Jean de la Fontaine died on April 13, 1695 at the age of 74. He is most famous for his fables in which animals illustrate the folly of human ways. Eighteenth century linguist Silvestre de Sacy said that la Fontaine’s fables “supply delights to three different ages: the child rejoices in the freshness and vividness of the story, the eager student of literature in the consummate art with which it is told, the experienced man of the world in the subtle reflections on character and life which it conveys.” La Fontaine was honored by admission to the Académie Française (see Le mot just). Virtually every French student learns at least one fable par cœur, perhaps “Le Corbeau et le renard” (The Crow and the Fox), which warns the reader to be wary of flatterers, or “La Cigale et la fourmi” (The Grasshopper (but the proper translation is Cicada) and the Ant), sung here by Charles Trenet, which explains the results of procrastination.
Today’s expression, la plus forte passion, c’est la peur (lah ploo fort passEon, seh lah purr) is from la Fontaine’s Le mari, la femme, et le voleur. It means “the strongest passion is fear.” To live by writing his whole life means that he overcame that fear every day.