The Fables of La Fontaine
Jean de La Fontaine

Part 4 out of 9

If some kind man had seen him there,
He would have leap'd as if distracted;
But Fortune much more wisely acted;
For, passing by, she softly waked the child,
Thus whispering in accents mild:
'I save your life, my little dear,
And beg you not to venture here
Again, for had you fallen in,
I should have had to bear the sin;
But I demand, in reason's name,
If for your rashness I'm to blame?'
With this the goddess went her way.
I like her logic, I must say.
There takes place nothing on this planet,
But Fortune ends, whoe'er began it.
In all adventures good or ill,
We look to her to foot the bill.
Has one a stupid, empty pate,
That serves him never till too late,
He clears himself by blaming Fate!

[15] Aesop.


The selfsame patient put to test
Two doctors, Fear-the-worst and Hope-the-best.
The latter hoped; the former did maintain
The man would take all medicine in vain.
By different cures the patient was beset,
But erelong cancell'd nature's debt,
While nursed
As was prescribed by Fear-the-worst.
But over the disease both triumph'd still.
Said one, 'I well foresaw his death.'
'Yes,' said the other, 'but my pill
Would certainly have saved his breath.'

[16] Aesop, and others.


How avarice loseth all,
By striving all to gain,
I need no witness call
But him whose thrifty hen,
As by the fable we are told,
Laid every day an egg of gold.
'She hath a treasure in her body,'
Bethinks the avaricious noddy.
He kills and opens--vexed to find
All things like hens of common kind.
Thus spoil'd the source of all his riches,
To misers he a lesson teaches.
In these last changes of the moon,
How often doth one see
Men made as poor as he
By force of getting rich too soon!

[17] Aesop.


An ass, with relics for his load,
Supposed the worship on the road
Meant for himself alone,
And took on lofty airs,
Receiving as his own
The incense and the prayers.
Some one, who saw his great mistake,
Cried, 'Master Donkey, do not make
Yourself so big a fool.
Not you they worship, but your pack;
They praise the idols on your back,
And count yourself a paltry tool.'

'Tis thus a brainless magistrate
Is honour'd for his robe of state.

[18] Aesop; also Faerno.


A stag, by favour of a vine,
Which grew where suns most genial shine,
And form'd a thick and matted bower
Which might have turn'd a summer shower,
Was saved from ruinous assault.
The hunters thought their dogs at fault,
And call'd them off. In danger now no more
The stag, a thankless wretch and vile,
Began to browse his benefactress o'er.
The hunters, listening the while,
The rustling heard, came back,
With all their yelping pack,
And seized him in that very place.
'This is,' said he, 'but justice, in my case.
Let every black ingrate
Henceforward profit by my fate.'
The dogs fell to--'twere wasting breath
To pray those hunters at the death.
They left, and we will not revile 'em,
A warning for profaners of asylum.

[19] Aesop.


A serpent, neighbour to a smith,
(A neighbour bad to meddle with,)
Went through his shop, in search of food,
But nothing found, 'tis understood,
To eat, except a file of steel,
Of which he tried to make a meal.
The file, without a spark of passion,
Address'd him in the following fashion:--
'Poor simpleton! you surely bite
With less of sense than appetite;
For ere from me you gain
One quarter of a grain,
You'll break your teeth from ear to ear.
Time's are the only teeth I fear.'

This tale concerns those men of letters,
Who, good for nothing, bite their betters.
Their biting so is quite unwise.
Think you, ye literary sharks,
Your teeth will leave their marks
Upon the deathless works you criticise?
Fie! fie! fie! men!
To you they're brass--they're steel--they're diamond!

[20] Phaedrus, Book IV. 8; also Aesop.


Beware how you deride
The exiles from life's sunny side:
To you is little known
How soon their case may be your own.
On this, sage Aesop gives a tale or two,
As in my verses I propose to do.
A field in common share
A partridge and a hare,
And live in peaceful state,
Till, woeful to relate!
The hunters' mingled cry
Compels the hare to fly.
He hurries to his fort,
And spoils almost the sport
By faulting every hound
That yelps upon the ground.
At last his reeking heat
Betrays his snug retreat.
Old Tray, with philosophic nose,
Snuffs carefully, and grows
So certain, that he cries,
'The hare is here; bow wow!'
And veteran Ranger now,--
The dog that never lies,--
'The hare is gone,' replies.
Alas! poor, wretched hare,
Back comes he to his lair,
To meet destruction there!
The partridge, void of fear,
Begins her friend to jeer:--
'You bragg'd of being fleet;
How serve you, now, your feet?'
Scarce has she ceased to speak,--
The laugh yet in her beak,--
When comes her turn to die,
From which she could not fly.
She thought her wings, indeed,
Enough for every need;
But in her laugh and talk,
Forgot the cruel hawk!


The eagle and the owl, resolved to cease
Their war, embraced in pledge of peace.
On faith of king, on faith of owl, they swore
That they would eat each other's chicks no more.
'But know you mine?' said Wisdom's bird.[22]
'Not I, indeed,' the eagle cried.
'The worse for that,' the owl replied:
'I fear your oath's a useless word;
I fear that you, as king, will not
Consider duly who or what:
You kings and gods, of what's before ye,
Are apt to make one category.
Adieu, my young, if you should meet them!'
'Describe them, then, or let me greet them,
And, on my life, I will not eat them,'
The eagle said. The owl replied:
'My little ones, I say with pride,
For grace of form cannot be match'd,--
The prettiest birds that e'er were hatch'd;
By this you cannot fail to know them;
'Tis needless, therefore, that I show them.
Pray don't forget, but keep this mark in view,
Lest fate should curse my happy nest by you.'
At length God gives the owl a set of heirs,
And while at early eve abroad he fares,
In quest of birds and mice for food,
Our eagle haply spies the brood,
As on some craggy rock they sprawl,
Or nestle in some ruined wall,
(But which it matters not at all,)
And thinks them ugly little frights,
Grim, sad, with voice like shrieking sprites.
'These chicks,' says he, 'with looks almost infernal,
Can't be the darlings of our friend nocturnal.
I'll sup of them.' And so he did, not slightly:--
He never sups, if he can help it, lightly.
The owl return'd; and, sad, he found
Nought left but claws upon the ground.
He pray'd the gods above and gods below
To smite the brigand who had caused his woe.
Quoth one, 'On you alone the blame must fall;
Or rather on the law of nature,
Which wills that every earthly creature
Shall think its like the loveliest of all.
You told the eagle of your young ones' graces;
You gave the picture of their faces:--
Had it of likeness any traces?'

[21] Avianus; also Verdizotti.
[22] _Wisdom's bird_.--The owl was the bird of Minerva, as the eagle
was that of Jupiter.


The lion had an enterprise in hand;
Held a war-council, sent his provost-marshal,
And gave the animals a call impartial--
Each, in his way, to serve his high command.
The elephant should carry on his back
The tools of war, the mighty public pack,
And fight in elephantine way and form;
The bear should hold himself prepared to storm;
The fox all secret stratagems should fix;
The monkey should amuse the foe by tricks.
'Dismiss,' said one, 'the blockhead asses,
And hares, too cowardly and fleet.'
'No,' said the king; 'I use all classes;
Without their aid my force were incomplete.
The ass shall be our trumpeter, to scare
Our enemy. And then the nimble hare
Our royal bulletins shall homeward bear.'

A monarch provident and wise
Will hold his subjects all of consequence,
And know in each what talent lies.
There's nothing useless to a man of sense.

[23] Abstemius.


Two fellows, needing funds, and bold,
A bearskin to a furrier sold,
Of which the bear was living still,
But which they presently would kill--
At least they said they would.
And, if their word was good,
It was a king of bears--an Ursa Major--
The biggest bear beneath the sun.
Its skin, the chaps would wager,
Was cheap at double cost;
'Twould make one laugh at frost--
And make two robes as well as one.
Old Dindenaut,[25] in sheep who dealt,
Less prized his sheep, than they their pelt--
(In their account 'twas theirs,
But in his own, the bears.)
By bargain struck upon the skin,
Two days at most must bring it in.
Forth went the two. More easy found than got,
The bear came growling at them on the trot.
Behold our dealers both confounded,
As if by thunderbolt astounded!
Their bargain vanish'd suddenly in air;
For who could plead his interest with a bear?
One of the friends sprung up a tree;
The other, cold as ice could be,
Fell on his face, feign'd death,
And closely held his breath,--
He having somewhere heard it said
The bear ne'er preys upon the dead.
Sir Bear, sad blockhead, was deceived--
The prostrate man a corpse believed;
But, half suspecting some deceit,
He feels and snuffs from head to feet,
And in the nostrils blows.
The body's surely dead, he thinks.
'I'll leave it,' says he, 'for it stinks;'
And off into the woods he goes.
The other dealer, from his tree
Descending cautiously, to see
His comrade lying in the dirt,
Consoling, says, 'It is a wonder
That, by the monster forced asunder,
We're, after all, more scared than hurt.
But,' addeth he, 'what of the creature's skin?
He held his muzzle very near;
What did he whisper in your ear?'
'He gave this caution,--"Never dare
Again to sell the skin of bear
Its owner has not ceased to wear."'[26]

[24] Versions will be found in Aesop, Avianus, and Abstemius.
[25] _Old Dindenaut_.--_Vide_ Rabelais, _Pantagruel_, Book IV.
chap. viii.--Translator.
The character in Rabelais is a sheep-stealer as well as a
[26] According to Philip de Commines, the Emperor Frederic III. of
Germany used a story conveying the substance of this fable, with its
moral of _Never sell your bear-skin till the beast is dead_, as
his sole reply to the ambassadors of the French king when that
monarch sent him proposals for dividing between them the provinces
of the Duke of Burgundy. The meaning of which was, says de Commines,
"That if the King came according to his promise, they would take the
Duke, if they could; and when he was taken, they would talk of
dividing his dominions."--_Vide_ Bohn's edition of the "Memoirs of
De Commines," vol. i., p. 246.


Clad in a lion's shaggy hide,
An ass spread terror far and wide,
And, though himself a coward brute,
Put all the world to scampering rout:
But, by a piece of evil luck,
A portion of an ear outstuck,
Which soon reveal'd the error
Of all the panic-terror.
Old Martin did his office quick.
Surprised were all who did not know the trick,
To see that Martin,[28] at his will,
Was driving lions to the mill!

In France, the men are not a few
Of whom this fable proves too true;
Whose valour chiefly doth reside
In coat they wear and horse they ride.

[27] Aesop, and Avianus.
[28] _Martin_.--Martin-baton, again as in Fable V., Book IV.

* * * * *



Of fables judge not by their face;
They give the simplest brute a teacher's place.
Bare precepts were inert and tedious things;
The story gives them life and wings.
But story for the story's sake
Were sorry business for the wise;
As if, for pill that one should take,
You gave the sugary disguise.
For reasons such as these,
Full many writers great and good
Have written in this frolic mood,
And made their wisdom please.
But tinsel'd style they all have shunn'd with care;
With them one never sees a word to spare.
Of Phaedrus some have blamed the brevity,
While Aesop uses fewer words than he.
A certain Greek,[2] however, beats
Them both in his larconic feats.
Each tale he locks in verses four;
The well or ill I leave to critic lore.
At Aesop's side to see him let us aim,
Upon a theme substantially the same.
The one selects a lover of the chase;
A shepherd comes, the other's tale to grace.
Their tracks I keep, though either tale may grow
A little in its features as I go.

The one which Aesop tells is nearly this:--
A shepherd from his flock began to miss,
And long'd to catch the stealer of, his sheep.
Before a cavern, dark and deep,
Where wolves retired by day to sleep,
Which he suspected as the thieves,
He set his trap among the leaves;
And, ere he left the place,
He thus invoked celestial grace:--
'O king of all the powers divine,
Against the rogue but grant me this delight,
That this my trap may catch him in my sight,
And I, from twenty calves of mine,
Will make the fattest thine.'
But while the words were on his tongue,
Forth came a lion great and strong.
Down crouch'd the man of sheep, and said,
With shivering fright half dead,
'Alas! that man should never be aware
Of what may be the meaning of his prayer!
To catch the robber of my flocks,
O king of gods, I pledged a calf to thee:
If from his clutches thou wilt rescue me,
I'll raise my offering to an ox.'

'Tis thus the master-author[3] tells the story:
Now hear the rival of his glory.

[1] Aesop.
[2] _A certain Greek_.--Gabrias.--La Fontaine. This is Babrias, the
Greek fabulist, to whom La Fontaine gives the older form of his name.
La Fontaine's strictures on this "rival" of Aesop proceed from the
fact that he read the author in the corrupted form of the edition by
Ignatius Magister (ninth century). It was not till a century after La
Fontaine wrote, that the fame of Babrias was cleared by Bentley and
Tyrwhitt, who brought his Fables to light in their original form.
[3] _Master-author, &c._--The "master-author" is Aesop; the rival,
Gabrias, or Babrias. The last line refers the reader to the following
fable for comparison. In the original editions of La Fontaine, the
two fables appear together with the heading "Fables I. et II."


A braggart, lover of the chase,
Had lost a dog of valued race,
And thought him in a lion's maw.
He ask'd a shepherd whom he saw,
'Pray show me, man, the robber's place,
And I'll have justice in the case.'
''Tis on this mountain side,'
The shepherd man replied.
'The tribute of a sheep I pay,
Each month, and where I please I stray.'
Out leap'd the lion as he spake,
And came that way, with agile feet.
The braggart, prompt his flight to take,
Cried, 'Jove, O grant a safe retreat!'

A danger close at hand
Of courage is the test.
It shows us who will stand--
Whose legs will run their best.

[4] Gabrias, or Babrias; and Aesop. See note to preceding fable.


Old Boreas and the sun, one day
Espied a traveller on his way,
Whose dress did happily provide
Against whatever might betide.
The time was autumn, when, indeed,
All prudent travellers take heed.
The rains that then the sunshine dash,
And Iris with her splendid sash,
Warn one who does not like to soak
To wear abroad a good thick cloak.
Our man was therefore well bedight
With double mantle, strong and tight.
'This fellow,' said the wind, 'has meant
To guard from every ill event;
But little does he wot that I
Can blow him such a blast
That, not a button fast,
His cloak shall cleave the sky.
Come, here's a pleasant game, Sir Sun!
Wilt play?' Said Phoebus, 'Done!
We'll bet between us here
Which first will take the gear
From off this cavalier.
Begin, and shut away.
The brightness of my ray.'
'Enough.' Our blower, on the bet,
Swell'd out his pursy form
With all the stuff for storm--
The thunder, hail, and drenching wet,
And all the fury he could muster;
Then, with a very demon's bluster,
He whistled, whirl'd, and splash'd,
And down the torrents dash'd,
Full many a roof uptearing
He never did before,
Full many a vessel bearing
To wreck upon the shore,--
And all to doff a single cloak.
But vain the furious stroke;
The traveller was stout,
And kept the tempest out,
Defied the hurricane,
Defied the pelting rain;
And as the fiercer roar'd the blast,
His cloak the tighter held he fast.
The sun broke out, to win the bet;
He caused the clouds to disappear,
Refresh'd and warm'd the cavalier,
And through his mantle made him sweat,
Till off it came, of course,
In less than half an hour;
And yet the sun saved half his power.--
So much doth mildness more than force.

[5] Aesop and Lokman; also P. Hegemon.


Of yore, a farm had Jupiter to rent;
To advertise it, Mercury was sent.
The farmers, far and near,
Flock'd round, the terms to hear;
And, calling to their aid
The various tricks of trade,
One said 'twas rash a farm to hire
Which would so much expense require;
Another, that, do what you would,
The farm would still be far from good.
While thus, in market style, its faults were told,
One of the crowd, less wise than bold,
Would give so much, on this condition,
That Jove would yield him altogether
The choice and making of his weather,--
That, instantly on his decision,
His various crops should feel the power
Of heat or cold, of sun or shower.

Jove yields. The bargain closed, our man
Rains, blows, and takes the care
Of all the changes of the air,
On his peculiar, private plan.
His nearest neighbours felt it not,
And all the better was their lot.
Their year was good, by grace divine;
The grain was rich, and full the vine.
The renter, failing altogether,
The next year made quite different weather;
And yet the fruit of all his labours
Was far inferior to his neighbours'.
What better could he do? To Heaven
He owns at last his want of sense,
And so is graciously forgiven.
Hence we conclude that Providence
Knows better what we need
Than we ourselves, indeed.

[6] Aesop; and Faerno.


A youthful mouse, not up to trap,
Had almost met a sad mishap.
The story hear him thus relate,
With great importance, to his mother:--
'I pass'd the mountain bounds of this estate,
And off was trotting on another,
Like some young rat with nought to do
But see things wonderful and new,
When two strange creatures came in view.
The one was mild, benign, and gracious;
The other, turbulent, rapacious,
With voice terrific, shrill, and rough,
And on his head a bit of stuff
That look'd like raw and bloody meat,
Raised up a sort of arms, and beat
The air, as if he meant to fly,
And bore his plumy tail on high.'

A cock, that just began to crow,
As if some nondescript,
From far New Holland shipp'd,
Was what our mousling pictured so.
'He beat his arms,' said he, 'and raised his voice,
And made so terrible a noise,
That I, who, thanks to Heaven, may justly boast
Myself as bold as any mouse,
Scud off, (his voice would even scare a ghost!)
And cursed himself and all his house;
For, but for him, I should have staid,
And doubtless an acquaintance made
With her who seem'd so mild and good.
Like us, in velvet cloak and hood,
She wears a tail that's full of grace,
A very sweet and humble face,--
No mouse more kindness could desire,--
And yet her eye is full of fire.
I do believe the lovely creature
A friend of rats and mice by nature.
Her ears, though, like herself, they're bigger,
Are just like ours in form and figure.
To her I was approaching, when,
Aloft on what appear'd his den,
The other scream'd,--and off I fled.'
'My son,' his cautious mother said,
'That sweet one was the cat,
The mortal foe of mouse and rat,
Who seeks by smooth deceit,
Her appetite to treat.
So far the other is from that,
We yet may eat
His dainty meat;
Whereas the cruel cat,
Whene'er she can, devours
No other meat than ours.'

Remember while you live,
It is by looks that men deceive.

[7] Abstemius.


Left kingless by the lion's death,
The beasts once met, our story saith,
Some fit successor to install.
Forth from a dragon-guarded, moated place,
The crown was brought, and, taken from its case,
And being tried by turns on all,
The heads of most were found too small;
Some horned were, and some too big;
Not one would fit the regal gear.
For ever ripe for such a rig,
The monkey, looking very queer,
Approach'd with antics and grimaces,
And, after scores of monkey faces,
With what would seem a gracious stoop,
Pass'd through the crown as through a hoop.
The beasts, diverted with the thing,
Did homage to him as their king.
The fox alone the vote regretted,
But yet in public never fretted.
When he his compliments had paid
To royalty, thus newly made,
'Great sire, I know a place,' said he,
'Where lies conceal'd a treasure,
Which, by the right of royalty,
Should bide your royal pleasure.'
The king lack'd not an appetite
For such financial pelf,
And, not to lose his royal right,
Ran straight to see it for himself.
It was a trap, and he was caught.
Said Renard, 'Would you have it thought,
You ape, that you can fill a throne,
And guard the rights of all, alone,
Not knowing how to guard your own?'

The beasts all gather'd from the farce,
That stuff for kings is very scarce.

[8] Aesop; also Faerno.


A prelate's mule of noble birth was proud,
And talk'd, incessantly and loud,
Of nothing but his dam, the mare,
Whose mighty deeds by him recounted were,--
This had she done, and had been present there,--
By which her son made out his claim
To notice on the scroll of Fame.
Too proud, when young, to bear a doctor's pill;
When old, he had to turn a mill.
As there they used his limbs to bind,
His sire, the ass, was brought to mind.
Misfortune, were its only use
The claims of folly to reduce,
And bring men down to sober reason,
Would be a blessing in its season.

[9] Aesop.


An old man, riding on his ass,
Had found a spot of thrifty grass,
And there turn'd loose his weary beast.
Old Grizzle, pleased with such a feast,
Flung up his heels, and caper'd round,
Then roll'd and rubb'd upon the ground,
And frisk'd and browsed and bray'd,
And many a clean spot made.
Arm'd men came on them as he fed:
'Let's fly,' in haste the old man said.
'And wherefore so?' the ass replied;
'With heavier burdens will they ride?'
'No,' said the man, already started.
'Then,' cried the ass, as he departed,
'I'll stay, and be--no matter whose;
Save you yourself, and leave me loose.
But let me tell you, ere you go,
(I speak plain French, you know,)
My master is my only foe.'

[10] Phaedras. I. 15.


Beside a placid, crystal flood,
A stag admired the branching wood
That high upon his forehead stood,
But gave his Maker little thanks
For what he call'd his spindle shanks.
'What limbs are these for such a head!--
So mean and slim!' with grief he said.
'My glorious heads o'ertops
The branches of the copse;
My legs are my disgrace.'
As thus he talk'd, a bloodhound gave him chase.
To save his life he flew
Where forests thickest grew.
His horns,--pernicious ornament!--
Arresting him where'er he went,
Did unavailing render
What else, in such a strife,
Had saved his precious life--
His legs, as fleet as slender.
Obliged to yield, he cursed the gear
Which nature gave him every year.

Too much the beautiful we prize;
The useful, often, we despise:
Yet oft, as happen'd to the stag,
The former doth to ruin drag.

[11] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I.12.


To win a race, the swiftness of a dart
Availeth not without a timely start.
The hare and tortoise are my witnesses.
Said tortoise to the swiftest thing that is,
'I'll bet that you'll not reach, so soon as I
The tree on yonder hill we spy.'
'So soon! Why, madam, are you frantic?'
Replied the creature, with an antic;
'Pray take, your senses to restore,
A grain or two of hellebore.'[13]
'Say,' said the tortoise, 'what you will;
I dare you to the wager still.'
'Twas done; the stakes were paid,
And near the goal tree laid--
Of what, is not a question for this place,
Nor who it was that judged the race.
Our hare had scarce five jumps to make,
Of such as he is wont to take,
When, starting just before their beaks
He leaves the hounds at leisure,
Thence till the kalends of the Greeks,[14]
The sterile heath to measure.
Thus having time to browse and doze,
And list which way the zephyr blows,
He makes himself content to wait,
And let the tortoise go her gait
In solemn, senatorial state.
She starts; she moils on, modestly and lowly,
And with a prudent wisdom hastens slowly;
But he, meanwhile, the victory despises,
Thinks lightly of such prizes,
Believes it for his honour
To take late start and gain upon her.
So, feeding, sitting at his ease,
He meditates of what you please,
Till his antagonist he sees
Approach the goal; then starts,
Away like lightning darts:
But vainly does he run;
The race is by the tortoise won.
Cries she, 'My senses do I lack?
What boots your boasted swiftness now?
You're beat! and yet, you must allow,
I bore my house upon my back.'

[12] Aesop; also Lokman.
[13] _Hellebore_.--The ancient remedy for insanity.
[14] _Kalends of the Greeks_.--The Greeks, unlike the Romans, had no
kalends in their computation of time, hence the frequent use of this
expression to convey the idea of an indefinite period of time.


A gardener's ass complain'd to Destiny
Of being made to rise before the dawn.
'The cocks their matins have not sung,' said he,
'Ere I am up and gone.
And all for what? To market herbs, it seems.
Fine cause, indeed, to interrupt my dreams!'
Fate, moved by such a prayer,
Sent him a currier's load to bear,
Whose hides so heavy and ill-scented were,
They almost choked the foolish beast.
'I wish me with my former lord,' he said;
'For then, whene'er he turn'd his head,
If on the watch, I caught
A cabbage-leaf, which cost me nought.
But, in this horrid place, I find
No chance or windfall of the kind:--
Or if, indeed, I do,
The cruel blows I rue.'
Anon it came to pass
He was a collier's ass.
Still more complaint. 'What now?' said Fate,
Quite out of patience.
'If on this jackass I must wait,
What will become of kings and nations?
Has none but he aught here to tease him?
Have I no business but to please him?'
And Fate had cause;--for all are so.
Unsatisfied while here below
Our present lot is aye the worst.
Our foolish prayers the skies infest.
Were Jove to grant all we request,
The din renew'd, his head would burst.

[15] Aesop.


Rejoicing on their tyrant's wedding-day,
The people drown'd their care in drink;
While from the general joy did Aesop shrink,
And show'd its folly in this way.
'The sun,' said he, 'once took it in his head
To have a partner for his bed.
From swamps, and ponds, and marshy bogs,
Up rose the wailings of the frogs.
"What shall we do, should he have progeny?"
Said they to Destiny;
"One sun we scarcely can endure,
And half-a-dozen, we are sure,
Will dry the very sea.
Adieu to marsh and fen!
Our race will perish then,
Or be obliged to fix
Their dwelling in the Styx!"
For such an humble animal,
The frog, I take it, reason'd well.'

[16] There is another fable with this title, viz., Fable XXIV., Book XII.
This fable in its earlier form will be found in Phaedrus, I.6.


A countryman, as Aesop certifies,
A charitable man, but not so wise,
One day in winter found,
Stretch'd on the snowy ground,
A chill'd or frozen snake,
As torpid as a stake,
And, if alive, devoid of sense.
He took him up, and bore him home,
And, thinking not what recompense
For such a charity would come,
Before the fire stretch'd him,
And back to being fetch'd him.
The snake scarce felt the genial heat
Before his heart with native malice beat.
He raised his head, thrust out his forked tongue,
Coil'd up, and at his benefactor sprung.
'Ungrateful wretch!' said he, 'is this the way
My care and kindness you repay?
Now you shall die.' With that his axe he takes,
And with two blows three serpents makes.
Trunk, head, and tail were separate snakes;
And, leaping up with all their might,
They vainly sought to reunite.

'Tis good and lovely to be kind;
But charity should not be blind;
For as to wretchedness ingrate,
You cannot raise it from its wretched state.

[17] Aesop; also Phaedrus, IV.18.


Sick in his den, we understand,
The king of beasts sent out command
That of his vassals every sort
Should send some deputies to court--
With promise well to treat
Each deputy and suite;
On faith of lion, duly written,
None should be scratch'd, much less be bitten.
The royal will was executed,
And some from every tribe deputed;
The foxes, only, would not come.
One thus explain'd their choice of home:--
'Of those who seek the court, we learn,
The tracks upon the sand
Have one direction, and
Not one betokens a return.
This fact begetting some distrust,
His majesty at present must
Excuse us from his great levee.
His plighted word is good, no doubt;
But while how beasts get in we see,
We do not see how they get out.'

[18] Aesop.


From wrongs of wicked men we draw
Excuses for our own:--
Such is the universal law.
Would you have mercy shown,
Let yours be clearly known.

A fowler's mirror served to snare
The little tenants of the air.
A lark there saw her pretty face,
And was approaching to the place.
A hawk, that sailed on high
Like vapour in the sky,
Came down, as still as infant's breath,
On her who sang so near her death.
She thus escaped the fowler's steel,
The hawk's malignant claws to feel.
While in his cruel way,
The pirate pluck'd his prey,
Upon himself the net was sprung.
'O fowler,' pray'd he in the hawkish tongue,
'Release me in thy clemency!
I never did a wrong to thee.'
The man replied, ''Tis true;
And did the lark to you?'

[19] Abstemius, 3.


In such a world, all men, of every grade,
Should each the other kindly aid;
For, if beneath misfortune's goad
A neighbour falls, on you will fall his load.

There jogg'd in company an ass and horse;
Nought but his harness did the last endorse;
The other bore a load that crush'd him down,
And begg'd the horse a little help to give,
Or otherwise he could not reach the town.
'This prayer,' said he, 'is civil, I believe;
One half this burden you would scarcely feel.'
The horse refused, flung up a scornful heel,
And saw his comrade die beneath the weight:--
And saw his wrong too late;
For on his own proud back
They put the ass's pack,
And over that, beside,
They put the ass's hide.

[20] Aesop.


This world is full of shadow-chasers,
Most easily deceived.
Should I enumerate these racers,
I should not be believed.
I send them all to Aesop's dog,
Which, crossing water on a log,
Espied the meat he bore, below;
To seize its image, let it go;
Plunged in; to reach the shore was glad,
With neither what he hoped, nor what he'd had.

[21] Aesop; also Phaedrus, I. 4.


The Phaeton who drove a load of hay
Once found his cart bemired.
Poor man! the spot was far away
From human help--retired,
In some rude country place,
In Brittany, as near as I can trace,
Near Quimper Corentan,--
A town that poet never sang,--
Which Fate, they say, puts in the traveller's path,
When she would rouse the man to special wrath.
May Heaven preserve us from that route!
But to our carter, hale and stout:--
Fast stuck his cart; he swore his worst,
And, fill'd with rage extreme,
The mud-holes now he cursed,
And now he cursed his team,
And now his cart and load,--
Anon, the like upon himself bestow'd.
Upon the god he call'd at length,
Most famous through the world for strength.
'O, help me, Hercules!' cried he;
'For if thy back of yore
This burly planet bore,
Thy arm can set me free.'
This prayer gone up, from out a cloud there broke
A voice which thus in godlike accents spoke:--
'The suppliant must himself bestir,
Ere Hercules will aid confer.
Look wisely in the proper quarter,
To see what hindrance can be found;
Remove the execrable mud and mortar,
Which, axle-deep, beset thy wheels around.
Thy sledge and crowbar take,
And pry me up that stone, or break;
Now fill that rut upon the other side.
Hast done it?' 'Yes,' the man replied.
'Well,' said the voice, 'I'll aid thee now;
Take up thy whip.' 'I have ... but, how?
My cart glides on with ease!
I thank thee, Hercules.'
'Thy team,' rejoin'd the voice, 'has light ado;
So help thyself, and Heaven will help thee too.'

[22] Avianus; also Faerno; also Rabelais, Book IV., ch. 23, Bohn's


The world has never lack'd its charlatans,
More than themselves have lack'd their plans.
One sees them on the stage at tricks
Which mock the claims of sullen Styx.
What talents in the streets they post!
One of them used to boast
Such mastership of eloquence
That he could make the greatest dunce
Another Tully Cicero
In all the arts that lawyers know.
'Ay, sirs, a dunce, a country clown,
The greatest blockhead of your town,--
Nay more, an animal, an ass,--
The stupidest that nibbles grass,--
Needs only through my course to pass,
And he shall wear the gown
With credit, honour, and renown.'
The prince heard of it, call'd the man, thus spake:
'My stable holds a steed
Of the Arcadian breed,[24]
Of which an orator I wish to make.'
'Well, sire, you can,'
Replied our man.
At once his majesty
Paid the tuition fee.
Ten years must roll, and then the learned ass
Should his examination pass,
According to the rules
Adopted in the schools;
If not, his teacher was to tread the air,
With halter'd neck, above the public square,--
His rhetoric bound on his back,
And on his head the ears of jack.
A courtier told the rhetorician,
With bows and terms polite,
He would not miss the sight
Of that last pendent exhibition;
For that his grace and dignity
Would well become such high degree;
And, on the point of being hung,
He would bethink him of his tongue,
And show the glory of his art,--
The power to melt the hardest heart,--
And wage a war with time
By periods sublime--
A pattern speech for orators thus leaving,
Whose work is vulgarly call'd thieving.
'Ah!' was the charlatan's reply,
'Ere that, the king, the ass, or I,
Shall, one or other of us, die.'
And reason good had he;
We count on life most foolishly,
Though hale and hearty we may be.
In each ten years, death cuts down one in three.

[23] Abstemius.
[24] _Steed of the Arcadian breed_.--An ass, as in Fable XVII, Book VIII.


The goddess Discord, having made, on high,
Among the gods a general grapple,
And thence a lawsuit, for an apple,
Was turn'd out, bag and baggage, from the sky.
The animal call'd man, with open arms,
Received the goddess of such naughty charms,--
Herself and Whether-or-no, her brother,
With Thine-and-mine, her stingy mother.
In this, the lower universe,
Our hemisphere she chose to curse:
For reasons good she did not please
To visit our antipodes--
Folks rude and savage like the beasts,
Who, wedding-free from forms and priests,
In simple tent or leafy bower,
Make little work for such a power.
That she might know exactly where
Her direful aid was in demand,
Renown flew courier through the land,
Reporting each dispute with care;
Then she, outrunning Peace, was quickly there;
And if she found a spark of ire,
Was sure to blow it to a fire.
At length, Renown got out of patience
At random hurrying o'er the nations,
And, not without good reason, thought
A goddess, like her mistress, ought
To have some fix'd and certain home,
To which her customers might come;
For now they often search'd in vain.
With due location, it was plain
She might accomplish vastly more,
And more in season than before.
To find, howe'er, the right facilities,
Was harder, then, than now it is;
For then there were no nunneries.

So, Hymen's inn at last assign'd,
Thence lodged the goddess to her mind.[25]

[25] La Fontaine, gentle reader, does not mean to say that Discord lodges
with all married people, but that the foul fiend is never better
satisfied than when she can find such accommodation.--Translator.


A husband's death brings always sighs;
The widow sobs, sheds tears--then dries.
Of Time the sadness borrows wings;
And Time returning pleasure brings.
Between the widow of a year
And of a day, the difference
Is so immense,
That very few who see her
Would think the laughing dame
And weeping one the same.
The one puts on repulsive action,
The other shows a strong attraction.
The one gives up to sighs, or true or false;
The same sad note is heard, whoever calls.
Her grief is inconsolable,
They say. Not so our fable,
Or, rather, not so says the truth.

To other worlds a husband went
And left his wife in prime of youth.
Above his dying couch she bent,
And cried, 'My love, O wait for me!
My soul would gladly go with thee!'
(But yet it did not go.)
The fair one's sire, a prudent man,
Check'd not the current of her woe.
At last he kindly thus began:--
'My child, your grief should have its bound.
What boots it him beneath the ground
That you should drown your charms?
Live for the living, not the dead.
I don't propose that you be led
At once to Hymen's arms;
But give me leave, in proper time,
To rearrange the broken chime
With one who is as good, at least,
In all respects, as the deceased.'
'Alas!' she sigh'd, 'the cloister vows
Befit me better than a spouse.'
The father left the matter there.
About one month thus mourn'd the fair;
Another month, her weeds arranged;
Each day some robe or lace she changed,
Till mourning dresses served to grace,
And took of ornament the place.
The frolic band of loves
Came flocking back like doves.
Jokes, laughter, and the dance,
The native growth of France,
Had finally their turn;
And thus, by night and morn,
She plunged, to tell the truth,
Deep in the fount of youth.
Her sire no longer fear'd
The dead so much endear'd;
But, as he never spoke,
Herself the silence broke:--
'Where is that youthful spouse,' said she,
'Whom, sir, you lately promised me?'

[26] Abstemius.


Here check we our career:
Long books I greatly fear.
I would not quite exhaust my stuff;
The flower of subjects is enough.
To me, the time is come, it seems,
To draw my breath for other themes.
Love, tyrant of my life, commands
That other work be on my hands.
I dare not disobey.
Once more shall Psyche be my lay.
I'm call'd by Damon to portray
Her sorrows and her joys.
I yield: perhaps, while she employs,
My muse will catch a richer glow;
And well if this my labour'd strain
Shall be the last and only pain
Her spouse[27] shall cause me here below.

[27] _Her spouse_.--Cupid, the spouse of Psyche. The "other work on
my hands" mentioned in this Epilogue (the end of the poet's first
collection of Fables) was no doubt the writing of his "Psyche,"
which was addressed to his patron the Duchess de Bouillon, and
published in 1659, the year following the publication of the first
six Books of the Fables. See also Translator's Preface.

* * * * *


To Madame De Montespan[2]

The apologue[3] is from the immortal gods;
Or, if the gift of man it is,
Its author merits apotheosis.
Whoever magic genius lauds
Will do what in him lies
To raise this art's inventor to the skies.
It hath the potence of a charm,
On dulness lays a conquering arm,
Subjects the mind to its control,
And works its will upon the soul.
O lady, arm'd with equal power,
If e'er within celestial bower,
With messmate gods reclined,
My muse ambrosially hath dined,
Lend me the favour of a smile
On this her playful toil.
If you support, the tooth of time will shun,
And let my work the envious years outrun.
If authors would themselves survive,
To gain your suffrage they should strive.
On you my verses wait to get their worth;
To you my beauties all will owe their birth,--
For beauties you will recognize
Invisible to other eyes.
Ah! who can boast a taste so true,
Of beauty or of grace,
In either thought or face?
For words and looks are equal charms in you.
Upon a theme so sweet, the truth to tell,
My muse would gladly dwell:
But this employ to others I must yield;--
A greater master claims the field.
For me, fair lady, 'twere enough
Your name should be my wall and roof.
Protect henceforth the favour'd book
Through which for second life I look.
In your auspicious light,
These lines, in envy's spite,
Will gain the glorious meed,
That all the world shall read.
'Tis not that I deserve such fame;--
I only ask in Fable's name,
(You know what credit that should claim;)
And, if successfully I sue,
A fane will be to Fable due,--
A thing I would not build--except for you.

[1] Here commences the second collection of La Fontaine's Fables,
comprising Books VII. to XI. This collection was published in 1678-9,
ten years after the publication of the foregoing six Books. See
Translator's Preface.
[2] _Madame de Montespan_.--Francoise-Athenais de Rochechouart de
Mortemart, Marquise de Montespan, born 1641, died 1707. She
became one of the mistresses of the "Grand Monarque," Louis XIV., in
[3] _The apologue._--Here, as in the opening fable of Books V. and
VI., and elsewhere, La Fontaine defines Fable and defends the art of
the Fabulist.


The sorest ill that Heaven hath
Sent on this lower world in wrath,--
The plague (to call it by its name,)
One single day of which
Would Pluto's ferryman enrich,--
Waged war on beasts, both wild and tame.
They died not all, but all were sick:
No hunting now, by force or trick,
To save what might so soon expire.
No food excited their desire;
Nor wolf nor fox now watch'd to slay
The innocent and tender prey.
The turtles fled;
So love and therefore joy were dead.
The lion council held, and said:
'My friends, I do believe
This awful scourge, for which we grieve,
Is for our sins a punishment
Most righteously by Heaven sent.
Let us our guiltiest beast resign,
A sacrifice to wrath divine.
Perhaps this offering, truly small,
May gain the life and health of all.
By history we find it noted
That lives have been just so devoted.
Then let us all turn eyes within,
And ferret out the hidden sin.
Himself let no one spare nor flatter,
But make clean conscience in the matter.
For me, my appetite has play'd the glutton
Too much and often upon mutton.
What harm had e'er my victims done?
I answer, truly, None.
Perhaps, sometimes, by hunger press'd,
I've eat the shepherd with the rest.
I yield myself, if need there be;
And yet I think, in equity,
Each should confess his sins with me;
For laws of right and justice cry,
The guiltiest alone should die.'
'Sire,' said the fox, 'your majesty
Is humbler than a king should be,
And over-squeamish in the case.
What! eating stupid sheep a crime?
No, never, sire, at any time.
It rather was an act of grace,
A mark of honour to their race.
And as to shepherds, one may swear,
The fate your majesty describes,
Is recompense less full than fair
For such usurpers o'er our tribes.'

Thus Renard glibly spoke,
And loud applause from flatterers broke.
Of neither tiger, boar, nor bear,
Did any keen inquirer dare
To ask for crimes of high degree;
The fighters, biters, scratchers, all
From every mortal sin were free;
The very dogs, both great and small,
Were saints, as far as dogs could be.

The ass, confessing in his turn,
Thus spoke in tones of deep concern:--
'I happen'd through a mead to pass;
The monks, its owners, were at mass;
Keen hunger, leisure, tender grass,
And add to these the devil too,
All tempted me the deed to do.
I browsed the bigness of my tongue;
Since truth must out, I own it wrong.'

On this, a hue and cry arose,
As if the beasts were all his foes:
A wolf, haranguing lawyer-wise,
Denounced the ass for sacrifice--
The bald-pate, scabby, ragged lout,
By whom the plague had come, no doubt.
His fault was judged a hanging crime.
'What? eat another's grass? O shame!
The noose of rope and death sublime,'
For that offence, were all too tame!
And soon poor Grizzle felt the same.

Thus human courts acquit the strong,
And doom the weak, as therefore wrong.

[4] One of the most original as well as one of the most beautiful of the
poet's fables, yet much of the groundwork of its story may be traced
in the Fables of Bidpaii and other collections. See also note to
Fable XXII., Book I.


If worth, were not a thing more rare
Than beauty in this planet fair,
There would be then less need of care
About the contracts Hymen closes.
But beauty often is the bait
To love that only ends in hate;
And many hence repent too late
Of wedding thorns from wooing roses.[5]
My tale makes one of these poor fellows,
Who sought relief from marriage vows,
Send back again his tedious spouse,
Contentious, covetous, and jealous,
With nothing pleased or satisfied,
This restless, comfort-killing bride
Some fault in every one descried.
Her good man went to bed too soon,
Or lay in bed till almost noon.
Too cold, too hot,--too black, too white,--
Were on her tongue from morn till night.
The servants mad and madder grew;
The husband knew not what to do.
'Twas, 'Dear, you never think or care;'
And, 'Dear, that price we cannot bear;'
And, 'Dear, you never stay at home;'
And, 'Dear, I wish you would just come;'
Till, finally, such ceaseless dearing
Upon her husband's patience wearing,
Back to her sire's he sent his wife,
To taste the sweets of country life,
To dance at will the country jigs,
And feed the turkeys, geese, and pigs.
In course of time, he hoped his bride
Might have her temper mollified;
Which hope he duly put to test.
His wife recall'd, said he,
'How went with you your rural rest,
From vexing cares and fashions free?
Its peace and quiet did you gain,--
Its innocence without a stain?'
'Enough of all,' said she; 'but then
To see those idle, worthless men
Neglect the flocks, it gave me pain.
I told them, plainly, what I thought,
And thus their hatred quickly bought;
For which I do not care--not I.'
'Ah, madam,' did her spouse reply,
'If still your temper's so morose,
And tongue so virulent, that those
Who only see you morn and night
Are quite grown weary of the sight,
What, then, must be your servants' case,
Who needs must see you face to face,
Throughout the day?
And what must be the harder lot
Of him, I pray,
Whose days and nights
With you must be by marriage rights?
Return you to your father's cot.
If I recall you in my life,
Or even wish for such a wife,
Let Heaven, in my hereafter, send
Two such, to tease me without end!'

[5] The badinage of La Fontaine having been misunderstood, the
translator has altered the introduction to this fable. The intention
of the fable is to recommend prudence and good nature, not celibacy.
So the peerless Granville understands it, for his pencil tells us
that the hero of the fable did finally recall his wife,
notwithstanding his fearful imprecation. It seems that even she was
better than none.--Translator; (in his sixth edition).


The sage Levantines have a tale
About a rat that weary grew
Of all the cares which life assail,
And to a Holland cheese withdrew.
His solitude was there profound,
Extending through his world so round.
Our hermit lived on that within;
And soon his industry had been
With claws and teeth so good,
That in his novel hermitage,
He had in store, for wants of age,
Both house and livelihood.
What more could any rat desire?
He grew fair, fat, and round.
'God's blessings thus redound
To those who in His vows retire.'[6]
One day this personage devout,
Whose kindness none might doubt,
Was ask'd, by certain delegates
That came from Rat-United-States,
For some small aid, for they
To foreign parts were on their way,
For succour in the great cat-war.
Ratopolis beleaguer'd sore,
Their whole republic drain'd and poor,
No morsel in their scrips they bore.
Slight boon they craved, of succour sure
In days at utmost three or four.
'My friends,' the hermit said,
'To worldly things I'm dead.
How can a poor recluse
To such a mission be of use?
What can he do but pray
That God will aid it on its way?
And so, my friends, it is my prayer
That God will have you in his care.'
His well-fed saintship said no more,
But in their faces shut the door.
What think you, reader, is the service
For which I use this niggard rat?
To paint a monk? No, but a dervise.
A monk, I think, however fat,
Must be more bountiful than that.

[6] _God's blessing, &c_.--So the rat himself professed to consider the


One day,--no matter when or where,--
A long-legg'd heron chanced to fare
By a certain river's brink,
With his long, sharp beak
Helved on his slender neck;
'Twas a fish-spear, you might think.
The water was clear and still,
The carp and the pike there at will
Pursued their silent fun,
Turning up, ever and anon,
A golden side to the sun.
With ease might the heron have made
Great profits in his fishing trade.
So near came the scaly fry,
They might be caught by the passer-by.
But he thought he better might
Wait for a better appetite--
For he lived by rule, and could not eat,
Except at his hours, the best of meat.
Anon his appetite return'd once more;
So, approaching again the shore,
He saw some tench taking their leaps,
Now and then, from their lowest deeps.
With as dainty a taste as Horace's rat,
He turn'd away from such food as that.
'What, tench for a heron! poh!
I scorn the thought, and let them go.'
The tench refused, there came a gudgeon;
'For all that,' said the bird, 'I budge on.
I'll ne'er open my beak, if the gods please,
For such mean little fishes as these.'
He did it for less;
For it came to pass,
That not another fish could he see;
And, at last, so hungry was he,
That he thought it of some avail
To find on the bank a single snail.
Such is the sure result
Of being too difficult.
Would you be strong and great,
Learn to accommodate.
Get what you can, and trust for the rest;
The whole is oft lost by seeking the best.
Above all things beware of disdain;
Where, at most, you have little to gain.
The people are many that make
Every day this sad mistake.
'Tis not for the herons I put this case,
Ye featherless people, of human race.
--List to another tale as true,
And you'll hear the lesson brought home to you.[8]

[7] Abstemius.
[8] _The lesson brought home to you_. The two last lines refer the
reader to the next fable.

V.--THE MAID.[9]

A certain maid, as proud as fair,
A husband thought to find
Exactly to her mind--
Well-form'd and young, genteel in air,
Not cold nor jealous;--mark this well.
Whoe'er would wed this dainty belle
Must have, besides rank, wealth, and wit,
And all good qualities to fit--
A man 'twere difficult to get.
Kind Fate, however, took great care
To grant, if possible, her prayer.
There came a-wooing men of note;
The maiden thought them all,
By half, too mean and small.
'They marry me! the creatures dote:--
Alas! poor souls! their case I pity.'
(Here mark the bearing of the beauty.)
Some were less delicate than witty;
Some had the nose too short or long;
In others something else was wrong;
Which made each in the maiden's eyes
An altogether worthless prize.
Profound contempt is aye the vice
Which springs from being over-nice,
Thus were the great dismiss'd; and then
Came offers from inferior men.
The maid, more scornful than before,
Took credit to her tender heart
For giving then an open door.
'They think me much in haste to part
With independence! God be thank'd
My lonely nights bring no regret;
Nor shall I pine, or greatly fret,
Should I with ancient maids be rank'd.'
Such were the thoughts that pleased the fair:
Age made them only thoughts that were.
Adieu to lovers:--passing years
Awaken doubts and chilling fears.
Regret, at last, brings up the train.
Day after day she sees, with pain,
Some smile or charm take final flight,
And leave the features of a 'fright.'
Then came a hundred sorts of paint:
But still no trick, nor ruse, nor feint,
Avail'd to hide the cause of grief,
Or bar out Time, that graceless thief.
A house, when gone to wreck and ruin,
May be repair'd and made a new one.
Alas! for ruins of the face
No such rebuilding e'er takes place.
Her daintiness now changed its tune;
Her mirror told her, 'Marry soon!'
So did a certain wish within,
With more of secrecy than sin,--
A wish that dwells with even prudes,
Annihilating solitudes.
This maiden's choice was past belief,
She soothing down her restless grief,
And smoothing it of every ripple,
By marrying a cripple.

[9] This fable should be read in conjunction with the foregoing one.


Within the Great Mogul's domains there are
Familiar sprites of much domestic use:
They sweep the house, and take a tidy care
Of equipage, nor garden work refuse;
But, if you meddle with their toil,
The whole, at once, you're sure to spoil.
One, near the mighty Ganges flood,
The garden of a burgher good
Work'd noiselessly and well;
To master, mistress, garden, bore
A love that time and toil outwore,
And bound him like a spell.
Did friendly zephyrs blow,
The demon's pains to aid?
(For so they do, 'tis said.)
I own I do not know.
But for himself he rested not,
And richly bless'd his master's lot.
What mark'd his strength of love,
He lived a fixture on the place,
In spite of tendency to rove
So natural to his race.
But brother sprites conspiring
With importunity untiring,
So teased their goblin chief, that he,
Of his caprice, or policy,
Our sprite commanded to attend
A house in Norway's farther end,
Whose roof was snow-clad through the year,
And shelter'd human kind with deer.
Before departing to his hosts
Thus spake this best of busy ghosts:--
'To foreign parts I'm forced to go!
For what sad fault I do not know;--
But go I must; a month's delay,
Or week's perhaps, and I'm away.
Seize time; three wishes make at will;
For three I'm able to fulfil--
No more.' Quick at their easy task,
Abundance first these wishers ask--
Abundance, with her stores unlock'd--
Barns, coffers, cellars, larder, stock'd--
Corn, cattle, wine, and money,--
The overflow of milk and honey.
But what to do with all this wealth!
What inventories, cares, and worry!
What wear of temper and of health!
Both lived in constant, slavish hurry.
Thieves took by plot, and lords by loan;
The king by tax, the poor by tone.
Thus felt the curses which
Arise from being rich,--
'Remove this affluence!' they pray;
The poor are happier than they
Whose riches make them slaves.
'Go, treasures, to the winds and waves;
Come, goddess of the quiet breast,
Who sweet'nest toil with rest,
Dear Mediocrity, return!'
The prayer was granted as we learn.
Two wishes thus expended,
Had simply ended
In bringing them exactly where,
When they set out they were.
So, usually, it fares
With those who waste in such vain prayers
The time required by their affairs.
The goblin laugh'd, and so did they.
However, ere he went away,
To profit by his offer kind,
They ask'd for wisdom, wealth of mind,--
A treasure void of care and sorrow--
A treasure fearless of the morrow,
Let who will steal, or beg, or borrow.


His lion majesty would know, one day,
What bestial tribes were subject to his sway.
He therefore gave his vassals all,
By deputies a call,
Despatching everywhere
A written circular,
Which bore his seal, and did import
His majesty would hold his court
A month most splendidly;--
A feast would open his levee,
Which done, Sir Jocko's sleight
Would give the court delight.
By such sublime magnificence
The king would show his power immense.

Now were they gather'd all
Within the royal hall.--
And such a hall! The charnel scent
Would make the strongest nerves relent.
The bear put up his paw to close
The double access of his nose.
The act had better been omitted;
His throne at once the monarch quitted,
And sent to Pluto's court the bear,
To show his delicacy there.
The ape approved the cruel deed,
A thorough flatterer by breed.
He praised the prince's wrath and claws,
He praised the odour and its cause.
Judged by the fragrance of that cave,
The amber of the Baltic wave,
The rose, the pink, the hawthorn bank,
Might with the vulgar garlic rank.
The mark his flattery overshot,
And made him share poor Bruin's lot;
This lion playing in his way,
The part of Don Caligula.
The fox approach'd. 'Now,' said the king,
'Apply your nostrils to this thing,
And let me hear, without disguise,
The judgment of a beast so wise.'
The fox replied, 'Your Majesty will please
Excuse'--and here he took good care to sneeze;--
'Afflicted with a dreadful cold,
Your majesty need not be told:
My sense of smell is mostly gone.'

From danger thus withdrawn,
He teaches us the while,
That one, to gain the smile
Of kings, must hold the middle place
'Twixt blunt rebuke and fulsome praise;
And sometimes use with easy grace,
The language of the Norman race.[11]

[10] Phaedrus. IV. 13.
[11] The Normans are proverbial among the French for the oracular
noncommittal of their responses.--_Un Normand_, says the proverb,
_a son dit et son detit._--Translator.


Mars once made havoc in the air:
Some cause aroused a quarrel there
Among the birds;--not those that sing,
The courtiers of the merry Spring,
And by their talk, in leafy bowers,
Of loves they feel, enkindle ours;
Nor those which Cupid's mother yokes
To whirl on high her golden spokes;
But naughty hawk and vulture folks,
Of hooked beak and talons keen.
The carcass of a dog, 'tis said,
Had to this civil carnage led.
Blood rain'd upon the swarded green,
And valiant deeds were done, I ween.
But time and breath would surely fail
To give the fight in full detail;
Suffice to say, that chiefs were slain,
And heroes strow'd the sanguine plain,
Till old Prometheus, in his chains,
Began to hope an end of pains.
'Twas sport to see the battle rage,
And valiant hawk with hawk engage;
'Twas pitiful to see them fall,--
Torn, bleeding, weltering, gasping, all.
Force, courage, cunning, all were plied;
Intrepid troops on either side
No effort spared to populate
The dusky realms of hungry Fate.
This woful strife awoke compassion
Within another feather'd nation,
Of iris neck and tender heart.
They tried their hand at mediation--
To reconcile the foes, or part.
The pigeon people duly chose
Ambassadors, who work'd so well
As soon the murderous rage to quell,
And stanch the source of countless woes.
A truce took place, and peace ensued.
Alas! the people dearly paid
Who such pacification made!
Those cursed hawks at once pursued
The harmless pigeons, slew and ate,
Till towns and fields were desolate.
Small prudence had the friends of peace
To pacify such foes as these!

The safety of the rest requires
The bad should flesh each other's spears:
Whoever peace with them desires
Had better set them by the ears.

[12] Abstemius.


Upon a sandy, uphill road,
Which naked in the sunshine glow'd,
Six lusty horses drew a coach.
Dames, monks, and invalids, its load,
On foot, outside, at leisure trode.
The team, all weary, stopp'd and blow'd:
Whereon there did a fly approach,
And, with a vastly business air.
Cheer'd up the horses with his buzz,--
Now pricked them here, now prick'd them there,
As neatly as a jockey does,--
And thought the while--he knew 'twas so--
He made the team and carriage go,--
On carriage-pole sometimes alighting--
Or driver's nose--and biting.
And when the whole did get in motion,
Confirm'd and settled in the notion,
He took, himself, the total glory,--
Flew back and forth in wondrous hurry,
And, as he buzz'd about the cattle,
Seem'd like a sergeant in a battle,
The files and squadrons leading on
To where the victory is won.
Thus charged with all the commonweal,
This single fly began to feel
Responsibility too great,
And cares, a grievous crushing weight;
And made complaint that none would aid
The horses up the tedious hill--
The monk his prayers at leisure said--
Fine time to pray!--the dames, at will,
Were singing songs--not greatly needed!
Thus in their ears he sharply sang,
And notes of indignation ran,--
Notes, after all, not greatly heeded.
Erelong the coach was on the top:
'Now,' said the fly, 'my hearties, stop
And breathe;--I've got you up the hill;
And Messrs. Horses, let me say,
I need not ask you if you will
A proper compensation pay.'

Thus certain ever-bustling noddies
Are seen in every great affair;
Important, swelling, busy-bodies,
And bores 'tis easier to bear
Than chase them from their needless care.

[13] Aesop; also Phaedrus, III., 6.


A pot of milk upon her cushion'd crown,
Good Peggy hasten'd to the market town;
Short clad and light, with speed she went,


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