HotFreeBooks.com
The Fables of La Fontaine - A New Edition, With Notes
by Jean de La Fontaine
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

[17] See note to preceding fable, for Madame de Sevigne's opinion.



XIII.—THE TWO COCKS.[18]

Two cocks in peace were living, when A war was kindled by a hen. O love, thou bane of Troy! 'twas thine The blood of men and gods to shed Enough to turn the Xanthus red As old Port wine! And long the battle doubtful stood: (I mean the battle of the cocks;) They gave each other fearful shocks: The fame spread o'er the neighbourhood, And gather'd all the crested brood. And Helens more than one, of plumage bright, Led off the victor of that bloody fight. The vanquish'd, drooping, fled, Conceal'd his batter'd head, And in a dark retreat Bewail'd his sad defeat. His loss of glory and the prize His rival now enjoy'd before his eyes. While this he every day beheld, His hatred kindled, courage swell'd: He whet his beak, and flapp'd his wings, And meditated dreadful things. Waste rage! His rival flew upon a roof And crow'd to give his victory proof.— A hawk this boasting heard: Now perish'd all his pride, As suddenly he died Beneath that savage bird. In consequence of this reverse, The vanquish'd sallied from his hole, And took the harem, master sole, For moderate penance not the worse. Imagine the congratulation, The proud and stately leading, Gallanting, coaxing, feeding, Of wives almost a nation! 'Tis thus that Fortune loves to flee The insolent by victory. We should mistrust her when we beat, Lest triumph lead us to defeat.

[18] Aesop.



XIV.—THE INGRATITUDE AND INJUSTICE OF MEN TOWARDS FORTUNE.[19]

A trader on the sea to riches grew; Freight after freight the winds in favour blew; Fate steer'd him clear; gulf, rock, nor shoal Of all his bales exacted toll. Of other men the powers of chance and storm Their dues collected in substantial form; While smiling Fortune, in her kindest sport, Took care to waft his vessels to their port. His partners, factors, agents, faithful proved; His goods—tobacco, sugar, spice— Were sure to fetch the highest price. By fashion and by folly loved, His rich brocades and laces, And splendid porcelain vases, Enkindling strong desires, Most readily found buyers. In short, gold rain'd where'er he went— Abundance, more than could be spent— Dogs, horses, coaches, downy bedding— His very fasts were like a wedding. A bosom friend, a look his table giving, Inquired whence came such sumptuous living. 'Whence should it come,' said he, superb of brow, 'But from the fountain of my knowing how? I owe it simply to my skill and care In risking only where the marts will bear.' And now, so sweet his swelling profits were, He risk'd anew his former gains: Success rewarded not his pains— His own imprudence was the cause. One ship, ill-freighted, went awreck; Another felt of arms the lack, When pirates, trampling on the laws, O'ercame, and bore it off a prize. A third, arriving at its port, Had fail'd to sell its merchandize,— The style and folly of the court Not now requiring such a sort. His agents, factors, fail'd;—in short, The man himself, from pomp and princely cheer, And palaces, and parks, and dogs, and deer, Fell down to poverty most sad and drear. His friend, now meeting him in shabby plight, Exclaim'd, 'And whence comes this to pass?' 'From Fortune,' said the man, 'alas!' 'Console yourself,' replied the friendly wight: 'For, if to make you rich the dame denies, She can't forbid you to be wise.'

What faith he gain'd, I do not wis; I know, in every case like this, Each claims the credit of his bliss, And with a heart ingrate Imputes his misery to Fate.[20]

[19] Abstemius. [20] On this favourite subject with the easy-going La Fontaine—man's ungracious treatment of Fortune—see also the two preceding fables, and some neighbouring ones.



XV.—THE FORTUNE-TELLERS.

'Tis oft from chance opinion takes its rise, And into reputation multiplies. This prologue finds pat applications In men of all this world's vocations; For fashion, prejudice, and party strife, Conspire to crowd poor justice out of life. What can you do to counteract This reckless, rushing cataract? 'Twill have its course for good or bad, As it, indeed, has always had.

A dame in Paris play'd the Pythoness[21] With much of custom, and, of course, success. Was any trifle lost, or did Some maid a husband wish, Or wife of husband to be rid, Or either sex for fortune fish, Resort was had to her with gold, To get the hidden future told. Her art was made of various tricks, Wherein the dame contrived to mix, With much assurance, learned terms. Now, chance, of course, sometimes confirms; And just as often as it did, The news was anything but hid. In short, though, as to ninety-nine per cent., The lady knew not what her answers meant, Borne up by ever-babbling Fame, An oracle she soon became. A garret was this woman's home, Till she had gain'd of gold a sum That raised the station of her spouse— Bought him an office and a house. As she could then no longer bear it, Another tenanted the garret. To her came up the city crowd,— Wives, maidens, servants, gentry proud,— To ask their fortunes, as before; A Sibyl's cave was on her garret floor: Such custom had its former mistress drawn It lasted even when herself was gone. It sorely tax'd the present mistress' wits To satisfy the throngs of teasing cits. 'I tell your fortunes! joke, indeed! Why, gentlemen, I cannot read! What can you, ladies, learn from me, Who never learn'd my A, B, C?' Avaunt with reasons! tell she must,— Predict as if she understood, And lay aside more precious dust Than two the ablest lawyers could. The stuff that garnish'd out her room— Four crippled chairs, a broken broom— Help'd mightily to raise her merits,— Full proof of intercourse with spirits! Had she predicted e'er so truly, On floor with carpet cover'd duly, Her word had been a mockery made. The fashion set upon the garret. Doubt that?—none bold enough to dare it! The other woman lost her trade.

All shopmen know the force of signs, And so, indeed, do some divines. In palaces, a robe awry Has sometimes set the wearer high; And crowds his teaching will pursue Who draws the greatest listening crew. Ask, if you please, the reason why.

[21] Pythoness.—The Pythoness was the priestess who gave out the oracles at Delphi.



XVI.—THE CAT, THE WEASEL, AND THE YOUNG RABBIT.[22]

John Rabbit's palace under ground Was once by Goody Weasel found. She, sly of heart, resolved to seize The place, and did so at her ease. She took possession while its lord Was absent on the dewy sward, Intent upon his usual sport, A courtier at Aurora's court. When he had browsed his fill of clover And cut his pranks all nicely over, Home Johnny came to take his drowse, All snug within his cellar-house. The weasel's nose he came to see, Outsticking through the open door. 'Ye gods of hospitality!' Exclaim'd the creature, vexed sore, 'Must I give up my father's lodge? Ho! Madam Weasel, please to budge, Or, quicker than a weasel's dodge, I'll call the rats to pay their grudge!' The sharp-nosed lady made reply, That she was first to occupy. The cause of war was surely small— A house where one could only crawl! And though it were a vast domain, Said she, 'I'd like to know what will Could grant to John perpetual reign,— The son of Peter or of Bill,— More than to Paul, or even me.' John Rabbit spoke—great lawyer he— Of custom, usage, as the law, Whereby the house, from sire to son, As well as all its store of straw, From Peter came at length to John. Who could present a claim, so good As he, the first possessor, could? 'Now,' said the dame, 'let's drop dispute, And go before Raminagrobis, [23] Who'll judge, not only in this suit, But tell us truly whose the globe is.' This person was a hermit cat, A cat that play'd the hypocrite, A saintly mouser, sleek and fat, An arbiter of keenest wit. John Rabbit in the judge concurr'd, And off went both their case to broach Before his majesty, the furr'd. Said Clapperclaw, 'My kits, approach, And put your noses to my ears: I'm deaf, almost, by weight of years.' And so they did, not fearing aught. The good apostle, Clapperclaw, Then laid on each a well-arm'd paw, And both to an agreement brought, By virtue of his tusked jaw.

This brings to mind the fate Of little kings before the great.

[22] Fables of Bidpaii, "The Rat and the Cat." In Knatchbull's English edition it will be found at p. 275. Also in the Lokman Collection. [23] Raminagrobis.—This name occurs in Rabelais (Book III., ch. 21), where, however, it is not the name of a cat, but of a poet—understood to be meant for Guillaume Cretin, who lived in the times of Kings Charles VIII., Louis XII., and Francis I. See note to Bohn's edition of Rabelais.



XVII.—THE HEAD AND THE TAIL OF THE SERPENT.[24]

Two parts the serpent has— Of men the enemies— The head and tail: the same Have won a mighty fame, Next to the cruel Fates;— So that, indeed, hence They once had great debates About precedence. The first had always gone ahead; The tail had been for ever led; And now to Heaven it pray'd, And said, 'O, many and many a league, Dragg'd on in sore fatigue, Behind his back I go. Shall he for ever use me so? Am I his humble servant; No. Thanks to God most fervent! His brother I was born, And not his slave forlorn. The self-same blood in both, I'm just as good as he: A poison dwells in me As virulent as doth[25] In him. In mercy, heed, And grant me this decree, That I, in turn, may lead— My brother, follow me. My course shall be so wise, That no complaint shall rise.'

With cruel kindness Heaven granted The very thing he blindly wanted: To such desires of beasts and men, Though often deaf, it was not then. At once this novel guide, That saw no more in broad daylight Than in the murk of darkest night, His powers of leading tried, Struck trees, and men, and stones, and bricks, And led his brother straight to Styx. And to the same unlovely home, Some states by such an error come.

[24] Plutarch's Lives, Agis, "The fable of the servant, enforcing the moral that you cannot have the same man both for your governor and your slave." [25] An ancient mistake in natural history.—Translator.



XVIII.—AN ANIMAL IN THE MOON.[26]

While one philosopher[27] affirms That by our senses we're deceived, Another[28] swears, in plainest terms, The senses are to be believed. The twain are right. Philosophy Correctly calls us dupes whene'er Upon mere senses we rely. But when we wisely rectify The raw report of eye or ear, By distance, medium, circumstance, In real knowledge we advance. These things hath nature wisely plann'd— Whereof the proof shall be at hand. I see the sun: its dazzling glow Seems but a hand-breadth here below; But should I see it in its home, That azure, star-besprinkled dome, Of all the universe the eye, Its blaze would fill one half the sky. The powers of trigonometry Have set my mind from blunder free. The ignorant believe it flat; I make it round, instead of that. I fasten, fix, on nothing ground it, And send the earth to travel round it. In short, I contradict my eyes, And sift the truth from constant lies. The mind, not hasty at conclusion, Resists the onset of illusion, Forbids the sense to get the better, And ne'er believes it to the letter. Between my eyes, perhaps too ready, And ears as much or more too slow, A judge with balance true and steady, I come, at last, some things to know. Thus when the water crooks a stick,[29] My reason straightens it as quick— Kind Mistress Reason—foe of error, And best of shields from needless terror! The creed is common with our race, The moon contains a woman's face. True? No. Whence, then, the notion, From mountain top to ocean? The roughness of that satellite, Its hills and dales, of every grade, Effect a change of light and shade Deceptive to our feeble sight; So that, besides the human face, All sorts of creatures one might trace. Indeed, a living beast, I ween, Has lately been by England seen. All duly placed the telescope, And keen observers full of hope, An animal entirely new, In that fair planet, came to view. Abroad and fast the wonder flew;— Some change had taken place on high, Presaging earthly changes nigh; Perhaps, indeed, it might betoken The wars[30] that had already broken Out wildly o'er the Continent. The king to see the wonder went: (As patron of the sciences, No right to go more plain than his.) To him, in turn, distinct and clear, This lunar monster did appear.— A mouse, between the lenses caged, Had caused these wars, so fiercely waged! No doubt the happy English folks Laugh'd at it as the best of jokes. How soon will Mars afford the chance For like amusements here in France! He makes us reap broad fields of glory. Our foes may fear the battle-ground; For us, it is no sooner found, Than Louis, with fresh laurels crown'd, Bears higher up our country's story. The daughters, too, of Memory,— The Pleasures and the Graces,— Still show their cheering faces: We wish for peace, but do not sigh. The English Charles the secret knows To make the most of his repose. And more than this, he'll know the way, By valour, working sword in hand, To bring his sea-encircled land To share the fight it only sees to-day. Yet, could he but this quarrel quell, What incense-clouds would grateful swell! What deed more worthy of his fame! Augustus, Julius[31]—pray, which Caesar's name Shines now on story's page with purest flame? O people happy in your sturdy hearts! Say, when shall Peace pack up these bloody darts, And send us all, like you, to softer arts?

[26] This fable is founded on a fact which occurred in the experience of the astronomer Sir Paul Neal, a member of the Royal Society of London.—Translator. Sir Paul Neal, whose lapsus suggested this fable, thought he had discovered an animal in the moon. Unluckily, however, after having made his "discovery" known, it was found that the ground of it was simply the accidental presence of a mouse in the object-glass of his telescope. Samuel Butler, the author of "Hudibras," has also made fun of this otherwise rather tragical episode in the early history of the Royal Society of London, vide his "Elephant in the Moon." [27] One philosopher.—Democritus, the so-called "laughing (or scoffing) philosopher." He lived B.C. about 400 years. Fable XXVI., Book VIII., is devoted to him and how he was treated by his contemporaries. [28] Another.—Epicurus, founder of the Epicurean philosophy. He lived B. C. about 300 years. [29] Water crooks a stick.—An allusion to the bent appearance which a stick has in water, consequent upon the refraction of light. [30] The wars.—This fable appears to have been composed about the beginning of the year 1677. The European powers then found themselves exhausted by wars, and desirous of peace. England, the only neutral, became, of course, the arbiter of the negotiations which ensued at Nimeguen. All the belligerent parties invoked her mediation. Charles II., however, felt himself exceedingly embarrassed by his secret connections with Louis XIV., which made him desire to prescribe conditions favourable to that monarch; while, on the other hand, he feared the people of England, if, treacherous to her interests, he should fail to favour the nations allied and combined against France.—Translator. Vide Hume: who also says that the English king "had actually in secret sold his neutrality to France, and he received remittances of 1,000,000 livres a year, which was afterwards increased to 2,000,000 livres; a considerable sum in the embarrassed state of his revenue." Hume's Hist. England, Bell's edit., 1854, vol. vi., p. 242. [31] Augustus, Julius.—Augustus Caesar was eminent for his pacific policy, as Julius Caesar was eminent for his warlike policy.

* * * * *

BOOK VIII.

I.—DEATH AND THE DYING.[1]

Death never taketh by surprise The well-prepared, to wit, the wise— They knowing of themselves the time To meditate the final change of clime. That time, alas! embraces all Which into hours and minutes we divide; There is no part, however small, That from this tribute one can hide. The very moment, oft, which bids The heirs of empire see the light Is that which shuts their fringed lids In everlasting night. Defend yourself by rank and wealth, Plead beauty, virtue, youth, and health,— Unblushing Death will ravish all; The world itself shall pass beneath his pall. No truth is better known; but, truth to say, No truth is oftener thrown away.

A man, well in his second century, Complain'd that Death had call'd him suddenly; Had left no time his plans to fill, To balance books, or make his will. 'O Death,' said he, 'd' ye call it fair, Without a warning to prepare, To take a man on lifted leg? O, wait a little while, I beg. My wife cannot be left alone; I must set out my nephew's son, And let me build my house a wing, Before you strike, O cruel king!' 'Old man,' said Death, 'one thing is sure,— My visit here's not premature. Hast thou not lived a century! Darest thou engage to find for me? In Paris' walls two older men Has France, among her millions ten? Thou say'st I should have sent thee word Thy lamp to trim, thy loins to gird, And then my coming had been meet— Thy will engross'd, Thy house complete! Did not thy feelings notify? Did not they tell thee thou must die? Thy taste and hearing are no more; Thy sight itself is gone before; For thee the sun superfluous shines, And all the wealth of Indian mines; Thy mates I've shown thee dead or dying. What's this, indeed, but notifying? Come on, old man, without reply; For to the great and common weal It doth but little signify Whether thy will shall ever feel The impress of thy hand and seal.'

And Death had reason,—ghastly sage! For surely man, at such an age, Should part from life as from a feast, Returning decent thanks, at least, To Him who spread the various cheer, And unrepining take his bier; For shun it long no creature can. Repinest thou, grey-headed man? See younger mortals rushing by To meet their death without a sigh— Death full of triumph and of fame, But in its terrors still the same.— But, ah! my words are thrown away! Those most like Death most dread his sway.

[1] Abstemius.



II.—THE COBBLER AND THE FINANCIER.

A cobbler sang from morn till night; 'Twas sweet and marvellous to hear, His trills and quavers told the ear Of more contentment and delight, Enjoy'd by that laborious wight Than e'er enjoy'd the sages seven, Or any mortals short of heaven. His neighbour, on the other hand, With gold in plenty at command, But little sang, and slumber'd less— A financier of great success. If e'er he dozed, at break of day, The cobbler's song drove sleep away; And much he wish'd that Heaven had made Sleep a commodity of trade, In market sold, like food and drink, So much an hour, so much a wink. At last, our songster did he call To meet him in his princely hall. Said he, 'Now, honest Gregory, What may your yearly earnings be?' 'My yearly earnings! faith, good sir, I never go, at once, so far,' The cheerful cobbler said, And queerly scratch'd his head,— 'I never reckon in that way, But cobble on from day to day, Content with daily bread.' 'Indeed! Well, Gregory, pray, What may your earnings be per day?' 'Why, sometimes more and sometimes less. The worst of all, I must confess, (And but for which our gains would be A pretty sight, indeed, to see,) Is that the days are made so many In which we cannot earn a penny— The sorest ill the poor man feels: They tread upon each other's heels, Those idle days of holy saints! And though the year is shingled o'er, The parson keeps a-finding more!'[2] With smiles provoked by these complaints, Replied the lordly financier, 'I'll give you better cause to sing. These hundred pounds I hand you here Will make you happy as a king. Go, spend them with a frugal heed; They'll long supply your every need.' The cobbler thought the silver more Than he had ever dream'd before, The mines for ages could produce, Or world, with all its people, use. He took it home, and there did hide— And with it laid his joy aside. No more of song, no more of sleep, But cares, suspicions in their stead, And false alarms, by fancy fed. His eyes and ears their vigils keep, And not a cat can tread the floor But seems a thief slipp'd through the door. At last, poor man! Up to the financier he ran,— Then in his morning nap profound: 'O, give me back my songs,' cried he, 'And sleep, that used so sweet to be, And take the money, every pound!'

[2] The parson keeps a-finding more!—Under the old regime of France the parish priest of each church had usually every Sunday, at sermon time, to announce more than one religious fast or feast for the coming week, which the poor at least were expected to observe.



III.—THE LION, THE WOLF, AND THE FOX.[3]

A lion, old, and impotent with gout, Would have some cure for age found out. Impossibilities, on all occasions, With kings, are rank abominations. This king, from every species,— For each abounds in every sort,— Call'd to his aid the leeches. They came in throngs to court, From doctors of the highest fee To nostrum-quacks without degree,— Advised, prescribed, talk'd learnedly; But with the rest Came not Sir Cunning Fox, M.D. Sir Wolf the royal couch attended, And his suspicions there express'd. Forthwith his majesty, offended, Resolved Sir Cunning Fox should come, And sent to smoke him from his home. He came, was duly usher'd in, And, knowing where Sir Wolf had been, Said, 'Sire, your royal ear Has been abused, I fear, By rumours false and insincere; To wit, that I've been self-exempt From coming here, through sheer contempt. But, sire, I've been on pilgrimage, By vow expressly made, Your royal health to aid, And, on my way, met doctors sage, In skill the wonder of the age, Whom carefully I did consult About that great debility Term'd in the books senility, Of which you fear, with reason, the result. You lack, they say, the vital heat, By age extreme become effete. Drawn from a living wolf, the hide Should warm and smoking be applied. The secret's good, beyond a doubt, For nature's weak, and wearing out. Sir Wolf, here, won't refuse to give His hide to cure you, as I live.' The king was pleased with this advice. Flay'd, jointed, served up in a trice, Sir Wolf first wrapp'd the monarch up, Then furnish'd him whereon to sup.

Beware, ye courtiers, lest ye gain, By slander's arts, less power than pain; For in the world where ye are living, A pardon no one thinks of giving.

[3] Aesop; also Bidpaii, and Lokman.



IV.—THE POWER OF FABLES.

To M. De Barillon.[4]

Can diplomatic dignity To simple fables condescend? Can I your famed benignity Invoke, my muse an ear to lend? If once she dares a high intent, Will you esteem her impudent? Your cares are weightier, indeed, Than listening to the sage debates Of rabbit or of weasel states: So, as it pleases, burn or read; But save us from the woful harms Of Europe roused in hostile arms. That from a thousand other places Our enemies should show their faces, May well be granted with a smile, But not that England's Isle Our friendly kings should set Their fatal blades to whet. Comes not the time for Louis to repose? What Hercules, against these hydra foes, Would not grow weary? Must new heads oppose His ever-waxing energy of blows? Now, if your gentle, soul-persuasive powers, As sweet as mighty in this world of ours, Can soften hearts, and lull this war to sleep,[5] I'll pile your altars with a hundred sheep; And this is not a small affair For a Parnassian mountaineer. Meantime, (if you have time to spare,) Accept a little incense-cheer. A homely, but an ardent prayer, And tale in verse, I give you here. I'll only say, the theme is fit for you. With praise, which envy must confess To worth like yours is justly due, No man on earth needs propping less.

In Athens, once, that city fickle, An orator,[6] awake to feel His country in a dangerous pickle, Would sway the proud republic's heart, Discoursing of the common weal, As taught by his tyrannic art. The people listen'd—not a word. Meanwhile the orator recurr'd To bolder tropes—enough to rouse The dullest blocks that e'er did drowse; He clothed in life the very dead, And thunder'd all that could be said. The wind received his breath, As to the ear of death. That beast of many heads and light,[7] The crowd, accustom'd to the sound Was all intent upon a sight— A brace of lads in mimic fight. A new resource the speaker found. 'Ceres,' in lower tone said he, 'Went forth her harvest fields to see: An eel, as such a fish might he, And swallow, were her company. A river check'd the travellers three. Two cross'd it soon without ado; The smooth eel swam, the swallow flew.—' Outcried the crowd With voices loud— 'And Ceres—what did she?' 'Why, what she pleased; but first Yourselves she justly cursed— A people puzzling aye your brains With children's tales and children's play, While Greece puts on her steel array, To save her limbs from, tyrant chains! Why ask you not what Philip[8] does?' At this reproach the idle buzz Fell to the silence of the grave, Or moonstruck sea without a wave, And every eye and ear awoke To drink the words the patriot spoke. This feather stick in Fable's cap. We're all Athenians, mayhap; And I, for one, confess the sin; For, while I write this moral here, If one should tell that tale so queer Ycleped, I think, "The Ass's Skin,"[9] I should not mind my work a pin. The world is old, they say; I don't deny it;— But, infant still In taste and will, Whoe'er would teach, must gratify it.[10]

[4] M. De Barillon.—Ambassador to the Court of St. James.—Translator. M. De Barillon was a great friend of La Fontaine, and also of other literary lights of the time. [5] And lull this war to sleep.—The parliament of England was determined that, in case Louis XIV. did not make peace with the allies, Charles II. should join them to make war on France.—Translator. [6] An orator.—Demades.—Translator. [7] That beast of many heads.—Horace, speaking of the Roman people, said, "Bellua multorum est capitum."—Epist. I., Book I., 76.—Translator. [8] Philip.—Philip of Macedon, then at war with the Greeks. [9] "The Ass's Skin,"—an old French nursery tale so called. [10] La Fontaine's views on "the power of fables" are further given in Fable I., Book II.; Fable I., Book III.; Fable I., Book V.; Fable I., Book VI; the Introduction to Book VII., and Fable I., Book IX.



V.—THE MAN AND THE FLEA.[11]

Impertinent, we tease and weary Heaven With prayers which would insult mere mortals even. 'Twould seem that not a god in all the skies From our affairs must ever turn his eyes, And that the smallest of our race Could hardly eat, or wash his face, Without, like Greece and Troy for ten years' space, Embroiling all Olympus in the case.

A flea some blockhead's shoulder bit, And then his clothes refused to quit. 'O Hercules,' he cried, 'you ought to purge This world of this far worse than hydra scourge! O Jupiter, what are your bolts about, They do not put these foes of mine to rout?'

To crush a flea, this fellow's fingers under, The gods must lend the fool their club and thunder!

[11] Aesop.



VI.—THE WOMEN AND THE SECRET.[12]

There's nothing like a secret weighs; Too heavy 'tis for women tender; And, for this matter, in my days, I've seen some men of female gender.

To prove his wife, a husband cried, (The night he knew the truth would hide,) 'O Heavens! What's this? O dear—I beg— I'm torn—O! O! I've laid an egg!' 'An egg?' 'Why, yes, it's gospel-true. Look here—see—feel it, fresh and new; But, wife, don't mention it, lest men Should laugh at me, and call me hen: Indeed, don't say a word about it.' On this, as other matters, green and young, The wife, all wonder, did not doubt it, And pledged herself by Heaven to hold her tongue. Her oath, however, fled the light As quick as did the shades of night. Before Dan Phoebus waked to labour The dame was off to see a neighbour. 'My friend,' she said, half-whispering. 'There's come to pass the strangest thing— If you should tell, 'twould turn me out of door:— My husband's laid an egg as big as four! As you would taste of heaven's bliss, Don't tell a living soul of this.' 'I tell! why if you knew a thing about me, You wouldn't for an instant doubt me; Your confidence I'll ne'er abuse.' The layer's wife went home relieved; The other broil'd to tell the news; You need not ask if she believed. A dame more busy could not be; In twenty places, ere her tea, Instead of one egg, she said three! Nor was the story finish'd here: A gossip, still more keen than she, Said four, and spoke it in the ear— A caution truly little worth, Applied to all the ears on earth. Of eggs, the number, thanks to Fame, As on from mouth to mouth she sped, Had grown a hundred, soothly said, Ere Sol had quench'd his golden flame!

[12] Abstemius.



VII.—THE DOG THAT CARRIED HIS MASTER'S DINNER.

Our eyes are not made proof against the fair, Nor hands against the touch of gold. Fidelity is sadly rare, And has been from the days of old. Well taught his appetite to check, And do full many a handy trick, A dog was trotting, light and quick, His master's dinner on his neck. A temperate, self-denying dog was he, More than, with such a load, he liked to be. But still he was, while many such as we Would not have scrupled to make free. Strange that to dogs a virtue you may teach, Which, do your best, to men you vainly preach! This dog of ours, thus richly fitted out, A mastiff met, who wish'd the meat, no doubt. To get it was less easy than he thought: The porter laid it down and fought. Meantime some other dogs arrive: Such dogs are always thick enough, And, fearing neither kick nor cuff, Upon the public thrive. Our hero, thus o'ermatch'd and press'd,— The meat in danger manifest,— Is fain to share it with the rest; And, looking very calm and wise, 'No anger, gentlemen,' he cries: 'My morsel will myself suffice; The rest shall be your welcome prize.' With this, the first his charge to violate, He snaps a mouthful from his freight. Then follow mastiff, cur, and pup, Till all is cleanly eaten up. Not sparingly the party feasted, And not a dog of all but tasted.

In some such manner men abuse Of towns and states the revenues. The sheriffs, aldermen, and mayor, Come in for each a liberal share. The strongest gives the rest example: 'Tis sport to see with what a zest They sweep and lick the public chest Of all its funds, however ample. If any commonweal's defender Should dare to say a single word, He's shown his scruples are absurd, And finds it easy to surrender— Perhaps, to be the first offender.



VIII.—THE JOKER AND THE FISHES.[13]

Some seek for jokers; I avoid. A joke must be, to be enjoy'd, Of wisdom's words, by wit employ'd. God never meant for men of sense, The wits that joke to give offence.

Perchance of these I shall be able To show you one preserved in fable. A joker at a banker's table, Most amply spread to satisfy The height of epicurean wishes, Had nothing near but little fishes. So, taking several of the fry, He whisper'd to them very nigh, And seem'd to listen for reply. The guests much wonder'd what it meant, And stared upon him all intent. The joker, then with sober face, Politely thus explain'd the case: 'A friend of mine, to India bound, Has been, I fear, Within a year, By rocks or tempests wreck'd and drown'd. I ask'd these strangers from the sea To tell me where my friend might be. But all replied they were too young To know the least of such a matter— The older fish could tell me better. Pray, may I hear some older tongue?' What relish had the gentlefolks For such a sample of his jokes, Is more than I can now relate. They put, I'm sure, upon his plate, A monster of so old a date, He must have known the names and fate Of all the daring voyagers, Who, following the moon and stars, Have, by mischances, sunk their bones, Within the realms of Davy Jones; And who, for centuries, had seen, Far down, within the fathomless, Where whales themselves are sceptreless, The ancients in their halls of green.

[13] Abstemius.



IX.—THE RAT AND THE OYSTER[14]

A country rat, of little brains, Grown weary of inglorious rest, Left home with all its straws and grains, Resolved to know beyond his nest. When peeping through the nearest fence, 'How big the world is, how immense!' He cried; 'there rise the Alps, and that Is doubtless famous Ararat.' His mountains were the works of moles, Or dirt thrown up in digging holes! Some days of travel brought him where The tide had left the oysters bare. Since here our traveller saw the sea, He thought these shells the ships must be. 'My father was, in truth,' said he, 'A coward, and an ignoramus; He dared not travel: as for me, I've seen the ships and ocean famous; Have cross'd the deserts without drinking, And many dangerous streams unshrinking; Such things I know from having seen and felt them.' And, as he went, in tales he proudly dealt them, Not being of those rats whose knowledge Comes by their teeth on books in college. Among the shut-up shell-fish, one Was gaping widely at the sun; It breathed, and drank the air's perfume, Expanding, like a flower in bloom. Both white and fat, its meat Appear'd a dainty treat. Our rat, when he this shell espied, Thought for his stomach to provide. 'If not mistaken in the matter,' Said he, 'no meat was ever fatter, Or in its flavour half so fine, As that on which to-day I dine.' Thus full of hope, the foolish chap Thrust in his head to taste, And felt the pinching of a trap— The oyster closed in haste.

We're first instructed, by this case, That those to whom the world is new Are wonder-struck at every view; And, in the second place, That the marauder finds his match, And he is caught who thinks to catch.

[14] Abstemius; also Aesop.



X.—THE BEAR AND THE AMATEUR GARDENER.[15]

A certain mountain bear, unlick'd and rude, By fate confined within a lonely wood, A new Bellerophon,[16] whose life, Knew neither comrade, friend, nor wife,— Became insane; for reason, as we term it, Dwells never long with any hermit. 'Tis good to mix in good society, Obeying rules of due propriety; And better yet to be alone; But both are ills when overdone. No animal had business where All grimly dwelt our hermit bear; Hence, bearish as he was, he grew Heart-sick, and long'd for something new. While he to sadness was addicted, An aged man, not far from there, Was by the same disease afflicted. A garden was his favourite care,— Sweet Flora's priesthood, light and fair, And eke Pomona's—ripe and red The presents that her fingers shed. These two employments, true, are sweet When made so by some friend discreet. The gardens, gaily as they look, Talk not, (except in this my book;) So, tiring of the deaf and dumb, Our man one morning left his home Some company to seek, That had the power to speak.— The bear, with thoughts the same, Down from his mountain came; And in a solitary place, They met each other, face to face. It would have made the boldest tremble; What did our man? To play the Gascon The safest seem'd. He put the mask on, His fear contriving to dissemble. The bear, unused to compliment, Growl'd bluntly, but with good intent, 'Come home with me.' The man replied: 'Sir Bear, my lodgings, nearer by, In yonder garden you may spy, Where, if you'll honour me the while, We'll break our fast in rural style. I've fruits and milk,—unworthy fare, It may be, for a wealthy bear; But then I offer what I have.' The bear accepts, with visage grave, But not unpleased; and on their way, They grow familiar, friendly, gay. Arrived, you see them, side by side, As if their friendship had been tried. To a companion so absurd, Blank solitude were well preferr'd, Yet, as the bear scarce spoke a word, The man was left quite at his leisure To trim his garden at his pleasure. Sir Bruin hunted—always brought His friend whatever game he caught; But chiefly aim'd at driving flies— Those hold and shameless parasites, That vex us with their ceaseless bites— From off our gardener's face and eyes. One day, while, stretch'd upon the ground The old man lay, in sleep profound, A fly that buzz'd around his nose,— And bit it sometimes, I suppose,— Put Bruin sadly to his trumps. At last, determined, up he jumps; 'I'll stop thy noisy buzzing now,' Says he; 'I know precisely how.' No sooner said than done. He seized a paving-stone; And by his modus operandi Did both the fly and man die.

A foolish friend may cause more woe Than could, indeed, the wisest foe.

[15] Bidpaii. [16] Bellerophon.—The son of King Glaucus, who, after a wandering life, died a prey to melancholy.



XI.—THE TWO FRIENDS.[17]

Two friends, in Monomotapa, Had all their interests combined. Their friendship, faithful and refined, Our country can't exceed, do what it may. One night, when potent Sleep had laid All still within our planet's shade, One of the two gets up alarm'd, Runs over to the other's palace, And hastily the servants rallies. His startled friend, quick arm'd, With purse and sword his comrade meets, And thus right kindly greets:— 'Thou seldom com'st at such an hour; I take thee for a man of sounder mind Than to abuse the time for sleep design'd. Hast lost thy purse, by Fortune's power? Here's mine. Hast suffer'd insult, or a blow, I've here my sword—to avenge it let us go.' 'No,' said his friend, 'no need I feel Of either silver, gold, or steel; I thank thee for thy friendly zeal. In sleep I saw thee rather sad, And thought the truth might be as bad. Unable to endure the fear, That cursed dream has brought me here.'

Which think you, reader, loved the most! If doubtful this, one truth may be proposed: There's nothing sweeter than a real friend: Not only is he prompt to lend— An angler delicate, he fishes The very deepest of your wishes, And spares your modesty the task His friendly aid to ask. A dream, a shadow, wakes his fear, When pointing at the object dear.[18]

[17] Bidpaii. [18] This fable is thought to have been inspired by the friendship of La Fontaine for Fouquet, the minister whom Louis XIV., actuated mostly by jealousy and envy, disgraced and imprisoned. See the Translator's Preface.



XII.—THE HOG, THE GOAT, AND THE SHEEP.[19]

A goat, a sheep, and porker fat, All to the market rode together. Their own amusement was not that Which caused their journey thither. Their coachman did not mean to 'set them down' To see the shows and wonders of the town. The porker cried, in piercing squeals, As if with butchers at his heels. The other beasts, of milder mood, The cause by no means understood. They saw no harm, and wonder'd why At such a rate the hog should cry. 'Hush there, old piggy!' said the man, 'And keep as quiet as you can. What wrong have you to squeal about, And raise this dev'lish, deaf'ning shout? These stiller persons at your side Have manners much more dignified. Pray, have you heard A single word Come from that gentleman in wool? That proves him wise.' 'That proves him fool!' The testy hog replied; 'For did he know To what we go, He'd cry almost to split his throat; So would her ladyship the goat. They only think to lose with ease, The goat her milk, the sheep his fleece: They're, maybe, right; but as for me, This ride is quite another matter. Of service only on the platter, My death is quite a certainty. Adieu, my dear old piggery!' The porker's logic proved at once Himself a prophet and a dunce.

Hope ever gives a present ease, But fear beforehand kills: The wisest he who least foresees Inevitable ills.

[19] Aesop.



XIII.—THYRSIS AND AMARANTH.

For Mademoiselle De Sillery.[20]

I had the Phrygian quit, Charm'd with Italian wit;[21] But a divinity Would on Parnassus see A fable more from me. Such challenge to refuse, Without a good excuse, Is not the way to use Divinity or muse. Especially to one Of those who truly are, By force of being fair, Made queens of human will. A thing should not be done In all respects so ill. For, be it known to all, From Sillery the call Has come for bird, and beast, And insects, to the least; To clothe their thoughts sublime In this my simple rhyme. In saying Sillery, All's said that need to be. Her claim to it so good, Few fail to give her place Above the human race: How could they, if they would?

Now come we to our end:— As she opines my tales Are hard to comprehend— For even genius fails Some things to understand— So let us take in hand To make unnecessary, For once, a commentary. Come shepherds now,—and rhyme we afterwards The talk between the wolves and fleecy herds.

To Amaranth, the young and fair, Said Thyrsis, once, with serious air,— 'O, if you knew, like me, a certain ill, With which we men are harm'd, As well as strangely charm'd, No boon from Heaven your heart could like it fill! Please let me name it in your ear,— A harmless word,—you need not fear. Would I deceive you, you, for whom I bear The tenderest sentiments that ever were?' Then Amaranth replied, 'What is its name? I beg you, do not hide' ''Tis LOVE.'—' The word is beautiful! reveal Its signs and symptoms, how it makes one feel.'— 'Its pains are ecstacies. So sweet its stings, The nectar-cups and incense-pots of kings, Compared, are flat, insipid things. One strays all lonely in the wood— Leans silent o'er the placid flood, And there with great complacency, A certain face can see— 'Tis not one's own—but image fair, Retreating, Fleeting, Meeting, Greeting, Following everywhere. For all the rest of human kind, One is as good, in short, as blind. There is a shepherd wight, I ween, Well known upon the village green, Whose voice, whose name, whose turning of the hinge Excites upon the cheek a richer tinge— The thought of whom is signal for a sigh— The breast that heaves it knows not why— Whose face the maiden fears to see, Yet none so welcome still as he.'— Here Amaranth cut short his speech: 'O! O! is that the evil which you preach? To me I think it is no stranger; I must have felt its power and danger.' Here Thrysis thought his end was gain'd, When further thus the maid explain'd: ''Tis just the very sentiment Which I have felt for Clidamant!' The other, vex'd and mortified, Now bit his lips, and nearly died.

Like him are multitudes, who when Their own advancement they have meant, Have play'd the game of other men.

[20] Mdlle. de Sillery.—Gabrielle-Francoise Brulart de Sillery, niece of La Fontaine's friend and patron, the Duke de La Rochefoucauld (author of the Maximes). She married Louis de Tibergeau, Marquis de La Motte-au-Maine, and died in 1732. [21] Italian wit.—Referring to his Tales, in which he had borrowed many subjects from Boccaccio.—Translator.



XIV.—THE FUNERAL OF THE LIONESS.[22]

The lion's consort died: Crowds, gather'd at his side, Must needs console the prince, And thus their loyalty evince By compliments of course; Which make affliction worse. Officially he cites His realm to funeral rites, At such a time and place; His marshals of the mace Would order the affair. Judge you if all came there. Meantime, the prince gave way To sorrow night and day. With cries of wild lament His cave he well-nigh rent. And from his courtiers far and near, Sounds imitative you might hear.

The court a country seems to me, Whose people are, no matter what,— Sad, gay, indifferent, or not,— As suits the will of majesty; Or, if unable so to be, Their task it is to seem it all— Chameleons, monkeys, great and small. 'Twould seem one spirit serves a thousand bodies— A paradise, indeed, for soulless noddies.

But to our tale again: The stag graced not the funeral train; Of tears his cheeks bore not a stain; For how could such a thing have been, When death avenged him on the queen, Who, not content with taking one, Had choked to death his wife and son? The tears, in truth, refused to run. A flatterer, who watch'd the while, Affirm'd that he had seen him smile. If, as the wise man somewhere saith, A king's is like a lion's wrath, What should King Lion's be but death? The stag, however, could not read; Hence paid this proverb little heed, And walk'd, intrepid, to'ards the throne; When thus the king, in fearful tone: 'Thou caitiff of the wood! Presum'st to laugh at such a time? Joins not thy voice the mournful chime? We suffer not the blood Of such a wretch profane Our sacred claws to stain. Wolves, let a sacrifice be made, Avenge your mistress' awful shade.' 'Sire,' did the stag reply, The time for tears is quite gone by; For in the flowers, not far from here, Your worthy consort did appear; Her form, in spite of my surprise, I could not fail to recognise. "My friend," said she, "beware Lest funeral pomp about my bier, When I shall go with gods to share, Compel thine eye to drop a tear. With kindred saints I rove In the Elysian grove, And taste a sort of bliss Unknown in worlds like this. Still, let the royal sorrow flow Its proper season here below; 'Tis not unpleasing, I confess."' The king and court scarce hear him out. Up goes the loud and welcome shout— 'A miracle! an apotheosis!' And such at once the fashion is, So far from dying in a ditch, The stag retires with presents rich.

Amuse the ear of royalty With pleasant dreams, and flattery,— No matter what you may have done, Nor yet how high its wrath may run,— The bait is swallow'd—object won.

[22] Abstemius.



XV.—THE RAT AND THE ELEPHANT.

One's own importance to enhance, Inspirited by self-esteem, Is quite a common thing in France; A French disease it well might seem. The strutting cavaliers of Spain Are in another manner vain. Their pride has more insanity; More silliness our vanity. Let's shadow forth our own disease— Well worth a hundred tales like these.

A rat, of quite the smallest size, Fix'd on an elephant his eyes, And jeer'd the beast of high descent Because his feet so slowly went. Upon his back, three stories high, There sat, beneath a canopy, A certain sultan of renown, His dog, and cat, and concubine, His parrot, servant, and his wine, All pilgrims to a distant town. The rat profess'd to be amazed That all the people stood and gazed With wonder, as he pass'd the road, Both at the creature and his load. 'As if,' said he, 'to occupy A little more of land or sky Made one, in view of common sense, Of greater worth and consequence! What see ye, men, in this parade, That food for wonder need be made? The bulk which makes a child afraid? In truth, I take myself to be, In all aspects, as good as he.' And further might have gone his vaunt; But, darting down, the cat Convinced him that a rat Is smaller than an elephant.



XVI.—THE HOROSCOPE.

On death we mortals often run, Just by the roads we take to shun.

A father's only heir, a son, Was over-loved, and doted on So greatly, that astrology Was question'd what his fate might be. The man of stars this caution gave— That, until twenty years of age, No lion, even in a cage, The boy should see,—his life to save. The sire, to silence every fear About a life so very dear, Forbade that any one should let His son beyond his threshold get. Within his palace walls, the boy Might all that heart could wish enjoy— Might with his mates walk, leap, and run, And frolic in the wildest fun. When come of age to love the chase, That exercise was oft depicted To him as one that brought disgrace, To which but blackguards were addicted. But neither warning nor derision Could change his ardent disposition. The youth, fierce, restless, full of blood, Was prompted by the boiling flood To love the dangers of the wood. The more opposed, the stronger grew His mad desire. The cause he knew, For which he was so closely pent; And as, where'er he went, In that magnificent abode, Both tapestry and canvas show'd The feats he did so much admire, A painted lion roused his ire. 'Ah, monster!' cried he, in his rage, 'Tis you that keep me in my cage.' With that, he clinch'd his fist, To strike the harmless beast— And did his hand impale Upon a hidden nail! And thus this cherish'd head, For which the healing art But vainly did its part, Was hurried to the dead, By caution blindly meant To shun that sad event.

The poet Aeschylus, 'tis said, By much the same precaution bled. A conjuror foretold A house would crush him in its fall;— Forth sallied he, though old, From town and roof-protected hall, And took his lodgings, wet or dry, Abroad, beneath the open sky. An eagle, bearing through the air A tortoise for her household fare, Which first she wish'd to break, The creature dropp'd, by sad mistake, Plump on the poet's forehead bare, As if it were a naked rock— To Aeschylus a fatal shock!

From these examples, it appears, This art, if true in any wise, Makes men fulfil the very fears Engender'd by its prophecies. But from this charge I justify, By branding it a total lie. I don't believe that Nature's powers Have tied her hands or pinion'd ours, By marking on the heavenly vault Our fate without mistake or fault. That fate depends upon conjunctions Of places, persons, times, and tracks, And not upon the functions Of more or less of quacks. A king and clown beneath one planet's nod Are born; one wields a sceptre, one a hod. But it is Jupiter that wills it so! And who is he?[23] A soulless clod. How can he cause such different powers to flow Upon the aforesaid mortals here below? And how, indeed, to this far distant ball Can he impart his energy at all?— How pierce the ether deeps profound, The sun and globes that whirl around? A mote might turn his potent ray For ever from its earthward way. Will find, it, then, in starry cope, The makers of the horoscope? The war[24] with which all Europe's now afflicted— Deserves it not by them to've been predicted? Yet heard we not a whisper of it, Before it came, from any prophet. The suddenness of passion's gush, Of wayward life the headlong rush,— Permit they that the feeble ray Of twinkling planet, far away, Should trace our winding, zigzag course? And yet this planetary force, As steady as it is unknown, These fools would make our guide alone— Of all our varied life the source! Such doubtful facts as I relate— The petted child's and poet's fate— Our argument may well admit. The blindest man that lives in France, The smallest mark would doubtless hit— Once in a thousand times—by chance.

[23] And who is he?—By Jupiter, "the soulless clod," is of course meant the planet, not the god. [24] The war.—See note to Fable XVIII., Book VII.



XVII.—THE ASS AND THE DOG.[25]

Dame Nature, our respected mother, Ordains that we should aid each other.

The ass this ordinance neglected, Though not a creature ill-affected. Along the road a dog and he One master follow'd silently. Their master slept: meanwhile, the ass Applied his nippers to the grass, Much pleased in such a place to stop, Though there no thistle he could crop. He would not be too delicate, Nor spoil a dinner for a plate, Which, but for that, his favourite dish, Were all that any ass could wish.

'My dear companion,' Towser said,— ''Tis as a starving dog I ask it,— Pray lower down your loaded basket, And let me get a piece of bread.' No answer—not a word!—indeed, The truth was, our Arcadian steed[26] Fear'd lest, for every moment's flight, His nimble teeth should lose a bite. At last, 'I counsel you,' said he, 'to wait Till master is himself awake, Who then, unless I much mistake, Will give his dog the usual bait.' Meanwhile, there issued from the wood A creature of the wolfish brood, Himself by famine sorely pinch'd. At sight of him the donkey flinch'd, And begg'd the dog to give him aid. The dog budged not, but answer made,— 'I counsel thee, my friend, to run, Till master's nap is fairly done; There can, indeed, be no mistake, That he will very soon awake; Till then, scud off with all your might; And should he snap you in your flight, This ugly wolf,—why, let him feel The greeting of your well-shod heel. I do not doubt, at all, but that Will be enough to lay him flat.' But ere he ceased it was too late; The ass had met his cruel fate.

Thus selfishness we reprobate.

[25] Abstemius. [26] Arcadian steed.—La Fontaine has "roussin d'Arcadie." The ass was so derisively nicknamed. See also Fable XIX., Book VI.



XVIII.—THE PASHAW AND THE MERCHANT.[27]

A trading Greek, for want of law, Protection bought of a pashaw; And like a nobleman he paid, Much rather than a man of trade— Protection being, Turkish-wise, A costly sort of merchandise. So costly was it, in this case, The Greek complain'd, with tongue and face. Three other Turks, of lower rank, Would guard his substance as their own, And all draw less upon his bank, Than did the great pashaw alone. The Greek their offer gladly heard, And closed the bargain with a word. The said pashaw was made aware, And counsel'd, with a prudent care These rivals to anticipate, By sending them to heaven's gate, As messengers to Mahomet— Which measure should he much delay, Himself might go the self-same way, By poison offer'd secretly, Sent on, before his time, to be Protector to such arts and trades As flourish in the world of shades. On this advice, the Turk—no gander— Behaved himself like Alexander.[28] Straight to the merchant's, firm and stable, He went, and took a seat at table. Such calm assurance there was seen, Both in his words and in his mien, That e'en that weasel-sighted Grecian Could not suspect him of suspicion. 'My friend,' said he, 'I know you've quit me, And some think caution would befit me, Lest to despatch me be your plan: But, deeming you too good a man To injure either friends or foes With poison'd cups or secret blows, I drown the thought, and say no more. But, as regards the three or four Who take my place, I crave your grace To listen to an apologue.

'A shepherd, with a single dog, Was ask'd the reason why He kept a dog, whose least supply Amounted to a loaf of bread For every day. The people said He'd better give the animal To guard the village seignior's hall; For him, a shepherd, it would be A thriftier economy To keep small curs, say two or three, That would not cost him half the food, And yet for watching be as good. The fools, perhaps, forgot to tell If they would fight the wolf as well. The silly shepherd, giving heed, Cast off his dog of mastiff breed, And took three dogs to watch his cattle, Which ate far less, but fled in battle. His flock such counsel lived to rue, As doubtlessly, my friend, will you. If wise, my aid again you'll seek—' And so, persuaded, did the Greek.

Not vain our tale, if it convinces Small states that 'tis a wiser thing To trust a single powerful king, Than half a dozen petty princes.

[27] Gilbert Cousin. [28] Alexander.—Who took the medicine presented to him by his physician Philip, the moment after he had received a letter announcing that that very man designed to poison him.—Arrian, L. II. Chap. XIV.—Translator.



XIX.—THE USE OF KNOWLEDGE.[29]

Between two citizens A controversy grew. The one was poor, but much he knew: The other, rich, with little sense, Claim'd that, in point of excellence, The merely wise should bow the knee To all such money'd men as he. The merely fools, he should have said; For why should wealth hold up its head, When merit from its side hath fled? 'My friend,' quoth Bloated-purse, To his reverse, 'You think yourself considerable. Pray, tell me, do you keep a table? What comes of this incessant reading, In point of lodging, clothing, feeding? It gives one, true, the highest chamber, One coat for June and for December, His shadow for his sole attendant, And hunger always in th' ascendant. What profits he his country, too, Who scarcely ever spends a sou— Will, haply, be a public charge? Who profits more the state at large, Than he whose luxuries dispense Among the people wealth immense? We set the streams of life a-flowing; We set all sorts of trades a-going. The spinner, weaver, sewer, vender, And many a wearer, fair and tender, All live and flourish on the spender— As do, indeed, the reverend rooks Who waste their time in making books.' These words, so full of impudence, Received their proper recompense. The man of letters held his peace, Though much he might have said with ease. A war avenged him soon and well; In it their common city fell. Both fled abroad; the ignorant, By fortune thus brought down to want, Was treated everywhere with scorn, And roamed about, a wretch forlorn; Whereas the scholar, everywhere, Was nourish'd by the public care.

Let fools the studious despise; There's nothing lost by being wise.

[29] Abstemius.



XX.—JUPITER AND THE THUNDERBOLTS.

Said Jupiter, one day, As on a cloud he lay, 'Observing all our crimes, Come, let us change the times, By leasing out anew A world whose wicked crew Have wearied out our grace, And cursed us to our face. Hie hellward, Mercury; A Fury bring to me, The direst of the three. Race nursed too tenderly, This day your doom shall be!' E'en while he spoke their fate, His wrath began to moderate.

O kings, with whom His will Hath lodged our good and ill, Your wrath and storm between One night should intervene!

The god of rapid wing, And lip unfaltering, To sunless regions sped, And met the sisters dread. To grim Tisiphone, And pale Megaera, he Preferr'd, as murderess, Alecto, pitiless. This choice so roused the fiend, By Pluto's beard she swore The human race no more Should be by handfuls glean'd, But in one solid mass Th' infernal gates should pass. But Jove, displeased with both The Fury and her oath, Despatched her back to hell. And then a bolt he hurl'd, Down on a faithless world, Which in a desert fell. Aim'd by a father's arm, It caused more fear than harm. (All fathers strike aside.) What did from this betide? Our evil race grew bold, Resumed their wicked tricks, Increased them manifold, Till, all Olympus through, Indignant murmurs flew. When, swearing by the Styx, The sire that rules the air Storms promised to prepare More terrible and dark, Which should not miss their mark. 'A father's wrath it is!' The other deities All in one voice exclaim'd; 'And, might the thing be named, Some other god would make Bolts better for our sake.' This Vulcan undertook. His rumbling forges shook, And glow'd with fervent heat, While Cyclops blew and beat. Forth, from the plastic flame Two sorts of bolts there came. Of these, one misses not: 'Tis by Olympus shot,— That is, the gods at large. The other, bearing wide, Hits mountain-top or side, Or makes a cloud its targe. And this it is alone Which leaves the father's throne.



XXI.—THE FALCON AND THE CAPON.[30]

You often hear a sweet seductive call: If wise, you haste towards it not at all;— And, if you heed my apologue, You act like John de Nivelle's dog.[31]

A capon, citizen of Mans, Was summon'd from a throng To answer to the village squire, Before tribunal call'd the fire. The matter to disguise The kitchen sheriff wise Cried, 'Biddy—Biddy—Biddy!—' But not a moment did he— This Norman and a half[32]— The smooth official trust. 'Your bait,' said he, 'is dust, And I'm too old for chaff.' Meantime, a falcon, on his perch, Observed the flight and search. In man, by instinct or experience, The capons have so little confidence, That this was not without much trouble caught, Though for a splendid supper sought. To lie, the morrow night, In brilliant candle-light, Supinely on a dish 'Midst viands, fowl, and fish, With all the ease that heart could wish— This honour, from his master kind, The fowl would gladly have declined. Outcried the bird of chase, As in the weeds he eyed the skulker's face, 'Why, what a stupid, blockhead race!— Such witless, brainless fools Might well defy the schools. For me, I understand To chase at word The swiftest bird, Aloft, o'er sea or land; At slightest beck, Returning quick To perch upon my master's hand. There, at his window he appears— He waits thee—hasten—hast no ears?' 'Ah! that I have,' the fowl replied; 'But what from master might betide? Or cook, with cleaver at his side? Return you may for such a call, But let me fly their fatal hall; And spare your mirth at my expense: Whate'er I lack, 'tis not the sense To know that all this sweet-toned breath Is spent to lure me to my death. If you had seen upon the spit As many of the falcons roast As I have of the capon host, You would, not thus reproach my wit.'

[30] In the Bidpaii Fables it is "The Falcon and the Cock." [31] John de Nivelle's dog.—A dog which, according to the French proverb, ran away when his master called him.—Translator. [32] This Norman and a half.—Though the Normans are proverbial for their shrewdness, the French have, nevertheless, a proverb that they come to Paris to be hanged. Hence La Fontaine makes his capon, who knew how to shun a similar fate, le Normand et demi—the Norman and a half.—Translator.



XXII.—THE CAT AND THE RAT.[33]

Four creatures, wont to prowl,— Sly Grab-and-Snatch, the cat, Grave Evil-bode, the owl, Thief Nibble-stitch, the rat, And Madam Weasel, prim and fine,— Inhabited a rotten pine. A man their home discover'd there, And set, one night, a cunning snare. The cat, a noted early-riser, Went forth, at break of day, To hunt her usual prey. Not much the wiser For morning's feeble ray, The noose did suddenly surprise her. Waked by her strangling cry, Grey Nibble-stitch drew nigh: As full of joy was he As of despair was she, For in the noose he saw His foe of mortal paw. 'Dear friend,' said Mrs. Grab-and-Snatch, 'Do, pray, this cursed cord detach. I've always known your skill, And often your good-will; Now help me from this worst of snares, In which I fell at unawares. 'Tis by a sacred right, You, sole of all your race, By special love and grace, Have been my favourite— The darling of my eyes. 'Twas order'd by celestial cares, No doubt; I thank the blessed skies, That, going out to say my prayers, As cats devout each morning do, This net has made me pray to you. Come, fall to work upon the cord.' Replied the rat, 'And what reward Shall pay me, if I dare?' 'Why,' said the cat, 'I swear To be your firm ally: Henceforth, eternally, These powerful claws are yours, Which safe your life insures. I'll guard from quadruped and fowl; I'll eat the weasel and the owl.' 'Ah,' cried the rat, 'you fool! I'm quite too wise to be your tool.' He said, and sought his snug retreat, Close at the rotten pine-tree's feet. Where plump he did the weasel meet; Whom shunning by a happy dodge, He climb'd the hollow trunk to lodge; And there the savage owl he saw. Necessity became his law, And down he went, the rope to gnaw. Strand after strand in two he bit, And freed, at last, the hypocrite. That moment came the man in sight; The new allies took hasty flight.

A good while after that, Our liberated cat Espied her favourite rat, Quite out of reach, and on his guard. 'My friend,' said she, 'I take your shyness hard; Your caution wrongs my gratitude; Approach, and greet your staunch ally. Do you suppose, dear rat, that I Forget the solemn oath I mew'd?' 'Do I forget,' the rat replied, 'To what your nature is allied? To thankfulness, or even pity, Can cats be ever bound by treaty?'

Alliance from necessity Is safe just while it has to be.

[33] Another rendering of "The Rat and the Cat" of the Bidpaii collection. See Fable XVI., Book VII.



XXIII.—THE TORRENT AND THE RIVER.[34]

With mighty rush and roar, Adown a mountain steep A torrent tumbled,—swelling o'er Its rugged banks,—and bore Vast ruin in its sweep. The traveller were surely rash To brave its whirling, foaming dash, But one, by robbers sorely press'd, Its terrors haply put to test. They were but threats of foam and sound, The loudest where the least profound. With courage from his safe success, His foes continuing to press, He met a river in his course: On stole its waters, calm and deep, So silently they seem'd asleep, All sweetly cradled, as I ween, In sloping banks, and gravel clean,— They threaten'd neither man nor horse. Both ventured; but the noble steed, That saved from robbers by his speed, From that deep water could not save; Both went to drink the Stygian wave; Both went to cross, (but not to swim,) Where reigns a monarch stern and grim, Far other streams than ours.

Still men are men of dangerous powers; Elsewhere, 'tis only ignorance that cowers.

[34] Abstemius.



XXIV.—EDUCATION.

Lapluck and Caesar brothers were, descended From dogs by Fame the most commended, Who falling, in their puppyhood, To different masters anciently, One dwelt and hunted in the boundless wood; From thieves the other kept a kitchen free. At first, each had another name; But, by their bringing up, it came, While one improved upon his nature, The other grew a sordid creature, Till, by some scullion called Lapluck, The name ungracious ever stuck. To high exploits his brother grew, Put many a stag at bay, and tore Full many a trophy from the boar; In short, him first, of all his crew, The world as Caesar knew; And care was had, lest, by a baser mate, His noble blood should e'er degenerate. Not so with his neglected brother; He made whatever came a mother; And, by the laws of population, His race became a countless nation— The common turnspits throughout France— Where danger is, they don't advance— Precisely the antipodes Of what we call the Caesars, these!

Oft falls the son below his sire's estate: Through want of care all things degenerate. For lack of nursing Nature and her gifts. What crowds from gods become mere kitchen-thrifts!



XXV.—THE TWO DOGS AND THE DEAD ASS.[35]

The Virtues should be sisters, hand in hand, Since banded brothers all the Vices stand: When one of these our hearts attacks, All come in file; there only lacks, From out the cluster, here and there, A mate of some antagonizing pair, That can't agree the common roof to share. But all the Virtues, as a sisterhood, Have scarcely ever in one subject stood. We find one brave, but passionate; Another prudent, but ingrate. Of beasts, the dog may claim to be The pattern of fidelity; But, for our teaching little wiser, He's both a fool and gormandiser. For proof, I cite two mastiffs, that espied A dead ass floating on a water wide. The distance growing more and more, Because the wind the carcass bore,— 'My friend,' said one, 'your eyes are best; Pray let them on the water rest: What thing is that I seem to see? An ox, or horse? what can it be?' 'Hey!' cried his mate; 'what matter which, Provided we could get a flitch? It doubtless is our lawful prey: The puzzle is to find some way To get the prize; for wide the space To swim, with wind against your face.[36] Let's drink the flood; our thirsty throats Will gain the end as well as boats. The water swallow'd, by and bye We'll have the carcass, high and dry— Enough to last a week, at least.' Both drank as some do at a feast; Their breath was quench'd before their thirst, And presently the creatures burst!

And such is man. Whatever he May set his soul to do or be, To him is possibility? How many vows he makes! How many steps he takes! How does he strive, and pant, and strain, Fortune's or Glory's prize to gain! If round my farm off well I must, Or fill my coffers with the dust, Or master Hebrew, science, history,— I make my task to drink the sea. One spirit's projects to fulfil, Four bodies would require; and still The work would stop half done; The lives of four Methuselahs, Placed end to end for use, alas! Would not suffice the wants of one.

[35] Aesop; also Lokman. [36] With the wind against your face.—Did La Fontaine, to enhance the folly of these dogs, make them bad judges of the course of the wind, or did he forget what he had said a few lines above?—Translator.



XXVI.—DEMOCRITUS AND THE PEOPLE OF ABDERA.

How do I hate the tide of vulgar thought! Profane, unjust, with childish folly fraught; It breaks and bends the rays of truth divine, And by its own conceptions measures mine. Famed Epicurus' master[37] tried The power of this unstable tide. His country said the sage was mad— The simpletons! But why? No prophet ever honour had Beneath his native sky. Democritus, in truth, was wise; The mass were mad, with faith in lies. So far this error went, That all Abdera sent To old Hippocrates To cure the sad disease. 'Our townsman,' said the messengers, Appropriately shedding tears, 'Hath lost his wits! Democritus, By study spoil'd, is lost to us. Were he but fill'd with ignorance, We should esteem him less a dunce. He saith that worlds like this exist, An absolutely endless list,— And peopled, even, it may be, With countless hosts as wise as we! But, not contented with such dreams, His brain with viewless "atoms" teems, Instinct with deathless life, it seems. And, never stirring from the sod below, He weighs and measures all the stars; And, while he knows the universe, Himself he doth not know. Though now his lips he strictly bars, He once delighted to converse. Come, godlike mortal, try thy art divine Where traits of worst insanity combine!' Small faith the great physician lent, But still, perhaps more readily, he went. And mark what meetings strange Chance causes in this world of change! Hippocrates arrived in season, Just as his patient (void of reason!) Was searching whether reason's home, In talking animals and dumb, Be in the head, or in the heart, Or in some other local part. All calmly seated in the shade, Where brooks their softest music made, He traced, with study most insane, The convolutions of a brain; And at his feet lay many a scroll— The works of sages on the soul. Indeed, so much absorb'd was he, His friend, at first, he did not see. A pair so admirably match'd, Their compliments erelong despatch'd. In time and talk, as well as dress, The wise are frugal, I confess. Dismissing trifles, they began At once with eagerness to scan The life, and soul, and laws of man; Nor stopp'd till they had travell'd o'er all The ground, from, physical to moral. My time and space would fail To give the full detail.

But I have said enough to show How little 'tis the people know. How true, then, goes the saw abroad— Their voice is but the voice of God?

[37] Epicurus' master.—Democritus and Epicurus lived about a century apart. The latter was disciple to the former only because in early life he adopted some of Democritus's philosophy. Later Epicurus rejected more than he accepted of what his "master" taught.



XXVII.—THE WOLF AND THE HUNTER.[38]

Thou lust of gain,—foul fiend, whose evil eyes Regard as nought the blessings of the skies, Must I for ever battle thee in vain? How long demandest thou to gain The meaning of my lessons plain? Will constant getting never cloy? Will man ne'er slacken to enjoy? Haste, friend; thou hast not long to live: Let me the precious word repeat, And listen to it, I entreat; A richer lesson none can give— The sovereign antidote for sorrow— ENJOY!—'I will.'—But when?—'To-morrow.—' Ah! death may take you on the way, Why not enjoy, I ask, to-day? Lest envious fate your hopes ingulf, As once it served the hunter and the wolf.

The former, with his fatal bow, A noble deer had laid full low: A fawn approach'd, and quickly lay Companion of the dead, For side by side they bled. Could one have wished a richer prey? Such luck had been enough to sate A hunter wise and moderate. Meantime a boar, as big as e'er was taken, Our archer tempted, proud, and fond of bacon. Another candidate for Styx, Struck by his arrow, foams and kicks. But strangely do the shears of Fate To cut his cable hesitate. Alive, yet dying, there he lies, A glorious and a dangerous prize. And was not this enough? Not quite, To fill a conqueror's appetite; For, ere the boar was dead, he spied A partridge by a furrow's side— A trifle to his other game. Once more his bow he drew; The desperate boar upon him came, And in his dying vengeance slew: The partridge thank'd him as she flew.

Thus much is to the covetous address'd; The miserly shall have the rest.

A wolf, in passing, saw that woeful sight. 'O Fortune,' cried the savage, with delight, 'A fane to thee I'll build outright! 'Four carcasses! how rich! But spare— 'I'll make them last—such luck is rare,' (The miser's everlasting plea.) 'They'll last a month for—let me see— One, two, three, four—the weeks are four If I can count—and some days more. Well, two days hence And I'll commence. Meantime, the string upon this bow I'll stint myself to eat; For by its mutton-smell I know 'Tis made of entrails sweet.' His entrails rued the fatal weapon, Which, while he heedlessly did step on, The arrow pierced his bowels deep, And laid him lifeless on the heap.

Hark, stingy souls! insatiate leeches! Our text this solemn duty teaches,— Enjoy the present; do not wait To share the wolf's or hunter's fate.

[38] Bidpaii; and the Hitopadesa. See extract from Sir William Jones's translation of the latter in Translator's Preface.

* * * * *

BOOK IX.

I.—THE FAITHLESS DEPOSITARY.[1]

Thanks to Memory's daughters nine, Animals have graced my line: Higher heroes in my story Might have won me less of glory. Wolves, in language of the sky, Talk with dogs throughout my verse; Beasts with others shrewdly vie, Representing characters; Fools in furs not second-hand, Sages, hoof'd or feather'd, stand: Fewer truly are the latter, More the former—ay, and fatter. Flourish also in my scene Tyrants, villains, mountebanks, Beasts incapable of thanks, Beasts of rash and reckless pranks, Beasts of sly and flattering mien; Troops of liars, too, I ween. As to men, of every age, All are liars, saith the sage. Had he writ but of the low, One could hardly think it so; But that human mortals, all, Lie like serpents, great and small, Had another certified it, I, for one, should have denied it. He who lies in Aesop's way, Or like Homer, minstrel gray, Is no liar, sooth to say. Charms that bind us like a dream, Offspring of their happy art, Cloak'd in fiction, more than seem Truth to offer to the heart. Both have left us works which I Think unworthy e'er to die. Liar call not him who squares All his ends and aims with theirs; But from sacred truth to vary, Like the false depositary, Is to be, by every rule Both a liar and a fool. The story goes:

A man of trade, In Persia, with his neighbour made Deposit, as he left the state, Of iron, say a hundredweight. Return'd, said he, 'My iron, neighbour.' 'Your iron! you have lost your labour; I grieve to say it,—'pon my soul, A rat has eaten up the whole. My men were sharply scolded at, But yet a hole, in spite of that, Was left, as one is wont to be In every barn or granary, By which crept in that cursed rat.' Admiring much the novel thief, The man affected full belief. Ere long, his faithless neighbour's child He stole away,—a heavy lad,— And then to supper bade the dad, Who thus plead off in accents sad:— 'It was but yesterday I had A boy as fine as ever smiled, An only son, as dear as life, The darling of myself and wife. Alas! we have him now no more, And every joy with us is o'er.' Replied the merchant, 'Yesternight, By evening's faint and dusky ray, I saw a monstrous owl alight, And bear your darling son away To yonder tott'ring ruin gray.' 'Can I believe you, when you say An owl bore off: so large a prey? How could it be?' the father cried; 'The thing is surely quite absurd; My son with ease had kill'd the bird.' 'The how of it,' the man replied, 'Is not my province to decide; I know I saw your son arise, Borne through, the air before my eyes. Why should it seem a strange affair, Moreover, in a country where A single rat contrives to eat A hundred pounds of iron meat, That owls should be of strength to lift ye A booby boy that weighs but fifty?' The other plainly saw the trick, Restored the iron very quick. And got, with shame as well as joy, Possession of his kidnapp'd boy.

The like occurr'd two travellers between. One was of those Who wear a microscope, I ween, Each side the nose. Would you believe their tales romantic, Our Europe, in its monsters, beats The lands that feel the tropic heats, Surcharged with all that is gigantic. This person, feeling free To use the trope hyperbole, Had seen a cabbage with his eyes Exceeding any house in size. 'And I have seen,' the other cries, Resolved to leave his fellow in the lurch, 'A pot that would have held a church. Why, friend, don't give that doubting look,— The pot was made your cabbages to cook.' This pot-discov'rer was a wit; The iron-monger, too, was wise. To such absurd and ultra lies Their answers were exactly fit. 'Twere doing honour overmuch, To reason or dispute with such. To overbid them is the shortest path, And less provocative of wrath.

[1] Bidpaii.



II.—THE TWO DOVES.[2]

Two doves once cherish'd for each other The love that brother hath for brother. But one, of scenes domestic tiring, To see the foreign world aspiring, Was fool enough to undertake A journey long, o'er land and lake. 'What plan is this?' the other cried; 'Wouldst quit so soon thy brother's side? This absence is the worst of ills; Thy heart may bear, but me it kills. Pray, let the dangers, toil, and care, Of which all travellers tell, Your courage somewhat quell. Still, if the season later were— O wait the zephyrs!—hasten not— Just now the raven, on his oak, In hoarser tones than usual spoke. My heart forebodes the saddest lot,— The falcons, nets—Alas, it rains! My brother, are thy wants supplied— Provisions, shelter, pocket-guide, And all that unto health pertains?' These words occasion'd some demur In our imprudent traveller. But restless curiosity Prevail'd at last; and so said he,— 'The matter is not worth a sigh; Three days, at most, will satisfy, And then, returning, I shall tell You all the wonders that befell,— With scenes enchanting and sublime Shall sweeten all our coming time. Who seeth nought, hath nought to say. My travel's course, from day to day, Will be the source of great delight. A store of tales I shall relate,— Say there I lodged at such a date, And saw there such and such a sight. You'll think it all occurr'd to you.—' On this, both, weeping, bade adieu. Away the lonely wanderer flew.— A thunder-cloud began to lower; He sought, as shelter from the shower, The only tree that graced the plain, Whose leaves ill turn'd the pelting rain. The sky once more serene above, On flew our drench'd and dripping dove, And dried his plumage as he could. Next, on the borders of a wood, He spied some scatter'd grains of wheat, Which one, he thought, might safely eat; For there another dove he saw.— He felt the snare around him draw! This wheat was but a treacherous bait To lure poor pigeons to their fate. The snare had been so long in use, With beak and wings he struggled loose: Some feathers perish'd while it stuck; But, what was worst in point of luck, A hawk, the cruellest of foes, Perceived him clearly as he rose, Off dragging, like a runaway, A piece of string. The bird of prey Had bound him, in a moment more, Much faster than he was before, But from the clouds an eagle came, And made the hawk himself his game. By war of robbers profiting, The dove for safety plied the wing, And, lighting on a ruin'd wall, Believed his dangers ended all. A roguish boy had there a sling, (Age pitiless! We must confess,) And, by a most unlucky fling, Half kill'd our hapless dove; Who now, no more in love With foreign travelling, And lame in leg and wing, Straight homeward urged his crippled flight, Fatigued, but glad, arrived at night, In truly sad and piteous plight. The doves rejoin'd, I leave you all to say, What pleasure might their pains repay. Ah, happy lovers, would you roam?— Pray, let it not be far from home. To each the other ought to be A world of beauty ever new; In each the other ought to see The whole of what is good and true.

Myself have loved; nor would I then, For all the wealth of crowned men, Or arch celestial, paved with gold, The presence of those woods have sold, And fields, and banks, and hillocks, which Were by the joyful steps made rich, And smiled beneath the charming eyes Of her who made my heart a prize— To whom I pledged it, nothing loath, And seal'd the pledge with virgin oath. Ah, when will time such moments bring again? To me are sweet and charming objects vain— My soul forsaking to its restless mood? O, did my wither'd heart but dare To kindle for the bright and good, Should not I find the charm still there? Is love, to me, with things that were?

[2] Bidpaii. By common consent this fable is ranked among La Fontaine's very best. See Translator's Preface.



III.—THE MONKEY AND THE LEOPARD.[3]

A monkey and a leopard were The rivals at a country fair. Each advertised his own attractions. Said one, 'Good sirs, the highest place My merit knows; for, of his grace, The king hath seen me face to face; And, judging by his looks and actions, I gave the best of satisfactions. When I am dead, 'tis plain enough, My skin will make his royal muff. So richly is it streak'd and spotted, So delicately waved and dotted, Its various beauty cannot fail to please.' And, thus invited, everybody sees; But soon they see, and soon depart. The monkey's show-bill to the mart His merits thus sets forth the while, All in his own peculiar style:— 'Come, gentlemen, I pray you, come; In magic arts I am at home. The whole variety in which My neighbour boasts himself so rich, Is to his simple skin confined, While mine is living in the mind. Your humble servant, Monsieur Gille, The son-in-law to Tickleville, Pope's monkey, and of great renown, Is now just freshly come to town, Arrived in three bateaux, express, Your worships to address; For he can speak, you understand; Can dance, and practise sleight-of-hand; Can jump through hoops, and balance sticks; In short, can do a thousand tricks; And all for blancos six—[4] Not, messieurs, for a sou. And, if you think the price won't do, When you have seen, then he'll restore Each man his money at the door.'

The ape was not to reason blind; For who in wealth of dress can find Such charms as dwell in wealth of mind? One meets our ever-new desires, The other in a moment tires.

Alas! how many lords there are, Of mighty sway and lofty mien, Who, like this leopard at the fair, Show all their talents on the skin!

[3] Aesop; also Avianus. [4] Blancos six.—The blanc was a French copper coin, six of which were equivalent in value to something over a penny of the present English money.



IV.—THE ACORN AND THE PUMPKIN.

God's works are good. This truth to prove Around the world I need not move; I do it by the nearest pumpkin. 'This fruit so large, on vine so small,' Surveying once, exclaim'd a bumpkin— 'What could He mean who made us all? He's left this pumpkin out of place. If I had order'd in the case, Upon that oak it should have hung— A noble fruit as ever swung To grace a tree so firm and strong. Indeed, it was a great mistake, As this discovery teaches, That I myself did not partake His counsels whom my curate preaches. All things had then in order come; This acorn, for example, Not bigger than my thumb, Had not disgraced a tree so ample. The more I think, the more I wonder To see outraged proportion's laws, And that without the slightest cause; God surely made an awkward blunder.' With such reflections proudly fraught, Our sage grew tired of mighty thought, And threw himself on Nature's lap, Beneath an oak,—to take his nap. Plump on his nose, by lucky hap, An acorn fell: he waked, and in The matted beard that graced his chin, He found the cause of such a bruise As made him different language use. 'O! O!' he cried; 'I bleed! I bleed! And this is what has done the deed! But, truly, what had been my fate, Had this had half a pumpkin's weight! I see that God had reasons good, And all his works well understood.' Thus home he went in humbler mood.[5]

[5] This fable was much admired by Madame de Sevigne. See Translator's Preface.



V.—THE SCHOOLBOY, THE PEDANT, AND THE OWNER OF A GARDEN.

A boy who savour'd of his school,— A double rogue and double fool,— By youth and by the privilege Which pedants have, by ancient right, To alter reason, and abridge,— A neighbour robb'd, with fingers light, Of flowers and fruit. This neighbour had, Of fruits that make the autumn glad, The very best—and none but he. Each season brought, from plant and tree, To him its tribute; for, in spring, His was the brightest blossoming. One day, he saw our hopeful lad Perch'd on the finest tree he had, Not only stuffing down the fruit, But spoiling, like a Vandal brute, The buds that play advance-courier Of plenty in the coming year. The branches, too, he rudely tore, And carried things to such a pass, The owner sent his servant o'er To tell the master of his class. The latter came, and came attended By all the urchins of his school, And thus one plunderer's mischief mended By pouring in an orchard-full. It seems the pedant was intent On making public punishment, To teach his boys the force of law, And strike their roguish hearts with awe. The use of which he first must show From Virgil and from Cicero, And many other ancients noted, From whom, in their own tongues, he quoted. So long, indeed, his lecture lasted, While not a single urchin fasted, That, ere its close, their thievish crimes Were multiplied a hundred times.

I hate all eloquence and reason Expended plainly out of season. Of all the beasts that earth have cursed While they have fed on't, The school-boy strikes me as the worst— Except the pedant. The better of these neighbours two For me, I'm sure, would never do.



VI.—THE SCULPTOR AND THE STATUE OF JUPITER.

A block of marble was so fine, To buy it did a sculptor hasten. 'What shall my chisel, now 'tis mine— A god, a table, or a basin?'

'A god,' said he, 'the thing shall be; I'll arm it, too, with thunder. Let people quake, and bow the knee With reverential wonder.'

So well the cunning artist wrought All things within a mortal's reach, That soon the marble wanted nought Of being Jupiter, but speech.

Indeed, the man whose skill did make Had scarcely laid his chisel down, Before himself began to quake, And fear his manufacture's frown.

And even this excess of faith The poet once scarce fell behind, The hatred fearing, and the wrath, Of gods the product of his mind.

This trait we see in infancy Between the baby and its doll, Of wax or china, it may be— A pocket stuff'd, or folded shawl.

Imagination rules the heart: And here we find the fountain head From whence the pagan errors start, That o'er the teeming nations spread.

With violent and flaming zeal, Each takes his own chimera's part; Pygmalion[6] doth a passion feel For Venus chisel'd by his art.

All men, as far as in them lies, Create realities of dreams. To truth our nature proves but ice; To falsehood, fire it seems.

[6] Pygmalion.—The poet here takes an erroneous view of the story of Pygmalion. That sculptor fell in love with his statue of the nymph Galatea, to which Venus gave life at his request. See Ovid, Metam. Book X.



VII.—THE MOUSE METAMORPHOSED INTO A MAID.[7]

A mouse once from an owl's beak fell; I'd not have pick'd it up, I wis; A Brahmin did it: very well; Each country has its prejudice. The mouse, indeed, was sadly bruised. Although, as neighbours, we are used To be more kind to many others, The Brahmins treat the mice as brothers. The notion haunts their heads, that when The soul goes forth from dying men, It enters worm, or bird, or beast, As Providence or Fate is pleased; And on this mystery rests their law, Which from Pythagoras they're said to draw. And hence the Brahmin kindly pray'd To one who knew the wizard's trade, To give the creature, wounded sore, The form in which it lodged before. Forthwith the mouse became a maid, Of years about fifteen; A lovelier was never seen. She would have waked, I ween, In Priam's son, a fiercer flame Than did the beauteous Grecian dame. Surprised at such a novelty, The Brahmin to the damsel cried, 'Your choice is free; For every he Will seek you for his bride.' Said she, 'Am I to have a voice? The strongest, then, shall be my choice.' 'O sun!' the Brahmin cried, 'this maid is thine, And thou shalt be a son-in-law of mine.' 'No,' said the sun, 'this murky cloud, it seems, In strength exceeds me, since he hides my beams; And him I counsel you to take.' Again the reverend Brahmin spake— 'O cloud, on-flying with thy stores of water, Pray wast thou born to wed my daughter?' 'Ah, no, alas! for, you may see, The wind is far too strong for me. My claims with Boreas' to compare, I must confess, I do not dare.' 'O wind,' then cried the Brahmin, vex'd, And wondering what would hinder next,— 'Approach, and, with thy sweetest air, Embrace—possess—the fairest fair.' The wind, enraptured, thither blew;— A mountain stopp'd him as he flew, To him now pass'd the tennis-ball, And from him to a creature small. Said he, 'I'd wed the maid, but that I've had a quarrel with the rat. A fool were I to take the bride From one so sure to pierce my side.' The rat! It thrill'd the damsel's ear; To name at once seem'd sweet and dear. The rat! 'Twas one of Cupid's blows; The like full many a maiden knows; But all of this beneath the rose.

One smacketh ever of the place Where first he show'd the world his face. Thus far the fable's clear as light; But, if we take a nearer sight, There lurks within its drapery Somewhat of graceless sophistry; For who, that worships e'en the glorious sun, Would not prefer to wed some cooler one? And doth a flea's exceed a giant's might, Because the former can the latter bite? And, by the rule of strength, the rat Had sent his bride to wed the cat; From cat to dog, and onward still To wolf or tiger, if you will: Indeed, the fabulist might run A circle backward to the sun.— But to the change the tale supposes,— In learned phrase, metempsychosis. The very thing the wizard did Its falsity exposes— If that indeed were ever hid. According to the Brahmin's plan, The proud aspiring soul of man, And souls that dwell in humbler forms Of rats and mice, and even worms, All issue from a common source, And, hence, they are the same of course.— Unequal but by accident Of organ and of tenement, They use one pair of legs, or two, Or e'en with none contrive to do, As tyrant matter binds them to. Why, then, could not so fine a frame Constrain its heavenly guest To wed the solar flame? A rat her love possess'd.

In all respects, compared and weigh'd, The souls of men and souls of mice Quite different are made,— Unlike in sort as well as size. Each fits and fills its destined part As Heaven doth well provide; Nor witch, nor fiend, nor magic art, Can set their laws aside.

[7] Bidpaii.



VIII.—THE FOOL WHO SOLD WISDOM.[8]

Of fools come never in the reach: No rule can I more wisely teach. Nor can there be a better one Than this,—distemper'd heads to shun. We often see them, high and low. They tickle e'en the royal ear, As, privileged and free from fear, They hurl about them joke and jeer, At pompous lord or silly beau.

A fool, in town, did wisdom cry; The people, eager, flock'd to buy. Each for his money got, Paid promptly on the spot, Besides a box upon the head, Two fathoms' length of thread. The most were vex'd—but quite in vain The public only mock'd their pain. The wiser they who nothing said, But pocketed the box and thread. To search the meaning of the thing Would only laughs and hisses bring. Hath reason ever guaranteed The wit of fools in speech or deed? 'Tis said of brainless heads in France, The cause of what they do is chance. One dupe, however, needs must know What meant the thread, and what the blow; So ask'd a sage, to make it sure. 'They're both hieroglyphics pure,' The sage replied without delay; 'All people well advised will stay From fools this fibre's length away, Or get—I hold it sure as fate— The other symbol on the pate. So far from cheating you of gold, The fool this wisdom fairly sold.'

[8] Abstemius.



IX.—THE OYSTER AND THE LITIGANTS.

Two pilgrims on the sand espied An oyster thrown up by the tide. In hope, both swallow'd ocean's fruit; But ere the fact there came dispute. While one stoop'd down to take the prey, The other push'd him quite away. Said he, ''Twere rather meet To settle which shall eat. Why, he who first the oyster saw Should be its eater, by the law; The other should but see him do it.' Replied his mate, 'If thus you view it, Thank God the lucky eye is mine.' 'But I've an eye not worse than thine,' The other cried, 'and will be cursed, If, too, I didn't see it first.' 'You saw it, did you? Grant it true, I saw it then, and felt it too.' Amidst this sweet affair, Arrived a person very big, Ycleped Sir Nincom Periwig.[9] They made him judge,—to set the matter square. Sir Nincom, with a solemn face, Took up the oyster and the case: In opening both, the first he swallow'd, And, in due time, his judgment follow'd. 'Attend: the court awards you each a shell Cost free; depart in peace, and use them well.' Foot up the cost of suits at law, The leavings reckon and awards, The cash you'll see Sir Nincom draw, And leave the parties—purse and cards.[10]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse