THE PHILOSOPHER AND THE BUTTERFLIES
The scene was in a garden on a fine summer morning, brilliant with
slants of sunshine, yet chequered with clouds significant of more than a
remote possibility of rain. All the animal world was astir. Birds flitted
or hopped from spray to spray; butterflies eddied around flowers within or
upon which bees were bustling; ants and earwigs ran nimbly about on the
mould; a member of the Universal Knowledge Society perambulated the gravel
The Universal Knowledge Society, be it understood, exists for the
dissemination and not for the acquisition of knowledge. Our philosopher,
therefore, did not occupy himself with considering whether in that
miniature world, with its countless varieties of animal and vegetable
being, something might not be found with which he was himself
unacquainted; but, like the honey-freighted bee, rather sought an
opportunity of disburdening himself of his stores of information than of
adding to them. But who was to profit by his communicativeness? The noisy
birds could not hear themselves speak, much less him; he shrewdly
distrusted his ability to command the attention of the busy bees; and even
a member of the Universal Knowledge Society may well be at a loss for a
suitable address to an earwig. At length he determined to accost a
Butterfly who, after sipping the juice of a flower, remained perched
indolently upon it, apparently undecided whither to direct his flight.
"It seems likely to rain," he said, "have you an umbrella?"
The Butterfly looked curiously at him, but returned no answer.
"I do not ask," resumed the Philosopher, "as one who should imply that
the probability of even a complete saturation ought to appal a
ratiocinative being, endowed with wisdom and virtue. I rather designed to
direct your attention to the inquiry whether these attributes are, in
fact, rightly predicable of Butterflies."
Still no answer.
"An impression obtains among our own species," continued the
Philosopher, "that you Butterflies are deficient in foresight and
providence to a remarkable, I might almost say a culpable degree. Pardon
me if I add that this suspicion is to some extent confirmed by my finding
you destitute of protection against imbriferous inclemency under
atmospheric conditions whose contingent humidity should be obvious to a
being endowed with the most ordinary allotment of meteorological
The Butterfly still left all the talk to the Philosopher. This was just
what the latter desired.
"I greatly fear," he continued, "that the omission to which I have
reluctantly adverted is to a certain extent typically characteristic of
the entire political and social economy of the lepidopterous order. It has
even been stated, though the circumstance appears scarcely credible, that
your system of life does not include the accumulation of adequate
resources against the inevitable exigencies of winter."
"What is winter?" asked the Butterfly, and flew off without awaiting an
The Philosopher remained for a moment speechless, whether from
amazement at the Butterfly's nescience or disgust at his ill-breeding.
Recovering himself immediately, he shouted after the fugitive:
"Frivolous animal!" "It is this levity," continued he, addressing a
group of butterflies who had gradually assembled in the air, attracted by
the conversation, "it is this fatal levity that constrains me to despair
wholly of the future of you insects. That you should persistently remain
at your present depressed level! That you should not immediately enter
upon a process of self-development! Look at the Bee! How did she acquire
her sting, think you? Why cannot you store up honey, as she does?"
"We cannot build cells," suggested a Butterfly.
"And how did the Bee learn, do you suppose, unless by imbuing her mind
with the elementary principles of mathematics? Know that time has been
when the Bee was as incapable of architectural construction as yourselves,
when you and she alike were indiscriminable particles of primary
protoplasm. (I suppose you know what that is.) One has in process of time
exalted itself to the cognition of mathematical truth, while the
other—Pshaw! Now, really, my friends, I must beg you to take my
observations in good part. I do not imply, of course, that any endeavours
of yours in the direction I have indicated could benefit any of you
personally, or any of your posterity for numberless generations. But I
really do consider that after a while its effects would be very
observable—that in twenty millions of years or so, provided no geological
cataclysm supervened, you Butterflies, with your innate genius for
mimicry, might be conformed in all respects to the hymenopterous model, or
perhaps carry out the principle of development into novel and unheard-of
directions. You should derive much encouragement from the beginning you
have made already."
"How a beginning?" inquired a Butterfly.
"I am alluding to your larval constitution as Caterpillars," returned
the Philosopher. "Your advance upon that humiliating condition is, I
admit, remarkable. I only wonder that it should not have proceeded much
further. With such capacity for development, it is incomprehensible that
you should so long have remained stationary. You ought to be all toads by
this time, at the very least."
"I beg your pardon," civilly interposed the Butterfly. "To what
condition were you pleased to allude?"
"To that of a Caterpillar," rejoined the Philosopher.
"Caterpillar!" echoed the Butterfly, and "Caterpillar!" tittered all
his volatile companions, till the air seemed broken into little silvery
waves of fairy laughter. "Caterpillar! he positively thinks we were once
Caterpillars! He! he! he!"
"Do you actually mean to say you don't know that?" responded the
Philosopher, scandalised at the irreverence of the insects, but inwardly
rejoicing at the prospect of a controversy in which he could not be
"We know nothing of the sort," rejoined a Butterfly.
"Can you possibly be plunged into such utter oblivion of your embryonic
"We do not understand you. All we know is that we have always been
"Sir," said a large, dull-looking Butterfly with one wing in tatters,
crawling from under a cabbage, and limping by reason of the deficiency of
several legs, "let me entreat you not to deduce our scientific status from
the inconsiderate assertions of the unthinking vulgar. I am proud to
assure you that our race comprises many philosophical reasoners—mostly
indeed such as have been disabled by accidental injuries from joining in
the amusements of the rest. The Origin of our Species has always occupied
a distinguished place in their investigations. It has on several occasions
engaged the attention of our profoundest thinkers for not less than two
consecutive minutes. There is hardly a quadruped on the land, a bird in
the air, or a fish in the water to which it has not been ascribed by some
one at some time; but never, I am rejoiced to say, has any Butterfly ever
dreamed of attributing it to the obnoxious thing to which you have
unaccountably made reference."
"We should rather think not," chorussed all the Butterflies.
"Look here," said the Philosopher, picking up and exhibiting a large
hairy Caterpillar of very unprepossessing appearance. "Look here, what do
you call this?"
"An abnormal organisation," said the scientific Butterfly.
"A nasty beast," said the others.
"Heavens," exclaimed the Philosopher, "the obtuseness and arrogance of
these creatures! No, my poor friend," continued he, addressing the
Caterpillar, "disdain you as they may, and unpromising as your aspect
certainly is at present, the time is at" hand when you will prank it with
the gayest of them all."
"I cry your mercy," rejoined the Caterpillar somewhat crossly, "but I
was digesting a gooseberry leaf when you lifted me in that abrupt manner,
and I did not quite follow your remarks. Did I understand you to mention
my name in connection with those flutterers?"
"I said the time would arrive when you would be even as they."
"I," exclaimed the Caterpillar, "I retrograde to the level of a
Butterfly! Is not the ideal of creation impersonated in me already?"
"I was not aware of that," replied the Philosopher, "although," he
added in a conciliatory tone, "far be it from me to deny you the
possession of many interesting qualities."
"You probably refer to my agility," suggested the Caterpillar; "or
perhaps to my abstemiousness?"
"I was not referring to either," returned the Philosopher.
"To my utility to mankind?"
"Not by any manner of means."
"To what then?"
"Well, if you must know, the best thing about you appears to me to be
the prospect you enjoy of ultimately becoming a Butterfly."
The Caterpillar erected himself upon his tail, and looked sternly at
the Philosopher. The Philosopher's countenance fell. A thrush, darting
from an adjacent tree, seized the opportunity and the insect, and bore the
latter away in his bill. At the same moment the shower prognosticated by
the Sage burst forth, scattering the Butterflies in all directions,
drenching the Philosopher, whose foresight had not assumed the shape of an
umbrella, and spoiling his new hat. But he had ample consolation in the
superiority of his head. And the Caterpillar was right too, for after all
he never did become a Butterfly.
Jupiter. Daughter Truth, is this a befitting manner of
presenting yourself before your divine father? You are positively
dripping; the floor of my celestial mansion would be a swamp but for your
praiseworthy economy in wearing apparel. Whence, in the name of the
Naiads, do you come?
Truth. From the bottom of a well, father.
Jupiter. I thought, my daughter, that you had descended upon
earth in the capacity of a benefactress of men rather than of frogs.
Truth. Such, indeed, was my purpose, father, and I accordingly
repaired to the great city.
Jupiter. The city of the Emperor Apollyon?
Truth. The same; and I there obtained an audience of the
Jupiter. What passed?
Truth. I took the liberty of observing to him, father, that,
having obtained his throne by perjury, and cemented it by blood, and
maintained it by hypocrisy, he could entertain no hope of preserving it
unless the collective baseness of his subjects should be found to exceed
his own, which was not probable.
Jupiter. What reply did he vouchsafe to these admonitions?
Truth. He threatened to cut out my tongue. Perceiving that this
would interfere with my utility to mankind, I retired somewhat
precipitately from the Imperial presence, marvelling that I should ever
have been admitted, and resolved never to be found there for the future. I
then proceeded to the Nobles.
Jupiter. What said you to them?
Truth. I represented to them that they were, as a class, both
arrogant and luxurious, and would, indeed, have long ago become
insupportable, only that the fabric which their rapacity was for ever
striving to erect, their extravagance as perpetually undermined. I further
commented upon the insecurity of any institution dependent solely upon
prescription. Finding these suggestions unpalatable, I next addressed
myself to the priesthood.
Jupiter. Those holy men, my daughter, must have rejoiced at the
opportunity of learning from you which portion of their traditions was
impure or fabricated, and which authentic and sublime.
Truth. The value they placed upon my instructions was such that
they wished to reserve them exclusively for themselves, and proposed that
they should be delivered within the precincts of a certain subterranean
apartment termed a dungeon, the key of which should be kept by one of
their order. Whereupon I betook myself to the philosophers.
Jupiter. Your reception from these professed lovers of wisdom,
my daughter, was, no doubt, all that could be expected.
Truth. It was all that could be expected, my father, from
learned and virtuous men, who had already framed their own systems of the
universe without consulting me.
Jupiter. You probably next addressed yourself to the middling
orders of society?
Truth. I can scarcely say that I did, father; for although I had
much to remark concerning their want of culture, and their servility, and
their greed, and the absurdity of many of their customs, and the
rottenness of most of their beliefs, and the thousand ways in which they
spoiled lives that might have been beautiful and harmonious, I soon
discovered that they were so absolutely swayed by the example of the
higher orders that it was useless to expostulate with them until I should
have persuaded the latter.
Jupiter. You returned, then, to the latter with this design?
Truth. On the contrary, I hastened to the poor and needy, whom I
fully acquainted with the various wrongs and oppressions which they
underwent at the hands of the powerful and the rich. And here, for the
first time, I found myself welcome. All listened with gratitude and
assent, and none made any endeavour to stone me or imprison me, as those
other unprincipled persons had done.
Jupiter. That was indeed satisfactory, daughter. But when you
proceeded to point out to these plebeians how much of their misery arose
from their own idleness, and ignorance, and dissoluteness, and abasement
before those higher in station, and jealousy of the best among
themselves—what said they to that?
Truth. They expressed themselves desirous of killing me, and
indeed would have done so if my capital enemies, the priests, had not been
beforehand with them.
Jupiter. What did they?
Truth. Burned me.
Jupiter. Burned you?
Truth. Burned me in the market-place. And, but for my peculiar
property of reviving from my ashes, I should not be here now. Upon
reconsolidating myself, I felt in such a heat that I was fain to repair to
the bottom of the nearest well. Finding myself more comfortable there than
I had ever yet been on earth, I have come to ask permission to remain.
Jupiter. It does not appear to me, daughter, that the mission
you have undertaken on behalf of mankind can be efficiently discharged at
the bottom of a well.
Truth. No, father, nor in the middle of a fire either.
Jupiter. I fear that you are too plain and downright in your
dealings with men, and deter where you ought to allure.
Truth. I were not Truth, else, but Flattery. My nature is a
mirror's—to exhibit reality with plainness and faithfulness.
Jupiter. It is no less the nature of man to shatter every mirror
that does not exhibit to him what he wishes to behold.
Truth. Let me, therefore, return to my well, and let him who
wishes to behold me, if such there be, repair to the brink and look down.
Jupiter. No, daughter, you shall not returnto your well. I have
already perceived that you are not of yourself sufficient for the office I
have assigned to you, and I am about to provide you with two auxiliaries.
You are Truth. Tell me how this one appears to you.
Truth. Oh, father, the beautiful nymph! how mature, and yet how
comely! how good-humoured, yet how gentle and grave! Her robe is closely
zoned; her upraised finger approaches her lip; her foot falls soft as
snow. What is her name?
Jupiter. Discretion. And this other?
Truth. Oh, father! the cordial look, the blooming cheek, the
bright smile that is almost a laugh, the buoyant step, and the expansive
bosom! What name bears she?
Jupiter. Good Nature. Return, my daughter, to earth; continue to
enlighten man's ignorance and to reprove his folly; but let Discretion
suggest the occasion, and Good Nature inspire the wording of your
admonitions. I cannot engage that you may not, even with these
precautions, sometimes pay a visit to the stake; and if, when an adventure
of this sort appears imminent, Discretion should counsel a temporary
retirement to your well, I am sure Good Nature will urge nothing to the
Three pairs of young people, each a youth with his bride, came together
along a road to the point where it divided to the right and left. On one
side was inscribed, "To the Palace of Truth," and on the other, "To the
Palace of Illusion."
"This way, my beauty!" cried one of the youths, drawing his companion
in the direction of the Palace of Truth. "To the place where and where
alone thy perfections may be beheld as they are!"
"And my imperfections!" whispered the young spouse, but her tone was
airy and confident.
"Well," said the second youth, "does the choice beseem you upon whom
the moon of your nuptials is beaming still. My beloved and I are riper in
Hymen's lore by not less, I ween, than one fortnight. Prudence impels us
towards the Palace of Illusion."
"Thy will is mine, Alonso," said his lady.
"I," said the third youth, "will seek neither; for I would not be wise
over-much, while of what I deem myself to know I would be well assured.
Happy am I, and bless my lot, yet have I beheld a red mouse in closer
contiguity to my beloved than I could bring myself to approve, albeit it
leapt not from her mouth as they do sometimes. Yet do I know it for a red
mouse and nothing worse; had I inhabited the Palace of Illusion haply I
had deemed it a rat. And, it being a red mouse as it indubitably was, to
what end fancy it a tawny-throated nightingale?"
While, therefore, the other pairs proceeded on the paths they had
respectively chosen, this sage youth and his bride settled themselves at
the parting of the ways, built their cot, tended their garden, tilled
their field and raised fruits around them, including children.
The preparation of a cheerful repast was one day well advanced, when,
lifting up their eyes, the pair beheld a haggard and emaciated couple
tottering along the road that led from the Palace of Illusion.
"Heavens!" exclaimed they simultaneously, "no! yes! 'tis surely they!"
O friends! whence this forlorn semblance? whence this osseous condition?"
"Of them anon," replied the attenuated youth, "but, before all things,
The restorative was speedily administered, and the pilgrim commenced
"Guarded," he said, "though the Palace of Illusion was by every species
of hippogriffic chimaera, my bride and I experienced no difficulty in
penetrating inside its precincts. The giants lifted us in their arms, the
dragons carried us on their backs, fairy bridges spanned the moats, golden
ladders inclined against the ramparts, we scaled the towers and trod the
courts securely, though constructed to all seeming of dissolving cloud.
Delicate fare loaded every dish; smiling companions invited to every
festivity; perfumes caressed our nostrils; music enwrapped our ears.
"But while all else charmed and allured, one fact intruded of which we
could not pretend unconsciousness, the intensity of our aversion for each
other. Never could I behold my Imogene without marvelling whatever could
have induced me to wed her, and she has acknowledged that she laboured
under the like perplexity. On the other hand, our good opinion of
ourselves had grown prodigiously. The other's dislike appeared to each an
insane delusion, and we seriously questioned whether it could be right to
mate longer with a being so destitute of true aesthetic feeling. We
confided these scruples to each other, with the result of a most
"As this was attaining its climax, one of the inmates of the Palace, a
pert forward boy, resembling a page out of livery, passed by, and
ironically, as I thought, congratulated us on the strength of our mutual
attachment. 'Never,' exclaimed he, 'have I beheld the like here before,
and I am the oldest inhabitant.'
"As this felicitation was proffered at the precise moment when I was
engaged in staunching a rent in my cheek with a handful of my wife's hair,
I was constrained to regard it as unseasonable, and expressed myself to
"'What!' exclaimed he, with equal surprise, 'know ye not that this is
the Palace of Illusion, where everything is inverted and appears the
reverse of itself? Intense indeed must be the affection which can thus
drive you to fisticuffs! Had I beheld you billing and cooing, truly I had
counselled a judicial separation!'
"My wife and I looked at each other, and by a common impulse made at
our utmost speed for the gate of the Palace of Illusion.
"Alas! it is one thing to enter and another to quit that domain of
enchantment. The golden clouds enwrapt us still, cates and dainties
tempted us as of old, the most bewitching strains detained us spellbound.
The giant and dragon warders, indeed, offered no violent resistance, they
simply turned into open portals which appeared to yield us egress, but
proved entrances to interminable labyrinthine mazes. At last we escaped by
resolutely, following the exact opposite track to that which we observed
to be taken by a poet, who was chasing a phantom of Fame with a scroll of
unintelligible and inharmonious verse.
"The moment that we emerged from the enchanted castle we knew ourselves
and each other for what we were, and fell weeping into each other's arms.
So feeble were we that we could hardly move, nevertheless we have made a
shift to crawl hither, trusting to your hospitality to recruit us from the
sawdust and ditch-water which we vehemently suspect to have been our diet
during the whole of our residence."
"Eat and drink without stint and without ceremony," rejoined their
host, "provided only that somewhat remain for the guests whom I see
And in a few moments the fugitives from the Palace of Illusion were
reinforced by travellers from the Palace of Truth, whose backs were most
determinately turned to that august edifice.
"My friends," said the youth last arrived, when the first greetings
were over, "Truth's Palace might be a not ineligible residence were not
the inmates necessitated not merely to know the truth but to speak it, and
did not all innocent embellishments of her majestic person become entirely
inefficient and absolutely nugatory. For example, the number of my wife's
grey hairs speedily confounded me; and how should it be otherwise, when
the excellent dye she had brought with her had completely lost its
virtues? She on her part found herself continually obliged to acquaint me
with the manifold defects she was daily discovering in my mind and person,
which I was unable to deny, frequently as I opened my mouth for that
purpose. It is true that I had the satisfaction of pointing out equal
defects in herself; but this could not be considered a great satisfaction,
seeing that every such discovery impugned my taste and judgment, and
impaired the worth of my most cherished possession. At length we resolved
that Truth and we were not made for each other, and, having verified the
accuracy of this conclusion by uttering it unrebuked in Truth's own
palace, quitted the unblest spot with all possible expedition. No sooner
were we outside than our tenderness revived, and, the rites of
reconciliation duly performed, my wife found nothing more urgent than to
try whether her dye had recovered its natural properties, which, as ye may
perceive, proved to be the case. We are now bound for the Palace of
"Nay," said he who had escaped thence, "if my experience suffices not
to deter you, learn that they who have known Truth can never taste of
Illusion. Illusion is for life's golden prime, its fanes and pavilions may
be reared but by the magic wand of Youth. The maturity that would recreate
them builds not for Illusion but for Deceit. Yet, lest mortality should
despair, there exists, as I have learned, yet another palace, founded
midway between that of Illusion and that of Truth, open to those who are
too soft for the one and too hard for the other. Thither, indeed, the
majority of mankind in this age resort, and there appear to find
"And this palace is?" inquired Truth's runaways simultaneously.
"The Palace of Convention," replied the youth.
I.—Timon of Athens
No, it was not true that Timon was dead, and buried on the sea-shore.
So the first party discovered that hastened to his cave at the tidings,
thinking to seize his treasure, and had their heads broken for their
pains. But the second party fared better; for these were robbers,
captained by Alcibiades, who had taken to the road, as many a man of
spirit, has done before and since. They took Timon's gold, and left him
bound in his chair. But on the way home the lesser thieves mysteriously
disappeared, and the gold became the sole property of Alcibiades. As it is
written, "The tools to him that can handle them."
Timon sat many hours in an uncomfortable position, and though, in a
general way, he abhorred the face of man, he was not displeased when a
gentleman of bland appearance entered the cavern, and made him a low
obeisance. And perceiving that Timon was bound, the bland man exclaimed
with horror, and severed his bonds, ere one could say Themistocles. And in
an instant the cavern was filled with Athenian senators.
"Hail," they cried, "to Timon the munificent! Hail to Timon the
compassionate! Hail to Timon the lover of his kind!"
"I am none of these things," said Timon. "I am Timon the misanthrope."
"This must be my Lord's wit and playfulness," said the bland man, "for
how else should the Senate and the people have passed a decree, indited by
myself, ordering an altar to be raised to Timon the Benefactor, and
appointing him chief archon? But come, hand over thy treasure, that thy
installation may take effect with due observance."
"I have been deprived of my treasure," said Timon.
But the ambassadors gave him no credit until they had searched every
chink and crevice in the cavern, and dug up all the earth round the
entrance. They then regarded each other with blank consternation.
"Let us leave him as we found him," said one.
"Let us hang him up," said another.
"Let us sell him into captivity," said a third.
"Nay, friends," said the bland gentleman, "such confession of error
would impeach our credit as statesmen. Moreover, should the people learn
that Timon has lost his money, they will naturally conclude that we have
taken it. Let us, therefore, keep this misfortune from their knowledge,
and trust for relief to the chapter of accidents, as usual in State
They therefore robed Timon in a dress of honour, and conducted him to
Athens, where half the inhabitants were awaiting him. Two triumphal arches
spanned the principal street, and on one was inscribed "Timon the
Benefactor," and on the other "Timon the Friend of Humanity." And all
along, far as the eye could reach, stood those whom his bounty, as was
stated, had rescued from perdition, the poor he had relieved, the sick he
had medicined, the orphans he had fathered, the poets and painters he had
patronised, all lauding and thanking him, and soliciting a continuance of
his liberality. And the rabble cried "Largesse, largesse!" and horsemen
galloped forth, casting among them nuts enveloped in silver-leaf and
apples and comfits and trinkets and brass farthings in incredible
quantities. At which the people murmured somewhat, and spoke amiss
respecting Timon and the senators who escorted him, and the bland
gentleman strove to keep Timon between himself and the populace. While
Timon was pondering what the end of these things should be, his mob
encountered another cheering for Alcibiades, and playing pitch and toss
with drachmas and didrachmas and tetradrachmas, yea, even with staters and
"Long live Alcibiades," cried Timon's followers, as they attacked
Alcibiades's supporters to get their share.
"Long live Timon," cried Alcibiades's party, as they defended
Timon and Alcibiades extricated themselves from the scuffle, and walked
away arm in arm.
"My dear friend," said Timon, "how inexpressibly beholden I am to you
for taking the burden of my wealth upon yourself! There is nothing I would
not do to evince my gratitude."
"Nothing?" queried Alcibiades.
"Nothing," persisted Timon.
"Then," said Alcibiades, "I will thank thee to relieve me of Timandra,
who is as tired of me as I am of her."
Timon winced horribly, but his word was his bond, and Timandra
accompanied him to his cavern, where at first she suffered much
inconvenience from the roughness of the accommodation. But Timon, though a
misanthrope, was not a brute; and when in process of time Timandra's
health required special care, rugs and pillows were provided for her, and
also for Timon; for he saw that he could no longer pass for a churl if he
made his wife more comfortable than himself. And, though he counted gold
as dross, yet was he not dissatisfied that Timandra had saved the gold he
had given her formerly against a rainy day. And when a child was born,
Timon was at his wits' end, and blessed the old woman who came to nurse
it. And she admonished him of his duty to the Gods, which meant sacrifice,
which meant merry-making. And the child grew, and craved food and drink,
and Timon possessed himself of three acres and a cow. And not being able
to doubt his child's affection for him, he came to believe in Timandra's
also. And when the tax-gatherer oppressed his neighbours, he pleaded their
cause, which was also his own, in the courts of Athens, and gained it by
the interest of Alcibiades. And his neighbours made him demarch, and he
feasted them. And Apemantus came to deride him, and Timon bore with him;
but he was impertinent to Timandra, and Timon beat him.
And in fine, Timon became very like any other Attic country gentleman,
save that he always maintained that a young man did well to be a
misanthrope until he got a loving and sensible wife, which, as he
observed, could but seldom happen. And the Gods looked down upon him with
complacency, and deferred the ruin of Athens until he should be no more.
Napoleon Buonaparte sat in his garden at St. Helena, in the shadow of a
fig-tree. Before him stood a little table, and upon the table stood a
glass of sangaree. The day was hot and drowsy; the sea boomed monotonously
on the rocks; the broad fig-leaves stirred not; great flies buzzed heavily
in the sultry air. Napoleon wore a loose linen coat and a broad brimmed
planter's hat, and looked as red as the sangaree, but nowise as
"To think," he said aloud, "that I should end my life here, with
nothing to sweeten my destiny but this lump of sugar!"
And he dropped it into the sangaree, and little ripples and beads broke
out on the surface of the liquid.
"Thou should'st have followed me," said a voice.
"Me," said another.
And a steam from the sangaree rose high over Napoleon's head, and from
it shaped themselves two beautiful female figures. One was fair and very
youthful, with a Phrygian cap on her head, and eager eyes beneath it, and
a slender spear in her hand. The other was somewhat older, and graver, and
darker, with serious eyes; and she carried a sword, and wore a helmet,
from underneath which her rich brown tresses escaped over her vesture of
light steel armour.
"I am Liberty," said the first.
"I am Loyalty," said the second.
And Napoleon laid his hand in that of the first spirit, and instantly
saw himself as he had been in the days of his youthful victories, only
beset with a multitude of people who were offering him a crown, and
cheering loudly. But he thrust it aside, and they cheered ten times more,
and fell into each other's arms, and wept and kissed each other. And
troops of young maidens robed in white danced before him, strewing his way
with flowers. And the debts of the debtor were paid, and the prisoners
were released from captivity. And the forty Academicians came bringing
Napoleon the prize of virtue. And the Abbé Sieyès stood up, and offered
Napoleon his choice of seventeen constitutions; and Napoleon chose the
worst. And he came to sit with five hundred other men, mostly advocates.
And when he said "Yea," they said "Nay"; and when he said "white," they
said "black." And they suffered him to do neither good nor evil, and when
he went to war they commanded his army for him, until he was smitten with
a great slaughter. And the enemy entered the country, and bread was scarce
and wine dear; and the people cursed Napoleon, and Liberty vanished from
before him. But he roamed on, ever looking for her, and at length he found
her lying dead in the public way, all gashed and bleeding, and trampled
with the feet of men and horses, and the wheel of a tumbril was over her
neck. And Napoleon, under compulsion of the mob, ascended the tumbril; and
Abbé Sieyès and Bishop Talleyrand rode at his side, administering
spiritual consolation. Thus they came within sight of the guillotine,
whereon stood M. de Robespierre in his sky-blue coat, and his jaw bound up
in a bloody cloth, bowing and smiling, nevertheless, and beckoning
Napoleon to ascend to him. Napoleon had never feared the face of man; but
when he saw M. de Robespierre great dread fell upon him, and he leapt out
of the tumbril, and fled amain, passing amid the people as it were mid
withered leaves, until he came where Loyalty stood awaiting him.
She took his hand in hers, and, lo! another great host of people
proffering him a crown, save one little old man, who alone of them all
wore his hair in a queue with powder.
"See," said the little old man, "that thou takest not what doth not
belong to thee."
"To whom belongeth it then?" asked Napoleon, "for I am a plain soldier,
and have no skill in politics."
"To Louis the Disesteemed," said the little old man, "for he is a
great-great-nephew of the Princess of Schwoffingen, whose ancestors
reigned here at the flood."
"Where dwells Louis the Disesteemed?" asked Napoleon.
"In England," said the little old man.
Napoleon therefore repaired to England, and sought for Louis the
Disesteemed. But none could direct him, save that it behoved him to seek
in the obscurest places. And one day, as he was passing through a mean
street, he heard a voice of lamentation, and perceived a man whose coat
and shirt were rent and dirty; but not so his pantaloons, for he had none.
"Who art thou, thou pantaloonless one?" asked he, "and wherefore makest
thou this lamentation?"
"I am Louis the Esteemed, King of France and Navarre," replied the
distrousered personage, "and I lament for my pantaloons, which I have been
enforced to pawn, inasmuch as the broker would advance nothing upon my
coat or my shirt."
And Napoleon went upon his knees and divested himself of his own nether
garments, and arrayed the king therein, to the great diversion of those
who stood about.
"Thou hast done wickedly," said the king when he heard who Napoleon
was, "in that thou hast presumed to fight battles and win victories
without any commission from me. Go, nevertheless, and lose an arm, a leg,
and an eye in my service, then shall thy offence be forgiven thee."
And Napoleon raised a great army, and gained a great battle for the
king, and lost an arm. And he gained another greater battle, and lost a
leg. And he gained the greatest battle of all; and the king sat on the
throne of his ancestors, and was called Louis the Victorious: but Napoleon
had lost an eye. And he came into the king's presence, bearing his eye,
his arm, and his leg.
"Thou art pardoned," said the king, "and I will even confer a singular
honour upon thee. Thou shalt defray the expense of my coronation, which
shall be the most splendid ever seen in France."
So Napoleon lost all his substance, and no man pitied him. But after
certain days the keeper of the royal wardrobe rushed into the king's
presence, crying "Treason! treason! O Majesty, whence these republican and
"They are those I deigned to receive from the rebel Buonaparte," said
the king. "It were meet to return them. Where abides he now?"
"Saving your Majesty's presence," they said, "he lieth upon a certain
"If this be so," said the king, "life can be no gratification to him,
and it were humane to relieve him of it. Moreover, he is a dangerous man.
Go, therefore, and strangle him with his own pantaloons. Yet, let a
monument be raised to him, and engrave upon it, 'Here lies Napoleon
Buonaparte, whom Louis the Victorious raised from the dunghill.'"
They went accordingly; but behold! Napoleon already lay dead upon the
dunghill. And this was told unto the king.
"He hath ever been envious of my glory," said the king, "let him
therefore be buried underneath."
And it was so. And after no long space the king also died, and slept
with his fathers. But when there was again a revolution in France, the
people cast his bones out of the royal sepulchre, and laid Napoleon's
there instead. And the dunghill complained grievously that it should be
disturbed for so slight a cause.
And Napoleon withdrew his hand from the hand of Loyalty, saying, "Pish!"
And his eyes opened, and he heard the booming of the sea, and the buzzing
of the flies, and felt the heat of the sun, and saw that the sugar he had
dropped into his sangaree had not yet reached the bottom of the tumbler.
III.—Concerning Daniel Defoe
Daniel Defoe, at the invitation of the judge, came forth from the
garret wherein he abode, and rode in a cart unto the Royal Exchange,
wherein he ascended the pillory, to the end that his ears might be nailed
thereunto. And much people stood before him, some few pelting, some
mocking, but the most part cheering or weeping, for they knew him for a
friend to the poor, and especially those men who were called Dissenters.
And a certain person in black stood by him, invisible to the people, but
well seen of Daniel, who knew him for one whose life he had himself
written. And the man in black reasoned with Daniel, and said, "Thou seest
this multitude of people, but which of them shall deliver thee out of my
hand? Nay, but let thy white be black, and thy black white, and I myself
will deliver thee, and make thee rich, and heal thy hurts, save the holes
in thy ears, that I may know thee for mine own." But Daniel gave no heed
to him. So the Devil departed, having great wrath, and entered into a
certain smug-faced man standing by.
And now the crowd before Daniel was greatly diminished, and consisted
mainly of his enemies, for his friends had gone away to drown their
sorrow. And the smug-faced man into whom Satan had entered came forth from
among them, and said unto him, "O Daniel, inasmuch as I am a Dissenter I
am greatly beholden to thee; but inasmuch as I am an honest tradesman I
have somewhat against thee, for thou hast written concerning short weights
and measures. And a man's shop is more to him than his country or his
religion. Wherefore I must needs be avenged of thee. Yet shalt thou own
that the tender mercies of the good man are piteous, and that even in his
wrath he thinketh upon compassion."
And he picked up a great stone from the ground, and wrapped it in a
piece of paper, saying, "Lest peradventure it hurt him overmuch." And the
stone was very rough and sharp, and the paper was very thin. And he hurled
it with all his might at the middle of Daniel's forehead, and the blood
spouted forth. And Daniel cried aloud, and called upon the name of the
Devil. And in an instant the pillory and the people were gone, and he
found himself in the Prime Minister's cabinet, healed of all his hurts,
except the holes in his ears. And the Minister was so like the Devil that
you could not tell the difference. And he said, "Against what wilt thou
write first, Daniel?"
"Dissenters," said Daniel.
And he wrote a pamphlet, and such as read it took firebrands, and
visited the Dissenters in their habitations. And many Dissenters were put
into prison, and others fined and spoiled of their goods. And he wrote
other pamphlets, and each was cleverer and wickeder than the last. And
whatsoever Daniel had of old declared to be white, lo! it was black; and
what he had said was black, behold! it was white. And he throve and
prospered exceedingly, and became a commissioner for public-houses and
hackney-coaches and the imposing of oaths and the levying of custom, and
all other such things as one does by deputy. And he mended the holes in
But the time came when Daniel must be judged, and he went before the
Lord. And all the court was full of Dissenters, and the Devil was there
also. And the Dissenters testified many and grievous things against
"Daniel," said the Lord, "what answerest thou?"
"Nothing, Lord," said Daniel. "Only I would that the Dissenter who
threw that stone at me should receive due and condign punishment, adequate
to his misdeed."
"That," said the Devil, "is impossible."
"Thou sayest well, Satan," said the Lord, "and therefore shall Daniel
go free. For if anything can excuse the apostasy of the noble, it is the
ingratitude of the base."
So the Devil went to his own place, looking very small. And Daniel
found himself in the same garret whence he had gone forth to the pillory;
and before him were bread and cheese, and a pen and ink and paper. And he
dipped the pen into the ink, and wrote Robinson Crusoe.
IV.—Cornelius the Ferryman
Fourscore years ago there was a good ferryman named Cornelius, who
rowed people between New York and Brooklyn. He had neither wife nor child,
nor any one to think of except himself. It was, therefore, his custom,
when he had earned enough in a day for his own wants, to put the rest
aside, and bestow it upon sick or blind or maimed persons, lest they
should come to the workhouse. And the sick and the blind and the maimed
gathered around him, and waited by the water's edge, until Cornelius's
day's work should be over.
This went on until one of the little sooty imps who are always in
mischief came to hear of it, and told the principal devil in charge of the
United States, whose name is Politicianus.
"Dear me," said the Devil, "this will never do. I will see to it
And he went off to Cornelius, and caught him in the act of giving two
dimes to a blind beggar.
"How foolish you are!" he said; "what waste of money is this! If you
saved it up, you would by-and-by be able to build an hospital for all the
beggars in New York."
"It would be a long time before there was enough," objected Cornelius.
"Not at all," said the Devil, "if you let me invest your money for
you." And he showed Cornelius the plan of a most splendid hospital, and
across the front of it was inscribed in letters of gold, Cornelius
Diabolodorus. And Cornelius was persuaded, and that evening he gave
nothing to the poor. And the poor had come to think that Cornelius's money
was their own, and abused him as though he had robbed them. And Cornelius
drove them away: and his heart was hardened against them from that day
But the Devil kept his promise to Cornelius, and put him up to all the
good things in Wall Street, and he soon had enough to build ten hospitals.
But the more he had to build with, the less he wanted to build. And
by-and-by the Devil called upon him, and found him contemplating two
pictures. One of them showed the finest hospital you can imagine, full of
neat, clean rooms, in one of which sat Cornelius himself, wearing a dress
with a number and badge, and sipping arrowroot. The other showed fine
houses, and opera-boxes, and fast-trotting horses, and dry champagne, and
ladies who dance in ballets, and paintings by the great masters. Cornelius
thrust the pictures away, and the Devil did not ask to see them, nor was
it needful that he should, for he had painted them himself.
"O dear Mr. Devil," said Cornelius, "I am so glad that you have called,
for I wanted to speak to you. It strikes me that there is a great defect
in the plan which you have been so good as to draw for me."
"What is that?" asked the Devil.
"There is no place for black men," said Cornelius. "And you know white
men will never let them come into the same hospital."
And the Devil, to do him justice, talked very reasonably to Cornelius,
and represented to him that there were very few black men in New York, and
that these had very vigorous constitutions. But Cornelius was inflamed
with enthusiasm, and frantic with philanthropy, and he vowed that he would
not give a cent to an hospital that had not a wing for black men as big as
all the rest of the building. And the Devil had to take his plan back, and
come again in a year and a day. And when he did come back, Cornelius asked
him if he did not think it would be a most excellent thing if all the
Irishmen in New York could be shut up in an hospital or elsewhere; and he
could not deny it. So he had to take his plan back again. And next year it
was the turn of the Chinese, and then of the Red Indians, and then of the
dogs and cats. And then Cornelius thought that he ought to provide room
for all the people who had been ruined by his speculations, and the Devil
thought so too, but doubted whether Cornelius would be able to afford it.
And at last Cornelius said:
"Methinks I have been very foolish in wishing to build an hospital at
all while I am living. Surely it would be better that I should enjoy my
money myself during my life, and leave the residue for the lawyers to
divide after my death."
"You are quite right," said the Devil; "that is exactly what I should
do if I were you."
So Cornelius put the plans behind a shelf in his counting-house, and
the mice ate them. And he went on prospering and growing rich, until the
Devil became envious of him, and insisted on changing places with him. So
Cornelius went below, and the Devil came and dwelt in New York, where he
O not for him
Blooms my dark nightshade, nor doth hemlock brew
Murder for cups within her cavernous root.
Grievous is the lot of the child, more especially of the female child,
who is doomed from the tenderest infancy to lack the blessing of a
Was it from this absence of maternal vigilance that the education of
the lovely Mithridata was conducted from her babyhood in such an
extraordinary manner? That enormous serpents infested her cradle, licking
her face and twining around her limbs? That her tiny fingers patted
scorpions? and tied knots in the tails of vipers? That her father, the
magician Locuste, ever sedulous and affectionate, fed her with spoonsful
of the honeyed froth that gathers under the tongues of asps? That as she
grew older and craved a more nutritious diet, she partook, at first in
infinitesimal doses, but in ever increasing quantities, of arsenic,
strychnine, opium, and prussic acid? That at last having attained the
flower of youth, she drank habitually from vessels of gold, for her
favourite beverages were so corrosive that no other substance could resist
their solvent properties?
Gradually accustomed to this strange regimen, she had thriven on it
marvellously, and was without a peer for beauty, sense, and goodness. Her
father had watched over her education with care, and had instructed her in
all lawful knowledge, save only the knowledge of poisons. As no other
human being had entered the house, Mithridata was unaware that her
bringing up had differed in so material a respect from that of other young
"Father," said she one day, bringing him a book she had been perusing,
"what strange follies learned men will pen with gravity! or is it rather
that none can set bounds to the licence of romancers? These dear serpents,
my friends and playfellows, this henbane and antimony, the nourishment of
my health and vigour—that any one should write of these as pernicious,
deadly, and fatal to existence! Is it error or malignity? or but the
wanton freak of an idle imagination?"
"My child," answered the magician, "it is fit that thou shouldst now
learn what hath hitherto been concealed from thee, and with this object I
left this treatise in thy way. It speaks truth. Thou hast been nurtured
from thy infancy on substances endowed with lethal properties, commonly
called poisons. Thy entire frame is impregnated thereby, and, although
thou thyself art in the fullest enjoyment of health, thy kiss would be
fatal to any one not, like thy father, fortified by a course of antidotes.
Now hear the reason. I bear a deadly grudge to the king of this land. He
indeed hath not injured me; but his father slew my father, wherefore it is
meet that I should slay that ancestor's son's son. I have therefore
nurtured thee from thy infancy on the deadliest poisons, until thou art a
walking vial of pestilence. The young prince shall unseal thee, to his
destruction and thy unspeakable advantage. Go to the great city; thou art
beautiful as the day; he is young, handsome, and amorous; he will
infallibly fall in love with thee. Do thou submit to his caresses, he will
perish miserably; thou (such is the charm) ransomed by the kiss of love,
wilt become wholesome and innocuous as thy fellows, preserving only thy
knowledge of poisons, always useful, in the present state of society
invaluable. Thou wilt therefore next repair to the city of Constantinople,
bearing recommendatory letters from me to the Empress Theophano, now
"Father," said Mithridata, "either I shall love this young prince, or I
shall not. If I do not love him, I am nowise minded to suffer him to
caress me. If I do love him, I am as little minded to be the cause of his
"Not even in consideration of the benefit which will accrue to thee by
"Not even for that consideration."
"O these daughters!" exclaimed the old man. "We bring them up tenderly,
we exhaust all our science for the improvement of their minds and bodies,
we set our choicest hopes upon them, and entrust them with the fulfilment
of our most cherished aspirations; and when all is done, they will not so
much as commit a murder to please us! Miserable ingrate, receive the just
requital of thy selfish disobedience!"
"O father, do not turn me into a tadpole!"
"I will not, but I will turn thee out of doors."
And he did.
Though disinherited, Mithridata was not destitute. She had secured a
particle of the philosopher's stone—a slender outfit for a magician's
daughter! yet ensuring her a certain portion of wealth. What should she do
now? The great object of her life must henceforth be to avoid committing
murder, especially murdering any handsome young man. It would have seemed
most natural to retire into a convent, but, not to speak of her lack of
vocation, she felt that her father would justly consider that she had
disgraced her family, and she still looked forward to reconciliation with
him. She might have taken a hermitage, but her instinct told her that a
fair solitary can only keep young men off by strong measures; and she
disliked the character of a hermitess with a bull-dog. She therefore went
straight to the great city, took a house, and surrounded herself with
attendants. In the choice of these she was particularly careful to select
those only whose personal appearance was such as to discourage any
approach to familiarity or endearment. Never before or since was youthful
beauty surrounded by such moustached duennas, squinting chambermaids,
hunchbacked pages, and stumpy maids-of-all-work. This was a real sorrow to
her, for she loved beauty; it was a still sadder trial that she could no
longer feel it right to indulge herself in the least morsel of arsenic;
she sighed for strychnia, and pined for prussic acid. The change of diet
was of course at first most trying to her health, and in fact occasioned a
serious illness, but youth and a sound constitution pulled her through.
Reader, hast thou known what it is to live with a heart inflamed by
love for thy fellow-creatures which thou couldst manifest neither by word
nor deed? To pine with fruitless longings for good? and to consume with
vain yearnings for usefulness? To be misjudged and haply reviled by thy
fellows for failing to do what it is not given thee to do? If so, thou
wilt pity poor Mithridata, whose nature was most ardent, expansive, and
affectionate, but who, from the necessity under which she laboured of
avoiding as much as possible all contact with human beings, saw herself
condemned to a life of solitude, and knew that she was regarded as a
monster of pride and exclusiveness. She dared bestow no kind look, no
encouraging gesture on any one, lest this small beginning should lead to
the manifestation of her fatal power. Her own servants, whose minds were
generally as deformed as their bodies, hated her, and bitterly resented
what they deemed her haughty disdain of them. Her munificence none could
deny, but bounty without tenderness receives no more gratitude than it
deserves. The young of her own sex secretly rejoiced at her unamiability,
regarding it as a providential set-off against her beauty, while they
detested and denounced her as a—well, they would say viper in the manger,
who spoiled everybody else's lovers and would have none of her own. For
with all Mithridata's severity, there was no getting rid of the young men,
the giddy moths that flew around her brilliant but baleful candle. Not all
the cold water thrown upon them, literally as well as figuratively, could
keep them from her door. They filled her house with bouquets and billets
doux; they stood before the windows, they sat on the steps, they ran
beside her litter when she was carried abroad, they assembled at night to
serenade her, fighting desperately among themselves. They sought to gain
admission as tradesmen, as errand boys, even as scullions male and female.
To such lengths did they proceed, that a particularly audacious youth
actually attempted to carry her off one evening, and would have succeeded
but for the interposition of another, who flew at him with a drawn sword,
and after a fierce contest smote him bleeding to the ground. Mithridata
had fainted, of course. What was her horror on reviving to find herself in
the arms of a young man of exquisite beauty and princely mien, sucking
death from her lips with extraordinary relish! She shrieked, she
struggled; if she made any unfeminine use of her hands, let the urgency of
the case plead her apology. The youth reproached her bitterly for her
ingratitude. She listened in silent misery, unable to defend herself. The
shaft of love had penetrated her bosom also, and it cost her almost as
much for her own sake to dismiss the young man as it did to see him move
away, slowly and languidly staggering to his doom.
For the next few days messages came continually, urging her to haste to
a youth dying for her sake, whom her presence would revive effectually.
She steadily refused, but how much her refusal cost her! She wept, she
wrung her hands, she called for death and execrated her nurture. With that
strange appetite for self-torment which almost seems to diminish the pangs
of the wretched, she collected books on poisons, studied all the symptoms
described, and fancied her hapless lover undergoing them all in turn. At
length a message came which admitted of no evasion. The King commanded her
presence. Admonished by past experience, she provided herself with a veil
and mask, and repaired to the palace.
The old King seemed labouring under deep affliction; under happier
circumstances he must have been joyous and debonair. He addressed her with
austerity, yet with kindness.
"Maiden," he began, "thy unaccountable cruelty to my son——"
"Thy son!" she exclaimed, "The Prince! O father, thou art avenged for
"Surpasses what history hath hitherto recorded of the most obdurate
monsters. Thou art indebted to him for thy honour, to preserve which he
has risked his life. Thou bringest him to the verge of the grave by thy
cruelty, and when a smile, a look from thee would restore him, thou wilt
not bestow it."
"Alas! great King," she replied, "I know too well what your Majesty's
opinion of me must be. I must bear it as I may. Believe me, the sight of
me could effect nothing towards the restoration of thy son."
"Of that I shall judge," said the King, "when thou hast divested
thyself of that veil and mask."
Mithridata reluctantly complied.
"By Heaven!" exclaimed the King, "such a sight might recall the
departing soul from Paradise. Haste to my son, and instantly; it is not
yet too late."
"O King," urged Mithridata, "how could this countenance do thy son any
good? Is he not suffering from the effects of seventy-two poisons?"
"I am not aware of that," said the King.
"Are not his entrails burned up with fire? Is not his flesh in a state
of deliquescence? Has not his skin already peeled off his body? Is he not
tormented by incessant gripes and vomitings?"
"Not to my knowledge," said the King. "The symptoms, as I understand,
are not unlike those which I remember to have experienced myself, in a
milder form, certainly. He lies in bed, eats and drinks nothing, and
incessantly calls upon thee."
"This is most incomprehensible," said Mithridata. "There was no drug in
my father's laboratory that could have produced such an effect."
"The sum of the matter is," continued the King, "that either thou wilt
repair forthwith to my son's chamber, and subsequently to church; or else
unto the scaffold."
"If it must be so, I choose the scaffold," said Mithridata resolutely.
"Believe me, O King, my appearance in thy son's chamber would but destroy
whatever feeble hope of recovery may remain. I love him beyond everything
on earth, and not for worlds would I have his blood on my soul."
"Chamberlain," cried the monarch, "bring me a strait waistcoat."
Driven into a corner, Mithridata flung herself at the King's feet,
taking care, however, not to touch him, and confided to him all her
The venerable monarch burst into a peal of laughter. "À bon chat bon
rat!" he exclaimed, as soon as he had recovered himself. "So thou art the
daughter of my old friend the magician Locusto! I fathomed his craft, and,
as he fed his child upon poisons, I fed mine upon antidotes. Never did any
child in the world take an equal quantity of physic: but there is now no
poison on earth can harm him. Ye are clearly made for each other; haste to
his bedside, and, as the spell requires, rid thyself of thy venefic
properties in his arms as expeditiously as possible. Thy father shall be
bidden to the wedding, and an honoured guest he shall be, for having
taught us that the kiss of Love is the remedy for every poison."