The Oyster And The Pleaders (Prose Fable)

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

One day two pilgrims espied upon the sands of the shore an oyster that had been thrown up by the tide. They devoured it with their eyes whilst pointing at it with their fingers; but whose teeth should deal with it was a matter of dispute.

When one stopped to pick up the prey the other pushed him away saying: "It would be just as well first to decide which of us is to have the pleasure of it. He who first saw it should swallow it, and let the other watch him eat."

"If you settle the affair that way," replied his companion, "I have good eyes, thank God."

"But my sight is not bad either," said the other, "and I saw it before you did, and that I'll stake my life upon."

"Well, suppose you did see it, I smelt it."

During this lively interlude Justice Nincompoop arrived on the scene, and to him they appealed to judge their claims. The justice very gravely took the oyster, opened it, and put it into his mouth, whilst the two claimants looked on. Having deliberately swallowed the oyster, the justice, in the portentous tones of a Lord Chief Justice, said, "The court here awards each of you a shell, without costs. Let each go home peaceably."


Reckon what it costs to go to law in these days. Then count what remains to most families. You will see that Justice Nincompoop draws all the money and leaves only the empty purse and the shells to the litigants.

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