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Jean de La Fontaine Poems
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The Contract by Jean de La Fontaine
THE husband's dire mishap, and silly maid,
In ev'ry age, have proved the fable's aid;
The fertile subject never will be dry:
'Tis inexhaustible, you may rely.
No man's exempt from evils such as these:--
Who thinks himself secure, but little sees.
One laughs at sly intrigues who, ere 'tis long,
May, in his turn, be sneered at by the throng:
With such vicissitudes, to be cast down,
Appears rank nonsense worthy Folly's crown.
He, whose adventures I'm about to write,
In his mischances,--found what gave delight.

A CERTAIN Citizen, with fortune large,
When settled with a handsome wife in charge,
Not long attended for the marriage fruit:
The lady soon put matters 'yond dispute;
Produced a girl at first, and then a boy,
To fill th' expecting parent's breast with joy.

THE son, when grown of size, a tutor had,
No pedant rude, with Greek and Latin mad,
But young and smart, a master too of arts,
Particularly learned in what imparts,
The gentle flame, the pleasing poignant pang,
That Ovid formerly so sweetly sang.
Some knowledge of good company he'd got;
A charming voice and manner were his lot;
And if we may disclose the mystick truth,
'Twas Cupid who preceptor made the youth.
He with the brother solely took a place,
That better he the sister's charms might trace;
And under this disguise he fully gained
What he desired, so well his part he feigned:
An able master, or a lover true,
To teach or sigh, whichever was in view,
So thoroughly he could attention get,
Success alike in ev'ry thing he met.

IN little time the boy could construe well
The odes of Horace:--Virgil's fable tell;
And she whose beauty caught the tutor's eyes,
A perfect mistress got of heaving sighs.
So oft she practised what the master taught,
Her stomach feeble grew, whate'er was sought;
And strange suspicions of the cause arose,
Which Time at length was driven to disclose.

MOST terribly the father raged and swore;
Our learned master, frightened, left the door,
The lady wished to take the youth for life;
The spark desired to make the girl his wife;
Both had the Hymeneal knot in view,
And mutual soft affection fondly knew.
At present love is little more than name:
In matrimony, gold's the only aim.
The belle was rich, while he had nothing got;
For him 'twas great:--for her a narrow lot.

O DIRE corruption, age of wretched ways!
What strange caprice such management displays!
Shall we permit this fatal pow'r to reign?
Base int'rest's impulse: hideous modern stain;
The curse of ev'ry tender soft delight,
That charms the soul and fascinates the sight.

BUT truce to moral; let's our tale resume;
The daughter scared; the father in a fume;
What could be done the evil to repair,
And hide the sad misfortune of the fair?
What method seek?--They married her in haste;
But not to him who had the belle debased,
For reasons I've sufficiently detailed;
To gain her hand a certain wight prevailed,
Who store of riches relished far above
The charms of beauty, warmed with fondest love.
Save this the man might well enough be thought:
In family and wealth just what was sought;
But whether fool or not, I cannot trace,
Since he was unacquainted with the case;
And if he'd known it, was the bargain bad?
Full twenty thousand pounds he with her had
A sprightly youthful wife to ease his care,
And with him ev'ry luxury to share.

HOW many tempted by the golden ore,
Have taken wives whose slips they know before;
And this good man the lady chaste believed,
So truly well she managed and deceived.
But when four months had passed, the fair-one showed.
How very much she to her lessons owed;
A little girl arrived: the husband stared
Cried he, what father of a child declared!
The time's too short: four months! I'm taken in!
A family should not so soon begin.

AWAY he to the lady's father flew,
And of his shame a horrid picture drew;
Proposed to be divorced: much rage disclosed;
The parent smiled and said, pray be composed;
Speak not so loud: we may be overheard,
And privacy is much to be preferred.
A son-in-law, like you, I once appeared,
And similar misfortune justly feared;
Complaint I made, and mentioned a divorce;
Of heat and rage the ordinary course.

THE father of my wife, who's now no more,
(Heav'n guard his soul, the loss I oft deplore,)
A prudent honest man as any round,
To calm my mind, a nice specifick found;
The pill was rather bitter, I admit;
But gilding made it for the stomach fit,
Which he knew how to manage very well:
No doctor in it him could e'er excel;
To satisfy my scruples he displayed
A CONTRACT (duly stamped and ably made),
Four thousand to secure, which he had got,
On similar occasion for a blot;
His lady's father gave it to efface
Domestick diff'rences and like disgrace:
With this my spouse's fortune he increased;
And instantly my dire complaining ceased.
From family to family the deed
Should pass, 'twill often prove a useful meed;
I kept it for the purpose:--do the same
Your daughter, married, may have equal blame.
On this the son-in-law the bond received,
And, with a bow, departed much relieved.

MAY Heav'n preserve from trouble those who find,
At cheaper rate, to be consoled inclined.
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