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Title: Fables and Fabulists: Ancient and Modern
Author: Newbigging, Thomas
Language: English
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THE APOLOGUE. (_See page 43._)]

                     FABLES AND FABULISTS:
                     _ANCIENT AND MODERN_.

                       THOMAS NEWBIGGING,
                           _Author of
 'The History of the Forest of Rossendale,' 'Old Gamul,' etc._

                        _CHEAP EDITION._


                    [_All rights reserved._]

                        'I shall tell you
    A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;
    But, since it serves my purpose, I will venture
    To stale't a little more.'

                                      SHAKESPEARE: _Coriolanus_.

    'He sat among the woods; he heard
      The sylvan merriment; he saw
    The pranks of butterfly and bird,
      The humours of the ape, the daw.

    'And in the lion or the frog--
      In all the life of moor and fen,
    In ass and peacock, stork and log,
      He read similitudes of men.'

                          ANDREW LANG.

    'The fables which appeal to our higher moral sympathies may
    sometimes do as much for us as the truths of science.'

                                                  MRS. JAMESON.

    'The years of infancy constitute, in the memory of each of us, the
    fabulous season of existence; just as in the memory of nations,
    the fabulous period was the period of their infancy.'--GIACOMO


 CHAPTER                                               PAGE

    I. DEFINITION OF FABLE                                1

   II. CHARACTERISTICS OF FABLES                          7


   IV. FABULISTS AS CENSORS                              19

    V. LESSONS TAUGHT BY FABLES                          25

   VI. ÆSOP                                              33

  VII. STORIES RELATED OF ÆSOP                           42

 VIII. THE ÆSOPIAN FABLES                                52

   IX. PHÆDRUS AND BABRIUS                               63

    X. THE FABLE IN HISTORY AND MYTH                     68

       LOCMAN.--'THE GESTA ROMANORUM'                    80




   XV. OTHER AND OCCASIONAL FABULISTS                   125

  XVI. CONCLUSION                                       143

       INDEX                                            147




    'Read my little fable,
    He that runs may read.'

                  TENNYSON: _The Flower_.

    'As clear as a whistle.'

                      BYRON: _The Astrologer_.

The term 'fable' is used in two senses, with two distinctive meanings.

First, as _fabulæ_, it is employed to denote the myths or fictions
which, by the aid of imagination and superstition, have clouded, or
have become blended with, the history of the remote past. Such are the
stories related of Scandinavian and Grecian heroes and gods; beings,
some of whom doubtless had an actual human existence, and were wise and
valiant and powerful, or the reverse, in their day, but around whose
names and persons have clustered all the marvellous legends that are to
be found in mythological lore. The better name for these is 'romance.'

Secondly, as _fabellæ_, it is used to signify a special branch of
literature, in which the imagination has full play, altogether
unassisted by superstition in any shape or form. The fabulist
confers the powers or gifts of reason and speech on the humbler
subjects over whom he exercises sway, and so has ample scope for his
imaginative faculty; but there is no attempt on his part at any serious
make-believe in his inventions. On the contrary, there is a tacit
understanding between him and his hearers and readers, that what he
narrates is only true in the sense of its application to corresponding
circumstances in human life and conduct.

It is with fable as understood in this latter sense that we propose to

The Fable or Apologue has been variously defined by different writers.
Mr. Walter Pater, paraphrasing Plato's definition, says that 'fables
are medicinable lies or fictions, with a provisional or economized
truth in them, set forth under such terms as simple souls can best
receive.'[1] The sophist Aphthonius, taking the same view, defines the
fable as 'a false discourse resembling truth.'[2] The harshness of both
these definitions is scarcely relieved by their quaintness. To assert
that the fable is a lie or a falsehood does not fairly represent the
fact. A lie is spoken with intent to deceive. A fable, in its relation,
can bear no such construction, however exaggerated in its terms or
fictitious in its characters. The meanest comprehension is capable of
grasping the humour of the situation it creates. Even the moral that
lurks in the narration is often clear to minds the most obtuse. This is
at least true of the best fables.

Dr. Johnson, in his 'Life of Gay,' remarks that 'A fable or epilogue
seems to be, in its genuine state, a narrative in which beings
irrational, and sometimes inanimate--_quod arbores loquantur, non
tantum feræ_[3]--are, for the purpose of moral instruction, feigned to
act and speak with human interests and passions.'

Dodsley says that ''tis the very essence of a fable to convey some
moral or useful truth beneath the shadow of an allegory.'[4] Boothby
defines the fable as 'a maxim for the use of common life, exemplified
in a short action, in which the inhabitants of the visible world are
made the moral agents.' G. Moir Bussey states that '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, and so that the
moralist himself may be as little prominent as possible.'[5] Mr. Joseph
Jacobs says that 'the beast fable may be defined as a short humorous
allegorical tale, in which animals act in such a way as to illustrate a
simple moral truth or inculcate a wise maxim.'[6]

These various definitions or descriptions apply more especially to the
Æsopian fable (and it is with this that we are dealing at present),
which is _par excellence_ the model of this class of composition.
Steele declares that 'the virtue which we gather from a fable or an
allegory is like the health we get by hunting, as we are engaged in
an agreeable pursuit that draws us on with pleasure, and makes us
insensible of the fatigues that accompany it.'[7] This is applied to
the longer fable or epic, such as the 'Iliad' and 'Odyssey' of Homer,
or the 'Faerie Queen' of Spenser, rather than to the fable as the term
is generally understood, otherwise the simile is somewhat inflated.

One more definition may be attempted:

The Æsopian fable or apologue is a short story, either fictitious or
true, generally fictitious, calculated to convey instruction, advice or
reproof, in an interesting form, impressing its lesson on the mind more
deeply than a mere didactic piece of counsel or admonition is capable
of doing. We say a short story, because if the narration is spun out
to a considerable length it ceases to be a true fable in the ordinary
acceptation of the term, and becomes a tale, such, for example, as a
fairy tale. Now, a fairy or other fanciful tale usually or invariably
contains some romance and much improbability; it often deals largely in
the superstitious, and it is not necessarily the vehicle for conveying
a moral. The very opposite holds good of a fable. Although animals
are usually the actors in the fable, there is an air of naturalness
in their assumed speech and actions. The story may be either highly
imaginative or baldly matter-of-fact, but it never wanders beyond the
range of intuitive (as opposed to actual or natural) experience, and
it always contains a moral. In a word, a fable is, or ought to be, the
very quintessence of common sense and wise counsel couched in brief
narrative form. It partakes somewhat of the character of a parable,
though it can hardly be described as a parable, because this is more
sedate in character, has human beings as its actors, and is usually
based on an actual occurrence.

Though parables are not fables in the strict and limited meaning of the
term, they bear a close family relationship to them. Parables may be
defined as stories in allegorical dress. The Scriptures, both old and
new, abound with them. The most beautiful example in the Old Testament
is that of Nathan and the ewe lamb,[8] in which David the King is made
his own accuser. This was a favourite mode of conveying instruction and
reproof employed by our Lord. Christ often 'spake in parables'; and
with what feelings of reverential awe must we regard the parables of
the Gospels, coming as they did from the lips of our Saviour!


[1] 'Plato and Platonism,' by Walter Pater. London: Macmillan and Co.,
1893, p. 225.

[2] Aphthonius flourished at Antioch, at what time is uncertain. Forty
of his Æsopian fables, with a Latin version by Kimedoncius, were
printed from a MS. in the Palatine Library at the beginning of the
seventeenth century. 'The Æsopian Fable,' by Sir Brooke Boothby, Bart.
Edinburgh: Constable and Co., 1809. Preface, p. xxxi.

[3] 'Even trees speak, not only wild beasts.'--Phædrus, Book i.,

[4] 'Essay on Fable.'

[5] 'Fables Original and Selected,' by G. Moir Bussey. London:
Willoughby and Co., 1842.

[6] 'The Fables of Æsop,' as first printed by William Caxton in 1484.
London: David Nutt, 1889, vol. i., p. 204.

[7] 'The Tatler,' No. 147, vol. iii., p. 205.

[8] 2 Samuel xii. 1-7.



    'To hold, as 'twere, the mirror up to Nature.'

                                      SHAKESPEARE: _Hamlet_.

There is an archness about the best fables that creates interest and
awakens curiosity; and it is the quality of such that, whilst simple
enough as stories to be understood and enjoyed by the young, they are
at the same time calculated to interest, amuse, instruct and admonish
those more advanced in years.

A fable should carry its moral without the telling; nevertheless the
application is often worth supplying, because it puts, or should put,
the lesson taught by the fable in a terse and impressive form. Above
and beyond all, a fable should possess the quality of simplicity, and
whilst easy to be understood, it should have force and appropriateness.

Fables treat of the follies and weaknesses, and also of the nobler
qualities, of humankind, generally through the medium of the lower
animals and the members of the vegetable and natural kingdom. These are
made to represent the characters we find in human life. Curious, that
although it is chiefly the lower animals and inanimate things that are
made the vehicle of the instruction or reproof contained in the story,
we do not feel that there is any incongruity in these having the power
of speech. We willingly accept the circumstance of their faculty of
speech and reasoning as Gospel truth for the time being. It is natural
that they in the fable should speak as the heroes or actors, and we
listen to their words, whether wise or foolish, with deference or
contempt as the case may be.

It is a question in casuistry how far justice and injustice are done to
the inferior animals and the members of the vegetable kingdom by this
liberty that is taken with them in the fable. If they had the knowledge
of the fact, and the power of remonstrance, it may be conceived that
some of them, at least, would repudiate the characters and propensities
which we in our superior conceit so glibly ascribe to them in the
fable. And, indeed, there is doubtless a good deal of unfairness
in our habit of stigmatizing this one with cunning, that one with
cowardice, and the other with cruelty, or stupidity, or dishonesty,
as suits our purpose. Possibly if some of the humbler creatures thus
branded were gifted with the power of writing fables for the benefit of
_their_ fellow creatures and associates, they might be able to point
to characteristics in the higher order of beings which it is desirable
to hold in reprobation, and this, too, with as much or more reason
and justice on their side than we have on ours. But, in truth, the
fabulists themselves tacitly admit the force of this argument, inasmuch
as the failings and defects and general qualities which they ascribe to
the characters in the fable are, of course, those of the human species.
A fable of Æsop, _The Man and the Lion_,[9] is very much to the point

'Once upon a time a man and a lion were journeying together, and came
at length to high words which was the braver and stronger of the two.
As the dispute waxed warmer they happened to pass by, on the road-side,
a statue of a man strangling a lion. "See there," said the man; "what
more undeniable proof can you have of our superiority than that?"
"That," said the lion, "is your version of the story; let us be the
sculptors, and for one lion under the feet of a man, you shall have
twenty men under the paw of a lion!" Men are but sorry witnesses in
their own cause.'

A fable is generally a fiction, as has already been said. It is a
singular paradox, however, that nothing is truer than a good fable.
True to intuition, true to nature, true to fact. The great virtue of
fables consists in this quality of truthfulness, and their enduring
life and popularity are corroboration of it. If not true in the sense
of being reasonable, they are nothing, or foolish, and therefore
intolerable. We instinctively feel their truth, and are encouraged,
or amused, or conscience-smitten by the narration, for they deal with
principles which lie at the very root of our human nature.

It is a remarkable feature of this species of composition that a
departure from the natural order of things loses its incongruity in
the fable; and although this view has been controverted, the argument
against it fails to carry conviction in face of the excellent examples
that can be adduced. By way of illustration, take the fable of the
man and his goose that laid the golden eggs. We don't remember ever
meeting with a goose of this particular breed out of the fable. There
are numberless geese in the world--human and other. But the goose that
lays a golden egg every morning is a _rara avis_. Nevertheless, she
has a veritable existence in the fable, and we would as soon think of
casting a doubt on our own identity as on that of the fabled bird. The
story has always been, and will continue to be, Gospel truth to us, and
we never recall it without commiserating the untimely end of the poor
obliging goose, and thinking, at the same time, what a goose its owner
must have been to kill it and cut it up, in expectation of finding in
its inside the inexhaustible treasure his impatient greed had pictured
as existing there. _Semper avarus eget._ Had _we_ been the fortunate
owner of such an uncommon fowl, one golden egg each day would have
contented us!

Certain early authors, with the formalism which characterizes their
writings, have attempted an arrangement of fables under three
distinct heads or classes, designating them, respectively, Rational,
Emblematical, and Mixed. The Rational fable is held to be that in which
the actors are either human beings or the gods of mythology; or, if
beasts, birds, trees, and inanimate objects are introduced, the former
only are the speakers. The Emblematical fable has animals, members of
the vegetable kingdom, and even inanimate things for its heroes, and
these are accordingly gifted with the power of speech. The Mixed fable,
as the name implies, is that in which an association of the two former
kinds is to be found. The distinction, though perfectly accurate,
serves no useful purpose and need not be observed. As a matter of fact,
all fables are rational or reasonable from the fabulist's stand-point;
and all are emblematical or typical of moods, conditions, and possible
or actual occurrences in daily life, whoever and whatever be the actors
and speakers introduced.


[9] Quoted from James's 'Fables of Æsop.' Murray, 1848.



    'Come, sir, lend it your best ear.'

                            BEN JONSON: _Love Freed_.

Thus La Fontaine:[10] 'The fable proper is composed of two parts, of
which one may be termed the body and the other the soul. The body is
the subject-matter of the fable and the soul is the moral.'

On the origin of the added morals to fables, Mr. Joseph Jacobs[11]
has the following appropriate remarks: 'The fable is a species of the
allegory, and it seems absurd to give your allegory, and then give in
addition the truth which you wish to convey. Either your fable makes
its point or it does not. If it does, you need not repeat your point:
if it does not, you need not give your fable. To add your point is
practically to confess the fear that your fable has not put it with
sufficient force. Yet this is practically what the moral does, which
has now become part and parcel of a fable. It was not always so; it
does not occur in the ancient classical fables. That it is not an
organic part of the fable is shown by the curious fact that so many
morals miss the point of the fables. How then did this artificial
product come to be regarded as an essential part of the fable? Now,
we have seen in the Jātakas what an important _rôle_ is played by
the _gāthas_ or moral verses which sum up the whole teaching of
the Jātakas. In most cases I have been able to give the pith of
the Birth-stories by merely giving the _gāthas_, which are besides
the only relics which are now left to us of the original form of the
Jātakas. Is it too bold to suggest that any set of fables taken from
the Jātakas or their source would adopt the _gātha_ feature, and
that the moral would naturally arise in this way? We find the moral
fully developed in Babrius and Avian, whom we have seen strong reason
for connecting with Kybises' Libyan fables. We may conclude the series
of conjectures by suggesting that the morals of fables are an imitation
of the _gāthas_ of Jātakas as they passed into the Libyan collection
of Kybises.'

Montaigne remarks that 'most of the fables of Æsop have diverse senses
and meanings, of which the mythologists chose some one that quadrates
well to the fable; but for the most part 'tis but the first face that
presents itself and is superficial only; there yet remain others more
vivid, essential and profound into which they have not been able to

If this be so, it is an argument against the common practice of
limiting their significance to the one moral that is often given as an
appendage to the fable. It is worthy of note that Æsop did not supply,
either orally or in writing, the separate moral to any of his fables.
They were left to speak for themselves and produce their unaided
effect. The moral or application appended to or introducing a fable
(for both practices are followed), is an innovation, as appears from
what has already been advanced, probably intended to make clear what
was obscure in the apologue.

The true moral is contained in the fable itself. The application may,
and often does, vary with the idiosyncrasies of the commentator.
Besides the moral and application there is in some collections of
fables what is designated 'The Remark,' and 'The Reflection,' in which
the commentator tries, as it were, to drive home the application of the
story with an additional blow. Our own experience as a youth was that
all these appendages to the fable were invariably skipped.

From all which it would appear that the moral and the so-called
application of a fable are not one and the same thing. In point of
fact, the latter may and does vary according to the peculiar views
of the commentator. An exemplification of this may be found in the
applications of Sir Roger L'Estrange and Dr. Samuel Croxall, the
latter taking it upon him to stigmatize in strong language the twist
which he asserted the former gave to the morals of the fables in his
collection. L'Estrange, who was a Catholic, concerned himself in
helping the restoration of Charles II., and was a devoted adherent
of his successor, James, from whom he received place and emoluments.
In publishing his version of Æsop, his object, as he affirms in his
preface, was to influence the minds of the rising generation, 'who
being as it were mere blank paper, are ready indifferently for any
opinion, good or bad, taking all upon credit.' Whereupon Croxall
observes: 'What poor devils would L'Estrange make of the children who
should be so unfortunate as to read his book and imbibe his pernicious
principles--principles coined and suited to promote the growth and
serve the ends of Popery and arbitrary power,' and more to the same

The question as to whether the moral or application, if any is
supplied, should be placed at the beginning or end of a fable has
sometimes been discussed. On this head Dodsley has some pertinent
remarks that may be quoted. He says: 'It has been matter of dispute
whether the moral is better introduced at the end or beginning of a
fable. Æsop universally rejected any separate moral. Those we now find
at the close of his fables were placed there by other hands. Among the
ancients Phædrus, and Gay among the moderns, inserted theirs at the
beginning; La Motte prefers them at the conclusion, and La Fontaine
disposes them indifferently at the beginning or end, as he sees
convenient. If,' he adds, 'amidst the authority of such great names I
might venture to mention my own opinion, I should rather prefer them
as an introduction than add them as an appendage. For I would neither
pay my reader nor myself so bad a compliment as to suppose, after he
had read the fable, that he was not able to discover its meaning.
Besides, when the moral of a fable 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 merit
without the trouble of a fresh perusal. A ray of light imparted at
first may show 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.' If it be considered necessary or desirable
to give the moral separately, or to apply the fable, Dodsley's argument
here seems to us to be incontrovertible.


[10] Preface, 'Fables,' 1668.

[11] 'History of the Æsopic Fable,' p. 148.

[12] Essay: 'Of Books.'



    'Mark, now, how a plain tale shall put you down.'

                                        SHAKESPEARE: _King Henry IV_.

Fabulists as censors have always been not only tolerated, but
patronized and encouraged, even in the most despotic countries, and
when they have exposed wickedness and folly in high places with an
unsparing hand. Æsop among the ancients, and Krilof amongst the
moderns, are both striking examples of this. The fables of antiquity
may indeed be truly said to have been a natural product of the times
in which they were invented. In the early days, when free speech was
a perilous exercise, and when to declaim against vice and folly was
to court personal risk, the fable was invented, or resorted to, by
the moralist as a circuitous method of achieving the end he desired
to reach--the lesson he wished to enforce. The entertainment afforded
by the fable or apologue took off the keen edge of the reproof; and,
whilst the censure conveyed was not less pointed and severe, the device
of making the humbler creatures the scapegoat of human weakness or vice
mollified its bitterness. The very indirectness of the fable had the
effect of making the sinner his own accuser. Whom the cap fitted was at
liberty to don it.

Phædrus, in the prologue to his third book, thus gives his view of the
origin and purpose of fables:

    'Here something shortly I would teach
    Of fables' origin. To reach
    The potent criminal, a slave
    To beasts and birds a language gave.
    Wishing to strike, and yet afraid,
    Of these his instruments he made:
    For all that dove or lamb might say,
    Against them no indictment lay.'[13]

The fable saves the self-love of the person to whom it is applicable.
It enables him to stand aside, as it were, and become a spectator of
the effect produced by his own conduct. In this way he is impressed
and humbled without being affronted. When one, even though guilty, is
openly and directly reproved for a misdeed, the stigma often raises a
rebellious spirit, which either suggests a hundred justifiable reasons
for his action or begets a defiant mood, driving him to persist in his
evil courses.

Listening to the fable, 'we see nothing of the satirist, who probes
only to heal us, and who does not exhibit any of the personal spleen
and ill-humour which meet and put us out of countenance with ourselves
and each other in the invectives of those who sometimes set up for
moralists without the essential qualification of good nature. The
fable gives an agreeable hint of the duties and relations of life,
not a harangue on our want of sense or decorum. We feel none of the
superiority of the fabulist, who, indeed, generally leaves us to make
the application of his instructive story in our own way; and if we do
sometimes prefer to apply it to our neighbour's case instead of our
own, we are still improved and amended, inasmuch as we have learned to
despise some vice or folly which our unassisted judgment might have
regarded more leniently.'[14] Dodsley, again, puts the matter finely
when he says:[15] 'The reason why fable has been so much esteemed
in all ages and in all countries, is perhaps owing to the polite
manner in which its maxims are conveyed. The very article of giving
instruction supposes at least a superiority of wisdom in the adviser--a
circumstance by no means favourable to the ready admission of advice.
'Tis the peculiar excellence of fable to waive this air of superiority;
it leaves the reader to collect the moral, who, by thus discovering
more than is shown him, finds his principle of self-love gratified,
instead of being disgusted. The attention is either taken off from the
adviser, or, if otherwise, we are at least flattered by his humility
and address. Besides, instruction, as conveyed by fable, does not only
lay aside its lofty mien and supercilious aspect, but appears dressed
in all the smiles and graces which can strike the imagination or engage
the passions. It pleases in order to convince, and it imprints its
moral so much the deeper in proportion that it entertains; so that we
may be said to feel our duties at the very instant we comprehend them.'

The humour of a good fable is a fine lubricant to the temper. Sarcasm,
irony, even direct criticism, are in place in the fable, but humour is
its saving grace. Without this it cannot be classed in the first order.
Wanting in this quality, the fables of some writers who have attempted
them are flat, stale and unprofitable. Humour in the fable is the
gilding of the pill. It is like the effervescing quality in champagne,
the subtle flavour in old port.

It may be questioned whether a fable has ever the full immediate effect
intended. Men are loath to apply the moral to their own case, though
they have no difficulty in applying it to the case of others--even to
their best acquaintances and friends. For example, take the present
company, the present company of my readers--it is usual, by the way, to
except 'the present company,' but we will be rash enough, even at the
risk of castigation, to break the rule--take, then, the present company
in illustration of our point. Who among us would admit for a moment
that we are the counterpart or human representative of the fox with its
low cunning, the loquacious jackdaw, the silly goose, the ungrateful
viper, the crow to be cajoled by flattery, not to mention the egregious
donkey? 'Satire,' says an acute writer,[16] 'is a sort of glass
wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their
own.' Or, to parody a line of Young, 'All men think all men peccable
but themselves.' To be sure, we might be willing, modestly perhaps,
to admit that we who are singers can emulate the nightingale; that we
even possess some of the--call it shrewdness, of the fox; the faithful
character of the honest dog; vie in dignity of manners and bearing with
the stately lion. But all that is a matter of course; the noble traits
we possess are so self-evident that none excepting the incorrigibly
blind or prejudiced will be found to dispute them! So that the
admonishing fable contains no lesson for any of us, but should be
seriously taken to heart, with a view to their reformation, by certain
persons whom we all know. That view of the question, however, need not
be further pursued.


[13] Boothby's translation.

[14] G. Moir Bussey: Introduction to 'Fables.'

[15] 'Essay on Fable.'

[16] Swift: Preface to 'The Battle of the Books.'



          'The tale that I relate
    This lesson seems to carry.'

                          COWPER: _Pairing Time Anticipated_.

In the earlier ages of the world's history fables were invented for
the edification of men and women. This was so in the palmiest days of
Greek, Roman and Arabian or Saracenic civilization. In these later days
fables are generally assumed to be more for the delectation of children
than adults. This change of auditory need not be regretted; it has its
marked advantages. The lesson which the fable inculcates is indelibly
stamped on the mind of the child, and has an influence, less or more,
on his or her career during life.

Jean Jacques Rousseau is the only writer of eminence who has inveighed
against this use of the fable, but his remarks are by no means
convincing. He accounted them lies without the 'medicinable quality,'
and reprobated their employment in the instruction of youth. 'Fables,'
says Rousseau, 'may amuse men, but the truth must be told to children.'
His animadversion had special reference to the fables of La Fontaine,
and doubtless some of these, and the morals deduced from them, are
open to objection; but to condemn fables in general on this account is
surely the height of unreason.

A greater than Rousseau had, long before, given expression in cogent
language to the worth of the fable as a vehicle of instruction for
youth. Plato, whilst excluding the mythical stories of Hesiod and Homer
from the curriculum of his 'Republic'--that perfect commonwealth,
in depicting which he lavished all the resources of his wisdom and
genius--advised mothers and nurses to repeat selected fables to their
children, so as to mould and give direction to their young and tender

Phædrus, again, in the prologue to his fables, says--

    ''Tis but a play to form the youth
    By fiction in the cause of truth,'

so that his view of the question also was just the very antipodes of
that of the French philosopher.

Quintilian urges[17] that 'boys should learn to relate orally the
fables of Æsop, which follow next after the nurse's stories.' True, he
recommends this with a view to initiating them in the rudiments of the
art of speaking; but he would not have inculcated the use of fables for
children for even this secondary purpose, if he had dreamt for a moment
they would have had a bad effect on their minds.

Rousseau, with all his knowledge of human character and his power of
imagination, had a matter-of-fact vein running through his mind, which
led him to entertain the mistaken view that the influence of fables on
the juvenile mind was objectionable. Cowper, who was no mean writer of
fables himself, with his clear common sense, broad natural instincts,
and mother wit--in which Rousseau was lacking--saw the unwisdom of the
philosopher's conclusions, and satirized his views in the well-known

    'I shall not ask Jean Jacques Rousseau
    If birds confabulate or no;
    'Tis clear that they were always able
    To hold discourse, at least in fable;
    And e'en the child, who knows no better
    Than to interpret by the letter
    A story of a cock and bull,
    Must have a most uncommon skull.'[18]

It is no exaggeration to assert that the effect which fables and their
lessons have had on the people is incalculable. They have been read
and rehearsed and pondered in all ages, and by thousands whom no other
class of literature could attract. The story and its moral (in the
Æsopian fable at least) are obvious to the dullest comprehension, and
they cling to the memory like the limpet to the rock, and find their
application in all the concerns of daily life.

But it is not the illiterate alone that have profited by the fable;
all classes have been affected by its lesson. We are all apt scholars
when the fable is the schoolmaster. There is no class of the community
that has not come under its sway. It has penetrated to the highest
stratum of society equally with the humblest, and may be credited with
an influence as wide and far-reaching as the sublimest moral treatise
which the human intellect has produced.

The epic and the novel (fables of a kind), like some paintings, cover
a wide canvas, and the details are not always easily grasped and
remembered; but the true fable is a story in miniature which we take
in at a glance, and stow away for after use in a small corner of our

We have the 'successful villain' in the fable as sometimes on the
stage; and it may be a question whether the tendency of this is not
rather to encourage dissimulation in certain ill-constituted minds,
than to inculcate virtue. One of Northcote's fables, _The Elephant and
the Fox_, will exemplify what we mean.

'A grave and judicious elephant entering into argument with a pert fox,
who insisted upon his superior powers of persuasion, which the elephant
would not allow, it was at length agreed between them that whichever
attracted the most attention from his auditors by his eloquence should
be deemed the victor. At a certain appointed time a great assembly
of animals attended the trial, and the elephant was allowed to speak
first. He with eloquence spoke of the high importance of ever adhering
with strictness to justice and to truth; also of the happiness which
resulted from controlling the passions, of the dignity of patience, the
inhospitable and hateful nature of selfishness, and the odiousness of
cruelty and carnage.

'The pert fox, perceiving the audience not to be much amused by the
discourse of the elephant, made no ceremony, but interrupted the
oration by giving a farcical account of all his mischievous tricks
and hairbreadth escapes, the success of his cunning, and his adroit
contrivances to extricate himself from harm--all which so delighted the
assembly, that the elephant was soon left, in the midst of his wise
advice, without a single auditor near him; for they one and all with
eagerness thronged to hear the diverting follies and knaveries of the
fox, who, of course, was in the end declared the victor.'

It might almost appear that a fable of this kind is an error of
judgment, and that it is calculated to do harm rather than good,
inasmuch as it exhibits the triumph of duplicity and the defeat of
wisdom. True, the author of the fable tries to recover the lost ground
in the application, by mildly holding up the fox to reprobation, thus:

'Application: The effect these two orators had on the perceptions of
their audience was exactly the reverse one to the other. That of the
elephant touched the guilty, like satire, with pain and reproach; even
the most innocent was humbled, as none were wholly free from vice, and
all felt themselves lowered even in their own opinion, and heard the
admonition as an irksome duty, but still with little inclination to
undergo the difficult task of amendment. But when the fox began, all
was joy; the innocent felt all the gratification which proceeds from
the consciousness of superiority, and the guilty to find their vices
and follies treated only as a jest; for we all have felt how much more
pleasure we enjoy laughing at a fool than in being scrutinized by the
sage. From this cause it is that farce of the most grotesque and absurd
kind is tolerated and received, and not without some degree of relish,
even by the good and the wise, as we all want comfort.'

In spite of the application--nay, rather to some extent by reason of
it, for the anti-climax is extraordinary in a fable--it may be doubted
whether our sympathies are not with the fox rather than with the
elephant. We feel that the latter, with all his wisdom and good advice,
is somewhat of a bore; whilst the fox, rake and wastrel though he be,
has that touch of nature that makes him kin.

Æsop's well-known fable of _The Fox and the Crow_ is also an example of
the success of the scoundrel, but mark the difference: here there is
the obvious reproof of the vain and silly bird, deceived by flattering
words, till, in attempting to sing, she drops into the mouth of the fox
the savoury morsel she held in her beak! Here our verdict is: 'Served
her right!' In Northcote's fable, clever though it is as a narration,
this climax is altogether wanting.

It has been suggested that there is a closer natural affinity than at
first sight appears between man and the lower animals, and that the
recognition of this contact at many points would suggest the idea of
conferring the power of speech upon the latter in the fable. In the
higher reason and its resultant effects they differ fundamentally; mere
animals are wanting discourse of reason, but the purely animal passions
of cunning, anger, hatred, and even revenge and love of kind, and the
nobler characteristics of faithfulness and gratitude prevail in the
dispositions of both. These similarities would strike observers in the
pastoral ages of the world with even greater force than in later times.

The ineradicable impression which certain fables have made upon
the mind through uncounted generations by their self-evident
appropriateness and truth, is well exemplified in _The Wolf and the
Lamb_; _The Fox and the Grapes_; _The Hare and the Tortoise_; _The Dog
and the Shadow_; _The Mountain in Labour_; _The Fox without a Tail_;
_The Satyr and the Man_, who blew hot and cold with the same breath,
and others. It is safe to assert that nothing in literature has been
more quoted than the fables named. We could not afford to lose them;
their absence would be a distinct loss--literature and life would be
the poorer without them; and, such being the fact, we are justified in
holding those writers in esteem who have contributed to the instruction
and entertainment of mankind in the fables they have invented.


[17] 'Institutes of Oratory,' book i., chap. ix.

[18] 'Pairing Time Anticipated.'



    'Nature formed but one such man.'


    'The hungry judges soon the sentence sign.'


Æsop is justly regarded as the foremost inventor of fables that
the world has seen. He flourished in the sixth century before
Christ. Several places, as in the case of Homer, are claimed as his
birthplace--Sardis in Lydia, Ammorius, the island of Samos, and
Mesembra, a city of Thrace; but the weight of authority is in favour of
Cotiæum, a city of Phrygia in the Lesser Asia,[19] hence his sobriquet
of 'the Phrygian.'

Whether he was a slave from birth is uncertain, but if not, he became
such, and served three masters in succession. Demarchus or Caresias
of Athens was his first master; the next, Zanthus or Xanthus, a
philosopher, of the island of Samos; and the third, Idmon or Jadmon,
also of Samos. His faithful service and wisdom so pleased Idmon that he
gave Æsop his freedom.

Growing in reputation both as a sage and a wit, he associated with
the wisest men of his age. Amongst his contemporaries were the seven
sages of Greece: Periander, Thales, Solon, Cleobulus, Chilo, Bias
and Pittacus; but he was eventually esteemed wiser than any of them.
The humour with which his sage counsels were spiced made these more
acceptable (both in his own and later times) than the dull, if weighty,
wisdom of his compeers.

He became attached by invitation of Crœsus, the rich King of Lydia,
to the court at Sardis, the capital, and continued under the patronage
of that monarch for the remainder of his life. Crœsus employed him
in various embassies which he carried to a successful issue. The last
he undertook was a mission to Delphi to offer sacrifices to Apollo, and
to distribute four minæ[20] of silver to each citizen. To the character
of the Delphians might with justice be applied the saying of a later
time: 'The nearer the temple and the farther from God.' Familiarity
with the Oracle, as is the case in smaller matters, bred contempt,
for the meanness of their lives was due to the circumstance that the
offerings of strangers coming to the temple of the god enabled them to
live a life of idleness, to the neglect of the cultivation of their

Æsop upbraided them for this conduct, and, scorning to encourage them
in their evil habits, instead of distributing amongst them the money
which Crœsus had sent, he returned it to Sardis. This, as was
natural with persons of their mean character, so inflamed them against
him that they conspired to compass his destruction. Accordingly (as
the story goes), they hid away amongst his baggage, as he was leaving
the city, a golden goblet taken from the temple and consecrated to
Apollo. Search being made, and the vessel discovered, the charge of
sacrilege was brought against him. His judges pronounced him guilty,
and he was sentenced to be precipitated from the rock Hyampia.
Immediately before his execution he delivered to his persecutors the
fable of _The Eagle and the Beetle_,[21] by which he warned them that
even the weak may procure vengeance against the strong for injuries
inflicted. The warning was unheeded by his murderers. The shameful
sentence was carried out, and so Æsop died, according to Eusebius, in
the fourth year of the fifty-fourth Olympiad, or 561 years before the
Christian era. The fate of poor Æsop was like that of a good many other

According to ancient chroniclers, the death of Æsop did not go
unavenged. Misfortunes of many kinds overtook the Delphians; pestilence
decimated them; such of their lands as they tried to cultivate were
rendered barren, with famine as the result, and these miseries
continued to afflict them for many years. At length, having consulted
the Oracle, they received as answer that which their secret conscience
affirmed to be true, that their calamities were due to the death of
Æsop, whom they had so unjustly condemned. Thereupon they caused
proclamation to be made in all public places throughout the country,
offering reparation to any of Æsop's representatives who should appear.
The only claimant that responded was a grandson of Idmon, Æsop's former
master; and having made such expiation as he demanded, the Delphians
were delivered from their troubles.

Not only was Æsop unfortunate in his death: his personal appearance has
suffered disparagement. The most trustworthy chroniclers in ancient
times describe him as a man of good appearance, and even of a pleasing
cast of countenance; whereas in later years he has been portrayed
both by writers and in pictures as deformed in body and repellent in
features. Stobæus, it is true, who lived in the fifth century A.D., had
written disparagingly of 'the air of Æsop's countenance,' representing
the fabulist as a man of sour visage, and intractable, but he goes no
farther than that.

It is to Maximus Planudes, a Constantinople monk of the fourteenth
century, nearly two thousand years after the time of Æsop, that the
burlesque of the great fabulist is due. Planudes appears to have
collected all the stories regarding Æsop current during the Middle
Ages, and strung them together as an authentic history. Through
ignorance, or by intention, he also confounded the Oriental fabulist,
Locman,[22] with Æsop, and clothed the latter in all the admitted
deformities of the other. He affirmed him as having been flat-faced,
hunch-backed, jolt-headed, blubber-lipped, big-bellied, baker-legged,
his body crooked all over, and his complexion of a swarthy hue. Even
in recent years, accepting the description of the monk, Æsop has
been thus depicted in the frontispiece to his fables. This writer is
untrustworthy in other respects, for in his pretended life of the sage
he makes him speak of persons who did not exist, and of events that did
not occur for eighty to two hundred years after his death.

That the story of Æsop's hideous deformity is untrue is clear from
evidence that is on record. Admitted that this evidence is chiefly of
a negative kind, it is sufficiently strong to refute the statements
of the monk. In the first place, Planudes, as we have seen, is an
untrustworthy chronicler in other respects, and an account of Æsop,
written after the lapse of two thousand years, could only be worthy of
credence issuing from a truthful pen, and based on documentary or other
unquestionable evidence. Of such evidence the Constantinople monk had
probably none.

Again, it is related that during the years of his slavery Æsop had as
mate, or wife, the beautiful Rhodope,[23] also a slave--an unlikely
circumstance, assuming him to have been as repulsive in bodily
appearance as has been asserted. At all events, any incongruous
association of this kind would have been remarked and commented on by
earlier writers.

Further, none of Æsop's contemporaries, nor any writers that
immediately followed him, make mention of his alleged deformities. On
the contrary, the Athenians, about two hundred years after his death,
in order to perpetuate his memory and appearance, commissioned the
celebrated sculptor Lysippus to produce a statue of Æsop, and this they
erected in a prominent position in front of those of the seven sages,
'because,' says Phædrus,[24] 'their severe manner did not persuade,
while the jesting of Æsop pleased and instructed at the same time.' It
is improbable that the figure of a man monstrously deformed as Æsop
is said to have been would have proved acceptable to the severe taste
of the Greek mind. An epigram of Agathia, of which the following is a
translation,[25] celebrates the erection of this statue:


    'Sculptor of Sicyon! glory of thy art!
      I laud thee that the image thou hast placed
    Of good old Æsop in the foremost part,
      More than the statues of the sages graced.
    Grave thought and deep reflection may be found
      In all the well-respected rolls of these;
    In wisdom's saws and maxims they abound,
      But still are wanting in the art to please:
    Each tale the gentle Samian well has told,
      Truth in fair fiction pleasantly imparts;
    Above the rigid censor him I hold
      Who teaches virtue while he wins our hearts.'

Philostratus, in an account of certain pictures in existence in the
time of the Antonines, describes one as representing Æsop with a
pleasing cast of countenance, in the midst of a circle of the various
animals, and the Geniuses of Fable adorning him with wreaths of flowers
and branches of the olive.

Dr. Bentley, in his 'Dissertation,' ridicules the account of Æsop's
deformity as given by Planudes in face of all the evidence to the
contrary. 'I wish,' says he, 'I could do that justice to the memory
of our Phrygian, to oblige the painters to change their pencil. For
'tis certain he was no deformed person; and 'tis probable he was very
handsome. For whether he was a Phrygian or, as others say, a Thracian,
he must have been sold into Samos by a trader in slaves; and 'tis well
known that that sort of people commonly bought up the most beautiful
they could light on, because they would yield the most profit.'

Bentley's conjecture that Æsop was 'very handsome' does not find
general acceptance; it has, nevertheless, a solid foundation in the
fact that the Greeks confined art to the imitation of the beautiful
only, reprobating the portrayal of ugly forms, whether human or other.
It is not to be believed, therefore, that the chisel of Lysippus
was employed in the production of a statue to a deformed person,
which not even the gift of wisdom would have rendered acceptable to
the severe taste of his countrymen. Without going so far, however,
as to accept the view of the learned Master of Trinity, that Æsop
was probably _very_ handsome, we may with safety conclude that the
objectionable portrait of the sage as drawn by the Byzantine is without


[19] Suidas.

[20] The mina was twelve ounces, or a sum estimated as equal to £3 15s.

[21] See _post_, p. 76.

[22] Spelt variously Locman, Lôqman, Lokman.

[23] This woman is notorious in history as a courtesan who essayed to
compound for her sins by votive offerings to the temple at Delphi. She
is also said to have built the Lesser Pyramid out of her accumulated
riches, but this is denied by Herodotus, who claims for the structure a
more ancient and less discreditable foundation, being the work, as he
asserts, of Mycerinus, King of Egypt (Herod., ii. 134).

[24] Phædrus, Epilogue, book ii.

[25] Boothby, Preface, p. xxxiv.



    'I cannot tell how the truth may be;
    I say the tale as 'twas said to me.'

                                  SCOTT: _The Lay of the Last Minstrel_.

    'Such the simple story told,
    By a sage[26] renowned of old,
    To a king[27] whose fabled gold
      Could not procure him learning.'

                  JAMES CLERK MAXWELL.

There are numerous tales told of Æsop, some of which are obviously
mythical; others, though their actual parentage may be doubtful, are
entirely in keeping with his reputation for common, or uncommon,
sense and ready wit. Phædrus has several of these, and Planudes, an
untrustworthy chronicler, as we have seen, has many more. Some of the
stories of the latter are absurd enough, and bordering perhaps on
the foolish; but, on the other hand, he tells several that may be
pronounced excellent in every sense, and whatever the shortcomings of
the monk in other respects, he deserves credit for having rescued these
from the oblivion which otherwise might have been their fate.

Most writers, especially modern writers, on Æsop, have scouted with an
unnecessary display of eclecticism the whole of the stories collected
by Planudes regarding his hero; but in this they show a want of
discrimination. Whether the stories are true of Æsop or not, and I
know of no character on whom they may be more aptly fathered, they are
as ripe in wisdom as are many of the best of the fables, and their
pedigree is quite as authentic.

Philostratus, in his life of Apollonius Tyaneus, gives the following
mythical account of the youthful Æsop: When a shepherd's boy, he fed
his flock near a temple of Mercury, and frequently prayed to the god
for mental endowments. Many other supplicants also came and laid rich
presents upon the altar, but Æsop's only offering was a little milk and
honey, and a few flowers, which the care of his sheep did not allow him
to arrange with much art. The mercenary god disposed of his gifts in
proportion to the value of the offerings. To one he gave philosophy, to
another eloquence, to a third astronomy, and to a fourth the poetical
art. When all these were given away he perceived Æsop, and recollecting
a fable which the Hours had related to him in his infancy, he bestowed
upon him the invention of the Apologue.

Even when a slave, readiness of resource was a characteristic of Æsop,
and often stood him in good stead. His first master, Demarchus, one
day brought home some choice figs, which he handed to his butler,
telling him that he would partake of them after his bath. The butler
had a friend paying him a visit, and by way of entertainment placed
the figs before him, and both heartily partook of them. Fearing the
displeasure of Demarchus, he resolved to charge Æsop with the theft.
Having finished his ablutions, Demarchus ordered the fruit to be
brought; but the butler had none to bring, and charged Æsop with having
stolen and eaten them. The slave, being summoned, denied the charge. It
was a serious matter for one in his position. To be guilty meant many
stripes, if not death. He begged to have some warm water, and he would
prove his innocence. The water being brought, he took a deep drink;
then, putting his finger down his gullet, the water--the sole contents
of his stomach--was belched. Demarchus now ordered the butler to do the
same, with the result that he was proved to be both thief and liar,
and was punished accordingly.

Æsop going on a journey for his master, along with other slaves of the
household, and there being many burdens to carry, he begged they would
not overload him. Looking upon him as weak in body, his fellow-slaves
gave him his choice of a load. On this, Æsop selected the pannier of
bread, which was the heaviest burden of all, at which his companions
were amazed, and thought him a fool. Noon came, however, and when they
had each partaken of its contents, Æsop's burden was lightened by one
half. At the next meal all the bread was cleared out, leaving Æsop with
only the empty basket to carry. At this their eyes were opened, and
instead of the fool they at first thought him, he was seen to be the
wisest of them all.

The second master who owned Æsop as a slave was Zanthus, the
philosopher. Their meeting was in this wise: Æsop being in the
marketplace for sale along with two other slaves, Zanthus, who was
looking round with a view to making a purchase, asked them what they
could do. Æsop's companions hastened to reply, and between them
professed that they could do 'everything.' On Æsop being similarly
questioned, he laughingly answered, 'Nothing.' His two fellow-slaves
had forestalled him in all possible work, and left him with nothing to
do. This reply so amused Zanthus that he selected Æsop in preference to
the others who were so boastful of their abilities.

Zanthus once, when in his cups, had foolishly wagered his land and
houses that he would drink the sea dry. Recovering his senses, he
besought Æsop his slave to find him a way out of his difficulty. This
Æsop engaged to do. At the appointed time, when the foolish feat was to
be performed, or his houses and lands forfeited, Zanthus, previously
instructed by Æsop, appeared at the seaside before the multitude which
had assembled to witness his expected discomfiture. 'I am ready,' cried
he, 'to drain the waters of the sea to the last drop; but first of all
you must stop the rivers from running into it: to drink these also is
not in the contract.' The request was admitted to be a reasonable one,
and as his opponents were powerless to perform their part, they were
covered with derision by the populace, who were loud in their praises
of the wisdom of Zanthus.

Philosopher notwithstanding, Zanthus appears to have been often in hot
water. On another occasion his wife left him, whether on account of her
bad temper (as the report goes), or from his too frequent indulgence in
liquor (as is not unlikely), matters little. He was anxious that she
should return, but how to induce her was a difficulty hard to compass.
Æsop, as usual, was equal to it. 'Leave it to me, master!' said he.
Going to market, he gave orders to this dealer and that and the other,
to send of their best to the residence of Zanthus, as, being about to
take unto himself another wife, he intended to celebrate the happy
occasion by a feast. The report spread like wildfire, and coming to
the ears of his spouse, she quickly gathered up her belongings in the
place where she had taken up her abode, and returned to the house of
her lord and master. 'Take another wife, say you, Zanthus! Not whilst I
am alive, my dear!' And so the ruse was successful, for, as the story
affirms, she settled down to her duties, and no further cause for
separation occurred between them ever after.

Phædrus relates several stories showing the characteristic readiness
of the sage. A mean fellow, seeing Æsop in the street, threw a stone
at him. 'Well done!' was his response to the unmannerly action. 'See!
here is a penny for you; on my faith it is all I have, but I will
tell you how you may get something more. See, yonder comes a rich and
influential man. Throw a stone at him in the same way, and you will
receive a due reward.' The rude fool, being persuaded, did as he was
advised. His daring impudence, however, brought him a requital he did
not hope for, though it was what he deserved, for, being seized, he
paid the penalty. Æsop in this incident exhibited not only his ready
wit, but his deep craft, inasmuch as he brought condign punishment upon
his persecutor by the hand of another, though he himself, being only a
slave, might be insulted with impunity.

An Athenian, seeing Æsop at play in the midst of a crowd of boys,
stopped and laughed and jeered at him for a madman. The sage, a laugher
at others rather than one to be laughed at, perceiving this, placed
an unstrung bow in the middle of the road. 'Hark you, wise man,' said
he; 'unriddle what this means.' The people gathered round, whilst the
man tormented his invention for a long time, trying to frame an answer
to the riddle; but at last he gave it up. Upon this the victorious
philosopher said: 'The bow will soon break if you always keep it bent,
but relax it occasionally, and it will be fit for use, and strong, when
it is wanted'--a piece of sound advice which others than the wiseacre
chiefly concerned would find it advantageous to practise.

A would-be author had recited some worthless composition to Æsop,
in which was contained an inordinate eulogy of himself and his own
powers, and, desiring to know what the sage thought about it, asked:
'Does it appear to you that I have been too conceited? I have no empty
confidence in my own capacity.' Worried to death with the execrable
production, Æsop replied: 'I greatly approve of your bestowing praise
on yourself, for it will never be your lot to receive it from another.'

In the course of a conversation, being asked by Chilo (one of the wise
men of Greece), 'What is the employment of the gods?' Æsop's answer
was: 'To depress the proud and exalt the humble.' And in allusion to
the sorrows inseparable from the human lot, his explanation, at once
striking and poetical, was that 'Prometheus having taken earth to form
mankind, moistened and tempered it, not with water, but with tears.'

Apart from wisdom in the highest sense, Æsop possessed no little
share of worldly wisdom, or political wisdom--often only another name
for chicane--and exercised it as occasion served. It is related by
Plutarch, in the 'Life of Solon,' that 'Æsop being at the Court of
Crœsus at a time when the seven sages of Greece were also present,
the King, having shown them the magnificence of his Court and the
vastness of his riches, asked them, "Whom do you think the happiest
man?" Some of them named one, and some another. Solon (whom without
injury we may look upon as superior to all the rest) in his answer
gave two instances. The first was that of one Tellus, a poor Athenian,
but of great virtues, who had eminently distinguished himself by his
care and education of his family, and at last lost his life in fighting
for his country. The other was of two brothers who had given a very
remarkable proof of their filial piety, and were in reward for it taken
out of this life by the gods the very night after they had performed
so dutiful an action. He concluded by adding that he had given such
instances because no one could be pronounced happy before his death.
Æsop perceived that the King was not well satisfied with any of their
answers, and being asked the same question, replied "that for his part
he was persuaded that Crœsus had as much pre-eminence in happiness
over all other men as the sea has over all the rivers."

'The King was so much pleased with this compliment that he eagerly
pronounced that sentence which afterwards became a common proverb,
"The Phrygian has hit the mark." Soon after this happened, Solon took
his leave of Crœsus, and was dismissed very coolly. Æsop, on his
departure, accompanied him part of his journey, and as they were on
the road took an opportunity of saying to him, "Oh, Solon, either we
must not speak to kings, or we must say what will please them." "On
the contrary," replied Solon, "we should either not speak to kings
at all, or we should give them good and useful advice." So great was
the steadiness of the chief of the sages, and such the courtliness of

It will be noticed that this reply of Æsop to the question of the King
was evasive, though the vanity of the latter probably prevented his
remarking it. He does not declare the King to be the happiest man, but
leaves it to be inferred that, assuming happiness to be attained by
men during life (which Solon denied), then was Crœsus pre-eminent
over all others in that respect. It must be admitted that the answer
does not display the character of Æsop in the best light as a moralist,
however much it may exalt his reputation as a courtier. There probably
was a good deal of the fox in his nature, and this, not less than his
wisdom, enabled him to maintain his position at the Court of this vain
and wealthy potentate.


[26] Solon.

[27] Crœsus.

[28] Quoted from the 'Life of Æsop' in the introduction to Dodsley's
'Select Fables.'



    'Brevity is the soul of wit.'

                    SHAKESPEARE: _Hamlet_.

It has been asserted that this same Æsop, if not a mythical personage,
is at least credited with much more than is his due, and that it is
only around his name that have clustered the various fables attributed
to him, like rich juicy grapes round their central stalk, or, to use
a more appropriate image, like swarming bees round a pendent branch.
Others have endeavoured, with less or more feasibility, to prove
that most of what are called Æsopian fables had their origin in the
far East--'The inquisitive amongst the Greeks,' say they, 'travelled
into the East to ripen their own imperfect conceptions, and on their
return taught them at home, with the mixture of fables and ornaments
of fancy'[29]--that the ideas first propounded in India and Arabia
were thus carried westward; that Æsop appropriated them and gave them
forth in a modified form and in a new dress. Scholars and investigators
differ in their views regarding the truth, or the extent of the truth,
of these allegations, and display much erudition in their attempts to
settle the question. It would appear that Æsop has indubitably the
credit of certain fables of which he was not the inventor, as they were
in vogue at a period anterior to the era in which he flourished. It
is equally proved, on the other hand, that genuine Æsopian or Grecian
fables have been attributed to Eastern sources, and are found included
in collections of Eastern fables compiled in the earlier years of the
Christian era. All this is only what might be expected, and does not
affect to any serious extent the credit for ingenuity and originality
of either Æsop or other early fabulists. Doubtless Æsop did get some of
the subjects of his fables from foreign sources, but he melted them in
the crucible of his mind--he distilled their very essence, and handed
us the precious concentrated spirit. If he had done nothing more, that
was good.

It is well known, of course, that there were fables of a very excellent
kind before the time of Æsop. Amongst the Æsopian fables supposed to be
borrowed from the Jātakas are _The Wolf and the Crane_, _The Ass in
the Lion's Skin_, _The Lion and Mouse_, and _The Countryman, his Son
and the Snake_. And Plutarch[30] asserts that the language of Hesiod's
nightingale to the hawk (spoken three hundred years before the era of
Æsop) is the origin of the beautiful and instructive wisdom in which
Æsop has employed so many tongues. Thus:

    'Poor Philomel, one luckless day,
    Fell in a hungry falcons way.
    "If he her life," she said, "would spare,
    He should have something choice and rare."
    "What's that?" quoth he. "A song," she says,
    "Melodious as Apollo's lays,
    That with delight all nature hears."
    "A hungry belly has no ears,"
    Replied the hawk, "I first must sup,"
    And ate the little siren up.
      When strength and resolution fail,
    Talents and graces nought avail.'[31]

Archilochus also wrote fables before Æsop;[32] and even anterior to
these is the fable of _The Belly and the Members_, and those given in
Holy Scripture. But, without question, Æsop was a true inventor of
fables, for it is not to be believed for a moment that Greek genius
(and this was the genius of Æsop, whatever his parentage) was not equal
to such a task.

Doubtless many later, as well as earlier, fables are included under
the general designation of 'Æsopian,' by virtue of their resembling in
the characteristics of brevity, force and wit the inventions of the

Æsop in all probability did not write out his fables; they were handed
down by word of mouth from generation to generation. At length they
were collected together, first by Diagoras (400 B.C.), and later by
Demetrius Phalereus, the Tyrant of Athens (318 B.C.), under the title
of 'The Assemblies of Æsopian Fables,' long after the sage's death.
This collection was made use of both by the Greek freedman Phædrus,
during the reign of Augustus, in the early years of the Christian era,
and later by Valerius Babrius, the Roman (230 A.D.). Later again,
towards the end of the fourth century, a number of them were translated
into Latin by Avienus.

The Æsopian fables are distinguished by their simplicity, their
mother-wit and natural humour. A score of examples exhibiting these
qualities might be cited. A few, not the best known, will suffice:

_The Wolf and the Shepherds._--'A wolf peeping into a hut where
a company of shepherds were regaling themselves with a joint of
mutton--"Lord," said he, "what a clamour would these men have raised if
they had caught _me_ at such a banquet!"'

The compression and humour of this fable are remarkable, and the
obvious moral is: 'That men are apt to condemn in others what they
practise themselves without scruple.'

_The Dog and the Crocodile_ bids us be on our guard against associating
with persons of an ill reputation. 'As a dog was coursing the banks of
the Nile, he grew thirsty; but fearing to be seized by the monsters
of that river, he would not stop to satiate his drought, but lapped
as he ran. A crocodile, raising his head above the surface of the
water, asked him why he was in such a hurry. He had often, he said,
wished for his acquaintance, and should be glad to embrace the present
opportunity. "You do me great honour," returned the dog, "but it is to
avoid such companions as you that I am in so much haste."'

Again, _The Snake and the Hedgehog_. 'By the intreaties of a hedgehog,
half starved with cold, a snake was once persuaded to receive him
into her cell. He was no sooner entered than his prickles began to
be very annoying to his companion, upon which the snake desired he
would provide himself another lodging, as she found, upon trial, the
apartment was not large enough to accommodate both. "Nay," said the
hedgehog, "let them that are uneasy in their situation exchange it; for
my own part, I am very well contented where I am; if you are not, you
are welcome to remove whenever you think proper!"'

The fable (or rather story, for it is more an anecdote than a fable)
of _Mercury and the Sculptor_ reads like a joke of yesterday. In Mr.
Cross's 'Life of George Eliot,' it is recorded that the great novelist
(in a conversation with Mr. Burne-Jones) recalled her passionate
delight and total absorption in Æsop's fables, the possession of which,
when a child, had opened new worlds to her imagination, and she laughed
till the tears ran down her face in recalling her infantine enjoyment
of the humour of this story, as follows:

'Mercury once determined to learn in what esteem he was held among
mortals. For this purpose he assumed the character of a man, and
visited in this disguise the studio of a sculptor. Having looked at
various statues, he demanded the price of two figures of Jupiter and
Juno. When the sum at which they were valued was named, he pointed to
a figure of himself, saying to the sculptor: "You will certainly want
much more for this, as it is the statue of the messenger of the gods,
and the author of all your gain." The sculptor replied, "Well, if you
will buy these, I'll fling you that into the bargain."'

Again, take _The Bull and the Gnat_, intended to show that the least
considerable of mankind are seldom destitute of importance:

'A conceited gnat, fully persuaded of his own importance, having
placed himself on the horn of a bull, expressed great uneasiness lest
his weight should be incommodious; and with much ceremony begged the
bull's pardon for the liberty he had taken, assuring him that he would
immediately remove if he pressed too hard upon him. "Give yourself no
uneasiness on that account, I beseech you," replied the bull, "for as
I never perceived when you sat down, I shall probably not miss you
whenever you think fit to rise up."'

Here, again, the humour is exquisite; but, indeed, that is a
characteristic of nearly all the fables ascribed to Æsop.

The fable does not readily lend itself to the expression of pathos.
Perhaps the only really pathetic fable is that of _The Wolf and
the Lamb_, and it is also one of the very best. In this there is a
touch of genuine pathos, unique in its character. Hesiod's _Hawk and
Nightingale_,[33] and _The Old Woodcutter and Death_, as told by La
Fontaine, are not wanting in pathos.

The applicability of the fables of Æsop to the circumstances and
occurrences of every-day life, in the highest walks as in the
humblest--for the nature in both is human, after all--gives them
peculiar value. This, and their epigrammatical character, so
conspicuous in the best, combined with the humorous turn that is given
to them, impresses them upon the memory.

In such repute have the Æsopian fables always been held, that the
most learned men in all ages have occupied themselves in translating
and transcribing them. Socrates relieved his prison hours in turning
some of them into verse.[34] In the days of ancient Greece, not to be
familiar with Æsop was a sign of illiteracy.[35]

We have seen how other of the ancients collected and disseminated them.
Coming down to later times, one of the first printed collections was by
Bonus Accursius (1489,) from a MS. in the Ambrosian Library at Milan.
To this was prefixed the Life by Planudes, written a century before.
Another edition of the same was published by Aldus in 1505. The edition
of Robert Stephens, published in Paris in 1546, followed; then came the
enlarged collection by Neveletus, from the Heidelberg Library, in 1610.
Later, Gabriele Faerno's 'One Hundred Fables' are Æsop given in Latin
verse. So also with most of the collections by modern fabulists, La
Fontaine, Sir Roger L'Estrange, Dr. Samuel Croxall, La Motte, Richer,
Brettinger, Bitteux--they are all largely Æsop, with added pieces of
later invention.

'Æsop has been agreed by all ages since his era for the greatest Master
in his kind, and all others of that sort have been but imitations of
his original.'[36]

Of the popularity of Æsop's fables in book form during last century and
the beginning of this, we can scarcely form any conception in these
days of cheap literature in such variety and excellence. Along with the
Bible and 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' Æsop may be said to have occupied a
place on the meagre bookshelf of almost every cottage.

The editions of Æsop in English are innumerable, but the most
noteworthy, in the different epochs from the age of the invention of
printing downwards have been: Caxton's collection (1484); the one
by Leonard Willans (1650); that by John Ogilby (1651); Sir Roger
L'Estrange's edition (1692); Dr. Croxall's collection (1722); that of
Robert Dodsley (1764); and the Rev. Thomas James's Æsop (1848).

It is remarkable that the majority of those who have busied themselves
in translating and editing Æsop have won fame and (shall we say?)
immortality through that circumstance alone. Take the names in order
of time, and it will be seen that the men are remembered chiefly or
only (most of them) by reason of their association with the Æsopian
fables: Demetrius Phalereus, Phædrus, Babrius, Avienus, Planudes,
Bonus Accursius, Neveletus, even down to La Fontaine, L'Estrange,[37]
Croxall, and James. The Æsopian fable has indeed a perennial life, and
its votaries have rendered themselves immortal by association therewith.

Writers of much erudition, and in many countries, have vied with
each other in learned research in this branch of literature, and
in endeavours to trace the history of fable. Among the French we
have Pierre Pithou (1539-96), editor of the first printed edition
of Phædrus; Bachet de Meziriac, who wrote a life of Æsop (1632);
Boissonade, Robert, Edelestand du Meril (1854); Hervieux and Gaston
Paris. Of German writers there are Lessing, Fausboll, Hermann
Oesterley, Mueller, Wagener, Heydenreich, Otto Crusius (1879),
Benfey, Mall, Knoell, Gitlbauer; Niccolo, Perotti, Archbishop of
Siponto (1430-80), and Jannelli, among the Italians; amongst Jewish
writers, Dr. Landsberger. Of English writers we have Christopher Wase,
Alsop, Boyle, Bentley, Tyrwhitt, Rutherford, James, Robinson Ellis,
Rhys-Davids, G. F. Townsend, and last but not least, Joseph Jacobs, in
his scholarly 'History of the Æsopic Fable.'


[29] Antiquary in 'The Club.'

[30] 'Conviv. Sapient.'

[31] Boothby's translation.

[32] Priscian.

[33] _Ante_, p. 54.

[34] 'Being exhorted by a dream, I composed some verses in honour of
the god to whom the present festival [of the sacred embassy to Delos]
belongs; but after the god, considering it necessary that he who
designs to be a poet should make fables and not discourses, and knowing
that I myself was not a mythologist, on these accounts I versified the
fables of Æsop, which were at hand, and were known to me.'--Socrates in
Plato's 'Phædo.'

[35] Suidas.

[36] Sir William Temple.

[37] Goldsmith, in his 'Account of the Augustine Age of England,'
remarks: 'That L'Estrange was a standard writer cannot be disowned,
because a great many very eminent authors formed their style by his.
But his standard was far from being a just one; though, when party
considerations are set aside, he certainly was possessed of elegance,
ease, and perspicuity.' Notwithstanding this considerable estimate of
L'Estrange, it may be said that he is now remembered chiefly by his
association with the Æsopian fables.



    'United, yet divided, twain at once--
    sit two kings of Fable on one throne.'

                                  COWPER: _The Task (altered)_.

Phædrus, who wrote the fables of Æsop in Latin iambics, and added
others of his own, was born at the very source of poetic inspiration,
on Mount Pierius, near to the Pierian spring, the seat of the Muses,
in Thrace, at that time a portion of the Roman province of Macedonia,
and of which Octavius, the father of Augustus Cæsar, was Proconsul,
during the last century before the Christian era. Like Æsop, he too was
a slave in early youth, but being taken to Rome, he was manumitted by
Augustus, and occupied a place in the household of that Emperor. Here
he acquired the pure Latinity of his style, and in later years wrote
the well-known fables in the collection that bears his name. His fables
are in five books, and were published during the reign of Tiberius and
subsequent emperors.

In the prologue to his third book, addressed to Eutychus,[38] he thus
alludes to his birthplace, and disavows all mercenary aims in his
literary pursuits:

    'Me--whom a Grecian mother bore
    On Hill Pierian, where of yore
    Mnemosyne in love divine
    Brought forth to Jove the tuneful Nine.
    Though sprung where genius reigned with art,
    I grubb'd up av'rice from my heart,
    And rather for applause than pay,
    Embrace the literary way--
    Yet as a writer and a wit,
    With some abatements they admit.
    What is his case then, do you think,
    Who toils for wealth nor sleeps a wink,
    Preferring to the pleasing pain
    Of composition, sordid gain?
    But hap what will (as Sinon said
    When to King Priam he was led),
    I book the third shall now fulfil,
    With Æsop for my master still,
    Which book I dedicate to you
    As both to worth and honour due.
    Pleased, if you read; if not, content,
    As conscious of a sure event,
    That these my fables shall remain,
    And after-ages entertain.'[39]

His object, as he declares, was to expose vice and folly; in pursuing
it he did not escape persecution, for Sejanus, the arbitrary minister
of Tiberius (who had now succeeded to the imperial purple), took
mortal offence at certain of the apologues which he suspected applied
to himself, and, 'informer, witness, judge and all,' laid the iron
hand of power heavy upon the fabulist. Phædrus, whose early years of
slavery had left no taint of servility upon his character, was too
independent to stoop to insolent power, and resented the treatment to
which he was subjected. Thus beset, and probably largely owing to this
cause, his last years were spent in poverty. Amidst the infirmities of
age he compares himself to the old hound in his last apologue, which
being chastised by his master for his feebleness in allowing the boar
to escape, replied, 'Spare your old servant! It was the power, not the
will, that failed me. Remember rather what I was than abuse me for what
I am.' A lesson which even at the present day may sometimes find its
application. Phædrus prophesied his own immortality as an author, and
his boast was that whilst Æsop invented, he (Phædrus) perfected.

Babrius,[40] a Latin, did for the Æsopian fable, in Greek choliambics,
what Phædrus, a Greek, accomplished for them in Latin iambics. He
is believed to have lived in the third century A.D., and to have
composed his fables in his quality of tutor to Branchus, the young
son of the Emperor Alexander Severus.[41] His collection of Æsopian
fables in two books was known to ancient writers, who refer to him
and quote his apologues, but, like other literary treasures, it was
lost during the Middle Ages. Early in the seventeenth century, Isaac
Nicholas Neveletus, a Swiss, published (1610) an edition of the fables
of Æsop, containing not only those embraced in the work of Planudes,
but additional fables from MSS. in the Vatican Library, and some from
Aphthonius and Babrius. He further expressed the opinion that the
latter was the earliest collector and writer of the Æsopian fables in
Greek. Francis Vavassor, a French Jesuit, followed with comments on
Babrius on the same lines; so also another Frenchman, Bayle, in his
'Dictionnaire Historique'; Thomas Tyrwhitt and Dr. Bentley in England,
and Francisco de Furia in Italy, also espoused the idea first suggested
by Neveletus, and adduced further proofs in support of it. Singularly
enough, the accuracy of the forecast of these scholars was established
by the discovery in 1840, by M. Minoides Menas, a Greek, at the Convent
of St. Laura on Mount Athos, of a veritable copy of Babrius in Greek
choliambic verse. The transcript of Menas was first published in Paris
in 1844. The first English edition was edited by Sir George Cornewall
Lewis in the original Greek text, with Latin notes, and afterwards
(1860) translated into English by the Rev. James Davies, M.A., and they
now form the most trustworthy version of the Æsopian fables.


[38] 'The Charioteer of Caligula,' Bücheler.

[39] From the translation of the fables of Phædrus into English verse
by Christopher Smart, A.M.

[40] Sometimes spelt 'Gabrias.'

[41] Jacobs: 'History of the Æsopic Fable,' p. 22.



    'Full of wise saws.'

            SHAKESPEARE: _As You Like It_.

'Fables,' says Aristotle, 'are adapted to deliberate oratory, and
possess this advantage: that to hit upon facts which have occurred
in point is difficult; but with regard to fables it is comparatively
easy. For an orator ought to construct them just as he does his
illustrations, if he be able to discover the point of similitude, a
thing which will be easy to him if he be of a philosophical turn of

The truth of this is exemplified in the use which has been made of the
apologue by orators in all ages, but especially in early times.

The following instances of the application of fables to particular
occasions are recorded. The fable of _The Belly and the Members_, which
is reputed to be the oldest in existence, is of sterling excellence,
as well as of venerable antiquity.[43] Its lucid moral is truth
in essence. The logic of its conclusion is as invulnerable as the
demonstration of a proposition in Euclid. There is no gainsaying it,
turn it how we may, and, with all due deference to Montaigne, only one
moral is deducible from it. This is solid bottom ground and bed rock,
safe for chain-cable holding; safe for building upon, however high
the superstructure. Striking use was made of it by Menenius Agrippa
when the rabble refused to pay their share of the taxes necessary for
carrying on the business of the State.

In the 'Coriolanus' of Shakespeare, Menenius, the Roman Consul,
is introduced in character,[44] and recounts the apologue to the
disaffected citizens of Rome. Thus the dramatist, in his superb way:

      _Men._                  Either you must
    Confess yourselves wondrous malicious,
    Or be accused of folly. I shall tell you
    A pretty tale: it may be you have heard it;
    But since it serves my purpose, I will venture
    To stale 't a little more.

      _1 Cit._ Well, I'll hear it, sir; yet you must not think
    to fob off our disgrace with a tale; but, an 't please you,

      _Men._ There was a time when all the body's Members
    Rebelled against the Belly; thus accused it:
    That only like a gulf it did remain
    I' the midst o' the body, idle and inactive,
    Still cupboarding the viand, never bearing
    Like labour with the rest; where th' other instruments
    Did see and hear, devise, instruct, walk, feel,
    And, mutually participate, did minister
    Unto the appetite and affection common
    Of the whole body. The Belly answered:

      _1 Cit._ Well, sir, what answer made the Belly?

      _Men._ Sir, I shall tell you. With a kind of smile,
    Which ne'er came from the lungs, but even thus--
    For, look you, I may make the Belly smile
    As well as speak--it tauntingly replied
    To the discontented Members, the mutinous parts
    That envied his receipt: even so most fitly
    As you malign our senators, for that
    They are not such as you.

      _1 Cit._                 Your Belly's answer? What!
    The kingly-crowned head, the vigilant eye,
    The counsellor heart, the arm our soldier,
    Our steed the leg, the tongue our trumpeter,
    With other muniments and petty helps
    In this our fabric, if that they----

      _Men._                              What then?----
    'Fore me this fellow speaks!--what then? what then?

      _1 Cit._ Should by the cormorant Belly be restrained,
    Who is the sink o' the body----

      _Men._                          Well, what then?

      _1 Cit._ The former agents, if they did complain,
    What could the Belly answer?

      _Men._                      I will tell you,
    If you'll bestow a small--of what you have little--
    Patience awhile, you'll hear the Belly's answer.

      _1 Cit._ Ye're long about it.

      _Men._                          Note me this, good friend,
    Your most grave Belly was deliberate,
    Not rash, like his accusers, and thus answered:
    'True is it, my incorporate friends,' quoth he,
    'That I receive the general food at first,
    Which you do live upon; and fit it is,
    Because I am the storehouse and the shop
    Of the whole body; but, if you do remember,
    I send it through the rivers of your blood,
    Even to the court, the heart, to the seat o' the brain,
    And through the cranks and offices of man.
    The strongest nerves, and small inferior veins,
    From me receive that natural competency
    Whereby they live; and though that all at once,
    You, my good friends----' This says the Belly, mark me.

      _1 Cit._ Ay, sir; well, well.

      _Men._                          'Though all at once cannot
    See what I do deliver out to each,
    Yet I can make my audit up, that all
    From me do back receive the flour of all,
    And leave me but the bran.' What say you to 't?

      _1 Cit._ It was an answer. How apply you this?

      _Men._ The senators of Rome are this good Belly,
    And you the mutinous Members; for examine
    Their counsels and their cares; digest things rightly,
    Touching the weal o' the common, you shall find
    No public benefit which you receive
    But it proceeds or comes from them to you,
    And no way from yourselves. What do you think?

The oldest fable in Holy Scripture, having been spoken or written about
six centuries before the time of Æsop, is that of _The Trees in Search
of a King_, recounted by Jotham to the men of Shechem, and directed
against Abimelech,[45] wherein it is shown that the most worthless
persons are generally the most presuming:

'And all the men of Shechem assembled themselves together, and all the
house of Millo, and went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the
pillar that was in Shechem. And when they told it to Jotham, he went
and stood in the top of Mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and
cried and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God
may hearken unto you. The Trees went forth on a time to anoint a king
over them; and they said unto the Olive-tree, Reign thou over us. But
the Olive-tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by
me they honour God and man, and go to wave to and fro over the trees?
And the Trees said to the Fig-tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
But the Fig-tree said unto them, Should I leave my sweetness, and my
good fruit, and go to wave to and fro over the trees? And the Trees
said unto the Vine, Come thou, and reign over us. And the Vine said
unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go
to wave to and fro over the trees? Then said all the Trees unto the
Bramble, Come thou, and reign over us. And the Bramble said unto the
trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your
trust in my shadow; and if not, let fire come out of the Bramble, and
devour the cedars of Lebanon.'

The Samians had impeached their Prime Minister for embezzling the money
of the Commonwealth, and would have put him to death. Æsop, addressing
the assembled councillors, introduced the fable of _The Fox and the
Hedgehog_ into his oration, as an argument to dissuade them from their

'A fox, swimming across a rapid river, was carried by the current into
a deep ravine, where he lay for a time bruised and sick, and unable to
move. A swarm of hungry flies[46] settled upon him. A hedgehog, passing
by, compassionated his sufferings, and would have driven away the flies
that were tormenting him. "Pray do not molest them," cried the fox.
"How is this?" asked the hedgehog. "Do you not want to be rid of them?"
"By no means," replied the fox; "for these flies are now full of blood,
and sting me but little, and if you rid me of these which are already
satiated, others more hungry will come in their place, and will drink
up all the blood I have left." Thus also, O Samians, this man no longer
injures you, for he is wealthy; should you, however, put him to death,
others who are poor will come, who will exhaust you by filching the
public money.'

Such a plea in arrest of judgment would hardly suffice in these later

The fable of _The Frogs petitioning Jupiter for a King_ was spoken by
Æsop to the Athenians in order to reconcile them to the mild yoke of
the usurper Pisistratus, against whom, after they had raised him to the
supreme power, the people began to murmur. 'The Commonwealth of Frogs,
a discontented, variable race, weary of liberty, and fond of a change,
petitioned Jupiter to grant them a king. The good-natured deity, in
order to indulge this their request with as little mischief to the
petitioners as possible, threw them down a log. At first they regarded
their new monarch with great reverence, and kept from him at a most
respectful distance; but perceiving his tame and peaceable disposition,
they by degrees ventured to approach him with more familiarity, till
at length some of them even ventured to climb up his side and squat
upon him, and they all conceived for him the utmost contempt. In this
disposition, they renewed their request to Jupiter, and entreated him
to bestow upon them another king. The Thunderer in his wrath sent them
a crane, who no sooner took possession of his new dominions than he
began to devour his subjects one after another in a most capricious
and tyrannical manner. They were now more dissatisfied than before;
when applying to Jupiter a third time, they were dismissed with the
reproof that the evil they complained of they had imprudently brought
upon themselves, and that they had no remedy now but to submit to it
with patience.'

Plutarch, in his account of 'The Feast of the Sages' at the Court of
Periander, King of Corinth (himself one of the seven), narrates the
incident of Alexidemus, natural son of the Tyrant of Miletus, who,
having taken offence at being placed lower at the table than 'Æolians,
and Islanders, and people known to nobody,' was ridiculed by Æsop,
who related to the assembled guests the fable of _The Arrogant Mule
mortified_. 'The lion,' said he, 'gave a feast to the beasts. The horse
and the ass sent excuses, the one having to bear his master a journey,
and the other to turn the mill for the housewife; but, in order to
honour the hospitality of the forest king, they sent their son, the
mule, in their stead. At table a dispute arose about precedence, the
mule claiming the higher place in right of his parent the horse,
which the ox and others disputed, asserting that the mule had no just
pretensions to the dignity claimed. At length, argument having run
high, the mule would fain have been content with the seat reserved for
the ass; but even this was now denied him, and, as a punishment for
his presumption, he was thrust to the lower end, as one who, instead of
meriting consideration, was nothing but a base mongrel.'

It is said that when Æsop was being taken to the rock Hyampia, there to
be sacrificed, he predicted that the hand of retributive Justice would
smite his persecutors for their inhumanity; and, reciting the fable of
_The Eagle and the Beetle_, he warned them that the weakest may procure
vengeance against the most powerful in requital of injuries inflicted.
'A hare, being pursued by an eagle, retreated into the nest of a
beetle, who promised her protection. The eagle repulsed the beetle,
and destroyed the hare before its face. The beetle, remembering the
wrong done it, soared to the nest of the eagle and destroyed her eggs.
Appealing to Jupiter, the god listened to the petition of his favourite
bird, and granted her leave to lay her eggs in his lap for safety.
The beetle, seeing this, made a ball of dirt, and, carrying it aloft,
dropped it into the lap of the god, who, forgetting the eggs, shook all
off together.'

_The Piper turned Fisherman_ was spoken by Cyrus (King of Persia) at
Sardis to the Ionians and Æolians on the occasion of their sending
ambassadors, offering to become subject to him on the same terms as
they had been to Crœsus. But he, when he heard their proposal, told
them this story: 'A piper seeing some fishes in the sea, began to
pipe, expecting that they would come to shore; but finding his hopes
disappointed, he took a casting-net, and enclosed a great number of
fishes, and drew them out. When he saw them leaping about, he said
to the fishes: "Cease your dancing, since when I piped you would not
come out and dance."' Cyrus told this story to the Ionians and Æolians
because the Ionians, when Cyrus pressed them by his ambassador to
revolt from Crœsus, refused to consent, and now, when the business
was done, were ready to listen to him. He therefore, under the
influence of anger, gave them this answer.[47]

The fable of _The Horse and the Stag_ was rehearsed by Stesichorus to
the citizens of Himera[48] with a view to stimulating them to beware
of the encroachments of Phalaris the Tyrant, whom they had chosen
general with absolute powers, and were on the eve of assigning him a
body-guard. 'The stag, with his horns, got the better of the horse, and
drove him clean out of the pasture where they used to feed together.
So the horse craved the assistance of man; and in order to receive the
benefit of his help, suffered him to put a bridle on his neck, a bit
in his mouth, and a saddle upon his back. By this means he entirely
defeated his enemy. But guess his chagrin when, returning thanks, and
desiring to be dismissed, he received for answer: "No! I never knew
before how useful a drudge you were; and now that I have found what
you are good for, you may depend upon it I will keep you to it." Look
to it, then' (continued Stesichorus), 'lest in your wish to avenge
yourselves on your enemies you suffer in the same way as the horse; for
already, through your choice of a commander with independent power, you
have the bit in your mouths; but if you assign him a body-guard, and
permit him to mount into the saddle, you will become, from that moment
forth, the slaves of Phalaris.'

When the Athenians, with the ingratitude which sometimes blinds a
whole people to the merits of their best friends, would have betrayed
Demosthenes into the hands of Philip, King of Macedonia, the orator, as
watch-dog of the State,[49] brought them to a better frame of mind by a
recital of _The Wolves and the Sheep_. 'Once on a time, the wolves sent
an embassy to the sheep, desiring that there might be peace between
them for the time to come. "Why," said they, "should we be for ever
waging this deadly strife? Those wicked dogs are the cause of it all;
they are incessantly barking at us and provoking us; send them away,
and there will no longer be any obstacle to our eternal friendship and
peace." The silly sheep listened; the dogs were dismissed, and the
flock, thus deprived of their best protectors, became an easy prey to
their treacherous enemy.'

On another occasion, when the populace were wrangling and disputing on
matters of comparatively small moment whilst neglecting more important
concerns, the same orator warned them of the danger they were in of
losing the substance in fighting for the shadow. 'A youth,' said he,
'one hot summer day, hired an ass to carry him from Athens to Megara.
At mid-day the heat of the sun was so intense that he dismounted, and
sat down to repose himself in the shadow of the ass. The driver of the
ass thereupon disputed with him, declaring that he had a better right
to the shade than the other. "What!" said the youth, "did I not hire
the ass for the whole journey?" "Yes," replied the other, "you hired
the ass, but not the ass's shadow." While they were wrangling and
fighting for the place, the ass took to his heels and ran away.'


[42] 'Rhetoric,' book ii., chap. xx.

[43] 'A variant of it, or something very like it, was discovered twelve
years ago by M. Maspero in a fragmentary papyrus, which he dates about
the twentieth dynasty (_circa_ 1250 B.C.).'--Jacobs: 'History of the
Æsopic Fable,' p. 82.

[44] Act I., Scene i.

[45] Judges ix. 8-15.

[46] Aristotle in his 'Treatise on Rhetoric,' book ii., chap. xx. has
horse-leeches as the blood-suckers.

[47] Herodotus, i. 141. Cary's translation; Bohn.

[48] Aristotle's 'Rhetoric,' book ii., chap. xx.

[49] The episode of the eccentric and, alas! well-nigh forgotten
politician, John Arthur Roebuck, in his assumption of the character of
'Tearem,' the watch-dog, will recur to readers.



    'When to my study I retire,
      And from books of ancient sages
    Glean fresh sparks of buried fire
      Lurking in their ample pages--
      While the task my mind engages
    Let old words new truths inspire.'

                  JAMES CLERK MAXWELL.

The 'Panca Tantra' is a collection of Hindoo fables, the supposed
author of which was Vishnu Sarman, and this is believed to be the
source of 'The Fables of Pilpay' or _Bidpaī_, which are undoubtedly
of Indian origin. The transformation which these latter have
experienced in their progress down the ages, chiefly by reason of their
having been translated into the Arabic in the sixth century under the
name of the 'Book of Kalilah and Dimnah,' and afterwards into other
Eastern languages, has altered their Indian character, and caused them
to assume a Persian vesture and significance. They are rich in ripe
wisdom, and prove the insight of their author or authors into human
nature, which in those early days, and in those far countries, was much
as it is in more westerly communities and in our own times.

Taking the Æsopian fable as our model, the bulk of Pilpay's stories
are not fables _par excellence_. They are more of the nature of
_rencontres_ of adventures, fabulous, it is true, and containing
generally an excellent moral, but elaborated and complex for the
most part; they are wanting in the terseness, the crispness, and
concentration, as well as in the simplicity and spontaneity, of the
Greek. At the same time there is a freshness and vigour in these old
fables that is not sacrificed by translation, and they are sufficiently
striking and admirable as moral stories to justify the repute in which
they have always been held. _The Greedy and Ambitious Cat_ is one of
the stories in the Bidpaī collection.

'There was formerly an old woman in a village, extremely thin, half
starved, and meagre. She lived in a little cottage as dark and gloomy
as a fool's heart, and withal as close shut up as a miser's hand.[50]
This miserable creature had for the companion of her wretched
retirement a cat, meagre and lean as herself; the poor creature never
saw bread nor beheld the face of a stranger, and was forced to be
contented with only smelling the mice in their holes, or seeing the
prints of their feet in the dust. If by some extraordinary lucky chance
this miserable animal happened to catch a mouse, she was like a beggar
that discovers a treasure: her visage and her eyes were inflamed
with joy, and that booty served her for a whole week; and out of the
excess of her admiration, and distrust of her own happiness, she would
cry out to herself, "Heavens! is this a dream, or is it real?" One
day, however, ready to die for hunger, she got upon the ridge of her
enchanted castle, which had long been the mansion of famine for cats,
and spied from thence another cat, that was stalking upon a neighbour's
wall like a lion, walking along as if she were counting her steps, and
so fat that she could hardly go. The old woman's cat, astonished to see
a creature of her own species so plump and so large, with a loud voice
cries out to her pursy neighbour: "In the name of pity speak to me,
thou happiest of the cat kind! Why, you look as if you came from one of
the Khan of Kathais'[51] feasts; I conjure ye to tell me how or in what
region it is that you get your skin so well stuffed."

'"Where?" replied the fat one. "Why, where should one feed well but
at a king's table? I go to the house," continued she, "every day about
dinner-time, and there I lay my paws upon some delicious morsel or
other, which serves me till the next, and then leave enough for an army
of mice, which under me live in peace and tranquillity; for why should
I commit murder for a piece of tough and skinny mouse-flesh, when I can
live on venison at a much easier rate?"

'The lean cat, on this, eagerly inquired the way to this house of
plenty, and entreated her plump neighbour to carry her one day along
with her.

'"Most willingly," said the fat puss; "for thou seest I am naturally
charitable, and thou art so lean that I heartily pity thy condition."

'On this promise they parted, and the lean cat returned to the old
woman's chamber, where she told her dame the story of what had befallen

'The old woman prudently endeavoured to dissuade her cat from
prosecuting her design, admonishing her withal to have a care of being

'"For, believe me," said she, "the desires of the ambitious are never
to be satiated but when their mouths are stuffed with the dirt of
their graves. Sobriety and temperance are the only things that truly
enrich people. I must tell thee, poor silly cat, that they who travel
to satisfy their ambition have no knowledge of the good things they
possess, nor are they truly thankful to Heaven for what they enjoy, who
are not contented with their fortune."

'The poor starved cat, however, had conceived so fair an idea of
the king's table, that the old woman's good morals and judicious
remonstrances entered in at one ear and went out at the other; in
short, she departed the next day with the fat puss to go to the king's
house; but, alas! before she got thither her destiny had laid a snare
for her. For, being a house of good cheer, it was so haunted with cats
that the servants had, just at this time, orders to kill all the cats
that came near it, by reason of a great robbery committed the night
before in the king's larder by several grimalkins. The old woman's cat,
however, pushed on by hunger, entered the house, and no sooner saw a
dish of meat unobserved by the cooks, but she made a seizure of it,
and was doing what for many years she had not done before, that is,
heartily filling her belly; but as she was enjoying herself under the
dresser-board, and feeding heartily upon her stolen morsels, one of the
testy officers of the kitchen, missing his breakfast, and seeing where
the poor cat was solacing herself with it, threw his knife at her with
such an unlucky hand that it struck her full in the breast. However,
as it has been the providence of Nature to give this creature nine
lives instead of one, poor puss made a shift to crawl away, after she
had for some time shammed dead; but in her flight, observing the blood
come streaming from her wound--"Well," said she, "let me but escape
this accident, and if ever I quit my old home and my own mice for all
the rarities in the king's kitchen, may I lose all my nine lives at

The moral of the story is, that it is better to be contented with what
one has than to travel in search of what ambition prompts us to seek

In the Escurial, near Madrid, the library of which is rich in ancient
literary treasures, is a work by Ebn Arabscah, a collection of Arabian
fables. Arabia may with truth be designated the very fountain-head
of fabulous story. It was in that country that the venerable Locman
flourished, during, it is believed, the reigns of the Jewish kings
David and Solomon. Berington, in his essay on 'The Arabian or Saracenic
Learning,' remarks that Locman is said to have been an Ethiopian or
Nubian, extremely deformed in his person, but so famed for wisdom as to
have acquired the appellation of the Sage. His fables and moral maxims,
written for the instruction of mankind, were in the estimation of the
Eastern people a gift from heaven, and they received them as its
inspired dictates. 'Heretofore,' says the Divine being in the Koran,
'we gave wisdom to Locman.' The same writer suggests whether Locman and
Æsop may not be the same person. 'The history of the two sages is so
perfectly similar in their characters and the incidents of their lives,
that one must have been borrowed from the other. But the chronological
difficulties,' he adds, 'are sufficiently perplexing.'

We have already seen that the alleged similarity in character and
bodily appearance was due to the invention or misconception of
Planudes, whose story of Æsop was written in the fourteenth century,
and therefore the seeming identity of the sages falls to the ground.
Moreover, the fables of Æsop have a mobility about them which we do not
find in those of other fabulists; they are essentially Attic in their
diction, exhibiting all the marks of that compressed wit and wisdom for
which the ancient Greek mind was distinguished. Eastern fable, on the
other hand, is ornate and florid, and wanting in the Grecian clear-cut
directness and point. It is idle to assume that the ideas, if not the
diction, may have been borrowed and clothed in a new dress, unless it
can be shown that the substance or subject-matter of the fables of the
two sages is alike or similar in character. Granted that a few--about a
dozen in number[52]--of the Æsopian fables find their counterpart in
the fables of a more remote antiquity and in more Eastern countries,
this circumstance might be expected; ideas dating from the very advent
of the human race are current amongst us in this day, but surely even
we of the nineteenth century have a sufficient stock of original
conceptions to justify our claims to be considered inventors, and so
with Æsop and the race of fabulists in all ages.

Mrs. Jameson says,[53] with great force and truth, that 'the fables
which appeal to our higher moral sympathies may sometimes do as much
for us as the truths of science,' and she paraphrases from Sir William
Jones's Persian Grammar a fable embodying one of those traditions of
our Lord which are preserved in the East.

'Jesus,' says the story, 'arrived one evening at the gates of a certain
city, and He sent His disciples forward to prepare supper, while He
Himself, intent on doing good, walked through the streets into the
market place.

'And He saw at the corner of the market some people gathered together
looking at an object on the ground; and He drew near to see what it
might be. It was a dead dog with a halter round his neck, by which
he appeared to have been dragged through the dirt; and a viler, more
abject, a more unclean thing never met the eyes of man.

'And those who stood by looked on with abhorrence.

'"Faugh!" said one, stopping his nose, "it pollutes the air." "How
long," said another, "shall this foul beast offend our sight?" "Look
at his torn hide," said a third; "one could not even cut a shoe out of
it." "And his ears," said a fourth, "all draggled and bleeding!" "No
doubt," said a fifth, "he hath been hanged for thieving!"

'And Jesus heard them, and looking down compassionately on the dead
creature, He said, "Pearls are not equal to the whiteness of his teeth!"

'Then the people turned towards Him with amazement, and said among
themselves, "Who is this? this must be Jesus of Nazareth, for only _He_
could find something to pity and approve even in a dead dog!" And being
ashamed, they bowed their heads before Him, and went each on his way.'

'I can recall,' continues Mrs. Jameson, 'at this hour, the vivid,
yet softening and pathetic, impression left on my fancy by this old
Eastern story. It struck me as exquisitely humorous, as well as
exquisitely beautiful. It gave me a pain in my conscience, for it
seemed thenceforward so easy and so vulgar to say satirical things,
and so much nobler to be benign and merciful; and I took the lesson so
home that I was in great danger of falling into the opposite extreme;
of seeking the beautiful even in the midst of the corrupt and the
repulsive. Pity, a large element in my composition, might have easily
degenerated into weakness, threatening to subvert hatred of evil in
trying to find excuses for it; and whether my mind has ever completely
righted itself, I am not sure.'

Our remarks on the fables of Pilpay are equally applicable to the
'Gesta Romanorum' or 'Entertaining Moral Stories' invented by the monks
as a fireside recreation in the Middle Ages. Most of them are recitals
of adventures rather than fables. They are believed to be of English
origin, though a similar 'Gesta,' composed of stories in imitation of
them, appeared in Germany about the same time. The taste displayed in
many of them is of a questionable kind, and an outrageous twist is
often given to their application; though doubtless they are a truthful
reflex of the ideas and manners of the age in which they were composed
and rehearsed, and in that respect they are of the utmost interest and
value. Most of the fables or tales in the 'Gesta' begin well, and
with a promise of interest. This interest, it must be said, is rarely
maintained, for, as a rule, their conclusion is insipid, and sometimes
inane. This notwithstanding, they are valuable by reason of their
suggestiveness. The two examples we quote, translated from the Latin
by the Rev. Charles Swan, are not faultless, but they are coherent
throughout, and have a rounded literary finish in which many of the
others are wanting. The first is entitled _Of Perfect Life_:

'When Titus was Emperor of Rome, he made a decree that the natal
day of his first-born son should be held sacred, and that whosoever
violated it by any kind of labour should be put to death. This edict
being promulgated, he called Virgil, the learned man, to him, and
said, "Good friend, I have established a certain law, but as offences
may frequently be committed without being discovered by the ministers
of justice, I desire you to frame some curious piece of art which may
reveal to me every transgressor of the law." Virgil replied, "Sire,
your will shall be accomplished." He straightway constructed a magic
statue, and caused it to be erected in the midst of the city. By virtue
of the secret powers with which it was invested, it communicated to the
Emperor whatever offences were committed in secret on that day. And
thus, by the accusation of the statue, an infinite number of persons
were convicted.

'Now, there was a certain carpenter, called Focus, who pursued his
occupation every day alike. Once, as he lay in his bed, his thoughts
turned upon the accusations of the statue, and the multitudes which it
had caused to perish. In the morning he clothed himself, and proceeded
to the statue, which he addressed in the following manner: "O statue!
statue! because of thy informations, many of our citizens have been
apprehended and slain. I vow to my God that, if thou accusest me, I
will break thy head." Having so said, he returned home. About the first
hour, the Emperor, as he was wont, despatched sundry messengers to the
statue to inquire if the edict had been strictly complied with. After
they had arrived and delivered the Emperor's pleasure, the statue
exclaimed, "Friends, look up: what see ye written upon my forehead?"
They looked, and beheld three sentences, which ran thus: "Times are
altered. Men grow worse. He who speaks truth will have his head
broken." "Go," said the statue; "declare to his majesty what you have
seen and read." The messengers obeyed, and detailed the circumstances
as they had happened.

'The Emperor thereupon commanded his guard to arm, and march to the
place on which the statue was erected; and he further ordered that,
if any one presumed to molest it, they should bind him hand and foot
and drag him into his presence. The soldiers approached the statue,
and said: "Our Emperor wills you to declare who have broken the law,
and who they are that threatened you." The statue made answer, "Seize
Focus, the carpenter! Every day he violates the law, and, moreover,
menaces me." Immediately Focus was apprehended and conducted to the
Emperor, who said, "Friend, what do I hear of thee? Why dost thou break
my law?" "My lord," answered Focus, "I cannot keep it; for I am obliged
to obtain every day eight pennies, which, without incessant labour, I
have not the means of acquiring." "And why eight pennies?" said the
Emperor. "Every day through the year," returned the carpenter, "I am
bound to repay two pennies which I borrowed in my youth; two I lend;
two I lose; and two I spend." "You must make this more clear," said the
Emperor. "My lord," he replied, "listen to me. I am bound each day to
repay two pennies to my father; for when I was a boy my father expended
upon me daily the like sum. Now he is poor, and needs my assistance,
and therefore I return what I borrowed formerly. Two other pennies I
lend to my son, who is pursuing his studies, in order that, if by any
chance I should fall into poverty, he may restore the loan, just as I
have done to his grandfather. Again, I lose two pennies every day on my
wife; for she is contradictious, wilful, and passionate. Now, because
of this disposition, I account whatsoever is given to her entirely
lost. Lastly, two other pennies I expend upon myself in meat and drink,
I cannot do with less; nor can I obtain them without unremitting
labour. You now know the truth, and I pray you give a righteous
judgment." "Friend," said the Emperor, "thou hast answered well. Go,
and labour earnestly in thy calling." Soon after this the Emperor died,
and Focus the carpenter, on account of his singular wisdom, was elected
in his stead, by the unanimous choice of the whole nation. He governed
as wisely as he had lived; and at his death his picture, bearing on the
head eight pennies, was reposited among the effigies of the deceased

'Application: My beloved, the Emperor is God, who appointed Sunday
as a day of rest. By Virgil is typified the Holy Spirit, which
ordains a preacher to declare men's virtues and vices. Focus is any
good Christian who labours diligently in his vocation, and performs
faithfully every relative duty.'

The story has point and humour, but in the latter quality it is
surpassed by the next one, entitled _Confession_.

'A certain Emperor, named Asmodeus, established an ordinance, by
which every malefactor taken and brought before the judge should,
if he distinctly declared three truths, against which no exception
could be taken, obtain his life and property. It chanced that a
certain soldier transgressed the law and fled. He hid himself in a
forest, and there committed many atrocities, despoiling and slaying
whomsoever he could lay his hands upon. When the judge of the district
ascertained his haunt, he ordered the forest to be surrounded, and
the soldier to be seized and brought bound to the seat of judgment.
"You know the law," said the judge. "I do," returned the other: "If I
declare three unquestionable truths, I shall be free; but if not, I
must die." "True," replied the judge; "take, then, advantage of the
law's clemency, or this very day you shall not taste food until you
are hanged." "Cause silence to be kept," said the soldier. His wish
being complied with, he proceeded in the following manner. "The first
truth is this: I protest before ye all, that from my youth up I have
been a bad man." The judge, hearing this, said to the bystanders:
"He says true, else he had not now been in this situation. Go on,
then," continued the judge; "what is the second truth?" "I like not,"
exclaimed he, "the dangerous situation in which I stand." "Certainly,"
said the judge, "we may credit thee. Now then for the third truth,
and thou hast saved thy life." "Why," he replied, "if I once get out
of this confounded place, I will never willingly re-enter it." "Amen,"
said the judge, "thy wit hath preserved thee; go in peace." And thus he
was saved.

'Application: My beloved, the emperor is Christ. The soldier is any
sinner; the judge is a wise confessor. If the sinner confess the truth
in such a manner as not even demons can object, he shall be saved; that
is, if he confess and repent.'

The 'Gesta' is a rich storehouse from which many poets, including
Gower, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Parnell, and others, have
borrowed. Shakespeare's 'Pericles' has its source in the 'Gesta'; so
also Parnell's delightful poem, 'The Hermit,' and Dr. John Byrom's
'Three Black Crows' are from the same prolific treasure-house.


[50] In the whole range of literature there are no apter similes than
these: the darkness and gloom of the fool's heart and the closeness of
the miser's fist.

[51] A nobleman of the East, famous for his hospitality.

[52] 'About a dozen instances or so must stand for the present as
representing the contribution of the Jātakas to the question of the
origin of Æsop's fables.'--Jacobs: 'History of Fable.'

[53] In her 'Commonplace Book,' Longmans, 1854, pp. 142, 143.



    'Lie gently on their ashes, gentle earth.'

                        BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER.

It is a remarkable circumstance in connection with the literature of
fable, that those who have excelled in it are comparatively few. The
principal names that occur to us are Æsop, La Fontaine, Gay, Lessing,
Krilof; 'the rest are all but leather or prunello,' if we except a few
rare examples from Northcote and Cowper. The composition of fables
seems to call for the exercise of a talent which is peculiar and
rare. La Fontaine says[54] that the writing of apologues is a gift
sent down from the immortals. Not even those who have practised the
art have always succeeded in it to perfection. Gay, who is esteemed
the best of the English fabulists, is often prolix and lacking in
point. La Fontaine, sprightly as are his renderings of the ancient
fables which he found ready to his hand, is weak and commonplace in
his attempts at originality. Dodsley is too didactic and goody-goody;
Northcote is stilted, and often unnatural. Even Krilof, admirable as he
generally is, is sometimes darkly obscure, and his moral difficult to
find. Lessing comes nearest to the terseness and concentration of the
Æsopian model, but many of his so-called fables are better described as
epigrams and witticisms. True, all these writers have sometimes, like
the Phrygian, 'hit the mark,' but oftener they have missed not only the
bull's-eye, but the target itself; and the arrows of their satire are
frequently lost in the mazes of verbiage. Æsop alone is in the fable
what Shakespeare is in the drama, a paragon without a peer, and all
competitors with either of these master minds must be content to take a
lower place--to stand on a lower plane.

Excellent as many modern fables fare, full of instruction and
entertainment, it is but few of them that spontaneously recur to us in
connection with the affairs of daily life.

Amongst modern fabulists, La Fontaine stands in the front rank. Jean
de la Fontaine was born at Chateau-Thierry on July 8, 1621; died in
Paris, March 15, 1695,[55] in his seventy-fourth year; and was buried
in the cemetery of St. Joseph, near the remains of his friend Molière.
He was one of the galaxy of great men and writers that adorned the
age of Louis XIV. His fables, as is well known, are in verse, and
include the best of those from ancient sources, with others of his own
invention. He may be said to have turned Æsop into rhyme. The happy
spirit of the genial Frenchman inspires them all. They are written with
a vivacity and sprightliness all his own, and these qualities, with the
humour which he infuses into them, make their perusal exhilarating and

'I have considered,' says he, 'that as these fables are already
known to all the world, I should have done nothing if I had not
rendered them in some degree new, by clothing them with certain fresh
characteristics. I have endeavoured to meet the wants of the day, which
are novelty and gaiety; and by gaiety I do not mean merely that which
excites laughter, but a certain charm, an agreeable air, which may be
given to every species of subject, even the most serious.'[56] He had
attained to middle age before he found his true vocation in literature,
his first collection of fables in six books being published in 1668,
when he was forty-seven years of age.

La Fontaine is well known in this country by the English translations
of his work. A version containing some of his best fables was
published anonymously in 1820, but is known to be from the pen of John
Matthews of Herefordshire. In his preface, Matthews states that the
fables are not altogether a translation or an imitation of La Fontaine,
because in most of them are allusions to public characters and the
events of the times, where they are suggested by the subject. These
allusions are largely political. The fables, apart from these ephemeral
references to personages and events, are written with great cleverness
and vivacity, full of humour, and in many instances are well suited for

_The Fox and the Stork_ is a good example of his style:

    'For sport once Renard, sly old sinner,
    Press'd gossip Stork to share his dinner.
    "Neighbour, I must entreat you'll stay
    And take your soup with me to-day.
    My praise shall not my fare enhance,
    But let me beg you'll take your chance;
    You're kindly welcome were it better."
    She yielded as he thus beset her,
    And soon arrived the pottage smoking
    In plates of shallow depth provoking.
    'Twas vain the guest essay'd to fill
    With unsubstantial fare her bill.
    'Twas vain she fish'd to find a collop,
    The host soon lapp'd the liquor all up.
    Dame Stork conceal'd her deep displeasure,
    But thought to find revenge at leisure;
    And said, "Ere long, my friend, you'll try
    My humble hospitality.
    I know your taste, and we'll contrive--
    To-morrow I'm at home at five."
    With punctual haste the wily scoffer
    Accepts his neighbour's friendly offer,
    And ent'ring cries, "Dear Stork, how is it?
    You see I soon return your visit,
    I can't resist when you invite;
    I've brought a famous appetite.
    The steam which issues from your kitchen
    Proves that your pot there's something rich in."
    The Stork with civil welcome greeted,
    And soon at table they were seated,
    When lo! there came upon the board
    Hash'd goose in two tall pitchers pour'd--
    Pitchers whose long and narrow neck
    Sly Renard's jaws completely check,
    Whilst the gay hostess, much diverted,
    Her bill with perfect ease inserted.
    The Fox, half mad at this retorter,
    Sought dinner in some other quarter.
    Hoaxers, for you this tale is written,
    Learn hence that biters may be bitten.'

Matthews adds this note: '_Hoaxers, for you, this tale is written._
The word "hoax," though sufficiently expressive, and admitted into
general use, has not, perhaps, found its way into the dictionaries.
It is, however, of some importance, as it serves in some measure
to characterize the times we live in. Former periods have been
distinguished by the epithets golden, silver, brazen, iron.
Notwithstanding the multiplicity of metals which chemistry has now
discovered, none of them may be sufficiently descriptive of the manners
of men in these days. Quitting, therefore, the ancient mode of
classification, the present may not be unaptly designated the hoaxing
age. The term deserves a definition. A hoax may be said to be _a
practical joke, calculated more or less to injure its object, sometimes
accompanied by a high degree of criminality_. This definition, which
is much at the service of future English lexicographers, includes not
only the minor essays of mischievous humour, which assembles all the
schoolmasters of the Metropolis at one house; the medical professors
and undertakers at another; the milliners, mantua-makers, and mercers
at a third; whilst the street before the victim's door is blocked up by
grand pianofortes, Grecian couches, caravans of wild beasts, and patent
coffins; but also the more sublime strokes of genius, which would
acquire sudden wealth by throwing Change Alley into an uproar--which
would gain excessive popularity by gulling the English people with
a show of mock patriotism--which can make bankrupts in fortune and
reputation leaders of thousands and tens of thousands, so as to
threaten destruction to the State. The performers of all these notable
exploits may be denominated hoaxers, most of whom may, in the end, find
themselves involved in the predicament expressed in the concluding
couplet of the fable.'

We are tempted to give another very fine example from Matthews,
containing as it does an interesting reference to the two mighty men of
letters of the first quarter of the present century--_The Viper and the

    'A Viper chanc'd his head to pop
    Into a neighbouring blacksmith's shop.
    Long near the place had he been lurking,
    And stayed till past the hours for working.
    As with keen eyes he glanc'd around
    In search of food, a File he found:
    Of meats he saw no single item
    Which tempted hungry jaws to bite 'em.
    So with his fangs the eager fool
    Attack'd the rough impassive tool;
    And whilst his wounded palate bled,
    Fancied on foreign gore he fed.
      When thus the File retorted coolly:
    "Viper! this work's ingenious, truly!
    No more those idle efforts try;
    Proof 'gainst assaults like yours am I.
    On me you'd fracture ev'ry bone;
    I feel the teeth of Time alone."
      Thus did a Poet,[57] vain and young
    (Who since has palinody sung),
    His fangs upon a Minstrel's lay[58]
    Fix hard. 'Twas labour thrown away!
    On that sweet Bard of Doric strain
    This venom'd bite was tried in vain:
    His flights, thro' no dark medium view'd,
    Derive from fog no magnitude;
    But bright and clear to charm our eyes
    His vivid pictures boldly rise.
    In painting manners, arms, and dress, sure
    Time show'd him all his form and pressure.
    Bard of the North! thou still shalt be
    A File to Critics, harsh as he.
    Tho' Time has teeth, thou need'st not fear 'em;
    Thy verse defies old Edax Rerum!'

It must be confessed that the general moral here is not very obvious,
though the special application of the fable to the circumstances of
Byron's attack on Scott, and his subsequent recantation--with the
fabulist's eulogy of the 'Bard of the North'--are expressed in charming
and faultless verse.

John Gay, who was born in the parish of Landkey, near Barnstaple,
Devonshire, in 1685, and died in London, on December 4, 1732, aged
forty-seven, is, without question, the best of the English fabulists.
Unlike most writers in this department of literature, his fables are
almost all original. His language is choice and elegant, yet well
suited to his subject. His rhymes are perfect, and at times he almost
rises into poetry. His fables, however, are lacking in humour, and they
have not that abounding _esprit_ and _naïveté_ which characterize La

Gay was a writer of much industry,[59] producing during his lifetime
almost every species of composition. His 'Beggar's Opera' is yet
occasionally seen on the stage, and this, after his fables, is his
best-known work.

He was essentially Bohemian in disposition and habits, and lacking in
business capacity; a man of culture, however, a pleasant companion,
and a warm-hearted friend. He was on intimate terms with Pope, Swift,
Arbuthnot, and other distinguished men of letters and wits of his day,
and the eccentric but kind-hearted Duchess of Queensberry was his
patron and friend. Unfortunately, he was too much given to dangling
at the skirts of the great, and sueing for place at Court instead of
depending on his own genius, which was unquestionably of no mean order.
Notwithstanding this failing, he was no sycophant or flatterer, but
exposed the follies and vices of human nature, as exemplified in the
characters of the rich and great, as in those of the humbler ranks,
without fear or favour. His best-known fables are probably _The Hare
and many Friends_, and _The Miser and Plutus_.

Many of Gay's lines, both from his fables and plays, have become widely
popular, for example:

    'Princes, like beauties, from their youth
    Are strangers to the voice of truth.
    Learn to contemn all praise betimes,
    For Flattery's the nurse of crimes.'

    'In every age and clime we see
    Two of a trade can ne'er agree.'

    'While there's life there's hope.'

    'Those who in quarrels interpose
    Must often wipe a bloody nose.'

    'When a lady's in the case
    You know all other things give place.'

    'And what's a butterfly? At best
    He's but a caterpillar dressed.'

    ''Tis woman that seduces all mankind.'

    'How happy could I be with either
    Were t'other dear charmer away.'

And his own epitaph, written by himself:

    'Life's a jest, and all things show it;
    I thought so once, and now I know it.'

In the letter to Pope in which this distich is given, he says: 'If
anybody should ask how I could communicate this after death, let it be
known it is not meant so, but my present sentiments in life.'

Gay was buried in Westminster Abbey. The monument which marks his grave
bears the well-known lines composed by Pope:

    'Of manners gentle, of Affections mild,
    In wit a Man, simplicity, a child;
    With native Humour, temp'ring Virtuous Rage,
    Formed to delight at once and lash the Age:
    Above Temptation in a low Estate,
    And uncorrupted, e'en among the great.
    A safe Companion, and an easy Friend,
    Unblam'd thro' life, lamented in thy End.
    These are thy Honours! Not that here thy Bust
    Is mix'd with Heroes, or with Kings thy Dust:
    But that the Worthy and the Good shall say,
    Striking their pensive bosoms,--here lies Gay.'

The piece we have selected, _The Miser and Plutus_, as an example
of his work as a fabulist, is in his best style, and the moral is

      'The wind was high, the window shakes,
    With sudden start the Miser wakes;
    Along the silent room he stalks,
    Looks back, and trembles as he walks.
    Each lock and every bolt he tries,
    In every creek and corner pries;
    Then opes the chest with treasure stor'd,
    And stands in rapture o'er his hoard:
    But now with sudden qualms possest,
    He wrings his hands, he beats his breast;
    By conscience stung he wildly stares,
    And thus his guilty soul declares:
      "Had the deep earth her stores confin'd,
    This heart had known sweet peace of mind.
    But virtue's sold. Good gods! what price
    Can recompense the pangs of vice?
    O bane of good! seducing cheat!
    Can man, weak man, thy power defeat?
    Gold banish'd honour from the mind,
    And only left the name behind;
    Gold sow'd the world with every ill;
    Gold taught the murderer's sword to kill.
    'Twas gold instructed coward hearts
    In treachery's more pernicious arts.
    Who can recount the mischiefs o'er?
    Virtue resides on earth no more!"
    He spoke, and sighed. In angry mood
    Plutus, his god, before him stood.
    The Miser, trembling, locked his chest;
    The Vision frowned, and thus address'd:
      "Whence is this vile ungrateful rant,
    Each sordid rascal's daily cant?
    Did I, base wretch! corrupt mankind?
    The fault's in thy rapacious mind.
    Because my blessings are abused,
    Must I be censur'd, curs'd, accus'd?
    Ev'n virtue's self by knaves is made
    A cloak to carry on the trade;
    And power (when lodg'd in their possession)
    Grows tyranny, and rank oppression.
    Thus when the villain crams his chest,
    Gold is the canker of the breast;
    'Tis avarice, insolence, and pride,
    And ev'ry shocking vice beside;
    But when to virtuous hands 'tis given,
    It blesses, like the dews of Heaven;
    Like Heaven, it hears the orphan's cries,
    And wipes the tears from widows' eyes.
    Their crimes on gold shall misers lay,
    Who pawn'd their sordid souls for pay?
    Let bravos, then, when blood is spilt,
    Upbraid the passive sword with guilt."'


[54] In his dedication to Madame de Montespan.

[55] Geruzez gives February 13 as the date of La Fontaine's death.

[56] Preface, 'Fables,' 1668.

[57] Byron.

[58] Scott's 'Lay of the Last Minstrel.'

[59] The opposite of this has been said, but without good reason. The
number and variety of his productions attest his industry.



    'A tale may find him who a sermon flies.'

                              GEORGE HERBERT.

Robert Dodsley, born at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, in 1703, died at
Durham, December 25, 1764, buried in the abbey churchyard there, author
of 'The Economy of Human Life' and other estimable works, compiled a
volume of fables (1761). This was the favourite collection in this
country at the end of last and the beginning of the present century.
The contents of the volume are in three parts, and comprise 'Ancient
Fables,' 'Modern Fables,' and 'Fables Newly Invented.' The first two
divisions of the volume are Æsopian in character. The fables contained
in the last were not all written by Dodsley, some of them being
contributed, as he states in his preface, '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.' It is to be regretted that he did not
give the names of the authors referred to. The work contains a life
of Æsop 'by a learned friend' (no name given),[60] and an excellent,
though somewhat pedantic, 'Essay on Fable.'

The following are three original fables from Dodsley's collection:

'_The Miser and the Magpie._--As a miser sat at his desk counting over
his heaps of gold, a magpie eloped from his cage, picked up a guinea,
and hopped away with it. The miser, who never failed to count his money
over a second time, immediately missed the piece, and rising up from
his seat in the utmost consternation, observed the felon hiding it
in a crevice of the floor. "And art thou," cried he, "that worst of
thieves, who hast robbed me of my gold without the plea of necessity,
and without regard to its proper use? But thy life shall atone for
so preposterous a villainy." "Soft words, good master!" quoth the
magpie. "Have I, then, injured you in any other sense than you defraud
the public? And am I not using your money in the same manner you do
yourself? If I must lose my life for hiding a single guinea, what do
you, I pray, deserve, who secrete so many thousands?"'

'_The Toad and the Ephemeron._--As some workmen were digging in a
mountain of Scythia, they discerned a toad of enormous size in the
midst of a solid rock. They were very much surprised at so uncommon an
appearance, and the more they considered the circumstances of it, the
more their wonder increased. It was hard to conceive by what means the
creature had preserved life and received nourishment in so narrow a
prison, and still more difficult to account for his birth and existence
in a place so totally inaccessible to all of his species. They could
conclude no other than that he was formed together with the rock in
which he had been bred, and was coeval with the mountain itself. While
they were pursuing these speculations, the toad sat swelling and
bloating till he was ready to burst with pride and self-importance,
to which at last he thus gave vent: "Yes," says he, "you behold in me
a specimen of the antediluvian race of animals. I was begotten before
the flood; and who is there among the present upstart race of mortals
that shall dare to contend with me in nobility of birth or dignity of
character?" An ephemeron, sprung that morning from the river Hypanis,
as he was flying about from place to place, chanced to be present, and
observed all that passed with great attention and curiosity. "Vain
boaster," says he, "what foundation hast thou for pride, either in thy
descent, merely because it is ancient, or thy life, because it hath
been long? What good qualities hast thou received from thy ancestors?
Insignificant even to thyself, as well as useless to others, thou
art almost as insensible as the block in which thou wast bred. Even
I, that had my birth only from the scum of the neighbouring river,
at the rising of this day's sun, and who shall die at its setting,
have more reason to applaud my condition than thou hast to be proud
of thine. I have enjoyed the warmth of the sun, the light of the day,
and the purity of the air; I have flown from stream to stream, from
tree to tree, and from the plain to the mountain; I have provided for
posterity, and shall leave behind me a numerous offspring to people
the next age of to-morrow; in short, I have fulfilled all the ends of
my being, and I have been happy. My whole life, 'tis true, is but of
twelve hours, but even one hour of it is to be preferred to a thousand
years of mere existence, which have been spent, like thine, in sloth,
ignorance and stupidity."'

'_The Bee and the Spider._--On the leaves and flowers of the same
shrub, a spider and a bee pursued their several occupations, the one
covering her thighs with honey, the other distending his bag with
poison. The spider, as he glanced his eye obliquely at the bee, was
ruminating with spleen on the superiority of her productions. "And how
happens it," said he, in a peevish tone, "that I am able to collect
nothing but poison from the selfsame plant that supplies thee with
honey? My pains and industry are not less than thine; in those respects
we are each indefatigable." "It proceeds only," replied the bee, "from
the different disposition of our nature; mine gives a pleasing flavour
to everything I touch, whereas thine converts to poison what by a
different process had been the purest honey."'

James Northcote, R.A., the indefatigable painter, who, when a youth,
enjoyed the friendship of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and was occasionally one
of the company at his hospitable table, along with Johnson, Goldsmith,
Burke, Garrick and Boswell, published two volumes of original and
selected fables in 1828-33, when he was eighty-two years of age. When a
boy, living at Plymouth, where he was born on October 22, 1746, he took
pleasure in copying the pictures from an edition of Æsop's fables. The
memory of these clung to him through life, and, as occasion offered,
he occupied himself in composing apologues in imitation of those with
which he was familiar in his early years.

The diction of Northcote's fables is admirable. They are in the
choicest phraseology, both in their verse and prose, for he practised
both forms of composition, though chiefly the latter. Neither crisp nor
brilliant, they are now and again lighted up with scintillations of
humour. His applications are delivered with grave solemnity befitting a
judge or a philosopher--not to say a bore; and in many instances they
extend to three or four times the length of the fable itself.

Northcote died in London at the ripe age of eighty-five, and was buried
beneath the New Church of St. Marylebone.

Perhaps his best fables are _The Jay and the Owl_, _Echo and the
Parrot_, _Stone Broth_, and _The Trooper and his Armour_. None of
Northcote's fables have become popular with the multitude, though
many of them are good examples of this class of composition. We give
the last-named piece as a specimen of his work as a fabulist. The
application is well conceived, but it is scarcely indicated in the

'A trooper, in the time of battle, picked up the shoe of a horse that
lay in his way, and quickly by a cord suspended it from his neck. Soon
after, in a skirmish with the enemy, a shot struck exactly on the said
horseshoe and saved his life,[61] as it fell harmless to the ground.
"Well done," said the trooper, "I see that a very little armour is
sufficient when it is well placed."

'Application: Although the trooper's good luck with his bit of armour
may appear to be the effect of chance, yet certain it is that prudent
persons are always prepared to receive good fortune, or may be said to
meet it half-way, turning every accident if possible to good, which
gives an appearance as if they were the favourites of fortune; whilst
the thoughtless and improvident, on the contrary, often neglect to
embrace the very blessings which chance throws in their way, and then
survey with envy those who prosper by their careful and judicious
conduct, and blame their partial or hard fortune for all those
privations and sufferings which their mismanagement alone has brought
upon themselves.'


[60] It has been suggested, that Dr. Johnson and Goldsmith were the
'authors,' and Goldsmith the 'learned friend.' See the preface by Edwin
Pearson to the 1871 edition, of Bewick's 'Select Fables of Æsop.'

[61] Northcote's grammar is at fault here.



    'Great thoughts, great feelings, come to them
    Like instincts, unawares.'

                                    R. M. MILNES.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, born January 22, 1729, at Kamenz, died
February 15, 1781, aged fifty-two years, was a distinguished German
scholar, poet and dramatist. As a fabulist, Lessing is noted for
epigrammatic point rather than humour, though he is by no means lacking
in the latter characteristic. He is perhaps the most original writer
of fables amongst the moderns. Sagacious, wise, witty, his apologues
(1759) have nothing superfluous about them. They are nearly all brief,
pithy, and very much to the point. In these respects they follow the
Æsopian model more than those of any other modern writer. The following
are good examples of his style:

'_Æsop and the Ass._--"The next time you write a fable about me," said
the donkey to Æsop, "make me say something wise and sensible."

'"Something sensible from you!" exclaimed Æsop; "what would the world
think? People would call you the sage, and me the donkey!"

'_The Shepherd and the Nightingale._--"Sing to me, dearest
nightingale," said a shepherd to the silent songstress one beautiful
spring evening.

'"Alas!" said the nightingale, "the frogs make so much noise that I
have no inclination to sing. Do you not hear them?"

'"Undoubtedly I hear them," replied the shepherd, "but it is owing to
your silence."

'_Solomon's Ghost._--A venerable old man, despite his years and the
heat of the day, was ploughing his field with his own hand, and sowing
the grain in the willing earth, in anticipation of the harvest it would

'Suddenly, beneath the deep shadow of a spreading oak, a divine
apparition stood before him! The old man was seized with affright.

'"I am Solomon," said the phantom encouragingly, "what dost thou here,
old friend?"

'"If thou art Solomon," said the owner of the field, "how canst thou
ask? In my youth I learnt from the ant to be industrious and to
accumulate wealth. That which I then learnt I now practise."

'"Thou hast learnt but half of thy lesson," pursued the spirit. "Go
once more to the ant, and she will teach thee to rest in the winter of
thy existence, and enjoy what thou hast earned."'

Don Tomas de Yriarte, or Iriarte, a Spanish fabulist of the eighteenth
century, born at Teneriffe in 1750, is held in much esteem by cultured
readers in Spain. His 'Fabulas Literarias,' or Literary Fables (1782),
sixty-seven in all, and mostly original, were written with a view to
inculcating literary truths. In other words, their object was to praise
or censure literary work according to its supposed deserts. Their
moral or application is therefore limited in scope; they do not touch
human nature as a whole, and being thus restricted in their range,
they are deficient in general interest and value. Obviously, however,
it is possible to give a wider application to the truths enforced in
the apologues, and this is sometimes done by omitting the special
moral supplied by the writer. Yriarte's versification is graceful and
sprightly, 'combining the exquisite simplicity of the old Spanish
romances and songs with the true spirit of Æsopian fable;'[62] some
of them are composed in the redondilla measure much affected by the
lyrical poets of Spain, and please by their style quite as much as by
their intrinsic merits. Yriarte died in 1791. We select the piece which
follows to illustrate his skill as a fabulist:

'_The Two Thrushes._

    'A sage old thrush was once discipling
    His grandson thrush, a hair-brained stripling,
    In the purveying art. He knew,
    He said, where vines in plenty grew,
    Whose fruit delicious when he'd come
    He might attack _ad libitum_.
      "Ha!" said the young one, "where's this vine?
    Let's see this fruit you think so fine."
    "Come then, my child, your fortune's great; you
    Can't conceive what feasts await you!"
    He said, and gliding through the air
    They reached a vine, and halted there.
      Soon as the grapes the youngster spied,
    "Is this the fruit you praise?" he cried;
    "Why, an old bird, sir, as you are,
    Should judge, I think, more wisely far
    Than to admire, or hold as good,
    Such half-grown, small, and worthless food.
    Come, see a fruit which I possess
    In yonder garden; you'll confess,
    When you behold it, that it is
    Bigger and better far than this."
    "I'll go," he said; "but ere I see
    This fruit of yours, whate'er it be,
    I'm sure it is not worth a stone
    Or grape-skin from my vines alone."
      They reached the spot the thrushlet named,
    And he triumphantly exclaimed:
    "Show me the fruit to equal mine!
    A size so great, a shape so fine;
    What luxury, however rare,
    Can e'en your grapes with this compare?"
    The old bird stared, as well he might,
    For lo! a pumpkin met his sight.
      Now, that a thrush should take this fancy
    Without much marvelling I can see;
    But it is truly monstrous when
    Men, who are held as learned men,
    All books, whatever they be, despise
    Unless of largest bulk and size.
    A book is great, if good at all;
    If bad, it cannot be too small.'

Ivan Andreivitch Krilof, or Krilov, the Russian, who was born in
Moscow, February 2, 1768, O.S., and died in St. Petersburg on November
9, 1844, aged seventy-six years, was one of the greatest original
fabulists of modern times. One writer (an Englishman) goes so far as to
claim for him the position of 'the crowned King of the fabulists of all
languages.' His published fables amount altogether to two hundred and
two, of which thirty-five only are borrowed, the rest being original.
They are in rhymed verse in the Russian, and an English translation,
also in verse, and with a close adherence to the text in the original,
has been made by Mr. J. Henry Harrison.[63] An excellent prose
translation, with a life of Krilof, by the late Mr. W. R. S. Ralston,
M.A., was published in 1868.[64]

Krilof is characterized by rich common sense and sound judgment, a
rare vein of satire and an excellent humour. He indeed brims over
with sarcastic humour. A kind of rugged directness of language, well
calculated to undermine the shams and abuses at which he aimed, also
distinguishes his apologues. He deserves to be better known in this

Krilof was a journalist, and wrote a number of dramas, both in tragedy
and comedy, before turning his attention to fables. It is on these
latter that his claim to distinction rests. He rose to high eminence
in his native country, where his name is a household word; he was
patronized by royalty, and beloved by the common people, and at his
death a monument to his memory was erected in the Summer Garden at St.

The following translation of Krilof's beautiful fable of _The Leaves
and the Roots_ is from a brilliant article in _Fraser's Magazine_ for
February, 1839:

    ''Twas on a sunny summer day,
    Exulting in the flickering shade
    They cast athwart the greensward glade,
    The leaves, a fluttering host,
    Thus 'gan their worth to boast,
    And to each other say:
        "Is it not we
        That deck the tree--
    Its stem and branches all array
    In verdant pomp and vigorous grace?
    Deprived of us, how altered were their case!
    Is it not we who form the grateful screen
    Of foliage and luxuriant green,
        Welcome to traveller and to swain?
        Yes! we may be deeméd vain,
    But we it is whose charms invite
        Youths and maidens to the grove;
    And we it is, too, who at night
        Shelter in her retired alcove
        The songstress of the woods, whose strain
        Wafts music over dale and plain!
    In us the zephyrs most rejoice:
    Our emerald beauty to caress,
    On silken wings they fondly press!"
        "Most true; but yet
        You ought not to forget
    We too exist," replied a voice
    That issued from the earth;
    "We sure possess some little worth."
    "And who are ye? where do ye grow?"
    "Buried are we here below,
    Deep in the ground. 'Tis we who nourish
    The stem and you, and make you flourish:
    For understand, we are the roots
    From whom the tree itself upshoots:
    'Tis we by whom you thrive--
    From whom your beauty ye derive;
    Unlike to you, we are not fair,
    Nor dwell we in the upper air;
    Yet do we not, like you, decay--
    Winter tears us not away.
    Ye fall, yet still remains the tree;
    But should it chance that _we_
    Once cease to live, adieu
    Both to the tree, fair leaves, and you!"'

As an example of his ironical humour we give a prose translation, by
Mr. Ralston, of his fable _The Geese_:

'A peasant, with a long rod in his hand, was driving some geese to
a town where they were to be sold; and, to tell the truth, he did
not treat them over-politely. In hopes of making a good bargain, he
was hastening on so as not to lose the market-day (and when gain is
concerned, geese and men alike are apt to suffer). I do not blame the
peasant; but the geese talked about him in a different spirit, and,
whenever they met any passers-by, abused him to them in such terms as

'"Is it possible to find any geese more unfortunate than we are? This
moujik[65] harasses us so terribly, and chases us about just as if we
were common geese. The ignoramus does not know that he ought to pay us
reverence, seeing that we are the noble descendants of those geese to
whom Rome was once indebted for her salvation, and in whose honour even
feast-days were specially appointed there."

'"And do you want to have honour paid you on that account?" a passer-by
asked them.

'"Why, our ancestors----"

'"I know that--I have read all about it; but I want to know this: of
what use have you been yourselves?"

'"Why, our ancestors saved Rome!"

'"Quite so; but what have you done?"

'"We? Nothing."

'"Then, what merit is there in you? Let your ancestors rest in
peace--they justly received honourable reward; but you, my friends, are
only fit to be roasted!"'

Krilof concludes: 'It would be easy to make this fable still more
intelligible; but I am afraid of irritating the geese.'

A story, rather than a fable, is _The Man with Three Wives_, and
the moral underlying it is in the author's peculiar vein. This is
translated from the original by Mr. J. H. Harrison:

    'A certain vanquisher of women's hearts,
    While still his first wife was alive and well,
    Married a second, and a third. They tell
    The king the scandal of such shameless arts,
    And, as his majesty abhorred all vice,
        Given himself to self-denial,
        He gave the order in a trice
        To bring the bigamist to trial,
    And such a punishment invent, that none
    Should evermore dare do what he had done.
    "And if the punishment to me should seem too small,
    Around their table will I hang the judges all."
        This to the judges seemed no joke:
        The cold sweat ran along each spine.
    Three days and nights they sit, but can't divine
    What punishment will best such lawless license choke.
    Thousands of punishments there are; but then,
        As all men of experience know,
    They cannot keep from evil evil men.
    This time kind Providence did help them though,
    And when the culprit came before the court,
        This was his sentence short:
    To give him back his three wives all together.
    The people wondered much at this decision,
    And thought the judges' lives hung by a feather;
        But three days had not passed before
        The bigamist, behind his door,
    Himself hung to a peg with great precision:
    And then the sentence wrought on all great fear,
    And much the morals of the kingdom steadied,
    For from that time its annalists are clear
    That no man in it more has three wives wedded.'


[62] Bouterwick's 'History of Spanish Literature,' book iii., chap. iii.

[63] London: Remington and Co., 1883.

[64] London: Strahan and Co., 1868. A second edition appeared the year

[65] Peasant.



                      'With wisdom fraught,
    Not such as books, but such as Nature taught.'


Sir Roger L'Estrange (1616-1704) was a rabid Jacobite, journalist, and
pamphleteer, and during a long life spent in fierce political conflict,
in which, at times, he bore a far from estimable part, found time to
translate various classical works, amongst these being Æsop's fables.
L'Estrange's version (1692) of the sage is not in the best taste.
It is disfigured by mannerisms and vulgarisms in language, and the
applications which he appended to the fables are often a distortion of
the true intent of the apologue, stated so as to support and enforce
his own peculiar views in politics and religion.

Steele (1672-1729) was the author of at least one excellent fable,[66]
_The Mastiff and his Puppy_, not unworthy to take a place beside those
of the Greek sage:

'It happened one day, as a stout and honest mastiff (that guarded the
village where he lived against thieves and robbers) was very gravely
walking with one of his puppies by his side, all the little dogs in
the street gathered round him, and barked at him. The little puppy was
so offended at this affront done to his sire, that he asked him why he
would not fall upon them, and tear them to pieces. To which the sire
answered with great composure of mind, "If there were no curs, I should
be no mastiff."'

Of other fabulists, it will be sufficient, without going into lengthy
particulars, to name Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), who attempted the
writing of fables, though with but doubtful success; of the thirty he
produced there is not one of striking merit. Edmund Arwaker, Rector of
Donaghmore, who compiled a collection of two hundred and twenty-five
select fables from Æsop and others, which he entitled, 'Truth in
Fiction; or, Morality in Masquerade' (1708). John Hall-Stevenson,
1718-1785 (the original of Sterne's 'Eugenius'), wrote 'Fables for
Grown Gentlemen.' Edward Moore composed a series of original 'Fables
for the Fair Sex' (1756), pleasing in their versification, but
otherwise of no striking merit. Moore, besides a number of poems,
odes and songs, wrote two comedies ('The Foundling' and 'Gil Blas')
and a tragedy ('The Gamester'), in which Garrick acted the leading
characters. He was also editor of the _World_, a satirical journal of
the period, which had a brief life of four years. He died in poverty
in 1751. Francis Gentleman (actor and dramatist), whose collection of
'Royal Fables' (1766) was dedicated to George, Prince of Wales. William
Wilkie, D.D., a Scotch fabulist of some note in his day, was Professor
of Natural Philosophy in St. Andrews University. In 1768 he published a
volume containing sixteen fables after the manner of Gay. One of these,
_The Boy and the Rainbow_,[67] a fable of considerable merit, has
survived; the others are forgotten. Rev. Henry Rowe, whose fables tire
without interesting. 'Fables for Mankind,' by Charles Westmacott. 'The
Fables of Flora,' by Dr. Langhorne. Gaspey wrote a number of original
fables, as did also Dr. Aitken and Walter Brown. Cowper, the poet,
penned some elegant fables with which most readers are familiar. There
are 'Fables for Children, Young and Old, in Humorous Verse,' by W. E.
Staite (1830); Sheridan Wilson was the author of a volume entitled 'The
Bath Fables' (1850); finally, there is Frere's Fables for 'Five Years
Old.' Æsop's fables have been parodied and caricatured, with varying
success, by different writers, notably by an American author, under
the pseudonym of 'G. Washington Æsop.'

Of lady fabulists, the most notable is Maria de France, who lived in
the first half of the thirteenth century, and made a collection of one
hundred and six fables in French, which, she alleges, were translated
from the English of King Alfred.[68] There are several more modern
collections by members of the fair sex. One is entitled 'The Enchanted
Plants, Fables in Verse;' London, 1800. The name of the author is not
given, but evidently a lady. Mrs. Trimmer has her version of Æsop. A
volume of original fables was published by Mary Maria Colling, a writer
of humble rank, under the patronage of the once celebrated Mrs. Bray
(daughter of Thomas Stothard, R.A.), and Southey, the Poet Laureate. A
volume of fables, also original, by Mrs. Prosser, and 'Æsop's Fables in
Words of One Syllable,' by Mary Godolphin.

Besides the fabulists already named, there are, among the ancients,
Avian, Ademar, Rufus, Romulus, Alfonso and Poggio. Among the French,
Nivernois, and the Abbé Fénelon (1651-1715), author of 'Dialogues of
the Dead' and 'Telemachus.' Notwithstanding his reputation in his
own country as a fabulist, it must be allowed that his fables are
much too lengthy and prolix. The characters he gives to his animals
are unnatural, and their manners and speech pointless and tame.
Florian, an imitator of Yriarte, and a friend of Voltaire, by whose
advice he cultivated the literature of Spain; Boursalt, Boisard,
Ginguene, Jauffret, Le Grand and Armoult. Amongst the Germans are,
Gellert (1746), Nicolai, Hagedorn, Pfeffel and Lichtner. The Italian
fabulists are numerous: Tommaso Crudeli (1703-1743), Gian-Carlo
Passeroni (1713-1803), Giambattisti Roberti (1719-1786), Luigi Grillo
(1725-1790), Lorenzo Pignotti (1739-1812), who with an elegant diction
combines splendid descriptive powers; Clemente Bondi (1742-1821),
Aurelio de Giorgi Bertola (1753-1798), Luigi Clasio (1754-1825),
Giovanni Gherardo de Rossi (1754-1827), Gaetano Perego (1814-1868) and
Gaetano Polidori. Among Spanish fabulists, besides Yriarte, there is
Samaniego (1745-1801). Of Russian writers of fables we have already
spoken of Krilof, and there are besides, Chemnitzer, Dmitriev, Glinka,
Lomonosov (1711-1765), Goncharov and Alexander Sumarakov (1718-1777).
Of English writers not already referred to, the following may be named
as having tried their hand at the composition of fables: Addison, Sir
John Vanbrugh,[69] Prior, Goldsmith, Henryson, Coyne, Winter. Thomas
Percival, M.D., President of the Literary and Philosophical Society
of Manchester about the end of last century, wrote a volume of moral
tales, fables, and reflections. Bussey's collection is well known. The
late W. J. Macquorn Rankine, Regius Professor of Civil Engineering in
Glasgow University, wrote a number of 'Songs and Fables,' which were
published posthumously in a small volume in 1874. The fables, twelve
in all, are an ingenious attempt, not wanting in playful humour, to
elucidate the origin and meaning of some of the old and well-known
signboards, such as _The Pig and Whistle_, _The Cat and Fiddle_, _The
Goat and Compasses_, and others. An interesting collection of one
hundred and six 'Indian Fables,' in English, the materials for which
were gathered from native sources and put into form by Mr. P. V.
Ramaswami Raju, B.A., were originally contributed to the columns of the
_Leisure Hour_, and afterwards published in a volume (1887).[70]

Specimens of the work of some of the writers named are given in the
succeeding pages.

_The Bee and the Coquette_ (Florian).--'Chloe, young, handsome, and a
decided coquette, laboured very hard every morning on rising; people
say it was at her toilet; and there, smiling and smirking, she related
to her dear confidant all her pains, her pleasures, and the projects of
her soul.

'A thoughtless bee, entering her chamber, began buzzing about. "Help!
help!" immediately shrieked the lady. "Lizzy! Mary! here, make haste!
drive away this winged monster!"

'The insolent insect settling on Chloe's lips, she fainted; and Mary,
furiously seizing the bee, prepared to crush it.

'"Alas!" gently exclaimed the unfortunate insect, "forgive my error;
Chloe's mouth seemed to me a rose, and as such I kissed it."

'This speech restored Chloe to her senses: "Let us forgive it," said
she, "on account of its candid confession! Besides, its sting is but a
trifle; since it has spoken to you, I have scarcely felt it."

'What may one not effect by a little well-timed flattery?'

_The Farmer, Horseman, and Pedestrian_ (Nivernois).

    'A farmer on his ass astride,
    Who peacefully pursued his ride,
    Exclaim'd, when, on a Spanish steed,
    A horseman pass'd with lively speed,
    "Ah, charming seat! what deed of mine
    Should thus incense the powers divine,
    Who doom me ne'er to shift my place,
    But at an ass's tardy pace?"
      Thus speaking, with chagrin and spite,
    He reach'd a rough and rocky height,
    Up which a poor, o'er-labour'd drudge,
    On tottering feet, was forc'd to trudge;
    With forehead prone, and bending back
    Press'd by a large and heavy pack.
      The farmer cross'd the hill at ease;
    Jocosely set, with lolling knees,
    On his poor ass, the rugged scene
    Appear'd a soft and level green,
    No flinty points his feet annoy'd;
    He pass'd the panting walker's side,
    Yet saw him not, so rapt his brain
    With dreams of Andalusia's plain.
      Such is the world--our bosoms brood
    With keen desire o'er others' good;
    On this we muse, and, musing still,
    We rarely dream of others' ill.
      A further truth the tale unfolds:
    Each, like the ass-born hind, beholds
    The rich around on steeds of Spain,
    And deems their rank exempt from pain.
    But still let us our notice keep
    On those who clamber up the steep.'

_The Land of the Halt_ (Gellert).--'Many years since, in a small
territory, there was not one of the inhabitants who did not stutter
when he spoke, and halt in walking; both these defects, moreover, were
considered accomplishments. A stranger saw the evil, and, thinking how
they would admire his walking, went about without halting, after the
usual manner of our race. Everyone stopped to look at him, and all
those who looked, laughed, and, holding their sides to repress their
merriment, shouted: "Teach the stranger how to walk properly!"

'The stranger considered it his duty to cast the reproach from himself.
"You halt," he cried, "it is not I; you must accustom yourselves to
leave off so awkward a habit!" This only increased the uproar, when
they heard him speak; he did not even stammer; this was sufficient to
disgrace him, and he was laughed at throughout the country.

'Habit will render faults, which we have been accustomed to regard from
youth, beautiful; in vain will a stranger attempt to convince us that
we are in error. We look upon him as a madman, solely because he is
wiser than ourselves.'

_The Beau and Butterfly_ (Francis Gentleman).

    'Thus speaks an adage, somewhat old,
    "_Truth is not to be always told_."
    What eye but, struck with outward show,
    Admires the pretty thing, a beau?
    Which both by Art and Nature made is,
    The sport of sense, the toy of ladies.
      A mortal of this tiny mould,
    In clothes of silk, adorned with gold,
    And dressed in ev'ry point of sight
    To give the world of taste delight,
    Prepared to enter his sedan,
    A birthday picture of a man,
    Cried out in vain soliloquy:
    "Was ever creature formed like me?
    By Art or Nature's nicest care
    Made more complete and debonnair?
    I see myself, with perfect joy,
    Of human kind the _je ne sçai quoy_;
    In ev'rything I rival France,
    In fashion, wit, and sprightly dance;
    So charming are my shape and parts,
    I'm formed for captivating hearts;
    The proudest toast, when in the vein,
    I take at once by _coup de main_;
    _Mort de ma vie_, 'tis magic all,
    I look, and vanquished women fall!"
      One of the race of butterflies,
    An insect far more nice than wise,
    Who, from his sunny couch of glass,
    Had listened to the two-legged ass,
    With intermeddling zeal replied:
    "Unequalled folly! matchless pride!
    Shalt thou, a patchwork creature, claim
    More lovely shape, or greater name,
    Than one of us? Assert thy right--
    Stand naked in my critic sight!
      "To parent earth at once resign
    The produce of her golden mine;
    Give to the worm her silken store,
    The diamond to Golconda's shore;
    Nor let the many teeth you want
    Be plundered from the elephant;
    Let native locks adorn thy head,
    Nor glow thy cheeks with borrowed red;
    Give to the ostrich back his plume,
    Nor rob the cat of her perfume;
    Here to the beaver yield at once
    His fur which crowns thy empty sconce;
    In short, appear through every part
    No more, nor less, than what thou art;
    Then little better than an ape
    Will show thy metamorphosed shape;
    While butterflies to death retain
    The beauties they from Nature gain.
      "You'll say, perhaps, our sojourn here
    Is less, by half, than half a year;
    That churlish winter surely brings
    Destruction to our painted wings.
    I grant the truth. Now, answer me:
    Can beaus outlive adversity?
    Will milliners and tailors join
    To make a foppish beggar fine?
    'Tis certain, no. Of glitter made,
    You surely vanish in the shade.
    Compared, then, who will dare deny
    A beau is less than butterfly?"'

_The Nightingale and Glow-worm_ (Edward Moore).

    'The prudent nymph, whose cheeks disclose
    The lily and the blushing rose,
    From public view her charms will screen,
    And rarely in the crowd be seen.
    This simple truth shall keep her wise:
    "The fairest fruits attract the flies."
      One night a glow-worm, proud and vain,
    Contemplating her glitt'ring train,
    Cried, "Sure there never was in Nature
    So elegant, so fine a creature;
    All other insects that I see--
    The frugal ant, industrious bee,
    Or silk-worm--with contempt I view;
    With all that low, mechanic crew
    Who servilely their lives employ
    In business, enemy to joy.
    Mean, vulgar herd! ye are my scorn,
    For grandeur only I was born;
    Or, sure, am sprung from race divine,
    And placed on earth to live and shine.
    Those lights, that sparkle so on high,
    Are but the glow-worms of the sky;
    And kings on earth their gems admire
    Because they imitate my fire."
      She spoke. Attentive on a spray,
    A nightingale forebore his lay;
    He saw the shining morsel near,
    And flew, directed by the glare;
    Awhile he gazed, with sober look,
    And thus the trembling prey bespoke:
      "Deluded fool, with pride elate,
    Know 'tis thy beauty brings thy fate;
    Less dazzling, long thou mightst have lain,
    Unheeded on the velvet plain.
    Pride, soon or late, degraded mourns,
    And beauty wrecks whom she adorns."'

It is interesting to observe how a true poet, Cowper, treats the same
subject, the object or moral of the fable, however, being different:

_The Nightingale and Glow-worm._

    'A nightingale, that all day long
    Had cheer'd the village with his song,
    Nor yet at eve his note suspended,
    Nor yet when eventide was ended,
    Began to feel, as well he might,
    The keen demands of appetite;
    When, looking eagerly around,
    He spied far off, upon the ground,
    A something shining in the dark,
    And knew the glow-worm by his spark;
    So, stooping down from hawthorn top,
    He thought to put him in his crop.
    The worm, aware of his intent,
    Harangued him thus, right eloquent:
    "Did you admire my lamp," quoth he,
    "As much as I your minstrelsy,
    You would abhor to do me wrong,
    As much as I to spoil your song;
    For 'twas the selfsame Power Divine
    Taught you to sing and me to shine;
    That you with music, I with light,
    Might beautify and cheer the night."
      The songster heard his short oration,
    And, warbling out his approbation,
    Released him--as my story tells--
    And found a supper somewhere else.
      Hence jarring sectaries may learn
    Their real interest to discern;
    That brother should not war with brother,
    And worry and devour each other;
    But sing and shine by sweet consent,
    Till life's poor transient night is spent,
    Respecting in each other's case
    The gifts of nature and of grace.
      Those Christians best deserve the name
    Who studiously make peace their aim;
    Peace both the duty and the prize
    Of him that creeps and him that flies.'

Other excellent fables of Cowper will occur to the reader, as, for
example: _The Raven_, _The Contest between Nose and Eyes_, _The Poet,
the Oyster and the Sensitive Plant_, and _Pairing Time Anticipated_.

_The Boy and the Rainbow_ (William Wilkie, D.D.).

    'Declare, ye sages, if ye find
    'Mongst animals of every kind,
    Of each condition, sort, and size,
    From whales and elephants to flies,
    A creature that mistakes his plan,
    And errs so constantly as man.
    Each kind pursues his proper good,
    And seeks for pleasure, rest, and food,
    As Nature points, and never errs
    In what it chooses and prefers;
    Man only blunders, though possest
    Of talents far above the rest.
      Descend to instances, and try:
    An ox will scarce attempt to fly,
    Or leave his pasture in the wood
    With fishes to explore the flood.
    Man only acts, of every creature,
    In opposition to his nature.
    The happiness of humankind
    Consists in rectitude of mind,
    A will subdued to reason's sway,
    And passions practised to obey;
    An open and a gen'rous heart,
    Refined from selfishness and art;
    Patience which mocks at fortune's pow'r,
    And wisdom never sad nor sour:
    In these consist our proper bliss;
    Else Plato reasons much amiss.
    But foolish mortals still pursue
    False happiness in place of true;
    Ambition serves us for a guide,
    Or lust, or avarice, or pride;
    While reason no assent can gain,
    And revelation warns in vain.
    Hence, through our lives in every stage,
    From infancy itself to age,
    A happiness we toil to find,
    Which still avoids us like the wind;
    Ev'n when we think the prize our own,
    At once 'tis vanished, lost and gone.
    You'll ask me why I thus rehearse
    All Epictetus in my verse,
    And if I fondly hope to please
    With dry reflections such as these,
    So trite, so hackneyed, and so stale?
    I'll take the hint, and tell a tale.
      One evening, as a simple swain
    His flock attended on the plain,
    The shining bow he chanced to spy,
    Which warns us when a shower is nigh;
    With brightest rays it seemed to glow,
    Its distance eighty yards or so.
    This bumpkin had, it seems, been told
    The story of the cup of gold,
    Which fame reports is to be found
    Just where the rainbow meets the ground.
    He therefore felt a sudden itch
    To seize the goblet and be rich;
    Hoping--yet hopes are oft but vain--
    No more to toil through wind and rain,
    But sit indulging by the fire,
    Midst ease and plenty, like a squire.
    He marked the very spot of land
    On which the rainbow seemed to stand,
    And, stepping forwards at his leisure,
    Expected to have found the treasure.
    But as he moved, the coloured ray
    Still changed its place and slipt away,
    As seeming his approach to shun.
    From walking he began to run,
    But all in vain; it still withdrew
    As nimbly as he could pursue.
    At last, through many a bog and lake,
    Rough craggy road and thorny brake,
    It led the easy fool, till night
    Approached, then vanished in his sight,
    And left him to compute his gains,
    With nought but labour for his pains.'

Professor Rankine evidently took Æsop's illustration of 'The Bow
Unbent' to heart, when, relaxing his severer studies, he occupied
occasional hours in composing 'Songs and Fables.' The three following
pieces are examples of his work as a fabulist, and of his skill in
interpreting the meaning of popular signs:

'_The Magpie and Stump._--A magpie was in the habit of depositing
articles which he pilfered in the hollow stump of a tree. "I grieve
less," the stump was heard to say, "at the misfortune of losing my
branches and leaves, than at the disgrace of being made a receptacle
for stolen goods." Moral: _Infamy is harder to bear than adverse

'_The Green Man._--A green man, wandering through the Highlands
of Scotland, discovered, in a sequestered valley, a still, with
which certain unprincipled individuals were engaged in the illicit
manufacture of aqua-vitæ. Being, as we have stated, a green man, he
was easily persuaded by those unprincipled individuals to expend a
considerable sum in the purchase of the intoxicating produce of their
still, and to drink so much of it that he speedily became insensible.
On awaking next morning, with an empty purse and an aching head, he
thought, with sorrow and shame, what a green man he had been. Moral:
_He who follows the advice of unprincipled individuals is a green man

'_The Bull and Mouth._--A native of the Sister Isle having opened his
mouth during a convivial entertainment, out flew a bull, whereupon some
of the company manifested alarm. "Calm your fears," said the sagacious
host; "verbal bulls have no horns." Moral: _Harmless blunders are
subjects of amusement rather than of consternation_.'

The following curious 'Birth Story,' from the collection of Indian
Fables by Mr. P. V. Ramaswami Raju, is an ironical commentary on the
doctrine of transmigration, in which the followers of Buddha implicitly

'One day a king in the far East was seated in the hall of justice. A
thief was brought before him; he inquired into his case, and said he
should receive one hundred lashes with a cat-o'-nine-tails. Instantly
he recollected an old Eastern saying, "What we do to others in this
birth, they will do to us in the next," and said to his minister, "I
have a great mind to let this thief go quietly, for he is sure to give
me these one hundred lashes in the next birth." "Sire," replied the
minister, "I know the saying you refer to is perfectly true, but you
must understand you are simply returning to the thief in this birth
what he gave you in the last." The king was perfectly pleased with this
reply, says the story, and gave his minister a rich present.'

This selection of fables may be suitably concluded by two which,
though not original, we have not met with in print. The first is
entitled _The Nightingale, the Cuckoo and the Ass_:[71]

'The nightingale and the cuckoo disputed as to which of them was
the best singer, and they chose the ass to be the judge. First, the
nightingale poured forth one of his most entrancing lays, followed
by the cuckoo, with his two mellow notes. Being requested to deliver
judgment, said the ass, "Without doubt the trill of the nightingale
is worth listening to; but for a good plain song give me that of the

The moral here is obvious. Persons with a want of taste, or with a
depraved taste, see no difference between things excellent and mean.
Nay, they will often be found to prefer the mean, as being more in
harmony with their own predilections.

The next is the shortest fable on record; its humour is as conspicuous
as its brevity, and it hails from the County Palatine of Lancashire. It
is named The _Flea and the Elephant_:

'Passing into the ark together, said the flea to its big brother: "Now,
then, mister! no thrutching!"

'Moral: Insignificance has often its full share of self-importance.'


[66] 'The Tatler,' No. 115, vol iii., p. 7.

[67] _Post_, p. 137.

[68] Mr. Joseph Jacobs, in his erudite 'History of the Æsopian Fable,'
shows that this was a mistake on the part of Maria de France, and that
the author of the work from which her translation was made was not the
King, but 'Alfred the Englishman,' who flourished about A.D. 1170.

[69] Vanbrugh, the architect, noted for the solidity of the structures
he designed, and on whom the epitaph, one of the best epigrams ever
penned, was proposed:

    'Lie heavy on him, Earth, for he
    Laid many a heavy load on thee.'

[70] London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey and Co.

[71] Krilof's _Ass and Nightingale_ bears some resemblance to the
fable here given; but, instead of the cuckoo, the cock is one of the



    'Out, out, brief candle.'

                SHAKESPEARE: _Macbeth_.

Pictures illustrating fables are a feature that tends to enhance
their attractiveness and value, and the ablest artists have employed
their pencils in the work. It is sufficient to mention Bewick and his
pupils, whose illustrations are greatly prized. S. Howitt's etchings of
animals in illustration of the fabulists (1811). Northcote's original
volumes (1828-33) are illustrated with 560 charming engravings from
the author's designs. Robert Cruikshank illustrated the 'Fables for
Mankind,' by Charles Westmacott (1823). Blake, Stothard, Harvey,
and Sir John Tenniel, the distinguished _Punch_ artist, have gained
applause in the same field. The latter illustrated a small volume of
Æsop published by Murray in 1848. This is 'A New Version of the Old
Fables, chiefly from Original Sources,' by the Rev. Thomas James,
M.A., and contains an introduction which is worthy of perusal by those
interested in the subject. The first edition of the work is a rarity
sought for by collectors. Randolph Caldecott illustrated some of Æsop's
fables in his own inimitable style. Walter Crane[72] and Harrison
Weir[73] have exercised their talents in the same direction, and Mrs.
Hugh Blackburn has supplied clever illustrations to Rankine's fables.
The pictures in the collection of fables made by G. Moir Bussey (1842)
are from designs by J. J. Grandville, and are full of originality
and humour. The same volume also contains an excellent 'Dissertation
on the History of Fable.' The spirited and masterly designs of Oudry
in illustration of La Fontaine are justly prized and highly valued.
Gustave Doré also employed his facile pencil in illustrating the same

There are books bearing the title of 'Fables' the contents of which are
not fables in the restricted sense. Of these are Dryden's so-called
fables, which are really metrical romances. A competent critic has
pronounced them to be the 'noblest specimens of versification to be
found in any modern language,' but we need not speak further of them
in this connection. Again, there is Bernard Mandeville's eccentric
work, entitled 'The Fable of the Bees; or, Private Vices Public
Benefits.' This is an apologue in rhyme, with a moral in addition, and
followed by a voluminous prose disquisition on questions of morality,
partaking of all the audacious paradoxical elements which characterized
its ingenious author. Thomas Moore, the distinguished Irish poet, wrote
a series of eight political fables, which were originally published by
him under the pseudonym of 'Thomas Brown.' Neither these nor that of
Mandeville, however, are fables from our point of view. The same remark
applies to Lowell's well-known 'Fable for Critics,' and Lord Lytton's
'Fables in Song,' on which it is unnecessary to dwell.

And so, having taken our survey of the fabulist and his work, we
conclude, as we rightly may, that he is both philosopher and poet, but
more poet than philosopher, inasmuch as the imaginative faculty is
greatly at his command. Further, as saith Sir Philip Sidney,[74] 'The
philosopher teacheth, but he teacheth obscurely, so as the learned only
can understand him; that is to say, he teacheth them that are already
taught. But the poet is the food for the tenderest stomachs; the poet
is, indeed, the right popular philosopher. Whereof Æsop's tales give
good proof; whose pretty allegories, stealing under the formal tales of
beasts, make many, more beastly than beasts, begin to hear the sound of
virtue from these dumb speakers.'


[72] 'The Baby's Own Æsop;' the fables condensed in rhyme by W. J.
Linton. Routledge, 1887.

[73] 'Æsop's Fables,' translated from the Greek by the Rev. George
Fyler Townsend, M.A. Routledge.

[74] 'A Defence of Poesie.'


   his era, 33;
   birthplace, 33;
   his masters when a slave, 33;
   his mission to Delphi, 34;
   his death, 35;
   disparagement of his personal appearance, 36;
   due to Planudes, 37;
   his mate or wife, Rhodope, 38;
   Lysippus' statue of Æsop, 39;
   stories related of, 42;
   Æsop and the figs, 44;
   the pannier of bread, 45;
   bought by Zanthus, 45;
   Zanthus' foolish wager, 46;
   Zanthus' wife restored, 46;
   Æsop and the mean fellow, 47;
   at play, 48;
   and the author, 48;
   sayings of, 49;
   at the Court of Crœsus, 49;
   as a fabulist, 97

 _Æsop and the Ass_, 115

 'Æsop, G. Washington,' parody on Æsop's fables, 127

 Æsopian fable or apologue defined, 5;
   opinions regarding the, 52;
   characteristics of the, 55

 Ademar, 128

 Agathia's epigram on Lysippus' statue of Æsop, 39

 Aitken, Dr., fables by, 127

 Aldus' edition of the fables, 59

 Alfonso, 128

 Aphthonius, definition of fable by, 2

 Apologue or fable, definition of the, 1

 Applicability of fables to every-day life, 58

 Application of fables, 13

 Arabian fables, 80

 Archilochus, a writer of fables, 54

 Aristotle on fables, 68

 _Arrogant Mule mortified, The_, 75

 Arwaker, Edmund, 'Truth in Fiction; or, Morality in Masquerade,'
          fables by, 126

 _Ass's Shadow, The_, 79

 'Assemblies of Æsopian Fables,' 55

 Avienus, 55, 61

 Babrius, 55, 61, 65

 Bayle on Babrius, 66

 _Beau and the Butterfly, The_, 133

 _Bee and the Coquette, The_, 130

 _Bee and the Spider, The_, 111

 _Belly and the Members, The_, 54, 68;
   the oldest known fable, 69

 Bentley, Dr., ridicules the account of Æsop's deformity, 40;
   on Babrius, 66

 Berington on 'The Arabian or Saracenic Learning,' 85

 Bias, 34

 Bitteux, 60

 Bonus Accursius, his collection of fables, 59

 'Book of Kalilah and Dimnah,' The, 80

 Boothby, Sir Brooke, definition of fable by, 3

 _Boy and the Rainbow, The_, 137

 Brettinger, 60

 Brown, Walter, fables by, 127

 _Bull and the Gnat, The_, 57

 _Bull and Mouth, The_, 141

 Bussey, G. Moir, definition of fable by, 4;
   collection of fables, 130, 144

 Caxton's collection of fables, 60

 Characteristics of fables, 7

 Chilo, 34

 Cleobulus, 34

 Colling, Mary Maria, fables by, 128

 _Confession_, from the 'Gesta Romanorum,' 93

 Cotiæum in Phrygia, the supposed birthplace of Æsop, 33

 Cowper, William, combats Rousseau's views on fables, 27;
   his fables, 96, 127;
   _The Nightingale and the Glow-worm_, 136

 Crœsus, King of Lydia, 34

 Croxall, Dr. Samuel, 16, 59, 60, 61

 Davies, M.A., Rev. James, translator of Babrius, 67

 Definition of fable, 1

 Delphi, Æsop's mission to, 34;
   character of the Delphians, 34;
   their punishment for the murder of Æsop, 36;
   their expiation to a descendant of Idmon, 36

 Demarchus, Æsop's first master, 33

 Demetrius Phalereus, Æsop's fables collected by, 55, 61

 Diagoras, Æsop's fables collected by, 55

 Dodsley, Robert, definition of fable by, 3;
   on the morals and applications of fables, 17;
   reason why fables esteemed in all ages, 21;
   collection of fables, 60, 97, 108

 _Dog and the Crocodile, The_, 56

 Dryden's fables, 144

 _Eagle and the Beetle, The_, 35, 76

 Ebn Arabscah's collection of Arabian fables, 85

 _Elephant and the Fox, The_, 29

 Emblematical fables, 11

 English writers on fables, 62;
   English fabulists, 129

 Epigram, Agathia's, on Lysippus' statue of Æsop, 39

 Epigrammatical character of Æsop's fables, 58

 Escurial Library, the, 85

 Eusebius, 35

 Fable, definition of, 1;
   in history and myth, 68

 Fable, writers on:
   Alsop, 62;
   Bayle, 66;
   Benfey, 61;
   Bentley, 62;
   Boissonade, 61;
   Boyle, 62;
   Crusius, 61;
   Davies, 67;
   Du Meril, 61;
   Ellis, 62;
   Fausboll, 61;
   Gaston Paris, 61;
   Gitlbauer, 61;
   Hervieux, 61;
   Jacobs, 62;
   James, 62;
   Jannelli, 61;
   Landsberger, 62;
   Lewis, 67;
   Mall, 61;
   Menas, 66;
   Meziriac, 61;
   Mueller, 61;
   Neveletus, 66;
   Oesterley, 61;
   Perotti, 61;
   Pithou, 61;
   Robert, 61;
   Rhys-Davids, 62;
   Rutherford, 62;
   Townsend, 62;
   Tyrwhitt, 62;
   Vavassor, 66;
   Wase, 62

 Fables, characteristics of, 7;
   morals of, 7;
   rational, emblematical, and mixed, 11;
   La Fontaine on, 13;
   Montaigne on Æsop's, 14;
   Rousseau on, 25, 27;
   Cowper on, 27;
   Plato advises the use of, 26;
   Aristotle on, 68;
   in Holy Scripture, 54

 Fables, collections of Æsopian:
   Accursius, 59;
   Aldus, 59;
   Avienus, 55;
   Babrius, 55;
   Caxton, 60;
   Croxall, 59;
   Diagoras, 55;
   Dodsley, 60;
   Faerno, 59;
   James, 60;
   L'Estrange, 59;
   Neveletus, 59;
   Ogilby, 60;
   Phædrus, 55;
   Phalereus, 55;
   Planudes, 37;
   Stephens, 59;
   Willans, 60

 Fables quoted--
   _Æsop and the Ass_, 115
   _The Arrogant Mule mortified_, 75
   _The Ass's Shadow_, 79
   _The Beau and Butterfly_, 133
   _The Bee and the Coquette_, 130
   _The Bee and the Spider_, 111
   _The Belly and the Members_, 69
   _The Boy and the Rainbow_, 137
   _The Bull and Mouth_, 141
   _The Bull and the Gnat_, 57
   _Confession_, 93
   _The Dog and the Crocodile_, 56
   _The Eagle and the Beetle_, 35, 76
   _The Elephant and the Fox_, 29
   _The Farmer, Horseman and Pedestrian_, 131
   _The Flea and the Elephant_, 142
   _The Fox and the Crow_, 31
   _The Fox and the Hedgehog_, 73
   _The Fox and the Stork_, 99
   _The Frogs and Jupiter_, 74
   _The Geese_, 121
   _The Greedy and Ambitious Cat_, 81
   _The Green Man_, 140
   _The Horse and the Stag_, 77
   _Indian Birth Story_, 141
   _The Land of the Halt_, 132
   _The Leaves and the Roots_, 120
   _The Magpie and Stump_, 140
   _The Man and his Goose_, 10
   _The Man and the Lion_, 9
   _The Mastiff and his Puppy_, 126
   _Mercury and the Sculptor_, 57
   _The Miser and Plutus_, 106
   _The Miser and the Magpie_, 109
   _The Nightingale, the Cuckoo, and the Ass_, 142
   _The Nightingale and the Hawk_, 54, 58
   _The Nightingale and the Glow-worm_, 135, 136
   _The Old Woodcutter and Death_, 58
   _Of Perfect Life_, 90
   _The Piper turned Fisherman_, 76
   _The Shepherd and the Nightingale_, 116
   _The Snake and the Hedgehog_, 56
   _Solomon's Ghost_, 116
   _The Toad and the Ephemeron_, 110
   _The Trees in Search of a King_, 71
   _The Trooper and his Armour_, 113
   _The Two Thrushes_, 118
   _The Viper and the File_, 102
   _The Wolf and the Shepherds_, 55
   _The Wolves and the Sheep_, 78

 Fables, writers of:
   Addison, 129;
   Ademar, 128;
   Aitken, 127;
   Alfonso, 128;
   Armoult, 129;
   Arwaker, 126;
   Avian, 128;
   Babrius, 65;
   Bertola, 129;
   Boisard, 129;
   Bondi, 129;
   Brown, 127;
   Chemnitzer, 129;
   Clasio, 129;
   Colling, 128;
   Coyne, 130;
   Crudeli, 129;
   Dmitriev, 129;
   Dodsley, 108;
   Dryden, 144;
   Faerno, 59;
   Fénelon, 128;
   Florian, 129;
   Maria de France, 127;
   Gaspey, 127;
   Gay, 103;
   Gellert, 129;
   Gentleman, 127;
   Ginguene, 129;
   Glinka, 129;
   Godolphin, 128;
   Goldsmith, 129;
   Goncharov, 129;
   Grillo, 129;
   Hagedorn, 129;
   Hall-Stevenson, 126;
   Henryson, 130;
   Jauffret, 129;
   Krilof, 120;
   La Fontaine, 97;
   Lessing, 115;
   Le Grand, 129;
   Lichtner, 129;
   Lomonosov, 129;
   Moore, 126;
   Nicolai, 129;
   Nivernois, 128;
   Northcote, 112;
   Passeroni, 129;
   Perego, 129;
   Percival, 130;
   Pfeffel, 129;
   Phædrus, 63;
   Pignotti, 129;
   Pilpay, 80;
   Planudes, 37;
   Poggio, 128;
   Polidori, 129;
   Prior, 129;
   Prosser, 128;
   Ramsay, 126;
   Rankine, 130;
   Roberti, 129;
   Romulus, 128;
   Rossi, 129;
   Rowe, 127;
   Rufus, 128;
   Samaniego, 129;
   Staite, 127;
   Steele, 126;
   Sumarakov, 129;
   Trimmer, 128;
   Vanbrugh, 129;
   Westmacott, 127;
   Wilkie, 127;
   Wilson, 127;
   Winter, 130;
   Yriarte, 117

 Fabulists as censors, 19

 Faerno's, Gabriele, one hundred fables, 59

 _Farmer, Horseman, and Pedestrian, The_, 131

 Feast of the Sages, The, 75

 Fénelon, the Abbé, 128

 Figs, Æsop and the stolen, 44

 _Flea and the Elephant, The_, 142

 Florian, 129;
   _The Bee and the Coquette_, 130

 _Fox and the Crow, The_, 31

 _Fox and the Hedgehog, The_, 73

 _Fox and the Stork, The_, 99

 France, Maria de, 127

 French fabulists, 128

 French writers on fable, 61

 _Frogs and Jupiter, The_, 74

 Furia, Francisco de, on Babrius, 66

 Gaspey's fables, 127

 Gāthas, or moral verses, 14

 Gay, John, 17;
   his fables, 96;
   sketch of, 103;
   lines of Gay which have become widely popular, 104;
   Pope's epitaph on, 105

 _Geese, The_, 121

 Gellert, 129;
   _The Land of the Halt_, 132

 Gentleman's, Francis, royal fables, 127;
   _The Beau and Butterfly_, 133

 German fabulists, 129;
   writers on fable, 61

 'Gesta Romanorum,' 89;
   a rich storehouse for the poets, 95

 Godolphin, Mary, her fables, 128

 Goldsmith on L'Estrange as a writer, 61

 Grecian heroes and gods, 1

 _Greedy and Ambitious Cat, The_, 81

 _Green Man, The_, 140

 Hall-Stevenson's, John, 'Fables for Grown Gentlemen,' 126

 Harrison's, J. Henry, translation of Krilof's fables, 119;
   _The Man with Three Wives_, 123

 Heidelberg Library, collection of fables in the, 59

 Herodotus on the building of the Lesser Pyramid, 38

 Hesiod and Homer, the mythical stories of, 26;
   _The Nightingale and the Hawk_, 54, 58

 Hindoo fables, 80

 _Horse and the Stag, The_, 77

 Humour of fables, 22, 58

 Hyampia, the rock whence Æsop was precipitated, 35

 Idmon, or Jadmon, Æsop's third master, 34;
   his grandson claims reparation for Æsop's death, 36

 Indian birth story, 141

 Indian fables, 130

 Ineradicable impression produced by certain fables, 32

 Iriarte, or Yriarte, Don Tomas de, Spanish fabulist, 117

 Italian fabulists, 129;
   writers on fable, 61

 Jacobs, Joseph, definition of fable by, 4;
   on the added morals to fables, 13;
   'History of the Æsopic Fable,' 62;
   Maria de France, 128

 James's, Rev. Thomas, fables of Æsop, 9, 60, 143

 Jameson, Mrs., relates a tradition of our Lord, 87

 Jātakas, 14, 53, 87

 Jewish writers on fables, 61

 Johnson, Dr., definition of fable by, 3

 Krilof, or Krilov, Ivan Andreivitch, Russian fabulist, 19, 96, 97;
   characteristics of his fables, 119;
   sketch of his life, 120;
   Ralston's translation, 119;
   Harrison's translation, 119;
   _The Leaves and the Roots_, 120;
   _The Geese_, 121;
   _The Man with Three Wives_, 123

 Lady fabulists, 127

 La Fontaine, Jean de, on fables, 13, 17;
   the morals of his fables, 27;
   his fable of _The Old Woodcutter and Death_, 58;
   his fables, 96, 144;
   sketch of, 97;
   Matthews' translation, 99

 La Motte, 17, 60

 _Land of the Halt, The_, 132

 _Leaves and the Roots, The_, 120

 Lessing, Gotthold Ephraim:
   his fables, 96, 97;
   sketch of, 115;
   his fables of _Æsop and the Ass_, 115;
   _The Shepherd and the Nightingale_, 116;
   _Solomon's Ghost_, 116

 Lessons taught by fables, 25

 L'Estrange, Sir Roger, 16, 59, 60;
   as a writer, 61;
   his version of Æsop, 125

 Lewis, Sir George Cornewall, edited first English edition of Babrius
          in the original Greek text, 67

 Locman, the Oriental fabulist, 37, 80, 85, 86

 Lowell's 'Fable for Critics,' 145

 Lysippus' statue of Æsop, 39

 Lytton's, Lord, 'Fables in Song,' 145

 _Magpie and Stump, The_, 140

 _Man and his Goose, The_, 10

 _Man and the Lion, The_, 9

 Mandeville's 'Fable of the Bees,' 144

 _Mastiff and his Puppy, The_, 126

 Men loath to apply the moral of a fable to their own case, 22

 Menas, M. Minoides, discovers a copy of Babrius, 66

 Menenius recites the fable of _The Belly and the Members_, 69

 _Mercury and the Sculptor_, 57

 Mercury bestows the invention of the apologue on Æsop, 43

 _Miser and the Magpie, The_, 109

 _Miser and Plutus, The_, 106

 Mixed fables, 11

 Modern fabulists, 96, 108, 115, 125

 Montaigne on Æsop's fables, 14

 Moore's, Edward, 'Fables for the Fair Sex,' 126;
   _The Nightingale and the Glow-worm_, 135

 Moore's, Thomas, 'Political Fables,' 145

 Moral and application of fables, 13;
   whether the moral should be placed at the beginning or end of a
          fable, 16

 Neveletus' collection of fables, 59;
   on Babrius, 66

 _Nightingale and the Glow-worm, The_, 135, 136

 _Nightingale and the Hawk, The_, 54, 58

 _Nightingale, Cuckoo, and Ass, The_, 142

 Nivernois, 128;
   _The Farmer, Horseman, and Pedestrian_, 131

 Northcote, R.A., James:
   his fables of _The Elephant and the Fox_, 29;
   _The Trooper and his Armour_, 113;
   his fables, 96, 97, 112;
   sketch of his life, 112

 _Of Perfect Life_, from 'The Gesta Romanorum,' 90

 _Old Woodcutter and Death, The_, 58

 Parables, 5, 6;
   Nathan and the ewe lamb, 6;
   of the Gospels, 6

 Parodies on Æsop's fables, 127

 Pater, Walter, definition of fable by, 2

 Pathos in fables, 58

 _Perfect Life, Of_, from 'The Gesta Romanorum,' 90

 Periander, 34

 Persian fables, 80

 Phædrus, 3, 17, 55;
   his view of the origin and purpose of fables, 20, 26;
   on Æsop's statue, 39;
   sketch of his life, 63;
   prologue to his third book, 64

 Philostratus on a picture of Æsop and the geniuses of fable, 40;
   mythical account of the youthful Æsop, 43

 Pictures illustrating fables, 143

 Pilpay's fables, 80

 _Piper turned Fisherman, The_, 76

 Pittacus, 34

 Planudes confounds Locman with Æsop, 37;
   his stories of Æsop, 42

 Plato advises the use of fables, 26;
   citation from the 'Phædo' of, 59

 Plutarch on Æsop at the Court of Crœsus, 49;
   on Hesiod's fable of the nightingale, 54

 Poggio, 128

 Pope's epitaph on Gay, 105

 Prosser's, Mrs., fables, 128

 Quintilian recommends the learning of fables, 26

 Ralston's, W. R. S., translation of Krilof's fables, 119;
   _The Geese_, 121

 Ramsay's, Allan, fables, 126

 Rankine's, Professor W. J. Macquorn, fables on well-known signboards, 130;
   _The Magpie and Stump_, 140;
   _The Green Man_, 140;
   _The Bull and Mouth_, 141

 Rational fables, 11

 Reflection, the, appended to fables, 15

 Remark, the, appended to fables, 15

 Rhodope, the reputed wife of Æsop, 38;
   said to have built the Lesser Pyramid, 38

 Richer, 60

 Romulus, 128

 Rousseau, Jean Jacques, on fables, 25, 27

 Rowe, Rev. Henry: his fables, 127

 Rufus, 128

 Russian fabulists, 129

 Scandinavian heroes and gods, 1

 Seven sages of Greece, the, 34

 Shakespeare's 'Coriolanus,' fable of _The Belly and the Members_ from, 69

 _Shepherd and the Nightingale, The_, 116

 Sidney, Sir Philip, on Æsop's fables, 145

 Smart's, Christopher, translation of Phædrus, 64

 _Snake and the Hedgehog, The_, 56

 Socrates and Æsop's fables, 59

 _Solomon's Ghost_, 116

 Solon, 34;
   at the Court of Crœsus, 49

 Spanish fabulists, 129

 Staite's, W. E., fables, 127

 Steele's definition of fable, 4;
   fable of _The Mastiff and his Puppy_, 126

 Stephens', Robert, edition of the fables, 59

 Stories related of Æsop, 43

 Successful villain, the, in the fable, 28

 Suidas quoted, 59

 Swift quoted, 23

 'Tatler,' the, quoted, 4

 Temple, Sir William, on Æsop, 60

 Thales, 34

 _Toad and the Ephemeron, The_, 110

 _Trees in Search of a King, The_, the oldest fable in Holy Scripture, 71

 Trimmer's, Mrs., fables of Æsop, 128

 _Trooper and his Armour, The_, 113

 _Two Thrushes, The_, 118

 Tyrwhitt on Babrius, 66

 Universality of the effect of fables, 28

 Vanbrugh, Sir John, 129

 Vavassor on Babrius, 66

 _Viper and the File, The_, 102

 Westmacott's, Charles, 'Fables for Mankind,' 127, 143

 Wilkie, D.D., William:
   his fables, 127;
   _The Boy and the Rainbow_, 127, 137

 Willans', Leonard, collection of fables, 60

 Wilson, Sheridan, 'The Bath Fables,' 127

 _Wolf and the Lamb, The_, 58

 _Wolf and the Shepherds, The_, 55

 _Wolves and the Sheep, The_, 78

 Xanthus, or Zanthus, Æsop's second master, 33;
   his foolish wager, 46;
   his wife restored, 46

 Yriarte, or Iriarte, Don Tomas de, Spanish fabulist, 117;
   characteristics of his fables, 117;
   _The Two Thrushes_, 118


_Elliot Stock, 62, Paternoster Row, London, E.C._

Transcriber's Note:

    Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note.
    Archaic and variant spellings have been retained.

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