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The Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine

Part 5 out of 9

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

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

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

XI.--THE CURATE AND THE CORPSE.[15]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XIII.--THE TWO COCKS.[18]

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

[18] Aesop.

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

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

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

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

XV.--THE FORTUNE-TELLERS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

XVIII.--AN ANIMAL IN THE MOON.[26]

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

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

* * * * *

BOOK VIII.

I.--DEATH AND THE DYING.[1]

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

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

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

[1] Abstemius.

II.--THE COBBLER AND THE FINANCIER.

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

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

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

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

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

[3] Aesop; also Bidpaii, and Lokman.

IV.--THE POWER OF FABLES.

To M. De Barillon.[4]

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

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

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

V.--THE MAN AND THE FLEA.[11]

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

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

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

[11] Aesop.

VI.--THE WOMEN AND THE SECRET.[12]

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

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

[12] Abstemius.

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

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

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

VIII.--THE JOKER AND THE FISHES.[13]

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

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

[13] Abstemius.

IX.--THE RAT AND THE OYSTER[14]

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

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

[14] Abstemius; also Aesop.

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

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

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

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

XI.--THE TWO FRIENDS.[17]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[19] Aesop.

XIII.--THYRSIS AND AMARANTH.

For Mademoiselle De Sillery.[20]

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

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

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

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

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

XIV.--THE FUNERAL OF THE LIONESS.[22]

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

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

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

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

[22] Abstemius.

XV.--THE RAT AND THE ELEPHANT.

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

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

XVI.--THE HOROSCOPE.

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

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

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

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

[23] _And who is he_?--By Jupiter, "the soulless clod," is of course
meant the planet, not the god.
[24] _The war_.--See note to Fable XVIII., Book VII.

XVII.--THE ASS AND THE DOG.[25]

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

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

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

Thus selfishness we reprobate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

XIX.--THE USE OF KNOWLEDGE.[29]

Between two citizens
A controversy grew.
The one was poor, but much he knew:
The other, rich, with little sense,
Claim'd that, in point of excellence,
The merely wise should bow the knee
To all such money'd men as he.
The merely fools, he should have said;
For why should wealth hold up its head,
When merit from its side hath fled?
'My friend,' quoth Bloated-purse,
To his reverse,
'You think yourself considerable.
Pray, tell me, do you keep a table?
What comes of this incessant reading,
In point of lodging, clothing, feeding?
It gives one, true, the highest chamber,
One coat for June and for December,
His shadow for his sole attendant,
And hunger always in th' ascendant.
What profits he his country, too,
Who scarcely ever spends a sou--

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