La Fontaine and Other French Fabulists
Collins, W. Lucas
. William Blackwood and Sons . Edinburgh & London
PQ1812.C6 1882 (Carlson Fable Collection, BIC bldg)
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This is a 4½ x 7 little book of 176 pages discarded by the Marlboro College Library. Its first four chapters introduce fable and examine La Fontaine's original fables, his life, and his fables respectively. The last four chapters handle other French fable writers: de la Motte (V); Richer, Desbillons, Aubert, and Le Monnier (VI); Florian (VII); and Le Bailly (VIII). I focussed my attention on what was original in La Fontaine, on Desbillons, and on Florian. Collins finds La Fontaine's few original fables among his weakest. The chapter on La Fontaine's originals becomes more a chapter on his real and possible sources and their places in fable tradition. Desbillons receives unfortunately just a page, summing him up as a simple, good man unsuited for the France of his days (144). Desbillons' fable The Peasant and his Ass is summed up in prose, since Desbillons evidently enjoyed his powers of composition, and gives us rather too much of it (144). The story is one of a good beast being overburdened one step at a time, until he finally breaks down and dies. Collins sees the fulfillment of the Jesuit's fable at the Revolution--but with this difference, that it was not the Ass who was the victim (145). Collins presents Florian as living in the world of the French aristocracy just before and into the revolution. He died in 1794. Collins even sees a presentiment of the coming deluge in his life and poetry. The Confident Parrot (III 19) thus presents a fine statement of impending doom. A parrot taken on board a ship continues to echo the captain's words said before sailing into weather that had the pilot and others warning him not to sail. Those words, It will be nothing, echo down the days until the starving sailors eat the parrot! Fable and Truth is Florian's admirable prologue to the others. Gaudily dressed fable is the older sister to naked truth. Fable offers to cover her with her cloak and suggests that they go together, presenting something appealing to both the wise and the foolish. The Ass and the Flute, The Rope-dancer, and The Ape and the Magic Lantern Florian got from Iriarte. He also borrowed from Gay. The selection of fables presented from Florian is good.