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HE history of Reynard the Fox has been known in Europe under various forms for upwards of five centuries, and has probably enjoyed the greatest amount of popularity of any legends of the sayings and doings of animals. It has been supposed by some to have been written with a political design; but, apart from the exhaustive refutation of this supposition, given by Grimm (Reinhart Fuchs von Jacob Grimm, Berlin, 1834), a perusal of the story, as given by Goethe, and translated in the following pages, appears sufficient to dispel any idea of the kind. It is a fable, in which beasts, whilst retaining their characteristic traits and propensities, display worldly wisdom combined with the quaintest humour, in a manner that not even the Hitopadesa and other Oriental collections of fables derived from it can at all equal, the latter, although abounding in instances in which beasts are credited with almost superhuman acuteness and subtlety, always treating such subjects in a dry, matter-of-fact style, and, as it were, not seeing any fun in them. Probably the best English criticism of the story in existence is that by Carlyle, which may appropriately be quoted here.
"This remarkable book comes before us with a character such as can belong only to a very few; that of being a true world's book, which through centuries was everywhere at home, the spirit of which diffused itself into all lan
guages and all minds. These quaint Esopic figures have painted themselves in innumerable heads; that rough, deep-lying humour has been the laughter of many generations, so that, at worst, we must regard this Reinecke as an ancient idol, once worshipped, and still interesting for that circumstance, were the sculpture never so rude. We can love it, moreover, as being indigenous, wholly of our own creation; it sprang up from European sense and character, and was a faithful type and organ of these.
"But, independently of all extrinsic considerations, this fable of Reinecke may challenge a judgment on its own merits. Cunningly constructed, and not without a true poetic life, we must admit it to be; great power of conception and invention, great pictorial fidelity, a warm sunny tone of colouring, are manifest enough. It is full of broad, rustic mirth; inexhaustible in comic devices: a WorldSaturnalia, where Wolves tonsured into Monks and nigh starved by short commons, Foxes pilgriming to Rome for absolution, Cocks pleading at the judgment-bar, make strange mummery. Nor is this Wild Parody of Human Life without its meaning and moral; it is an Air-pageant from Fancy's Dream grotto, yet Wisdom lurks in it; as we gaze, the vision becomes poetic and prophetic. A true Irony must have dwelt in the poet's heart and head: here, under grotesque shadows, he gives us the saddest picture of Reality; yet for us without sadness; his figures mask themselves in uncouth, bestial vizards, and enact gambolling; their Tragedy dissolves into sardonic grins. He has a deep, artful Humour, sporting with the world and its evils in kind mockery: this is the poetic soul, round which the outward material has fashioned itself into living coherence. And so, in that rude old Apologue, we have still a mirror, though now tarnished and time-worn, of true magic reality; and can discern
there in cunning reflex, some image both of our destiny and of our duty, for now, as then, Prudence is the only virtue sure of its reward,' and Cunning triumphs where Honesty is worsted; and now, as then, it is the wise man's part to know this, and cheerfully look for it, and cheerfully defy it:
'Ut vulpis adulatio
Here thro' his own world moveth,
Sic hominis et ratio
Most like to Reynard's proveth.'
If Reinecke is nowise a perfect Comic Epos, it has various features of such, and, above all, a genuine Epic spirit, which is the rarest feature.
"It has been objected that the animals in Reinecke are not animals, but men disguised; to which objection, except in so far as grounded on the necessary indubitable fact that this is an Apologue or emblematic Fable, and no Chapter of Natural History, we cannot in any considerable degree accede. Nay, that very contrast between Object and Effect, where the Passions of men develope themselves on the Interests of animals, and the whole is huddled together in chaotic mockery, is a main charm of the picture. For the rest, we should rather say, these bestial characters were moderately well sustained; the vehement, futile vociferation of Chanticleer; the hysterical promptitude, and earnest profession, and protestation of poor Lampe the Hare; the thick-headed ferocity of Isegrim; the sluggish, gluttonous rapacity of Bruin; above all the craft, the tact, and inexhaustible knavish adroitness of Reinecke himself, are in strict accuracy of costume. Often also their situations and occupations are bestial enough. What quantities of bacon and other proviant do Isegrim and Reinecke forage; Reinecke contributing the schemefor the two were then in partnership-and Isegrim paying