Fourth Month Dunce by H. M. M.
The curious custom of joking on the first of April, sending the ignorant
or the unwary on fruitless errands, for the sake of making them feel
foolish and having a laugh at them, prevails very widely in the world.
And whether you call the victim a "Fourth-month Dunce," an "April fool,"
an "April fish" (as in France), or an "April gowk" (as in Scotland), the
object, to deceive him and laugh at him, is everywhere the same.
The custom has been traced back for ages; all through Europe, as far
back as the records go. The "Feast of Fools" is mentioned as celebrated
by the ancient Romans. In Asia the Hindoos have a festival, ending on
the 31st of March, called the "Huli festival," in which they play the
same sort of first of April pranks—translated into Hindoo,—laughing at
the victim, and making him a "Huli fool." It goes back to Persia, where
it is supposed to have had a beginning, in very ancient times, in the
celebration of spring, when their New Year begins.
How it came to be what we everywhere find it, the wise men cannot agree.
The many authorities are so divided, that I see no way but for us to
accept the custom as we find it, wherever we may happen to be, and be
careful not to abuse it.
Some jokes are peculiar to some places. In England, where it is called
"All Fools' Day," one favorite joke is to send the greenhorn to a
bookseller to buy the "Life and Adventures of Eve's Grandmother," or to
a cobbler to buy a few cents' worth of "strap oil,"—strap oil being, in
the language of the shoe-making brotherhood, a personal application of
But this custom, with others, common in coarser and rougher times, is
fast dying out. Even now it is left almost entirely to playful children.
This sentiment, quoted from an English almanac of a hundred years ago,
will, I'm sure, meet the approval of "grown-ups" of this century:
"But 't is a thing to be disputed,
Which is the greatest fool reputed,
The one that innocently went,
Or he that him designedly sent."