My father had a beautiful copy of Fables de la Fontaine full of the most lavish illustrations. Jean de La Fontaine’s Fables were written between 1668 and 1694 and dedicated to the Dauphin (the son of King Louis XIV the sun king). They are considered French classics, full of humour or irony, unexpectedly, perhaps, written for adults but much enjoyed by children
One of these fables is about the Hare and the Tortoise which is very similar to the story by Aesop. The tortoise, tired of being made fun of by the arrogant, pleased with himself hare, challenges him to a race. It is obviously a little puzzling because the hare is so light on his feet and able to cover the ground much more swiftly than the tortoise who is designed neither to move very fast nor very far.
If you remember, the hare leaps away and is so confident that half way through the race he stops and has a snooze. Oblivious of his surroundings, he never notices the tortoise who quietly makes his way past and over the finishing line first.
Every fable works on several levels, enjoying the story and then wondering what it means:
“more haste, less speed” or “perseverance matters”. However, the reason the tortoise won seems to me to be more about the the hare. He was over-confident, too pleased with himself although perhaps there was also a bit of luck in the tortoise’s win. Comments on Aesop’s tales muse that ‘many people have good natural abilities which are ruined by idleness’; Or the hare thought the race was a waste of time whilst nevertheless the tortoise doggedly carried on.
Many fables are seemingly simple yet this one, for example, has been depicted in paintings and in the folklore of many countries. They are part of how we learn about morals, what is right and wrong, what is the “proper behaviour of a person in society,” “pertaining to manners.”
Highclere has never been first out of the starting stalls and we are usually more thoughtful than fashionable. This home has, without doubt, evolved slowly over the centuries and the building and works of art have been collected over many years and by many different personalities.
There is nothing wrong with steadiness and a great pleasure is to be found in bringing the past into today, framing old archives to hang anew on walls. It is an ongoing process. Piles of books are on their way somewhere but may have been in that pile for a few years now. At the moment, of course, all progress is largely in my head given that Highclere sits quietly in a state of suspense in this strange world of the last few weeks. Geordie would nevertheless rather like the pile of books he tripped over this morning to make their way somewhere.
I have a plan to be better organised so that more things have a home rather than simply a “resting place” and had begun to sort out some rooms on the third floor. It always begins with the boring stuff, such as mending windows and sorting electrics before choosing fun paints or the loveliest wallpapers. That is now on hold so I have less incentive to play musical piles of books, cupboards and chairs.
It seems increasingly likely now that I am probably not going to make my way through all the rooms. Exactly like the hare, I have spurts of action and then collapse, either because I have run out of energy, or because of outside pressures. However, doggedly, like the tortoise, I will keep going, which is all anyone can ask of any of us.