking heat Betrays his snug retreat. Old Tray, with philosophic nose, Snuffs carefully, and grows So certain, that he cries, 'The hare is here; bow wow!' And veteran Ranger now,— The dog that never lies,— 'The hare is gone,' replies. Alas! poor, wretched hare, Back comes he to his lair, To meet destruction there! The partridge, void of fear, Begins her friend to jeer:— 'You bragg'd of being fleet; How serve you, now, your feet?' Scarce has she ceased to speak,— The laugh yet in her beak,— When comes her turn to die, From which she could not fly. She thought her wings, indeed, Enough for every need; But in her laugh and talk, Forgot the cruel hawk!



XVIII.—THE EAGLE AND THE OWL.[21]

The eagle and the owl, resolved to cease Their war, embraced in pledge of peace. On faith of king, on faith of owl, they swore That they would eat each other's chicks no more. 'But know you mine?' said Wisdom's bird.[22] 'Not I, indeed,' the eagle cried. 'The worse for that,' the owl replied: 'I fear your oath's a useless word; I fear that you, as king, will not Consider duly who or what: You kings and gods, of what's before ye, Are apt to make one category. Adieu, my young, if you should meet them!' 'Describe them, then, or let me greet them, And, on my life, I will not eat them,' The eagle said. The owl replied: 'My little ones, I say with pride, For grace of form cannot be match'd,— The prettiest birds that e'er were hatch'd; By this you cannot fail to know them; 'Tis needless, therefore, that I show them. Pray don't forget, but keep this mark in view, Lest fate should curse my happy nest by you.' At length God gives the owl a set of heirs, And while at early eve abroad he fares, In quest of birds and mice for food, Our eagle haply spies the brood, As on some craggy rock they sprawl, Or nestle in some ruined wall, (But which it matters not at all,) And thinks them ugly little frights, Grim, sad, with voice like shrieking sprites. 'These chicks,' says he, 'with looks almost infernal, Can't be the darlings of our friend nocturnal. I'll sup of them.' And so he did, not slightly:— He never sups, if he can help it, lightly. The owl return'd; and, sad, he found Nought left but claws upon the ground. He pray'd the gods above and gods below To smite the brigand who had caused his woe. Quoth one, 'On you alone the blame must fall; Or rather on the law of nature, Which wills that every earthly creature Shall think its like the loveliest of all. You told the eagle of your young ones' graces; You gave the picture of their faces:— Had it of likeness any traces?'

[21] Avianus; also Verdizotti. [22] Wisdom's bird.—The owl was the bird of Minerva, as the eagle was that of Jupiter.



XIX.—THE LION GOING TO WAR.[23]

The lion had an enterprise in hand; Held a war-council, sent his provost-marshal, And gave the animals a call impartial— Each, in his way, to serve his high command. The elephant should carry on his back The tools of war, the mighty public pack, And fight in elephantine way and form; The bear should hold himself prepared to storm; The fox all secret stratagems should fix; The monkey should amuse the foe by tricks. 'Dismiss,' said one, 'the blockhead asses, And hares, too cowardly and fleet.' 'No,' said the king; 'I use all classes; Without their aid my force were incomplete. The ass shall be our trumpeter, to scare Our enemy. And then the nimble hare Our royal bulletins shall homeward bear.'

A monarch provident and wise Will hold his subjects all of consequence, And know in each what talent lies. There's nothing useless to a man of sense.

[23] Abstemius.



XX.—THE BEAR AND THE TWO COMPANIONS.[24]

Two fellows, needing funds, and bold, A bearskin to a furrier sold, Of which the bear was living still, But which they presently would kill— At least they said they would. And, if their word was good, It was a king of bears—an Ursa Major— The biggest bear beneath the sun. Its skin, the chaps would wager, Was cheap at double cost; 'Twould make one laugh at frost— And make two robes as well as one. Old Dindenaut,[25] in sheep who dealt, Less prized his sheep, than they their pelt— (In their account 'twas theirs, But in his own, the bears.) By bargain struck upon the skin, Two days at most must bring it in. Forth went the two. More easy found than got, The bear came growling at them on the trot. Behold our dealers both confounded, As if by thunderbolt astounded! Their bargain vanish'd suddenly in air; For who could plead his interest with a bear? One of the friends sprung up a tree; The other, cold as ice could be, Fell on his face, feign'd death, And closely held his breath,— He having somewhere heard it said The bear ne'er preys upon the dead. Sir Bear, sad blockhead, was deceived— The prostrate man a corpse believed; But, half suspecting some deceit, He feels and snuffs from head to feet, And in the nostrils blows. The body's surely dead, he thinks. 'I'll leave it,' says he, 'for it stinks;' And off into the woods he goes. The other dealer, from his tree Descending cautiously, to see His comrade lying in the dirt, Consoling, says, 'It is a wonder That, by the monster forced asunder, We're, after all, more scared than hurt. But,' addeth he, 'what of the creature's skin? He held his muzzle very near; What did he whisper in your ear?' 'He gave this caution,—"Never dare Again to sell the skin of bear Its owner has not ceased to wear."'[26]

[24] Versions will be found in Aesop, Avianus, and Abstemius. [25] Old Dindenaut.—Vide Rabelais, Pantagruel, Book IV. chap. viii.—Translator. The character in Rabelais is a sheep-stealer as well as a sheep-dealer. [26] According to Philip de Commines, the Emperor Frederic III. of Germany used a story conveying the substance of this fable, with its moral of Never sell your bear-skin till the beast is dead, as his sole reply to the ambassadors of the French king when that monarch sent him proposals for dividing between them the provinces of the Duke of Burgundy. The meaning of which was, says de Commines, "That if the King came according to his promise, they would take the Duke, if they could; and when he was taken, they would talk of dividing his dominions."—Vide Bohn's edition of the "Memoirs of De Commines," vol. i., p. 246.



XXI.—THE ASS DRESSED IN THE LION'S SKIN.[27]

Clad in a lion's shaggy hide, An ass spread terror far and wide, And, though himself a coward brute, Put all the world to scampering rout: But, by a piece of evil luck, A portion of an ear outstuck, Which soon reveal'd the error Of all the panic-terror. Old Martin did his office quick. Surprised were all who did not know the trick, To see that Martin,[28] at his will, Was driving lions to the mill!

In France, the men are not a few Of whom this fable proves too true; Whose valour chiefly doth reside In coat they wear and horse they ride.

[27] Aesop, and Avianus. [28] Martin.—Martin-baton, again as in Fable V., Book IV.

* * * * *

BOOK VI.

I.—THE SHEPHERD AND THE LION.[1]

Of fables judge not by their face; They give the simplest brute a teacher's place. Bare precepts were inert and tedious things; The story gives them life and wings. But story for the story's sake Were sorry business for the wise; As if, for pill that one should take, You gave the sugary disguise. For reasons such as these, Full many writers great and good Have written in this frolic mood, And made their wisdom please. But tinsel'd style they all have shunn'd with care; With them one never sees a word to spare. Of Phaedrus some have blamed the brevity, While Aesop uses fewer words than he. A certain Greek,[2] however, beats Them both in his larconic feats. Each tale he locks in verses four; The well or ill I leave to critic lore. At Aesop's side to see him let us aim, Upon a theme substantially the same. The one selects a lover of the chase; A shepherd comes, the other's tale to grace. Their tracks I keep, though either tale may grow A little in its features as I go.

The one which Aesop tells is nearly this:— A shepherd from his flock began to miss, And long'd to catch the stealer of, his sheep. Before a cavern, dark and deep, Where wolves retired by day to sleep, Which he suspected as the thieves, He set his trap among the leaves; And, ere he left the place, He thus invoked celestial grace:— 'O king of all the powers divine, Against the rogue but grant me this delight, That this my trap may catch him in my sight, And I, from twenty calves of mine, Will make the fattest thine.' But while the words were on his tongue, Forth came a lion great and strong. Down crouch'd the man of sheep, and said, With shivering fright half dead, 'Alas! that man should never be aware Of what may be the meaning of his prayer! To catch the robber of my flocks, O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee: If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me, I'll raise my offering to an ox.'

'Tis thus the master-author[3] tells the story: Now hear the rival of his glory.

[1] Aesop. [2] A certain Greek.—Gabrias.—La Fontaine. This is Babrias, the Greek fabulist, to whom La Fontaine gives the older form of his name. La Fontaine's strictures on this "rival" of Aesop proceed from the fact that he read the author in the corrupted form of the edition by Ignatius Magister (ninth century). It was not till a century after La Fontaine wrote, that the fame of Babrias was cleared by Bentley and Tyrwhitt, who brought his Fables to light in their original form. [3] Master-author, &c.—The "master-author" is Aesop; the rival, Gabrias, or Babrias. The last line refers the reader to the following fable for comparison. In the original editions of La Fontaine, the two fables appear together with the heading "Fables I. et II."



II.—THE LION AND THE HUNTER.[4]

A braggart, lover of the chase, Had lost a dog of valued race, And thought him in a lion's maw. He ask'd a shepherd whom he saw, 'Pray show me, man, the robber's place, And I'll have justice in the case.' ''Tis on this mountain side,' The shepherd man replied. 'The tribute of a sheep I pay, Each month, and where I please I stray.' Out leap'd the lion as he spake, And came that way, with agile feet. The braggart, prompt his flight to take, Cried, 'Jove, O grant a safe retreat!'

A danger close at hand Of courage is the test. It shows us who will stand— Whose legs will run their best.

[4] Gabrias, or Babrias; and Aesop. See note to preceding fable.



III.—PHOEBUS AND BOREAS.[5]

Old Boreas and the sun, one day Espied a traveller on his way, Whose dress did happily provide Against whatever might betide. The time was autumn, when, indeed, All prudent travellers take heed. The rains that then the sunshine dash, And Iris with her splendid sash, Warn one who does not like to soak To wear abroad a good thick cloak. Our man was therefore well bedight With double mantle, strong and tight. 'This fellow,' said the wind, 'has meant To guard from every ill event; But little does he wot that I Can blow him such a blast That, not a button fast, His cloak shall cleave the sky. Come, here's a pleasant game, Sir Sun! Wilt play?' Said Phoebus, 'Done! We'll bet between us here Which first will take the gear From off this cavalier. Begin, and shut away. The brightness of my ray.' 'Enough.' Our blower, on the bet, Swell'd out his pursy form With all the stuff for storm— The thunder, hail, and drenching wet, And all the fury he could muster; Then, with a very demon's bluster, He whistled, whirl'd, and splash'd, And down the torrents dash'd, Full many a roof uptearing He never did before, Full many a vessel bearing To wreck upon the shore,— And all to doff a single cloak. But vain the furious stroke; The traveller was stout, And kept the tempest out, Defied the hurricane, Defied the pelting rain; And as the fiercer roar'd the blast, His cloak the tighter held he fast. The sun broke out, to win the bet; He caused the clouds to disappear, Refresh'd and warm'd the cavalier, And through his mantle made him sweat, Till off it came, of course, In less than half an hour; And yet the sun saved half his power.— So much doth mildness more than force.

[5] Aesop and Lokman; also P. Hegemon.



IV.—JUPITER AND THE FARMER.[6]

Of yore, a farm had Jupiter to rent; To advertise it, Mercury was sent. The farmers, far and near, Flock'd round, the terms to hear; And, calling to their aid The various tricks of trade, One said 'twas rash a farm to hire Which would so much expense require; Another, that, do what you would, The farm would still be far from good. While thus, in market style, its faults were told, One of the crowd, less wise than bold, Would give so much, on this condition, That Jove would yield him altogether The choice and making of his weather,— That, instantly on his decision, His various crops should feel the power Of heat or cold, of sun or shower.

Jove yields. The bargain closed, our man Rains, blows, and takes the care Of all the changes of the air, On his peculiar, private plan. His nearest neighbours felt it not, And all the better was their lot. Their year was good, by grace divine; The grain was rich, and full the vine. The renter, failing altogether, The next year made quite different weather; And yet the fruit of all his labours Was far inferior to his neighbours'. What better could he do? To Heaven He owns at last his want of sense, And so is graciously forgiven. Hence we conclude that Providence Knows better what we need Than we ourselves, indeed.

[6] Aesop; and Faerno.



V.—THE COCKEREL, THE CAT, AND THE YOUNG MOUSE.[7]

A youthful mouse, not up to trap, Had almost met a sad mishap. The story hear him thus relate, With great importance, to his mother:— 'I pass'd the mountain bounds of this estate, And off was trotting on another, Like some young rat with nought to do But see things wonderful and new, When two strange creatures came in view. The one was mild, benign, and gracious; The other, turbulent, rapacious, With voice terrific, shrill, and rough, And on his head a bit of stuff That look'd like raw and bloody meat, Raised up a sort of arms, and beat The air, as if he meant to fly, And bore his plumy tail on high.'

A cock, that just began to crow, As if some nondescript, From far New Holland shipp'd, Was what our mousling pictured so. 'He beat his arms,' said he, 'and raised his voice, And made so terrible a noise, That I, who, thanks to Heaven, may justly boast Myself as bold as any mouse, Scud off, (his voice would even scare a ghost!) And cursed himself and all his house; For, but for him, I should have staid, And doubtless an acquaintance made With her who seem'd so mild and good. Like us, in velvet cloak and hood, She wears a tail that's full of grace, A very sweet and humble face,— No mouse more kindness could desire,— And yet her eye is full of fire. I do believe the lovely creature A friend of rats and mice by nature. Her ears, though, like herself, they're bigger, Are just like ours in form and figure. To her I was approaching, when, Aloft on what appear'd his den, The other scream'd,—and off I fled.' 'My son,' his cautious mother said, 'That sweet one was the cat, The mortal foe of mouse and rat, Who seeks by smooth deceit, Her appetite to treat. So far the other is from that, We yet may eat His dainty meat; Whereas the cruel cat, Whene'er she can, devours No other meat than ours.'

Remember while you live, It is by looks that men deceive.

[7] Abstemius.



VI.—THE FOX, THE MONKEY, AND THE ANIMALS.[8]

Left kingless by the lion's death, The beasts once met, our story saith, Some fit successor to install. Forth from a dragon-guarded, moated place, The crown was brought, and, taken from its case, And being tried by turns on all, The heads of most were found too small; Some horned were, and some too big; Not one would fit the regal gear. For ever ripe for such a rig, The monkey, looking very queer, Approach'd with antics and grimaces, And, after scores of monkey faces, With what would seem a gracious stoop, Pass'd through the crown as through a hoop. The beasts, diverted with the thing, Did homage to him as their king. The fox alone the vote regretted, But yet in public never fretted. When he his compliments had paid To royalty, thus newly made, 'Great sire, I know a place,' said he, 'Where lies conceal'd a treasure, Which, by the right of royalty, Should bide your royal pleasure.' The king lack'd not an appetite For such financial pelf, And, not to lose his royal right, Ran straight to see it for himself. It was a trap, and he was caught. Said Renard, 'Would you have it thought, You ape, that you can fill a throne, And guard the rights of all, alone, Not knowing how to guard your own?'

The beasts all gather'd from the farce, That stuff for kings is very scarce.

[8] Aesop; also Faerno.



VII.—THE MULE BOASTING OF HIS GENEALOGY.[9]

A prelate's mule of noble birth was proud, And talk'd, incessantly and loud, Of nothing but his dam, the mare, Whose mighty deeds by him recounted were,— This had she done, and had been present there,— By which her son made out his claim To notice on the scroll of Fame. Too proud, when young, to bear a doctor's pill; When old, he had to turn a mill. As there they used his limbs to bind, His sire, the ass, was brought to mind. Misfortune, were its only use The claims of folly to reduce, And bring men down to sober reason, Would be a blessing in its season.

[9] Aesop.



VIII.—THE OLD MAN AND THE ASS.[10]

An old man, riding on his ass, Had found a spot of thrifty grass, And there turn'd loose his weary beast. Old Grizzle, pleased with such a feast, Flung up his heels, and caper'd round, Then roll'd and rubb'd upon the ground, And frisk'd and browsed and bray'd, And many a clean spot made. Arm'd men came on them as he fed: 'Let's fly,' in haste the old man said. 'And wherefore so?' the ass replied; 'With heavier burdens will they ride?' 'No,' said the man, already started. 'Then,' cried the ass, as he departed, 'I'll stay, and be—no matter whose; Save you yourself, and leave me loose. But let me tell you, ere you go, (I speak plain French, you know,) My master is my only foe.'

[10] Phaedras. I. 15.



IX.—THE STAG SEEING HIMSELF IN THE WATER.[11]

Beside a placid, crystal flood, A stag admired the branching wood That high upon his forehead stood, But gave his Maker little thanks For what he call'd his spindle shanks. 'What limbs are these for such a head!— So mean and slim!' with grief he said. 'My glorious heads o'ertops The branches of the copse; My legs are my disgrace.' As thus he talk'd, a bloodhound gave him chase. To save his life he flew Where forests thickest grew. His horns,—pernicious ornament!— Arresting him where'er he went, Did unavailing render What else, in such a strife, Had saved his precious life— His legs, as fleet as slender. Obliged to yield, he cursed the gear Which nature gave him every year.

Too much the beautiful we prize; The useful, often, we despise: Yet oft, as happen'd to the stag, The former doth to ruin drag.

[11] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I.12.



X.—THE HARE AND THE TORTOISE.[12]

To win a race, the swiftness of a dart Availeth not without a timely start. The hare and tortoise are my witnesses. Said tortoise to the swiftest thing that is, 'I'll bet that you'll not reach, so soon as I The tree on yonder hill we spy.' 'So soon! Why, madam, are you frantic?' Replied the creature, with an antic; 'Pray take, your senses to restore, A grain or two of hellebore.'[13] 'Say,' said the tortoise, 'what you will; I dare you to the wager still.' 'Twas done; the stakes were paid, And near the goal tree laid— Of what, is not a question for this place, Nor who it was that judged the race. Our hare had scarce five jumps to make, Of such as he is wont to take, When, starting just before their beaks He leaves the hounds at leisure, Thence till the kalends of the Greeks,[14] The sterile heath to measure. Thus having time to browse and doze, And list which way the zephyr blows, He makes himself content to wait, And let the tortoise go her gait In solemn, senatorial state. She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly, And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly; But he, meanwhile, the victory despises, Thinks lightly of such prizes, Believes it for his honour To take late start and gain upon her. So, feeding, sitting at his ease, He meditates of what you please, Till his antagonist he sees Approach the goal; then starts, Away like lightning darts: But vainly does he run; The race is by the tortoise won. Cries she, 'My senses do I lack? What boots your boasted swiftness now? You're beat! and yet, you must allow, I bore my house upon my back.'

[12] Aesop; also Lokman. [13] Hellebore.—The ancient remedy for insanity. [14] Kalends of the Greeks.—The Greeks, unlike the Romans, had no kalends in their computation of time, hence the frequent use of this expression to convey the idea of an indefinite period of time.



XI.—THE ASS AND HIS MASTERS.[15]

A gardener's ass complain'd to Destiny Of being made to rise before the dawn. 'The cocks their matins have not sung,' said he, 'Ere I am up and gone. And all for what? To market herbs, it seems. Fine cause, indeed, to interrupt my dreams!' Fate, moved by such a prayer, Sent him a currier's load to bear, Whose hides so heavy and ill-scented were, They almost choked the foolish beast. 'I wish me with my former lord,' he said; 'For then, whene'er he turn'd his head, If on the watch, I caught A cabbage-leaf, which cost me nought. But, in this horrid place, I find No chance or windfall of the kind:— Or if, indeed, I do, The cruel blows I rue.' Anon it came to pass He was a collier's ass. Still more complaint. 'What now?' said Fate, Quite out of patience. 'If on this jackass I must wait, What will become of kings and nations? Has none but he aught here to tease him? Have I no business but to please him?' And Fate had cause;—for all are so. Unsatisfied while here below Our present lot is aye the worst. Our foolish prayers the skies infest. Were Jove to grant all we request, The din renew'd, his head would burst.

[15] Aesop.



XII.—THE SUN AND THE FROGS.[16]

Rejoicing on their tyrant's wedding-day, The people drown'd their care in drink; While from the general joy did Aesop shrink, And show'd its folly in this way. 'The sun,' said he, 'once took it in his head To have a partner for his bed. From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs, Up rose the wailings of the frogs. "What shall we do, should he have progeny?" Said they to Destiny; "One sun we scarcely can endure, And half-a-dozen, we are sure, Will dry the very sea. Adieu to marsh and fen! Our race will perish then, Or be obliged to fix Their dwelling in the Styx!" For such an humble animal, The frog, I take it, reason'd well.'

[16] There is another fable with this title, viz., Fable XXIV., Book XII. This fable in its earlier form will be found in Phaedrus, I.6.



XIII.—THE COUNTRYMAN AND THE SERPENT.[17]

A countryman, as Aesop certifies, A charitable man, but not so wise, One day in winter found, Stretch'd on the snowy ground, A chill'd or frozen snake, As torpid as a stake, And, if alive, devoid of sense. He took him up, and bore him home, And, thinking not what recompense For such a charity would come, Before the fire stretch'd him, And back to being fetch'd him. The snake scarce felt the genial heat Before his heart with native malice beat. He raised his head, thrust out his forked tongue, Coil'd up, and at his benefactor sprung. 'Ungrateful wretch!' said he, 'is this the way My care and kindness you repay? Now you shall die.' With that his axe he takes, And with two blows three serpents makes. Trunk, head, and tail were separate snakes; And, leaping up with all their might, They vainly sought to reunite.

'Tis good and lovely to be kind; But charity should not be blind; For as to wretchedness ingrate, You cannot raise it from its wretched state.

[17] Aesop; also Phaedrus, IV.18.



XIV.—THE SICK LION AND THE FOX.[18]

Sick in his den, we understand, The king of beasts sent out command That of his vassals every sort Should send some deputies to court— With promise well to treat Each deputy and suite; On faith of lion, duly written, None should be scratch'd, much less be bitten. The royal will was executed, And some from every tribe deputed; The foxes, only, would not come. One thus explain'd their choice of home:— 'Of those who seek the court, we learn, The tracks upon the sand Have one direction, and Not one betokens a return. This fact begetting some distrust, His majesty at present must Excuse us from his great levee. His plighted word is good, no doubt; But while how beasts get in we see, We do not see how they get out.'

[18] Aesop.



XV.—THE FOWLER, THE HAWK, AND THE LARK.[19]

From wrongs of wicked men we draw Excuses for our own:— Such is the universal law. Would you have mercy shown, Let yours be clearly known.

A fowler's mirror served to snare The little tenants of the air. A lark there saw her pretty face, And was approaching to the place. A hawk, that sailed on high Like vapour in the sky, Came down, as still as infant's breath, On her who sang so near her death. She thus escaped the fowler's steel, The hawk's malignant claws to feel. While in his cruel way, The pirate pluck'd his prey, Upon himself the net was sprung. 'O fowler,' pray'd he in the hawkish tongue, 'Release me in thy clemency! I never did a wrong to thee.' The man replied, ''Tis true; And did the lark to you?'

[19] Abstemius, 3.



XVI.—THE HORSE AND THE ASS.[20]

In such a world, all men, of every grade, Should each the other kindly aid; For, if beneath misfortune's goad A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.

There jogg'd in company an ass and horse; Nought but his harness did the last endorse; The other bore a load that crush'd him down, And begg'd the horse a little help to give, Or otherwise he could not reach the town. 'This prayer,' said he, 'is civil, I believe; One half this burden you would scarcely feel.' The horse refused, flung up a scornful heel, And saw his comrade die beneath the weight:— And saw his wrong too late; For on his own proud back They put the ass's pack, And over that, beside, They put the ass's hide.

[20] Aesop.



XVII.—THE DOG THAT DROPPED THE SUBSTANCE FOR THE SHADOW.[21]

This world is full of shadow-chasers, Most easily deceived. Should I enumerate these racers, I should not be believed. I send them all to Aesop's dog, Which, crossing water on a log, Espied the meat he bore, below; To seize its image, let it go; Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad, With neither what he hoped, nor what he'd had.

[21] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I. 4.



XVIII.—THE CARTER IN THE MIRE.[22]

The Phaeton who drove a load of hay Once found his cart bemired. Poor man! the spot was far away From human help—retired, In some rude country place, In Brittany, as near as I can trace, Near Quimper Corentan,— A town that poet never sang,— Which Fate, they say, puts in the traveller's path, When she would rouse the man to special wrath. May Heaven preserve us from that route! But to our carter, hale and stout:— Fast stuck his cart; he swore his worst, And, fill'd with rage extreme, The mud-holes now he cursed, And now he cursed his team, And now his cart and load,— Anon, the like upon himself bestow'd. Upon the god he call'd at length, Most famous through the world for strength. 'O, help me, Hercules!' cried he; 'For if thy back of yore This burly planet bore, Thy arm can set me free.' This prayer gone up, from out a cloud there broke A voice which thus in godlike accents spoke:— 'The suppliant must himself bestir, Ere Hercules will aid confer. Look wisely in the proper quarter, To see what hindrance can be found; Remove the execrable mud and mortar, Which, axle-deep, beset thy wheels around. Thy sledge and crowbar take, And pry me up that stone, or break; Now fill that rut upon the other side. Hast done it?' 'Yes,' the man replied. 'Well,' said the voice, 'I'll aid thee now; Take up thy whip.' 'I have ... but, how? My cart glides on with ease! I thank thee, Hercules.' 'Thy team,' rejoin'd the voice, 'has light ado; So help thyself, and Heaven will help thee too.'

[22] Avianus; also Faerno; also Rabelais, Book IV., ch. 23, Bohn's edition.



XIX.—THE CHARLATAN.[23]

The world has never lack'd its charlatans, More than themselves have lack'd their plans. One sees them on the stage at tricks Which mock the claims of sullen Styx. What talents in the streets they post! One of them used to boast Such mastership of eloquence That he could make the greatest dunce Another Tully Cicero In all the arts that lawyers know. 'Ay, sirs, a dunce, a country clown, The greatest blockhead of your town,— Nay more, an animal, an ass,— The stupidest that nibbles grass,— Needs only through my course to pass, And he shall wear the gown With credit, honour, and renown.' The prince heard of it, call'd the man, thus spake: 'My stable holds a steed Of the Arcadian breed,[24] Of which an orator I wish to make.' 'Well, sire, you can,' Replied our man. At once his majesty Paid the tuition fee. Ten years must roll, and then the learned ass Should his examination pass, According to the rules Adopted in the schools; If not, his teacher was to tread the air, With halter'd neck, above the public square,— His rhetoric bound on his back, And on his head the ears of jack. A courtier told the rhetorician, With bows and terms polite, He would not miss the sight Of that last pendent exhibition; For that his grace and dignity Would well become such high degree; And, on the point of being hung, He would bethink him of his tongue, And show the glory of his art,— The power to melt the hardest heart,— And wage a war with time By periods sublime— A pattern speech for orators thus leaving, Whose work is vulgarly call'd thieving. 'Ah!' was the charlatan's reply, 'Ere that, the king, the ass, or I, Shall, one or other of us, die.' And reason good had he; We count on life most foolishly, Though hale and hearty we may be. In each ten years, death cuts down one in three.

[23] Abstemius. [24] Steed of the Arcadian breed.—An ass, as in Fable XVII, Book VIII.



XX.—DISCORD.

The goddess Discord, having made, on high, Among the gods a general grapple, And thence a lawsuit, for an apple, Was turn'd out, bag and baggage, from the sky. The animal call'd man, with open arms, Received the goddess of such naughty charms,— Herself and Whether-or-no, her brother, With Thine-and-mine, her stingy mother. In this, the lower universe, Our hemisphere she chose to curse: For reasons good she did not please To visit our antipodes— Folks rude and savage like the beasts, Who, wedding-free from forms and priests, In simple tent or leafy bower, Make little work for such a power. That she might know exactly where Her direful aid was in demand, Renown flew courier through the land, Reporting each dispute with care; Then she, outrunning Peace, was quickly there; And if she found a spark of ire, Was sure to blow it to a fire. At length, Renown got out of patience At random hurrying o'er the nations, And, not without good reason, thought A goddess, like her mistress, ought To have some fix'd and certain home, To which her customers might come; For now they often search'd in vain. With due location, it was plain She might accomplish vastly more, And more in season than before. To find, howe'er, the right facilities, Was harder, then, than now it is; For then there were no nunneries.

So, Hymen's inn at last assign'd, Thence lodged the goddess to her mind.[25]

[25] La Fontaine, gentle reader, does not mean to say that Discord lodges with all married people, but that the foul fiend is never better satisfied than when she can find such accommodation.—Translator.



XXI.—THE YOUNG WIDOW.[26]

A husband's death brings always sighs; The widow sobs, sheds tears—then dries. Of Time the sadness borrows wings; And Time returning pleasure brings. Between the widow of a year And of a day, the difference Is so immense, That very few who see her Would think the laughing dame And weeping one the same. The one puts on repulsive action, The other shows a strong attraction. The one gives up to sighs, or true or false; The same sad note is heard, whoever calls. Her grief is inconsolable, They say. Not so our fable, Or, rather, not so says the truth.

To other worlds a husband went And left his wife in prime of youth. Above his dying couch she bent, And cried, 'My love, O wait for me! My soul would gladly go with thee!' (But yet it did not go.) The fair one's sire, a prudent man, Check'd not the current of her woe. At last he kindly thus began:— 'My child, your grief should have its bound. What boots it him beneath the ground That you should drown your charms? Live for the living, not the dead. I don't propose that you be led At once to Hymen's arms; But give me leave, in proper time, To rearrange the broken chime With one who is as good, at least, In all respects, as the deceased.' 'Alas!' she sigh'd, 'the cloister vows Befit me better than a spouse.' The father left the matter there. About one month thus mourn'd the fair; Another month, her weeds arranged; Each day some robe or lace she changed, Till mourning dresses served to grace, And took of ornament the place. The frolic band of loves Came flocking back like doves. Jokes, laughter, and the dance, The native growth of France, Had finally their turn; And thus, by night and morn, She plunged, to tell the truth, Deep in the fount of youth. Her sire no longer fear'd The dead so much endear'd; But, as he never spoke, Herself the silence broke:— 'Where is that youthful spouse,' said she, 'Whom, sir, you lately promised me?'

[26] Abstemius.



EPILOGUE.

Here check we our career: Long books I greatly fear. I would not quite exhaust my stuff; The flower of subjects is enough. To me, the time is come, it seems, To draw my breath for other themes. Love, tyrant of my life, commands That other work be on my hands. I dare not disobey. Once more shall Psyche be my lay. I'm call'd by Damon to portray Her sorrows and her joys. I yield: perhaps, while she employs, My muse will catch a richer glow; And well if this my labour'd strain Shall be the last and only pain Her spouse[27] shall cause me here below.

[27] Her spouse.—Cupid, the spouse of Psyche. The "other work on my hands" mentioned in this Epilogue (the end of the poet's first collection of Fables) was no doubt the writing of his "Psyche," which was addressed to his patron the Duchess de Bouillon, and published in 1659, the year following the publication of the first six Books of the Fables. See also Translator's Preface.

* * * * *

BOOK VII.[1]

To Madame De Montespan[2]

The apologue[3] is from the immortal gods; Or, if the gift of man it is, Its author merits apotheosis. Whoever magic genius lauds Will do what in him lies To raise this art's inventor to the skies. It hath the potence of a charm, On dulness lays a conquering arm, Subjects the mind to its control, And works its will upon the soul. O lady, arm'd with equal power, If e'er within celestial bower, With messmate gods reclined, My muse ambrosially hath dined, Lend me the favour of a smile On this her playful toil. If you support, the tooth of time will shun, And let my work the envious years outrun. If authors would themselves survive, To gain your suffrage they should strive. On you my verses wait to get their worth; To you my beauties all will owe their birth,— For beauties you will recognize Invisible to other eyes. Ah! who can boast a taste so true, Of beauty or of grace, In either thought or face? For words and looks are equal charms in you. Upon a theme so sweet, the truth to tell, My muse would gladly dwell: But this employ to others I must yield;— A greater master claims the field. For me, fair lady, 'twere enough Your name should be my wall and roof. Protect henceforth the favour'd book Through which for second life I look. In your auspicious light, These lines, in envy's spite, Will gain the glorious meed, That all the world shall read. 'Tis not that I deserve such fame;— I only ask in Fable's name, (You know what credit that should claim;) And, if successfully I sue, A fane will be to Fable due,— A thing I would not build—except for you.

[1] Here commences the second collection of La Fontaine's Fables, comprising Books VII. to XI. This collection was published in 1678-9, ten years after the publication of the foregoing six Books. See Translator's Preface. [2] Madame de Montespan.—Francoise-Athenais de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, born 1641, died 1707. She became one of the mistresses of the "Grand Monarque," Louis XIV., in 1668. [3] The apologue.—Here, as in the opening fable of Books V. and VI., and elsewhere, La Fontaine defines Fable and defends the art of the Fabulist.



I.—THE ANIMALS SICK OF THE PLAGUE.[4]

The sorest ill that Heaven hath Sent on this lower world in wrath,— The plague (to call it by its name,) One single day of which Would Pluto's ferryman enrich,— Waged war on beasts, both wild and tame. They died not all, but all were sick: No hunting now, by force or trick, To save what might so soon expire. No food excited their desire; Nor wolf nor fox now watch'd to slay The innocent and tender prey. The turtles fled; So love and therefore joy were dead. The lion council held, and said: 'My friends, I do believe This awful scourge, for which we grieve, Is for our sins a punishment Most righteously by Heaven sent. Let us our guiltiest beast resign, A sacrifice to wrath divine. Perhaps this offering, truly small, May gain the life and health of all. By history we find it noted That lives have been just so devoted. Then let us all turn eyes within, And ferret out the hidden sin. Himself let no one spare nor flatter, But make clean conscience in the matter. For me, my appetite has play'd the glutton Too much and often upon mutton. What harm had e'er my victims done? I answer, truly, None. Perhaps, sometimes, by hunger press'd, I've eat the shepherd with the rest. I yield myself, if need there be; And yet I think, in equity, Each should confess his sins with me; For laws of right and justice cry, The guiltiest alone should die.' 'Sire,' said the fox, 'your majesty Is humbler than a king should be, And over-squeamish in the case. What! eating stupid sheep a crime? No, never, sire, at any time. It rather was an act of grace, A mark of honour to their race. And as to shepherds, one may swear, The fate your majesty describes, Is recompense less full than fair For such usurpers o'er our tribes.'

Thus Renard glibly spoke, And loud applause from flatterers broke. Of neither tiger, boar, nor bear, Did any keen inquirer dare To ask for crimes of high degree; The fighters, biters, scratchers, all From every mortal sin were free; The very dogs, both great and small, Were saints, as far as dogs could be.

The ass, confessing in his turn, Thus spoke in tones of deep concern:— 'I happen'd through a mead to pass; The monks, its owners, were at mass; Keen hunger, leisure, tender grass, And add to these the devil too, All tempted me the deed to do. I browsed the bigness of my tongue; Since truth must out, I own it wrong.'

On this, a hue and cry arose, As if the beasts were all his foes: A wolf, haranguing lawyer-wise, Denounced the ass for sacrifice— The bald-pate, scabby, ragged lout, By whom the plague had come, no doubt. His fault was judged a hanging crime. 'What? eat another's grass? O shame! The noose of rope and death sublime,' For that offence, were all too tame! And soon poor Grizzle felt the same.

Thus human courts acquit the strong, And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.

[4] One of the most original as well as one of the most beautiful of the poet's fables, yet much of the groundwork of its story may be traced in the Fables of Bidpaii and other collections. See also note to Fable XXII., Book I.



II.—THE ILL-MARRIED.

If worth, were not a thing more rare Than beauty in this planet fair, There would be then less need of care About the contracts Hymen closes. But beauty often is the bait To love that only ends in hate; And many hence repent too late Of wedding thorns from wooing roses.[5] My tale makes one of these poor fellows, Who sought relief from marriage vows, Send back again his tedious spouse, Contentious, covetous, and jealous, With nothing pleased or satisfied, This restless, comfort-killing bride Some fault in every one descried. Her good man went to bed too soon, Or lay in bed till almost noon. Too cold, too hot,—too black, too white,— Were on her tongue from morn till night. The servants mad and madder grew; The husband knew not what to do. 'Twas, 'Dear, you never think or care;' And, 'Dear, that price we cannot bear;' And, 'Dear, you never stay at home;' And, 'Dear, I wish you would just come;' Till, finally, such ceaseless dearing Upon her husband's patience wearing, Back to her sire's he sent his wife, To taste the sweets of country life, To dance at will the country jigs, And feed the turkeys, geese, and pigs. In course of time, he hoped his bride Might have her temper mollified; Which hope he duly put to test. His wife recall'd, said he, 'How went with you your rural rest, From vexing cares and fashions free? Its peace and quiet did you gain,— Its innocence without a stain?' 'Enough of all,' said she; 'but then To see those idle, worthless men Neglect the flocks, it gave me pain. I told them, plainly, what I thought, And thus their hatred quickly bought; For which I do not care—not I.' 'Ah, madam,' did her spouse reply, 'If still your temper's so morose, And tongue so virulent, that those Who only see you morn and night Are quite grown weary of the sight, What, then, must be your servants' case, Who needs must see you face to face, Throughout the day? And what must be the harder lot Of him, I pray, Whose days and nights With you must be by marriage rights? Return you to your father's cot. If I recall you in my life, Or even wish for such a wife, Let Heaven, in my hereafter, send Two such, to tease me without end!'

[5] The badinage of La Fontaine having been misunderstood, the translator has altered the introduction to this fable. The intention of the fable is to recommend prudence and good nature, not celibacy. So the peerless Granville understands it, for his pencil tells us that the hero of the fable did finally recall his wife, notwithstanding his fearful imprecation. It seems that even she was better than none.—Translator; (in his sixth edition).



III.—THE RAT RETIRED FROM THE WORLD.

The sage Levantines have a tale About a rat that weary grew Of all the cares which life assail, And to a Holland cheese withdrew. His solitude was there profound, Extending through his world so round. Our hermit lived on that within; And soon his industry had been With claws and teeth so good, That in his novel hermitage, He had in store, for wants of age, Both house and livelihood. What more could any rat desire? He grew fair, fat, and round. 'God's blessings thus redound To those who in His vows retire.'[6] One day this personage devout, Whose kindness none might doubt, Was ask'd, by certain delegates That came from Rat-United-States, For some small aid, for they To foreign parts were on their way, For succour in the great cat-war. Ratopolis beleaguer'd sore, Their whole republic drain'd and poor, No morsel in their scrips they bore. Slight boon they craved, of succour sure In days at utmost three or four. 'My friends,' the hermit said, 'To worldly things I'm dead. How can a poor recluse To such a mission be of use? What can he do but pray That God will aid it on its way? And so, my friends, it is my prayer That God will have you in his care.' His well-fed saintship said no more, But in their faces shut the door. What think you, reader, is the service For which I use this niggard rat? To paint a monk? No, but a dervise. A monk, I think, however fat, Must be more bountiful than that.

[6] God's blessing, &c.—So the rat himself professed to consider the matter.—Translator.



IV.—THE HERON.[7]

One day,—no matter when or where,— A long-legg'd heron chanced to fare By a certain river's brink, With his long, sharp beak Helved on his slender neck; 'Twas a fish-spear, you might think. The water was clear and still, The carp and the pike there at will Pursued their silent fun, Turning up, ever and anon, A golden side to the sun. With ease might the heron have made Great profits in his fishing trade. So near came the scaly fry, They might be caught by the passer-by. But he thought he better might Wait for a better appetite— For he lived by rule, and could not eat, Except at his hours, the best of meat. Anon his appetite return'd once more; So, approaching again the shore, He saw some tench taking their leaps, Now and then, from their lowest deeps. With as dainty a taste as Horace's rat, He turn'd away from such food as that. 'What, tench for a heron! poh! I scorn the thought, and let them go.' The tench refused, there came a gudgeon; 'For all that,' said the bird, 'I budge on. I'll ne'er open my beak, if the gods please, For such mean little fishes as these.' He did it for less; For it came to pass, That not another fish could he see; And, at last, so hungry was he, That he thought it of some avail To find on the bank a single snail. Such is the sure result Of being too difficult. Would you be strong and great, Learn to accommodate. Get what you can, and trust for the rest; The whole is oft lost by seeking the best. Above all things beware of disdain; Where, at most, you have little to gain. The people are many that make Every day this sad mistake. 'Tis not for the herons I put this case, Ye featherless people, of human race. —List to another tale as true, And you'll hear the lesson brought home to you.[8]

[7] Abstemius. [8] The lesson brought home to you. The two last lines refer the reader to the next fable.



V.—THE MAID.[9]

A certain maid, as proud as fair, A husband thought to find Exactly to her mind— Well-form'd and young, genteel in air, Not cold nor jealous;—mark this well. Whoe'er would wed this dainty belle Must have, besides rank, wealth, and wit, And all good qualities to fit— A man 'twere difficult to get. Kind Fate, however, took great care To grant, if possible, her prayer. There came a-wooing men of note; The maiden thought them all, By half, too mean and small. 'They marry me! the creatures dote:— Alas! poor souls! their case I pity.' (Here mark the bearing of the beauty.) Some were less delicate than witty; Some had the nose too short or long; In others something else was wrong; Which made each in the maiden's eyes An altogether worthless prize. Profound contempt is aye the vice Which springs from being over-nice, Thus were the great dismiss'd; and then Came offers from inferior men. The maid, more scornful than before, Took credit to her tender heart For giving then an open door. 'They think me much in haste to part With independence! God be thank'd My lonely nights bring no regret; Nor shall I pine, or greatly fret, Should I with ancient maids be rank'd.' Such were the thoughts that pleased the fair: Age made them only thoughts that were. Adieu to lovers:—passing years Awaken doubts and chilling fears. Regret, at last, brings up the train. Day after day she sees, with pain, Some smile or charm take final flight, And leave the features of a 'fright.' Then came a hundred sorts of paint: But still no trick, nor ruse, nor feint, Avail'd to hide the cause of grief, Or bar out Time, that graceless thief. A house, when gone to wreck and ruin, May be repair'd and made a new one. Alas! for ruins of the face No such rebuilding e'er takes place. Her daintiness now changed its tune; Her mirror told her, 'Marry soon!' So did a certain wish within, With more of secrecy than sin,— A wish that dwells with even prudes, Annihilating solitudes. This maiden's choice was past belief, She soothing down her restless grief, And smoothing it of every ripple, By marrying a cripple.

[9] This fable should be read in conjunction with the foregoing one.



VI.—THE WISHES.

Within the Great Mogul's domains there are Familiar sprites of much domestic use: They sweep the house, and take a tidy care Of equipage, nor garden work refuse; But, if you meddle with their toil, The whole, at once, you're sure to spoil. One, near the mighty Ganges flood, The garden of a burgher good Work'd noiselessly and well; To master, mistress, garden, bore A love that time and toil outwore, And bound him like a spell. Did friendly zephyrs blow, The demon's pains to aid? (For so they do, 'tis said.) I own I do not know. But for himself he rested not, And richly bless'd his master's lot. What mark'd his strength of love, He lived a fixture on the place, In spite of tendency to rove So natural to his race. But brother sprites conspiring With importunity untiring, So teased their goblin chief, that he, Of his caprice, or policy, Our sprite commanded to attend A house in Norway's farther end, Whose roof was snow-clad through the year, And shelter'd human kind with deer. Before departing to his hosts Thus spake this best of busy ghosts:— 'To foreign parts I'm forced to go! For what sad fault I do not know;— But go I must; a month's delay, Or week's perhaps, and I'm away. Seize time; three wishes make at will; For three I'm able to fulfil— No more.' Quick at their easy task, Abundance first these wishers ask— Abundance, with her stores unlock'd— Barns, coffers, cellars, larder, stock'd— Corn, cattle, wine, and money,— The overflow of milk and honey. But what to do with all this wealth! What inventories, cares, and worry! What wear of temper and of health! Both lived in constant, slavish hurry. Thieves took by plot, and lords by loan; The king by tax, the poor by tone. Thus felt the curses which Arise from being rich,— 'Remove this affluence!' they pray; The poor are happier than they Whose riches make them slaves. 'Go, treasures, to the winds and waves; Come, goddess of the quiet breast, Who sweet'nest toil with rest, Dear Mediocrity, return!' The prayer was granted as we learn. Two wishes thus expended, Had simply ended In bringing them exactly where, When they set out they were. So, usually, it fares With those who waste in such vain prayers The time required by their affairs. The goblin laugh'd, and so did they. However, ere he went away, To profit by his offer kind, They ask'd for wisdom, wealth of mind,— A treasure void of care and sorrow— A treasure fearless of the morrow, Let who will steal, or beg, or borrow.



VII.—THE LION'S COURT.[10]

His lion majesty would know, one day, What bestial tribes were subject to his sway. He therefore gave his vassals all, By deputies a call, Despatching everywhere A written circular, Which bore his seal, and did import His majesty would hold his court A month most splendidly;— A feast would open his levee, Which done, Sir Jocko's sleight Would give the court delight. By such sublime magnificence The king would show his power immense.

Now were they gather'd all Within the royal hall.— And such a hall! The charnel scent Would make the strongest nerves relent. The bear put up his paw to close The double access of his nose. The act had better been omitted; His throne at once the monarch quitted, And sent to Pluto's court the bear, To show his delicacy there. The ape approved the cruel deed, A thorough flatterer by breed. He praised the prince's wrath and claws, He praised the odour and its cause. Judged by the fragrance of that cave, The amber of the Baltic wave, The rose, the pink, the hawthorn bank, Might with the vulgar garlic rank. The mark his flattery overshot, And made him share poor Bruin's lot; This lion playing in his way, The part of Don Caligula. The fox approach'd. 'Now,' said the king, 'Apply your nostrils to this thing, And let me hear, without disguise, The judgment of a beast so wise.' The fox replied, 'Your Majesty will please Excuse'—and here he took good care to sneeze;— 'Afflicted with a dreadful cold, Your majesty need not be told: My sense of smell is mostly gone.'

From danger thus withdrawn, He teaches us the while, That one, to gain the smile Of kings, must hold the middle place 'Twixt blunt rebuke and fulsome praise; And sometimes use with easy grace, The language of the Norman race.[11]

[10] Phaedrus. IV. 13. [11] The Normans are proverbial among the French for the oracular noncommittal of their responses.—Un Normand, says the proverb, a son dit et son detit.—Translator.



VIII.—THE VULTURES AND THE PIGEONS.[12]

Mars once made havoc in the air: Some cause aroused a quarrel there Among the birds;—not those that sing, The courtiers of the merry Spring, And by their talk, in leafy bowers, Of loves they feel, enkindle ours; Nor those which Cupid's mother yokes To whirl on high her golden spokes; But naughty hawk and vulture folks, Of hooked beak and talons keen. The carcass of a dog, 'tis said, Had to this civil carnage led. Blood rain'd upon the swarded green, And valiant deeds were done, I ween. But time and breath would surely fail To give the fight in full detail; Suffice to say, that chiefs were slain, And heroes strow'd the sanguine plain, Till old Prometheus, in his chains, Began to hope an end of pains. 'Twas sport to see the battle rage, And valiant hawk with hawk engage; 'Twas pitiful to see them fall,— Torn, bleeding, weltering, gasping, all. Force, courage, cunning, all were plied; Intrepid troops on either side No effort spared to populate The dusky realms of hungry Fate. This woful strife awoke compassion Within another feather'd nation, Of iris neck and tender heart. They tried their hand at mediation— To reconcile the foes, or part. The pigeon people duly chose Ambassadors, who work'd so well As soon the murderous rage to quell, And stanch the source of countless woes. A truce took place, and peace ensued. Alas! the people dearly paid Who such pacification made! Those cursed hawks at once pursued The harmless pigeons, slew and ate, Till towns and fields were desolate. Small prudence had the friends of peace To pacify such foes as these!

The safety of the rest requires The bad should flesh each other's spears: Whoever peace with them desires Had better set them by the ears.

[12] Abstemius.



IX.—THE COACH AND THE FLY.[13]

Upon a sandy, uphill road, Which naked in the sunshine glow'd, Six lusty horses drew a coach. Dames, monks, and invalids, its load, On foot, outside, at leisure trode. The team, all weary, stopp'd and blow'd: Whereon there did a fly approach, And, with a vastly business air. Cheer'd up the horses with his buzz,— Now pricked them here, now prick'd them there, As neatly as a jockey does,— And thought the while—he knew 'twas so— He made the team and carriage go,— On carriage-pole sometimes alighting— Or driver's nose—and biting. And when the whole did get in motion, Confirm'd and settled in the notion, He took, himself, the total glory,— Flew back and forth in wondrous hurry, And, as he buzz'd about the cattle, Seem'd like a sergeant in a battle, The files and squadrons leading on To where the victory is won. Thus charged with all the commonweal, This single fly began to feel Responsibility too great, And cares, a grievous crushing weight; And made complaint that none would aid The horses up the tedious hill— The monk his prayers at leisure said— Fine time to pray!—the dames, at will, Were singing songs—not greatly needed! Thus in their ears he sharply sang, And notes of indignation ran,— Notes, after all, not greatly heeded. Erelong the coach was on the top: 'Now,' said the fly, 'my hearties, stop And breathe;—I've got you up the hill; And Messrs. Horses, let me say, I need not ask you if you will A proper compensation pay.'

Thus certain ever-bustling noddies Are seen in every great affair; Important, swelling, busy-bodies, And bores 'tis easier to bear Than chase them from their needless care.

[13] Aesop; also Phaedrus, III., 6.



X.—THE DAIRYWOMAN AND THE POT OF MILK.

A pot of milk upon her cushion'd crown, Good Peggy hasten'd to the market town; Short clad and light, with speed she went, Not fearing any accident; Indeed, to be the nimbler tripper, Her dress that day, The truth to say, Was simple petticoat and slipper. And, thus bedight, Good Peggy, light,— Her gains already counted,— Laid out the cash At single dash, Which to a hundred eggs amounted. Three nests she made, Which, by the aid Of diligence and care were hatch'd. 'To raise the chicks, I'll easy fix,' Said she, 'beside our cottage thatch'd. The fox must get More cunning yet, Or leave enough to buy a pig. With little care And any fare, He'll grow quite fat and big; And then the price Will be so nice, For which, the pork will sell! 'Twill go quite hard But in our yard I'll bring a cow and calf to dwell— A calf to frisk among the flock!' The thought made Peggy do the same; And down at once the milk-pot came, And perish'd with the shock. Calf, cow, and pig, and chicks, adieu! Your mistress' face is sad to view; She gives a tear to fortune spilt; Then with the downcast look of guilt Home to her husband empty goes, Somewhat in danger of his blows.

Who buildeth not, sometimes, in air His cots, or seats, or castles fair? From kings to dairy women,—all,— The wise, the foolish, great and small,— Each thinks his waking dream the best. Some flattering error fills the breast: The world with all its wealth is ours, Its honours, dames, and loveliest bowers. Instinct with valour, when alone, I hurl the monarch from his throne; The people, glad to see him dead, Elect me monarch in his stead, And diadems rain on my head. Some accident then calls me back, And I'm no more than simple Jack.[14]

[14] This and the following fable should be read together. See note to next fable.



XI.—THE CURATE AND THE CORPSE.[15]

A dead man going slowly, sadly, To occupy his last abode, A curate by him, rather gladly, Did holy service on the road. Within a coach the dead was borne, A robe around him duly worn, Of which I wot he was not proud— That ghostly garment call'd a shroud. In summer's blaze and winter's blast, That robe is changeless—'tis the last. The curate, with his priestly dress on, Recited all the church's prayers, The psalm, the verse, response, and lesson, In fullest style of such affairs. Sir Corpse, we beg you, do not fear A lack of such things on your bier; They'll give abundance every way, Provided only that you pay. The Reverend John Cabbagepate Watch'd o'er the corpse as if it were A treasure needing guardian care; And all the while, his looks elate, This language seem'd to hold: 'The dead will pay so much in gold, So much in lights of molten wax, So much in other sorts of tax:' With all he hoped to buy a cask of wine, The best which thereabouts produced the vine. A pretty niece, on whom he doted, And eke his chambermaid, should be promoted, By being newly petticoated. The coach upset, and dash'd to pieces, Cut short these thoughts of wine and nieces! There lay poor John with broken head, Beneath the coffin of the dead! His rich, parishioner in lead Drew on the priest the doom Of riding with him to the tomb!

The Pot of Milk,[16] and fate Of Curate Cabbagepate, As emblems, do but give The history of most that live.

[15] This fable is founded upon a fact, which is related by Madame de Sevigne in her Letters under date Feb. 26, 1672, as follows:—"M. Boufflers has killed a man since his death: the circumstance was this: they were carrying him about a league from Boufflers to inter him; the corpse was on a bier in a coach; his own curate attended it; the coach overset, and the bier falling upon the curate's neck choaked him." M. de Boufflers had fallen down dead a few days before. He was the eldest brother of the Duke de Boufflers. In another Letter, March 3, 1672, Madame de Sevigne says:—"Here is Fontaine's fable too, on the adventure of M. de Boufflers' curate, who was killed in the coach by his dead patron. There was something very extraordinary in the affair itself: the fable is pretty; but not to be compared to the one that follows it: I do not understand the Milk-pot." [16] This allusion to the preceding fable must be the "milk-pot" which Madame de Sevigne did "not understand" (vide last note); Madame can hardly have meant the "milk-pot" fable, which is easily understood. She often saw La Fontaine's work before it was published, and the date of her letter quoted at p. 161 shows that she must so have seen the "Curate and the Corpse," and that, perhaps, without so seeing the "Dairywoman and the Pot of Milk."



XII.—THE MAN WHO RAN AFTER FORTUNE, AND THE MAN WHO WAITED FOR HER IN HIS BED.

Who joins not with his restless race To give Dame Fortune eager chase? O, had I but some lofty perch, From which to view the panting crowd Of care-worn dreamers, poor and proud, As on they hurry in the search, From realm to realm, o'er land and water, Of Fate's fantastic, fickle daughter! Ah! slaves sincere of flying phantom! Just as their goddess they would clasp, The jilt divine eludes their grasp, And flits away to Bantam! Poor fellows! I bewail their lot. And here's the comfort of my ditty; For fools the mark of wrath are not So much, I'm sure, as pity. 'That man,' say they, and feed their hope, 'Raised cabbages—and now he's pope. Don't we deserve as rich a prize?' Ay, richer? But, hath Fortune eyes? And then the popedom, is it worth The price that must be given?— Repose?—the sweetest bliss of earth, And, ages since, of gods in heaven? 'Tis rarely Fortune's favourites Enjoy this cream of all delights. Seek not the dame, and she will you— A truth which of her sex is true.

Snug in a country town A pair of friends were settled down. One sigh'd unceasingly to find A fortune better to his mind, And, as he chanced his friend to meet, Proposed to quit their dull retreat. 'No prophet can to honour come,' Said he, 'unless he quits his home; Let's seek our fortune far and wide.' 'Seek, if you please,' his friend replied: 'For one, I do not wish to see A better clime or destiny. I leave the search and prize to you; Your restless humour please pursue! You'll soon come back again. I vow to nap it here till then.' The enterprising, or ambitious, Or, if you please, the avaricious, Betook him to the road. The morrow brought him to a place The flaunting goddess ought to grace As her particular abode— I mean the court—whereat he staid, And plans for seizing Fortune laid. He rose, and dress'd, and dined, and went to bed, Exactly as the fashion led: In short, he did whate'er he could, But never found the promised good. Said he, 'Now somewhere else I'll try— And yet I fail'd I know not why; For Fortune here is much at home To this and that I see her come, Astonishingly kind to some. And, truly, it is hard to see The reason why she slips from me. 'Tis true, perhaps, as I've been told, That spirits here may be too bold. To courts and courtiers all I bid adieu; Deceitful shadows they pursue. The dame has temples in Surat; I'll go and see them—that is flat.' To say so was t' embark at once. O, human hearts are made of bronze! His must have been of adamant, Beyond the power of Death to daunt, Who ventured first this route to try, And all its frightful risks defy. 'Twas more than once our venturous wight Did homeward turn his aching sight, When pirate's, rocks, and calms and storms, Presented death in frightful forms— Death sought with pains on distant shores, Which soon as wish'd for would have come, Had he not left the peaceful doors Of his despised but blessed home. Arrived, at length, in Hindostan, The people told our wayward man That Fortune, ever void of plan, Dispensed her favours in Japan. And on he went, the weary sea His vessel bearing lazily. This lesson, taught by savage men, Was after all his only gain:— Contented in thy country stay, And seek thy wealth in nature's way. Japan refused to him, no less Than Hindostan, success; And hence his judgment came to make His quitting home a great mistake. Renouncing his ungrateful course, He hasten'd back with all his force; And when his village came in sight, His tears were proof of his delight. 'Ah, happy he,' exclaimed the wight, 'Who, dwelling there with mind sedate, Employs himself to regulate His ever-hatching, wild desires; Who checks his heart when it aspires To know of courts, and seas, and glory, More than he can by simple story; Who seeks not o'er the treacherous wave— More treacherous Fortune's willing slave— The bait of wealth and honours fleeting, Held by that goddess, aye retreating. Henceforth from home I budge no more!' Pop on his sleeping friends he came, Thus purposing against the dame, And found her sitting at his door.[17]

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