Gateway to the Classics: Stories to Tell to Children by Sara Cone Bryant
Stories to Tell to Children by  Sara Cone Bryant

The Jealous Courtiers

I wonder if you have ever heard the anecdote about the artist of Dusseldorf and the jealous courtiers. This is it. It seems there was once a very famous artist who lived in the little town of Dusseldorf. He did such fine work that the Elector, Prince Johann Wilhelm, ordered a portrait statue of himself, on horseback, to be done in bronze. The artist was overjoyed at the commission, and worked early and late at the statue.

At last the work was done, and the artist had the great statue set up in the public square of Dusseldorf, ready for the opening view. The Elector came on the appointed day, and with him came his favorite courtiers from the castle. Then the statue was unveiled. It was very beautiful,—so beautiful that the prince exclaimed in surprise. He could not look enough, and presently he turned to the artist and shook hands with him, like an old friend. "Herr Grupello," he said, "you are a great artist, and this statue will make your fame even greater than it is; the portrait of me is perfect!"

When the courtiers heard this, and saw the friendly hand-grasp, their jealousy of the artist was beyond bounds. Their one thought was, how could they safely do something to humiliate him. They dared not pick flaws in the portrait statue, for the prince had declared it perfect. But at last one of them said, with an air of great frankness, "Indeed, Herr Grupello, the portrait of his Royal Highness is perfect; but permit me to say that the statue of the horse is not quite so successful: the head is too large; it is out of proportion."

"No," said another, "the horse is really not so successful; the turn of the neck, there, is awkward."

"If you would change the right hind-foot, Herr Grupello," said a third, "it would be an improvement."

Still another found fault with the horse's tail.

The artist listened, quietly. When they had all finished, he turned to the prince and said, "Your courtiers, Prince, find a good many flaws in the statue of the horse; will you permit me to keep it a few days more, to do what I can with it?"

The Elector assented, and the artist ordered a temporary screen built around the statue, so that his assistants could work undisturbed. For several days the sound of hammering came steadily from behind the enclosure. The courtiers, who took care to pass that way, often, were delighted. Each one said to himself, "I must have been right, really; the artist himself sees that something was wrong; now I shall have credit for saving the prince's portrait by my artistic taste!"

Once more the artist summoned the prince and his courtiers, and once more the statue was unveiled. Again the Elector exclaimed at its beauty, and then he turned to his courtiers, one after another, to see what they had to say.

"Perfect!" said the first. "Now that the horse's head is in proportion, there is not a flaw."

"The change in the neck was just what was needed," said the second; "it is very graceful now."

"The rear right foot is as it should be, now," said a third, "and it adds so much to the beauty of the whole!"

The fourth said that he considered the tail greatly improved.

"My courtiers are much pleased now," said the prince to Herr Grupello; "they think the statue much improved by the changes you have made."

Herr Grupello smiled a little. "I am glad they are pleased," he said, "but the fact is, I have changed nothing!"

"What do you mean?" said the prince in surprise. "Have we not heard the sound of hammering every day? What were you hammering at then?"

"I was hammering at the reputation of your courtiers, who found fault simply because they were jealous," said the artist. "And I rather think that their reputation is pretty well hammered to pieces!"

It was, indeed. The Elector laughed heartily, but the courtiers slunk away, one after another, without a word.

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