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THE Fables of Esop have always been esteemed the best lessons for youth, as being well adapted to convey the most useful maximis, in a very agreeable manner. Accordingly, many writers, both in verse and prose, have endeavoured to clothe them in an English dress. It would ill become the Author of this. work to animadvert upon their labours: but he thinks it may be said with truth, and he hopes with modesty, that nothing of this kind, which has been published in prose, can justly discourage him from the present undertaking.
In forming this collection, he has endeavoured to distinguish, by two separate Books, the respective compositions of the earlier and later mythologists; and he trusts it will not be found that he has often been mistaken in this distribution, though an error of that kind might perhaps appear of no great importance. His principal aim was to select such Fables as would make the strongest and most useful impressions on the minds of youth: and then to offer them in such unaffected language, as might have some tendency to improve their style. If in this he should be allowed to have at all succeeded, the work, it is presumed, A
will not be unserviceable to young readers, nor wholly unentertaining to persons of maturer judgment.
To these he has ventured to add a third Book, consisting entirely of original Fables; and he offers it to the Public with all the diffidence which ought to accompany modern productions, when they appear in conjunction with writings of established reputation. Indeed, whatever hopes he has, that the present work may be favourably received, arise chiefly from the consideration, that he has been assisted in it by gentlemen of the most distinguished abilities; and that several, both of the old and the new Fables, are not written by himself, but by authors with whom it is an honour to be connected; and who having condescended to favour him with their assistance, have given him an opportunity of making some atonement for his own defects.
The life of Esop prefixed to the former editions of these Fables, having been thought not so full and satisfactory as it might have been, a learned and ingenious friend has been so kind as to consult the ancient writers who have made any mention of Esop. He hopes he has added many facts and anecdotes of his life, not hitherto taken notice of; and that he has set his character in a clearer and better light than it has hitherto appeared.
LIFE OF ESOP.
IN recording the lives of such persons as have made themselves remarkable only by their writings, and who flourished at a very wide distance from our own times; the great difficulty, in general, is to collect sufficient memorials: but in giving an account of Esop, there arises a particular difficulty, from the many falsehoods which have been so long and so confidently asserted concerning him. I shall therefore first endeavour to clear the ground from these; and then to collect from writers of good credit what may be related of him with more probability.
The great distorter both of Esop's life and person, is one Planudes; an eastern monk, who lived at Constantinople (a) toward the end of the 14th century. He published several Fables in Greek, under the name of Esop, and prefixed a life of him to his edition of them; in which he is supposed (b) by very good judges, to have confounded the orien tal fabulist, Lokman, with Esop; and to have attributed what may have been true of the former, to the latter. Lokman (c) is described as deformed; of a black complexion A 2
(a) Fabricius fays he flourished in the year 1380. Bibl. Græca. Lib. 3. cap. 28. p. 693. (b) Sale's Koran, p. 335. (c) Ibid.
with thick lips, and splay feet: Planudes has since formed his picture of Esop; and the artists have been too ready to follow his description of him (d) almost ever since. Planudes, as usual, does this without any authority from the Greek and Roman writers, who preceded him; and takes the same liberty, in making Esop travel into Assyria and Egypt. He has not only abused his person, but represents him more like an idle buffoon, than a man of deep morality, and great wisdom, which seems to have been his true character. Planudes is also (e) supposed to have written many of the Fables himself, which he gave to the world as Esop's: and, indeed, his fictions very often betray their author, who was a mean writer as well as a false one. In the Fables he makes Esop quote (f) Euripides, who was not born till almost 80 years after his death; and speaks of the (g) Piræus as the port of Athens, which did not exist till above 80 years later. Demades the rhetorician, is the subject of one of them; who was a rival of Demosthenes, and consequently lived above 150 years
(d) Alfop, although a writer on the fide of Mr. Boyle, in the famous difpute with Dr. Bentley, prefixed a picture of Efop to his Fables, in which he is reprefented as a handfome perfon.
(e) By Vavaffor; de ludicra dictione, p. 21. and Henry Stevens; who in his Thefaurus Linguæ Græcæ has never quoted his Fables. Bayle, Art. Ef. Note K.
(ƒ) Bayle, Art. Æf. Note B. (g) Ibid. Note K, 42.