« PreviousContinue »
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 Roche. foucauld ; 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 com. position ; 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 Quinouina the bark of a Peruvian tree, had remained for a century and ahalf 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 7 ésuites, 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
he had given to letters. Birth of the Duc
This same year La Fontaine composed two ballads in honour de Bourgogne
of the birth of the Duc de Bourgogne, son of the Dauphin, that
Death of Colbert, In 1683 the death of Colbert caused a vacancy in the Acadé.
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 the 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 Minée,” both imitated from the Metamorphoses of Ovid. The de Minée."
Baucis,'' " Filles 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 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 Harla 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."
La Fontaine's From what our readers have already learnt of La Fontaine's Religious Prin ciples.
manner of living, it will be easily believed that he was not an assiduous performer of religious duties, nor a constant attendant at the services of the Church. It appears that the first approach to anything like serious thoughts was attributed to an accidental study of the Prophet Baruch, which had been placed in his hands one day by Racine during a long service which he had in. duced La Fontaine to attend with him, and for some time after La Fontaine would constantly ask persons that he met, “ Have
you read Baruch? He was a grand genius !” 1686.Reconcilia- This awakening of new and more serious ideas may have led tion with his wife.
to a partial reconciliation with his wife, which seems to have taken place about this time, as a document is in existence bearing the joint signature of them both, dated April 19, 1686. Anyhow, she does not seem to have returned to Paris with her husband, but remained at Château-Thierry. His principal occupation now was to attend the sittings at the Academy; and, continuing to see less and less of Madame de la Sablière, absorbed in her charitable duties, he would probably have listened to the pressing invitations of his friends across the Channel to join their party in England, had not the Princes of Conti and Vendôme and the young Duke of Burgundy (at the instigation of his tutor, Fénélon) contributed to supply his wants and furnish him with the means of providing that vie matérielle which
he could never procure for himself. M. et Mme. About this time, too, he found protectors in the persons of d'Hervart.
M. d'Hervart, son of a rich capitalist, and his wife, who became a second Madame de la Sablière to him, and whom he actually cele. brates under the same pseudonym of “Sylvie" that he had previously given to Madame de la Sablière ! And when his former benefactress died in 1693, and the house which had been open to him for twenty years ceased to be so, he met M. d'Hervart in the street, who said to him, “My dear La Fontaine, I was just coming to you to ask you to come and live with me,” to which La Fontaine simply replied, “I'y allais !” and lived with him
till his death. 1688. Marriage In 1688 the Prince de Conti married Malle. de Bourbon, of Prince de
grand-daughter of the great Condé, and La Fontaine celebrated the event by a Fable which he addressed to the Prince (Fable
xii., Book 12); and in 1690 he composed and dedicated to the 1690.
young Duc de Bourgogne the Fable entitled “Les Compagnons d'Ulysse” (Book xii., Fable 1), in which he extols the military exploits of his father, the Dauphin, on the Rhine.
La Fontaine had, up to this time, enjoyed robust health, but 1692. First towards the end of the year 1692 he had an illness which gave himself and his friends some cause for alarm, and he seems now to have turned his thoughts seriously to religion. Madame de la Sablière, too, who died in the following year, feeling her own end approaching, joined her exhortations to those of Racine to endeavour to induce La Fontaine to repent seriously of the errors of his past life; and a young curate of St. Roch, by name Pouget, son of a friend of La Fontaine's, was his spiritual director, and ultimately prevailed upon him to prepare himself to receive the sacraments of the Church. The following story will show the ingenuousness of La Fontaine on serious matters. He said, “I have been reading the New Testament for some time past. I assure you it is a very good book-yes, upon my word, a very good book-but there is one article that passes my comprehension : it is the question of the eternity of punishments, I cannot conceive how this eternity can coincide with the good. ness of God." And the nurse who tended him in this illness is reported to have said to M. Pouget, “Monsieur, Dieu n'aura jamais le courage de le damner.”
Pouget, before administering absolution and the sacraments to La Fontaine, exacted as a condition that he should make the sacrifice of his “Contes," and a public disavowal of them in the Academy. He, moreover, prevailed upon him to burn a comedy which he had written and not yet published. La Fontaine was very anxious that a deputation should attend from the Academy to assist at his reception of the sacraments. This request was readily granted him, and in their presence he expressed his contrition at having been the author of the “ Contes."
From this illness La Fontaine recovered, but only to learn 1693. Death of that his friend and benefactress, Madame de la Sablière, had Madame de la died in the month of January preceding, and, as we have before stated, he now became the inmate of M. d'Hervart's house. I'he Duc de Bourgogne had sent him a purse of fifty louis during his illness, and in 1694 he gathered all his remaining energy to collect and publish in one book all the fables which had been already cir- 1694. Publicaculating in MS., and to which be added some new; and he dedi. tion of last Book cated this, his twelfth and last Book, to the young Duc de Bourgogne, who had himself inspired the poet with the subjects of two out of the number—" Le Chat et la Souris ” (Fable 5 and dedi. cation), and “Le Loup et le Renard (Fable 9).
After this he wrote a few epistles, and even attempted to versify some of the hymns of the Church. Bụt now the end was fast