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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jean de La Fontaine (1621–1695)

The Council of the Rats

From “Fables”

OLD Rodilard, a certain cat,

Such havoc of the rats had made,

’Twas difficult to find a rat

With Nature’s debt unpaid.

The few that did remain,

To leave their holes afraid,

From usual food abstain,

Not eating half their fill.

And wonder no one will,

That one, who made on rats his revel,

With rats passed not for cat, but devil.

Now, on a day, this dread rat-eater,

Who had a wife, went out to meet her;

And while he held his caterwauling,

The unkilled rats, their chapter calling,

Discussed the point, in grave debate,

How they might shun impending fate.

Their dean, a prudent rat,

Thought best, and better soon than late,

To bell the fatal cat;

That, when he took his hunting-round,

The rats, well cautioned by the sound,

Might hide in safety underground.

Indeed, he knew no other means.

And all the rest

At once confessed

Their minds were with the dean’s.

No better plan, they all believed,

Could possibly have been conceived;

No doubt, the thing would work right well,

If any one would hang the bell.

But, one by one, said every rat,

“I’m not so big a fool as that.”

The plan knocked up in this respect,

The council closed without effect.

And many a council I have seen,

Or reverend chapter with its dean,

That, thus resolving wisely,

Fell through like this precisely.

To argue or refute,

Wise counselors abound;

The man to execute

Is harder to be found.