The Fables of La Fontaine, by Jean de La Fontaine

Book IV.

I. — The Lion in Love.1

To Mademoiselle De Sévigné.2

Sévigné, type of every grace

In female form and face,

In your regardlessness of men,

Can you show favour when

The sportive fable craves your ear,

And see, unmoved by fear,

A lion’s haughty heart

Thrust through by Love’s audacious dart?

Strange conqueror, Love! And happy he,

And strangely privileged and free,

Who only knows by story

Him and his feats of glory!

If on this subject you are wont

To think the simple truth too blunt,

The fabulous may less affront;

Which now, inspired with gratitude,

Yea, kindled into zeal most fervent,

Doth venture to intrude

Within your maiden solitude,

And kneel, your humble servant. —

In times when animals were speakers,

Among the quadrupedal seekers

Of our alliance

There came the lions.

And wherefore not? for then

They yielded not to men

In point of courage or of sense,

Nor were in looks without pretence.

A high-born lion, on his way

Across a meadow, met one day

A shepherdess, who charm’d him so,

That, as such matters ought to go,

He sought the maiden for his bride.

Her sire, it cannot be denied,

Had much preferr’d a son-in-law

Of less terrific mouth and paw.

It was not easy to decide —

The lion might the gift abuse —

’Twas not quite prudent to refuse.

And if refusal there should be,

Perhaps a marriage one would see,

Some morning, made clandestinely.

For, over and above

The fact that she could bear

With none but males of martial air,

The lady was in love

With him of shaggy hair.

Her sire, much wanting cover

To send away the lover,

Thus spoke:— ‘My daughter, sir,

Is delicate. I fear to her

Your fond caressings

Will prove rough blessings.

To banish all alarm

About such sort of harm,

Permit us to remove the cause,

By filing off your teeth and claws.

In such a case, your royal kiss

Will be to her a safer bliss,

And to yourself a sweeter;

Since she will more respond

To those endearments fond

With which you greet her.’

The lion gave consent at once,

By love so great a dunce!

Without a tooth or claw now view him —

A fort with cannon spiked.

The dogs, let loose upon him, slew him,

All biting safely where they liked.

O, tyrant Love! when held by you,

We may to prudence bid adieu.

1] Aesop, also Verdizotti.

2] Mademoiselle de Sévigné. — Francoise-Marguerite de Sévigné, afterwards Madame de Grignan, the daughter of the celebrated Madame de Sévigné. The famous Sévigné “Letters” were for the most part addressed to Madame de Grignan. For some account of Madame de Sévigné and La Fontaine, see the Translator’s Preface; also note to Fable XI. Book VII.

II. — The Shepherd and the Sea.3

A shepherd, neighbour to the sea,

Lived with his flock contentedly.

His fortune, though but small,

Was safe within his call.

At last some stranded kegs of gold

Him tempted, and his flock he sold,

Turn’d merchant, and the ocean’s waves

Bore all his treasure — to its caves.

Brought back to keeping sheep once more,

But not chief shepherd, as before,

When sheep were his that grazed the shore,

He who, as Corydon or Thyrsis,

Might once have shone in pastoral verses,

Bedeck’d with rhyme and metre,

Was nothing now but Peter.

But time and toil redeem’d in full

Those harmless creatures rich in wool;

And as the lulling winds, one day,

The vessels wafted with a gentle motion,

‘Want you,’ he cried, ‘more money, Madam Ocean?

Address yourself to some one else, I pray;

You shall not get it out of me!

I know too well your treachery.’

This tale’s no fiction, but a fact,

Which, by experience back’d,

Proves that a single penny,

At present held, and certain,

Is worth five times as many,

Of Hope’s, beyond the curtain;

That one should be content with his condition,

And shut his ears to counsels of ambition,

More faithless than the wreck-strown sea, and which

Doth thousands beggar where it makes one rich, —

Inspires the hope of wealth, in glorious forms,

And blasts the same with piracy and storms.

3] Aesop.

III. — The Fly and the Ant.4

A fly and ant, upon a sunny bank,

Discuss’d the question of their rank.

‘O Jupiter!’ the former said,

‘Can love of self so turn the head,

That one so mean and crawling,

And of so low a calling,

To boast equality shall dare

With me, the daughter of the air?

In palaces I am a guest,

And even at thy glorious feast.

Whene’er the people that adore thee

May immolate for thee a bullock,

I’m sure to taste the meat before thee.

Meanwhile this starveling, in her hillock,

Is living on some bit of straw

Which she has labour’d home to draw.

But tell me now, my little thing,

Do you camp ever on a king,

An emperor, or lady?

I do, and have full many a play-day

On fairest bosom of the fair,

And sport myself upon her hair.

Come now, my hearty, rack your brain

To make a case about your grain.’

‘Well, have you done?’ replied the ant.

‘You enter palaces, I grant,

And for it get right soundly cursed.

Of sacrifices, rich and fat,

Your taste, quite likely, is the first; —

Are they the better off for that?

You enter with the holy train;

So enters many a wretch profane.

On heads of kings and asses you may squat;

Deny your vaunting I will not;

But well such impudence, I know,

Provokes a sometimes fatal blow.

The name in which your vanity delights

Is own’d as well by parasites,

And spies that die by ropes — as you soon will

By famine or by ague-chill,

When Phoebus goes to cheer

The other hemisphere, —

The very time to me most dear.

Not forced abroad to go

Through wind, and rain, and snow,

My summer’s work I then enjoy,

And happily my mind employ,

From care by care exempted.

By which this truth I leave to you,

That by two sorts of glory we are tempted,

The false one and the true.

Work waits, time flies; adieu:—

This gabble does not fill

My granary or till.’

4] Phaedrus, IV. 23.

IV. — The Gardener and His Lord.

A lover of gardens, half cit and half clown,

Possess’d a nice garden beside a small town;

And with it a field by a live hedge inclosed,

Where sorrel and lettuce, at random disposed,

A little of jasmine, and much of wild thyme,

Grew gaily, and all in their prime

To make up Miss Peggy’s bouquet,

The grace of her bright wedding day.

For poaching in such a nice field — ’twas a shame;

A foraging, cud-chewing hare was to blame.

Whereof the good owner bore down

This tale to the lord of the town:—

‘Some mischievous animal, morning and night,

In spite of my caution, comes in for his bite.

He laughs at my cunning-set dead-falls and snares;

For clubbing and stoning as little he cares.

I think him a wizard. A wizard! the coot!

I’d catch him if he were a devil to boot!’

The lord said, in haste to have sport for his hounds,

‘I’ll clear him, I warrant you, out of your grounds;

To morrow I’ll do it without any fail.’

The thing thus agreed on, all hearty and hale,

The lord and his party, at crack of the dawn,

With hounds at their heels canter’d over the lawn.

Arrived, said the lord in his jovial mood,

‘We’ll breakfast with you, if your chickens are good.

That lass, my good man, I suppose is your daughter:

No news of a son-in-law? Any one sought her?

No doubt, by the score. Keep an eye on the docket,

Eh? Dost understand me? I speak of the pocket.’

So saying, the daughter he graciously greeted,

And close by his lordship he bade her be seated;

Avow’d himself pleased with so handsome a maid,

And then with her kerchief familiarly play’d, —

Impertinent freedoms the virtuous fair

Repell’d with a modest and lady-like air, —

So much that her father a little suspected

The girl had already a lover elected.

Meanwhile in the kitchen what bustling and cooking!

‘For what are your hams? They are very good looking.’

‘They’re kept for your lordship.’ ‘I take them,’ said he;

‘Such elegant flitches are welcome to me.’

He breakfasted finely his troop, with delight, —

Dogs, horses, and grooms of the best appetite.

Thus he govern’d his host in the shape of a guest,

Unbottled his wine, and his daughter caress’d.

To breakfast, the huddle of hunters succeeds,

The yelping of dogs and the neighing of steeds,

All cheering and fixing for wonderful deeds;

The horns and the bugles make thundering din;

Much wonders our gardener what it can mean.

The worst is, his garden most wofully fares;

Adieu to its arbours, and borders, and squares;

Adieu to its chiccory, onions, and leeks;

Adieu to whatever good cookery seeks.

Beneath a great cabbage the hare was in bed,

Was started, and shot at, and hastily fled.

Off went the wild chase, with a terrible screech,

And not through a hole, but a horrible breach,

Which some one had made, at the beck of the lord,

Wide through the poor hedge! ‘Twould have been quite absurd

Should lordship not freely from garden go out,

On horseback, attended by rabble and rout.

Scarce suffer’d the gard’ner his patience to wince,

Consoling himself — ’Twas the sport of a prince;

While bipeds and quadrupeds served to devour,

And trample, and waste, in the space of an hour,

Far more than a nation of foraging hares

Could possibly do in a hundred of years.

Small princes, this story is true,

When told in relation to you.

In settling your quarrels with kings for your tools,

You prove yourselves losers and eminent fools.

V. — The Ass and the Little Dog.5

One’s native talent from its course

Cannot be turned aside by force;

But poorly apes the country clown

The polish’d manners of the town.

Their Maker chooses but a few

With power of pleasing to imbue;

Where wisely leave it we, the mass,

Unlike a certain fabled ass,

That thought to gain his master’s blessing

By jumping on him and caressing.

‘What!’ said the donkey in his heart;

‘Ought it to be that puppy’s part

To lead his useless life

In full companionship

With master and his wife,

While I must bear the whip?

What doth the cur a kiss to draw?

Forsooth, he only gives his paw!

If that is all there needs to please,

I’ll do the thing myself, with ease.’

Possess’d with this bright notion, —

His master sitting on his chair,

At leisure in the open air, —

He ambled up, with awkward motion,

And put his talents to the proof;

Upraised his bruised and batter’d hoof,

And, with an amiable mien,

His master patted on the chin,

The action gracing with a word —

The fondest bray that e’er was heard!

O, such caressing was there ever?

Or melody with such a quaver?

‘Ho! Martin!6 here! a club, a club bring!’

Out cried the master, sore offended.

So Martin gave the ass a drubbing, —

And so the comedy was ended.

5] Aesop.

6] Martin. — La Fontaine has “Martin-bâton,” a name for a groom or ostler armed with his cudgel of office, taken from Rabelais.

VI. — The Battle of the Rats and the Weasels.7

The weasels live, no more than cats,

On terms of friendship with the rats;

And, were it not that these

Through doors contrive to squeeze

Too narrow for their foes,

The animals long-snouted

Would long ago have routed,

And from the planet scouted

Their race, as I suppose.

One year it did betide,

When they were multiplied,

An army took the field

Of rats, with spear and shield,

Whose crowded ranks led on

A king named Ratapon.

The weasels, too, their banner

Unfurl’d in warlike manner.

As Fame her trumpet sounds,

The victory balanced well;

Enrich’d were fallow grounds

Where slaughter’d legions fell;

But by said trollop’s tattle,

The loss of life in battle

Thinn’d most the rattish race

In almost every place;

And finally their rout

Was total, spite of stout

Artarpax and Psicarpax,

And valiant Meridarpax,8

Who, cover’d o’er with dust,

Long time sustain’d their host

Down sinking on the plain.

Their efforts were in vain;

Fate ruled that final hour,

(Inexorable power!)

And so the captains fled

As well as those they led;

The princes perish’d all.

The undistinguish’d small

In certain holes found shelter,

In crowding, helter-skelter;

But the nobility

Could not go in so free,

Who proudly had assumed

Each one a helmet plumed;

We know not, truly, whether

For honour’s sake the feather,

Or foes to strike with terror;

But, truly, ’twas their error.

Nor hole, nor crack, nor crevice

Will let their head-gear in;

While meaner rats in bevies

An easy passage win; —

So that the shafts of fate

Do chiefly hit the great.

A feather in the cap

Is oft a great mishap.

An equipage too grand

Comes often to a stand

Within a narrow place.

The small, whate’er the case,

With ease slip through a strait,

Where larger folks must wait.

7] Phaedrus, Book IV. 6.

8] Names of rats, invented by Homer. — Translator.

VII. — The Monkey and the Dolphin.9

It was the custom of the Greeks

For passengers o’er sea to carry

Both monkeys full of tricks

And funny dogs to make them merry.

A ship, that had such things on deck,

Not far from Athens, went to wreck.

But for the dolphins, all had drown’d.

They are a philanthropic fish,

Which fact in Pliny may be found; —

A better voucher who could wish?

They did their best on this occasion.

A monkey even, on their plan

Well nigh attain’d his own salvation;

A dolphin took him for a man,

And on his dorsal gave him place.

So grave the silly creature’s face,

That one might well have set him down

That old musician of renown.10

The fish had almost reach’d the land,

When, as it happen’d, — what a pity! —

He ask’d, ‘Are you from Athens grand?’

‘Yes; well they know me in that city.

If ever you have business there,

I’ll help you do it, for my kin

The highest offices are in.

My cousin, sir, is now lord mayor.’

The dolphin thank’d him, with good grace,

Both for himself and all his race,

And ask’d, ‘You doubtless know Piraeus,

Where, should we come to town, you’ll see us.’

‘Piraeus? yes, indeed I know;

He was my crony long ago.’

The dunce knew not the harbour’s name,

And for a man’s mistook the same.

The people are by no means few,

Who never went ten miles from home,

Nor know their market-town from Rome,

Yet cackle just as if they knew.

The dolphin laugh’d, and then began

His rider’s form and face to scan,

And found himself about to save

From fishy feasts, beneath the wave,

A mere resemblance of a man.

So, plunging down, he turn’d to find

Some drowning wight of human kind.

9] Aesop.

10] Arion. — Translator. According to Herodotus, I. 24 (Bonn’s ed., p. 9), Arion, the son of Cyclon of Methymna, and famous lyric poet and musician, having won riches at a musical contest in Sicily, was voyaging home, when the sailors of his ship determined to murder him for his treasure. He asked to be allowed to play a tune; and as soon as he had finished he threw himself into the sea. It was then found that the music had attracted a number of dolphins round the ship, and one of these took the bard on its back and conveyed him safely to Taenarus.

VIII. — The Man and the Wooden God.11

A pagan kept a god of wood, —

A sort that never hears,

Though furnish’d well with ears, —

From which he hoped for wondrous good.

The idol cost the board of three;

So much enrich’d was he

With vows and offerings vain,

With bullocks garlanded and slain:

No idol ever had, as that,

A kitchen quite so full and fat.

But all this worship at his shrine

Brought not from this same block divine

Inheritance, or hidden mine,

Or luck at play, or any favour.

Nay, more, if any storm whatever

Brew’d trouble here or there,

The man was sure to have his share,

And suffer in his purse,

Although the god fared none the worse.

At last, by sheer impatience bold,

The man a crowbar seizes,

His idol breaks in pieces,

And finds it richly stuff’d with gold.

‘How’s this? Have I devoutly treated,’

Says he, ‘your godship, to be cheated?

Now leave my house, and go your way,

And search for altars where you may.

You’re like those natures, dull and gross,

From, which comes nothing but by blows;

The more I gave, the less I got;

I’ll now be rich, and you may rot.’

11] Aesop.

IX. — The Jay in the Feathers of the Peacock.12

A peacock moulted: soon a jay was seen

Bedeck’d with Argus tail of gold and green,13

High strutting, with elated crest,

As much a peacock as the rest.

His trick was recognized and bruited,

His person jeer’d at, hiss’d, and hooted.

The peacock gentry flock’d together,

And pluck’d the fool of every feather.

Nay more, when back he sneak’d to join his race,

They shut their portals in his face.

There is another sort of jay,

The number of its legs the same,

Which makes of borrow’d plumes display,

And plagiary is its name.

But hush! the tribe I’ll not offend;

’Tis not my work their ways to mend.

12] Aesop; Phaedrus, I. 3.

13] Argus tail of gold and green. — According to mythology, Argus, surnamed Panoptes (or all-seeing), possessed a hundred eyes, some of which were never closed in sleep. At his death Juno either transformed him into the peacock, or transferred his hundred eyes to the tail of that, her favourite, bird. “Argus tail of gold and green,” therefore, means tail endowed with the eyes of Argus.

X. — The Camel and the Floating Sticks.14

The first who saw the humpback’d camel

Fled off for life; the next approach’d with care;

The third with tyrant rope did boldly dare

The desert wanderer to trammel.

Such is the power of use to change

The face of objects new and strange;

Which grow, by looking at, so tame,

They do not even seem the same.

And since this theme is up for our attention,

A certain watchman I will mention,

Who, seeing something far

Away upon the ocean,

Could not but speak his notion

That ’twas a ship of war.

Some minutes more had past, —

A bomb-ketch ’twas without a sail,

And then a boat, and then a bale,

And floating sticks of wood at last!

Full many things on earth, I wot,

Will claim this tale, — and well they may;

They’re something dreadful far away,

But near at hand — they’re not.

14] Aesop.

XI. — The Frog and the Rat.15

They to bamboozle are inclined,

Saith Merlin,16 who bamboozled are.

The word, though rather unrefined,

Has yet an energy we ill can spare;

So by its aid I introduce my tale.

A well-fed rat, rotund and hale,

Not knowing either Fast or Lent,

Disporting round a frog-pond went.

A frog approach’d, and, with a friendly greeting,

Invited him to see her at her home,

And pledged a dinner worth his eating, —

To which the rat was nothing loath to come.

Of words persuasive there was little need:

She spoke, however, of a grateful bath;

Of sports and curious wonders on their path;

Of rarities of flower, and rush, and reed:

One day he would recount with glee

To his assembled progeny

The various beauties of these places,

The customs of the various races,

And laws that sway the realms aquatic,

(She did not mean the hydrostatic!)

One thing alone the rat perplex’d, —

He was but moderate as a swimmer.

The frog this matter nicely fix’d

By kindly lending him her

Long paw, which with a rush she tied

To his; and off they started, side by side.

Arrived upon the lakelet’s brink,

There was but little time to think.

The frog leap’d in, and almost brought her

Bound guest to land beneath the water.

Perfidious breach of law and right!

She meant to have a supper warm

Out of his sleek and dainty form.

Already did her appetite

Dwell on the morsel with delight.

The gods, in anguish, he invokes;

His faithless hostess rudely mocks;

He struggles up, she struggles down.

A kite, that hovers in the air,

Inspecting everything with care,

Now spies the rat belike to drown,

And, with a rapid wing,

Upbears the wretched thing,

The frog, too, dangling by the string!

The joy of such a double haul

Was to the hungry kite not small.

It gave him all that he could wish —

A double meal of flesh and fish.

The best contrived deceit

Can hurt its own contriver,

And perfidy doth often cheat

Its author’s purse of every stiver.

15] Aesop.

16] Merlin. — This is Merlin, the wizard of the old French novels.

XII. — The Animals Sending Tribute to Alexander.17

A fable flourished with antiquity

Whose meaning I could never clearly see.

Kind reader, draw the moral if you’re able:

I give you here the naked fable.

Fame having bruited that a great commander,

A son of Jove, a certain Alexander,

Resolved to leave nought free on this our ball,

Had to his footstool gravely summon’d all

Men, quadrupeds, and nullipeds, together

With all the bird-republics, every feather, —

The goddess of the hundred mouths, I say,

Thus having spread dismay,

By widely publishing abroad

This mandate of the demigod,

The animals, and all that do obey

Their appetite alone, mistrusted now

That to another sceptre they must bow.

Far in the desert met their various races,

All gathering from their hiding-places.

Discuss’d was many a notion.

At last, it was resolved, on motion,

To pacify the conquering banner,

By sending homage in, and tribute.

With both the homage and its manner

They charged the monkey, as a glib brute;

And, lest the chap should too much chatter,

In black on white they wrote the matter.

Nought but the tribute served to fash,

As that must needs be paid in cash.

A prince, who chanced a mine to own,

At last, obliged them with a loan.

The mule and ass, to bear the treasure,

Their service tender’d, full of pleasure;

And then the caravan was none the worse,

Assisted by the camel and the horse.

Forthwith proceeded all the four

Behind the new ambassador,

And saw, erelong, within a narrow place,

Monseigneur Lion’s quite unwelcome face.

‘Well met, and all in time,’ said he;

‘Myself your fellow traveller will be.

I wend my tribute by itself to bear;

And though ’tis light, I well might spare

The unaccustom’d load.

Take each a quarter, if you please,

And I will guard you on the road;

More free and at my ease —

In better plight, you understand,

To fight with any robber band.’

A lion to refuse, the fact is,

Is not a very usual practice:

So in he comes, for better and for worse;

Whatever he demands is done,

And, spite of Jove’s heroic son,

He fattens freely from the public purse.

While wending on their way,

They found a spot one day,

With waters hemm’d, of crystal sheen;

Its carpet, flower-besprinkled green;

Where pastured at their ease

Both flocks of sheep and dainty heifers,

And play’d the cooling breeze —

The native land of all the zephyrs.

No sooner is the lion there

Than of some sickness he complains.

Says he, ‘You on your mission fare.

A fever, with its thirst and pains,

Dries up my blood, and bakes my brains;

And I must search some herb,

Its fatal power to curb.

For you, there is no time to waste;

Pay me my money, and make haste.’

The treasures were unbound,

And placed upon the ground.

Then, with a look which testified

His royal joy, the lion cried,

‘My coins, good heavens, have multiplied!

And see the young ones of the gold

As big already as the old!

The increase belongs to me, no doubt;’

And eagerly he took it out!

’Twas little staid beneath the lid;

The wonder was that any did.

Confounded were the monkey and his suite.

And, dumb with fear, betook them to their way,

And bore complaint to Jove’s great son, they say —

Complaint without a reason meet;

For what could he? Though a celestial scion,

He could but fight, as lion versus lion.

When corsairs battle, Turk with Turk,

They’re not about their proper work.

17] The story of this fable has been traced to Gilbert Cousin, in whose works it figures with the title “De Jovis Ammonis oraculo.” Gilbert Cousin was Canon of Nozeret, and wrote between 1506 and 1569.

XIII. — The Horse Wishing to Be Revenged Upon the Stag.18

The horses have not always been

The humble slaves of men.

When, in the far-off past,

The fare of gentlemen was mast,

And even hats were never felt,

Horse, ass, and mule in forests dwelt.

Nor saw one then, as in these ages,

So many saddles, housings, pillions;

Such splendid equipages,

With golden-lace postilions;

Such harnesses for cattle,

To be consumed in battle;

As one saw not so many feasts,

And people married by the priests.

The horse fell out, within that space,

With the antler’d stag, so fleetly made:

He could not catch him in a race,

And so he came to man for aid.

Man first his suppliant bitted;

Then, on his back well seated,

Gave chase with spear, and rested not

Till to the ground the foe he brought.

This done, the honest horse, quite blindly,

Thus thank’d his benefactor kindly:—

‘Dear sir, I’m much obliged to you;

I’ll back to savage life. Adieu!’

‘O, no,’ the man replied;

‘You’d better here abide;

I know too well your use.

Here, free from all abuse,

Remain a liege to me,

And large your provender shall be.’

Alas! good housing or good cheer,

That costs one’s liberty, is dear.

The horse his folly now perceived,

But quite too late he grieved.

No grief his fate could alter;

His stall was built, and there he lived,

And died there in his halter.

Ah! wise had he one small offence forgot!

Revenge, however sweet, is dearly bought

By that one good, which gone, all else is nought.

18] Phaedrus, IV. 4; Horace (Epistles, Book I. 10), and others.

XIV. — The Fox and the Bust.19

The great are like the maskers of the stage;

Their show deceives the simple of the age.

For all that they appear to be they pass,

With only those whose type’s the ass.

The fox, more wary, looks beneath the skin,

And looks on every side, and, when he sees

That all their glory is a semblance thin,

He turns, and saves the hinges of his knees,

With such a speech as once, ’tis said,

He utter’d to a hero’s head.

A bust, somewhat colossal in its size,

Attracted crowds of wondering eyes.

The fox admired the sculptor’s pains:

‘Fine head,’ said he, ‘but void of brains!’

The same remark to many a lord applies.

19] Aesop: Phaedrus, I. 7 (The Fox and the Tragic Mask).

XV. — The Wolf, the Goat, and the Kid.20

As went the goat her pendent dugs to fill,

And browse the herbage of a distant hill,

She latch’d her door, and bid,

With matron care, her kid; —

‘My daughter, as you live,

This portal don’t undo

To any creature who

This watchword does not give:

“Deuce take the wolf and all his race!"’

The wolf was passing near the place

By chance, and heard the words with pleasure,

And laid them up as useful treasure;

And hardly need we mention,

Escaped the goat’s attention.

No sooner did he see

The matron off, than he,

With hypocritic tone and face,

Cried out before the place,

‘Deuce take the wolf and all his race!’

Not doubting thus to gain admission.

The kid, not void of all suspicion,

Peer’d through a crack, and cried,

‘Show me white paw before

You ask me to undo the door.’

The wolf could not, if he had died,

For wolves have no connexion

With paws of that complexion.

So, much surprised, our gormandiser

Retired to fast till he was wiser.

How would the kid have been undone

Had she but trusted to the word

The wolf by chance had overheard!

Two sureties better are than one;

And caution’s worth its cost,

Though sometimes seeming lost.

20] Corrozet; and others.

XVI. — The Wolf, the Mother, and Her Child.21

This wolf another brings to mind,

Who found dame Fortune more unkind,

In that the greedy, pirate sinner,

Was balk’d of life as well as dinner.

As saith our tale, a villager

Dwelt in a by, unguarded place;

There, hungry, watch’d our pillager

For luck and chance to mend his case.

For there his thievish eyes had seen

All sorts of game go out and in —

Nice sucking calves, and lambs and sheep;

And turkeys by the regiment,

With steps so proud, and necks so bent,

They’d make a daintier glutton weep.

The thief at length began to tire

Of being gnaw’d by vain desire.

Just then a child set up a cry:

‘Be still,’ the mother said, ‘or I

Will throw you to the wolf, you brat!’

‘Ha, ha!’ thought he, ‘what talk is that!

The gods be thank’d for luck so good!’

And ready at the door he stood,

When soothingly the mother said,

‘Now cry no more, my little dear;

That naughty wolf, if he comes here,

Your dear papa shall kill him dead.’

‘Humph!’ cried the veteran mutton-eater.

‘Now this, now that! Now hot, now cool!

Is this the way they change their metre?

And do they take me for a fool?

Some day, a nutting in the wood,

That young one yet shall be my food.’

But little time has he to dote

On such a feast; the dogs rush out

And seize the caitiff by the throat;

And country ditchers, thick and stout,

With rustic spears and forks of iron,

The hapless animal environ.

‘What brought you here, old head?’ cried one.

He told it all, as I have done.

‘Why, bless my soul!’ the frantic mother said, —

‘You, villain, eat my little son!

And did I nurse the darling boy,

Your fiendish appetite to cloy?’

With that they knock’d him on the head.

His feet and scalp they bore to town,

To grace the seigneur’s hall,

Where, pinn’d against the wall,

This verse completed his renown:—

“Ye honest wolves, believe not all

That mothers say, when children squall!”

21] Aesop; and others.

XVII. — The Words of Socrates.22

A house was built by Socrates

That failed the public taste to please.

Some blamed the inside; some, the out; and all

Agreed that the apartments were too small.

Such rooms for him, the greatest sage of Greece!

‘I ask,’ said he, ‘no greater bliss

Than real friends to fill e’en this.’

And reason had good Socrates

To think his house too large for these.

A crowd to be your friends will claim,

Till some unhandsome test you bring.

There’s nothing plentier than the name;

There’s nothing rarer than the thing.

22] Phaedrus, III. 9.

XVIII. — The Old Man and His Sons.23

All power is feeble with dissension:

For this I quote the Phrygian slave.24

If aught I add to his invention,

It is our manners to engrave,

And not from any envious wishes; —

I’m not so foolishly ambitious.

Phaedrus enriches oft his story,

In quest — I doubt it not — of glory:

Such thoughts were idle in my breast.

An aged man, near going to his rest,

His gather’d sons thus solemnly address’d:—

‘To break this bunch of arrows you may try;

And, first, the string that binds them I untie.’

The eldest, having tried with might and main,

Exclaim’d, ‘This bundle I resign

To muscles sturdier than mine.’

The second tried, and bow’d himself in vain.

The youngest took them with the like success.

All were obliged their weakness to confess.

Unharm’d the arrows pass’d from son to son;

Of all they did not break a single one.

‘Weak fellows!’ said their sire, ‘I now must show

What in the case my feeble strength can do.’

They laugh’d, and thought their father but in joke,

Till, one by one, they saw the arrows broke.

‘See, concord’s power!’ replied the sire; ‘as long

As you in love agree, you will be strong.

I go, my sons, to join our fathers good;

Now promise me to live as brothers should,

And soothe by this your dying father’s fears.’

Each strictly promised with a flood of tears.

Their father took them by the hand, and died;

And soon the virtue of their vows was tried.

Their sire had left a large estate

Involved in lawsuits intricate;

Here seized a creditor, and there

A neighbour levied for a share.

At first the trio nobly bore

The brunt of all this legal war.

But short their friendship as ’twas rare.

Whom blood had join’d — and small the wonder! —

The force of interest drove asunder;

And, as is wont in such affairs,

Ambition, envy, were co-heirs.

In parcelling their sire’s estate,

They quarrel, quibble, litigate,

Each aiming to supplant the other.

The judge, by turns, condemns each brother.

Their creditors make new assault,

Some pleading error, some default.

The sunder’d brothers disagree;

For counsel one, have counsels three.

All lose their wealth; and now their sorrows

Bring fresh to mind those broken arrows.

23] Aesop, Avianus, and others.

24] Phrygan slave. — Aesop. See Translator’s Preface.

XIX. — The Oracle and the Atheist.25

That man his Maker can deceive,

Is monstrous folly to believe.

The labyrinthine mazes of the heart

Are open to His eyes in every part.

Whatever one may do, or think, or feel,

From Him no darkness can the thing conceal.

A pagan once, of graceless heart and hollow,

Whose faith in gods, I’m apprehensive,

Was quite as real as expensive.

Consulted, at his shrine, the god Apollo.

‘Is what I hold alive, or not?’

Said he, — a sparrow having brought,

Prepared to wring its neck, or let it fly,

As need might be, to give the god the lie.

Apollo saw the trick,

And answer’d quick,

‘Dead or alive, show me your sparrow,

And cease to set for me a trap

Which can but cause yourself mishap.

I see afar, and far I shoot my arrow.’

25] Aesop.

XX. — The Miser who had Lost His Treasure.26

’Tis use that constitutes possession.

I ask that sort of men, whose passion

It is to get and never spend,

Of all their toil what is the end?

What they enjoy of all their labours

Which do not equally their neighbours?

Throughout this upper mortal strife,

The miser leads a beggar’s life.

Old Aesop’s man of hidden treasure

May serve the case to demonstrate.

He had a great estate,

But chose a second life to wait

Ere he began to taste his pleasure.

This man, whom gold so little bless’d,

Was not possessor, but possess’d.

His cash he buried under ground,

Where only might his heart be found;

It being, then, his sole delight

To ponder of it day and night,

And consecrate his rusty pelf,

A sacred offering, to himself.

In all his eating, drinking, travel,

Most wondrous short of funds he seem’d;

One would have thought he little dream’d

Where lay such sums beneath the gravel.

A ditcher mark’d his coming to the spot,

So frequent was it,

And thus at last some little inkling got

Of the deposit.

He took it all, and babbled not.

One morning, ere the dawn,

Forth had our miser gone

To worship what he loved the best,

When, lo! he found an empty nest!

Alas! what groaning, wailing, crying!

What deep and bitter sighing!

His torment makes him tear

Out by the roots his hair.

A passenger demandeth why

Such marvellous outcry.

‘They’ve got my gold! it’s gone — it’s gone!’

‘Your gold! pray where?’ — ‘Beneath this stone.’

‘Why, man, is this a time of war,

That you should bring your gold so far?

You’d better keep it in your drawer;

And I’ll be bound, if once but in it,

You could have got it any minute.’

‘At any minute! Ah, Heaven knows

That cash comes harder than it goes!

I touch’d it not.’ — ‘Then have the grace

To explain to me that rueful face,’

Replied the man; ‘for, if ’tis true

You touch’d it not, how plain the case,

That, put the stone back in its place,

And all will be as well for you!’

26] Aesop, and others.

XXI. — The Eye of the Master.27

A stag took refuge from the chase

Among the oxen of a stable,

Who counsel’d him, as saith the fable,

To seek at once some safer place.

‘My brothers,’ said the fugitive,

‘Betray me not, and, as I live,

The richest pasture I will show,

That e’er was grazed on, high or low;

Your kindness you will not regret,

For well some day I’ll pay the debt.’

The oxen promised secrecy.

Down crouch’d the stag, and breathed more free.

At eventide they brought fresh hay,

As was their custom day by day;

And often came the servants near,

As did indeed the overseer,

But with so little thought or care,

That neither horns, nor hide, nor hair

Reveal’d to them the stag was there.

Already thank’d the wild-wood stranger

The oxen for their treatment kind,

And there to wait made up his mind,

Till he might issue free from danger.

Replied an ox that chew’d the cud,

‘Your case looks fairly in the bud;

But then I fear the reason why

Is, that the man of sharpest eye

Hath not yet come his look to take.

I dread his coming, for your sake;

Your boasting may be premature:

Till then, poor stag, you’re not secure.’

’Twas but a little while before

The careful master oped the door.

‘How’s this, my boys?’ said he;

‘These empty racks will never do.

Go, change this dirty litter too.

More care than this I want to see

Of oxen that belong to me.

Well, Jim, my boy, you’re young and stout;

What would it cost to clear these cobwebs out?

And put these yokes, and hames, and traces,

All as they should be, in their places?’

Thus looking round, he came to see

One head he did not usually.

The stag is found; his foes

Deal heavily their blows.

Down sinks he in the strife;

No tears can save his life.

They slay, and dress, and salt the beast,

And cook his flesh in many a feast,

And many a neighbour gets a taste.

As Phaedrus says it, pithily,

The master’s is the eye to see:—

I add the lover’s, as for me.

27] Phaedrus, II. 8 (The Stag and the Oxen); and others.

XXII. — The Lark and Her Young Ones with the Owner of a Field.28

“Depend upon yourself alone,”

Has to a common proverb grown.

’Tis thus confirm’d in Aesop’s way:—

The larks to build their nests are seen

Among the wheat-crops young and green;

That is to say,

What time all things, dame Nature heeding,

Betake themselves to love and breeding —

The monstrous whales and sharks,

Beneath the briny flood,

The tigers in the wood,

And in the fields, the larks.

One she, however, of these last,

Found more than half the spring-time past

Without the taste of spring-time pleasures;

When firmly she set up her will

That she would be a mother still,

And resolutely took her measures; —

First, got herself by Hymen match’d;

Then built her nest, laid, sat, and hatch’d.

All went as well as such things could.

The wheat-crop ripening ere the brood

Were strong enough to take their flight,

Aware how perilous their plight,

The lark went out to search for food,

And told her young to listen well,

And keep a constant sentinel.

‘The owner of this field,’ said she,

‘Will come, I know, his grain to see.

Hear all he says; we little birds

Must shape our conduct by his words.’

No sooner was the lark away,

Than came the owner with his son.

‘This wheat is ripe,’ said he: ‘now run

And give our friends a call

To bring their sickles all,

And help us, great and small,

To-morrow, at the break of day.’

The lark, returning, found no harm,

Except her nest in wild alarm.

Says one, ‘We heard the owner say,

Go, give our friends a call

To help, to-morrow, break of day.’

Replied the lark, ‘If that is all,

We need not be in any fear,

But only keep an open ear.

As gay as larks, now eat your victuals. — ’

They ate and slept — the great and littles.

The dawn arrives, but not the friends;

The lark soars up, the owner wends

His usual round to view his land.

‘This grain,’ says he, ‘ought not to stand.

Our friends do wrong; and so does he

Who trusts that friends will friendly be.

My son, go call our kith and kin

To help us get our harvest in.’

This second order made

The little larks still more afraid.

‘He sent for kindred, mother, by his son;

The work will now, indeed, be done.’

‘No, darlings; go to sleep;

Our lowly nest we’ll keep.’

With reason said; for kindred there came none.

Thus, tired of expectation vain,

Once more the owner view’d his grain.

‘My son,’ said he, ‘we’re surely fools

To wait for other people’s tools;

As if one might, for love or pelf,

Have friends more faithful than himself!

Engrave this lesson deep, my son.

And know you now what must be done?

We must ourselves our sickles bring,

And, while the larks their matins sing,

Begin the work; and, on this plan,

Get in our harvest as we can.’

This plan the lark no sooner knew,

Than, ‘Now’s the time,’ she said, ‘my chicks;’

And, taking little time to fix,

Away they flew;

All fluttering, soaring, often grounding,

Decamp’d without a trumpet sounding.

28] Aesop (Aulus Gellus); Avianus.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:57