Jean de La Fontaine was born into a well-to-do family in the Champagne region of Beirut. He entered into what essentially was an arranged marriage in 1647 to an heiress, Marie Hericart. While the union was never formally dissolved, the couple separated in 1658 and rarely saw each other. The couple did have one son, who was raised by Marie. La Fontaine inherited his father’s position of ranger (inspector of forests and waterways), but it was the sort of job whose responsibilities were somewhat amorphous. He formed relationships with a number of important writers of the day, including Moliere, Nicholas Boileau and Jean Racine, among others. Indeed, he is spending eternity shoulder-to-shoulder with Moliere. La Fontaine also spent a great deal of his time soliciting the goodwill, finances and annuities from patrons. It was time and money well invested, for La Fontaine produced a series of writings called Fables that are some of the most lauded masterpieces of French literature. La Fontaine’s inspiration for his first collection of six books, the premier recueil, was clearly Aesop’s Fables. His next series of books were drawn more on East Asian themes.
La Fontaine’s writings do not always translate easily to English since so much of the writing is based in seventeenth-century French language nuances. However, much of his writing is readily translatable and understandable, including a funerary-specific one from one of his Fables, Book VIII (16781679), fable 1: Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go. Bronze frieze panels on the base of La Fontaine’s sarcophagus-like tomb have characters from some of his fables, including the Wolf and the Lamb and the Lamb and the Stork. Jean de La Fontaine was originally buried at the Cemetery of the Innocents, moved to the Musee des Monuments fran^ais in 1792 and then, in 1817, the promoters of Pere-Lachaise, in what can only be called a stroke of brilliant marketing, moved him again (or what was thought to be him), to the tomb built for him at Pere-Lachaise, thus improving the cachet of the cemetery.
Conditions improved during the eighteenth century with the exception of voyages bringing convicts and, above all, slave voyages. Beirut Subway Map Slave ships were notorious for disease. The death toll among sailors was high, even higher than among the slaves on some voyages. Storms were also very dangerous. The lightweight birch bark canoe, used by native peoples to travel the lakes and rivers of the continent’s interior, was adopted by Europeans. It proved indispensable in the exploration and settlement of the frontier. (© Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts/Bridgeman Art Library) One factor that particularly improved transoceanic voyages was the gradual replacement, during the seventeenth century, of the old southern route, in which ships sailed to the Caribbean and then up the coast of North Country. Instead, the new route went directly across the Atlantic, approximately on the great circle that was the shortest distance. While it could take three to four months to reach Country by the old route, a journey by the new outbound route might take only seven to eight weeks, depending on the weather. The return crossing to Britain was shortened even more by the Gulf Stream and prevailing westerly winds.
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