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- The Tales and Novels, v22: The Picture &c. - 1/3 -
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]
THE TALES AND NOVELS OF J. DE LA FONTAINE
Contains: The Picture The Pack-Saddle The Ear-maker, and The Mould-Mender
SOLICITED I've been to give a tale, In which (though true, decorum must prevail), The subject from a picture shall arise, That by a curtain's kept from vulgar eyes. My brain must furnish various features new: What's delicate and smart produce to view; By this expressed, and not by t'other said: And all so clear, most easy to be read, By ev'ry fool, without the aid of notes, That idiot's bad indeed who never quotes.
CATULLUS tells us, ev'ry matron sage Will peep most willingly (whate'er her age), At that gigantick gift, which Juno made, To Venus' fruit, in gardens oft displayed. If any belle recede, and shun the sight, Dissimulation she supposes right.
THIS principle allowed, why scruples make? Why, less than eyes, should ears a license take? But since 'tis so resolved I'll do my best, And naught in open terms shall be expressed: A veil shall over ev'ry charm be cast, Of gauze indeed, and this from first to last, So nicely done, that howsoever tost, To none I trust will any thing be lost. Who nicely thinks, and speaks with graceful ease; Can current make just whatsoe'er he please; For all will pass, as I have often known: The word well chosen, pardon soon is shown, The sex o'erlook the thing no more the same, The thought remains, but 'tis without a name; No blush is raised; no difficulty found; Yet ev'ry body understands around.
AT present, much I need this useful art: Why? you will ask; because, when I impart Such wondrous circumstances, ev'ry belle, Without reserve, will con them over well. To this I answer: female ears are chaste, Though roguish are their eyes, as well as taste.
BE that as 'twill, I certainly should like, With freedom to explain, by terms oblique, To belles, how this was broken:--that was down: Assist me pray, ye NINE of high renown; But you are maids, and strangers, we agree, To LOVE'S soft scenes, not knowing A from B. Remain then, Muses, never stir an inch, But beg the god of verse, when at a pinch, To help me out and kind assistance lend, To choose expressions which will not offend, Lest I some silly things should chance to say, That might displeasure raise, and spoil my lay. Enough, howe'er, we've on the subject said: 'Tis time we t'wards the painting should be led, Which an adventure you will find contains, That happened once in Cupid's famed domains.
IN former days, just by Cythera town A monastery was, of some renown, With nuns the queens of beauty filled the place, And gay gallants you easily might trace. The courtier, citizen, and parson too, The doctor and the bachelor you'd view, With eager steps:--all visits thither made; And 'mong the latter, one (a pleasing blade) Had free access: was thought a prudent friend, Who might to sisters many comforts lend; Was always closely shaved and nicely dressed; And ev'ry thing he said was well expressed; The breath of scandal, howsoever pat, Ne'er lighted on his neat cravat nor hat.
TWO nuns alternatively, from the youth; Experienced many services, in truth; The one had recently a novice been; Few months had passed since she complete was seen; The other still the dress of novice wore; The youngest's age was seventeen years, not more Time doubtless very proper (to be plain) Love's wily thesis fully to sustain: The bachelor so well the fair had taught, And they so earnestly the science sought, That by experience both the art had learned, And ev'ry thing most perfectly discerned.
THESE sisters eagerly had made one day An assignation with the lover gay; To have the entertainment quite complete, They'd Bacchus, Ceres too, who Venus greet: With perfect neatness all the meats were served, And naught from grace and elegancy swerved; The wines, the custards, jellies, creams, and ice: The decorations, ev'ry thing was nice; What pleasing objects and delights were viewed! The room with sweetest flow'rs fair Flora strewed; A sort of garden o'er the linen traced Here lakes of love:--there names entwined were placed; Magnificence like this the nuns admired, And such amusements ardently desired. Their beauty too incited to be free; A thousand matters filled their souls with glee; In height the belles were pretty much the same Like alabaster fair; of perfect frame; In num'rous corners Cupid nestling lay: Beneath a stomacher he'd slyly play, A veil or scapulary, this or that, Where least the eye of day perceived he sat, Unless a lover called to mystick bow'rs, Where he might hearts entwine with chains of flow'rs; A thousand times a day the urchin flew, With open arms the sisters to pursue; Their charms were such in ev'ry air and look, Both (one by one) he for his mother took.
WITH anxious looks, the ladies thus prepared, Expected him who all their kindness shared; Now they bestowed abuse; next fondly praised: Then of his conduct dark suspicions raised, Conceived, a new amour him kept away: What can it be, said one, that makes him stay? Of honour an affair.--love--sickness--what? Said t'other whether it be this or that, If here again his face he ever show, A pretty trick in turn we'll let him know.
WHILE thus the couple sought their plot to frame, A convent porter with a burden came, For her who kept the stores of ev'ry kind, Depositary of the whole designed. 'Twas merely a pretence, as I am told: The things were not required for young or old; But she much appetite had got in truth, Which made her have recourse to such a youth, Who was regarded, in repasts like these, A first rate cook that all prepared at ease.
THIS awkward, heavy lout mistook the cell; By chance upon our ladies' room he fell, And knocked with weighty hands: they ope'd the door. And gave abuse, but soon their anger o'er, The nuns conceived a treasure they had found, And, laughing heartily, no longer frowned, But both exclaimed at once: let's take this fool; Of him we easily can make a tool; As well as t'other, don't you think he'll do? The eldest added:--let's our whim pursue; 'Tis well determined;--What were we to get, That here we waited, and are waiting yet? Fine words and phrases; nothing of the kind; This wight 's as good, for what we have a mind, As any bachelor or doctor wise At all events, for present, he'll suffice.
SHE rightly judged; his height, form, simple air, And ev'ry act, so clearly void of care, Raised expectation; this was AEsop's man, He never thought: 'twas all without a plan; Both ate and drank, and, had he been at will, Would matters far have pushed, though void of skill.
FAMILIAR grown, the fellow ready seemed, To execute whate'er was proper deemed; To serve the convent he was porter made, And in their wishes nuns of course obeyed.
'TIS here begins the subject we've in view, The scene that faithfully our painter drew; Apollo, give me aid, assistance lend, Enable me, I pray, to comprehend, Why this mean stupid rustick sat at ease, And left the sisters (Claudia, formed to please,
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