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THE CHARLATAN. Jean de La Fontaine

THE CHARLATAN. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE CHARLATAN. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Of Charlatans the world has never lack:
This science of professors has no want.
Only the other day one made his vaunt
He could cheat Acheron; in white and black
Another boasted o′er the town that, lo!
He was another Cicero.

One of these fellows claimed a mastery
Of eloquence; swore he could make an ass,
"A peasant, rustic, booby, d′ye see?—
Yes, gentlemen, a dolt of basest class—
Eloquent. Bring me an ass," he cried,
"The veriest ass, and I will teach him so,
He shall the cassock wear with proper pride."
The Prince resolved the truth of this to know.
"I have," he to the rhetorician one day said,
"A fine ass from Arcadia in my stable;
Make him an orator, if you are able."
"Sire, you do what you will." The man they made
Accept a sum, for twenty years to teach
The ass the proper use of speech;
And if he failed, he in the market-place,
With halter round his neck, was to be hung;
Upon his back his rhetoric books all strung,
And asses′ ears above his frightened face.
One of the courtiers said that he would go
And see him at the gibbet; he′d such grace
And presence, he′d become the hangman′s show;
There, above all, his art would come in well:
A long-extended speech—with pathos, too—
Would fit the great occasion, so it fell
In the one form of those grand Ciceros
Vulgarly known as thieves. "Yes, that is true,"
The other said; "but ere I try,
The king, the ass, and you will die."

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