Plate 22

"Fools, idiots, lack-wits, and dolts"


Moriae Encomium

Illustrated by Hans Holbein the Younger




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Holbein's illustration shown in Plate 22 from Moriae Encomium is associated with the following text drawn from

John Wilson's 1668 translation:


And now, by the immortal gods! I think nothing more happy than that generation of

men we commonly call fools, idiots, lack-wits, and dolts; splendid titles too, as I conceive

them. I'll tell you a thing, which at first perhaps may seem foolish and absurd, yet nothing

more true. And first they are not afraid of death--no small evil, by Jupiter! They are not

tormented with the conscience of evil acts, not terrified with the fables of ghosts, nor

frightened with spirits and goblins. They are not distracted with the fear of evils to come

nor the hopes of future good. In short, they are not disturbed with those thousand of

cares to which this life is subject. They are neither modest, nor fearful, nor ambitious, nor

envious, nor love they any man. And lastly, if they should come nearer even to the very

ignorance of brutes, they could not sin, for so hold the divines. And now tell me, you

wise fool, with how many troublesome cares your mind is continually perplexed; heap

together all the discommodities of your life, and then you'll be sensible from how many

evils I have delivered my fools. Add to this that they are not only merry, play, sing, and

laugh themselves, but make mirth wherever they come, a special privilege it seems the

gods have given them to refresh the pensiveness of life. Whence it is that whereas the

world is so differently affected one towards another, that all men indifferently admit them

as their companions, desire, feed, cherish, embrace them, take their parts upon all

occasions, and permit them without offense to do or say what they like. And so little does

everything desire to hurt them, that even the very beasts, by a kind of natural instinct of

their innocence no doubt, pass by their injuries. For of them it may be truly said that they

are consecrate to the gods, and therefore and not without cause do men have them in

such esteem. Whence is it else that they are in so great request with princes that they can

neither eat nor drink, go anywhere, or be an hour without them? Nay, and in some

degree they prefer these fools before their crabbish wise men, whom yet they keep about

them for state's sake. Nor do I conceive the reason so difficult, or that it should seem

strange why they are preferred before the others, for that these wise men speak to

princes about nothing but grave, serious matters, and trusting to their own parts and

learning do not fear sometimes "to grate their tender ears with smart truths;" but fools fit

them with that they most delight in, as jests, laughter, abuses of other men, wanton

pastimes, and the like.


Again, take notice of this no contemptible blessing which Nature has given fools, that they

are the only plain, honest men and such as speak truth. And what is more commendable

than truth? For though that proverb of Alcibiades in Plato attributes truth to drunkards and

children, yet the praise of it is particularly mine, even from the testimony of Euripides,

among whose other things there is extant that his honorable saying concerning us, "A fool

speaks foolish things." For whatever a fool has in his heart, he both shows it in his looks

and expresses it in his discourse; while the wise men's are those two tongues which the

same Euripides mentions, whereof the one speaks truth, the other what they judge most

seasonable for the occasion. These are they "that turn black into white," blow hot and cold

with the same breath, and carry a far different meaning in their breast from what they

feign with their tongue. Yet in the midst of all their prosperity, princes in this respect seem

to me most unfortunate, because, having no one to tell them truth, they are forced to

receive flatterers for friends.



The associated French text from L'Eloge de la Folie (1728) follows:


Mes Secretateurs ont encore d'autres prérogatives, & j'aurois grand tort de les supprimer. Les

plus grands Princes ne font-ils pas leurs délices de ces gens-là? Les Monarques n'ont pas de plus

agréables heures, que celles qu'ils apssent avec leur Fous. Quelle difference ne mettent-ils pas

entre leurs Bouffons, & ces Sages fades & bourrus qu'ils nourissent pour se faire honneur? Elle

n'est pas surprenante, cette difference. Les Philosophes ne disent ordinairment rien que de

triste; & se confiant en leur savoir, ils prennent quelquefois la liberté de dire des véritez qui ne

plaisent pas. Il en est tout autrement des Fous: ils donnent ce que les Princes souhaitent le plus,

de bons mots, des railleries, des pointes satiriques, des saillies à faire éclater de rire. Remarquez,

chemin faisant, le beau privilege des Bouffons: eux seuls sont en droit de parler sincerement.

Quoi de plus estimable, que la vérité? On l'attribue communément au Vin & l'Enfance: c'est ne

pas s'y connoitre. A moi, oui, à moi appartient principalement la gloire de la sincerité. Chez

celui qui a l'honneur d'être fou, l'esprit, le cœur, le visage, la bouche, tout est d'accord. Les

Sages ont deux langues; l'une, pour dire ce qu'ils pensent; l'autre, pour parler selon le tems: ils

ont, quant il leur plait, le talent de blanchir le noir; ils soufflent le chaud & le froid; leurs

paroles sont de fausses & infideles images de leurs idées, & de laurs sentimens.