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The Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine

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Which, ere he had proceeded far in,
He found his subject somewhat barren.
No ancestors of great renown;
His sire of some unnoted town;
Himself as little known to fame,
The wrestler's praise was rather tame.
The poet, having made the most of
Whate'er his hero had to boast of,
Digress'd, by choice that was not all luck's,
To Castor and his brother Pollux;
Whose bright career was subject ample,
For wrestlers, sure, a good example.
Our poet fatten'd on their story,
Gave every fight its place and glory,
Till of his panegyric words
These deities had got two-thirds.
All done, the poet's fee
A talent was to be.
But when he comes his bill to settle,
The wrestler, with a spice of mettle,
Pays down a third, and tells the poet,
'The balance they may pay who owe it.
The gods than I are rather debtors
To such a pious man of letters.
But still I shall be greatly pleased
To have your presence at my feast,
Among a knot of guests select,
My kin, and friends I most respect.'
More fond of character than coffer,
Simonides accepts the offer.
While at the feast the party sit,
And wine provokes the flow of wit,
It is announced that at the gate
Two men, in haste that cannot wait,
Would see the bard. He leaves the table,
No loss at all to 'ts noisy gabble.
The men were Leda's twins, who knew
What to a poet's praise was due,
And, thanking, paid him by foretelling
The downfall of the wrestler's dwelling.
From which ill-fated pile, indeed,
No sooner was the poet freed,
Than, props and pillars failing,
Which held aloft the ceiling
So splendid o'er them,
It downward loudly crash'd,
The plates and flagons dash'd,
And men who bore them;
And, what was worse,
Full vengeance for the man of verse,
A timber broke the wrestler's thighs,
And wounded many otherwise.
The gossip Fame, of course, took care
Abroad to publish this affair.
'A miracle!' the public cried, delighted.
No more could god-beloved bard be slighted.
His verse now brought him more than double,
With neither duns, nor care, nor trouble.
Whoe'er laid claim to noble birth
Must buy his ancestors a slice,
Resolved no nobleman on earth
Should overgo him in the price.
From which these serious lessons flow:--
Fail not your praises to bestow
On gods and godlike men. Again,
To sell the product of her pain
Is not degrading to the Muse.
Indeed, her art they do abuse,
Who think her wares to use,
And yet a liberal pay refuse.
Whate'er the great confer upon her,
They're honour'd by it while they honour.
Of old, Olympus and Parnassus
In friendship heaved their sky-crown'd masses.

[17] Phaedrus, IV. 24.
[18] _Malherbe_.--See note to Fable I., Book III.


A poor unfortunate, from day to day,
Call'd Death to take him from this world away.
'O Death' he said, 'to me how fair thy form!
Come quick, and end for me life's cruel storm.'
Death heard, and with a ghastly grin,
Knock'd at his door, and enter'd in
'Take out this object from my sight!'
The poor man loudly cried.
'Its dreadful looks I can't abide;
O stay him, stay him' let him come no nigher;
O Death! O Death! I pray thee to retire!'

A gentleman of note
In Rome, Maecenas,[20] somewhere wrote:--
"Make me the poorest wretch that begs,
Sore, hungry, crippled, clothed in rags,
In hopeless impotence of arms and legs;
Provided, after all, you give
The one sweet liberty to live:
I'll ask of Death no greater favour
Than just to stay away for ever."

[19] Aesop.
[20] _Maecenas_.--Seneca's Epistles, CI.


A poor wood-chopper, with his fagot load,
Whom weight of years, as well as load, oppress'd,
Sore groaning in his smoky hut to rest,
Trudged wearily along his homeward road.
At last his wood upon the ground he throws,
And sits him down to think o'er all his woes.
To joy a stranger, since his hapless birth,
What poorer wretch upon this rolling earth?
No bread sometimes, and ne'er a moment's rest;
Wife, children, soldiers, landlords, public tax,
All wait the swinging of his old, worn axe,
And paint the veriest picture of a man unblest.
On Death he calls. Forthwith that monarch grim
Appears, and asks what he should do for him.
'Not much, indeed; a little help I lack--
To put these fagots on my back.'

Death ready stands all ills to cure;
But let us not his cure invite.
Than die, 'tis better to endure,--
Is both a manly maxim and a right.

[21] Aesop: it is also in Corrozet's fables.


A man of middle age, whose hair
Was bordering on the grey,
Began to turn his thoughts and care
The matrimonial way.
By virtue of his ready,
A store of choices had he
Of ladies bent to suit his taste;
On which account he made no haste.
To court well was no trifling art.
Two widows chiefly gain'd his heart;
The one yet green, the other more mature,
Who found for nature's wane in art a cure.
These dames, amidst their joking and caressing
The man they long'd to wed,
Would sometimes set themselves to dressing
His party-colour'd head.
Each aiming to assimilate
Her lover to her own estate,
The older piecemeal stole
The black hair from his poll,
While eke, with fingers light,
The young one stole the white.
Between them both, as if by scald,
His head was changed from grey to bald.
'For these,' he said, 'your gentle pranks,
I owe you, ladies, many thanks.
By being thus well shaved,
I less have lost than saved.
Of Hymen, yet, no news at hand,
I do assure ye.
By what I've lost, I understand
It is in your way,
Not mine, that I must pass on.
Thanks, ladies, for the lesson.'

[22] Phaedrus, II.2: Aesop.


Old Mister Fox was at expense, one day,
To dine old Mistress Stork.
The fare was light, was nothing, sooth to say,
Requiring knife and fork.
That sly old gentleman, the dinner-giver,
Was, you must understand, a frugal liver.
This once, at least, the total matter
Was thinnish soup served on a platter,
For madam's slender beak a fruitless puzzle,
Till all had pass'd the fox's lapping muzzle.
But, little relishing his laughter,
Old gossip Stork, some few days after,
Return'd his Foxship's invitation.
Without a moment's hesitation,
He said he'd go, for he must own he
Ne'er stood with friends for ceremony.
And so, precisely at the hour,
He hied him to the lady's bower;
Where, praising her politeness,
He finds her dinner right nice.
Its punctuality and plenty,
Its viands, cut in mouthfuls dainty,
Its fragrant smell, were powerful to excite,
Had there been need, his foxish appetite.
But now the dame, to torture him,
Such wit was in her,
Served up her dinner
In vases made so tall and slim,
They let their owner's beak pass in and out,
But not, by any means, the fox's snout!
All arts without avail,
With drooping head and tail,
As ought a fox a fowl had cheated,
The hungry guest at last retreated.

Ye knaves, for you is this recital,
You'll often meet Dame Stork's requital.

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


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

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

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


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

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

[25] Phaedrus, III. 11.


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

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


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

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

* * * * *



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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

[9] Phaedrus, I. 30.


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

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

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

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


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

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

[12] Aesop.


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

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

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


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

[14] Aesop.


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

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

[15] Aesop.


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

[16] Aesop.


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

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

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


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

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

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

[18] Aesop.


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

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

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


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

[20] Aesop.


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

[21] Aesop.


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

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

[22] Aesop; and Corrozet.
[23] _Polyphemus_.--The Cyclop king: _vide_ Homer's Odyssey, Book IX.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

[28] Phaedrus, I. 11: Aesop.


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

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

* * * * *



To M. De Maucroix.[2]

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

[10] Aesop: Phaedrus, I. 2.


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

Whatever way you wend,
Consider well the end.

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


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

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


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

[14] Aesop.


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

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


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

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


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

[17] Aesop.


A fox, almost with hunger dying,
Some grapes upon a trellis spying,
To all appearance ripe, clad in

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