The Book of Noodles - Appendix


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THE idea of the old English jest-book, Jacke of Dover His Quest of Inquire, or His Privy Search for the Veriest Foole in England (London: 1604), may perhaps have been suggested by such popular tales as those of the man going about in quest of three greater fools than his wife, father-in-law, and mother-in-law. It is, however, simply a collection of humorous anecdotes, not specially examples of folly or stupidity, most of which are found in earlier jest-books. The introduction is rather curious:

"When merry Jacke of Dover had made his privy search for the Foole of all Fooles, and making his inquirie in most of the principal places in England, at his return home he was adjudged to be the fool himself; but now wearied with the motley cox-combe, he hath undertaken in some place or other to find a verier foole than himself. But


first of all, coming to London, he went into Paul's Church, where walking very melancholy in the middle aisle with Captain Thingut and his fellowes, he was invited to dine at Duke Humphry's ordinary,[1] where, amongst other good stomachs that repaired to his bountiful feast, there came a whole jury of penniless poets, who being fellows of a merry disposition (but as necessary in a commonwealth as a candle in a straw bed), he accepted of their company, and as from poets cometh all kind of folly, so he hoped by their good directions to find out his Foole of Fooles, so long looked for. So, thinking to pass away the dinner-hour with some pleasant chat (lest, being overcloyed with too many dishes, they should surfeit), he discovered to them his merry meaning, who, being glad of so good an occasion of mirth, instead of a cup of sack and sugar for digestion, these men of little wit began to make inquiry and to search for the aforesaid fool, thinking it a deed of charity to ease him of so great a burden as his motley coxcomb was, and because such weak brains as are now resident almost in every place, might take

[1] To "dine with Duke Humphry" meant not to dine at all. See Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable for the origin of the expression.


benefit hereat. In this manner began the inquiry:

The Foole of Hereford.

"'Upon a time (quoth one of the jury) it was my chance to be in the city of Hereford, when, lodging at an inn, I was told of a certain silly-witted gentleman there dwelling, that would assuredly believe all things that he heard for a truth; to whose house I went upon a sleeveless errand, and finding occasion to be acquainted with him, I was well entertained, and for three days' space had my bed and board in his house; where, amongst many other fooleries, I, being a traveller, made him believe that the steeple of Brent-wood, in Essex, sailed in one night as far as Calais, in France, and afterwards returned again to its proper place. Another time I made him believe that in the forest of Sherwood, in Nottinghamshire, were seen five hundred of the King of Spain's galleys, which went to besiege Robin Hood's Well, and that forty thousand scholars with elder squirts performed such a piece of service as they were all in a manner taken and overthrown in the forest. Another time I made him believe that Westminster Hall, for suspicion of treason, was banished for ten years


into Staffordshire. And last of all, I made him believe that a tinker should be baited to death at Canterbury for getting two and twenty children in a year; whereupon, to prove me a liar, he took his horse and rode thither, and I, to verify him a fool, took my horse and rode hither.'

"'Well,' quoth Jacke of Dover, 'this in my mind was pretty foolery, but yet the Foole of all Fooles is not here found that I looked for.'

The Fool of Huntington.

"'And it was my chance (quoth another of the jury) upon a time to be at Huntington, where I heard tell of a simple shoemaker there dwelling, who having two little boys whom he made a vaunt to bring up to learning, the better to maintain themselves when they were men; and having kept them a year or two at school, he examined them saying, "My good boy," quoth he to one of them, "what dost thou learn and where is thy lesson?" father," said the boy, "I am past grace." "And where art thou?" quoth he to the other boy, who likewise answered that he was at the devil and all his works. "Now Lord bless us," quoth the shoemaker, "whither are my children learning? The one is already past grace and the other at the


devil and all his works!" Whereupon he took them both from school and set them to his own occupation.[1]'"

A number of others of the jury of penniless poets having related their stories, at last it is agreed that if the Foole of all Fooles cannot be found among those before named, one of themselves must be the fool, for there cannot be a verier fool than a poet, "for poets have good wits, but cannot use them, great store of money, but cannot keep it," etc.

It is doubtful what the name "Jack of Dover" imports, as that of the imaginary inquirer after fools. The author of the Cook's Tale of Gamelyn--which is generally considered as a spurious "Canterbury" tale-- represents, in the prologue, mine host of the Tabard as saying to Roger the Cook:

[1] The jest is thus told in some parts of Scotland: An old gentleman, walking in the country, met three small boys on their way home from school, and asked them how they progressed in their learning. The youngest--referring, of course, to the Shorter Catechism--replied that he was "in a state of sin and misery;" the second, that he was past "redemption;" and the eldest, that he was "in the pains of hell for ever."


"Full many a pastie hast thou lettin blode;
And many a jack of Dovyr hast thou sold,
That hath ben twice hot and twicè cold."

Dr. Brewer says--apparently on the strength of these lines--that a "Jack of Dover" is a fish that has been cooked a second time. But it may have been a name of a particular kind of fish caught in the waters off Dover. If, however, a "Jack of Dover" is a twice-cooked fish, the title of the jest-book is not inappropriate, since all the stories it comprises are at least "twice-told."

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