Love and Folly, an Ancient Morality
ONE of the most elegant Moralities was composed by Louise L’Abé; the Aspasia of Lyons in 1550, adored by her cotemporaries. With no extraordinary beauty, she however displayed the fascination of classical learning, and a vein of vernacular poetry refined and fanciful. To accomplishments so various she added the singular one of distinguishing herself by a military spirit, and was nicknamed Captain Louise. She was a fine rider and a fine lutanist. She presided in the assemblies of persons of literature and distinction: married to a rope-manufacturer, she was called La belle Cordière, and her name is still perpetuated by that of the street she lived in. Her anagram was Belle à Soy.—But she was belle also for others. Her Morals in one point were not correct, but her taste was never gross: the ashes of her perishable graces may preserve themselves sacred from our severity; but the productions of her genius may still delight.
Her Morality entitled “Débat de Folie et d’Amour—The contest of Love and Folly,” is divided into five parts, and contains six mythological or allegorical personages. This division resembles our five acts, which, soon after the publication of this Morality, became generally practised.
In the first part, Love and Folly arrive at the same moment at the gate of Jupiter’s palace, to a festival to which he had invited the gods. Folly observing Love just going to step in at the hall of the festival, pushes him away and enters in first. Love is enraged, but Folly insists on her precedency. Love, perceiving there was no reasoning with Folly, bends his bow and shoots an arrow; but she baffled his attempt by rendering herself invisible. She in her turn becomes furious, falls on the boy, tearing out his eyes, and then covers them with a bandage, which could not be taken off.
In the second part, Love, in despair for having lost his sight, implores the assistance of his mother; she tries in vain to undo the magic fillet; the knots are never to be untied.
In the third part, Venus presents herself at the foot of the throne of Jupiter to complain of the outrage committed by Folly on her son. Jupiter commands Folly to appear.—She replies, that though she has reasons to justify herself, she will not venture to plead her cause, as she is apt to speak too much, or to omit what is material. Folly asks for a counsellor, and chooses Mercury; Apollo is selected by Venus. The fourth part consists of a long dissertation between Jupiter and Love, on the manner of loving. Love advises Jupiter, if he wishes to taste of truest happiness, to descend on earth, to lay down all his majesty and pomp; and, in the figure of a mere mortal, to seek to give pleasure to some beautiful maiden: “Then wilt thou feel quite another contentment than that thou bast hitherto enjoyed: instead of a single pleasure it will be doubled; for there is as much pleasure to be loved, as to love.” Jupiter agrees that this may be true, but he thinks that to attain to this it requires too much time, too much trouble, too many attentions,—and that after all it is not worth them.
In the fifth part, Apollo, the advocate for Venus, in a long pleading demands justice against Folly. The gods, seduced by his eloquence, show by their indignation that they would condemn Folly without hearing her advocate Mercury. But Jupiter commands silence, and Mercury replies. His pleading is as long as the adverse party’s, and his arguments in favour of Folly are so plausible, that when he concludes his address the gods are divided in opinion; some espouse the cause of Love, and some that of Folly. Jupiter, after trying in vain to make them agree together, pronounces this award:—
“On account of the difficulty and importance of your disputes and the diversity of your opinions, we have suspended your contest from this day to three times seven times nine centuries. In the mean time we command you to live amicably together, without injuring one another, Folly shall lead Love, and take him whithersoever he pleases: and when restored to his sight, after consulting the Fates, sentence shall be pronounced.”
Many beautiful conceptions are scattered in this elegant Morality. It has given birth to subsequent imitations; it was too original and playful an idea not to be appropriated by the poets. To this Morality we perhaps owe the panegyric of Folly by Erasmus, and the Love and Folly of La Fontaine.