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Information

Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
Discours à Monsieur le Duc de La Rochefoucault

Country of origin: France

Translations

English - aligned


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The Rabbits

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

When I have noticed how man acts at times, and how, in a
thousand ways, he comports himself just as the lower animals do, I have
often said to myself that the lord of these lower orders has no fewer
faults than his subjects.

Nature has allowed every living thing a drop or two from the fount at
which the spirits of all creatures imbibe.

I will prove what I say.

If at the hour when night has scarcely passed and day hardly begun I
climb into a tree, on the edge of some wood, and, like a new Jupiter
from the heights of Olympus, I send a shot at some unsuspecting rabbit,
then the whole colony of rabbits, who were enjoying their thyme-scented
meal with open eyes and listening ears upon the heath, immediately
scamper away. The report sends them all to seek refuge in their
subterranean city.

But their great fright is soon over; the danger quickly forgotten. Again
I see the rabbits more light-hearted than ever coming close under my
death-dealing hand.

Does not this give us a picture of mankind? Dispersed by some storm, men
no sooner reach a haven than they are ready again to risk the same winds
and the same distress. True rabbits, they run again into the
death-dealing hands of fortune.

Let us add to this example another of a more ordinary kind.

When strange dogs pass through any spot beyond their customary route
there is a grand to-do. I leave you to picture it. All the dogs of the
district with one idea in their heads join forces, barking and biting,
to chase the intruder beyond the bounds of their territory.

So, it may be, a similar joint-interest in property or in glory and
grandeur leads such people as the governors of states, certain favoured
courtiers, and people of a trade to behave exactly like these jealous
dogs. All of us, as a rule, rob the chance-comer and tear him to pieces.
Vain ladies and men of letters are usually so disposed. Woe betide the
newly-arrived beauty or a new writer!

As few as possible fighting round the cake! That's the best way!

I could bring a hundred examples to bear upon this subject; but the
shorter a discourse is the better. I take the masters of literature for
my model in this and hold that in the best of themes something should be
left unsaid for the reader to consider about. Therefore this discourse
shall end.