Laws are like spider-webs which, if anything small falls into them they ensnare it, but large things break through and escape. — Solon of Athens

Adventures of Baron Munchausen - R. E. Raspe




The Baron Gives an Account of his First Travels

The adventures of my youth were not less strange than those of my riper years, so to-night, dear comrades, I will tell you of my earliest travels.

"When I was neither man nor boy, but between both, a cousin of my mother's obtained permission from my parents for me to accompany him on a voyage to the island of Ceylon, where his uncle at that time was governor.

"We sailed from Amsterdam with despatches from their High Mightinesses the States of Holland. The only circumstance which happened on our voyage worth relating was the wonderful effect of a storm, which had torn up by the roots a great number of trees of enormous bulk and height, in an island where we lay at anchor to take in wood and water; some of these trees weighed many tons, yet they were carried by the wind so amazingly high that they appeared like the feathers of small birds floating in the air, for they were at least five miles above the earth.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
AN OLD COUPLE GATHERING CUCUMBERS.


However, as soon as the storm subsided, they all fell perpendicularly into their respective places, and took root again, except the largest, which happened, when it was blown into the air, to have a man and his wife, a very honest old couple, upon its branches, gathering cucumbers (in this part of the world that useful vegetable grows upon trees). The weight of this couple, as the tree descended, overbalanced the trunk, and brought it down in a horizontal position: it fell upon the chief man of the island, and killed him on the spot; he had quitted his house in the storm, under an apprehension of it falling upon him, and was returning through his own garden when this fortunate accident happened.—The word fortunate, here, requires some explanation.—This chief was a man of very avaricious and oppressive disposition, and though he had no family, the natives of the island were half-starved by his oppressive and infamous impositions.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
IT FELL UPON THE CHIEF MAN.


"The very goods which he had thus taken from them were spoiling in his stores, while the poor wretches from whom they were plundered were pining in poverty. Though the destruction of this tyrant was accidental, the people chose the cucumber gatherers for their governors, as a mark of their gratitude for destroying, though accidentally, their late tyrant.

"After we had repaired the damages we sustained in this remarkable storm, and taken leave of the new governor and his lady, we sailed with a fair wind for the object of our voyage.

"In about six weeks we arrived safely in Ceylon, where I had a singular hunting adventure. After we had been there a few days, I was invited by the governor's eldest son to accompany him on a shooting expedition along the coast. He was a strong, athletic man, and being used to the climate walked on unconcernedly, whereas I was so exhausted by the heat, that I lagged behind and finally was forced to sit down and rest in the shade of a clump of trees. I say forced, because the heat was such as to melt the leaden buttons of my jacket, and my gun was so hot that I feared every moment lest the powder inside should ignite.

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
I SAW A GIGANTIC LION APPROACHING.


"After a short rest, I continued my way alone, and soon came to the bank of a rushing stream, where I was about to sit down again, when I thought I heard a rustling sound behind me. I turned round and was petrified with horror to see a gigantic lion approaching, with the evident intention of devouring me.

"I had not even a moment for reflection; my gun was only loaded with bird-shot, and I had no other about me. I hardly hoped to wound or even frighten the lion with such ammunition, but I fired immediately, without waiting till he was within range. The majestic animal shook his head several times, uttered a loud roar, and prepared to spring. I turned to fly and—my flesh creeps even now at the recollection of it—there, on the bank, lay a huge crocodile with his terrible jaws extended ready to swallow me!

[Illustration] from Baron Munchausen by R. E. Raspe
THE LION JUMPED CLEAN OVER ME INTO THE CROCODILE'S JAWS.


"Imagine, gentlemen, the horror of my situation—behind me the lion, before me the crocodile, on my left a rushing torrent, and on the right an abyss full of poisonous snakes! I gave myself up for lost, and fell to the ground in an almost fainting condition, expecting nothing better than to meet with a horrible death from one or other of these formidable animals.

"After waiting a few seconds, I heard a violent but unusual noise, different from any that had fallen on my ears before. I ventured to raise my head, and what do you think had happened?

"The lion had, in his eagerness, jumped clean over me into the crocodile's jaws; the head of the one stuck in the throat of the other, and they were struggling to extricate themselves. I quickly sprang to my feet, drew out my hunting-knife, and with one blow severed the lion's head, so that the body fell at my feet. Then, with the butt-end of my gun, I rammed the head further into the throat of the crocodile, and destroyed him by suffocation.

"Soon after my victory over these two formidable creatures, my friend returned to see what game I had brought down by the shot he had heard. He was astounded at my booty, especially when we measured the crocodile, which was just forty feet in length.

"As soon as we had related this extraordinary adventure to the governor, he sent a wagon and servants to bring home the two carcasses. To him, as our host, I presented the lion's skin, and he was greatly delighted with the gift. The hide of the crocodile I had stuffed in the usual manner, and it now forms one of the chief attractions in the museum at Amsterdam, where the superintendent relates the story to all spectators, with harrowing additions.

"One of these is that the lion jumped right through the crocodile, but as soon as the head appeared Monsieur the Famous Baron (as he is pleased to call me) cut it off, and three feet of the crocodile's tail as well, whereupon the crocodile turned round, snatched the knife out of my hand, and swallowed it so greedily that it pierced his heart and killed him!

"I need not tell you how annoyed I was by these exaggerations. In this age of doubt people who do not know me might possibly be led to disbelieve the real facts, when they are mixed up with such absurd inventions."