Many years ago there was an emperor who was so fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on them. He did not give himself any concern about his army; he cared nothing about the theater or for driving about in the woods, except for the sake of showing himself off in new clothes. He had a costume for every hour in the day, and just as they say of a king or emperor, “He is in his council chamber,” they said of him, “The emperor is in his dressing room.”
Life was merry and gay in the town where the emperor lived, and numbers of strangers came to it every day. Among them there came one day two rascals, who gave themselves out as weavers and said that they knew how to weave the most exquisite stuff imaginable. Not only were the colors and patterns uncommonly beautiful, but the clothes that were made of the stuff had the peculiar property of becoming invisible to every person who was unfit for the office he held or who was exceptionally stupid.
“Those must be valuable clothes,” thought the emperor. “By wearing them I should be able to discover which of the men in my empire are not fit for their posts. I should distinguish wise men from fools. Yes, I must order some of the stuff to be woven for me directly.” And he paid the swindlers a handsome sum of money in advance, as they required.
As for them, they put up two looms and pretended to be weaving, though there was nothing whatever on their shuttles. They called for a quantity of the finest silks and of the purest gold thread, all of which went into their own bags, while they worked at their empty looms till late into the night.
“I should like to know how those weavers are getting on with the stuff,” thought the emperor. But he felt a little queer when he reflected that those who were stupid or unfit for their office would not be able to see the material. He believed, indeed, that he had nothing to fear for himself, but still he thought it better to send some one else first, to see how the work was coming on. All the people in the town had heard of the peculiar property of the stuff, and every one was curious to see how stupid his neighbor might be.
“I will send my faithful old prime minister to the weavers,” thought the emperor. “He will be best capable of judging of this stuff, for he is a man of sense and nobody is more fit for his office than he.”
So the worthy old minister went into the room where the two swindlers sat working the empty looms. “Heaven save us!” thought the old man, opening his eyes wide. “Why, I can’t see anything at all!” But he took care not to say so aloud.
Both the rogues begged him to step a little nearer and asked him if he did not think the patterns very pretty and the coloring fine. They pointed to the empty loom as they did so, and the poor old minister kept staring as hard as he could—but without being able to see anything on it, for of course there was nothing there to see.
“Heaven save us!” thought the old man. “Is it possible that I am a fool? I have never thought it, and nobody must know it. Is it true that I am not fit for my office? It will never do for me to say that I cannot see the stuffs.”
“Well, sir, do you say nothing about the cloth?” asked the one who was pretending to go on with his work.
“Oh, it is most elegant, most beautiful!” said the dazed old man, as he peered again through his spectacles. “What a fine pattern, and what fine colors! I will certainly tell the emperor how pleased I am with the stuff.”
“We are glad of that,” said both the weavers; and then they named the colors and pointed out the special features of the pattern. To all of this the minister paid great attention, so that he might be able to repeat it to the emperor when he went back to him.
And now the cheats called for more money, more silk, and more gold thread, to be able to proceed with the weaving, but they put it all into their own pockets, and not a thread went into the stuff, though they went on as before, weaving at the empty looms.
After a little time the emperor sent another honest statesman to see how the weaving was progressing, and if the stuff would soon be ready. The same thing happened with him as with the minister. He gazed and gazed, but as there was nothing but empty looms, he could see nothing else.
“Is not this an exquisite piece of stuff?” asked the weavers, pointing to one of the looms and explaining the beautiful pattern and the colors which were not there to be seen.
“I am not stupid, I know I am not!” thought the man, “so it must be that I am not fit for my good office. It is very strange, but I must not let it be noticed.” So he praised the cloth he did not see and assured the weavers of his delight in the lovely colors and the exquisite pattern. “It is perfectly charming,” he reported to the emperor.
Everybody in the town was talking of the splendid cloth. The emperor thought he should like to see it himself while it was still on the loom. With a company of carefully selected men, among whom were the two worthy officials who had been there before, he went to visit the crafty impostors, who were working as hard as ever at the empty looms.
“Is it not magnificent?” said both the honest statesmen. “See, your Majesty, what splendid colors, and what a pattern!” And they pointed to the looms, for they believed that others, no doubt, could see what they did not.
“What!” thought the emperor. “I see nothing at all. This is terrible! Am I a fool? Am I not fit to be emperor? Why nothing more dreadful could happen to me!”
“Oh, it is very pretty! it has my highest approval,” the emperor said aloud. He nodded with satisfaction as he gazed at the empty looms, for he would not betray that he could see nothing.
His whole suite gazed and gazed, each seeing no more than the others; but, like the emperor, they all exclaimed, “Oh, it is beautiful!” They even suggested to the emperor that he wear the splendid new clothes for the first time on the occasion of a great procession which was soon to take place.
“Splendid! Gorgeous! Magnificent!” went from mouth to mouth. All were equally delighted with the weavers’ workmanship. The emperor gave each of the impostors an order of knighthood to be worn in their buttonholes, and the title Gentleman Weaver of the Imperial Court.
Before the day on which the procession was to take place, the weavers sat up the whole night, burning sixteen candles, so that people might see how anxious they were to get the emperor’s new clothes ready. They pretended to take the stuff from the loom, they cut it out in the air with huge scissors, and they stitched away with needles which had no thread in them. At last they said, “Now the clothes are finished.”
The emperor came to them himself with his grandest courtiers, and each of the rogues lifted his arm as if he held something, saying, “See! here are the trousers! here is the coat! here is the cloak,” and so on. “It is as light as a spider’s web. One would almost feel as if one had nothing on, but that is the beauty of it!”
“Yes,” said all the courtiers, but they saw nothing, for there was nothing to see.
“Will your Majesty be graciously pleased to take off your clothes so that we may put on the new clothes here, before the great mirror?”
The emperor took off his clothes, and the rogues pretended to put on first one garment and then another of the new ones they had pretended to make. They pretended to fasten something round his waist and to tie on something. This they said was the train, and the emperor turned round and round before the mirror.
“How well his Majesty looks in the new clothes! How becoming they are!” cried all the courtiers in turn. “That is a splendid costume!”
“The canopy that is to be carried over your Majesty in the procession is waiting outside,” said the master of ceremonies.
“Well, I am ready,” replied the emperor. “Don’t the clothes look well?” and he turned round and round again before the mirror, to appear as if he were admiring his new costume.
The chamberlains, who were to carry the train, stooped and put their hands near the floor as if they were lifting it; then they pretended to be holding something in the air. They would not let it be noticed that they could see and feel nothing.
So the emperor went along in the procession, under the splendid canopy, and every one in the streets said: “How beautiful the emperor’s new clothes are! What a splendid train! And how well they fit!”
No one wanted to let it appear that he could see nothing, for that would prove him not fit for his post. None of the emperor’s clothes had been so great a success before.
“But he has nothing on!” said a little child.
“Just listen to the innocent,” said its father; and one person whispered to another what the child had said. “He has nothing on; a child says he has nothing on!”
“But he has nothing on,” cried all the people. The emperor was startled by this, for he had a suspicion that they were right. But he thought, “I must face this out to the end and go on with the procession.” So he held himself more stiffly than ever, and the chamberlains held up the train that was not there at all.