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PORTRAIT (TO FACE TITLE)
THIS is a pleasant, gossipy book,-full of wise
saws, if not of modern instances. It may be considered one of the earliest English jest books.
The wit in it is not as startling as fireworks, but there is a good deal of grave, pleasant humour, and many of those touches of nature which make the whole world kin. It is very interesting to have not only the great thoughts of great men, but to see these men in their moments of leisure, when they unbend and come down to the level of ordinary mortals. Weak stomachs cannot bear too much of a good thing, and nothing is so tiresome as the everlasting preaching of very good and very wise people. We find that even in the palmy days of Greece the greatest orators had occasionally to recall the attention of their wearied hearers by some witty and humourous tale, such as the “Shadow of the Ass,” (p. 84). ERASMUS complains of this same inattentiveness in his Praise of Folly, and says the preacher on such occasions would tell them a tale out of Gesta Romanorum, when they would “ lyft vp theyr heads, stand vp, and geue good eare.” Plenty of instances may be found here to prove a universal truth, that really great men are generally fond of a joke. It was sound advice, depend upon it, which the philosopher gave to the young man—“Be not anything over much.” The familiar life of the ancients is also brought pleasantly before us, reminding us of the wellknown saying that “there is a deal of human nature in a man.”
Was it good nature in the Greeks that made them so patient under the coarse reproofs of Diogenes? If so, one cannot help wondering that, while they were so tolerant of him, they put Socrates to death, who was in all things so much wiser and better. Was it not that Diogenes was a crafty man, who was shrewd enough to see that it does not do to prove one's superiority too strongly? So, like our mediæval jesters, he mingled a little wit with a good deal of folly. He was fully aware of the great truth lately uttered by a bucolic friend here :-“To git on i'th' world, a man wants to appear like a fool, we'out bein' one. Men's desp'rately afread ov a clever fella'—they doant feel safe we 'im. Nice, soft-lookin' chaps alus git on best.” So Diogenes made himself purposely dirty and contemptible. His coarse buffoonery was the traditional“ tub” thrown to the whale (by-the-by, do they really throw tubs to whales ?) to amuse it while the harpoon which was to pierce through its blubber was being prepared. And the Greek public, so fond of seeing and hearing new things, was amused accordingly,—and pierced in due course; and very barbed some of the harpoons were. Socrates scorned to stoop to this, and consequently had to pay the price usually paid by those whose virtue is a reproach to their neighbours.
This reprint is made from the second edition, that of 1562. The two have been read very carefully together, and no difference discovered between them, except in the spelling. A facsimile of the first leaf of the 1542 edition is given, which will show how much this varies. The second was chosen principally because it is very much