Many years ago there lived an Emperor who was so exceedingly fond of grand new clothes that he spent all his money on them, that he might be very fine. He did not care for his soldiers, nor for the theatre, nor for driving about, except for the purpose of showing his new clothes.
He had a coat for every hour of the day, and just as they say of a king, "He is in Council," they always said of him, "The Emperor is in his Wardrobe."
Well, the great town in which he lived was very busy. Every day a number of strangers arrived.
One day two rogues came along, saying they were weavers, and that they knew how to weave the finest stuff one could imagine. Not only, said they, were the colors and designs exceedingly beautiful, but the clothes that were made of their material had the wonderful quality of being invisible to everybody who was either unfit for his position, or was extraordinarily stupid.
"They must be splendid clothes," thought the Emperor; "by wearing them I could easily discover what persons in my kingdom are unfit for their posts. I could distinguish the wise from the stupid. I must have the stuff woven for me at once!" So he gave the two rogues a large sum of money, in order that they might begin their work without delay.
The rogues put up two looms, and pretended to be working, but they had nothing at all in the frames. Again and again they demanded the finest silks and the most magnificent gold thread, but they put it all in their own pockets, and worked at their empty looms late into the night.
"Now, I should like to know how far they have got on with that stuff," thought the Emperor; but he felt quite uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were stupid or unfit for their positions could not see it. He did not think for a moment that he had anything to fear for himself; but nevertheless, he would rather send somebody else first to see how the stuff was getting on.
Everybody in the town knew what a remarkable quality the stuff possessed, and each was anxious to see how bad or how stupid his neighbors were.
"I will send my honest old Minister to the weavers," thought the Emperor. "He can judge best how the stuff looks, for he is intelligent, and no one is better fit for his office than he."
So the clever old Minister went out into the hall, where the two rogues sat working at the empty looms.
"Goodness me!" thought the old Minister, and he opened his eyes wide. "I cannot see anything at all!" But he did not say so. Both of the rogues begged him to be so kind as to step nearer, and asked if he did not approve of the colors and the pattern, and they pointed to the empty looms.
But the poor old Minister went on opening his eyes wider and wider; but he could not see anything, for there was nothing there.
"Goodness me!" he thought, "Am I really stupid? I never thought so, and not a soul must know it. Am I really not fit for my office? No, I must certainly not tell anybody that I cannot see the stuff."
"Well, what do you think of it?" asked the one who was weaving.
"Oh, it is beautiful; most magnificent!" replied the old Minister, as he peered through his spectacles. "What a pattern, and what colors! Yes, I must tell the Emperor that I like it very much indeed."
"Well, we are glad of that," said both weavers; and then they described the colors, and explained the strange pattern.
The old Minister listened attentively, that he might be able to repeat it all when he returned to the Emperor. And he did so.
The rogues now asked for more money, and for more silk and gold thread, which they declared they wanted for weaving. They put everything into their pockets, and not a thread went on the loom; but they continued to work at the empty frames as before.
Soon afterwards, the Emperor sent another clever statesman to see how the weaving was getting on, and whether the stuff would soon be ready. The same thing happened to him as to the minister; he looked and looked, but as there was nothing to be seen on the empty frames, he could not see anything.
"Is not that a pretty piece of stuff?" asked the two rogues; and they described the beauty of the pattern, which was not there at all.
"I am not stupid!" thought the statesman, "so it must be that I am unfit for the high position I hold. That is very strange, but I must not let anybody noticed it." So he praised the piece of stuff, which he did not see, and said how pleased he was with the beautiful colors and charming pattern.
"Oh, it is really magnificent!" he told the Emperor.
All the people in the town were talking about the gorgeous stuff, and the Emperor himself wished to see it while it was still on the loom. With a whole crowd of chosen courtiers, among whom were the two honest old statesmen who had been there before, the Emperor went to the two cunning rogues, who were now weaving with might and main without thread or shuttle.
"Well, is it not magnificent?" cried the two clever statesmen, who had already been there. "Does your Majesty remark how beautiful is the pattern, how charming the colors?" And they pointed to the empty looms, for they thought that the others could see the stuff.
"What's this?" thought the Emperor. "I cannot see anything; this is terrible. Am I stupid? Am I not fit to be Emperor? This would be the most dreadful thing that could happen to me! Yes, it is very beautiful," he said at last, "we give our highest approbation." And he nodded as if he were quite satisfied, and gazed at the empty looms, for he would not say that he saw nothing.
And the whole of his suite, whom he had with him, looked and looked; but, like the others, they were unable to see anything. So they said, just like the Emperor, "Yes, it is very pretty," and they advised him to have some clothes made from this magnificent stuff, and to wear them for the first time at the great procession that was about to take place. "It is magnificent! beautiful! excellent!" they said one to another, and they were all so exceedingly pleased with it that the Emperor gave the two rogues a decoration to be worn in the button-hole and the title of "Imperial Weavers."
The rogues worked throughout the whole of the night preceding the day of the procession, and had over sixteen candles alight, so that people could see how busy they were in preparing the Emperor's new clothes. They pretended to take the stuff off the looms, cut it in the air with great scissors, and sewed with needles without thread; and at last they said, "Now the clothes are ready!"
The Emperor came himself with his noblest courtiers; and the rogues lifted their arms up in the air, just as if they held something, and said, "See, here are the trousers! here is the coat! here is the cloak!" and so on. "It is all as light as a cobweb; one might imagine one had nothing on; but that is just the beauty of it."
"Yes," said all the courtiers; but they could not see anything, for nothing was there.
"Will your Imperial Highness condescend to take off your clothes?" said the rogues. "We will then attire your Majesty in the new clothes, here, in front of the great mirror."
The Emperor took off his clothes, and the rogues pretended to put each new garment on him as it was ready; and the Emperor turned round and round before the mirror.
"Oh, how well they look! how beautifully they fit!" said everyone. "What a pattern! what colors! It is indeed magnificent!"
"They are standing outside with the canopy, which is to be borne above your Majesty in the procession!" announced the Master of the Ceremonies.
"Well, I am ready," replied the Emperor. "Does it not fit me well?" And then he turned again to the mirror, for he wanted it to appear that he was admiring his rich costume.
The two chamberlains, who were to carry the train, fumbled with their hands on the floor just as if they were picking up the mantle; then they pretended to be holding something in the air, but dared not let anybody notice that they saw nothing.
And so the Emperor went in procession beneath the magnificent canopy, and all the people in the street and at the windows said, "Oh! How beautiful the Emperor's new clothes are; what a splendid train, and how well everything fits!"
No one would admit that he could see nothing, for that would have shown that he was either unfit for his office or very stupid. No clothes of the Emperor's had ever been so much admired as these.
"But he has nothing on at all!" said a little child.
"Just hear the voice of the innocent," said his father; and one whispered to the other what the child had said. " 'He has nothing on,' says a little child; 'he has nothing on!' "
"But he has nothing on!" cried the whole of the people at last; and the Emperor shivered, for it seemed to him that they were right.
But he thought to himself, "I must go through with the procession." And so he walked with even greater dignity than before; and the chamberlains followed, carrying the train which did not exist.