April 1, 2011

To make April fools of people

"I don't think it is right to make April fools of people. Do you, Uncle Edward?"

"Why, that depends upon circumstances," replied Mr. Edward. "The philosophy of it is, I think, that if the joke gives pleasure to those that it is played upon, as well as to those who play it, it is right, otherwise wrong. This, it seems to me, is a universal rule, and it applies to first-of-April jokes as well as to others."

This story comes from the chapter "April-Fools' Day" by the Maine-born children's author Jacob Abbott. At different times, he was a preacher, math professor, and school principal. He also wrote the book Prank; or, The Philosophy of Tricks and Mischief (1855), a book which includes the "April-Fools' Day" story.

In the story, Uncle Edward relates how he and two friends tricked an entire room of people by pretending to be musicians at a private party (even passing along a hat for tips — though they were sure to return the money when their April Fools trick was revealed). After telling the story, the wagon in which Uncle Edward and the boys were riding came to a stream. Uncle Edward went ahead a bit, promising to wait while the boys searched the stream for fish. When they rush to catch up, however, they realize that Uncle Edward is gone.

Worried, the boys debate if they have been tricked by their uncle, a man who just admitted he like to play tricks on people. The boys were right, however: Uncle Edward never intended to play a joke on them. As he went ahead, his horses were spooked and his niece — the only female on the trip — ran beside them in an attempt to calm them down. As Abbott wrote:

This was a great mistake. A lady who is riding with a gentleman has never any thing to do with the management of the horses. She should remain perfectly passive and quiet, happen what may, as if she reposed entire confidence in the gentleman's capacity and care.

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