THE TALES AND NOVELS - V1
THE TALES AND NOVELS - V1
JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks or pointers at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE TALES AND NOVELS
J. DE LA FONTAINE
LA FONTAINE'S LIFE
The Cudgelled and Contented Cuckold
The Husband Confessor
The Peasant and His Angry Lord
The Servant Girl Justified
The Three Gossips' Wager
The Old Man's Calendar
The Avaricious Wife and Tricking Gallant
The Jealous Husband
The Gascon Punished
The Princess Betrothed to the King of Garba
The Magick Cup
The Little Dog
The Eel Pie
The Ephesian Matron
The Little Bell
The Two Friends
The Country Justice
The Kiss Returned
An Imitation of Anacreon
Another Imitation of Anacreon
PREFACE (To The Second Book)
Friar Philip's Geese
The Monks of Catalonia
St. Julian's Prayer
The Countryman Who Sought His Calf
Hans Carvel's Ring
The Convent Gardener of Lamporechio
The Amorous Courtesan
The Progress of Wit
The Sick Abbess
The Case of Conscience
The Devil of Pope-fig Island
King Candaules and the Doctor of Laws
The Devil in Hell
Neighbour Peter's Mare
The Bucking Tub
The Impossible Thing
The Ear-maker and the Mould-mender
The River Scamander
The Confidant Without Knowing It or the
The Indiscreet Confession
The Quid Pro Quo or the Mistakes
To Promise is One Thing to Keep It Another
Epitaph of La Fontaine
JEAN DE LA FONTAINE
Jean de La Fontaine was born on the 8th of July 1621 at Chateau-
Thierry and his family held a respectable position there.
His education was neglected but he had received that genius which makes
amends for all. While still young the tedium of society led him into
retirement from which a taste for independence afterwards withdrew him.
He had reached the age of twenty-two when a few sounds from the lyre of
Malherbe heard by accident awoke in him the muse which slept.
He soon became acquainted with the best models: Pheedrus Virgil Horace
and Terence amongst the Latins; Plutarch Homer and Plato amongst the
Greeks; Rabelais Marot and d'Urfe amongst the French; Tasso Ariosto
and Boccaccio amongst the Italians.
He married in compliance with the wishes of his family a beautiful
witty and chaste woman who drove him to despair.
He was sought after and cherished by all distinguished men of letters.
But it was two Ladies who kept him from experiencing the pangs of
La Fontaine if there remain anything of thee and if it be permitted to
thee for a moment to soar above all time; see the names of La Sabliere
and of Hervard pass with thine to the ages to come!
The life of La Fontaine was so to speak only one of continual
distraction. In the midst of society he was absent from it. Regarded
almost as an imbecile by the crowd this clever author this amiable man
only permitted himself to be seen at intervals and by friends.
He had few books and few friends.
Amongst a large number of works that he has left everyone knows his
fables and his tales and the circumstances of his life are written in
a hundred places.
He died on the 16th of March 1695.
Let us keep silence about his last moments for fear of irritating those
who never forgive.
His fellow-citizens honour him in his posterity to this day.
Long after his death foreigners went to visit the room which he had
Once a year I shall go to visit his tomb.
On that day I shall tear up a fable of La Mothe a tale of Vergier or
several of the best pages of Grecourt.
He was buried in the cemetery of Saint-Joseph by the side of Moliere.
That spot will always be held sacred by poets and people of taste.
THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE
TO THE FIRST VOLUME OF THESE TALES
I had resolved not to consent to the printing of these Tales until after
I had joined to them those of Boccaccio which are those most to my
taste; but several persons have advised me to produce at once what I
have remaining of these trifles in order to prevent from cooling the
curiosity to see them which is still in its first ardour. I gave way to
this advice without much difficulty and I have thought well to profit by
the occasion. Not only is that permitted me but it would be vanity on
my part to despise such an advantage. It has sufficed me to wish that no
one should be imposed upon in my favour and to follow a road contrary to
that of certain persons who only make friends in order to gain voices in
their favour by their means; creatures of the Cabal very different from
that Spaniard who prided himself on being the son of his own works.
Although I may still be as much in want of these artifices as any other
person I cannot bring myself to resolve to employ them; however I shall
accommodate myself if possible to the taste of the times instructed as I
am by my own experience that there is nothing which is more necessary.
Indeed one cannot say that all seasons are suitable for all classes of
books. We have seen the Roundelays the Metamorphoses the Crambos
reign one after another. At present these gallantries are out of date
and nobody cares about them: so certain is it that what pleases at one
time may not please at another! It only belongs to works of truly solid
merit and sovereign beauty to be well received by all minds and in all
ages without possessing any other passport than the sole merit with
which they are filled. As mine are so far distant from such a high
degree of perfection prudence advises that I should keep them in my
cabinet unless I choose well my own time for producing them. This is
what I have done or what I have tried to do in this edition in which
I have only added new Tales because it seemed to me that people were
prepared to take pleasure in them. There are some which I have extended
and others which I have abridged only for the sake of diversifying them
and making them less tedious. But I am occupying myself over matters
about which perhaps people will take no notice whilst I have reason to
apprehend much more important objections. There are only two principal
ones which can be made against me; the one that this book is licentious;
the other that it does not sufficiently spare the fair sex. With regard
to the first I say boldly that the nature of what is understood as a
tale decided that it should be so it being an indispensable law
according to Horace or rather according to reason and common sense that
one must conform one's self to the nature of the things about which one
writes. Now that I should be permitted to write about these as so many
others have done and with success I do not believe it can be doubted; and
people cannot condemn me for so doing without also condemning Ariosto
before me and the Ancients before Ariosto. It may be said that I should
have done better to have suppressed certain details or at least to have
disguised them. Nothing was more easy but it would have weakened the
tale and taken away some of its charm: So much circumspection is only
necessary in works which promise great discretion from the beginning
either by their subject or by the manner in which they are treated. I
confess that it is necessary to keep within certain limits and that the
narrowest are the best; also it must be allowed me that to be too
scrupulous would spoil all. He who would wish to reduce Boccaccio to the
same modesty as Virgil would assuredly produce nothing worth having and
would sin against the laws of propriety by setting himself the task to
observe them. For in order that one may not make a mistake in matters
of verse and prose extreme modesty and propriety are two very different
things. Cicero makes the latter consist in saying what is appropriate
one should say considering the place the time and the persons to whom
one is speaking. This principle once admitted it is not a fault of
judgment to entertain the people of to-day with Tales which are a little
broad. Neither do I sin in that against morality. If there is anything
in our writings which is capable of making an impression on the mind it
is by no means the gaiety of these Tales; it passes off lightly; I should
rather fear a tranquil melancholy into which the most chaste and modest
novels are very capable of plunging us and which is a great preparation
for love. As to the second objection by which people reproach me that
this book does wrong to womankind they would be right if I were
speaking seriously: but who does not see that this is all in jest
and consequently cannot injure? We must not be afraid on that account
that marriages in the future will be less frequent and husbands more on
their guard. It may still be objected that these Tales are unfounded or
that they have everywhere a foundation easy to destroy; in short that
they are absurdities and have not the least tinge of probability.
I reply in a few words that I have my authorities: and besides it is
neither truth nor probability which makes the beauty and the charm of
these Tales: it is only the manner of telling them. These are the
principal points on which I have thought it necessary to defend myself.
I abandon the rest to the censors; the more so as it would be an infinite
undertaking to pretend to reply to all. Criticism never stops short nor
ever wants for subjects on which to exercise itself: even if those I am
able to foresee were taken from it it would soon have discovered others.
TALES AND NOVELS
J. DE LA FONTAINE
IN Lombardy's fair land in days of yore
Once dwelt a prince of youthful charms a store;
Each FAIR with anxious look his favours sought
And ev'ry heart within his net was caught.
Quite proud of beauteous form and smart address
In which the world was led to acquiesce
He cried one day while ALL attention paid
I'll bet a million Nature never made
Beneath the sun another man like me
Whose symmetry with mine can well agree.
If such exist and here will come I swear
I'll show him ev'ry lib'ral princely care.
A noble Roman who the challenge heard
This answer gave the king his soul preferr'd
--Great prince if you would see a handsome man
To have my brother here should be your plan;
A frame more perfect Nature never gave;
But this to prove your courtly dames I crave;
May judge the fact when I'm convinc'd they'll find:
Like you the youth will please all womankind;
And since so many sweets at once may cloy
'Twere well to have a partner in your joy.
THE king surpris'd expressed a wish to view
This brother form'd by lines so very true;
We'll see said he if here his charms divine
Attract the heart of ev'ry nymph like mine;
And should success attend our am'rous lord
To you my friend full credit we'll accord.
AWAY the Roman flew Joconde to get
(So nam'd was he in whom these features met;)
'Midst woods and lawns retir'd from city strife
And lately wedded to a beauteous wife;
If bless'd I know not; but with such a fair
On him must rest the folly to despair.
THE Roman courtier came his business told
The brilliant offers from the monarch bold;
His mission had success but still the youth
Distraction felt which 'gan to shake his truth;
A pow'rful monarch's favour there he view'd;
A partner here with melting tears bedew'd;
And while he wavered on the painful choice
She thus address'd her spouse with plaintive voice:
CAN you Joconde so truly cruel prove
To quit my fervent love in courts to move?
The promises of kings are airy dreams
And scarcely last beyond the day's extremes
By watchful anxious care alone retain'd
And lost through mere caprice as soon as gain'd.
If weary of my charms alas! you feel
Still think my love what joys these woods conceal;
Here dwell around tranquillity and ease;
The streams' soft murmurs and the balmy breeze
Invite to sleep; these vales where breathe the doves
All all my dear Joconde renew our loves;
You laugh!--Ah! cruel go expose thy charms
Grim death will quickly spare me these alarms!
JOCONDE'S reply our records ne'er relate
Nor what he did nor how he left his mate;
And since contemp'raries decline the task;
'Twere folly such details of me to ask.
We're told howe'er when ready to depart
With flowing tears she press'd him to her heart;
And on his arm a brilliant bracelet plac'd
With hair around her picture nicely trac'd;
This guard in full remembrance of my love
She cried;--then clasped her hands to pow'rs above.
TO see such dire distress and poignant grief
Might lead to think soon death would bring relief;
But I who know full well the female mind
At best oft doubt affliction of the kind.
JOCONDE set out at length; but that same morn;
As on he mov'd his soul with anguish torn
He found the picture he had quite forgot
Then turn'd his steed and back began to trot.
While musing what excuse to make his mate
At home he soon arriv'd and op'd the gate;
Alighted unobserv'd ran up the stairs;
And ent'ring to the lady unawares
He found this darling rib so full of charms;
Intwin'd within a valet's brawny arms!
'MIDST first emotions of the husband's ire;
To stab them while asleep he felt desire;
Howe'er he nothing did; the courteous wight;
In this dilemma clearly acted right;
The less of such misfortunes said is best;
'Twere well the soul of feeling to divest;
Their lives through pity or prudential care;
With much reluctance he was led to spare;
Asleep he left the pair for if awake
In honour he a diff'rent step would take.--
Had any smart gallant supplied my place
Said he I might put up with this disgrace;
But naught consoles the thought of such a beast;
Dan Cupid wantons or is blind at least;
A bet or some such whim induc'd the god
To give his sanction to amours so odd.
THIS perfidy Joconde so much dismay'd;
His spirits droop'd his lilies 'gan to fade;
No more he look'd the charmer he had been;
And when the court's gay dames his face had seen;
They cried Is this the beauty we were told
Would captivate each heart or young or old?
Why he's the jaundice; ev'ry view displays
The mien of one--just fasted forty days!
WITH secret pleasure this Astolphus learn'd;
The Roman for his brother risks discern'd
Whose secret griefs were carefully conceal'd
(And these Joconde could never wish reveal'd;)
Yet spite of gloomy looks and hollow eyes
His graceful features pierc'd the wan disguise
Which fail'd to please alone through want of life
Destroy'd by thinking on a guilty wife.
THE god of love in pity to our swain
At last revok'd BLACK CARE'S corroding reign;
For doubtless in his views he oft was cross'd
While such a lover to the world was lost.
THE hero of our tale at length we find
Was well rewarded: LOVE again proved kind;
For musing as he walk'd alone one day
And pass'd a gall'ry (held a secret way)
A voice in plaintive accents caught his ear
And from the neighb'ring closet came 'twas clear:
My dear Curtade my only hope below
In vain I love;--you colder colder grow;
While round no fair can boast so fine a face
And numbers wish they might supply thy place
Whilst thou with some gay page prefer'st a bet
Or game of dice with some low vulgar set
To meeting me alone; and when just now
To thee I sent with rage thou knit'st thy brow
And Dorimene with ev'ry curse abus'd
Then played again since better that amus'd
And left me here as if not worth a thought
Or thou didst scorn what I so fondly sought.
ASTONISHMENT at once our Roman seiz'd;
But who's the fair that thus her bosom eas'd?
Or who's the gay Adonis form'd to bless?
You'd try a day and not the secret guess
The queen's the belle:--and doubtless you will stare
The king's own dwarf the idol of her care!
THE Roman saw a crevice in the wood
Through which he took a peep from where he stood;
To Dorimene our lovers left the key
Which she had dropt when lately forc'd to flee
And this Joconde pick'd up a lucky hit
Since he could use it when he best thought fit.
It seems said he I'm not alone in name
And since a prince so handsome is the same
Although a valet has supplied my place
Yet see the queen prefers a dwarf's embrace.
THIS thought consol'd so well--his youthful rays
Returned and e'en excelled his former days;
And those who lately ridicul'd his charms
Now anxious seem'd to revel in his arms
'Twas who could have him--even prudes grew kind;--
By many belles Astolphus was resign'd;
Though still the king retain'd enough 'twas seen;--
But now let us resume the dwarf and queen.
OUR Roman having satisfied his eyes
At length withdrew confounded by surprise.
Who follows courts must oft with care conceal
And scarcely know what sight and ears reveal.
YET by Joconde the king was lov'd so well
What now he'd seen he greatly wish'd to tell;
But since to princes full respect is due
And what concerns them howsoever true
If thought displeasing should not be dispos'd
In terms direct but obviously dispos'd
To catch the mind Joconde at ease detail'd
From days of yore to those he now bewail'd
The names of emp'rors and of kings whose brows
By wily wives were crown'd with leafless boughs!
And who without repining view'd their lot
Nor bad made worse but thought things best forgot.
E'en I who now your majesty address
Continued he am sorry to confess
The very day I left my native earth