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- The Tales and Novels, v9: Belphegor and Others - 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: Belphegor The Little Bell The Glutton]
BELPHEGOR ADDRESSED TO MISS DE CHAMMELAY
YOUR name with ev'ry pleasure here I place, The last effusions of my muse to grace. O charming Phillis! may the same extend Through time's dark night: our praise together blend; To this we surely may pretend to aim Your acting and my rhymes attention claim. Long, long in mem'ry's page your fame shall live; You, who such ecstacy so often give; O'er minds, o'er hearts triumphantly you reign: In Berenice, in Phaedra, and Chimene, Your tears and plaintive accents all engage: Beyond compare in proud Camilla's rage; Your voice and manner auditors delight; Who strong emotions can so well excite? No fine eulogium from my pen expect: With you each air and grace appear correct My first of Phillis's you ought to be; My sole affection had been placed on thee; Long since, had I presumed the truth to tell; But he who loves would fain be loved as well.
NO hope of gaining such a charming fair, Too soon, perhaps, I ceded to despair; Your friend, was all I ventured to be thought, Though in your net I more than half was caught. Most willingly your lover I'd have been; But time it is our story should be seen.
ONE, day, old Satan, sov'reign dread of hell; Reviewed his subjects, as our hist'ries tell; The diff'rent ranks, confounded as they stood, Kings, nobles, females, and plebeian blood, Such grief expressed, and made such horrid cries, As almost stunned, and filled him with surprise. The monarch, as he passed, desired to know The cause that sent each shade to realms below. Some said--my HUSBAND; others WIFE replied; The same was echoed loud from ev'ry side.
His majesty on this was heard to say: If truth these shadows to my ears convey, With ease our glory we may now augment: I'm fully bent to try th' experiment. With this design we must some demon send, Who wily art with prudence well can blend; And, not content with watching Hymen's flock, Must add his own experience to the stock.
THE sable senate instantly approved The proposition that the monarch moved; Belphegor was to execute the work; The proper talent in him seemed to lurk: All ears and eyes, a prying knave in grain In short, the very thing they wished to gain.
THAT he might all expense and cost defray, They gave him num'rous bills without delay, And credit too, in ev'ry place of note, With various things that might their plan promote. He was, besides, the human lot to fill, Of pleasure and of pain:--of good and ill; In fact, whate'er for mortals was designed, With his legation was to be combined. He might by industry and wily art, His own afflictions dissipate in part; But die he could not, nor his country see, Till he ten years complete on earth should be.
BEHOLD him trav'lling o'er th' extensive space; Between the realms of darkness and our race. To pass it, scarcely he a moment took; On Florence instantly he cast a look;-- Delighted with the beauty of the spot, He there resolved to fix his earthly lot, Regarding it as proper for his wiles, A city famed for wanton freaks and guiles. Belphegor soon a noble mansion hired, And furnished it with ev'ry thing desired; As signor Roderick he designed to pass; His equipage was large of ev'ry class; Expense anticipating day by day, What, in ten years, he had to throw away.
HIS noble entertainments raised surprise; Magnificence alone would not suffice; Delightful pleasures he dispensed around, And flattery abundantly was found, An art in which a demon should excel: No devil surely e'er was liked so well. His heart was soon the object of the FAIR; To please Belphegor was their constant care.
WHO lib'rally with presents smoothes the road, Will meet no obstacles to LOVE'S abode. In ev'ry situation they are sweet, I've often said, and now the same repeat: The primum mobile of human kind, Are gold and silver, through the world we find.
OUR envoy kept two books, in which he wrote The names of all the married pairs of note; But that assigned to couples satisfied, He scarcely for it could a name provide, Which made the demon almost blush to see, How few, alas! in wedlock's chains agree; While presently the other, which contained Th' unhappy--not a leaf in blank remained.
No other choice Belphegor now had got, Than--try himself the hymeneal knot. In Florence he beheld a certain fair, With charming face and smart engaging air; Of noble birth, but puffed with empty pride; Some marks of virtue, though not much beside. For Roderick was asked this lofty dame; The father said Honesta* (such her name) Had many eligible offers found; But, 'mong the num'rous band that hovered round, Perhaps his daughter, Rod'rick's suit might take, Though he should wish for time the choice to make. This approbation met, and Rod'rick 'gan To use his arts and execute his plan.
THE entertainments, balls, and serenades, Plays, concerts, presents, feasts, and masquerades, Much lessened what the demon with him brought; He nothing grudged:--whate'er was wished he bought. The dame believed high honour she bestowed, When she attention to his offer showed; And, after prayers, entreaties, and the rest, To be his wife she full assent expressed.
BUT first a pettifogger to him came, Of whom (aside) Belphegor made a game; What! said the demon, is a lady gained just like a house?--these scoundrels have obtained Such pow'r and sway, without them nothing's done; But hell will get them when their course is run. He reasoned properly; when faith's no more, True honesty is forced to leave the door; When men with confidence no longer view Their fellow-mortals,--happiness adieu! The very means we use t' escape the snare, Oft deeper plunge us in the gulph of care; Avoid attorneys, if you comfort crave Who knows a PETTIFOGGER, knows a KNAVE; Their contracts, filled with IFS and FORS, appear The gate through which STRIFE found admittance here. In vain we hope again the earth 'twill leave Still STRIFE remains, and we ourselves deceive: In spite of solemn forms and laws we see, That LOVE and HYMEN often disagree. The heart alone can tranquilize the mind; In mutual passion ev'ry bliss we find.
HOW diff'rent things in other states appear! With friends--'tis who can be the most sincere; With lovers--all is sweetness, balm of life; While all is IRKSOMENESS with man and wife. We daily see from DUTY springs disgust, And PLEASURE likes true LIBERTY to trust.
ARE happy marriages for ever flown? On full consideration I will own, That when each other's follies couples bear; They then deserve the name of HAPPY PAIR.
ENOUGH of this:--no sooner had our wight The belle possessed, and passed the month's delight; But he perceived what marriage must be here, With such a demon in our nether sphere. For ever jars and discords rang around;
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