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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Doun de Laverne (13th Century)

How a Peasant Won Paradise by Wit

RECORDED in a book we find

Adventure of surprising kind:

How that a villain basely born

Died on a certain Friday morn,

And by some chance it came to pass,

Nor angel nigh nor devil was.

Just at the moment he was dead

And soul was from the body fled,

It found that no one gave it heed

Or ordered whither it should speed.

Know that the soul thereat was glad,

For many an anxious fear it had;

Then toward the heavens it turned its eyes,

And there th’ Archangel Michael spies,

Who with great joy a spirit bore.

The soul did after Michael soar,

And so fast followed on his heels,

That into Paradise he steals.

Saint Peter, guardian of the door,

Received the soul the angel bore;

Then after he that soul had ta’en,

Back to the portal turned again,

And of the new-born soul aware,

Demanded who had brought him there.

“Here no one is received,” quoth he,

“Unless adjudged he worthy be;

And above all, by Saint Alain,

We are not here for low-born men.

Villains have nothing here to do,

And who is villain more than you?”

“Lord Peter,” cried the soul, “’tis known

You always were as hard as stone;

By Paternoster, God was wrong

To place you ’mid th’ Apostles’ throng.

To Him small honor you afford,

You who did once deny your Lord;

Your faith was but of little price,

Since you did e’en deny Him thrice.

Though you are now received, ’tis true,

Does Paradise belong to you?

Begone, where are the traitor brood:

For me—I loyal am and good,

And I by right an entrance claim.”

Saint Peter then was struck with shame,

Downcast he turned and ill beset,

And shortly with Saint Thomas met.

To him his story did unfold,

And all his misadventure told,

And his annoy and conquered state.

Saint Thomas said, “I’ll to him straight;

Now God forbid he here should stay;”

Then to the villain bent his way.

“Villain!” began th’ Apostle thus,

“This manor is reserved for us,

For Martyrs and for Saints alone.

Pray, where good actions have you done

By which an entrance here is won?

Here God’s true servants’ lot is cast.”

“Oh, Thomas, Thomas, much too fast

Your lawyer’s judgment you bestow.

Was it not you—as all men know—

Who to th’ Apostles did declare,

When they had seen their Lord appear

After His resurrection,

Nay, e’en did swear, your truth upon,

You would reject Him and deny,

Unless each wound your fingers try?

Thus were you vile and miscreant both.”

At this Saint Thomas felt full loath

More to dispute, so bent his head,

And to Saint Paul he quickly sped;

There his disaster told he all.

“Now, by my head, I’ll go,” said Paul,

“And know what he will dare reply.”

The soul deigned not to hide or fly,

But walked at ease through Paradise.

“Soul, who has brought you here?” he cries.

“Where and what merits can you show

To pass the gates of heaven through?

Villain, quit Paradise,” he called.

“Why, what, is this Don Paul the Bald?

And were not you that soldier erst

Who of all tyrants was the worst?

None ever showed more cruel mind

As did the good Saint Stephen find,

Whom you stirred up the Jews to stone:

By me your life is fully known.

Full many saints to death you sped,

Until God dealt upon your head

With His strong hand a weighty blow.

To mart or game did we ne’er go,

And heard the tale while drinking wine;

A pretty saint, a good divine!

Think you by me you are not known?”

Saint Paul in agony was thrown,

And quickly turned to quit the ground;

And then again Saint Thomas found,

Who did with Peter council hold,

And straight to them the marvel told,

How in debate the serf had won:

“He has defeated me, I own,

To him I Paradise decree.”

Then to God’s presence went the three.

Saint Peter clearly then proclaimed

How by the villain all were shamed:

“O’er us his words gained victory;

And I am so confused thereby,

That none from me the tale shall know.”

Our Lord said, “I myself will go;

This marvel ’tis my will to hear.”

He sought the soul, and called him near,

And questioned how it came to pass

That without leave he entered has.

“Nor man’s nor woman’s soul has e’er

Without permission entered here.

On my Apostles have you railed,

With slander and abuse assailed;

And think you dwelling here to gain?”

“Lord, I should here as well remain

As they, if I be justly tried.

By me you never were denied,

Your name I never feared to own,

And by my hand has perished none;

On them this load of error lies,

Yet are they now in Paradise.

Long as my body did endure,

I led my life unsoiled and pure;

To poor I gave my bread away,

And sheltered them by night and day;

I kept them warm my hearth beside,

And gave them succor till they died;

Then bore them to the church, as meet.

And neither shirt nor winding-sheet

Did I e’er let them go without;

If ’twas well done or ill, I doubt.

Then I confessed me honestly,

Received your Body worthily;

Who thus does die, and thus does live,

We hear, God will his sins forgive.

You know if I have truly said.

When here I entered none forbade,

And being here, why should I go?

I should belie your promise so;

For you have said beyond all doubt,

Once here none shall be driven out;

Sure, in my case, you will not fail.”

“Villain,” said God, “your words prevail.

You plead so well for Paradise,

That by your speech you gain the prize:

In a good school you have been bred,

And have well weighed all you have said.

Good reasons know you to invoke.”

The villain then this proverb spoke:

“Right by degrees aye conquers wrong,

And wit beyond all force is strong.”