HomeJean de La FontaineA WILL INTERPRETED BY ÆSOP

A WILL INTERPRETED BY ÆSOP. Jean de La Fontaine

If what they say of Æsop′s truth,
He was the oracle of Greece indeed;
And all the Areopagus, in sooth,
Was not so wise. And here, if you would plead
For proof, I′ll give one, in a pleasant tale,
My friends and readers to regale.

A certain man had daughters three,
Each of a different turn of mind:
The one a toper, loving company;
The second, fond of all coquetry;
The third a miser, and to save inclined.
The man left them, by will and deed,
As laws municipal decreed,
Half his estate, divided equally;
And to their mother just the same:
But only in her power to claim
When all the daughters had their own
And nothing more but that alone.
The father dead, the daughters ran
To read the will—they were not slow
To con it; yet, do what they can,
They could not understand it—no.
What did he wish?—yes, that′s the question
That took a good deal of digestion.
′Each one that had her part, no more,
Should to her mother pay it o′er.′
It was not quite the usual way,
With no gold left, to go and pay:
What meant their worthy father, then?
They run and ask the black-gowned men,
Who turn the case for many days—
Turn it a hundred thousand ways;
Yet after all, in sheer vexation,
Throw down their wigs in perturbation.
At last the judge advised the heirs
At once to settle the affairs.
As to the widow′s part, the counsels say
A third each sister′s bound to pay,
Upon demand, unless she choose to take
A life annuity, for quietness′ sake,
Beginning from the day her husband died,
And so they all decide.
Then in three lots they part the whole estate:
In number one the plate;
The mighty cellars; summer-houses built
Beneath the vine;
The stores of rich Malvoisin wine;
The spits, the bowls of silver gilt,
And all the tribes of slaves who wait;—
In short, the perfect apparatus,
That gives an epicure his social status.
The second lot comprises
All that a flirting girl surprises:
Embroiderer′s, and many a lady′s maid,
Jewels, and costly robes;—be sure
The town house, and the furniture,
And stately eunuchs, rich arrayed.
Lot three comprises farming-stock,
Pastures and houses, fold and flock;
Labourers and horses, stores and herds.
This done, they fix, with many words,
That since the lottery won′t select
What each one would the most affect,
The eldest have what she likes best,
Leaving the same choice to the rest.
In Athens it fell out,
This pleased the motley rout,
Both great and small.
The judge was praised by all;
Æsop alone derided
The way they had decided.
After much time and pains, they′d gone, he thought,
And set the wishes of the man at nought.
"If the dead came to life," he said,
"Athens aloud he would upbraid.
What! men who cherish subtlety,
To blunder o′er a will so stupidly!"
Then quickly he divides,
And thus the sage decides:—
To each he gave the part
Least grateful to her heart:
Pressing on them what they most hate.
To the coquette the cups and bowls
Cherished and loved by thirsty souls;
The toper had the farm; still worse than that,
The miser had the slaves and dresses.
This is the way, Æsop confesses,
To make the sisters alienate
Their shares of the bequeathed estate;
Nor would they longer single tarry,
But run post haste, and quickly marry;
So very soon the father′s gold, set free,
Would to the mother come, with certainty,
Which was the meaning of the testament.
The people wondered, as they homeward went,
That he alone should have more brains
Than all the lawyers and their trains.

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