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Malherbe read aloud first awakened the fire dormant within
him in lise, handed over his business to him, and found him a
biens between La Fontaine and his wife.
our poet-namely, his devoted attachment to his friend and pro-
Vaux, thus free from all care of providing for his daily wants. In return for these benefits, La Fontaine composed a poem, half “Le Songe do prose, half verse, entitled, “ Le Songe de Vaux.” Fouquet gave Vaux." him an annual pension, and in return La Fontaine composed sonnets, madrigals, and odes for his patron. And when after Fouquet's Dis his patron's fall the courtiers whom he had enriched one and grace, 1061. all abandoned him, his literary friends alone stood manfully by him, especially La Fontaine, who by his “ Elégie aux Nymphes Elégie anx de Vaux," contributed more than any to allay the storm of in- Vaux"
Nymphes de dignation raised on all sides against the unfortunate fallen Minister.
In 1658 La Fontaine's father died, and left him his small Death of La For fortune much incumbered. About this time he became in. taine's father,
1658. timately acquainted with Racine, who was himself studying for Intimacy with holy orders, with about as much inclination and taste for the Racine ecclesiastical profession as La Fontaine had exhibited before him. We now hear of a certain journey that he made to Limoges Journey to
Limoges, 1663 in the company of Jannart, exiled thither by Colbert's order. This journey is only remarkable in that La Fontaine makes it the subject of a series of letters to his wife, with whom he does not seem to have had much other communication, and in these he mentions their son, now aged ten, of whom he seldom, if ever, speaks, being, as we shall see from several passages in his Fables, * particularly averse to children. He also relates how, after ordering his dinner at a village inn near Orléans, he went out, and getting absorbed in his favourite author, Livy, he entirely forgot the dinner-hour. He then made a pious pilgrimage to Amboise to visit the room in which Fouquet had been first confined.
On his return from Limoges to Château-Thierry he found the 1664. Duchesse Duchesse de Bouillon established there. This lady took such pleasure in his society, that she carried him off to Paris with her, and introduced him to her circle, and in the same year he La Fontaine
enters the service accepted the post of gentilhomme servant to Marguerite de of Marguerite Lorraine, Duchess Dowager of Orléans. He published at this de Lorraine, time the poem of “ Joconde," and in the following year his first Dowager of collection of “Contes et Nouvelles en Vers,” the subjects of Orleans. which are mostly licentious, and for which an excuse can only Contes et Nou
“ Joconde" and be found in the writings and morals of the age in which La Fontaine velles en Vers," lived. In them he imitated Ariosto, the “ Decamerone
” of 1665.
• Cf. Book i., Fable 19, page 18, lines 1a et seqq.; and Book ix., Fable in
page 188, line 6.
Boccaccio, and the “Heptameron” of Marguerite de Navarre. Society was so far from being scandalised by such productions, that the “ Contes" were eagerly read, and La Fontaine received
the appellation of Le Conteur par excellence. Intimacy with
It was about this time that there was formed a close inti. Racine, Molière, macy between La Fontaine, Racine, Boileau, Molière, and Boileau, and Chapelle, 1666. Chapelle, who used to meet two or three times a week to sup
together at Boileau's lodging in the Rue du Vieux Colombier, where La Fontaine's “ absent ” fits were among the chief sources of amusement to the company, and where Molière seems first to have given him the sobriquet of “Le Bon Homme,” by which he will always be distinguished. These friends, anxious to bring about a reconciliation between him a .d his wife, who had retired to Château Thierry, at last prevailed upon him to go and meet her there. He did go, but not finding her at home on his arrival, he went to a friend's house, where he stayed two or three days, entirely forgetting the object of his journey, and he returned to Paris without even having seen his wife.
For some time now La Fontaine seems to have devoted him.
self to writing odes and sonnets on the principal events and per. 1667. Second sonages of the reign and Court of Louis XIV. In 1667 a new Collection of “ Contes."
collection of “Contes” appears, prefaced by a promise (destined
to be broken), that this should be the last production of such a 1668. First nature. In 1668 appeared the first collection of “Fables Choisies
Mises en Vers,” dedicated to the Dauphin, consisting of the first FABLESCHOISIES MISES ENVERS." six Books of the Fables. It may not be out of place here to
enumerate the different authors of Fables from the earliest times
that La Fontaine has taken for his models. Early Fabulists. The idea of imparting instruction by means of allegory seems Æsop
to have originated with Æsop, who lived 620 years B.C., at the Court of Croesus, King of Lydia, and who, through the inter.
course of the Lydians with the Assyrians, may have been indebted Pilpay. to the East for the idea, as the Fables of Bidpaï (or Pilpay) and Lokman. of Lokman (considered by some persons to have been identical
with Æsop) are certainly of Eastern origin. Babrias.
The collections of Fables best known to the Romans were those
composed by Babrias, about the time of Alexander Severus, and Phaedrus. Phædrus, in the reign of Tiberius, wrote an edition of the Fables
of Æsop turned into Latin verse.
In the ninth century one Ignatius Magister, afterwards Bishop of Nicæa, abridged the Fables of Babrias, reducing each to four iambic verses. This abridgment has come down to us under the name of “ Fahles of Gabrias." which is a corruption of Babrias.
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 himselt 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 of
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 epigrams, 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 1669. “Psyche." 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 m'exhortez
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 “Contes."
lished his third collection of “Contes et Nouvelles en Vers,"
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 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,
7 to ii inclusive), dedicated to Madame de Montespan, termi. 1678-79.
nated 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 in, “ Le Curé et le Mort"; this occur. rence is recorded by Madame de Sévigné as having actually laken 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 buil. on the site the Palais Cardinal now known as the Palais Royal (?).