Many years ago there lived an emperor who was so fond of beautiful new clothes that he spent all his money just to dress nicely. His soldiers were completely indifferent to him, he cared nothing for drama or a horse ride in the woods, so long as he could show off new clothes. He had a different suit for every hour of the day and, as is sometimes said of a king sitting in the council of ministers, in this case it was always said: “The emperor is touching his wardrobe!”
Things were very pleasant in the big city where he lived. Many strangers came every day, and one day there were two crooks who pretended to be weavers and claimed that they could weave the most beautiful fabrics imaginable. Not only were colors and pattern exceedingly beautiful, but the clothes made of that cloth had the wonderful property of remaining invisible to anyone unfit for office or unforgivably stupid. Those would be beautiful clothes, the emperor thought. If I had it on, I could find out who in my realm is not fit for the office he holds; then I could tell the smart from the stupid! Yes, that cloth must be woven for me immediately!
And he gave the two swindlers a great deal of money to begin their work. And they actually set up two looms and pretended to work, but they had nothing on their loom. Boldly they desired the finest silk and the most precious gold; that they put in their own pockets and they continued to work on their empty looms, and far into the night.
Now I would like to know how far they are with it! thought the Emperor, but he felt a little strange when he thought that he, who was stupid or unfit for office, could not see the fabric. Now he believed he had nothing to fear for himself, but he preferred to send someone ahead to see how things were going. All the people in the whole city knew what special powers the fabric possessed, and all ardently desired to see how bad or how very stupid his neighbor was.
I will send my old honest minister to the weavers! thought the emperor. He can best see what kind of good it is, for he has understanding, and no one is better suited for his office than he!”
Now the good old minister entered the room where the two crooks were working at their empty looms. God save me! thought the old minister and opened his eyes wide! I don’t see anything! But he didn’t say that.
Both scammers kindly asked him to come closer and asked him if he didn’t like the pattern and colors. And then they pointed to the empty looms and the poor old minister kept widening his eyes, but he couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing. Lord God, he thought, would I be that stupid? I hadn’t thought that and no one should know! Wouldn’t I also be good for my office? No, I can’t possibly tell someone else that I can’t see well!
“Well, don’t say anything about it!” said one, who was “weaving”.
“Oh, but it’s the sweetest thing! Extraordinarily beautiful!” said the old minister, looking through his glasses. “What a pattern, and then those colours! I will tell the emperor that I like it very much!”
“Well. That pleases us!” said the two weavers, and then they named the colors and described the rare pattern. The old minister listened carefully, so that when he came back to the emperor he could tell the story, and he did. Now the swindlers demanded more money, more silk and more gold, which they needed for their work. They put everything in their own pockets, not a thread came on their loom, they just sat, as before, weaving at their empty loom.
The emperor then soon sent a second righteous official to see how the work was progressing and whether the goods were soon ready. He was like the minister: he looked and looked, but because there was nothing but empty looms he could see nothing.
“Isn’t that a beautiful fabric!” said the two swindlers, showing and explaining the beautiful pattern which was not there at all.
I’m not stupid! thought the man, so I am no good for my good office? This would be silly! But I shouldn’t show that! And then he praised the fabric he did not see and assured them that he was delighted with its beautiful colors and beautiful pattern. “Yes, it’s really sweet!” he said to the Emperor.
All the people in the city were talking about that beautiful cloth.
Now the emperor wanted to go and see for himself, while the goods were still on the loom. With a whole host of chosen men, including the two righteous officials who had already been there, he went to the two wily swindlers. They wove as hard as they could, without a single thread.
“yes, isn’t it magnificent!” said the two righteous officials. “Look, Your Majesty, what a pattern, what colors!” And then they pointed to the empty loom, for they thought the others could certainly see the cloth.
What! thought the emperor, I see nothing! That’s awful, am I stupid? Am I no good for Emperor? That’s the worst thing that could happen to me! “Oh, it’s very nice!” said the emperor, “it has my highest approval!”
And he nodded contentedly and looked at the empty loom; he didn’t want to say he couldn’t see anything. All the retinue that he had with him looked and looked, but saw nothing more than all the others, yet they said like the emperor, “Oh, it is very beautiful!”
“That’s magnificent! Very nice, excellent!” it went from mouth to mouth, and they were all very pleased with it. The emperor gave each swindler a knight’s robe to hang in his buttonhole and the title of squire loom.
The swindlers stayed up all night before the morning of the parade. They had more than sixteen candles burning. The people could see that they were busy getting ready with the emperor’s new clothes. They pretended to take the goods from the loom, cut with great scissors in the air, sewed with needles without thread, and finally said, “Look, the clothes are ready!”
The emperor himself came to see, accompanied by his chief courtiers, and the two swindlers held up one arm as if they had something in hand, and said: “Look here are the breeches, here the top, here the cloak!” and so on. “It’s as light as cobwebs! One would really think that they were not wearing anything at all, but that is the beauty of it!”
“Yes,” said all the courtiers, but they could see nothing, for there was nothing.
“Please, Your Imperial Majesty, take off your clothes!” said the swindlers, “then we will put the new one on you, here in front of the great mirror!”
The emperor took off all his clothes and the swindlers pretended to hand him every piece of the new ones that would now be ready. They took him about his waist and pretended to fasten something, that was the train, and the emperor turned and turned in front of the mirror.
“Lord God, how well that dresses! How beautiful that is!” all said. “What a pattern! What colors! What a precious dress!”
“Outside they stand with the canopy that will be carried over your majesty’s head in the procession!” said the chief master of ceremonies.
“Yes I’m ready!” said the Emperor. “Isn’t it good?” And then he turned once more in front of the mirror! For now it must seem as if it took a good look at all its glory.
The chamberlains who had to carry the train grabbed their hands somewhere on the floor, as if they were taking up the train; they kept abreast of things and dared not let it be known that they saw nothing.
And so the emperor walked in the procession under a beautiful canopy, and all the people in the street and at the windows said: “Lord God, how beautiful are the emperor’s new clothes! What a beautiful train he has there on his outer garment! How beautiful that is!” No one wanted to show that he saw nothing, because then he was no good for his office or he was very stupid. None of the Emperor’s previous clothes had made such a comeback.
“But he’s got nothing on!” said a small child.
“Lord God, from the mouth of children you will hear the truth!” said the father. And one whispered to the other what the child had said.
“He has nothing on,” says a small child, “he has nothing on!”
“But he’s not wearing anything at all!” finally cried all the people. And the emperor felt cold down the back because he thought they were right, but he thought: I must now hold out to the end. And then he held himself even more proudly, and the chamberlains strode on, holding a train that was not there at all.