Aesop's Fables ; A new translation by V.S. Vernon Jones with an introduction by G. K. Chesterton and illustration by Arthur Rackham
New York : Avenel Books, 1975. Hardcover. 223 pages ; 21 cm. In original dust jacket with unmarked pages and firm binding.
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham
From the Introduction by G. K. Chesterton
The historical Aesop, in so far as he was historical, would seem to have been a Phrygian slave, or at least one not to be specially and symbolically adorned with the Phrygian cap of liberty. He lived, if he did live, about the sixth century before Christ, in the time of that Croesus whose story we love and suspect like everything else in Herodotus. There are also stories of deformity of feature and a ready ribaldry of tongue: stories which (as the celebrated Cardinal said) explain, though they do not excuse, his having been hurled over a high precipice at Delphi. Aesop may have been a fiction like Uncle Remus: he was also, like Uncle Remus, a fact. It is a fact that slaves in the old world could be worshipped like Aesop, or loved like Uncle Remus. It is odd to note that both the great slaVes told their best stories about beasts and birds.
Aesop, or Babrius (or whatever his name was), understood that, for a fable, all the persons must be impersonal. They must be like abstractions in algebra, or like pieces in chess. The lion must always be stronger than the wolf, just as four is always double of two. The fox in a fable must move crooked, as the knight in chess must move crooked. The sheep in a fable must march on, as the pawn in chess must march on. The fable must not allow for the crooked captures of the pawn; it must not allow for what Balzac called "the revolt of a sheep." Man, in his simpler states, always felt that he himself was something too mysterious to be drawn. But the legend he carved under these cruder symbols was everywhere the same; and whether fables began with Aesop or began with Adam, whether they were German and medieval as Reynard the Fox, or as French and Renaissance as La Fontaine, the upshot is everywhere essentially the same: that superiority is always insolent, because it is always accidental; that pride goes before a fall; and that there is such a thing as being too clever by half. You will not find any other legend but this written upon the rocks by any hand of man. There is every type and time of fable: but there is only one moral to the fable; because there is only one moral to everything.
Arthur Rackham (1867-1939) was known as "The Dean of Fairyland." The style he set in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens has not been equaled. A study of his faces shows the attention he gave to details, but his drawings have a pastel-like softness and a lovely harmony of tones and colors. Rackham also illustrated A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Tempest, Wind in the Willows, The Arthur Rackham Fairy Book and Tales from Shakespeare, by Charles and Mary Lamb.
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