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THE FORTUNE-TELLER. Jean de La Fontaine

THE FORTUNE-TELLER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

THE FORTUNE-TELLER. Fable by Jean de La Fontaine. Illustration by Grandville

Opinion is the child of Chance,
And this Opinion forms our taste.
Against all people I advance
These words. I find the world all haste—
Infatuation; justice gone;
A torrent towards a goal unseen.
We only know things will be done
In their own way, as they have been.

In Paris lived a Sorceress,
Who told the people of their fate.
All sought her:—men; girls loverless;
A husband whom his wife thought late
In dying; many a jealous woman.
Ill-natured mothers, by the score,
Came—for they all were simply human—
To hear what Fortune had in store.

Her tricks of trade were hardihood,
Some terms of art, a neat address.
Sometimes a prophecy proved good,
And then they thought her nothing less
Than Delphi′s Pythoness of yore:
Though ignorance itself was she;
And made her wretched garret floor
Highway for gullibility.

Grown rich, she took a house, and bought
A place of profit for her lord.
The witch′s garret soon was sought
By a young girl, who never soared
To witchery, save by eyes and voice.
But yet they all came, as of old—
The lucky, who in wealth rejoice,
And poor—to have their fortunes told.

The regulation had been made
For this poor place, by her who late
Had been its tenant; and the shade
Sybillic hovered o′er its state.
In vain the maiden said, "You mock.
Read Fate!—I scarcely know my letters!"
But though such words, of course, might shock,
They never could convince "her betters."

"Predict—divine;—here′s gold in pay,
More than the learned get together."
What wonder if the maid gave way,
Despite herself, such gold to gather?
For fortune-telling seemed the place
All tumble-down, and weird, and broken:
A broomstick, for the witches′ chase,
And many another mystic token;

The witches′ sabbath; all suggested
The change of body, and of face;
And so in Fate fools still invested.
But what of her who made the place?
She seeks the golden prize to gain,
In gorgeous state, like any parrot;
But people jeer and pass. In vain;
They all go rushing to the garret.

′Tis custom governs everything.
I′ve often seen, in courts of law,
Some stupid barrister, who′ll bring
Briefs such as clever men ne′er saw.
All a mistake: his eyes may glisten;
They′ll take him for some other man:
One unto whom the world will listen.
Explain me this, now, if you can.

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