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JEAN DE LA FONTAINE, a noted French fabulist and poet, was born in Champagne, July 8, 1621; died in Paris, April 13, 1695. In his early youth he learned almost nothing, and at the age of twenty was sent by his father to the Oratory at Rheims, in a state of extreme ignorance. Here, however, he began to exhibit a decided taste for the classics and for poetry. Though selfish and vicious to the last degree, he possessed withal a certain childlike bonhommie; it was not grace, or vivacity, or wit, but a certain soft and pleasant amiability of manner, so that he never wanted friends. He successively found protectors in the Duchess de Bouillon, who drew him to Paris; in Madame de Sablière, and in M. and Madame Hervert. He enjoyed the friendship of Molière, Boileau, Racine, and other contemporary celebrities; and even the saintly Fénelon lamented his death in extravagant strains. In 1693, after a dangerous illness, he carried into execution what a French critic characteristically terms his projet de conversion, and spent the brief remainder of his life in a kind of artificial penitence, common enough among licentious men and women in those sensual days. His best, which, however, are also his most immoral, productions are "Contes et Nouvelles en Vers" (1665; 2d part, 1666; 3d part, 1671). His "Fables Choisies mises en Vers" (1668-1693), in this respect are without blemish, while as works of literary art they stand in the foremost rank. He wrote some dramas, of little worth; also a version in prose and verse of "The Loves of Psyche" (1669).


A PROWLING Wolf, whose shaggy skin
(So strict the watch of dogs had been)
Hid little but his bones,

Once met a mastiff dog astray.
A prouder, fatter, sleeker Tray

No human mortal owns.

Sir Wolf, in famished plight,
Would fain have made a ration
Upon his fat relation :

But then he first must fight;

And well the dog seemed able
To save from wolfish table

His carcass snug and tight.
So then in civil conversation
The wolf expressed his admiration
Of Tray's fine case. Said Tray politely,
"Yourself, good sir, may be as sightly;
Quit but the woods, advised by me:
For all your fellows here, I see,
Are shabby wretches, lean and gaunt,
Belike to die of haggard want.
With such a pack, of course it follows,
One fights for every bit he swallows.
Come then with me and share
On equal terms our princely fare."
"But what with you
Has one to do?"

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The wolf, by force of appetite,
Accepts the terms outright,
Tears glistening in his eyes;
But faring on, he spies

A galled spot on the mastiff's neck. "What's that?" he cries. "Oh, nothing but a speck." "A speck?"—"Ay, ay; 'tis not enough to pain me; Perhaps the collar's mark by which they chain me." "Chain! chain you! What! run you not, then,

Just where you please and when?"
"Not always, sir; but what of that?"
"Enough for me, to spoil your fat!
It ought to be a precious price
Which could to servile chains entice;
For me, I'll shun them while I've wit."
So ran Sir Wolf, and runneth yet.

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