“’Twas a strange notion of the king, surely,” said the daughter, “to bring these Hebrew captives in competition with the refined minds of Chaldea; I cannot account for it, unless it is purposely done to show them their great inferiority, and thus, by to-day’s exercises, teach them a lesson of humility that they will not soon forget; for no one can be so unwise as to think that such illiterate foreigners can appear to any advantage in a place like this.”
“Thy remarks, daughter, are perfectly correct,” answered the mother. “I am at a loss, myself, to understand the king in this. But thy brother, Shagoth, has learned, of late, that these Jews are far from being dull scholars; and he fears that, by some strange contrivance, they have worked themselves into the graces of Ashpenaz. I have my fears that these reports are too true. Yet I have strong hopes that in this trial of learning, they will fall entirely below thy accomplished brothers. I am quite sure it cannot be otherwise.”
The sound of music from without, gave them to understand that the king was approaching. Presently the illustrious monarch of Chaldea made his grand entry, accompanied by a brilliant escort, and amid the flourishing of trumpets and the loud acclamations of his subjects he took his seat, and beckoned to the enthusiastic throng to be seated. Perfect stillness being secured, Ashpenaz arose with dignity, and, bowing low to the sovereign, proceeded:
“According to appointment, O king, behold these young men are conducted hither for public examination in the presence of their illustrious sovereign, and in the presence of these, his nobles.”
To which the monarch replied in an interesting address:
“Citizens of Babylon! the king taketh much pleasure in greeting you on this occasion. To witness your smiles is truly refreshing to my mind amid all the pressing duties of my extensive empire. I trust I shall always merit your smiles and good wishes. Long may the Chaldean empire continue to shine a superior orb in the firmament of nations.
“The stability of government must greatly depend on the wisdom and intelligence of the people; and ever since I have had the honor of presiding over the destinies of this vast empire, I have not for a day lost sight of this important truth. Whether since the beginning of my reign the cause of education has been advanced, I leave to the judgment of my worthy subjects. Three years ago, I thought it advisable to establish a school at the expense of the government, where a number of young men might be placed under the care of superior instructors, and so be prepared to serve with distinguished ability in the different spheres in which they might be called to move. Those youths are now before you; and if their mental culture will well compare with their fair countenances and manly forms, my most sanguine expectations are more than realized. I am happy to know, from vigilant observation, that the teachers, without any exceptions, have nobly proved themselves worthy of the unreserved confidence of their king; and let them now be assured that such unwearied faithfulness will not go unrewarded. The king has been well pleased also, from time to time, to hear of the great proficiency and rapid advancement of many of the scholars.”