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From Count Lucanor; of the Fifty Pleasant Stories of Patronio, written by the Prince Don Juan Manuel and first done into English by James York, M. D., 1868;; Gibbings & Company, Limited; London; 1899; pp. 42-63.
NE day, as Count Lucanor and Patronio were conversing, the Count said: —
“Patronio, one of my vassals informed me the other day that he was anxious to get one of his relations married, and wished to consult me as to what was best to be done, so begged me to favour him with my advice. He informed me of all the conditions to be fulfilled for this marriage. Now, as he is a man who I am desirous should succeed in the world, and as I know you have a good knowledge of such things, I beg you will tell me how you think he should act, so that I may be enabled to give him such advice as shall be for his good.”
“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you may be enabled to advise this man wisely I shall be happy to recount, with your permission, that which happened to the Count of Provence with Saladin, Sultan of Babylon.”
The Count requested Patronio to tell him what that was; so he said: —43
“My lord, there was a Count in Provence who was a very good man and who desired to live so that God might have mercy on his soul, and purchase by his good actions the glory of Paradise. In order to accomplish this he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, taking with him a great number of his dependants well-provisioned; feeling in his heart that whatever happened to him would be fortunate, inasmuch as he had devoted himself to the service of God. But the ways of God are marvellous and inscrutable, and He sees good to place heavy temptations in the way of His servants; yet, if the temptation be resisted from the love to God, it will prove always to the honour and advantage of the tempted; thus it was that our Lord held it good to tempt the Count of Provence, and permitted him to be taken prisoner by the Sultan of Babylon.
“Saladin, hearing the high reputation which the Count enjoyed, showed him much attention, and treated him honourably. In all his great undertakings he consulted his prisoner, and followed his advice. Such was the confidence in the Count that, although nominally a prisoner, the people so respected him that in all the dominions of the Sultan he felt almost as if he were in his own kingdom.
“When the Count left his country he had a very young daughter who, during her father’s long absence had grown up and was now marriageable, upon which the Countess and her relations sent to inform the Count that many princes and great men 44 had sought her in marriage. So, one day, when Saladin came to converse with the Count, the latter spoke to him in the following manner: —
“ ‘My lord, you have granted me many favours and have shown me much consideration; this I feel a great honour, and, as you have deigned to consult me in many things, I pray your forgiveness if I now solicit your advice in a subject which deeply interests me.’
“The Sultan was gracious and said he would advise him with great pleasure and assist him in anything whatever it might be. The Count then informed him of the proposals made for his daughter’s hand, when Saladin replied as follows: —
“ ‘Count, I know your understanding to be such that with a few words you will be able to comprehend the subject entirely. You tell me of all those who claim your daughter’s hand, their lineage and power, and their relationship with you, but as I do not know their habits and customs, and what advantages the one possesses over the other, I can only advise you to marry your daughter to a worthy man.’
“The Count thanked the Sultan, and sent word to the Countess and his relations, telling them what the Sultan had said, and that he wished to know all the particulars respecting the men and noblemen who were in the country, their habits and dispositions; and told them also that they must put in writing the qualities possessed by the princes 45 and men of high rank who demanded his daughter. The Countess and the Count’s relations were much astonished, but did as the Count desired, and wrote in detail all the good and bad habits which distinguished those who aspired to an alliance with the Count; and related to him everything respecting the noblemen who inhabited the country round about.
“The Count, on receiving this reply, showed it to the Sultan, who found it a satisfactory report, except that the princes and noblemen had each some one fault or another either in their eating and drinking, or that they were irritable or morose, had a bad address, associated with low company, were in debt, or had some other failing. But one, the son of a very rich man, who, although not so powerful as the others, according to what was written, was, in the Sultan’s opinion, the most suitable man, and so he recommended the Count to marry his daughter to that man; for, although he understood the others to be more noble, it was better to esteem a man for his conduct than for his rank.
“The Count now sent to request the Countess and his relatives to marry his daughter as Saladin had suggested. Although they were much surprised at this advice of the Count, they nevertheless sent for that son of the rich man and told him what the Count required, who replied that he knew well that the Count was nobler, richer, and more honoured than himself; if, therefore, the proposition was made 46 in jest they did him injustice, for he thought himself worthy to marry the Count’s daughter or any other lady. They replied they wished it seriously, and recounted to him how the Sultan had advised the Count, who would now give his daughter to him in preference to any of the princes or great noblemen who sought her, because he considered him the most worthy man.
“Now when the rich man’s son heard this he understood that they spoke in earnest of the marriage, and determined, since Saladin had chosen him from among so many other men, and done him so much honour, he would not fail in this case to do all that which, as an honourable man, was required of him; he therefore called the Countess and the relations of the Count and told them, as he believed they had spoken truly, he desired to be put in entire possession of the estates of the Count and to receive all the rents, but he did not speak of his future intentions. They were, however, satisfied, and placed all things at his immediate command. As soon as he found himself master of a large sum of money he armed a galley, and requested that the marriage should be solemnized on a particular day.
“When night came and the ceremony was ended with all its splendour and honour, he called together the Countess, his mother-in-law, and all their relations, and said, ‘You know very well that the Count has chosen me from amongst many others as the best man, by the advice of the Sultan. Having, 47 therefore, been so much honoured, I feel called upon to act so as to prove myself worthy of my election. I therefore intend leaving home immediately, and recommend to your charge the young lady, my wife, and all the estates; for I feel confident that God will assist me, and all the world shall know that I have done my duty.’
“Soon after this the young man departed on horseback, full of hope, and travelled till he arrived at the kingdom of Armenia, where he remained until he knew the language and habits of the people well, by which time he discovered that Saladin was fond of hunting; so having the very best hawks and dogs possible, he went in his galley to meet Saladin. Putting into a secure harbour, he commanded his men not to leave that spot without his orders. When he came to where Saladin was, he was well received by him, but he did not kiss his hand, nor offer the homage which was due to him as the Sultan, yet Saladin ordered all his wants to be attended to. The young man thanked him much, declaring that he required nothing, and that he came only, having heard of his great renown in the chase, to beg that he might be permitted to join in his retinue, in order that he might enjoy the advantage of his experience and that of his people. Having brought with him many excellent birds and dogs, he besought the Sultan to select from them those he wished, and with what remained to him begged permission to join in the hunt, where he would render every 48 service. This offer pleased the Sultan much, and he made the selection as desired, but regretted that his guest could not be induced to receive anything in return.
“After some time it pleased God that things should happen as this young man desired. The falcons chased a crane in the direction of the port where he had anchored his galley. The Sultan rode a very good horse, as did also his guest, when they found themselves far from the retinue, none of whom knew the direction they had taken. On Saladin arriving where the falcons had caught the crane he dismounted in haste and ran to assist them. His young companion, seeing him on the ground occupied in feeding the falcons, called his men. Now when the Sultan saw the people from the galley around him, and that the young man had drawn his sword upon him, he was much astonished, and exclaimed, ‘It is a base treason.’
“ ‘God forbid!’ said the other; ‘you know I never did homage to you as my lord, neither have I accepted anything from you.’ He had this reason for not doing so. Having said this, he took him and put him on board the galley, telling him that he was the son-in-law of the Count whom he, the Sultan, had chosen as the man worthy to be married to the Count’s daughter; and since he had so chosen him, he felt that he would not do credit to his judgment unless he acted as he had done. The young man then prayed the Sultan to deliver up to him 49 his father-in-law, saying, ‘So shall it be known that the advice you have given me was indeed good and wise.’
“When Saladin heard this, he was much pleased, and thanked God, being better satisfied that his advice had succeeded than if it had happened otherwise, and told the son-in-law that he would deliver up his father-in-law with great pleasure.
“The young man, having confidence in the Sultan’s word, put him on shore, and accompanied him, but ordering his people from the galley to retire so that they should not be seen by those who might arrive.
“The Sultan and the son-in-law were feeding the falcons when the suite arrived. They found their master in good humour, but he told none of them what had happened to him.
“As soon as they arrived at the city, the Sultan went down to the hose where the Count was a prisoner, taking with him the son-in-law. When the Sultan saw the Count, he began by saying with much gaiety, ‘Count, I thank God for His mercy in having prospered so well the advice which I gave as to the marriage of your daughter. Behold your son-in-law, who has been the means of releasing you from prison.’ He then related all that the son-in-law had done; his loyalty and the great efforts he had made to liberate him, as also the implicit confidence he had in his, the Sultan’s word.
“Now, the Count, and all who heard this, praised 50 the son-in-law very much for his judgment, valour, and great energy; while some praised the Sultan for his great goodness, and thanked God who had directed all things for so good an end.
“The Sultan gave the Count and his son-in-law many rich presents. To the Count he gave double the amount of the rents which he would have received from his estates during the time of his captivity; and thus sent him away very rich and much honoured to his own country.
“Now all this good fortune befell the Count through the good advice which the Sultan gave him respecting the marriage of his daughter with one deserving to be called a man.
“And you, my lord, since you have to advise one of your vassals respecting the marriage of one of his relatives, tell him that the principal thing is to marry her to a good man; for, if not, no matter how rich, honourable, or mighty he may be, she can never be well married. And you ought to know that a man by his good actions increases the honour, elevates the position of his family, and augments his riches. Of this I could give you many examples. Men of good position, whose fathers were rich and much respected, but who themselves were not as good as they ought to be, have lost both their position and riches. Others, of humbler rank, by their great goodness have gained for themselves riches and honour, so as to become much more respected and esteemed for their conduct than for their lineage.51
“And so you will now understand that all the good and evil which befalls us arises from our own actions, let a man’s rank be what it may. Therefore, the first thing you ought to inquire after is, what are the habits, the understanding, and general conduct of the man himself, or of the woman, who is about to marry; and these being, in the first place, satisfactory, then, the higher the rank, the greater the riches, and the more honourable the position of the connection, the better.”
The Count was much pleased with the reasons which Patronio gave him, and held as true all that he had spoken.
Don Juan, seeing that this example was very good, wrote it in this book, and made this verse, which says: —
Calderon has made the above story the subject of a three-act comedy, entitled “Count Lucanor.” It would seem likely, at first sight, that in giving this name to the bold knight who seized on the person of Saladin, his object was to recall, by an ingenious transposition, the collection to which he was indebted for the idea of the piece. But, as he concludes his drama by asking pardon for a history drawn from the books of chivalry, there seems to be some force in the opinion maintained by Ticknor, that Count Lucanor was a name borrowed from one of those old books of knight-errantry, and adopted by Don Manuel to avoid the possibility of his being supposed, in the name of his hero, to indicate any veritable living contemporary of 52 his. Indeed had Calderon been acquainted with Don Manuel’s story, he could hardly have departed so widely as he has done from its moral application. In his comedy, no train of thought or moral lesson is enforced: his sole subject appears to have been to complicate with romantic incidents one of those adventures which the heroes of chivalry prided themselves in bringing to a happy termination.
The Sultan Saladin plays an important part in the tales and Fabliaux of the middle ages. Don Juan Manuel has himself introduced him more than once in this book. He was the Alexander of the Crusades — this Salehaddin, who, after having been in the service of the Sultans of Egypt, usurped their throne, became a famous conqueror, and, by the resplendent lustre of his virtues and magnanimity, palliated the cruelties indispensable to his victories, and obtained the title of Great — a title more gloriously consecrated by the Gerusalemme of Tasso than by all the panegyrics of historians.
OUNT LUCANOR, conversing at another time with Patronio, his adviser, said: —
“Patronio, a man came to me and told me something, giving me to understand it would be of great advantage to me if I followed his suggestions; but he said no man must be informed of the secret that I must trust in him, and, more than this, 53 affirmed that if I should confide it to any man in the world I should place not only my property but my life in danger. And as I know no man able to detect a fraud so quickly as yourself I pray you give me your opinion in this case.”
“My lord,” said Patronio, “in order that you may know how to act under these circumstances, it would please me to be permitted to inform you what happened to a King and three impostors.”
The Count requested to know what that was.
“My lord,” said Patronio, “three impostors came to a King, and told him they were cloth-weavers, and could fabricate a cloth of so peculiar a nature that a legitimate son of his father could see the cloth; but if he were illegitimate, though believed to be legitimate, he could not see it.
“Now the King was much pleased at this, thinking that by this means he would be able to distinguish the men in his kingdom who were legitimate sons of their supposed fathers from those who were not, and so be enabled to increase his treasures, for among the Moors only legitimate children inherit their father’s property; and for this end he ordered a palace to be appropriated to the manufacture of this cloth. And these men, in order to convince him that they had no intention of deceiving him, agreed to be shut up in this palace until the cloth was manufactured, which satisfied the King.
“When they were supplied with a large quantity 54 of gold, silver, silk, and many other things, they entered the palace, and, putting their looms in order, gave it to be understood that they were working all day at the cloth.
“After some days, one of them came to the King and told him the cloth was commenced, that it was the most curious thing in the world, describing the design and construction; he then prayed the King to favour them with a visit, but begged he would come alone. The King was much pleased, but wishing to have the opinion of some one first, sent the Lord Chamberlain to see it, in order to know if they were deceiving him. When the Lord Chamberlain saw the workmen, and heard all they had to say, he dared not admit he could not see the cloth, and when he returned to the King he stated that he had seen it; the King sent yet another, who gave the same report. When they whom he had sent declared that they had sent the cloth he determined to go himself.
“On entering the palace and seeing the men at work, who began to describe the texture and relate the origin of the invention as also the design and colour, in which they all appeared to agree, although in reality they were not working; when the King saw how they appeared to work, and heard the character of the cloth so minutely described, and yet could not see it, although those he had sent had seen it, he began to feel very uneasy, fearing he might not be the son of the King, who was supposed 55 to be his father, and that if he acknowledged he could not see the cloth he might lose his kingdom; under this impression he commenced praising the fabric, describing its peculiarities after the manner of the workmen.
“On the return to his palace he related to his people how good and marvellous was the cloth, yet at the same time suspected something wrong.
“At the end of two or three days the King requested his ‘Alguacil’ (or officer of justice) to go and see the cloth. when the Alguacil entered and saw the workmen, who, as before, described the figures and pattern of the cloth, knowing that the King had been to see it, and yet could not see it himself, he thought he certainly could not be the legitimate son of his father, and therefore could not see it. He, however, feared if he was to declare that had could not see it he would lose his honourable position; to avoid this mischance he commenced praising the cloth even more vehemently than the others.
“When the Alguacil returned to the King and told him that he had seen the cloth, and that it was the most extraordinary production in the world, the King was much disconcerted; for he thought that if the Alguacil had seen the cloth, which he was unable to see, there could no longer be a doubt that he was not the legitimate son of the King, as was generally supposed, he therefore did not hesitate to praise the excellency of the cloth and the skill of the workmen who were able to make it.56
“On another day he sent one of his Councillors, and it happened to him as to the King, and the others of whom I have spoken; and in this manner and for this reason they deceived the King and many others, for no one dared to say he could not see the cloth.
“Things went on thus until there came a great feast, when all requested the King to be dressed in some of the cloth; so the workmen, being ordered, brought some rolled up in a very fine linen and inquired of the King how much of it he wished them to cut off; so the King gave orders how much and how to make it up.
“Now when the clothes were made and the feast day had arrived the weavers brought them to the King, informing his Majesty that his dress was made of the cloth as he had directed, the King all this time not daring to say he could not see it.
“When the King had professed to dress himself in this suit he mounted on horseback and rode into the city; but fortunately for him it was summer time. The people seeing his Majesty come in this manner were much surprised; but knowing that those who could not see this cloth would be considered illegitimate sons of their fathers, kept their surprise to themselves, fearing the dishonour consequent upon such a declaration. Now so, however, with a negro, who happened to notice the King thus equipped; for he, having nothing to lose, came to him and said, “Sire, to me it matters not whose 57 son I am, therefore I tell you that you are riding without any clothes.’ On this the King commenced beating him, saying that he was not the legitimate son of his supposed father, and therefore it was that he could not see the cloth. But no sooner had the negro said this, than others were convinced of its truth, and said the same; until, at last, the King and all with him lost their fear of declaring the truth, and saw through the trick of which these impostors had made them the victims. When the weavers were sought for they were found to have fled, taking with them all they had received from the King by their imposition.
“Now you, Count Lucanor, since that man of whom you speak forbids your trusting to any one, and demands your entire confidence, be careful you are not deceived; for, you ought to know very well that he can have no reason for seeking your advantage more than his own; nor has he more reason to serve you than have those who are indebted to you and are already in your service.”
Count Lucanor found this to be good advice, so adopted it.
And Don Juan, also seeing that it was a good example, wrote it in this book and made these lines, which say as follows: —
This story, so quaintly and graphically written, stands alone in the interest of its details, neither the Short Mantle which figures under the title of the “Manteau mal taillé,” in the Fabliaux of the thirteenth century, nor the “Enchanted Bowl” of Ariosto, nor indeed any of the romance writers of that age contain any subject wherein the various passions and interests which move mankind are so well delineated.
The false promises made by the impostors, arising out of want and desperation, recall to mind the old Spanish proverb, “Cuando el Corsario promete misas y cera, con mal anda la galera; (The galley is in a bad way when the Corsair promises masses and candles).”
NE day Count Lucanor conversed with Patronio in the following manner: —
“Patronio, a man came and told me he possessed a secret which would enable me to acquire great riches and honour, but that to begin the work certain sums of money would be required; and this being furnished, he promised to return me tenfold on my outlay. Now, since God has blessed you with a good understanding, tell me what you think most desirable to be done under such circumstances.”59
“My lord,’ said Patronio, “in order that you may know how to act, having regard for your own interest, under such circumstances, I should like to inform you what happened to a king with a man who called himself an alchymist.”
The Count desired him to relate it.
“There was once,” said he, “a man who being a great adventurer desired by some means or other to enrich himself and rise out of the miserable situation in which he then was. Knowing of a certain King who taxed his people heavily, and was very anxious to acquire a knowledge of alchymy, he procured a hundred doublas* and filed them down, mixing the gold dust so procured with other metals, and from this alloy he made a hundred false coins, each weighing as much as a doubla. He then took a supply of these spurious coins, dressed himself as a quiet and respectable man, and went to the city where the King dwelt, and, entering the shop of a grocer, sold to him the whole of his counterfeits for about two or three doublas. The purchaser inquired the name and use of these coins, to which he replied, ‘They are essential to the practice of alchymy, and are called tabardit.’
“Now, our adventurer continued to reside in this city for some time as a respectable and well-dressed man, and it became circulated as a secret that he knew the science of alchymy. When this news 60 reached the King, he sent for him and asked if he were an alchymist.
“He, however, appeared as if anxious to conceal his knowledge, and replied that he was not, but ultimately admitted that he was, at the same time telling the King that no man but himself knew the secret, and that no great outlay was required; but that, if his Majesty desired it, he could furnish him with a little of the ingredients, and then show him all he knew of the science. This pleased the King very much, as it appeared, according to the alchymist’s representation, that he would incur no risk. Our adventurer now sends, in the King’s name, for the things required, among them being the tabardit, which were easily procured at a cost of not more than three dineros,† and when they were brought and melted down before the King there was produced the weight of a doubla of fine gold. The King, seeing that these materials which cost so little produced a doubla, was delighted, and told the alchymist that he considered him to be a most worthy man, giving him an order to make more.
“Our adventurer replied, as if he had no more information to give, ‘Sire, all that I know I have shown to you, and henceforth you will be able to do it as well as myself. Nevertheless, should any of the ingredients be wanting, it will be quite impossible to produce gold.’ Saying, this, he departed for his own house.61
“The King now procured some of the materials himself, and made gold; he then doubled the quantity and produced the weight of two doublas; again doubling this quantity, he produced four doublas of gold; and so, in proportion, as he increased the weight of the ingredients, he produced an increase of gold. When the King saw that he could make any quantity of gold he desired, he ordered as much of the material to be brought him as would produce a thousand doublas. So the quantity was brought him as he desired, with the exception of the tabardit which could not be got. The King, seeing that the tabardit was wanting, and that without it he could not make gold, sent for the alchymist and told him he was unable to make gold as he had been accustomed to do.
“On this the alchymist begged to know if he had all the ingredients the same as hitherto.
“The King replied, ‘Yes, all except the tabardit.’
“ ‘Then,’ said the alchymist, ‘although you have all the other things, yet, failing this one, you cannot, as I told you at first, expect to make gold.’
“The King then asked if he knew where to procure the tabardit, and he was answered in the affirmative; the King then requested that he should procure for him a sufficient quantity to make as much gold as he might desire.
“The alchymist now replied that any other person could obtain it as well as himself, and, perhaps, better; but, if the King particularly wished it, he 62 would return for some to his own country, where he could procure any amount. The King then counted and found that, including all expenses, it would cost a large sum to procure this one ingredient, but he furnished our adventurer with the sum required and sent him on this service.
“As soon as the alchymist had received the money he went away in great haste, never to return.
“When the King found that the alchymist remained away longer than he ought, he sent his servants to his house to know if there had been any tidings of him, but they found none whatever; but at his house was left a small chest which was locked; this they opened, and in it they found a paper on which was written, ‘I know well there is no such thing in the world as tabardit, but be assured that your Majesty has been deceived. When I came to you and said that I could enrich you, you ought to have said to me, “First enrich thyself, and then I will believe thee.’ ”
“Some days after this, some men were laughing and amusing themselves by writing the names and characters of their friends and acquaintances, saying, such and such were intelligent, such and such were foolish, and of others in like manner, good and bad. Amongst those classes as imprudent was found the name of the King. When the King heard of it, he sent for the authors of this writing, and, having assured them that no harm should come to them, demanded why they had placed his name amongst 63 those of imprudent men. They then answered him, ‘Because you have entrusted so much treasure to a stranger of whom you had not the least knowledge.’
“The King replied that they were mistaken, for should the man return he would bring with him much gold.
“ ‘Then,’ said they, ‘our opinion would lose nothing; for, should he return, we will erase your name and insert his.’
“And you, Count Lucanor, if you do not wish to be considered a man of weak understanding, must not risk so much of your property for a thing that is uncertain; otherwise, you may have to repent sacrificing the certain for the uncertain.”
This advice pleased the Count much, so he acted upon it, and found the result good.
And Don Juan, seeing this to be a good example, ordered it to be written in this book, with these following lines: —
* An ancient Spanish gold coin.
† An ancient Spanish copper coin.
This tale, so full of point and humour, is, as we see in the paper found in the alchymist’s trunk, not without bearing on the caution required in daily life, to avoid impositions; as, also, the dangers to which cupidity exposes men who grasp at every delusive project to gratify their passion for gain.
It may be, also, that Don Manuel desired in this narrative to ridicule the follies of alchymy, to which his learned uncle, Alfonso X, was much addicted, and the belief in which was so universal in the middle ages.