Many years ago there lived an Emperor who was so exceedingly fond of fine new clothes that he spent vast sums of money on dress. To him clothes meant more than anything else in the world. He took no interest in his army, nor did he care to go to the theatre, or to drive about in his state coach, unless it was to display his new clothes. He had different robes for every single hour of the day.
In the great city where he lived life was gay and strangers were always coming and going. Everyone knew about the Emperor’s passion for clothes.
Now one fine day two swindlers, calling themselves weavers, arrived. They declared that they could make the most magnificent cloth that one could imagine; cloth of most beautiful colours and elaborate patterns. Not only was the material so beautiful, but the clothes made from it had the special power of being invisible to everyone who was stupid or not fit for his post.
“What a splendid idea,” thought the Emperor. “What useful clothes to have. If I had such a suit of clothes I could know at once which of my people is stupid or unfit for his post.”
So the Emperor gave the swindlers large sums of money and the two weavers set up their looms in the palace. They demanded the finest thread of the best silk and the finest gold and they pretended to work at their looms. But they put nothing on the looms. The frames stood empty. The silk and gold thread they stuffed into their bags. So they sat pretending to weave, and continued to work at the empty loom till late into the night. Night after night they went home with their money and their bags full of the finest silk and gold thread. Day after day they pretended to work.
Now the Emperor was eager to know how much of the cloth was finished, and would have loved to see for himself. He was, however, somewhat uneasy. “Suppose,” he thought secretly, “suppose I am unable to see the cloth. That would mean I am either stupid or unfit for my post. That cannot be,” he thought, but all the same he decided to send for his faithful old minister to go and see. “He will best be able to see how the cloth looks. He is far from stupid and splendid at his work.”
So the faithful old minister went into the hall where the two weavers sat beside the empty looms pretending to work with all their might.
The Emperor’s minister opened his eyes wide. “Upon my life!” he thought. “I see nothing at all, nothing.” But he did not say so.
The two swindlers begged him to come nearer and asked him how he liked it. “Are not the colors exquisite, and see how intricate are the patterns,” they said. The poor old minister stared and stared. Still he could see nothing, for there was nothing. But he did not dare to say he saw nothing. “Nobody must find out,”‘ thought he. “I must never confess that I could not see the stuff.”
“Well,” said one of the rascals. “You do not say whether it pleases you.”
“Oh, it is beautiful-most excellent, to be sure. Such a beautiful design, such exquisite colors. I shall tell the Emperor how enchanted) I am with the cloth.”
“We are very glad to hear that,” said the weavers, and they started to describe the colors and patterns in great detail. The old minister listened very carefully so that he could repeat the description to the Emperor. They also demanded more money and more gold thread, saying that they needed it to finish the cloth. But, of course, they put all they were given into their bags and pockets and kept on working at their empty looms.
Soon after this the Emperor sent another official to see how the men were getting on and to ask whether the cloth would soon be ready. Exactly the same happened with him as with the minister. He stood and stared, but as there was nothing to be seen, he could see nothing.
“Is not the material beautiful?” said the swindlers, and again they talked of ‘the patterns and the exquisite colors. “Stupid I certainly am not,” thought the official. “Then I must be unfit for my post. But nobody shall know that I could not see the material.” Then he praised the material he did not see and declared that he was delighted with the colors and the marvelous patterns.
To the Emperor he said when he returned, “The cloth the weavers are preparing is truly magnificent.”
Everybody in the city had heard of the secret cloth and were talking about the splendid material.
And now the Emperor was curious to see the costly stuff for himself while it was still upon the looms. Accompanied by a number of selected ministers, among whom were the two poor ministers who had already been before, the Emperor went to the weavers. There they sat in front of the empty looms, weaving more diligently than ever, yet without a single thread upon the looms.
“Is not the cloth magnificent?” said the two ministers. “See here, the splendid pattern, the glorious colors.” Each pointed to the empty loom. Each thought that the other could see the material.
“What can this mean?” said the Emperor to himself. “This is terrible. Am I so stupid? Am I not fit to be Emperor? This is disastrous,” he thought. But aloud he said, “Oh, the cloth is perfectly wonderful. It has a splendid pattern and such charming colors.” And he nodded his approval and smiled appreciatively and stared at the empty looms. He would not, he could not, admit he saw nothing, when his two ministers had praised the material so highly. And all his men looked and looked at the empty looms. Not one of them saw anything there at all. Nevertheless, they all said, “Oh, the cloth is magnificent.”
They advised the Emperor to have some new clothes made from this splendid material to wear in the great procession the following day.
“Magnificent.” “Excellent.” “Exquisite,” went from mouth to mouth and everyone was pleased. Each of the swindlers was given a decoration to wear in his button-hole and the title of “Knight of the Loom”.
The rascals sat up all that night and worked, burning more than sixteen candles, so that everyone could see how busy they were making the suit of clothes ready for the procession. Each of them had a great big pair of scissors and they cut in the air, pretending to cut the cloth with them, and sewed with needles without any thread.
There was great excitement in the palace and the Emperor’s clothes were the talk of the town. At last the weavers declared that the clothes were ready. Then the Emperor, with the most distinguished gentlemen of the court, came to the weavers. Each of the swindlers lifted up an arm as if he were holding something. “Here are Your Majesty’s trousers,” said one. “This is Your Majesty’s mantle,” said the other. “The whole suit is as light as a spider’s web. Why, you might almost feel as if you had nothing on, but that is just the beauty of it.”
“Magnificent,” cried the ministers, but they could see nothing at all. Indeed there was nothing to be seen.
“Now if Your Imperial Majesty would graciously consent to take off your clothes,” said the weavers, “we could fit on the new ones.” So the Emperor laid aside his clothes and the swindlers pretended to help him piece by piece into the new ones they were supposed to have made.
The Emperor turned from side to side in front of the long glass as if admiring himself.
“How well they fit. How splendid Your Majesty’s robes look: What gorgeous colors!” they all said.
“The canopy which is to be held over Your Majesty in the procession is waiting,” announced the Lord High Chamberlain.
“I am quite ready,” announced the Emperor, and he looked at himself again in the mirror, turning from side to side as if carefully examining his handsome attire.
The courtiers who were to carry the train felt about on the ground pretending to lift it: they walked on solemnly pretending to be carrying it. Nothing would have persuaded them to admit they could not see the clothes, for fear they would be thought stupid or unfit for their posts.
And so the Emperor set off under the high canopy, at the head of the great procession. It was a great success. All the people standing by and at the windows cheered and cried, “Oh, how splendid are the Emperor’s new clothes. What a magnificent train! How well the clothes fit!” No one dared to admit that he couldn’t see anything, for who would want it to be known that he was either stupid or unfit for his post?
None of the Emperor’s clothes had ever met with such success.
But among the crowds a little child suddenly gasped out, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” And the people began to whisper to one another what the child had said. “He hasn’t got anything on.” “There’s a little child saying he hasn’t got anything on.” Till everyone was saying, “But he hasn’t got anything on.” The Emperor himself had the uncomfortable feeling that what they were whispering was only too true. “But I will have to go through with the procession,” he said to himself.
So he drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before, and the courtiers held on to the train that wasn’t there at all.
Hans Christian Anderson
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