The Mirror of Kong Ho HTML version

Letter 9
Concerning the proverb of the highly-accomplished horse. The various perils to
be encountered in the Beneath Parts. The inexplicable journey performed by this
one, and concerning the obscurity of the witchcraft employed.
VENERATED SIRE,--Among these islanders there is a proverb, "Do not place
the carte" (or card, the two words having an identical purport, and both signifying
the inscribed tablet of viands prepared for a banquet,) before the horse."
Doubtless the saying first arose as a timely rebuke to a certain barbarian
emperor who announced his contempt for the intelligence of his subjects by
conferring high mandarin rank upon a favourite steed and ceremoniously
appointing it to be his chancellor; but from the narrower moral that an
unreasoning animal is out of place, and even unseemly, in the entertaining hall or
council chamber, the expression has in the course of time taken a wider
application and is now freely used as an insidious thrust at one who may be
suspected of contrariness of character, of confusing issues, or of acting in a vain
or illogical manner. I had already preserved the saying among other instances of
foreign thought and expression which I am collecting for your dignified
amusement, as it is very characteristic of the wisdom and humour of these Outer
Lands. The imagination is essentially barbaric. A horse--doubtless well-groomed,
richly-caparisoned, and as intellectual as the circumstances will permit, but
inevitably an animal of degraded attributes and untraceable ancestry--a horse
reclining before a lavishly set-out table and considering well of what dish it shall
next partake! Could anything, it appears, be more diverting! Truly to our more
refined outlook the analogy is lacking both in delicacy of wit and in exactitude of
balance, but to the grosser barbarian conception of what is gravity-removing it is
I am, however, reminded of the saying by perceiving that I was on the point of
recording certain details of recent occurrence without first unrolling to your mind
the incidents from which it has arisen that the person who is now communicating
with you is no longer reposing in the Capital, but spending a period profitably in
observing the habits of those who dwell in the more secluded recesses on the
outskirts of the Island. This reversal of the proper sequence of affairs would
doubtless strike those around as an instance of setting the banquet before the
horse. Without delay, then, to pursue the allusion to its appropriate end, I will
return, as it may be said, to my nosebag.
At various points about the streets of the Capital there are certain caverns
artificially let into the bowels of the earth, to which any person may betake
himself upon purchasing a printed sign which he must display to the guardian of
the gate. Once within the underneathmost parts he is free to be carried from
place to place by means of the trains of carriages which I have already described
to you, until he would return to the outer surface, when he must again display his
talisman before he is permitted to pass forth. Nor is this an empty form, for upon
an occasion this person himself witnessed a very bitter contention between a