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From The World’s Wit and Humor, Vol. XII, German Wit and Humor; The Review of Reviews Company; New York; 1906; pp. 44-56.


Erich Raspe [1729-1781]

The Lion and the Crocodile

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 effects 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. 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 globe 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 its falling upon him, and was returning through his own garden when this fortunate accident happened.

The word fortunate, here requires some explanation.

The chief was a man of very avaricious and oppressive disposition, and though he had no family, the natives of the 45 island were half starved by his oppressive and infamous impositions.

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 our destination.

In about six weeks we arrived at Ceylon, where we were received with great marks of friendship and true politeness.

After we had resided there about a fortnight, I accompanied one of the governor’s brothers upon a shooting party. He was a strong, athletic man, and being used to that climate (for he had resided there some years), he bore the violent heat of the sun much better than I could. In our excursion he had made considerable progress through a thick wood, when I was only at the entrance.

Near the bank of a large piece of water I thought I heard a rustling noise behind me. On turning about, I was almost petrified (as who would not be?) at the sight of a lion, which was evidently approaching with the intention of satisfying his appetite with my poor carcass, and that without asking my consent. What was to be done in this horrible dilemma? I had not even a moment for reflection; my gun was only charged with swan-shot, and I had no other about me. However, though I could have no chance of killing such an animal with that weak kind of ammunition, yet I 46 had some hopes of frightening him by the report, and perhaps of wounding him also. I immediately let fly, without waiting till he was within reach, and the report only enraged him, for he now quickened his pace and seemed to approach me full speed. I attempted to escape, but that only added — if any addition could be made — to my distress; for the moment I turned about I found a large crocodile, with his jaws wide open, ready to receive me.

On my right hand was the piece of water before mentioned, and on my left a deep precipice, said to have, as I have since learned, a hole at the bottom full of venomous creatures. In short, I gave myself up for lost, for the lion was now upon his hind legs, just in the act of seizing me. I fell involuntarily to the ground with fear, and, as it afterward appeared, he sprang over me. I lay some time in a situation which no language can describe, expecting to feel his teeth or talons in some part of me every moment. After waiting in this prostrate situation a few seconds, I heard a violent but unusual noise, different from any sound that had ever before assailed my ears; not is it at all to be wondered at, when I inform you from whence it proceeded. After listening for some time I ventured to raise my head and look round, when, to my unspeakable joy, I perceived the lion had, by the eagerness with which he sprang at me, jumped forward, as I fell, into the crocodile’s mouth, which, as before observed, was wide open. The head of the one stuck in the throat of the other, and they were struggling to extricate themselves! I fortunately recollected my hunting-knife, which was by my side. With this instrument I severed the lion’s head at one blow, and the body fell at my feet. I then, with the butt-end of my fowling-piece, rammed the head farther into the throat of the crocodile, and destroyed 47 him by suffocation, for he could neither swallow nor eject it.

Soon after I had thus gained a complete victory over my two powerful adversaries, my companion arrived in search of me; for, finding I did not follow him into the wood, he returned, apprehending I had lost my way, or met with some accident.

After mutual congratulations, 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, who brought home the two carcasses. The lion’s skin was properly preserved with its hair on, after which it was made into tobacco-pouches, and presented by me, upon our return to Holland, to the burgomasters, who, in return, requested my acceptance of a thousand ducats.

The skin of the crocodile was stuffed in the usual manner, and makes a capital article in their public museum at Amsterdam, where the exhibitor relates the whole story to each spectator, which such additions as he thinks proper. Some of his variations are rather extravagant. One of them is, that the lion jumped quite through the crocodile, and was making his escape at the back door, when, as soon as his head appeared, Monsieur the Great Baron (as he is pleased to call me) cut it off, and three feet of the crocodile’s tail along with it. Nay, so little attention has this fellow to the truth, that he sometimes adds: “As soon as the crocodile missed his tail, he turned about, snatched the hunting-knife out of the baron’s hand, and swallowed it with such eagerness that it pierced his heart and killed him immediately!”

The little regard which this impudent knave has to veracity makes me sometimes apprehensive that my real facts 48 may fall under suspicion, by being in found in company with his confounded inventions.

— “Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

A Horse Tied to a Steeple

I SET off from Rome on a journey to Russia, in the midst of winter, from a just notion that frost and snow must of course improve the roads, which every traveler had described as uncommonly bad through the northern parts of Germany, Poland, Courland, and Livonia. I went on horseback, as the most convenient manner of traveling. I was but lightly clothed, and of this I felt the inconvenience the more I advanced northeast. What must not a poor old man have suffered in that severe weather and climate, whom I saw on a bleak common in Poland, lying on the road, helpless, shivering, and hardly having wherewithal to cover his nakedness? I pitied the poor soul. Though I felt the severity of the atmosphere myself, I threw my mantle over him and immediately I heard a voice from the heavens, blessing me for that piece of charity, saying:

“You will be rewarded, my son, for this in time.”

I went on. Night and darkness overtook me. No village was to be seen. The country was covered with snow, and I was unacquainted with the road.

Tired out I alighted, and fastened my horse to something like the pointed stump of a tree which appeared above the snow. For the sake of safety I placed my pistols under my arm, and laid down on the snow, where I slept so soundly that it did not open my eyes till full daylight. It is not easy to conceive my astonishment at finding myself in the 49 midst of a village, lying in a churchyard. Nor was my horse to be seen; but I heard him soon after neigh somewhere above me. On looking upward, I beheld him hanging by his bridle to the weathercock of the steeple. Matters were now quite plain to me. The village had been covered with snow overnight; a sudden change in the weather had taken place; I had sunk down to the churchyard while asleep at the same rate as the snow had melted away; and what in the dark I had taken to be a stump of a little tree appearing above the snow, to which I had tied my horse, proved to have been the cross or weathercock of the steeple!

Without long consideration, I took one of my pistols, shot the bridle in two, brought down the horse, and proceeded on my journey.

— “Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

The Frozen Tunes

PEACE having been concluded with the Turks, and I gaining my liberty, I left St. Petersburg at the time of that singular revolution when the emperor in his cradle, his mother, the Duke of Brunswick, her father, Field-Marshal Münnich, and many others, were sent to Siberia. The winter was then so uncommonly severe all over Europe, that, ever since, the sun seems to be frost-bitten. At my return to this place, I felt greater inconveniences on the road than those I had experienced on my setting out.

I traveled post, and finding myself in a narrow lane, bade the postilion give a signal with his horn, that other travelers might not meet us in the narrow passage. He blew with all his might. But his endeavors were in vain; he could not 50 make the horn sound, which was unaccountable and rather unfortunate, for, soon after, we found ourselves in the presence of another coach coming the other way. There was no possibility of proceeding. However, I got out of my carriage, and being pretty strong, placed it, wheels and all, upon my head. I then jumped over a hedge about nine feet high (which, considering the weight of the coach, was rather difficult) into a field, and came out again by another jump into the road beyond the other carriage. I then went back for the horses, and placed one upon my head and the other under my left arm, by the same means brought them to my coach, harnessed them, and went on to the inn at the end of our stage. I should have told you that the horse under my arm was very spirited, and not above four years old. In making my second jump over the hedge, he expressed a great dislike to that violent kind of motion by kicking and snorting. However, I confined his hind legs by putting them into my coat-pocket. After we arrived at the inn my postilion and I refreshed ourselves. He hung his horn on a peg near the kitchen fire. I sat on the other side.

Suddenly we heard a Tereng-tereng-teng-teng! We looked round, and now found the reason why the postilion had not been able to sound his horn. His tunes were frozen up in the horn, and came out now by thawing, plain enough, and much to the credit of the driver; so that the good fellow entertained us for some time by a variety of tunes, without putting his mouth to the horn, such as The King of Prussia’s March, Up Hill and Down Dale, and many other favorite airs.

Some travelers are apt to relate more than is perhaps strictly true. If any of the company entertain a doubt of my 51 veracity, I shall only say to such that I pity their want of faith.

— “Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

A Rather Large Whale

I EMBARKED at Portsmouth, in a first-rate English man-of-war of one hundred guns and fourteen hundred men, for North America. Nothing worth relating happened till we arrived within three hundred leagues of the river St. Lawrence, when the ship struck with amazing force against (as we supposed) a rock. However, upon heaving the lead, we could find no bottom, even with three hundred fathoms. What made this circumstance the more wonderful, and indeed beyond all comprehension, was, that the violence of the shock was such that we lost our rudder, broke our bowsprit in the middle, and split all our masts from top to bottom, two of which went by the board. A poor fellow, who was aloft furling the main-sheet, was flung at least three leagues from the ship; but he fortunately saved his life by laying hold of the tail of a large sea-gull, which brought him back and lodged him on the very spot whence he was thrown. Another proof of the violence of the shock was the force with which the people between decks were driven against the floors above them. My head particularly was pressed into my stomach, where it continued some months before it returned to its natural situation.

While we were all in a state of astonishment at the general and unaccountable confusion in which we were involved, the whole was suddenly explained by the appearance of a large whale, which had been basking, asleep, within sixteen feet of the surface of the water. The animal was so much 52 displeased with the disturbance which our ship had given him — for in our passage we had with our rudder scratched his nose — that he beat in all the gallery and part of the quarter-deck with his tail, and almost at the same instant took the main-sheet anchor, which was suspended, as it usually is, from the head, between his teeth, and ran away with the ship at least sixty leagues, at the rate of twelve leagues an hour, when, fortunately, the cable broke, and we lost both the whale and the anchor. However, upon our return to Europe, some months after, we found the same whale within a few leagues of the same spot, floating dead upon the water. It measured above half a mile in length. As we could take only a small quantity of such a monstrous animal on board, we got our boats out, and with much difficulty cut off his head, where, to our great joy, we found the anchor, and above forty fathoms of the cable, concealed on the left side of his mouth, just under his tongue. Perhaps this was the cause of his death, as that side of his tongue was much swelled with severe inflammation.

This was the only extraordinary circumstance that happened on this voyage. One part of our distress, however, I had like to have forgot. While the whale was running away with the ship she sprang a leak, and the water poured in so fast that all our pumps could not keep us from sinking. It was, however, my good fortune to discover it first. I found a large hole about a foot in diameter, and you will naturally suppose this circumstance gives me infinite pleasure, when I inform you that this noble vessel was preserved, with all its crew, by a most happy thought of mine. In short, I sat down over it, and could have covered it had it been even larger. Nor will you be surprised at this when I inform you that I am descended from Dutch parents.


My situation, while I sat there, was rather cool, but the carpenter’s art soon relieved me.

— “Adventures of Baron Münchausen.

The Siege of Gibraltar

During the late siege of Gibraltar I went with a provision fleet, under Lord Rodney’s command, to see my old friend General Elliot, who has, by his distinguished defense of that place, won laurels that can never fate. After the usual joy which generally attends the meeting of old friends had subsided, I went to examine the state of the garrison and view the operations of the enemy, for which purpose the general accompanied me. I had brought a most excellent refracting telescope with me from London, purchased of Dollond, by the help of which I found the enemy were going to discharge a thirty-six-pounder at the spot where we stood. I told the general what they were about. He looked through the glass also, and found my conjectures right. I immediately, by his permission, ordered a forty-eight-pounder to be brought from a neighboring battery, which I placed with so much exactness (having long studied the art of gunnery) that I was sure of my mark.

I continued watching the enemy till I saw the match placed at the touch-hole of their piece. At that very instant I gave the signal for our gun to be fired also.

About midway between the two pieces of cannon the balls struck each other with amazing force, and the effect was astonishing! The enemy’s ball recoiled back with such violence as to kill the man who had discharged it, by carrying 52 his head fairly off, with sixteen others which it met with in its progress to the Barbary coast, where its force, after passing through three masts of vessels that then lay in a line behind each other in the harbor, was so much spent, that it only broke its way through the roof of a poor laborer’s hut about two hundred yards inland, and destroyed a few teeth an old woman had left, who lay asleep on her back with her mouth open. The ball lodged in her throat. Her husband soon after came home and endeavored to extract it; but finding that impracticable, by the assistance of a rammer he forced it into her stomach. Our ball did excellent service; for it not only repelled the other in the manner just described, but, proceeding as I intended it should, it dismounted the very piece of cannon that had just been employed against us, and forced it into the hold of the ship, where it fell with so much force as to break its way through the bottom. The ship immediately filled and sank, with above a thousand Spanish sailors on board, besides a considerable number of soldiers. This, to be sure, was a most extraordinary exploit. I will not, however, take the whole merit to myself; my judgment was the principal engine, but chance assisted me a little; for I afterward found that the man who charged our forty-eight-pounder put in, by mistake, a double quantity of powder, else we could never have succeeded so much beyond all expectation, especially in repelling the enemy’s ball.

General Elliot would have given me a commission for this singular piece of service; but I declined everything, except his thanks, which I received at a crowded table of officers at supper on the evening of that very day.

As I am very partial to the English, who are beyond all doubt a brave people, I determined not to take my leave of 55 the garrison till I had rendered them another piece of service, and in about three weeks an opportunity presented itself. I dressed myself in the habit of a Romish priest, and at about one o’clock in the morning stole out of the garrison, passed the enemy’s lines, and arrived in the middle of their camp, where I entered the tent in which the Prince d’Artois was, with the commander-in-chief and several other officers, in deep council, concerting a plan to storm the fortress next morning. My disguise was my protection. I was allowed to remain there, hearing everything that passed, till they went to their several beds. When I found the whole camp, and even the sentinels, were wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, I began my work, which was that of dismounting all their cannon (above three hundred pieces), from forty-eight- to twenty-four-pounders, and throwing them three leagues into the sea. Having no assistance, I found this the hardest task I ever undertook, except swimming to the opposite shore with the famous Turkish piece of ordnance described by Baron de Tott in his Memoirs. I then piled all the carriages together in the center of the camp, which, to prevent the noise of the wheels being heard, I carried in pairs under my arms; and a noble appearance they made, as high at least as the rock of Gibraltar. I then produced a spark by striking a flint stone, situated twenty feet from the ground (in an old wall built by the Moors when they invaded Spain), with the breech of an iron eight-and-forty pounder, and so set fire to the whole pile. I forgot to inform you that I threw all their ammunition wagons upon the top.

Before I applied the lighted match I had laid the combustibles at the bottom so judiciously, that the whole was in a blaze in a moment. To prevent suspicion, I was one of the first to express my surprise. The whole camp was, as you may 56 imagine, petrified with astonishment. The general conclusion was that the sentinels had been bribed, and that seven or eight regiments of the garrison had been employed in this horrid destruction of their artillery. Mr. Drinkwater, in his account of this famous siege, mentions the enemy sustaining a great loss by a fire which happened in their camp, but never knew the cause. How should he? I never divulged it before (though I alone saved Gibraltar by this night’s business), not even to General Elliott. The Count d’Artois and all his attendants ran away in their fright, and never stopped on the road till they reached Paris, which they did in about a fortnight. This dreadful conflagration had such an effect upon them that they were incapable of taking the least refreshment for three months after, but, chameleon-like, lived upon air.

If any gentleman says he doubts the truth of this story, I will fine him a gallon of brandy, and make him drink it at one draft.

— “Adventures of Baron Münchausen.


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