The Will Explained By Aesop.

A poem by Jean de La Fontaine

[1]

If what old story says of Aesop's true,
The oracle of Greece he was,
And more than Areopagus[2] he knew,
With all its wisdom in the laws.
The following tale gives but a sample
Of what has made his fame so ample.
Three daughters shared a father's purse,
Of habits totally diverse.
The first, bewitched with drinks delicious;
The next, coquettish and capricious;
The third, supremely avaricious.
The sire, expectant of his fate,
Bequeathed his whole estate,
In equal shares, to them,
And to their mother just the same, -
To her then payable, and not before,
Each daughter should possess her part no more.
The father died. The females three
Were much in haste the will to see.
They read, and read, but still
Saw not the willer's will.
For could it well be understood
That each of this sweet sisterhood,
When she possess'd her part no more,
Should to her mother pay it o'er?
'Twas surely not so easy saying
How lack of means would help the paying.
What meant their honour'd father, then?
Th' affair was brought to legal men,
Who, after turning o'er the case
Some hundred thousand different ways,
Threw down the learned bonnet,
Unable to decide upon it;
And then advised the heirs,
Without more thought, t' adjust affairs.
As to the widow's share, the counsel say,
'We hold it just the daughters each should pay
One third to her upon demand,
Should she not choose to have it stand
Commuted as a life annuity,
Paid from her husband's death, with due congruity.'
The thing thus order'd, the estate
Is duly cut in portions three.
And in the first they all agree
To put the feasting-lodges, plate,
Luxurious cooling mugs,
Enormous liquor jugs,
Rich cupboards, - built beneath the trellised vine, -
The stores of ancient, sweet Malvoisian wine,
The slaves to serve it at a sign;
In short, whatever, in a great house,
There is of feasting apparatus.
The second part is made
Of what might help the jilting trade -
The city house and furniture,
Exquisite and genteel, be sure,
The eunuchs, milliners, and laces,
The jewels, shawls, and costly dresses.
The third is made of household stuff,
More vulgar, rude, and rough -
Farms, fences, flocks, and fodder,
And men and beasts to turn the sod o'er.
This done, since it was thought
To give the parts by lot
Might suit, or it might not,
Each paid her share of fees dear,
And took the part that pleased her.
'Twas in great Athens town,
Such judgment gave the gown.
And there the public voice
Applauded both the judgment and the choice.
But Aesop well was satisfied
The learned men had set aside,
In judging thus the testament,
The very gist of its intent.
'The dead,' quoth he, 'could he but know of it,
Would heap reproaches on such Attic wit.
What! men who proudly take their place
As sages of the human race,
Lack they the simple skill
To settle such a will?'
This said, he undertook himself
The task of portioning the pelf;
And straightway gave each maid the part
The least according to her heart -
The prim coquette, the drinking stuff,
The drinker, then, the farms and cattle;
And on the miser, rude and rough,
The robes and lace did Aesop settle;
For thus, he said, 'an early date
Would see the sisters alienate
Their several shares of the estate.
No motive now in maidenhood to tarry,
They all would seek, post haste, to marry;
And, having each a splendid bait,
Each soon would find a well-bred mate;
And, leaving thus their father's goods intact,
Would to their mother pay them all, in fact,' -
Which of the testament
Was plainly the intent.
The people, who had thought a slave an ass,
Much wonder'd how it came to pass
That one alone should have more sense
Than all their men of most pretence.

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