Tales and Novels in verse of J. De La Fontaine, illustrated with eighty fives[sic] original plates by Eisen (E.F. Bonaventure, New York, 1883, signed by the publisher, hand-numbered #324/400)
5.75″x9″, 2 vol., xiii+252pp, x+334pp, three-quarter bound with brown morocco with gilt borders over marbled boards, 5 raised bands, gilt titles and decoration on spines, top-edge gilt with others deckled, illustrated throughout with protective tissue guards.
Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695) was a French fabulist and one of the most widely read French poets of the 17th century. After a long period of royal suspicion, he was admitted to the French Academy and his reputation in France has never faded since. Evidence of this is found in the many pictures and statues of the writer, as well as later depictions on medals, coins and postage stamps.
The numerous works of La Fontaine fall into three traditional divisions: the Fables, the Tales and the miscellaneous (including dramatic) works.
He is best known for the first of these, in which a tradition of fable collecting in French verse reaching back to the Middle Ages was brought to a peak. He published 245 fables, across twelve books between 1668 and 1694, exemplify the grace and wit of his age. Unlike many of his models, his fables function less as didactic tools and more as entertaining art. His beasts, humans, and plants are not merely moral-serving abstractions but rather lively actors in elegantly described escapades.
Almost equally as popular in their time, his “tales”, Contes et nouvelles en vers (1665), is an anthology of various ribald short stories and novellas collected and versified from prose. They were particularly marked by their archly licentious tone. La Fontaine drew from several French and Italian works of the 15th and 16th centuries, among them The Decameron of Giovanni Boccaccio, Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, Antoine de la Sale’s collection Cent Nouvelles Nouvelles, and the work of Bonaventure des Périers.