James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 19 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 19 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

might mob me, should I attempt to undeceive them - for monikinas, let
them be of what species they may, always hug a delusion - I abandoned my
hostile intentions for the moment, and hurried after Mr. Poke, little
doubting my ability of bringing one of his natural rectitude of mind to
a right way of thinking.

The captain heard my remonstrances with a decent respect. He even seemed
to enter into my feelings with a proper degree of sympathy. He very
frankly admitted that I had not been well treated by Dr. Reasono, and he
appeared to think that a private conversation with that individual
might yet possibly have the effect of bringing him to a more reasonable
representation of facts. But, as to any sudden and violent appeal to
public opinion for justice, or an ill-advised recourse to a notary, he
strenuously objected to both. The purport of his remarks was somewhat as
follows: -

He was not acquainted with the Leaphigh law of protests, and, in
consequence, we might spend our money in paying fees, without reaping
any advantage; the Doctor, moreover, was a philosopher, an F. U. D. G.
E., and an H. O. A. X., and these were fearful odds to contend against
in any country, and more especially in a foreign country; he had an
innate dislike for lawsuits; the loss of my station was certainly a
grievance, but still it might be borne; as for himself, he never asked
for the office of lord high admiral of Great Britain, but as it had been
thrust upon him, why, he would do his best to sustain the character; he
knew his friends at Stunin'tun would be glad to hear of his promotion,
for, though in his country there were no lords, nor even any admirals,
his countrymen were always exceedingly rejoiced whenever any of
their fellow-citizens were preferred to those stations by anybody but
themselves, seeming to think an honor conferred on one, was an honor
conferred on the whole nation; he liked to confer honor on his own
nation, for no people on 'arth tuck up a notion of this sort and divided
it among themselves in a way to give each a share, sooner than the
people of the States, though they were very cautious about leaving any
portion of the credit in first hands, and therefore he was disposed to
keep as much as he could while it was in his power; he believed he was
a better seaman than most of the lord high admirals who had gone
before him, and he had no fears on that score; he wondered whether his
promotion made Miss Poke lady high admiral; as I seemed greatly put out
about my own rank, he would give me the acting appointment of a chaplain
(he didn't think I was qualified to be a sea-officer), and do doubt I
had interest enough at home to get it confirmed; a great statesman in
his country had said "that few die and none resigned," and he didn't
like to be the first to set new fashions; for his part, he rather looked
upon Dr. Reasono as his friend, and it was unpleasant to quarrel with
one's friends; he was willing to do anything in reason, but resign, and
if I could persuade the Doctor to say he had fallen into a mistake in
my particular case, and that I had been sent to Leaphigh as a lord high
ambassador, lord high priest, or lord high anything else, except lord
high admiral, why, he was ready to swear to it - though he now gave
notice, that in the event of such an arrangement, he should claim to
rank me in virtue of the date of his own commission; if he gave up his
appointment a minute sooner than was absolutely necessary, he should
lose his own self-respect, and never dare look Miss Poke in the face
again - on the whole, he should do no such thing; and, finally, he wished
me a good morning, as he was about to make a call on the lord high
admiral of Leaphigh.


I felt that my situation had now become exceedingly peculiar. It is true
that my modesty had been unexpectedly spared, by the very ingenious turn
Dr. Reasono had given to the history of our connection with each
other; but I could not see that I had gained any other advantage by the
expedient. All my own species had, in a sense, cut me; and I was obliged
to turn despondingly, and not without humiliation, towards the inn,
where the banquet ordered by Mr. Poke waited our appearance.

I had reached the great square, when a tap on the knee drew my attention
to one at my side. The applicant for notice was a monikin, who had all
the physical peculiarities of a subject of Leaphigh, and yet, who was
to be distinguished from most of the inhabitants of that country, by
a longer and less cultivated nap to his natural garment, greater
shrewdness about the expression of the eyes and the mouth, a general
air of business, and, for a novelty, a bob-cauda. He was accompanied by
positively the least well-favored being of the species I had yet seen. I
was addressed by the former.

"Good morning, Sir John Goldencalf," he commenced, with a sort of jerk,
that I afterwards learned was meant for a diplomatic salutation; "you
have not met with the very best treatment to-day, and I have been
waiting for a good opportunity to make my condolences, and to offer my

"Sir, you are only too good. I do feel a little wronged, and, I must
say, sympathy is most grateful to my feelings. You will, however, allow
me to express my surprise at your being acquainted with my real name, as
well as with my misfortunes?"

"Why, sir, to own the truth, I belong to an examining people. The
population is very much scattered in my country, and we have fallen into
a practice of inquiry that is very natural to such a state of things. I
think you must have observed that in passing along a common highway, you
rarely meet another without a nod; while thousands are met in a crowded
street without even a glance of the eye. We develop this principle, sir;
and never let any fact escape us for the want of a laudable curiosity."

"You are not a subject of Leaphigh, then?"

"God forbid! No, sir, I am a citizen of Leaplow, a great and a glorious
republic that lies three days' sail from this island; a new nation,
which is in the enjoyment of all the advantages of youth and vigor,
and which is a perfect miracle for the boldness of its conceptions, the
purity of its institutions, and its sacred respect for the rights of
monikins. I have the honor to be, moreover, the envoy-extraordinary
and minister-plenipotentiary of the republic to the king of Leaphigh,
a nation from which we originally sprung, but which we have left far
behind us in the race of glory and usefulness. I ought to acquaint you
with my name, sir, in return for the advantage I possess on this head,
in relation to yourself."

Hereupon my new acquaintance put into my hand one of his visiting-cards,
which contained as follows: -

General-Commodore-Judge-Colonel PEOPLE'S FRIEND:

Envoy-Extraordinary and Minister-Plenipotentiary from the Republic of
Leaplow, near his Majesty the King of Leaphigh.

"Sir," said I, pulling off my hat with a profound reverence, "I was not
aware to whom I had the honor of speaking. You appear to fill a variety
of employments, and I make no doubt, with equal skill."

"Yes, sir, I believe I am about as good at one of my professions as at

"You will permit me to observe, however, General - a - a Judge - a - a - I
scarcely know, dear sir, which of these titles is the most to your

"Use which you please, sir - I began with General, but had got as low as
Colonel before I left home. People's Friend is the only appellation of
which I am at all tenacious. Call me People's Friend, sir, and you may
call me anything else you find most convenient."

"Sir, you are only too obliging. May I venture to ask if you have
really, propria persona, filled all these different stations in life?"

"Certainly, sir - I hope you do not mistake me for an impostor!"

"As far from it as possible. - But a judge and a commodore, for instance,
are characters whose duties are so utterly at variance in human affairs,
that I will allow I find the conjunction, even in a monikin, a little

"Not at all, sir. I was duly elected to each, served my time out in them
all, and have honorable discharges to show in every instance."

"You must have found some perplexity in the performance of duties so
very different?"

"Ah - I see you have been long enough in Leaphigh to imbibe some of its
prejudices! It is a sad country for prejudice. I got my foot mired in
some of them myself, as soon as it touched the land. Why sir, my card is
an illustration of what we call, in Leaplow, rotation in office."

"Rotation in office!"

"Yes, sir, rotation in office; a system that we invented for our
personal convenience, and which is likely to be firm, as it depends on
principles that are eternal."

"Will you suffer me to inquire, colonel, if it has any affinity to the
social-stake system?"

"Not in the least. That, as I understand it, is a stationary, while
this is a rotatory system. Nothing is simpler. We have in Leaplow two
enormous boxes made in the form of wheels. Into one we put the names of
the citizens, and into the other the names of the offices. We then
draw forth, in the manner of a lottery, and the thing is settled for a

"I find this rotatory plan exceedingly simple - pray, sir, does it work
as well as it promises?"

"To perfection. - We grease the wheels, of course, periodically."

"And are not frauds sometimes committed by those who are selected to
draw the tickets?"

"Oh! they are chosen precisely in the same way."

"But those who draw THEIR tickets?"

"All rotatory - they are drawn exactly on the same principle."

"But there must be a beginning. Those, again, who draw THEIR
tickets - they may betray their trusts?"

"Impossible - THEY are always the most patriotic patriots of the land!
No, no, sir - we are not such dunces as to leave anything to corruption.
Chance does it all. Chance makes me a commodore to-day - a judge
to-morrow. Chance makes the lottery boys, and chance makes the patriots.
It is necessary to see in order to understand how much purer and useful
is your chance patriot, for instance, than one that is bred to the

"Why, this savors, after all, of the doctrine of descents, which is
little more than matter of chance."

"It would be so, sir, I confess, were it not that our chances centre in
a system of patriots. Our approved patriots are our guarantees against
abuses - "

"Hem!" - interrupted the companion of Commodore People's Friend, with an
awkward distinctness, as if to recall himself to our recollection.

"Sir John, I crave pardon for great remissness - allow me to present my
fellow-citizen, Brigadier Downright, a gentleman who is on his travels,
like yourself; and as excellent a fellow as is to be found in the whole
monikin region."

"Brigadier Downright, I crave the honor of your acquaintance. - But,
gentlemen, I too have been sadly negligent of politeness. A banquet that
has cost a hundred promises is waiting my appearance; and, as some of
the expected guests are unavoidably absent, if you would favor me with
your excellent society, we might spend an agreeable hour, in the further
discussion of these important interests."

As neither of the strangers made the smallest objection to the
proposal, we were all soon comfortably situated at the dinner-table. The
commodore, who, it would seem, was habitually well fed, merely paid
a little complimentary attention to the banquet; but Mr. Downright
attacked it tooth and nail, and I had no great reason to regret the
absence of Mr. Poke. In the meantime, the conversation did not flag.

"I think I understand the outline of your system, Judge People's
Friend," I resumed, "with the exception of the part that relates to the
patriots. Would it be asking too much to request a little explanation on
that particular point?"

"Not in the least, sir. Our social arrangement is founded on a hint from
nature; a base, as you will concede, that is broad enough to sustain
a universe. As a people, we are a hive that formerly swarmed from
Leaphigh; and finding ourselves free and independent, we set about
forthwith building the social system on not only a sure foundation,
but on sure principles. Observing that nature dealt in duplicates, we
pursued the hint, as the leading idea - "

"In duplicates, commodore!"

"Certainly, Sir John - a monikin has two eyes two ears, two nostrils, two
lungs, two arms, two hands, two legs, two feet, and so on to the end
of the chapter. On this hint, we ordered that there should be drawn,
morally, in every district of Leaplow, two distinct and separate lines,
that should run at right angles to each other. These were termed the
'political landmarks' of the country; and it was expected that every
citizen should range himself along one or the other. All this you will
understand, however, was a moral contrivance, not a physical one."

"Is the obligation of this moral contrivance imperative?"

"Not legally, it is true; but then, he who does not respect it is like
one who is out of fashion, and he is so generally esteemed a poor devil,
that the usage has a good deal more than the force of a law. At first,
it was intended to make it a part of the constitution; but one of our
most experienced statesmen so clearly demonstrated that, by so doing, we
should not only weaken the nature of the obligation, but most probably
raise a party against it, that the idea was abandoned. Indeed, if
anything, both the letter and the spirit of the fundamental law have
been made to lean a little against the practice; but having been
cleverly introduced, in the way of construction, it is now bone of
our bone, and flesh of our flesh. Well, sir, these two great political
landmarks being fairly drawn, the first effort of one who aspires to
be thought a patriot is to acquire the practice of 'toeing the mark'
promptly and with facility. But should I illustrate my positions by a
few experiments, you might comprehend the subject all the better. - For
though, in fact, the true evolutions are purely moral, as I have just
had the honor to explain, yet we have instituted a physical parallel
that is very congenial to our habits, with which the neophyte always

Here the commodore took a bit of chalk and drew two very distinct lines,
crossing each other at right angles, through the centre of the room.
When this was done, he placed his feet together, and then he invited me
to examine if it were possible to see any part of the planks between
the extremities of his toes and the lines. After a rigid look, I was
compelled to confess it was not.

"This is what we call 'toeing the mark'; it is social position, No. 1.
Almost every citizen gets to be expert in practising it, on one or the
other of the two great political lines. After this, he who would
push his fortunes further, commences his career on the great rotatory

"Your pardon, commodore, we call the word rotary, in English."

"Sir, it is not expressive enough for our meaning; and therefore we term
it 'rotatory.' I shall now give you an example of position No. 2."

Here the commodore made a spring, throwing his body, as a soldier would
express it, to the "right about," bringing, at the same time, his feet
entirely on the other side of the line; always rigidly toeing the mark.

"Sir," said I, "this was extremely well done; but is this evolution as
useful as certainly it is dexterous?"

"It has the advantage of changing front, Sir John; a manoeuvre quite as
useful in politics as in war. Most all in the line get to practise
this, too, as my friend Downright, there, could show you, were he so

"I don't like to expose my flanks, or my rear, more than another,"
growled the brigadier.

"If agreeable, I will now show you gyration 2d, or position No. 3."

On my expressing a strong desire to see it, the commodore put himself
again in position No. 1; and then he threw what Captain Poke was in the
habit of calling a "flap-jack," or a summerset; coming down in a way
tenaciously to toe the mark.

I was much gratified with the dexterity of the commodore, and frankly
expressed as much; inquiring, at the same time, if many attained to
the same skill. Both the commodore and the brigadier laughed at the
simplicity of the question; the former answering that the people of
Leaplow were exceedingly active and adventurous, and both lines had got
to be so expert, that, at the word of command, they would throw their
summersets in as exact time, and quite as promptly, as a regiment of
guards would go through the evolution of slapping their cartridge-boxes.

"What, sir," I exclaimed, in admiration, "the entire population!"

"Virtually, sir. There is, now and then, a stumbler; but he is instantly
kicked out of sight, and uniformly counts for nothing."

"But as yet, commodore, your evolutions are altogether too general to
admit of the chance selection of patriots, since patriotism is usually a

"Very true, Sir John; I shall therefore come to the main point without
delay. Thus far, it is pretty much an affair of the whole population,
as you say; few refusing to toe the mark, or to throw the necessary
flap-jacks, as you have ingeniously termed them. The lines, as you may
perceive, cross each other at right angles; and there is consequently
some crowding, and occasionally, a good deal of jostling, at and near
the point of junction. We begin to term a monikin a patriot when he can
perform this evolution."

Here the commodore threw his heels into the air with such rapidity that
I could not very well tell what he was about, though it was sufficiently
apparent that he was acting entirely on the rotatory principle. I
observed that he alighted, with singular accuracy, on the very spot
where he had stood before, toeing the mark with beautiful precision.

"That is what we call gyration 3d, or position No. 4. He who can execute
it is considered an adept in our politics; and he invariably takes his
position near the enemy, or at the junction of the hostile lines."

"How, sir, are these lines, then, manned as they are with citizens of
the same country, deemed hostile?"

"Are cats and dogs hostile, sir? - Certainly. Although standing, as it
might be, face to face, acting on precisely the same principle, or the
rotatory impulse, and professing to have exactly the same object in
view, viz., the common good, they are social, political, and I might
almost say, the moral antipodes of each other. They rarely intermarry,
never extol, and frequently refuse to speak to one another. In short,
as the brigadier could tell you, if he were so disposed, they are
antagonist, body and soul. To be plain, sir, they are enemies."

"This is very extraordinary for fellow-citizens!"

"'Tis the monikin nature," observed Mr. Downright; "no doubt, sir, men
are much wiser?"

As I did not wish to divert the discourse from the present topic, I
merely bowed to this remark, and begged the judge to proceed.

"Well, sir," continued the latter, "you can easily imagine that they who
are placed near the point where the two lines meet, have no sinecures.
To speak the truth, they blackguard each other with all their abilities,
he who manifests the most inventive genius in this high accomplishment,
being commonly thought the cleverest fellow. Now, sir, none but a
patriot could, in the nature of things, endure this without some other
motive than his country's good, and so we esteem them."

"But the most patriotic patriots, commodore?"

The minister of Leaphigh now toed the mark again, placing himself within
a few feet of the point of junction between the two lines, and then he
begged me to pay particular attention to his evolution. When all was
ready, the commodore threw himself, as it were, invisibly into the air,
again head over heels, so far as I could discover, and alighted on the
antagonist line, toeing the mark with a most astonishing particularity.
It was a clever gyration, beyond a doubt; and the performer looked
towards me, as if inviting commendation.

"Admirably executed, judge, and in a way to induce one to believe that
you must have paid great attention to the practice."

"I have performed this manoeuvre, Sir John, five times in real life; and
my claim to be a patriotic patriot is founded on its invariable success.
A single false step might have ruined me; but as you say, practice makes
perfect, and perfection is the parent of success."

"And yet I do not rightly understand how so sudden a desertion of one's
own side, to go over in this active manner head over heels, I may
say, to another side, constitutes a fair claim to be deemed so pure a
character as that of a patriot."

"What, sir, is not he who throws himself defencelessly into the very
middle of the ranks of the enemy, the hero of the combat? Now, as this
is a political struggle, and not a warlike struggle, but one in which
the good of the country is alone uppermost, the monikin who thus
manifests the greatest devotion to the cause, must be the purest
patriot. I give you my honor, sir, all my own claims are founded
entirely on this particular merit."

"He is right, Sir John; you may believe every word he says," observed
the brigadier, nodding.

"I begin to understand your system, which is certainly well adapted
to the monikin habits, and must give rise to a noble emulation in
the practice of the rotatory principle. But I understood you to say,
colonel, that the people of Leaplow are from the hive of Leaphigh?"

"Just so, sir."

"How happens it, then, that you dock yourselves of the nobler member,
while the inhabitants of this country cherish it as the apple of the
eye - nay, as the seat of reason itself?"

"You allude to our tails? - Why, sir, nature has dealt out these
ornaments with a very unequal hand, as you may perceive on looking out
of the window. We agree that the tail is the seat of reason, and that
the extremities are the most intellectual parts; but, as governments
are framed to equalize these natural inequalities, we denounce them as
anti-republican. The law requires, therefore, that every citizen, on
attaining his majority, shall be docked agreeably to a standard measure
that is kept in each district. Without some such expedient, there might
be an aristocracy of intellect among us, and there would be an end of
our liberties. This is the qualification of a voter, too, and of course
we all seek to obtain it."

Here the brigadier leaned across the table and whispered that a
great patriot, on a most trying occasion, had succeeded in throwing
a summerset out of his own into the antagonist line, and that, as he
carried with him all the sacred principles for which his party had been
furiously contending for many years, he had been unceremoniously dragged
back by his tail, which unfortunately came within reach of those quondam
friends on whom he had turned his back; and that the law had, in truth,
been passed in the interests of the patriots. He added, that the lawful
measure allowed a longer stump than was commonly used; but that it was
considered underbred for any one to wear a dock that reached more than
two inches and three quarters of an inch into society, and that most of
their political aspirants, in particular, chose to limit themselves to
one inch and one quarter of an inch, as a proof of excessive humility.

Thanking Mr. Downright for his clear and sensible explanation, the
conversation was resumed.

"I had thought, as your institutions are founded on reason and nature,
judge," I continued, "that you would be more disposed ta cultivate
this member than to mutilate it; and this the more especially, as
I understand all monikins believe it to be the very quintessence of

"No doubt, sir; we do cultivate our tails, but it is on the vegetable
principle, or as the skilful gardener lops the branch that it may throw
out more vigorous shoots. It is true, we do not expect to see the tail
itself sprouting out anew; but then we look to the increase of its
reason, and to its more general diffusion in society. The extremities of
our cauda, as fast as they are lopped, are sent to a great intellectual
mill, where the mind is extracted from the matter, and the former is
sold, on public account, to the editors of the daily journals. This
is the reason our Leaplow journalists are so distinguished for their
ingenuity and capacity, and the reason, too, why they so faithfully
represent the average of the Leaplow knowledge."

"And honesty, you ought to add," growled the brigadier.

"I see the beauty of the system, judge, and very beautiful it is! This

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 19 of 34)