Page:Poems of Anne Countess of Winchilsea 1903.djvu/114

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ex INTRODUCTION ���ing English local color; fables are broken in two; morals are added or altered; titles are changed. But, though influ- enced now and again by L' Estrange' s racy idiom, "the easy words," "the plain honest English" on which he prided himself, she holds throughout to La Fontaine's ideal of smooth, graceful, amplified narration. �Lady Winchilsea's most famous fable is The Atheist and the Acorn. This poem is a brief and picturesque version of La Fontaine's La gland et la citrouille. It is not an JEsopic fable but was based on a tale found in various forms in several sources open to La Fontaine. It excited much attention when it first appeared in French in 1671. Lady Winchilsea's change of the naive countryman into the sophisticated atheist involves much loss in the way of humor- ous contrast. But the French Garo and the English Atheist alike speak with scorn of the providential ordering that could assign acorns to lordly oaks and pumpkins to slender vines. And each, reclining under the tree in fatu- ous self-complacency, on being hit in the eye by an acorn, is led to justify the ways of God to man by the reflection that had the acorn been a pumpkin, not his eye only, but his precious brain itself would have suffered damage. Neither La Fontaine nor Lady Winchilsea nor any of their readers seemed to feel what Voltaire pitilessly pointed out, the "egoisme comique" of this argumentum ad hominem. On the contrary, Garo and the Atheist held their own for a cen- tury as apt illustrations of the creed formulated by Pope, "Whatever is, is best." �In spite of the fact that fables constitute one-third of her published work, Lady Winchilsea speaks lightly of them in general, calling them "childish Tales" by which "lazy Triflers" seek to purchase fame. And Wordsworth regretted that she should have spent so much time on an inferior species of poetry. Yet in a general survey of her work the ��� �