by Leo Tolstoy
About Leo Tolstoy .. Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) is perhaps the most revered Russian writer, who is accepted the world over as the conscience-keeper of mankind. He wrote novels and short stories with moorings in morality, pacifism, and spirituality have influenced countless people, prominent among whom are Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. His two large books ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’ are considered to be two of his greatest and soul-stirring works.
The Story ..
A tiny kingdom with a pompous king …
Monaco is a small, sparsely populated kingdom in the France-Italy border. With about seven thousand inhabitants, it was too small in size to be a kingdom. However, it had a pompous Prince, who regaled in having all the paraphernalia of a kingdom, like a palace, palace guards, a ministry, an army etc. Such a set up cost money that the king somehow managed to collect from the citizens. The royal finances were often stretched to the limits due to administrative expenses, but the imperious king never felt it proper to downsize his royalty.
The King’s revenue came from taxes on common goods..
hehe king had levied taxes on mundane things like tobacco, cigarettes, liquor etc. The common folks indulged in these small pleasures and seldom demurred to pay the taxes. There was another source – a gambling house where the gambler had to pay some charges to the state, whether he won or lost money in the game. It was a sinful pastime that drove some gambling addicts to suicide after they lost bait after bait and left with a mountain of debt.
A gambling den also operated that boosted the revenue …
Seeing the ruinous effects of gambling on common folks, almost all countries in Europe had banned this sinful pastime from their territories. Monaco was the only kingdom that still had a gaming palour. The facility was run by a citizen of Monaco, but he had to pay a substantial part of the income to the king. For the king, it was a cash cow.
Some German royals and members of the gentry used to come to Monaco to indulge in gambling and baiting. The king of Monaco never objected, because he got revenue from the patronage of these people. His penchant for luxury and pomp made him blind to the deviant pastime he was permitting in his kingdom. It was a lame excuse, but who could question the king?
A murder takes place, and the accused is given death penalty …
On one occasion, a murder took place in his kingdom. The kingdom had never seen such gruesome crime before. To try the criminal who was apparently the perpetrator, a court was instituted. A judge assisted by a jury began the hearings. A prosecution lawyer pressed his charges. The due process of law was followed. At the close of the trial, the sentence was pronounced. ‘The convict had to be beheaded,’ the verdict read. The verdict was forwarded to the King for his approval. The King concurred with not much loss of time.
No guillotine, no executioner: how to execute the murder convict. …The French are asked for help…
The sentencing ran into an unexpected roadblock. The tiny kingdom didn’t have a guillotine, nor an executioner. These had to be hired from others. Words were sent to the French authorities to loan a guillotine and an executioner. The French quoted a price of 16ooo francs to loan a machine and the operator. It was too steep a price for the tiny kingdom’s meagre resources. Executing a criminal could cost each of the 7000 odd citizens more than two francs. So, the offer was declined. Then, hoping that Italy could offer a more reasonable quote, the King wrote to the Italian king.
Even the Italian offer is too high….
The Italian offer was less, but at 12000 francs, it was still a big amount. The per capita load for each of the citizens of Monaco could still be around two francs. The King had second thoughts on implementing the death sentence. To find a way forward, he convened a Council. They deliberated on the task, and felt the job of beheading could be entrusted to a soldier of the kingdom’s army. Quite intriguingly, no soldier was willing to undertake the job.
Death sentence is reduced to life term….
The problem was back to the square one. The ministers, advisers, committees and sub-committees were formed to find a way out. After a lot of brain storming, they concluded that the convict’s death sentence could be commuted to life imprisonment. That could eliminate the need for a guillotine and the hang man.
It was a practical solution that promptly got the king’s approval, but another problem surfaced. The mini kingdom didn’t have a prison. There was just a small confinement space where a culprit was detained for short periods. After some looking around, a place that could hold the man for the rest of his life was spotted. A guard stood there to keep an eye on him, and fetch his food once a day.
Expenses on a guard and the convict’s food is seen t be too high….
The arrangement continued for a few months, but the guard’s salary began to cause concern. It was a wasteful expenditure that the resource-strapped kingdom had to shoulder till the prisoner was alive. The King (Knight) found to his dismay that the salary of the guard and the food of the prisoner was causing a drainage of 600 franks a year. He was disturbed.
As a cost-cutting measure, the guard is withdrawn, but the prisoner stays put…
The king turned to his ministers again for advice. They pondered if the guard could be dismissed, but the fear of the prisoner escaping worried them. After some deliberations. they decided to give it a try. The guard was withdrawn, and the prisoner was left to himself. Everyone was curious to see if he would escape, but he showed no signs of fleeing. He turned up for his food at the appointed time, received it, and calmly retreated to his cell. Such behavior surprised everyone. The expenditure on his food continued.
The prisoner is set free, but he refuses to go.
The matter went to the ministers again. They decided that holding the prisoner was doing no good to the kingdom, and was a burden on the exchequer. They decided to confront him, and tell him to just walk off. He was summoned to the presence of the Justice Minister, who ordered him to just leave the kingdom like a free man.
The prisoner remonstrates…
The prisoner remonstrated before the minister describing how he had been wronged repeatedly. First, he was given death penalty, then life imprisonment, then confinement without guard, and finally liberty. All these happened without his consent. His life was ruined, and he had nowhere to go. The prisoner’s obduracy baffled the establishment.
An offer of a monthly pension makes the prisoner to leave.
The ministers met again to discuss the matter. Finally, they agreed to give a pension of 600 francs to the convict, and make him leave. The prisoner said he would accept the pay-out and leave. He hoped that his money would be paid to him timely.
The convict does farming and earns his livelihood..
The convict received a third of his annual pension and left. He relocated himself in an adjoining kingdom. He bought a plot there, and did farming. He sold the produce and earned just enough to make both ends meet. He went in the appointed day to collect his annual pension.
The man was lucky he didn’t commit the murder in a kingdom where death penalty is given freely or prisoners are kept in prisons for their whole life. In this regard, Monaco was a good place.———————–.————-
Questions and answers ..
- Why was Monaco called a ‘toy-kingdom’? Answer .. Monaco was tiny in size and its population was a mere seven thousand or so. Such a small area and population was not a viable entity for being called a kingdom. Hence, the name ‘toy-kingdom’.
- Name the commodities ….. Answer .. Items like tobacco, liquor, and cigarettes were taxed.
- What was the source of ……? Answer ..The king had allowed a gambling den to operate in Monaco. All participants — winners and losers — had to pay certain taxes to enter the gaming house. A sizable part of such collection went to the king’s coffers.
- Why did the Germans .. Answer …Gaming is a very addictive pastime that often ruins a player to the level of a beggar. Seeing its detrimental impact on the society, the authorities banned gaming from their territories.
- What was the punishment … Answer ..The murderer was given capital punishment for his crime.
- Answer is ‘b’.
- How much did the king .. Answer ..The criminal cost the king in excess of 600 francs.
- On what condition did … Answer .. The criminal agreed to leave if he was paid an annual pension of 600 francs. He insisted that the money had to be paid in time. His demand was fully met.
Comprehension II ..
- Though gambling is a dirty … Answer .. The king was always in need of money to meet the expenses of his court and the administration. Permitting gambling in his kingdom gave him an easy access to money. So, he permitted it, despite the hobby’s disastrous effects on society.
- Why did the King of Monaco keep changing .. Answer .. The decision to send the accused was taken in haste. Later, it was found that executing him with borrowed machine and manpower was too costly. Even keeping him as life term prisoner entailed considerable expenses. Even let him free failed to make him go away. So, the king had to revise his orders again and again, and finally had to get rid of him by offering a pension.
- Why was the prisoner reluctant … Answer .. The prisoner had lost everything in his life — his honor, his means of livelihood etc. He was getting free food and shelter in the prison. So, he was unwilling to leave it.
- How did the criminal ..Answer …The prisoner bought a small piece of land in the adjoining kingdom, grew crops and sold them in the market. He earned some modest amount and lived a life of happiness and dignity.
1. You can’t earn stone palaces by honest labour .. . This was the contention of the lazy and pompous king. His court was over-sized and his administration was too top-heavy. Under such constraints, building a stone mansion is nothing but a dream. Honest labour fetches only modest income, not a windfall. So, the king was right, although he said to cover his eccentric love for pomp and ceremony.
2. Though the trial and imprisonment……. Awarding death sentence or life term is a very grave punishment that should be taken after careful scrutiny of a case. Awarding such punishment that deprives a person of his life and liberty needs wisdom, legal acumen, and experience. The king clearly had none. So, the verdict was arbitrary and bad in the eye of the law.
3. Were there other ways ………………… Answer .. The criminal could have been given a shorter sentence followed by some assistance from the state to re-build his life. He could have been kept in an open air jail.
MORE ANSWERS SOON.