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Aesop's Fables: Caxton (1484)

5.13. Of the fader and of his thre children
(Perry 703)

He is not wyse / whiche for to haue vanyte and his plesyr taketh debate or stryf / As hit appiereth by this fable / Of a man whiche hadde thre children / and at the houre of his dethe he byquethed / and gaf to them his herytage or lyuelede / that is to wete a grete pere tree / a gote & a mylle / And whanne the fader was deed / the bretheren assembled them thre to gyder / and wente before the Iuge for to parte their lyuelode / and sayd to the Iuge / My lord the Iuge / Oure fader is dede whiche hath byquethed to vs thre bretheren al his herytage and as moche of hit shold haue the one as the other And thenne the Iuge demaunded / what was theyr lyuelode / And they ansuerd a pere tree / a gote and a mylle / And thenne the Iuge sayd to them / that they shold sette and make partyes egal of your lyuelode / and the one to haue as moche of hit as the other / hit is a thynge moche dyffycyle to doo / but to your aduys how shold ye parte it / And thenne the eldest of the thre bretheren spake and sayd / I shalle take fro the pere tree alle that is croked and vpryght / And the second sayd / I shalle take fro the pere tree alle that is grene and drye / And the thyrd sayd / I shalle haue alle the rote / the pylle or maste and alle the braunches of the pere tree / And thenne the Iuge sayd to them / He that thenne shalle haue the most parte of the tree / lete hym be Iuge / For I ne none other may knowe ne vnderstande who shalle haue the moore or lesse parte / And therfore he that can or shalle proue more openly / that he hath the moost parte shal be lord of the tree / And after the Iuge demaunded of them / how that theyr fader had deuysed to them the gote / And they sayd to hym / he that shalle make the fayrest prayer and request must haue the gote / And thenne the fyrste broder made his request / and sayd in this manere / wold god that the goot were now soo grete that she myght drynke alle the water whiche is vnder the cope of heuen / And that whanne she hadde dronken it / she shold yet be sore thursty The second sayd / I suppose that the gote shalle be myn / For a fayrer demaunde or request than thyn is I shalle now make / I wold / that alle the hempe / and alle the Flaxe and alle the wulle of the worlde were made in one threed alone / And that the Gote were soo grete / that with that same threde men myght not bynde one of his legges / Thenne sayde the thirdde / yet shalle be myn the gote / For I wolde / that he were so grete / that yf an Egle were at the vppermost of the heuen / he myghte occupye and haue thenne as moche place as the Egle myght loke and see in hyght / in lengthe and in breed / And thenne the Iuge sayde to them thre / who is he of yow thre / that hath maade the fayrest prayer / Certaynly I nor none other canne not saye ne gyue the Iugement / And therfore the goode shalle be bylongynge to hym / that of hit shalle say the trouthe / And the Mylle how was hit deuysed by your Fader for to be parted amonge yow thre / And they ansuerd and sayde to the Iuge / He that shalle be moost lyer / mooste euylle and most slowe ought to haue hit / Thenne sayd the eldest sone / I am moost slowfull / For many yeres I haue dwellyd in a grete hows / and laye vnder the conduytes of the same / oute of the whiche felle vpon me alle the fowle waters / as pysse / dysshe water / and alle other fylthe that wonderly stanke / In so moche that al my flesshe was roten therof / and myn eyen al blynd / and the durt vnder my back was a foot hyghe / And yet by my grete slouthe I hadde leuer to abyde there / than to tourne me / and haue lyfte me vp The second sayd / I suppose wel / that the mylle shalle be myn / For yf I had fasted twenty yere / And yf I hadde come to a table couerd of al maner of precious and delycate metes / wherof I myght wel ete yf I wold take of the best / I am so slouthfull that I maye not ete withoute one shold putte the mete in to my mouthe / And the thyrde sayd / the Mylle shalle be myn / For I am yet a gretter lyar and more slouthfull / than ony of yow bothe / For yf I hadde ben athurst vnto the dethe / And yf I found thenne my self within a fayre water vnto the neck / I wold rather deye / than to meue ones my heed for to drynke therof only one drop / Thenne sayd the Iuge to them / Ye wote not what ye saye / For I not none other maye not wel vnderstande yow / But the cause I remytte and put amonge yow thre / And thus they wente withoute ony sentence / For to a folysshe demaunde behoueth a folysshe ansuere
And therfore they ben fooles that wylle plete suche vanyte one ageynste other / And many one ben fallen therfore in grete pouerte / For for a lytyl thynge ought to be made a lytyl plee

Caxton published his edition of Aesop's fables in 1484. There are modern reprints by Joseph Jacobs (D. Nutt: London, 1889) and more recently by Robert Lenaghan (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1967). Lenaghan's edition is available at amazon.com.