From time to time, in all ages, men inspired, or gifted with a superior degree of intellectual power, have appeared upon the stage of life, in order (by enlightening others) to fulfil the designs of Omnipotence, in uniting the world in a state of civilized society.
Patriarchs, or heads of families, at first directed or governed those who were immediately dependent upon them: these in time increased, and became clans; these again, by their quarrels, and their wars, were induced to elect chieftains or kings over a number of united clans,–from which were formed the various nations and kingdoms of the earth. In this early stage of the world, when men were ignorant and uncivilized, the chase and war seem almost wholly to have occupied their time and attention. Their kings ruled over them with despotic sway, and the will of the prince was the only law: and thus the barbarism of the subject and the tyranny of the ruler went hand in hand together. That over-swollen pride, which seems the natural accompaniment of despotic power, blinds the understandings of its possessors, and renders them wholly regardless of the important trust reposed in them. The evils arising out of their bad government, are felt, more or less, by the whole people over whom they preside; and pride and arrogance prevent the approach of sincerity and truth. The sycophant and the slave then only find admission, and all other men are kept at a distance. While kings and governors were of this character, the voice of truth could only reach their ears through allegory and fable, which took their rise in the infancy of learning, and seem to have been the only safe mode of conveying admonition to tyrants. This pleasing method of instilling instruction into the mind, has been found by experience to be the shortest and best way of accomplishing that end, among all ranks and conditions of men.
9:7 And when they told it to Jotham, he went and stood in the top of mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice, and cried, and said unto them, Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that God may hearken unto you.
9:8 The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
9:9 But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
9:10 And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
9:11 But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
9:12 Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
9:13 And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
9:14 Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
9:15 And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
The first Fable upon record, is that of Jotham and the Trees [above], in the Bible; and the next, that of The Poor Man and his Lamb [below], as related by Nathan to King David, and which carried with it a blaze of truth that flashed conviction on the mind of the royal transgressor. Lessons of reproof, religion, and morality, were, we find, continually delivered in this mode, by the sages of old, to the exalted among mankind.
12:2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
12:3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
12:4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
12:5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
12:6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
12:7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
12:8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
12:9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
It is asserted by authors, that Apologues and Fables had their origin in the Eastern world, and that the most ancient of them were the productions of Veeshnou Sarma, commonly called Pilpay, whose beautiful collections of Apologues were esteemed as sacred books in India and Persia, whence they were spread abroad among other nations, and were by them celebrated and holden in much estimation. They were translated from the Persian and Arabian into Greek, by Simeon Seth, a man of great learning, who was an officer of the imperial household at Constantinople about the year 1070. Seth’s Version was imitated in Latin by Piers Alfonse, a converted Jew, as early as the year 1107; and this is supposed to have been the first version of Pilpay’s Apologues that made its way, and became familiarized in Europe. The time in which Pilpay lived, seems not to be certainly known to the learned; but some of them suppose that the Fables of Aesop and others were grounded upon his models. The time in which Aesop lived is better ascertained, and of all the Fabulists who have amused and instructed mankind by their writings, his name stands pre-eminent. Authors fix his birth-place at Cotieum, in Phrygia Major. But the history of this remarkable person, who lived about 572 years before Christ, and about 100 years before Herodotus, the Greek historian, has been so involved in mystery, traditionary stories, and absurd conjectures, that any attempt to give a detail from such materials, would only serve to bewilder youth, and lead them into a labyrinth of error; and it would be impertinent to trouble the learned reader with that which must be sufficiently familiar to him.
 The curious enquirer is referred to the Essay on the Aesopean Fable, by Sir Brooke Boothby, bart. from which this sketch is extracted.
The whole of the absurd fictions concerning this wise and amiable man, were invented by Maximus Planudes, a Greek monk.
 Planudes lived at Constantinople in the 14th century. His Fables were printed at Milan, A. D. 1480.
Plutarch, and other authentic historians,
 The first person who took great pains to detect and expose the follies and absurdities of Planudes’s Life of Aesop, and collected what could be known, was Bachet de Mezeriac, a man of great learning, who flourished about the year 1652.
have, however, given a very different account of the illustrious Fabulist. It would appear, according to some of these relations, that Aesop, originally a shepherd’s boy, had risen from the condition of a slave, to great eminence, and that he lived in the service of Xanthus and Judman, or Idmon, in the island of Samos, and afterwards at Athens. Phaedrus speaks of him as living the greater part of his life at the latter place, where, it appears, a handsome statue, executed by the hand of the famous statuary Lysippus, was erected to his memory, and placed before those of the seven sages of Greece.
 These sages were Solon, Thales, Chilo, Cleobulus, Bias, Pittacus, and Periander, to whom Laertius adds Anacharsis, Maro, Pherecydes, Epimenides, and Pisistratus.
He also notices his living at Samos, and interesting himself in a public capacity, in the administration of the affairs of that place; where Aristotle also introduces him as a public speaker, and records the fact of his reciting the fable of the Fox and the Hedgehog,
“Ye men of Samos, let me entreat you to do as the Fox did; for this man, having got money enough, can have no further occasion to rob you; but if you put him to death, some needy person will fill his place, whose wants must be supplied out of your property.”
The Fable of the Fox and the Hedge-hog was applied by Themistocles to dissuade the Athenians from removing their magistrates.–B. Boothby.
while pleading on behalf of a minister, upon the occasion of his being impeached for embezzling the public treasure. Aesop is also mentioned as speaking in a public capacity to the Athenians, at the time when Pisistratus seized upon their liberties.
Upon each of these occasions he is represented as having introduced a Fable into his discourse, in a witty and pleasing manner. He was holden in the highest veneration and esteem in his day, by all men eminent for their wisdom and virtue. It appears there was scarcely an author among the ancient Greeks who mixed any thing of morality in his writings, that did not either quote or mention Aesop. Plato describes Socrates as turning some of Aesop’s Fables into verse, during those awful hours which he spent in prison, immediately before his death. Aristophanes not only takes hints from Aesop, but mentions him much to his honour, as one whose works were, or ought to be, read before any other. Ennius and Horace have embellished their poetry from his stores; and ancient sages and authors all concur in bearing the most ample testimony to his distinguished merits. Plutarch, in his imaginary banquet of the seven wise men, among several other illustrious persons of ancient times, celebrated for their wit and knowledge, introduces Aesop, and describes him as being very courtly and polite in his behaviour. Upon the authority of Plutarch also, we fix the life of Aesop in the time of Croesus, king of Lydia, who invited him to the court of Sardis. By this prince, he was holden in such esteem, as to be sent as his envoy to Periander, king of Corinth, which was about three hundred and twenty years after the time in which Homer lived, and 550 before Christ. He was also deputed by Croesus to consult the oracle of Delphi. While on this embassy, he was ordered to distribute to each of the citizens, four minae of silver,
 The mina of silver was 12 ounces, about £5 sterling.
but some disputes arising between them and Aesop, he reproached them for their indolence, in suffering their lands to lie uncultivated, and in depending on the gratuities of strangers for a precarious subsistence: the quarrel, which it would appear ran high between them, ended in Aesop’s sending back the money to Sardis. This so exasperated the Delphians, that they resolved upon his destruction; and that they might have some colour of justice for what they intended, they concealed among his effects, when he was taking his departure from Delphi, a gold cup, consecrated to Apollo; and afterwards pursuing him, easily found what they themselves had hidden. On the pretext that he had committed this sacrilegious theft, they carried him back to the city, and notwithstanding his imprecating upon them the vengeance of heaven, they immediately condemned him to be cast from the rock Hypania, as the punishment of the pretended crime. Ancient historians say, that for this wickedness, the Delphians were for a long time visited with pestilence and famine, until an expiation was made, and then the plague ceased.
It was not until many ages after the death of Aesop, that his most prominent successor, Phaedrus, arose. He translated Aesop’s Fables from the Greek into Latin, and added to them many of his own. Of Phaedrus little is known, except from his works. He is said to have lived in the times of the Emperors Augustus and Tiberius, and to have died in the reign of the latter. The first printed edition of his Fables, with cuts, was published at Gauda, in 1482. Caxton published some of them in 1484, and Bonus Accursius in 1489, to which he prefixed Planudes’s Life of Aesop. But the most perfect edition of Phaedrus’s Works was published in five volumes, by Peter Pithou, at Troyes, in 1596, from manuscripts discovered by him in the cities of Rheims and Dijon. To these have succeeded in later times, a numerous list of fabulists,
- Sir Roger L’Estrange, born 1616, died 1704.
- John de la Fontaine, born 162], died 1695.
- John Dryden, born 1631, died 1701.
- Antoine Houdart de la Motte, born 1672, died 1731.
- John Gay, born 1688, died 1752.
- Samuel Croxall, D. D. Archdeacon of Hereford, died 1752.
- Edward Moore, died 1757.
- Robert Dodsley, born 1705, died 1764.
- William Wilkie, born 1721, died 1772.
- Abbe Brotier, born 1722, died 1789.
besides such of the poets as have occasionally interspersed Fables in their works. These, in their day, have had, and many of them still have, their several admirers; but Gay and Dodsley best maintain their ground in this country, as is proved by the regular demand for new editions. Croxall’s Fables, which were first published in 1722, with cuts on metal, in the manner of wood, have also had a most extensive sale; and Sir Brooke Boothby’s elegant little volumes, in verse, published in 1809, are now making their way into the public esteem. The Editor of the present volume, in attempting to continue the same pleasing mode of conveying instruction, long-since laid down as a guide to virtue, has quoted and compiled from other fabulists, whatever seemed best suited to his purpose. His sole object is utility, and he is not altogether without hope, that in attempting to embellish and perpetuate a fabric, which has its foundations laid in religion and morality, his efforts may not be wholly ineffectual to induce the young to keep steadily in view those great truths, which form the sure land-mark to the haven, where only they can attain peace and happiness.