Dream Tales and Prose Poems/Poems in Prose/The Fool
There lived a fool.
For a long time he lived in peace and contentment; but by degrees rumours began to reach him that he was regarded on all sides as a vulgar idiot.
The fool was abashed and began to ponder gloomily how he might put an end to these unpleasant rumours.
A sudden idea, at last, illuminated his dull little brain . . . And, without the slightest delay, he put it into practice.
A friend met him in the street, and fell to praising a well-known painter. . . .
'Upon my word!' cried the fool, 'that painter was out of date long ago . . . you didn't know it? I should never have expected 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. That book's good for nothing; every one's 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. N. is!' said a third friend to the fool. 'Now there's a really generous creature!'
'Upon my word!' cried the fool. 'N. N., the notorious scoundrel! He swindled all his relations. Every one knows that. You're quite behind the times.'
The third friend too 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 has talent!'
It ended in the editor of a journal proposing to the fool that he should undertake their reviewing column.
And the fool fell to criticising 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 any one . . . but in this case, if one didn't venerate him, one would find oneself quite behind the times!
Fools have a good time among cowards.