Tuesday, April 03, 2018

`As If I Were of Kith and Kin to Him'

“And take my word for this, reader, and say a fool told it you, if you please, that he who hath not a dram of folly in his mixture, hath pounds of much worse matter in his composition.”

Identifying a fool, like naming a bird with Peterson’s in hand, is child’s play. As a child I watched a certified grownup pour gasoline on a pile of wood, drop a match and perform a perfect backward somersault in the air. His eyebrows and what little hair remained on his head beforehand had been depilatoried. I was twelve or thirteen, he was the age of my parents, and I knew with certainty this was a fool. Even the adults present were unable to argue with my conclusion, though they closed ranks when I started laughing. From the experience I learned that foolishness, like rats, is always nearby. Fools are essential players in life’s unfolding comedy. They are best laughed at. One otherwise turns into a tiresome crank. And being a fool, or at least blessed with a touch of foolishness, is not the direst of fates. Consider this: Hitler was not a fool. Nor Stalin. No one would call them foolish. They were monstrous, which is something else entirely.

The author of the sentence quoted at the top is Charles Lamb in his Elia essay “All Fools Day.” After meeting Lamb in 1831, Thomas “Sunshine” Carlyle wrote of him: "A more pitiful, ricketty, gasping, staggering, stammering Tom fool I do not know.” Lamb, who was nobody’s fool, writes: “I love a Fool—as naturally, as if I were of kith and kin to him.”

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