Sylvain Maréchal, “Modern Apologues for the Use of the Dauphin” (1788)

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MODERN APOLOGUES,

FOR THE USE OF THE DAUPHIN.

First Lessons for the Elder Son of a King.

—–

FIRST LESSON.

PROMETHEUS.

Thus far, the mythologists have misreported the allegorical history of Prometheus. Here are the facts: that ingenious artist of antiquity, having kneaded clay in water, made from it several figures of men, which he animated with the elemental fire. He took great pleasure in his work, like a father in his children. All went well enough at first. But one day, returning to his workshop, what a spectacle was offered to the eyes of Prometheus. These men, to whom he had given the same existence & that he had formed from the same earth, started to quarrel among themselves during his absence: so much that they had battered & mutilated one another. They had done worse still. Some of them who had profited from the general disorder, either by fraud, or by force or other means, had subjected their fellows to the point these, prostrating themselves at their feet, hardly dared to raise their eyes, & obeyed them at the first threatening gesture. “What is this I see!” said Prometheus, in fury. I thought I was making man, & not slaves & masters. Cursed brood! I created you all as equals. With the breath of life, I animated you with the spirit of liberty! You have let the torch go out. So, go! I disown you as my children. I abandon you to your evil destiny & repent of my work.

Prometheus did indeed leave them, & retired to the mountains of the Caucasus. But his heart carried with him the trait that had torn into him. The remorse for having given birth to slaves, by creating men, slowly consumed him & made him suffer a pain & grief like that suffered by a wretch whose entrails would be restored, though lacerated by the teeth of a vulture.

(FR/EN)

LESSON II.

THE TOCSIN.

In those days, a stranger, entering the capital city of a great Empire, heard the tocsin sound for a long time. He questioned the people of the city, wishing to know what misfortune had occurred. Had there been a fire somewhere?

No, someone replied, but we celebrate the birth of a prince, who may perhaps one day, he added in a low voice, be a firestarter. The same bell should serve to announce two events so nearly similar. There is, however, this difference between the: we have established a fire brigade to extinguish fires; but we have still not promulgated a body of laws to stop the firestarters.

(FR/EN)

LESSON III.

THE ORDEAL.

In those times there was an arrogant king, who believed himself molded from a different clay than those who were prepared to obey him. The senate, placed between him & and the people, in order to serve as a mediator, assembled, & agreed to reprimand to him on this subject. The queen was pregnant & ready to give birth. An old magistrate rose in the midst of the assembly & proposed the following expedient to correct the prince. At the moment of the birth of the royal child, they presented the father with three infants born in the same hour, & left it to him to choose which was his own. At the same time, they said to him that, since the kings & their successors are born for the throne, molded from another clay than the rest of their subjects, he would have no trouble distinguishing the royal child that belonged to him. The king, furious, but seriously embarrassed, hesitated for a long time & finally chose as his own the son of the castle’s caretaker. Then the head of the senate said to him: If the eye of the father swings, & is even mistaken in the choice of his own child, admit, prince, that the son of the shepherd is the equal of the son of the king; that a man cannot call himself a born king; that he does not come from his mother’s womb with a crown already on his head; that it is the people who entrust it to whomever seems good; in short, that a sovereign is only primus inter pares [first among equals].

(FR/EN)

LESSON IV.

THE PIG-KEEPER KING.

In those days, a young king was inclined to dissipation, even to villainy; it was a hereditary vice. The états-généraux, natural guardians of the sovereign, who had never been emancipated from them, assembled & agreed on a means of correcting the young prince. One day, when he had abandoned himself completely to his foul penchants, and was plunged into a deep sleep, they seized his royal person; from his palace, they transported him on a litter, still sleeping, to a stable. When he awoke, the young prince could hardly believe his eyes. He didn’t know if he was still dreaming. He could no longer find his throne, his crown, his scepter, nor his mistresses to caress him, nor his valets to serve him, nor his flatterers to arouse him to new excesses. He wished to command; some shepherds, forewarned, came running at his call, & dealt with him on a footing of the most perfect equality. In vain, the prince threatened & claimed his authority. They accused him of being out of his head, & led him, despite his protestations, to watch over the most vile of the flocks. Finally, after some days of this ordeal, they seized a moment of slumber to replace him on his throne. The Prince was not altogether taken in by all this; but he did not have the good sense to profit from the tacit lesson. He soon lapsed back into his hereditary vice. Then the états-généraux to strip him entirely of his titles and honors, for which it appeared he was not born & condemned him, for good measure, to spend the rest of his days amongst the vile herd whose manners he shared.

(FR/EN)

LESSON V.

THE DWARF KING.

In those days, a young king was inclined to dissipation, even to villainy; it was a hereditary vice. The états-généraux, natural guardians of the sovereign, who had never been emancipated from them, assembled & agreed on a means of correcting the young prince. One day, when he had abandoned himself completely to his foul penchants, and was plunged into a deep sleep, they seized his royal person; from his palace, they transported him on a litter, still sleeping, to a stable. When he awoke, the young prince could hardly believe his eyes. He didn’t know if he was still dreaming. He could no longer find his throne, his crown, his scepter, nor his mistresses to caress him, nor his valets to serve him, nor his flatterers to arouse him to new excesses. He wished to command; some shepherds, forewarned, came running at his call, & dealt with him on a footing of the most perfect equality. In vain, the prince threatened & claimed his authority. They accused him of being out of his head, & led him, despite his protestations, to watch over the most vile of the flocks. Finally, after some days of this ordeal, they seized a moment of slumber to replace him on his throne. The Prince was not altogether taken in by all this; but he did not have the good sense to profit from the tacit lesson. He soon lapsed back into his hereditary vice. Then the états-généraux to strip him entirely of his titles and honors, for which it appeared he was not born & condemned him, for good measure, to spend the rest of his days amongst the vile herd whose manners he shared.

(FR/EN)

LESSON VI.

A LESSON IN ARCHITECTURE.

What is the name of those human figures that serve as columns to support the architrave of this palace? asked a young prince of his tutor one day.

We call them Caryatids.

What does that word mean?

It is the name of the inhabitants of Karyai.

Why have we given that form & that name to these pilasters?

To perpetuate the punishment of that traitorous people, who having joined forces with the Persians against their brothers, the other Greeks, were put to the sword; the women were reduced to slavery.

The modern architects, who did not have the same motive as the ancients for preserving that order, made use of it, however, with another intention. As these figures were ordinarily only employed in the palaces of the kings, the kings cannot cast an eye on their palaces without reflecting that their subjects resemble the Caryatids who support the balcony where they promenade. If the load is to heavy, the people bend & shatter; but in their fall, they carry off those who weigh on them.

(FR/EN)

LESSON VII.

A LESSON IN ARITHMETIC.

In those days, a very young king was still learning the elements of arithmetic. One day, his mathematics teacher, who was no sycophant, gave him this lesson.

A king, for example, is, in his kingdom, like the unity: if he found himself tempted to regard each of his subjects only as a zero, one could observe to him that it is the zeros that give a value to the unity. The more we multiply them, the more the unity counts. The unity, reduced to itself, would be nothing. It owes all its worth to them. There is, however, this important difference between the zeros in politics & the zeros in arithmetic: the latter cannot be counted without the unity, which gives them an existence, & with which they cannot dispense. The former, on the contrary, do everything for the unity, which does almost nothing for them.

LESSON VIII.

THE LESSON ABOUT ARMS.

In those days, a king was learning what we call arms, & he was not the most skilled; almost every time that he wounded himself or wounded those against whom he drew his blade. One day, someone present at his exercises dared to say to him:

Prince, believe me, get rid of your scepter, as well as your sword; for it is even more difficult to bear the one than it is to handle the other, & the clumsy blows are of much greater consequence.

LESSON IX.

A COURSE IN ANATOMY.

In those days, a young king, inclined to despotism, seemed to desire to take lessons in anatomy. The senate ordered that the demonstrations should be made using the skeleton of a former tyrant who had been legally decapitated. The young prince was informed of it from the first lessons; & this course was as good for him as a moral treatise.

LESSON X.

THE STUDENT OF SURGERY.

In those days, a young King, who breathed nothing but war, was taken prisoner. The only obligation impose by the generous victor was that the young captive prince attend, as a student, the dressing of wounds in an army hospital: then he was returned to his subjects, who quietly applauded the lesson.

LESSON XI.

THE OVERTURNED STATUE.

In those days, an irritable prince, promenading on the public square of his capital, found his statue overturned.

What reckless fool has insulted me in this way? Let him die!

Prince, someone responded, it was the thunder.

LESSON XII.

THE COURT IN MOURNING.

In those days, I entered one day into the capital of a great empire. The inhabitants were in mourning. Men & women, all were dressed in wool. The silk, the gold & the precious stones had disappeared. [Jusqu’aux armes], all had donned the livery of sadness. Troubled by this spectacle, I sought news!

What calamity afflicts or threatens the city? Has it lost its king, its queen, some one of the princes of the imperial race? And are these princes worthy of the costs & inconvenience of the mourning?

No, responded a citizen. A sovereign from the far north just died, & and we mourn him.

Then he has done great services to the nation?

On the contrary, he took from it an entire province, & granted peaces only for lack of combatants.

And it is for such a prince that a nation foreign to the dead man, decks itself out as in mourning! In that case, what will they do when they lose their own king, or some great men?

The greatest philosopher died in the same period; but, far from according him the honor of a public mourning, they refused his manes those of burial.

LESSON XIII.

THE TAX ON SLEEP.

There was once a king (it is in this way that, in those days, that good manners compelled one to name a tyrant). He was a king who proposed, in open council, a prize to the one who could imagine some new tax. So many had already been created that the most fecund brain in the most intrepid minister of finance was exhausted. One of the members of the council proposed raising a tax on the shade the trees give to poor people in the countryside. The king, amazed by such creativity, was already prepared to crown the inventor, & even to give him the management of this new right, when another council member rose, & said: but when there is no more sun, & especially in winter, it would also really be too unjust to be made to pay for the very shadow of which one is deprived; there must be equity in all things. I would instead advise the imposition of a tax on sleep; [1] a tax that much more important, as one sleeps every day, & besides, in an urgent case, his majesty could order his subjects to use narcotics.

His majesty raised his hands to the heavens, the whole extent, & all the resources of human genius, & made the councilor who had expressed himself so agreeably his favorite.

[1] The emperor Vespasian levied a tax on urine.

LESSON XIV.

THE THREE GAMBOLS.

In those days a wise man, delegated by his province to go before the sovereign in order to obtain the end of a tax, was admitted to the audience in his turn. The sovereign, who was still very young, responded to the request in these terms:

I would grant everything that you ask of me, if you consent to break, for a moment, with the gravity of your role, and resolve to gambol three times in the presence of my whole court.

That worthy replied:

Prince! I am no more familiar with the antics of an ape, than with the bowing and scraping of a courtier. Since the tax matters very little, I leave it to the members of your entourage, who will more than make up for my inability. But choose whether you command men or monkeys. The same king cannot be the ruler of both at once.

LESSON XV.

THE LAMP AND THE OIL.

In those days, a young sovereign, fond of ostentation, multiplied the taxes each day. The senate finally addressed some reproaches to him; he simply responded:

In order to shine, the lamp has need of oil.—No doubt, the chief magistrate courageously responded; but there is no need for the oil to overflow the lamp: it is enough that the wick be saturated with it; it would be extinguished, if it was inundated.

[…]

LESSON XVII.

THE CONSULTATION.

In those days, a young sovereign still consulted a philosopher in these terms: who would prevent me from claiming divine honors? A man like me perhaps deserves it as much as the animals & plants of Egypt & elsewhere. So then, an edict proclaimed today will earn me altars & incense tomorrow.

“Prince!” responded a friend of wisdom, “Believe me, the plants & animals enjoyed divine honors in Egypt, perhaps because they did not demand them of men. For it might be good if men were as stingy with incense demanded or deserved, as they are generous with incense that is voluntary & free.”

[…]

LESSON XXVIII.

VISION.
THE DESERT ISLAND.

In those days, returned from the court, very tired, a visionary gave himself up to sleep, & dreamed that all the peoples of the earth, on the day of the Saturnalia, gave each other the word to seize the persons of their kings, each on their side. They agreed at the same time on a general rendezvous, to gather this handful of crowned individuals, & to relegate them to a small, uninhabited, but habitable island, the fertile soil of which awaited only arms & a light cultivation. A cordon of small armed launches was established to watch over the island, and to prevent its new settlers from leaving it. The predicament of the new arrivals was not slight. They began by stripping themselves of all their royal ornaments, which embarrassed them; it was necessary that each one, to live, pitch in & do their part. No more valets, no more courtiers, no more soldiers. They had to do everything on their own. Those fifty characters did not live long in peace; & the human race, a quiet spectator, had the satisfaction of being delivered from its tyrants by their own hands.

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON XXX.

A FAIRY TALE.

In those days there was once a king who assembled his people one day, in order to say to them:

My friends, my predecessors have not always been good kings; my successors will probably not all be good kings. From my own experience, I can see that the best-intentioned of kings is not necessary for men, his fellows and equals, who can conduct their own affairs very well, since they are no longer children. So, without troubling you to provide me a state suitable to my rank, without exposing you any more to sovereigns worse than me, let us each just return home. Let each father be the king of his children alone. I wish to set an example for you. Take back what I have in excess, at present I am only head of the household; & distribute the surplus to the fathers who do not have enough…..

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON XXXIII.

THE TYRANT TRIUMPHANT.

In those days, a large, civilized, educated, but peaceful nation had a tyrant for a king. That king, emboldened by his first successes, & regarding all of his subjects as so many beasts of burden, said to himself one day: They have borne this, that, & still other taxes; they could bear many others. As a result, the despot announced a new form of taxation, more exorbitant than those that came before. This time, the nation could not stop itself from murmuring, & even offered some resistance. The tyrant, who did not expect an event that seemed to him the height of audacity & insubordination, & was not, moreover, in a mood to yield, flew into a rage that is hard to describe. A skillful politician, he had assembled a great number of soldiers around his palaces, & and at the crossroads of the principal cities in his kingdom, in order to insure indirectly, & under the pretext of a more precise military discipline, the obedience of his subjects, if necessary. His troops were devoted to him, because he took the finest care of them; he showered them with privileges, dressed them superbly and fed them well; & the people paid for all that: like children who are forced to pay the costs of their own punishment.

The despot, in his blind rage, gave the signal to his bodies of troops to gather & swoop down upon the disarmed nation. (The soldiers no longer have relatives, the moment that they are the king’s men.) The dismayed people could see nothing to do but to flee. They took refuge among the mountains, which were abundant in the country, scattering there, secluding themselves in family groups, & left all the cities, all the larger towns, without any inhabitants. The soldiers, tempted by the occasion, (they could not have hoped for a better one), scorned the fugitives, in order to plunder at their ease the treasures that they had abandoned to their mercy; so that the palace of the marvelously well served tyrant was no longer large enough to contain the spoils left by his subjects. His heart quivered with joy at that sight; &, in recognition, he gave a portion of the booty to those who had so faithfully brought it to him. The first euphoria having passed, he wanted to enjoy the honors of triumph in the finest cities of his States. But he could not find anyone to be the witness to it; everyone had disappeared. Go, he told his soldiers, go and tell them that I pardon them; they can return to inhabit their houses; I am satisfied with them. They have abandoned their goods to me; let them come and acquire new ones through new labors. I will protect them with the shadow of my paternal scepter. The unarmed soldiers hurried to track down their countrymen, & urged them to leave their mountains, & set out for the city & their hearths.—We will only leave here in pieces, they responded; divided by families, with no other master than nature, with no other kings than our patriarchs, we renounce forever life in the cities that we have built at great cost, & whose every stone is washed with our tears & dyed with our blood. The soldiers, who were moved, & who, moreover, no longer had any picking to hope for, were converted to peace, to liberty, resolved to remain with their brothers, & sent back their uniforms to the tyrant who awaited them. As for that tyrant, abandoned by all, starving amidst his treasures, in his impotent rage he tore at his own flesh with his teeth, & died, wracked by the agonies of need.

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON XLII.

THE WISE FOOL.

In those days, a wise man had attempted several times, but always in vain, to introduce truth into the court. The king’s fool fell hopelessly ill. The wise man dared to mimic him; & mimicked him so well that he succeeded him in his occupation. But the truth did not gain much by this disguise. In the mouth of the wise, it offended the monarch; in the mouth of folly, it only amused him, & did not improve him at all. Then the wise man left the service, & left the palace, saying: I see well that the kings are incorrigible.

(FR/EN)

LESSON XLIII.

THE GOLDEN AGE.

In those days, a king, who was called other names in the reaches of his provinces, asked one day at his table:

But, what is that golden age, that century of gold, of which I have sometimes heard?

One of his écuyers-tranchants [squires who cut meat] responded:

Prince, it is a fairy tale, invented, no doubt, to amuse some poet dissatisfied with the court.

But still….

Since His Majesty insists…. It is said that there was a time on earth when there were neither masters, nor servants, nor sovereigns, nor subjects; each served themselves.

What! There were no kings!… How could men do without them?

The fairy tale says that they were only the happier for it, & lived longer.

That is not possible. So how was it done?

Each family lived together under the pastoral staff of a patriarch.

That is indeed a real fairy tale…. However, added the king, let us forbid the modern poets to write new poems about it, & the nurses to beguile their children with it.

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON XLVIII.

THE COMMODE.

A king was accustomed to give his audiences in his privy. One should take such kings at their word & not make more of the oracles that they render on the throne, than of the noise that they let escape on their commode.

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON LIX.

THE SARMATIANS AND THE KINGS.

The Sarmatians, a ferocious & bellicose people, drew blood from their horse, & drank it: the sovereigns differ from the Scythians only by not waiting for the necessity & a time of war, to feed on the substance of the people subject to their control.

(FR/EN)

LESSON LX.

THE SLAVE MARKET.

Society is like a vast market of slaves or men, who buy & and sell each other in turn. The small are sold to the great, the poor to the rich; th great & the rich to the greater & richer. The courtiers sell themselves to the kinds; the credulous sell themselves to the priests, & they in turn sell themselves to the tyrants. The women especially are sold to the men, & sometimes the other way round. The wise man alone belongs to himself & will under no circumstances take part in this shameful traffic. So he is frowned upon by all those he has pitied.

(FR/EN)

[…]

LESSON LXIII.

THE SUTLERS ON THE THRONE.

One could compare society to an encamped army. The cities are the camps. The people are the soldiers. The kings are their sutlers (vivandiers), in every sense that we attach to that word.

(FR/EN)

LESSON LXIV.

THE FISHERS OF MEN.

In order to catch certain fish, it is necessary to trouble the water in which they swim: in order to captivate the people, it is necessary to surround them with an atmosphere of shadows. The kings are fishermen very well informed in the trade.

[…]

LESSON LXVI.

THE STATUE OF LEAD.

In those days, a young monarch visited the workshop of an artist. He was very surprised to see a statue of lead on a pedestal of gold, & remarked upon it to the sculptor, who responded: Prince! It is the simulacrum of the new minister. The young monarch made no reply; but he left, & the same evening, as he went to bed, he withdrew the unworthy choice that he had been convinced to make in the morning at his rising.

LESSON LXVII.

THE PALACE OF THE KINGS.

In those days, a king prided himself on the magnificence of his palace. Someone, who was not a courtier, said to him:

Prince, I know a crawling animal that owes its lodging to an architect still more skillful than your own…. The snail, & I might add the tortoise.

LESSON LXVIII.

THE PHILOSOPHER-ARCHITECT.

A king was going to built a palace, & his architect showed him the plans. The prince was frightened by the immense scale that had been given to it.—“It would be grand enough to lodge all my subjects.” “Your palace,” replied the architect, “will never be large enough to contain all of your flatterers.”

[…]

LESSON LXXIII.

THE NEW KING.

In those days, after his election, a sovereign was assailed by the mob of his friends, who came to ask favors & solicit his generosity.

My friends, responded the prince, showing them out, seating himself on the throne, I have become poorer than you. I do not even belong to myself any more. Let each of you individually demand by a single drop of my blood, I will refuse you. I am everything to everyone, & nothing to anyone. I am entirely dispossessed; & even of the virtues that I cherish the most, I have retained only justice: it is the only one that I am permitted to exercise.

[…]

LESSON LXXVIII.

THE BEAR, THE MONKEY AND THE FOOL.

The place for a bear is in the woods of a misanthrope;

The place for a monkey is in the mail coach of a courtier;

The place for a fool is in the court of a despot who fears a thinking people.

[…]

LESSON LXXXII.

THE WISE MAN’S LODGING.

In those days a wise man chose to reside directly opposite the superb palace of a rich man. “Why this preference?” he was asked. “You must be very sure of yourself, to have no fear of temptation, having constantly in sight the seductive spectacle of opulence.” “On the contrary,” replied the sage; “the unfaithful servants, the mercenary mistresses, the false friends that I see haunt this palace each day, make me more and more disgusted with the condition of the master who inhabits it.”

LESSON LXXXIII.

THE WISE MAN’S DISH.

In those days, a sage familiar with the spectacle of poverty & the unfortunate, was admitted to the table of the rich. After the meal, someone asked: well! What do you think of all the dishes that have been spread out for you?—One has been forgotten that would have tickled the palate more agreeably.—And which is that?—The gland….. The gland, which reminds me those happy times when all men ate from the same plate, & each according to his needs. This, is is said, we only ate acorns; but at least everyone ate them; some did not go to be without supper, while their fellows could not sleep, for having supped too much.

[…]

LESSON C.

THE ORIGIN OF THE WELL OF TRUTH.

A PARABLE.

In those days, the truth was stopped at the gates of the capital city of the Sybarites. Beautiful child, asked the clerk, what is contained in that packet hidden under your coat?—Foreign books.—Those goods will be confiscated; & you are condemned to pay the fine.—But I have nothing.—Well! We will seize your person.—And they went to constraint her bodily; but near the counter for admission, the truth saw an open well. To avoid a scene & the loss of her liberty, she preferred to cast herself to the bottom of the well, where she still remains; no one thus far having dared to draw her back out.

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