The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/The Law-suit between Two Foxes

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The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps) by Jean Pierre Claris de Florian, translated by John Wolcott Phelps
The Law-suit between Two Foxes
Fables of Florian37.jpg

FABLE XXXI.
THE LAW-SUIT BETWEEN TWO FOXES.

Oh how I hate that pedant art,
So captious and so very smart,
Which of a thing as clear as light,
Makes all obscure and dark as night;
Makes error right, and proves to you
That truth itself must be untrue!

Th' invention of this art belongs
To folks once skill'd in all such wrongs,
The subtle Greeks, who—may they get
All the reward for't due them yet!

This art an old fox once profess'd;—
Its perfect master stood confess'd.
He kept a school to teach the way,
And took fat pullets for his pay.
One of his pupils aim'd to be
A lawyer of the first degree,
And for tuition did agree
Of case first gain'd to give the fee.
In legal form the two compact;
Sign'd, seal'd, deliver'd is the act.
But when the course of study's done,
The pupil for injunction sues;
Declares he owes his master none
Of all the pullets claim'd for dues.
The leopard, learned in the laws,
Presides as judge to hear the cause.
"May't please the court," the pupil cried,
"If my case's gain'd, I need not pay;
For so your honor will decide;
And we the sentence must obey.
And if I lose, why, nothing's due,
For the conditions plainly say,
'Tis only if I win I pay.
Such is the law I apprehend;
I would not, truly, wrong my friend."

"Nay, nay, not so," the master said,
"The law is clear upon that head;
For should the case against you go,
Then you should pay the debt you owe.
And if you win, why, then indeed
You must pay up, as you agreed."

Here rested counsel its defense.
The leopard sat in mute suspense;
And by the workings of his face
He seem'd confounded with the case.
But finally he silence broke,
And thus his sentence briefly spoke:—
"In this sharp case the court must rule
The master no more keeps his school;
And to the pupil—this award,—
From future practice he's debar'd."