Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Progress of Wit

DIVERTING in extreme there is a play,

Which oft resumes its fascinating sway;

Delights the sex, or ugly, fair, or sour;

By night or day:—’tis sweet at any hour.

The frolick, ev’ry where is known to fame;

Conjecture if you can, and tells its name.

THIS play’s chief charm to husbands is unknown;

’Tis with the lover it excels alone;

No lookers-on, as umpires, are required;

No quarrels rise, though each appears inspired;

All seem delighted with the pleasing game:—

Conjecture if you can, and tell its name.

BE this as ’twill, and called whate’er it may;

No longer trifling with it I shall stay,

But now disclose a method to transmit

(As oft we find) to ninnies sense and wit.

Till Alice got instruction in this school,

She was regarded as a silly fool,

Her exercise appeared to spin and sew:—

Not hers indeed, the hands alone would go;

For sense or wit had in it no concern;

Whate’er the foolish girl had got to learn,

No part therein could ever take the mind;

Her doll, for thought, was just as well designed.

The mother would, a hundred times a day,

Abuse the stupid maid, and to her say

Go wretched lump and try some wit to gain.

THE girl, quite overcome with shame and pain;

Her neighbours asked to point her out the spot,

Where useful wit by purchase might be got.

The simple question laughter raised around;

At length they told her, that it might be found

With father Bonadventure, who’d a stock,

Which he at times disposed of to his flock.

AWAY in haste she to the cloister went,

To see the friar she was quite intent,

Though trembling lest she might disturb his ease;

And one of his high character displease.

The girl exclaimed, as on she moved — Will he

Such presents willingly bestow on me,

Whose age, as yet, has scarcely reached fifteen?

With such can I be worthy to be seen?

Her innocence much added to her charms,

The gentle wily god of soft alarms

Had not a youthful maiden in his book,

That carried more temptation in her look.

MOST rev’rend sir, said she, by friends I’m told,

That in this convent wit is often sold,

Will you allow me some on trust to take?

My treasure won’t afford that much I stake;

I can return if more I should require;

Howe’er, you’ll take this pledge I much desire;

On which she tried to give the monk a ring,

That to her finger firmly seemed to cling.

BUT when the friar saw the girl’s design,

He cried, good maid, the pledge we will decline,

And what is wished, provide for you the same;

’Tis merchandize, and whatsoe’er its fame,

To some ’tis freely giv’n:— to others taught

If not too dear, oft better when ’tis bought.

Come in and boldly follow where I lead;

None round can see: you’ve nothing here to heed;

They’re all at prayers; the porter’s at my will;

The very walls, of prudence have their fill.

SHE entered as the holy monk desired,

And they together to his cell retired.

The friar on the bed this maiden threw;

A kiss would take:— she from him rather drew;

And said. — To give one wit is this the way?

Yes, answered he, and round her ‘gan to play:

Upon her bosom then he put his hand

What now, said she, am I to understand?

Is this the way? — Said he, ’tis so decreed;

Then patiently she let the monk proceed,

Who followed up, from point to point, his aim;

And wit, by easy steps, advancing came,

Till its progression with her was complete;

Then Alice laughed, success appeared so sweet.

A SECOND dose the friar soon bestowed,

And e’en a third, so fast his bounty flowed.

Well, said the monk, pray how d’ye find the play?

The girl replied: wit will not long delay;

’Twill soon arrive; but then I fear its flight:

I’m half afraid ’twill leave me ere ’tis night.

We’ll see, rejoined the priest, that naught you lose;

But other secrets oftentimes we use.

Seek not those the smiling girl replied

With this most perfectly I’m satisfied;

Then be it so, said he, we’ll recommence,

Nor longer keep the business in suspense,

But to the utmost length at once advance;

For this fair Alice showed much complaisance:

The secret by the friar was renewed;

Much pleasure in it Bonadventure viewed;

The belle a courtesy dropt, and then retired,

Reflecting on the wit she had acquired;

Reflecting, do you say? — To think inclined?

Yes, even more:— she sought excuse to find,

Not doubting that she should be forced to say,

Some cause for keeping her so long away.

TWO days had passed, when came a youthful friend;

Fair Nancy with her often would unbend;

Howe’er, so very thoughtful Alice seemed,

That Nancy (who was penetrating deemed)

Was well convinced whatever Alice sought,

So very absent she was not for naught.

In questioning she managed with such art,

That soon she learned — what Alice could impart

To listen she was thoroughly disposed,

While t’other ev’ry circumstance disclosed,

From first to last, each point and mystick hit,

And e’en the largeness of the friar’s wit,

The repetitions, and the wondrous skill

With which he managed ev’ry thing at will.

BUT now, cried Alice, favour me I pray,

And tell at once, without reserve, the way

That you obtained such wit as you possess,

And all particulars to me confess.

IF I, said Nancy, must avow the truth,

Your brother Alan was the bounteous youth,

Who me obliged therewith, and freely taught,

What from the holy friar you’d have bought.

My brother Alan! — Alan! Alice cried;

He ne’er with any was himself supplied;

I’m all surprise; he’s thought a heavy clot,

How could he give what he had never got?

FOOL! said the other, little thou can’st know;

For once, to me some information owe;

In such a case much skill is not required,

And Alan freely gave what I desired.

If me thou disbeliev’st, thy mother ask;

She thoroughly can undertake the task.

ON such a point we readily should say,

Long live the fools who wit so well display!

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