La Fontaine, the fabulist, was buried by the side of Moliere, who died long before him. He was born July 8th, 1621, at Chateau Thierry. His father was keeper of the royal domains. While young, La Fontaine gave no promise of his after distinction. His teachers declared him to be a dunce. His father, who seems to have been an admirer of poetry, persuaded him to attempt to write verses, but he could not make a rhyme. Seeing at nineteen that he could not make a poet of his son, the old man resolved to make a priest of him. After eighteen months of trial the young man returned to society. His father then proposed that he should take the keepership of the royal domains, and marry Marie d’Hericart, the daughter of his friend. La Fontaine made no objection, though we have no evidence that he loved the girl. She was both beautiful and talented, however. The father still clung to the idea that his son could write poetry, and with a kind of prophetic instinct.
When La Fontaine was twenty-two, a French officer visited him, who was a great admirer of poetry, and who brought the poems of Malherbe. La Fontaine became excited by the poetry, or the passionate recitation, and for days did nothing but read and recite poetry. He commenced writing odes in imitation of Malherbe, and when his father beheld his first attempt, he cried for joy. The character of the poetry was certainly different from that which afterward gave him his fame. He soon discovered the secret of success. By studying the old authors, he improved his taste, and acquired a disrelish for French literature. He was very fond of the Italian authors, but not knowing Greek, he only read the Greek authors through translations made by others. He was exceedingly fond of Plato, and his favorite copy was entirely filled with annotations.
La Fontaine remained for several years at Thierry, indolent, except in his reading, and neglecting his business and his family. His “Adonis” was written at this time. His good nature and simplicity are well illustrated by an anecdote which is told of him. An officer was in the constant habit of visiting his house, and his friends told him that the reputation of Madame La Fontaine was compromised, and that nothing was left but for him to challenge the officer to a duel. Now the fabulist cared little for madame, and less for his own reputation in connection with hers; but he believed his friends, and so after a great effort shook off his indolence, and early one morning went to the officer, who was in bed, and demanded that he should rise at once and go out to mortal combat. The officer rose and followed him, and easily disarmed him. An explanation followed. The friends of La Fontaine had been joking him, and when the officer declared that he would never cross the threshold of Thierry again, La Fontaine told him that thenceforth he should come more frequently than ever.