Wednesday, November 10, 2010

La Fontaine: The Use of Knowledge

Between two citizens
A controversy grew.
The one was poor, but much he knew:
The other, rich, with little sense,
Claim'd that, in point of excellence,
The merely wise should bow the knee
To all such money'd men as he.
The merely fools, he should have said;
For why should wealth hold up its head,
When merit from its side hath fled?
'My friend,' quoth Bloated-purse,
To his reverse,
'You think yourself considerable.
Pray, tell me, do you keep a table?
What comes of this incessant reading,
In point of lodging, clothing, feeding?
It gives one, true, the highest chamber,
One coat for June and for December,
His shadow for his sole attendant,
And hunger always in th' ascendant.
What profits he his country, too,
Who scarcely ever spends a sou--
Will, haply, be a public charge?
Who profits more the state at large,
Than he whose luxuries dispense
Among the people wealth immense?
We set the streams of life a-flowing;
We set all sorts of trades a-going.
The spinner, weaver, sewer, vender,
And many a wearer, fair and tender,
All live and flourish on the spender--
As do, indeed, the reverend rooks
Who waste their time in making books.'
These words, so full of impudence,
Received their proper recompense.
The man of letters held his peace,
Though much he might have said with ease.
A war avenged him soon and well;
In it their common city fell.
Both fled abroad; the ignorant,
By fortune thus brought down to want,
Was treated everywhere with scorn,
And roamed about, a wretch forlorn;
Whereas the scholar, everywhere,
Was nourish'd by the public care.

Let fools the studious despise;
There's nothing lost by being wise.

Source: Wright's translation of La Fontaine, Fable 8.19.

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