Legends and Stories of Ireland, by Samuel Lover, [1831, 1834], at sacred-texts.com
As some allusion has been made in the early part of the foregoing story to a fool, this, perhaps, is the fittest place to say something of fools in general. Be it understood, I only mean fools by profession; for, were amateur fools included, an essay on fools in general would be no trifling undertaking. And further, I mean to limit myself within still more circumscribed bounds by treating of the subject only as it regards that immediate part of his Majesty's dominions called Ireland.
In Ireland the fool, or natural, or innocent (for by all those names be goes), as represented in the stories of the Irish peasantry, is very much the fool that Shakespeare occasionally embodies; and even in the present day many a witticism and sarcasm given birth to by these mendicant Touchstones would be treasured in the memory of our beau monde, under the different heads of brilliant or biting, had they been uttered by a Bushe or a Plunket. I recollect a striking piece of imagery employed by one of the tribe on his perceiving the approach of a certain steward, who, as a severe task-master, had made himself disliked amongst the peasantry employed on his master's estate. This man had acquired a nickname (Irishmen, by the way, are celebrated for the application of sobriquets), which nick-name was "Danger"; and the fool, standing one day amidst a parcel of workmen, who were cutting turf, perceived this said steward crossing the bog towards them.
"Ah, ah! by dad, you must work now, boys," said he, "here comes Danger. Bad luck to you, Daddy Danger, you dirty bloodsucker! sure the earth's heavy with you." But suddenly stopping in his career of commonplace abuse, he looked with an air of contemplative dislike towards the man, and deliberately said:
"There you are, Danger! and may I never break bread, if all the turf in the bog 'id warm me to you."
Such are the occasional bursts of figurative language uttered by our fools, who are generally mendicants; or perhaps it would be fitter to call them dependents, either on some particular family, or on the wealthy farmers of the district. But they have a great objection that such should be supposed to be the case, and are particularly jealous of their independence. An example of this was given me by a friend who patronised one that was rather a favourite of the gentlemen in the neighbourhood, and a constant attendant at every fair within ten or fifteen miles, where be was sure to pick up a good deal of money from his gentlemen friends. Aware of this fact, Mr.----, meeting Jimmy one morning on the road, and knowing what errand he was bound on, asked him where he was going.
"I'm goin' to the fair, your honour."
"Why, what can bring you there?"
"Oh, I've business there."
"I'll tell you to-morrow."
"Ah! Jimmy," said the gentleman, "I see how it is--you're going to the fair to ask all the gentlemen for money."
"Indeed I'm not: I'm no beggar--Jimmy wouldn't be a beggar. Do you think I've nothin' else to do but beg?"
"Well, what else brings you to the fair?"
"Sure, I'm goin' to sell a cow there," said Jimmy, quite delighted at fancying he had successfully baffled the troublesome inquiries of the Squire; and not willing to risk another question or answer, he uttered his deafening laugh, and pursued his road to the fair.
From the same source I heard that they are admirable couriers, which my friend very fairly accounted for by attributing it to the small capability of comprehension in the constitution of their minds, which, rendering them unable to embrace more than one idea at a time, produces a singleness of purpose that renders them valuable messengers. As an instance of this, he told me that a gentleman in his neighbourhood once sent a certain fool to the town of----, with a packet of great consequence and value, to his banker, with a direction to the bearer not to hand it to any person but Mr.--himself, and not to return without seeing him.
It so happened Mr.----had gone to Dublin that morning; and no assurances nor persuasion, on the part of that gentleman's confidential clerk, could induce the fool to hand him the parcel--thus observing strict obedience to the commands of his master. But he adhered still more literally to his commission; for when he was told Mr.--had gone to Dublin, and that, therefore, be could not give him the packet, he said: "Oh, very well, Jimmy 'ill go back again;" but when be left the office, he took the road to Dublin, instead of homewards, having been bidden not to return without delivering it, and ran the distance to the capital (about one hundred and forty miles), in so short a time, that he arrived there but a few hours after the gentleman be followed, and never rested until he discovered where he was lodged, and delivered to him the parcel, in strict accordance with his instructions.
They are affectionate also. I have heard of a fool who, when some favourite member of a family he was attached to died, went to the churchyard, and sat on the grave, and there wept bitterly, and watched night and day; nor could he be forced from the place, nor could the calls of hunger and thirst induce him to quit the spot for many days; and such was the intensity of grief on the part of the affectionate creature, that he died in three months afterwards.
But they can be revengeful too, and entertain a grudge with great tenacity. The following is a ridiculous instance of this: A fool, who had been severely bitten by a gander, that was unusually courageous, watched an opportunity when his enemy was absent, and getting amongst the rising family of the gander, he began to trample upon the goslings, and was caught in the fact of murdering them wholesale, by the enraged woman who had reared them.
Ha, Jimmy, you villian! is it murtherin' my lovely goslin's you are, you thief of the world? Bad scram to you, you thick-headed vagabone."
"Divil mend them, granny," shouted Jimmy, with a laugh of idiotic delight, as he leaped over a ditch, out of the reach of the henwife, who rushed upon him with a broomstick, full of dire intent upon Jimmy's skull.
"Oh, you morcadin' thief!" cried the exasperated woman shaking her uplifted broomstick at Jimmy in impotent rage "wait till Maurice ketches you - that's all."
"Divil mend them, granny," 'shouted Jimmy--" ha! ha!--why did their daddy bite me?"
The peasantry believe a fool to be insensible to fear from any ghostly visitation; and I heard of an instance where the experiment was made on one of these unhappy creatures, by dressing a strapping fellow In a sheet, and placing him in a situation to intercept "poor Jimmy" on his midnight path, and try the truth of this generally-received opinion, by endeavouring to intimidate him. When he had reached the appointed spot, a particularly lonely and narrow path, and so hemmed in by high banks on each side as to render escape difficult, Mr. Ghost suddenly reared his sheeted person as Jimmy had half ascended a broken stile, and with all the usual terrific formulae of "Boo," "Fee-fa-fum,' etc., etc., demanded who dared to cross that path? The answer:
"I'm poor Jimmy," was given in his usual tone.
"I'm Raw-head and Bloody-bones," roared the 'ghost.
"Ho! ho! I often heerd o' you," said Jimmy.
"Baw," cried the ghost, advancing - " I'll kill you--I'll kill you--I'll kill you."
"The divil a betther opinion I bad iv you," said Jimmy.
"Boo!" says Raw-head, "I'll eat you--I'll eat you."
"The divil do you good with me," says Jimmy. And so the ghost was at a nonplus, and Jimmy, won the field.
I once heard of a joint-stock company having been established between a fool and a blind beggar-man, and for whom the fool acted in the capacity of guide. They had share and share alike in the begging concern, and got on tolerably well together, until one day the blind man had cause to suspect Jimmy's honour. It happened that a mail-coach passing by, the blind man put forth all his begging graces to induce the "quality" to "extind their charity," and' succeeded so well, that not only some copper, but a piece of silver was thrown by the wayside. Jimmy, I'm sorry to say, allowed "the filthy lucre of gain" so far to predominate, that in picking up these gratuities, he appropriated the silver coin to his own particular pouch, and brought the halfpence only for division to his blind friend; but the sense of hearing was so nice in the latter, that he detected the sound of the falling silver, and asked Jimmy to produce it. Jimmy denied the fact stoutly.
"Oh, I heerd it fall," said the blind man. "Then you were betther off than poor Jimmy," said our hero; "for you heerd it, but poor Jimmy didn't see it." "Well, look for it," says the blind man. "Well, well, but you're cute, daddy," cried Jimmy; "you're right enough, I see it now;" and Jimmy affected to pick up the sixpence, and handed it to his companion.
"Now we'll go an to the Squire's," said the blind man, "and they'll give us somethin' to eat;" and he and his idiot companion were soon seated outside the kitchen-door of the Squire's house, waiting for their expected dish of broken meat and potatoes.
Presently Jimmy was summoned, and he stepped forward to receive the plate that was handed him; but in its transit from the kitchen-door to the spot where the blind man was seated, Jimmy played foul again, by laying violent hands on the meat, and leaving potatoes only In the dish. Again the acute sense of the blind man detected the fraud; he sniffed the scent of the purloined provision; and after poking with hurried fingers amongst the potatoes, he exclaimed: "Ha! Jimmy, Jimmy, I smelt meat." "Deed and deed, no," said Jimmy, who had, in the meantime, with the voracity of brutal hunger, devoured his stolen prey. "That's a lie, Jimmy," said the 'blind man--"that's like the sixpence. Ha! you thievin' rogue, to cheat a poor blind man, you villian;" and forthwith he aimed a blow of his stick at Jimmy with such good success, as to make the fool bellow lustily. Matters, however, were accommodated; and both parties considered that the beef and the blow pretty well balanced one another, and so accounts were squared.
After their meal at the Squire's, they proceeded to an adjoining village; but in the course of their way thither, it was necessary to pass a rapid, and sometimes swollen, mountain-stream, and the only means of transit was by large blocks of granite placed at such intervals in the stream as to enable a passenger to step from one to the other, and hence called "stepping-stones." Here, then, it was necessary, on the blind man's part, to employ great caution, and he gave himself up to the guidance of Jimmy, to effect his purpose. "You'll tell me where I'm to step," said be, as he cautiously approached the brink. "Oh, I will, daddy," said Jimmy; "give me your hand."
But Jimmy thought a good opportunity had arrived for disposing of one whom he found to be an over-intelligent companion, and leading him to a part of the bank where no friendly stepping-stone was placed, he cried: "Step out now, daddy." The poor blind man obeyed the command, and tumbled plump into the water. The fool screamed with delight, and clapped his hand. The poor deluded blind man floundered for some time in the stream, which, fortunately, was not sufficiently deep to be dangerous; and when he scrambled to the shore, he laid about him with his stick and tongue, in dealing blows and anathemas, all intended for Jimmy. The former Jimmy carefully avoided by running out of the enraged man's reach.
"Oh, my curse light an you, you black-hearted thraitor," said the dripping old beggar, "that has just wit enough to be wicked, and to play such a hard-hearted turn to a poor blind man."
"Ha! ha! daddy,"' cried Jimmy, "you could smell the mate--why didn't you smell the wather?"