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

Ivan Krylov (1768–1844)

The Musicians

From the “Fables”

THE TRICKSY monkey, the goat, the ass, and bandy-legged Mishka, the bear, determined to play a quartet. They provided themselves with the necessary instruments—two fiddles, an alto, and a bass. Then they all settled down under a large tree, with the object of dazzling the world by their artistic performance. They fiddled away lustily for some time, but only succeeded in making a noise, and no music.

“Stop, my friends!” said the monkey, “this will not do; our music does not sound as it ought. It is plain that we are in the wrong positions. You, Mishka, take your bass and face the alto; I will go opposite the second fiddle. Then we shall play altogether differently, so that the very hills and forests will dance.”

So they changed places, and began over again. But they produced only discords, as before.

“Wait a moment!” exclaimed the ass; “I know what the matter is. We must get in a row, and then we shall play in tune.”

This advice was acted upon. The four animals placed themselves in a straight line, and struck up once more.

The quartet was as unmusical as ever. Then they stopped again, and began squabbling and wrangling about the proper positions to be taken. It happened that a nightingale came flying by that way, attracted by their din. They begged the nightingale to solve their difficulty for them.

“Pray be so kind,” they said, “as to stay a moment, so that we may get our quartet in order. We have music and we have instruments; only tell us how to place ourselves.”

To which the nightingale replied:

“To be a musician, one must have a better ear and more intelligence than any of you. Place yourselves any way you like; it will make no difference. You will never become musicians.”