Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the Swedish Argus
By Olof von Dalin (1708–1763)
No. XIII.—1733: Translation of William Henry Carpenter

I HOPE you know me now, my reader, so that you will pardon me if I write but little, since that happens merely in order that I may set down the truth. I too am not my own master; for my offspring have now taken it upon themselves to shut off their speakers with that blow which makes for a creditable piece of writing, but afflicts the truth. In which respect I for the most resemble the fifth wheel of a wagon, and trouble myself no more about it than many a town councilor or juryman bothers his head about the verdicts which he signs and approves, without making it my business to prove it true, and as if asleep, give in my vote. You must also yourself admit, my just reader, that it is necessary in our time to lie the truth in among the people.  1
  Our father Adam and mother Eve, it happened a short time since, came up out of their graves and were at their estate Tielkestad, where they presently proclaimed over the whole land a diet, or assemblage, at which all their dear children of both sexes should appear in person or by duly qualified substitute, in order that their universal parents might see and rejoice in their Northern seed, might learn how apt was each and how he had improved his talent, and admonish him to do honor to his creation.  2
  Here was gathered together a considerable assembly of people. Each one, from the greatest to the least, went forward to kiss grandpapa’s and grandmamma’s hand. They bent and they bowed, and most of the inhabitants of the land now vied with each other with all their might of soul and body, with internal and external senses, to see who should most please their first parents. For it may be believed it was no joke to be able to rejoice them with their excellence, now, some five thousand years after their death, and to put in their minds the thought, “See, Adam, what a son you have!” “See, Eve, what a daughter!” etc.  3
  Adam, who honored the first creation, and loved nature’s activity, which tolerates no compulsions or additions, was amazed when he saw his children, for he did not know half of them. “Where have they come from?” said he. “They are never mine, unless forsooth there shall have been a new creation, in the overseeing of which neither God nor I has had a part.” Eve had indeed been proud of so many offspring, but was somewhat abashed at these words, and said, “I should fear, sire, that you made me out an indifferent woman, if all did not know that we were alone in our conjugal state.” “Well enough is it web of my weft,” he answered, “but the children so disguise themselves in their attempt to please, that they lose all the charm which a spontaneous activity should otherwise most easily possess. Yet what am I saying? I readily see that our fall is the reason of this and of many disorders.” “It seems to me,” said Eve, “that you should have a review, and teach the poor children how they should conduct themselves so as not to continue in so monstrous a condition.”  4
  Well, this was arranged, and all were now to pass before the eye of Adam, whether they had changed themselves or not. He had seated himself on a wall of earth, and all the liberal arts stood round about him. “Dear children,” said he to his offspring, “come forward now, in order that I may see how you conduct yourselves. The inordinate desire of honor is the reason for this new creation,—which does not however seek the honor of the great Creator, but your own.” When any of his children came forward who without affectation lisped their tender thoughts, they were kissed with tears by the old man and matron, who said that nature in them was not restrained, and wished that they might henceforth continue in such freedom. “Behold, this,” said they, “produces pleasure, without you yourselves knowing it; and this is the kernel of the art of pleasing.” Many court worshipers and people of the upper ranks of life, where ambition takes firmest hold of the body, also went forward, who for the most part had so well exercised themselves in appearances that they seemed neither in action nor word to be affected. These too won tolerably well, in this way, the commendation of the old people. Yet there were some of them who particularly thought to please kings and princes, who took upon themselves a more zealous appearance than they had inherited, and bore their bodies in greater state than birth had given them, beneath costly garments arrayed in precise order, so that they by this means spoiled all their beauty; for Adam had only aversion for such artificial figures.  5
  But what he did not have in them, he did have in a part of those who followed. These were people of ordinary condition who vied with the first, indeed with their own natures, in acquiring charm. When these latter had noticed that the people of rank had some fault or peculiar manner, then straightway seized by this wretched desire of honor, they wished at least to resemble the great in bagatelles. Some set one or two wrinkles on their foreheads; some, a particular expression about the mouth; some lisped or stammered purposely, and introduced extraordinary sounds into their speech; some affected strange laughter; some had a wonderful bend of the shoulders; some a simulated walk; some gave themselves political or statistical features, etc., etc.; and all directly opposed to their otherwise natural manner. “Yes, I can tell you right straight out,” said Adam; “I have not a little esteem for you: but listen, I will tell you a little story. It has been told me that my famous son, Alexander the Great, once upon a time twisted his neck out of joint, so that he was obliged to walk with his head somewhat awry. Straightway were all of his lords and his courtiers moved to walk in the same manner, especially before his eyes, with the thought of pleasing him exceedingly. But among those who, whether out of zeal for their master or of love for themselves, would particularly be like the king, one twisted his neck so badly that his valiant prince, grown angry at such buffoonery, gave him so heavy a blow that the cuff set the heads right again of the whole court and army. If I were able now, I would certainly deal out many an affectionate blow to remedy all the evil habits with which you think to please me.”  6
  (I wish that Argus had to-day the same smart as a box on the ear, for we saw this morning many affected cripples as sound and active as when they came into the world.)  7
  “A part of you,” continued Adam, “I notice, compel yourselves to limp and stoop very seriously and with great discomfort on canes, as if twenty-year-old legs were already afflicted with the rich man’s sickness. But if some one took the canes and taught the young to spring, he would do rightly. Do you think it is no advantage to have good legs? If you think in this manner to imitate celebrated people, as has been said, then you shall know that it often offends him who is aped as much as it disfigures the ape himself.”  8
  Many of our women who daily vie with each other for the possession of the greatest charm came forward, with the idea that the old people’s hearts would be rejoiced with their comeliness. But that did not fall out well, since the one made a grimace by setting her mouth in a churchly manner; the other changed her features in that she wished to show her beautiful teeth; the third turned her eyes so strangely that she both blinked and squinted; the fourth had given herself a beautiful skin with ingredients from the apothecary’s shop; the fifth assumed a fatigued gait; the sixth purposely appeared somewhat ill and languid. A pastor’s wife forced her mild countenance into a scornful mien; a burgher’s wife sweetened her mouth with ill-pronounced French words, and kept her body immovable because of her beautiful clothes; a merchant’s daughter could think of nothing else than to bow; another maiden twisted her face over both shoulders with a stiff glance, etc., etc.: so that Eve said:—“What is this? Will you please me with force? Ah, foolish women, if you wish truly to please, then you should not think of it. Such a thing must come to you unwittingly.”  9
  When Eve said this, some men lamented the vanity and elegant frivolity of a part of the women; but they were brought up sharply, for Adam said:—“Will you now again transform nature, and make that into heaviness which is created for your pleasure and refreshing help? It befits you, it may be, better than that to be ill-favored. If any of you are born to seriousness, then it well becomes that one that she is so; but if you desire that others shall be like you and bother themselves with your thoughts, then is that ill-conceived. For example, a woman may indeed amuse herself with books and little acts of cleverness; but if she makes study her trade, then she becomes a pedant.”  10
  The malcontents, however, complained again that their mistresses desired that men should resemble them in all things except in sex, and hold them otherwise wholly as women. But Adam replied:—“If you are such fools, then shall you have advice. I see many gallants who readily undergo such a transformation, but that accords with their nature as does clay with straw, and surely an intelligent woman does not like it herself.”  11
  Further, Adam said:—“Now I must laugh! Look at that bashful youth yonder in the crowd, who is so fearful of sinning against the customs of affectation that he does not know how he shall hold his hands. Now he sticks them here, and now there. When he bows, he looks back with perplexity at all to see if he did rightly.”  12
  At that moment there came forward some scholars and poets, who with references presented their works and verses, some of which they read. But Adam said:—“Children, you were born to be shoemakers. You had understood awls better than pens. At a trade you had wrought out profit and pleasure, but not in study. Endowments are of many kinds, and every one must consider which of them he has received.”  13
  Thereupon some of the clergy came forward with soft steps, wholly assured that they would receive a caress from the old man for every time they had named him in their sermons. But when the pretended pious went along, he became straightway displeased. What should there avail the measured-out words, and the forced high-flown delivery, filled with roses without fragrance! Suppose that he had seen some of them in the pulpit with their comedian affectations, or how unbecomingly they threw themselves and moved about there! Adam said shortly to them, “Such nonsense is unnecessary in your sacred office.” In this consisted the whole caress.  14
  It is impossible for me to remember or to be able to describe all of those who at this time disgraced themselves before father Adam and mother Eve. This I know, that Japhet’s grandsire pronounced this word of admonition:—“My descendants,” said he, “let it be fairly seen that you do not so badly disfigure yourselves as you have hitherto done. Let not the one take the other’s talent and decry his own. Prove yourselves what character you own and abide with it; so shall you mark in each other that there is not one who is not made pleasing in his way, if it be rightly used. A surly man may be agreeable even in his surliness, and so on. Moreover, everyone shall give himself to the service in the state to which he is fallen, and shall not, eager of honor, offer violence to nature, of which I see among you so many examples that I just now—” Coughing deprived the old man of words, so that he stopped short, and straightway, as may be believed, the whole crowd made grimace upon grimace and laughed at him. The poor old couple were glad to get away from Tielkestad and lay themselves in their graves. So it went with the assemblage. Yes, believe me, surely. He who will tell the truth appears at times like a hen on a perch in windy weather.  15

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