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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesEmile; Or, On Education - BOOK 2: The Fox And The Crow - A Fable
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Emile; Or, On Education - BOOK 2: The Fox And The Crow - A Fable Post by :seven7bh Category :Long Stories Author :Jean Jacques Rousseau Date :April 2012 Read :3095

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Emile; Or, On Education - BOOK 2: The Fox And The Crow - A Fable

"Maitre corbeau, sur un arbre perche" (Mr. Crow perched on a tree).--"Mr.!" what does that word really mean? What does it mean before a proper noun? What is its meaning here? What is a crow? What is "un arbre perche"? We do not say "on a tree perched," but perched on a tree. So we must speak of poetical inversions, we must distinguish between prose and verse.

"Tenait dans son bec un fromage" (Held a cheese in his beak)--What sort of a cheese? Swiss, Brie, or Dutch? If the child has never seen crows, what is the good of talking about them? If he has seen crows will he believe that they can hold a cheese in their beak? Your illustrations should always be taken from nature.

"Maitre renard, par l'odeur alleche" (Mr. Fox, attracted by the smell).--Another Master! But the title suits the fox,--who is master of all the tricks of his trade. You must explain what a fox is, and distinguish between the real fox and the conventional fox of the fables.

"Alleche." The word is obsolete; you will have to explain it. You will say it is only used in verse. Perhaps the child will ask why people talk differently in verse. How will you answer that question?

"Alleche, par l'odeur d'un fromage." The cheese was held in his beak by a crow perched on a tree; it must indeed have smelt strong if the fox, in his thicket or his earth, could smell it. This is the way you train your pupil in that spirit of right judgment, which rejects all but reasonable arguments, and is able to distinguish between truth and falsehood in other tales.

"Lui tient a peu pres ce langage" (Spoke to him after this fashion).--"Ce langage." So foxes talk, do they! They talk like crows! Mind what you are about, oh, wise tutor; weigh your answer before you give it, it is more important than you suspect.

"Eh! Bonjour, Monsieur le Corbeau!" ("Good-day, Mr. Crow!")--Mr.! The child sees this title laughed to scorn before he knows it is a title of honour. Those who say "Monsieur du Corbeau" will find their work cut out for them to explain that "du."

"Que vous etes joli! Que vous me semblez beau!" ("How handsome you are, how beautiful in my eyes!")--Mere padding. The child, finding the same thing repeated twice over in different words, is learning to speak carelessly. If you say this redundance is a device of the author, a part of the fox's scheme to make his praise seem all the greater by his flow of words, that is a valid excuse for me, but not for my pupil.

"Sans mentir, si votre ramage" ("Without lying, if your song").--"Without lying." So people do tell lies sometimes. What will the child think of you if you tell him the fox only says "Sans mentir" because he is lying?

"Se rapporte a votre plumage" ("Answered to your fine feathers").--"Answered!" What does that mean? Try to make the child compare qualities so different as those of song and plumage; you will see how much he understands.

"Vous seriez le phenix des hotes de ces bois!" ("You would be the phoenix of all the inhabitants of this wood!")--The phoenix! What is a phoenix? All of a sudden we are floundering in the lies of antiquity--we are on the edge of mythology.

"The inhabitants of this wood." What figurative language! The flatterer adopts the grand style to add dignity to his speech, to make it more attractive. Will the child understand this cunning? Does he know, how could he possibly know, what is meant by grand style and simple style?

"A ces mots le corbeau ne se sent pas de joie" (At these words, the crow is beside himself with delight).--To realise the full force of this proverbial expression we must have experienced very strong feeling.

"Et, pour montrer sa belle voix" (And, to show his fine voice).--Remember that the child, to understand this line and the whole fable, must know what is meant by the crow's fine voice.

"Il ouvre un large bec, laisse tomber sa proie" (He opens his wide beak and drops his prey).--This is a splendid line; its very sound suggests a picture. I see the great big ugly gaping beak, I hear the cheese crashing through the branches; but this kind of beauty is thrown away upon children.

"Le renard s'en saisit, et dit, 'Mon bon monsieur'" (The fox catches it, and says, "My dear sir").--So kindness is already folly. You certainly waste no time in teaching your children.

"Apprenez que tout flatteur" ("You must learn that every flatterer").--A general maxim. The child can make neither head nor tail of it.

"Vit au depens de celui qui l'ecoute" ("Lives at the expense of the person who listens to his flattery").--No child of ten ever understood that.

"Ce lecon vaut bien un fromage, sans doute" ("No doubt this lesson is well worth a cheese").--This is intelligible and its meaning is very good. Yet there are few children who could compare a cheese and a lesson, few who would not prefer the cheese. You will therefore have to make them understand that this is said in mockery. What subtlety for a child!

"Le corbeau, honteux et confus" (The crow, ashamed and confused).--A nothing pleonasm, and there is no excuse for it this time.

"Jura, mais un peu tard, qu'on ne l'y prendrait plus" (Swore, but rather too late, that he would not be caught in that way again).--"Swore." What master will be such a fool as to try to explain to a child the meaning of an oath?

What a host of details! but much more would be needed for the analysis of all the ideas in this fable and their reduction to the simple and elementary ideas of which each is composed. But who thinks this analysis necessary to make himself intelligible to children? Who of us is philosopher enough to be able to put himself in the child's place? Let us now proceed to the moral.

Should we teach a six-year-old child that there are people who flatter and lie for the sake of gain? One might perhaps teach them that there are people who make fools of little boys and laugh at their foolish vanity behind their backs. But the whole thing is spoilt by the cheese. You are teaching them how to make another drop his cheese rather than how to keep their own. This is my second paradox, and it is not less weighty than the former one.

Watch children learning their fables and you will see that when they have a chance of applying them they almost always use them exactly contrary to the author's meaning; instead of being on their guard against the fault which you would prevent or cure, they are disposed to like the vice by which one takes advantage of another's defects. In the above fable children laugh at the crow, but they all love the fox. In the next fable you expect them to follow the example of the grasshopper. Not so, they will choose the ant. They do not care to abase themselves, they will always choose the principal part--this is the choice of self-love, a very natural choice. But what a dreadful lesson for children! There could be no monster more detestable than a harsh and avaricious child, who realised what he was asked to give and what he refused. The ant does more; she teaches him not merely to refuse but to revile.

In all the fables where the lion plays a part, usually the chief part, the child pretends to be the lion, and when he has to preside over some distribution of good things, he takes care to keep everything for himself; but when the lion is overthrown by the gnat, the child is the gnat. He learns how to sting to death those whom he dare not attack openly.

From the fable of the sleek dog and the starving wolf he learns a lesson of licence rather than the lesson of moderation which you profess to teach him. I shall never forget seeing a little girl weeping bitterly over this tale, which had been told her as a lesson in obedience. The poor child hated to be chained up; she felt the chain chafing her neck; she was crying because she was not a wolf.

So from the first of these fables the child learns the basest flattery; from the second, cruelty; from the third, injustice; from the fourth, satire; from the fifth, insubordination. The last of these lessons is no more suitable for your pupils than for mine, though he has no use for it. What results do you expect to get from your teaching when it contradicts itself! But perhaps the same system of morals which furnishes me with objections against the fables supplies you with as many reasons for keeping to them. Society requires a rule of morality in our words; it also requires a rule of morality in our deeds; and these two rules are quite different. The former is contained in the Catechism and it is left there; the other is contained in La Fontaine's fables for children and his tales for mothers. The same author does for both.

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Let us make a bargain, M. de la Fontaine. For my own part, I undertake to make your books my favourite study; I undertake to love you, and to learn from your fables, for I hope I shall not mistake their meaning. As to my pupil, permit me to prevent him studying any one of them till you have convinced me that it is good for him to learn things three-fourths of which are unintelligible to him, and until you can convince me that in those fables he can understand he will never reverse the order and imitate the villain instead
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We have now reached the second phase of life; infancy, strictly so-called, is over; for the words infans and puer are not synonymous. The latter includes the former, which means literally "one who cannot speak;" thus Valerius speaks of puerum infantem. But I shall continue to use the word child (French enfant) according to the custom of our language till an age for which there is another term.When children begin to talk they cry less. This progress is quite natural; one language supplants another. As soon as they can say "It hurts me," why should they cry, unless the pain is
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