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"Ho-Tei": A Coloured Drawing by Hokusai
by [?]

What monster have we here? Who is he that sprawls thus, ventrirotund, against the huge oozing wine-skin? Wide his nose, narrowly-slit his eyes, and with little teeth he smiles at us through a beard of bright russet–a beard soft as the russet coat of a squirrel, and sprouting in several tiers according to the several chins that ascend behind it from his chest. Nude he is but for a few dark twists of drapery. One dimpled foot is tucked under him, the other cocked before him. With a bifurcated fist (such is his hand) he pillows the bald dome of his head. He seems to be very happy, sprawling here in the twilight. The wine oozes from the wine-skin; but he, replete, takes no heed of it. On the ground before him are a few almond-blossoms, blown there by the wind. He is snuffing their fragrance, I think.

Who is he? “Ho-Tei,’ you tell me; “god of increase, god of the corn- fields and rice-fields, patron of all little children in Japan–a blend of Dionysus and Santa Claus.’ So? Then his look belies him. He is far too fat to care for humanity, too gross to be divine. I suspect he is but some self-centred sage, whom Hokusai beheld with his own eyes in a devious corner of Yedo. A hermit he is, surely; one not more affable than Diogenes, yet wiser than he, being at peace with himself and finding (as it were) the honest man without emerging from his own tub; a complacent Diogenes; a Diogenes who has put on flesh. Looking at him, one is reminded of that over-swollen monster gourd which to young Nevil Beauchamp and his Marquise, as they saw it from their river-boat, `hanging heavily down the bank on one greenish yellow cheek, in prolonged contemplation of its image in the mirror below,’ so sinisterly recalled Monsieur le Marquis. But to us this `self- adored, gross bald Cupid’ has no such symbolism, and we revel as whole-heartedly as he in his monstrous contours. `I am very beautiful,’ he seems to murmur. And we endorse the boast. At the same time, we transfer to Hokusai the credit which this glutton takes all to himself. It is Hokusai who made him, delineating his paunch in that one soft summary curve, and echoing it in the curve of the wine-skin that swells around him. Himself, as a living man, were too loathsome for words; but here, thanks to Hokusai, he is not less admirable than Pheidias’ Hermes, or the Discobolus himself. Yes! Swathed in his abominable surplusage of bulk, he is as fair as any statue of astricted god or athlete that would suffer not by incarnation…

Presently, we forget again that he is unreal. He seems alive to us, and somehow he is still beautiful. `It is a beauty,’ like that of Mona Lisa, `wrought out from within upon the flesh, the’ adipose `deposit, little cell by cell, of strange thoughts and fantastic reveries and exquisite passions.’ It is the beauty of real fatness–that fatness which comes from within, and reacts on the soul that made it, until soul and body are one deep harmony of fat; that fatness which gave us the geniality of Silenus, of the late Major O’Gorman; which soothes all nerves in its owner, and creates the earthy, truistic wisdom of Sancho Pauza, of Fran�isque Sarcey; which makes a man selfish, because there is so much of him, and venerable because he seems to be a knoll of the very globe we live on, and lazy inasmuch as the form of government under which he lives is an absolute gastrocracy–the belly tyrannising over the members whom it used to serve, and wielding its power as unscrupulously as none but a promoted slave could.

Such is the true fatness. It is not to be confounded with mere stoutness. Contrast with this Japanese sage that orgulous hidalgo who, in black velvet, defies modern Prussia from one of Velasquez’s canvases in Berlin. Huge is that other, and gross; and, so puffed his cheeks are that the light, cast up from below, strives vainly to creep over them to his eyes, like a tourist vainly striving to creep over a boulder on a mountainside. Yet is he not of the hierarchy of true fatness. He bears his bulk proudly, and would sit well any charger that were strong enough to bear him, and, if such a steed were not in stables, would walk the distance swingingly. He is a man of action, a fighter, an insolent dominator of men and women. In fact, he is merely a stout man–uniform with Porthos, and Arthur Orton, and Sir John Falstaff; spiced, like them, with charlatanism and braggadocio, and not the less a fine fellow for that. Indeed, such bulk as his and theirs is in the same kind as that bulk which, lesser in degree, is indispensable to greatness in practical affairs. No man, as Prince Bismarck declared, is to be trusted in state-craft until he can show a stomach. A lack of stomach betokens lack of mental solidity, of humanity, of capacity for going through with things; and these three qualities are essential to statesmanship. Poets and philosophers can afford to be thin–cannot, indeed, afford to be otherwise; inasmuch as poetry and philosophy thrive but in the clouds aloft, and a stomach ballasts you to earth. Such ballast the statesman must have. Thin statesmen may destroy, but construct they cannot; have achieved chaos, but cosmos never.

But why prate history, why evoke phantoms of the past, when we can gaze on this exquisitely concrete thing–this glad and simple creature of Hokusai? Let us emulate his calm, enjoy his enjoyment as he sprawls before us–pinguis, iners, placidus–in the pale twilight. Let us not seek to identify him as god or mortal, nor guess his character from his form. Rather, let us take him as he is; for all time the perfect type of fatness.

Lovely and excessive monster! Monster immensurable! What belt could inclip you? What blade were long enough to prick the heart of you?