To M. De Maucroix.
Because the arts are plainly birthright matters,
For fables we to ancient Greece are debtors;
But still this field could not be reaped so clean
As not to let us, later comers, glean.
The fiction-world has deserts yet to dare,
And, daily, authors make discoveries there.
I had fain repeat one which our man of song,
Old Malherbe, told one day to young Racan.
Of Horace they the rivals and the heirs,
Apollo's pets, – my masters, I should say, –
Sole by themselves were met, I'm told, one day,
Confiding each to each their thoughts and cares.
Racan begins: 'Pray end my inward strife,
For well you know, my friend, what's what in life,
Who through its varied course, from stage to stage,
Have stored the full experience of age;
What shall I do? It's time I chose profession.
You know my fortune, birth, and disposition.
Ought I to make the country my resort,
Or seek the army, or to rise at court?
There's nothing but mixes bitterness with charms;
War has its pleasures; hymen, its alarms.
it were nothing hard to take my natural bent, –
But I have a world of people to content."
"Content a world!" old Malherbe cries; "who can, sir?
Why, let me tell a story before I answer."
"A miller and his son, I have somewhere read,
The first in years, the other but a lad, –
A fine, smart boy, however, I should say, –
To sell their ass went to a fair one day.
In order there to get the highest price,
They needs must keep their donkey fresh and nice;
So, tying fast his feet, they swung him clear,
And bore him hanging like a chandelier.
Alas! poor, simple-minded country fellows!
The first that sees their load, loud laughing, bellows,
"What farce is this to split good people's sides?
The most an ass is not the one that rides!"
The miller, much enlightened by this talk,
Untied his precious beast, and made him walk.
The ass, who liked the other mode of travel,
Brayed some complaint at trudging on the gravel;
Whereat, not understanding well the beast,
The miller caused his hopeful son to ride,
And walked behind, without a spark of pride.
Three merchants passed, and, mightily displeased,
The eldest of these gentlemen cried out,
"Ho there! dismount, for shame, you lubber lout!
Nor make a foot-boy of your grey-beard sire;
Change places, as the rights of age require."
"To please you, sirs," the miller said, "I ought."
So down the young and up the old man got.
Three girls next passing, "What a shame!" says one,
"That boy should be obliged on foot to run,
While that old chap, on his ass astride,
Should play the calf, and like a bishop ride!"
"Please save your wit," the miller made reply,
"Tough veal, my girls, the calf as old as I."
But joke on joke repeated changed his mind;
So up he took, at last, his son behind.
Not thirty yards ahead, another set
Found fault. "The biggest fools I ever met,"
Says one of them, "such burdens to impose.
The ass is faint, and dying with their blows.
Is this, indeed, the mercy which these rustics
Show to their honest, faithful, old domestics?
If to the fair these lazy fellows ride,
"Twill be to sell thereat the donkey's hide!"
"Zounds!" cried the miller, "precious little brains
Has he who takes, to please the world, such pains;
But since we're in, we'll try what can be done."
So off the ass they jumped, himself and son,
And, like a prelate, donkey marched alone.
Another man they met. "These folks," said he,
"Enslave themselves to let their ass go free –
The darling brute! If I might be so bold,
I had counsel them to have him set in gold.
Not so went Nicholas his Jane to woo,
Who rode, we sing, his ass to save his shoe."
"Ass! ass!" our man replied; "we're asses three!
I do avow myself an ass to be;
But since my sage advisers can't agree,
Their words henceforth shall not be heeded;
I'll suit myself." And he succeeded.
"For you, choose army, love, or court;
In town, or country, make resort;
Take wife, or cowl; ride you, or walk;
Doubt not but tongues will have their talk."
 The story of this fable has been used by most of the fabulists, from
 In the original editions this fable is dedicated "A. M. D. M." which initials
stand for "To M. De Maucroix," Canon of Rheims, an early and late friend and patron of the
 Old Malherbe and young Racan. – French poets. Malherbe was born in
1556, and died in 1628. La Fontaine owed to Malherbe's works the happy inspiration which
led him to write poetry. See Translator's Preface. Honorat de Bueil, Marquis de Racan, was
born at La Roche Racan in 1589. As a poet he was a pupil of Malherbe. His works were
praised by Boileau, and he was one of the earliest members of the French Academy.
 Nicholas and his Jane. – An allusion to an old French song.
Perhaps, had I but shown due loyalty,
This book would have begun with royalty,
Of which, in certain points of view,
Boss Belly is the image true,
In whose bereavements all the members share:
Of whom the latter once so weary were,
As all due service to forbear,
On what they called his idle plan,
Resolved to play the gentleman,
And let his lordship live on air.
"Like burden-beasts," said they,
"We sweat from day to day;
And all for whom, and what?
Ourselves we profit not.
Our labour has no object but one,
That is, to feed this lazy glutton.
We'll learn the resting trade
By his example's aid."
So said, so done; all labour ceased;
The hands refused to grasp, the arms to strike;
All other members did the like.
Their boss might labour if he pleased!
It was an error which they soon repented,
With pain of languid poverty acquainted.
The heart no more the blood renewed,
And hence repair no more accrued
To ever-wasting strength;
Whereby the mutineers, at length,
Saw that the idle belly, in its way,
Did more for common benefit than they.
For royalty our fable makes,
A thing that gives as well as takes
Its power all labour to sustain,
Nor for themselves turns out their labour vain.
It gives the artist bread, the merchant riches;
Maintains the diggers in their ditches;
Pays man of war and magistrate;
Supports the swarms in place,
That live on sovereign grace;
In short, is caterer for the state.
Menenius told the story well:
When Rome, of old, in pieces fell,
The commons parting from the senate.
"The ills," said they, "that we complain at
Are, that the honours, treasures, power, and dignity,
Belong to them alone; while we
Get nothing our labour for
But tributes, taxes, and fatigues of war."
Without the walls the people had their stand
Prepared to march in search of other land,
When by this noted fable
Menenius was able
To draw them, hungry, home
To duty and to Rome.
 Aesop. Rabelais also has a version: Book 3. ch. 3.
 Boss. – A word probably more familiar to hod-carriers than to
lexicographers; qu. derived from the French bosseman, or the English
boatswain, pronounced bos'n? It denotes a "master" of some practical "art."
Master Belly, says Rabelais, was the first Master of Arts in the world. – Translator. The
name used by La Fontaine is "Messer Gaster." To which he puts a footnote stating that he
meant "L'estomac." He took the name from Rabelais, Book 4. , ch. 57, where it occurs thus:
"Messer Gaster est le premier maitre es arts de ce monde.... Son mandement est nomme: Faire
le fault, sans delay, ou mourir."
 Menenius. – See Translator's Preface.
 Rome. – According to our republican notions of government, these people were
somewhat imposed on. Perhaps the fable finds a more appropriate application in the relation
of employer to employed. I leave the fabulists and the political economists to settle the
question between them. – Translator.
A wolf, whose gettings from the flocks
Began to be but few,
Bethought himself to play the fox
In character quite new.
A shepherd's hat and coat he took,
A cudgel for a crook,
Nor even the pipe forgot:
And more to seem what he was not,
Himself on his hat he wrote,
"I'm Willie, shepherd of these sheep."
His person thus complete,
His crook in upraised feet,
The impostor Willie stole on the keep.
The real Willie, on the grass asleep,
Slept there, indeed, profoundly,
His dog and pipe slept, also soundly;
His drowsy sheep around lay.
As for the greatest number,
Much blessed the hypocrite their slumber,
And hoped to drive away the flock,
Could he the shepherd's voice but mock.
He thought undoubtedly he could.
He tried: the tone in which he spoke,
Loud echoing from the wood,
The plot and slumber broke;
Sheep, dog, and man awoke.
The wolf, in sorry plight,
In hampering coat bedight,
Could neither run nor fight.
There's always leakage of deceit
Which makes it never safe to cheat.
Whoever is a wolf had better
Keep clear of hypocritic fetter.
 The story of this fable is traced to Verdizotti, an Italian poet who
lived about 1535-1600.
A certain commonwealth aquatic,
Grown tired of order democratic,
By clamouring in the ears of Jove, effected
Its being to a monarch's power subjected.
Jove flung it down, at first, a king pacific.
Who nathless fell with such a splash terrific,
The marshy folks, a foolish race and timid,
Made breathless haste to get from him hid.
They dived into the mud beneath the water,
Or found among the reeds and rushes quarter.
And long it was they dared not see
The dreadful face of majesty,
Supposing that some monstrous frog
Had been sent down to rule the bog.
The king was really a log,
Whose gravity inspired with awe
The first that, from his hiding-place
Forth venturing, astonished, saw
The royal blockhead's face.
With trembling and with fear,
At last he drew quite near.
Another followed, and another yet,
Till quite a crowd at last were met;
Who, growing fast and strangely bolder,
Perched soon on the royal shoulder.
His gracious majesty kept still,
And let his people work their will.
Clack, clack! what din beset the ears of Jove?
"We want a king," the people said, "to move!"
The god straight sent them down a crane,
Who caught and slew them without measure,
And gulped their carcasses at pleasure;
Whereat the frogs more wofully complain.
"What! what!" great Jupiter replied;
"By your desires must I be tied?
Think you such government is bad?
You should have kept what first you had;
Which having blindly failed to do,
It had been prudent still for you
To let that former king suffice,
More meek and mild, if not so wise.
With this now make yourselves content,
Lest for your sins a worse be sent."
 Aesop: Phaedrus, 1. 2.
A fox once journeyed, and for company
A certain bearded, horned goat had he;
Which goat no further than his nose could see.
The fox was deeply versed in trickery.
These travellers did thirst compel
To seek the bottom of a well.
There, having drunk enough for two,
Says fox, "My friend, what shall we do?
It's time that we were thinking
Of something else than drinking.
Raise you your feet on the wall,
And stick your horns up straight and tall;
Then up your back I'll climb with ease,
And draw you after, if you please."
"Yes, by my beard," the other said,
"It's just the thing. I like a head
Well stocked with sense, like thine.
Had it been left to mine,
I do confess,
I never should have thought of this."
So Renard clambered out,
And, leaving there the goat,
Discharged his obligations
By preaching thus on patience:
"Had Heaven put sense your head within,
To match the beard on your chin,
You would have thought a bit,
Before descending such a pit.
I'm out of it; good bye:
With prudent effort try
Yourself to extricate.
For me, affairs of state
Permit me not to wait."
Whatever way you wend,
Consider well the end.
 Aesop; also in Phaedrus, 4, 9.
A certain hollow tree
Was tenanted by three.
An eagle held a lofty bough,
The hollow root a wild wood sow,
A female cat between the two.
All busy with maternal labours,
They lived awhile obliging neighbours.
At last the cat's deceitful tongue
Broke up the peace of old and young.
Up climbing to the eagle's nest,
She said, with whiskered lips compressed,
"Our death, or, what as much we mothers fear,
That of our helpless offspring dear,
Is surely drawing near.
Beneath our feet, see you not how
Destruction's plotted by the sow?
Her constant digging, soon or late,
Our proud old castle will uproot.
And then – O, sad and shocking fate! –
She'll eat our young ones, as the fruit!
Were there but hope of saving one,
"Twould soothe somewhat my bitter moan."
Thus leaving apprehensions hideous,
Down went the puss perfidious
To where the sow, no longer digging,
Was in the very act of pigging.
"Good friend and neighbour," whispered she,
"I warn you on your guard to be.
Your pigs should you but leave a minute,
This eagle here will seize them in it.
Speak not of this, I beg, at all,
Lest on my head her wrath should fall."
Another breast with fear inspired,
With fiendish joy the cat retired.
The eagle ventured no egress
To feed her young, the sow still less.
Fools they, to think that any curse
Than ghastly famine could be worse!
Both staid at home, resolved and obstinate,
To save their young ones from impending fate, –
The royal bird for fear of mine,
For fear of royal claws the swine.
All died, at length, with hunger,
The older and the younger;
There staid, of eagle race or boar,
Not one this side of death's dread door; –
A sad misfortune, which
The wicked cats made rich.
O, what is there of hellish plot
The treacherous tongue dares not!
Of all the ills Pandora's box outpoured,
Deceit, I think, is most to be abhorred.
 Phaedrus, 2, 4.
 Pandora's box. – Pandora, the Eve of the Grecian mythology, was sent to
earth with all the human ills and Hope in a box, whence all but Hope
escaped. – Vide Elton's Hesiod, Works and Days, 1. 114, Bohn's edition,
Each has his fault, to which he clings
In spite of shame or fear.
This apophthegm a story brings,
To make its truth more clear.
A sot had lost health, mind, and purse;
And, truly, for that matter,
Sots mostly lose the latter
Before running half their course.
When wine, one day, of wit had filled the room,
His wife inclosed him in a spacious tomb.
There did the fumes evaporate
At leisure from his drowsy pate.
When he awoke, he found
His body wrapped around
With grave-clothes, chill and damp,
Beneath a dim sepulchral lamp.
"How's this? My wife a widow sad?"
He cried, "and I a ghost? Dead? dead?"
Thereat his spouse, with snaky hair,
And robes like those the Furies wear,
With voice to fit the realms below,
Brought boiling caudle to his bier –
For Lucifer the proper cheer;
By which her husband came to know –
For he had heard of those three ladies –
Himself a citizen of Hades.
"What may your office be?"
The phantom questioned he.
"I'm server up of Pluto's meat,
And bring his guests the same to eat."
"Well," says the sot, not taking time to think,
"And don't you bring us anything to drink?"
When Nature angrily turned out
Those plagues, the spider and the gout, –
"Do you see," said she, "those huts so meanly built,
These palaces so grand and richly gilt?
By mutual agreement fix
Your choice of dwellings; or if not,
To end the affair by lot,
Draw out these little sticks."
"The huts are not for me," the spider cried;
"And not for me the palace," cried the gout;
For there a sort of men she spied
Called doctors, going in and out,
From whom, she could not hope for ease.
So hied her to the huts the fell disease,
And, fastening on a poor man's toe,
Hoped there to fatten on his woe,
And torture him, fit after fit,
Without a summons ever to quit,
From old Hippocrates.
The spider, on the lofty ceiling,
As if she had a life-lease feeling.
Wove wide her cunning toils,
Soon rich with insect spoils.
A maid destroyed them as she swept the room:
Repaired, again they felt the fatal broom.
The wretched creature, every day,
From house and home must pack away.
At last, her courage giving out,
She went to seek her sister gout,
And in the field descried her,
Quite starved: more evils did betide her
Than ever befel the poorest spider –
Her toiling host enslaved her so,
And made her chop, and dig, and hoe!
(Says one, "Kept brisk and busy,
The gout is made half easy.")
"O, when," exclaimed the sad disease,
"Will this my misery stop?
O, sister spider, if you please,
Our places let us swop."
The spider gladly heard,
And took her at her word, –
And flourished in the cabin-lodge,
Not forced the tidy broom to dodge
The gout, selecting her abode
With an ecclesiastic judge,
Turned judge herself, and, by her code,
He from his couch no more could budge.
The salves and cataplasms Heaven knows,
That mocked the misery of his toes;
While aye, without a blush, the curse,
Kept driving onward worse and worse.
Needless to say, the sisterhood
Thought their exchange both wise and good.
 The story of this fable is told in Petrarch, (Epistles, 3. 13) and by
The wolves are prone to play the glutton.
One, at a certain feast, it's said,
So stuffed himself with lamb and mutton,
He seemed but little short of dead.
Deep in his throat a bone stuck fast.
Well for this wolf, who could not speak,
That soon a stork quite near him passed.
By signs invited, with her beak
The bone she drew
With slight ado,
And for this skilful surgery
Demanded, modestly, her fee.
"Your fee!" replied the wolf,
In accents rather gruff;
"And is it not enough
Your neck is safe from such a gulf?
Go, for a wretch ingrate,
Nor tempt again your fate!"
 Phaedrus, 1. 8; and Aesop.
A picture once was shown,
In which one man, alone,
On the ground had thrown
A lion fully grown.
Much gloried at the sight the rabble.
A lion thus rebuked their babble:
"That you have got the victory there,
There is no contradiction.
But, gentles, possibly you are
The dupes of easy fiction:
Had we the art of making pictures,
Perhaps our champion had beat yours!"
A fox, almost with hunger dying,
Some grapes on a trellis spying,
To all appearance ripe, clad in
Their tempting russet skin,
Most gladly would have eat them;
But since he could not get them,
So far above his reach the vine –
"They're sour," he said; "such grapes as these,
The dogs may eat them if they please!"
Did he not better than to whine?
 Aesop: Phaedrus, 4. 3.
The pleasures of a poultry yard
Were by a swan and gosling shared.
The swan was kept there for his looks,
The thrifty gosling for the cooks;
The first the garden's pride, the latter
A greater favourite on the platter.
They swam the ditches, side by side,
And often in sports aquatic vied,
Plunging, splashing far and wide,
With rivalry never satisfied.
One day the cook, named Thirsty John,
Sent for the gosling, took the swan,
In haste his throat to cut,
And put him in the pot.
The bird's complaint resounded
In glorious melody;
Whereat the cook, astounded
His sad mistake to see,
Cried, "What! make soup of a musician!
Please God, I'll never set such dish on.
No, no; I'll never cut a throat
That sings so sweet a note."
It's thus, whatever peril may alarm us,
Sweet words will never harm us.
By-gone a thousand years of war,
The wearers of the fleece
And wolves at last made peace;
Which both appeared the better for;
For if the wolves had now and then
Eat up a straggling ewe or wether,
As often had the shepherd men
Turned wolf-skins into leather.
Fear always spoiled the verdant herbage,
And so it did the bloody carnage.
Hence peace was sweet; and, lest it should be riven,
On both sides hostages were given.
The sheep, as by the terms arranged,
For pups of wolves their dogs exchanged;
Which being done above suspicion,
Confirmed and sealed by high commission,
What time the pups were fully grown,
And felt an appetite for prey,
And saw the sheepfold left alone,
The shepherds all away,
They seized the fattest lambs they could,
And, choking, dragged them to the wood;
Of which, by secret means apprised,
Their sires, as is surmised,
Fell on the hostage guardians of the sheep,
And slew them all asleep.
So quick the deed of perfidy was done,
There fled to tell the tale not one!
From which we may conclude
That peace with villains will be rued.
Peace in itself, it's true,
May be a good for you;
But It's an evil, nathless,
When enemies are faithless.
A lion, mourning, in his age, the wane
Of might once dreaded through his wild domain,
Was mocked, at last, on his throne,
By subjects of his own,
Strong through his weakness grown.
The horse his head saluted with a kick;
The wolf snapped at his royal hide;
The ox, too, gored him in the side;
The unhappy lion, sad and sick,
Could hardly growl, he was so weak.
In uncomplaining, stoic pride,
He waited for the hour of fate,
Till the ass approached his gate;
Whereat, "This is too much," he says;
"I willingly would yield my breath;
But, ah! your kick is double death!"
 Phaedrus, 1. 21.
From home and city spires, one day,
The swallow Progne flew away,
And sought the bosky dell
Where sang poor Philomel.
"My sister," Progne said, "how do you do?
It's now a thousand years since you
Have been concealed from human view;
I'm sure I have not seen your face
Once since the times of Thrace.
Pray, will you never quit this dull retreat?"
"Where could I find," said Philomel, "so sweet?"
"What! sweet?" cried Progne – 'sweet to waste
Such tones on beasts devoid of taste,
Or on some rustic, at the most!
Should you by deserts be engrossed?
Come, be the city's pride and boast.
Besides, the woods remind of harms
That Tereus in them did your charms."
"Alas!" replied the bird of song,
"The thought of that so cruel wrong
Makes me, from age to age,
Prefer this hermitage;
For nothing like the sight of men
Can call up what I suffered then."
 Progne and Philomel. – Progne and Philomela, sisters, in mythology. Progne
was Queen of Thrace, and was changed into a swallow. Her sister was changed into a
nightingale; vide Ovid, Metamorphoses.
I hate that saying, old and savage,
"It's nothing but a woman drowning."
That's much, I say. What grief more keen should have edge
Than loss of her, of all our joys the crowning?
Thus much suggests the fable I am borrowing.
A woman perished in the water,
Where, anxiously, and sorrowing,
Her husband sought her,
To ease the grief he could not cure,
By honoured rites of sepulture.
It chanced that near the fatal spot,
Along the stream which had
Produced a death so sad,
There walked some men that knew it not.
The husband asked if they had seen
His wife, or anything that hers had been.
One promptly answered, "No!
But search the stream below:
It must nave borne her in its flow."
"No," said another; "search above.
In that direction
She would have floated, by the love
This joke was truly out of season; –
I don't propose to weigh its reason.
But whether such propensity
The sex's fault may be,
Or not, one thing is very sure,
Its own propensities endure.
Up to the end they'll have their will,
And, if it could be, further still.
A weasel through a hole contrived to squeeze,
(She was recovering from disease,)
Which led her to a farmer's hoard.
There lodged, her wasted form she cherished;
Heaven knows the lard and victuals stored
That by her gnawing perished!
Of which the consequence
Was sudden corpulence.
A week or so was past,
When having fully broken fast.
A noise she heard, and hurried
To find the hole by which she came,
And seemed to find it not the same;
So round she ran, most sadly flurried;
And, coming back, thrust out her head,
Which, sticking there, she said,
"This is the hole, there can't be blunder:
What makes it now so small, I wonder,
Where, but the other day, I passed with ease?"
A rat her trouble sees,
And cries, "But with an emptier belly;
You entered lean, and lean must sally."
What I have said to you
Has eke been said to not a few,
Who, in a vast variety of cases,
Have ventured into such-like places.
 Aesop: also in Horace, Epistles, Book 1. 7.
 A vast variety of cases. – Chamfort says of this passage: "La Fontaine,
with his usual delicacy, here alludes to the king's farmers and other officers in place;
and abruptly quits the subject as if he felt himself on ticklish ground."
A story-writer of our sort
Historifies, in short,
Of one that may be reckoned
A Rodilard the Second, – 
The Alexander of the cats,
The Attila, the scourge of rats,
Whose fierce and whiskered head
Among the latter spread,
A league around, its dread;
Who seemed, indeed, determined
The world should be unvermined.
The planks with props more false than slim,
The tempting heaps of poisoned meal,
The traps of wire and traps of steel,
Were only play compared with him.
At length, so sadly were they scared.
The rats and mice no longer dared
To show their thievish faces
Outside their hiding-places,
Thus shunning all pursuit; whereat
Our crafty General Cat
Contrived to hang himself, as dead,
Beside the wall with downward head,
Resisting gravitation's laws
By clinging with his hinder claws
To some small bit of string.
The rats esteemed the thing
A judgment for some naughty deed,
Some thievish snatch,
Or ugly scratch;
And thought their foe had got his meed
By being hung indeed.
With hope elated all
Of laughing at his funeral,
They thrust their noses out in air;
And now to show their heads they dare;
Now dodging back, now venturing more;
At last on the larder's store
They fall to filching, as of yore.
A scanty feast enjoyed these shallows;
Down dropped the hung one from his gallows,
And of the hindmost caught.
"Some other tricks to me are known,"
Said he, while tearing bone from bone,
"By long experience taught;
The point is settled, free from doubt,
That from your holes you shall come out."
His threat as good as prophecy
Was proved by Mr. Mildandsly;
For, putting on a mealy robe,
He squatted in an open tub,
And held his purring and his breath; –
Out came the vermin to their death.
On this occasion, one old stager,
A rat as grey as any badger,
Who had in battle lost his tail,
Abstained from smelling at the meal;
And cried, far off, "Ah! General Cat,
I much suspect a heap like that;
Your meal is not the thing, perhaps,
For one who knows somewhat of traps;
Should you a sack of meal become,
I had let you be, and stay at home."
Well said, I think, and prudently,
By one who knew distrust to be
The parent of security.
 Phaedrus, Book 4. 2: also in Aesop, and Faerno.
 Rodilard the Second. – Another allusion to Rabelais's cat Rodilardus. See
Fable 2, Book 2.
 Attila. – The King of the Huns, who, for overrunning half Europe, was termed
the Scourge of God.