“The next visit I made to the world was performed in France, where I was born in the court of Lewis III, and had afterwards the honor to be preferred to be fool to the prince, who was surnamed Charles the Simple. But, in reality, I know not whether I might so properly be said to have acted the fool in his court as to have made fools of all others in it. Certain it is, I was very far from being what is generally understood by that word, being a most cunning, designing, arch knave. I knew very well the folly of my master, and of many others, and how to make my advantage of this knowledge.
“I was as dear to Charles the Simple as the player Paris was to Domitian, and, like him, bestowed all manner of offices and honors on whom I pleased. This drew me a great number of followers among the courtiers, who really mistook me for a fool, and yet flattered my understanding. There was particularly in the court a fellow who had neither honor, honesty, sense, wit, courage, beauty, nor indeed any one good quality, either of mind or body, to recommend him; but was at the same time, perhaps, as cunning a monster as ever lived. This gentleman took it into his head to list under my banner, and pursued me so very assiduously with flattery, constantly reminding me of my good sense, that I grew immoderately fond of him; for though flattery is not most judiciously applied to qualities which the persons flattered possess, yet as, notwithstanding my being well assured of my own parts, I passed in the whole court for a fool, this flattery was a very sweet morsel to me. I therefore got this fellow preferred to a bishopric, but I lost my flatterer by it; for he never afterwards said a civil thing to me.
“I never balked my imagination for the grossness of the reflection on the character of the greatest noble — nay, even the king himself; of which I will give you a very bold instance. One day his simple majesty told me he believed I had so much power that his people looked on me as the king, and himself as my fool.
“At this I pretended to be angry, as with an affront. ‘Why, how now?’ says the king; ‘are you ashamed of being a king?’ ‘No, sir,’ says I, ‘but I am devilishly ashamed of my fool.’
“Herbert, earl of Vermandois, had by my means been restored to the favor of the Simple (for so I used always to call Charles). He afterwards prevailed with the king to take the city of Arras from earl Baldwin, by which means, Herbert, in exchange for this city, had Peronne restored to him by count Altmar. Baldwin came to court in order to procure the restoration of his city; but, either through pride or ignorance, neglected to apply to me. As I met him at court during his solicitation, I told him he did not apply the right way; he answered roughly he should not ask a fool’s advice. I replied I did not wonder at his prejudice, since he had miscarried already by following a fool’s advice; but I told him there were fools who had more interest than that he had brought with him to court. He answered me surlily he had no fool with him, for that he traveled alone. ‘Ay, my lord,’ says I, ‘I often travel alone, and yet they will have it I always carry a fool with me.’ This raised a laugh among the by-standers, on which he gave me a blow. I immediately complained of this usage to the Simple, who dismissed the earl from court with very hard words, instead of granting him the favor he solicited.
“I give you these rather as a specimen of my interest and impudence than of my wit — indeed, my jests were commonly more admired than they ought to be; for perhaps I was not in reality much more a wit than a fool. But, with the latitude of unbounded scurrility, it is easy enough to attain the character of wit, especially in a court, where, as all persons hate and envy one another heartily, and are at the same time obliged by the constrained behavior of civility to profess the greatest liking, so it is, and must be, wonderfully pleasant to them to see the follies of their acquaintance exposed by a third person. Besides, the opinion of the court is as uniform as the fashion, and is always guided by the will of the prince or of the favorite. I doubt not that Caligula’s horse was universally held in his court to be a good and able consul. In the same manner was I universally acknowledged to be the wittiest fool in the world. Every word I said raised laughter, and was held to be a jest, especially by the ladies, who sometimes laughed before I had discovered my sentiment, and often repeated that as a jest which I did not even intend as one.
“I was as severe on the ladies as on the men, and with the same impunity; but this at last cost me dear: for once having joked on the beauty of a lady whose name was Adelaide, a favorite of the Simple’s, she pretended to smile and be pleased at my wit with the rest of the company; but in reality she highly resented it, and endeavored to undermine me with the king. In which she so greatly succeeded (for what cannot a favorite woman do with one who deserves the surname of Simple?) that the king grew every day more reserved to me, and when I attempted any freedom gave me such marks of his displeasure, that the courtiers who have all hawks’ eyes at a slight from the sovereign, soon discerned it: and indeed, had I been blind enough not to have discovered that I had lost ground in the Simple’s favor by his own change in his carriage towards me, I must have found it, nay even felt it, in the behavior of the courtiers: for, as my company was two days before solicited with the utmost eagerness, it was now rejected with as much scorn. I was now the jest of the ushers and pages; and an officer of the guards, on whom I was a little jocose, gave me a box on the ear, bidding me make free with my equals. This very fellow had been my butt for many years, without daring to lift his hand against me.
“But though I visibly perceived the alteration in the Simple, I was utterly unable to make any guess at the occasion. I had not the least suspicion of Adelaide; for, besides her being a very good-humored woman, I had often made severe jests on her reputation, which I had all the reason imaginable to believe had given her no offense. But I soon perceived that a woman will bear the most bitter censures on her morals easier than the smallest reflection on her beauty; for she now declared publicly, that I ought to be dismissed from court, as the stupidest of fools, and one in whom there was no diversion; and that she wondered how any person could have so little taste as to imagine I had any wit. This speech was echoed through the drawing-room, and agreed to by all present. Every one now put on an unusual gravity on their countenance whenever I spoke; and it was as much out of my power to raise a laugh as formerly it had been for me to open my mouth without one.
“While my affairs were in this posture I went one day into the circle without my fool’s dress. The Simple, who would still speak to me, cried out, ‘So, fool, what’s the matter now?’ ‘Sir,’ answered I, ‘fools are like to be so common a commodity at court, that I am weary of my coat.’ ‘How dost thou mean?’ answered the Simple; ‘what can make them commoner now than usual?’ — ‘O, sir,’ said I, ‘there are ladies here make your majesty a fool every day of their lives.’ The Simple took no notice of my jest, and several present said my bones ought to be broke for my impudence; but it pleased the queen, who, knowing Adelaide, whom she hated, to be the cause of my disgrace, obtained me of the king, and took me into her service; so that I was henceforth called the queen’s fool, and in her court received the same honor, and had as much wit, as I had formerly had in the king’s. But as the queen had really no power unless over her own domestics, I was not treated in general with that complacence, nor did I receive those bribes and presents, which had once fallen to my share.
“Nor did this confined respect continue long: for the queen, who had in fact no taste for humor, soon grew sick of my foolery, and, forgetting the cause for which she had taken me, neglected me so much, that her court grew intolerable to my temper, and I broke my heart and died.
“Minos laughed heartily at several things in my story, and then, telling me no one played the fool in Elysium, bid me go back again.”
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50