« AnteriorContinuar »
· Are you serious ?' I said, and do you pretend to encourage me? If the perfection of which you have drawn the picture is the least which one can exact of a fabulist, pray, in what category is it your pleasure to place me? Either allow me to burn my fables, or spare me the demonstration that they will not succeed. I might say, in reply, how ' ever, that the elegant Thedre scarcely possessed this good-humor, that Æsop is not much before him; that Gay, the English fabulist, always shows himself to be but a philosopher of bad humor; and that, nevertheless,' —
• These gentlemen,' replied the old man, 'had nothing in common with you. Independent of the difference of their nation, of the age in which they wrote, of their language, recollect that Thedre was the first among the Romans who wrote fables in verse; that Gay was also the first among the English. As to your Æsop, I will not say that he was the first among the Greeks, inasmuch as I am persuaded he never had an existence.'"
• What!' I replied, this Æsop, whose works you have in your library, whose life I have read in Méziriac iu La Fontaine, as well as in other authors — this Phrygian, so famous for his ugliness, his wit and his.wisdom — can it be that he was merely an imaginary personage? What evidence have you of such a position ? and who, then, in your opinion, is the inventor of apologue ?'
• You press on your questions somewhat rapidly,' said he mildly, and you invite me to engage in scientific discussions for which I am scarcely adequate, for few are less learned than I. But as to this Æsop, allow me to send you to an exceedingly clever dissertation of Boulanger, 'On the uncertainties respecting the first writers of antiquity.' You will see there, that this Æsop, so renowned for his apologues, whom the historians have placed in the sixth century before the advent of Christ, finds himself at the same time, a contemporary of Crosus, king of Lydia, of one Necténabo, king of Egypt, who lived one hundred and eighty years after Cresus, and of the courtesan Rhodope, who passes for the builder of one of those famous pyramids constructed at least eight hundred years before Cræsus! You have here anachronisms enough already, one would think, to warrant you in rejecting as fabulous all the lives of Æsop.
•As to his works, the Orientals claimed them, and attributed them to Lockman, a celebrated fabulist in Asia, who, according to some authorities, lived a thousand years, and who, like Esop, is represented as having been a slave, ugly and ill-formed. M. Boulanger, by very plausible reasons, well nigh demonstrates that Lockman and Æsop are one and the same person. True, he afterwards gives reasons almost as satisfactory, drawn from etymology, as well as from the resemblance of Phænician, Hebrew and Arabic names, to prove that this Lockman the sage might have been King Solomon. He goes farther, indeed; and comparing carefully the correspondence of the names and the striking similarity of the anecdotes, he comes to the conclusion that this Solomon, so revered in the East for his wisdom, his power and his writings, was Joseph, the son of Jacob, and prime minister of Egypt, From this induction, returning to Æsop, he draws a very ingenious
comparison between Æsop and Joseph, both being reduced to a state of slavery, and adding, in a remarkable manner, to the prosperity of the family of their masters respectively; both envied, persecuted and forgiving, toward their enemies; both beholding their future grandeur in a dream, and both escaping from slavery on account of a dream; both excelling in the art of interpreting mysteries; in fine, both favorites and ministers; the one of the King of Egypt, the other of the King of Babylon.
• But without adopting all the opinions of M. Boulanger, I confess that, with him, I regard it as almost certain that this Æsop is only a generic anonymous title, by which the Greeks designated all the apologues which were then and had for a long time been current in the East. Every thing comes to us from the East; and it is fable, undoubtedly, which has had the strongest conservative influence on the character and peculiar cast of the Asiatic mind. This taste for para. bles and enigmas; this habit of always employing imagery in their intercommunication; of enveloping precepts under a veil to preserve them; is still universal in Asia. Their poets, their philosophers, have never written otherwise.
Yes,' I said, 'I am of your mind on this point; but what country in Asia do you look upon as the cradle of fable ?
To this question he replied: In no part of the world have people been known to take so deep an interest in the lower animals as in those countries where metempsychosis has been a received dogma. Let a man adopt the belief that our soul passes after death into the body of some other animal, and nothing is more rational, nothing more probable, than that he will study carefully the manners of these animals, their habits and modes of life, so curious and interesting, since they are to man the future and the past; and since he sees in them his fathers, his children, himself. From the study of these animals, resulting from the certainty that they have a soul once possessed by man, one easily enough slides to the belief that they have a language. Certain species of birds, indeed, afford conclusive evidence of this belief, aside from any other consideration. The starlings, the quails, the swallows, the crows, the cranes, and a multitude of others, live only in large flocks. Whence comes this desire for society if they are not endowed with conversational powers? The answer suggested by this simple question renders unnecessary any other reasons which we might allege. It is this dogma of metem psychosis then which, conducing as it naturally does to enlist the attention of men in the habits of the lower animals, has led them directly to the belief that they have a language. From this belief, I see but a step to the origin of fable; that is, to the idea of making these animals speak for the purpose of rendering them the preceptors of the human species.
• Montaigne has said that “Our wisdom learns from beasts some of the most useful lessons which are applied in the greatest concerns of life;' and indeed, without speaking of dogs, of horses, of several other animals, whose attachment, benevolence, devotion, ought ever to put men to the blush, take for example the habits of the roe, that beautiful little animal, who is seen only in connection with a family, who weds the object of his love, and who lives continently with the same companion, near his father and mother, until the time when, a father in his turn, he devotes himself to the education of his children, giving them the lessons of love, of innocence, of happiness, which he has received, and from which he has copied; who, in fine, passes his entire time amid the delights of social intercourse in the family relation, and in that state of happy ignorance, that incuriosity, which, according to the excellent Montaigne, is so sweet and grateful a pillow to repose upon.'
* Think you that the first philosopher who took the pains to contrast their manners, so pure, so sweet, with our intrigues, our hatreds, our crimes, to compare with my roe, going peaceably to his pasturage in the wild-wood, the man hidden behind a hedge, armed with the bow which he had invented to kill his brothers, and employing his address to imitate the cry of the mother of the roe, so that the child, deceived by the artifice, and coming to the place from which the cry proceeds, receives a surer death from the hand of the perfidious assassin; think you, I say, that this philosopher did not make these roes talk together to reproach man for his barbarity; to tell him the hard truths which my philosopher could not have spoken without exposing himself to the cruel effects of irritated self-love? Hence the origin of fable; and if you have been able to follow me in my diffuse verbiage, you will, I think, conclude with me that the genus apologue was born in India, and that the first fabulist was beyond all question a Brahmin. The little which we know of this beautiful country accords with my opinion. The apologues of Bidpai are the most ancient monuments which we know of in this department, and Bidpai was a Brahmin. But as he lived under a powerful king, of whom he was the prime minister, a fact which supposes a people to have been civilized a long time, it is quite probable that his fables were not the first. Perhaps even the apologues attributed to him are but a collection of those which he had learned at the school of the Jymnosophists, whose origin is lost in the night of remote antiquity. One thing is certain : these Indian apologues, among which we find . The Two Pigeons,' have been translated into all the Eastern languages, as well under the name of Bidpai or Pilpai as that of Lockman, and that they thence travelled into Greece, under the title of the fables of Æsop. Phedre made them known to the Romans. After Phedre several Latins; Aphthonius, Avien, Gabrias, also composed fables. Either modern fabulists, such as Faërne, Abstemius, Camerarius, give us collections in Latin, without exception, until the end of the sixteenth century, when one by the name of Hegémon composed the first fables in French verse. One hundred years after, La Fontaine appeared. La Fontaine has thrown all past fables into the shade, and, I tremble to say it in your hearing, apparently also all future fables. La Motte, however, and some other very estimable fabulists of a later era, have had success in this department, and have deserved it too.
• This, Sir, is the history of fable, as I conceive. I have sketched it for my own pleasure, perhaps, more than for yours, but I trust you will find a sufficient apology in my age and my taste for apologue. .
The studio was in the same state as when we left it. The two men, looking like father and son, ascended.
• Where is the canvass ? asked the elder.
• Here,' answered the younger, taking it from the floor, soiled, dusty, torn, and stained with the earth that clung to it.
• What a shame! Thou art much to blame! Wert thou not satisfied with thy work? What then can please thee? Thou hast destroyed a prodigy!' And examining the painting carefully, he continued : • The countenance laughs; the whole of it laughs! Good coloring, vivacity of conception, a remarkable, a powerful touch! This demitint: it is the only fault about it! Why touch and re-touch it so much!'
• It is this, this only!' exclaimed the painter with vivacity, this alone drives me to despair, and is the cause of all my trouble. I have seen this azure color, this tint, flit around the lips of my model and die away gently into shadow. I saw and understood, but could not catch it!' he sorrowfully said : • Tell me, is it not cause for despair ?
"No! courage in the beginning! Paint and tower above the crowd ! Follow inspiration ; do not imitate.'
• And what shall I do? What can I invent? What coloring can I imagine which Titian with so much beauty and power of design and delicacy has not robbed me of? Alas! Coreggio comes with his graceful pencil; his exquisite taste, his enchanting colors, his roundness, re