I NEVER knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the king was. He
Seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kind, and
To tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that
His seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers.
They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as
Well as inimitable jokers. Whether people grow fat by joking, or whether
There is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never
Been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean joker is a
Rara avis in terris.
About the refinements, or, as he called them, the ‘ghost’ of wit, the king
Troubled himself very little. He had an especial admiration for breadth in
A jest, and would often put up with length, for the sake of it.
Over-niceties wearied him. He would have preferred Rabelais’ ‘Gargantua’
To the ‘Zadig’ of Voltaire: and, upon the whole, practical jokes suited
His taste far better than verbal ones.
At the date of my narrative, professing jesters had not altogether gone
Out of fashion at court. Several of the great continental ‘powers’ still
Retain their ‘fools,’ who wore motley, with caps and bells, and who were
Expected to be always ready with sharp witticisms, at a moment’s notice,
In consideration of the crumbs that fell from the royal table.
Our king, as a matter of course, retained his ‘fool.’ The fact is, he
Required something in the way of folly – if only to counterbalance the
Heavy wisdom of the seven wise men who were his ministers – not to
His fool, or professional jester, was not only a fool, however. His value
Was trebled in the eyes of the king, by the fact of his being also a dwarf
And a cripple. Dwarfs were as common at court, in those days, as fools;
And many monarchs would have found it difficult to get through their days
(days are rather longer at court than elsewhere) without both a jester to
Laugh with, and a dwarf to laugh at. But, as I have already observed, your
Jesters, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred, are fat, round, and
Unwieldy – so that it was no small source of self-gratulation with our
King that, in Hop-Frog (this was the fool’s name), he possessed a
Triplicate treasure in one person.
I believe the name ‘Hop-Frog’ was not that given to the dwarf by his
Sponsors at baptism, but it was conferred upon him, by general consent of
The several ministers, on account of his inability to walk as other men
Do. In fact, Hop-Frog could only get along by a sort of interjectional
Gait – something between a leap and a wriggle – a movement that afforded
Illimitable amusement, and of course consolation, to the king, for
(notwithstanding the protuberance of his stomach and a constitutional
Swelling of the head) the king, by his whole court, was accounted a
But although Hop-Frog, through the distortion of his legs, could move only
With great pain and difficulty along a road or floor, the prodigious
Muscular power which nature seemed to have bestowed upon his arms, by way
Of compensation for deficiency in the lower limbs, enabled him to perform
Many feats of wonderful dexterity, where trees or ropes were in question,
Or any thing else to climb. At such exercises he certainly much more
Resembled a squirrel, or a small monkey, than a frog.
I am not able to say, with precision, from what country Hop-Frog
Originally came. It was from some barbarous region, however, that no
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