The Fables of Florian (tr. Phelps)/The Fox as a Preacher


An old fox, gouty, apoplectic,
All broken down, but learn'd and wise,
Eloquent and skill'd in logic,
His art at moral teaching tries,
And to the desert rais'd his cries.
His style was fine, his moral good;
Under three heads his sermons stood;
He plainly proved simplicity,
Good manners and integrity,
Must end in that felicity
To which a lying world allures,
But never to our hopes secures,
Although we pay for't a large fee.
At first he met with no success;
None ever came to hear him preach,
Save a few squirrels, more or less,
Who chanc'd to fall within his reach;
Or timid does, of little name,
Who could not spread the preacher's fame.
At length he wholly chang'd his course,
And aimed at tyrants his discourse.


With lofty strokes he boldly dares
To hit at lions, tigers, bears,
And all the monsters of the wood:
Condemns their ravenous thirst for blood,
Their gluttony, their rage, their spite,

Their love of wrong, contempt of right,
The selfish use they make of war,
       Et cetera, et cetera.
And now the world crowd up to hear
A preacher of so little fear.
Deer, gazelles, kids, show their deep sense
Of his all-powerful eloquence.
His gen'rous truths they recognize;
He's listened to with weeping eyes;
His fame is spread the country round;
The tidings far and near resound—
Are borne upon the pop'lar voice,
Until at court they make a noise.
The lion who at that time reign'd
(Good and pious as things then went),
To hear the famous preacher deign'd,
And to invite his presence sent.
Charm'd with the royal courtesy,
The preacher went without delay.
His sermon now himself surpass'd.
It was a perfect thunder-blast
Against th' infernal thirst for blood
Indulged by tyrants of the wood.
He spoke of helpless innocence,
Oppress'd by lawless insolence;
Dwelt on the vices of the great;
Their love of power insatiate;
He call'd for justice long delay'd,
'Gainst those who on the feeble prey'd,
Till beasts of prey all quak'd with fear

Such awful sentences to hear.
The courtier's at each other gaz'd,
And at such rudeness sat amaz'd;
But prudently remarks forbore.
Because the king was pleas'd to be,
Complacent towards this liberty,
Accustom'd to such things before.
The sermon ended, the king sent
To manifest his great content.
Had the bold preacher to him brought,
And thank'd him for the truths he'd taught.
"What must I give you in reward,"
He ask'd, "for fearless words like these?"
Old Reynard, taken off his guard,
Replied:—"Some turkeys if you please!"