Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man. — John Cardinal Newman

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




The Baron's Adventures with a Huge Cannon


and a Fish Story


"Honored friends and comrades," said the Baron at the next meeting, "I am alone again to-day, as my nephew has deserted me. His brother has sent an urgent message for him to return, and my wife has gone with him. I therefore invite all you gentlemen to dine with me to-night at the inn at my expense. I am celebrating to-day the silver wedding of a very old friend of mine, and I trust you will not only favor me with your company, but allow me also to present to you a new acquaintance. But before we dine, permit me to finish the story of my pleasure trip, the effects of which I suffered from for some time afterwards.

"When we reached Jerusalem, Mr. Smith took ship direct for London, and I returned to Constantinople. The Sultan was greatly distressed at my mysterious disappearance, and had sent criers through all the principal streets' of the town, to announce that he would give a thousand gold pieces to any one who could either produce or bring news of the lost Baron.

"These tidings reached me on my journey, and, directly I arrived in Constantinople, I sent a messenger to the royal audience-chamber to announce the arrival of a gentleman who brought news of the lost Baron. His Majesty at once appeared, bringing with him a purse containing the thousand gold pieces. You can judge by this how much His Majesty valued me.

"'My dear Munchausen,' he exclaimed, with rapture, 'how delighted I am to see you once more! Where have you been hiding?'

"'Close to the sun,' said I.

"Strolling through the park together, I recounted to the astonished Sultan all the details of my adventure, and bemoaned my exhaustion and loss of strength. We were standing by the celebrated brass cannon, probably the largest in the world, which carried a marble ball of eleven hundred pounds' weight, and requires three hundred and thirty pounds' weight of powder.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
I LIFTED THE BRAZEN MONSTER WITH ONE HAND.


"'I suppose you could not lift that cannon?, said the Sultan, smiling.

"'I have no objection to trying,' I replied, lifting the brazen monster with one hand.

"'Oh well, that's easy enough,' said the Sultan, 'but I will wager you that you cannot carry it an hundred paces.'

"I hesitated a moment, but my pride was roused, and, throwing off my coat and waist-coat, I seized the cannon in both hands, balanced it on my left shoulder, and carried it the required distance. Then, still holding the cannon, I ran to the water's edge, plunged in, and swam out into the sea.

"'Take heed what you are doing,' cried the Sultan; 'you will not be able to hold out long!'

"'What will Your Highness wager that I do not swim to the opposite shore?' I cried.

"'Sixty thousand double ducats,' was his answer.

"I made no reply, but merely swam on, and, using my utmost exertions, soon reached the coast of Asia. Somewhat wearied, I rested on the shore until the Sultan's chief minister arrived in an eighteen-oared galley, bringing the message that his master was delighted at my success, and offered me four times the amount if I would restore the cannon to its former place. Much can be accomplished for such an enormous reward, and I felt imbued with fresh strength. Assuring the minister that the Sultan should have my answer directly, I swung my arm, seized the cannon, and threw it towards the European coast. But I had miscalculated my strength. Unfortunately, the heavy cannon slipped a little in my hand just as I was about to discharge it, and fell, together with my prospect of a substantial reward, into the sea, where it still lies to the present day.

"I dared not venture to show myself in Constantinople again, for a price had been set on my head. I therefore exchanged clothes with a poor laborer, and made my escape that very night on a vessel bound for Venice. Since this fiasco I have never ventured on Turkish soil again.

"But here comes our hostess with the new acquaintance I promised to introduce to you. Allow me to present to you a very delicate kind of salmon-trout, which is only to be found in the Lake of Constance. Exactly twenty-five years ago I was staying at Basle in order to be present at the wedding of one of my friends. The wedding feast was to be given at a large inn, and when I went there a week before the ceremony to make the final arrangements, I found the landlady complaining bitterly that she was unable to obtain any of these salmon-trout in time for the wedding day. I asked her to describe to me exactly what these were, and, although I am not particularly fond of fishing, I went to the Lake of Constance, and in three days had caught a whole barrel full of these fish. But how could I return in time? I discovered to my horror that I had made a mistake in the date, and that the wedding was to take place that very morning. I determined at all costs to be back in time with my fish, so seating myself on the cask, I floated down the Rhine. On the way I caught nineteen large salmon, which I harnessed to my cask of fish, and now we spun along so swiftly, that I reached Basle within two hours. The only danger I encountered was when passing the falls of Schaffhausen, when my improvised boat was nearly upset, but I escaped with a wetting, and earned the grateful thanks of the whole wedding-party. To-day, in celebration of his silver wedding, my friend has sent me a dozen salmon-trout and a cask of wine, I call upon you all, my friends, to charge your glasses and drink to the long life of the happy pair, to the assembled company, and to the veracity of all tales of adventure!"

Thus the hours sped along, and when the Baron took leave of his guests, he announced that he was going away for some time, as he had promised to accompany his friends at Basle on a long tour through Switzerland.