This Tale is from a place called China where the Emperor is a Chinaman, and all the people around him are Chinamen too. The emperor’s palace was the most beautiful thing in the world; it was made entirely of the finest porcelain, very costly, but at the same time so fragile that it could only be touched with the very greatest care. There were the most extraordinary flowers to be seen in the garden; the most beautiful ones had little silver bells tied to them, which tinkled perpetually, so that one should not pass the flowers without looking at them. Every little detail in the garden had been most carefully thought out, and it was so big, that even the gardener himself did not know where it ended. If one went on walking, one came to beautiful woods with lofty trees and deep lakes. The wood extended to the sea, which was deep and blue, deep enough for large ships to sail up right under the branches of the trees. Among these trees lived a Nightingale, which sang so deliciously, that even the poor fisherman, who had plenty of other things to do, lay still to listen to it, when he was out at night drawing in his nets. ‘Heavens, how beautiful it is!’ he said, but then he had to attend to his business and forgot it. The next night when he heard it again he would again exclaim, ‘Heavens, how beautiful it is!’
Travellers came to the emperor’s capital, from every country in the world; they admired everything very much, especially the palace and the gardens, but when they heard the nightingale they all said, ‘This is better than anything!’
When they got home they described it, and the learned ones wrote many books about the town, the palace and the garden; but nobody forgot the nightingale, it was always put above everything else. Those among them who were poets wrote the most beautiful poems, all about the nightingale in the woods by the deep blue sea. These books went all over the world, and in course of time some of them reached the emperor. He sat in his golden chair reading and reading, and nodding his head, well pleased to hear such beautiful descriptions of the town, the palace and the garden. ‘But the nightingale is the best of all,’ he read.
‘What is this?’ thought the emperor. ‘The nightingale? Why, I know nothing about it. Is there such a bird in my kingdom, and in my own garden into the bargain, and I have never heard of it? Imagine my having to discover this from a book?’
Then he called his prime minister, who was very wise and knew almost everything on the planet.
‘There is said to be a very wonderful bird called a nightingale here,’ said the emperor. ‘They say that it is better than anything else in all my great kingdom! Why have I never been told anything about it?’
‘I have never heard it mentioned,’ said the prime minister. ‘It has never been presented at court.’
‘I wish it to appear here this evening to sing to me,’ said the emperor. ‘The whole world knows what I am possessed of, and I know nothing about it!’
‘I have never heard it mentioned before,’ said the prime minister. ‘I will seek it, and I will find it!’ But where was it to be found? The prime minister ran upstairs and downstairs and in and out of all the rooms and corridors. No one of all those he met had ever heard anything about the nightingale; so the prime minister ran back to the emperor, and said that it must be a myth, invented by the writers of the books. ‘Your imperial majesty must not believe everything that is written; books are often mere inventions, even if they do not belong to what we call the black art!’
‘But the book in which I read it is sent to me by the powerful Emperor of Japan, so it can’t be untrue. I will hear this nightingale; I insist upon its being here to-night. I extend my most gracious protection to it, and if it is not forthcoming, I will have the whole court trampled upon after supper!’