E-text prepared by Al Haines
THE TALKING BEASTS
A Book of Fable Wisdom
EDITED BY KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN AND NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
Illustrations by Harold Nelson
"Accept, young Prince, the moral lay And in these tales mankind survey; With early virtues plant your breast The specious arts of vice detest."
JOHN GAY TO HIS HIGHNESS WILLIAM, DUKE OF CUMBERLAND
I. Fables of Aesop. (Greek)
II. Fables of Bidpai. (Indian)
III. Fables from the Hitopadesa. (Sanskrit)
IV. Fables from P. V. Ramaswami Raju. (Indian)
V. Malayan Fables
VI. Moorish Fables
VII. African Fables
VIII. Fables from Krilof. (Russian)
IX. Fables from the Chinese
X. Fables of La Fontaine. (French)
XI. Fables from the Spanish of Carlos Yriarte
XII. Fables of Gay, Cowper, and others. (English)
For Eastern princes, long ago, These fables, grave and gay, Were written as a friendly guide On life's perplexing way. When Rumour came to court and news Of such a book was heard, The monarch languished till he might Secure the Golden Word.
Prince of To-day, this little hook A store-house is of treasure. Unlock it and where'er you look Is wisdom without measure. 'Twill teach thee of the meed of greed, Of sowing versus reaping, Of that mad haste that makes for waste, And looking before leaping.
'Twill teach thee what is like to hap To self-conceit and folly; And show that who begins in sin Will end in melancholy. So take the book and learn of beast And animate creation The lesson that the least may teach, However mean his station.
NORA ARCHIBALD SMITH
"Among all the different ways of giving counsel I think the finest and that which pleases the most universally is fable, in whatever shape it appears."
How shall I bring to your mind the time and distance that separate us from the Age of Fable? Think of what seemed to you the longest week of your life. Think of fifty-two of these in a year; then think of two thousand five hundred years and try to realize that Aesop—sometimes called the Eighth Wise Man—lived twenty-five centuries ago and made these wonderful tales that delight us to-day.
Shakespeare is even yet something of a mystery, although he was born in our own era, less than five hundred years ago; but men are still trying to discover any new facts of his life that might better explain his genius. A greater mystery is grand old Homer, who has puzzled the world for centuries. Scholars are not certain whether the "Iliad" or "Odyssey" are the work of one or more than one mind. Who can say? for the thrilling tales were told—probably after the fashion of all the minstrels of his day—more than eight hundred years before Christ.
On the background of that dim distant long ago, perhaps two hundred years later than Homer, looms the magnificent figure of another mysterious being—Aesop the Greek slave.
Wherever and whenever he lived, and whether, in fact, he ever lived at all, he seems very real to us, even though more than two thousand years have passed. Among all the stories that scholars and historians have told of him—sifting through the centuries the true from the false—we get a vivid picture of the man. He was born in Greece, probably in Phrygia, about 620 years before Christ. He had more than one master and it was the last, Iadmon, who gave him his liberty because of his talents and his wisdom. The historian Plutarch recounts his presence at the court of Croesus, King of Lydia, and his meeting Thales and Solon there, telling us also that he reproved the wise Solon for discourtesy toward the king. Aesop visited Athens and composed the famous fable of Jupiter and the Frogs for the instruction of the citizens. Whether he left any written fables is very uncertain, but those known by his name were popular in Athens when that city was celebrated throughout the world for its wit and its learning. Both Socrates and Plato delighted in them; Socrates, we read, having amused himself during the last days of his life with turning into verse some of Aesop's "myths" as he called them. Think of Socrates conning these fables in prison four hundred years before Christ, and then think of a more familiar picture in our own day—a gaunt, dark-faced, black-haired boy poring over a book as he lay by the fireside in a little Western farmhouse; for you remember that Abraham Lincoln's literary models were "Aesop's Fables," "The Pilgrim's Progress" and the Bible. Perhaps he read the fable of the Fig Tree, Olive, Vine, and Bramble from the ninth chapter of Judges, or that of the Thistle and Cedar from the fourteenth chapter of II Kings and noted that teaching by story-telling was still well in vogue six hundred years after Aesop.
In later times the fables that had been carried from mouth to mouth for centuries began to be written down: by Phaedrus in Latin and Babrius in Greek; also, in the fourteenth century, by a Greek monk named Planudes. But do not suppose they had their birth or flourished in Greece alone. At the very time that Aesop was telling them at the court of Croesus, or in Delphi, Corinth, or Athens,—far, far away in India the Buddhist priests were telling fables in the Sanskrit language to the common people, the blind, the ignorant and the outcast. Sanskrit, you know, is the eldest brother of all the family of languages to which our English belongs. When the Buddhist religion declined, the Brahmins took up the priceless inheritance of fable and used it for educational purposes. Their ancient Indian sages and philosophers compiled a treatise for the education of princes which was supposed to contain a system of good counsel for right training in all the chief affairs of life. In it they inserted the choicest treasures of their wisdom and the best rules for governing a people, and the Rajahs kept the book with great secrecy and care. Then a Persian king heard of its existence and sent a learned physician to India, where he spent several years in copying and translating the precious manuscript, finally bringing it hack to the court, where he declined to accept all reward but a dress of honour. In much the same way it was rendered into Arabic and gradually, century by century, crept into the literature of all Europe.
We give you some of these very fables in the "Hitopadesa," which means "Friendly Instruction" or "Amicable Advice" for the original hooks contained many maxims, like the following:
"He who is not possessed of such a book as will dispel many doubts, point out hidden treasures, and is, as it were, a mirror of all things, is even an ignorant man."
"These six—the peevish, the niggard, the dissatisfied, the passionate, the suspicious, and those who live upon others' means—are forever unhappy."
"That mother is an enemy, and that father a foe, by whom not having been instructed, their son shineth not in the assembly; but appeareth there like a booby among geese."
"There are two kinds of knowledge in use: the knowledge of arms, and the knowledge of books. The first is the scoff if the wise, whilst the last is forever honoured."
We give you other Indian fables from the collection of Bidpai. La Fontaine in one of the prefaces to his French fables in verse expresses his gratitude to "Bilpay the Indian sage." These are the very manuscripts translated from the Sanskrit into Persian by the physician who took them back to his king. Sir William Jones says that "Bidpai" signifies "beloved physician" and that Bilpay is simply a mis-spelling of the word. As other scholars contended that Bidpai was not a man at all, but probably one of the two wise camels that did most of the talking in the earlier fables, you and I will not be able to settle the truth of the question. All these points are interesting, or, if they are not so to you, you must say, "Wake up!" to your mind. It is the eager spirit of inquiry that conquers difficulties and gains knowledge. In another preface I reminded you that in all the faery stories the youngest brother was the one who always said, "I wonder!" and he it was who triumphed over all the others. You are holding between these crimson covers fables from some of the oldest and most valuable books the world has ever known. The "Hitopadesa" was a very fountain of riches, as old as the hills themselves, precious and inexhaustible. In its innumerable translations it passed down the stream of time, and the fables known as Aesop's made their way among all races of people in the same marvellous way. No one knows whether Aesop—through the Assyrians with whom the Phrygians had commercial relations—borrowed his stories from the Orientals or whether they borrowed from him. One thing is certain, nothing persists so strongly and lives so long as a fable or folk tale. They migrate like the birds and make their way into every corner of the world where there are lips to speak and ears to hear. The reasons are, perhaps, because they are generally brief; because they are simple; because they are trenchant and witty; because they are fresh and captivating and have a bite to them like the tang of salt water; because they are strong and vital, and what is thoroughly alive in the beginning always lives longest.
And, now we come to La Fontaine the French fabulist, who in 1668 published the first six books of his fables. "Bonhomme La Fontaine," as he was called, chose his subjects from Aesop and Phaedrus and Horace, and, in the later volumes, from such Oriental sources as may have been within his reach. He rendered the old tales in easy-flowing verse, full of elegance and charm, and he composed many original ones besides. La Bruyere says of him: "Unique in his way of writing, always original whether he invents or translates, he surpasses his models and is himself a model difficult to imitate. . . . He instructs while he sports, persuades men to virtue by means of beasts, and exalts trifling subjects to the sublime."
Voltaire asserts: "I believe that of all authors La Fontaine is the most universally read. He is for all minds and all ages."
Later, by a hundred years, than La Fontaine, comes Krilof, the Russian fable-maker, who was born in 1768. After failing in many kinds of literary work the young poet became intimate with a certain Prince Sergius Galitsin; lived in his house at Moscow, and accompanied him to his country place in Lithuania, where he taught the children of his host and devised entertainments for the elders. He used often to spend hours in the bazaars and streets and among the common people, and it was in this way probably that he became so familiar with the peasant life of the country. When he came back from his wanderings on the banks of the Volga he used to mount to the village belfry, where he could write undisturbed by the gnats and flies, and the children found him there one day fast asleep among the bells. A failure at forty, with the publication of his first fables in verse he became famous, and for many years he was the most popular writer in Russia. He died in 1844 at the age of seventy-six, his funeral attended by such crowds that the great church of St. Isaac could not hold those who wished to attend the service. Soon after, a public subscription was raised among all the children of Russia, who erected a monument in the Summer Garden at Moscow.
There the old man sits in bronze, as he used to sit at his window, clad in his beloved dressing gown, an open book in his hand.
Around the monument (says his biographer) a number of children are always at play, and the poet seems to smile benignly on them from his bronze easy chair. Perhaps the Grecian children of long ago played about Aesop's statue in Athens, for Lysippus the celebrated sculptor designed and erected a monument in his memory.
Read Krilof's "Education of a Lion" and "The Lion and the Mosquitoes" while his life is fresh in your mind. Then turn to "What Employment our Lord Gave to Insects" and "How Sense was Distributed," in the quaint African fables. Glance at "The Long-tailed Spectacled Monkey" and "The Tune that Made the Tiger Drowsy," so full of the very atmosphere of India. Then re-read some old favourite of Aesop and imagine you are hearing his voice, or that of some Greek story-teller of his day, ringing down through more than two thousand years of time.
There is a deal of preaching in all these fables,—that cannot be denied,—but it is concealed as well as possible. It is so disagreeable for people to listen while their faults and follies, their foibles and failings, are enumerated, that the fable-maker told his truths in story form and thereby increased his audience. Preaching from the mouths of animals is not nearly so trying as when it comes from the pulpit, or from the lips of your own family and friends!
Whether or not our Grecian and Indian, African and Russian fable-makers have not saddled the animals with a few more faults than they possess—just to bolster up our pride in human nature—I sometimes wonder; but the result has been beneficial. The human rascals and rogues see themselves clearly reflected in the doings of the jackals, foxes, and wolves and may get some little distaste for lying, deceit and trickery.
We make few fables now-a-days. We might say that it is a lost art, but perhaps the world is too old to be taught in that precise way, and though the story writers are as busy as ever, the story-tellers (alas!) are growing fewer and fewer.
If your ear has been opened by faery tales you will have learned already to listen to and interpret a hundred voices unheard by others. A comprehension of faery language leads one to understand animal conversation with perfect ease, so open the little green doors that lead into the forest, the true Land of Fable. Open them softly and you will hear the Beasts talk Wisdom.
KATE DOUGLAS WIGGIN
THE FABLES OF AESOP
"'Twas the Golden Age when every brute Had voice articulate, in speech was skilled, And the mid-forests with its synods filled. The tongues of rock and pine-leaf then were free; To ship and sailor then would speak the sea; Sparrows with farmers would shrewd talk maintain; Earth gave all fruits, nor asked for toil again. Mortals and gods were wont to mix as friends— To which conclusion all the teaching tends Of sage old Aesop."
THE FABLES OF AESOP
The Power of Fables
Demades, a famous Greek orator, was once addressing an assembly at Athens on a subject of great importance, and in vain tried to fix the attention of his hearers. They laughed among themselves, watched the sports of the children, and in twenty other ways showed their want of interest in the subject of the discourse.
Demades, after a short pause, spoke as follows:
"Ceres one day journeyed in company with a Swallow and an Eel." At this there was marked attention and every ear strained now to catch the words of the orator. "The party came to a river," continued he; "the Eel swam across, and the Swallow flew over." He then resumed the subject of his harangue.
A great cry, however, arose from the people, "And Ceres? and Ceres?" cried they. "What did Ceres do?"
"Why, the goddess was, as she is now," replied he, "mightily offended that people should have their ears open to any sort of foolery, and shut to words of truth and wisdom."
The Wolf and the Lamb
A hungry Wolf one day saw a Lamb drinking at a stream, and wished to frame some plausible excuse for making him his prey.
"What do you mean by muddling the water I am going to drink?" fiercely said he to the Lamb.
"Pray forgive me," meekly answered the Lamb; "I should be sorry in any way to displease you, but as the stream runs from you toward me, you will see that such cannot be the case."
"That's all very well," said the Wolf; "but you know you spoke ill of me behind my back a year ago."
"Nay, believe me," replied the Lamb, "I was not then born."
"It must have been your brother, then," growled the Wolf.
"It cannot have been, for I never had any," answered the Lamb.
"I know it was one of your lot," rejoined the Wolf, "so make no more such idle excuses." He then seized the poor Lamb, carried him off to the woods, and ate him, but before the poor creature died he gasped out, feebly, "Any excuse will serve a tyrant."
Aesop and His Fellow Servants
A merchant, who was at one time Aesop's master, on a certain occasion ordered all things to be made ready for an intended journey. When the burdens were divided among the Servants, Aesop asked that he might have the lightest. He was told to choose for himself, and he took up the basket of bread. The other Servants laughed, for that was the largest and heaviest of all the burdens.
When dinner-time came, Aesop, who had with some difficulty sustained his load, was told to distribute an equal share all around. He did so, and this lightened his burden one half, and when supper-time arrived he got rid of the rest.
For the remainder of the journey he had nothing but the empty basket to carry, and the other Servants, whose loads seemed to get heavier and heavier at every step, could not but applaud his ingenuity.
The Kite and the Pigeons
A Kite, that had kept sailing around a dovecote for many days to no purpose, was at last forced by hunger to have recourse to stratagem. Approaching the Pigeons in his gentlest manner, he described to them in an eloquent speech how much better their state would be if they had a king with some firmness about him, and how well such a ruler would shield them from the attacks of the Hawk and other enemies.
The Pigeons, deluded by this show of reason, admitted him to the dovecote as their king. They found, however, that he thought it part of his kingly prerogative to eat one of their number every day, and they soon repented of their credulity in having let him in.
The Ant and the Fly
An Ant and a Fly one day disputed as to their respective merits. "Vile creeping insect!" said the Fly to the Ant, "can you for a moment compare yourself with me? I soar on the wing like a bird. I enter the palaces of kings, and alight on the heads of princes, nay, of emperors, and only quit them to adorn the yet more attractive brow of beauty. Besides, I visit the altars of the gods. Not a sacrifice is offered but it is first tasted by me. Every feast, too, is open to me. I eat and drink of the best, instead of living for days on two or three grains of corn as you do."
"All that is very fine," replied the Ant; "but listen to me. You boast of your feasting, but you know that your diet is not always so choice, and you are sometimes forced to eat what nothing would induce me to touch. As for alighting on the heads of kings and emperors, you know very well that whether you pitch on the head of an emperor or of an ass (and it is as often on the one as the other), you are shaken off from both with impatience. And, then, the 'altars of the gods,' indeed! There and everywhere else you are looked upon as nothing but a nuisance. In the winter, too, while I feed at my ease on the fruit of my toil, what more common than to see your friends dying with cold, hunger, and fatigue? I lose my time now in talking to you. Chattering will fill neither my bin nor my cupboard."
The Frog Who Wished to Be as Big as an Ox
An Ox, grazing in a meadow, chanced to set his foot on a young Frog and crushed him to death. His brothers and sisters, who were playing near, at once ran to tell their mother what had happened.
"The monster that did it, mother, was such a size!" said they.
The mother, who was a vain old thing, thought that she could easily make herself as large.
"Was it as big as this?" she asked, blowing and puffing herself out.
"Oh, much bigger than that," replied the young Frogs.
"As this, then?" cried she, puffing and blowing again with all her might.
"Nay, mother," said they; "if you were to try till you burst yourself, you could never be so big."
The silly old Frog then tried to puff herself out still more, and burst herself indeed.
The Cat and the Mice
A certain house was overrun with mice. A Cat, discovering this, made her way into it and began to catch and eat them one by one.
The Mice being continually devoured, kept themselves close in their holes.
The Cat, no longer able to get at them, perceived that she must tempt them forth by some device. For this purpose she jumped upon a peg, and, suspending herself from it, pretended to be dead.
One of the Mice, peeping stealthily out, saw her, and said, "Ah, my good madam, even though you should turn into a meal-bag, we would not come near you."
The Cock and the Jewel
A brisk young Cock, scratching for something with which to entertain his favourite Hens, happened to turn up a Jewel. Feeling quite sure that it was something precious, but not knowing well what to do with it, he addressed it with an air of affected wisdom, as follows: "You are a very fine thing, no doubt, but you are not at all to my taste. For my part, I would rather have one grain of dear delicious barley than all the Jewels in the world."
The Man and the Lion
A Man and a Lion were discussing the relative strength of men and lions in general, the Man contending that he and his fellows were stronger than lions by reason of their greater intelligence.
"Come now with me," he cried to the beast, "and I will soon prove that I am right." So he took him into the public gardens and showed him a statue of Hercules overcoming the Lion. and tearing him to pieces.
"That is all very well," said the Lion, "but it proves nothing, for it was a man who made the statue!"
The Discontented Ass
In the depth of winter a poor Ass once prayed heartily for the spring, that he might exchange a cold lodging and a heartless truss of straw for a little warm weather and a mouthful of fresh grass. In a short time, according to his wish, the warm weather and the fresh grass came on, but brought with them so much toil and business that he was soon as weary of the spring as before of the winter, and he now became impatient for the approach of summer. The summer arrived; but the heat, the harvest work and other drudgeries and inconveniences of the season set him as far from happiness as before, which he now flattered himself would be found in the plenty of autumn. But here, too, he was disappointed; for what with the carrying of apples, roots, fuel for the winter, and other provisions, he was in autumn more fatigued than ever.
Having thus trod around the circle of the year, in a course of restless labour, uneasiness and disappointment, and found no season, nor station of life without its business and its trouble, he was forced at last to acquiesce in the comfortless season of winter, where his complaint began, convinced that in this world every situation has its inconvenience.
The Boasting Traveller
A Man was one day entertaining a lot of fellows in an ale-house with an account of the wonders he had done when abroad on his travels. "I was once at Rhodes," said he, "and the people of Rhodes, you know, are famous for jumping. Well, I took a jump there that no other man could come within a yard of. That's a fact, and if we were there I could bring you ten men who would prove it."
"What need is there to go to Rhodes for witnesses?" asked one of his hearers; "just imagine that you are there now, and show us your leap!"
The Lion and the Mouse
A Lion, tired with the chase, lay sleeping at full length under a shady tree. Some Mice, scrambling over him while he slept, awoke him. Laying his paw upon one of them, he was about to crush him, but the Mouse implored his mercy in such moving terms that he let him go.
Now it happened that sometime afterward the Lion was caught in a net laid by some hunters, and, unable to free himself, made the forest resound with his roars. The Mouse, recognizing the voice of his preserver, ran to the spot, and with his little sharp teeth gnawed the ropes asunder and set the Lion free.
The Swallow and Other Birds
A Swallow, observing a Husbandman employed in sowing hemp, called the little Birds together and informed them of what the farmer was about. He told them that hemp was the material from which the nets, so fatal to the feathered race, were composed; and advised them to join unanimously in picking it up in order to prevent the consequences.
The Birds, either disbelieving his information or neglecting his advice, gave themselves no trouble about the matter. In a little time the hemp appeared above the ground, when the friendly Swallow again addressed himself to them, and told them it was not yet too late, provided they would immediately set about the work, before the seeds had taken too deep root. But as they still rejected his advice, he forsook their society, repaired for safety to towns and cities, there built his habitation and kept his residence.
One day as he was skimming along the streets he happened to see a large parcel of those very Birds imprisoned in a cage on the shoulders of a bird-catcher.
"Unhappy wretches," said he. "You now feel punishment for your former neglect; but those who, having no foresight of their own, despise the wholesome admonition of their friends, deserve the mischief which their own obstinacy or negligence brings upon their heads."
The Fox and the Crow
A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. "That's for me, as I am a Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree. "Good-day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are looking to-day; how glossy your feathers, how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds."
The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. "That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future—Do not trust flatterers!"
The Dog and His Shadow
A Dog, bearing in his mouth a piece of meat that he had stolen, was once crossing a smooth stream by means of a plank. Looking into the still, clear water, he saw what he took to be another dog as big as himself, carrying another piece of meat.
Snapping greedily to get this as well, he let go the meat that he already had, and it fell to the bottom of the stream.
The Ass and His Master
A Diligent Ass, already loaded beyond his strength by a severe Master whom he had long served, and who kept him on very short commons, happened one day in his old age to be oppressed with a more than ordinary burden of earthenware. His strength being much impaired, and the road steep and uneven, he unfortunately made a misstep, and, unable to recover himself, fell down and broke all the vessels to pieces. His Master, transported with rage, began to beat him most unmercifully, against whom the poor Ass, lifting up his head as he lay on the ground, thus strongly remonstrated:
"Unfeeling wretch! To thine own avaricious cruelty in first pinching me on food, and then loading me beyond my strength, thou owest the misfortune which thou so unjustly imputest to me."
The Wolf and the Crane
A Wolf once devoured his prey so ravenously that a bone stuck in his throat, giving him great pain. He ran howling up and down in his suffering and offered to reward handsomely any one who would pull the bone out.
A Crane, moved by pity as well as by the prospect of the money, undertook the dangerous task, and having removed the bone, asked for the promised reward.
"Reward!" cried the Wolf; "pray, you greedy fellow, what greater reward can you possibly require? You have had your head in my mouth, and instead of biting it off I have let you pull it out unharmed. Get away with you, and don't come again within reach of my paw."
The Hares and the Frogs
The Hares once took serious counsel among themselves whether death itself would not be preferable to their miserable condition. "What a sad state is ours," they said, "never to eat in comfort, to sleep ever in fear, to be startled by a shadow, and to fly with beating heart at the rustling of the leaves. Better death by far," and off they went accordingly to drown themselves in a neighbouring lake.
Some scores of Frogs, who were enjoying the moonlight on the bank, scared at the approach of the Hares, jumped into the water. The splash awoke fresh fears in the breasts of the timid Hares, and they came to a full stop in their flight.
Seeing this, one wise old fellow among them cried: "Hold, brothers! It seems that, weak and fearful as we are, beings exist that are more weak and fearful still. Why, then, should we seek to die? Let us rather make the best of our ills and learn to bear them as we should."
The Invalid Lion
A Lion, who had grown too old and feeble to go out and hunt for prey, could hardly find enough food to keep him from starving. But at last he thought of a plan for bringing the game within his reach.
He kept quite still in his den and made believe that he was very ill. When the other animals heard of his distress, they came, one by one, to look at him and ask him how he felt. No sooner were they within his reach, however, than he seized upon them and ate them up.
After a good many beasts had lost their lives in this way a Fox came along.
"How do you feel to-day, friend Lion?" he asked, taking care to stand at a safe distance from the den.
"I am very ill," answered the Lion. "Won't you come inside a little while? It does me a great deal of good to see my kind friends."
"Thank you," said the Fox; "but I notice that all the tracks point toward your den and none point away from it," and so saying, he trotted merrily away.
The Travellers and the Bear
Two Men, about to journey through a forest, agreed to stand by each other in any dangers that might befall. They had not gone far before a savage Bear rushed out from a thicket and stood in their path.
One of the Travellers, a light, nimble fellow, climbed up into a tree. The other fell flat on his face and held his breath.
The Bear came up and smelled at him, and, taking him for dead, went off again into the wood. The man in the tree then came down, and, rejoining his companion, asked him, with a mischievous smile, what was the wonderful secret that the Bear had whispered into his ear,
"Why," replied the other sulkily, "he told me to take care for the future and not to put any confidence in such cowardly rascals as you are!"
The Fox Without a Tail
A Fox was once caught in a trap by his tail, and in order to get away was forced to leave it behind him. Knowing that without a tail he would be a laughing-stock for all his fellows, he resolved to try to induce them to part with theirs. At the next assembly of Foxes, therefore, he made a speech on the unprofitableness of tails in general, and the inconvenience of a Fox's tail in particular, adding that he had never felt so easy as since he had given up his own.
When he had sat down, a sly old fellow rose, and waving his long brush with a graceful air, said, with a sneer, that if, like the last speaker, he had been so unfortunate as to lose his tail, nothing further would have been needed to convince him; but till such an accident should happen, he should certainly vote in favour of tails.
The Crab and Its Mother
One fine day two Crabs came out from their home to take a stroll on the sand. "Child," said the mother, "you are walking very ungracefully. You should accustom yourself to walking straight forward without twisting from side to side."
"Pray, mother," said the young one, "do but set the example yourself, and I will follow you!"
The Jackdaw with Borrowed Plumes
A Jackdaw, having dressed himself in feathers which had fallen from some Peacocks, strutted about in the company of those birds and tried to pass himself off as one of them.
They soon found him out, however, and pulled their plumes from him so roughly, and in other ways so battered him, that he would have been glad to rejoin his humble fellows, but they, in their turn, would have nothing to do with him, and driving him from their society, told him to remember that it is not only fine feathers that make fine birds.
The Farmer and His Dog
A Farmer who had just stepped into the field to close a gap in one of his fences found on his return the cradle, where he had left his only child asleep, turned upside down, the clothes all torn and bloody, and his Dog lying near it besmeared also with blood. Convinced at once that the creature had destroyed his child, he instantly dashed out its brains with the hatchet in his hand; when, turning up the cradle, he found the child unhurt and an enormous serpent lying dead on the floor, killed by the faithful Dog, whose courage and fidelity in preserving the life of his son deserved another kind of reward.
These affecting circumstances afforded him a striking lesson upon how dangerous it is hastily to give way to the blind impulse of a sudden passion.
The Fox and the Countryman
A Fox, having been hunted hard and chased a long way, saw a Countryman at work in a wood and begged his assistance to some hiding-place. The man said he might go into his cottage, which was close by.
He was no sooner in than the huntsmen came up. "Have you seen a Fox pass this way?" said they. The Countryman said "No," but pointed at the same time toward the place where the Fox lay. The huntsmen did not take the hint, however, and made off again at full speed.
The Fox, who had seen all that took place through a chink in the wall, thereupon came out and was walking away without a word.
"Why, how now!" said the Countryman, "haven't you the manners to thank your host before you go?"
"Nay, nay," said the Fox; "if you had been as honest with your finger as you were with your tongue, I shouldn't have gone without saying good-bye."
Belling the Cat
A certain Cat that lived in a large country house was so vigilant and active in the performance of her duties that the Mice, finding their numbers grievously thinned, held a council with closed doors to consider what they had best do.
Many plans had been started and dismissed, when a young Mouse, rising and catching the eye of the President, said that he had a proposal to make that he was sure must meet with the approval of all. "If," said he, "the Cat should wear around her neck a little bell, every step she took would make it tinkle; then, ever forewarned of her approach, we should have time to reach our holes. By this simple means we should live in safety and defy her power."
The speaker resumed his seat with a complacent air, and a murmur of applause arose from the audience.
An old gray Mouse, with a merry twinkle in his eye, now got up and said that the plan of the last speaker was an admirable one, but he feared it had one drawback. He had not told them who should put the bell around the Cat's neck!
The Old Woman and Her Maids
A certain Old Woman had several Maids, whom she used to call to their work every morning at the crowing of the Cock.
The Maids, finding it grievous to have their sweet sleep disturbed so early, killed the Cock, thinking that when he was quiet they might enjoy their warm beds a little longer.
The Old Woman, however, vexed at the loss of the Cock, and suspecting them to be concerned in his death, from that time made them rise soon after midnight!
The Dog in the Manger
There was once a Dog who lay all day long in a manger where there was plenty of hay. It happened one day that a Horse, a Cow, a Sheep, and a Goat came one by one and wanted to eat the hay. The Dog growled at them and would not let them have so much as a mouthful. Then an Ox came and looked in, but the Dog growled at him also.
"You selfish fellow," said the Ox; "you cannot eat the hay. Why do you want to keep it all to yourself?"
The Old Man and His Sons
An old Man had many Sons, who were always falling out with one another. He had often exhorted them to live together in harmony, but without result.
One day he called them around him and, producing a bundle of sticks, bade them each in turn to break it across. Each put forth all his strength, but the bundle still resisted their efforts.
Then, cutting the cord which bound the sticks together, he told his Sons to break them separately. This was done with the greatest ease.
"See, my Sons," exclaimed he, "the power of unity! Bound together by brotherly love, you may defy almost every mortal ill; divided, you will fall a prey to your enemies."
Hercules and the Wagoner
As a Wagoner was driving his wain through a miry lane, the wheels stuck fast in the clay and the Horses could get on no farther. The Man immediately dropped on his knees and began crying and praying with all his might to Hercules to come and help him.
"Lazy fellow!" cried Hercules, "get up and stir yourself. Whip your Horses stoutly, and put your shoulder to the wheel. If you want my help then, you shall have it."
The Goose with the Golden Eggs
One day a poor countryman going to the nest of his Goose found there a golden egg all yellow and glittering. When he took it up it felt as heavy as lead and he was minded to throw it away, because he thought a trick had been played on him.
On second thoughts, he took it home, however, and soon found to his delight that it was an egg of pure gold. Every morning the same thing occurred, and he soon became prosperous by selling his eggs.
As he grew rich he grew greedy; and thinking to get at once all the gold the Goose could give, he killed it and opened it only to find—nothing!
The Frogs Desiring a King
The Frogs, living an easy, free sort of life among the lakes and ponds, once prayed Jupiter to send them a King.
Jove, being at that time in a merry mood, threw them a Log, saying, as he did so, "There, then, is a King for you."
Awed by the splash, the Frogs watched their King in fear and trembling, till at last, encouraged by his stillness, one more daring than the rest jumped upon the shoulder of the monarch. Soon, many others followed his example, and made merry on the back of their unresisting King. Speedily tiring of such a torpid ruler, they again petitioned Jupiter, and asked him to send them something more like a King.
This time he sent them a Stork, who tossed them about and gobbled them up without mercy. They lost no time, therefore, in beseeching the god to give them again their former state.
"No, no," replied he, "a King that did you no harm did not please you. Make the best of the one you have, or you may chance to get a worse in his place."
The Porcupine and the Snakes
A Porcupine, seeking for shelter, desired some Snakes to give him admittance into their cave. They accordingly let him in, but were afterward so annoyed by his sharp, prickly quills that they repented of their easy compliance, and entreated him to withdraw and leave them their hole to themselves.
"No, no," said he, "let them quit the place that don't like it; for my part, I am very well satisfied as I am."
The Lark and Her Young Ones
A Lark, who had Young Ones in a field of grain which was almost ripe, was afraid that the reapers would come before her young brood was fledged. Every day, therefore, when she flew off to look for food, she charged them to take note of what they heard in her absence, and to tell her of it when she came home.
One day, when she was gone, they heard the owner of the field say to his son that the grain seemed ripe enough to be cut, and tell him to go early the next day and ask their friends and neighbours to come and help reap it.
When the old Lark came home, the Little Ones quivered and chirped around her, and told her what had happened, begging her to take them away as fast as she could. The mother bade them to be easy; "for," said she, "if he depends on his friends and his neighbours, I am sure the grain will not be reaped tomorrow."
Next day, she went out again, and left the same orders as before. The owner came, and waited. The sun grew hot, but nothing was done, for not a soul came. "You see," said the owner to his son, "these friends of ours are not to be depended upon; so run off at once to your uncles and cousins, and say I wish them to come early to-morrow morning and help us reap."
This the Young Ones, in a great fright, told also to their mother. "Do not fear, children," said she; "kindred and relations are not always very forward in helping one another; but keep your ears open, and let me know what you hear to-morrow."
The owner came the next day, and, finding his relations as backward as his neighbours, said to his son: "Now listen to me. Get two good sickles ready for to-morrow morning, for it seems we must reap the grain by ourselves." The Young Ones told this to their mother.
"Then, my dears," said she, "it is time for us to go; for when a man undertakes to do his work himself, it is not so likely that he will be disappointed." She took them away at once, and the grain was reaped the next day by the old man and his son.
The Fox and the Stork
A Fox one day invited a Stork to dine with him, and, wishing to be amused at his guest's expense, put the soup which he had for dinner in a large flat dish, so that, while he himself could lap it up quite well, the Stork could only dip in the tip of his long bill.
Some time after, the Stork, bearing his treatment in mind, invited the Fox to take dinner with him. He, in his turn, put some minced meat in a long and narrow-necked vessel, into which he could easily put his bill, while Master Fox was forced to be content with licking what ran down the sides of the vessel.
The Fox then remembered his old trick, and could not but admit that the Stork had well paid him off. "I will not apologize for the dinner," said the Stork, "nor for the manner of serving it, for one ill turn deserves another."
The Gnat and the Bull
A sturdy Bull was once driven by the heat of the weather to wade up to his knees in a cool and swift-running stream. He had not been there long when a Gnat that had been disporting itself in the air pitched upon one of his horns.
"My dear fellow," said the Gnat, with as great a buzz as he could manage, "pray excuse the liberty I take. If I am too heavy only say so and I will go at once and rest upon the poplar which grows hard by the edge of the stream.
"Stay or go, it makes no matter to me," replied the Bull. "Had it not been for your buzz I should not even have known you were there."
The Deer and the Lion
One warm day a Deer went down to a brook to get a drink. The stream was smooth and clear, and he could see himself in the water. He looked at his horns and was very proud of them, for they were large and long and had many branches, but when he saw his feet he was ashamed to own them, they were so slim and small.
While he stood knee-deep in the water, and was thinking only of his fine horns, a Lion saw him and came leaping out from the tall grass to get him. The Deer would have been caught at once if he had not jumped quickly out of the brook. He ran as fast as he could, and his feet were so light and swift that he soon left the Lion far behind. But by and by he had to pass through some woods, and, as he was running, his horns were caught in some vines that grew among the trees. Before he could get loose the Lion was upon him.
"Ah me!" cried the Deer, "the things which pleased me most will now cause my death; while the things which I thought so mean and poor would have carried me safe out of danger."
The Fox and the Grapes
There was a time when a Fox would have ventured as far for a Bunch of Grapes as for a shoulder of mutton, and it was a Fox of those days and that palate that stood gaping under a vine and licking his lips at a most delicious Cluster of Grapes that he had spied out there.
He fetched a hundred and a hundred leaps at it, till, at last, when he was as weary as a dog, and found that there was no good to be done:
"Hang 'em," says he, "they are as sour as crabs"; and so away he went, turning off the disappointment with a jest.
The Farmer and the Stork
A Farmer placed nets on his newly sown plough lands, and caught a quantity of Cranes, which came to pick up his seed. With them he trapped a Stork also.
The Stork, having his leg fractured by the net, earnestly besought the Farmer to spare his life. "Pray, save me, master," he said, "and let me go free this once. My broken limb should excite your pity. Besides, I am no Crane. I am a Stork, a bird of excellent character; and see how I love and slave for my father and mother. Look, too, at my feathers, they are not the least like to those of a Crane."
The Farmer laughed aloud, and said: "It may all be as you say, I only know this, I have taken you with those robbers, the Cranes, and you must die in their company."
The Hare and the Tortoise
The Hare, one day, laughing at the Tortoise for his slowness and general unwieldiness, was challenged by the latter to run a race. The Hare, looking on the whole affair as a great joke, consented, and the Fox was selected to act as umpire and hold the stakes.
The rivals started, and the Hare, of course, soon left the Tortoise far behind. Having come midway to the goal, she began to play about, nibble the young herbage, and amuse herself in many ways. The day being warm, she even thought she would take a little nap in a shady spot, as, if the Tortoise should pass her while she slept, she could easily overtake him again before he reached the end.
The Tortoise meanwhile plodded on, unwavering and unresting, straight toward the goal.
The Hare, having overslept herself, started up from her nap, and was surprised to find that the Tortoise was nowhere in sight. Off she went at full speed, but on reaching the winning-post found that the Tortoise was already there, waiting for her arrival!
The Old Woman and the Doctor
An old Woman who had bad eyes called in a clever Doctor, who agreed for a certain sum to cure them. He was a very clever physician, but he was also a very great rogue; and when he called each day and bound up the Old Woman's eyes he took advantage of her blindness to carry away with him some article of her furniture. This went on until he pronounced his patient cured and her room was nearly bare.
He claimed his reward, but the Old Woman protested that, so far from being cured, her sight was worse than ever.
"We will soon see about that, my good dame," said he; and she was shortly after summoned to appear in court.
"May it please Your Honour," said she to the Judge, "before I called in this Doctor I could see a score of things in my room that now, when he says I am cured, I cannot see at all."
This opened the eyes of the court to the knavery of the Doctor, who was forced to give the Old Woman her property back again, and was not allowed to claim a penny of his fee.
The Boy and the Wolf
A mischievous Lad, who was set to mind some Sheep, often used, in jest, to cry "Wolf! Wolf!" and when the people at work in the neighbouring fields came running to the spot he would laugh at them for their pains.
One day the beast came in reality, and the Boy, this time, called "Wolf! Wolf!" in earnest; but the men, having been so often deceived, disregarded his cries, and he and his Sheep were left at the mercy of the Wolf.
A certain Man who had bought a Blackamoor said he was convinced that it was all nonsense about black being the natural colour of his skin. "He has been dirty in his habits," said he, "and neglected by his former masters. Bring me some hot water, soap, and scrubbing-brushes, and a little sand, and we shall soon see what his colour is."
So he scrubbed, and his servants scrubbed till they were all tired. They made no difference in the colour of the Blackamoor; but the end of it all was that the poor fellow caught cold and died.
The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
A Wolf, wrapping himself in the skin of a Sheep, by that means got admission into a sheepfold, where he devoured several of the young Lambs. The Shepherd, however, soon found him out and hung him up to a tree, still in his assumed disguise.
Some other Shepherds, passing that way, thought it was a sheep hanging and cried to their friend: "What, brother! is that the way you serve Sheep in this part of the country?"
"No, friends," cried he, giving at the same time the carcass a swing around, so that they might see what it was; "but it is the way to serve Wolves, even though they be dressed in Sheep's clothing."
The Two Travellers
As two men were travelling through a wood, one of them took up an axe which he saw lying upon the ground. "Look here," said he to his companion, "I have found an axe."
"Don't say, 'I have found it,'" said the other, "but 'We have found it.' As we are companions, we ought to share it between us." The first would not agree to this idea, however.
They had not gone far when they heard the owner of the axe calling after them in a great passion. "We are in for it!" cried he who had the axe.
"Nay," answered the other, "say 'I'm in for it!'—not we. You would not let me share the prize, and I am not going to share the danger."
The Fox in the Well
An unlucky Fox, having fallen into a well, was able, by dint of great efforts, just to keep his head above water.
While he was struggling there and sticking his claws into the side of the Well, a Wolf came and looked in. "What! my dear brother," cried he, with affected concern, "can it really be you that I see down there? How cold you must feel! How long have you been in the water? How came you to fall in? I am so pained to see you. Do tell me all about it!"
"The end of a rope would be of more use to me than all your pity," answered the Fox.
"Just help me to get my foot on solid ground once more, and you shall have the whole story."
The Hen and the Fox
A Fox, having crept into an outhouse, looked up and down for something to eat, and at last espied a Hen sitting upon a perch so high that he could be no means come at her. He therefore had recourse to an old stratagem.
"Dear cousin," said he to her, "how do you do? I heard that you were ill and kept at home; I could not rest, therefore, till I had come to see you. Pray let me feel your pulse. Indeed, you do not look well at all."
He was running on in this impudent manner, when the Hen answered him from the roost: "Truly, dear Reynard, you are in the right. I was seldom in more danger than I am now. Pray excuse my coming down; I am sure I should catch my death."
The Fox, finding himself foiled by the Hen's cleverness, made off and tried his luck elsewhere.
The Ass and His Shadow
A Man, one hot day, hired an Ass, with his Driver, to carry some merchandise across a sandy plain. The sun's rays were overpowering, and unable to advance farther without a temporary rest he called upon the Driver to stop, and proceeded to sit down in the shadow of the Ass.
The Driver, however, a lusty fellow, rudely pushed him away, and sat down on the spot himself.
"Nay, friend," said the Driver, "when you hired this Ass of me you said nothing about the shadow. If now you want that, too, you must pay for it."
The Ass in the Lion's Skin
An Ass, finding a Lion's skin, put it on, and ranged about the forest. The beasts fled in terror, and he was delighted at the success of his disguise. Meeting a Fox, he rushed upon him, and this time he tried to imitate as well the roaring of the Lion.
"Ah," said the Fox, "if you had held your tongue I should have been deceived like the rest; but now you bray I know who you are!"
The Wolf and the Sheep
A Wolf, sorely wounded and bitten by dogs, lay sick and maimed in his lair. Parched with thirst, he called to a Sheep who was passing and asked her to fetch some water from a stream flowing close by. "For," he said, "if you will bring me drink, sister, I will find means to provide myself with meat."
"Yes," said the Sheep, "but if I should bring you the draught, you would doubtless make me provide the meat also."
Jupiter's Two Wallets
When Jupiter made Man, he gave him two Wallets; one for his neighbour's faults, the other for his own. He threw them over the Man's shoulder, so that one hung in front and the other behind.
The Man kept the one in front for his neighbour's faults, and the one behind for his own; so that, while the first was always under his nose, it took some pains to see the latter.
This custom, which began thus early, is not quite unknown at the present day.
The Satyr and the Traveller
A Satyr, ranging in the forest in winter, came across a Traveller, half starved with the cold. He took pity on him and invited him to go to his cave. On their way the Man kept blowing upon his fingers.
"Why do you do that?" said the Satyr, who had seen little of the world.
"To warm my hands, they are nearly frozen," replied the Man.
Arrived at the cave, the Satyr poured out a mess of smoking pottage and laid it before the Traveller, who at once commenced blowing at it with all his might.
"What, blowing again!" cried the Satyr. "Is it not hot enough?"
"Yes, faith," answered the Man, "it is hot enough in all conscience, and that is just the reason why I blow it."
"Be off with you!" cried the Satyr, in alarm; "I will have no part with a man who can blow hot and cold from the same mouth."
The Two Travellers and the Oyster
As two men were walking by the seaside at low water they saw an Oyster, and they both stooped at the same time to pick it up. Immediately, one pushed the other away, and a dispute ensued.
A third Traveller coming along at the time, they determined to refer the matter to him, as to which of the two had the better right to the Oyster.
While they were each telling his story the Arbitrator gravely took out his knife, opened the shell and loosened the Oyster.
When they had finished, and were listening for his decision, he just as gravely swallowed the Oyster, and offered them the two halves of the shell. "The Court," said he, "awards you each a Shell. The Oyster will cover the costs."
The Young Mouse, the Cock, and the Cat
A young Mouse, on his return to his hole after leaving it for the first time, thus recounted his adventures to his mother: "Mother," said he, "quitting this narrow place where you have brought me up, I was rambling about to-day like a Young Mouse of spirit, who wished to see and to be seen, when two such notable creatures came in my way! One was so gracious, so gentle and benign; the other, who was just as noisy and forbidding, had on his head and under his chin pieces of raw meat, which shook at every step he took; and then, all at once, beating his sides with the utmost fury, he uttered such a harsh and piercing cry that I fled in terror; and this, too, just as I was about to introduce myself to the other stranger, who was covered with fur like our own, only richer looking and much more beautiful, and who seemed so modest and benevolent that it did my heart good to look at her."
"Ah, my son," replied the Old Mouse, "learn while you live to distrust appearances. The first strange creature was nothing but a Fowl, that will ere long be killed, and, when put on a dish in the pantry, we may make a delicious supper of his bones, while the other was a nasty, sly, and bloodthirsty hypocrite of a Cat, to whom no food is so welcome as a young and juicy Mouse like yourself."
The Wolf and the Mastiff
A Wolf, who was almost skin and bone, so well did the Dogs of the neighbourhood keep guard over their masters' property, met, one moonshiny night, a sleek Mastiff, who was, moreover, as strong as he was fat. The Wolf would gladly have supped off him, but saw that there would first be a great fight, for which, in his condition, he was not prepared; so, bidding the Dog good-evening very humbly, he praised his prosperous looks.
"It would be easy for you," replied the Mastiff, "to get as fat as I am if you liked. Quit this forest, where you and your fellows live so wretchedly, and often die with hunger. Follow me, and you will fare much better.'
"What shall I have to do?" asked the Wolf.
"Almost nothing," answered the Dog; "only chase away the beggars and fawn upon the folks of the house. You will, in return, be paid with all sorts of nice things—bones of fowls and pigeons—to say nothing of many a friendly pat on the head."
The Wolf, at the picture of so much comfort, nearly shed tears of joy. They trotted off together, but, as they went along, the Wolf noticed a bare spot on the Dog's neck.
"What is that mark?" said he. "Oh, nothing," said the Dog.
"How nothing?" urged the Wolf. "Oh, the merest trifle," answered the Dog; "the collar which I wear when I am tied up is the cause of it."
"Tied up!" exclaimed the Wolf, with a sudden stop; "tied up? Can you not always run where you please, then?"
"Well, not quite always," said the Mastiff; "but what can that matter?"
"It matters so much to me," rejoined the Wolf, "that your lot shall not be mine at any price"; and, leaping away, he ran once more to his native forest.
The Tail of the Serpent
The Tail of a Serpent once rebelled against the Head, and said that it was a great shame that one end of any animal should always have its way, and drag the other after it, whether it was willing or no. It was in vain that the Head urged that the Tail had neither brains nor eyes, and that it was in no way made to lead.
Wearied by the Tail's importunity, the Head one day let him have his will. The Serpent now went backward for a long time quite gayly, until he came to the edge of a high cliff, over which both Head and Tail went flying, and came with a heavy thump on the shore beneath.
The Head, it may be supposed, was never again troubled by the Tail with a word about leading.
The Falcon and the Capon
A Capon, who had strong reasons for thinking that the time of his sacrifice was near at hand, carefully avoided coming into close quarters with any of the farm servants or domestics of the estate on which he lived. A glimpse that he had once caught of the kitchen, with its blazing fire, and the head cook, like an executioner, with a formidable knife chopping off the heads of some of his companions, had been sufficient to keep him ever after in dread.
Hence, one day when he was wanted for roasting, all calling, clucking, and coaxing of the cook's assistants were in vain.
"How deaf and dull you must be," said a Falcon to the Capon, "not to hear when you are called, or to see when you are wanted! You should take pattern by me. I never let my master call me twice."
"Ah," answered the Capon, "if Falcons were called like Capons, to be run upon a spit and set before the kitchen fire, they would be just as slow to come and just as hard of hearing as I am now."
The Crow and the Pitcher
A Crow, ready to die with thirst, flew with joy to a Pitcher, hoping to find some water in it.
He found some there, to be sure, but only a little drop at the bottom which he was quite unable to reach.
He then tried to overturn the Pitcher, but it was too heavy. So he gathered up some pebbles, with which the ground near was covered and, taking them one by one in his beak, dropped them into the Pitcher.
By this means the water gradually reached the top, and he was enabled to drink at his ease.
The Eagle and the Owl
The Eagle and the Owl, after many quarrels, swore that they would be fast friends forever, and that they would never harm each other's children.
"But do you know my little ones?" said the Owl. "If you do not, I fear it will go hard with them when you find them."
"Nay, then, I do not," replied the Eagle.
"The greater your loss," said the Owl; "They are the sweetest prettiest things in the world. Such bright eyes! such charming plumage! such winning little ways! You'll know them now from my description."
A short time after the Eagle found the owlets in a hollow tree.
"These hideous little staring frights, at any rate, cannot be neighbour Owl's delicious pets," said the Eagle; "so I may make away with them without the least misgiving."
The Owl, finding her young ones gone, loaded the Eagle with reproaches.
"Nay," answered the Eagle, "blame yourself rather than me. If you paint with such flattering colours, it is not my fault if I do not recognize your portraits."
The Buffoon and the Countryman
On the occasion of some festivities that were given by a Roman nobleman, a Merry-Andrew of a fellow caused much laughter by his tricks upon the stage, and, more than all, by his imitation of the squeaking of a Pig, which seemed to the hearers so real that they called for it again and again.
A Countryman, however, in the audience, thought the imitation was not perfect; and he made his way to the stage and said that, if he were permitted, he to-morrow would enter the lists and squeak against the Merry-Andrew for a wager.
The mob, anticipating great fun, shouted their consent, and accordingly, when the next day came, the two rival jokers were in their places.
The hero of the previous day went first, and the hearers, more pleased than ever, fairly roared with delight.
Then came the turn of the Countryman, who having a Pig carefully concealed under his cloak, so that no one would have suspected its existence, vigorously pinched its ear with his thumbnail, and made it squeak with a vengeance.
"Not half as good—not half as good!" cried the audience, and many among them even began to hiss.
"Fine judges you!" replied the Countryman, rushing to the front of the stage, drawing the Pig from under his cloak, and holding the animal up on high. "Behold the performer that you condemn!"
The Old Man, His Son, and the Ass
An Old Man and his Little Boy were once driving an Ass before them to the next market-town, where it was to be sold.
"Have you no more wit," said a passerby, "than for you and your Son to trudge on foot and let your Ass go light?" So the Man put his Boy on the Ass, and they went on again.
"You lazy young rascal!" cried the next person they met; "are you not ashamed to ride and let your poor old Father go on foot?" The Man then lifted off the Boy and got up himself.
Two women passed soon after, and one said to the other, "Look at that selfish old fellow, riding along while his little Son follows after on foot!" The Old Man thereupon took up the Boy behind him.
The next traveller they met asked the Old Man whether or not the Ass was his own. Being answered that it was: "No one would think so," said he, "from the way in which you use it. Why, you are better able to carry the poor animal than he is to carry both of you."
So the Old Man tied the Ass's legs to a long pole, and he and his Son shouldered the pole and staggered along under the weight. In that fashion they entered the town, and their appearance caused so much laughter that the Old Man, mad with vexation at the result of his endeavours to give satisfaction to everybody, threw the Ass into the river and seizing his Son by the arm went his way home again.
The Lion, the Bear, the Monkey, and the Fox
The Tyrant of the Forest issued a proclamation commanding all his subjects to repair immediately to his royal den.
Among the rest, the Bear made his appearance, but pretending to be offended with the odour which issued from the Monarch's apartments, be was imprudent enough to hold his nose in his Majesty's presence.
This insolence was so highly resented that the Lion in a rage laid him dead at his feet.
The Monkey, observing what had passed, trembled for his skin, and attempted to conciliate favour by the most abject flattery. He began with protesting that, for his part, he thought the apartments were perfumed with Arabian spices; and, exclaiming against the rudeness of the Bear, admired the beauty of his Majesty's paws, so happily formed, he said, to correct the insolence of clowns.
This adulation, instead of being received as he expected, proved no less offensive than the rudeness of the Bear, and the courtly Monkey was in like manner extended by the side of Sir Bruin.
And now his Majesty cast his eye upon the Fox.
"Well, Reynard," Said he, "and what scent do you discover here?"
"Great Prince," replied the cautious Fox, "my nose was never esteemed my most distinguishing sense; and at present I would by no means venture to give my opinion, as I have unfortunately caught a terrible cold."
The Wolf and the Lamb
A flock of Sheep was feeding in the meadow while the Dogs were asleep, and the Shepherd at a distance playing on his pipe beneath the shade of a spreading elm.
A young, inexperienced Lamb, observing a half-starved Wolf peering through the pales of the fence, began to talk with him.
"Pray, what are you seeking for here?" said the Lamb.
"I am looking," replied the Wolf, "for some tender grass; for nothing, you know, is more pleasant than to feed in a fresh pasture, and to slake one's thirst at a crystal stream, both which I perceive you enjoy within these pales in their utmost perfection. Happy creature," continued he, "how much I envy you who have everything which I desire, for philosophy has long taught me to be satisfied with a little!"
"It seems, then," returned the Lamb, "those who say you feed on flesh accuse you falsely, since a little grass will easily content you. If this be true, let us for the future live like brethren, and feed together." So saying, the simple Lamb crept through the fence, and at once became a prey to the pretended philosopher, and a sacrifice to his own inexperience and credulity.
Two Travellers happened on their journey to be engaged in a warm dispute about the colour of the Chameleon. One of them affirmed that it was blue and that he had seen it with his own eyes upon the naked branch of a tree, feeding in the air on a very clear day.
The other strongly asserted it was green, and that he had viewed it very closely and minutely upon the broad leaf of a fig-tree.
Both of them were positive, and the dispute was rising to a quarrel; but a third person luckily coming by, they agreed to refer the question to his decision.
"Gentlemen," said the Arbitrator, with a smile of great self-satisfaction, "you could not have been more lucky in your reference, as I happen to have caught one of them last night; but, indeed, you are both mistaken, for the creature is totally black."
"Black, impossible!" cried both the disputants!"
"Nay," quoth the Umpire, with great assurance, "the matter may be soon decided, for I immediately inclosed my Chameleon in a little paper box, and here it is." So saying, he drew it out of his pocket, opened his box, and, lo! it was as white as snow.
The Travellers looked equally surprised and equally confounded; while the sagacious reptile, assuming the air of a philosopher, thus admonished them: "Ye children of men, learn diffidence and moderation in your opinions. 'Tis true, you happen in this present instance to be all in the right, and have only considered the subject under different circumstances, but, pray, for the future allow others to have eyesight as well as yourselves; nor wonder if every one prefers to accept the testimony of his own senses."
The Eagle, the Jackdaw, and the Magpie
The kingly Eagle kept his court with all the formalities of sovereign state, and was duly attended by all his plumed subjects in their highest feathers.
These solemn assemblies, however, were frequently disturbed by the impertinent conduct of two, who assumed the importance of high-fliers; these were no other than the Jackdaw and the Magpie, who were forever contending for precedence which neither of them would give up to the other.
The contest ran so high that at length they mutually agreed to appeal to the sovereign Eagle for his decision in this momentous affair.
The Eagle gravely answered that he did not wish to make an invidious distinction by deciding to the advantage of either party, but would give them a rule by which they might determine between themselves; "for," added he, "the greater fool of the two shall in future always take precedence, but which of you it may be, yourselves must settle."
The Boy and the Filberts
A Boy once thrust his hand into a pitcher which was full of figs and filberts.
He grasped as many as his fist could possibly hold, but when he tried to draw it out the narrowness of the neck prevented him.
Not liking to lose any of them, but unwilling to draw out his hand, he burst into tears and bitterly bemoaned his hard fortune.
An honest fellow who stood by gave him this wise and reasonable advice: "Take only half as many, my boy, and you will easily get them."
The Passenger and the Pilot
In a violent storm at sea, the whole crew of a vessel was in imminent danger of shipwreck.
After the rolling of the waves was somewhat abated, a certain Passenger, who had never been at sea before, observing the Pilot to have appeared wholly unconcerned, even in their greatest danger, had the curiosity to ask him what death his father died.
"What death?" said the Pilot, "Why, he perished at sea, as my grandfather did before him."
"And are you not afraid of trusting yourself to an element that has proved thus fatal to your family?"
"Afraid? By no means; why, we must all die; is not your father dead?"
"Yes, but he died in his bed."
"And why, then, are you not afraid of trusting yourself to your bed?"
"Because I am perfectly secure there."
"It may be so," replied the Pilot; "but if the hand of Providence is equally extended over all places, there is no more reason for me to be afraid of going to sea than for you to be afraid of going to bed."
The Dog and the Crocodile
A Dog, running along the banks of the Nile, 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," said the Dog, "but it is to avoid such companions as you that I am in so much haste!"
A Matter of Arbitration
Two Cats, having stolen some cheese, could not agree about dividing the prize. In order, therefore, to settle the dispute, they consented to refer the matter to a Monkey.
The proposed Arbitrator very readily accepted the office, and, producing a balance, put a part into each scale. "Let me see," said he, "aye—this lump outweighs the other"; and immediately bit off a considerable piece in order to reduce it, he observed, to an equilibrium. The opposite scale was now heavier, which afforded our conscientious judge a reason for a second mouthful.
"Hold, hold," said the two Cats, who began to be alarmed for the event, "give us our shares and we are satisfied." "If you are satisfied," returned the Monkey, "justice is not; a cause of this intricate nature is by no means so soon determined." Upon which he continued to nibble first one piece then the other, till the poor Cats, seeing their cheese rapidly diminishing, entreated to give himself no further trouble, but to deliver to them what remained.
"Not so fast, I beseech ye, friends," replied the Monkey; "we owe justice to ourselves as well as to you. What remains is due to me in right of my office."
Thus saying, he crammed the whole into his mouth, and with great gravity dismissed the court.
The Crow and the Mussel
A Crow having found a Mussel on the seashore; took it in his beak and tried for a long time to break the shell by hammering it upon a stone.
Another Crow—a sly old fellow—came and watched him for some time in silence.
"Friend," said he at last, "you'll never break it in that way. Listen to me. This is the way to do it: Fly up as high as you can, and let the tiresome thing fall upon a rock. It will be smashed then sure enough, and you can eat it at your leisure."
The simple-minded and unsuspecting Crow did as he was told, flew up and let the Mussel fall.
Before he could descend to eat it, however, the other bird had pounced upon it and carried it away.
The Ass and His Purchaser
A Man wished to purchase an Ass, and agreed with his owner that he should try him before he bought him. He took the Ass home, and put him in the straw-yard with his other asses, upon which the beast left all the others and joined himself at once to the most idle and the greatest eater of them all.
The Man put a halter on him, and led him back to his owner: and when he was asked how, in so short a time, he could have made a trial of him, "I do not need," he answered, "a trial; I know that he will be just such another as the one whom of all the rest he chose for his companion."
A Country Fellow and the River
A stupid Boy, who was sent to market by the good old woman, his Mother, to sell butter and cheese, made a stop by the way at a swift river, and laid himself down on the bank there, until it should run out.
About midnight, home he went to his Mother, with all his market trade back again.
"Why, how now, my Son?" said she. "What ill fortune have you had, that you have sold nothing all day?"
"Why, Mother, yonder is a river that has been running all this day, and I stayed till just now, waiting for it to run out; and there it is, running still."
"My Son," said the good woman, "thy head and mine will be laid in the grave many a day before this river has all run by. You will never sell your butter and cheese if you wait for that."
The Playful Ass
An Ass climbed up to the roof of a building and, frisking about there, broke in the tiling. His Master went up after him, and quickly drove him down, beating him severely with a thick wooden cudgel.
The Ass then cried out in astonishment, "Why, I saw the monkey do this very thing yesterday, and you all laughed heartily, as if it afforded you great amusement!"
The Boys and the Frogs
Some idle boys, playing near a pond, saw a number of Frogs in the water, and began to pelt them with stones. They had killed several of them, when one of the Frogs, lifting his head out of the water, cried out: "Pray stop, my Boys: you forget that what is sport to you is death to us!"
The Camel and His Master
One night a Camel looked into the tent where his Master was lying and said: "Kind Master, will you not let me put my head inside of the door? The wind blows very cold to-night."
"Oh, yes," said the Man. "There is plenty of room."
So the Camel moved forward and stretched his head into the tent. "Ah!" he said, "this is what I call comfort."
In a little while he called to his Master again. "Now if I could only warm my neck also," he said.
"Then put your neck inside," said his Master, kindly. "You will not be in my way."
The Camel did so, and for a time was very well contented. Then, looking around, he said: "If I could only put my forelegs inside I should feel a great deal better."
His Master moved a little and said: "You may put your forelegs and shoulders inside, for I know that the wind blows cold to-night."
The Camel had hardly planted his forefeet within the tent when he spoke again:
"Master," he said, "I keep the tent open by standing here. I think I ought to go wholly within."
"Yes, come in," said the Man. "There is hardly room for us both, but I do not want to keep you out in the cold."
So the Camel crowded into the tent, but he was no sooner inside than he said: "You were right when you said that there was hardly room for us both. I think it would be better for you to stand outside and so give me a chance to turn around and lie down."
Then, without more ado, he rudely pushed the Man out at the door, and took the whole tent for himself.
The Flies and the Honey-pot
A jar of Honey having been upset in a housekeeper's room, a number of Flies were attracted by its sweetness, and placing their feet in it ate it greedily.
Their feet, however, became so smeared with the Honey that they could not use their wings, nor release themselves, and so were suffocated.
Just as they were expiring, they exclaimed, "O foolish creatures that we are; for the sake of a little pleasure we have destroyed ourselves!"
Jupiter, one day, enjoying himself over a bowl of nectar, and in a merry humour, determined to make mankind a present.
Momus was appointed to convey it, who, mounted on a rapid car, was presently on earth. "Come hither," said he, "ye happy mortals; great Jupiter has opened for your benefit his all-gracious hands. 'Tis true he made you somewhat short-sighted, but, to remedy that inconvenience, behold now he has favoured you!"
So saying, he opened his portmanteau, when an infinite number of spectacles tumbled out, and were picked up by the crowd with all the eagerness imaginable. There were enough for all, for every man had his pair.
But it was soon found that these spectacles did not represent objects to all mankind alike; for one pair was purple, another blue; one was white and another black; some of the glasses were red, some green, and some yellow. In short, there were all manner of colours, and every shade of colour. However, notwithstanding this diversity, every man was charmed with his own, as believing it the best, and enjoyed in opinion all the satisfaction of truth.
The Bear and the Fowls
A Bear, who was bred in the savage desert, wished to see the world, and he travelled from forest to forest, and from one kingdom to another, making many profound observations on his way.
One day he came by accident into a farmer's yard, where he saw a number of Fowls standing to drink by the side of a pool. Observing that after every sip they turned up their heads toward the sky, he could not forbear inquiring the reason of so peculiar a ceremony.
They told him that it was by way of returning thanks to Heaven for the benefits they received; and was indeed an ancient and religious custom, which they could not, with a safe conscience, or without impiety, omit.
Here the Bear burst into a fit of laughter, at once mimicking their gestures, and ridiculing their superstition, in a most contemptuous manner.
On this the Cock, with a spirit suitable to the boldness of his character, addressed him in the following words: "As you are a stranger, sir, you may perhaps be excused for the indecency of your behaviour; yet give me leave to tell you that none but a Bear would ridicule any religious ceremonies in the presence of those who believe them of importance."
THE FABLES OF BIDPAI
"In English now they teach us wit. In English now they say: Ye men, come learn of beasts to live, to rule and to obey, To guide you wisely in the world, to know to shun deceit, To fly the crooked paths of guile, to keep your doings straight."
SIR THOMAS NORTH
THE FABLES OF BIDPAI
The Snake and the Sparrows
It is related that two Sparrows once made their nest in the roof of a house; and, contenting themselves with a single grain, so lived. Once on a time they had young ones, and both the mother and father used to go out in search of food for their support; and what they procured they made up into grains and dropped into their crops.
One day, the male Sparrow had gone out somewhere. When he came back he beheld the female Sparrow fluttering in the greatest distress around the nest, while she uttered piteous cries. He exclaimed, "Sweet friend! what movements are these which I behold in thee?" She replied, "How shall I not lament, since, when I returned after a moment's absence, I saw a huge Snake come and prepare to devour my offspring, though I poured forth piteous cries. It was all in vain, for the Snake said, 'Thy sigh will have no effect on my dark-mirrored scales.' I replied, 'Dread this, that I and the father of these children will gird up the waist of vengeance, and will exert ourselves to the utmost for thy destruction.' The Snake laughed on hearing me, and that cruel oppressor has devoured my young and has also taken his rest in the nest."
When the male Sparrow heard this story, his frame was wrung with anguish; and the fire of regret for the loss of his offspring fell on his soul. At that moment the master of the house was engaged in lighting his lamp; and holding in his hand a match, dipped in grease and lighted, was about to put it into the lamp-holder. The Sparrow flew and snatched the match from his hand and threw it into the nest. The master of the house, through fear that the fire would catch to the roof, and that the consequences would be most pernicious, immediately ran up on the terrace and began clearing away the nest from beneath, in order to put out the fire. The Snake beheld in front the danger of the fire, and heard above the sound of the pickaxe. It put out its head from a hole which it had near the roof, and no sooner did it do so than it received a blow of death from the pickaxe.
And the moral of this fable is, that the Snake despised its enemy, and made no account of him, until in the end that enemy pounded his head with the stone of vengeance.
The Geese and the Tortoise
It is related that in a pool whose pure water reflected every image like a clear mirror, once resided two Geese and a Tortoise, and in consequence of their being neighbours, the thread of their circumstances had been drawn out into sincere friendship, and they passed their lives contentedly.
In that water which was the source of their life and the support of their existence, however, a complete failure began to manifest itself, and a glaring alteration became evident. When the Geese perceived that state of things they withdrew their hearts from the home to which they were accustomed and determined on emigrating. Therefore with hearts full of sorrow and eyes full of tears, they approached the Tortoise, and introduced the subject of parting.
The Tortoise wept at the intelligence and piteously exclaimed, "What words are these, and how can existence be supported without sympathizing friends? And since that I have not power even to take leave, how can I endure the load of separation?"
The Geese replied: "Our hearts, too, are wounded by the sharp points of absence, but the distress of being without water is impossible to endure, and therefore of necessity we are about to forsake our friend and country."
The Tortoise rejoined: "O friends! ye know that the distress of the want of water affects me more, and that without water I cannot support myself. At this crisis the rights of ancient companionship demand that ye should take me with you, and not leave me alone in the sorrowful abode of separation."
The Geese answered: "O esteemed comrade! the pang of parting from thee is sharper than that of exile, and wherever we go, though we should pass our time in the utmost comfort, yet, deprived of seeing thee, the eye of our rejoicing would be darkened; but for us to proceed on the earth's surface and so to traverse a great and long distance is impossible, and for thee, too, to fly through the expanse of air and accompany us is impracticable; and such being the case, how can we travel together?"
The Tortoise answered: "Your sagacity will be able to devise a remedy for this matter, and what plan can develop while my spirit is broken by the thought of parting?"
The Geese replied: "O friend! during this period of our friendship we have observed in thee somewhat of hastiness and rashness; perhaps thou wilt not act upon what we say, nor keep firm to thy promise after thou hast made it."
The Tortoise rejoined; "How can it be that ye should speak with a view to my advantage, and I fail to perform a compact which is for my own good?"
Said the Geese: "The condition is that when we take thee up and fly through the air thou wilt not utter a single syllable, for any one who may happen to see us will be sure to throw in a word, and say something in reference to us directly or indirectly. Now, how many soever allusions thou mayest hear, or whatever manoeuvres thou mayest observe, thou must close the path of reply, and not loose thy tongue."
The Tortoise answered: "I am obedient to your commands, and I will positively place the seal of silence on my lips, so that I shall not be even disposed to answer any creature."
The Geese then brought a stick, and the Tortoise laid hold of the middle of it firmly with his teeth, and they, lifting the two ends of the stick, bore him up. When they got to a height in the air, they happened to pass over a village, and the inhabitants thereof having discovered them, were astonished at their proceedings, and came out to look at the sight, and raised a shout from left and right, "Look! how two geese are carrying a tortoise!"