James Fenimore Cooper.

The Monikins online

. (page 28 of 34)
Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 28 of 34)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

much nearer to this level, than the class termed the endoctrinated. The
last are troublesome and delusive, rather than overwhelming."

"To return to Mr. Wriggle - is his sect numerous?"

"His class flourishes most in the towns. In Leaplow we are greatly in
want of a capital, where the cultivated, educated, and well-mannered
can assemble, and, placed by their habits and tastes above the ordinary
motives and feelings of the less instructed, they might form a more
healthful, independent, appropriate, and manly public sentiment than
that which now pervades the country. As things are, the real elite of
this community are so scattered, as rather to receive an impression
FROM, than to impart one TO society, The Leaplow Wriggles, as you
have just witnessed, are selfish and exacting as to their personal
pretensions, irritably confident as to the merit of any particular
excellence which limits their own experience, and furiously proscribing
to those whom they fancy less fortunate than themselves."

"Good heavens! - brigadier - all this is excessively human!"

"Ah! it is - is it? Well, this is certainly the way with us monikins. Our
Wriggles are ashamed of exactly that portion of our population of which
they have most reason to be proud, viz., the mass; and they are proud
of precisely that portion of which they have most reason to be ashamed,
viz., themselves. But plenty of opportunities will offer to look further
into this; and we will now hasten to the inn."

As the brigadier appeared to chafe under the subject, I remained silent,
following him as fast as I could, but keeping my eyes open, the reader
may be very sure, as we went along. There was one peculiarity I could
not but remark in this singular town. It was this: - all the houses were
smeared over with some colored earth, and then, after all this pains had
been taken to cover the material, an artist was employed to make white
marks around every separate particle of the fabric (and they were in
millions), which ingenious particularity gives the dwellings a most
agreeable air of detail, imparting to the architecture, in general, a
sublimity that is based on the multiplication table. If to this be added
the black of the chevaux-de-frise, the white of the entrance-ladders,
and a sort of standing-collar to the whole, immediately under the eves,
of some very dazzling hue, the effect is not unlike that of a platoon of
drummers, in scarlet coats, cotton lace, and cuffs and capes of white.
What renders the similitude more striking, is the fact that no two of
the same plantoon appear to be exactly of a size, as is very apt to be
the case with your votaries in military music.


The people of Leaplow are remarkable for the deliberation of their acts,
the moderation of their views, and the accumulation of their wisdom. As
a matter of course such a people is never in an indecent haste. Although
I have now been legally naturalized, and regularly elected to the great
council fully twenty-four hours, three entire days were allowed for the
study of the institutions, and to become acquainted with the genius of
a nation, who, according to their own account of the matter, have no
parallel in heaven or earth, or in the waters under the earth, before I
was called upon to exercise my novel and important functions. I profited
by the delay and shall seize a favorable moment to make the reader
acquainted with some of my acquisitions on this interesting topic.

The institutions of Leaplow are divided into two great moral categories,
viz.: the LEGAL and the SUBSTITUTIVE. The former embraces the provisions
of the great ELEMENTARY, and the latter all the provisions of the
great ALIMENTARY principle. The first, accordingly, is limited by the
constitution, or the Great National Allegory, while the last is limited
by nothing but practice; one contains the proposition, and the other its
deductions; this is all hypothesis, that, all corollary. The two great
political landmarks, the two public opinions, the bob-upon-bobs,
the rotatory action, and the great and little wheels, are merely
inferential, and I shall, therefore, say nothing about them in my
present treatise, which has a strict relation only to the fundamental
law of the land, or to the Great and Sacred National Allegory.

It has been already stated that Leaplow was originally a scion of
Leaphigh. The political separation took place in the last generation,
when the Leaplowers publicly renounced Leaphigh and all it contained,
just as your catechumen is made to renounce the devil and all his works.
This renunciation, which is also sometimes called the DENUNCIATION, was
much more to the liking of Leaplow than to that of Leaphigh; and a long
and sanguinary war was the consequence. The Leaplowers, after a smart
struggle, however, prevailed in their firm determination to have no more
to do with Leaphigh. The sequel will show how far they were right.

Even preceding the struggle, so active was the sentiment of patriotism
and independence, that the citizens of Leaplow, though ill-provided
with the productions of their own industry, proudly resorted to the
self-denial of refusing to import even a pin from the mother country,
actually preferring nakedness to submission. They even solemnly voted
that their venerable progenitor, instead of being, as she clearly ought
to have been, a fond, protecting, and indulgent parent, was, in truth,
no other than a rapacious, vindictive and tyrannical step-mother. This
was the opinion, it will be remembered, when the two communities were
legally united, had but one head, wore clothes, and necessarily pursued
a multitude of their interests in common.

By the lucky termination of the war, all this was radically changed.
Leaplow pointed her thumb at Leaphigh, and declared her intention
henceforth to manage her own affairs in her own way. In order to do
this the more effectually, and, at the same time, to throw dirt into the
countenance of her late step-mother, she determined that her own
polity should run so near a parallel, and yet should be so obviously an
improvement on that of Leaphigh, as to demonstrate the imperfections
of the latter to the most superficial observer. That this patriotic
resolution was faithfully carried out in practice, I am now about to

In Leaphigh, the old human principle had long prevailed, that political
authority came from God; though why such a theory should ever have
prevailed anywhere, as Mr. Downright once expressed it, I cannot see,
the devil very evidently having a greater agency in its exercise than
any other influence, or intelligence, whatever. However, the jus divinum
was the regulator of the Leaphigh social compact, until the nobility
managed to get the better of the jus, when the divinum was left to shift
for itself. It was at this epocha the present constitution found its
birth. Any one may have observed that one stick placed on end will fall,
as a matter of course, unless rooted in the earth. Two sticks fare no
better, even with their tops united; but three sticks form a standard.
This simple and beautiful idea gave rise to the Leaphigh polity. Three
moral props were erected in the midst of the community, at the foot of
one of which was placed the king, to prevent it from slipping; for all
the danger, under such a system, came from that of the base slipping;
at the foot of the second, the nobles; and at the foot of the third, the
people. On the summit of this tripod was raised the machine of state.
This was found to be a capital invention in theory, though practice,
as practice is very apt to do, subjected it to some essential
modifications. The king, having his stick all his own way, gave a great
deal of trouble to the two other sets of stick-holders; and, unwilling
to disturb the theory, for that was deemed to be irrevocably settled and
sacred, the nobility, who, for their own particular convenience, paid
the principal workmen at the base of the people's stick to stand steady,
set about the means of keeping the king's stick, also, in a more uniform
and serviceable attitude. It was on this occasion that, discovering the
king never could keep his end of the great social stick in the place
where he had sworn to keep it, they solemnly declared that he must
have forgotten where the constitutional foot-hole was, and that he had
irretrievably lost his memory - a decision that was the remote cause
of the recent calamity of Captain Poke. The king was no sooner
constitutionally deprived of his memory, than it was an easy matter
to strip him of all his other faculties; after which it was humanely
decreed, as indeed it ought to be in the case of a being so destitute,
that he could do no wrong. By way of following out the idea on a humane
and Christian-like principle, and in order to make one part of the
practice conform to the other, it was shortly after determined that he
should do nothing; his eldest first-cousin of the masculine gender being
legally proclaimed his substitute. In the end, the crimson curtain was
drawn before the throne. As, however, this cousin might begin to wriggle
the stick in his turn, and derange the balance of the tripod, the other
two sets of stick-holders next decided that, though his majesty had
an undeniable constitutional right to say who SHOULD BE his
eldest first-cousin of the masculine gender, they had an undoubted
constitutional right to say who he SHOULD NOT BE. The result of all this
was a compromise; his majesty, who, like other people, found the sweets
of authority more palatable than the bitter, agreeing to get up on top
of the tripod, where he might appear seated on the machine of state, to
receive salutations, and eat and drink in peace, leaving the others to
settle among themselves who should do the work at the bottom, as well
as they could. In brief, such is the history, and such was the polity of
Leaphigh, when I had the honor of visiting that country.

The Leaplowers were resolute to prove that all this was radically wrong.
They determined, in the first place, that there should be but one great
social beam; and, in order that it should stand perfectly steady, they
made it the duty of every citizen to prop its base. They liked the idea
of a tripod well enough, but, instead of setting one up in the Leaphigh
fashion, they just reversed its form, and stuck it on top of their beam,
legs uppermost, placing a separate agent on each leg, to work
their machine of state; taking care, also, to send a new one aloft
periodically. They reasoned thus: If one of the Leaphigh beams slip (and
they will be very apt to slip in wet weather, with the king, nobles and
people wriggling and shoving against each other), down will come the
whole machine of state, or, to say the least, it will get so much awry
as never to work as well as at first; and therefore we will have none of
it. If, on the other hand, one of our agents makes a blunder and falls,
why, he will only break his own neck. He will, moreover, fall in the
midst of us, and, should he escape with life, we can either catch him
and throw him back again, or we can send a better hand up in his place,
to serve out the rest of his time. They also maintain that one beam,
supported by all the citizens, is much less likely to slip than three
beams, supported by three powers of very uncertain, not to say unequal,

Such, in effect, is the substance of the respective national allegories
of Leaphigh and of Leaplow; I say allegories, for both governments seem
to rely on this ingenious form of exhibiting their great distinctive
national sentiments. It would, in fact, be an improvement, were all
constitutions henceforth to be written in this manner, since they would
necessarily be more explicit, intelligible, and sacred than they are by
the present attempt at literality.

Having explained the governing principles of these two important states,
I now crave the reader's attention, for a moment, while I go a little
into the details of the MODUS OPERANDI, in both cases.

Leaphigh acknowledged a principle, in the outset, that Leaplow totally
disclaimed, viz., that of primogeniture. Being an only child myself,
and having no occasion for research on this interesting subject, I never
knew the basis of this peculiar right, until I came to read the great
Leaphigh commentator, Whiterock, on the governing rules of the social
compact. I there found that the first-born, MORALLY considered, is
thought to have better claims to the honors of the genealogical tree, on
the father's side, than those offspring whose origin is to be referred
to a later period in connubial life. On this obvious and highly
discriminating principle, the crown, the rights of the nobles, and
indeed all other rights, are transferred from father to son, in the
direct male line, according to primogeniture.

Nothing of this is practised in Leaplow. There, the supposition of
legitimacy is as much in favor of the youngest as of the oldest born,
and the practice is in conformity. As there is no hereditary chief to
poise on one of the legs of the great tripod, the people at the foot of
the beam choose one from among themselves, periodically, who is called
the Great Sachem. The same people choose another set, few in number,
who occupy a common seat, on another leg. These they term the Riddles.
Another set, still more numerous and popular in aspect, if not in
fact, fills a large seat on the third leg. These last, from their being
supposed to be supereminently popular and disinterested, are familiarly
known as the Legion. They are also pleasantly nicknamed the Bobees,
an appellation that took its rise in the circumstance that most of the
members of their body have submitted to the second dock, and, indeed,
have nearly obliterated every sign of a CAUDA. I had, most luckily, been
chosen to sit in the House of Bobees, a station for which I felt myself
well qualified, in this great essential at least; for all the anointing
and forcing resorted to by Noah and myself, during our voyage out, and
our residence in Leaphigh, had not produced so much as a visible sprout
in either.

The Great Sachem, the Riddles, and the Legion, had conjoint duties to
perform, in certain respects, and separate duties in others. All three,
as they owed their allegorical elevation to, so were they dependent on,
the people at the foot of the great social stick, for approbation and
reward - that is to say for all rewards other than those which they have
it in their power to bestow on themselves. There was another authority,
or agent of the public, that is equally perched on the social beam,
though not quite so dependent as the three just named, upon the main
prop of the people - being also propped by a mechanical disposition of
the tripod itself. These are termed the Supreme Arbitrators, and their
duties are to revise the acts of the other three agents of the people,
and to decide whether they are or are not in conformity with the
recognized principles of the Sacred Allegory.

I was greatly delighted with my own progress in the study of the Leaplow
institutions. In the first place, I soon discovered that the principal
thing was to reverse the political knowledge I had acquired in Leaphigh,
as one would turn a tub upside-down, when he wished to draw from its
stores at a fresh end, and then I was pretty sure of being within at
least the spirit of the Leaplow law. Everything seemed simple, for all
was dependent on the common prop, at the base of the great social beam.

Having got a thorough insight myself into the governing principles of
the system under which I had been chosen to serve, I went to look up
my colleague, Captain Poke, in order to ascertain how he understood the
great Leaplow Allegory.

I found the mind of the sealer, according to a beautiful form of speech
already introduced in this narrative, "considerably exercised," on the
several subjects that so naturally presented themselves to a man in
his situation. In the first place, he was in a towering passion at the
impudence of Bob in presuming to offer himself as a candidate for the
great council; and having offered himself, the rage of the Captain was
in no degree abated by the circumstance of the young rascal's being at
the head of the poll. He most unreservedly swore "that no subordinate of
his should ever sit in the same legislative body with himself; that he
was a republican by birth, and knew the usages of republican governments
quite as well as the best patriot among them; and although he admitted
that all sorts of critters were sent to Congress in his country, no
man ever knew an instance of a cabin-boy's being sent there. They might
elect just as much as they pleased; but coming ashore, and playing
politician were very different things from cleaning his boots, and
making his coffee, and mixing his grog." The captain had just been
waited on by a committee of the Perpendiculars (half the Leaplow
community is on some committee or other), by whom he had been elected,
and they had given notice, that instructions would be sent in,
forthwith, to all their representatives, to perform gyration No. 3, as
soon after the meeting of the council as possible. He was no tumbler,
and he had sent for a master of political saltation, who had just been
with him practising. According to Noah's own statement, his success was
anything but flattering. "If they would give a body room, Sir John," he
said, in a complaining accent, "I should think nothing of it - but you
are expected to stand shoulder to shoulder - yard-arm and yard-arm - and
throw a flap-jack as handy as an old woman would toss a johnny-cake!
It's unreasonable to think of wearing ship without room; but give me
room, and I'll engage to get round on the other tack, and to luff into
the line again, as safely as the oldest cruiser among 'em, though not
quite so quick. They do go about spitefully, that's sartain."

Nor were the Great National Allegories without their difficulties.
Noah perfectly understood the images of the two tripods, though he was
disposed to think that neither was properly secured. A mast would
make but bad weather, he maintained, let it be ever so well rigged and
stayed, without being also securely stepped. He saw no use in trusting
the heels of the beams to anybody. Good lashings were what were wanted,
and then the people might go about their private affairs, and not fear
the work would fall. That the king of Leaphigh had no memory, he could
testify from bitter experience; nor did he believe that he had any
conscience; and, chiefly he desired to know if we, when we got up into
our places on the top of the three inverted beams, among the other
Bobees, were to make war on the Great Sachem and the Riddles, or whether
we were to consider the whole affair as a good thing, in which the
wisest course would be to make fair weather of it?

To all these remarks and questions I answered as well as my own limited
experience would allow; taking care to inform my friend that he had
conceived the whole matter a little too literally, as all that he had
been reading about the great political beams, the tripods, and the
legislative boxes, was merely an allegory.

"And pray, then, Sir John, what may an allegory be?"

"In this case, my good sir, it is a constitution."

"And what is a constitution?"

"Why, it is sometimes as you perceive, an allegory."

"And are we not to be mast-headed, then, according to the book?"

"Figuratively, only."

"But there are actually such critters as the Great Sachem, and Riddles,
and above all, the Bobees! - We are boney fie-diddle-di-dee elected?"

"Boney fie-diddle-di-dee."

"And may I take the liberty of asking, what it is our duty to do?"

"We are to act practically - according to the literality of the legal,
implied, figurative, allegorical significations of the Great National
Compact under a legitimate construction."

"I fear we shall have to work doubletides, Sir John, to do so much in so
short a time! Do you mean that, in honest truth, there is no beam?"

"There is, and there is not."

"No fore, main, and mizzen tops, according to what is here written

"There is not, and there is."

"Sir John, in the name of God, speak out! Is all this about eight
dollars a day, no better than a take in?"

"That, I believe is strictly literal."

As Noah now seemed a little mollified, I seized the opportunity to
tell him he must beware how he attempted to stop Bob from attending the
council. Members were privileged, going and coming; and unless he was
guarded in his course, he might have some unpleasant collision with the
sergeant-at-arms. Besides, it was unbecoming the dignity of a legislator
to be wrangling about trifles, and he, to whom was confided the great
affairs of a state, ought to attach the utmost importance to a grave
exterior, which commonly was of more account with his constituents than
any other quality. Any one could tell whether he was grave or not,
but it was by no means so easy a matter to tell whether he or his
constituents had the greater cause to appear so. Noah promised to be
discreet, and we parted, not to meet again until we assembled to be
sworn in.

Before continuing the narrative, I will just mention that we disposed
of our commercial investments that morning. All the Leaphigh opinions
brought good prices; and I had occasion to see how well the brigadier
understood the market by the eagerness with which, in particular, the
Opinions on the State of Society in Leaplow were bought up. But, by one
of those unexpected windfalls which raise up so many of the chosen of
the earth to their high places, the cook did better than any of us. It
will be remembered, that he had bartered an article of merchandise
that he called slush against a neglected bale of Distinctive Leaplow
Opinions, which had no success at all in Leaphigh. Coming as they did
from abroad, these articles had taken as novelties in Bivouac, and he
sold them all before night, at enormous advances; the cry being that
something new and extraordinary had found its way into the market.


Political oaths are very much the same sort of thing everywhere, and I
shall say no more about our inauguration than simply to state it took
place as usual. The two houses were duly organized, and we proceeded,
without delay, to the transaction of business. I will here state that
I was much rejoiced to find Brigadier Downright among the Bobees,
the captain whispering that most probably he had been mistaken for an
"immigrunt," and chosen accordingly.

It was not a great while before the Great Sachem sent us a
communication, which contained a compte rendue of the state of the
nation. Like most accounts it is my good fortune to receive, I thought
it particularly long. Agreeably to the opinions of this document, the
people of Leaplow were, by a good deal, the happiest people in the
world; they were also considerably more respected, esteemed, beloved,
honored, and properly appreciated, than any other monikin community,
and, in short, they were the admiration and glory of the universe. I was
exceedingly glad to hear this, for some of the facts were quite new to
me; a circumstance which shows one can never get correct notions of a
nation except from itself.

These important facts properly digested, we all of us set about our
several duties with a zeal that spoke fairly for our industry and
integrity. Things commenced swimmingly, and it was not long before the
Riddles sent us a resolution for concurrence, by way of opening the
ball. It was conceived in the following terms: "Resolved, that the color
which has hitherto been deemed to be black, is really white."

As this was the first resolution that involved a principle on which
we had been required to vote, I suggested to Noah the propriety of our
going round to the brigadier, and inquiring what might be the drift
of so singular a proposition. Our colleague answered the question with
great good-nature, giving us to understand that the Perpendiculars and
the Horizontals had long been at variance on the mere coloring property
of various important questions, and the real matter involved in the
resolution was not visible. The former had always maintained (by always,
he meant ever since the time they maintained the contrary) the doctrine
of the resolution, and the latter its converse. A majority of the
Riddles, just at this moment, are Perpendiculars; and, as it was now

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperThe Monikins → online text (page 28 of 34)