Page:Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea 1903.djvu/113

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INTBODUCTION cix ���would seem to have had some natural affinities for the fable form, but though he said there was no kind of writing he esteemed more, he was forced to acknowledge that he had "frequently endeavoured at it in vain." Gay agrees in counting the fable a most difficult kind of writing, saying that when he had completed one he was always in despair of ever being able to find another. It is, perhaps, this real difficulty under the apparent ease and naturalness that warned off many writers to whom the opportunity for effect- ive moralizing would have made the fable a seductive form. At any rate the fact stands that before Gay, Lady Winchilsea holds a solitary pre-eminence as an English fable-writer in the manner of La Fontaine. But two of her fables appear in the folio and none in the earlier manuscript. They were probably all written between 1700 and 1713. She formed herself almost entirely on La Fontaine, who had broken dis- tinctly with the literary tradition of his predecessors. It had been said that the ornament of the fable was no orna- ment, that brevity and conciseness were essential, that morals must be explicitly stated. But La Fontaine deliberately challenged this conception. He set himself to "egayer" the tales, to add to them something of novelty and adornment, to show that the fables would not resent les graces Iac6d6- moniennes. It was to this fable convention that Lady Winchilsea gave allegiance. She does not attempt, as did Gay, originality of invention, but relies as frankly on La Fontaine and L'Estrange as they had relied on their prede- cessors, and she follows her models with as widely varying degrees of fidelity as did they. Sometimes her fable is a mere translation of La Fontaine, holding as close to the original as verse translation would allow ; but in general the material is treated with great freedom. Two lines are expanded into as many pages ; there are large omissions and frequent condensations ; details are replaced by others giv- ��� �