THE GRIFFIN AND THE MINOR CANON
BY FRANK R. STOCKTON
Over the great door of an old, old church which
stood in a quiet town of a far-away land there
was carved in stone the figure of a large griffin.
The old-time sculptor had done his work with great
care, but the image he had made was not a pleasant
one to look at. It had a large head, with enormous
open mouth and savage teeth; from its back arose
great wings, armed with sharp hooks and prongs; it
had stout legs in front, with projecting claws; but
there were no legs behind--the body running out
into a long and powerful tail, finished off at the
end with a barbed point. This tail was coiled up
under him, the end sticking up just back of his
The sculptor, or the people who had ordered this
stone figure, had evidently been very much pleased
with it, for little copies of it, also in stone,
had been placed here and there along the sides of
the church, not very far from the ground, so that
people could easily look at them, and ponder on
their curious forms. There were a great many other
sculptures on the outside of this church--saints,
martyrs, grotesque heads of men, beasts, and birds,
as well as those of other creatures which cannot
be named, because nobody knows exactly what they
were; but none were so curious and interesting as
the great griffin over the door, and the little
griffins on the sides of the church.
A long, long distance from the town, in the midst
of dreadful wilds scarcely known to man, there
dwelt the Griffin whose image had been put up over
the church door. In some way or other, the old-time
sculptor had seen him, and afterward, to the best
of his memory, had copied his figure in stone.
The Griffin had never known this, until, hundreds
of years afterward, he heard from a bird, from a
wild animal, or in some manner which it is not now
easy to find out, that there was a likeness of him
on the old church in the distant town.
Now, this Griffin had no idea how he looked. He had
never seen a mirror, and the streams where he lived
were so turbulent and violent that a quiet piece of
water, which would reflect the image of anything
looking into it, could not be found. Being, as far
as could be ascertained, the very last of his race,
he had never seen another griffin. Therefore it
was, that when he heard of this stone image of
himself, he became very anxious to know what he
looked like, and at last he determined to go to
the old church, and see for himself what manner of
being he was.
So he started off from the dreadful wilds, and
flew on and on until he came to the countries
inhabited by men, where his appearance in the
air created great consternation; but he alighted
nowhere, keeping up a steady flight until he
reached the suburbs of the town which had his
image on its church. Here, late in the afternoon,
he alighted in a green meadow by the side of a
brook, and stretched himself on the grass to rest.
His great wings were tired, for he had not made
such a long flight in a century, or more.
The news of his coming spread quickly over the
town, and the people, frightened nearly out of
their wits by the arrival of so strange a visitor,
fled into their houses, and shut themselves up.
The Griffin called loudly for someone to come
to him, but the more he called, the more afraid
the people were to show themselves. At length he
saw two laborers hurrying to their homes through
the fields, and in a terrible voice he commanded
them to stop. Not daring to disobey, the men stood,
"What is the matter with you all?" cried the
Griffin. "Is there not a man in your town who is
brave enough to speak to me?"
"I think," said one of the laborers, his voice
shaking so that his words could hardly be understood,
"that--perhaps--the Minor Canon--would come."
"Go, call him, then!" said the Griffin; "I want
to see him."
The Minor Canon, who was an assistant in the old
church, had just finished the afternoon services,
and was coming out of a side door, with three aged
women who had formed the weekday congregation. He
was a young man of a kind disposition, and very
anxious to do good to the people of the town. Apart
from his duties in the church, where he conducted
services every weekday, he visited the sick and
the poor, counseled and assisted persons who were
in trouble, and taught a school composed entirely
of the bad children in the town with whom nobody
else would have anything to do. Whenever the
people wanted something difficult done for them,
they always went to the Minor Canon. Thus it was
that the laborer thought of the young priest when
he found that someone must come and speak to
The Minor Canon had not heard of the strange event,
which was known to the whole town except himself
and the three old women, and when he was informed
of it, and was told that the Griffin had asked to
see him, he was greatly amazed, and frightened.
"Me!" he exclaimed. "He has never heard of me! What
should he want with me?"
"Oh! you must go instantly!" cried the two men. "He
is very angry now because he has been kept waiting
so long; and nobody knows what may happen if you
don't hurry to him."
The poor Minor Canon would rather have had his hand
cut off than go out to meet an angry griffin; but
he felt that it was his duty to go, for it would be
a woeful thing if injury should come to the people of
the town because he was not brave enough to obey the
summons of the Griffin. So, pale and frightened, he
"Well," said the Griffin, as soon as the young man
came near, "I am glad to see that there is someone
who has the courage to come to me."
The Minor Canon did not feel very brave, but he
bowed his head.
"Is this the town," said the Griffin, "where there
is a church with a likeness of myself over one of
The Minor Canon looked at the frightful creature
before him and saw that it was, without doubt,
exactly like the stone image on the church. "Yes,"
he said, "you are right."
"Well, then," said the Griffin, "will you take me
to it? I wish very much to see it."
The Minor Canon instantly thought that if the Griffin
entered the town without the people's knowing what
he came for, some of them would probably be frightened
to death, and so he sought to gain time to prepare
"It is growing dark, now," he said, very much afraid,
as he spoke, that his words might enrage the Griffin,
"and objects on the front of the church cannot be
seen clearly. It will be better to wait until morning,
if you wish to get a good view of the stone image of
"That will suit me very well," said the Griffin. "I
see you are a man of good sense. I am tired, and I
will take a nap here on this soft grass, while I
cool my tail in the little stream that runs near me.
The end of my tail gets red-hot when I am angry or
excited, and it is quite warm now. So you may go,
but be sure and come early to-morrow morning, and
show me the way to the church."
The Minor Canon was glad enough to take his leave,
and hurried into the town. In front of the church
he found a great many people assembled to hear his
report of his interview with the Griffin. When
they found that he had not come to spread ruin, but
simply to see his stony likeness on the church,
they showed neither relief nor gratification, but
began to upbraid the Minor Canon for consenting to
conduct the creature into the town.
"What could I do?" cried the young man. "If I should
not bring him he would come himself, and, perhaps,
end by setting fire to the town with his red-hot
Still the people were not satisfied, and a great
many plans were proposed to prevent the Griffin
from coming into the town. Some elderly persons
urged that the young men should go out and kill
him; but the young men scoffed at such a ridiculous
Then someone said that it would be a good thing
to destroy the stone image, so that the Griffin
would have no excuse for entering the town; and
this plan was received with such favor that many
of the people ran for hammers, chisels, and crowbars,
with which to tear down and break up the stone
griffin. But the Minor Canon resisted this plan
with all the strength of his mind and body. He
assured the people that this action would enrage
the Griffin beyond measure, for it would be impossible
to conceal from him that his image had been destroyed
during the night. But the people were so determined
to break up the stone griffin that the Minor Canon
saw that there was nothing for him to do but to stay
there and protect it. All night he walked up and
down in front of the church door, keeping away the
men who brought ladders, by which they might mount
to the great stone griffin, and knock it to pieces
with their hammers and crowbars. After many hours
the people were obliged to give up their attempts,
and went home to sleep; but the Minor Canon remained
at his post till early morning, and then he hurried
away to the field where he had left the Griffin.
The monster had just awakened, and rising to his
forelegs and shaking himself, he said that he was
ready to go into the town. The Minor Canon, therefore,
walked back, the Griffin flying slowly through the
air, at a short distance above the head of his guide.
Not a person was to be seen in the streets, and they
went directly to the front of the church, where
the Minor Canon pointed out the stone griffin.
The real Griffin settled down in the little square
before the church and gazed earnestly at his sculptured
likeness. For a long time he looked at it. First he
put his head on one side, and then he put it on the
other; then he shut his right eye and gazed with his
left, after which he shut his left eye and gazed with
his right. Then he moved a little to one side and
looked at the image, then he moved the other way.
After a while he said to the Minor Canon, who had
been standing by all this time:
"It is, it must be, an excellent likeness! That
breadth between the eyes, that expansive forehead,
those massive jaws! I feel that it must resemble me.
If there is any fault to find with it, it is that
the neck seems a little stiff. But that is nothing.
It is an admirable likeness--admirable!"
The Griffin sat looking at his image all the morning
and all the afternoon. The Minor Canon had been
afraid to go away and leave him, and had hoped all
through the day that he would soon be satisfied with
his inspection and fly away home. But by evening the
poor young man was very tired, and felt that he must
eat and sleep. He frankly said this to the Griffin,
and asked him if he would not like something to eat.
He said this because he felt obliged in politeness
to do so, but as soon as he had spoken the words,
he was seized with dread lest the monster should
demand half a dozen babies, or some tempting repast
of that kind.
"Oh, no," said the Griffin, "I never eat between the
equinoxes. At the vernal and at the autumnal equinox
I take a good meal, and that lasts me for half a year.
I am extremely regular in my habits, and do not think
it healthful to eat at odd times. But if you need food,
go and get it, and I will return to the soft grass
where I slept last night and take another nap."
The next day the Griffin came again to the little
square before the church, and remained there until
evening, steadfastly regarding the stone griffin over
the door. The Minor Canon came out once or twice to
look at him, and the Griffin seemed very glad to see
him; but the young clergyman could not stay as he
had done before, for he had many duties to perform.
Nobody went to the church, but the people came to the
Minor Canon's house, and anxiously asked him how long
the Griffin was going to stay.
"I do not know," he answered, "but I think he will
soon be satisfied with regarding his stone likeness,
and then he will go away."
But the Griffin did not go away. Morning after morning
he came to the church, but after a time he did not
stay there all day. He seemed to have taken a great
fancy to the Minor Canon, and followed him about as
he worked. He would wait for him at the side door
of the church, for the Minor Canon held services
every day, morning and evening, though nobody came
now. "If anyone should come," he said to himself,
"I must be found at my post." When the young man
came out, the Griffin would accompany him in his
visits to the sick and the poor, and would often
look into the windows of the schoolhouse where the
Minor Canon was teaching his unruly scholars. All
the other schools were closed, but the parents of the
Minor Canon's scholars forced them to go to school,
because they were so bad they could not endure them
all day at home--Griffin or no Griffin. But it must
be said they generally behaved very well when that
great monster sat up on his tail and looked in at the
When it was found that the Griffin showed no sign of
going away, all the people who were able to do so
left the town. The canons and the higher officers of
the church had fled away during the first day of the
Griffin's visit, leaving behind only the Minor Canon
and some of the men who opened the doors and swept
the church. All the citizens who could afford it shut
up their houses and traveled to distant parts, and
only the working people and the poor were left behind.
After some days these ventured to go about and attend
to their business, for if they did not work they would
starve. They were getting a little used to seeing the
Griffin; and having been told that he did not eat
between equinoxes, they did not feel so much afraid
of him as before.
Day by day the Griffin became more and more attached
to the Minor Canon. He kept near him a great part of
the time, and often spent the night in front of the
little house where the young clergyman lived alone.
This strange companionship was often burdensome to
the Minor Canon; but, on the other hand, he could
not deny that he derived a great deal of benefit and
instruction from it. The Griffin had lived for
hundreds of years, and had seen much, and he told
the Minor Canon many wonderful things.
"It is like reading an old book," said the young
clergyman to himself; "but how many books I would
have had to read before I would have found out what
the Griffin has told me about the earth, the air,
the water, about minerals, and metals, and growing
things, and all the wonders of the world!"
Thus the summer went on, and drew toward its close.
And now the people of the town began to be very
much troubled again.
"It will not be long," they said, "before the autumnal
equinox is here, and then that monster will want to
eat. He will be dreadfully hungry, for he has taken
so much exercise since his last meal. He will devour
our children. Without doubt, he will eat them all.
What is to be done?"
To this question no one could give an answer, but
all agreed that the Griffin must not be allowed to
remain until the approaching equinox. After talking
over the matter a great deal, a crowd of the people
went to the Minor Canon, at a time when the Griffin
was not with him.
"It is all your fault," they said, "that that monster
is among us. You brought him here, and you ought to
see that he goes away. It is only on your account
that he stays here at all, for, although he visits
his image every day, he is with you the greater part
of the time. If you were not here, he would not stay.
It is your duty to go away, and then he will follow
you, and we shall be free from the dreadful danger
which hangs over us."
"Go away!" cried the Minor Canon, greatly grieved
at being spoken to in such a way. "Where shall I go?
If I go to some other town, shall I not take this
trouble there? Have I a right to do that?"
"No," said the people, "you must not go to any other
town. There is no town far enough away. You must go
to the dreadful wilds where the Griffin lives; and
then he will follow you and stay there."
They did not say whether or not they expected the
Minor Canon to stay there also, and he did not ask
them anything about it. He bowed his head, and
went into his house, to think. The more he thought,
the more clear it became to his mind that it was
his duty to go away, and thus free the town from
the presence of the Griffin.
That evening he packed a leathern bag full of bread
and meat, and early the next morning he set out on
his journey to the dreadful wilds. It was a long,
weary, and doleful journey, especially after he had
gone beyond the habitations of men; but the Minor
Canon kept on bravely, and never faltered.
The way was longer than he had expected, and his
provisions soon grew so scanty that he was obliged
to eat but a little every day; but he kept up his
courage, and pressed on, and, after many days of
toilsome travel, he reached the dreadful wilds.
When the Griffin found that the Minor Canon had left
the town he seemed sorry, but showed no desire to go
and look for him. After a few days had passed, he
became much annoyed, and asked some of the people
where the Minor Canon had gone. But, although the
citizens had been so anxious that the young clergyman
should go to the dreadful wilds, thinking that the
Griffin would immediately follow him, they were now
afraid to mention the Minor Canon's destination, for
the monster seemed angry already, and, if he should
suspect their trick he would, doubtless, become very
much enraged. So everyone said he did not know, and
the Griffin wandered about disconsolate. One morning
he looked into the Minor Canon's schoolhouse, which
was always empty now, and thought that it was a shame
that everything should suffer on account of the young
"It does not matter so much about the church," he
said, "for nobody went there; but it is a pity about
the school. I think I will teach it myself until he
It was the hour for opening the school, and the Griffin
went inside and pulled the rope which rang the school-bell.
Some of the children who heard the bell ran in to see
what was the matter, supposing it to be a joke of one
of their companions; but when they saw the Griffin
they stood astonished, and scared.
"Go tell the other scholars," said the monster, "that
school is about to open, and that if they are not all
here in ten minutes, I shall come after them."
In seven minutes every scholar was in place.
Never was seen such an orderly school. Not a boy or
girl moved, or uttered a whisper. The Griffin climbed
into the master's seat, his wide wings spread on each
side of him, because he could not lean back in his
chair while they stuck out behind, and his great tail
coiled around, in front of the desk, the barbed end
sticking up, ready to tap any boy or girl who might
The Griffin now addressed the scholars, telling them
that he intended to teach them while their master
was away. In speaking he tried to imitate, as far
as possible, the mild and gentle tones of the
Minor Canon; but it must be admitted that in this
he was not very successful. He had paid a good deal
of attention to the studies of the school, and he
determined not to try to teach them anything new,
but to review them in what they had been studying;
so he called up the various classes, and questioned
them upon their previous lessons. The children racked
their brains to remember what they had learned. They
were so afraid of the Griffin's displeasure that they
recited as they had never recited before. One of the
boys, far down in his class, answered so well that
the Griffin was astonished.
"I should think you would be at the head," said he.
"I am sure you have never been in the habit of reciting
so well. Why is this?"
"Because I did not choose to take the trouble," said
the boy, trembling in his boots. He felt obliged to
speak the truth, for all the children thought that
the great eyes of the Griffin could see right through
them, and that he would know when they told a falsehood.
"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said the Griffin.
"Go down to the very tail of the class, and if you are
not at the head in two days, I shall know the reason
The next afternoon this boy was Number One.
It was astonishing how much these children now learned
of what they had been studying. It was as if they had
been educated over again. The Griffin used no severity
toward them, but there was a look about him which made
them unwilling to go to bed until they were sure they
knew their lessons for the next day.
The Griffin now thought that he ought to visit the
sick and the poor; and he began to go about the town
for this purpose. The effect upon the sick was miraculous.
All, except those who were very ill indeed, jumped from
their beds when they heard he was coming, and declared
themselves quite well. To those who could not get up,
he gave herbs and roots, which none of them had ever
before thought of as medicines, but which the Griffin
had seen used in various parts of the world; and most
of them recovered. But, for all that, they afterward
said that, no matter what happened to them, they hoped
that they should never again have such a doctor coming
to their bed-sides, feeling their pulses and looking
at their tongues.
As for the poor, they seemed to have utterly disappeared.
All those who had depended upon charity for their daily
bread were now at work in some way or other; many of
them offering to do odd jobs for their neighbors just
for the sake of their meal--a thing which before had
been seldom heard of in the town. The Griffin could find
no one who needed his assistance.
The summer had now passed, and the autumnal equinox
was rapidly approaching. The citizens were in a state
of great alarm and anxiety. The Griffin showed no
signs of going away, but seemed to have settled himself
permanently among them. In a short time, the day for
his semi-annual meal would arrive, and then what would
happen? The monster would certainly be very hungry,
and would devour all their children.
Now they greatly regretted and lamented that they had
sent away the Minor Canon; he was the only one on whom
they could have depended in this trouble, for he could
talk freely with the Griffin, and so find out what
could be done. But it would not do to be inactive.
Some step must be taken immediately. A meeting of the
citizens was called, and two old men were appointed to
go and talk to the Griffin. They were instructed to
offer to prepare a splendid dinner for him on equinox
da--one which would entirely satisfy his hunger.
They would offer him the fattest mutton, the most
tender beef, fish, and game of various sorts, and
anything of the kind that he might fancy. If none
of these suited, they were to mention that there was
an orphan asylum in the next town.
"Anything would be better," said the citizens, "than
to have our dear children devoured."
The old men went to the Griffin; but their propositions
were not received with favor.
"From what I have seen of the people of this town,"
said the monster, "I do not think I could relish
anything which was prepared by them. They appear to
be all cowards, and, therefore, mean and selfish. As
for eating one of them, old or young, I could not think
of it for a moment. In fact, there was only one creature
in the whole place for whom I could have had any
appetite, and that is the Minor Canon, who has gone
away. He was brave, and good, and honest, and I think
I should have relished him."
"Ah!" said one of the old men very politely, "in that
case I wish we had not sent him to the dreadful wilds!"
"What!" cried the Griffin. "What do you mean? Explain
instantly what you are talking about!"
The old man, terribly frightened at what he had said,
was obliged to tell how the Minor Canon had been sent
away by the people, in the hope that the Griffin might
be induced to follow him.
When the monster heard this, he became furiously angry.
He dashed away from the old men and, spreading his wings,
flew backward and forward over the town. He was so much
excited that his tail became red-hot, and glowed like a
meteor against the evening sky. When at last he settled
down in the little field where he usually rested, and
thrust his tail into the brook, the steam arose like a
cloud, and the water of the stream ran hot through the
town. The citizens were greatly frightened, and bitterly
blamed the old man for telling about the Minor Canon.
"It is plain," they said, "that the Griffin intended at
last to go and look for him, and we should have been
saved. Now who can tell what misery you have brought
The Griffin did not remain long in the little field.
As soon as his tail was cool he flew to the town-hall
and rang the bell. The citizens knew that they were
expected to come there, and although they were afraid
to go, they were still more afraid to stay away; and
they crowded into the hall. The Griffin was on the
platform at one end, flapping his wings and walking
up and down, and the end of his tail was still so
warm that it slightly scorched the boards as he
dragged it after him.
When everybody who was able to come was there, the
Griffin stood still and addressed the meeting.
"I have had a very low opinion of you," he said,
"ever since I discovered what cowards you are, but I
had no idea that you were so ungrateful, selfish, and
cruel, as I now find you to be. Here was your Minor
Canon, who labored day and night for your good, and
thought of nothing else but how he might benefit you
and make you happy; and as soon as you imagine yourselves
threatened with a danger--for well I know you are
dreadfully afraid of m--you send him off, caring
not whether he returns or perishes, hoping thereby to
save yourselves. Now, I had conceived a great liking
for that young man, and had intended, in a day or two,
to go and look him up. But I have changed my mind
about him. I shall go and find him, but I shall send
him back here to live among you, and I intend that he
shall enjoy the reward of his labor and his sacrifices.
"Go, some of you, to the officers of the church, who so
cowardly ran away when I first came here, and tell them
never to return to this town under penalty of death.
And if, when your Minor Canon comes back to you, you
do not bow yourselves before him, put him in the highest
place among you, and serve and honor him all his life,
beware of my terrible vengeance! There were only two
good things in this town: the Minor Canon and the stone
image of myself over your church-door. One of these you
have sent away, and the other I shall carry away myself."
With these words he dismissed the meeting, and it was
time, for the end of his tail had become so hot that
there was danger of its setting fire to the building.
The next morning, the Griffin came to the church, and
tearing the stone image of himself from its fastenings
over the great door, he grasped it with his powerful
fore-legs and flew up into the air. Then, after hovering
over the town for a moment, he gave his tail an angry
shake and took up his flight to the dreadful wilds.
When he reached this desolate region, he set the stone
Griffin upon a ledge of a rock which rose in front of
the dismal cave he called his home. There the image
occupied a position somewhat similar to that it had
had over the church-door; and the Griffin, panting with
the exertion of carrying such an enormous load to so
great a distance, lay down upon the ground, and regarded
it with much satisfaction. When he felt somewhat rested
he went to look for the Minor Canon. He found the young
man, weak and half starved, lying under the shadow of a
rock. After picking him up and carrying him to his cave,
the Griffin flew away to a distant marsh, where he
procured some roots and herbs which he well knew were
strengthening and beneficial to man, though he had
never tasted them himself. After eating these the Minor
Canon was greatly revived, and sat up and listened while
the Griffin told him what had happened in the town.
"Do you know," said the monster, when he had finished,
"that I have had, and still have, a great liking for
"I am very glad to hear it," said the Minor Canon,
with his usual politeness.
"I am not at all sure that you would be," said the
Griffin, "if you thoroughly understood the state of
the case, but we will not consider that now. If some
things were different, other things would be otherwise.
I have been so enraged by discovering the manner in
which you have been treated that I have determined
that you shall at last enjoy the rewards and honors
to which you are entitled. Lie down and have a good
sleep, and then I will take you back to the town."
As he heard these words, a look of trouble came over
the young man's face.
"You need not give yourself any anxiety," said the Griffin,
"about my return to the town. I shall not remain there.
Now that I have that admirable likeness of myself in front
of my cave, where I can sit at my leisure, and gaze upon
its noble features and magnificent proportions, I have no
wish to see that abode of cowardly and selfish people."
The Minor Canon, relieved from his fears, lay back, and
dropped into a doze; and when he was sound asleep the
Griffin took him up, and carried him back to the town.
He arrived just before daybreak, and putting the young
man gently on the grass in the little field where he
himself used to rest, the monster, without having been
seen by any of the people, flew back to his home.
When the Minor Canon made his appearance in the morning
among the citizens, the enthusiasm and cordiality with
which he was received were truly wonderful. He was taken
to a house which had been occupied by one of the banished
high officers of the place, and everyone was anxious to
do all that could be done for his health and comfort. The
people crowded into the church when he held services, so
that the three old women who used to be his weekday
congregation could not get to the best seats, which they
had always been in the habit of taking; and the parents
of the bad children determined to reform them at home,
in order that he might be spared the trouble of keeping
up his former school. The Minor Canon was appointed to
the highest office of the old church, and before he died,
he became a bishop.
During the first years after his return from the dreadful
wilds, the people of the town looked up to him as a man
to whom they were bound to do honor and reverence; but
they often, also, looked up to the sky to see if there
were any signs of the Griffin coming back. However, in
the course of time, they learned to honor and reverence
their former Minor Canon without the fear of being punished
if they did not do so.
But they need never have been afraid of the Griffin.
The autumnal equinox day came round, and the monster
ate nothing. If he could not have the Minor Canon, he
did not care for anything. So, lying down, with his
eyes fixed upon the great stone griffin, he gradually
declined, and died. It was a good thing for some of the
people of the town that they did not know this.
If you should ever visit the old town, you would still
see the little griffins on the sides of the church; but
the great stone griffin that was over the door is gone.
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~