Art Nouveau, farce, illustrations, Jacques Offenbach, Lex Talionis, limerick, Perry Index 426, the Golden Rule, trompeur trompé, Walter Crane
Walter Crane: a Limerick
We are still in the “‘Golden Age’ of British illustration”[i] (see Arthur Rackham, Wikipedia). Walter Crane (1845–1915) created illustrations for Baby’s Own Æsop (1887), Æsop‘s Fables adapted for children. The above illustrations are examples of Art Nouveau (curves…). Famed engraver W. J. Linton (7 December 1812 – 29 December 1897) provided Walter Crane with the limericks, which does not mean he is their author. To the best of my knowledge, the limericks are anonymous. In Æsop and Jean de La Fontaine, the crane is a stork. Consequently, these are functions.
As for the text, it is a limerick version of the Æsopic fable “The Fox and the Stork” and Jean de La Fontaine’s retelling. Limericks are five-line poems and, typically, nonsensical, which is not the case with “The Fox and Crane.” The fable has simply been adapted for children. Limericks can be learned easily and then recited. Their rhyme scheme is AABBA and their meter, the tri-syllabic anapest: two short and a long. Interestingly, the shortened text is inserted in the illustration, suggesting the growing importance of illustrations. Therefore, the limericks have a dual purpose. They suit children and allow for large illustrations.
“The Fox and the Stork,” by Æsop
In Æsop’s fable, the crane (la grue) is a stork (la cigogne) and the limerick, a genuine fable. It is number 426 in the Perry Index and type 60 and AT type 60. The following is V. S. Vernon Jones’ translation of Æsop’s “The Fox and Stork.” [eBook #11339]A Fox invited a Stork to dinner, at which the only fare provided was a large flat dish of soup. The Fox lapped it up with great relish, but the Stork with her long bill tried in vain to partake of the savoury broth. Her evident distress caused the sly Fox much amusement. But not long after the Stork invited him in turn, and set before him a pitcher with a long and narrow neck, into which she could get her bill with ease. Thus, while she enjoyed her dinner, the Fox sat by hungry and helpless, for it was impossible for him to reach the tempting contents of the vessel. Walter Crane Photo credit: Gutenberg [eBook #25433]
La Fontaine’s “Le Renard et la Cigogne”
The Deceiver Deceived or “le trompeur trompé ”
The structure of this fable is that of the “deceiver deceived” or “trompeur trompé.” The fox, as host, serves the crane (la grue) her meal on a flat plate. So the crane, as hostess, serves the fox (le renard) his meal in an urn. Molière used this structure in shorter plays (one to three acts) known as farces, as opposed to grandes comédies (five acts). These shorter plays resemble French medieval farces and facéties as well as comedies belonging to the Italian commedia dell’arte, an improvised comic form where the characters were stock-characters or archetypes, i.e. they always played the same role in plays following the same formula, or plot, as in “Harlequin” Romances.
In short, “The Fox and the Crane” is a farce; a trick played on one character is played on the trickster. It is as though “The Fox and the Stork” were reversed into “The Stork and the Fox,” a mirror image æsthetics.
The Moral of “The Fox and the Stork”
At its simplest level, the moral of this fable is that what harm we do unto others can be done to us. The trickster may expect retaliation (lex talionis),[i] but not of a military nature. So this fable is a cautionary tale. The stork having been fooled by the fox, the fox can expect anything, and it is fooled the stork.
Yet, what this fable has to teach is an all-encompassing rule. It is the “do not do unto others what you do not wish others to do unto you.” According to Wikipedia,
“[t]he moral drawn is that the trickster must expect trickery in return and that the golden rule of conduct is for one to do to others what one would wish for oneself.”
Wikipedia emphasizes the universality of this rule (see Golden Rule). Let’s scroll down to the Sanskrit tradition.“In Mahābhārata, the ancient epic of India, comes a discourse where the wise minister Vidura advises the King Yuddhiśhṭhira thus, ‘Listening to wise scriptures, austerity, sacrifice, respectful faith, social welfare, forgiveness, purity of intent, compassion, truth and self-control – are the ten wealth of character (self). O King aim for these, may you be steadfast in these qualities. These are the basis of prosperity and rightful living. These are highest attainable things. All worlds are balanced on dharma, dharma encompasses ways to prosperity as well. O King, dharma is the best quality to have, wealth the medium and desire (kāma) the lowest. Hence, (keeping these in mind), by self-control and by making dharma (right conduct) your main focus, treat others as you treat yourself.’”
“In the best of all possible worlds” (Candide [Leibniz], Voltaire), would the stork or crane have tricked the trickster?_________________________
Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2013. Web. 30 Sep. 2013