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

Ivan Turgenev (1818–1883)

The Fool

From “Poems in Prose”

ONCE upon a time there was a fool.

For a long period he lived in peace and contentment; but by degrees rumors began to reach him that he was regarded on all sides as a common idiot.

The fool was abashed, and began to ponder gloomily how he might put an end to these unpleasant rumors.

A sudden idea at last illuminated his dull little brain. Without the slightest delay he put it into practise.

A friend met him in the street, and fell to praising a well-known painter.

“Upon my word,” cried the fool, “that painter has been out of date for years! You didn’t know it? I should never have suspected it of you! You are quite behind the times.”

The friend was alarmed, and promptly agreed with the fool.

“Such a splendid book I read yesterday!” said another friend to him.

“Upon my word,” cried the fool, “I wonder you’re not ashamed! The book’s good for nothing; every one has seen through it long ago. Didn’t you know it? You’re quite behind the times.”

This friend, too, was alarmed, and he agreed with the fool.

“What a wonderful fellow my friend N—— is!” said a third friend to the fool. “Now, there’s a really fine man for you!”

“Upon my word!” cried the fool. “N——, the notorious scoundrel! He swindled all his relations. Every one knows that. You’re quite behind the times.”

The third friend was alarmed, and he agreed with the fool and deserted his friend. And whoever and whatever was praised in the fool’s presence, he had the same retort for everything.

Sometimes he would add reproachfully, “And do you still believe in authorities?”

“Spiteful! Malignant!” his friends began to say of the fool. “But what a brain! And what a tongue!” Others would add, “Oh, yes, he is very talented.”

It ended in an editor of a paper proposing to the fool that he should undertake the reviewing column.

And the fool fell to criticizing everything and every one, without in the least changing his manner or his exclamations.

Now he who once declaimed against authorities is himself an authority, and the young men venerate him and fear him.

And what else can they do, poor young men? Though one ought not, as a general rule, to venerate anybody, in this case, if one didn’t venerate him, one would find oneself quite behind the times!

Fools succeed well among cowards.