The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vol. XII: German
By Friedrich August Schultze (Friedrich Laun) (17701849)
THE TOWN council was sitting, and that in gloomy silence. Alternately they looked at each other, and at the official order, that morning received, which reduced their perquisites and salaries by one-half. At length the mayor arose, turned the mace-bearer out of the room, and bolted the door. That worthy man, however, or, as he was more frequently styled, that worthy mace, was not so to be baffled; old experience in acoustics had taught him where to apply his ear with most advantage in cases of the present emergency; and as the debate soon rose from a humming of gentle dissent to the stormy pitch of downright quarreling, he found no difficulty in assuaging the pangs of his curiosity. The council, he soon learned, were divided as to the course to be pursued on their common calamity; whether formally to remonstrate, or not, at the risk of losing their places. Indeed, they were divided on every point except one; and that was, contempt for the political talents of the new prince, who could begin his administration upon a principle so monstrous as that of retrenchment.
At length, in one of the momentary pauses of the hurricane, the council distinguished the sound of two vigorous fists playing with the utmost energy upon the panels of the door outside. What presumption is this? exclaimed the chairman, immediately leaping up. However, on opening the door, it appeared that the fury of the summons was dictated by no failure in respect, but by absolute necessity. Necessity has no law; and any more reverential knocking could have had no chance of being heard. The person outside was Mr. Commissioner Pig; and his business was to communicate a despatch of urgent importance which he had that moment received by express.
First of all, gentlemen, said the pursy commissioner, allow me to take breath, and, seating himself, he began to wipe his forehead. Agitated with the fear of some unhappy codicil to the unhappy testament already received, the members gazed anxiously at the open letter which he held in his hand; and the chairman, unable to control his impatience, made a grab at itPermit me, Mr. Pig. No, said Pig; it is the postscript only which concerns the council. Wait one moment, and I will have the honor of reading it myself. Thereupon he drew out his spectacles, and adjusting them with provoking coolness, slowly and methodically proceeded to read as follows:
We open our letter to acquaint you with a piece of news which has just come to our knowledge, and which it will be important for your town to learn as soon as possible. His Serene Highness has resolved on visiting the remote provinces of his new dominions immediately. He means to preserve the strictest incognito, and we understand will travel under the name of Count Fitz-Hum, attended only by one gentleman of the bedchamber, viz., the Baron von Hoax. The carriage he will use on this occasion is a plain English landau, the body painted dark blue, picked out with tawny and white. As for his Highness in particular, you will easily distinguish him by his superb whiskers. Of course, we need scarcely suggest to you that, if the principal hotel of your town should not be in proper order, or for any reason not fully and unconditionally available, it will be proper in that case to meet the illustrious traveler on his entrance with an offer of better accommodations in one of the best private mansions, among which your own is reputed to stand foremost. Your town is to have the honor of the new sovereigns first visit, and on this account you will be much envied, and the eyes of all Germany turned upon you.
So said all the rest; for they all viewed in the light of a providential interference on behalf of the old traditional fees, perquisites, and salaries, this opportunity so unexpectedly thrown in their way of winning the princes favor. To make the best use of such an opportunity, it was absolutely necessary that their hospitalities should be on the most liberal scale. On that account it was highly gratifying to the council that Commissioner Pig loyally volunteered the loan of his house. Some drawback undoubtedly it was on this pleasure that Commissioner Pig in his next sentence made known that he must be paid for his loyalty. However, there was no remedy, and his demands were acceded to; for not only was Pig-house the only mansion in the town at all suitable for the occasion, but it was also known to be so in the princes capital, as clearly appeared from the letter which had just been readat least when read by Pig himself.
All being thus arranged, and the council on the point of breaking up, a sudden cry of Treason! was raised by a member; and the mace-bearer was detected skulking behind an armchair, perfidiously drinking in the secrets of the state. He was instantly dragged out, the enormity of his crime displayed to him, which under many wise governments, the chairman assured him, would have been punished with the bowstring or instant impalement, and after being amerced in a considerable fine, which paid the first instalment of the Piggian demand, he was bound over to inviolable secrecy by an oath of great solemnity. This oath, at the suggestion of a member, was afterward administered to the whole of the senate in rotation, as also to the commissioner. Which done, the council adjourned.
Now, my dear creatures, said the commissioner to his wife and daughter on returning home, without a moments delay send for the painter, the upholsterer, the cabinet-maker; also for the butcher, the fishmonger, the poulterer, the confectioner; in one half hour let each and all be at work; and at work let them continue all day and all night.
Hark you, Mr. Commissioner. Matters are at length come to a crisis. You have the audacity to pretend to keep a secret from your lawful wife. Hear, then, my fixed determination. At this moment there is a haunch of venison roasting for dinner. The cook is so ignorant that, without my directions, this haunch will be scorched to a cinder. Now I swear that, unless you instantly reveal to me this secret, without any reservation whatever, I will resign the venison to its fate. I will, by all that is sacred!
The venison could not be exposed to a more fiery trial than was Mr. Commissioner Pig; the venison, when alive and hunted, could not have perspired more profusely, nor trembled in more anguish. But there was no alternative. His morals gave way before his passions, and after binding his wife and daughter by an oath, he communicated the state secret. By the same or similar methods so many other wives assailed the virtue of their husbands, that in a few hours the limited scheme of mystery adopted by the council was realized on the most extensive scale; for before nightfall not merely a few members of the council, but every man, woman, and child in the place, had been solemnly bound over to inviolable secrecy.
Meantime some members of the council, who had an unhappy leaning to skepticism, began to suggest doubts on the authenticity of the commissioners news. Of old he had been celebrated for the prodigious quantity of secret intelligence which his letters communicated, but not equally for its quality. Too often it stood in unhappy contradiction to the official news of the public journals. But still, on such occasions, the commissioner would exclaim, What then? Who believes what newspapers say? No man of sense believes a word the newspapers say. Agreeably to which hypothesis, upon various cases of obstinate discord between his letters and the gazettes of Europe, some of which went the length of pointblank contradiction, unceremoniously giving the lie to each other, he persisted in siding with the former, peremptorily refusing to be talked into a belief of certain events which the rest of Europe had long ago persuaded themselves to think matter of history. The battle of Leipsic, for instance, he treats to this hour as a mere idle chimera of visionary politicians. Pure hypochondriacal fiction! says he. No such affair ever could have occurred, as you may convince yourself by looking at my private letters; they make no allusion to any transaction of that sort, as you will see at oncenone whatever. Such being the character of the commissioners private correspondence, several councilmen were disposed, on reflection, to treat his recent communication as very questionable and apocryphal, among whom was the chairman or mayor; and the next day he walked over to Pig-house for the purpose of expressing his doubts. The commissioner was so much offended, that the other found it advisable to apologize with some energy. I protest to you, said he, that as a private individual I am fully satisfied; it is only in my public capacity that I took the liberty of doubting. The truth is, our town chest is miserably poor, and we would not wish to go to the expense of a new covering for the council table upon a false alarm. Upon my honor, it was solely upon patriotic grounds that I sided with the skeptics. The commissioner scarcely gave himself the trouble of accepting his apologies. And, indeed, at this moment the mayor had reason himself to feel ashamed of his absurd scruples; for in rushed a breathless messenger to announce that the blue landau and the superb whiskers had just passed through the north gate. Yes, Fitz-Hum and von Hoax were positively herenot coming, but come; and the profanest skeptic could no longer presume to doubt; for, while the messenger yet spoke, the wheels of Fitz-Hums landau began to hum along the street. The mayor fled in affright, and with him fled the shades of unbelief.
This was a triumph, a providential coup-de-théâtre, on the side of the true believers. The orthodoxy of the Piggian epistolary intercourse was now forever established. Nevertheless, even in this great moment of his existence, Pig felt that he was not happy, not perfectly happy; something was still left to desire, something which reminded him that he was mortal. Oh, why, said he, why, when such a mass of blessings is showered upon me, why must destiny ordain that it come one day too soonbefore the Brussels carpet was laid down in the breakfast-room, before the At this instant the carriage suddenly rolled up to the door; a dead stop followed, which put a dead stop to Pigs soliloquy; the steps were audibly let down; and the commissioner was obliged to rush out precipitately in order to do the honors of reception to his illustrious guest.
No ceremony, I beg, said the Count Fitz-Hum. For one day at least let no idle forms remind me of courts, or banish the happy thought that I am in the bosom of friends! So saying, he stretched out his hand to the commissioner; and though he did not shake Pigs hand, yet, as great men do, he pressed it with the air of one who has feelings too fervent and profound for utterance; while Pig, on his part, sank upon one knee, and imprinted a grateful kiss upon that princely hand which had by its condescension forever glorified his own.
The commissioner was beginning to apologize for the unfinished state of the preparations, but the count would not hear of it. Affection to my person, said he, unseasonable affection, I must say it, has, it seems, betrayed my rank to you; but for this night at least, I beseech you, let us forget it. And upon the ladies excusing themselves from appearing, on the plea that those dresses were not yet arrived in which they could think of presenting themselves before their sovereignAh, what? said the count gaily; my dear commissioner, I cannot think of accepting such excuses as these. Agitated as the ladies were at this summons, they found all their alarms put to flight in a moment by the affability and gracious manners of the high personage. Nothing came amiss to him; everything was right and delightful. Down went the little sofa-bed in a closet, which they had found it necessary to make up for one night, the state-bed not being ready until the following day; and with the perfect high-breeding of a prince, he saw in the least mature of the arrangements for his reception, and the least successful of the attempts to entertain him, nothing but the good intention and loyal affection which had suggested them.
The first great question which arose was, At what hour would the Count Fitz-Hum be pleased to take supper? But this question the Count Fitz-Hum referred wholly to the two ladies; and for this one night he notified his pleasure that no other company should be invited. Precisely at eleven oclock the party sat down to supper, which was served on the round table in the library. The Count Fitz-Hum, we have the pleasure of stating, was in the best health and spirits; and, on taking his seat, he smiled with the most paternal air, at the same time bowing to the ladies who sat on his right and left hand, and saying, Where can one be better off than in the bosom of ones family? At which words tears began to trickle down the cheeks of the commissioner, overwhelmed with the sense of the honor and happiness which were thus descending upon his family, and finding nothing left to wish for but that the whole city had been witness to his felicity. Even the cook came in for some distant rays and emanations of the princely countenance; for the Count Fitz-Hum condescended to express his entire approbation of the supper, and signified his pleasure to von Hoax, that the cook should be remembered on the next vacancy which occurred in the palace establishment.
Tears, such as tender fathers shed, had already on this night bedewed the cheeks of the commissioner; but before he retired to bed he was destined to shed more and still sweeter tears; for after supper he was honored by a long private interview with the count, in which that personage expressed his astonishmentindeed, he must say his indignationthat merit so distinguished as that of Mr. Pig should so long have remained unknown at court. I now see more than ever, said he, the necessity there was that I should visit my states incognito. And he then threw out pretty plain intimations that a place, and even a title, would soon be conferred on his host.
Upon this Pig wept copiously, and upon retiring, being immediately honored by an interview with von Hoax, who assured him that he was much mistaken if he thought that his Highness ever did these things by halves, or would cease to watch over the fortunes of a family whom he had once taken into his special grace, the good man absolutely sobbed like a child, and could neither utter a word nor get a wink of sleep that night.
All night the workmen pursued their labors, and by morning the state apartments were in complete preparation. By this time it was universally known throughout the city who was sleeping at the commissioners. As soon, therefore, as it could be supposed agreeable to him, the trained bands of the town marched down to pay their respects by a morning salute. The drums awoke the count, who rose immediately, and in a few minutes presented himself at the window, bowing repeatedly and in the most gracious manner. A prodigious roar of Long live his Serene Highness! ascended from the mob, among whom the count had some difficulty in descrying the martial body who were parading below, that gallant corps mustering, in fact, fourteen strong, of whom nine were reported fit for service, the balance of five, as their commercial leader observed, being either on the sick-list, or, at least, not ready for all work, though too loyal to decline a labor of love like the present. The count received the report of the commanding officer, and declaredaddressing himself to von Hoax, but loud enough to be overheard by the officerthat he had seldom seen a more soldierly body of men, or who had more the air of being accustomed to war. The officers honest face burned with the anticipation of communicating so flattering a judgment to his corps; and his delight was not diminished by overhearing the words early promotion and order of merit. In the transports of his gratitude, he determined that the fourteen should fire a volley. But this was an event not to be accomplished in a hurry; much forethought and deep premeditation were required; a considerable balance of the gallant troops were not quite expert in the art of loading, and a considerable balance of the muskets not quite expert in the art of going off. Men and muskets being alike veterans, the agility of youth was not to be expected of them, and the issue was that only two guns did actually go off. But in commercial cities, as the good-natured count observed to his host, a large discount must always be made on prompt payment.
Breakfast was now over, the bells of the churches were ringing, the streets swarming with people in their holiday clothes, and numerous deputations, with addresses, petitions, etc., from the companies and gilds of the city, were forming into processions. First came the town council, with the mayor at their head. The recent order for the reduction of fees, etc., was naturally made the subject of a dutiful remonstrance, and great was the joy with which the counts answer was received:
On the word of a prince, he had never heard of it before; his signature must have been obtained by some court intrigue; but he could assure his faithful council that, on his return to his capital, his first care would be to punish the authors of so scandalous a measure, and to take such other steps, of an opposite description, as were due to the long services of the petitioners, and to the honor and dignity of the nation.
The council were then presented seriatim, and all had the honor of kissing hands. These gentlemen having withdrawn, next came the trading companies, each with an address of congratulation expressive of love and devotion, but uniformly bearing some little rider attached to it of a more exclusive nature. The tailors prayed for the general abolition of seamstresses, as nuisances and invaders of chartered rights. The shoemakers, in conjunction with the tanners and curriers, complained that Providence had in vain endowed leather with the valuable property of perishableness, if the selfishness of the iron trade were allowed to counteract this benign arrangement by driving nails into all mens shoe-soles. The hair-dressers were modestindeed, too modestin their demands, confining themselves to the request that, for the better encouragement of wigs, a tax should be imposed upon every man who presumed to wear his own hair, and that it should be felony for a gentleman to appear without powder. The glaziers were content with the existing state of things, only that they felt it their duty to complain of the police regulation against breaking the windows of those who refused to join in public illuminationsa regulation the more harsh, as it was well known that hail-storms had for many years sadly fallen off, and the present race of hailstones was scandalously degenerating from its ancestors of the last generation. The bakers complained that their enemies had accused them of wishing to sell their bread at a higher price, which was a base insinuation, all they wished for being that they might diminish their loaves in size; and this, upon public grounds, was highly requisitefulness of bread being notoriously the root of Jacobinism, and under the present assize of bread, men ate so much bread that they did not know what the devil they would be at; a course of small loaves would therefore be the best means of bringing them round to sound principles. To the bakers succeeded the projectors, the first of whom offered to make the town conduits and sewers navigable, if his Highness would lend him a thousand pounds. The clergy of the city, whose sufferings had been great from the weekly scourgings which they and their works received from the town newspaper, called out clamorously for a literary censorship. On the other hand, the editor of the newspaper prayed for unlimited freedom of the press, and abolition of the law of libel. Certainly the Count Fitz-Hum must have had the happiest art of reconciling contradictions, and insinuating hopes into the most desperate cases; for the petitioners, one and all, quitted his presence delighted, and elevated with hope. Possibly one part of his secret might lie in the peremptory injunction which he laid upon all the petitioners to observe the profoundest silence for the present upon his intentions in their favor.
The corporate bodies were now despatched; but such was the report of the princes gracious affability, that the whole town kept crowding to the commissioners house and pressing for the honor of an audience. The commissioner represented to the mob that his Highness was made neither of steel nor of granite, and was at length worn out by the fatigues of the day. But to this every man answered that what he had to say would be finished in two words, and could not add much to the princes fatigue; and all kept their ground before the house as firm as a wall. In this emergency the Count Fitz-Hum resorted to a ruse. He sent round a servant from the back door to mingle with the crowd, and proclaim that a mad dog was ranging about the streets and had already bit many other dogs and several men. This answered. The cry of Mad dog! was set up; the mob flew asunder from their cohesion, and the blockade in front of Pig-house was raised. Farewell now to all faith in man or dog; for all might be among the bitten, and consequently might in turn be among the biters.
The night was now come; dinner was past, at which all the grandees of the place had been present; all had now departed, delighted with the condescensions of the count, and puzzled only on one point, viz., the extraordinary warmth of his attentions to the commissioners daughter. The young ladys large fortune might have explained this excessive homage in any other case, but not in that of a prince, and beauty or accomplishments they said she had none. Here, then, was subject for meditation without end to all the curious in natural philosophy. Among these, spite of parental vanity, were the commissioner and his wife; but an explanation was soon given, which, however, did but explain one riddle by another. The count desired a private interview, in which, to the infinite astonishment of the parents, he demanded the hand of their daughter in marriage. State policy, he was aware, opposed such connections, but the pleadings of the heart outweighed all considerations of that sort; and he requested that, with the consent of the young lady, the marriage might be solemnized immediately. The honor was too much for the commissioner; he felt himself in some measure guilty of treason by harboring for one moment hopes of so presumptuous a nature, and in a great panic he ran away and hid himself in the wine-cellar. Here he imbibed fresh courage, and upon his reascent to the upper world, and finding that his daughter joined her entreaties to those of the count, he began to fear that the treason might lie on the other side, viz., in opposing the wishes of his sovereign, and he joyfully gave his consent. Upon which, all things being in readiness, the marriage was immediately celebrated, and a select company who witnessed it had the honor of kissing the hand of the new Countess Fitz-Hum.
Scarcely was the ceremony concluded, before a horsemans horn was heard at the commissioners gatea special messenger with despatches, no doubt, said the count; and immediately a servant entered with a box bearing the state arms. Von Hoax unlocked the box, and from a great body of papers, which he said were merely petitions, addresses, or despatches from foreign powers, he drew out and presented to the count a despatch from the privy council. The count read it, repeatedly shrugging his shoulders.
Oh, my dear sir, interrupted Fitz-Hum, smiling with the utmost gaiety, make yourself easy. Nothing like nipping these things in the bud. Vigor and well-placed lenity will do wonders. What most disturbs me, however, is the necessity of returning instantly to my capital. To-morrow I must be at the head of my troops, who have already taken the field, so that I shall be obliged to quit my beloved bride without a moments delay; for I would not have her exposed to the dangers of war, however transient.
At this moment the carriage, which had been summoned by von Hoax, rolled up to the door. The count whispered a few tender words in the ear of his bride; uttered some nothings to her father, of which all that transpired were the words truly distressing and every well-constituted mind; smiled most graciously on the whole company; pressed the commissioners hand as fervently as he had done on his arrival; stepped into the carriage; and in a few moments the blue landau, together with the superb whiskers, had rolled back through the city gates to their old original home.
Early the next morning, under solemn pledges of secrecy, the rebellion and the marriage were circulated in every quarter of the town; and the more so, as strict orders had been left to the contrary. With respect to the marriage, all parties (fathers especially, mothers, and daughters) agreed privately that his Serene Highness was a great fool; but as to the rebellion, the gilds and companies declared unanimously that they would fight for him to the last man. Meantime, the commissioner presented his accounts to the council. They were of startling amount, and although prompt payment seemed the most prudent course toward the father-in-law of a reigning prince, yet, on the other hand, the rebellion suggested arguments for demurring a little; and accordingly the commissioner was informed that his accounts were admitted ad deliberandum. On returning home, the commissioner found in the saloon a large despatch which had fallen out of the pocket of von Hoax; this, he was at first surprised to discover, was nothing but a sheet of blank paper. However, on recollecting himself, No doubt, said he, in times of rebellion ink is not safe; besides, carte blanche, simple as it looks, is a profound diplomatic phrase, implying permission to dictate your own stipulations on a wide champaign acreage of white paper, not hedged in right and left by rascally conditions, not intersected by fences that cut up all freedom of motion. So saying, he sealed up the despatch, sent it off by a mounted messenger, and charged it in a supplementary note of expenses to the council.
Meantime the newspapers arrived from the capital, but they said not a word of the rebellion; in fact they were more than usually dull, not containing even a lie of much interest. All this, however, the commissioner ascribed to the prudential policy which their own safety dictated to the editors in times of rebellion; and the longer the silence lasted, so much the more critical, it was inferred, must be the state of affairs, and so much the more prodigious that accumulating arrear of great events which any decisive blow would open upon them. At length, when the general patience began to give way, a newspaper arrived, which, under the head of domestic intelligence, communicated the following disclosures:
A curious hoax has been played off on a certain loyal and ancient borough town not a hundred miles from the little river P. On the accession of our present gracious sovereign, and before his person was generally known to his subjects, a wager of large amount was laid by a certain Mr. von Holster, who had been a gentleman of the bedchamber to his late Highness, that he would succeed in passing himself off upon the whole town and corporation in question for the new prince. Having paved the way for his own success by a previous communication through a clerk in the house of W & Co., he departed on his errand, attended by an agent for the parties who had betted largely against him. This agent bore the name of von Hoax; and, by his report, the wager has been adjudged to von Holster as brilliantly won. Thus far all was well; what follows, however, is still better. Some time ago a young lady of large fortune, and still larger expectations, on a visit to the capital had met with Mr. von H, and had clandestinely formed an acquaintance which had ripened into a strong attachment. The gentleman, however, had no fortune, or none which corresponded to the expectations of the ladys family. Under these circumstances, the lady, despairing in any other way of obtaining her fathers consent, agreed that, in connection with his scheme for winning the wager, Fitz-Hum should attempt another, more interesting to them both, in pursuance of which arrangement he contrived to fix himself under his princely incognito at the very house of Mr. Commissioner P, the father of his lady-love; and the result is that he has actually married her, with the entire approbation of her friends. Whether the sequel of the affair will correspond with its success hitherto, remains, however, to be seen. Certain it is that for the present, until the princes pleasure can be taken, Mr. von Holster has been committed to prison under the new law for abolishing bets of a certain description, and also for having presumed to personate the sovereign.
Thus far the newspaper. However, in a few days all clouds hanging over the prospects of the young couple cleared away. Mr. von Holster, in a dutiful petition to the prince, declared that he had not personated his Serene Highness. On the contrary, he had given himself out both before and after his entry into the town of P for no more than the Count Fitz-Hum; and it was they, the good people of that town, who had insisted on mistaking him for a prince. If they would kiss his hand, was it for a humble individual of no pretensions whatever arrogantly to refuse? If they would make addresses to him, was it for an inconsiderable person like himself rudely to refuse their homage, when the greatest kings, as was notorious, always listened and replied in the most gracious terms? On further inquiry, the whole circumstances were detailed to the prince, and amused him greatly; but when the narrator came to the final article of the rebellion (under which sounding title a friend of von Holsters had communicated to him a general combination among his creditors for arresting his person), the good-natured prince laughed immoderately, and it became easy to see that no very severe punishment would follow. In fact, by his services to the late prince, von H had established some claims upon the gratitude of this, an acknowledgment which the prince generously made at this seasonable crisis. Such an acknowledgment from such a quarter, together with some other marks of favor to von H, could not fail to pacify the rebels against that gentleman, and to reconcile Mr. Commissioner Pig to a marriage which he had already once approved. His scruples had originally been vanquished in the wine-cellar; and there also it was, that, upon learning the total suppression of the insurrection, he drowned all his scruples for a second and a final time.
The town of M has, however, still occasion to remember the blue landau, and the superb whiskers, from the jokes which must now and then be parried upon that subject. Dr. B, in particular, the physician of that town, having originally offered five hundred dollars to the man who should notify him of his appointment to the place of court physician, has been obliged solemnly to advertise in the gazette, for the information of the wits in the capital, That he will not consider himself bound by his promise, seeing that every week he receives so many private notifications of that appointment, that it would beggar him to pay for them at any such rate. With respect to the various petitioners, the bakers, the glaziers, the hair-dressers, etc., they all maintain that, though Fitz-Hum may have been a spurious prince, yet undoubtedly the man had so much sense and political discernment that he well deserved to have been a true one.