Born: William Harvey, discoverer of the circulation of the blood, 1578,Folkstone; Charles de St. Evremond, 1613, St. Denis is Guast; Solomon Gesner, painter and poet, author of 'The Death of Abel,' 1730, Zurich; Robert Surtees, historical antiquary, 1779, Durham; Sir Thomas F. Buxton, Bart., philanthropist, 1786, Essex.
Died: Sultan Timm (Tamerlane), conqueror of Persia, &c., 1405 (the date otherwise given as 19th of February); Robert III, King of Scots, 1406, Paisley; Sigismond I, King of Poland, 1548; Jean Baptiste Tillers, miscellaneous writer, 1702; Dr. John Langhorne, poet, translator of Plutarch, 1779, Blagdon; Dr. Isaac Milner, Dean of Carlisle, theological writer, 1820, Kensington Gore; Reginald Heber, Bishop of Calcutta, 1826, Trichinopoli.
Feast Day: St. Melito, Bishop of Sardis, in Lydia, 2nd century. St. Hugh, Bishop of Grenoble, 1132. St. Gilbert, Bishop of Caithness, in Scotland, 1240.
It was very appropriate that Mr. Surtees should be born on the first of April, as he was the perpetrator of one of the most dexterous literary impostures of modern times. Be it observed, in the first place, that he was a true and zealous historical antiquary, and the author of a book of high merit in its class, the History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham. Born to a fair landed estate, educated at Oxford, possessed of an active and capacious mind, marked by a cheerful, social temper, the external destiny of Surtees was such as to leave little to be desired. Residing constantly on his paternal acres at Mainsforth, near Durham, in the practice of a genial hospitality, he fulfilled most of the duties of his station in a satisfactory manner, and was really a very popular person.
It was not till after the death of Surtees in 1835, that any discovery was made of the literary imposture above referred to. Sir Walter Scott, upon whom it was practised, had died three years earlier, without becoming aware of the deception. Scott had published three editions of his Border Minstrelsy, when, in BOG, he received a letter from Mr. Surtees (a stranger to him), containing remarks upon some of the ballads composing that work. Scott sent a cordial answer, and by and by there came from Mr. Surtees, a professedly old ballad 'on a feud between the Ridleys and the Featherstones,' which he professed to have taken down from the recitation of an old woman on Alston Moor. It is, to the apprehension of the writer of this article, a production as coarse as it is wild and incoherent; but it was accompanied by historical notes calculated to authenticate it as a narrative of actual events, and Scott, who was then full of excitement about ballads in general, did not pause to criticise it rigorously. He at once accepted it as a genuine relic of antiquity-introduced a passage of it in Marmion, and inserted it entire in the next edition of his Minstrelsy.
Supposing a person generally truthful to have been for once tempted to practise a deception like this, one would have expected him, on finding it successful, to be filled with a concern he had never anticipated, wishful to repair the error, and, above all, determined to commit no more such mistakes. Contrary to all this, we find Mr. Surtees in the very next year passing off another ballad of his own making upon the unsuspicious friend whose confidence he had gained. In a letter, dated the 28th of February in that year, he proceeds to say:
I acid a ballad of Lord Runde, apparently a song of gratulation on his elevation to the peerage, which I took by recitation from a very aged person, Rose Smith, of Bishop Middleham, set. 91, whose husband's father and two brothers were killed in the Rebellion of 1715. I was interrogating her for Jacobite songs, and instead acquired Lord Ewrie. The person intended is William Lord Eure, &c.
In this, as in the former case, he added a number of historical notes to support the deception, and Scott did not hesitate in putting Lord Ewrie in a false character before the world in the next edition of his Border Minstrelsy. This, however, was not all. Tempted, apparently, by the very faith which Scott had in his veracity, he played off yet a third imposture.
There is, in the later editions of the Minstrelsy, a ballad of very vigorous diction, entitled Barthram's Dirge, beginning:
They shot him dead on the Nine-stone Rig,
Beside the Headless Cross;
And they left him lying in his blood,
Upon the moor and moss.
The editor states that it was obtained from the recitation of an old woman by his 'obliging friend' Mr. Surtees, who communicated it to him, with only a few missing lines replaced by him-self, as indicated by brackets. in reality, this ballad was also by Mr. Surtees. The missing lines, supplied within brackets, were merely designed as a piece of apparent candour, the better to blind the editor to the general falsehood of the story. When we turn to the letter, in which Surtees sent the ballad to Scott, we obtain a good notion of the plausible way in which these tricks were framed: 'The following romantic fragment,' says Surtees, '(which I have no further meddled with than to fill up a hemistich, and complete rhyme and metre), I have from the imperfect recitation of Ann Douglas, a withered crone who weeded in my garden:
They shot him dead on the Nine-stone Rig, &c.
I have no local reference to the above. The name of Bartram bids fair for a Northumbrian hero; but the style is, I think, superior to our Northumbrian ditties, and more like the Scotch. There is a place called Headless Cross, I think, in old maps, near Elsdon, in Northumberland; but this is too vague to found any idea upon.'-Letter of November 9, 1809.
Thus, we see the deceptions of the learned historian of Durham were carefully planned, and very coolly carried out. There was always the simple crone to recite the ballad. Quotations from old wills and genealogies established the existence of the persons figuring in the recital. And, when necessary, an affectation was made of supplying missing links in modern language. A friendship was established with the greatest literary man of his age on the strength of these pretended services. Scott was not only misled himself, but he was induced to mislead others. The impostor looked coolly on, as, from day to day, his too trusting friend was allowed to introduce into his book fictitious representations, calculated, when detected, to take away its credit. It is difficult to understand how the person so acting should be, in the ordinary affairs of life, honourable and upright. But it was so. We are left no room to doubt that Mr. Robert Surtees was faithful in his own historical narrations, and wholly above mendacity for a sordid or cowardly purpose. It was simply this -that men of honourable principles have heretofore had but imperfect ideas of the obligation to speak the truth in the affairs of ancient traditionary literature-we might almost say, of literature generally.
If they judged aright, they would see that the natural consequence of deceptions regarding professedly old ballads is to create and justify doubts regarding all articles of the kind. Seeing that one so well skilled in such matters as Scott was deceived in at least three instances, how shall we put trust in a single other case where he states that a ballad was taken down for him from popular recitation? A whole series of his legends were professedly obtained from a Mrs. Brown of Falkland; another series from a Mrs. Arnot of Arbroath: what guarantee have we that these were not female Surteeses? How rapidly would belief extend in cases where it was justified, if there were no liars and impostors! Every instance of deception sensibly dashes faith; and not even the slightest departure from truth can be practised without consequences of indefinite Mischief.
THE REV. RICHARD NAPIER, ASTROLOGER AND PHYSICIAN, DIED APRIL 1, 1034
Astrology was so much in vogue in the seventeenth century, that neither learning, nor rank, nor piety secured persons from becoming its dupes. James I was notorious for his credulity about such delusions. Sir Kenelm Digby, though one of the most learned and scientific men of his day, as well as an able statesman, was scarcely less credulous. Charles I, and his supplanter Cromwell, are alike said to have consulted astrologers. Even the clergy, who ought to have denounced such delusions, not only sanctioned, but in some instances practised, astrology. Thus the Rev. Richard Napier, though remarkable for piety, was no less remarkable for his supposed skill in astrology. He was a son of Sir Robert Napier, of Luton-Hoo, in Bedfordshire, and became rector of Great Linford, in the adjoining county of Buckingham, in 1589. He was instructed in astrology and physic by the celebrated Dr. Forman, who, as Lilly informs us, 'used to say, on his first becoming his pupil, that he would be a dunce, yet, in continuance of time, he proved a singular astrologer and physician.' Dr. Forman eventually thought so highly of his pupil, that he bequeathed him 'all his rarities and secret manuscripts of what sort soever.'
Napier was an M.A., and was usually styled Dr; 'but,' says Aubrey, 'whether doctorated by degree or courtesy, because of his profession, I know not. He was a person of great abstinence, innocence, and piety, and spent two hours every day in family prayer.' When a patient or 'querent' came to consult him, he immediately retired to his closet for prayer, and was heard as holding conversations with angels and spirits. He asked them questions respecting his patients, and by the answers, which he fancied they returned, he was guided more than by his professed skill in medicine or astrology. In fact, he privately acknowledged that he practised astrology chiefly as the ostensible means of information, while he really depended on his (supposed) communications from spiritual beings. 'He did,' says Aubrey, 'converse with the angel Raphael.' 'The angel told him if the patient were curable or incurable.' The angel Raphael 'did resolve him, that Mr. Booth of Cheshire should have a son that should inherit three years hence. This was in 1619, and we are informed that in 1622 his son George was born, who eventually became Lord Delamere.'
At some times,' continues Aubrey, 'upon great occasions, he had conference with Michael, but very rarely. He outwent Forman in physick and holiness of life; cured the falling-sickness perfectly by constellated rings; some diseases by annulets, &c.' Lilly, in his Autobiography, says: 'I was with him (Napier) in 1632 or 1633, upon occasion; he had me up into his library, being excellently furnished with very choice books; there he prayed almost one hour. He invocated several angels in his prayer -viz., Michael, Gabriel, Uriel, &c.'
One or two examples may suffice to illustrate the nature of his practice. When 'E. W -----Esq.,' was about eight years old, he was troubled with worms, and was taken by his grandfather, 'Sir Francis -,' to Dr. Napier. The doctor retired to his closet, and E. W-- peeped in, and saw him on his knees at prayer. The doctor, duly instructed by his angelic adviser, returned to Sir Francis, and ordered his grandson to take a draught of muscadine every morning, and predicted he would be free from the disorder when fourteen years old!
A woman afflicted with ague applied to the doctor, who gave her a spell to cure it; but 'a minister' seeing it, sharply reproved her for using such a diabolical aid, and ordered her to burn it. She burned it; but the ague returned so severely, that she again applied to the doctor for the spell, and was greatly benefited by its use. But the minister, on discovering what she was doing, so alarmed her with its consequences, that she again burned the spell. 'Whereupon she fell extremely ill, and would have had the spell the third time; but the doctor refused, saying, that she had contemned and slighted the power and goodness of the blessed spirits, and so she died.'
In 1634, the Earl of Sunderland placed himself for some months under the care of Dr. Napier; the Earl of Bolingbroke and Lord Wentworth also patronised him, and protected him from the interference of magistrates, extending their protection even to his friends and fellow-practitioners of the unlawful art. For the doctor, we are told, 'instructed many other ministers in astrology,' lent them whole cloak-bags full of books,' and protected them from harm and violence, especially one William Marsh of Dun-stable, a recusant, who, 'by astrology, resolved thievish questions, and many times was in trouble, but by Dr. Napier's interest was still enabled to continue his practice, no justice of the peace being permitted to vex him.' 'This man had only two books, Guido and Haly, bound together. He had so numbled and thumbled the leaves of both, that half one side of every leaf was torn even to the middle. He did seriously confess to a friend of mine that astrology was but the countenance, and that he did his business by the help of the blessed spirits, with whom only men of great piety, humility, and charity could be acquainted.'
Dr. Napier does not appear to have been assisted by Raphael in his clerical ministrations; for 'miscarrying one day in the pulpit, he never after used it, but all his lifetime kept in his house some excellent scholar or other to officiate for him!' 'Tis certain,' says Aubrey, 'he told his own death to a day and hour, and died praying upon his knees, being of a very great age, on April 1st, 1634. His knees were horny with frequent praying.' His burial is thus entered in the parish register: 'April 15, 1634. Buried, Mr. Richard Napier, rector, the most renowned physician both of body and soul.'
His manuscripts, which. contained a diary of his practice for fifty years, fell into the hands of .Elias Ashmole, who had them bound in several folio volumes, and deposited with his own in the library at Oxford which bears his name, and where they still remain, together with a portrait of Dr. Napier. Many of the medical recipes in these manuscripts are marked by Dr. Napier, as having been given him by the angel Raphael.
ORIGIN OF HACKNEY-COACH STANDS
On the 1st of April 1639, Mr. Garrard, writing in London to Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, then Lord-lieutenant of Ireland, says:
I cannot omit to mention any new thing that comes up amongst us, though never so trivial. Here is one Captain Baily; he hath been a sea-captain, but now lives on the land, about this city, where he tries experiments. He hath erected, according to his ability, some fourhackney-coaches, put his men in a livery, and appointed them to stand at the Maypole in the Strand, giving them instructions at what rate to carry men into several parts of the town, where all day they maybe had. Other hackney-men seeing this way, they flocked to the same place, and performed their journeys at the same rate; so that sometimes there is twenty of them together, which disperse up and down, that they and others are to be had everywhere, as water-men are to be had by the water-side. Everybody is much pleased with it; for, whereas before coaches could not be had but at great rates, now a man may have one much cheaper.
'Gossip Garrard,' as he has been termed, was scarcely correct in saying that everybody was pleased with the new and convenient system of metropolitan conveyances introduced by the retired sea-captain. The citizen shopkeepers bitterly complained that they were ruined by the coaches. 'Formerly,' they said, 'when ladies and gentlemen walked in the streets, there was a chance of obtaining customers to inspect and purchase our commodities; but now they whisk past in the coaches before our apprentices have time to cry out 'What d'ye lack'' Another complaint was, that in former times the tradesmen in the principal streets earned as much as paid their rents by letting out their upper apartments to members of parliament, and country gentlemen visiting London on pleasure or business, until the noise made by the coaches drove the profitable lodgers to less frequented thoroughfares.
Taylor, the water-poet, being a waterman, one of the class whose business was most injured by the coaches, felt exceedingly bitter against the new system, and wrote an invective, entitled The World Runs upon Wheels, in which he adduces all the inconveniences of coaches, enumerating, in his peculiar style, all the disadvantages caused by them. 'We poor watermen,' he says, 'have not the least cause to complain against this infernal swarm of trade-spoilers, who, like grass-hoppers or caterpillars of Egypt, have so overrun the land, that we can get no living on the water; for I dare truly affirm, that every day, especially if the court be at Whitehall, they do rob us of our livings, and carry five hundred and sixty fares daily from us.'
In another publication, entitled The Thief, Taylor says:
Carroches, coaches, jades, and Flanders mares, Do rob us of our shares, our wares, our fares: Against the ground, we stand and knock our heels, Whilst all our profit runs away on wheels; And, whosoever but observes and notes The great increase of coaches and of boats, Shall find their number more than e'er they were, By half and more, within this thirty year. The watermen at sea had service still, And those that staid at home had work at will: Then upstart helcart-coaches were to seek, A man could scarce see twenty in a week; But now, I think, a man may daily see More than the wherrys on the Thames can be.'
The stillness of London streets in the olden time is unexpectedly exemplified by the serious complaints made regarding the noise of coaches. We might wonder what an ancient citizen would say if he could possibly hear the incessant roar of the cabs, omnibuses, vans, &c., of the present day! Taylor, when there were only some dozen hackney-coaches, and a very few private carriages, thus entreats his readers:
I pray you but note the streets, and the chambers or lodgings in Fleet Street or the Strand, how they are pestered with coaches, especially after a masque or play at the court, where even the very earth shakes and trembles, the easements shatter, tatter, and clatter, and such a confused noise is made, as if all the devils were at barley-break,* so that a man can neither sleep, speak, hear, write, or eat his dinner or supper quiet for them; besides, their tumbling din (like a counterfeit thunder) cloth sour wine, beer, and ale most abominably, to the impairing of their healths that drink it, and the making of many a victualler trade-fallen.
'A coach,' he continues, 'like a heathen, a pagan, an infidel, or an atheist, observes neither Sabbath nor holiday, time nor season, robustiously breaking through the toil or net of divine and human law, order, and authority, and, as it were, condemning all Christian conformity, like a dog that lies on a heap of hay, who will eat none of it himself, nor suffer any other beast to eat any. Even so, the coach is not capable of hearing what a preacher saith, nor will it suffer men or women to hear that would hear, for it makes such a hideous rumbling in the streets by many church doors, that people's ears are stopped with the noise, whereby they are debarred of their edifying, which makes faith so fruitless, good works so barren, and charity as cold at midsummer as if it were a great frost, and by this means souls are robbed and starved of their heavenly manna, and the kingdom of darkness replenished. To avoid which they have set up a cross-post in Cheapside on Sundays, near Wood Street end, which makes the coaches rattle and jumble on the other side of the way, further from the church, and from hindering of their hearing.'
Public convenience, however much it may be opposed at first, invariably triumphs in the end over private interests. The four hackney-coaches started by Captain Baily in 1634, increased so rapidly, that their number in 1637 was confined by law to 50; in 1652, to 200; in 1659, to 300; in 1662, to 400; in 1694, to 700; in 1710, to 800; in 1771, to 1000. It is not our purpose to continue their history further.
At first the hackney coach-driver sat in a kind of chair, in front of the vehicle, as may be seen by a rude wood-cut in a ballad of the period, preserved in the Roxburghe collection, written by Taylor, and entitled The Coache's Overthrow. Subsequently, in the reign of Charles II, the driver sat on one of the horses, in manner of a modern postilion. This is clearly evident, by the short whip and spurs of the man in the pre-ceding illustration, taken from a contemporary engraving, representing a hackney-coachman of that reign. In the early part of the last century the custom had changed, the driver sitting in front on a box, in which was kept food for the horses, and a piece of rope, nails, and hammer to repair the vehicle in case of accident. Subsequently, this rude box was, for neatness' sake, covered with a cloth, and thus we now have the terms box-seat and hammer-cloth.
It is said that the sum of £1500, arising from the duty on hackney-coaches, was applied in part payment of the cost of rebuilding Temple Bar.
The 1st of April, of all days in the year, enjoys a character of its own, in as far as it, and it alone, is consecrated to practical joking. On this day it becomes the business of a vast number of people, especially the younger sort, to practise innocent impostures upon their unsuspicious neighbours, by way of making them what in France are called poissons d'Avril, and with us April fools. Thus a knowing boy will despatch a younger brother to see a public statue descend from its pedestal at a particular appointed hour. A crew of giggling servant-maids will get hold of some simple swain, and send him to a bookseller's shop for the History of Eve's Grandmother, or to a chemist's for a pennyworth of pigeon's milk, or to a cobbler's for a little strap oil, in which last case the messenger secures a hearty application of the strap to his shoulders, and is sent home in a state of bewilderment as to what the affair means.
The urchins in the kennel make a sport of calling to some passing beau to look to his coat-skirts; when he either finds them with a piece of paper pinned to them or not; in either of which cases he is saluted as an April fool. A waggish young lady, aware that her dearest friend Eliza Louisa has a rather empty-headed youth dangling, after her with little encouragement, will send him a billet, appointing him to call upon Eliza Louisa at a particular hour. when instead of a welcome, he finds himself treated as an intruder, and by and by discovers that he has not advanced his reputation for saga-city or the general prospects of his suit.
The great object is to catch some person off his guard, to pass off upon him, as a simple fact, something barely possible, and which has no truth in it; to impose upon him, so as to induce him to go into positions of absurdity, in the eye of a laughing circle of bystanders. Of course, for successful April fooling, it is necessary to have some considerable degree of coolness and face; as also some tact whereby to know in what direction the victim is most ready to be imposed upon by his own tendencies of belief. It may be remarked, that a large proportion of the business is effected before and about the time of breakfast, while as yet few have had occasion to remember what day of the year it is, and before a single victimisation has warned people of their danger.
What compound is to simple addition, so is Scotch to English April fooling. In the northern part of the island, they are not content to make a neighbour believe some single piece of absurdity. There, the object being, we shall say, to befool simple Andrew Thomson:
Wag No. 1 sends him away with a letter to a friend two miles off, professedly asking for some useful information, or requesting a loan of some article, but in reality containing only the words:
This is the first day of April, Hunt the gowk another mile.'
Wag No. 2, catching up the idea of his correspondent, tells Andrew with a grave face that it is not in his power, &e.; but if he will go with another note to such a person, he will get what is wanted. Off Andrew trudges with this second note to Wag No. 3, who treats him in the same manner; and so on he goes, till some one of the series, taking pity on him, hints the trick that has been practised upon him.
A successful affair of this kind will keep rustic society in merriment for a week, during which honest Andrew Thomson hardly can shew his face.
The Scotch employ the term gowk (which is properly a cuckoo) to express a fool in general, but more especially an April fool, and among them the practice above described is called hunting the gowk.
Sometimes the opportunity is taken by ultra-jocular persons to carry out some extensive hoax upon society. For example, in March 1860, a vast multitude of people received through the post a card having the following inscription, with a seal marked by an inverted sixpence at one of the angles, thus having to superficial observation an official appearance:
Tower of London.-Admit the Bearer and Friend to view the Annual Ceremony of Washing the White Lions, on Sunday, April 1st, 1860. Admitted only at the White Gate. It is particularly requested that no gratuities be given to the Wardens or their Assistants.
The trick is said to have been highly successful. Cabs were rattling about Tower Hill all that Sunday morning, vainly endeavouring to discover the White Gate.
It is the more remarkable that any such trick should have succeeded, when we reflect how identified the 1st of April has become with the idea of imposture and unreality. So much is this the case, that if one were about to be married, or to launch some new and speculative proposition or enterprise, one would hesitate to select April 1st for the purpose. On the other hand, if one had to issue a mock document of any kind with the desire of its being accepted in its proper character, he could not better insure the joke being seen than by dating it the 1st of April.
The literature of the last century, from the Spectator downwards, has many allusions to April fooling; no references to it in our earlier literature have as yet been pointed out. English antiquaries appear unable to trace the origin of the custom, or to say how long it has existed among us. In the Catholic Church, there was the Feast of the Ass on Twelfth Day, and various mummings about Christmas; but April fooling stands apart from these dates.
There is but one plausible-looking suggestion from Mr. Pegge, to the effect that, the 25th of March being, in one respect, New Year's Day, the 1st of April was its octave, and the termination of its celebrations; but this idea is not very satisfactory. There is much more importance in the fact, that the Hindoos have, in their Huli, which terminates with the 31st of March, a precisely similar festival, during which the great aim is to send persons away with messages to ideal individuals, or individuals sure to be from home, and enjoy a laugh at their disappointment. To find the practice so widely prevalent over the earth, and with so near a coincidence of day, seems to indicate that it has had a very early origin amongst mankind.
Swift, in his Journal to Stella, enters under March 31, 1713, that he, Dr. Arbuthnot, and Lady Ma sham had been amusing themselves that evening by contriving 'a lie for tomorrow.' A person named Noble had been hanged a few days before. The lie which these three laid their heads together to concoct, was, that Noble had come to life again in the hands of his friends, but was once more laid hold of by the sheriff, and now lay at the Black Swan in Holborn, in the custody of a messenger. 'We are all,' says Swift, 'to send to our friends, to know whether they have heard anything of it, and so we hope it will spread.' Next day, the learned Dean duly sent his servant to several houses to inquire among the footmen, not letting his own man into the secret. But nothing could be heard of the resuscitation of Mr. Noble; whence he concluded that 'his colleagues did not contribute' as they ought to have done.
April fooling is a very noted practice in France, and we get traces of its prevalence there at an earlier period than is the case in England. For instance, it is related that Francis, Duke of Lorraine, and his wife, being in captivity at Nantes, effected their escape in consequence of the attempt being made on the 1st of April. 'Disguised as peasants, the one bearing a hod on his shoulder, the other carrying a basket of rubbish at her back, they both at an early hour of the day passed through the gates of the city. A woman, having a knowledge of their persons, ran to the guard to give notice to the sentry. 'April fool!' cried the soldier; and all the guard, to a man, shouted out, 'April fool!' beginning with the sergeant in charge of the post. The governor, to whom the story was told as a jest, conceived some suspicion, and ordered the fact to be proved; but it was too late, for in the meantime the duke and his wife were well on their way. The 1st of April saved them.'
It is told that a French lady having stolen a watch from a friend's house on the 1st of April, endeavoured, after detection, to pass off the affair as un poisson d'Avril, an April joke. On denying that the watch was in her possession, a messenger was sent to her apartments, where it was found upon a chimney-piece. 'Yes,' said the adroit thief, 'I think I have made the messenger a fine poisson d'Avril!' Then the magistrate said she must be imprisoned till the 1st of April in the ensuing year, comme un, poisson d'Avril.
THE WISE FOOLS OF GOTHAM
On an eminence about a mile south of Gotham, a village in Nottinghamshire, stands a bush known as the 'Cuckoo Bush,' and with which the following strange legend is connected. The present bush is planted on the site of the original one, and serves as a memorial of the disloyal event which has given the village its notoriety.
King John, as the story goes, was marching towards Nottingham, and intended to pass through Gotham meadow. The villagers believed that the ground over which a king passed became for ever afterwards a public road; and not being minded to part with their meadow so cheaply, by some means or other they prevented the king from passing that way. Incensed at their proceedings, he sent soon after to inquire the reason of their rudeness and incivility, doubtless intending to punish them by fine or otherwise. When they heard of the approach of the messengers, they were as anxious to escape the consequences of the monarch's displeasure as they had been to save their meadow.
What time they had for deliberation, or what counsels they took we are not told, but when the king's servants arrived they found some of the inhabitants endeavouring to drown an eel in a pond; some dragging their carts and wagons to the top of a barn to shade a wood from the sun's rays; some tumbling cheeses down a hill in the expectation that they would find their way to Nottingham Market, and some employed in hedging in a cuckoo, which had perched upon an old bush!
In short they were all employed in such a manner as convinced the king's officers that they were a village of fools, and consequently unworthy of his majesty's notice. They, of course, having outwitted the king, imagined that they were wise. Hence arose the saying 'The wise fools of Gotham.' Fuller says, alluding to this story, and some others to which this gave rise, such as 'The Merry Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham,' published in the time of Henry VIII, 'Gotham doth breed as wise people as any which causelessly laugh at their simplicity.'
But they have other defenders besides Fuller. Some skeptical poet, whose production has not immortalized his name, writes:
Tell me no more of Gotham fools,
Or of their eels, in little pools,
Which they, we're told, were drowning;
Nor of their carts drawn up on high
When King John's men were standing by,
To keep a wood from browning.
Nor of their cheese shov'd down the hill,
Nor of the cuckoo sitting still,
While it they hedged round:
Such tales of them have long been told,
By prating boobies young and old,
In drunken circles crowned.
The fools are those who thither go,
To see the cuckoo bush, I trow,
The wood, the barn, and pools;
For such are seen both here and there,
And passed by without a sneer,
By all but errant fools.