Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Monks of Catalonia

TO you, my friends, allow me to detail,

The feats of monks in Catalonia’s vale,

Where oft the holy fathers pow’rs displayed,

And showed such charity to wife and maid,

That o’er their minds sweet fascination reigned,

And made them think, they Paradise had gained.

SUCH characters oft preciously advise,

And youthful easy female minds surprise,

The beauteous FAIR encircle with their net,

And, of the feeling heart, possession get:

Work in the holy vineyard, you may guess,

And, as our tale will show, with full success.

IN times of old, when learning ‘mong the FAIR,

Enough to read the testament, was rare,

(Times howsoe’er thought difficult to quote,)

A swarm of monks of gormandizing note,

Arrived and fixed themselves within a town,

For young and beauteous belles of great renown,

While, of gallants, there seemed but very few,

Though num’rous aged husbands you might view.

A NOBLE chapel soon the fathers raised,

To which the females ran and highly praised,

Surveyed it o’er and confidently thought,

’Twas there, of course, salvation should be sought.

And when their faith had thoroughly been proved,

To gain their point the monks the veil removed. —

Good father Andrew scorned to use finesse,

And in discourse the sex would thus address.

IF any thing prevent your sov’reign bliss,

And Paradise incautiously you miss,

Most certainly the evil will arise,

From keeping for your husbands large supplies,

Of what a surplus you have clearly got,

And more than requisite to them allot,

Without bestowing on your trusty friends,

The saving that to no one blessings lends.

PERHAPS you’ll tell me, marriage boons we shun;

’Tis true, and Heav’n be praised enough is done,

Without those duties to require our share

You know from direful sin we guard the FAIR.

Ingratitude ’s declared the height of crimes,

And God pronounced it such in early times;

For this eternally was Satan curst;

Howe’er you err, be careful of the worst.

Return to Heav’n your thanks for bounteous care,

And then to us a tithe of surplus spare,

Which costs you nothing worth a moment’s thought;

And marks the zeal with which our faith is taught,

A claim legitimate our order opes,

Bestowed, for holy offices, by popes,

No charitable gift, but lawful right:

Priests well supported are a glorious sight.

Four times a year, exactly to a day,

Each wife this tithe should personally pay

Our holy saint requires that you submit:

’Tis founded on decrees of holy writ.

All Nature carefully the law reveres,

That gratitude and fealty endears.

NOW marriage works we rank as an estate,

And tithe is due for that at any rate.

We’ll take it patiently, whate’er the toil:

Nor be o’er nice about the justful spoil.

Our order have not, you must surely know,

By many comforts, what we wish below.

’TIS right, however, that I now suggest,

Whatever passes must not be expressed;

But naught to husbands, parents, friends, reveal;

From ev’ry one the mysterious conceal.

Three words th’ apostle taught: be these your care;

FAITH, CHARITY, and PRUDENCE learn to share.

THE holy father, by his fine discourse,

Delivered with the most impressive force,

Gave wonderous satisfaction and surprise,

And passed with all for Solomon the wise;

Few slept while Andrew preached, and ev’ry wife,

His precepts guarded as she would her life;

And these not solely treasured in the mind,

But showed to practise them the heart inclined,

Each hastened tithe to bring without delay,

And quarrelled who should be the first to pay;

Loud murmurs rang, and many city dames,

Were forced to keep till morn the friar’s claims,

And HOLY CHURCH, not knowing what to do,

Such numbers seemed to be in paying cue,

At length was forced, without restraint, to say,

The Lord commands that, till a future day,

You give us time to breathe:— so large the lot,

To serve for present we enough have got;

Too much the whole at once, but by degrees,

Your tithe we’ll take and all contrive to please.

With us arrange the hour you would be here,

And some to-day:— to-morrow more we’ll cheer;

The whole in order, and you’ll clearly see,

That SOFTLY with FAIRLY best agree.

THE sex inclined to follow this advice;

About receipts however they were not nice;

The entertainment greatly was admired,

And pure devotion all their bosoms fired,

A glass of cordial some apart received;

Good cheer was given, may be well believed;

Ten youthful dames brisk friar Fripart took,

Gay, airy, and engaging ev’ry look,

Who paid with pleasure all the monk could wish;

Some had fifteen:— some twelve to taste their dish;

Good friar Rock had twenty for his share,

And gave such satisfaction to the FAIR,

That some, to show they never grudged the price,

And proved their punctuality — paid twice.

So much indeed, that satiated with ways,

That six long months engaged their nights and days:

They gladly credit would have given now,

But found the ladies would not this allow,

Believing it most positively wrong,

To keep whate’er might to the church belong.

No tithe arrears were any where around,

So zealous were the dames in duty found,

They often in advance paid holy dues,

How pure the monks! — how just the ladies views!

The friars used despatch alone with those,

That for their fascinating charms they chose,

And sent the sempiternals to bestow,

The tribute they had brought on those below,

For in the refuse tithes that were their lot,

The laicks oft pleasant pickings got.

In short ’twas difficult to say,

What charity was shown from day to day.

IT happened that one night a married dame,

Desirous to convey the monks their claim,

And walking with her spouse just by the spot,

Where dwelled the arch contrivers of the plot,

Good Heavens! said she, I well remember now,

I’ve business with a friar here, I vow;

’Twill presently be done if you’ll but wait;

Religious duties we must ne’er abate.

What duties? cried the husband with surprise;

You’re surely mad:—’tis midnight I surmise;

Confess yourself to-morrow if required;

The holy fathers are to bed retired.

That makes no difference, the lady cried. —

I think it does, the husband straight replied,

And thither I’ll not let you go to-night:—

What heinous sins so terribly affright,

That in such haste the mind you wish to ease?

To-morrow morn repair whene’er you please:

YOU do me wrong, rejoined the charming fair;

I neither want confession nor a prayer,

But anxiously desire what is due to pay;

For if incautiously I should delay,

Long time ‘would be ere I the monk should see,

With other matters he’ll so busy be.

But what can you the holy fathers owe?

To which the lady said:— what don’t you know?

A tithe, my dear, the friars always claim. —

What tithe? cried he; it surely has a name.

Not know! astonishingly, replied the wife. —

To which the husband answered:— On my life,

That women friars pay is very strange;

Will you particulars with me arrange?

How cunningly, said she, you seem to act;

Why clearly you’re acquainted with the fact?

’Tis Hymeneal works:— What works? cried he —

Lord! said the dame, assuredly you see,

Why I had paid an hour ago or more

And you’ve prevented me when at the door;

I’m sure, of those who owe, I’m not the worst,

For I, in paying, always was the first.

THE husband quite astonished now appeared;

At once a hundred diff’rent ills he feared;

But questioning his wife howe’er, he found,

That many other dames who lived around,

Like her; in paying tithes, the monks obeyed,

Which consolation to his breast conveyed.

Poor innocent! she nothing wished to hide;

Said she, not one but tithe they make provide;

Good friar Aubrey takes your sister’s dues;

To father Fabry Mrs. B’s accrues;

The mayoress friar William likes to greet,

A monk more handsome scarcely you will meet;

And I to friar Gerard always go;

I wished this night to pay him all I owe.

ALAS! when tongues unbridled drop disguise,

What direful ills, what discords oft arise!

The cunning husband having thus obtained,

Particulars of what the fathers gained,

At first designed in secret to disclose,

Those scenes of fraud and matrimonial woes:

The mayor and citizens should know, he thought;

What dues were paid: what tithes the friars sought;

But since ’twas rather difficult to place,

Full credence, at the first, in such a case,

He judged it best to make the fellow speak,

To whom his wife had shown herself so weak.

FOR father Gerard in the morn he sent,

Who, unsuspecting, to the husband went,

When, in the presence of the injured wife,

He drew his sword and swore he’d take his life,

Unless the mystery he would disclose,

Which he reluctantly through terror chose.

Then having bound the friar hand and foot,

And in another room his lady put,

He sallied forth his hapless lot to tell,

And to the mayor exposed the wily spell;

The corporation next; then up and down,

The secret he divulged throughout the town.

A CRY for vengeance presently was heard;

The whole at once to slaughter, some preferred

While others would the place with fire surround,

And burn the house with those within it found.

Some wished to drown them, bound within their dress;

With various other projects you may guess;

But all agreed that death should be their lot,

And those for burning had most voices got.

WITHOUT delay they to the convent flew;

But when the holy mansion came in view,

Respect, the place of execution changed;

A citizen his barn for this arranged;

The crafty crew together were confined,

And in the blaze their wretched lives resigned,

While round the husbands danced at sound of drum,

And burnt whatever to their hands had come;

Naught ‘scaped their fury, monks of all degrees,

Robes, mantles, capuchins, and mock decrees:

All perished properly within the flames;

But nothing more I find about the dames;

And friar Gerard, in another place,

Had met apart his merited disgrace.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38