Translated into English Verse by Walter Thornbury.
NEW YORK, LONDON, AND PARIS:
CASSELL & COMPANY
An Essay on the Life and Works of Against Those who are Hard to Please 56
Jean de la Fontaine xiii The Council held by the Rats . 61
The Life of ^sop, the Phrygian . xxxiii The Wolf pleading against the Fox
Dedication to Monseigneur the Dauphin li BEFORE THE APE 63
Preface lv The Middle-aged Man and the Two
To Monseigneur the Dauphin . lxiii Widows 65
The Grasshopper and the Ant . i The Fox and the Stork 67
The Raven and the Fox 4 The Lion and the Gnat 70
The Frog that wished to make Herself The Ass laden with Sponges, and THE
AS BIG AS THE OX 6 Ass LADEN WITH SALT 73
The Two Mules 8 The Lion and the Rat. 75
The Wolf and the Dog ii The Dove and the Ant 78
The Heifer, the She-goat, and the Lamb, The Astrologer who let himself FALL
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE LlON . 14 into the Well 80
The Wallet 16 The Hare and the Frogs 84
The Swallow and the Little Birds . 18 j The Two Bulls and the Frog . 86
The Town Rat and the Country Rat 23 1 The Peacock complaining to Juno 89
The Man and his Image . . 25 The Bat and the Two Weasels 9i
The Dragon with many Heads, and the The Bird wounded by an Arrow 93
Dragon with many Tails 2 7 The Miller, his Son, and the Ass 94
The Wolf and the Lamb 30 The Cock and the Fox 100
The Robbers and the Ass . 32 The Frogs who asked for a King 103
Death and the Woodcutter 35 The Dog and her Companion 107
Simonides rescued by the Gods . 38 The Fox and the Grapes 110
Death and the Unhappy Man . 42 The Eagle and the Beetle . hi
The Wolf turned Shepherd 45 The Raven who wished to imitate THE
The Child and the Schoolmaster . 47 Eagle 115
The Pullet and the Pearl. 49 The Wolves and the Sheep 117
The Drones and the Bees . 5o The Cat changed into a Woman 120
The Oak and the Reed S4 Philomel and Progne . 124
The Lion and the Ass .... PAGE 126
The Cat and the Old Rat . 128
k Will interpreted by ALsop l33
The Lion in Love 138
The Fox and the Goat 142
The Shepherd and the Sea H5
The Drunkard and his Wife 147
King Gaster and the Members . 149
The Monkey and the Dolphin . 152
The Eagle, the Wild Sow, and the Cat. 156
The Miser who lost his Treasure . 159
The Gout and the Spider . 163
The Eye of the Master 166
The Wolf and the Stork . . 170
The Lion defeated by Man 172
The Swan and the Cook 173
The Wolf, the Goat, and the Kid . 175
The Wolf, the Mother, and the Child 177
The Lion grown Old 181
The Drowned Woman .... 183
The Weasel in the Granary 185
The Lark and her Little Ones with THE
Owner of a Field .... 187
The Fly and the Ant .... 192
The Gardener and his Master . 195
The Woodman and Mercury 198
The Ass and the Little Dog 204
Man and the Wooden Idol. 207
The Jay dressed in Peacocks Plumes 209
The Little Fish and the Fisherman 212
Battle between the Rats and Weasels 214
The Camel and the Drift-wood 217
The Frog and the Rat ... 219
The Old Woman and her Servants . 223
The Animals sending a Tribute TO
The Horse wishing to be Revenged ON
the Stag 229
The Fox and the Bust 231
The Horse and the Wolf . 234
The Saying of Socrates . 236
The Old Man and his Children . . 238
The Oracle and the Impious Man . . 241
The Mountain in Labour . . . . 243
Fortune and the Little Child . . . 245
The Earthen Pot and the Iron Pot 24.7
Tb-e Hares Ears................... 249
The Fox with his Tail cut off . 251
The Satyr and the Passer-by . . . 253
The Doctors.......................... 256
The Labouring Man and his Children 258
The Hen with the Golden Eggs . . 260
The Ass that carried the Relics . . 263
The Serpent and the File .... 264
The Hare and the Partridge . . . 266
The Stag and the Vine . . . . 268
The Lion going to War . . . .271
The Ass in the Lions Skin . . . . 273
The Eagle and the Owl . . . -275
The Shepherd and the Lion . . -279
The Lion and the Hunter . . . 282
Phcebus and- Boreas....................284
The Bear and the Two Friends . . 288
Jupiter and the Farmer . . . .291
The Stag viewing Himself in the Stream 293
The Cockerel, the Cat, and the Little
Rat ........ 296
The Fox, the Monkey, and the other
The Mule that boasted of his Family 301
The Old Man and the Ass . . . -303
The Countryman and the Serpent . . 306
The Hare and the Tortoise . . . 308
The Sick Lion and the Fox . . *311
The Ass and his Masters . . . *314
The Sun and the Frogs . . . .316
The Carter stuck in the Mud . . *318
The Dog and the Shadow . . . 321
The Bird-catcher, the Hawk, and the
The Horse and the Ass ' - . . -324
The Young Widow........................329
Discord................................. 333 I
The Animals sick of the Plague . . 335
The Rat who retired from the World . 340
The Man badly Married .... 344
The Maiden . .... 347 |
The Vultures and the Pigeons . ... 354
The Court of the Lion .... 35s
The Milk-maid and the Milk-pail . . 361
The Curate and the Corpse . . . 365
The Man who runs after Fortune, and
the Man who waits for her . . 3^7
The Two Fowls.....................372
The Coach and the Fly . . . .375
The Ingratitude and Injustice of Men
An Animal in the Moon . . . .381
The Cobbler and the Banker . . . 39
The Cat, the Weasel, and the Little
The Lion, the Wolf, and the Fox . . 397
The Head and the Tail of the Serpent 401
The Dog which carried round his neck
his Masters Dinner .... 404 ;
Death and the Dying Man. . . . 408
The Power of Fables....................412 1
The Bear and the Amateur of Gardening 416
The Man and the Flea .... 420
The Woman and the Secret . . .422
Tircis and Amaranth..................425
The Joker and the Fishes .... 429
The Rat and the Oyster . . . -431
The Two Friends......................434
The Pig, the Goat, and the Sheep . . 436
The Rat and the Elephant . 438
The Funeral of the Lioness . . ..441
The Bashaw and the Merchant . . 445
The Torrent and the River . .455
The Ass and the Dog . ... 458
The Two Dogs and the Dead Ass . .461
The Advantage of being Clever . . 466
The Wolf and the Hunter . . . 469
Jupiter and the Thunderbolts . . . 474
The Falcon and the Capon . . .478
The Two Pigeons...................481
Education ... .... 487
The Madman who sold Wisdom . . . 49
The Cat and the Rat...............492
Democritus and the Abderanians . . 496
The Oyster and its Claimants . . . 5*
The Fraudulent Trustee . . . . 53
Jupiter and the Traveller. . . . 59
The Ape and the Leopard . . . .512
The Acorn and the Gourd. . . . 515
The School-boy, the Pedant, and the
The Cat and the Fox................521
The Sculptor and the Statue of Jupiter 525
The Mouse metamorphosed into a Girl 528
The Monkey and the Cat . . . .534
The Wolf and the Starved Dog . . 536
The Wax Candle.....................53S
Not Too Much.....................540
The Two Rats, the Fox, and the Egg . 543
The Cormorant and the Fishes . 557
The Husband, the Wife, and the Robber 561
The Shepherd and the King . . 564
The Two Men and the Treasure . . 571
The Shepherd and his Flock -573
The Kite and the Nightingale. . 575
The Fish and the Shepherd who played
on the Clarionet..............578
The Man and the Snake .... 580
The Tortoise and the Two Ducks . . 585
The Two Adventurers and the Talisman
The Miser and his Friend .
The Wolf and the Peasants
The Swallow and the Spider .
The Partridge and the Fowls .
The Dog whose Ears were cut .
The Two Parrots, the Monarch, and his
The Peasant of the Danube
The Lioness and She-bear ....
The Merchant, the Nobleman, the Shep-
herd, and the Kings Son
The Old Man and the three Young
The Gods as Instructors of Jupiters Son
The Owl and the Mice ....
The Companions of Ulysses
The Farmer, the Dog, and the Fox
The Dream of an Inhabitant of Mogul.
The Two Goats.........................
The Lion, the Ape, and the Two Asses .
The Wolf and the Fox ....
The Sick Stag.....................
The Cat and the Two Sparrows
The Miser and the Ape ....
To the Duke of Burgundy .
The Old Cat and the Young Mouse
The Bat, the Bush, and the Duck .
The Eagle and the Magpie.
The Quarrel of the Dogs and the Cats ;
AND, ALSO, THAT OF THE CATS AND THE
Love and Folly.......................
The Wolf and the Fox ....
The Crab and its Daughter
The Forest and the Woodman .
The Fox, the Flies, and the Hedge-
The Hawk, the King, and the Falcon
The Fox and the Turkeys .
The Crow, the Gazelle, the Tortoise.
and the Rat......................
The English Fox......................
The Fox, the Wolf, and the Horse
The League of the Rats ....
A Scythian Philosopher ....
Daphnis and Alcimadura ....
The Elephant and Jupiters Monkey
The Madman and the Philosopher .
The Frogs and the Sun ....
The Arbitrator, Almoner, and Hermit .
LIST OF FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS,
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT , m . PACE 2
THE TWO MULES .... . , 9
THE SWALLOW AND THE LITTLE BIRDS . . . . 19
THE TOWN RAT AND THE COUNTRY RAT . 22
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB . . 29
THE ROBBERS AND THE ASS . . 34
DEATH AND THE WOODCUTTER . 37
THE WOLF TURNED SHEPHERD 44
THE OAK AND THE REED . 53
THE COUNCIL HELD BY THE RATS . . 60
THE LION AND THE GNAT 69
THE LION AND THE RAT 76
THE HARE AND THE FROGS 83
THE PEACOCK COMPLAINING TO JUNO 88
THE MILLER, HIS SON, AND THE ASS . 97
THE FROGS WHO ASKED FOR A KING 104
THE FOX AND THE GRAPES 109
THE WOLVES AND THE SHEEP 118
PHILOMEL AND PROGNE . 123
THE CAT AND THE OLD RAT *3
THE LION IN LOVE 139
THE SHEPHERD AND THE SEA . *44
THE MONKEY AND THE DOLPHIN 153
THE MISER WHO LOST HIS TREASURE . 160
THE EYE OF THE MASTER *67
THE WOLF, THE MOTHER, AND THE CHILD *78 189 2 00
THE LARK AND HER LITTLE ONES
THE WOODMAN AND MERCURY 21 I
THE LITTLE FISH AND THE FISHERMAN * *
THE TWO RATS, THE FOX, AND THE EGG ....
THE CORMORANT AND THE FISHES . . . .
THE SHEPHERD AND THE KING .....
THE FISH AND THE SHEPHERD WHO PLAYED ON THE CLARIONET
THE TWO ADVENTURERS AND THE TALISMAN . .
THE RABBITS ........
THE LION . . . .
THE PEASANT OF THE DANUBE .
THE OLD MAN AND THE THREE YOUN*G MEN . . .
TPIE OWL AND THE MICE . . . .
THE COMPANIONS OF ULYSSES .....
THE TWO GOATS ........
THE SICK STAG
THE EAGLE AND THE MAGPIE .
LOVE AND FOLLY ...
THE FOREST AND THE WOODMAN .
THE FOX AND THE TURKEYS ....
THE ENGLISH FOX ...
THE LEAGUE OF THE RATS . . . *
DAPHNIS AND ALCIMADURA .....
THE ARBITRATOR, ALMONER, AND HERMIT
THE OLD WOMAN AND HER SERVANTS
THE HORSE AND THE WOLF
FORTUNE AND THE LITTLE CHILD .
THE DOCTORS . - .
THE HEN WITH THE GULDEN EGGS
THE STAG AND THE VINE
THE EAGLE AND THE OWL .
THE BEAR AND THE TWO FRIENDS
THE STAG VIEWING HIMSELF IN THE STREAM
THE COUNTRYMAN AND THE SERPENT .
THE SICK LION AND THE FOX
THE CARTER STUCK IN THE MUD
THE YOUNG WIDOW .
THE ANIMALS SICK OF THE PLAGUE .
THE MAIDEN . . . . .
THE VULTURES AND THE PIGEONS
THE MILK-MAID AND THE MILK-PAIL
THE TWO FOWLS .
AN ANIMAL IN THE MOON .
THE FORTUNE-TELLER .
THE COBBLER AND THE BANKER .
THE LION, THE WOLF, AND THE FOX ,
THE DOG AND HIS MASTERS DINNER
THE BEAR AND THE AMATEUR OF GARDENING
TIRCIS AND AMARANTH
THE RAT AND THE ELEPHANT .
THE BASHAW AND THE MERCHANT
THE TORRENT AND THE RIVER .
THE TWO DOGS AND THE DEAD ASS
THE WOLF AND THE HUNTER .
THE TWO PIGEONS . . .
THE MADMAN WHO SOLD WISDOM
THE OYSTER AND ITS CLAIMANTS .
JUPITER AND THE TRAVELLER .
THE CAT AND THE FOX
THE MONKEY AND THE CAT
THE TWO RATS, THE FOX, AND THE EGG .
THE CORMORANT AND THE FISHES
THE SHEPHERD AND THE KING
THE FISH AND THE SHEPHERD WHO PLAYED
THE TWO ADVENTURERS AND THE TALISMAN
THE RABBITS .
THE LION . . .
THE PEASANT OF THE DANUBE
THE OLD MAN AND THE THREE YOUN*G MEN
TPIE OWL AND THE MICE
THE COMPANIONS OF ULYSSES
THE TWO GOATS ....
THE SICK STAG .
THE EAGLE AND THE MAGPIE .
LOVE AND FOLLY ....
THE FOREST AND THE WOODMAN
THE FOX AND THE TURKEYS
THE ENGLISH FOX ....
THE LEAGUE OF THE RATS
DAPHNIS AND ALCIMADURA
THE ARBITRATOR, ALMONER, AND HERMIT
AN ESSAY ON THE LIFE AND WORKS
JEAN DE LA FONTAINE.
I 'HERE are some writers the facts about whom can never be entirely
told, because they are inexhaustible, and speaking of whom we
do not fear to be blamed for repetition, because, though well known,
they furnish topics which never weary. La Fontaine is one of
this class. No poet has been praised oftener, or by more able critics,
and of no poet has the biography been so frequently written, and with
such affectionate minuteness. Nevertheless, it is certain that there will
yet arise fresh critics and new biographers, who will be as regardless
as ourselves of the fact that the subject has been so frequently
enlarged upon. And why, indeed, should we refuse to ourselves,
or forbid to others, the pleasure of speaking of an old friend of
our childhood, whose memory is always fresh and always dear?
This truly worthy man was born in Chateau-Thierry, a little town
of Champagne, where his father, Charles de la Fontaine, was a
supervisor of woods and forests. His mother, Fransoise Piloux, was
the daughter of a mayor of Coulommiers. An amiable but careless
child, he was lazy in his studies, and certainly did not display, by the
direction of his earlier inclinations, the germs of his future genius.
At twenty years of age, after the perusal of some religious works, he
formed the idea that his vocation was the Church, and entered the
seminary of Saint Magloire, where, however, he remained only ore year.
Iiis example was followed by his brother Claude, with this difference,
that the latter persevered to the end. On quitting the seminary,
La Fontaine, in the paternal mansion, led that life of idleness and
pleasure which so frequently, especially in the provinces, enervates
young men of family. To bring him back to a more orderly course
of life, his father procured him a wife, and gave him the reversion of
his office. He was then twenty-six years of age, and the demon of
poetry had not yet taken possession of him. La Fontaine never
hurried himself about anything.
The accidental recitation in his presence of an ode by Malherbe
aroused in his soul, which had hitherto been devoted to pleasure and
idleness, a taste for poetry. He read the whole of Malherbes writings
with enthusiasm, and endeavoured to imitate him. Malherbe alone
would have spoiled La Fontaine, had not Pintrel and Maucroix, two*
of his friends, led him to the study of the true models. La Fon-
taine himself has left a confession of these first flights of his muse.
Plato and Plutarch, amongst the ancients, were his favourite authors ;
but he could read them only by the aid of translations, as he had
never studied Greek. Horace, Virgil, and Terence, whose writings he
could approach in the original, also charmed him. Of modern authors
his favourites were Rabelais, Marot, De Periers, Mathurin, Regnier,
and DUrfe, whose Astraea was his especial delight.
Marriage had not by any means fixed his inconstant tastes. Marie
Ilericart, whom he had been induced to marry in 1647, was endowed
with beauty and intellect, but was unsupplied with those solid
qualities, love of order, industry, and that firmness of character
which might have exercised a wholesome discipline over her
husband. Whilst she was reading romances, La Fontaine sought
amusement away from home, or brooded either over his own poems
or those of his favourite authors. The natural consequence was, that
the affairs of the young people soon fell into disorder; in addition
to this, when La Fontaines father died, he left our poet an inheritance
encumbered with mortgages, which had been the only means of paying-
debts, and preserving the family estate intact; these became fresh
sources of embarrassment to our poet, who being, as may well be
supposed, anything but a man of business, incapable of self-denial,
and unassisted by his wife, soon, as he himself gaily expressed it,
devoured both capital and income, and in a, few years found himself
La Fontaine seems to have confined his duties, as supervisor of
woods and waters, to simply taking long rambles under the venerable
trees of the forests submitted to his care, or to enjoying prolonged
slumbers on the verdant banks of murmuring brooks. And that this
was the case we may reasonably suppose, since at sixty years of age
he declared that he did not know what foresters meant by round
timber, ornamental timber, or bois de touche.
His soul was wrapped up in poetry. His first poems were what
might be called album verses, and could scarcely have been understood
beyond Ch&teau-Thierry. These verses, however, obtained so favour-
able a reception, that at length he ventured to attempt a comedy. But,
as the faculty of construction had been denied him, he only adapted
one of Terences plays, changing the names of the characters, and
taking certain liberties with the situations. The piece which he had
selected, the Eunuchus, was very unsuited to the boards of the French
stage, and he never attempted to get it produced ; but he published
it, and it was by means of this mediocre, although neatly versified
work, that his name first became known to the public, when he had
already entered his thirty-third year.
It was about this period that one of his relations, J. Jannart, a
counsellor of the king, presented the poet to Fouquet, for whom
Jannart acted as deputy in the Parliament of Paris. The Surintendant,
partial to men of letters, gave La Fontaine a cordial reception, and
bestowed upon him a liberal pension. La Fontaine became, not a mere
accessory, but one of the most valued elements of the royal luxury of
Fouquets house, or, rather, court; and it was through his protege, at a
later period, that Fouquet received the only consolation that soothed his
disgrace. La Fontaine, established as poet-in-ordinary to Fouquet,
received a pension of a thousand livres, on condition that he furnished,
once in every three months, a copy of laudatory verses. He was hence-
forth a guest at a perpetual round of fetes; his eyes were dazzled,
his heart was moved, and his mind at last awoke. The years which he
passed in the midst of this voluptuous magnificence were years of
enchantment, of which he has left traces in the Songe de Vaux, the
earliest indication of a talent which was to develop into genius. The
first efforts of his muse at this period were laid at the shrine of
gratitude, but grief more happily inspired him, for the Elegy to the
Nymphs of Vaux, the subject matter of which was the disgrace of the
Surintendant, raised him to the front rank amongst the masters of his
art. Up to this time La Fontaine had been only a pleasant, lively,
and ingenious versifier; but on this occasion he proved himself a
true poet, and the lines which we have just named are still regarded
as amongst the choicest productions of the sort in the French
language. La Fontaine did not merely bewail, in the fall of Fouquet,
the loss of his own hopes and pleasures, but the misfortunes of the
one friend to whom he was gratefully attached, and of whose brilliant
qualities he had the highest admiration. The emotion which he
expressed was no fleeting one, for, some years afterwards, when passing'
by Amboise, the faithful friend desired to visit the apartment in which
Fouquet had endured the first period of his imprisonment. He could
not enter it, but paused on the threshold, weeping bitterly; and it was
only at the approach of night that he could be induced to leave
Our poets success amongst the crowd of brilliant men and dis-
tinguished women who formed Fouquets court, could never be under-
stood, if we gave full credence to those stories of odd eccentricities,
simplicities, and blunders of which he has so frequently been made the
hero. It cannot be denied that he was frequently a dreamer, absorbed
in his own thoughts, and too apt to be credulous and absent in mind ;
but the greeting which was accorded to him, and the eagerness with which
his acquaintance was courted in such a place, are sufficient evidences
that he could be a charming companion when he pleased. He could
be abstracted enough when surrounded by uncongenial spirits; he opened
his heart only to those who pleased him: but on his friends he lavishly
bestowed his joyous but refined wit, and his delightful bonhomie. The
inborn carelessness of his nature rendered him averse to everything
like effort; he was dumb to those who knew not how to touch the key-
note of his soul; to such he was present, indeed, in the body, but his
soul was cold and inharmonious. It may even be added, that reverie
with him was a species of politeness by which he was wont to conceal
his weariness. On such occasions he doubtless fled to the companion-
ship of his fabulous beasts, although he refrained from saying so.
Abstraction was to La Fontaine a means of becoming independent,
and it is not, therefore, very surprising that he should have allowed
people to attribute to him, in an exaggerated degree, a defect which he
found so useful.
Fouquets disgrace threw La Fontaine once more into that family
life for the earnest and monotonous duties of which he had now grown
more than ever unfitted. A son had been born to him, and this might
have been supposed to attach him to his home; but the truth is, that
children, whom he has for so many generations amused, were regarded
by La Fontaine as his natural enemies, and he never let slip any
occasion of expressing this opinion. The little people, as he called
them, were always obnoxious to him. It must be admitted that they are
importunate, noisy, ever clamorous for small attentions, and they appear
tyrannical to the last degree, in the eyes, at least, of those who have no
warm affection for them. And it must also be admitted that La
Fontaine was frequently their rival; for he always desired to be, and
was, the spoilt child of the house, the child whose caprices were ever
humoured, whose tastes were ever consulted. His life was, indeed, one
long period of childhood. He arrived at manhood, became grey, and
grew old, without ceasing to be a child ; and to understand him rightly
we must remember this fact. It is the key to, and some excuse for,
that neglect of all serious duties which we should have to severely
blame in him, if we applied to his case the rules of rigorous morality.
Constituted as he was, La Fontaine would naturally seize every
opportunity of quitting his family and that Ch&teau-Thierry which he
now regarded as a species of tomb. To distract himself from his grief,
whilst apparently clinging to it more closely, he followed to Limoges
his relation Jannart, who had been exiled by lettre de cachet with Madame
Fouquet, to whom he served as secretary and steward. Our poet has
written a narrative of this journey in a series of letters to his wife,
interspersed with pretty verses, and abounding in vivacity. His stay
at Limoges was short, and we soon after find him dividing his time
between Paris and Ch&teau-Thierry, sometimes alone, and sometimes
with Madame de La Fontaine, who at first frequently accompanied
him in his excursions. The expense of these frequent journeys was
naturally calculated to add to the disorder of his affairs; but he troubled
himself little on this score, and it was some consolation that his own
property alone was melting away, and that his wife would by-and-by
be able to live by herself on property devoted to her own use. Let us
also remark, in passing, that he did not altogether neglect that son of
his who, at a later period, hq describes as a charming boy, in that short
and singular interview which has been so frequently discussed, and to
whose education he attended until he was relieved of that duty by the
generosity of the Procureur-General, De Harlay.
To this period must be referred his intimacy with Racine, also a
Champenois, and a brother poetan intimacy which was due to the
good offices of Moliere, whom La Fontaine had known, and con-
sequently admired and loved, when residing with Fouquet. His
acquaintance with Racine led again to that with Boileau and Moliere
Chapelle, that incurable promoter of orgies, that wine-bibbing Anacreon,
who was always at war with our four poets, especially towards the
conclusion of their suppers. Boileau, the Severe, endeavoured some-
times to curb his joyous comrades, but with scant success, and it is
on record that on a certain occasion Chapelle got drunk during the
course of an impromptu sermon of Boileaus on the virtues of tempe-
rance. Our good friends led a joyous life, which, however, was nearly
having a tragic termination, since once, after a dinner at Auteuil,
over deep potations of wine, they were led to become philosophic in so
melancholy a fashion, that they resolved to drown their several griefs in
the Seine, and would have done so, had not Moliere happily remarked
that it would be more heroic to perform the deed on the morrow.
This joyous fraternity soon broke up. Moliere was driven away by
an ill-judged action on the part of Racine. The royal favour induced
Boileau and Racine to become more circumspect; Chapelle gave himself
up to inordinate debauchery; and La Fontaine, whilst retaining his
friendships, went to dream and amuse himself elsewhere.
Whilst this intimacy lasted, La Fontaine frequently took Racine
and Boileau to Chateau -Thierry, whither he went from time to
time to sell a few acres of land, in order to enable him to balance
his receipts against his expenditure. The amiable Maucroix, another
Epicurean, arrived in his turn to complete the revel which was now
carried on at Rheims, to which city he gladly enticed his dear La
Fontaine, who desired nothing better than to follow him thither, for,
as he has himself told us,
Of all fair cities do I most love Rheims,
At once the beauty and the pride of France.
Madame de la Fontaine soon became weary of this life of dis-
sipation, and ceased to follow her volatile husband to Paris. The
separation between .the spouses was effected, if not without disputes,
at any rate without any legal process. Racine frequently urged his
friend to become reconciled to his wife, and it was in compliance with
such counsels that he made that celebrated journey to Chateau-Thierry,
from which he returned without having even seen Madame de La
Fontaine. The anecdote is well known. Well, have you seen your
wife? Are you reconciled ? I went to see her; but she was in retire-
ment. Ah how charmingly naive! exclaim the biographers ; what a
delightful illustration of the poets habitual bonhomie and abstraction!
Alas! it is nothing of the kind. La Fontaine knew what he was
about. He had set out in compliance with his friends wish, and, in
fulfilment of his promise, he had gone to his house door; but, having
found no one at home, he had quietly returned, only too glad that he
had redeemed his promise, and avoided an interview which he dreaded.
Then, returning to his friends, he put them off with a childish excuse,
at which he would not be the last to laugh with all his heart. The
whole incident is quite in accordance with the mans character. His
weak resolution induced him at first to yield, but the natural buoyancy'
of his spirit recovered itself, and triumphed in the end.
La Fontaine was now more than forty years of age, and, with the
exception of his frigid imitation of Terences comedy, and his admirable
elegy on Fouquet, he had produced nothing which proved that he was
anything more than a pleasant and elegant versifier. We must remark,
however, that he obtained at this time the position of Gentleman-in-
Waiting to the Dowager Duchess of Orleans, widow of Gaston, brother
of Louis XIII. The little court of the Luxembourg, at least, if not
that of the grand Kings, was thrown open to La Fontaine, and he
was received there on terms of the pleasantest intimacy. The office
to which he was appointed was not merely honorary, and it justified
his acceptance of liberalities of which he was not a little in need. The
Duchess of Bouillon also became a patroness of our poet, whom she
had met at Ch&teau-Thierry; and he was now engaged by this princess
of easy manners and voluptuous disposition, to apply his talents to the
imitation in verse of those somewhat too gallant tales which Ariosto
and Boccaccio borrowed from our Trouveres. This advice, eagerly
followed, opened up to La Fontaine a new vein of his genius, and
threw him upon apologue as one of the means of poetic expression.
Joconde was his first effort in this style; and this tale, freely rendered
from Ariosto, was the cause of a literary discussion, in which Boileau
broke a lance in the service of his friend with another imitator against
whom La Fontaine was then pitted, and who has since been forgotten :
it was like Pradon being compared to Racine. The success of this
first effort encouraged the author to make fresh ones, and he speedily
produced new tales, as ingenious and indecent as the first. Such
fame as Fontaine acquired by these tales must not be dilated on; for,
although there was nothing in the corrupt ingenuity of the pleasant
poet that was deliberately vicious, and although he was sincerely
astonished that, on account of a few rather free narratives, he should
be accused of corrupting the innocence of youth, we must nevertheless
hold that the accusation was well founded.
Recognised and appreciated as La Fontaines talents now were, he
would doubtless have been the object of some of those distinguishing
marks of favour which Louis XIV. was ever ready to bestow upon
men of genius, had not his irregular mode of life, and the character of
some of his later productions, offended the susceptibilities of the
monarch and those of the severe Colbert, the administrator of his
liberalities. That La Fontaine should have once been the friend of
Fouquet is not sufficient* to account for this denial of royal favour,
since Pelisson, the eloquent defender of the Surintendant, was himself
at this period the object of distinguished royal patronage. The fall of
Fouquet was, indeed, so terribly complete and hopeless, that his enemies
could well afford to allow his friends to shelter themselves under the
cloak of amnesty. To say, as some have done, that La Fontaine was
neglected because he belonged to the party of the opposition, is idle;
for, in the first place, le bonne homme had not the courage to resist the
majority, and in the second place, there was nothing he more eagerly
desired than to be one of the Court poets. Indeed, he seized every
opportunity of celebrating the glories of the reign of Louis the Great.
The real truth is, that he was treated coldly on account of the
licentiousness, equally great, both of his verses and his mode of life,
at a time when he would merely have had to promise amendment for
the future, to have been a participator in the royal benefits, and to have
been made a member of the Academy.
La Fontaine had not a conscience entirely pure, and, accordingly,
strove to hide his misdoings under cover of works perfectly irreproachable.
Uninvited, he now proposed to himself the task of amusing and
instructing the Dauphin, whose education had then commenced. It was
an honourable method of paying homage to the Court, and of atoning
for past errors. The elegance of Phaedrus and the simplicity of ALsop
had already fascinated himhe was ambitious of imitating them ; but
although thoroughly skilled in the art of narrating, he never suspected
that he was about to eclipse his models. He set himself below
Phaedrus, and Fontenelle has declared that his doing so was one of
his blundersa piquant word, which we may translate in this instance
as a sincere and even exaggerated admiration for consecrated names.
A feeling of and a .taste for perfection are, moreover, the surest curb-
reins to self-love. The playfulness, delicacy, and ingenuity of La
Fontaines spirit, as well as the natural simplicity of his character,
preserved him from the illusions of vanity, and caused him even to
misconceive the real value of his genius. It was necessary, then, in the
first place, that his true vocation snould be revealed to him, and actual
fame alone could show that his talent had raised him to the first rank.
His first collection of fables, arranged in six books, appeared in
1668, under the modest title of zEsops Fables: Translated into Verse by
M. de la Fontaine. The work was dedicated to the Dauphin, and this
dedication reveals to us the poets secret intention in the publication
of the volume. At a later period we find him taking a more direct part
in the education of the grandson of Louis XIV., through the medium
of Fenelon. And now, as we have followed so many others in judging
of these inimitable compositions, we remark how slowly La Fontaines
talent developed itself, the better to attain the highest state of maturity.
If the poet, on the one hand, careless as to fortune, allowed his patrimony
to melt away, let us observe how much time, pure air, and sunlight he
has given to the peaceful cultivation of his genius. The tree has been
covered with branches, the leaves in due season have adorned them,
and then fruits the most delicious have appeared craving to be gathered.
Oh, careless great one! full well had you the right to spurn all vulgar
cares; to devour, as you have said, your capital together with your
revenue, since you stored up for yourself another capital, which will
give you immortal wealth !
La Fontaines improvidence may be attributed in some degree to
his friends, who seem never to have failed him in any necessity.
When death had deprived him of the protection of the Duchess of
Orleans, he was immediately adopted, so to speak, by the Duchess de
ia Sabliere, whose generosity provided for all his wants, and whose
delicate kindness anticipated all his wishes. It was, doubtless, the
gratitude with which this lady inspired him, that drew from La
Fontaines heart those verses, which so many others have since recited
in a spirit of bitterness
Oh, what it is to have a faithful friend, &c.
And here we have another of those names on which one loves to
dwell so fondly. Madame de la Sablihre was a genuine patroness
of philosophers and men of letters. Her house was always open
to them, and her fortune encouraged them to prosecute their labours.
Sauveur, Roberval, and Bernier experienced her discreet liberality,
which disguised itself only that it might be the more freely bestowed.
She loved knowledge, and possessed it without the desire of display
she had a passion for doing good, yet she employed an innocent art
in concealing it. The devotion which she displayed in an unholy
love was, for this woman, otherwise so irreproachable, only a transition
to those transports of sincere piety which occupied the closing years
of her life. La Fontaine was, up to the seventy-second year of his
life, the familiar genius of Madame de la Sablieres mansion, and passed
more than twenty years in it in complete tranquillity, at first as one
of a most select circle of wits and philosophers, and afterwards as an
independent host, doing himself the honours of the house to a rather
miscellaneous circle of visitors, which he gathered round him during
the prolonged religious seclusions of his patroness, who latterly devoted
herself entirely to care for the safety of her soul.
La Fontaine had no longer any need to secure fresh protectors.
His destiny was secured, for, like the rat in the fable,
Provisions and lodgings 1 what wanted he more ?
We may now, therefore, be as tranquil on his account as he was
himself, merely observing that he took advantage of this security to
deliver himself up with a species of fury to the demon of poetry,
which never deserted him. His first fables were received with favour,
and when he published others he met with a good fortune which is
accorded to but few poets, for even the later ones increased his
fame. However, this, his favourite species of writing, had not com-
pletely absorbed his attention; the romance of Psyche, and some
theatrical pieces, occupied his time at intervals. Psyche, which still
amuses us, amused him also much. He worked at it when he wished
to rest from other labours, and also at length completed it. The
Songe de Vaux was less happy; but how could he recall the
enchantments and fairy lore of that chateau where Fouquet had passed
the last years of his life in hopeless captivity ? Versailles had sur-
passed it in magnificence, and La Fontaine employed his descriptive
talents in describing the palace whose increasing marvels, which struck
every eye, he attached incidentally to the plot of his allegorical fable,
already complicated with interlocutors, who may be easily recognised
under feigned names as Molibre, Boileau, Racine, and La Fontaine.
The publication of this romance, of which the prose is elegant, and
which also contains many excellent verses, took place soon after that
of the first fables. It was received with much favour, and Molifere,
assisted by Corneille and De Quinault, extracted from it an opera,
the music of which was composed by Lulli.
La Fontaines dramatic attempts were, it must be confessed,
seldom happy; but Furetiere certainly exaggerates when he tells us
that managers never ventured to give a second representation of his
pieces, for fear of being pelted. However this may be, the theatre
had a great attraction for La Fontaine, and the society of actors a
still greater. When Madame de la Sablieres drawing-room appeared
too serious to him, he would go to amuse himself at Champmesle's,
and, whilst Racine shaped the talents of this great actress, La Fon-
taine assisted her husband in the composition of. mediocre comedies,
in which we can find but few traces of the poets skill. It is on this
account that he has been made to share the responsibility of the
authorship of Ragotin, a dull imitation of the Roman Comique.
There is little more, indeed, to be said in favour of Je vous prends
sans Verts, which has been attributed to him, and which we may
surrender to Champmesld, who will not gain much, while La Fontaine
would certainly lose by it. Of all the pieces put on the stage by
Champmesld, there is only one that we should wish to be able, with
a clear conscience, to assign to La Fontaine, and that is Le
Florentin, an amusing little comedy, which contains one scene
worthy of Moliere. The share which La Fontaine took, or is
asserted to have taken, in the composition of these comedies, is
difficult to determine. What there can be no doubt of is, that at
one time he formed the design of writing a tragedy, and this,
perhaps, at the instigation of Racine, who could never refrain from
a joke, especially at the expense of his friends. Achilles was the
hero selected by our poet; but he prudently paused after having
made a commencement.
This brings us to the mention of La Fontaines one great, solitary,
and brief fit of anger. Always ready to yield to the advice of his
friends, he imprudently listened to Lulli, who had importuned him to
produce, at a very short notice, the libretto of an opera. The music
was to be marvellous, the Court would applaud to the skies the author
and the composer, and the poet would be free of the theatre, and have
acquired all the rights of dramatic authorship. What a temptation
was this La Fontaine courageously set himself to work under the
guidance of Lulli, who urged him forward, and day by day made fresh
suggestions. The poet readily obeyed the spur, and even yielded to
the sacrifice of some of his verses; but he had scarcely finished, when
he discovered that his perfidious employer had passed over, with all
his musical baggage, to the Proserpine of Quinault. We may judge of
the poets rage. The four months labour utterly lost; the nights
passed without sleep; the treachery of the instigation; the heartless
abandonment! Ah! how many causes of complaint had the poet
against this traitor! La Fontaine could not contain himself, and
wrote a satire, compound of gall and bile, in which he complains of
having been made a fool of. This fit of passion, however, did not last
long. Madame de Thianges brought about a reconciliation between
the culprit and the victim, and that without much difficulty, for, after
all, Lulli was an excellent companion, and La Fontaine was incapable
of nursing anger long. To be angry was a trouble to him, and con-
sequently he never kept up a sense of ill-feeling for any length of
time. His friends might become estranged from or quarrel with each
other; but he remained on the best of terms with them, and saw
them separately. One might have thought that he had taken for his
motto the verse of the old poet, Gamier
To love I am plighted, but never to hate.
The poetical excursions of La Fontaine out of his own domain
added nothing to his renown, and were scarcely perceived amidst the
rays of his glory as a fabulistthe title by which he is known to
posterity; and it may be added, that the Fable, as it is fashioned by
La Fontaine, is one of the happiest creations of the human mind. It
is, properly speaking, a charm, as he has said, for in it all the resources
of poetry are enclosed in one frame. La Fontaines apologue is
connected with the epopee by the narrative, with the descriptive style
by his pictures, with the drama by the play of various personages, and
the representation of various characters, and with didactic poetry by
the precepts which he inculcates. Nor is this all; for the poet
frequently speaks in his own person. The supreme charm of his
compositions consists in the vitality with which they are imbued.
The illusion is complete, and passes from the poet who has been first
subjected to it, to the spectator, whom it entrances. Homer is the
only poet who possesses this characteristic in the same degree. La
Fontaine has always before his eyes all that he describes, and his
description is an actual painting. His spirit, gently moved by the
spectacle which at first it enjoys alone, reproduces it in vivid pictures.
That simplicity for which he has been praised exists but in the nature
of the images which he has chosen as the best means of representing
his thoughts, or, rather, his emotions. Properly speaking, we do not
so much read La Fontaines fables as gaze at them ; we do not know
them by heart, but we have them constantly before our eyes Let us
take as an example Death and the Woodman, since on this subject
two great poets have weakly contended against our fabulist. In this
laughable rivalry Boileau and J. B. Rousseau are killed by the spirit
of abstraction ; whilst La Fontaine triumphs by means of the image
which glows before the eyes and penetrates the heart. If we add to
the constant attractiveness of living reality the pleasure caused by the
representation of humanity under animal symbols, we shall have before
us the two active principles of the universal interest excited by La
Fontaines fablesI mean illusion, which excites the imagination; and
allusion, which has a reduplicate action on the mind.
We do not pretend to assert that there were no French fabulists in
France before La Fontaine. The Trouveres were fabulists, and one of
the most remarkable specimens of the literature of the middle ages, the
Romance of the Fox, is a genuine study of feudal society, in the
guise of personages selected from the animal kingdom. The resemblance
of men to animals in this work is complete, and this strange epopee
derives its interest from the allusion, which was so remarkable a
characteristic of La Fontaines fables. But our poet never drew from
this abundant source, and was also unaware that Marie de France in
the thirteenth century had adopted, in imitation of ^Esop, the simplicity
of treatment which he himself had surpassed, and that other poets
of the same period had not only treated of similar subjects, but had
written verses on them, which he reproduced in the full confidence that
they were original. La Fontaine drew his materials directly from the
Greek, the Latin, or the Oriental. ^Esop, Phaedrus, and Pilpay were his
models; but it must be observed that he might have found amongst
French writers guides to that perfection which he alone has attained.
P. Blanchet, in LAvocat Patelin, has inserted the fable of The Crow
and the Fox, to the first of whom he has given the name of Maitre,
adopted by La Fontaine. Clement Marot wrote a little drama, full of
grace and playfulness, on the subject of the fable of The Rat and
the Lion; and Regnier has illumined with his genius the oft-told
story of The Wolf and the Horse. La Fontaine knew no other
predecessors, amongst modern poets, than the three above mentioned,
and he was at no pains to imitate them. In spite of some few
scattered similarities between his writings and theirs, La Fontaine
was, on the whole, completely original.
La Fontaines originality does not consist solely in the particular
bent of his imagination, but also in his language. It is true that his
style bears the impress of the purity and elegance of the language of his
age, and is characterised by that finish which is common to all the great
writers of his time; but there is also a peculiar richness, suppleness, and
naturalness about his idiom. There is, indeed, a Gallic tone in his
writings, which is to be found in the works of no other authors of the
same period, and which, though derived from old sources, gives to his
works a surprising air of novelty. The use of old words and phrases,
which he has revived, is a genuine conquest over the lapse of time, and a
convenient method of setting forth ideas which would have been unsuited
to the over-strained dignity of classic language. Marot, Rabelais, and
Bonaventure des Periers, all contributed to enable La Fontaine to make
use of the best colloquial language that has ever been employed by any
writer; but La Fontaines thefts are never discoverable; they blend with
such exquisite effect with his own ideas, that they seem rather to be
reminiscences than robberies. It is in this way that he has robbed the
ancients without betraying himself, and that Horace, Virgil, and Plato,
even, have furnished him with happy phrases, which have been obdurate
to the efforts of all their translators; phrases which La Fontaine has
unconsciously appropriated. His brain took them as they fell in with
the current of his thought, and they flowed on with it as though from
the same source. Virgil may discover his frigus captabis opacum in
Gouter lOmbre et le Frais Horace, his Ol imitatores, servum pecus
in Quelques Imitateurs sot Betail, je lAvoue; and, again, his at nostri
proavi in Nos Aieux, Bonnes Gens. But if either Virgil or Horace
were to meet with La Fontaine, they would neither exclaim against
him as a traitor nor a thief, but only hail him as a brother poet.
La Fontaine was permitted to present his second collection of fables
to Louis XIV., and obtained a privilege with respect to its publication
which was almost unique ; a eulogium on the work being included in
its authorisation. Our poet at this period assumed a most discreet
air, and out of regard, doubtless, for his patroness, avoided all occasion
for scandal. Another, and perhaps a stronger reason was, that he
cherished a secret ambition of becoming a member of the Academy.
Inspired by this hope, he prevailed on himself so far as to praise
Colbert, who had been the vindictive means of the fall of Fouquet. The
La Fontaine had to endure, but it was a particularly sharp one. To
style the most inoffensive of men a monster of perfidy was the
slightest of the onslaughts of the rancorous Abbe of Chalivoix. May
Heaven preserve us all from the vengeance of soured friends, for there
is nothing to equal their venom and malice!
La Fontaine found himself mixed up in another not less animated
Academical quarrel, one in which his opponents did not display so
great an absence of courtesy. I refer to the controversy between the
ancient and modern schools, which was revived in full Academy by
Christopher Perrault. Boileau was as eager in the matter as Racine.
La Fontaine enrolled himself in their ranks, with less of partisanship,
but equal decision. Thus, the three best instances that-the panegyrist
of the moderns could have employed in support of his position, were
found ranged against him. The turn which the dispute took is
singular indeed. Those who were really the rivals of antiquity declared
themselves in its favour, while writers of mediocrity, who had much
less personal interest in the question than they themselves imagined,
proclaimed with fervour the superiority of the moderns. Saint-Sorlin
had begun the battle. On Perraults signal the weapons were snatched
up once more, and Lamotte-Houdard continued the war. Strange
champions .of progress in letters! whom the absurdity of the contrast
between their pretensions on behalf of their school and the little merits
of themselves, its examples, have almost alone saved from oblivion. In
fact, the only thing which remains of the least interest in the bulky
files of this controversy is our poets admirable epistle to the learned
Huet, at the time Bishop of Soissons.
As long as La Fontaine was under the watchful eye of Madame
de la Sabliere, he was guilty of nothing worse than mere peccadilloes;
but as soon as she had closed her saloonhaving been abandoned by
the Marquis de la Fareand had given herself up to the practice of
the most austere devotion, the old infant, whom she had left without
a guardian, took advantage of his independence precisely as any
school-boy might have done. The princes of the house of Vendfime,
who amused themselves in the Temple like real Templars, invited
him to their festivals, and led him on by their example. Fresh seduc-
tions enticed him to an improper indulgence in pleasures suited
only to a time of life far different from his own. It is sad to have
illustrious fraternity, it must be observed, had given him some intima-
tion that it was willing to elect him, and entreated him to act in such
a manner that the election might be unanimous. The goodwill of the
Academy was so decided, that, at the death of Colbert, it preferred the
fabulist to Boileau, who had the support of the royal favour. But a
delay was necessary. The Academys choice was neither annulled nor
confirmed; the final decision being delayed until the death of another of
the immortals had created a fresh vacancy, and Boileau and La Fontaine
entered the Academy side by side; Boileau as soon as elected, and La
Fontaine after a years delay. As we have already said, he had per-
formed his purgatory, and Louis XIV. had been willing to believe that
he would henceforth be discreet. We shall see, however, that La
Fontaine had only strength enough to promise, and that he was a
living example of the refrain of one of his most charming ballads
A promise is one thingthe keeping another.
The desire to become a member of the Academy had been with
La Fontaine a passion. He was attracted to the honour as well by his
friendship for his comrades as by his love for literature. He rendered
himself noticeable by the constancy with which he frequented the
Academy, always joining its sittings in time to receive his fee
for attendance. One day he was late, and, strict as the rule was, the
members present, who knew that this little weekly payment was about
all the pocket money their comrade enjoyed, proposed that the rule for
that occasion should be relaxed; but La Fontaine was inflexible. Never-
theless, this act of heroism did not prevent Furetibre, in the course
of his quarrel with the Academy, from stigmatising La Fontaine as a
jetonnier. It is well known why this lexicographical abbd, as bilious as
reforming grammarians mostly are, entered upon a campaign against
his comrades, and how his obstinacy and evil deeds, although he was
really in the right, caused his exclusion from the Academy. Fontaine,
either through inadvertence or from a feeling of esprit de corps, which
is more probably the case, had deposited the fatal black ball for the
exclusion of his obstinate friend. The consequence was, that Furetiere
pursued him with implacable animosity, and showered upop the head
of the good old fabulist more than his share of epigrams, which were
rather venomous than witty. It was the only attack of this sort that
to record these weaknesses on the part of our poet, but we have, at
least, the consolation of knowing that they were expiated by a most
A serious illness at length warned La Fontaine that it was time
for him to refrain from the pursuit of pleasure, and to contemplate
the approach of death. He had never, even in the midst of his
wildest dissipation, failed in respect for religion : he had neither
insulted nor neglected it. The easy morals of men and women
of the world in the seventeenth century were by no means
a systematic revolt against religious principles. Such persons were
quite conscious that they were offending against that which is right,
and had no idea of maintaining the contrary. The most licentious
of them intended to repent some day. Where such a tone of feeling
prevails, a change of life need not be despaired of. It must be
acknowledged that La Fontaine was slow to make such a change;
but when he did make it, he returned completely to that fervent piety
which had led him to resolve in his youth to adopt the sacred calling.
Racine, who had long since discarded the brief errors of his youth,
nursed his friend during this illness, and procured his reconciliation
with the Church. It was he, when at the sick mans pillow, to
whom La Fontaine naively proposed to distribute in alms the price
which he was to receive for certain copies of a new edition of his
Tales. However, his illness grew daily more serious, and a
young vicar of Saint Roch, the Abbe Poujet, was charged with the
duty of giving the final direction to Fontaines penitence. He found
him in the best frame of mind, and La Fontaine not only consented
to disavow and apologise for his literary offences before a deputation
of the Academy, but also promised, should he survive, to write only
on moral or religious subjects ; and, finally, agreed to sacrifice to the
scruples of his director, and the Sorbonne, a comedy in verse, which
was about to be represented, and which the poet loved as the child
of his old age. This sacrifice was truly meritorious, for it was not
accomplished without many regrets. No doubt could exist as to the
sincerity of his conversion. La Fontaine accordingly received the last
sacrament; and when a rumour was spread abroad that he was
dead, it was declared that he had died as a saint. This rumour of
his departure, however, was not well founded, for health had returned
with peace of soul, and he was yet allowed time to prove, by the
rigorous practice of the duties of a Christian, the sincerity of his
repentance. Whilst following all the phases of this solemn prepa-
ration for death, I am astonished and saddened by the fact that I can
behold around the sick mans couch academicians, clergy, and crowds
of friends, but neither wife nor child.
While the illustrious and henceforth Christian guest of Madame
de la Sabliere was recovering his health, his patroness had died at the
Incurables, to which she had retired. La Fontaine had scarcely regained
his health, when he had to leave the mansion which had afforded him
an asylum for more than twenty-two years; he was on the point of
quitting it when he met M. dHervart, who had come to propose that
he should go with him to his hotel in the Rue Pl&triere. La Fontaines
answer is well known. He accepted the offer.
Which of them loved the other the better ?
It was in this magnificent abode, adorned by the pencil of Mignard,
that La Fontaine passed in peace the two years which yet remained to
him of life. He still visited the Academy, but he went more frequently
to church ; he put a few psalms into verse, paraphrased the Dies Irce,
and even yet occasionally found time for the composition of fresh
fables. It was in this way that Fenelon was able to give him a share
in the education of the young Duke of Burgundy, who furnished
subjects which the good old poet put into verse with an infantine
delight. The preceptor and his royal pupil rivalled each other in
delicate attentions towards the amiable old man, who had not lost by
his conversion either his good temper or his wit. Thanks to this high
protection, to the vigilance of friendship and the consolation of religion,
we shall be able to say of him when he shall have closed his eyes,
His end was as calm as the close of a summer day.
La Fontaine passed away gently, after a few weeks of extreme
weakness, on the 13th of February, 1695, in the seventy-fourth year of
his age. Racine saw him die with extreme regret, and Fenelon, deeply
affected, expressed in exquisite terms the admiration of his con-
temporaries. Let us quote the last sentences of this brief funeral
oration : Read him, and then say whether Anacreon be more grace-
fully playful; whether Horace has adorned morality with more varied
and more attractive ornaments; whether Terence has painted the
manners of mankind with more nature and truth; and finally,
whether Virgil himself is more touching or more harmonious.' We
shall not seek for any further homage to his genius; but, as regards
his character, we obtain a precious testimony, which has hitherto been
unknown to his biographers. On learning of the death of his old
friend, Maucroix wrote these touching lines: My very dear and
faithful friend, M. de La Fontaine, is dead. We were friends for
more than fifty years; and I thank God that he allowed our great
friendship to survive to a good old age without any interruption or
diminution, and that I am able sincerely to say, that I have also
tenderly loved him, as much at the last as at the first. God, in his
merciful wisdom, has thought fit to take him to his own holy repose.
His soul was the most sincere and candid that I have ever met with,
and was totally free from anything like guile. I believe that he never
told a falsehood in his life.
LIFE OF iESOP, THE PHRYGIAN.
li 7"E have no certain records concerning the births of either Homer
* ^ or yÂ£sop; and scarcely any important circumstance is known
respecting their lives: which is somewhat strange, since history readily
fathers facts far less interesting and useful. Many destroyers of
nations, many ignoble princes, too, have found chroniclers of the most
trifling particulars of their lives, and yet we are ignorant of the most
important of those of Homer and ^Esopthat is to say, of the two
persons who have most deserved well of posterity : for Homer is not
only the father of the gods, but also of all good poets; whilst ^Esop
seems to me to be one of those who ought to be reckoned amongst
the wise men for whom Greece is so celebrated, since he taught true
wisdom, and taught it with more skill than is employed by those
who lay down mere definitions and rules. Biographies of these two
great men have certainly been written, but the best critics regard both
these narratives as fabulous, and particularly that written by Planudes.
For my own part I cannot coincide in this criticism; for as Planudes
lived in an age when the remembrance of circumstances respecting
yÂ£sop might well be still kept alive,* I think it is probable that he had
learnt by tradition the particulars he has left us concerning him. Enter-
taining this belief, I have followed him, suppressing nothing which he
has said of ^Â£sop,f save such particulars as have appeared to me either
too puerile or else wanting in good taste.
yÂ£sop was a Phrygian, a native of a town called Amorium, and was
born about the fifty-seventh Olympiad, some two centuries after the
foundation of Rome. It is hard to say whether he had to thank or to
complain of Nature; for whilst she gave him a keen intelligence, she
also afflicted him with a deformed body and ugly faceso deformed and
so ugly, indeed, that he scarcely resembled a man ; and, moreover, she
had almost entirely deprived him of the use of speech. Encumbered
by such defects as these, if he had not been born a slave, he could
scarcely have failed to become one; but at the same time his soul ever
remained free and independent of the freaks of fortune.
The first master whom he had sent him to labour in the fields, either
because he thought him unfitted for anything else, or because he wished
to avoid the sight of so disagreeable an object. It happened, on a
* The chronology of our worthy La Fontaine is here at fault, for between the times of HSsop and
Planudes there was an interval of nearly twenty centuries; ^Esop having flourished in the sixth century-
before Christ, and Planudes having lived in the fourteenth century of the Christian era.
f This life of iEsop, composed by a monk of* the fourteenth century, is a legend which has replaced
history by disfiguring it. If we confine ourselves exclusively to the testimonies of the ancients, we shall
be able to tell in a few words all that has come down to us that is at all likely to be true respecting the
life of iEsop. Although various authors have attributed his birth-place in turn to Mesembria in Thrace,
to Samos, and to Sardis in Lydia, it is almost certain that he was born in Phrygia, either at Amorium, or in
another city of the same province named Cotisium. The deformity which has been attributed to him is
simply an exaggeration of a certain ugliness of countenance; and as he also stammered, he has been
declared to have been almost dumb. The first portion of his life was passed in slavery, at first under
the Lydian philosopher Xantus, and then under Iadmo at Samos, where he had for a companion the
celebrated courtesan, Rhodope. Having been freed by Iadmo, he went to the court of Croesus, where
he enjoyed great favour. Employed by this prince to convey his presents to the temple at Delphi, and
certain liberalities to the inhabitants, the perfidy and resentment of the people, whom he had not deemed
worthy of his masters gifts, were the cause of his death. He was accused of having stolen a sacred
vase which had been treacherously concealed amongst his goods. Both gods and men avenged his death.
His journeys to Babylon and in Egypt are pure inventions. If we may believe Plutarch, he was present
at the banquet of the Seven Wise Men at Corinth. The contradictory accounts given by authors as
to the place of his birth may be explained by his many journeys; for he has been said to have been
bom wherever he resided. It will be seen by this brief sketch, that the life of iEsop by Planudes is
not a pure invention, and that we may say with respect to it
However great the lie may be,
Therein some grains of truth we see/
certain occasion, that this master, on paying a visit to his country
house, was presented by a peasant with some figs, which he found so
good that he had them carefully locked up, giving directions to his
butler, who was named Agathopus, to bring them to him when he
should leave the bath. It chanced that Aisop had occasion to visit the
mansion at this time, and as soon as he had entered it, Agathopus took
advantage of the opportunity to share the figs with some of his friends,
and then throw the blame of the theft on Aisop, never supposing that
he would be able to defend himself from the charge, as he not only
stammered, but appeared to be an idiot. The punishments inflicted on
their slaves by the ancients were very cruel, and this was an aggravated
theft. Poor Aisop threw himself at his masters feet, and making
himself understood as well as he could, he begged that his punish-
ment might be deferred for a few moments. This favour having been
accorded him, he fetched some warm water, and having drunk it in his
masters presence, thrust his finger down his throat. He vomited, and
nothing came up but the water as it went down. Having thus proved
his own innocence, he made signs that the others should be compelled to
do as he had done. Every one was astonished, scarcely believing that
Aisop could have devised such a scheme. Agathopus and his com-
panions in the theft drank the water and thrust their fingers down their
throats, as the Phrygian had done, and straightway the figs, still
undigested, re-appeared with the water. By this means Aisop proved
his innocence, and his accusers were punished for their theft and malice.
On the following day, when the master had set off for town, and
Aisop was at his usual work, some travellers who had lost their way
entreated him, in the name of hospitable Jove, to show them their right
road to the town. Upon this, Aisop first prevailed upon them to repose
for a time in the shade, and then, after having refreshed them with a
slight collation, became himself their guide, not leaving them until he
had put them well on their right road. The good people raised their
hands to heaven, and besought Jupiter that he would not leave this
charitable act unrewarded. Aisop had scarcely left them, when, overcome
with heat and with weariness, he fell asleep. During his slumber he
dreamt the goddess Fortune appeared before him, and, having untied
his tongue, bestowed upon him that art of which he may be termed the
author. Startled with delight at such a.dream, he at once awoke, and,
leaping up, exclaimed, What is this ? my voice is free, and I can pro-
nounce the words plough, rake, and, in fact, everything I choose!
This miracle was the cause of his changing masters, for a certain
Zenas, who acted as steward on the estate, and who superintended the
slaves, having beaten one outrageously for a fault which did not merit
such severe punishment, Esop could not refrain from reproving him,
and threatened to make known his bad conduct. Zenas, with the
purpose of anticipating Esop and avenging himself upon him, went to
the master and told him a prodigy had happened in his housethat
the Phrygian had recovered the use of speech, but that the wretch only
made use of his gift to blaspheme and say evil things of his master.
The latter believed him, and went beyond this, for he gave Esop to
Zenas, with liberty to do what he liked with him. On returning to the
fields, Zenas was met by a merchant, who asked him whether he would
sell him some beast of burden. I cannot do that, said Zenas ; but I
will sell you, if you like, one of our slaves and then sent for Esop.
On seeing Esop the merchant said, Is it to make fun of me that you
propose to sell me such a thing as that ? One would take him for an
ape. Having thus spoken, the merchant went off, half grumbling and
half laughing at the beautiful object which had just been shown him.
But Esop called him back, and said, Take courage and buy me, and
you will find that I shall not be useless. If you have children who
cry and are naughty, the very sight of me will make them quiet; I
shall serve, in fact, as a real old bogy. This suggestion so amused
the merchant, that he purchased Esop for three oboli, and said to him,
laughing, The gods be praised I have not got hold of any great
prize; but then on the other hand I have not spent much money.
Amongst other goods this merchant bought and sold slaves : and
as he was on his way to Ephesus to offer for sale those that he had,
such things as were required for use on the journey were laid on the
backs of each slave in proportion to his strength. Esop prayed that,
out of regard to the smallness of his stature, and the fact that he was
a new comer, he might be treated gently; his comrades replied that
he might refrain from carrying anything at all, if he chose. But as
Esop made it a point of honour to carry something like the rest, they
allowed him to select his own burden, and he selected the bread-basket,
which was the heaviest burden of all. Every one believed that he had
done this out of sheer folly ; but at dinner-time the basket was lightened
of some of its load; the same thing happened at supper, then on the
following day, and so on; so that on the second day he walked free of
any burden, and was much admired for the keenness of his wit.
As for the merchant, he got rid of his slaves, with the exception of
a grammarian, a singer, and ALsop, whom he intended to expose for sale
at Samos. Before taking them to the market-place he had the two first
dressed as well as he could, whilst Aisop, on the other hand, was only
clad in an old sack, and placed between his two companions to set
them off. Some intending purchasers soon presented themselves, and
amongst others a philosopher named Xantus. He asked of the gram-
marian and the singer what they could do. Everything, they replied ;
on which Aisop laughed in a manner which may be well imagined,
and, indeed, Planudes asserts that his grin was so terrible that the
bystanders were almost on the point of taking flight. The merchant
valued the singer at a thousand oboli, the grammarian at three
thousand, and said that whoever first purchased one of the two should
have the other thrown in. The high price of the singer and the gram-
marian disgusted Xantus, but, that he might not return home without
having made some purchase, his disciples persuaded him to buy that
little make-believe of a man who had laughed with such exquisite
grace. He would be useful as a scarecrow, said some; as a buffoon,
said others. Xantus allowed himself to be persuaded, and consented
to give sixty oboli for ALsop, but before he completed the bargain
demanded of him, as he had of his comrades, for what work he was
fitted; to which .Esop replied, For nothing, as his two companions
had monopolised all possible work. The clerk of the market, taking
the droll nature of the purchase into consideration, graciously excused
Xantus from paying the usual fee.
Xantus had a wife of very delicate tastes, who was extremely
particular as to the style of persons she allowed to be about her.
Xantus knew, therefore, that to present his new slave to her in the
ordinary way would be to excite not only her ridicule but her anger.
He resolved, accordingly, to make the presentation a subject of
pleasantry, and spread a report through the mansion that he had
purchased a young slave as handsome as ever was seen. Having
heard this, the young girls who waited on the mistress were ready to
tear each ocher to pieces for the sake of having the new slave as her
own particular servant; and their astonishment at the appearance of
the new-comer may well be imagined. One hid her face in her hands,
another fled, and a third screamed. The mistress of the house, for her
part, said that she could very well see that this monster had been
brought to drive her away from the house, and that she had long
perceived that the philosopher was tired of her. Word followed word,
and the quarrel at length became so hot that the lady demanded her
goods, and declared that she would return to her parents. Xantus,
however, by means of his patience, and ^Esop by means of his wit,
contrived to arrange matters. The lady resigned her project of insisting
upon a divorce from bed and board, and admitted that she might
possibly in time become accustomed to even so ugly a slave.
I have omitted many little circumstances in which AEsop displayed
the liveliness of his wit; for although they all serve as proofs of the
keenness of his mind, they are not sufficiently important to be recorded.
We will merely give here a single specimen of his good sense and of
his masters ignorance. The latter on a certain occasion went to a
gardeners to choose a salad for himself; and when the herbs had been
selected, the gardener begged the philosopher to satisfy him with
respect to something which concerned him, the philosopher, as much as
it concerned gardening in general, and it was this: that the herbs
which he planted and cultivated with great care did not prove so
valuable as those which the earth produced of itself without any
thought. Xantus attributed the whole thing to the will of Providence,
as persons are apt to do when they are puzzled. yEsop having over-
heard the conversation, began to laugh, and having drawn his master
aside, advised him to say that he had made so general a reply because
it was not suited to his dignity to answer such trivial questions, but that
he would leave its solution to his slave-boy, who would doubtless satisfy
the inquirer. Then, Xantus having gone to walk at the other end of
the garden, zEsop compared the garden to a woman who, having children
by a first husband, should espouse a second husband who should have
children by a first wife. His new wife would not fail to form feelings
of aversion for her step-children, and would deprive them of their due
nourishment for the sake of benefiting her own. And it was thus with
the earth, which adopted only with reluctance the productions of labour
and culture, and reserved all her tenderness and benefits for her own
productions alonebeing a step-mother to the former, and a passionately
fond mother of the latter. The gardener was so delighted with this
answer, that he offered kEsop the choice of anything in his garden.
Some time after this a great difference took place between Xantus
and his wife. The philosopher, being at a feast, put aside certain
delicacies, and said to kEsop, Carry these to my loving pet; upon
which kEsop gave them to a little dog of which his master was very
fond. Xantus, on returning home, did not fail to inquire how his wife
liked his present, and as the latter evidently did not understand what
he meant, kEsop was sent for to give an explanation. Xantus, who
was only too willing to find a pretext for giving his slave a thrashing,
asked him whether he had not expressly said, Carry those sweet things
from me to my loving pet ? To which kEsop replied, that Xantuss
loving pet was not his wife, who for the least word threatened to sue for
a divorce, but his little dog, who patiently endured the harshest language,
and which, even after having been beaten, returned to be caressed. The
philosopher was silenced by this reply, but his wife was thrown into
such a passion by it that she left the house. Xantus employed in vain
every relation and friend to endeavour to induce her to return, both
prayers and arguments being equally lost upon her. In this dilemma
kEsop advised his master to have recourse to a stratagem. He went to
the market, and having bought a quantity of game and such things, as
though for a sumptuous wedding, managed to be met by one of the
ladys servants. The latter, of course, asked why he had bought all
those good things, upon which kEsop replied that his master, being
unable to persuade his wife to return to him, was about to wed another.
As soon as the lady heard this news she was naturally constrained, by
the spirit of jealousy and contradiction, to return to her husbands side.
She did not do this, however, without being resolved to be avenged
some time or other on kEsop, who day after day played some prank,
and yet always succeeded by some witty scheme in avoiding punishment.
The philosopher found his new slave more than his match.
On a certain market-day Xantus, having resolved to regale some
friends, ordered kEsop to purchase the best of everything, and nothing
else. Ah ! said the Phrygian to himself, I will teach you to specify
what you want, and not to trust to the discretion of a slave. He went
accordingly and purchased a certain number of tongues, which he had
served up with various sauces as entries, entremets, and so forth. When
the tongues first appeared at table, the guests praised the choice of this
dish, but when it appeared in constant succession, they became disgusted
with it; and Xantus exclaimed, Did I not bid you buy whatever was
best in the market? Well, replied ^Esop, and what is better than
the tongue? It is the very bond of civilised life, the key of all the
sciences, the organ of reason and truth ; by its aid we build cities and
organise municipal institutions; we instruct, persuade, and, what is
more than all, we perform the first of all duties, which is that of offering
up prayers to the gods. Ah! well, said Xantus, who thought
that he would catch him in a trap at last, purchase then for me
to-morrow the worst of everything; the same gentlemen who are now
present will dine with me, and I should like to give them some variety.
On the following day .dEsop had only the same dish served at table,
saying that the tongue is the worst thing which there is in the world ;
for it is the author of wars, the source of law-suits, and the mother of
every species of dissension. If it be argued that it is the organ of truth,
it may with equal veracity be maintained that it is the organ of error,
and, what is worse, of calumny. By its means cities are destroyed, and
men exhorted to the performance of evil deeds. If, on the one hand, it
sometimes praises the gods, on the other it more frequently blasphemes
them. Upon this one of the company said to Xantus, that certainly
this varlet was very necessary to him, for he was more calculated than
any one else to exercise the patience of a philosopher.
About what are you in trouble? said AEsop. Ah! find me,
replied Xantus, a man who troubles himself about nothing. yÂ£sop
went on the following day to the market-place, and perceiving there a
peasant who regarded all things with the utmost stolidity, he took him to
his masters house. Behold, said he to Xantus, the man without
cares whom you have demanded. Xantus then bade his wife heat some
water, put it in a basin, and wash with her own hands the strangers
feet. The peasant allowed this to be done, although he knew very
well that he did not deserve any such honour, and merely said to him-
self, Perhaps it is the custom in this part of the world. He was then
conducted to the place of honour, and took his seat without ceremony.
During the repast Xantus did nothing but blame his cook. Nothing
pleased him. If anything was sweet, he declared that it was too salt, and
blamed everything that was salt for being repulsively sweet. The man
without cares let him talk on, and meanwhile ate away with all his might.
At dessert a cake was placed on the table, which had been made by the
philosophers wife, and which Xantus scoffed at, although it was in reality
very good. Behold ! cried the philosopher, the most wretched pastry
I have ever eaten. The maker of it must be burnt alive, for she will never
do any good in the world. Let faggots be brought! Wait, said
the peasant, and I will go and fetch my wife, so that they may be both
burned at the same stake. This final speech disconcerted the philosopher,
and deprived him of the hope of being able to catch yÂ£sop in a trap.
But it was not only with his master that AEsop played jokes and
found opportunities for witticisms. Xantus having sent him to a
certain place, he met on his way a magistrate, who asked him where
he was going; and AEsop, either out of thoughtlessness or for some
other reason, replied that he did not know. The magistrate, regarding
this answer as a mark of disrespect to himself, had him conveyed to
prison. But as the officers were hauling him off, AEsop cried out, Did
I not give a proper reply? Could I know that I was going to
prison? Upon this the magistrate had him released, and considered
Xantus fortunate in having so witty a slave.
Xantus now began to perceive how important it was for his own
interests to have a slave in his possession who did him so much
honour. Well, it occurred on a certain occasion that Xantus, having
a revel with his disciples, it became soon evident to ^Esop, who was
in attendance, that the master was becoming as drunk as the scholars.
The effects of drinking wine, said he to them, may be divided
into three different stages. In the first stage the result is pleasurable
emotions; in the second, mere intoxication; and in the third,
madness. These remarks were received with a roar of laughter, and
the wine-bibbing went on more furiously than before. Xantus, in
fact, got so drunk that he lost all command over his brains, and
swore that he could drink up the sea. This declaration, of course,
raised a great guffaw amongst his boon companions, and the natural
result was, that Xantus, irritated beyond all bounds, offered to wager
his house that he would drink up the whole sea, and, to bind the
wager, deposited a valuable ring which he wore on his finger.
On the following day, when the vapours of the wine had
evaporated, Xantus was extremely surprised to find that his ring
had disappeared from his finger, and with horror learned from AEsop
that not only his ring, but his house also, were the forfeitures of the
ridiculous wager which he had made over-night. Vexed beyond
measure, the philosopher condescended to entreat AEsop to help him
out of his difficulty. And this is what came of the Phrygians advice.
When the day arrived for the decision of the wager, the whole
population of Samos rushed to the sea-shore to be witnesses of the
philosophers defeat; but, just as one of his disciples who had
made the bet with him began to glory in his victory, the philosopher
said to the assembled multitude, It is quite true that I have bet
that I would drink up the whole of the sea; but I certainly never
engaged to drink up all the rivers which flow into it. I must request,
therefore, that the gentleman with whom I have made the bet will
first prevent the rivers from flowing into the sea. When he has done
that, I shall be very happy to fulfil my portion of the wager. It need
scarcely be said that every one applauded the adroitness with which
Xantus had got out of his difficulty. The disciple confessed that
he was vanquished, begged his masters pardon, and Xantus was
conducted to his home with great applause.
As a recompense for this happy hint, AEsop begged for his
liberty, which Xantus refused, saying that the moment for AEsops
freedom had not yet come; but that if the gods should intimate that
it had, he would willingly grant it. If, for instance, he said, two
crows should meet his sight on his first leaving the house, he would
grant the request; but that if he should see one only, AEsop should
continue to be a slave. AEsop at once went out, whilst his master
retired to a neighbouring grove. Our Phrygian had scarcely sallied
forth when he perceived two crows caw-caw-ing together upon a lofty
branch, and ran to tell his master. Of course, Xantus hastened to see
the fact for himself, and before he could reach the spot one of the
crows had flown away. Ah, ah! said the philosopher to AEsop,
you are determined to be always cheating me, are you? Here, you
fellows, give this rascal a good horse-whipping. This order was at
once carried into effect, and whilst the punishment was going on
Xantus was invited to a repast, and he sent word to say that he
would attend at the time and place appointed. Alas! exclaimed
Aisop, what lies, then, are the forewarnings of heaven! Here am
I, who have seen two crows, suffering the torments of the lash, whilst
my master, who has seen but one, is invited to a nuptial feast. This
sarcasm so pleased Xantus that he gave orders that Aisop should be
taken down from the triangles ; but, nevertheless, he could not as yet
prevail upon himself to give the Phrygian his often promised liberty.
One day as the master and man were wandering amongst old
monuments, reading with much pleasure the inscriptions, Xantus
came to one which he could not understand, although he remained
a considerable time trying to explain it. It was composed of the first
letters of certain words, and the philosopher avowed that he could
not solve the problem which it presented. If I help you to find.a
treasure by means of those letters, said ALsop, what will you give me?
Xantus promised him his liberty and half the treasure. They mean,
then, said Aisop, that four paces from this column a treasure lies
concealed. After having dug for some time they found that such
was indeed the case. The philosopher was now called upon to keep
his word; but he still declined to do so. May the gods forbid
I should set you free, said he to Aisop, before you have explained
the mystery of those letters. To know that will be a greater treasure
to me than what we have found. Well, said Aisop, they have
been engraved here as the first letters of these words, A-aSpas B^ara, &c.;
that is to say, If you step back four paces and then dig, you will find a
treasure. As you are so clever, said Xantus, I should be wrong to
part with you ; so give up the idea that you will ever be free. And
I, for my part, saidAisop, will denounce you to King Denys, for it is
to him that the treasure belongs, and these letters are the initials of
other words which state the fact. The philosopher, alarmed, told his
slave to take his part of the treasure and to say nothing about it; on
which Aisop declared that he was under no obligation to him, for that
these letters had been selected in such a manner that they contained a
triple sense, and signified still further, As you go away, you will divide
the treasure which you have discovered. When they had returned
home, Xantus ordered that Aisop should be put in irons and imprisoned,
for fear that he should make the adventure known. Alas cried
Aisop, is it thus that these philosophers fulfil their promises? But
Croesus at once made preparations to attack them, but was informed
by his ambassador that, as long as they had Aisop amongst them, he
would find it difficult to reduce them, such well-grounded confidence had
they in that persons wisdom. Croesus accordingly sent to the Samians
to demand the Phrygian of them ; declaring that, if they would give him
up to him, he would respect their liberty. The rulers of the state
regarded these conditions as advantageous, and thought that the sacrifice
of Aisop would be a cheap means of obtaining peace. The Phrygian,
however, made them change this opinion by telling them how the wolves
and the sheep, having made a treaty of peace, the latter gave up their
dogs as hostages. When they no longer had protectors, the wolves
were able to devour them with less trouble than formerly. This fable
had its effect, and the Samians then came to a resolution precisely con-
trary to the one they had just adopted. Aisop, however, was desirous
of his own accord of going to Croesus, and said that he could serve
them better if he wrere with the king than if he remained at Samos.
When Croesus saw him, he was astonished that so mean-looking a
person had been such an obstruction to his plans. What! he cried,
see what sort of a creature it is that has dared to oppose my will!
Aisop prostrated himself, and said, A man in pursuit of locusts
happened to catch hold of a grasshopper, and was about to kill it,
when the insect exclaimed to the man, What have I done that you
should kill me ? I have not devoured your corn ; I have done you no
sort of harm. My only peculiarity is a loud'voice, of which I make a
very innocent use. Ah! mighty monarch! I resemble that grasshopper.
I only possess powers of speech, and I have not used them to injure
you. Croesus, moved with admiration and pity, not only pardoned
ASsop, but left the Samians alone on his account.
It was at this time that the Phrygian composed his fables, which
he left with the King of Lydia, when he was sent by the latter to the
Samians, who accorded him great honours. He then took it into his
head to travel about the world, and to hold high converse with those
who were generally regarded as philosophers ; and at length it happened
that he obtained an exalted place in the esteem of Lycerus, King of
Babylon.* At this period kings were in the habit of sending to each
* In the lists of the Kings of Babylon there is found no monarch of this name, and this is another
proof amongst many that the life of ^Esop by Planudes is a fiction.
do as you will, Master Xantus, you shall set me free at last in spite of
This prediction turned out to be true. A prodigy appeared, by which
the Samians were greatly frightened. An eagle carried off the public
ring (some seal apparently which was affixed to the proceedings of the
Town Council), and let it drop into the bosom of a slave. The philosopher
was consulted on the matter, both in his capacity as a philosopher and as
being one of the Republic. He asked for time, and had recourse to his
usual oracle, AEsop. The latter advised him to produce him in public,
since, if he succeeded well, the philosopher would have the honour, and
if he failed, he, AEsop, would alone bear the blame. Xantus approved of
this course, and presented him before the chief assembly of the citizens.
As soon as the Phrygian appeared, every one burst into a fit of laughter ;
no one supposed that anything sensible could come from the mouth of
one so grotesquely formed. AEsop told them, however, that they should
not consider the fashion of the vase, but the liquor which it contained ;
whereupon the Samians cried out to him to say without fear what he
thought of the prodigy. But Aisop excused himself on the ground that
he dare not. Fortune, he said, had raised a strife for glory between
the master and the slave. If the slave spoke badly, he would be beaten ;
and if he-spoke better than his master, he would still be beaten. Upon
this every one pressed Xantus to set the Phrygian free. The philosopher
obstinately resisted for some time ; but at length the provost of the town
threatened to do so himself, in virtue of his magisterial power. This had
the desired effect, and AEsop was set free, upon which he declared the
Samians were threatened by this prodigy with being reduced to a state
of servitude, and that the carrying off of their ring by the eagle was
symbolic of a powerful monarch who was desirous of subjugating them.
Shortly afterwards Croesus, King of the Lydians, announced to the
Samians that if they did not become his tributaries, he would compel
them to do so by force of' arms. The greater number were for obeying
his commands. Aisop told them that Fortune offered to "men the choice
of two roads: the one, that of liberty, rough and thorny at the com-
mencement, but afterwards very pleasant; and the other that of slavery,
which at first was easy, but was afterwards very laborious. This was, in
effect, plain advice to the Phrygians to defend their liberties; so they
dismissed the monarchs envoy, unsatisfied as to his demands.
other problems to solve, on condition that certain tributes should be paid,
according as the questions were answered well or ill, an the one side or
the other; and in this sort of game Lycerus, by the assistance of yEsop,
rendered himself especially illustrious, whether as proposer or answerer.
In the course of time yEsop married, and as no children came to
him he adopted a young man of noble extraction, named Ennus. The
latter rewarded this kindness by ingratitude, and was, indeed, so base as
to sully his masters bed. This having come to the knowledge of yEsop,
he drove the rascal from his house, and the latter, in order to be
revenged upon him, forged letters by which it was made to appear that
yEsop was in the pay of kings who were at enmity with Lycerus.
Lycerus, deceived by the apparent genuineness of the seals and signatures
appended to those letters, ordered one of his officers, named Hermippus,
without seeking any further proofs of the Phrygians treachery, to put
yEsop to death. This Hermippus, however, being a friend of yEsops,
saved his life, and secretly fed him for some time in a sepulchre, until
Nectenabo, King of Egypt, believing in the report of yEsops death,
thought that he should now be able to compel Lycerus to become his
tributary. He commenced provoking him by defying him to send him
a man who could build a tower in the air, and who could answer all
sorts of questions. Lycerus, having read these letters, and having
submitted them to the most able men of his kingdom, found that none
of them were prepared to give satisfactory answers, and deeply regretted
yEsop. Upon this Hermippus confessed his disobedience of orders, and
produced yEsop, who was very well received, and, having proved his
innocence of the charge against him, was most graciously pardoned. As
for the letter from the King of Egypt, he only laughed at it, and
directed Lycerus to reply that he would send the required architects in
the spring, and also one who could answer all sorts of questions.
Lycerus replaced yEsop in possession of all his property, and at the
same time delivered up Ennus to him, to deal with him as he pleased.
yEsop received the latter as though he had been his own son, and only
punished him by recommending him to honour the. gods and his
king; to make himself feared by his enemies ; to render himself useful
to others; to treat his wife well, but at the same time never to trust her
with his secrets ; to speak little, and to avoid the company of babblers ;
never to give way to misfortune; to have a care for the morrow, since
it is better to enrich ones enemies by ones death than to be troublesome
to ones friends whilst living; and, above all, never to be envious of
the happiness or the good qualities of others, since that is but to inflict
an injury on ourselves. Ennus, touched by this advice, and by ./Esops
goodness towards him, died soon afterwards, as though he had been
stabbed to the heart.
To return to Nectenabos challenge. HEsop procured some eagles,
and taught them (a difficult thing to do, but he did it) to carry each
of them a basket in which was a child, and when the spring-time had
come, he set off with them, to the great wonder of all the people whom
he met who had heard of his design. Nectdnabo, who had only sent
his puzzle because he had heard of HEsops death, was greatly surprised as
well as greatly disgusted at seeing him. He asked HEsop, however,
whether he had brought the architects and the man who could answer
all sorts of questions. To which HEsop replied, that the latter was
himself, and that the architects should be produced at the proper place.
They proceeded to the open country, where the eagles soared up aloft
with the children, who cried out to those below to hand them up stones,
mortar, &c. You see, said HEsop to Nectenabo, that I have brought
you the workmen ; it is for you to supply them with the materials.
Nectenabo acknowledged that in this Lycerus was the conqueror. He
proposed, however, this question to HEsop : I have mares in Egypt
which reply to the neighings of the horses about Babylon. What may
that mean? The Phrygian deferred his answer, and returning to
his lodging, bade some children take a cat and whip it along the
streets. The Egyptians, who worship this animal, regarded this as an
extremely scandalous proceeding, and snatching the creature from the
childrens hands, went to complain to the king. The Phrygian was at
once ordered to the presence, and the king said to him, Do you not
know that this animal is one of our gods? Why, then, have you had
it treated in this way? For an offence which he has committed
against Lycerus, replied HEsop; for the other night it strangled an
extremely courageous cock which crowed at every hour. You are a
liar, replied the monarch; how could the cat have made so long a
journey in so short a time? Just as possible, rejoined HEsop, as
that your mares should hear our stallions neigh at so great a distance.
After this the king had certain ingenious persons brought from
the greatest marks of affection, nor without making him swear that
he would return to end his days with him.
Amongst the cities which he visited, Delphi was one of the
principal. The Delphians were very willing to listen to him, but
they paid him no honours, and yEsop, piqued by this lack of respect,
compared them to sticks which float on the water, which at some
distance off seem to be something important, but when close at hand
are discovered to be worthless. This comparison, however, cost him
dear, for the Delphians conceived such a dislike to him, and such a
vehement desire of being avenged on him (as well as being impressed
by a fear that he would defame them), that they resolved to compass
his death. To attain this end, they concealed amongst his goods one
of their sacred vessels, intending to accuse him of theft and sacrilege,
and then to condemn him to death.
As yEsop was setting out from Delphi, and journeying towards
Phocis, the Delphians ran after him with every appearance of great
wrath, and accused him of having stolen their sacred vessel. yEsop
denied the theft with solemn oaths, but when his baggage was
searched it was found amongst it; therefore, all that yEsop could say
did not prevent them from treating him as, an infamous criminal. He
was conveyed back to Delphi, loaded with irons, cast into a dungeon,
and condemned to be thrown headlong from a rock. It was in vain
that, attempting to defend himself with his ordinary weapons, he recited
fables. The Delphians only laughed at them.
The frog, he said, had invited the rat to come to see her. In
order to enable him to pass across the pond, she tied him to her foot.
As soon as he was fairly on the water she tried to drag him to the
bottom, in order to drown him, and then make a meal of him. The
unfortunate rat resisted for some little time; and whilst he was
struggling on the surface, a bird of prey perceived him, pounced on
him, and having carried him off, together with the frog, who could not
extricate herself, made a meal of both. And thus, O Delphians,
one more powerful than either of us will avenge me. I shall perish;
but you will perish also.
As yEsop was being led to his place of punishment, he found
means to escape, and entered a little chapel dedicated to Apollo, from
which, however, the Delphians tore him. You violate this asylum,
Heliopolis, and gave them a great banquet, to which the Phrygian
was invited. During the repast they proposed to yÂ£sop various
enigmas, and this amongst others : There is a vast temple supported
on a column,. which is surrounded by twelve cities, each of which has
thirty buttresses, and around these buttresses walk, one after the other,
two women, the one white, the other black. Such a question as
that, said yÂ£sop, is only fit for .little children.. The temple is the
world ; the column is the year; the cities are the months ; the buttresses
are the days ; around which move, after each other, the day and night.
On the following day Nectenabo assembled all his friends, and said
to them, Is it to be borne that such a pigmy of a man, such an
abortion, should enable Lycerus to gain the prize and vanquish me ?
One of them then advised him to request H2sop to ask them questions
about things of which they had never heard. On this Hisop wrote out
a memorandum, according to which Nectenabo acknowledged that he
owed Lycerus two thousand talents. The memorandum was placed
sealed in Nectenabos hands; and before it was opened Nectenabos
friends declared that the thing which he held in his hands was well
known to them. When it was opened, Nectenabo exclaimed, Behold
the greatest falsehood that was ever concocted! I take you all to
witness! Certainly, they replied; we have never heard of such
a thing. Therefore, said HZsop, I have satisfied your demand.
Upon this Nectenabo dismissed Hisop, burdened with presents both
for himself and his master.
This residence of Hisop in Egypt may, perhaps, have been the
origin of the story that he was a slave there with Rhodope, who, by
the aid of the presents made her by her lovers, erected one of the three
Pyramids which still exist, and are regarded with such admiration.
The legend refers to the smallest of the three, but the one built with
the most skill.
Hisop, on his return to Babylon, was received by Lycerus with
great demonstrations of joy and good-will, and had a statue erected to
him. His desire, however, to see the world and acquire knowledge,
induced him to renounce all honours. He accordingly quitted the
court of Lycerus, where he enjoyed everything that could be wished,
and took leave of this prince, for the purpose of visiting Greece
Lycerus did not allow him to leave without bestowing upon him
he said to them, because it is only a little chapel; but a day will
come when your wickedness will find no hiding-place ;no, not even in
your great temple. The same thing will happen to you that happened
to the eagle, which, in spite of the prayers of the beetle, carried off the
leveret, which had taken refuge with the insect. The eagles offspring
was punished for this, even when it had sought shelter in Jupiters
bosom. The Delphians, however, little moved by these remarks, cast
yÂ£sop headlong from the rock.
Soon after Tisops death a pestilence spread havoc throughout the
Delphian land. The inhabitants asked of the oracle by what means
they might appease the wrath of the gods; the oracle replied, that
the only means by which they could do this was by expiating their
crime and laying /I iso ps ghost. On this a pyramid was immediately
erected to his memory. But it was not Heaven alone that testified
its displeasure at ^Esops murder; man also avenged the sages death.
Greece instantly sent a commission to inquire into the circumstances,
and inflicted a severe punishment on the criminals.*
* The Athenians erected a statue to ^Esop, which was the work of the celebrated Lysippus, and it
>vas placed opposite those of the Seven Wise Men.
MONSEIGNEUR THE DAUPHIN.*
IF there be anything ingenious in the republic of letters, it may be
said that it is the manner in which Aisop has deduced his moral.
It were truly to be wished that other hands than mine had added to
the fable the ornaments of poetry, since the wisest of the ancientsf
has decided that they are not useless. I venture, Monseigneur, to
submit to you certain attempts in this manner, as being not altogether
unsuited to your earlier years. You are of an age| at which amuse-
ments and sports are allowed to princes; but at the same time you
should devote some portion of your attention to serious reflections.
This is precisely what we meet with in the fables which we owe to
* Louis, Dauphin of France, son of Louis XIV., and of Marie Theresa of Austria, was bom at
Fontainebleau on the ist of November, 1661, and died at Meudon on the 14th of April, 1671.
t The Dauphin was six years and five months old when La Fontaine published the collection of
fables to which this Dedication is prefixed. It was completed on the 3rd of March, 1668.
jftsop. At first sight they appear puerile; but their puerility is only
the covering of important truths.
I do not doubt, Monseigneur, that you entertain a favourable
opinion of compositions which are at once so useful and so agreeable;
for what more can one desire than the useful and the agreeable ? It
is these that have been the means of introducing knowledge amongst
men. AZsop has discovered the singular art of joining the one to the
other. The perusal of his works invariably plants in the soul the
seeds of virtue, and teaches it to know itself, without letting it feel
that it is pursuing a study, whilst, in fact, it even believes that it
is otherwise engaged. It is a means of instruction which has been
happily made use of by him whom His Majesty has selected as your
tutor.* He teaches you all that a prince should learn in such a
manner that you study not only without trouble, but even with pleasure.
We hope much from this; but, to tell the truth, there are things from
which we hope infinitely more, and those, Monseigneur, are the qualities
which our invincible monarch has bestowed upon you by the mere
circumstance of your birth, and the example which he gives you day
by day. When you see him forming such grand designs; when you
see him calmly regarding the agitation of Europe and the efforts
which it makes to divert him from his enterprises ; f when you see him
penetrating by a single effort the heart of one province % bristling
against him with insurmountable obstacles, and subjugating another Â§
within eight days, during that season which is the most hostile of all
others to the operations of war, and when the courts of other princes
are redolent only of peace and pleasure ; when you see him not content
with merely subduing men, but resolved also to vanquish the elements ;
and when, I say, on his return from this expedition, in which he has
conquered like another Alexander, you see him ruling his people like
another Augustus,admit, Monseigneur, that, in spite of the tenderness
of your years, you sigh for glory as ardently as your father, and that * Â§
* Monseigneur the Dauphin had two tutors : the first being M. the President de Perigni, and the
second M. Bossuet, the Bishop of Meaux. La Fontaine, in the above passage, alludes to M. de Perigni.
f This refers to the Triple Alliance formed between England, Spain, and Holland, for the purpose
of checking the conquests of the French monarch.
i Flanders, in which the French king made a campaign in 1667, when he took Douai, Tournoij
Oudenarde, Ath, Alost, and Lille.
Â§ Franche-Comte, which he subdued in 1668.
you await with impatience the moment when you will be able to
declare yourself his rival in your worship of this divine mistress. But,
no; you do not await it, Monseigneur; you anticipate it; and in proof
of this I need no other witnesses than that noble restlessness, that
vivacity, that ardour, those many evidences of spirit, of courage, of
greatness of soul, which you so continually display. It must,
doubtless, be the greatest gratification to our monarch, as it is a most
agreeable spectacle to the universe, to see you thus growing up, a
young plant which will one day protect with its shadow peoples and
I might enlarge upon this subject. But as the plan I have proposed
to myself of amusing you is more suited to my powers than that of
praising you, I shall hasten to have recourse to my fables, and will add
to the truths I have told you but thisand that is, Monseigneur, that I
am, with respectful zeal, your very humble, very obedient, and very
De La Fontaine.
THE indulgence with which some of my fables have been received*
has induced me to hope that this present collection may meet
with the same favour. At the same time I must admit that one of the
masters of our eloquence f has disapproved of the plan of rendering these
fables in verse, since he believes that their chief ornament consists in
having none; and that, moreover, the restraints of poetry, added to the
severity of our language, would frequently embarrass me, and deprive
most of these narratives of that brevity which may be styled the
very soul of the art of story-telling, since without it a tale necessarily
becomes tame and languid. This opinion could only have been
expressed by a man of exquisite taste, and I will merely ask of him
that he will in some degree relax it, and will admit that the Lace-
demonian graces are not so entirely opposed to the French language,
that it is impossible to make them accord.
After all, I have but followed the example, I will not say of the
ancients, which would not affect me in this case, but that of the
moderns. In every age, amongst every poetical people, Parnassus has
* Before the year 1668, when the present collection of fables was first published, Fontaine had
already published a few separately, and others had circulated in manuscript.
t Patru, a celebrated lawyer, a member of the French Academy, and one of La Fontaines fronds,
who made a strange mistake in trying to divert him from a species of composition which has immor-
deemed this species of composition its own. HEsops fables had scarcely
seen the light, when Socrates* thought proper to dress them in the
livery of the Muses; and what Plato says on this subject is so pleasant,
that I cannot refrain from making it one of the ornaments of this
Preface. He says, then, that Socrates having been condemned to death,
his punishment was respited on account of the occurrence of certain
fetes. Cebfes went to see him on the day of his death, and Socrates
then told him that the gods had several times warned him by dreams
that he should devote himself to music before he died. He did not
at first understand the signification of these dreams; for, as music
does not improve a mans moral nature, of what use could it be to
him?t It was evident, however, that there was some mystery involved,
for the gods never ceased to give him the same warning, and it had
come to him again on the occasion of one of the fetes to which I have
above alluded. At length, after having deeply reflected on what it
might be that Heaven intended him to do, he concluded that as music
and poetry are so closely allied, it probably meant him to turn his
attention to the latter. There can be no good poetry without harmony;
but to good poetry fiction is also equally necessary, and Socrates only
knew how to tell the truth. At length, however, he discovered a com-
promise ; selecting such fables as those of AEsop, which always contain
something of truth in them, he employed the last moments of his life
in rendering them into verse.
Socrates is not the only one who has regarded fables and poetry
as sisters. Phaedrus has also declared that he held this opinion, and
by the excellence of his work we are able to judge of that of the
philosopher. After Phaedrus, Avienus treated the same subject in the
same way; finally, the moderns have also followed their example, and we
find instances of this not only amongst foreign nations, but in our own.
* These fables had long been known when Socrates came into the world, and the Father of
Philosophy only took the trouble to render them into verse during the imprisonment which preceded
t The word Moimy?) implied amongst the Greeks all the arts to which the Muses devote themselves.
It comprises the employments of the mind in opposition to yviutaortxri, which means the exercises of the
body. La Fontaine does not give Platos meaning quite correctly. The philosopher, at the commence-
ment of the Phaedo, makes Socrates say that, having been several times warned in dreams by the gods
to study music, he had only regarded it as an encouragement to persevere in the pursuit of truth; but
that, since his imprisonment, he had given another interpretation to those warnings, and had decided
that he should better obey the wishes of the gods by making verses.
It is true', that when our own countrymen devoted their attention to
this species of composition, the French language was so different from
what it now' is, that we may regard them in this case as foreigners.
This has not deterred me from my enterprise. On the contrary, I have
flattered myself with the hope that, if I did not pursue this career with
success, I should at least earn the credit of having opened the road.
It may possibly happen that my labours will induce others to
continue the work; and, indeed, there is no reason why this species of
composition should be exhausted until there shall remain no fresh fables
to put in verse. I have selected the best; that is to say, those which
seem to me to be so; but, in addition to the fact that I may have erred
in my selection, it will be by no means a difficult thing for others to
give a different rendering even to those which I have selected; and if
their renderings should be briefer than mine, they will doubtless be
more approved. In any case, some praise will always be due to me,
either because my rashness has had a happy result, and that I have not
departed too far from the right path, or, at least, because I shall have
instigated others to do better.
I think that I have sufficiently justified my design. As regards the
execution, I shall leave the public to be the judge. There will not be
found in my renderings the elegance and extreme brevity which are the
charms of Phaedrus, for these qualities are beyond my powers; and
that being the case, I have thought it right to give more ornament to my
work than he' has done. I do not blame him for having restricted
himself in length, for the Latin language enabled him to be brief;
and, indeed, if we take the trouble to examine closely, we shall find in
this author all the genuine characteristics and genius of Terence. The
simplicity of these great men is magnificent; but, not possessing the
powers of language of these authors, I cannot attain their heights. I
have striven, therefore, to compensate in some degree for my failings
in this respect, and I have done this with all the more boldness
because Quintilian has said that one can never deviate too much in
narrative. It is not necessary in this place to prove whether this be
true or not; it is sufficient that Quintilian has made the statement.*
* The following is the passage in Quintilian to which the poet alludes : Ego vero narrationem, at
si ullam partem orationis, omni qua potest gratia et venere exorundam.Quint Hist. Or at.? lib. ix.,
I have also considered that, as these fables are already known to all
the world, I should have done nothing if I had not rendered them in
some degree new, by clothing them with certain fresh characteristics.
I have endeavoured to meet the wants of the day, which are novelty
and gaiety; and by gaiety I do not mean merely that which excites
laughter, but a certain charm, an agreeable air, which may be given
to every species of subject, even the most serious.
It is not, however, by the outward form which I have given it that
the value of my work should be alone judged, but by the quality of
the matter of which it is composed, and by its utility. For what is
there that is worthy of praise in the productions of the mind which
is not to be found in the apologue? There is something so grand in
this species of composition, that many of the ancients have attributed
the greater part of these fables to Socrates ; selecting as their author
that individual amongst mortals who was most directly in communi-
cation with the gods. I am rather surprised that they have not main-
tained that these fables descended direct from heaven,* or that they
have not attributed their guardianship to some one special deity, as
they have done in the case of poetry and eloquence. And what I say
is not altogether without foundation, since, if I may venture to speak
of that which is most sacred in our eyes in the same breath with
the errors of the ancients, we find that Truth has spoken to men in
parables; and is the parable anything else than a fable ? that is to
say, a feigned example of some truth, which has by so much the more
force and effect as it is the more common and familiar?
It is for these reasons that Plato, having banished Homer from
his Republic, has given a very honourable place in it to AIsop. He
maintains that infants suck in fables with their mothers milk, and
recommends nurses to teach them to them, since it is impossible that
children should be accustomed at too early an age to the accents of
wisdom and virtue. If we would not have to endure the pain of
correcting our habits, we should take care to render them good whilst
as yet they are neither good nor bad. And what better aids can we have
in this work than fables ? Tell a child that Crassus, when he waged
* La Fontaine has not ventured altogether to repair the oversight of the ancients, for he has left
the origin of fables a doubtful point between heaven and earth, when he says, in a dedication to
Madame de Montespan, The fable is a gift which comes from the immortals; if it were the gift of man,
he who gave it us would indeed deserve a temple.
war against the Parthians, entered their country without considering
how he should be able to get out of it again, and that this was the
cause of the destruction of himself and his whole army, and how great
an effort will the infant have to make to remember the fact! But tell
the same child that the fox and the he-goat descended to the bottom
of a well for the purpose of quenching their thirst, and that the fox got
out of it by making use of the shoulders and horns of his companion
as a ladder, but that the goat remained there in consequence of not
having had so much foresight, and that, consequently, we should always
consider what is likely to be the result of what we do,tell a child
these two stories, I say, and which will make the most impression on
his mind ? Is it not certain that he will cling to the latter version
as more conformable and less disproportioned than the other to the
tenderness of his brain ? It is useless for you to reply that the ideas
of childhood are in themselves sufficiently infantine, without filling them
with a heap of fresh trifles. These trifles, as you may please to call
them, are only trifles in appearance; in reality, they are full of solid
sense. And as by the definition of the point, the line, the surface,
and the other well-known elements of form, we obtain a knowledge
which enables us to measure not only the earth but the universe, in
the same manner, by the aid of the truths involved in fables, we finally
become enabled to form correct opinions of what is right and what is
wrong, and to take a foremost place in the ranks of life.
The fables which are included in this collection are not merely
moral, but are, to a certain extent, an encyclopaedia of the qualities
and characteristics of animals, and, consequently, of our own ; since we
men are, in fact, but a summary of all that is good and bad in the
lower ranks of creatures. When Prometheus determined upon creating
man, he took the dominant characteristic of each beast, and of these
various characteristics composed the human species. It follows, there-
fore, that in these fables, in which beasts play so great a part, we may
each of us find some feature which we may recognise as our own. The
old may find in them a confirmation of their experiences, and the young
may learn from them that which they ought to know. As the latter
are but strangers in the world, they are as yet unacquainted with its
inhabitants ; they are even unacquainted with themselves. They ought
not to be left in this ignorance, but should be instructed as to the
qualities of the lion, the fox, and so forth, and as to the why and
the wherefore a man is sometimes compared to the said lion and fox.
To effect this instruction is the object of these fables.
I have already overstepped the ordinary limits of a Preface, but I
have still a few remarks to make on the principles on which the present
work has been constructed.
The fable proper is composed of two parts, of which one may be
termed the body, and the other the soul. The body is the subject-
matter of the fable, and the soul is the moral. Aristotle will admit
none but animals into the domain of fabledom, and rigorously excludes
from it both men and plants. This rule, however, cannot be strictly
necessary, since neither yEsop, Phsedrus, nor any of the fabulists*
have observed it; but, on the other hand, a moral is to a fable an
indispensable adjunct, and if I have in any instances omitted it,
it is only in those cases in which it could not be gracefully introduced,
or in which it was so obvious that the reader could deduce it for
himself. The great rule in France is to value only that which pleases,
and I have thought it no crime, therefore, to cancel ancient
customs when they would not harmonise with modern ones. In
yEsops time the fable was first related as a simple story, and then
supplemented by a moral which was distinct in itself. Next Phaedrus
came, who was so far from complying with this rule, that he sometimes
transposed the moral from the end to the commencement. For my
own part, I have never failed to follow yEsops rule, except when it
was necessary to observe a no less important one laid down by Horace,
to the effect that no writer should obstinately struggle against the
natural bent of his mind or the capabilities of his subject A man,
he asserts, who wishes to succeed will never pursue such a course,
but will at once abandon a subject when he finds that he cannot
mould it into a creditable shape :
Desperat tractata intescere posse, relinquit.+
It only remains to speak of the life of yEsop, whose biography by
* The word fabulist was invented by La Fontaine, and has no equivalent either in the Greek or
Latin languages. La Motte only ventured to use it under cover of the authority of our poet; and the
French Academy, having declined to admit it into the first edition of its Dictionary, which was published '
after La Fontaines death, only did so when it had been sanctioned by usage and public admiration.
| Hor Ars Poet.? v. 150.
Planudes is almost universally regarded as fabulous. It is supposed
that this writer formed the design of attributing a character and
adventures to his hero which should bear some resemblance to his
fables. This criticism, at first glance, appeared to me sufficiently
specious, but I have since found that it has no solid basis. It is
partly founded on what took place between Xantus and ^Esop, and
the quantities of nonsense there contrasted. To which I reply, Who is
the sage to whom such things have not happened ? The whole of the
life even of Socrates was not serious ; and what confirms me in my
favourable opinion is, that the character which Planudes gives to ^Esop
is similar to that which Plutarch gives him in his Banquet of the
Seven Wise Menthat is, the character of a keen and all-observant
man. It may be objected, I know, that the Banquet of the Seven
Wise Men is in itself a fiction; and I admit that it is possible to
be doubtful about everything. For my own part, I cannot well see
why Plutarch should have desired to deceive posterity on this subject,
when he has professed to be truthful on every other, and to give to
each of his personages his real character. But however this may be, I
would ask, Shall I be less likely to be believed if I endorse another
mans falsehoods than if I invented some of my own ? I might
certainly fabricate a tissue of conjectures, and entitle them the Life
of ^Esop; but whatever air of genuineness it might wear, no one
could rely upon such a work, and, if he must put up with fiction,
the reader would always prefer that of Planudes to mine.
ONSEIGNEUR THE DAUPHIN
T SING the heroes who call TLsop father,
Whose history, although deceitful rather,
Some truths and useful lessons, too, contains.
Everything finds a tongue in these my strains;
And what they say is wholesome: now and then
My animals I use as texts for men.
Illustrious branch of one the gods hold dear,
And by the whole world held in love and fear,
He who the proudest chiefs at once defies,
And counts the days by glorious victories,
Others will better tell, and higher soar.
To sing your mighty ancestors of yore ;
But I would please thee in a humbler way,
And trace in verse the sketches I essay;
Yet if to please thee I do not succeed,
At least the fame of trying be my meed.
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT.
E Grasshopper, so blithe and gay,
Sang the summer time away.
Pinched and poor the spendthrift grew,
When the sour north-easter blew.
In her larder not a scrap,
Bread to taste, nor drink to lap.
To the Ant, her neighbour, she
Went to moan her penury,
Praying for a loan of wheat,
Just to make a loaf to eat,
THE GRASSHOPPER AND THE ANT.
Till the sunshine came again.
All I say is fair and plain,
I will pay you every grain,
Principal and interest too,
Before harvest, I tell you,
On my honourevery pound,
Ere a single sheaf is bound.
The Ants a very prudent friend
Never much disposed to lend;
Virtues great and failings small,
This her failing least of all.
Quoth she, How spent you the summer
Night and day, to each new comer
I sang gaily, by your leave;
Singing, singing, morn and eve.
You sang? I see it at a glance.
Well, then, nows the time to dance.
THE RAVEN AND THE FOX.
IV /T ASTER RAVEN, perched upon a tree,
^ Held in his beak a savoury piece of cheese;
Its pleasant odour, borne upon the breeze,
Allured Sir Reynard, with his flattery.
Ha! Master Raven, morrow to you, sir;
How black and glossy now, upon my word,
I neverbeautiful! I do aver.
If but your voice becomes your coat, no bird
More fit to be the Phoenix of our wood
I hope, sir, I am understood ?
The Raven, flattered by the praise,
Opened his spacious beak, to show his ways
Of singing: down the good cheese fell.
Quick the Fox snapped it. My dear sir, tis well,
He said. Know that a flatterer lives
On him to whom his praise he gives ;
And, my dear neighbour, an you please,
This lessons worth a slice of cheese.
The Raven, vexed at his consenting.
Flew off, too late in his repenting.
THE FROG THAT WISHED TO MAKE HERSELF AS
BIG AS THE OX.
A FROG, no bigger than a pullets egg,
^ L fat Ox feeding in a meadow spied.
The envious little creature blew and swelled ;
In vain to reach the big bulls bulk she tried.
Sister, now look! observe me close! she cried.
Is this enough?No! Tell me! now then see!
No, no! Well, now Im quite as big as he?
Youre scarcely bigger than you were at first!
One more tremendous puffshe grew so largeshe burst.
The whole world swarms with people not more wise
The tradesmans villa with the palace vies.
Ambassadors your poorest Princelings send,
And every Count has pages without end
THE TWO MULES.
AWO Mules were journeyingone charged with oats,
The other with a taxs golden fruit.
Phis last betrayed that manner which denotes
Excessive vanity in man or brute.
Proudly self-conscious of his precious load,
He paced, and loud his harness-bells resounded;
When suddenly upon their lonely road,
Both Mules and masters were by thieves surrounded
The money-bearer soon was put to death :
Is this the end that, crowns my high career?
THE TWO MULES.
Yon drudge, he murmured with his latest breath,
Escapes unhurt, while I must perish here
My friend, his fellow-traveller made reply,
Wealth cannot always at the poor man scoff.
If you had been content to do as I,
Youd not at present be so badly off.
THE WOLF AND THE DOG.
AWOLF, who was but skin and bone,
So watchful had the sheep-dogs grown,
Once met a Mastiff fat and sleek,
Stern only to the poor and weak. _ ^
Sir Wolf would fain, no doubt, have munched
This pampered cur, and on him lunched;
But then the meal involved a fight,
And he was craven, save at night;
For such a dog could guard his throat
As well as any dog of note.
So the Wolf, humbly flattering him,
Praised the soft plumpness of each limb.
Youre wrong, youre wrong, my noble sir,
To roam in woods indeed you err,
The dog replies, you do indeed ;
If you but wish, with me youll feed.
Your comrades are a shabby pack,
Gaunt, bony, lean in side and back,
Pining for hunger, scurvy, hollow,
Fighting for every scrap they swallow.
Come, share my lot, and take your ease.
What must I do to earn it, please?
Do ?why, do nothing Beggar-men
Bark at and chase ; fawn now and then
At friends ; your master always flatter.
Do this, and by this little matter
Earn every sort of dainty dish
Fowl-bones or pigeonswhat you wish
Aye, better things ; and with these messes,
Fondlings, and ceaseless kind caresses.
The Wolf, delighted, as he hears
Is deeply movedalmost to tears;
When all at once he sees a speck,
A gall upon the Mastiffs neck.
Whats that?Oh, nothing! Nothing
A slight rub from the chain, you know.
The chain! replies the Wolf, aghast;
You are not free?-they tie you fast?
Sometimes. But, law! what matters it ?
Matters so much, the rarest bit
Seems worthless, bought at such a price.
The Wolf, so saying, in a trice,
Ran off, and with the best goodwill.
And very likelys running still.
THE HEIFER, THE SHE-GOAT, AND THE LAMB, IN
PARTNERSHIP WITH THE LION.
' I 'HE Heifer, Lamb, and Nanny-goat were neighbours,
With a huge Lion living close at hand,
They shared the gains and losses of their labours
(All this was long ago, you understand).
One day a stag was taken as their sport ;
The Goat, who snared him, was of course enraptured,
And sent for all the partners of her toil,
In order to divide the treasure captured.
They came. The Lion, counting on his claws,
Quartered the prey, and thus addressed the trio
The parts are four. I take the first, because
I am your monarch, and my name is Leo:
Being the strongest, I annex the second;
As bravest, I can claim another share,
Should any touch the fourth, or say I reckoned
Unjustly, I shall kill him. So beware.
SAID Jupiter one day, Let all that breathe
Come and obeisance make before my throne.
If at his shape or being any grieve,
Let them cast fears aside. Ill hear their groan.
I Come, Monkey, you be first to speak. You see
Of animals this goodly company ; j
Compare their beauties with your own.
Are you content ? Why not ? Good gracious me!
The monkey said,
No whit afraid
Why not content ? I have four feet like others,
My portrait no one sneers atdo they, brothers ?
But cousin Bruins hurriedly sketched in,
And no one holds his likeness worth a pin.
Then came the Bear. One thought he would have found
Something to grumble at. Grumble! no, not he.
He praised his form and shape, but, looking round,
Turned critic on the want of symmetry
Of the huge shapeless Elephant, whose ears
Were much too long; his tail too short, he fears.
The Elephant was next.
Though wise, yet sadly vexed
To see good Madam Whale, to his surprise,
A cumbrous mountain of such hideous size.
Quick Mrs. Ant thinks the Gnat far too small,
Herself colossal.Jove dismisses all,
Severe on others, with themselves content.
Mong all the fools who that day homeward went,
Our race was far the worst : our wisest souls
Lynxes to others, to their own faults moles.
Pardon at home they give, to others grace deny,
And keep on neighbours sins a sleepless eye.
Jove made us so,
As we all know,
We wear our Wallets in the self-same way
This current year, as in the bye-gone day:
In pouch behind our own defects we store,
The faults of others in the one before.
THE SWALLOW AND THE LITTLE BIRDS.
A SWALLOW, in his travels oer the earth,
^ ^ Into the law of storms had gained a peep;
Could prophesy them long before their birth,
And warn in time the ploughmen of the deep..
Just as the month for sowing hemp came round,
The Swallow called the smaller birds together.
Yon hand, said he, which strews along the ground
That fatal grain, forbodes no friendly weather.
The day will come, and very soon, perhaps,
When yonder crop will help in your undoing
THE SWALLOW AND THE LITTLE BIRDS.
When, in the shape of snares and cruel traps,
Will burst the tempest which to-day is brewing.
Be wise, and eat the hemp up now or never;
Take my advice. But no, the little birds,
Who thought themselves, no doubt, immensely clever,
Laughed loudly at the Swallows warning words.
Soon after, when the hemp grew green and tall,
He begged the Birds to tear it into tatters.
Prophet of ill, they answered one and all,
Cease chattering about such paltry matters.
The hemp at length was ripe, and then the Swallow,
Remarking that ill weeds were never slow,
Continued Though its now too late to follow
The good advice I gave you long ago,
You still may manage to preserve your lives
By giving credit to the voice of reason.
Remain at home, I teg you, with your wives,
And shun the perils of the coming season.
You cannot cross the desert or the seas,
To-settle down in distant habitations;
Make nests, then, in the walls, and there, at ease,
Defy mankind and all its machinations.
They scorned his warnings, as in Troy of old
Men scorned the lessons that Cassandra taught.
And shortly, as the Swallow had foretold,
Great numbers of them in the traps were caught.
To instincts not our own we give no credit,
And till misfortune comes, we never dread it.
THE TOWN RAT AND THE COUNTRY RAT.
A RAT from town, a country Rat
Invited in the civilest way ;
For dinner there was just to be
Ortolans and an entremet.
Upon a Turkey carpet soft
The noble feast at last was spread;
I leave you pretty well to guess
The merry, pleasant life they led.
Gay the repast, for plenty reigned,
Nothing was wanting to the fare;
But hardly had it well begun
Ere chance disturbed the friendly pair.
A sudden racket at the door
Alarmed them, and they made retreat;
The City Rat was not the last,
His comrade followed fast and fleet.
The noise soon over, they returned, ~
As rats on such occasions do ;
Come, said the liberal citizen,
And let us finish our ragout.
Not a crumb more, the rustic said ;
To-morrow you shall dine with me ;
Dont think me jealous of your state, ^
Or all your royal luxury;
But then I eat so quiet at home,
And nothing dangerous is near;
Good-bye, my friend, I have no love
For pleasure when its mixed with fear.
the man and his image.
FOR M. THE DUKE DE LA ROCHEFOUCAULD.
A MAN who had no rivals in the love
He bore himself, thought that he won the bell
From all the world, and hated every glass
That truths less palatable tried to tell.
Living contented in the error,
Of lying mirrors hed a terror.
Officious Fate, determined on a cure,
Raised up, whereer he turned his eyes,
Those silent counsellors that ladies prize.
Mirrors old and mirrors newer;
Mirrors in inns and mirrors in shops ;
Mirrors in pockets of all the fops;
Mirrors in every ladys zone.
What could our poor Narcissus do ?
He goes and hides him all alone
In woods that one can scarce get through.
No more the lying mirrors come,
But past his new-found savage home
A pure and limpid brook runs fair.
He looks. His ancient foe is there!
His angry eyes stare at the stream,
He tries to fancy it a dream.
Resolves to fly the odious place, and shun
The image; yet, so fair the brook, he cannot run.
My meaning is not hard to see ;
No one is from this failing free.
The man who loved himself is just the Soul,
The mirrors are the follies of all others.
(Mirrors are faithful painters on the whole;)
And you know well as I do, brothers, that the brook
Is the wise Maxim-book.*
r Rochefoucaulds Maxims are the most extraordinary dissections of human selfishness ever made
THE DRAGON WITH MANY. HEADS, AND THE DRAGON
WITH MANY TAILS.
(I cant say more)
One day, before the Emperors court
Vaunted, as some historians report,
That his royal master had a force
Outnumbering all the foot and horse
The Kaiser could bring to the war.
Then spoke a choleric attendant:
Our Prince has more than one dependant
That keeps an army at his own expense.
The Pasha (man of sense),
N Envoy of the Grand Signor
Replied: By rumour Im aware
What troops the great electors spare,
And that reminds me, I am glad,
Of an adventure I once had,
Strange, and yet true.
Ill tell it you.
Once through a hedge the hundred heads I saw
Of a huge Hydra show.
My blood, turned ice, refused to flow :
And yet I felt that neither fang nor claw
Could more than scare mefor no head came near.
There was no room. I cast off fear.
While musing on this sight,
Another Dragon came to light.
Only one head this time;
But tails too many to count up in rhyme.
The fit again came on,
Worse than the one just gone.
The head creeps first, then follows tail by tail;
N othing can stop their road, nor yet assail;
One clears the way for all the minor powers :
The firsts your Emperors host, the second ours
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB,
THE WOLF AND THE LAMB.
THE reasoning of the strongest has such weight.
None can gainsay it, or dare prate,
No more than one would question Fate.
A Lamb her thirst was very calmly slaking,
At the pure current of a woodland rill;
A grisly Wolf, by hunger urged, came making
A tour in search of living things to kill.
How dare you spoil my drink ? he fiercely cried ;
There was grim fury in his very tone;
Ill teach you to let beasts like me alone.
Let not your Majesty feel wrath, replied
The Lamb, nor be unjust to me, from passion;
I cannot, Sire, disturb in any fashion
The stream which now your Royal Highness faces,
Im lower down by at least twenty paces.
You spoil it! roared the Wolf; and more, I know,
You slandered me but half a year ago.
How could I do so, when I scarce was born?
The Lamb replied ; I was a suckling then.
Then twas your brother held me up to scorn.
I have no brother. Well, tis all the same;
At least twas some poor fool that bears your name
You and your dogs, both great and small,
Your sheep and shepherds, one and all,
Slander me, if men say but true,
And Ill revenge myself on you.
Thus saying, he bore off the Lamb
Deep in the wood, far from its dam.
And there, not waiting judge nor jury,
Fell to, and ate him in his fury.
THE ROBBERS AND THE ASS.
npWO Thieves were fighting for a prize,
A Donkey newly stolen ; sell or not to sell
That was the questionbloody fists, black eyes:
While they fought gallantly and well,
A third thief happening to pass,
Rode gaily off upon the ass.
The ass is some poor province it may be ;
The thieves, that gracious potentate, or this,
Austria, Turkey, or say Hungary;
Instead of two, I vow Ive set down three
(The world has almost had enough of this),
And often neither will the province win :
For third thief stepping in,
Mid their debate and noisy fray,
With the disputed donkey rides away.
DEATH AND THE WOODCUTTER.
A POOR Woodcutter, covered with his load,
Bent down with boughs and with a weary age,
Groaning and stooping, made his sorrowing stage
To reach his smoky cabin; on the road,
Worn out with toil and pain, he seeks relief
By resting for a while, to brood on grief.
What pleasure has he had since he was born ?
In this round world is there one more forlorn?
Sometimes no bread, and never, never rest.
Creditors, soldiers, taxes, children, wife,
The corvee. Such a life !
The picture of a miserable manlook east or west.
He calls on Deathfor Death calls everywhere
Well,Death is there.
He comes without delay,
And asks the groaner if he needs his aid.
Yes, said the Woodman, help me in my trade.
Put up these faggotsthen you need not stay.
Death is a cure for all, say I,
But do not budge from where you are ;
Better to suffer than to die,
Is mans old' motto, near and far.
DEATH AND THE WOODCUTTER.
SIMONIDES RESCUED BY THE GODS.
HR H REE sorts of persons cant be praised too much :
The Gods, the King, and her on whom we doat.
So said Malherbe, and well he said, for such
Are maxims wise, and worthy of all note.
Praise is beguiling, and disliked by none :
A ladys favour it has often won.
Lets see whateen the gods have ere this done
To those who praised them. Once, the eulogy
Of a rough athlete was in verse essayed.
Simonides, the ice well broken, made
A plunge into a swamp of flattery.
The athletes parents were poor folk unknown ;