Tales and novels of Jean de La Fontaine

The Case of Conscience

THOSE who in fables deal, bestow at ease

Both names and titles, freely as they please.

It costs them scarcely any thing, we find.

And each is nymph or shepherdess designed;

Some e’en are goddesses, that move below,

From whom celestial bliss of course must flow.

THIS Horace followed, with superior art:—

If, to the trav’ller’s bed, with throbbing heart,

The chambermaid approached, ’twas Ilia found,

Or fair Egeria, or some nymph renowned.

GOD, in his goodness, made, one lovely day,

Apollo, who directs the lyrick lay,

And gave him pow’rs to call and name at will,

Like father Adam, with primordial skill.

Said he, go, names bestow that please the ear;

In ev’ry word let sweetest sound appear.

This ancient law then proves, by right divine,

WE oft are sponsors to the royal line.

WHEN pleasing tales and fables I endite,

I, who in humble verse presume to write,

May surely use this privilege of old,

And, to my fancy, appellations mould.

If I, instead of Anne, should Sylvia say,

And Master Thomas (when the case I weigh)

Should change to Adamas, the druid sage,

Must I a fine or punishment engage?

No, surely not:— at present I shall choose

Anne and the Parson for my tale to use.

WITHIN her village, Anne was thought the belle,

And ev’ry other charmer to excel.

As near a river once she chanced to stray,

She saw a youth in Nature’s pure array,

Who bathed at ease within the gliding stream;

The girl was brisk, and worthy of esteem,

Her eyes were pleased; the object gave delight;

Not one defect could be produced in sight;

Already, by the shepherdess adored,

If with the belle to pleasing flights he’d soared,

The god of love had all they wished concealed

None better know what should not be revealed.

Anne nothing feared: the willows were her shade,

Which, like Venetian blinds, a cov’ring made;

Her eyes, howe’er, across had easy view,

And, o’er the youth, each beauty could pursue.

SHE back four paces drew, at first, through shame;

Then, led by LOVE, eight others forward came;

But scruples still arose that ardour foiled,

And nearly ey’ry thing had truly spoiled.

Anne had a conscience pure as holy fire;

But how could she abstain from soft desire?

If, in the bosom chance a flame should raise,

Is there a pow’r can then subdue the blaze?

At first these inclinations she withstood;

But doubting soon, how those of flesh and blood

Could sins commit by stepping in advance,

She took her seat upon the green expanse,

And there attentively the lad observed,

With eyes that scarcely from him ever swerved.

PERHAPS you’ve seen, from Nature, drawings made?

Some Eve, or Adam, artists then persuade,

In birth-attire to stand within their view,

While they with care and taste each trait pursue;

And, like our shepherdess, their stations take,

A perfect semblance ev’ry way to make.

ANNE in her mem’ry now his image placed;

Each line and feature thoroughly she traced,

And even now the fair would there remain,

If William (so was called this youthful swain)

Had not the water left; when she retired,

Though scarcely twenty steps from him admired,

Who, more alert than usual then appeared,

And, by the belle, in silence was revered.

WHEN such sensations once were in the breast,

Love there we may believe would hardly rest.

THE favours Anne reserved he thought his own,

Though expectations oft away have flown.

The more of this I think, the less I know;

Perhaps one half our bliss to chance we owe!

BE this as ’twill, the conscientious Anne

Would nothing venture to regale her man;

Howe’er, she stated what had raised her fear,

And ev’ry thing that made her persevere.

WHEN Easter came, new difficulties rose

Then, in confession, ALL she should disclose.

Anne, passing peccadillos in review,

This case aside, as an intruder threw;

But parson Thomas made her all relate;

And ev’ry circumstance most clearly state;

That he, by knowing fully each defect,

Might punishment accordingly direct,

In which no father-confessor should err,

Who absolution justly would confer.

The parson much his penitent abused;

Said he, with sensual views to be amused,

Is such a sin, ’tis scarcely worse to steal;

The sight is just the same as if you feel.

HOWE’ER, the punishment that he imposed

Was nothing great:— too slight to be disclosed;

Enough to say, that in the country round,

The father-confessors, who there abound,

As in our own, (perhaps in ev’ry part,)

Have devotees, who, when they ought to smart,

A tribute pay, according to their lot,

And thus indulgences are often got.

THIS tribute to discharge the current year,

Much troubled Anne, and filled her breast with fear,

When William, fishing, chanced a pike to hook,

And gave it to his dear at once to cook,

Who, quite delighted, hastened to the priest,

And begged his rev’rence on the fish to feast.

The parson with the present much was pleased;

A tap upon the shoulder care appeased;

And with a smile he to the bringer said

This fish, with trifles on the table spread,

Will all complete; ’twas holyday we find,

When other clergy with our rector dined.

Will you still more oblige, the parson cried,

And let the fish at home by you be fried?

Then bring it here:— my servant’s very new,

And can’t attempt to cook as well as you.

Anne hastened back; meanwhile the priests arrived,

Much noise, and rout of course, once these were hived;

Wines from the vault were brought without delay;

Each of the quality would something say.

THE dinner served; the dean at table placed;

Their conversation various points embraced;

To state the whole would clearly endless be;

In this no doubt the reader will agree.

They changed and changed, and healths went round and round;

No time for scandal while such cheer was found;

The first and second course away were cleared,

Dessert served up, yet still no pike appeared.

The dinner o’er without th’ expected dish,

Or even a shadow of the promised fish.

When William learned the present Anne had made,

His wish, to have it cancelled, with her weighed.

The rector was surprised, you may suppose,

And, soon as from the table all arose,

He went to Anne, and called her fool and knave,

And, in his wrath, could scarcely secrets wave,

But nearly her reproached the bathing scene;

What, treat, said he, your priest like base and mean?

ANNE archly answered, with expression neat:—

The sight is just the same as if you eat!

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