Monday, November 10, 2008

A Little Timeless Satire, Apropos of the Times

Lemuel Gulliver in Lilliput, and the Diversions of the Court of Lilliput described. A.D. 1727
The Emperor had a mind one day to entertain me with several of the Country Shows, wherein they exceeded all Nations I have known, both for Dexterity and Magnificence. I was diverted with none so much as that of the Rope-Dancers, performed upon a slender white Thread, extended about two Foot and twelve Inches from the Ground. Upon which I shall desire liberty, with the Reader's Patience, to enlarge a little.

This Diversion is only practiced by those Persons who are Candidates for great Employments, and high Favour, at Court. They are trained in this Art from their Youth, and are not always of noble Birth, or liberal Education. When a great Office is vacant either by Death or disgrace (which often happens) five or six of those Candidates petition the Emperor to entertain his Majesty and the Court with a Dance on the Rope, and whoever jumps the highest without falling, succeeds in the Office. Very often the Chief Ministers themselves are commanded to show their Skill, and to convince the Emperor that they have not lost their Faculty. Flimnap, the Treasurer, is allowed to cut a Caper on the strait Rope, at least an Inch higher than any other Lord in the whole Empire. I have seen him do the Summerset several times together upon a Trencher fixed on the Rope, which is no thicker than a common packthread in England. My friend Reldresal, principal Secretary for private Affairs, is, in my Opinion, if I am not partial, the second after the Treasurer; the rest of the great Officers are much upon a par.

These Diversions are often attended with fatal Accidents, whereof great Numbers are on Record. I my self have seen two or three Candidates break a Limb. But the Danger is much greater when the Ministers themselves are commanded to shew their Dexterity; for by contending to excel themselves and their Fellows, they strain so far, that there is hardly one of them who has not received a Fall, and some of them two or three. I was assured that a Year or two before my Arrival, Flimnap would have infallibly broken his Neck, if one of the King's Cushions, that accidentally lay on the Ground, had not weakened the Force of his Fall.

There is likewise another Diversion, which is only shewn before the Emperor and Empress, and first Minister, upon particular Occasions. The Emperor lays on the Table three fine silken Threads of six Inches long. One is Blue, the other Red, and the third Green. These Threads are proposed as Prizes for those Persons whom the Emperor has a mind to distinguish by a peculiar Mark of his Favor. The Ceremony is performed in his Majesty's great Chamber of State, where the Candidates are to undergo a Trial of Dexterity very different from the former, and such as I have not observed the least Resemblance of in any other Country of the old or the new World. The Emperor holds a Stick in his Hands, both ends parallel to the Horizon, while the Candidates, advancing one by one, sometimes leap over the Stick, sometimes creep under it backwards and forwards several times, according as the Stick is advanced or depressed. Sometimes the Emperor holds one end of the Stick, and his first Minister the other; sometimes the Minister has it entirely to himself. Whoever performs his Part with most Agility, and holds out the longest in leaping and creeping, is rewarded with the Blue-colored Silk; the Red is given to the next, and the Green to the third, which they all wear girt twice round about the middle; and you see few great Persons about this Court who are not adorned with one of these Girdles.

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