the inhabitants were seized with a panic and pretended
to have lost their senses. This was the tradition
upon which, in after-times, these tales were founded,
and being unobjectionable they are well adapted for
the nursery, but being mere exercises of ingenuity
they afford but very slight pleasure to older minds.
Although aimless, there is something clever in them.
The Wise Men determine to hedge round a cuckoo to
keep it in so that it should sing all the year.
The bird seeing the hedge flies away. “A
vengeance on her,” say the Wise Men, “we
made not the hedge high enough.” There is
the story of the young man, whose mother told him
to throw sheep’s eyes at his sweetheart, and
who, literally, performed her bidding. One Good
Friday the Men of Gotham consulted what to do with
their red herrings, and other salt fish, and agreed
to cart them into a pond that the number might increase
next year. At the beginning of the next summer
they drag the pond, and only find a great eel.
“A mischief on him,” they say, “he
hath eaten up our fish.” Some propose to
chop him in pieces, but the rest think it would be
best to drown him, so they throw him into another pond.
Twelve men of Gotham go to fish, and some stand on
dry land, and some in the water. And one says
“We have ventured wonderfully in wading; I pray
that none of us come home drowned.” So
they begin to count, and as each omits himself he
can only count eleven, and so they go back to the water,
and make great lamentation. A courtier, who meets
them, convinces them of their mistake by laying his
whip on each of them, who calls out in turn “Here’s
one,” until twelve are counted. The minister
of Gotham preaches that men should not drink in Lent.
A man, who comes for absolution, and confesses to
having been drunk in Lent, replies that fish should
swim. “Yes,” returns the priest,
“but in water.” “I cannot enjoin
your prayer,” he adds, “for you cannot
say your Paternoster. It is folly to make you
fast because you never get meat. Labour hard,
and get a dinner on Sunday, and I will come and dine
Jesters—Court of Queen Elizabeth—James I.—The “Counterblasts to
Professed fools seem to have been highly appreciated
in the time of Shakespeare. They do not correspond
to our modern idea of a fool, because there was intention
in their actions, and yet we could not have considered
them to be really sensible men. Nor had they great
talent, their gifts being generally lower than those
of our professed wits.