John Skelton - THE BOOK OF THREE FOOLS.

THE BOOK OF THREE FOOLS.

[From Marshe's ed. of Skelton's Works, 1568.]

<1>

M. SKELTON, POET LAUREATE, GAVE TO MY LORD CARDINAL.

THE FIRST FOOL.

THE man that doth wed a wife
For her goods and her richess,
And not for lineage feminative,<2>
Procureth dolour and distress,
With infinite pain and heaviness;
For she will do him much sorrow,
Both at even and at morrow.

THE SECOND FOOL.

The darts right cursed of Envy
Hath rained sith the world began,
Which bringeth man evidently

Into the bonds of Satan;
Wherefore he is a discreet man
That can eschew that evil sin
Where body and soul is lost in.

THE THIRD FOOL.

Divers by voluptuousness
Of women, the which be present,
Be brought into full great distress,
Forgetting vertues excellent
Of God, the which is permanent,
And suffereth themselves to be bound
In cords, as it were a hound.

Come hither, and take this book, and read therein for your learning with clear eyen, and look in this book, that sheweth you foolish fools without wit or understanding. Pecunious fools, that be avarice, and for to have good time and to live merrily, weddeth these old withered women, which hath sacks full of nobles, clarify here your sight, and ye shall know what goodness cometh thereby, and what joy and gladness. Some there be that abandoneth themselves for to gather together the dung that issueth out of their ass's arse, for to find evermore grease:<3> it is great folly truly; but yet the young man is more foolisher the which weddeth an old wife, for to have her gold and silver. I say that he is a great fool that taketh an old wife for her goods, and is much to blame.

They the which do so procureth all tribulations; for with her he shall neither have joy, recreation, nor rest. He nourisheth strifes and great debates, thought, pain, anguish, and melancholy: and if he would accomplish the works of marriage, he may not, for she is so debilite, cold, unpropice, unnatural, and undiscurrent, for the coldness that is in her. The husband of this old wife hath none esperance to have lineage by her, for he never loved her. The man is a very fool to make his demurrance upon such an old wife. When he thinketh sometime upon such things, he leseth his natural wit, in cursing himself more then a M. times with the gold and the silver, and the cursed hazard of Fortune. And when he seeth his poor life in such distress, his heart is all oppressed with melancholy and dolour: but when the unhappy man seeth that it is force, and that he is constrained to have patience, he putteth his cure to draw to him the money of the old withered woman in making to her glad cheer. And when he hath the money and the bag with nobles, God knoweth what cheer he maketh, without thinking on them that gathered it. And when he hath spent all, he is more unhappier than he was before. If that the fool be unhappy, it is well right, for he hath wedded avarice, mother of all evils: if he had taken a wife that had been fair and young, after his complexion, he had not fallen into so great an inconvenience. It is written in ancient books, that he which weddeth a wife by avarice, and not for to have lineage, hath no cure of the honesty of matrimony, and thinketh full evil on his conscience. The union of marriage is decayed; for, under the colour of good and loyal mariage, is wedded avarice, as we se every day by experience through the world. And one will have a wife, and that he mark his to be demanded in marriage, they will enquire of his riches and cunning. And on the other side he will demand great goods with her, to nourish her with: for and her father and mother and friends have no great riches, he will not of her; but an she be rich, he demandeth none other thing. It is written, that one were better have his house in desert, whereas no mention should be of him, than to bide with such wives, for they be replete with all cursedness. And the poor fool breaketh his heart; he loseth his soul, and corrupteth his body. He selleth his youth unto the old wife that weddeth her for avarice, and hath but noise and dissension, in using his life thus in sin. Consider, you fools, what servitude ye put your self in, when ye wed such wives. I pray you be chaste, if that ye will live without unhap. My friends, which be not in that band, put you not therein, and ye shall be well happy. Notwithstanding, I defend you not to marry<4>, but I exhort you to take a wife that ye may have progeny by, and solace bodily and ghostly, and thereby to win the joys of Paradise.

OF ENVY, THE SECOND FOOL.

Approach, you foolish envious, the which can say no good by them that ye hate, come and see in this book your perverse and evil conditions. O envy, that devoureth the conditions of men, and dissipers of honour! Thou makest to have ravishing hearts famished; thou brennest the desires, and slayeth the soul in the end; thou engenderest the dart environed with mischief, that which travaileth divers folks. Cursed fool, how hast thou thy heart so replete with cruelty? for, if I have temporal goods, thou wilt have envy thereat; or, if that I can work well, and that I apply me unto divers things the which be honest, or if that I have castles, lands, and tenements, or if that I am exalted unto honour by my science, or won it by my hardiness truly and justly, or if that I am beloved of divers persons which reclaimeth me good and virtuous and of a noble courage, thou wilt vilepend me with thy words: thou wottest never in what manner thou mayest adnichil mine honour. Thy malicious heart is hurt with a mortal wound, in such wise that thou hast no joy nor solace in this world, for the dart of Envy pierceth thy heart like a spear. Thou hast wild liquor, the which maketh all thy stomach to be on a flame. There is no medicine that may heal thy mortal wound. I, being in a place where as mine honour was magnified, thought for to have taken alliance with an odiferant flower, but all suddenly I was smitten with a dart of Envy behind my back, wherethrough all they that were on my party turned their backs upon me, for to agree to one of Venus' dissolute servants, proceeding from a heart envenomed with envy. Wherefore I shall specify unto you the conditions of the envious. Who that holdeth him of the subjects of Envy, she constitueth to devour and bite every body; giving unhaps and miseries unto her servants. Such folks doth the innocent a thousand wrongs. They be replenished with so many treasons, that they can not sleep in their beds; they have no sweet canticles nor songs. They have their tongues honeyed with sweet words under the colour of love; they be lean, and infect of rigour these envious, more bitterer than the gall of the fish glauca<5>, with their eyen beholding a traverse<6>, of stomachs chafed scintillously, and without their mouths, as the vine that is new cut, they be environed with rage and great anguish, beholding evermore to destroy some body. Conceive the history of Joseph in your minds, the which had vii. brethren, that were envious against him which was the youngest, and sold him unto the merchants of Egypt by envy, and betrayed him; the which were delibered of a long time to have destroyed him. These envious never laugh but when some good man hath damage upon the sea or land; or at the disfortune of some body, he drinketh his blood as milk. Notwithstanding his heart is ever embraced with envy, and as long as he liveth it shall gnaw his heart. He resembleth unto Etna which brenneth always. As of Romulus, and Remus his brother, the which Romulus edified first Rome, and gave it to name Rome, after his own name. Nevertheless they were pastors, for they established laws in the city. And Romulus punished every body equally. He did institute limits or marks about the city, and ordained that he that passed the limits should be put to death. His brother passed them, wherefore he was put unto death incontinent in the same place. We read also how Cain slew his own brother by envy. Have we not ensample semblably of Atreus, of whom his brother occupied the park, how well that they were in the realm strong and puissant, for to defend them? It was Theseus<7> that expulsed his brother out of the realm by envy, and was called again because that he had taken the park, and finally was banished, and by envy and under the colour of peace he was sent for. And when he was come unto a feast, he made his two children for to be roasted, and made them to drink their blood. O what horror was it to see his two children die that were so discreet! In like wise Ethiocles<8>, if thou wilt be discreet, good, and wise, fly from Envy, and thou shalt find thy self sound of body and soul!

OF THE VOLUPTOUSNESS CORPORAL, THE THIRD FOOL.

Right heartily I beseech you, foolish and lecherous people, that it will please you for to come and make a little collation<9> in this book; and if there be any thing that I can do for you, I am all yours both body and goods; for truly I have an ardent desire to do you some meritorious deed, because that I have ever frequented your service.

Now hearken what I have found you, cautelous women. They that the paps be seen all naked, their hair combed and trussed in divers places marvellously, be unreasonable fools, for they dress them like voluptuous harlots, that make their hair to appear at their brows, yellow as fine gold, made in little tresses for to draw young folk to their love. Some, for to have their goods, presenteth to them their beds for to take their carnal desires; and after that they have taken all their disports, they pill them as an onion. The other, for to have their pleasures mundane, chooseth them that she loveth best, and maketh signifiance to them, saying that she is enamoured on them. Thou art a very idiot so to abandon thy self unto the vile sin of lechery, for thou lettest thy self be wrapped therein, like as a calf or a sheep is bound in a cord, in such wise that ye can not unbind your self. O fool, have aspect unto that which thou committest! for thou puttest thy poor soul in great danger of damnation eternal; thou puttest thy goods, thin understanding, and thy joy, unto dolorous perdition: and for all that ye be in your wor[l]dly pleasures, yet it is mingled with distress or with misery, great thought or melancholy. I require thee, leave thy wor[l]dly pleasures, that endureth no longer than the grass of the field. If you have joy one only moment, thou shalt have twain of sorrow for it. We read of Sardanapalus, that for his lechery and libidinosity fell into hell; the which put himself in the guise of a poor woman: his men, seeing him so obstinate in that vile sin, slew him, and so finished he his days for following of his pleasaunce mundane. The sovereign Creator was more puissant than this wretched sinner. Let us not apply our self thereto, sith that he punisheth sinners so asperly; but with all our hearts enforce we our self for to resist against that vile and abominable sin of lechery, the which is so full of infection and bitterness, for it distaineth the soul of man. Flee from the foolish women, that pilleth the lovers unto the hard bones, and you shall be beloved of God and also of the world.

Prev Next