Ernest Bramah's "Kai Lung"

Ernest Bramah Smith merits his own page purely to extol the virtues of his character Kai Lung — a fictional, cowardly, intelligent, literate, itinerant story-teller plying his ill-rewarded trade in a wholly invented China. Kai Lung made his first appearance in a collection published in 1900 by Grant Richards. The first edition was 1,000 copies and (rumour has it) took 28 years to sell out. Through the magic of OCR I captured a 1947 article from "The Listener" about his creator, the highly-reclusive Mr Smith.

But let's see what Kai Lung has to say for himself:

  1. It has been said ... that there are few situations in life that cannot be honorably settled, and without loss of time, either by suicide, a bag of gold, or by thrusting a despised antagonist over the edge of a precipice on a dark night.
  2. Before hastening to secure a possible reward of five taels by dragging an unobservant person away from a falling building, examine well his features lest you find, when too late, that it is one to whom you are indebted for double the amount.
  3. To steal insidiously upon a destructively-inclined wild beast and transfix it with one well-directed blow of a spear is attended by difficulties and emotions which are entirely absent in the case of a wicker-work animal covered with canvas-cloth, no matter how deceptive in appearance the latter may be.
  4. After secretly observing the unstudied grace of her movements, the most celebrated picture-maker of the province burned the implements of his craft and began life anew as a trainer of performing elephants.
  5. How is it possible to suspend topaz in one cup of the balance and weigh it against amethyst in the other; or who in a single language can compare the tranquilising grace of a maiden with the invigorating pleasure of witnessing a well-contested ratfight?
  6. It has been truly said that the whole course of an ordinary person's life may be rearranged by so slight a matter as having his gravity displaced at the wrong pause during a speech by a high official.
  7. Of those who are not earthbound by sordid considerations of unclean gain it is well said: "Better a dish of husks to the accompaniment of a muted lark than to be satiated with stewed shark's fin and rich spiced wine of which the cost is frequently mentioned by the provider".
  8. Wait! All men are but as the black, horncased beetles which overrun the inferior cooking-rooms of the city, and even at this moment the heavily-shod and unerring foot of Buddha may be lifted.
  9. To the starving, a blow from a skewer of meat is more acceptable than a caress from the hand of a maiden.
  10. When actually in the embrace of a voracious and powerful wild animal, the desirability of leaving a limb is not a matter to be subjected to lengthy consideration.
  11. If to succeed in a business way, sell your sacred books and therewith purchase and display a pretentious banner.
  12. It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one's time in looking for the sacred Emperor in the low-class tea-shops.
  13. Although it is desirable to lose persistently when playing at squares and circles with the broad minded and sagacious Emperor, it is none the less a fact that the observance of this etiquette deprives the intellectual diversion of much of its interest for both players.
  14. Two resolute men, acting in concord, may transform an Empire, but an ordinarily resourceful duck can escape from a dissentient rabble.
  15. Should a person in returning from the city discover his house to be in flames, let him examine well the change which he has received from the chair-carrier, before it is too late; for evil never travels alone.
  16. May bats defile his Ancestral Tablets and goats propagate within his neglected tomb! .. May the sinews of his hams snap in moments of achievement!
  17. Who has not proved the justice of the saying, "She who breaks the lid by noon will crack the dish ere nightfall"?
  18. To regard all men as corrupt is wise, but to attempt to discriminate among the various degrees of iniquity is both foolish and discourteous.
  19. Adequately set forth, the history of the Princess Taik and of the virtuous youth occupies all the energies of an agile story-teller for seven weeks.
  20. In shallow waters dragons become the laughing-stock of shrimps.
  21. In his countenance this person read an expression of no-encouragement towards his venture.
  22. He is capable of any crime, from reviling the Classics to diverting water-courses.
  23. A sedan-chair! A sedan-chair! This person will unhesitatingly exchange his entire and well-regulated Empire for such an article.
  24. I am overwhelmed that I should be the cause of such an engaging display of polished agitation.
  25. To what degree do the class and position of her entirely unnecessary parents affect the question?
  26. Those who walk into an earthquake while imploring Heaven for a sign are unworthy of consideration.
  27. A rock falling outside one's door makes a greater stir than a landslide across the valley.
  28. He who can predict winning numbers has no need to let off crackers.
  29. One thing only remains: remove the various sheaths from off thy hands, for they not only conceal the undoubted perfection of the nails within, but their massive angularity renders the affectionate ardour of your embrace almost intolerable.
  30. It is scarcely to be expected that one who has spent his life beneath an official umbrella should have at his command the finer analogies of light and shade.
  31. Alas, it has been well written: "He who thinks he is raising a mound may only in reality be digging a pit".
  32. When struck by a thunderbolt it is unnecessary to consult the Book of Dates as to the precise meaning of the omen.
  33. Even if your mind is set on drowning, courtesy demands that I who am concerned shall at least provide you with a change of dry apparel in which to do so more agreeably.
  34. By, as it were, extending the five-fingered gesture of derision from the organ of contempt, you have invited the retaliatory propulsion of the sandal of authority.
  35. Even a goat and an ox must keep in step if they are to plough together.
  36. The whole narrative is permeated with the odour of joss-sticks and honourable high-mindedness.
  37. It is proverbial that from a hungry tiger and an affectionate woman there is no escape.
  38. When one is enquiring for a way to escape from an advancing tiger, flowers of speech assume the form of noisome bindweed.
  39. He who is compelled to share a cavern with a tiger learns to stroke the fur in the right direction.
  40. Beware of jealousy ... Remember it is written, "Not everyone who comes down your street enters by your door".
  41. It is necessary to have a thin voice now to escape the risk of a thick ear in these questionable times.
  42. It is well said: "When you have washed a pig he will dry himself against a dunghill".
  43. He who lacks a single tael sees many bargains.