Part 2 out of 5
As he said this he carefully ran his hand over the insulted part, and, after
giving himself up for a few moments to bitter meditation:
"What idiots those Penguins are! I am tired of blowing flames in the faces of
such imbeciles. Orberosia, do you hear me?"
Having thus spoken the hero raised his terrible helmet in his hands and gazed
at it for a long time in gloomy silence. Then he pronounced these rapid words:
"I have made this helmet with my own hands in the shape of a fish's head,
covering it with the skin of a seal. To make it more terrible I have put on it
the horns of a bull and I have given it a boar's jaws; I have hung from it a
horse's tail dyed vermilion. When in the gloomy twilight I threw it over my
shoulders no inhabitant of this island had courage to withstand its sight.
Women and children, young men and old men fled distracted at its approach, and
I carried terror among the whole race of Penguins. By what advice does that
insolent people lose its earlier fears and dare to-day to behold these
horrible jaws and to attack this terrible crest?"
And throwing his helmet on the rocky soil:
"Perish, deceitful helmet!" cried Kraken. "I swear by all the demons of Armor
that I will never bear you upon my head again."
And having uttered this oath he stamped upon his helmet, his gloves, his
boots, and upon his tail with its twisted folds.
"Kraken," said the fair Orberosia, "will you allow your servant to employ
artifice to save your reputation and your goods? Do not despise a woman's
help. You need it, for all men are imbeciles."
"Woman," asked Kraken, "what are your plans?"
And the fair Orberosia informed her husband that the monks were going through
the villages teaching the inhabitants the best way of combating the dragon;
that, according to their instructions, the beast would be overcome by a
virgin, and that if a maid placed her girdle around the dragon's neck she
could lead him as easily as if he were a little dog.
"How do you know that the monks teach this?" asked Kraken.
"My friend," answered Orberosia, "do not interrupt a serious subject by
frivolous questions. . . . 'If, then,' added the monks, 'there be in Alca a
pure virgin, let her arise!' Now, Kraken, I have determined to answer their
call. I will go and find the holy Mael and I will say to him: 'I am the virgin
destined by Heaven to overthrow the dragon.'"
At these words Kraken exclaimed: "How can you be that pure virgin? And why do
you want to overthrow me, Orberosia? Have you lost your reason? Be sure that I
will not allow myself to be conquered by you!"
"Can you not try and understand me before you get angry?" sighed the fair
Orberosia with deep though gentle contempt.
And she explained the cunning designs that she had formed.
As he listened, the hero remained pensive. And when she ceased speaking:
"Orberosia, your cunning, is deep," said he, "And if your plans are carried
out according to your intentions I shall derive great advantages from them.
But how can you be the virgin destined by heaven?"
"Don't bother about that," she replied, "and come to bed."
The next day in the grease-laden atmosphere of the cavern, Kraken plaited a
deformed skeleton out of osier rods and covered it with bristling, scaly, and
filthy skins. To one extremity of the skeleton Orberosia sewed the fierce
crest and the hideous mask that Kraken used to wear in his plundering
expeditions, and to the other end she fastened the tail with twisted folds
which the hero was wont to trail behind him. And when the work was finished
they showed little Elo and the other five children who waited on them how to
get inside this machine, how to make it walk, how to blow horns and burn tow
in it so as to send forth smoke and flames through the dragon's mouth.
XII. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation)
Orberosia, having clothed herself in a robe made of coarse stuff and girt
herself with a thick cord, went to the monastery and asked to speak to the
blessed Mael. And because women were forbidden to enter the enclosure of the
monastery the old man advanced outside the gates, holding his pastoral cross
in his right hand and resting his left on the shoulder of Brother Samuel, the
youngest of his disciples.
"Woman, who art thou?"
"I am the maiden Orberosia."
At this reply Mael raised his trembling arms to heaven.
"Do you speak truth, woman? It is a certain fact that Orberosia was devoured
by the dragon. And yet I see Orberosia and hear her. Did you not, O my
daughter, while within the dragon's bowels arm yourself with the sign of the
cross and come uninjured out of his throat? That is what seems to me the most
"You are not deceived, father," answered Orberosia. "That is precisely what
happened to me. Immediately I came out of the creature's bowels I took refuge
in a hermitage on the Coast of Shadows. I lived there in solitude, giving
myself up to prayer and meditation, and performing unheard of austerities,
until I learnt by a revelation from heaven that a maid alone could overcome
the dragon, and that I was that maid."
"Show me a sign of your mission," said the old man.
"I myself am the sign," answered Orberosia.
"I am not ignorant of the power of those who have placed a seal upon their
flesh," replied the apostle of the Penguins. But are you indeed such as you
"You will see by the result," answered Orberosia.
The monk Regimental drew near:
"That will," said he, "be the best proof. King Solomon has said: 'Three things
are hard to understand and a fourth is impossible: they are the way of a
serpent on the earth, the way of a bird in the air, the way of a ship in the
sea, and the way of a man with a maid!' I regard such matrons as nothing less
than presumptuous who claim to compare themselves in these matters with the
wisest of kings. Father, if you are led by me you will not consult them in
regard to the pious Orberosia. When they have given their opinion you will not
be a bit farther on than before. Virginity is not less difficult to prove than
to keep. Pliny tells us in his history that its signs are either imaginary or
very uncertain.* One who bears upon her the fourteen signs of corruption may
yet be pure in the eyes of the angels, and, on the contrary, another who has
been pronounced pure by the matrons who inspected her may know that her good
appearance is due to the artifices of a cunning perversity. As for the purity
of this holy girl here, I would put my hand in the fire in witness of it."
* We have vainly sought for this phrase in Pliny's "Natural History."--Editor.
He spoke thus because he was the Devil. But old Mael did not know it. He asked
the pious Orberosia:
"My daughter, how, would you proceed to conquer so fierce an animal as he who
The virgin answered:
"To-morrow at sunrise, O Mael, you will summon the people together on the hill
in front of the desolate moor that extends to the Coast of Shadows, and you
will take care that no man of the Penguins remains less than five hundred
paces from those rocks so that he may not be poisoned by the monster's breath.
And the dragon will come out of the rocks and I will put my girdle round his
neck and lead him like an obedient dog."
"Ought you not to be accompanied by a courageous and pious man who will kill
the dragon?" asked Mael.
"It will be as thou sayest, venerable father. I shall deliver the monster to
Kraken, who will stay him with his flashing sword. For I tell thee that the
noble Kraken, who was believed to be dead, will return among the Penguins and
he shall slay the dragon. And from the creature's belly will come forth the
little children whom he has devoured."
"What you declare to me, O virgin," cried the apostle, "seems wonderful and
beyond human power."
"It is," answered the virgin Orberosia. "But learn, O Mael, that I have had a
revelation that as a reward for their deliverance, the Penguin people will pay
to the knight Kraken an annual tribute of three hundred fowls, twelve sheep,
two oxen, three pigs, one thousand eight hundred bushels of corn, and
vegetables according to their season; and that, moreover, the children who
will come out of the dragon's belly will be given and committed to the said
Kraken to serve him and obey him in all things. If the Penguin people fail to
keep their engagements a new dragon will come upon the island more terrible
than the first. I have spoken."
XIII. THE DRAGON OF ALCA (Continuation and End)
The people of the Penguins were assembled by Mael and they spent the night on
the Coast of Shadows within the bounds which the holy man had prescribed in
order that none among the Penguins should be poisoned by the monster's breath.
The veil of night still covered the earth when, preceded by a hoarse
bellowing, the dragon showed his indistinct and monstrous form upon the rocky
coast. He crawled like a serpent and his writhing body seemed about fifteen
feet long. At his appearance the crowd drew back in terror. But soon all eyes
were turned towards the Virgin Orberosia, who, in the first light of the dawn,
clothed in white, advanced over the purple heather. With an intrepid though
modest gait she walked towards the beast, who, uttering awful bellowings,
opened his flaming throat. An immense cry of terror and pity arose from the
midst of the Penguins. But the virgin, unloosing her linen girdle, put it
round the dragon's neck and led him on the leash like a faithful dog amid the
acclamations of the spectators.
She had walked over a long stretch of the heath when Kraken appeared armed
with a flashing sword. The people, who believed him dead, uttered cries of joy
and surprise. The hero rushed towards the beast, turned him over on his back,
and with his sword cut open his belly, from whence came forth in their shirts,
with curling hair and folded hands, little Elo and the five other children
whom the monster had devoured.
Immediately they threw themselves on their knees before the virgin Orberosia,
who took them in her arms and whispered into their ears:
"You will go through the villages saying: 'We are the poor little children who
were devoured by the dragon, and we came out of his belly in our shirts.' The
inhabitants will give you abundance of all that you can desire. But if you say
anything else you will get nothing but cuffs and whippings. Go!"
Several Penguins, seeing the dragon disembowelled, rushed forward to cut him
to pieces, some from a feeling of rage and vengeance, others to get the magic
stone called dragonite, that is engendered in his head. The mothers of the
children who had come back to life ran to embrace their little ones. But the
holy Mael kept them back, saying that none of them were holy enough to
approach a dragon without dying.
And soon little Elo, and the five other children came towards the people and
"We are the poor little children who were devoured by the dragon and we came
out of his belly in our shirts."
And all who heard them kissed them and said:
"Blessed children, we will give you abundance of all that you can desire."
And the crowd of people dispersed, full of joy, singing hymns and canticles.
To commemorate this day on which Providence delivered the people from a cruel
scourge, processions were established in which the effigy of a chained dragon
was led about.
Kraken levied the tribute and became the richest and most powerful of the
Penguins. As a sign of his victory and so as to inspire a salutary terror, he
wore a dragon's crest upon his head and he had a habit of saying to the
"Now that the monster is dead I am the dragon."
For many years Orberosia bestowed her favours upon neatherds and shepherds,
whom she thought equal to the gods. But when she was no longer beautiful she
consecrated herself to the Lord.
At her death she became the object of public veneration, and was admitted into
the calendar of the saints and adopted as the patron saint of Penguinia.
Kraken left a son, who, like his father, wore a dragon's crest, and he was for
this reason surnamed Draco. He was the founder of the first royal dynasty of
BOOK III. THE MIDDLE AGES AND THE RENAISSANCE
I. BRIAN THE GOOD AND QUEEN GLAMORGAN
The kings of Alca were descended from Draco,the son of Kraken,and they wore on
their heads a terrible dragon's crest, as a sacred badge whose appearance
alone inspired the people with veneration, terror, and love. They were
perpetually in conflict either with their own vassals and subjects or with the
princes of the adjoining islands and continents.
The most ancient of these kings has left but a name. We do not even know how
to pronounce or write it. The first of the Draconides whose history is known
was Brian the Good, renowned for his skill and courage in war and in the
He was a Christian and loved learning. He also favoured men who had vowed
themselves to the monastic life. In the hall of his palace where, under the
sooty rafters, there hung the heads, pelts, and horns of wild beasts, he held
feasts to which all the harpers of Alca and of the neighbouring islands were
invited, and he himself used to join in singing the praises of the heroes. He
was just and magnanimous, but inflamed by so ardent a love of glory that he
could not restrain himself from putting to death those who had sung better
The monks of Yvern having been driven out by the pagans who ravaged Brittany,
King Brian summoned them into his kingdom and built a wooden monastery for
them near his palace. Every day he went with Queen Glamorgan, his wife, into
the monastery chapel and was present at the religious ceremonies and joined in
Now among these monks there was a brother called Oddoul, who, while still in
the flower of his youth, had adorned himself with knowledge and virtue. The
devil entertained a great grudge against him, and attempted several times to
lead him into temptation. He took several shapes and appeared to him in turn
as a war-horse, a young maiden, and a cup of mead. Then he rattled two dice in
a dicebox and said to him:
"Will you play with me for the kingdoms of, the world against one of the hairs
of your head?"
But the man of the Lord, armed with the sign of the Cross, repulsed the enemy.
Perceiving that he could not seduce him, the devil thought of an artful plan
to ruin him. One summer night he approached the queen, who slept upon her
couch, showed her an image of the young monk whom she saw every day in the
wooden monastery, and upon this image he placed a spell. Forthwith, like a
subtle poison, love flowed into Glamorgan's veins, and she burned with an
ardent desire to do as she listed with Oddoul. She found unceasing pretexts to
have him near her. Several times she asked him to teach reading and singing to
"I entrust them to you," said she to him. "And will follow the lessons you
will give them so that I myself may learn also. You will teach both mother and
sons at the same time."
But the young monk kept making excuses. At times he would say that he was not
a learned enough teacher, and on other occasions that his state forbade him
all intercourse with women. This refusal inflamed Glamorgan's passion. One day
as she lay pining upon her couch, her malady having become intolerable, she
summoned Oddoul to her chamber. He came in obedience to her orders, but
remained with his eyes cast down towards the threshold of the door. With
impatience and grief she resented his not looking at her.
"See," said she to him, "I have no more strength, a shadow is on my eyes. My
body is both burning and freezing."
And as he kept silence and made no movement, she called him in a voice of
"Come to me, come!"
With outstretched arms to which passion gave more length, she endeavoured to
seize him and draw him towards her.
But he fled away, reproaching her for her wantonness.
Then, incensed with rage and fearing that Oddoul might divulge the shame into
which she had fallen, she determined to ruin him so that he might not ruin
In a voice of lamentation that resounded throughout all the palace she called
for help, as if, in truth, she were in some great danger. Her servants rushed
up and saw the young monk fleeing and the queen pulling back the sheets upon
her couch. They all cried out together. And when King Brian, attracted by the
noise, entered the chamber, Glamorgan, showing him her dishevelled hair, her
eyes flooded with tears, and her bosom that in the fury of her love she had
torn with her nails, said:
"My lord and husband, behold the traces of the insults I have undergone.
Driven by an infamous desire Oddoul has approached me and attempted to do me
When he heard these complaints and saw the blood, the king, transported with
fury, ordered his guards to seize the young monk and burn him alive before the
palace under the queen's eyes.
Being told of the affair, the Abbot of Yvern went to the king and said to him:
"King Brian, know by this example the difference between a Christian woman and
a pagan. Roman Lucretia was the most virtuous of idolatrous princesses, yet
she had not the strength to defend herself against the attacks of an
effeminate youth, and, ashamed of her weakness, she gave way to despair,
whilst Glamorgan has successfully withstood the assaults of a criminal filled
with rage, and possessed by the most terrible of demons." Meanwhile Oddoul, in
the prison of the palace, was waitin for the moment when he should be burned
alive. But God did not suffer an innocent to perish. He sent to him an angel,
who, taking the form of one of the queen's servants called Gudrune, took him
out of his prison and led him into the very room where the woman whose
appearance he had taken dwelt.
And the angel said to young Oddoul:
"I love thee because thou art daring."
And young Oddoul, believing that it was Gudrune herself, answered with
"It is by the grace of the Lord that I have resisted the violence of the queen
and braved the anger of that powerful woman."
And the angel asked:
"What? Hast thou not done what the queen accuses thee of?"
"In truth no, I have not done it," answered Oddoul, his hand on his heart.
"Thou hast not done it?"
"No, I have not done it. The very thought of such an action fills me with
"Then," cried the angel, "what art thou doing here, thou impotent creature?" *
* The Penguin chronicler who relates the fact employs the expression, Species
inductilis. I have endeavoured to translate it literally.
And she opened the door to facilitate the young man's escape. Oddoul felt
himself pushed violently out. Scarcely had he gone down into the street than a
chamber-pot was poured over his head; and he thought:
"Mysterious are thy designs, O Lord, and thy ways past finding out."
II. DRACO THE GREAT (Translation of the Relics of St. Orberosia)
The direct posterity of Brian the Good was extinguished about the year 900 in
the person of Collic of the Short Nose. A cousin of that prince, Bosco the
Magnanimous, succeeded him, and took care, in order to assure himself of the
throne, to put to death all his relations. There issued from him a long line
of powerful kings.
One of them, Draco the Great, attained great renown as a man of war. He was
defeated more frequently than the others. It is by this constancy in defeat
that great captains are recognized. In twenty years he burned down more than a
hundred thousand hamlets, market towns, unwalled towns, villages, walled
towns, cities, and universities. He set fire impartially to his enemies'
territory and to his own domains. And he used to explain his conduct by
"War without fire is like tripe without mustard: it is an insipid thing."
His justice was rigorous. When the peasants whom he made prisoners were unable
to raise the money for their ransoms he had them hanged from a tree, and if
any unhappy woman came to plead for her destitute husband he dragged her by
the hair at his horse's tail. He lived like a soldier without effeminacy. It
is satisfactory to relate that his manner of life was pure. Not only did he
not allow his kingdom to decline from its hereditary glory, but, even in his
reverses he valiantly supported the honour of the Penguin people.
Draco the Great caused the relics of St. Orberosia to be transferred to Alca.
The body of the blessed saint had been buried in a grotto on the Coast of
Shadows at the end of a scented heath. The first pilgrims who went to visit it
were the boys and girls from the neighbouring villages. They used to go there
in the evening, by preference in couples, as if their pious desires naturally
sought satisfaction in darkness and solitude. They worshipped the saint with a
fervent and discreet worship whose mystery they seemed jealously to guard, for
they did not like to publish too openly the experiences they felt. But they
were heard to murmur one to another words of love, delight, and rapture with
which they mingled the name of Orberosia. Some would sigh that there they
forgot the world; others would say that they came out of the grotto in peace
and calm; the young girls among them used to recall to each other the joy with
which they had been filled in it.
Such were the marvels that the virgin of Alca performed in the morning of her
glorious eternity; they had the sweetness and indefiniteness of the dawn. Soon
the mystery of the grotto spread like a perfume throughout the land; it was a
ground of joy and edification for pious souls, and corrupt men endeavoured,
though in vain, by falsehood and calumny, to divert the faithful from the
springs of grace that flowed from the saint's tomb. The Church took measures
so that these graces should not remain reserved for a few children, but should
be diffused throughout all Penguin Christianity. Monks took up their quarters
in the grotto, they built a monastery, a chapel, and a hostelry on the coast,
and pilgrims began to flock thither.
As if strengthened by a longer sojourn in heaven, the blessed Orberosia now
performed still greater miracles for those who came to lay their offerings on
her tomb. She gave hopes to women who had been hitherto barren, she sent
dreams to reassure jealous old men concerning the fidelity of the young wives
whom they had suspected without cause, and she protected the country from
plagues, murrains, famines, tempests, and dragons of Cappadocia.
But during the troubles that desolated the kingdom in the time of King Collic
and his successors, the tomb of St. Orberosia was plundered of its wealth, the
monastery burned down, and the monks dispersed. The road that had been so long
trodden by devout pilgrims was overgrown with furze and heather, and the blue
thistles of the sands. For a hundred years the miraculous tomb had been
visited by none save vipers, weasels, and bats, when, one day the saint
appeared to a peasant of the neighbourhood, Momordic by name.
"I am the virgin Orberosia," said she to him; "I have chosen thee to restore
my sanctuary. Warn the inhabitants of the country that if they allow my memory
to be blotted out, and leave my tomb without honour and wealth, a new dragon
will come and devastate Penguinia."
Learned churchmen held an inquiry concerning this apparition, and pronounced
it genuine, and not diabolical but truly heavenly, and in later years it was
remarked that in France, in like circumstances, St. Foy and St. Catherine had
acted in the same way and made use of similar language.
The monastery was restored and pilgrims flocked to it anew. The virgin
Orberosia worked greater and greater miracles. She cured divers hurtful
maladies, particularly club-foot, dropsy, paralysis, and St. Guy's disease.
The monks who kept the tomb were enjoying an enviable opulence, when the
saint, appearing to King Draco the Great, ordered him to recognise her as the
heavenly patron of the kingdom and to transfer her precious remains to the
cathedral of Alca.
In consequence, the odoriferous relics of that virgin were carried with great
pomp to the metropolitan church and placed in the middle of the choir in a
shrine made of gold and enamel and ornamented with precious stones.
The chapter kept a record of the miracles wrought by the blessed Orberosia.
Draco the Great, who had never ceased to defend and exalt the Christian faith,
died fulfilled with the most pious sentiments and bequeathed his great
possessions to the Church.
II. QUEEN CRUCHA
Terrible disorders followed the death of Draco the Great. That prince's
successors have often been accused of weakness, and it is true that none of
them followed, even from afar, the example of their valiant ancestor.
His son, Chum, who was lame, failed to increase the territory of the Penguins.
Bolo, the son of Chum, was assassinated by the palace guards at the age of
nine, just as he was ascending the throne. His brother Gun succeeded him. He
was only seven years old and allowed himself to be governed by his mother,
Crucha was beautiful, learned, and intelligent; but she was unable to curb her
These are the terms in which the venerable Talpa expresses himself in his
chronicle regarding that illustrious queen:
"In beauty of face and symmetry of figure Queen Crucha yields neither to
Semiramis of Babylon nor to Penthesilea, queen of the Amazons; nor to Salome,
the daughter of Herodias. But she offers in her person certain singularities
that will appear beautiful or uncomely according to the contradictory opinions
of men and the varying judgments of the world. She has on her forehead two
small horns which she conceals in the abundant folds of her golden hair; one
of her eyes is blue and one is black; her neck is bent towards the left side;
and, like Alexander of Macedon, she has six fingers on her right hand, and a
stain like a little monkey's head upon her skin.
"Her gait is majestic and her manner affable. She is magnificent in her
expenses, but she is not always able to rule desire by reason.
"One day, having noticed in the palace stables, a young groom of great beauty,
she immediately fell violently in love with him, and entrusted to him the
command of her armies. What one must praise unreservedly in this great queen
is the abundance of gifts that she makes to the churches, monasteries, and
chapels in her kingdom, and especially to the holy house of Beargarden, where,
by the grace of the Lord, I made my profession in my fourteenth year. She has
founded masses for the repose of her soul in such great numbers that every
priest in the Penguin Church is, so to speak, transformed into a taper lighted
in the sight of heaven to draw down the divine mercy upon the august Crucha."
From these lines and from some others with which have enriched my text the
reader can judge of the historical and literary value of the "Gesta
Penguinorum." Unhappily, that chronicle suddenly comes suddenly to an end at
third year of Draco the Simple, the successor of Gun the Weak. Having reached
that point of my history, I deplore the loss of an agreeable and trustworthy
During the two centuries that followed, the Penguins remained plunged in
blood-stained disorder. All the arts perished. In the midst of the general
ignorance, the monks in the shadow of their cloister devoted themselves to
study, and copied the Holy Scriptures with indefatigable zeal. As parchment
was scarce,they scraped the writing off old manuscripts in order to transcribe
upon them the divine word. Thus throughout the breadth of Penguinia Bibles
blossomed forth like roses on a bush.
A monk of the order of St. Benedict, Ermold the Penguin, had himself alone
defaced four thousand Greek and Latin manuscripts so as to copy out the Gospel
of St. John four thousand times. Thus the masterpieces of ancient poetry and
eloquence were destroyed in great numbers. Historians are unanimous in
recognising that the Penguin convents were the refuge of learning during the
Unending wars between the Penguins and the Porpoises filled the close of this
period. It is extremely difficult to know the truth concerning these wars, not
because accounts are wanting, but because there are so many of them. The
Porpoise Chronicles contradict the Penguin Chronicles at every point. And,
moreover, the Penguins contradict each other as well as the Porpoises. I have
discovered two chronicles that are in agreement, but one has copied from the
other. A single fact is certain, namely, that massacres, rapes,
conflagrations, and plunder succeeded one another without interruption.
Under the unhappy prince Bosco IX. the kingdom was at the verge of ruin. On
the news that the Porpoise fleet, composed of six hundred great ships, was in
sight of Alca, the bishop ordered a solemn procession. The cathedral chapter,
the elected magistrates, the members of Parliament, and the clerics of the
University entered the Cathedral and, taking up St. Orberosia's shrine, led it
in procession through the town, followed by the entire people singing hymns.
The holy patron of Penguinia was not invoked in vain. Nevertheless, the
Porpoises besieged the town both by land and sea, took it by assault, and for
three days and three nights killed, plundered, violated, and burned, with all
the indifference that habit produces.
Our astonishment cannot be too great at the fact that, during those iron ages,
the faith was preserved intact among the Penguins. The splendour of the truth
in those times illumined all souls that had not been corrupted by sophisms.
This is the explanation of the unity of belief. A constant practice of the
Church doubtless contributed also to maintain this happy communion of the
faithful--every Penguin who thought differently from the others was
immediately burned at the stake.
IV. LETTERS: JOHANNES TALPA
During the minority of King Gun, Johannes Talpa, in the monastery of
Beargarden, where at the age of fourteen he had made his profession and from
which he never departed for a single day throughout his life, composed his
celebrated Latin chronicle in twelve books called "De Gestis Penguinorum."
The monastery of Beargarden lifts its high walls on the summit of an
inaccessible peak. One sees around it only the blue tops of mountains, divided
by the clouds.
When he began to write his "Gesta Penguinorum," Johannes Talpa was already
old. The good monk has taken care to tell us this in his book: "My head has
long since lost," he says, "its adornment of fair hair, and my scalp resembles
those convex mirrors of metal which the Penguin ladies consult with so much
care and zeal. My stature, naturally small, has with years become diminished
and bent. My white beard gives warmth to my breast."
With a charming simplicity, Talpa informs us of certain circumstances in his
life and some features in his character. "Descended," he tells us, "from a
noble family, and destined from childhood for the ecclesiastical state, I was
taught grammar and music. I learnt to read under the guidance of a master who
was called Amicus, and who would have been better named Inimicus. As I did not
easily attain to a knowledge of my letters, he beat me violently with rods so
that I can say that he printed the alphabet in strokes upon my back."
In another passage Talpa confesses his natural inclination towards pleasure.
These are his expressive words: "In my youth the ardour of my senses was such
that in the shadow of the woods I experienced a sensation of boiling in a pot
rather than of breathing the fresh air. I fled from women, but in vain, for
every object recalled them to me."
While he was writing his chronicle, a terrible war, at once foreign and
domestic, laid waste the Penguin land. The soldiers of Crucha came to defend
the monastery of Beargarden against the Penguin barbarians and established
themselves strongly within its walls. In order to render it impregnable they
pierced loop-holes through the walls and they took the lead off the church
roof to make balls for their slings. At night they lighted huge fires in the
courts and cloisters and on them they roasted whole oxen which they spitted
upon the ancient pine-trees of the mountain. Sitting around the flames, amid
smoke filled with a mingled odour of resin and fat, they broached huge casks
of wine and beer. Their songs, their blasphemies, and the noise of their
quarrels drowned the sound of the morning bells.
At last the Porpoises, having crossed the defiles, laid siege to the
monastery. They were warriors from the North, clad in copper armour. They
fastened ladders a hundred and fifty fathoms long to the sides of the cliffs
and sometimes in the darkness and storm these broke beneath the weight of men
and arms, and bunches of the besiegers were hurled into the ravines and
precipices. A prolonged wail would be heard going down into the darkness, and
the assault would begin again. The Penguins poured streams of burning wax upon
their assailants, which made them blaze like torches. Sixty times the enraged
Porpoises attempted to scale the monastery and sixty times they were repulsed.
For six months they had closely invested the monastery, when, on the day of
the Epiphany, a shepherd of the valley showed them a hidden path by which they
climbed the mountain, penetrated into the vaults of the abbey, ran through the
cloisters, the kitchens, the church, the chapter halls, the library, the
laundry, the cells, the refectories, and the dormitories, and burned the
buildings, killing and violating without distinction of age or sex. The
Penguins, awakened unexpectedly, ran to arms, but in the darkness and alarm
they struck at one another, whilst the Porpoises with blows of their axes
disputed the sacred vessels, the censers, the candlesticks, dalmatics,
reliquaries, golden crosses, and precious stones.
The air was filled with an acrid odour of burnt flesh. Groans and death-cries
arose in the midst of the flames, and on the edges of the crumbling roofs
monks ran in thousands like ants, and fell into the valley. Yet Johannes Talpa
kept on writing his Chronicle. The soldiers of Crucha retreated speedily and
filled up all the issues from the monastery with pieces of rock so as to shut
up the Porpoises in the burning buildings. And to crush the enemy beneath the
ruin they employed the trunks of old oaks as battering-rams. The burning
timbers fell in with a noise like thunder and the lofty arches of the naves
crumbled beneath the shock of these giant trees when moved by six hundred men
together. Soon there was left nothing of the rich and extensive abbey but the
cell of Johannes Talpa, which, by a marvellous chance, hung from the ruin of a
smoking gable. The old chronicler still kept writing.
This admirable intensity of thought may seem excessive in the case of an
annalist who applies himself to relate the events of his own time. However
abstracted and detached we may be from surrounding things, we nevertheless
resent their influence. I have consulted the original manuscript of Johannes
Talpa in the National Library, where it is preserved (Monumenta Peng., K. L6.,
12390 four). It is a parchment manuscript of 628 leaves. The writing is
extremely confused, the letters instead of being in a straight line, stray in
all directions and are mingled together in great disorder, or, more correctly
speaking, in absolute confusion. They are so badly formed that for the most
part it is impossible not merely to say what they are, but even to distinguish
them from the splashes of ink with which they are plentifully interspersed.
Those inestimable pages bear witness in this way to the troubles amid which
they were written. To read them is difficult. On the other hand, the monk of
Beargarden's style shows no trace of emotion. The tone of the "Gesta
Penguinorum" never departs from simplicity. The narration is rapid and of a
conciseness that sometimes approaches dryness. The reflections are rare and,
as a rule, judicious.
V. THE ARTS: THE PRIMITIVES OF PENGUIN PAINTING
The Penguin critics vie with one another in affirming that Penguin art has
from its origin been distinguished by a powerful and pleasing originality, and
that we may look elsewhere in vain for the qualities of grace and reason that
characterise its earliest works. But the Porpoises claim that their artists
were undoubtedly the instructors and masters of the Penguins. It is difficult
to form an opinion on the matter, because the Penguins, before they began to
admire their primitive painters, destroyed all their works.
We cannot be too sorry for this loss. For my own part I feel it cruelly, for I
venerate the Penguin antiquities and I adore the primitives. They are
delightful. I do not say the are all alike, for that would be untrue, but they
have common characters that are found in all schools--I mean formulas from
which they never depart--and there is besides something finished in their
work, for what they know they know well. Luckily we can form a notion of the
Penguin primitives from the Italian, Flemish, and Dutch primitives, and from
the French primitives, who are superior to all the rest; as M. Gruyer tells us
they are more logical, logic being a peculiarly French quality. Even if this
is denied it must at least be admitted that to France belongs the credit of
having kept primitives when the other nations knew them no longer. The
Exhibition of French Primitives at the Pavilion Marsan in 1904 contained
several little panels contemporary with the later Valois kings and with Henry
I have made many journeys to see the pictures of the brothers Van Eyck, of
Memling, of Roger van der Weyden, of the painter of the death of Mary, of
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, and of the old Umbrian masters. It was, however, neither
Bruges, nor Cologne, nor Sienna, nor Perugia, that completed my initiation; it
was in the little town of Arezzo that I became a conscious adept in primitive
painting. That was ten years ago or even longer. At that period of indigence
and simplicity, the municipal museums, though usually kept shut, were always
opened to foreigners. One evening an old woman with a candle showed me, for
half a lira, the sordid museum of Arezzo, and in it I discovered a painting by
Margaritone, a "St. Francis," the pious sadness of which moved me to tears. I
was deeply touched, and Margaritone,of Arezzo became from that day my dearest
I picture to myself the Penguin primitives in conformity with the works of
that master. It will not therefore be thought superfluous if in this place I
consider his works with some attention, if not in detail, at least under their
more general and, if I dare say so, most representative aspect.
We possess five or six pictures signed with his hand. His masterpiece,
preserved in the National Gallery of London, represents the Virgin seated on a
throne and holding the infant Jesus in her arms. What strikes one first when
one looks at this figure is the proportion. The body from the neck to the feet
is only twice as long as the head, so that it appears extremely short and
podgy. This work is not less remarkable for its painting than for its drawing.
The great Margaritone had but a limited number of colours in his possession,
and he used them in all their purity without ever modifying the tones. From
this it follows that his colouring has more vivacity than harmony. The cheeks
of the Virgin and those of the Child are of a bright vermilion which the old
master, from a naive preference for clear definitions, has placed on each face
in two circumferences as exact as if they had been traced out by a pair of
A learned critic of the eighteenth century, the Abbe Lanzi, has treated
Margaritone's works with profound disdain. "They are," he says. "merely crude
daubs. In those unfortunate times people could neither draw nor paint." Such
was the common opinion of the connoisseurs of the days of powdered wigs. But
the great Margaritone and his contemporaries were soon to be avenged for this
cruel contempt. There was born in the nineteenth century, in the biblical
villages and reformed cottages of pious England, a multitude of little Samuels
and little St. Johns, with hair curling like lambs, who, about 1840, and 1850,
became spectacled professors and founded the cult of the primitives.
That eminent theorist of Pre-Raphaelitism, Sir James Tuckett, does not shrink
from placing the Madonna of the National Gallery on a level with the
masterpieces of Christian art. "By giving to the Virgin's head," says Sir
James Tuckett, "a third of the total height of the figure, the old master
attracts the spectator's attention and keeps it directed towards the more
sublime parts of the human figure, and in particular the eyes, which we
ordinarily describe as the spiritual organs. In this picture, colouring and
design conspire to produce an ideal and mystical impression. The vermilion of
the cheeks does not recall the natural appearance of the skin; it rather seems
as if the old master has applied the roses of Paradise to the faces of the
Mother and the Child."
We see, in such a criticism as this, a shining reflection, so to speak, of the
work which it exalts; yet MacSilly, the seraphic aesthete of Edinburgh, has
expressed in a still more moving and penetrating fashion the impression
produced upon his mind by the sight of this primitive painting. "The Madonna
of Margaritone," says the revered MacSilly, "attains the transcendent end of
art. It inspires its beholders with feelings of innocence and purity; it makes
them like little children. And so true is this, that at the age of sixty-six,
after having had the joy of contemplating it closely for three hours, I felt
myself suddenly transformed into a little child. While my cab was taking me
through Trafalgar Square I kept laughing and prattling and shaking my
spectacle-case as if it were a rattle. And when the maid in my boarding-house
had served my meal I kept pouring spoonfuls of soup into my ear with all the
artlessness of childhood."
"It is by such results," adds MacSilly, "that the excellence of a work of art
Margaritone, according to Vasari, died at the age of seventy-seven,
"regretting that he had lived to see a new form of art arising and the new
artists crowned with fame."
These lines, which I translate literally, have inspired Sir James Tuckett with
what are perhaps the finest pages in his work. They form part of his "Breviary
for Aesthetes"; all the Pre-Raphaelites know them by heart. I place them here
as the most precious ornament of this book. You will agree that nothing more
sublime has been written since the days of the Hebrew prophets.
Margaritone, full of years and labours, went one day to visit the studio of a
young painter who had lately settled in the town. He noticed in the studio a
freshly painted Madonna, which, although severe and rigid, nevertheless, by a
certain exactness in the proportions and a devilish mingling of light and
shade, assumed an appearance of relief and life. At this sight the artless and
sublime worker of Arezzo perceived with horror what the future of painting
would be. With his brow clasped in his hands he exclaimed:
"What things of shame does not this figure show forth! I discern in it the end
of that Christian art which paints the soul and inspires the beholder with an
ardent desire for heaven. Future painters will not restrain themselves as does
this one to portraying on the side of a wall or on a wooden panel the cursed
matter of which our bodies are formed; they will celebrate and glorify it.
They will clothe their figures with dangerous appearances of flesh, and these
figures will seem like real persons. Their bodies will be seen; their forms
will appear through their clothing. St. Magdalen will have a bosom. St. Martha
a belly, St. Barbara hips, St. Agnes buttocks; St. Sebastian will unveil his
youthful beauty, and St. George will display beneath his armour the muscular
wealth of a robust virility; apostles, confessors, doctors, and God the Father
himself will appear as ordinary beings like you and me; the angels will affect
an equivocal, ambiguous, mysterious beauty which will trouble hearts. What
desire for heaven will these representations impart? None; but from them you
will learn to take pleasure in the forms of terrestrial life. Where will
painters stop in their indiscreet inquiries? They will stop nowhere. They will
go so far as to show men and women naked like the idols of the Romans. There
will be a sacred art and a profane art, and the sacred art will not be less
profane than the other."
"Get ye behind me, demons," exclaimed the old master. For in prophetic vision
he saw the righteous and the saints assuming the appearance of melancholy
athletes. He saw Apollos playing the lute on a flowery hill, in the midst of
the Muses wearing light tunics. He saw Venuses lying under shady myrtles and
the Danae exposing their charming sides to the golden rain. He saw pictures of
Jesus under the pillar's of the temple amidst patricians, fair ladies,
musicians, pages, negroes, dogs, and parrots. He saw in an inextricable
confusion of human limbs, outspread wings, and flying draperies, crowds of
tumultuous Nativities, opulent Holy Families, emphatic Crucifixions. He saw
St. Catherines, St. Barbaras, St. Agneses humiliating patricians by the
sumptuousness of their velvets, their brocades, and their pearls, and by the
splendour of their breasts. He saw Auroras scattering roses, and a multitude
of naked Dianas and Nymphs surprised on the banks of retired streams. And the
great Margaritone died, strangled by so horrible a presentiment of the
Renaissance and the Bolognese School.
We possess a precious monument of the Penguin literature of the fifteenth
century. It is a narrative of a journey to hell undertaken by the monk
Marbodius, of the order of St. Benedict, who professed a fervent admiration
for the poet Virgil. This narrative, written in fairly good Latin, has been
published by M. du Clos des Limes. It is here translated for the first time. I
believe that I am doing a service to my fellow-countrymen in making them
acquainted with these pages, though doubtless they are far from forming a
unique example of this class of mediaeval Latin literature. Among the fictions
that may be compared with them we may mention "The Voyage of St. Brendan,"
"The Vision of Albericus," and "St. Patrick's Purgatory," imaginary
descriptions, like Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy," of the supposed abode of
the dead. The narrative of Marbodius is one of the latest works dealing with
this theme, but it is not the least singular.
THE DESCENT OF MARBODIUS INTO HELL
In the fourteen hundred and fifty-third year of the incarnation of the Son of
God, a few days before the enemies of the Cross entered the city of Helena and
the great Constantine, it was given to me, Brother Marbodius, an unworthy
monk, to see and to hear what none had hitherto seen or heard. I have composed
a faithful narrative of those things so that their memory may not perish with
me, for man's time is short.
On the first day of May in the aforesaid year, at the hour of vespers, I was
seated in the Abbey of Corrigan on a stone in the cloisters and, as my custom
was, I read the verses of the poet whom I love best of all, Virgil, who has
sung of the labours: of the field, of shepherds, and of heroes. Evening was
hanging its purple folds from the arches of the cloisters and in a voice of
emotion I was murmuring the verses which describe how Dido, the Phoenician
queen, wanders with her ever-bleeding wound beneath the myrtles of hell. At
that moment Brother Hilary happened to pass by, followed by Brother Jacinth,
Brought up in the barbarous ages before the resurrection of the Muses, Brother
Hilary has not been initiated into the wisdom of the ancients; nevertheless,
the poetry of the Mantuan has, like a subtle torch, shed some gleams of light
into his understanding.
"Brother Marbodius," he asked me, "do those verses that you utter with
swelling breast and sparkling eyes--do they belong to that great 'Aeneid' from
which morning or evening your glances are never withheld?"
I answered that I was reading in Virgil how the son of Anchises perceived Dido
like a moon behind the foliage.*
* The text runs
. . .qualem primo qui syrgere mense
Aut videt aut vidisse putat per nubila lunam.
Brother Marbodius, by a strange misunderstanding, substitutes an entirely
different image for the one created by the poet.
"Brother Marbodius," he replied, "I am certain that on all occasions Virgil
gives expression to wise maxims and profound thoughts. But the songs that he
modulates on his Syracusan flute hold such a lofty meaning and such exalted
doctrine that I am continually puzzled by them."
"Take care, father," cried Brother Jacinth, in an agitated voice. "Virgil was
a magician who wrought marvels by the help of demons. It is thus he pierced
through a mountain near Naples and fashioned a bronze horse that had power to
heal all the diseases of horses. He was a necromancer, and there is still
shown, in a certain town in Italy, the mirror in which he made the dead
appear. And yet a woman deceived this great sorcerer. A Neapolitan courtesan
invited him to hoist himself up to her window in the basket that was used to
bring the provisions, and she left him all night suspended between two
Brother Hilary did not appear to hear these observations.
"Virgil is a prophet," he replied, "and a prophet who leaves far behind him
the sibyls with their sacred verses as well as the daughter of King Priam, and
that great diviner of future things, Plato of Athens. You will find in the
fourth of his Syracusan cantos the birth of our Lord foretold in a lancune
that seems of heaven rather than of earth.* In the time of my early studies,
when I read for the first time JAM REDIT ET VIRGO, I felt myself bathed in an
infinite delight, but I immediately experienced intense grief at the thought
that, for ever deprived of the presence of God, the author of this prophetic
verse, the noblest that has come from human lips, was pining among the heathen
in eternal darkness. This cruel thought did not leave me. It pursued me even
in my studies, my prayers, my meditations, and my ascetic labours. Thinkin
that Virgil was deprived of the sight of God and that possibly he might even
be suffering the fate of the reprobate in hell, I could neither enjoy peace
nor rest, and I went so far as to exclaim several times a day with my arms
outstretched to heaven:
" 'Reveal to me, O Lord, the lot thou hast assigned to him who sang on earth
as the angels sing in heaven!'
*Three centuries before the epoch in which our Marbodius lived the words--
Maro, vates gentilium
Da Christo testimonium
Were sung in the churches on Christmas Day.
"After some years my anguish ceased when I read in an old book that the great
apostle St. Paul, who called the Gentiles into the Church of Christ, went to
Naples and sanctified with his tears the tomb of the prince of poets.* This
was some ground for believing that Virgil, like the Emperor Trajan, was
admitted to Paradise because even in error he had a presentiment of the truth.
We are not compelled to believe it, but I can easily persuade myself that it
*Ad maronis mausoleum
Ductus, fudit super eum
Piae rorem lacrymae.
Quem te, intuit, reddidissem,
Si te vivum invenissem
Having thus spoken, old Hilary wished me the peace of a holy night and went
away with Brother Jacinth.
I resumed the delightful study of my poet. Book in hand, I meditated upon the
way in which those whom Love destroys with its cruel malady wander through the
secret paths in the depth of the myrtle forest, and, as I meditated, the
quivering reflections of the stars came and mingled with those of the leafless
eglantines in the waters of the cloister fountain. Suddenly the lights and the
perfumes and the stillness of the sky were overwhelmed, a fierce Northwind
charged with storm and darkness burst roaring upon me. It lifted me up and
carried me like a wisp of straw over fields, cities, rivers, and mountains,
and through the midst of thunder-clouds, during a long night composed of a
whole series of nights and days. And when, after this prolonged and cruel
rage, the hurricane was at last stilled, I found myself far from my native
land at the bottom of a valley bordered by cypress trees. Then a woman of wild
beauty, trailing long garments behind her, approached me. She placed her left
hand on my shoulder, and, pointing her right arm to an oak with thick foliage:
"Look!" said she to me.
Immediately I recognised the Sibyl who guards the sacred wood of Avernus, and
I discerned the fair Proserpine's beautiful golden twig amongst the tufted
boughs of the tree to which her finger pointed.
"O prophetic Virgin," I exclaimed, "thou hast comprehended my desire and thou
hast satisfied it in this way. Thou hast revealed to me the tree that bears
the shining twig without which none can enter alive into the dwelling-place of
the dead. And in truth, eagerly did I long to converse with the shade of
Having said this, I snatched the golden branch from its ancient trunk and I
advanced without fear into the smoking gulf that leads to the miry banks of
the Styx, upon which the shades are tossed about like dead leaves. At sight of
the branch dedicated to Proserpine, Charon took me in his bark, which groaned
beneath my weight, and I alighted on the shores of the dead, and was greeted
by the mute baying of the threefold Cerberus. I pretended to throw the shade
of a stone at him, and the vain monster fled into his cave. There, amidst the
rushes, wandered the souls of those children whose eyes had but opened and
shut to the kindly light of day, and there in a gloomy cavern Minos judges
men. I penetrated into the myrtle wood in which the victims of love wander
languishing, Phaedra, Procris, the sad Eriphyle, Evadne, Pasiphae, Laodamia,
and Cenis, and the Phoenician Dido. Then I went through the dusty plains
reserved for famous warriors. Beyond them open two ways. That to the left
leads to Tartarus, the abode of the wicked. I took that to the right, which
leads to Elysium and to the dwellings of Dis. Having hung the sacred branch at
the goddess's door, I reached pleasant fields flooded with purple light. The
shades of philosophers and poets hold grave converse there. The Graces and the
Muses formed sprightly choirs upon the grass. Old Homer sang, accompanying
himself upon his rustic lyre. His eyes were closed, but divine images shone
upon his lips. I saw Solon, Democritus, and Pythagoras watching the games of
the young men in the meadow, and, through the foliage of an ancient laurel, I
perceived also Hesiod, Orpheus, the melancholy Euripides, and the masculine
Sappho. I passed and recognised, as they sat on the bank of a fresh rivulet,
the poet Horace, Varius, Gallus, and Lycoris. A little apart, leaning against
the trunk of a dark holm-oak, Virgil was gazing pensively at the grove. Of
lofty stature, though spare, he still preserved that swarthy complexion, that
rustic air, that negligent bearing, and unpolished appearance which during his
lifetime concealed his genius. I saluted him piously and remained for a long
time without speech.
At last when my halting voice could proceed out of my throat:
"O thou, so dear to the Ausonian Muses, thou honour of the Latin name,
Virgil," cried I, "it is through thee I have known what beauty is, it is
through thee I have known what the tables of the gods and the beds of the
goddesses are like. Suffer the praises of the humblest of thy adorers."
"Arise, stranger," answered the divine poet. "I perceive that thou art a
living being among the shades, and that thy body treads down the grass in this
eternal evening. Thou art not the first man who has descended before his death
into these dwellings, although all intercourse between us and the living is
difficult. But cease from praise; I do not like eulogies and the confused
sounds of glory have always offended my ears. That is why I fled from Rome,
where I was known to the idle and curious, and laboured in the solitude of my
beloved Parthenope. And then I am not so convinced that the men of thy
generation understand my verses that should be gratified by thy praises. Who
"I am called Marbodius of the Kingdom of Alca. I made my profession in the
Abbey of Corrigan. I read thy poems by day and I read them by night. It is
thee whom I have come to see in Hell; I was impatient to know what thy fate
was. On earth the learned often dispute about it. Some hold it probable that,
having lived under the power of demons, thou art now burning in
inextinguishable flames; others, more cautious, pronounce no opinion,
believing that all which is said concerning the dead is uncertain and full of
lies; several, though not in truth the ablest, maintain that, because thou
didst elevate the tone of the Sicilian Muses and foretell that a new progeny
would descend from heaven, thou wert admitted, like the Emperor Trajan, to
enjoy eternal blessedness in the Christian heaven."
"Thou seest that such is not the case," answered the shade, smiling.
"I meet thee in truth, O Virgil, among the heroes and sages in those Elysian
Fields which thou thyself hast described. Thus, contrary to what several on
earth believe, no one has come to seek thee on the part of Him who reigns on
After a rather long silence:
"I will conceal nought from thee. He sent for me; one of his messengers, a
simple man, came to say that I was expected, and that, although I had not been
initiated into their mysteries, in consideration of my prophetic verses, a
place had been reserved for me among those of the new sect. But I refused to
accept that invitation; I had no desire to change my lace. I did so not
because I share the admiration of the Greeks for the Elysian fields, or
because I taste here those joys which caused Proserpine to lose the
remembrance of her mother. I never believed much myself in what I say about
these things in the 'Aeneid.' I was instructed by philosophers and men of
science and I had a correct foreboding of the truth. Life in hell is extremely
attenuated; we feel neither pleasure nor pain; we are as if we were not. The
dead have no existence here except such as the living lend them. Nevertheless
I prefer to remain here."
"But what reason didst thou give, O Virgil, for so strange a refusal?"
"I gave excellent ones. I said to the messenger of the god that I did not
deserve the honour he brought me, and that a meaning had been given to my
verses which they did not bear. In truth I have not in my fourth Eclogue
betrayed the faith of my ancestors. Some ignorant Jews alone have interpreted
in favour of a barbarian god a verse which celebrates the return of the golden
age predicted by the Sibylline oracles. I excused myself then on the ground
that I could not occupy a place which was destined for me in error and to
which I recognised that I had no right. Then I alleged my disposition and my
tastes, which do not accord with the customs of the new heavens.
"'I am not unsociable,' said I to this man. 'I have shown in life a
complaisant and easy disposition, although the extreme simplicity of my habits
caused me to be suspected of avarice. I kept nothing for myself alone. My
library was open to all and I have conformed my conduct to that fine saying of
Euripides, "all ought to be common among friends." Those praises that seemed
obtrusive when I myself received them became agreeable to me when addressed to
Varius or to Macer. But at bottom I am rustic and uncultivated. I take
pleasure in the society of animals; I was so zealous in observing them and
took so much care of them that I was regarded, not altogether wrongly, as a
good veterinary surgeon. I am told that the people of thy sect claim an
immortal soul for themselves, but refuse one to the animals. That is a piece
of nonsense that makes me doubt their judgment. Perhaps I love the flocks and
the shepherds a little too much. That would not seem right amongst you. There
is a maxim to which I endeavour to conform my actions, "Nothing too much."
More even than my feeble health my philosophy teaches me to use things with
measure. I am sober; a lettuce and some olives with a drop of Falernian wine
form all my meals. I have, indeed, to some extent gone with strange women, but
I have not delayed over long in taverns to watch the young Syrians dance to
the sound of the crotalum.* But if I have restrained my desires it was for my
own satisfaction and for the sake of good discipline. To fear pleasure and to
fly from joy appears to me the worst insult that one can offer to nature. I am
assured that during their lives certain of the elect of thy god abstained from
food and avoided women through love of asceticism, and voluntarily exposed
themselves to useless sufferings. I should be afraid of meeting those,
criminals whose frenzy horrifies me. A poet must not be asked to attach
himself too strictly to any scientific or moral doctrine. Moreover, I am a
Roman, and the Romans, unlike the Greeks, are unable to pursue profound
speculations in a subtle manner. If they adopt a philosophy it is above all in
order to derive some practical advantages from it. Siro, who enjoyed great
renown among us, taught me the system of Epicurus and thus freed me from vain
terrors and turned me aside from the cruelties to which religion persuades
ignorant men. I have embraced the views of Pythagoras concerning the souls of
men and animals, both of which are of divine essence; this invites us to look
upon ourselves without pride and without shame. I have learnt from the
Alexandrines how the earth, at first soft and without form, hardened in
proportion as Nereus withdrew himself from it to dig his humid dwellings; I
have learned how things were formed insensibly; in what manner the rains,
falling from the burdened clouds, nourished the silent forests, and by what
progress a few animals at last began to wander over the nameless mountains. I
could not accustom myself to your cosmogony either, for it seems to me fitter
for a camel-driver on the Syrian sands than for a disciple of Aristarchus of
Samos. And what would become of me in the abode of your beatitude if I did not
find there my friends, my ancestors, my masters, and my gods, and if it is not
given to me to see Rhea's noble son, or Venus, mother of Aeneas, with her
winning smile, or Pan, or the young Dryads, or the Sylvans, or old Silenus,
with his face stained by Aegle's purple mulberries.' These are the reasons
which I begged that simple man to plead before the successor of Jupiter."
* This phrase seems to indicate that, if one is to believe Macrobius, the
"Copa" is by Virgil.
"And since then, O great shade, thou hast received no other messages?"
"I have received none."
"To console themselves for thy absence, O Virgil, they have three poets,
Commodianus, Prudentius, and Fortunatus, who were all three born in those dark
plays when neither prosody nor grammar were known. But tell me, O Mantuan,
hast thou never received other intelligence of the God whose company thou
didst so deliberately refuse?"
"Never that I remember."
"Hast thou not told me that I am not the first who descended alive into these
abodes and presented himself before thee?"
"Thou dost remind me of it. A century and a half ago, or so it seems to me (it
is difficult to reckon days and years amid the shades), my profound peace was
intruded upon by a strange visitor. As I was wandering beneath the gloomy
foliage that borders the Styx, I saw rising before me a human form more opaque
and darker than that of the inhabitants of these shores. I recognised a living
person. He was of high stature, thin, with an aquiline nose, sharp chin, and
hollow cheeks. His dark eyes shot forth fire; a red hood girt with a crown of
laurels bound his lean brows. His bones pierced through the tight brown cloak
that descended to his heels. He saluted me with deference, tempered by a sort
of fierce pride, and addressed me in a speech more obscure and incorrect than
that of those Gauls with whom the divine Julius filled both his legions and
the Curia. At last I understood that he had been born near Fiesole, in an
ancient Etruscan colony that Sulla had founded on the banks of the Arno, and
which had prospered; that he had obtained municipal honours, but that he had
thrown himself vehemently into the sanguinary quarrels which arose between the
senate, the knights, and the people, that he had been defeated and banished,
and now he wandered in exile throughout the world. He described Italy to me as
distracted by more wars and discords than in the time of my youth, and as
sighing anew for a second Augustus. I pitied his misfortune, remembering what
I myself had formerly endured.
"An audacious spirit unceasingly disquieted him, and his mind harboured great
thoughts, but alas! his rudeness and ignorance displayed the triumph of
barbarism. He knew neither poetry, nor science, nor even the tongue of the
Greeks, and he was ignorant, too, of the ancient traditions concerning the
origin of the world and the nature of the gods. He bravely repeated fables
which in my time would have brought smiles to the little children who were not
yet old enough to pay for admission at the baths. The vulgar easily believe in
monsters. The Etruscans especially peopled hell with demons, hideous as a sick
man's dreams. That they have not abandoned their childish imaginings after so
many centuries is explained by the continuation and progress of ignorance and
misery, but that one of their magistrates whose mind is raised above the
common level should share these popular illusions and should be frightened by
the hideous demons that the inhabitants of that country painted on the walls
of their tombs in the time of Porsena--that is something which might sadden
even a sage. My Etruscan visitor repeated verses to me which he had composed
in a new dialect, called by him the vulgar tongue, the sense of which I could
not understand. My ears were more surprised than charmed as I heard him repeat
the same sound three or four times at regular intervals in his efforts to mark
the rhythm. That artifice did not seem ingenious to me; but it is not for the
dead to judge of novelties.
"But I do not reproach this colonist of Sulla, born in an unhappy time, for
making inharmonious verses or for being, if it be possible, as bad a poet as
Bavius or Maevius. I have grievances against him which touch me more closely.
The thing is monstrous and scarcely credible, but when this man returned to
earth he disseminated the most odious lies about me. He affirmed in several
passages of his barbarous poems that I had served him as a guide in the modern
Tartarus, a place I know nothing of. He insolently proclaimed that I had
spoken of the gods of Rome as false and lying gods, and that I held as the
true God the present successor of Jupiter. Friend, when thou art restored to
the kindly light of day and beholdest again thy native land, contradict those
abominable falsehoods. Say to thy people that the singer of the pious Aeneas
has never worshipped the god of the Jews. I am assured that his power is
declining and that his approaching fall is manifested by undoubted
indications. This news would give me some pleasure if one could rejoice in
these abodes. where we feel neither fears nor desires."
He spoke, and with a gesture of farewell he went away. I beheld his. shade
gliding over the asphodels without bending their stalks. I saw that it became
fainter and vaguer as it receded farther from me, and it vanished before it
reached the wood of evergreen laurels. Then I understood the meaning of the
words, "The dead have no life, but that which the living lend them," and I
walked slowly through the pale meadow to the gate of horn.
I affirm that all in this writing is true.*
* There is in Marbodius's narrative a passage very worthy of notice, viz.,
that in which the monk of Corrigan describes Dante Alighieri such as we
picture him to ourselves to-day. The miniatures in a very old manuscript of
the "Divine Comedy," the "Codex Venetianus," represent the poet as a little
fat man clad in a short tunic, the skirts of which fall above his knees. As
for Virgil, he still wears the philosophical beard, in the wood-engravings of
the sixteenth century.
One would not have thought either that Marbodius, or even Virgil, could have
known the Etruscan tombs of Chiusi and Corneto, where, in fact, there are
horrible and burlesque devils closely resembling those of Orcagna.
Nevertheless, the authenticity of the "Descent of Marbodius into Hell" is
indisputable. M. du Clos des Lunes has firmly established it. To doubt it
would be to doubt palaeography itself.
VII. SIGNS IN THE MOON
At that time, whilst Penguinia was still plunged in ignorance and barbarism,
Giles Bird-catcher, a Franciscan monk, known by his writings under the name
Aegidius Aucupis, devoted himself with indefatigable zeal to the study of
letters and the sciences. He gave his nights to mathematics and music, which
he called the two adorable sisters, the harmonious daughters of Number and
Imagination. He was versed in medicine and astrology. He was suspected of
practising magic, and it seemed true that he wrought metamorphoses and
discovered hidden things.
The monks of his convent, finding in his cell Greek books which they could not
read, imagined them to be conjuring-books, and denounced their too learned
brother as a wizard. Aegidius Aucupis fled, and reached the island of Ireland,
where he lived for thirty studious years. He went from monastery to monastery,
searching for and copying the Greek and Latin manuscripts which they
contained. He also studied physics and alchemy. He acquired a universal
knowledge and discovered notable secrets concerning animals, plants, and
stones. He was found one day in the company of a very beautiful woman who sang
to her own accompaniment on the lute, and who was afterwards discovered to be
a machine which he had himself constructed.
He often crossed the Irish Sea to go into the land of Wales and to visit the
libraries of the monasteries there. During one of these crossings, as he
remained during the night on the bridge of the ship, he saw beneath the waters
two sturgeons swimming side by side. He had very good hearing and he knew the
language of fishes. Now he heard one of the sturgeons say to the other:
"The man in the moon, whom we have often seen carrying fagots on his
shoulders, has fallen into the sea.
And the other sturgeon said in its turn:
"And in the silver disc there will be seen the image of two lovers kissing
each other on the mouth."
Some years later, having returned to his native country, Aegidius Aucupis
found that ancient learning had been restored. Manners had softened. Men no
longer pursued the nymphs of the fountains, of the woods, and of the mountains
with their insults. They placed images of the Muses and of the modest Graces
in their gardens, and they rendered her former honours to the Goddess with
ambrosial lips, the joy of men and gods. They were becoming reconciled to
nature. They trampled vain terrors beneath their feet and raised their eyes to
heaven without fearing, as they formerly did, to read signs of anger and
threats of damnation in the skies.
At this spectacle Aegidius Aucupis remembered what the two sturgeons of the
sea of Erin had foretold.
BOOK IV. MODERN TIMES: TRINCO
I. MOTHER ROUQUIN
Aegidius Aucupis, the Erasmus of the Penguins, was not mistaken; his age was
an age of free inquiry. But that great man mistook the elegances of the
humanists for softness of manners, and he did not foresee the effects that the
awaking of intelligence would have amongst the Penguins. It brought about the
religious Reformation; Catholics massacred Protestants and Protestants
massacred Catholics. Such were the first results of liberty of thought. The
Catholics prevailed in Penguinia. But the spirit of inquiry had penetrated
among them without their knowing it. They joined reason to faith, and claimed
that religion had been divested of the superstitious practices that
dishonoured it, just as in later days the booths that the cobblers, hucksters,
and dealers in old clothes had built against the walls of the cathedrals were
cleared away. The word, legend, which at first indicated what the faithful
ought to read, soon suggested the idea of pious fables and childish tales.
The saints had to suffer from this state of mind. An obscure canon called
Princeteau, a very austere and crabbed man, designated so great a number of
them as not worthy of having their days observed, that he was surnamed the
exposer of the saints. He did not think, for instance, that if St. Margaret's
prayer were applied as a poultice to a woman in travail that the pains of
childbirth would be softened.
Even the venerable patron saint of Penguinia did not escape his rigid
criticism. This is what he says of her in his "Antiquities of Alca":
"Nothing is more uncertain than the history, or even the existence, of St.
Orberosia. An ancient anonymous annalist, a monk of Dombes, relates that a
woman called Orberosia was possessed by the devil in a cavern where, even down
to his own days, the little boys and girls of the village used to play at a
sort of game representing the devil and the fair Orberosia. He adds that this
woman became the concubine of a horrible dragon, who ravaged the country. Such
a statement is hardly credible, but the history of Orberosia, as it has since
been related, seems hardly more worthy of belief. The life of that saint by
the Abbot Simplicissimus is three hundred years later than the pretended
events which it relates and that author shows himself excessively credulous
and devoid of all critical faculty."
Suspicion attacked even the supernatural origin of the Penguins. The historian
Ovidius Capito went so far as to deny the miracle of their transformation. He
thus begins his "Annals of Penguinia":
"A dense obscurity envelopes this history, and it would be no exaggeration to
say that it is a tissue of puerile fables and popular tales. The Penguins
claim that they are descended from birds who were baptized by St. Mael and
whom God changed into men at the intercession of that glorious apostle. They
hold that, situated at first in the frozen ocean, their island, floating like
Delos, was brought to anchor in these heaven-favoured seas, of which it is
to-day the queen. I conclude that this myth is a reminiscence of the ancient
migrations of the Penguins."
In the following century, which was that of the philosophers, scepticism
became still more acute. No further evidence of it is needed than the
following celebrated passage from the "Moral Essay":
"Arriving we know not from whence (for indeed their origins are not very
clear), and successively invaded and conquered by four or five peoples from
the north, south, east, and west, miscegenated, interbred, amalgamated, and
commingled, the Penguins boast of the purity of their race, and with justice,
for they have become a pure race. This mixture of all mankind, red, black,
yellow, and white, round-headed and long-headed, as formed in the course of
ages a fairly homogeneous human family, and one which is recognisable by
certain features due to a community of life and customs.
"This idea that they belong to the best race in the world, and that they are
its finest family, inspires them with noble pride, indomitable courage, and a
hatred for the human race.
"The life of a people is but a succession of miseries, crimes, and follies.
This is true of the Penguin nation, as of all other nations. Save for this
exception its history is admirable from beginning to end."
The two classic ages of the Penguins are too well-known for me to lay stress
upon them. But what has not been sufficiently noticed is the way in which the
rationalist theologians such as Canon Princeteau called into existence the
unbelievers of the succeeding age. The former employed their reason to destroy
what did not seem to them, essential to their religion; they only left
untouched the most rigid article of faith. Their intellectual successors,
being taught by them how to make use of science and reason, employed them
against whatever beliefs remained. Thus rational theology engendered natural
That is why (if I may turn from the Penguins of former days to the Sovereign
Pontiff, who, to-day governs the universal Church) we cannot admire too
greatly the wisdom of Pope Pius X. in condemning the study of exegesis as
contrary to revealed truth, fatal to sound theological doctrine, and deadly to
the faith. Those clerics who maintain the rights of science in opposition to
him are pernicious doctors and pestilent teachers, and the faithful who
approve of them are lacking in either mental or moral ballast.
At the end of the age of philosophers, the ancient kingdom of Penguinia was
utterly destroyed, the king put to death, the privileges of the nobles
abolished, and a Republic proclaimed in the midst of public misfortunes and
while a terrible war was raging. The assembly which then governed Penguinia
ordered all the metal articles contained in the churches to be melted down.
The patriots even desecrated the tombs of the kings. It is said that when the
tomb of Draco the Great was opened, that king presented an appearance as black
as ebony and so majestic that those who profaned his corpse fled in terror.
According to other accounts, these churlish men insulted him by putting a pipe
in his mouth and derisively offering him a glass of wine.
On the seventeenth day of the month of Mayflowers, the shrine of St.
Orberosia, which had for five hundred years been exposed to the veneration of
the faithful in the Church of St. Mael, was transported into the town-hall and
submitted to the examination of a jury of experts appointed by the
municipality. It was made of gilded copper in shape like the nave of a church,
entirely covered with enamels and decorated with precious stones, which latter
were perceived to be false. The chapter in its foresight had removed the
rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and great balls of rock-crystal, and had
substituted pieces of glass in their place. It contained only a little dust
and a piece of old linen, which were thrown into a great fire that had been
lighted on the Place de Greve to burn the relics of the saints. The people
danced around it singing patriotic songs.
From the threshold of their booth, which leant against the town-hall, a man
called Rouquin and his wife were watching this group of madmen. Rouquin
clipped dogs and gelded cats; he also frequented the inns. His wife was a
ragpicker and a bawd, but she had plenty of shrewdness.
"You see, Rouquin," said she to her man, "they are committing a sacrilege.
They will repent of it."
"You know nothing about it, wife," answered Rouquin; "they, have become
philosophers, and when one is once a philosopher he is a philosopher for
"I tell you, Rouquin, that sooner or later they will regret what they are
doing to-day. They ill-treat the saints because they have not helped them
enough, but for all that the quails won't fall ready cooked into their mouths.
They will soon find themselves as badly off as before, and when they have put
out their tongues for enough they will become pious again. Sooner than people
think the day will come when Penguinia will again begin to honour her blessed
patron. Rouquin, it would be a good thing, in readiness for that day, if we
kept a handful of ashes and some rags and bones in an old pot in our lodgings.
We will say that they are the relics of St. Orberosia and that we have saved
them from the flames at the peril of our lives. I am greatly mistaken if we
don't get honour and profit out of them. That good action might be worth a
place from the Cure to sell tapers and hire chairs in the chapel of St.
On that same day Mother Rouquin took home with her a little ashes and some
bones, and put them in an old jam-pot in her cupboard.
The sovereign Nation had taken possession of the lands of the nobility and
clergy to sell them at a low price to the middle classes and the peasants. The
middle classes and the peasants thought that the revolution was a good thing
for acquiring lands and a bad one for retaining them.
The legislators of the Republic made terrible laws for the defence of
property, and decreed death to anyone who should propose a division of wealth.
But that did not avail the Republic. The peasants who had become proprietors
bethought themselves that though it had made them rich, the Republic had
nevertheless caused a disturbance to wealth, and they desired a system more
respectful of private property and more capable of assuring the permanence of
the new institutions.
They had not long to wait. The Republic, like Agrippina, bore her destroyer in
Having great wars to carry on, it created military forces, and these were
destined both to save it and to destroy it. Its legislators thought they could
restrain their generals by the fear of punishment, but if they sometimes cut
off the heads of unlucky soldiers they could not do the same to the fortunate
soldiers who obtained over it the advantages of having saved its existence.
In the enthusiasm of victory the renovated Penguins delivered themselves up to
a dragon, more terrible than that of their fables, who, like a stork amongst
frogs, devoured them for fourteen years with his insatiable beak.
Half a century after the reign of the new dragon a young Maharajah of Malay,
called Djambi, desirous, like the Scythian Anacharsis, of instructing himself
by travel, visited Penguinia and wrote an interesting account of his travels.
I transcribe the first page of his account:
ACCOUNT OF THE TRAVELS OF YOUNG DJAMBI IN PENGUINIA
After a voyage of ninety days I landed at the vast and deserted port of the
Penguins and travelled over untilled fields to their ruined capital.
Surrounded by ramparts and full of barracks and arsenals it had a martial
though desolate appearance. Feeble and crippled men wandered proudly through
the streets, wearing old uniforms and carrying rusty weapons.
"What do you want?" I was rudely asked at the gate of the city by a soldier
whose moustaches pointed to the skies.
"Sir," I answered, "I come as an inquirer to visit this island."
"It is not an island," replied the soldier.
"What!" I exclaimed, "Penguin Island is not an island?"
"No, sir, it is an insula. It was formerly called an island, but for a century
it has been decreed that it shall bear the name of insula. It is the only
insula in the whole universe. Have you a passport?"
"Here it is."
"Go and get it signed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs."
A lame guide who conducted me came to a pause in a vast square.
"The insula," said he, "has given birth, as you know, to Trinco, the greatest
genius of the universe, whose statue you see before you. That obelisk standing
to your right commemorates Trinco's birth; the column that rises to your left
has Trinco crowned with a diadem upon its summit. You see here the triumphal
arch dedicated to the glory of Trinco and his family."
"What extraordinary feat has Trinco performed?" I asked.
"That is nothing extraordinary. We Malayans make war constantly."
"That may be, but Trinco is the greatest warrior of all countries and all
times. There never existed a greater conqueror than he. As you anchored in our
port you saw to the east a volcanic island called Ampelophoria, shaped like a
cone, and of small size, but renowned for its wines. And to the west a larger
island which raises to the sky a long range of sharp teeth; for this reason it
is called the Dog's Jaws. It is rich in copper mines. We possessed both before
Trinco's reign and they were the boundaries of our empire. Trinco extended the
Penguin dominion over the Archipelago of the Turquoises and the Green
Continent, subdued the gloomy Porpoises, and planted his flag amid the
icebergs of the Pole and on the burning sands of the African deserts. He
raised troops in all the countries he conquered, and when his armies marched
past in the wake of our own light infantry, our island grenadiers, our
hussars, our dragoons, our artillery, and our engineers there were to be seen
yellow soldiers looking in their blue armour like crayfish standing on their
tails; red men with parrots' plumes, tattooed with solar and Phallic emblems,
and with quivers of poisoned arrows resounding on their backs; naked blacks
armed only with their teeth and nails; pygmies riding on cranes; gorillas
carrying trunks of trees and led by an old ape who wore upon his hairy breast
the cross of the Legion of Honour. And all those troops, led to Trinco's
banner by the most ardent patriotism, flew on from victory to victory, and in
thirty years of war Trinco conquered half the known world."
"What!" cried I, "you possess half of the world."
"Trinco conquered it for us, and Trinco lost it to us. As great in his defeats
as in his victories he surrendered all that he had conquered. He even allowed
those two islands we possessed before his time, Ampelophoria and the Dog's
Jaws, to be taken from us. He left Penguinia impoverished and depopulated. The
flower of the insula perished in his wars. At the time of his fall there were
left in our country none but the hunchbacks and cripples from whom we are
descended. But he gave us glory."
"He made you pay dearly for it!"
"Glory never costs too much," replied my guide.
III. THE JOURNEY OF DOCTOR OBNUBILE
After a succession of amazing vicissitudes, the memory of which is in great
part lost by the wrongs of time and the bad style of historians, the Penguins
established the government of the Penguins by themselves. They elected a diet
or assembly, and invested it with the privilege of naming the Head of the
State. The latter, chosen from among the simple Penguins, wore no formidable
monster's crest upon his head and exercised no absolute authority over the
people. He was himself subject to the laws of the nation. He was not given the
title of king, and no ordinal number followed his name. He bore such names as
Paturle, Janvion, Traffaldin, Coquenhot, and Bredouille. These magistrates did
not make war. They were not suited for that.
The new state received the name of Public Thing or Republic. Its partisans
were called republicanists or republicans. They were also named Thingmongers
and sometimes Scamps, but this latter name was taken in ill part.
The Penguin democracy did not itself govern. It obeyed a financial oligarchy
which formed opinion by means of the newspapers, and held in its hands the
representatives, the ministers, and the president. It controlled the finances
of the republic, and directed the foreign affairs of the country as if it were
possessed of sovereign power.
Empires and kingdoms in those days kept up enormous fleets. Penguinia,
compelled to do as they did, sank under the pressure of her armaments.
Everybody deplored or pretended to deplore so grievous a necessity. However,
the rich, and those engaged in business or affairs, submitted to it with a
good heart through a spirit of patriotism, and because they counted on the
soldiers and sailors to defend their goods at home and to acquire markets and
territories abroad. The great manufacturers encouraged the making of cannons
and ships through a zeal for the national defence and in order to obtain
orders. Among the citizens of middle rank and of the liberal professions some
resigned themselves to this state of affairs without complaining, believing
that it would last for ever; others waited impatiently for its end and thought
they might be able to lead the powers to a simultaneous disarmament.
The illustrious Professor Obnubile belonged to this latter class.
"War," said he, "is a barbarity to which the progress of civilization will put
an end. The great democracies are pacific and will soon impose their will upon
Professor Obnubile, who had for sixty years led a solitary and retired life in
his laboratory, whither external noises did not penetrate, resolved to observe
the spirit of the peoples for himself. He began his studies with the greatest
of all democracies and set sail for New Atlantis.
After a voyage of fifteen days his steamer entered, during the night, the
harbour of Titanport, where thousands of ships were anchored. An iron bridge
thrown across the water and shining with lights, stretched between two piers
so far apart that Professor Obnubile imagined he was sailing on the seas of
Saturn and that he saw the marvellous ring which girds the planet of the Old
Man. And this immense conduit bore upon it more than a quarter of the wealth
of the world. The learned Penguin, having disembarked, was waited on by
automatons in a hotel forty-eight stories high. Then he took the great railway
that led to Gigantopolis, the capital of New Atlantis. In the train there were
restaurants, gaming-rooms, athletic arenas, telegraphic, commercial, and
financial offices, a Protestant Church, and the printing-office of a great
newspaper, which latter the doctor was unable to read, as he did not know the
language of the New Atlantans. The train passed along the banks of great
rivers, through manufacturing cities which concealed the sky with the smoke
from their chimneys, towns black in the day, towns red at night, full of noise
by day and full of noise also by night.
"Here," thought the doctor, "is a people far too much engaged in industry and
trade to make war. I am already certain that the New Atlantans pursue a policy
of peace. For it is an axiom admitted by all economists that peace without and
peace within are necessary for the progress of commerce and industry."
As he surveyed Gigantopolis, he was confirmed in this opinion. People went
through the streets so swiftly propelled by hurry that they knocked down all
who were in their way. Obnubile was thrown down several times, but soon
succeeded in learning how to demean himself better; after an hour's walking he
himself knocked down an Atlantan.
Having reached a great square he saw the portico of a palace in the Classic
style, whose Corinthian columns reared their capitals of arborescent acanthus
seventy metres above the stylobate.
As he stood with his head thrown back admiring the building, a man of modest
appearance approached him and said in Penguin:
"I see by your dress that you are from Penguinia. I know your language; I am a
sworn interpreter. This is the Parliament palace. At the present moment the
representatives of the States are in deliberation. Would you like to be
present at the sitting?"
The doctor was brought into the hall and cast his looks upon the crowd of
legislators who were sitting on cane chairs with their feet upon their desks.
The president arose and, in the midst of general inattention, muttered rather
than spoke the following formulas which the interpreter immediately translated
to the doctor.
"The war for the opening of the Mongol markets being ended to the satisfaction
of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the finance
committee . . . ."
"Is there any opposition? . . ."
"The proposal is carried."
"The war for the opening of the markets of Third-Zealand being ended to the
satisfaction of the States, I propose that the accounts be laid before the
finance committee. . . ."
"Is there any opposition? . . ."
"The proposal is carried."
"Have I heard aright?" asked Professor Obnubile. "What? you an industrial
people and engaged in all these wars!"
"Certainly," answered the interpreter, "these are industrial wars. Peoples who
have neither commerce nor industry are not obliged to make war, but a business
people is forced to adopt a policy of conquest. The number of wars necessarily
increases with our productive activity. As soon as one of our industries fails
to find a market for its products a war is necessary to open new outlets. It
is in this way we have had a coal war, a copper war, and a cotton war. In
Third-Zealand we have killed two-thirds of the inhabitants in order to compel
the remainder to buy our umbrellas and braces."
At that moment a fat man who was sitting in the middle of the assembly
ascended the tribune.
"I claim," said he, "a war against the Emerald Republic, which insolently
contends with our pigs for the hegemony of hams and sauces in all the markets
of the universe."
"Who is that legislator?" asked Doctor Obnubile.
"He is a pig merchant."
"Is there any opposition?" said the President. "I put the proposition to the
The war against the Emerald Republic was voted with uplifted hands by a very
"What?" said Obnubile to the interpreter; "you have voted a war with that
rapidity and that indifference!"
"Oh! it is an unimportant war which will hardly cost eight million dollars."
"And men . . ."
"The men are included in the eight million dollars."
Then Doctor Obnubile bent his head in bitter reflection.
"Since wealth and civilization admit of as many causes of wars as poverty and
barbarism, since the folly and wickedness of men are incurable, there remains
but one good action to be done. The wise man will collect enough dynamite to
blow up this planet. When its fragments fly through space an imperceptible
amelioration will be accomplished in the universe and a satisfaction will be
given to the universal conscience. Moreover, this universal conscience does
BOOK V. MODERN TIMES: CHATILLON
I. THE REVEREND FATHERS AGARIC AND CORNEMUSE
Every system of government produces people who are dissatisfied. The Republic
or Public Thing produced them at first from among the nobles who had been
despoiled of their ancient privileges. These looked with regret and hope to
Prince Crucho, the last of the Draconides, a prince adorned both with the
grace of youth and the melancholy of exile. It also produced them from among
the smaller traders, who, owing to profound economic causes, no longer gained
a livelihood. They believed that this was the fault of the republic which they
had at first adored and from which each day they were now becoming more
detached. The financiers, both Christians and Jews, became by their insolence
and their cupidity the scourge of the country, which they plundered and
degraded, as well as the scandal of a government which they never troubled
either to destroy or preserve, so confident were they that they could operate
without hindrance under all governments. Nevertheless, their sympathies
inclined to absolute power as the best protection against the socialists,
their puny but ardent adversaries. And just as they imitated the habits of the
aristocrats, so they imitated their political and religious sentiments. Their
women, in particular, loved the Prince and had dreams of appearing one day at
However, the Republic retained some partisans and defenders. If it was not in
a position to believe in the fidelity of its own officials it could at least
still count on the devotion of the manual labourers, although it had never
relieved their misery. These came forth in crowds from their quarries and
their factories to defend it, and marched in long processions, gloomy,
emaciated, and sinister. They would have died for it because it had given them
Now, under the Presidency of Theodore Formose, there lived in a peaceable
suburb of Alca a monk called Agaric, who kept a school and assisted in
arranging marriages. In his school he taught fencing and riding to the sons of
old families, illustrious by their birth, but now as destitute of wealth as of
privilege. And as soon as they were old enough he married them to the
daughters of the opulent and despised caste of financiers.
Tall, thin, and dark, Agaric used to walk in deep thought, with his breviary
in his hand and his brow loaded with care, through the corridors of the school
and the alleys of the garden. His care was not limited to inculcating in his
pupils abstruse doctrines and mechanical precepts and to endowing them
afterwards with legitimate and rich wives. He entertained political designs
and pursued the realisation of a gigantic plan. His thought of thoughts and
labour of labours was to overthrow the Republic. He was not moved to this by
any personal interest. He believed that a democratic state was opposed to the
holy society to which body and soul he belonged. And all the other monks, his
brethren, thought the same. The Republic was perpetually at strife with the
congregation of monks and the assembly of the faithful. True, to plot the
death of the new government was a difficult and perilous enterprise. Still,
Agaric was in a position to carry on a formidable conspiracy. At that epoch,
when the clergy guided the superior classes of the Penguins, this monk
exercised a tremendous influence over the aristocracy of Alca.
All the young men whom he had brought up waited only for a favourable moment
to march against the popular power. The sons of the ancient families did not
practise the arts or engage in business. They were almost all soldiers and
served the Republic. They served it, but they did not love it; they regretted
the dragon's crest. And the fair Jewesses shared in these regrets in order
that they might be taken for Christians.
One July as he was walking in a suburban street which ended in some dusty
fields, Agaric heard groans coming from a moss-grown well that had been
abandoned by the gardeners. And almost immediately he was told by a cobbler of
the neighbourhood that a ragged man who had shouted out "Hurrah for the
Republic!" had been thrown into the well by some cavalry officers who were
passing, and had sunk up to his ears in the mud. Agaric was quite ready to see
a general significance in this particular fact. He inferred a great
fermentation in the whole aristocratic and military caste, and concluded that
it was the moment to act.
The next day he went to the end of the Wood of Conils to visit the good Father
Cornemuse. He found the monk in his laboratory pouring a golden-coloured
liquor into a still. He was a short, fat, little man, with vermilion-tinted
cheeks and an elaborately polished bald head. His eyes had ruby-coloured
pupils like a guinea-pig's. He graciously saluted his visitor and offered him
a glass of the St. Orberosian liqueur, which he manufactured, and from the
sale of which he gained immense wealth.
Agaric made a gesture of refusal. Then, standing on his long feet and pressing
his melancholy hat against his stomach, he remained silent.
"Take a seat," said Cornemuse to him.
Agaric sat down on a rickety stool, but continued mute.
Then the monk of Conils inquired:
"Tell me some news of your young pupils. Have the dear children sound views?"
"I am very satisfied with them," answered the teacher. "It is everything to be
nurtured in sound principles. It is necessary to have sound views before
having any views at all, for afterwards it is too late. . . . Yes, I have
great grounds for comfort. But we live in a sad age."
"Alas!" sighed Cornemuse.
"We are passing through evil days. . . ."
"Times of trial."
"Yet, Cornemuse, the mind of the public is not so entirely corrupted as it
"Perhaps you are right."
"The people are tired of a government that ruins them and does nothing for
them. Every day fresh scandals spring up. The Republic is sunk in shame. It is
"May God grant it!"
"Cornemuse, what do you think of Prince Crucho?"
"He is an amiable young man and, I dare say, a worthy scion of an august
stock. I pity him for having to endure the pains of exile at so early an age.
Spring has no flowers for the exile, and autumn no fruits. Prince Crucho has
sound views; he respects the clergy; he practises our religion; besides, he
consumes a good deal of my little products."
"Cornemuse, in many homes, both rich and poor, his return is hoped for.
Believe me, he will come back."
"May I live to throw my mantle beneath his feet!" sighed Cornemuse.
Seeing that he held these sentiments, Agaric depicted to him the state of
people's minds such as he himself imagined them. He showed him the nobles and
the rich exasperated against the popular government; the army refusing to
endure fresh insults; the officials willing to betray their chiefs; the people
discontented, riot ready to burst forth, and the enemies of the monks, the
agents of the constituted authority, thrown into the wells of Alca. He
concluded that it was the moment to strike a great blow.
"We can," he cried, "save the Penguin people, we can deliver it from its
tyrants, deliver it from itself, restore the Dragon's crest, re-establish the
ancient State, the good State, for the honour of the faith and the exaltation
of the Church. We can do this if we will. We possess great wealth and we exert
secret influences; by our evangelistic and outspoken journals we communicate
with all the ecclesiastics in towns and county alike, and we inspire them with
our own eager enthusiasm and our own burning faith. They will kindle their
penitents and their congregations. I can dispose of the chiefs of the army; I
have an understanding with the men of the people. Unknown to them I sway the
minds of umbrella sellers, publicans, shopmen, gutter merchants, newspaper
boys, women of the streets, and police agents. We have more people on our side
than we need. What are we waiting for? Let us act!"
"What do you think of doing?" asked Cornemuse.
"Of forming a vast conspiracy and overthrowing the Republic, of
re-establishing Crucho on the throne of the Draconides."
Cornemuse moistened his lips with his tongue several times. Then he said with
"Certainly the restoration of the Draconides is desirable; it is eminently
desirable; and for my part, desire it with all my heart. As for the Republic,
you know what I think of it. . . . But would it not te better to abandon it to
its fate and let it die of the vices of its own constitution? Doubtless,
Agaric, what you propose is noble and generous. It would be a fine thing to
save this great and unhappy country, to re-establish it in its ancient
splendour. But reflect on it, we are Christians before we are Penguins. And we
must take heed not to compromise religion in political enterprises."
Agaric replied eagerly:
"Fear nothing. We shall hold all the threads of the plot, but we ourselves
shall remain in the background. We shall not be seen."
"Like flies in milk," murmured the monk of Conils.
And turning his keen ruby-coloured eyes towards his brother monk:
"Take care. Perhaps the Republic is stronger than it seems. Possibly, too, by
dragging it out of the nerveless inertia in which it now rests we may only
consolidate its forces. Its malice is great; if we attack it, it will defend
itself. It makes bad laws which hardly affect us; if it is frightened it will
make terrible ones against us. Let us not lightly engage in an adventure in
which we may get fleeced. You think the opportunity a good one. I don't, and I
am going to tell you why. The present government is not yet known by
everybody, that is to say, it is known by nobody. It proclaims that it is the
Public Thing, the common thing. The populace believes it and remains
democratic and Republican. But patience! This same people will one day demand
that the public thing be the people's thing. I need not tell you how insolent,
unregulated, and contrary to Scriptural polity such claims seem to me. But the
people will make them, and enforce them, and then there will be an end of the
present government. The moment cannot now be far distant; and it is then that
we ought to act in the interests of our august body. Let us wait. What hurries
us? Our existence is not in peril. It has not been rendered absolutely
intolerable to us. The Republic fails in respect and submission to us; it does
not give the priests the honours it owes them. But it lets us live. And such
is the excellence of our position that with us to live is to prosper. The
Republic is hostile to us, but women revere us. President Formose does not
assist at the celebration of our mysteries, but I have seen his wife and
daughters at my feet. They buy my phials by the gross. I have no better
clients even among the aristocracy. Let us say what there is to be said for
it. There is no country in the world as good for priests and monks as
Penguinia. In what other country would you find our virgin wax, our virile
incense, our rosaries, our scapulars, our holy water, and our St. Orberosian
liqueur sold in such great quantities? What other people would, like the
Penguins, give a hundred golden crowns for a wave of our hands, a sound from
our mouths, a movement of our lips? For my part, I gain a thousand times more,
in this pleasant, faithful, and docile Penguinia, by extracting the essence
from a bundle of thyme, than I could make by tiring my lungs with preaching
the remission of sins in the most populous states of Europe and America.
Honestly, would Penguinia be better off if a police officer came to take me
away from here and put me on a steamboat bound for the Islands of Night?"
Having thus spoken, the monk of Conils got up and led his guest into a huge
shed where hundreds of orphans clothed in blue were packing bottles, nailing
up cases, and gumming tickets. The ear was deafened by the noise of hammers
mingled with the dull rumbling of bales being placed upon the rails.
"It is from here that consignments are forwarded," said Cornemuse. "I have
obtained from the government a railway through the Wood and a station at my
door. Every three days I fill a truck with my own products. You see that the
Republic has not killed all beliefs."
Agaric made a last effort to engage the wise distiller in his enterprise. He
pointed him to a prompt, certain, dazzling success.
"Don't you wish to share in it?" he added. "Don't you wish to bring back your
king from exile?"
"Exile is pleasant to men of good will," answered the monk of Conils. "If you
are guided by me, my dear Brother Agaric, you will give up your project for
the present. For my own part I have no illusions. Whether or not I belong to
your party, if you lose, I shall have to pay like you."
Father Agaric took leave of his friend and went back satisfied to his school.
"Cornemuse," thought he, "not being able to prevent the plot, would like to
make it succeed and he will give money." Agaric was not deceived. Such,
indeed, was the solidarity among priests and monks that the acts of a single
one bound them all. That was at once both their strength and their weakness.
V. PRINCE CRUCHO
Agaric resolved to proceed without delay to Prince Crucho, who honoured him
with his familiarity. In the dusk of the evening he went out of his school by
the side door, disguised as a cattle merchant and took passage on board the
The next day he landed in Porpoisea, for it was at Chitterlings Castle on this
hospitable soil that Crucho ate the bitter bread of exile.
Agaric met the Prince on the road driving in a motor-car with two young ladies
at the rate of a hundred miles an hour. When the monk saw him he shook his red
umbrella and the prince stopped his car.
"Is it you, Agaric? Get in! There are already three of us, but we can make
room for you. You can take one of these young ladies on your knee."
The pious Agaric got in.
"What news, worthy father?" asked the young prince.
"Great news," answered Agaric. "Can I speak?"
"You can. I have nothing secret from these two ladies."
"Sire, Penguinia claims you. You will not be deaf to her call."
Agaric described the state of feeling and outlined a vast plot.
"On my first signal," said he, "all your partisans will rise at once. With
cross in hand and habits girded up, your venerable clergy will lead the armed
crowd into Formose's palace. We shall carry terror and death among your
enemies. For a reward of our efforts we only ask of you, Sire, that you will
not render them useless. We entreat you to come and seat yourself on the
throne that we shall prepare."
The prince returned a simple answer:
"I shall enter Alca on a green horse."
Agaric declared that he accepted this manly response. Although, contrary to
his custom, he had a lady on his knee, he adjured the young prince, with a
sublime loftiness of soul, to be faithful to his royal duties.
"Sire," he cried, with tears in his eyes, "you will live to remember the day
on which you have been restored from exile, given back to your people,
reestablished on the throne of your ancestors by the hands of your monks, and
crowned by them with the august crest of the Dragon. King Crucho, may you
equal the glory of your ancestor Draco the Great!"
The young prince threw himself with emotion on his restorer and attempted to
embrace him, but he was prevented from reaching him by the girth of the two
ladies, so tightly packed were they all in that historic carriage.
"Worthy father," said he, "I would like all Penguinia to witness this
"It would be a cheering spectacle," said Agaric.
In the mean time the motor-car rushed like a tornado through hamlets and
villages, crushing hens, geese, turkeys, ducks, guinea-fowls, cats, dogs,
pigs, children, labourers, and women beneath its insatiable tyres. And the
pious Agaric turned over his great designs in his mind. His voice, coming from
behind one of the ladies, expressed this thought:
"We must have money, a great deal of money."
Back to Full Books