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The Charlatan

(Recueil 1, Livre 6, Fable 19)



The world has never lacked its charlatans,

More than themselves have lacked their plans.

One sees them on the stage at tricks

Which mock the claims of sullen Styx.

What talents in the streets they post!

One of them used to boast

Such mastership of eloquence

That he could make the greatest dunce

Another Tully Cicero

In all the arts that lawyers know.

"Ay, sirs, a dunce, a country clown,

The greatest blockhead of your town,

Nay more, an animal, an ass,

The stupidest that nibbles grass,

Needs only through my course to pass,

And he shall wear the gown

With credit, honour, and renown."

The prince heard of it, called the man, thus spake:

"My stable holds a steed

Of the Arcadian breed,

Of which an orator I wish to make."

"Well, sire, you can,"

Replied our man.

At once his majesty

Paid the tuition fee.

Ten years must roll, and then the learned ass

Should his examination pass,

According to the rules

Adopted in the schools;

If not, his teacher was to tread the air,

With haltered neck, above the public square,

His rhetoric bound on his back,

And on his head the ears of jack.

A courtier told the rhetorician,

With bows and terms polite,

He would not miss the sight

Of that last pendent exhibition;

For that his grace and dignity

Would well become such high degree;

And, on the point of being hung,

He would bethink him of his tongue,

And show the glory of his art,

The power to melt the hardest heart,

And wage a war with time

By periods sublime

A pattern speech for orators thus leaving,

Whose work is vulgarly called thieving.

"Ah!" was the charlatan's reply,

vere that, the king, the ass, or I,

Shall, one or other of us, die."

And reason good had he;

We count on life most foolishly,

Though hale and hearty we may be.

In each ten years, death cuts down one in three.

Jean de La Fontaine

Book 6, Fable 19



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