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The Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine

Part 6 out of 9

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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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


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.


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.

* * * * *



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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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]

[9] _Sir Nincom Periwig_.--The name in La Fontaine is Perrin Dandin,
which is also that of the peasant judge in Rabelais (Book III., ch.
41), and the judge in Racine's "Plaideurs" (produced in 1668).
Moliere's "George Dandin" (produced 1664), may also have helped La
Fontaine to the name. The last-mentioned character is a farmer, but,
like the others, he is a species of incapable; and the word dandin in
the old French dictionaries is given as signifying inaptness or
[10] The oyster and lawyer story is also treated in Fable XXI., Book I.
(_The Hornet and the Bees_).


A troutling, some time since,[12]
Endeavour'd vainly to convince
A hungry fisherman
Of his unfitness for the frying-pan.
That controversy made it plain
That letting go a good secure,
In hope of future gain,
Is but imprudence pure.
The fisherman had reason good--
The troutling did the best he could--
Both argued for their lives.
Now, if my present purpose thrives,
I'll prop my former proposition
By building on a small addition.
A certain wolf, in point of wit
The prudent fisher's opposite,
A dog once finding far astray,
Prepared to take him as his prey.
The dog his leanness pled;
'Your lordship, sure,' he said,
'Cannot be very eager
To eat a dog so meagre.
To wait a little do not grudge:
The wedding of my master's only daughter
Will cause of fatted calves and fowls a slaughter;
And then, as you yourself can judge,
I cannot help becoming fatter.'
The wolf, believing, waived the matter,
And so, some days therefrom,
Return'd with sole design to see
If fat enough his dog might be.
The rogue was now at home:
He saw the hunter through the fence.
'My friend,' said he, 'please wait;
I'll be with you a moment hence,
And fetch our porter of the gate.'
This porter was a dog immense,
That left to wolves no future tense.
Suspicion gave our wolf a jog,--
It might not be so safely tamper'd.
'My service to your porter dog,'
Was his reply, as off he scamper'd.
His legs proved better than his head,
And saved him life to learn his trade.

[11] Aesop.
[12] _A troutling_.--See Book V., Fable III.--Translator.


Look where we will throughout creation,
We look in vain for moderation.
There is a certain golden mean,
Which Nature's sovereign Lord, I ween,
Design'd the path of all forever.
Doth one pursue it? Never.
E'en things which by their nature bless,
Are turn'd to curses by excess.

The grain, best gift of Ceres fair,
Green waving in the genial air,
By overgrowth exhausts the soil;
By superfluity of leaves
Defrauds the treasure of its sheaves,
And mocks the busy farmer's toil.
Not less redundant is the tree,
So sweet a thing is luxury.
The grain within due bounds to keep,
Their Maker licenses the sheep
The leaves excessive to retrench.
In troops they spread across the plain,
And, nibbling down the hapless grain,
Contrive to spoil it, root and branch.
So, then, with, licence from on high,
The wolves are sent on sheep to prey;
The whole the greedy gluttons slay;
Or, if they don't, they try.

Next, men are sent on wolves to take
The vengeance now condign:
In turn the same abuse they make
Of this behest divine.

Of animals, the human kind
Are to excess the most inclined.
On low and high we make the charge,--
Indeed, upon the race at large.
There liveth not the soul select
That sinneth not in this respect.
Of "Nought too much," the fact is,
All preach the truth,--none practise.

[13] Abstemius.


From bowers of gods the bees came down to man.
On Mount Hymettus,[15] first, they say,
They made their home, and stored away
The treasures which the zephyrs fan.
When men had robb'd these daughters of the sky,
And left their palaces of nectar dry,--
Or, as in French the thing's explain'd
When hives were of their honey drain'd--
The spoilers 'gan the wax to handle,
And fashion'd from it many a candle.
Of these, one, seeing clay, made brick by fire,
Remain uninjured by the teeth of time,
Was kindled into great desire
For immortality sublime.
And so this new Empedocles[16]
Upon the blazing pile one sees,
Self-doom'd by purest folly
To fate so melancholy.
The candle lack'd philosophy:
All things are made diverse to be.
To wander from our destined tracks--
There cannot be a vainer wish;
But this Empedocles of wax,
That melted in the chafing-dish,
Was truly not a greater fool
Than he of whom we read at school.

[14] Abstemius.
[15] _Mount Hymettus_.--This was the mountain whence the Greeks got
fine honey.
[16] _Empedocles_.--A Pythagorean philosopher who asserted that he
had been, before becoming a man, a girl, a boy, a shrub, a bird, and
a fish. He is further credited with the vanity of wishing to be
thought a god, and hence of throwing himself into Mount Etna to
conceal his death. Unfortunately for the success of this scheme,
says one story, he convicted himself of suicide by inadvertently
leaving his slippers at the foot of the volcano.


How danger would the gods enrich,
If we the vows remember'd which
It drives us to! But, danger past,
Kind Providence is paid the last.
No earthly debt is treated so.
'Now, Jove,' the wretch exclaims, 'will wait;
He sends no sheriff to one's gate,
Like creditors below;'
But, let me ask the dolt,
What means the thunderbolt?

A passenger, endanger'd by the sea,
Had vow'd a hundred oxen good
To him who quell'd old Terra's brood.
He had not one: as well might he
Have vow'd a hundred elephants.
Arrived on shore, his good intents
Were dwindled to the smoke which rose
An offering merely for the nose,
From half a dozen beefless bones.
'Great Jove,' said he, 'behold my vow!
The fumes of beef thou breathest now
Are all thy godship ever owns:
From debt I therefore stand acquitted.'
With seeming smile, the god submitted,
But not long after caught him well,
By sending him a dream, to tell
Of treasure hid. Off ran the liar,
As if to quench a house on fire,
And on a band of robbers fell.
As but a crown he had that day,
He promised them of sterling gold
A hundred talents truly told;
Directing where conceal'd they lay,
In such a village on their way.
The rogues so much the tale suspected,
Said one, 'If we should suffer you to,
You'd cheaply get us all detected;
Go, then, and bear your gold to Pluto.'

[17] Aesop.


The cat and fox, when saints were all the rage,
Together went on pilgrimage.
Arch hypocrites and swindlers, they,
By sleight of face and sleight of paw,
Regardless both of right and law,
Contrived expenses to repay,
By eating many a fowl and cheese,
And other tricks as bad as these.
Disputing served them to beguile
The road of many a weary mile.
Disputing! but for this resort,
The world would go to sleep, in short.
Our pilgrims, as a thing of course,
Disputed till their throats were hoarse.
Then, dropping to a lower tone,
They talk'd of this, and talk'd of that,
Till Renard whisper'd to the cat,
'You think yourself a knowing one:
How many cunning tricks have you?
For I've a hundred, old and new,
All ready in my haversack.'
The cat replied, 'I do not lack,
Though with but one provided;
And, truth to honour, for that matter,
I hold it than a thousand better.'
In fresh dispute they sided;
And loudly were they at it, when
Approach'd a mob of dogs and men.
'Now,' said the cat, 'your tricks ransack,
And put your cunning brains to rack,
One life to save; I'll show you mine--
A trick, you see, for saving nine.'
With that, she climb'd a lofty pine.
The fox his hundred ruses tried,
And yet no safety found.
A hundred times he falsified
The nose of every hound.--
Was here, and there, and everywhere,
Above, and under ground;
But yet to stop he did not dare,
Pent in a hole, it was no joke,
To meet the terriers or the smoke.
So, leaping into upper air,
He met two dogs, that choked him there.

Expedients may be too many,
Consuming time to choose and try.
On one, but that as good as any,
'Tis best in danger to rely.


A man that loved,--and loved his wife,--
Still led an almost joyless life.
No tender look, nor gracious word,
Nor smile, that, coming from a bride,
Its object would have deified,
E'er told her doting lord
The love with which he burn'd
Was in its kind return'd.
Still unrepining at his lot,
This man, thus tied in Hymen's knot,
Thank'd God for all the good he got.
But why? If love doth fail to season
Whatever pleasures Hymen gives,
I'm sure I cannot see the reason
Why one for him the happier lives.
However, since his wife
Had ne'er caress'd him in her life,
He made complaint of it one night.
The entrance of a thief
Cut short his tale of grief,
And gave the lady such a fright,
She shrunk from dreaded harms
Within her husband's arms.
'Good thief,' cried he,
'This joy so sweet, I owe to thee:
Now take, as thy reward,
Of all that owns me lord,
Whatever suits thee save my spouse;
Ay, if thou pleasest, take the house.'
As thieves are not remarkably
O'erstock'd with modesty,
This fellow made quite free.

From this account it doth appear,
The passions all are ruled by fear.
Aversion may be conquer'd by it,
And even love may not defy it.
But still some cases there have been
Where love hath ruled the roast, I ween.
That lover, witness, highly bred,
Who burnt his house above his head,
And all to clasp a certain dame,
And bear her harmless through the flame.
This transport through the fire,
I own, I much admire;
And for a Spanish soul, reputed coolish,
I think it grander even than 'twas foolish.[19]

[18] Bidpaii.
[19] _'Twas foolish._--La Fontaine here refers to the adventure of
the Spanish Count Villa Medina with Elizabeth of France, wife of
Philip IV. of Spain. The former, having invited the Spanish court to
a splendid entertainment in his palace, had it set on fire, that he
might personally rescue the said lady from its flames.--Translator.


A man whose credit fail'd, and what was worse,
Who lodged the devil in his purse,--
That is to say, lodged nothing there,--
By self-suspension in the air
Concluded his accounts to square,
Since, should he not, he understood,
From various tokens, famine would--
A death for which no mortal wight
Had ever any appetite.
A ruin, crown'd with ivy green,
Was of his tragedy the scene.
His hangman's noose he duly tied,
And then to drive a nail he tried;--
But by his blows the wall gave way,
Now tremulous and old,
Disclosing to the light of day
A sum of hidden gold.
He clutch'd it up, and left Despair
To struggle with his halter there.
Nor did the much delighted man
E'en stop to count it as he ran.
But, while he went, the owner came,
Who loved it with a secret flame,
Too much indeed for kissing,--
And found his money--missing!
'O Heavens!' he cried, 'shall I
Such riches lose, and still not die?
Shall I not hang?--as I, in fact,
Might justly do if cord I lack'd;
But now, without expense, I can;
This cord here only lacks a man.'
The saving was no saving clause;
It suffer'd not his heart to falter,
Until it reach'd his final pause
As full possessor of the halter,--
'Tis thus the miser often grieves:
Whoe'er the benefit receives
Of what he owns, he never must--
Mere treasurer for thieves,
Or relatives, or dust.
But what say we about the trade
In this affair by Fortune made?
Why, what but that it was just like her!
In freaks like this delighteth she.
The shorter any turn may be,
The better it is sure to strike her.
It fills that goddess full of glee
A self-suspended man to see;
And that it does especially,
When made so unexpectedly.

[20] The story of this fable has been traced to the Epigrams of Ausonius
who was born at Bordeaux, and lived in the fourth century.


Sly Bertrand and Ratto in company sat,
(The one was a monkey, the other a cat,)
Co-servants and lodgers:
More mischievous codgers
Ne'er mess'd from a platter, since platters were flat.
Was anything wrong in the house or about it,
The neighbours were blameless,--no mortal could doubt it;
For Bertrand was thievish, and Ratto so nice,
More attentive to cheese than he was to the mice.
One day the two plunderers sat by the fire,
Where chestnuts were roasting, with looks of desire.
To steal them would be a right noble affair.
A double inducement our heroes drew there--
'Twould benefit them, could they swallow their fill,
And then 'twould occasion to somebody ill.
Said Bertrand to Ratto, 'My brother, to-day
Exhibit your powers in a masterly way,
And take me these chestnuts, I pray.
Which were I but otherwise fitted
(As I am ingeniously witted)
For pulling things out of the flame,
Would stand but a pitiful game.'
''Tis done,' replied Ratto, all prompt to obey;
And thrust out his paw in a delicate way.
First giving the ashes a scratch,
He open'd the coveted batch;
Then lightly and quickly impinging,
He drew out, in spite of the singeing,
One after another, the chestnuts at last,--
While Bertrand contrived to devour them as fast.
A servant girl enters. Adieu to the fun.
Our Ratto was hardly contented, says one.--

No more are the princes, by flattery paid
For furnishing help in a different trade,
And burning their fingers to bring
More power to some mightier king.[21]

[21] For Madame de Sevigne's opinion of this fable, see the Translator's


A noted thief, the kite,
Had set a neighbourhood in fright,
And raised the clamorous noise
Of all the village boys,
When, by misfortune,--sad to say,--
A nightingale fell in his way.
Spring's herald begg'd him not to eat
A bird for music--not for meat.
'O spare!' cried she, 'and I'll relate
'The crime of Tereus and his fate.'--
'What's Tereus?[23] Is it food for kites?'--
'No, but a king, of female rights
The villain spoiler, whom I taught
A lesson with repentance fraught;
And, should it please you not to kill,
My song about his fall
Your very heart shall thrill,
As it, indeed, does all.'--
Replied the kite, a 'pretty thing!
When I am faint and famishing,
To let you go, and hear you sing?'--
'Ah, but I entertain the king!'--
'Well, when he takes you, let him hear
Your tale, full wonderful, no doubt;
For me, a kite, I'll go without.'
An empty stomach hath no ear.[24]

[22] Abstemius; also Aesop.
[23] _What's Tereus?_--See story of Tereus Philomela and Progne, in
Ovid's _Metamorphoses_.--See also Fable XV., Book III., and Note.
[24] _An empty stomach hath no ear_.--Cato the Censor said in one of
his speeches to the Romans, who were clamouring for a distribution
of corn, "It is a difficult task, my fellow-citizens, to speak to
the belly, because it hath no ears."--Plutarch's _Life of Cato_
(Langhorne's ed.). "The belly has no ears, nor is it to be filled
with fair words."--Rabelais, Book IV., ch. 63.


'What! shall I lose them one by one,
This stupid coward throng?
And never shall the wolf have done?
They were at least a thousand strong,
But still they've let poor Robin[26] fall a prey!
Ah, woe's the day!
Poor Robin Wether lying dead!
He follow'd for a bit of bread
His master through the crowded city,
And would have follow'd, had he led,
Around the world. O! what a pity!
My pipe, and even step, he knew;
To meet me when I came, he flew;
In hedge-row shade we napp'd together;
Alas, alas, my Robin Wether!'
When Willy thus had duly said
His eulogy upon the dead
And unto everlasting fame
Consign'd poor Robin Wether's name,
He then harangued the flock at large,
From proud old chieftain rams
Down to the smallest lambs,
Addressing them this weighty charge,--
Against the wolf, as one, to stand
In firm, united, fearless band,
By which they might expel him from their land.
Upon their faith, they would not flinch,
They promised him, a single inch.
'We'll choke,' said they, 'the murderous glutton
Who robbed of us of our Robin Mutton.'
Their lives they pledged against the beast,
And Willy gave them all a feast.
But evil Fate, than Phoebus faster,
Ere night had brought a new disaster:
A wolf there came. By nature's law,
The total flock were prompt to run;
And yet 'twas not the wolf they saw,
But shadow of him from the setting sun.

Harangue a craven soldiery,
What heroes they will seem to be!
But let them snuff the smoke of battle,
Or even hear the ramrods rattle,
Adieu to all their spunk and mettle:
Your own example will be vain,
And exhortations, to retain
The timid cattle.

[25] Abstemius.
[26] _Robin_.--Rabelais, in his _Pantagruel_, Book IV., ch. 4, has Robin,
Robin Mouton, &c.

* * * * *



Address to Madame de la Sabliere.[1]

You, Iris, 'twere an easy task to praise;
But you refuse the incense of my lays.
In this you are unlike all other mortals,
Who welcome all the praise that seeks their portals;
Not one who is not soothed by sound so sweet.
For me to blame this humour were not meet,
By gods and mortals shared in common,
And, in the main, by lovely woman.
That drink, so vaunted by the rhyming trade,
That cheers the god who deals the thunder-blow,
And oft intoxicates the gods below,--
The nectar, Iris, is of praises made.
You taste it not. But, in its place,
Wit, science, even trifles grace
Your bill of fare; but, for that matter,
The world will not believe the latter.
Well, leave the world in unbelief.
Still science, trifles, fancies light as air,
I hold, should mingle in a bill of fare,
Each giving each its due relief;
As, where the gifts of Flora fall,
On different flowers we see
Alight the busy bee,
Educing sweet from all.
Thus much premised, don't think it strange,
Or aught beyond my muse's range,
If e'en my fables should infold,
Among their nameless trumpery,
The traits of a philosophy
Far-famed as subtle, charming, bold.
They call it new--the men of wit;
Perhaps you have not heard of it?[2]
My verse will tell you what it means:--
They say that beasts are mere machines;[3]
That, in their doings, everything
Is done by virtue of a spring--
No sense, no soul, nor notion;
But matter merely,--set in motion,
Just such the watch in kind,
Which joggeth on, to purpose blind.
Now ope, and read within its breast--
The place of soul is by its wheels possess'd.
One moves a second, that a third,
Till finally its sound is heard.
And now the beast, our sages say,
Is moved precisely in this way
An object strikes it in a certain place:
The spot thus struck, without a moment's space,
To neighbouring parts the news conveys;
Thus sense receives it through the chain,
And takes impression.--How? Explain.--
Not I. They say, by sheer necessity,
From will as well as passion free,
The animal is found the thrall
Of movements which the vulgar call
Joy, sadness, pleasure, pain, and love--
The cause extrinsic and above.--
Believe it not. What's this I hold?
Why, sooth, it is a watch of gold--
Its life, the mere unbending of a spring.
And we?--are quite a different thing.
Hear how Descartes--Descartes, whom all applaud,
Whom pagans would have made a god,
Who holds, in fact, the middle place
'Twixt ours and the celestial race,
About as does the plodding ass
From man to oyster as you pass--
Hear how this author states the case
'Of all the tribes to being brought
By our Creator out of nought,
I only have the gift of thought.'
Now, Iris, you will recollect
We were by older science taught
That when brutes think, they don't reflect.
Descartes proceeds beyond the wall,
And says they do not think at all.
This you believe with ease;
And so could I, if I should please.
Still, in the forest, when, from morn
Till midday, sounds of dog and horn
Have terrified the stag forlorn;
When he has doubled forth and back,
And labour'd to confound his track,
Till tired and spent with efforts vain--
An ancient stag, of antlers ten;--
He puts a younger in his place,
All fresh, to weary out the chase.--
What thoughts for one that merely grazes!
The doublings, turnings, windings, mazes,
The substituting fresher bait,
Were worthy of a man of state--
And worthy of a better fate!
To yield to rascal dogs his breath
Is all the honour of his death.
And when the partridge danger spies,
Before her brood have strength to rise,
She wisely counterfeits a wound,
And drags her wing upon the ground--
Thus, from her home, beside some ancient log,
Safe drawing off the sportsman and his dog;
And while the latter seems to seize her,
The victim of an easy chase--
'Your teeth are not for such as me, sir,'
She cries,
And flies,
And laughs the former in his face.

Far north, 'tis said, the people live
In customs nearly primitive;
That is to say, are bound
In ignorance profound:--
I mean the people human;
For animals are dwelling there
With skill such buildings to prepare
As could on earth but few men.
Firm laid across the torrent's course,
Their work withstands its mighty force,
So damming it from shore to shore,
That, gliding smoothly o'er,
In even sheets the waters pour.
Their work, as it proceeds, they grade and bevel,
Or bring it up to plumb or level;
First lay their logs, and then with mortar smear,
As if directed by an engineer.
Each labours for the public good;
The old command, the youthful brood
Cut down, and shape, and place the wood.
Compared with theirs, e'en Plato's model state
Were but the work of some apprentice pate.
Such are the beaver folks, who know
Enough to house themselves from snow,
And bridge, though they can swim, the pools.
Meanwhile, our kinsmen are such fools,
In spite of their example,
They dwell in huts less ample,
And cross the streams by swimming,
However cold and brimming!
Now that the skilful beaver,
Is but a body void of spirit,
From whomsoever I might hear it,
I would believe it never.

But I go farther in the case.
Pray listen while I tell
A thing which lately fell
From one of truly royal race.[4]
A prince beloved by Victory,
The North's defender here shall be
My voucher and your guaranty;
Whose mighty name alone
Commands the sultan's throne,
The king whom Poland calls her own.
This king declares (kings cannot lie, we hear)
That, on his own frontier,
Some animals there are;
Engaged in ceaseless war;
From age to age the quarrel runs,
Transmitted down from sires to sons;
(These beasts, he says, are to the fox akin;)
And with more skill no war hath been,
By highest military powers,
Conducted in this age of ours
Guards, piquets, scouts, and spies,
And ambuscade that hidden lies,
The foe to capture by surprise,
And many a shrewd appliance
Of that pernicious, cursed science,
The daughter of the Stygian wave,
And mother harsh of heroes brave,
Those military creatures have.
To chant their feats a bard we lack,
Till Death shall give us Homer back.
And should he such a wonder do,
And, while his hand was in, release
Old Epicurus' rival[5] too,
What would the latter say to facts like these?
Why, as I've said, that nature does such things
In animals by means of springs;
That Memory is but corporeal;
And that to do the things array'd
So proudly in my story all,
The animal but needs her aid.
At each return, the object, so to speak,
Proceeds directly to her store
With keenest optics--there to seek
The image it had traced before,
Which found, proceeds forthwith to act
Just as at first it did, in fact,
By neither thought nor reason back'd.
Not so with us, beasts perpendicular;
With us kind Heaven is more particular.
Self-ruled by independent mind,
We're not the sport of objects blind,
Nor e'en to instinct are consign'd.
I walk; I talk; I feel the sway
Of power within
This nice machine,
It cannot but obey.
This power, although with matter link'd,
Is comprehended as distinct.
Indeed 'tis comprehended better
In truth and essence than is matter.
O'er all our arts it is supreme.
But how doth matter understand
Or hear its sovereign lord's command?
Here doth a difficulty seem:
I see the tool obey the hand;
But then the hand who guideth it;
Who guides the stars in order fit?
Perhaps each mighty world,
Since from its Maker hurl'd,
Some angel may have kept in custody.
However that may be,
A spirit dwells in such as we;
It moves our limbs; we feel its mandates now;
We see and know it rules, but know not how:
Nor shall we know, indeed,
Till in the breast of God we read.
And, speaking in all verity,
Descartes is just as ignorant as we;
In things beyond a mortal's ken,
He knows no more than other men.
But, Iris, I confess to this,
That in the beasts of which I speak
Such spirit it were vain to seek,
For man its only temple is.
Yet beasts must have a place
Beneath our godlike race,
Which no mere plant requires
Although the plant respires.

But what shall one reply
To what I next shall certify?
Two rats in foraging fell on an egg,--
For gentry such as they

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