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The Power Of Fables
by [?]

To M. De Barillon.[4]

Can diplomatic dignity
To simple fables condescend?
Can I your famed benignity
Invoke, my muse an ear to lend?
If once she dares a high intent,
Will you esteem her impudent?
Your cares are weightier, indeed,
Than listening to the sage debates
Of rabbit or of weasel states:
So, as it pleases, burn or read;
But save us from the woful harms
Of Europe roused in hostile arms.
That from a thousand other places
Our enemies should show their faces,
May well be granted with a smile,
But not that England’s Isle
Our friendly kings should set
Their fatal blades to whet.
Comes not the time for Louis to repose?
What Hercules, against these hydra foes,
Would not grow weary? Must new heads oppose
His ever-waxing energy of blows?
Now, if your gentle, soul-persuasive powers,
As sweet as mighty in this world of ours,
Can soften hearts, and lull this war to sleep,[5]
I’ll pile your altars with a hundred sheep;
And this is not a small affair
For a Parnassian mountaineer.
Meantime, (if you have time to spare,)
Accept a little incense-cheer.
A homely, but an ardent prayer,
And tale in verse, I give you here.
I’ll only say, the theme is fit for you.
With praise, which envy must confess
To worth like yours is justly due,
No man on earth needs propping less.

In Athens, once, that city fickle,
An orator,[6] awake to feel
His country in a dangerous pickle,
Would sway the proud republic’s heart,
Discoursing of the common weal,
As taught by his tyrannic art.
The people listen’d–not a word.
Meanwhile the orator recurr’d
To bolder tropes–enough to rouse
The dullest blocks that e’er did drowse;
He clothed in life the very dead,
And thunder’d all that could be said.
The wind received his breath,
As to the ear of death.
That beast of many heads and light,[7]
The crowd, accustom’d to the sound
Was all intent upon a sight–
A brace of lads in mimic fight.
A new resource the speaker found.
‘Ceres,’ in lower tone said he,
‘Went forth her harvest fields to see:
An eel, as such a fish might he,
And swallow, were her company.
A river check’d the travellers three.
Two cross’d it soon without ado;
The smooth eel swam, the swallow flew.–‘
Outcried the crowd
With voices loud–
‘And Ceres–what did she?’
‘Why, what she pleased; but first
Yourselves she justly cursed–
A people puzzling aye your brains
With children’s tales and children’s play,
While Greece puts on her steel array,
To save her limbs from, tyrant chains!
Why ask you not what Philip[8] does?’
At this reproach the idle buzz
Fell to the silence of the grave,
Or moonstruck sea without a wave,
And every eye and ear awoke
To drink the words the patriot spoke.
This feather stick in Fable’s cap.
We’re all Athenians, mayhap;
And I, for one, confess the sin;
For, while I write this moral here,
If one should tell that tale so queer
Ycleped, I think, “The Ass’s Skin,”[9]
I should not mind my work a pin.
The world is old, they say; I don’t deny it;–
But, infant still
In taste and will,
Whoe’er would teach, must gratify it.


[4] M. De Barillon.–Ambassador to the Court of St. James.–Translator. M. De Barillon was a great friend of La Fontaine, and also of other literary lights of the time.

[5] And lull this war to sleep.–The parliament of England was determined that, in case Louis XIV. did not make peace with the allies, Charles II. should join them to make war on France.–Translator.

[6] An orator.–Demades.–Translator.

[7] That beast of many heads.–Horace, speaking of the Roman people, said, “Bellua multorum est capitum.”–Epist. I., Book I., 76.–Translator.

[8] Philip.–Philip of Macedon, then at war with the Greeks.

[9] “The Ass’s Skin,”–an old French nursery tale so called.