The Labyrinth of the World and the Paradise of the Heart (1901)/Chapter 19



(The divers Ranks of Magistrates.)

We then enter another street, where on all sides I behold countless chairs, some higher and some lower. Now they called those who sat on them Sir Judge, Sir Burgomaster, Sir Official, Sir Regent, Sir Burgrave, Lord Chancellor, Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Justice, Gracious King, Prince, and so forth. And the interpreter said to me: "Now, thou hast before thee the men who deliver judgments and sentences in law-suits, punish the evil, defend the good, and maintain order in the world." "This is, indeed, a fine thing, and one that is necessary for mankind," quoth I. "But whence do they take these men?" He answered me: "Some are born to this estate; some are elected to it either by these men or by the community because they are considered the wisest of all, the most experienced, and the men best informed of law and justice." "This also is well," quoth I.

1. But at that moment it was for a short time granted me to see clearly, and I behold that some obtain these seats by purchase, others by entreaty, others by flattery, while others, again, occupied them arbitrarily. Seeing this, I exclaimed: "Lo, what disorder!" "Hush, froward one," said the interpreter; "thou wilt fare ill if they hear thee!" "Why, then," quoth I, "do not these men wait till they are chosen?" He answered: "Ha! these men are no doubt conscious that they are capable of such work; if the others admit them to it, what concern is that of thine?"

3. Then I am silent; and after putting my spectacles aright, I look at these men attentively and witness an astounding sight—to wit, that hardly one of them possessed all his limbs; almost every one of them was devoid of some necessary thing. Some had not ears through which they could hear the complaints of their subordinates; some had not eyes to see the disorder before them; some had not a nose to scent the plots of knaves against the right; some had not a tongue to speak in favour of the dumb, oppressed ones; some had no hand to carry out the decrees of justice; many also had not a heart to do what justice requires.

4. But those who had all these things were woeful men, as I saw; for they were continually importuned, so that they could neither eat quietly nor sleep sufficiently, while the others spent more than half their time in idleness. And I said: "Why, then, do they entrust these judgments to such men, who have not the members necessary for the purpose?" The interpreter answered that this was not so, but that it only appeared thus to me for he said: "'Qui nescit simulare nescit regnare.' He who would rule others must often not see, not hear, not understand, even if he sees, hears, understands. This, as thou art inexperienced in public affairs, thou canst not understand." "Yet, on my faith," quoth I, "I see that they have not the members they should have." "And I," said he, "counsel thee to be silent; indeed, I promise thee that if thou ceasest not to cavil thou shalt find thyself in a place that will please thee not. Knowest thou not that censuring judges endangers the neck?" Then I was silent and gazed quietly at everything. But it does not seem to me fitting that I should narrate all that I saw at the divers chairs. On two things only will I touch.

(Disorder and Injustice are frequent among Judges.)

5. I observed most carefully the law-court of the senators, and I saw that the names of the lord-justices were as follows:—Judge Nogod, Judge Lovestrife, Judge Hearsay, Judge Partial, Judge Loveself, Judge Lovegold, Judge Takegift, Judge Ignorant, Judge Knowlittle, Judge Hasty, Judge Slovenly. The president of them all was Lord Thus-I-will-it. From their names I immediately began to perceive what manner of judges they were; but an example of it befell in my presence. Simplicity was accused by an enemy of having defamed some good men by calling them usurers, misers, drunkards, gluttons, tipplers, and I know not what else. As witnesses, Calumny, Lie, and Suspicion were brought forward. As council, Flattery appeared for one side, and Prattler for the other; but Simplicity declared that she needed him not. Questioned whether she admitted that of which she was accused, she said: "I admit, dear my lords. Here I stand; I cannot speak differently. May God help me!" Then the judges, crowding together, collected the votes. Nogod said: "It is, indeed, true what this wench sayeth; but what business had she to gossip thus? If we let it pass, she will use her jaw against us also. I give my vote in favour of her being punished." Lovestrife said: "Certainly; for if such a thing were passed over once, others also would ask for forbearance." Hearsay said: "I do not, indeed, truly know what has happened, but as the complainant lays so much importance on this matter, I conclude that it really gives him pain. Let her then be punished." Partial said: "I had known before that this chatterer blabs out everything she knows. It is necessary to stop her jaws." Loveself said: "The injured man is my good friend. She should at least have spared him, for my sake, and not have affronted him in this fashion. She deserves punishment." Lovegold said: "You know how bounteous he[1] has proved himself; he deserves our protection." Takegift said: "It is so; we would be ungrateful if we did not attend to his complaint." Ignorant said: "I know no precedent in this case. Let her suffer as she has deserved." Then Knowlittle: "I do not understand the case. I agree to whatever sentence you may pass." Slovenly said: "Be it as it may. I accede to everything." Careless said: "Can we not defer the lawsuit? Perhaps the matter will clear itself up later." Hasty said: "Not so; let us gladly pass judgment." Then the Lord-Justice said: "Certainly; whom have we to consider? As the law will sit, so must it be done." And rising, he delivered his sentence: "As this prattling woman has given herself up to much unbecoming conduct, and shows ill-will to good men, she shall receive forty stripes, save one, to subdue her unbridled tongue, and as an example. This sentence is to be made known to her." Then the complainant, with his council and witnesses, bowed and thanked for this just finding. It was made known to Simplicity also. But she gave herself up to crying and to wringing of hands. Then saying that she had not respected the law, they ordered her punishment to be rendered yet more severe, and she was seized and led forth to punishment. Seeing the injustice that had been done, I exclaimed, unable to contain myself: "Oh, if all tribunals in the world are as this one, may God the Almighty so help me that I may never be a judge, or go to law with anyone!" "Be silent, madman," said the interpreter, and he placed his fist before my mouth. "On my oath, I say that through thy talking thou wilt receive as bad and worse punishment than this woman." And, indeed, lo! the plaintiff and Flattery already begin to bring forward witnesses against me. Then perceiving this, and being afeard, I hurried thence, I know not how, scarcely drawing breath.

(On the Perversity of Lawyers.)

6. While I then take breath outside these law-courts and wipe my eyes, I see many coming to the courts bringing plaints, and immediately the advocates (Prattler, Flattery, Guidewrong, Procrastination, and others), met them and offered their services, considering not so much what plaint as what purse each man had. Each man carried with him carefully his law-book (I think that I had not seen that among the theologians),[2] and sometimes looked at it. Now, on some of these books I saw inscriptions such as "The Devouring Torment of the Land," or "The Rapacious Defraudment of the Land."[3] But unable to look at this any longer, I went away sighing.

(The unlimited Power of Princes and the Statagems of their Officials.)

7. Then Searchall said to me: "The best yet remains. Come and behold the rule of kings, princes, and others who reign over their subjects by hereditary right; perhaps this will please thee." And we go to another place, and behold, men sat there on chairs that were so high and broad that it was rare that anyone could approach them and reach them, except by means of strange instruments; for each one, instead of ears, had long tubes on both sides, and those who wished to say something had to whisper into them. But they were crooked and full of holes, and many words escaped outward before they reached the head, and those that reached it were mostly altered. I marked this, because not all who spoke received an answer; at times even when one clamoured loudly enough the sound did not penetrate to the brain of the ruler. Sometimes, again, an answer was given, but it was not to the point. Similarly, instead of the eyes and the tongue there were tubes, and, seen through them, things often appeared different from what they really were, and an answer was given that differed from the intentions of the ruler himself. Understanding this, I said: "Why, then, do they not put away these tubes and see, hear, answer with their own eyes, ears, tongue, as plain people do?" "Because of the preciousness of their person and the dignity of their rank there must be such delaying ceremonies; or dost thou think they are peasants, whose eyes, ears, mouth, everyone may approach?"

(The Great must have Councillors, however inconvenient they may be.)

8. Meanwhile, I see some who walk round the thrones; of these some whisper somewhat into the ears of their master by means of these tubes; others place vari-coloured spectacles before his eyes; others burn incense before his nose; others first put his feet closer together, and then again separate them; others adorn and strengthen his throne. Seeing this, I ask: "Who are these? and what do they?" The interpreter answered: "They are the privy councillors who instruct the kings and great lords." "I should not," quoth I, "allow this if I were in their position; rather should I wish to be able to use my own limbs and act as I wished." One man said: "He must not take everything on his shoulders; nor would he be permitted to do so!" Then said I: "These great lords are more wretched than peasants, being so bound that they cannot even move, except in accordance with the will of others." "Yet are they thus more certain in their own minds," quoth he; "but now look at these men!"

(Without Councillors, Matters are yet worse.)

9. And I look back, and behold some of those who sat on these chairs did not allow themselves to be thus molested, and drove these councillors from them; and this was according to my wishes. But here I immediately found other evils. In the place of the few that had been driven away, there came many others, and they tried to blow and whisper into the ears, nose, and mouth of the ruler; to close and disclose his eyes in divers fashions; to stretch out his hands and feet now in this, now in that direction; particularly also did each one endeavour to lead and draw him to the spot where he himself stood. Thus the unhappy lord knew not what to do, to whom he should give way, whom he should restrain, nor how he could be a match for them all. And I said: "I see already that it is better to trust a few chosen ones than to be the prey of them all; but could not all this be contrived somewhat differently?" "And how could it be contrived?" quoth he. "The estate of the ruler compels him to receive complaints, accusations, petitions, entreatments, arguments, and counter-arguments from all, and to grant justice to all. Let it then be according to the customs of these men."

(Careless Lords.)

10. Then the interpreter showed me some lords, who allowed nobody near them except men who strove and worked for the ruler's comfort. And I saw that they had around them men who were skipping round them, stroking them, placing pillows under them, and mirrors before their eyes, cooling them with fans, picking up the feathers and sweepings around them, kissing their garments and shoes; yet all this was but deceit; some even licked the spittle and snivel that came forth from their masters, praising it as being sweet. But all this, again, pleased me not; particularly when I had seen that the throne of almost every one of these rulers frequently shook, and was, when be least expected it, overturned; for he lacked those trusty supporters.

(A Dangerous Adventure of the Pilgrim.)

11. Now it befell that in my presence a royal throne suddenly shook,[4] broke into bits, and fell to the ground. Then I heard noise among the people, and looking round, I see that they were leading in another prince and seating him on the throne, while they joyously declared that things would now be different from what they had been before; and everyone, rejoicing, supports and strengthens the new throne as much as he can. Now I, thinking it well to act for the common welfare (for thus they called it), came nearer and contributed[5] a nail or two to strengthen the new throne; for this some praised me, while others looked askance at me. But meanwhile the other prince recovered himself, and he and his men attacked us with cudgels, thrashing the whole crowd, till they fled, and many even lost their necks. Maddened by fear I almost lost consciousness, till my friend Searchall, hearing that they were inquiring as to who had aided and abetted the other throne, nudged me that I also might flee. Falsehood said that it was not necessary. While I then reflect which of them I shall obey, I am struck by one of the cudgels which they were brandishing near; then I recovered consciousness, and I hastily fly into a corner. Thus did I understand that to sit on these chairs, to be near them, or indeed to touch them in any way, is dangerous. Then I went forth from here most gladly, and I resolved never again to return. And thus spake I to my guides: "Let him, who will, approach these heights. I shall not do so."

(There is Disorder everywhere among Men.)

12. And I was yet more certain of this when I discovered that though these men wished to be called the world-rulers, yet everything was full of unruliness. For whether the prince permitted his subjects to communicate with him through the tubes, or whether he delivered his decrees by means of the whispers of others, I saw as much evil as justice; I heard as much groaning and lamentation as merriment; I found that justice was intermeddled with injustice, and violence with legality. I clearly understood that the town-halls, the law-courts, the chanceries are as much the workshops of falsehood as of righteousness, and that those who call themselves the defenders of order in the world are as much (and often more) the defenders of disorder than of order. And wondering how much vanity and glittering misery is concealed within this estate, I took leave of these men and went away.

  1. I.e., the complainant.
  2. The Bohemian word "zákon," i.e. law, has also the signification of "Bible" or "Testament."
  3. Komensky's words here are parodies on the names of ancient Bohemian law-books. His puns are, unfortunately, untranslatable.
  4. Komensky here alludes to the temporary expulsion of the Austrians from Bohemia, the short reign of Frederick of the Palatinate, and the subsequent victory of Ferdinand II. of Austria.
  5. This allusion to aid given by Komensky to the cause of King Frederick is somewhat obscure, as he naturally did not refer to it in any of his writings. His sympathies were, of course, with the elector Palatine, and his father-in-law Cyrillus assisted the President of the Prague Consistory, Dicastus, at the coronation of King Frederick.