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excellence of the Fables it contains, but for the applications attached to them, which form, indeed, nearly half the bulk of his volume.
The materials proper to be used for the purposes of Fable have been already spoken of. We will conclude with a few words on their general composition. The object of the author is to convey some moral truth to the reader or auditor, without usurping the province of the professed lecturer or pedant. The lesson must therefore be conveyed in an agreeable form; so that the moralist himself may be as little prominent as possible. The Fable has therefore almost invariably assumed the dramatic form, in which men, animals, birds, insects and other natural objects almost invariably form the dramatis persona. After having considered the story by which the intended moral is designed to be illustrated, it is necessary to cast the characters in such a manner that they may not offend our notions of propriety. Thus, while we assign to certain animals or things their known or reputed attributes and qualities, as strength and magnanimity to the lion, obstinacy to the mule, cunning to the fox, mimicry to the monkey, awkwardness to the bear, and stupidity to the ass, we must be careful to make their language conformable to their nature, and to see that they behave and argue as it may be supposed such animals would, if endowed with the human faculties of speech and reason. The Fables ascribed to Æsop are perhaps the best examples we have of strict preservation of character in all the actors. The dogs of that author are downright dogs, with infinite sagacity, courage, general kindliness and good humour, and a strong attachment to man. His wolves are irreclaimable brigands, seizing every pretext for plunder, or making such pretexts where none could be found. His foxes are swift, artful, petty marauders, driven to every kind of shift and double; but never at a loss for a plea or a subterfuge. The Horses of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, the Hind and the Panther of Dryden, and sometimes the animals of Fenelon, are, on the contrary, brutes in nothing but form: their manners and dialogue are those of men with the full faculties, prepossessions and prejudices of humanity. The language of Fable cannot be too simple and familiar. It should be that of easy and elegant insinuation, without any admixture of argument or pretension. It is the graceful and light-hearted familiarity of La Fontaine, added to the delicious humour which he has blended with his narratives and reflections, that have made his Fables more popular than those of any other writer. His wit does not appear to be premeditated but arises naturally out of, and seems proper to the treatment of his subject, unstrained and gentle, not felt as an ornament or extraneous introduction but seeming inherent to the composition in which it occurs. Tedious reflections, frequent allusions, lengthened descriptions, or even an excess of imagery or metaphor are always injurious to Fable, as destroying the unity of the design, and the connection of the several parts, with the moral which it is intended to convey. It is to this elaboration of detail that we owe so much obscurity in some of our long poetical Fables. The parts are treated by the authors without reference to the general effect of the whole. In Æsop, Phædrus, La Fontaine, Dodsley and Cowper, there is almost an entire absence of illustration, except such as has before been mentioned to be essential to the story itself.
Of the moral little need be said. No one it may be fairly presumed would think of inculcating by Fable the necessity of vicious pursuits, or the benefits of evil inclinations. Injustice, oppression, fraud, improvidence, idleness and crime have never yet found public advocates, however they may have been privately practised. Men who have propensities to these things endeavour to conceal even from themselves the nature of their disposition; and most frequently give some other name than the true one to the failing they possess. It is the province of Fable to unmask this kind of self-deceit and duplicity; to inform us without arousing our passions into opposition, that the unction which we are willing to lay
to our souls, has no healing power below the surface; and at the same time to shew us that our friends or acquaintance are not always so good or so bad as external appearances would represent them.
By moral, however, we must not be understood to mean those little explanatory applications which Fabulists sometimes put at the beginning or end of their compositions. These were not used by the ancients, who made the precepts they wished to teach in their Fables, spring from the Fables themselves. The separate moral is a modern invention. Phædrus, indeed, usually began his apologues with some reflection appropriate to the subject on which he intended to treat; but it was reserved for more recent writers to give in a distinct sentence the maxim they sought to inculcate. Gay and Dodsley were in the habit of placing theirs at the beginning of their Fables, La Motte Fenelon and Cowper inserted them at the end, and La Fontaine put them at the beginning and end indifferently. Mr. Dodsley assigns as a reason for preferring the beginning, that he would not pay his readers or himself so bad a compliment as to suppose that after the Fable had been read, the meaning could not be discovered. When the moral of a Fable," he adds, "is not very prominent and striking, a leading thought at the beginning puts the reader in a proper track. He knows the game which he pursues; and, like a beagle on a warm scent, he follows the sport with alacrity in proportion to his intelligence. On the other hand, if he have no previous intimation of the design, he is puzzled throughout the Fable, and cannot determine upon its merits, without the trouble of a fresh perusal. A ray of light, imparted at first, may shew him the tendency and propriety of every expression as he goes along; but while he travels in the dark, no wonder if he stumble or mistake his way."
We should be of precisely the same opinion as Mr. Dodsley, and should have adopted his rule, if we had not been aware that readers, more especially young ones, are prone to skip the moral till they have read the Fable, and occasionally to forget to revert to it; and that, therefore, when the precept is placed at the beginning, there is great probability that it will not be read at all. Not to set ourselves in opposition, however, to any of the great authorities on either side of the question, the moral has been printed in this collection, at whichever end of the apologue it happened to be placed in the work from which it was extracted or translated.
It only remains for us to speak of the present compilation. The Fables adopted from previous collections, have been carefully revised, with reference to their style and matter; because, being designed chiefly for the young, it was desirable that nothing objectionable should find admission, and that no false taste in composition should be generated in the reader by a perusal of the work. With Dr. Croxall's translations much liberty of verbal alteration has been taken; many of his applications have been materially abridged, and a great number altogether omitted. Mr. Dodsley's work seemed to require, and therefore has received less correction. Those derived from other sources have been treated according to what appeared to be their respective merits.
The excellent poetical versions of La Fontaine's Fables, are chiefly derived from a volume published anonymously by Mr. Murray, in 1820, and are believed to be the production of Mr. Matthews. Those from Nivernois were published by Mr. Cadell, in 1799. Yriarte's, with the exception of "The Paroquet and the Dove," and a few others, are by Mr. John Belfour. The whole of the translations from Lessing and Gellert, and most of the prose versions from La Fontaine, Fenelon and Florian, are original. Some new Fables will be found interspersed in the collection, to which, in most instances, the names of the authors have been appended in the Index.
Of the designs and engravings with which this work is illustrated, we feel more at liberty to speak, and cannot speak too highly. M. Grandville has caught the true inspiration of the Fabulists, and has wrought in that spirit of love for his subject, which seldom fails to attain its object. His pictures are no cold or literal transcripts from the narratives which suggested them; but faithful representations of realities; which, notwithstanding the occasionally grotesque personages who figure as the principal actors, we feel to have been drawn from the life. The costume, the scenery, the attendant circumstances, in each instance, are such as heighten the interest, and expand the moral application of the story to which they have reference. Take "The Fox and the Grapes," p. 92, as an example. The acidity of the grapes is manifest at a glance. The oaken staff of the mastiff under such circumstances, would have deprived honey of its sweetness. It is not merely the fruit upon the wall, which is out of the reach of Renard, in his proper character; but the domestic hens of the country squire, as they go to the village church, are too strictly and vigilantly guarded to afford Messrs. Fox an opportunity to deliver even a loving billet in their character of seducing gallants. We know of nothing superior to this, in unexaggerated satirical drawing, except the truth-telling pictures of our inimitable Hogarth.
The principal object in compiling this volume has been to produce a good selection of the most approved Fables, from all the known sources extant. Should the work be found to be an improvement upon former collections, and of service to the young for instruction, or to those of more advanced years for harmless amusement, in recalling early impressions and remembrances, the end of the projectors will have been fully attained.