In the internal decoration, if not in the external architecture of
their residences, the English are supreme. The Italians have but little
sentiment beyond marbles and colours. In France, _meliora probant,
deteriora _sequuntur--the people are too much a race of gadabouts to
maintain those household proprieties of which, indeed, they have a
delicate appreciation, or at least the elements of a proper sense. The
Chinese and most of the eastern races have a warm but inappropriate
fancy. The Scotch are _poor _decorists. The Dutch have, perhaps, an
indeterminate idea that a curtain is not a cabbage. In Spain they are
_all _curtains--a nation of hangmen. The Russians do not furnish. The
Hottentots and Kickapoos are very well in their way. The Yankees alone
How this happens, it is not difficult to see. We have no aristocracy of
blood, and having therefore as a natural, and indeed as an inevitable
thing, fashioned for ourselves an aristocracy of dollars, the _display
of wealth _has here to take the place and perform the office of the
heraldic display in monarchical countries. By a transition readily
understood, and which might have been as readily foreseen, we have been
brought to merge in simple _show_ our notions of taste itself.
To speak less abstractly. In England, for example, no mere parade
of costly appurtenances would be so likely as with us, to create
an impression of the beautiful in respect to the appurtenances
themselves--or of taste as regards the proprietor:--this for the reason,
first, that wealth is not, in England, the loftiest object of ambition
as constituting a nobility; and secondly, that there, the true nobility
of blood, confining itself within the strict limits of legitimate taste,
rather avoids than affects that mere costliness in which a _parvenu
_rivalry may at any time be successfully attempted.
The people _will _imitate the nobles, and the result is a thorough
diffusion of the proper feeling. But in America, the coins current being
the sole arms of the aristocracy, their display may be said, in general,
to be the sole means of the aristocratic distinction; and the populace,
looking always upward for models, are insensibly led to confound the two
entirely separate ideas of magnificence and beauty. In short, the cost
of an article of furniture has at length come to be, with us, nearly
the sole test of its merit in a decorative point of view--and this test,
once established, has led the way to many analogous errors, readily
traceable to the one primitive folly.
There could be nothing more directly offensive to the eye of an artist
than the interior of what is termed in the United States--that is to
say, in Appallachia--a well-furnished apartment. Its most usual defect
is a want of keeping. We speak of the keeping of a room as we would of
the keeping of a picture--for both the picture and the room are amenable
to those undeviating principles which regulate all varieties of art; and
very nearly the same laws by which we decide on the higher merits of a
painting, suffice for decision on the adjustment of a chamber.
A want of keeping is observable sometimes in the character of the
several pieces of furniture, but generally in their colours or modes of
adaptation to use _Very _often the eye is offended by their inartistic
arrangement. Straight lines are too prevalent--too uninterruptedly
continued--or clumsily interrupted at right angles. If curved lines
occur, they are repeated into unpleasant uniformity. By undue precision,
the appearance of many a fine apartment is utterly spoiled.
Curtains are rarely well disposed, or well chosen in respect to other
decorations. With formal furniture, curtains are out of place; and an
extensive volume of drapery of any kind is, under any circumstance,
irreconcilable with good taste--the proper quantum, as well as the
proper adjustment, depending upon the character of the general effect.
Carpets are better understood of late than of ancient days, but we
still very frequently err in their patterns and colours. The soul of the
apartment is the carpet. From it are deduced not only the hues but the
forms of all objects incumbent. A judge at common law may be an ordinary
man; a good judge of a carpet _must be _a genius. Yet we have heard
discoursing of carpets, with the air "_d'un mouton qui reve," _fellows
who should not and who could not be entrusted with the management of
their own _moustaches. _Every one knows that a large floor _may _have a
covering of large figures, and that a small one must have a covering
of small--yet this is not all the knowledge in the world. As
regards texture, the Saxony is alone admissible. Brussels is the
preterpluperfect tense of fashion, and Turkey is taste in its dying
agonies. Touching pattern--a carpet should _not _be bedizzened out like
a Riccaree Indian--all red chalk, yellow ochre, and cock's feathers. In
brief--distinct grounds, and vivid circular or cycloid figures, _of
no meaning, _are here Median laws. The abomination of flowers, or
representations of well-known objects of any kind, should not be
endured within the limits of Christendom. Indeed, whether on carpets,
or curtains, or tapestry, or ottoman coverings, all upholstery of this
nature should be rigidly Arabesque. As for those antique floor-cloth &
still occasionally seen in the dwellings of the rabble--cloths of huge,
sprawling, and radiating devises, stripe-interspersed, and glorious
with all hues, among which no ground is intelligible--these are but the
wicked invention of a race of time-servers and money-lovers--children
of Baal and worshippers of Mammon--Benthams, who, to spare thought
and economize fancy, first cruelly invented the Kaleidoscope, and then
established joint-stock companies to twirl it by steam.
_Glare_ is a leading error in the philosophy of American household
decoration--an error easily recognised as deduced from the perversion of
taste just specified., We are violently enamoured of gas and of glass.
The former is totally inadmissible within doors. Its harsh and unsteady
light offends. No one having both brains and eyes will use it. A mild,
or what artists term a cool light, with its consequent warm shadows,
will do wonders for even an ill-furnished apartment. Never was a more
lovely thought than that of the astral lamp. We mean, of course,
the astral lamp proper--the lamp of Argand, with its original plain
ground-glass shade, and its tempered and uniform moonlight rays. The
cut-glass shade is a weak invention of the enemy. The eagerness with
which we have adopted it, partly on account of its _flashiness,_ but
principally on account of its _greater rest,_ is a good commentary on
the proposition with which we began. It is not too much to say, that the
deliberate employer of a cut-glass shade, is either radically deficient
in taste, or blindly subservient to the caprices of fashion. The light
proceeding from one of these gaudy abominations is unequal broken, and
painful. It alone is sufficient to mar a world of good effect in the
furniture subjected to its influence. Female loveliness, in especial, is
more than one-half disenchanted beneath its evil eye.
In the matter of glass, generally, we proceed upon false principles. Its
leading feature is _glitter--_and in that one word how much of all that
is detestable do we express! Flickering, unquiet lights, are _sometimes
_pleasing--to children and idiots always so--but in the embellishment
of a room they should be scrupulously avoided. In truth, even strong
_steady _lights are inadmissible. The huge and unmeaning glass
chandeliers, prism-cut, gas-lighted, and without shade, which dangle in
our most fashionable drawing-rooms, may be cited as the quintessence of
all that is false in taste or preposterous in folly.
The rage for _glitter-_because its idea has become as we before
observed, confounded with that of magnificence in the abstract--has
led us, also, to the exaggerated employment of mirrors. We line our
dwellings with great British plates, and then imagine we have done a
fine thing. Now the slightest thought will be sufficient to convince
any one who has an eye at all, of the ill effect of numerous
looking-glasses, and especially of large ones. Regarded apart from
its reflection, the mirror presents a continuous, flat, colourless,
unrelieved surface,--a thing always and obviously unpleasant. Considered
as a reflector, it is potent in producing a monstrous and odious
uniformity: and the evil is here aggravated, not in merely direct
proportion with the augmentation of its sources, but in a ratio
constantly increasing. In fact, a room with four or five mirrors
arranged at random, is, for all purposes of artistic show, a room of
no shape at all. If we add to this evil, the attendant glitter upon
glitter, we have a perfect farrago of discordant and displeasing
effects. The veriest bumpkin, on entering an apartment so bedizzened,
would be instantly aware of something wrong, although he might be
altogether unable to assign a cause for his dissatisfaction. But let
the same person be led into a room tastefully furnished, and he would be
startled into an exclamation of pleasure and surprise.
It is an evil growing out of our republican institutions, that here a
man of large purse has usually a very little soul which he keeps in
it. The corruption of taste is a portion or a pendant of the
dollar-manufacture. As we grow rich, our ideas grow rusty. It is,
therefore, not among _our _aristocracy that we must look (if at all, in
Appallachia), for the spirituality of a British _boudoir. _But we have
seen apartments in the tenure of Americans of moderns [possibly "modest"
or "moderate"] means, which, in negative merit at least, might vie with
any of the _or-molu'd _cabinets of our friends across the water. Even
_now_, there is present to our mind's eye a small and not, ostentatious
chamber with whose decorations no fault can be found. The proprietor
lies asleep on a sofa--the weather is cool--the time is near midnight:
we will make a sketch of the room during his slumber.
It is oblong--some thirty feet in length and twenty-five in breadth--a
shape affording the best(ordinary) opportunities for the adjustment of
furniture. It has but one door--by no means a wide one--which is at one
end of the parallelogram, and but two windows, which are at the
other. These latter are large, reaching down to the floor--have deep
recesses--and open on an Italian _veranda. _Their panes are of a
crimson-tinted glass, set in rose-wood framings, more massive than
usual. They are curtained within the recess, by a thick silver tissue
adapted to the shape of the window, and hanging loosely in small
volumes. Without the recess are curtains of an exceedingly rich crimson
silk, fringed with a deep network of gold, and lined with silver tissue,
which is the material of the exterior blind. There are no cornices; but
the folds of the whole fabric (which are sharp rather than massive, and
have an airy appearance), issue from beneath a broad entablature of rich
giltwork, which encircles the room at the junction of the ceiling and
walls. The drapery is thrown open also, or closed, by means of a thick
rope of gold loosely enveloping it, and resolving itself readily into
a knot; no pins or other such devices are apparent. The colours of
the curtains and their fringe--the tints of crimson and gold--appear
everywhere in profusion, and determine the _character _of the room. The
carpet--of Saxony material--is quite half an inch thick, and is of the
same crimson ground, relieved simply by the appearance of a gold cord
(like that festooning the curtains) slightly relieved above the surface
of the _ground, _and thrown upon it in such a manner as to form a
succession of short irregular curves--one occasionally overlaying the
other. The walls are prepared with a glossy paper of a silver gray tint,
spotted with small Arabesque devices of a fainter hue of the prevalent
crimson. Many paintings relieve the expanse of paper. These are chiefly
landscapes of an imaginative cast--such as the fairy grottoes of
Stanfield, or the lake of the Dismal Swamp of Chapman. There
are, nevertheless, three or four female heads, of an ethereal
beauty-portraits in the manner of Sully. The tone of each picture is
warm, but dark. There are no "brilliant effects." _Repose _speaks in
all. Not one is of small size. Diminutive paintings give that _spotty
_look to a room, which is the blemish of so many a fine work of Art
overtouched. The frames are broad but not deep, and richly carved,
without being _dulled _or filagreed. They have the whole lustre of
burnished gold. They lie flat on the walls, and do not hang off with
cords. The designs themselves are often seen to better advantage in this
latter position, but the general appearance of the chamber is injured.
But one mirror--and this not a very large one--is visible. In shape it
is nearly circular--and it is hung so that a reflection of the person
can be obtained from it in none of the ordinary sitting-places of the
room. Two large low sofas of rosewood and crimson silk, gold-flowered,
form the only seats, with the exception of two light conversation
chairs, also of rose-wood. There is a pianoforte (rose-wood, also),
without cover, and thrown open. An octagonal table, formed altogether of
the richest gold-threaded marble, is placed near one of the sofas. This
is also without cover--the drapery of the curtains has been thought
sufficient.. Four large and gorgeous Sevres vases, in which bloom a
profusion of sweet and vivid flowers, occupy the slightly rounded angles
of the room. A tall candelabrum, bearing a small antique lamp with
highly perfumed oil, is standing near the head of my sleeping friend.
Some light and graceful hanging shelves, with golden edges and crimson
silk cords with gold tassels, sustain two or three hundred magnificently
bound books. Beyond these things, there is no furniture, if we except
an Argand lamp, with a plain crimson-tinted ground glass shade, which
depends from He lofty vaulted ceiling by a single slender gold chain,
and throws a tranquil but magical radiance over all.
Intensos rigidarn in frontern ascendere canos
----a bristly bore.
"LET us hurry to the walls," said Abel-Phittim to Buzi-Ben-Levi and
Simeon the Pharisee, on the tenth day of the month Thammuz, in the year
of the world three thousand nine hundred and forty-one--let us hasten
to the ramparts adjoining the gate of Benjamin, which is in the city of
David, and overlooking the camp of the uncircumcised; for it is the
last hour of the fourth watch, being sunrise; and the idolaters, in
fulfilment of the promise of Pompey, should be awaiting us with the
lambs for the sacrifices."
Simeon, Abel-Phittim, and Duzi-Ben-Levi were the Gizbarim, or
sub-collectors of the offering, in the holy city of Jerusalem.
"Verily," replied the Pharisee; "let us hasten: for this generosity
in the heathen is unwonted; and fickle-mindedness has ever been an
attribute of the worshippers of Baal."
"'That they are fickle-minded and treacherous is as true as the
Pentateuch," said Buzi-Ben-Levi, "but that is only toward the people
of Adonai. When was it ever known that the Ammonites proved wanting to
their own interests? Methinks it is no great stretch of generosity to
allow us lambs for the altar of the Lord, receiving in lieu thereof
thirty silver shekels per head!"
"Thou forgettest, however, Ben-Levi," replied Abel-Phittim, "that the
Roman Pompey, who is now impiously besieging the city of the Most High,
has no assurity that we apply not the lambs thus purchased for the
altar, to the sustenance of the body, rather than of the spirit."
"Now, by the five corners of my beard!" shouted the Pharisee, who
belonged to the sect called The Dashers (that little knot of saints
whose manner of _dashing _and lacerating the feet against the
pavement was long a thorn and a reproach to less zealous devotees-a
stumbling-block to less gifted perambulators)--"by the five corners of
that beard which, as a priest, I am forbidden to shave!-have we lived
to see the day when a blaspheming and idolatrous upstart of Rome shall
accuse us of appropriating to the appetites of the flesh the most holy
and consecrated elements? Have we lived to see the day when--"'
"Let us not question the motives of the Philistine," interrupted
Abel-Phittim' "for to-day we profit for the first time by his avarice
or by his generosity; but rather let us hurry to the ramparts, lest
offerings should be wanting for that altar whose fire the rains of
heaven can not extinguish, and whose pillars of smoke no tempest can
That part of the city to which our worthy Gizbarim now hastened, and
which bore the name of its architect, King David, was esteemed the most
strongly fortified district of Jerusalem; being situated upon the steep
and lofty hill of Zion. Here, a broad, deep, circumvallatory trench,
hewn from the solid rock, was defended by a wall of great strength
erected upon its inner edge. This wall was adorned, at regular
interspaces, by square towers of white marble; the lowest sixty, and the
highest one hundred and twenty cubits in height. But, in the vicinity of
the gate of Benjamin, the wall arose by no means from the margin of the
fosse. On the contrary, between the level of the ditch and the basement
of the rampart sprang up a perpendicular cliff of two hundred and fifty
cubits, forming part of the precipitous Mount Moriah. So that when
Simeon and his associates arrived on the summit of the tower called
Adoni-Bezek-the loftiest of all the turrets around about Jerusalem, and
the usual place of conference with the besieging army-they looked down
upon the camp of the enemy from an eminence excelling by many feet that
of the Pyramid of Cheops, and, by several, that of the temple of Belus.
"Verily," sighed the Pharisee, as he peered dizzily over the precipice,
"the uncircumcised are as the sands by the seashore-as the locusts
in the wilderness! The valley of the King hath become the valley of
"And yet," added Ben-Levi, "thou canst not point me out a Philistine-no,
not one-from Aleph to Tau-from the wilderness to the battlements--who
seemeth any bigger than the letter Jod!"
"Lower away the basket with the shekels of silver!" here shouted a
Roman soldier in a hoarse, rough voice, which appeared to issue from the
regions of Pluto--"lower away the basket with the accursed coin which it
has broken the jaw of a noble Roman to pronounce! Is it thus you evince
your gratitude to our master Pompeius, who, in his condescension, has
thought fit to listen to your idolatrous importunities? The god Phoebus,
who is a true god, has been charioted for an hour-and were you not to
be on the ramparts by sunrise? Aedepol! do you think that we, the
conquerors of the world, have nothing better to do than stand waiting by
the walls of every kennel, to traffic with the dogs of the earth? Lower
away! I say--and see that your trumpery be bright in color and just in
"El Elohim!" ejaculated the Pharisee, as the discordant tones of the
centurion rattled up the crags of the precipice, and fainted away
against the temple--"El Elohim!--who is the god Phoebus?--whom doth the
blasphemer invoke? Thou, Buzi-Ben-Levi! who art read in the laws of
the Gentiles, and hast sojourned among them who dabble with the
Teraphim!--is it Nergal of whom the idolater speaketh?---or
Ashimah?--or Nibhaz,--or Tartak?--or Adramalech?--or Anamalech?--or
Succoth-Benith?--or Dagon?--or Belial?--or Baal-Perith?--or
"Verily it is neither-but beware how thou lettest the rope slip too
rapidly through thy fingers; for should the wicker-work chance to hang
on the projection of Yonder crag, there will be a woful outpouring of
the holy things of the sanctuary."
By the assistance of some rudely constructed machinery, the heavily
laden basket was now carefully lowered down among the multitude; and,
from the giddy pinnacle, the Romans were seen gathering confusedly
round it; but owing to the vast height and the prevalence of a fog, no
distinct view of their operations could be obtained.
Half an hour had already elapsed.
"We shall be too late!" sighed the Pharisee, as at the expiration of
this period he looked over into the abyss-"we shall be too late! we
shall be turned out of office by the Katholim."
"No more," responded Abel-Phittim---"no more shall we feast upon the fat
of the land-no longer shall our beards be odorous with frankincense--our
loins girded up with fine linen from the Temple."
"Racal" swore Ben-Levi, "Racal do they mean to defraud us of the
purchase money? or, Holy Moses! are they weighing the shekels of the
"They have given the signal at last!" cried the Pharisee-----"they
have given the signal at last! pull away, Abel-Phittim!--and thou,
Buzi-Ben-Levi, pull away!--for verily the Philistines have either still
hold upon the basket, or the Lord hath softened their hearts to place
therein a beast of good weight!" And the Gizbarim pulled away, while
their burden swung heavily upward through the still increasing mist.
"Booshoh he!"--as, at the conclusion of an hour, some object at the
extremity of the rope became indistinctly visible--"Booshoh he!" was the
exclamation which burst from the lips of Ben-Levi.
"Booshoh he!--for shame!--it is a ram from the thickets of Engedi, and as
rugged as the valley of jehosaphat!"
"It is a firstling of the flock," said Abel-Phittim, "I know him by the
bleating of his lips, and the innocent folding of his limbs. His eyes
are more beautiful than the jewels of the Pectoral, and his flesh is
like the honey of Hebron."
"It is a fatted calf from the pastures of Bashan," said the Pharisee,
"the heathen have dealt wonderfully with us----let us raise up
our voices in a psalm--let us give thanks on the shawm and on the
psaltery-on the harp and on the huggab-on the cythern and on the
It was not until the basket had arrived within a few feet of the
Gizbarim that a low grunt betrayed to their perception a hog of no
"Now El Emanu!" slowly and with upturned eyes ejaculated the trio, as,
letting go their hold, the emancipated porker tumbled headlong among the
Philistines, "El Emanu!-God be with us--it is _the unutterable flesh!"_
DURING the dread reign of the Cholera in New York, I had accepted the
invitation of a relative to spend a fortnight with him in the retirement
of his _cottage ornee_ on the banks of the Hudson. We had here around
us all the ordinary means of summer amusement; and what with rambling
in the woods, sketching, boating, fishing, bathing, music, and books,
we should have passed the time pleasantly enough, but for the fearful
intelligence which reached us every morning from the populous city.
Not a day elapsed which did not bring us news of the decease of some
acquaintance. Then as the fatality increased, we learned to expect daily
the loss of some friend. At length we trembled at the approach of every
messenger. The very air from the South seemed to us redolent with death.
That palsying thought, indeed, took entire possession of my soul. I
could neither speak, think, nor dream of any thing else. My host was
of a less excitable temperament, and, although greatly depressed in
spirits, exerted himself to sustain my own. His richly philosophical
intellect was not at any time affected by unrealities. To the substances
of terror he was sufficiently alive, but of its shadows he had no
His endeavors to arouse me from the condition of abnormal gloom into
which I had fallen, were frustrated, in great measure, by certain
volumes which I had found in his library. These were of a character to
force into germination whatever seeds of hereditary superstition
lay latent in my bosom. I had been reading these books without his
knowledge, and thus he was often at a loss to account for the forcible
impressions which had been made upon my fancy.
A favorite topic with me was the popular belief in omens--a belief
which, at this one epoch of my life, I was almost seriously disposed
to defend. On this subject we had long and animated discussions--he
maintaining the utter groundlessness of faith in such matters,--I
contending that a popular sentiment arising with absolute spontaneity-
that is to say, without apparent traces of suggestion--had in itself the
unmistakable elements of truth, and was entitled to as much respect
as that intuition which is the idiosyncrasy of the individual man of
The fact is, that soon after my arrival at the cottage there had
occurred to myself an incident so entirely inexplicable, and which had
in it so much of the portentous character, that I might well have been
excused for regarding it as an omen. It appalled, and at the same time
so confounded and bewildered me, that many days elapsed before I could
make up my mind to communicate the circumstances to my friend.
Near the close of exceedingly warm day, I was sitting, book in hand, at
an open window, commanding, through a long vista of the river banks, a
view of a distant hill, the face of which nearest my position had been
denuded by what is termed a land-slide, of the principal portion of its
trees. My thoughts had been long wandering from the volume before me to
the gloom and desolation of the neighboring city. Uplifting my eyes
from the page, they fell upon the naked face of the bill, and upon an
object--upon some living monster of hideous conformation, which very
rapidly made its way from the summit to the bottom, disappearing finally
in the dense forest below. As this creature first came in sight, I
doubted my own sanity--or at least the evidence of my own eyes; and
many minutes passed before I succeeded in convincing myself that I was
neither mad nor in a dream. Yet when I described the monster (which
I distinctly saw, and calmly surveyed through the whole period of
its progress), my readers, I fear, will feel more difficulty in being
convinced of these points than even I did myself.
Estimating the size of the creature by comparison with the diameter of
the large trees near which it passed--the few giants of the forest which
had escaped the fury of the land-slide--I concluded it to be far larger
than any ship of the line in existence. I say ship of the line, because
the shape of the monster suggested the idea--the hull of one of our
seventy-four might convey a very tolerable conception of the general
outline. The mouth of the animal was situated at the extremity of a
proboscis some sixty or seventy feet in length, and about as thick as
the body of an ordinary elephant. Near the root of this trunk was
an immense quantity of black shaggy hair--more than could have been
supplied by the coats of a score of buffaloes; and projecting from this
hair downwardly and laterally, sprang two gleaming tusks not unlike
those of the wild boar, but of infinitely greater dimensions. Extending
forward, parallel with the proboscis, and on each side of it, was a
gigantic staff, thirty or forty feet in length, formed seemingly of pure
crystal and in shape a perfect prism,--it reflected in the most gorgeous
manner the rays of the declining sun. The trunk was fashioned like a
wedge with the apex to the earth. From it there were outspread two pairs
of wings--each wing nearly one hundred yards in length--one pair being
placed above the other, and all thickly covered with metal scales; each
scale apparently some ten or twelve feet in diameter. I observed that
the upper and lower tiers of wings were connected by a strong chain.
the chief peculiarity of this horrible thing was the representation of a
Death's Head, which covered nearly the whole surface of its breast, and
which was as accurately traced in glaring white, upon the dark ground of
the body, as if it had been there carefully designed by an artist. While
I regarded the terrific animal, and more especially the appearance
on its breast, with a feeling or horror and awe--with a sentiment of
forthcoming evil, which I found it impossible to quell by any effort of
the reason, I perceived the huge jaws at the extremity of the proboscis
suddenly expand themselves, and from them there proceeded a sound so
loud and so expressive of wo, that it struck upon my nerves like a knell
and as the monster disappeared at the foot of the hill, I fell at once,
fainting, to the floor.
Upon recovering, my first impulse, of course, was to inform my friend
of what I had seen and heard--and I can scarcely explain what feeling of
repugnance it was which, in the end, operated to prevent me.
At length, one evening, some three or four days after the occurrence, we
were sitting together in the room in which I had seen the apparition--I
occupying the same seat at the same window, and he lounging on a sofa
near at hand. The association of the place and time impelled me to
give him an account of the phenomenon. He heard me to the end--at first
laughed heartily--and then lapsed into an excessively grave demeanor, as
if my insanity was a thing beyond suspicion. At this instant I again
had a distinct view of the monster--to which, with a shout of absolute
terror, I now directed his attention. He looked eagerly--but maintained
that he saw nothing--although I designated minutely the course of the
creature, as it made its way down the naked face of the hill.
I was now immeasurably alarmed, for I considered the vision either as an
omen of my death, or, worse, as the fore-runner of an attack of mania. I
threw myself passionately back in my chair, and for some moments buried
my face in my hands. When I uncovered my eyes, the apparition was no
My host, however, had in some degree resumed the calmness of his
demeanor, and questioned me very rigorously in respect to the
conformation of the visionary creature. When I had fully satisfied
him on this head, he sighed deeply, as if relieved of some intolerable
burden, and went on to talk, with what I thought a cruel calmness, of
various points of speculative philosophy, which had heretofore formed
subject of discussion between us. I remember his insisting very
especially (among other things) upon the idea that the principle
source of error in all human investigations lay in the liability of
the understanding to under-rate or to over-value the importance of an
object, through mere mis-admeasurement of its propinquity. "To estimate
properly, for example," he said, "the influence to be exercised on
mankind at large by the thorough diffusion of Democracy, the distance
of the epoch at which such diffusion may possibly be accomplished should
not fail to form an item in the estimate. Yet can you tell me one writer
on the subject of government who has ever thought this particular branch
of the subject worthy of discussion at all?"
He here paused for a moment, stepped to a book-case, and brought forth
one of the ordinary synopses of Natural History. Requesting me then to
exchange seats with him, that he might the better distinguish the fine
print of the volume, he took my armchair at the window, and, opening the
book, resumed his discourse very much in the same tone as before.
"But for your exceeding minuteness," he said, "in describing the
monster, I might never have had it in my power to demonstrate to you
what it was. In the first place, let me read to you a schoolboy
account of the genus Sphinx, of the family Crepuscularia of the order
Lepidoptera, of the class of Insecta--or insects. The account runs thus:
"'Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of metallic
appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by an elongation
of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the rudiments of
mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained to the superior
by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated club, prismatic;
abdomen pointed, The Death's--headed Sphinx has occasioned much terror
among the vulgar, at times, by the melancholy kind of cry which it
utters, and the insignia of death which it wears upon its corslet.'"
He here closed the book and leaned forward in the chair, placing
himself accurately in the position which I had occupied at the moment of
beholding "the monster."
"Ah, here it is," he presently exclaimed--"it is reascending the face
of the hill, and a very remarkable looking creature I admit it to be.
Still, it is by no means so large or so distant as you imagined it,--for
the fact is that, as it wriggles its way up this thread, which some
spider has wrought along the window-sash, I find it to be about the
sixteenth of an inch in its extreme length, and also about the sixteenth
of an inch distant from the pupil of my eye."
I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He seemed
to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind, and to
tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that
his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers.
They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men,
as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people grow fat by joking, or
whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I
have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean
joker is a rara avis in terris.
About the refinements, or, as he called them, the 'ghost' of wit, the
king troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration for
breadth in a jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake
of it. Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred Rabelais'
'Gargantua' to the 'Zadig' of Voltaire: and, upon the whole, practical
jokes suited his taste far better than verbal ones.
At the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether gone
out of fashion at court. Several of the great continental 'powers' still
retain their 'fools,' who wore motley, with caps and bells, and who were
expected to be always ready with sharp witticisms, at a moment's notice,
in consideration of the crumbs that fell from the royal table.
Our king, as a matter of course, retained his 'fool.' The fact is, he
required something in the way of folly--if only to counterbalance
the heavy wisdom of the seven wise men who were his ministers--not to
His fool, or professional jester, was not only a fool, however. His
value was trebled in the eyes of the king, by the fact of his being also
a dwarf and a cripple. Dwarfs were as common at court, in those days,
as fools; and many monarchs would have found it difficult to get through
their days (days are rather longer at court than elsewhere) without both
a jester to laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at. But, as I have already
observed, your jesters, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are fat,
round, and unwieldy--so that it was no small source of self-gratulation
with our king that, in Hop-Frog (this was the fool's name), he possessed
a triplicate treasure in one person.
I believe the name 'Hop-Frog' was not that given to the dwarf by his
sponsors at baptism, but it was conferred upon him, by general consent
of the several ministers, on account of his inability to walk as
other men do. In fact, Hop-Frog could only get along by a sort of
interjectional gait--something between a leap and a wriggle--a movement
that afforded illimitable amusement, and of course consolation, to
the king, for (notwithstanding the protuberance of his stomach and a
constitutional swelling of the head) the king, by his whole court, was
accounted a capital figure.
But although Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could
move only with great pain and difficulty along a road or floor, the
prodigious muscular power which nature seemed to have bestowed upon his
arms, by way of compensation for deficiency in the lower limbs, enabled
him to perform many feats of wonderful dexterity, where trees or ropes
were in question, or any thing else to climb. At such exercises he
certainly much more resembled a squirrel, or a small monkey, than a
I am not able to say, with precision, from what country Hop-Frog
originally came. It was from some barbarous region, however, that
no person ever heard of--a vast distance from the court of our king.
Hop-Frog, and a young girl very little less dwarfish than himself
(although of exquisite proportions, and a marvellous dancer), had been
forcibly carried off from their respective homes in adjoining provinces,
and sent as presents to the king, by one of his ever-victorious
Under these circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that a close
intimacy arose between the two little captives. Indeed, they soon became
sworn friends. Hop-Frog, who, although he made a great deal of sport,
was by no means popular, had it not in his power to render Trippetta
many services; but she, on account of her grace and exquisite beauty
(although a dwarf), was universally admired and petted; so she possessed
much influence; and never failed to use it, whenever she could, for the
benefit of Hop-Frog.
On some grand state occasion--I forgot what--the king determined to
have a masquerade, and whenever a masquerade or any thing of that kind,
occurred at our court, then the talents, both of Hop-Frog and Trippetta
were sure to be called into play. Hop-Frog, in especial, was so
inventive in the way of getting up pageants, suggesting novel
characters, and arranging costumes, for masked balls, that nothing could
be done, it seems, without his assistance.
The night appointed for the fete had arrived. A gorgeous hall had been
fitted up, under Trippetta's eye, with every kind of device which could
possibly give eclat to a masquerade. The whole court was in a fever of
expectation. As for costumes and characters, it might well be supposed
that everybody had come to a decision on such points. Many had made
up their minds (as to what roles they should assume) a week, or even a
month, in advance; and, in fact, there was not a particle of indecision
anywhere--except in the case of the king and his seven minsters. Why
they hesitated I never could tell, unless they did it by way of a joke.
More probably, they found it difficult, on account of being so fat, to
make up their minds. At all events, time flew; and, as a last resort
they sent for Trippetta and Hop-Frog.
When the two little friends obeyed the summons of the king they found
him sitting at his wine with the seven members of his cabinet council;
but the monarch appeared to be in a very ill humor. He knew that
Hop-Frog was not fond of wine, for it excited the poor cripple almost to
madness; and madness is no comfortable feeling. But the king loved his
practical jokes, and took pleasure in forcing Hop-Frog to drink and (as
the king called it) 'to be merry.'
"Come here, Hop-Frog," said he, as the jester and his friend entered the
room; "swallow this bumper to the health of your absent friends, [here
Hop-Frog sighed,] and then let us have the benefit of your invention.
We want characters--characters, man--something novel--out of the way. We
are wearied with this everlasting sameness. Come, drink! the wine will
brighten your wits."
Hop-Frog endeavored, as usual, to get up a jest in reply to these
advances from the king; but the effort was too much. It happened to
be the poor dwarf's birthday, and the command to drink to his 'absent
friends' forced the tears to his eyes. Many large, bitter drops fell
into the goblet as he took it, humbly, from the hand of the tyrant.
"Ah! ha! ha!" roared the latter, as the dwarf reluctantly drained the
beaker.--"See what a glass of good wine can do! Why, your eyes are
Poor fellow! his large eyes gleamed, rather than shone; for the effect
of wine on his excitable brain was not more powerful than instantaneous.
He placed the goblet nervously on the table, and looked round upon the
company with a half--insane stare. They all seemed highly amused at the
success of the king's 'joke.'
"And now to business," said the prime minister, a very fat man.
"Yes," said the King; "Come lend us your assistance. Characters, my fine
fellow; we stand in need of characters--all of us--ha! ha! ha!" and
as this was seriously meant for a joke, his laugh was chorused by the
Hop-Frog also laughed although feebly and somewhat vacantly.
"Come, come," said the king, impatiently, "have you nothing to suggest?"
"I am endeavoring to think of something novel," replied the dwarf,
abstractedly, for he was quite bewildered by the wine.
"Endeavoring!" cried the tyrant, fiercely; "what do you mean by that?
Ah, I perceive. You are Sulky, and want more wine. Here, drink this!"
and he poured out another goblet full and offered it to the cripple, who
merely gazed at it, gasping for breath.
"Drink, I say!" shouted the monster, "or by the fiends-"
The dwarf hesitated. The king grew purple with rage. The courtiers
smirked. Trippetta, pale as a corpse, advanced to the monarch's seat,
and, falling on her knees before him, implored him to spare her friend.
The tyrant regarded her, for some moments, in evident wonder at
her audacity. He seemed quite at a loss what to do or say--how most
becomingly to express his indignation. At last, without uttering a
syllable, he pushed her violently from him, and threw the contents of
the brimming goblet in her face.
The poor girl got up the best she could, and, not daring even to sigh,
resumed her position at the foot of the table.
There was a dead silence for about half a minute, during which the
falling of a leaf, or of a feather, might have been heard. It was
interrupted by a low, but harsh and protracted grating sound which
seemed to come at once from every corner of the room.
"What--what--what are you making that noise for?" demanded the king,
turning furiously to the dwarf.
The latter seemed to have recovered, in great measure, from his
intoxication, and looking fixedly but quietly into the tyrant's face,
"I--I? How could it have been me?"
"The sound appeared to come from without," observed one of the
courtiers. "I fancy it was the parrot at the window, whetting his bill
upon his cage-wires."
"True," replied the monarch, as if much relieved by the suggestion;
"but, on the honor of a knight, I could have sworn that it was the
gritting of this vagabond's teeth."
Hereupon the dwarf laughed (the king was too confirmed a joker to object
to any one's laughing), and displayed a set of large, powerful, and very
repulsive teeth. Moreover, he avowed his perfect willingness to swallow
as much wine as desired. The monarch was pacified; and having drained
another bumper with no very perceptible ill effect, Hop-Frog entered at
once, and with spirit, into the plans for the masquerade.
"I cannot tell what was the association of idea," observed he, very
tranquilly, and as if he had never tasted wine in his life, "but just
after your majesty, had struck the girl and thrown the wine in her
face--just after your majesty had done this, and while the parrot was
making that odd noise outside the window, there came into my mind a
capital diversion--one of my own country frolics--often enacted
among us, at our masquerades: but here it will be new altogether.
Unfortunately, however, it requires a company of eight persons and-"
"Here we are!" cried the king, laughing at his acute discovery of the
coincidence; "eight to a fraction--I and my seven ministers. Come! what
is the diversion?"
"We call it," replied the cripple, "the Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs,
and it really is excellent sport if well enacted."
"We will enact it," remarked the king, drawing himself up, and lowering
"The beauty of the game," continued Hop-Frog, "lies in the fright it
occasions among the women."
"Capital!" roared in chorus the monarch and his ministry.
"I will equip you as ourang-outangs," proceeded the dwarf; "leave all
that to me. The resemblance shall be so striking, that the company of
masqueraders will take you for real beasts--and of course, they will be
as much terrified as astonished."
"Oh, this is exquisite!" exclaimed the king. "Hop-Frog! I will make a
man of you."
"The chains are for the purpose of increasing the confusion by
Verlag: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 14.03.2014
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