The Original Fables of La Fontaine/The Man and His Image

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The Original Fables of La Fontaine by Jean de La Fontaine, translated by F. C. Tilney
The Man and His Image

IV

THE MAN AND HIS IMAGE

(Book I.—No. 11)

Once there was a man who loved himself very much, and who permitted himself no rivals in that love. He thought his face and figure the handsomest in all the world. Anything in the shape of a mirror that could show him his own likeness he took care to avoid; for he did not want to be reminded that perhaps he was over-rating his beauty. For this reason he hated looking-glasses and accused them of being false. He made a very great mistake in this respect; but that he did not mind, being quite content to live in the happiness the mistake afforded him.

To cure him of so grievous an error, officious Fate managed matters in such a way that wherever he turned his eyes they would fall on one of those mute little counsellors that ladies carry and appeal to when they are anxious about their appearance. He found mirrors in the houses; mirrors in the shops; mirrors in the pockets of gallants; mirrors even as ornaments on the waist-belts of ladies.

What was he to do— this poor Narcissus? He thought to avoid all such things by going far away from the haunts of mankind, where he should never have to face a mirror again. But in the woods to which he retreated a clear rivulet ran. Into this he happened to look and—saw himself again. Angrily he told himself that his eyes had been deluded by an idle fancy. Henceforth he would keep away from the water! This he tried his utmost to do; but who can resist the beauty of a woodland stream? There he was and remained, always with that which he had determined to shun.


My meaning is easily seen. It applies to everybody; for everybody takes some joy in harbouring this very error. The man in love with himself stands for the soul of each one of us. All the mirrors wherein he saw himself reflected stand for the faults of other people, in which we really see our own faults though we hate to recognise them as such. As for the brook, that, as every one knows, stands for the book of maxims which the Duke de la Rochefoucauld[1] wrote.

  1. This fable was dedicated to the Duke de la Rochefoucauld.