Under the Sun/Of Tailors
THAT superstition is hateful, merely because it is superstition, is an inhuman doctrine. Yorick was superstitious, and so was Martin Luther. That a man should hesitate to shoot a raven lest he kill King Arthur unawares, can scarcely be held a criminal cunctation. Was ever man more superstitious than the silly knight of La Mancha, the sweet gentleman who loved too well; but did ever the man soil earth who hated Don Quixote? Cervantes, when he limned him, might laugh away the chivalry of Spain; but he did not, nor did he wish to, draw a knave. And yet in nothing do we find more to hate, with the honest hatred of an Esau, than in this same superstition. Heaven-born, it has bred with monster fiends. True superstition is reverent, and from it, like orchids from an old tree-trunk, spring blossoms of rare beauty But as the same tree feeds noisome fungi, the vampire epiphyte and slab lichens, so from the grand old trunk of superstition has sprung out a growth of unwholesome fictions. What miscreant first said that a tailor was the ninth part, and no more, of a man? By what vile arithmetic did the author of the old play arrive at his equation of tailors to men when he makes his hero, on meeting eighteen of them, call out, “Come on, hang it, I’ll fight you both!” Why a ninth, and why a tailor?
The tailor is the victim of misconstruction. Remember George Eliot’s story of a man so snuffy that the cat happening to pass near him was seized with such a violent sternutation as to be cruelly misunderstood! Let Baboo Ishuree Dass say, “Tailors, they are very dishonest”; he is speaking of natives. Let Burton say, “The tailor is a thief”; he was fanciful. And let Urquiza of Paita be detested; he was only a half-bred Peruvian. Remember the regiment of London tailors; De Quincy’s brave journeyman tailor; M. Achille Jules Cesar Le Grand, who was so courteous to Marguerite in the “Morals of May Fair”; the tailor of Yarrow who beat Mr. Tickler at backgammon; the famous tailor who killed seven at one blow and lived to divide a kingdom, and to call a queen his stepmother. Read “Mouat’s Quinquennial Report of the Lower Provinces,” and learn that the number of tailors in prison was less by one half than that of the priests. They were, moreover, the only class that had the decency to be incarcerated in round numbers, thereby notably facilitating the taking of averages and the deduction of most valuable observations.
Tailors, the ninth part of a man! Then are all Æthiops harmless? Can no Cretan speak a true word, or a Bœotian a wise one? Are all Italians blaspheming, and is Egypt merry Egypt? Nature, and she is no fool, has thought good to reproduce the tailor type in bird and insect: then why does man contemn the tailor? Because he sits cross-legged? Then is there not a whole man in Persia. Why should our children be taught in the nursery rhyme, how “nine-and-twenty tailors went out to kill a snail, but not a single one of them dared to touch his tail”? Or why should the world exult over the tailor, whom the elephant, as we learn from Mrs. Gurton’s “Book of Anecdotes,” squirted with ditch-water? We know the elephant to have been the aggressor; but just as we rejoice with Punch over the murder of his wife, and the affront he offers to the devil, so we applaud the ill-mannered pachyderm. “The elephant,” we read in childhood, “put his trunk into a tailor’s shop,” thrust his nose, some four feet of it, into a tailor’s house, his castle, writing himself down a gross fellow and an impertinent. For the tailor to have said, “Take your nose out of my shop” would have been tame; and on a mammal ill-conditioned enough to go where he was not bidden, such temperance would have been thrown away. When the Goth pulled the beard of the Senator, the Roman struck him down. Did Jupiter argue with Ixion, or Mark bandy words with the lover of Isolt? The tailor did not waste his breath, but we read “pricked the elephant’s nose with a needle.” Here the story should end. Jove’s eagles have met at Delos. But no. “The elephant,” we are told, “retired to a puddle and filled his trunk with water, and returning to the shop, squirted it over the tailor.” It was sagacious, doubtless, to squirt water at the tailor, and to squirt it straight; but such sagacity is no virtue, or the Artful Dodger must be held to be virtuous. The triumph of the elephant was one of Punch’s triumphs; Punch, who beats his wife past recovery, hangs an intimate friend after stealing his dog, and trifles with the devil, — Punch the incorrigible homunculus who, fresh from murder (his infant being thrown out of window), and with the smell of the brimstone of Diavolus still clinging to his frilled coat, complacently drums his heels upon the stage and assures his friends in front that, he has put his enemies to flight. Root a-too-it! Root-a-too-it! It is a great villain; yet the audience roar their fat applause. So with the elephant. Yet Mrs. Gurton has handed him down to future childhood as a marvel of sagacity, to be compared only with that pig who tells the time of day on playing-cards; the cat in Wellingtons who made his master Marquis of Carabas, and rose himself to high honors; and that ingenious but somewhat severe old lady who labored under the double disadvantage of small lodgings and a large family. Of all these Mrs. Gurton, in her able work, preserves the worthy memories; but that episode of the high-handed elephant and the seemly tailor should have been forgotten — irrecoverably lost like the hundred and odd volumes of Livy, or Tabitha Bramble’s reticule in the River Avon. But the blame of perpetuation rests not with Mrs. Gurton, but with her posterity. They admired the work and reprinted it, not like Anthon’s classics, expurgated, but in its noisome entirety. The volume before me is now a score years old — one year younger than was Ulysses’s dog, and two years older than Chatterton; so perhaps it may not be reproduced in our generation, and the mischievous fable may die out before the growth of better reading, as the scent of a musk-rat killed over-night fades away before the fumes of breakfast. Then let us hope, the tailor — the only story which reflects contempt on him being abolished — will assume his proper position between the angels and the anthropomorphous apes.