Multilingual Folk Tale Database


Author: Jean de La Fontaine - 1668

Translated into English
  by Frederick Colin Tilney - 1913

Original title (French):
Le Juge arbitre, l'Hospitalier, et le Solitaire

Country of origin: France


English - aligned

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The Arbiter, the Hospitaller, and the Hermit

Jean de La Fontaine / Frederick Colin Tilney

Three saints, all equally zealous and anxious for their
salvation, had the same ideal, although the means by which they strove
towards it were different. But as all roads lead to Rome, these three
were each content to choose their own path.

One, touched by the cares, the tediousness, and the reverses which seem
to be inevitably attached to lawsuits, offered, without any reward, to
judge and settle all causes submitted to him. To make a fortune on this
earth was not an end he had in view.

Ever since there have been laws, man, for his sins, has condemned
himself to litigation half his lifetime. Half? three-quarters, I should
say, and sometimes the whole. This good conciliator imagined he could
cure the silly and detestable craze for going to law.

The second saint chose the hospitals as his field of labour. I admire
him. Kindly care taken to alleviate the sufferings of mankind is a
charity I prefer before all others.

The sick of those days were much as they are now—peevish, impatient,
and ever grumbling. They gave our poor hospitaller plenty of work. They
would say, "Ah! he cares very particularly for such and such. They are
his friends, hence we are neglected."

But bad as were these complaints they were nothing to those which the
arbiter had to face. He got himself into a sorry tangle. No one was
content. Arbitration pleased neither one side nor the other. According
to them the judge could never succeed in holding the balance level. No
wonder that at last the self-appointed judge grew weary.

He betook himself to the hospitals. There he found that the
self-sacrificing hospitaller had nothing better to tell of his results.
Complaints and murmurs were all that either could gain.

With sad hearts they gave up their endeavours and repaired to the silent
wood, there to live down their sorrows. In these retreats, at a spot
sheltered from the sun, gently tended by the breezes, and near a pure
rivulet, they found the third saint, and of him they asked advice.

"Advice," said he, "is only to be sought of yourselves; for who, better
than yourselves, can know your own needs? The knowledge of oneself is
the first care imposed upon mankind by the Almighty. Have you obeyed
this mandate whilst out in the world? If there you did not learn to know
yourselves, these tranquil shades will certainly help you; for nowhere
else is it possible. Stir up this stream. Do you now see yourselves
reflected in it? No! How could you, when the mud is like a thick cloud
between us and the crystal? But let it settle, my brothers, and then you
will see your image. The better to study yourselves live in the

The lonely hermit was believed and the others followed his wise counsel.

It does not follow that people should not be well employed. Since some
must plead; since men die and fall ill, doctors are a necessity and so
also are lawyers. These ministers, thank God, will never fail us. The
wealth and honours to be won make one sure of that. Nevertheless, in
these general needs one is apt to neglect oneself. And you, judges,
ministers, and princes, who give all your time to the public weal; you,
who are troubled by countless annoyances and disappointments,
disheartened by failure and corrupted by good fortune—you do not see
yourselves. You see no one. Should some good impulse lead you to think
over these matters, some flatterer breaks in and distracts you.

This lesson is the ending of this work. May the centuries to come find
it a useful one. I present it to kings. I propose it to the wise. What
better ending could I make?