Fables of Æsop and Other Eminent Mythologists/The Preface

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WE have had the History of Æsop so many times over and over, and drest-up so many several Ways; that it would be but Labour Lost to Multiply Unprofitable Conjectures upon a Tradition of so Great Uncertainty. Writers are divided about him, almost to all manner of purposes: And particularly concerning the Authority, even of the greater part of Those Compositions that pass the World in his Name: For, the Story is come down to us so Dark and Doubtful, that it is Impossible to Distinguish the Original from the Copy: And to say, which of the fables are Æsops, and which not; which are Genuine, and which Spurious: Beside, that there are divers Inconsistencies upon the Point of Chronology, in the Account of his Life, (as Maximus Planudes, and others have Deliver'd it) which the whole Earth can never Reconcile. Vavasor the Jesuite, in a Tract of his, de Ludicra Dictione, takes Notice of some four of five Gross Mistakes of This Kind. [Planudes (says he) brings Æsop to Babylon, in the Reign of Lyceus; where there was never such a Prince heard of, from Nabonassar (the first King of Babylon) to Alexander the Great. He tells also of his going into Ægypt in the Days of King Nectenabo; which Nectenabo came not into the World till well nigh Two Hundred Years after him. And so he makes him Greet his Mistress upon his first Entrance into his Master's House, with a Bitter Sentence against Women out of Eruipides; (as he pretends) when yet Æsop had been Dead, a matter of Fourscore Years, before T'other was Born. And once again, He brings him in, Talking of the Pyrœan port, in his Fable of the Ape and the Dolphin: A Port, that the very Name on't was never thought of, till about the Seventy Sixt Olypiad: And Æsop was Murder'd, in the Four and Fifti'th.] This is enough in All Conscience, to Excuse any Man from laying over-much Stress upon the Historical Credit of a Relation, that comes so Blindly, and so Variously Transmitted to us: Over and above, that is not one jot to our Bus'ness (further than to Gratify an Idle Curiosity) whether the Fact be True or False; whether the Man was Streight, or Crooked; and his Name, Æsop, or (as some will have it) Lochman: In All which Cases, the Reader is left at Liberty to Believe his Pleasure. We are not here upon the Name, the Person, or the Adventures of This Great Man; but upon the Subject of his Apologies and Morals; And not of His alone, but of several other Eminent Men that have Written after his Copy; and abundantly Contributed in those Labours, to the Delight, Benefit, and Instruction of Those that were to come after them.

There are, 'tis True, a Certain Set of Morose and Untractable Spirits in the World, that look upon Precepts in Emblem, as they do upon Gays and Pictures, that are only fit for Women and Children, and make no more reck'ning of them, then of the Fooleries of so many Old Wives Tales. These are a sort of People that are Resolv'd to be pleas'd with nothing that is not Unsociably Soure, Ill Natur'd, and Troublesome; Men that make it the Mark as well as the Prerogitave of a Philosopher, to be Magisterial, and Churlish; As if a man could not be Wise and Honest, without being Inhumane; or, I might have said, without putting an Affront upon Christian Charity, Civil Society, Decency and Good Manners: But they are not aware All this while, that the Foundations of Knowledge and Vertue are laid in our Childhood; when Nothing goes Kindly down with us, that is not Season'd and Adapted to the Palate and Capacity of those Tender Years. 'Tis in the very Nature of us, first, to be Inquisitive, and Hankering after New and New Sights and Stories: and 2dly, No less sollicitous to Learn and Understand the Truth and Meaning of what we See and Hear: So that betwixt the Indulging and Cultivating of This Disposition, or Inclination, on the One hand, and the Applying of a Profitable Moral to the Figure, or the Fable, on the Other, here's the Sum of All that can be done upon the Point of a Timely Discipline and Institution, toward the Forming of an Honourable, and a Vertuous Life. Most Certain it is, that without This Early Care and Attention, upon the Main, we are as good as Lost in our very Cradles; for the Principles that we Imbibe in our Youth, we carry commonly to our Graves; and it is the Education, in short, that makes the Man. To speak All, in a Few Words, Children are but Blank Paper, ready Indifferently to any Impression, Good or Bad for they take All upon Credit; and it is much in the Power of the first Comer, to Write Saint, or Devil, upon't, which of the Two He pleases. Wherefore let the Method of Communication be never so Natural and Agreeable, the Better, the Worse still, if the Matter be not Suited to the Prudence, the Piety, and the Tenderness that is Requisite in the Exercise of such a Function. Now This is a Nicety that Depends, in a great Measure, upon the Care, Providence, Sobriety, Conduct and Good Example of Parents, Guardians, Tutors, & c. Nay it Descends to the very Choice of such Nurses, Servants, and Familiar Companions, as will apply themselves Diligently to the Discharge of this Office.

As it is beyond All Dispute, I suppose, that the Delight and Genius of Children, lies much toward the Hearing, Learning, and telling of Little Stores; So this Consideration holds forth to us a kind of Natural Direction to begin our Approaches upon that Quarter, toward the Initiating of them into some sort of Sense, and Understanding of their Duty. And This may most properly be done in a way of History and Moral; and in such a manner, that the Truth and Reason of Things, may be Artificially and Effectually Insinuated; under the Cover, either of a Real Fact, or of a Supposed One: But then These very Lessons Themselves may be Gilt and Sweeten'd, as we Order Pills and Potions; so as to take off the Disgust of the Remedy; for it holds, both in Vertue, and in Health, that we Love to be Instructed, as well as Plisick'd, with Pleasure. This is an Article that would both Bear and Require a Volume: But without Dwelling any longer upon it, I shall content my self with some short General Touches, and so Proceed.

It may be laid down in the First Place, for an Universal Rule, never to suffer Children to Learn any thing, (now Seeing, and Hearing, with Them, is Learning) but what they may be the Better for All their Lives after. And it is not sufficient neither, to keep Men clear of any Thought, Word, or Deed, that's Foul, Scandalous, and Dishonest; but there are Twenty Insipid Twittle-Twattles, Frothy Jests, and Jingling Witticisms, that look, as if they had no Hurt in them; and yet the Wonting of us to the Use and Liking of These Levities, Leads, and Inures us to a Mis-understanding of Things, that's no less Dangerous then a Corruption of Manners. Beside, that there's no need of Entertaining them with These Fopperies, having so much Choice of Useful Matter at hand, and as Good Cheap. Briefly, in the Case of This Method of Instruction and Institution, let but the Fancy or the Figure be Clear and Pertinent, and the Doctrine in the Direction of it can never fail of being so too. But without This Guard and Caution upon the Conduct of the Affair, This Humour of Mythology may turn to a Poyson instead of a Nourishment: And under the Pretext of a Lecture of Good Government, Degenerate into an Encouragement to Vanity and Debauch. For while the Memory is Firm, and the Judgment Weak, it is the Director's Part to Judge for the Pupil, as it is the Disciples, to Remember for Himself; And we are also to take This along with us, that when a Child has once Contracted an Ill Train or Habit, it will Cost as much time to Blot out what he is to Forget, as to Possess him of what he is to Retain in his Memory.

Let it not be Understood now, as if the Thing it self were Childish, because of the Application of it; or as if Boys and Men were not Indifferently of the same Make, and Accountable more or less for the same Faculties and Duties. So that the Force and Dignity of This way of Operation, holds good in all Cases alike; For there's Nothing makes a Deeper Impression upon the Minds of Men, or comes more Lively to their Understanding, than Those Instructive Notices that are Convey'd to them by Glances, Insinuations, and Surprize; and under the Cover of some Allegory or Riddle. But, What can be said more to the Honour of This Symbolical Way of Morallizing upon Tales and Fables, then that the Wisdom of the Ancients has been still Wrapt up in Veils and Figures; and their Precepts, Councels, and salutary Munitions for the Ordering of our Lives and Manners, Handed down to us from all Antiquity under Innuendo's and Allusions? For what are the Ægyptian Hierogliphicks, and the whole History of the Pagan Gods; The Hints, and Fictions of the Wise Men of Old, but in Effect, a kind of Philosophical Mythology: Which is, in truth, no other, than a more Agreeable Vehicle found out for Conveying to us the Truth and Reason of Things, through the Medium of Images and Shadows. But what needs any thing more be said for the Reputation and Authority of This Practice and Invention, considering the Frequent and the Edifying Use of Apologues in Holy Writ: And that our Blessed Saviour Himself, has not only Recommended, but Inculcated, This way of Teaching by Parables, both in his Doctrine and Example, as the Means that Divine Providence made use of for the Gaining of Idolaters and Infidels over to the Christian Faith? What was it that brought, even David himself to a Sight and Detestation of his Sin in the Matter of Uriah, and to a Sense of his Duty, but the Prophet Nathan's telling him a Story at a Distance (and by God's Own Direction too) of a Rich Man that had a World of Sheep himself, and yet forc'd away a Poor Man's Only Lamb from him, that he Lov'd as his Own Soul? How did David take Fire at this Iniquity in Another Man, till upon second Thoughts his Conscience brought it home to his Own Case, and forced him to pass Judgment upon Himself? Now This is but according to the Natural Biass of Humane Frailty, for every Man to be Partial to his own Blind-side, and to Exclaim against the very Counterpart of his Own Daily Practice. As what's more Ordinary, for Example, then for the most Arbitrary of Tyrants, to set up for the Advocates and Patrons of Common Liberty; or for the most Profligate of Scoffers and Atheists, to Value themselves upon a Zeal for the Power, and Purity of the Gospel? In two Words, What's more Familiar then to see Men Fighting the Lord's Battels (as they call it) against Blasphemy and Prophaneness, with One hand; and at the same time offering Violence to his Holy Altars, Church and Ministers with the Other: Now These People are not to be dealt withal, but by a Train of Mystery and Circumlocution; a Downright Admonition looks liker the Reproach of an Enemy, then the Advice of a Friend; or at the Best, it is but the Good Office of a Man that has an Ill Opinion of us: And we do not Naturally Love to be Told of our Faults by the Witnesses of our Failings. Some People are too Proud, too Surly, too Impudent, too Incorrigible, either to Bear, or to Mend upon the Liberty of Plain Dealing. Others are too Big again, too Powerful, too Vindictive, and Dangerous, for either Reproof, or Councel, in Direct Terms. They Hate any Man that's but Conscious of their Wickedness, and their Misery is like the Stone in the Bladder; There are Many Things Good for't, but there's No Coming at it; and neither the Pulpit, the Stage, nor the Press, Dares so much as Touch upon't. How much are we Oblig'd then, to Those Wise, Good Men, that have furnish'd the World with so sure, and so Pleasant an Expedient, for the Removing of All These Difficulties! And to Æsop, in the First Place, as the Founder, and Original Author, or Inventer of This Art of Schooling Mankind into Better Manners; by Minding Men of their Errors without Twitting them for what's Amiss, and by That Means Flashing the Light of their Own Consciences in their Own Faces! We are brought Naturally enough, by the Judgment we pass upon the Vices and Follies of our Neighbour, to the Sight and Sense of our Own; and Especially, when we are led to the Knowledge of the Truth of Matters by Significant Types, and Proper Resemblances, for we are much more Affected with the Images of things, then with the True Reason of them. Men that are Shot-free against All 'the Attaques of Honour, Conscience, Shame, Good Faith, Humanity, or Common Justice, have yet some Weak side or other, like Achilles's Heel, that was never dipt; and This Contrivance of Application, by Hints, and Glances, is the Only way under the Heavens to Hit it. [Who shall say to a King, What Dost, thou?] comes up to the very Stress of This Topique. There's no Meddling with Princes, either by Text, or Argument. Morality is not the Province of a Cabinet-Councel: And Ghostly Fathers Signify no more then Spiritual Bug-bears, in the Case of an Unaccountable Priviledge. Tell the House of Israel of their Sins, and the House of Jacob of their Transgressions: was a Guide, Undoubtedly, like an Old Almanack, for the Tear'twas Writ in; but Change of Times and Humours, calls for New Measures and Manners; and what cannot be done by the Dint of Authority, or Perswasion, in the Chappel, or in the Closet, must be brought about by the Side-Wind of a Lecture from the Fields, and the Forests. As the Fable of the Raging Lyon Preaches Caution, and Moderation, to the Extravagances of Cruel, and Ambitious Rulers, by shewing them that Tyranny is the Scourge of Humane Nature, in Opposition to All the Blessings of a Well Order'd Government; and that they do but Plague other People, to their Own Infamy, and Ruine. The Old Lyon in Disgrace, Reads a Lesson to us of the Improvidence, and the Desperate Consequences of a Riotous, and a Careless Youth. The Fox in the Well, holds forth to us upon the Chapter of a Late Repentance. The Frogs Petitioning for a King, bids People have a care of Struggling with Heaven for they know not what. It is Certainly True that the most Innocent Illustrations of This Quality may lie open to a Thousand Abuses and Mistakes, by a Distorted Mis-application of them to political, or Personal Meanings; but Those Capricious Fault-Finders, may as well pick a Quarrel with the Decalogue it self, upon the same Pretence; if they shall come once to Apply to This or That Particular Wicked Man, the General Rules that are Deliver'd for the Government of Mankind, under such and such Prohibitions; as if the Commandments that Require Obedience and Forbid Murder, Uncleanness, Theft, Calumny, and the like, were to be Struck out of the Office, and Indicted, for a Libellous Innuendo upon All the Great Men that may come to be Concern'd in the Pains and Forfeitures therein Contain'd. In fine, 'tis the Conscience of the Guilty, in All These Cases, that makes the Satyr. Here is enough said, as to the Dignity, and Usefulness of This way of Informing the Understanding what we Ought to do, and of Disposing the Will to Act in a Conformity to That Perception of Things; having so Clear an Evidence of Divine Authority, as well as the Practice of the Best of Men, and of Times, together with the Current of Common Consent, Agreeing all in favour of it. I shall now Wind up what I have to say, as to the Fables Themselves, the Choice, the Intent, and the Order of them, in a very Few Words.

When I first put Pen to Paper upon This Design, I had in my Eye only the Common School-Book, as it stands in the Cambridge and Oxford Editions of it, under the Title ofsopi Phrygis Fabulæ; unà cum Nonnullis Variorum Autorum Fabulis Adjectis:] Propounding to my self, at that Time, to follow the "very Course and Series of that Collection; and in One Word, to Try what might be done, by making the Best of the Whole, and Adapting Proper and Useful Doctrines to the several parts of it, toward the turning of a Excellent Latin Manual of Morals and Good Councels, into a Tolerable English One. But upon Jumbling Matters and Thoughts together and laying One thing by Another; the very State and Condition of the Ca{{ls}e before me, together with the Nature and the Reason of the Thing, gave me to Understand, that This way of Proceeding would never Answer my End. Insomuch, that upon this Consideration, I Consulted other Versions of the same Fables, and made my Best of the Choice. Some that were Twice or Thrice over, and only the self-same Thing in other Words; These I struck out, and made One Specimen serve for the rest. To say Nothing of here and there a Trivial, or a Loose Conceit in the Medley, more than This; that such as they are, I was under some sort of Obligation to take them in for Company; and in short, Good, Bad and Indifferent, One with Another, Po the Number in the Total, of 383. Fables. To these, I have likewise subjoyn'd a Considerable Addition of other Select Apologues, out of the most Celebrated Authors that are Extant upon that Subject, toward the Finishing of the Work. As Phædrus, Camerarius, Avienus, Neveletus, Apththonius, Gabrias, or Babrias, Baudoin, La Fontaine, Æsope en Belle Humeur, Audin, &c.

Another Man in my Place now, would perhaps take it for a Notable Stroke of Art, and Good Breeding, to Complement the Reader with Twenty Fooleries of Apology, and Excuse, for such an Undertaking: As if the Honestest and the most Necessary Part of a Man's Life, and Bus'ness, were a thing to be Asham'd of. Now All that I have to say upon this Common Place, is in Three Words, that I meant well in what I have done; and let the Performance be what it Will, I Comfort my self yet in the Conscience of a Good Intention. I shall not Charge any of My Failings upon the Importunity of my Friends though I have not Wanted Earnest and Powerful Instances and Encouragements to proceed upon This Work; over and above the Impulse of a Natural Curiosity and Inclination that led me to't. But these were Temptations that I could Easily have Resisted, or put by, in favour of a Carcass that's in a manner, past Labour; if it had not been for Another Motive, that I shall now tell the Reader in Confidence, and so Conclude.

This Rhapsody of Fables is a Book Universally Read, and Taught in All our Schools; but almost at such a rate as we Teach Pyes and Parrots, that Pronounce the Words without so much as Guessing at the Meaning of them: Or to take it Another way, the Boys Break their Teeth upon the Shells, without ever coming near the Kernel. They Learn the Fables by Lessons, and the Moral is the least part of our Care in a Child s Institution: so that take Both together, and the One is stark Nonsense, without the Application of the Other; beside that the Doctrine it self as we have it, even at the Best, falls Infinitely short of the Vigour and Spirit of the Fable. To supply This Defect now, tve have had several English Paraphrases and Essays upon Æsop, and Divers of his Followers, both in Prose and Verse: the Latter have perchance Ventur'd a litte too far from the Precise Scope of the Author, upon the Priviledge of a Poetical License: And for the Other of Ancient Date, the Morals are so Insipid and Flat, and the Style and Diction of the Fables, so Course and Uncouth, that they are rather Dangerous, than Profitable, as to the purpose they we're Principally Intended for; and likely to do Forty times more Mischief by the One then Good by the Other. An Emblem without a Key to't, is no more then a Tale of a Tub; and that Tale sillily told too, is but One Folly Grafted upon Another. Children are to be Taught, in the first Place, what they Ought to do. 2dly, The Manner of Doing it: And in the third Place, they are to he Inur'd, by the Force of Instruction and Good Example, to the Love and Practice of Doing their Duty; whereas on the Contrary, One Step out of the way in the Institution, is enough to Poyson the Peace, and the Reputation of a whole Life. Whether I have, in this Attempt, Contributed or not, to the Emprovement of these Fables, either in the Wording, or in the Meaning of them, the Book must Stand or Fall to it self: But this I shall Adventure to Pronounce upon the whole Matter, that the Text is English, and the Morals, in some sort, Accommodate to the Allegory; which could hardly be said of All the Translations, or Reflexions before-mention'd, which have serv'd, in truth (or at least some of them) rather to teach us what we should Not do, then what we should. So that in the Publishing of these Papers, I have done my Best to Obviate a Common Inconvenience, or, to speak Plainly, the Mortal Error of pretending to Erect a Building upon a False Foundation: Leaving the whole World to take the same Freedom with Me, that I have done with Others: Provided that they do not Impute the Faults, and the Mis-Pointings of the Press, to the Author, and that they Consult the Errata for other Mistakes.