The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/Preface

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Jean Pierre Claris de Florian, the author from whose fables the following selections have been made, was born in 1755, in the Chateau de Florian, at the foot of the Cevennes in Languedoc, France. His mother was a lady of beauty and excellence of character, of Spanish origin, whose maiden name was Gilette de Salgué. One of his uncles had married a niece of Voltaire, and it was probably through Voltaire's influence that at the age of thirteen he became a page in the family of the Duke de Penthièvre, a nobleman of great worth and distinction, who was respected even by his enemies.

From the house of this nobleman Florian went to Ferney to complete his education. It was there, while imbibing a taste for letters, that he excited a lively interest in Voltaire, who was pleased by his frank, talented, and amiable conversation, and used occasionally to help him in getting his lessons. It is creditable to the independence and integrity of Florian's character that, although brought at an early age under the influence of a genius so winning and powerful as that of Voltaire, he yet preserved his individuality and followed a literary career peculiarly his own, which was quite opposite to that of his old and gifted friend.

At the age of sixteen Florian entered the artillery school of Bapaume. It appears that he was very well pleased with the military profession, and from the royal corps of artillery he joined, as Lieutenant, the Dragoon regiment of Penthièvre, where he was promoted to a Captaincy. But as he advanced in years, his attachment to letters seems to have acquired the ascendency over his military tastes. He became a prolific and popular writer; but among all his works probably his Fables will longest retain a hold of public appreciation. They have been translated into many languages, and have run through more than one hundred editions.

Though he had exercised the office of gentleman-in-ordinary and almoner to the Duke de Penthièvre, and had in that capacity administered relief to the poor with great delicacy and benevolence, yet when the revolution broke out he was accused of writing verses in honor of the queen, and hurried off to prison. He lived for a time in momentary expectation of death; for his prison, that of La Bourbe, had come to be noted as the inevitable first step towards the scaffold. The death of Robespierre, however, restored him to liberty; but his imprisonment seemed to have left a melancholy shade upon his spirit that time never fully removed. He died on the 17th of September, 1794, in the thirty-ninth year of his age.

There is perhaps no especial value in the present translation over those which may have gone before it; but its interest is heightened by preserving the illustrations of J. J. Grandville, which are fine specimens of French art as it existed some half a century ago. While they are hardly inferior to the best of such productions of the present day, from any school of art, it is believed that they will prove to be highly entertaining to the reader. It must be admitted that the artist has done his author full justice, although the fables are so highly esteemed by some that they have been favorably compared with, and even equalled, to those of La Fontaine. The world will hardly assent to that opinion, perhaps, but still Florian's fables will ever be found interesting and instructive, and for this reason these selections from them are now offered to the American public.