The Book of Noodles
W. A. Clouston

Part 1 out of 3

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_Author of "Popular Tales and Fictions; their Migrations and

"Excellent! Why, this is the best fooling when all
is done."--_Twelfth Night_.




Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 67-24351







_Like popular tales in general, the original sources of stories of
simpletons are for the most part not traceable. The old Greek jests of
this class had doubtless been floating about among different peoples
long before they were reduced to writing. The only tales and apologues
of noodles or stupid folk to which an approximate date can be assigned
are those found in the early Buddhist books, especially in the
"Jatakas," or Birth-stories, which are said to have been related to his
disciples by Gautama, the illustrious founder of Buddhism, as incidents
which occurred to himself and others in former births, and were
afterwards put into a literary form by his followers. Many of the
"Jatakas" relate to silly men and women, and also to stupid animals, the
latter being, of course, men re-born as beasts, birds, or reptiles. But
it is not to be supposed that all are of Buddhist invention; some had
doubtless been current for ages among the Hindus before Gautama
promulgated his mild doctrines. Scholars are, however, agreed that these
fictions date at latest from a century prior to the Christian era._

_Of European noodle-stories, as of other folk-tales, it may be said
that, while they are numerous, yet the elements of which they are
composed are comparatively very few. The versions domiciled in different
countries exhibit little originality, farther than occasional
modifications in accordance with local manners and customs. Thus for the
stupid Brahman of Indian stories the blundering, silly son is often
substituted in European variants; for the brose in Norse and Highland
tales we find polenta or macaroni in Italian and Sicilian versions. The
identity of incidents in the noodle-stories of Europe with those in what
are for us their oldest forms, the Buddhist and Indian books, is very
remarkable, particularly so in the case of Norse popular fictions,
which, there is every reason to believe, were largely introduced through
the Mongolians; and the similarity of Italian and West Highland stories
to those of Iceland and Norway would seem to indicate the influence of
the Norsemen in the Western Islands of Scotland and in the south of

_It were utterly futile to attempt to trace the literary history of
most of the noodle-stories which appear to have been current throughout
European countries for many generations, since they have practically
none. Soon after the invention of printing collections of facetiae were
rapidly multiplied, the compilers taking their material from oral as
well as written sources, amongst others, from mediaeval collections of
"exempla" designed for the use of preachers and the writings of the
classical authors of antiquity. With the exception of those in Buddhist
works, it is more than probable that the noodle-stories which are found
among all peoples never had any other purpose than that of mere
amusement. Who, indeed, could possibly convert the "witless devices" of
the men of Gotham into vehicles of moral instruction? Only the monkish
writers of the Middle Ages, who even "spiritualised" tales which, if
reproduced in these days, must be "printed for private circulation"!_

_Yet may the typical noodle of popular tales "point a moral," after a
fashion. Poor fellow! he follows his instructions only too literally,
and with a firm conviction that he is thus doing a very clever thing.
But the consequence is almost always ridiculous. He practically shows
the fallacy of the old saw that "fools learn by experience," for his
next folly is sure to be greater than the last, in spite of every
caution to the contrary. He is generally very honest, and does
everything, like the man in the play, "with the best intentions." His
mind is incapable of entertaining more than one idea at a time; but to
that he holds fast, with the tenacity of the lobster's claw: he cannot
be diverted from it until, by some accident, a fresh idea displaces it;
and so on he goes from one blunder to another. His blunders, however,
which in the case of an ordinary man would infallibly result in disaster
to himself or to others, sometimes lead him to unexpected good fortune.
He it is, in fact, to whom the great Persian poet Sadi alludes when he
says, in his charming "Gulistan," or Rose Garden, "The alchemist died of
grief and distress, while the blockhead found a treasure under a ruin."
Men of intelligence toil painfully to acquire a mere "livelihood"'; the
noodle stumbles upon great wealth in the midst of his wildest vagaries.
In brief, he is--in stories, at least--a standing illustration of the
"vanity of human life"!_

_And now a few words as to the history and design of the following
work. When the Folk-lore Society was formed, some nine years since, the
late Mr. W.J. Thoms, who was one of the leading men in its formation,
promised to edit for the Society the "Merry Tales of the Mad Men of
Gotham," furnishing notes of analogous stories, a task which he was
peculiarly qualified to perform. As time passed on, however, the
infirmities of old age doubtless rendered the purposed work less and
less attractive to him, and his death, after a long, useful, and
honourable career, left it still undone. What particular plan he had
sketched out for himself I do not know; but there can be no doubt that
had he carried it out the results would have been most valuable. And,
since he did not perform his self-allotted task, his death is surely a
great loss, perhaps an irreparable loss, to English students of
comparative folk-lore._

_More than five years ago, with a view of urging Mr. Thoms to set
about the work, I offered to furnish him with some material in the shape
of Oriental noodle-stories; but from a remark in his reply I feared
there would be no need for such services as I could render him. That
fear has been since realised, and the present little book is now offered
as a humble substitute for the intended work of Mr. Thoms, until it is
displaced by a more worthy one._

_Since the "Tales of the Men of Gotham" ceased to be reproduced in
chap-book form, the first reprint of the collection was made in 1840,
with an introduction by Mr. J.O. Halliwell (now Halliwell-Phillipps);
and that brochure is become almost as scarce as the chap-book copies
themselves: the only copy I have seen is in the Euing collection in the
Glasgow University Library. The tales were next reprinted in the
"Shakespeare Jest-books," so ably edited and annotated by Mr. W. Carew
Hazlitt, in three volumes (1864). They were again reproduced in Mr. John
Ashton's "Chap-books of the Eighteenth Century" (1882)._

_It did not enter into the plan of any of these editors to cite
analogues or variants of the Gothamite Tales; nor, on the other hand,
was it any part of my design in the present little work to reproduce the
Tales in the same order as they appear in the printed collection. Yet
all that are worth reproducing in a work of this description will be
found in the chapters entitled "Gothamite Drolleries," of which they
form, indeed, but a small portion._

_My design has been to bring together, from widely scattered sources,
many of which are probably unknown or inaccessible to ordinary readers,
the best of this class of humorous narratives, in their oldest existing
Buddhist and Greek forms as well as in the forms in which they are
current among the people in the present day. It will, perhaps, be
thought by some that a portion of what is here presented might have been
omitted without great loss; but my aim has been not only to compile an
amusing story-book, but to illustrate to some extent the migrations of
popular fictions from country to country. In this design I was assisted
by Captain R.C. Temple, one of the editors of the "Indian Antiquary,"
and one of the authors of "Wide-awake Stories," from the Punjab and
Kashmir, who kindly directed me to sources whence I have drawn some
curious Oriental parallels to European stories of simpletons._


*.* _While my "Popular Tales and Fictions" was passing through the
press, in 1886, I made reference (in vol. i., p. 65) to the present
work, as it was purposed to be published that year, but Mr. Stock has
had unavoidably to defer its publication till now._


GLASGOW, _March_, 1888.






Reputed communities of stupids in different countries--The noodles of
Norfolk: their lord's bond; the dog and the honey; the fool and his sack
of meal--Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham: Andrew Borde not the author--
The two Gothamites at Notts Bridge--The hedging of the cuckoo--How the
men of Gotham paid their rents--The twelve fishers and the courtier--The
_Guru Paramartan_--The brothers of Bakki--Drowning the eel--The
Gothamite and his cheese--The trivet--The buzzard--The gossips at the
alehouse--The cheese on the highway--The wasp's nest--Casting sheep's
eyes--The devil in the meadow--The priest of Gotham--The "boiling"
river--The moon a green cheese--The "carles of Austwick"--The Wiltshire
farmer and his pigs



The men of Schilda: the dark council-house; the mill-stone; the cat--
Sinhalese noodles: the man who observed Buddha's five precepts--The fool
and the _Ramayana_--The two Arabian noodles--The alewife and her
hens--"Sorry he has gone to heaven"--The man of Hama and the man of
Hums--_Bizarrures_ of the Sieur Gaulard--The rustic and the dog



The simpleton and the sharpers--The schoolmaster's lady-love--The judge
and the thieves--The calf's head--The Kashmiri and his store of rice--
The Turkish noodle: the kerchief; the caftan; the wolf's tail; the right
hand and the left; the stolen cheese; the moon in the well--The good
dreams--Chinese noodles: the lady and her husband; the stolen spade; the
relic-hunter--Indian noodles: the fools and the mosquitoes; the fools
and the palm-trees; the servants and the trunks; taking care of the
door; the fool and the aloes-wood; the fool and the cotton; the cup lost
in the sea; the fool and the thieves; the simpletons who ate the
buffalo; the princess who was made to grow; the washerman's ass
transformed; the foolish herdsman--Noodle-stories moralised--The
brothers and their heritage--Sowing roasted sesame



Simple Simon--The Norse booby--The Russian booby--The Japanese noodle--
The Arabian idiot--The English silly son--The Sinhalese noodle with the
robbers--The Italian booby--The Arab simpleton and his cow--The Russian
fool and the birch-tree--The silly wife deceived by her husband--The
Indian fool on the tree-branch--The Indian monk who believed he was
dead--The Florentine fool and the young men--The Indian silly son as a
fisher; as a messenger; killing a mosquito; as a pupil--The best of the
family--The doctor's apprentice



Introduction 171
Story of the first Brahman 176
Story of the second Brahman 178
Story of the third Brahman 181
Story of the fourth Brahman 185
Conclusion 190



* * * * *






"Old as the days of Hierokles!" is the exclamation of the "classical"
reader on hearing a well-worn jest; while, on the like occasion, that of
the "general" reader--a comprehensive term, which, doubtless, signifies
one who knows "small Latin and less Greek"--is, that it is "a Joe
Miller;" both implying that the critic is too deeply versed in
_joke-ology_ to be imposed upon, to have an old jest palmed on him
as new, or as one made by a living wit. That the so-called jests of
Hierokles are _old_ there can be no doubt whatever; that they were
collected by the Alexandrian sage of that name is more than doubtful;
while it is certain that several of them are much older than the time in
which he flourished, namely, the fifth century: it is very possible that
some may date even as far back as the days of the ancient Egyptians! It
is perhaps hardly necessary to say that honest Joseph Miller, the
comedian, was not the compiler of the celebrated jest-book with which
his name is associated; that it was, in fact, simply a bookseller's
trick to entitle a heterogeneous collection of jokes, "quips, and
cranks, and quiddities," _Joe Millers Jests; or, The Wit's Vade
Mecum_. And when one speaks of a jest as being "a Joe Miller," he
should only mean that it is "familiar as household words," not that it
is of contemptible antiquity, albeit many of the jokes in "Joe Miller"
are, at least, "as old as Hierokles," such, for instance, as that of the
man who trained his horse to live on a straw _per diem_, when it
suddenly died, or that of him who had a house to sell and carried about
a brick as a specimen of it.

The collection of facetiae ascribed to Hierokles, by whomsoever it was
made, is composed of very short anecdotes of the sayings and doings of
pedants, who are represented as noodles, or simpletons. In their
existing form they may not perhaps be of much earlier date than the
ninth century. They seem to have come into the popular facetiae of Europe
through the churchmen of the Middle Ages, and, after having circulated
long orally, passed into literature, whence, like other kinds of tales,
they once more returned to the people. We find in them the indirect
originals of some of the bulls and blunders which have in modern times
been credited to Irishmen and Scotch Highlanders, and the germs also,
perhaps, of some stories of the Gothamite type: as brave men lived
before Agamemnon, so, too, the race of Gothamites can boast of a very
ancient pedigree! By far the greater number of them, however, seem now
pithless and pointless, whatever they may have been considered in
ancient days, when, perhaps, folk found food for mirth in things which
utterly fail to tickle our "sense of humour" in these double-distilled
days. Of the [Greek: Asteia], or facetiae, of Hierokles, twenty-eight
only are appended to his Commentary on Pythagoras and the fragments of
his other works edited, with Latin translations, by Needham, and
published at Cambridge in 1709. A much larger collection, together with
other Greek jests--of the people of Abdera, Sidonia, Cumae, etc.--has
been edited by Eberhard, under the title of _Philogelos Hieraclis el
Philagrii Facetia_ which was published at Berlin in 1869.

In attempting to classify the best of these relics of ancient wit--or
witlessness, rather--it is often difficult to decide whether a
particular jest is of the Hibernian bull, or blunder, genus or an
example of that droll stupidity which is the characteristic of noodles
or simpletons. In the latter class, however, one need not hesitate to
place the story of the men of Cumae, who were expecting shortly to be
visited by a very eminent man, and having but one bath in the town, they
filled it afresh, and placed an open grating in the middle, in order
that half the water should be kept clean for his sole use.

But we at once recognise our conventional Irishman in the pedant who, on
going abroad, was asked by a friend to buy him two slave-boys of fifteen
years each, and replied, "If I cannot find such a pair, I will bring you
one of thirty years;" and in the fellow who was quarrelling with his
father, and said to him, "Don't you know how much injury you have done
me? Why, had you not been born, I should have inherited my grandfather's
estate;" also in the pedant who heard that a raven lived two hundred
years, and bought one that he should ascertain the fact for himself.

Among Grecian Gothamites, again, was the hunter who was constantly
disturbed by dreams of a boar pursuing him, and procured dogs to sleep
with him. Another, surely, was the man of Cumae who wished to sell some
clothes he had stolen, and smeared them with pitch, so that they should
not be recognised by the owner. They were Gothamites, too, those men of
Abdera who punished a runaway ass for having got into the gymnasium and
upset the olive oil. Having brought all the asses of the town together,
as a caution, they flogged the delinquent ass before his fellows.

Some of the jests of Hierokles may be considered either as witticisms or
witless sayings of noodles; for example, the story of the man who
recovered his health though the doctor had sworn he could not live, and
afterwards, being asked by his friends why he seemed to avoid the doctor
whenever they were both likely to meet, he replied, "He told me I should
not live, and now I am ashamed to be alive;" or that of the pedant who
said to the doctor, "Pardon me for not having been sick so long;" or
this, "I dreamt that I saw and spoke to you last night:" quoth the
other, "By the gods, I was so busy, I did not hear you."

But our friend the Gothamite reappears in the pedant who saw some
sparrows on a tree, and went quietly under it, stretched out his robe,
and shook the tree, expecting to catch the sparrows as they fell, like
ripe fruit again, in the pedant who lay down to sleep, and, finding he
had no pillow, bade his servant place a jar under his head, after
stuffing it full of feathers to render it soft; again, in the
cross-grained fellow who had some honey for sale, and a man coming up to
him and inquiring the price, he upset the jar, and then replied, "You
may shed my heart's blood like that before I tell such as you;" and
again, in the man of Abdera who tried to hang himself, when the rope
broke, and he hurt his head; but after having the wound dressed by the
doctor, he went and accomplished his purpose. And we seem to have a
trace of them in the story of the pedant who dreamt that a nail had
pierced his foot, and in the morning he bound it up; when he told a
friend of his mishap, he said, "Why do you sleep barefooted?"

The following jest is spread--_mutatis mutandis_--over all Europe:
A pedant, a bald man, and a barber, making a journey in company, agreed
to watch in turn during the night. It was the barber's watch first. He
propped up the sleeping pedant, and shaved his head, and when his time
came, awoke him. When the pedant felt his head bare, "What a fool is
this barber," he cried, "for he has roused the bald man instead of me!"

A variant of this story is related of a raw Highlander, fresh from the
heather, who put up at an inn in Perth, and shared his bed with a negro.
Some coffee-room jokers having blackened his face during the night, when
he was called, as he had desired, very early next morning, and got up,
he saw the reflection of his face in the mirror, and exclaimed in a
rage, "Tuts, tuts! The silly body has waukened the wrang man."

In connection with these two stories may be cited the following, from a
Persian jest-book: A poor wrestler, who had passed all his life in
forests, resolved to try his fortune in a great city, and as he drew
near it he observed with wonder the crowds on the road, and thought, "I
shall certainly not be able to know myself among so many people if I
have not something about me that the others have not." So he tied a
pumpkin to his right leg and, thus decorated, entered the town. A young
wag, perceiving the simpleton, made friends with him, and induced him to
spend the night at his house. While he was asleep, the joker removed the
pumpkin from his leg and tied it to his own, and then lay down again. In
the morning, when the poor fellow awoke and found the pumpkin on his
companion's leg, he called to him, "Hey! get up, for I am perplexed in
my mind. Who am I, and who are you? If I am myself, why is the pumpkin
on your leg? And if you are yourself, why is the pumpkin not on my leg?"

Modern counterparts of the following jest are not far to seek: Quoth a
man to a pedant, "The slave I bought of you has died." Rejoined the
other, "By the gods, I do assure you that he never once played me such a
trick while I had him." The old Greek pedant is transformed into an
Irishman, in our collections of facetiae, who applied to a farmer for
work. "I'll have nothing to do with you," said the farmer, "for the last
five Irishmen I had all died on my hands." Quoth Pat, "Sure, sir, I can
bring you characters from half a dozen gentlemen I've worked for that I
never did such a thing." And the jest is thus told in an old translation
of _Les Contes Facetieux de Sieur Gaulard_: "Speaking of one of his
Horses which broake his Neck at the descent of a Rock, he said, Truly it
was one of the handsomest and best Curtails in all the Country; he neuer
shewed me such a trick before in all his life."[1]

Equally familiar is the jest of the pedant who was looking out for a
place to prepare a tomb for himself, and on a friend indicating what he
thought to be a suitable spot, "Very true," said the pedant, "but it is
unhealthy." And we have the prototype of a modern "Irish" story in the
following: A pedant sealed a jar of wine, and his slaves perforated it
below and drew off some of the liquor. He was astonished to find his
wine disappear while the seal remained intact. A friend, to whom he had
communicated the affair, advised him to look and ascertain if the liquor
had not been drawn off from below. "Why, you fool," said he, "it is not
the lower, but the upper, portion that is going off."

It was a Greek pedant who stood before a mirror and shut his eyes that
he might know how he looked when asleep--a jest which reappears in
Taylor's _Wit and Mirth_ in this form: "A wealthy monsieur in
France (hauing profound reuenues and a shallow braine) was told by his
man that he did continually gape in his sleepe, at which he was angry
with his man, saying he would not belieue it. His man verified it to be
true; his master said that he would neuer belieue any that told him so,
except (quoth hee) I chance to see it with mine owne eyes; and therefore
I will have a great Looking glasse at my bed's feet for the purpose to
try whether thou art a lying knaue or not."[2]

Not unlike some of our "Joe Millers" is the following: A citizen of
Cumae, on an ass, passed by an orchard, and seeing a branch of a fig-tree
loaded with delicious fruit, he laid hold of it, but the ass went on,
leaving him suspended. Just then the gardener came up, and asked him
what he did there. The man replied, "I fell off the ass."--An analogue
to this drollery is found in an Indian story-book, entitled _Katha
Manjari_: One day a thief climbed up a cocoa-nut tree in a garden to
steal the fruit. The gardener heard the noise, and while he was running
from his house, giving the alarm, the thief hastily descended from the
tree. "Why were you up that tree?" asked the gardener. The thief
replied, "My brother, I went up to gather grass for my calf." "Ha! ha!
is there grass, then, on a cocoa-nut tree?" said the gardener. "No,"
quoth the thief; "but I did not know; therefore I came down again."--And
we have a variant of this in the Turkish jest of the fellow who went
into a garden and pulled up carrots, turnips, and other kinds of
vegetables, some of which he put into a sack, and some into his bosom.
The gardener, coming suddenly on the spot, laid hold of him, and said,
"What are you seeking here?" The simpleton replied, "For some days past
a great wind has been blowing, and that wind blew me hither." "But who
pulled up these vegetables?" "As the wind blew very violently, it cast
me here and there; and whatever I laid hold of in the hope of saving
myself remained in my hands." "Ah," said the gardener, "but who filled
this sack with them?" "Well, that is the very question I was about to
ask myself when you came up."

The propensity with which Irishmen are credited of making ludicrous
bulls is said to have its origin, not from any lack of intelligence, but
rather in the fancy of that lively race, which often does not wait for
expression until the ideas have taken proper verbal form. Be this as it
may, a considerable portion of the bulls popularly ascribed to Irishmen
are certainly "old as the jests of Hierokles," and are, moreover,
current throughout Europe. Thus in Hierokles we read that one of
twin-brothers having recently died, a pedant, meeting the survivor,
asked him whether it was he or his brother who had deceased.--Taylor has
this in his _Wit and Mirth_, and he probably heard it from some one
who had read the facetious tales of the Sieur Gaulard: "A nobleman of
France (as he was riding) met with a yeoman of the Country, to whom he
said, My friend, I should know thee. I doe remember I haue often seene
thee. My good Lord, said the countriman, I am one of your Honers poore
tenants, and my name is T.J. I remember better now (said my Lord); there
were two brothers of you, but one is dead; I pray, which of you doth
remaine alive?"--Mr. W. Carew Hazlitt, in the notes to his edition of
Taylor's collection _(Shakespeare Jest Books_, Third Series), cites
a Scotch parallel from _The Laird of Logan_: "As the Paisley
steamer came alongside the quay[3] at the city of the Seestus,[4] a
denizen of St. Mirren's hailed one of the passengers: 'Jock! Jock! distu
hear, man? Is that you or your brother?'" And to the same point is the
old nursery rhyme,--

"Ho, Master Teague, what is your story?
I went to the wood, and killed a tory;[5]
I went to the wood, and killed another:
Was it the same, or was it his brother?"[6]

We meet with a very old acquaintance in the pedant who lost a book and
sought for it many days in vain, till one day he chanced to be eating
lettuces, when, turning a corner, he saw it on the ground. Afterwards
meeting a friend who was lamenting the loss of his girdle, he said to
him, "Don't grieve; buy some lettuces; eat them at a corner; turn round
it, go a little way on, and you will find your girdle." But is there
anything like this in "Joe Miller"?--Two lazy fellows were sleeping
together, when a thief came, and drawing down the coverlet made off with
it. One of them was aware of the theft, and said to the other, "Get up,
and run after the man that has stolen our coverlet." "You blockhead,"
replied his companion, "wait till he comes back to steal the bolster,
and we two will master him." And has "Joe" got this one?--A pedant's
little boy having died, many friends came to the funeral, on seeing whom
he said, "I am ashamed to bring out so small a boy to so great a crowd."

An epigram in the _Anthologia_ may find a place among noodle

"A blockhead, bit by fleas, put out the light,
And, chuckling, cried, 'Now you can't see to bite!'"

This ancient jest has been somewhat improved in later times. Two
Irishmen in the East Indies, being sorely pestered with mosquitoes, kept
their light burning in hopes of scaring them off, but finding this did
not answer, one suggested they should extinguish the light and thus
puzzle their tormentors to find them, which was done. Presently the
other, observing the light of a firefly in the room, called to his
bedfellow, "Arrah, Mike, sure your plan's no good, for, bedad, here's
one of them looking for us wid a lantern!"

Our specimens may be now concluded with what is probably the best of the
old Greek jokes. The father of a man of Cumae having died at Alexandria,
the son dutifully took the body to the embalmers. When he returned at
the appointed time to fetch it away, there happened to be a number of
bodies in the same place, so he was asked if his father had any
peculiarity by which his body might be recognised, and the wittol
replied, "He had a cough."



[1] Etienne Tabourot, the author of this amusing little book,
who was born at Dijon in 1549 and died in 1590, is said to have written
the tales in ridicule of the inhabitants of Franche Comte, who were then
the subjects of Spain, and reputed to be stupid and illiterate. From a
manuscript translation, entitled _Bizarrures; or, The Pleasant and
Witlesse and Simple Speeches of the Lord Gaulard of Burgundy_,
purporting to be made by "J.B., of Charterhouse," probably about the
year 1660, in the possession of Mr. Frederick William Cosens, London,
fifty copies, edited, with a preface, by "A.S." (Alexander Smith), were
printed at Glasgow in 1884. I am indebted to the courtesy of my friend
Mr. F.T. Barrett, Librarian of the Mitchell Library, Glasgow, for
directing my attention to this curious work, a copy of which is among
the treasures of that already important institution.

[2] "_Wit and Mirth_. Chargeably collected out of Taverns,
Ordinaries, Innes, Bowling-greenes and Allyes, Alehouses, Tobacco-shops,
Highwayes, and Water-passages. Made up and fashioned into Clinches,
Bulls, Quirkes, Yerkes, Quips, and Jerkes. Apothegmatically bundled vp
and garbled at the request of John Garrett's Ghost." (1635)--such is the
elaborate title of the collection of jests made by John Taylor, the
Water Poet, which owes very little to preceding English jest-books. The
above story had, however, been told previously in the _Bizarrures_
of the Sieur Gaulard: "His cousine Dantressesa reproued him one day that
she had found him sleeping in an ill posture with his mouth open, to
order which for the tyme to come he commanded his seruant to hang a
looking glasse upon the curtaine at his Bed's feet, that he might
henceforth see if he had a good posture in his sleep."

[3] Only a Liliputian steamer could go up the "river" Cart!

[4] "Seestu" is a nickname for Paisley, the good folks of that busy town
being in the habit of frequently interjecting, "Seestu?"--_i.e.,_
"Seest thou?"--in their familiar colloquies.

[5] "Tory" is said to be the Erse term for a robber.

[6] Halliwell's _Nursery Rhymes of England_, vol. iv. of Percy
Society's publications.



It seems to have been common to most countries, from very ancient times,
for the inhabitants of a particular district, town, or village to be
popularly regarded as pre-eminently foolish, arrant noodles or
simpletons. The Greeks had their stories of the silly sayings and doings
of the people of Baeotia, Sidonia, Abdera, etc. Among the Perso-Arabs the
folk of Hums (ancient Emessa) are reputed to be exceedingly stupid. The
Kabail, or wandering tribes of Northern Africa, consider the Beni Jennad
as little better than idiots. The Schildburgers are the noodles of
German popular tales. In Switzerland the townsmen of Belmont, near
Lausanne, are typical blockheads. And England has her "men of Gotham"--a
village in Nottinghamshire--who are credited with most of the noodle
stories which have been current among the people for centuries past,
though other places share to some extent in their not very enviable
reputation: in Yorkshire the "carles" of Austwick, in Craven; some
villages near Marlborough Downs, in Wiltshire; and in the counties of
Sutherland and Ross, the people of Assynt.

But long before the men of Gotham were held up to ridicule as fools, a
similar class of stories had been told of the men of Norfolk, as we
learn from a curious Latin poem, _Descriptio Norfolciensium_,
written, probably, near the end of the twelfth century, by a monk of
Peterborough, which is printed in Wright's _Early Mysteries and Other
Latin Poems_. This poem sets out with stating that Caesar having
despatched messengers throughout the provinces to discover which were
bad and which were good, on their return they reported Norfolk as the
most sterile, and the people the vilest and different from all other
peoples. Among the stories related of the stupidity of the men of
Norfolk is the following: Being oppressed by their lord, they gave him a
large sum of money on condition that he should relieve them from future
burdens, and he gave them his bond to that effect, sealed with a seal of
green wax. To celebrate this, they all went to the tavern and got drunk.
When it became dark, they had no candle, and were puzzled how to procure
one, till a clever fellow among the revellers suggested that they should
use the wax seal of the bond for a candle--they should still have the
words of the bond, which their lord could not repudiate; so they made
the wax seal into a candle, and burned it while they continued their
merry-making. This exploit coming to the knowledge of their lord, he
reimposes the old burdens on the rustics, who complain of his injustice,
at the same time producing the bond. The lord calls a clerk to examine
the document, who pronounces it to be null and void in the absence of
the lord's seal, and so their oppression continues.

Another story is of a man of Norfolk who put some honey in a jar, and in
his absence his dog came and ate it all up. When he returned home and
was told of this, he took the dog and forced him to disgorge the honey,
put it back into the jar, and took it to market. A customer having
examined the honey, declared it to be putrid. "Well," said the
simpleton, "it was in a vessel that was not very clean."--Wright has
pointed out that this reappears in an English jest-book of the
seventeenth century. "A cleanly woman of Cambridgeshire made a good
store of butter, and whilst she went a little way out of the town about
some earnest occasions, a neighbour's dog came in in the meantime, and
eat up half the butter. Being come home, her maid told her what the dog
had done, and that she had locked him up in the dairy-house. So she took
the dog and hang'd him up by the heels till she had squeez'd all the
butter out of his throat again, whilst she, pretty, cleanly soul, took
and put it to the rest of the butter, and made it up for Cambridge
market. But her maid told her she was ashamed to see such a nasty trick
done. 'Hold your peace, you fool!' says she; ''tis good enough for
schollards. Away with it to market!'"[1]--Perhaps the original form is
found in the _Philogelos Hieraclis et Philagrii Facetiae_, edited by
Eberhard. A citizen of Cumae was selling honey. Some one came up and
tasted it, and said that it was all bad. He replied, "If a mouse had not
fallen into it, I would not sell it."

The well-known Gothamite jest of the man who put a sack of meal on his
own shoulders to save his horse, and then got on the animal's back and
rode home, had been previously told of a man of Norfolk, thus:

"Ad foram ambulant diebus singulis;
Saccum de lolio portant in humeris,
Jumentis ne noccant: bene fatuis,
Ut prolocutiis sum acquantur bestiis."

It reappears in the _Bizarrures_ of the Sieur Gaulard:[2] "Seeing
one day his mule charged with a verie great Portmantle, [he] said to his
groome that was upon the back of the mule, thou lasie fellowe, hast thou
no pitie upon that poore Beast? Take that portmantle upon thine owne
shoulders to ease the poore Beast." And in our own time it is told of an
Irish exciseman with a keg of smuggled whisky.

How such stories came to be transferred to the men of Gotham, it were
fruitless to inquire.[3] Similar jests have been long current in other
countries of Europe and throughout Asia, and accident or malice may have
fixed the stigma of stupidity on any particular spot. There is probably
no ground whatever for crediting the tale of the origin of the proverb,
"As wise as the men of Gotham," although it is reproduced in Thoroton's
_Nottinghamshire_, i. 42-3:

"King John, intending to pass through this place, towards Nottingham,
was prevented by the inhabitants, they apprehending that the ground over
which a king passed was for ever after to become a public road. The
King, incensed at their proceedings, sent from his court soon afterwards
some of his servants to inquire of them the reason of their incivility
and ill-treatment, that he might punish them. The villagers, hearing of
the approach of the King's servants, thought of an expedient to turn
away his Majesty's displeasure from them. When the messengers arrived at
Gotham, they found some of the inhabitants engaged in endeavouring to
drown an eel in a pool of water; some were employed in dragging carts
upon a large barn to shade the wood from the sun; and others were
engaged in hedging a cuckoo, which had perched itself upon an old bush.
In short, they were all employed in some foolish way or other, which
convinced the King's servants that it was a village of fools."

The fooleries ascribed to the men of Gotham were probably first
collected and printed in the sixteenth century; but that jests of the
"fools of Gotham" were current among the people long before that period
is evident from a reference to them in the _Widkirk Miracle Plays_,
the only existing MS. of which was written about the reign of Henry VI.:

"Foles al sam;
Sagh I never none so fare
Bote the soles of Gotham."

The oldest known copy of the _Merie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotam_
was printed in 1630, and is preserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
Warton, in his _History of English Poetry_, mentions an edition,
which he says was printed about 1568, by Henry Wikes, but he had never
seen it. But Mr. Halliwell (now Halliwell-Phillips), in his _Notices
of Popular English Histories_, cites one still earlier, which he
thinks was probably printed between 1556 and 1566: "Merie Tales of the
Mad Men of Gotam, gathered together by A.B., of Phisike Doctour.
[colophon:] Imprinted at London, in Flet-Stret, beneath the Conduit, at
the signe of S. John Evangelist, by Thomas Colwell, n.d. 12 deg., black
letter." The book is mentioned in _A Briefe and Necessary
Introduction_, etc., by E.D. (8vo, 1572), among a number of other
folk-books: "Bevis of Hampton, Guy of Warwicke, Arthur of the Round
Table, Huon of Bourdeaux, Oliver of the Castle, The Four Sonnes of
Amond, The Witles Devices of Gargantua, Howleglas, Esop, Robyn Hoode,
Adam Bell, Frier Rushe, The Fooles of Gotham, and a thousand such
other."[4] And Anthony a Wood, in his _Athenae Oxonienses_ (1691-2),
says it was "printed at London in the time of K. Hen. 8, in whose reign
and after it was accounted a book full of wit and mirth by scholars and
gentlemen. Afterwards being often printed, [it] is now sold only on the
stalls of ballad-singers." It is likely that the estimation in which the
book was held "by scholars and gentlemen" was not a little due to the
supposition that "A.B., of Phisike Doctour," by whom the tales were said
to have been "gathered together," was none other than Andrew Borde, or
Boorde, a Carthusian friar before the Reformation, one of the physicians
to Henry VIII., a great traveller, even beyond the bounds of
Christendom, "a thousand or two and more myles," a man of great
learning, withal "of fame facete." For to Borde have the _Merie Tales
of the Mad Men of Gotham_ been generally ascribed down to our own
times. There is, however, as Dr. F.J. Furnivall justly remarks, "no good
external evidence that the book was written by Borde, while the internal
evidence is against his authorship."[5] In short, the ascription of its
compilation to "A.B., of Phisike Doctour," was clearly a device of the
printer to sell the book.[6]

The _Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham_ continued to be printed as a
chap-book down to the close of the first quarter of the present century;
and much harmless mirth they must have caused at cottage firesides in
remote rural districts occasionally visited by the ubiquitous pedlar, in
whose well-filled pack of all kinds of petty merchandise such drolleries
were sure to be found. Unlike other old collections of facetiae, the
little work is remarkably free from objectionable stories; some are
certainly not very brilliant, having, indeed, nothing in them
particularly "Gothamite," and one or two seem to have been adapted from
the Italian novelists. Of the twenty tales comprised in the collection,
the first is certainly one of the most humorous:

There were two men of Gotham, and one of them was going to the market at
Nottingham to buy sheep, and the other was coming from the market, and
both met on Nottingham bridge. "Well met!" said the one to the other.
"Whither are you a-going?" said he that came from Nottingham. "Marry,"
said he that was going thither, "I am going to the market to buy sheep."
"Buy sheep!" said the other. "And which way will you bring them home?"
"Marry," said the other, "I will bring them over this bridge." "By Robin
Hood," said he that came from Nottingham, "but thou shalt not." "By Maid
Marian," said he that was going thither, "but I will." "Thou shalt not,"
said the one. "I will," said the other. Then they beat their staves
against the ground, one against the other, as if there had been a
hundred sheep betwixt them. "Hold them there," said the one. "Beware of
the leaping over the bridge of my sheep," said the other. "They shall
all come this way," said one. "But they shall not," said the other. And
as they were in contention, another wise man that belonged to Gotham
came from the market, with a sack of meal upon his horse; and seeing and
hearing his neighbours at strife about sheep, and none betwixt them,
said he, "Ah, fools, will you never learn wit? Then help me," said he
that had the meal, "and lay this sack upon my shoulder." They did so,
and he went to the one side of the bridge and unloosed the mouth of the
sack, and did shake out all the meal into the river. Then said he, "How
much meal is there in the sack, neighbours?" "Marry," answered they,
"none." "Now, by my faith," answered this wise man, "even so much wit is
there in your two heads to strive for the thing which you have not." Now
which was the wisest of these three persons, I leave you to judge.

Allusions to these tales are of frequent occurrence in our literature of
the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Dekker, in his _Gul's Horn
Book_ (1609), says, "It is now high time for me to have a blow at thy
head, which I will not cut off with sharp documents, but rather set it
on faster, bestowing upon it such excellent serving that if all the wise
men of Gotham should lay their heads together, their jobbernowls should
not be able to compare with thine;" and Wither, in his _Abuses_,

"And he that tryes to doe it might have bin
One of the crew that hedged the cuckoo in,"

alluding to one of the most famous exploits of the wittols:

On a time the men of Gotham would have pinned in the cuckoo, whereby she
should sing all the year, and in the midst of the town they made a hedge
round in compass, and they had got a cuckoo, and had put her into it,
and said, "Sing here all the year, and thou shalt lack neither meat nor
drink." The cuckoo, as soon as she perceived herself encompassed within
the hedge, flew away. "A vengeance on her!" said they. "We made not our
hedge high enough."

The tales had, however, attained popular favour much earlier. Mr.
Halliwell-Phillipps has pointed out that in _Philotimus_ (1583) the
men of Gotham are remembered as having "tied their rentes in a purse
about an hare's necke, and bade her to carrie it to their landlord," an
excellent plan, which is thus described:

On a time the men of Gotham had forgotten to pay their rent to their
landlord. The one said to the other, "To-morrow is our payday, and what
remedy shall we find to send our money to our lord?" The one said, "This
day I have taken a quick [i.e., live] hare, and she shall carry it, for
she is light of foot." "Be it so," said all. "She shall have a letter
and a purse to put in our money, and we shall direct her the ready way."
And when the letters were written, and the money put in a purse, they
did tie them about the hare's neck, saying, "First thou must go to
Loughborough, and then to Leicester; and at Newark there is our lord,
and commend us to him, and there is his duty [i.e., due]." The hare, as
soon as she was out of their hands, she did run a clean contrary way.
Some cried to her, saying, "Thou must go to Loughborough first." Some
said, "Let the hare alone; she can tell a nearer way than the best of us
all do: let her go." Another said, "It is a noble hare; let her alone;
she will not keep the highway for fear of the dogs."

The well-worn "Joe Miller" of the Irishman who tried to count the party
to which he belonged, and always forgot to count himself, which is also
known in Russia and in the West Highlands of Scotland, is simply a
variant of this drollery:

On a certain day there were twelve men of Gotham that went to fish, and
some stood on dry land; and in going home one said to the other, "We
have ventured wonderfully in wading: I pray God that none of us come
home and be drowned." "Nay, marry," said one to the other, "let us see
that; for there did twelve of us come out." Then they told (i.e.,
counted) themselves, and every one told eleven. Said one to the other,
"There is one of us drowned." They went back to the brook where they had
been fishing, and sought up and down for him that was wanting, making
great lamentation. A courtier, coming by, asked what it was they sought
for, and why they were sorrowful. "Oh," said they, "this day we went to
fish in the brook; twelve of us came out together, and one is drowned."
Said the courtier, "Tell [count] how many there be of you." One of them
said, "Eleven," and he did not tell himself. "Well," said the courtier,
"what will you give me, and I will find the twelfth man?" "Sir," said
they, "all the money we have got." "Give me the money," said the
courtier, and began with the first, and gave him a stroke over the
shoulders with his whip, which made him groan, saying, "Here is one,"
and so served them all, and they all groaned at the matter. When he came
to the last, he paid him well, saying, "Here is the twelfth man." "God's
blessing on thy heart," said they, "for thus finding our dear brother!"

This droll adventure is also found in the _Gooroo Paramartan_, a
most amusing work, written in the Tamil language by Beschi, an Italian
Jesuit, who was missionary in India from 1700 till his death, in 1742.
The Gooroo (teacher) and his five disciples, who are, like himself,
noodles, come to a river which they have to cross, and which, as the
Gooroo informs them, is a very dangerous stream. To ascertain whether it
is at present "asleep," one of them dips his lighted cheroot in the
water, which, of course, extinguishes it, upon which he returns to the
Gooroo and reports that the river is still in a dangerous mood. So they
all sit down, and begin to tell stories of the destructive nature of
this river. One relates how his grandfather and another man were
journeying together, driving two asses laden with bags of salt, and
coming to this river, they resolved to bathe in it, and the asses,
tempted by the coolness of the water, at the same time knelt down in it.
When the men found that their salt had disappeared, they congratulated
themselves on their wonderful escape from the devouring stream, which
had eaten up all their salt without even opening the bags. Another
disciple relates a story similar to the so-called AEsopian fable of the
dog and his shadow, this river being supposed to have devoured a piece
of meat which the dog had dropped into it. At length the river is found
to be quiescent, a piece of charred wood having been plunged into it
without producing any effect like that of the former experiment; and
they determine to ford it, but with great caution. Arrived on the other
side, they count their number, like the men of Gotham, and discover that
one is not present. A traveller, coming up, finds the missing man by
whacking each of them over the shoulder. The Gooroo, while gratified
that the lost one was found, was grumbling at his sore bones--for the
traveller had struck pretty hard--when an old woman, on learning of
their adventure, told them that, in her young days, she and her female
companions were once returning home from a grand festival, and adopted
another plan for ascertaining if they were all together. Gathering some
of the cattle-droppings, they kneaded them into a cake, in which they
each made a mark with the tip of the nose, and then counted the marks--a
plan which the Gooroo and his disciples should make use of on future

The Abbe Dubois has given a French translation of the Adventures of the
Gooroo Paramartan among the _Contes Divers_ appended to his not
very valuable selection of tales and apologues from Tamil, Telegu, and
Cannada versions of the _Panchatantra_ (Five Chapters, not "Cinq
Ruses," as he renders it), a Sanskrit form of the celebrated Fables of
Bidpai, or Pilpay. An English rendering of Beschi's work, by Babington,
forms one of the publications of the Oriental Translation Fund. Dubois
states that he found the tales of the Gooroo current in Indian countries
where Beschi's name was unknown, and he had no doubt of their Indian
origin. However this may be, the work was probably designed, as
Babington thinks, to satirise the Brahmans, as well as to furnish a
pleasing vehicle of instruction to those Jesuits in India whose duties
required a knowledge of the Tamil language.

A story akin to that of the Gothamite fishers, if not, indeed, an older
form of it, is told in Iceland of the Three Brothers of Bakki, who came
upon one of the hot springs which abound in that volcanic island, and
taking off their boots and stockings, put their feet into the water and
began to bathe them. When they would rise up, they were perplexed to
know each his own feet, and so they sat disconsolate, until a wayfarer
chanced to pass by, to whom they told their case, when he soon relieved
their minds by striking the feet of each, for which important service
they gave him many thanks.[7] This story reappears, slightly modified,
in Campbell's _Popular Tales of the West Highlands_: A party of
masons, engaged in building a dyke, take shelter during a heavy shower,
and when it has passed, they continue sitting, because their legs had
got mixed together, and none knew his own, until they were put right by
a traveller with a big stick. We have here an evident relic of the
Norsemen's occupation of the Hebrides.

Several of the tales of the Gothamites are found almost unaltered in
Gaelic. That of the twelve fishers has been already mentioned, and here
is the story of the attempt to drown an eel, which Campbell gives in
similar terms in his _Tales of the West Highlands_:

When that Good Friday was come, the men of Gotham did cast their heads
together what to do with their white herring, their red herring, their
sprats, and salt fish. One consulted with the other, and agreed that
such fish should be cast into a pond or pool (the which was in the
middle of the town), that it might increase the next year; and every man
did cast them into the pool. The one said, "I have thus many white
herrings;" another said, "I have thus many sprats;" another said, "I
have thus many salt fishes; let us all go together into the pool, and we
shall fare like lords the next Lent." At the beginning of next Lent the
men did draw the pond, to have their fish, and there was nothing but a
great eel. "Ah," said they all, "a mischief on this eel, for he hath eat
up all our fish!" "What shall we do with him?" said the one to the
other. "Kill him!" said one of them. "Chop him all to pieces!" said
another. "Nay, not so," said the other; "let us drown him." "Be it so,"
said all. They went to another pool, and did cast the eel into the
water. "Lie there," said they, "and shift for thyself, for no help thou
shalt have of us;" and there they left the eel to be drowned.

Campbell's Gaelic story differs so little from the above that we must
suppose it to have been derived directly from the English chap-book.
Oral tradition always produces local variations from a written story, of
which we have an example in a Gaelic version of this choice exploit:

There was a man of Gotham who went to the market of Nottingham to sell
cheese; and as he was going down the hill to Nottingham Bridge, one of
his cheeses fell out of his wallet and ran down the hill. "Ah," said the
fellow, "can you run to the market alone? I will now send one after the
other;" then laying down the wallet and taking out the cheeses, he
tumbled them down the hill one after the other; and some ran into one
bush, and some into another; so at last he said, "I do charge you to
meet me in the market-place." And when the man came into the market to
meet the cheeses, he stayed until the market was almost done, then went
and inquired of his neighbours and other men if they did see his cheeses
come to market. "Why, who should bring them?" said one of the
neighbours. "Marry, themselves," said the fellow; "they knew the way
well enough," said he: "a vengeance on them! For I was afraid to see my
cheeses run so fast, that they would run beyond the market. I am
persuaded that they are at this time almost as far as York." So he
immediately takes a horse and rides after them to York; but to this day
no man has ever heard of the cheeses.

In one Gaelic variant a woman is going to Inverness with a basket filled
with balls of worsted of her own spinning, and going down a hill, one of
the balls tumbles out and rolls along briskly, upon which she sends the
others after it, holding the ends of each in her hand; and when she
reaches the town, she finds a "ravelled hank" instead of her neat balls
of worsted. In another version a man goes to market with two bags of
cheese, and sends them downhill, like the Gothamite. After waiting at
the market all day in vain, he returns home, and tells his wife of his
misfortune. She goes to the foot of the hill and finds all the cheese.

The next Gothamite tale also finds its counterpart in the Gaelic
stories: There was a man of Gotham who bought at Nottingham a trivet, or
brandiron, and as he was going home his shoulders grew sore with the
carriage thereof, and he set it down; and seeing that it had three feet,
he said, "Ha! hast thou three feet, and I but two? Thou shalt bear me
home, if thou wilt," and set himself down thereupon, and said to the
trivet, "Bear me as long as I have borne thee; but if thou do not, thou
shalt stand still for me." The man of Gotham did see that his trivet
would not go farther. "Stand still, in the mayor's name," said he, "and
follow me if thou wilt. I will tell thee right the way to my home." When
he did come to his house, his wife said, "Where is my trivet?" The man
said, "He hath three legs, and I have but two; and I did teach him the
way to my house. Let him come home if he will." "Where left ye the
trivet?" said the woman. "At Gotham hill," said the man. His wife did
run and fetch home the trivet her own self, or else she had lost it
through her husband's wit.

In Campbell's version a man having been sent by his wife with her
spinning-wheel to get mended, as he was returning home with it the wind
set the wheel in motion, so he put it down, and bidding it go straight
to his house, set off himself. When he reached home, he asked his wife
if the spinning-wheel had arrived yet, and on her replying that it had
not, "I thought as much," quoth he, "for I took the shorter way."

A somewhat similar story is found in Riviere's French collection of
tales of the Kabail, Algeria, to this effect: The mother of a youth of
the Beni-Jennad clan gave him a hundred reals to buy a mule; so he went
to market, and on his way met a man carrying a water-melon for sale.
"How much for the melon?" he asks. "What will you give?" says the man.
"I have only got a hundred reals," answered the booby; "had I more, you
should have it." "Well," rejoined the man, "I'll take them." Then the
youth took the melon and handed over the money. "But tell me," says he,
"will its young one be as green as it is?" "Doubtless," answered the
man, "it will be green." As the booby was going home, he allowed the
melon to roll down a slope before him. It burst on its way, when up
started a frightened hare. "Go to my house, young one," he shouted.
"Surely a green animal has come out of it." And when he got home, he
inquired of his mother if the young one had arrived.

In the _Gooroo Paramartan_ there is a parallel incident to this
last. The noodles are desirous of providing their Gooroo with a horse,
and a man sells them a pumpkin, telling them it is a mare's egg, which
only requires to be sat upon for a certain time to produce a fine young
horse. The Gooroo himself undertakes to hatch the mare's egg, since his
disciples have all other matters to attend to; but as they are carrying
it through a jungle, it falls down and splits into pieces; just then a
frightened hare runs before them; and they inform the Gooroo that, a
fine young colt came out of the mare's egg, with very long ears, and ran
off with the speed of the wind. It would have proved a fine horse for
their revered Gooroo, they add; but he consoles himself for the loss by
reflecting that such an animal would probably have run away with him.

A number of the Gothamite tales in the printed collection are not only
inferior to those which are preserved orally, but can be considered in
no sense examples of preeminent folly. Three consist of tricks played by
women upon their husbands, such as are found in the ordinary jest-books
of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In one a man, who had taken
a buzzard, invites some friends to dine with him. His wife, with two of
her gossips, having secretly eaten the buzzard, kills and cooks an old
goose, and sets it before him and his guests; the latter call him a
knave to mock them thus with an old goose, and go off in great anger.
The husband, resolved to put himself right with his friends, stuffs the
buzzard's feathers into a sack, in order to show them that they were
mistaken in thinking he had tried to deceive them with an old goose
instead of a fine fat buzzard. But before he started on this business,
his wife contrived to substitute the goose's feathers, which he
exhibited to his friends as those of the buzzard, and was soundly
cudgelled for what they believed to be a second attempt to mock them.--
Two other stories seem to be derived from the Italian novelists: of the
man who intended cutting off his wife's hair[8] and of the man who
defied his wife to cuckold him. Two others turn upon wrong responses at
a christening and a marriage, which have certainly nothing Gothamite in
them. Another is a dull story of a Scotchman who employed a carver to
make him as a sign of his inn a boar's head, the tradesman supposing
from his northern pronunciation that he meant _bare_ head.--In the
nineteenth tale, a party of gossips are assembled at the alehouse, and
each relates in what manner she is profitable to her husband: one saves
candles by sending all her household to bed in daylight; another, like
the old fellow and Tib his wife in _Jolly Good Ale and Old_, eats
little meat, but can swig a gallon or two of ale, and so forth.

We have, however, our Gothamite once more in the story of him who,
seeing a fine cheese on the ground as he rode along the highway, tried
to pick it up with his sword, and finding his sword too short, rode back
to fetch a longer one for his purpose, but when he returned, he found
the cheese was gone. "A murrain take it!" quoth he. "If I had had this
sword, I had had this cheese myself, and now another hath got it!" Also
in the smith who took a red-hot iron bar and thrust it into the thatch
of his smithy to destroy a colony of wasps, and, of course, burned down
the smithy--a story which has done duty in modern days to "point a
moral" in the form of a teetotal tract, with a drunken smith in place of
the honest Gothamite![9]

The following properly belongs to stories of the "silly son" class:
There was a young man of Gotham the which should go wooing to a fair
maid. His mother did warn him beforehand, saying, "When thou dost look
upon her, cast a sheep's-eye, and say, 'How do ye, sweet pigsnie?'" The
fellow went to the butcher's and bought seven or eight sheep's eyes; and
when this lusty wooer did sit at dinner, he would cast in her face a
sheep's eye, saying, "How dost thou, my pretty pigsnie?" "How do I?"
said the wench. "Swine's-face, why dost thou cast the sheep's eye upon
me?" "O sweet pigsnie, have at thee another!" "I defy thee,
Swine's-face," said the wench. The fellow, being abashed, said, "What,
sweet pigsnie! Be content, for if thou do live until the next year, thou
wilt be a foul sow." "Walk, knave, walk!" said she; "for if thou live
till the next year, thou wilt be a stark knave, a lubber, and a fool."

It is very evident that the men of Gotham were of "honest" Jack
Falstaff's opinion that the better part of valour is discretion: On a
time there was a man of Gotham a-mowing in the meads and found a great
grasshopper. He cast down his scythe, and did run home to his
neighbours, and said that there was a devil in the field that hopped in
the grass. Then there was every man ready with clubs and staves, with
halberts, and with other weapons, to go and kill the grasshopper. When
they did come to the place where the grasshopper should be, said the one
to the other, "Let every man cross himself from the devil, or we will
not meddle with him." And so they returned again, and said, "We were all
blessed this day that we went no farther." "Ah, cowards," said he that
had his scythe in the mead, "help me to fetch my scythe." "No," said
they; "it is good to sleep in a whole skin: better it is to lose thy
scythe than to mar us all."

There is some spice of humour in the concluding tale of the printed
collection, although it has no business there: On Ash Wednesday the
priest said to the men of Gotham, "If I should enjoin you to prayer,
there is none of you that can say your paternoster; and you be now too
old to learn. And to enjoin you to fast were foolishness, for you do not
eat a good meal's meat in a year. Wherefore do I enjoin thee to labour
all the week, that thou mayest fare well to dine on Sunday, and I will
come to dinner and see it to be so, and take my dinner." Another man he
did enjoin to fare well on Monday, and another on Tuesday, and one after
another that one or other should fare well once a week, that he might
have part of his meat. "And as for alms," said the priest, "ye be
beggars all, except one or two; therefore bestow alms on yourselves."

Among the numerous stories of the Gothamites preserved orally, but not
found in the collection of "A.B., of Phisicke Doctour," is the
following, which seems to be of Indian extraction:

One day some men of Gotham were walking by the riverside, and came to a
place where the contrary currents caused the water to boil as in a
whirlpool. "See how the water boils!" says one. "If we had plenty of
oatmeal," says another, "we might make enough porridge to serve all the
village for a month." So it was resolved that part of them should go to
the village and fetch their oatmeal, which was soon brought and thrown
into the river. But there presently arose the question of how they were
to know when the porridge was ready. This difficulty was overcome by the
offer of one of the company to jump in, and it was agreed that if he
found it ready for use, he should signify the same to his companions.
The man jumped in, and found the water deeper than he expected. Thrice
he rose to the surface, but said nothing. The others, impatient at his
remaining so long silent, and seeing him smack his lips, took this for
an avowal that the porridge was good, and so they all jumped in after
him and were drowned.

Another traditional Gothamite story is related of a villager coming home
at a late hour and, seeing the reflection of the moon in a horse-pond,
believed it to be a green cheese, and roused all his neighbours to help
him to draw it out. They raked and raked away until a passing cloud sank
the cheese, when they returned to their homes grievously
disappointed.[10]--This is also related of the villagers near the
Marlborough Downs, in Wiltshire, and the _sobriquet_ of
"moon-rakers," applied to Wiltshire folk in general, is said to have had
its origin in the incident; but they assert that it was a keg of
smuggled brandy, which had been sunk in a pond, that the villagers were
attempting to fish up, when the exciseman coming suddenly upon the
scene, they made him believe they were raking the reflection of the
moon, thinking it a green cheese, an explanation which is on a par with
the apocryphal tale of the Gothamites and the messengers of King John.

The absurd notion of the moon being a fine cheese is of very respectable
antiquity, and occurs in the noodle-stories of many countries. It is
referred to by Rabelais, and was doubtless the subject of a popular
French tale in his time. In the twenty-second story of the _Disciplina
Clericalis_ of Peter Alfonsus, a Spanish Jew, who was baptised in
1106, a fox leaves a wolf in a well, looking after a supposed cheese,
made by the image of the moon in the water; and the same fable had been
told by the Talmudists in the fifth century.[11] The well-known "Joe
Miller" of the party of Irishmen who endeavoured to reach a "green
cheese" in the river by hanging one by another's legs finds its parallel
in a Mecklenburg story, in which some men by the same contrivance tried
to get a stone from the bottom of a well, and the incident is thus
related in the old English jest-book entitled _The Sacke Full of

There were three young men going to Lambeth along by the waterside, and
one played with the other, and they cast each other's caps into the
water in such sort as they could not get their caps again. But over the
place where their caps were did grow a great old tree, the which did
cover a great deal of the water. One of them said to the rest, "Sirs, I
have found a notable way to come by them. First I will make myself fast
by the middle with one of your girdles unto the tree, and he that is
with you shall hang fast upon my girdle, and he that is last shall take
hold on him that holds fast on my girdle, and so with one of his hands
he may take up all our caps, and cast them on the sand." And so they
did; but when they thought that they had been most secure and fast, he
that was above felt his girdle slack, and said, "Soft, sirs! My girdle
slacketh." "Make it fast quickly," said they. But as he was untying it
to make it faster they fell all three into the water, and were well
washed for their pains.

Closely allied to these tales is the Russian story of the old man who
planted a cabbage-head in the cellar, under the floor of his cottage,
and, strange to say, it grew right up to the sky. He climbs up the
cabbage-stalk till he reaches the sky. There he sees a mill, which gives
a turn, and out come a pie and a cake, with a pot of stewed grain on the
top. The old man eats his fill and drinks his fill; then he lies down to
sleep. By-and-bye he awakes, and slides down to earth again.

He tells his wife of the good things up in the sky, and she induces him
to take her with him. She slips into a sack, and the old man takes it in
his teeth and begins to climb up. The old woman, becoming tired, asked
him if it was much farther, and just as he was about to say, "Not much
farther," the sack slipped from between his teeth, and the old woman
fell to the ground and was smashed to pieces.

There are many variants of this last story (which is found in Mr.
Ralston's most valuable and entertaining collection of Russian
folk-tales), but observe the very close resemblance which it bears to
the following Indian tale of the fools and the bull of Siva, from the
_Katha Sarit Sagara_ (Ocean of the Streams of Story), the grand
collection, composed in Sanskrit verse by Somadeva in the eleventh
century, from a similar work entitled _Vrihat Katha_ (Great Story),
written in Sanskrit prose by Gunadhya, in the sixth century:[12]

In a certain convent, which was full of fools, there was a man who was
the greatest fool of the lot. He once heard in a treatise on law, which
was being read aloud, that a man who has a tank made gains a great
reward in the next world. Then, as he had a large fortune, he had made a
large tank full of water, at no great distance from his own convent. One
day this prince of fools went to take a look at that tank of his, and
perceived that the sand had been scratched up by some creature. The next
day too he came, and saw that the bank had been torn up in another part
of the tank, and being quite astonished, he said to himself, "I will
watch here to-morrow the whole day, beginning in the early morning, and
I will find out what creature it is that does this." After he had formed
this resolution, he came there early next morning, and watched, until at
last he saw a bull descend from heaven and plough up the bank with its
horns. He thought, "This is a heavenly bull, so why should I not go to
heaven with it?" And he went up to the bull, and with both his hands
laid hold of the tail behind. Then the holy bull lifted up, with the
utmost force, the foolish man who was clinging to its tail, and carried
him in a moment to its home in Kailasa.[13] There the foolish man lived
for some time in great comfort, feasting on heavenly dainties,
sweetmeats, and other things which he obtained. And seeing that the bull
kept going and returning, that king of fools, bewildered by destiny,
thought, "I will go down clinging to the tail of the bull and see my
friends, and after I have told them this wonderful tale, I will return
in the same way." Having formed this resolution, the fool went and clung
to the tail of the bull one day when it was setting out, and so returned
to the surface of the earth. When he entered the convent, the other
blockheads who were there embraced him, and asked him where he had been,
and he told them. Then all these foolish men, having heard the tale of
his adventures, made this petition to him: "Be kind, and take us also
there; enable us also to feast on sweetmeats." He consented, and told
them his plan for doing it, and next day led them to the border of the
tank, and the bull came there. And the principal fool seized the tail of
the bull with his two hands, and another took hold of his feet, and a
third in turn took hold of his. So, when they had formed a chain by
hanging on to one another's feet, the bull flew rapidly up into the air.
And while the bull was going along, with all the fools clinging to its
tail, it happened that one of the fools said to the principal fool,
"Tell us now, to satisfy our curiosity, how large were the sweetmeats
which you ate, of which a never-failing supply can be obtained in
heaven?" Then the leader had his attention diverted from the business in
hand, and quickly joined his hands together like the cup of a lotus, and
exclaimed in answer, "So big." But in so doing he let go the tail of the
bull, and accordingly he and all those others fell from heaven, and were
killed; and the bull returned to Kailasa; but the people who saw it were
much amused.[14]

"Thus," remarks the story-teller, "fools do themselves injury by asking
questions and giving answers without reflection"; he then proceeds to
relate a story in illustration of the apothegm that "association with
fools brings prosperity to no man":

A certain fool, while going to another village, forgot the way. And when
he asked the way, the people said to him, "Take the path that goes up by
the tree on the bank of the river." Then the fool went and got on the
trunk of that tree, and said to himself, "The men told me that my way
lay up the trunk of this tree." And as he went on climbing up it, the
bough at the end bent with his weight, and it was all he could do to
avoid falling by clinging to it. While he was clinging to it, there came
that way an elephant that had been drinking water, with his driver on
his back. And the fool called to him, saying, "Great sir, take me down."
The elephant-driver laid hold of him by the feet with both his hands, to
take him down from the tree. Meanwhile the elephant went on, and the
driver found himself clinging to the feet of the fool, who was clinging
to the end of the tree. Then said the fool to the driver, "Sing
something, in order that the people may hear, and come at once and take
us down." So the elephant-driver, thus appealed to, began to sing, and
he sang so sweetly that the fool was much pleased; and in his desire to
applaud him, he forgot what he was about, let go his hold of the tree,
and prepared to clap him with both his hands; and immediately he and the
elephant-driver fell into the river and were drowned.

The germ of all stories of this class is perhaps found in the
_Jatakas_, or Buddhist Birth Stories: A pair of geese resolve to
migrate to another country, and agree to carry with them a tortoise,
their intimate friend, taking the ends of a stick between their bills,
and the tortoise grasping it by the middle with his mouth. As they are
flying over Banares, the people exclaim in wonder to one another at such
a strange sight, and the tortoise, unable to maintain silence, opens his
mouth to rebuke them, and by so doing falls to the ground, and is dashed
into pieces. This fable is also found in Babrius. (115); in the _Katha
Sarit Sagara_; in the several versions of the Fables of Bidpai; and
in the _Avadanas_, translated into French from the Chinese by
Stanislas Julien.

* * * * *

To return to Gothamite stories. According to one of those which are
current orally, the men of Gotham had but one knife among them, which
was stuck in a tree in the middle of the village for their common use,
and many amusing incidents, says Mr. Halliwell-Phillipps, arose out of
their disputes for the use of this knife. The "carles" of Austwick, in
Yorkshire, are said also to have had but one knife, or "whittle," which
was deposited under a tree, and if it was not found there when wanted,
the "carle" requiring it called out, "Whittle to the tree!" This plan
did very well for some years, until it was taken one day by a party of
labourers to a neighbouring moor, to be used for cutting their bread and
cheese. When the day's labour was done, they resolved to leave the knife
at the place, to save themselves the trouble of carrying it back, as
they should want it again next day; so they looked about for some object
to mark the spot, and stuck it into the ground under a black cloud that
happened to be the most remarkable object in sight. But next day, when
they returned to the place, the cloud was gone, and the "whittle" was
never seen again.

When an Austwick "carle" comes into any of the larger towns of
Yorkshire, it is said he is greeted with the question, "Who tried to
lift the bull over the gate?" in allusion to the following story: An
Austwick farmer, wishing to get a bull out of a field--how the animal
got into it, the story does not inform us--procured the assistance of
nine of his neighbours to lift the animal over the gate. After trying in
vain for some hours, they sent one of their number to the village for
more help. In going out he opened the gate, and after he had gone away,
it occurred to one of those who remained that the bull might be allowed
to go out in the same manner.

Another Austwick farmer had to take a wheelbarrow to a certain town,
and, to save a hundred yards by going the ordinary road, he went through
the fields, and had to lift the barrow over twenty-two stiles.

It was a Wiltshire man, however (if all tales be true), who determined
to cure the filthy habits of his hogs by making them roost upon the
branches of a tree, like birds. Night after night the pigs were hoisted
up to their perch, and every morning one of them was found with its neck
broken, until at last there were none left.--And quite as witless,
surely, was the device of the men of Belmont, who once desired to move
their church three yards farther westward, so they carefully marked the
exact distance by leaving their coats on the ground. Then they set to
work to push with all their might against the eastern wall. In the
meantime a thief had gone round to the west side and stolen their coats.
"Diable!" exclaimed they on finding that their coats were gone, "we have
pushed too far!"



[1] _Coffee House Jests_. Fifth edition. London. 1688. P. 36.

[2] "See _ante_, p. 8, note." [Transcriber's note: This is Chapter I,
Footnote 1 in this etext.]

[3] Fuller, while admitting that "an hundred fopperies are forged and
fathered on the townsfolk of Gotham," maintains that "Gotham doth breed
as wise people as any which laugh at their simplicity."

[4] Collier's _Bibliographical Account_, etc., vol. i., p. 327.

[5] Forewords to Borde's _Introduction of Knowledge_, etc., edited,
for the Early English Text Society, by F.J. Furnivall.

[6] It is equally certain that Borde had no hand either in the _Jests
of Scogin_ or _The Mylner of Abyngton_, the latter an imitation
of Chaucer's _Reve's Tale_.

[7] Powell and Magnusson's _Legends of Iceland_, Second Series.

[8] An imitation of Boccaccio, _Decameron_, Day vii., nov. 8, who
perhaps borrowed the story from Guerin's _fabliau_ "De la Dame qui
fit accroire a son Mari qu'il avait reve; _alias_, Les Cheveux
Coupes" (Le Grand's _Fabliaux_, ed. 1781, tome ii., 280).

[9] A slightly different version occurs in the _Tale of Beryn_,
which is found in a unique MS. of Chaucer's _Canterbury Tales_, and
which forms the first part of the old French romance of the _Chevalier
Berinus_. In the English poem Beryn, lamenting his misfortunes, and
that he had disinherited himself, says:

"But I fare like the man, that for to swale his vlyes [i.e. flies]
He stert in-to the bern, and aftir stre he hies,
And goith a-bout with a brennyng wase,
Tyll it was atte last that the leam and blase
Entryd in-to the chynys, wher the whete was,
And kissid so the evese, that brent was al the plase."

It is certain that the author of the French original of the _Tale of
Beryn_ did not get this story out of our jests of the men of Gotham.

[10] There is an analogous Indian story of a youth who went to a tank to
drink, and observing the reflection of a golden-crested bird that was
sitting on a tree, he thought it was gold in the water, and entered the
tank to take it up, but he could not lay hold of it as it appeared and
disappeared in the water. But as often as he ascended the bank he again
saw it in the water, and again he entered the tank to lay hold of it,
and still he got nothing. At length his father saw and questioned him,
then drove away the bird, and explaining the matter to him, took the
foolish fellow home.

We have already seen that the men of Abdera (p. 5) flogged an ass before
its fellows for upsetting a jar of olive oil, but what is that compared
with the story of the ass that drank up the moon? According to Ludovicus
Vives, a learned Spanish writer, certain townspeople imprisoned an ass
for drinking up the moon, whose reflection, appearing in the water, was
covered with a cloud while the ass was drinking. Next day the poor beast
was brought to the bar to be sentenced according to his deserts. After
the grave burghers had discussed the affair for some time, one at length
rose up and declared that it was not fit the town should lose its moon,
but rather that the ass should be cut open and the moon he had swallowed
taken out of him, which, being cordially approved by the others, was
done accordingly.

[11] This is also one of the Fables of Marie de France (thirteenth

[12] A complete translation of the _Katha Sarit Sagara_, by
Professor C.H. Tawney, with notes of variants, which exhibit his wide
acquaintance with the popular fictions of all lands, has been recently
published at Calcutta (London agents, Messrs. Truebner and Co.), a work
which must prove invaluable to every English student of comparative

[13] Siva's paradise, according to Hindu mythology, is on Mount Kailasa,
in the Himalyas, north of Manasa.

[14] Tawney's translation, which is used throughout this work.



The Schildburgers, it has been already remarked, are the Gothamites of
Germany, and the stories of their stupidity, after being orally current
for years among the people, were collected near the close of the
sixteenth century, the earliest known edition being that of 1597. In a
most lively and entertaining article on "Early German Comic Romances"
(_Foreign Quarterly Review_, No. 40, 1837), the late Mr. W.J. Thoms
has furnished an account of the exploits of the Schildburgers, from
which the following particulars and tales are extracted: "There have
been few happier ideas than that of making these simpletons descend from
one of the wise men of Greece, and representing them as originally
gifted with such extraordinary talents as to be called to the councils
of all the princes of the earth, to the great detriment of their
circumstances and the still greater dissatisfaction of their wives, and
then, upon their being summoned home to arrange their disordered
affairs, determining, in their wisdom, to put on the garb of stupidity,
and persevering so long and so steadfastly in their assumed character as
to prove 'plain fools at last.' No way inferior is the end of this
strange tale, which assumes even somewhat of serious interest when the
Schildburgers, after performing every conceivable piece of folly, and
receiving the especial privilege of so doing under the seal and
signature of the emperor, by the crowning act of their lives turn
themselves out of house and home, whereby they are compelled, like the
Jews, to become outcasts and wanderers over the face of the earth, by
which means it has arisen that there is no spot, however remote, on
which some of their descendants, who may be known by their
characteristic stupidity, are not to be found."

Their first piece of folly was to build a council-house without windows.
When they entered it, and, to use the words of the nursery ballad, "saw
they could not see," they were greatly puzzled to account for such a
state of things; and having in vain gone outside and examined the
building to find why the inside was dark, they determined to hold a
council upon the subject on the following day. At the time appointed
they assembled, each bringing with him a torch, which, on seating
himself, he stuck in his hat. After much discussion, one genius,
brighter than the rest, decided that they could not see for want of
daylight, and that they ought on the morrow to carry in as much of it as
possible. Accordingly, the next day, when the sun shone, all the sacks,
bags, boxes, baskets, tubs, pans, etc. of the village were filled with
its beams and carefully carried into the council-house and emptied
there, but with no good effect. After this they removed the roof, by the
advice of a traveller, whom they rewarded amply for the suggestion. This
plan answered famously during the summer, but when the rains of winter
fell, and they were forced to replace the roof, they found the house
just as dark as ever. Again they met, again they stuck their torches in
their hats, but to no purpose, until by chance one of them was quitting
the house, and groping his way along the wall, when a ray of light fell
through a crevice and upon his beard, whereupon he suggested, what had
never occurred to any of them, that it was possible they might get
daylight in by making a window.

Another tale relates how the boors of Schilda contrived to get their
millstone twice down from a high mountain:

The boors of Schilda had built a mill, and with extraordinary labour
they had quarried a millstone for it out of a quarry which lay on the
summit of a high mountain; and when the stone was finished, they carried
it with great labour and pain down the hill. When they had got to the
bottom, it occurred to one of them that they might have spared
themselves the trouble of carrying it down by letting it roll down.
"Verily," said he, "we are the stupidest of fools to take these
extraordinary pains to do that which we might have done with so little
trouble. We will carry it up, and then let it roll down the hill by
itself, as we did before with the tree which we felled for the

This advice pleased them all, and with greater labour they carried the
stone to the top of the mountain again, and were about to roll it down,
when one of them said, "But how shall we know where it runs to? Who will
be able to tell us aught about it?" "Why," said the bailiff, who had
advised the stone being carried up again, "this is very easily managed.
One of us must stick in the hole [for the millstone, of course, had a
hole in the middle], and run down with it." This was agreed to, and one
of them, having been chosen for the purpose, thrust his head through the
hole, and ran down the hill with the millstone. Now at the bottom of the
mountain was a deep fish-pond, into which the stone rolled, and the
simpleton with it, so that the Schildburgers lost both stone and man,
and not one among them knew what had become of them. And they felt
sorely angered against their old companion who had run down the hill
with the stone, for they considered that he had carried it off for the
purpose of disposing of it. So they published a notice in all the
neighbouring boroughs, towns, and villages, calling on them, that "if
any one come there with a millstone round his neck, they should treat
him as one who had stolen the common goods, and give him to justice."
But the poor fellow lay in the pond, dead. Had he been able to speak, he
would have been willing to tell them not to worry themselves on his
account, for he would give them their own again. But his load pressed so
heavily upon him, and he was so deep in the water, that he, after
drinking water enough--more, indeed, than was good for him--died; and he
is dead at the present day, and dead he will, shall, and must remain!

The forty-seventh chapter recounts "How the Schildburgers purchased a
mouser, and with it their own ruin":

Now it happened that there were no cats in Schilda, and so many mice
that nothing was safe, even in the bread-basket, for whatsoever they put
there was sure to be gnawed or eaten; and this grieved them sorely. And
upon a time there came a traveller into the village, carrying a cat in
his arms, and he entered the hostel. The host asked him, "What sort of a
beast is that?" Said he, "It is a mouser." Now the mice at Schilda were
so quiet and so tame that they never fled before the people, but ran
about all day long, without the slightest fear. So the traveller let the
cat run, who, in the sight of the host, soon caught numbers of mice. Now
when the people were told this by the host, they asked the man whether
the mouser was to be sold, for they would pay him well for it. He said,
"It certainly was not to be sold; but seeing that it would be so useful
to them, he would let them have it if they would pay him what was
right," and he asked a hundred florins for it. The boors were glad to
find that he asked so little, and concluded a bargain with him, he
agreeing to take half the money down, and to come again in six months to
fetch the rest. As soon as the bargain was struck on both sides, they
gave the traveller the half of the money, and he carried the mouser into
the granary, where they kept their corn, for there were most mice there.
The traveller went off with the money at full speed, for he feared
greatly lest they should repent them of the bargain, and want their
money back again; and as he went along he kept looking behind him to see
that no one was following him. Now the boors had forgotten to ask what
the cat was to be fed upon, so they sent one after him in haste to ask
him the question. But when he with the gold saw that some one was
following him, he hastened so much the more, so that the boor could by
no means overtake him, whereupon he called out to him from afar off,
"What does it eat?" "What you please! What you please!" quoth the
traveller. But the peasant understood him to say, "Men and beasts! Men
and beasts!" Therefore he returned home in great affliction, and said as
much to his worthy masters.

On learning this they became greatly alarmed, and said, "When it has no
more mice to eat, it will eat our cattle; and when they are gone, it
will eat us! To think that we should lay out our good money in buying
such a thing!" And they held counsel together and resolved that the cat
should be killed. But no one would venture to lay hold of it for that
purpose, whereupon it was determined to burn the granary, and the cat in
it, seeing that it was better they should suffer a common loss than all
lose life and limb. So they set fire to the granary. But when the cat
smelt the fire, it sprang out of a window and fled to another house, and
the granary was burned to the ground. Never was there sorrow greater
than that of the Schildburgers when they found that they could not kill
the cat. They counselled with one another, and purchased the house to
which the cat had fled, and burned that also. But the cat sprang out
upon the roof, and sat there, washing itself and putting its paws behind
its ears, after the manner of cats; and the Schildburgers understood
thereby that the cat lifted up its hands and swore an oath that it would
not leave their treatment of it unrevenged. Then one of them took a long
pole and struck at the cat, but the cat caught hold of the pole, and
began to clamber down it, whereupon all the people grew greatly alarmed
and ran away, and left the fire to burn as it might. And because no one
regarded the fire, nor sought to put it out, the whole village was
burned to a house, and notwithstanding that, the cat escaped. And the
Schildburgers fled with their wives and children to a neighbouring
forest. And at this time was burned their chancery and all the papers
therein, which is the reason why their history is not to be found
described in a more regular manner.

Thus ended the career of the Schildburgers as a community, according to
the veracious chronicle of their marvellous exploits, the first of
which, their carrying sunshine into the council-house, is a favourite
incident in the noodle-stories of many countries, and has its parallel
in the Icelandic story of the Three Brothers of Bakki: They had observed
that in winter the weather was colder than in summer, also that the
larger the windows of a house were the colder it was. All frost and
sharp cold, therefore, they thought sprang from the fact that houses had
windows in them. So they built themselves a house on a new plan, without
windows in it at all. It followed, of course, that there was always
pitch darkness in it. They found that this was rather a fault in the
house, but comforted themselves with the certainty that in winter it
would be very warm; and as to light, they thought they could contrive
some easy means of getting the house lighted. One fine day in the middle
of summer, when the sunshine was brightest, they began to carry the
darkness out of the house in their caps, and emptied it out when they
came into the sunshine, which they then carried into the dark room. Thus
they worked hard the whole day, but in the evening, when they had done
all their best, they were not a little disappointed to find that it was
as dark as before, so much so that they could not tell one hand from the

There is a Kashmiri story which bears a slight resemblance to the
exploit of the Schildburgers with the cat. A poor old woman used to beg
her food by day and cook it at night. Half of the food she would eat in
the morning, and the other half in the evening. After a while a cat got
to know of this arrangement, and came and ate the meal for her. The old
woman was very patient, but at last could no longer endure the cat's
impudence, and so she laid hold of it. She argued with herself as to
whether she should kill it or not. "If I slay it," she thought, "it will
be a sin; but if I keep it alive, it will be to my heavy loss." So she
determined only to punish it. She procured some cotton wool and some
oil, and soaking the one in the other, tied it on to the cat's tail and
then set it on fire. Away rushed the cat across the yard, up the side of
the window, and on to the roof, where its flaming tail ignited the
thatch and set the whole house on fire. The flames soon spread to other
houses, and the whole village was destroyed.[2]

An older form of this incident is found in the introduction to a Persian
poetical version of the Book of Sindibad (_Sindibad Nama_), of
which a unique MS. copy, very finely illuminated, but imperfect, is
preserved in the Library of the India Office:[3] In a village called
Buzina-Gird (i.e., Monkey Town) there was a goat that was in the habit
of butting at a certain old woman whenever she came into the street. One
day the old woman had been to ask fire from a neighbour, and on her
return the goat struck her so violently with his horns when she was off
her guard as to draw blood. Enraged at this, she applied the fire which
she held to the goat's fleece, which kindled, and the animal ran to the
stables of the elephant-keeper, and rubbed his sides against the reeds
and willows. They caught fire, which the wind soon spread, and the heads
and faces of the warlike elephants were scorched. With the sequel--how
the king caused all the monkeys to be slaughtered, as their fat was
required to cure the scorched elephants--we have no concern at

* * * * *

In Ceylon whole districts, such as Tumpane, in the central province,
Morora Korle, in the southern province, and Rayigam Korle, in the
western province, are credited with being the abode of fools. A learned
writer on the proverbial sayings of the Sinhalese states that these
often refer to "popular stories of stupid people to which foolish
actions are likened. The stories of the Tumpane villagers who tried to
unearth and carry off a well because they saw a bees' nest reflected in
the water; of the Morora Korle boatmen who mistook a bend in the river
for the sea, left their cargo there, and returned home; of the Rayigam
Korle fools who threw stones at the moon to frighten her off one fine
moonlight night when they thought she was coming too near, and that
there was danger of her burning their crops, are well known, and it is
customary to ask a man if he was born in one of these places if he has
done anything particularly foolish. The story of the double-fool--i.e.,
of the man who tried to lighten the boat by carrying his pingo load over
his shoulders;[5] of the man who stretched out his hands to be warmed by
the fire on the other side of the river; of the rustic's wife who had
her own head shaved, so as not to lose the barber's services for the day
when he came, and her husband was away from home; of the villagers who
tied up their mortars in the village in the belief that the elephant
tracks in the rice fields were caused by the mortars wandering about at
night; of the man who would not wash his body in order to spite the
river; of the people who flogged the elk-skin at home to avenge
themselves on the deer that trespassed in the fields at night; and of
the man who performed the five precepts--all these are popular stories
of foolish people which have passed into proverbs."[6]

The last of the stories referred to in the above extract is as follows:
A woman once rebuked her husband for not performing the five (Buddhist)
precepts. "I don't know what they are," he replied. "Oh, it's very
easy," she said; "all you have to do is to go to the priest and repeat
what he says after him." "Is that all?" he answered. "Then I'll go and
do it at once." Off he went, and as he neared the temple the priest saw
him and called out, "Who are you?" to which he replied, "Who are you?"
"What do you want?" demands the priest. "What do you want?" the
blockhead answers dutifully. "Are you mad?" roared the priest. "Are you
mad?" returned the rustic. "Here," said the priest to his attendants,
"take and beat him well;" and notwithstanding that he carefully repeated
the words again, taken and thoroughly well thrashed he was, after which
he crawled back to his wife and said, "What a wonderful woman you are!
You manage to repeat the five precepts every day, and are strong and
healthy, while I, who have only said them once, am nearly dead with
fever from the bruises."[7]

To this last may be added a story in the _Katha Manjari_, a
Canarese collection, of the stupid fellow and the _Ramayana_, one
of the two great Hindu epics: One day a man was reading the
_Ramayana_ in the bazaar, and a woman, thinking her husband might
be instructed by hearing it, sent him there. He went, and stood leaning
on his crook--for he was a shepherd--when presently a practical joker,
seeing his simplicity, jumped upon his shoulders, and he stood with the
man on his back until the discourse was concluded. When he reached home,
his wife asked him how he liked the _Ramayana_. "Alas!" said he,
"it was not easy; it was a man's load."

* * * * *

The race of Gothamites is indeed found everywhere--in popular tales, if
not in actual life; and their sayings and doings are not less diverting
when husband and wife are well mated, as in the following story:

An Arab observing one morning that his house was ready to tumble about
his ears from decay, and being without the means of repairing it, went
with a long face to his wife, and informed her of his trouble. She said,
"Why, my dear, need you distress yourself about so small a matter? You
have a cow worth thirty dirhams; take her to the market and sell her for
that sum. I have some thread, which I will dispose of to-day, and I
warrant you that between us both we shall manage very well." The man at
once drove the cow to the market, and gave her over for sale to the
appraiser of cattle. The salesman showed her to the bystanders, directed
their attention to all her good points, expatiated on all her good
qualities, and, in short, passed her off as a cow of inestimable value.
To all this the simpleton listened with delight and astonishment; he
heard his cow praised for qualities that no other cow ever possessed,
and determined in his own mind not to lose so rare a bargain, but
purchase her himself and balk the chapmen. He therefore called out to
the appraiser, and asked him what she was going at. The salesman
replied, "At fifteen dirhams and upwards." "By the head of the Prophet,"
exclaimed the wittol, "had I known that my cow was such a prodigy of
excellence, you should not have caught me in the market with her for
sale." Now it happened that he had just fifteen dirhams, and no more,
and these he thrust upon the broker, exclaiming, "The cow is mine; I
have the best claim to her." He then seized the cow and drove her home,
exulting all the way as if he had found a treasure. On reaching home he
inquired eagerly for his wife, to inform her of his adventure, but was
told she was not returned from market. He waited impatiently for her
return, when he sprang up to meet her, crying, "Wife, I have done
something to-day that will astonish you. I have performed a marvellous
exploit!" "Patience!" says his wife. "Perhaps I have done something
myself to match it. But hear my story, and then talk of cleverness, if
you please." The husband desired her to proceed.

"When I went to market," says she, "I found a man in want of thread. I
showed him mine, which he approved of, and having bargained for it, he
agreed to pay me according to the weight. I told him it weighed so much,
which he seemed to discredit, and weighed it himself. Observing it to
fall short of the weight I had mentioned, and fearing I should lose the
price I at first expected, I requested him to weigh it over again, and
make certain. In the meantime, taking an opportunity unobserved, I
stripped off my silver bracelets and put them slily into the scale with
my thread. The scale, of course, now preponderated, and I received the
full price I had demanded." Having finished her story, she cried out,
"Now, what do you think of your wife?" "Amazing! amazing!" said he.
"Your capacity is supernatural. And now, if you please, I will give you
a specimen of mine," and he related his adventure at the market. "O
husband," she exclaimed when he had told his story, "had we not
possessed such consummate wisdom and address, how could we have
contrived means to repair our old house? In future vex not yourself
about domestic concerns, since by the exercise of our talents we need
never want for anything!"

The exploits of that precious pair may be compared with the following:
An alewife went to the market with a brood of chickens and an old black
hen. For the hen and one chicken she could not find a purchaser; so,
before leaving the town, she called upon a surgeon, to try to effect a
sale. He bought the chicken, but declined taking the hen. She then asked
him if he would draw a tooth for it. The tooth was drawn, and he
expressed his surprise on finding it was perfectly sound. "Oh," said
she, "I knew it was sound; but it was worth while having it drawn for
the old hen." She then called upon another surgeon, and had a second
tooth drawn, as sound as the other. "What's to pay?" she inquired. "A
shilling," said the surgeon. "Very well," rejoined the hostess, with a
chuckle; "you left a shilling due in my house the other night, and now
we are quits." "Certainly we are," responded the perplexed tooth-drawer,
and the delighted old woman returned to her hostelry, to acquaint all
her gossips of how cleverly she had outwitted the doctors.

* * * * *

Ferrier says, in his _Illustrations of Sterne_, that the facetious
tales of the Sieur Gaulard laid the foundation of some of the jests in
our old English collections. A few of them found their way somehow into
Taylor's _Wit and Mirth_, and this is one: A monsieur chanced to
meet a lady of his acquaintance, and asked her how she did and how her
good husband fared, at which she wept, saying that her husband was in
heaven. "In heaven!" quoth he. "It is the first time that I heard of it,
and I am sorry for it with all my heart."

Similar in its point is a story in _Archie Armstrong's Banquet of
Jests_:[8] Sitting over a cup of ale in a winter night, two widows
entered into discourse of their dead husbands, and after ripping up
their good and bad qualities, saith one of them to the maid, "I prithee,
wench, reach us another light, for my husband (God rest his soul!) above
all things loved to see good lights about the house. God grant him light
everlasting!" "And I pray you, neighbour," said the other, "let the maid
lay on some more coals or stir up the fire, for my husband in his
lifetime ever loved to see a good fire. God grant him fire everlasting!"

This seems cousin-german to the Arabian story of two men, one of whom
hailed from the town of Hama (ancient Hamath), the other from Hums
(ancient Emessa). Those towns are not far apart, but the people of the
former have the reputation of being very clever, while those of the
latter are proverbially as stupid. (And for the proper understanding of
the jest it should perhaps be explained that the Arabic verb _hama_
means to "protect" or "defend," the verb _hamasa_ to "roast" or
"toast.") These men had some business of importance with the nearest
magistrate, and set out together on their journey. The man of Hums,
conscious of his own ignorance, begged his companion to speak first in
the audience, in order that he might get a hint as to how such a formal
matter should be conducted. Accordingly, when they came into the pasha's
presence, the man of Hama went forward, and the pasha asked him, "Where
are you from?" "Your servant is from Hama," said he. "May Allah PROTECT
(_hama_) your excellency!" The pasha then turned to the other man,
and asked, "And where are you from?" to which he answered, "Your servant
is from Hums. May Allah ROAST _(hamasa)_ your excellency!"

* * * * *

Not a few of the _Bizarrures_ of the Sieur Gaulard are the
prototypes of bulls and foolish sayings of the typical Irishman, which
go their ceaseless round in popular periodicals, and are even
audaciously reproduced as original in our "comic" journals--save the
mark! To cite some examples:

A friend one day told M. Gaulard that the Dean of Besancon was dead.
"Believe it not," said he; "for had it been so he would have told me
himself, since he writes to me about everything."

M. Gaulard asked his secretary one evening what hour it was. "Sir,"
replied the secretary, "I cannot tell you by the dial, because the sun
is set." "Well," quoth M. Gaulard, "and can you not see by the candle?"

On another occasion the Sieur called from his bed to a servant desiring
him to see if it was daylight yet. "There is no sign of daylight," said
the servant. "I do not wonder," rejoined the Sieur, "that thou canst not
see day, great fool as thou art. Take a candle and look with it out at
the window, and thou shalt see whether it be day or not."

In a strange house, the Sieur found the walls of his bedchamber full of
great holes. "This," exclaimed he in a rage, "is the cursedest chamber
in all the world. One may see day all the night through."

Travelling in the country, his man, to gain the fairest way, rode
through a field sowed with pease, upon which M. Gaulard cried to him,
"Thou knave, wilt thou burn my horse's feet? Dost thou not know that
about six weeks ago I burned my mouth with eating pease, they were so

A poor man complained to him that he had had a horse stolen from him.
"Why did you not mark his visage," asked M. Gaulard, "and the clothes he
wore?" "Sir," said the man, "I was not there when he was stolen." Quoth
the Sieur, "You should have left somebody to ask him his name, and in
what place he resided."

M. Gaulard felt the sun so hot in the midst of a field at noontide in
August that he asked of those about him, "What means the sun to be so
hot? How should it not keep its heat till winter, when it is cold

A proctor, discoursing with M. Gaulard, told him that a dumb, deaf, or
blind man could not make a will but with certain additional forms. "I
pray you," said the Sieur, "give me that in writing, that I may send it
to a cousin of mine who is lame."

One day a friend visited the Sieur and found him asleep in his chair. "I
slept," said he, "only to avoid idleness; for I must always be doing

The Abbe of Poupet complained to him that the moles had spoiled a fine
meadow, and he could find no remedy for them. "Why, cousin," said M.
Gaulard, "it is but paving your meadow, and the moles will no more
trouble you."

M. Gaulard had a lackey belonging to Auvergne, who robbed him of twelve
crowns and ran away, at which he was very angry, and said he would have
nothing that came from that country. So he ordered all that was from
Auvergne to be cast out of the house, even his mule; and to make the
animal more ashamed, he caused his servants to take off its shoes and
its saddle and bridle.

* * * * *

Although Taylor's _Wit and Mirth_ is the most "original" of our old
English jest-books--that is to say, it contains very few stories in
common with preceding collections--yet some of the diverting tales he
relates are traceable to very distant sources, more especially the

A country fellow (that had not walked much in streets that were paved)
came to London, where a dog came suddenly out of a house, and furiously
ran at him. The fellow stooped to pick up a stone to cast at the dog,
and finding them all fast rammed or paved in the ground, quoth he, "What
a strange country am I in, where the people tie up the stones and let
the dogs loose!"

Three centuries and a half before the Water Poet heard this exquisitely
humorous story, the great Persian poet Sa'di related it in his
_Gulistan_ (or Rose-garden), which was written A.D. 1278:

A poor poet presented himself before the chief of a gang of robbers, and
recited some verses in his praise. The robber-chief, however, instead of
rewarding him, as he fondly expected, ordered him to be stripped of his
clothes and expelled from the village. The dogs attacking him in the
rear, the unlucky bard stooped to pick up a stone to throw at them, and
finding the stones frozen in the ground, he exclaimed, "What a vile set
of men are these, who set loose the dogs and fasten the stones!"

Now here we have a very curious instance of the migration of a popular
tale from Persia--perchance it first set out on its travels from India
--in the thirteenth century, when grave and reverend seigniors wagged
their beards and shook their portly sides at its recital, to London in
the days of the Scottish Solomon (more properly dubbed "the wisest fool
in Christendom"!), when Taylor, the Water Poet, probably heard it told,
in some river-side tavern, amidst the clinking of beer-cans and the
fragrant clouds blown from pipes of Trinidado, and "put it in his book!"
How it came into England it would be interesting to ascertain. It may
have been brought to Europe by the Venetian merchants, who traded
largely in the Levant and with the Moors in Northern Africa.


[1] Powell and Magnusson's _Legends of Iceland_, Second Series, p.

[2] _Dictionary of Kashmiri Proverbs and Sayings_. Explained and
illustrated from the rich and interesting folk-lore of the Valley. By
the Rev. J. Hinton Knowles. Bombay: 1885.

[3] This work was composed A.H. 776 (A.D. 1374-5), as the anonymous
author takes care to inform us in his opening verses.

[4] A still older form of the story occurs in the _Pancha Tantra_
(Five Sections), a Sanskrit version of the celebrated Fables of Bidpai,
in which a gluttonous ram is in the habit of going to the king's kitchen
and devouring all food within his reach. One of the cooks beat him with
a burning log of wood, and the ram rushed off with his blazing fleece
and set the horses' stables on fire, and so forth. The story is most
probably of Buddhist extraction.

[5] A Sinhalese variant of the exploit of the man of Norfolk and of the
man of Gotham with the sack of meal. "See _ante_, p. 19." [Transcriber's
note: this approximates to the text reference for Chapter II
Footnote 1 in this etext.]

[6] Mr. C.J.R. le Mesurier in _The Orientalist_ (Kandy, Ceylon:
1884), pp. 233-4.

[7] _The Orientalist_, 1884, p. 234. A much fuller version, with
subsequent incidents, is given in the same excellent periodical, pp.

[8] Archie Armstrong was Court jester to James I. of England. It is
needless, perhaps, to say that he had no hand in this book of facetiae,
which is composed for the most part of jests taken out of earlier



Tales of sharpers' tricks upon simpletons do not quite fall within the
scope of the present series of papers, but there is one, in the
_Arabian Nights_--not found, however, in our common English version
of that fascinating story-book--which deserves a place among
noodle-stories, since it is so diverting, is not very generally known,
and is probably the original of the early Italian novel of the _Monk
Transformed_, which is ascribed to Michele Colombo:

A rustic simpleton was walking homeward dragging his ass after him by
the halter, which a brace of sharpers observing, one said to his fellow,
"Come with me, and I will take the ass from that man." He then quietly
advanced to the ass, unloosed it from the halter, and gave the animal to
his companion, who went off with it, after which he put the halter over
his own head, and allowed the rustic to drag him for some little
distance, until he with the ass was fairly out of sight, when he
suddenly stopped, and the man having tugged at the halter several times
without effect, looked round, and, amazed to see a human being in place
of his beast, exclaimed, "Who art thou?" The sharper answered, "I was
thy ass; but hear my story, for it is wonderful. I had a good and pious
mother, and one day I came home intoxicated. Grieved to see me in such a
state, she gently reproved me, but I, instead of being penetrated with
remorse, beat her with a stick, whereupon she prayed to Allah, and, in
answer to her supplication, lo! I was transformed into an ass. In that
shape I have continued until this day, when my mother, as it appears,
has interceded for my restoration to human form, as before." The
simpleton, believing every word of this strange story, raised his eyes


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