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In the thirteenth century Marie de France, who resided in Marie de France. England, composed a selection of Fables in the Langue Romaine or Old French, which she said she had translated from some English Fables ; and in the fourteenth century Planude, a monk Planude of Constantinople, wrote a collection of Fables in Greek prose, which he published under the name of Æsop, prefaced by a Life of the Phrygian slave, full of anachronisms. To these composers or compilers of Fables succeeded Ranutio d'Arezzo, Faerne, and later on, Corrozet and Philibert Hegemon, “Les Fables Héroiques” of Audin, “L’Esope Moralisé," by Pierre de Boissat. Then came La Fontaine, who at first confined himself to following in the footsteps of Phædrus, and afterwards bor. rowed from the other writers whose names we have mentioned. Several of the Fables in this first collection are dedicated to Dedication o!
several of the individual friends or protectors of the poet. The First Fable of Fables to Book iii. is dedicated to M. de Maucroix, with the object of individuals. helping him to make up his mind about the profession he should embrace;
the Eleventh of the same Book to M. de la Rochefoucauld, author of the Maxims; the First of Book iv. to Malle. de Sévigné, afterwards Madame de Grignan ; and the First of Book v. to the Chevalier de Bouillon.
This first collection of Fables soon became very popular, and one is at a loss to imagine how such a good judge as Boileau (who had said that “the beauties of nature had never been appreciated thoroughly till Molière and La Fontaine wrote ”), should have omitted all mention of Fables in his “ Art Poétique,” Silence of Boil in which he speaks of idylls, eclogues, elegies, odes, sonnets, ject of Fables
pigrams, and even vaudevilles. This silence on the subject of Fables can only be attributed to a coolness that had grown up of late between La Fontaine and Boileau, at the time that the latter wrote his “ Art Poétique" (1674).
In the epilogue to the first collection of Fables, * La Fontaine seems to imply that he intended them to end there, and he announces his intention of returning to the composition of “Psyché," a poem, in prose and verse, of 500 pages (addressed 2669. “Psych to Fouquet, under the name of Damon), and in which La Fontaine sets forth the wonders of the new palace and park of Versailles, on which Louis XIV. was then lavishing millions of
* Cf. page 120, lines 15, 16.-
Bornons ici cette carrière :
Les longs ouvrages me font peur.
Retournons à Psyché. Damon, vous in'cxhortez
money. Psyché” was followed by the “ Adonis," a poem on the loves of Venus and Adonis, which has been pronounced as
the best of its sort in the French language, till Boileau published 1671. New Col- his “Art Poétique" and “ Lutrin." In 1671 La Fontaine publection of
lished his third collection of “ Contes et Nouvelles en Vers," “Contes."
which seems to have much pleased Madame de Sévigné ; and 1672. Death of
in 1672 he lost his chief friend and protectress, Marguerite de Marguerite de Lorraine.
Lorraine, Duchesse douairière d'Orléans. Our poet, never able to
provide himself with the necessaries of life (la vie matérielle), La Fontaine finds was fortunate enough to find a new patroness in Madame de la a new patroness Sablière, with whom he lived till her death, and who supported in LA SABLIERE. him for twenty years of his life, and enabled him to dispense
with the ordinary cares of providing for his every-day wants, and to devote himself entirely to the cultivation of his Muse. Madame de la Sablière was one of the most accomplished ladies of the Court of Louis XIV. She was the intimate friend of Boileau and Racine, was well versed in the Latin classics, mathematics, physical science, and astronomy, and her husband, M. Ram
bouillet de la Sablière, * was son of the financier Rambouillet. Second Collec- In 1678-9 appeared the second collection of Fables (Books tion of Fables, 1678-79.
7 to ir inclusive), dedicated to Madame de Montespan, terminated by an epilogue, in which La Fontaine alludes to the pacification of Europe by Louis XIV., the peace of Nimeguen, and the name of Grand given to Louis XIV. in 1680, and which probably procured for La Fontaine the honour of being allowed to present the collection in person to the king. It appears, however, that when he arrived at Versailles,' he found that he had forgotten to bring his book with him, and that he even neglected to take away the purse of gold with which the king presented him. Many of these Fables, though not published till 1679, had been already circulated in MS., and many of them were inspired by actual events that had taken place. For instance, Book vii., Fable 11, “Le Curé et le Mort”; this occur. rence is recorded by Madame de Sévigné as having actually taken place at the interment of M. de Boufflers ; and the incident remarked in Fable 18 of the same Book had actually occurred in England some time before.
Five of the Fables in this collection were especially dedicated
* The famous hotel de Rambouillet, the rendezvous of the wits of the day, was constructed between 1610 and 1617 by Catherine de Vivonne, daughter of the Marquis de Pisani, and married to the Marquis de Rambouillet. The original hotel had been purchased by Richelieu, who built on the site the Palais Cardinal now known as the Palais Royal (?).
to individuals. Book viii., Fable 4., “ Le Pouvoir des Fables," to M. de Barillon, French Ambassador to the court of Charles II. Fable 13 of the same Book, “ Tircis et Amarante,” to Malle. de Sillery, niece of M. de la Rochefoucauld. Book x., Fable 1, “Les deux Rats, le Renard, et l'Euf,” to Madame de la Sablière, then devoted to the study of the philosophy of Descartes. Fable 15 of the same book, "Les Lapins,” to M. de la Rochefoucauld; and Fable 2 of Book xi., “Les Dieux voulant instruire un fils de Jupiter,'' to the Duc du Maine, son of Louis XIV. and Madame de Montespan.
La Fontaine had never seriously given his attention to writing Lully. for the stage till Lully, the famous musical composer, who had been originally brought from Italy to enter the service of Mademoiselle, induced him to try his hand at this sort of composition ; and at her instigation he wrote the opera of “Daphne,” “Daphne." but Lully made so much difficulty about composing the music for it, and treated La Fontaine so badly, that the latter vented his humour in a comic satire, entitled “Le Florentin” (in “Le Florentin.” allusion to Lully's country). It was hard, however, to quarrel with such a good-humoured person, and they were soon afterwards reconciled. La Fontaine was not so popular at court just now, as Scarron's widow, Madame de Maintenon, was just beginning to wean Louis XIV. from the influence of his former favourites. Madame de Maintenon shunned the society of those who had formerly known her in the obscure position of Scarron's wife, and La Fontaine had had frequent opportunities of meeting her under these circumstances at the house of Fouquet, who had been a protector of Scarron. The king, too, himself, was begin. ning to turn over a new leaf, and was easily induced to look with disfavour upon the author of the licentious “Contes.”
A curious instance of the versatility of La Fontaine's genius is the poem in two cantos which he wrote at the instigation of (and dedicated to the Duchesse de Bouillon, on the subject of Quinine (“Le Quinquina"). This famous remedy, procured from “Le Quinquinn. the bark of a Peruvian tree, had remained for a century and a. 1688 half unknown to the Spanish discoverers of America ; nor was it till 1638 that a native had revealed the secret to the Spanish governor of Loxa, in return for some service he had received from him. The chief of the Jesuits in America had, in 1649, carried it to Rome, and for a long time it was known as the poudre des pères or poudre des Jésuites, and sold for its weight in gold. In 1679 an Englishman, by name Talbot, invented a method of infusing it in wine, and it was known in France as
le remède Anglais. The famous minister Colbert was cured by it and Louis XIV. gave Talbot 2000 louis d'or and an annual pension of 2000 francs for the recipe. Though Colbert had been the sworn enemy of our poet's friend and protector, Fouquet, he took this opportunity of celebrating the encouragement which
he had given to letters. Birth of the Duc de Bourgogne.
This same year La Fontaine composed two ballads in honour of the birth of the Duc de Bourgogne, son of the Dauphin, that young prince who was destined to have Fénélon for his instructor, and to become one day the protector of La Fontaine in his old
age. Death of Colbert, In 1683 the death of Colbert caused a vacancy in the Acadé1683.
mie which La Fontaine was very anxious to fill. He had now
ment recevoir La Fontaine, il a promis d'être sage.” La Fon. Elected a Mem- taine was accordingly instantly elected, and after the usual com. Académie.
plimentary speeches on taking his seat, terminated the sitting by reading a poem addressed to Madame de la Sablière, in which he seemed to regret che errors of his past life, and promise amendment for the future. This promise, like many others of the same sort, does not seem to have been very rigidly kept, for upon Madame de la Sablière's withdrawing from the world of
ber of the
fashion to devote herself to visiting hospitals and other works of charity, La Fontaine began to find her less accessible to him than before, and allowed himself to be patronised by the Princes of Conti and Vendôme, whose youth rendered them anything but desirable patrons of a man so ready to be influenced by the manners and lives of those who surrounded and protected him, and he again fell to writing tales of the same nature, though perhaps not quite so licentious as his former ones. In 1683 he wrote “ Philémon et Baucis” and “Les Filles de “ Philémon et
Baucis," “ Files Minée,” both imitated from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. The de Minée." former he dedicated to the Duc de Vendôme ; and there is a famous passage in it (see page 293, line 26, of this edition), in which he seems to regret that his married life had not been all it should be. La Fontaine was very nearly induced about this time to come over to England, where Madame Harvey, sister to Lord Madame
Harvey. Montague (who had been English Ambassador at the Court of Louis XIV.), and who had made our poet's acquaintance in Paris, had formed a coterie composed of several English literary celebrities, with S. Evremond, herself, and the Duchesse de Mazarin (Hortense de Mancini), whose hand had been actually solicited in marriage by Charles II., and whose rivalry in that monarch's affections with the Duchess of Portsmouth has been celebrated by the English poet Waller. It was to this Madame Harvey that La Fontaine dedicated his fable of
“Le Renard " Le Renard Anglais.” La Fontaine, however, could not Anglais." be induced to desert his old friend and benefactress, Madame de la Sablière, whose absorption in her works of charity, and consequent neglect of our poet, only seems to have strengthened the ties of affection and gratitude which bound him to her. The last collection of his Fables is full of her name. Fable xv. of the twelfth Book is addressed especially to her, and at her instigation he addressed two volumes of his poems to M.
M. de Harlay de Harlay (Procureur Général au Parlement), who as far back as 1668 had taken charge of his son-for La Fontaine seems to have been no better father than he was a husband. Curious anecdotes are related of him in connection with this same son of his : how once meeting him on the stairs of a certain M. Dupin, and being asked by M. Dupin if he did not recognise him, he answered, “ Je croyais l'avoir vu quelque part”; and on another occasion, hearing him speak well on some subject and expressing his approval of the young man's conversation, he was informed that it was his own son whom he had heard speak. “Ah!” he answered, “j'en suis bien aise.”