LONG ago, the mice had a general council to consider what measures they could take to outwit their common enemy, the Cat. Some said this, and some said that; but at last a young mouse got up and said he had a proposal to make, which he thought would meet the case. “You will all agree,” said he, “that our chief danger consists in the sly and treacherous manner in which the enemy approaches us. Now, if we could receive some signal of her approach, we could easily escape from her. I venture, therefore, to propose that a small bell be procured, and attached by a ribbon round the neck of the Cat. By this means we should always know when she was about, and could easily retire while she was in the neighbourhood.”
This proposal met with general applause, until an old mouse got up and said: “That is all very well, but who is to bell the Cat?” The mice looked at one another and nobody spoke. Then the old mouse said:
“It is easy to propose impossible remedies.”
La Fontaine, ii. 2, who probably got it from Abstemius, who may have derived it from the Fables of Bidpai. L'Estrange, 391. It is admirably told in the Prologue to Piers Plowman, texts B. and C. M. Jusserand, in his recent monograph on Piers Plowman (Eng. ed. p. 43), gives a representative of this fable found on the misericord of a stall at Great Malvern, the site of the poem. In a conspiracy against James III. of Scotland, Lord Grey narrated the fable, when Archibald Earl of Angus exclaimed "I am he who will bell the cat." Hence afterwards he was called Archibald Bell-the-Cat (Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, I. xix.). The Cat in Plowman's apologue is John of Gaunt. Skelton alludes to the fable in his Colin Clout. We get the expression "bell the cat" from it.
Belling the Cat
Fables of Aesop, The
Aesop & Jacobs, Joseph
Macmillan & Co.
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ATU 110: Belling the Cat