by Jean de La Fontaine
THE change of food enjoyment is to man;
In this, t'include the woman is my plan.
I cannot guess why Rome will not allow
Exchange in wedlock, and its leave avow;
Not ev'ry time such wishes might arise,
But, once in life at least, 'twere not unwise;
Perhaps one day we may the boon obtain;
Amen, I say: my sentiments are plain;
The privilege in France may yet arrive
There trucking pleases, and exchanges thrive;
The people love variety, we find;
And such by heav'n was ere for them designed.
ONCE there dwelled, near Rouen, (sapient clime)
Two villagers, whose wives were in their prime,
And rather pleasing in their shape and mien,
For those in whom refinement 's scarcely seen.
Each looker-on conceives, LOVE needs not greet
Such humble wights, as he would prelates treat.
IT happened, howsoe'er, both weary grown,
Of halves that they so long had called their own;
One holyday, with them there chanced to drink
The village lawyer (bred in Satan's sink);
To him, said one of these, with jeering air,
Good mister Oudinet, a strange affair
Is in my head: you've doubtless often made
Variety of contracts; 'tis your trade:
Now, cannot you contrive, by one of these,
That men should barter wives, like goods, at ease?
Our pastor oft his benefice has changed;
Is trucking wives less easily arranged?
It cannot be, for well I recollect,
That Parson Gregory (whom none suspect)
Would always say, or much my mem'ry fails,
My flock 's my wife: love equally prevails;
He changed; let us, good neighbour do the same;
With all my heart, said t'other, that's my aim;
But well thou know'st that mine's the fairest face,
And, Mister Oudinet, since that's the case,
Should he not add, at least, his mule to boot?
My mule? rejoined the first, that will not suit;
In this world ev'ry thing has got its price:
Mine I will change for thine and that 's concise.
Wives are not viewed so near; naught will I add;
Why, neighbour Stephen, dost thou think me mad,
To give my mule to boot?--of mules the king;
Not e'en an ass I'd to the bargain bring;
Change wife for wife, the barter will be fair;
Then each will act with t'other on the square.
THE village lawyer now the friends addressed:
Said he, Antoinetta is confessed
To have superior charms to those of Jane;
But still, if I may venture to be plain,
Not always is the best what meets the eye,
For many beauties in concealment lie,
Which I prefer; and these are hid with care;
Deceptions, too, are practised by the FAIR;
Howe'er, we wish the whole to be disclosed,
Too much, 'tis said, they must not be exposed.
NOW, neighbours, let us fair arrangement make:
A pig in poke you'd neither give nor take;
Confront these halves in nature's birth-day suit;
To neither, then, will you deceit impute.
The project was most thoroughly approved;
Like inclination both the husbands moved.
ANTOINETTA, said the second spouse,
Has neither ill nor scratch her fears to rouse.
Jane, cried the first, is ev'ry way complete;
No freckles on the skin: as balm she's sweet:
Antoinetta is, her spouse replied,
Ambrosia ev'ry way: no fault to hide.
SAID t'other:--Don't so confident appear;
Thou know'st not Jane: her ways would marble cheer;
And there's a play:--thou understand'st no doubt?
To this rejoined the second village lout,
One diff'rence only have my wife and I:
Which plays the prettiest wiles is what we try;
Thou'lt very soon of these know how to think;
Here's to thee, neighbour; Mister Oud'net, drink;
Come, toast Antoinetta; likewise Jane;
The mule was granted, and the bargain plain:
Our village lawyer promised to prepare,
At once, the writings, which would all declare.
This Oudinet a good apostle proved
Well paid for parchment, or he never moved:
By whom was payment made?--by both the dames;
On neither husband showed he any claims.
THE village clowns some little time supposed
That all was secret: not a hint disclosed;
The parson of it, howsoe'er, obtained
Some intimation, and his off'rings gained.
I was not present, fully I admit;
But rarely clergymen their dues will quit.
The very clerk would not remit his fee:--
All those who serve the church in this agree.
THE permutation could not well be made,
But scandal would such practices upbraid;
In country villages each step is seen;
Thus, round the whisper went of what had been,
And placed at length the thorn where all was ease;
The pow'rs divine alone it could displease.
'Twas pleasant them together to behold;
The wives, in emulation, were not cold;
In easy talk they'd to each other say:
How pleasing to exchange from day to day!
What think you, neighbour, if, to try our luck,
For once we've something new, and valets truck?
This last, if made, the secret had respect;
The other had at first a good effect.
FOR one good month the whole proceeded well;
But, at the end, disgust dispersed the spell;
And neighbour Stephen, as we might suppose,
Began dissatisfaction to disclose;
Lamented much Antoinetta's stop;
No doubt he was a loser by the swop;
Yet neighbour Giles expressed extreme regret,
That t'other from him ought to boot should get:
Howe'er, he would retrucking not consent,
So much he otherwise appeared content.
IT happened on a day, as Stephen strayed
Within a wood, he saw, beneath a shade,
And near the stream, asleep, and quite alone,
Antoinetta, whom he wished his own.
He near her drew, and waked her with surprise;
The change ne'er struck her when she ope'd her eyes;
The gay gallant advantage quickly took,
And, what he wished, soon placed within his hook.
'Tis said, he found her better than at first;
Why so? you ask: was she then at the worst?
A curious question, truly, you've designed;
In Cupid's am'rous code of laws you'll find--
Bread got by stealth, and eat where none can spy,
Is better far than what you bake or buy;
For proof of this, ask those most learn'd in love
Truth we prefer, all other things above;
Yet Hymen, and the god of soft desire,
How much soe'er their union we admire,
Are not designed together bread to bake;
In proof, the sleeping scene for instance take.
Good cheer was there: each dish was served with taste;
The god of love, who often cooks in haste,
Most nicely seasoned things to relish well;
In this he's thought old Hymen to excel.
ANTOINETTA, to his clasp restored,
Our neighbour Stephen, who his wife adored,
Quite raw, howe'er, in this, exclaimed apart
Friend Giles has surely got some secret art,
For now my rib displays superior charms,
To what she had, before she left my arms.
Let's take her back, and play the Norman trick
Deny the whole, and by our priv'lege stick.
IMMEDIATELY he ev'ry effort tried,
To get the bargain fully set aside.
Giles, much distressed, exerted all his might,
To keep his prize, and prove his conduct right.
The cause was carried to the bishop's court;
Much noise it made, according to report.
At length the parliament would hear the claim,
And judge a case of such peculiar fame.
THE village lawyer, Oudinet, was brought;
From him, who drew the contract, truth was sought;
There rests the cause, for 'tis of recent date;
While undecided, more we cannot state.
HOW silly neighbour Stephen must appear!
He went against his int'rest now 'tis clear;
For, when superior pleasure he was shown,
The fascinating fair was not his own.
Good sense would whisper then, 'twere full as well,
To let remain with Giles the beauteous belle;
Save now and then, within the leafy shade,
Where oft Antoinetta visits made,
And warbled to the shrubs and trees around;
There he might easily the nymph have found,
But, if with ease it could not be obtained,
Still greater pleasure he would then have gained.
GO preach me this to silly country louts;
These, howsoe'er, had managed well their bouts,
It must not be denied, and all was nice;
To do the like perhaps 'twill some entice.
I much regret my lot was not the same,
Though doubtless many will my wishes blame.
Last updated May 02, 2015