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suitable in a book of this character is given, with a hint as to the source of each fable, to show at least superficially the connection between La Fontaine and other fabulists; and the brief extracts in the Appendix will be useful in connection with the Fables; but all this apparatus can safely be neglected by those to whom it may seem superfluous.

K. McK.



He was

JEAN DE LA FONTAINE was born in 1621 at ChâteauThierry in Champagne, and died at Paris in 1695. He studied theology and law, but was always more interested in poetry. Having been persuaded to marry, he remained indifferent to his wife and neglected his son. careless in regard to money matters, and in general would not submit to obligations. Such a person needed to be taken care of, and La Fontaine was fortunate in having friends, whose patronage and protection he repaid with verses. For twenty years he lived at the house of Madame de La Sablière, a woman worthy of the filial devotion he bestowed on her. In 1668 appeared the first six books of Fables, dedicated to the Dauphin, the son of Louis XIV. Yet the King never regarded him with favor. In 1683 La Fontaine and Boileau were candidates for the French Academy; La Fontaine was elected, but the King prevented his admission till the next year, when both poets were admitted. They were on intimate terms with each other, and also with Molière and Racine. In 1678-79 five more books of Fables appeared, followed by one more in 1694, the year before the author's death. In 1693 he atoned for his lifelong indifference to religion by being reconciled to the church. Although he wrote many other works, his fame rests chiefly on his twelve books of Fables.


In spite of his easy-going nature, La Fontaine made himself thoroughly acquainted with a wide range of literature, and worked diligently and carefully on his own writings. Never was a literary style more suited to the subject than in his Fables. He allowed himself liberties in language and versification that many critics did not approve; in this respect he anticipates the freedom of later schools of poetry. For instance, according to the effect he desires in rhythm and movement, he mingles freely lines of various lengths with the dignified twelvesyllable alexandrins. Likewise he shows a spirit quite unusual in the seventeenth century, in his sympathy for real life in all degrees, and especially for the weak and oppressed. In spite of his adulation of powerful persons, he makes them appear in an unfavorable light, and constantly shows his hatred of injustice. His purpose is sometimes simply to amuse, sometimes, however, to point a moral by describing typical characters under the disguise of animals, as the king (lion), the unscrupulous courtier (fox), the common people (frogs, mice, etc.). Again, some of the fables are true parables. Thus in various ways we find described the actual conditions of society. The descriptions, the style, the poetical elements, are all La Fontaine's own; the stories of his fables, however, were nearly all borrowed. Plagiarism, to his mind, consisted in a servile copying of another writer's style, not in adopting a subject or the outline of a story.

But what is a fable? In general, it is any piece of fiction; but the Aesopic fable, or apologue, is properly a short tale with a moral. The moral is not necessarily a precept to be followed; for instance, the lesson of le Loup et l'Agneau is not that we should imitate either the wolf or the lamb, but that we should condemn the injustice of the

1 See Taine, La Fontaine et ses fables.

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