On the Method of Zadig

by Thomas Henry Huxley

The excerpt below is from On the Method of Zadig by Thomas Henry Huxley

"One day, walking near a little wood, he saw, hastening that way, one of the Queen's chief eunuchs, followed by a troop of officials, who appeared to be in the greatest anxiety, running hither and thither like men distraught, in search of some lost treasure.

"'Young man,' cried the eunuch, 'have you seen the Queen's dog?' Zadig answered modestly, 'A bitch, I think, not a dog.' 'Quite right,' replied the eunuch; and Zadig continued, 'A very small spaniel who has lately had puppies; she limps with the left foreleg, and has very long ears.' 'Ah! you have seen her then,' said the breathless eunuch. 'No,' answered Zadig, 'I have not seen her; and I really was not aware that the Queen possessed a spaniel.'

"By an odd coincidence, at the very same time, the handsomest horse in the King's stables broke away from his groom in the Babylonian plain. The grand huntsman and all his staff were seeking the horse with as much anxiety as the eunuch and his people the spaniel; and the grand huntsman asked Zadig if he had not seen the King's horse go that way.

"'A first-rate galloper, small-hoofed, five feet high; tail three feet and a half long; cheek pieces of the bit of twenty-three carat gold; shoes silver?' said Zadig.

"'Which way did he go? Where is he?' cried the grand huntsman.

"'I have not seen anything of the horse, and I never heard of him before,' replied Zadig.

"The grand huntsman and the chief eunuch made sure that Zadig had stolen both the King's horse and the Queen's spaniel, so they haled him before the High Court of Desterham, which at once condemned him to the knout, and transportation for life to Siberia. But the sentence was hardly pronounced when the lost horse and spaniel were found. So the judges were under the painful necessity of reconsidering their decision: but they fined Zadig four hundred ounces of gold for saying he had seen that which he had not seen.

"The first thing was to pay the fine; afterwards Zadig was permitted to open his defence to the court, which he did in the following terms:

"'Stars of justice, abysses of knowledge, mirrors of truth, whose gravity is as that of lead, whose inflexibility is as that of iron, who rival the diamond in clearness, and possess no little affinity with gold; since I am permitted to address your august assembly, I swear by Ormuzd that I have never seen the respectable lady dog of the Queen, nor beheld the sacrosanct horse of the King of Kings.

"'This is what happened. I was taking a walk towards the little wood near which I subsequently had the honour to meet the venerable chief eunuch and the most illustrious grand huntsman. I noticed the track of an animal in the sand, and it was easy to see that it was that of a small dog. Long faint streaks upon the little elevations of sand between the footmarks convinced me that it was a she dog with pendent dugs, showing that she must have had puppies not many days since. Other scrapings of the sand, which always lay close to the marks of the forepaws, indicated that she had very long ears; and, as the imprint of one foot was always fainter than those of the other three, I judged that the lady dog of our august Queen was, if I may venture to say so, a little lame.

"'With respect to the horse of the King of Kings, permit me to observe that, wandering through the paths which traverse the wood, I noticed the marks of horse-shoes. They were all equidistant. "Ah!" said I, "this is a famous galloper." In a narrow alley, only seven feet wide, the dust upon the trunks of the trees was a little disturbed at three feet and a half from the middle of the path. "This horse," said I to myself, "had a tail three feet and a half long, and, lashing it from one side to the other, he has swept away the dust." Branches of the trees met overhead at the height of five feet, and under them I saw newly fallen leaves; so I knew that the horse had brushed some of the branches, and was therefore five feet high. As to his bit, it must have been made of twenty-three carat gold, for he had rubbed it against a stone, which turned out to be a touchstone, with the properties of which I am familiar by experiment. Lastly, by the marks which his shoes left upon pebbles of another kind, I was led to think that his shoes were of fine silver.'

"All the judges admired Zadig's profound and subtle discernment; and the fame of it reached even the King and the Queen. From the ante-rooms to the presence-chamber, Zadig's name was in everybody's mouth; and, although many of the magi were of opinion that he ought to be burnt as a sorcerer, the King commanded that the four hundred ounces of gold which he had been fined should be restored to him. So the officers of the court went in state with the four hundred ounces; only they retained three hundred and ninety-eight for legal expenses, and their servants expected fees."

Those who are interested in learning more of the fateful history of Zadig must turn to the original; we are dealing with him only as a philosopher, and this brief excerpt suffices for the exemplification of the nature of his conclusions and of the methods by which he arrived at them.


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