Farmer's Cabinet, Amherst NH: 10 April 1877–
The curious custom of joking on the first of April, sending the ignorant or the unwary on fruitless errands, for the sake of making them feel foolish and having a laugh at them, prevails very widely in the world. And whether you can call the victim a “Fourth month dunce,” an “April fool,” an “April fish” (as in France), or an “April gowk” (as in Scotland), the object to deceive him and to laugh at him, is everywhere the same.
The custom has been traced back for ages; all through Europe as far back as the record goes. The “Feast of fools” is mentioned as celebrated by the ancient Romans. In Asia the Hindoos have a festival, ending on the 31 of march called the Huli festival,” in which they play the same sort of first of April pranks–translated into Hindoo–laughing at the victim and making him a “Huli fool.” It goes back even to Persia, where it is supposed to have a beginning, in very ancient times, in the celebration of spring, when the New Year begins. How it came to be men cannot agree. The many authorities are so divided, that I see no way but for us to accept the custom as we find it.
Some jokes are peculiar to particular places. In England where it is called All Fool's Day, one favorite joke is to send the greenhorn to a bookseller to buy the “Life and Adventures of Eve's Grandmother,” or to a cobbler to buy a few cents worth of “strap oil,”–strap oil being, in the language of the shoe making brotherhood, a personal application of the leather. The victim usually gets a good whipping with a strap.
There was an old superstition in England that prayers to the Virgin at eight o'clock on All Fools' Day would be a wonderful efficacy, and it is seriously mentioned by grave writers of old days.
In Scotland the first of April fun is called “hunting the gowk,” and consists in sending a person to another a long way off, with a note, which says, “Hunt the gowk another mile.” The recipient of the note gives him another, containing the same words; and so the sport goes on, until the victim remembers the day of the month, and sits down to rest and think about it.
In France where the custom is very ancient, the jokes are much the same; but the victim is called an “April fish,” because he is easily caught. In one part of France there is a custom of eating a certain kind of peas which grow there, called Pois chiches. The joke is to send the peasants to a certain convent to ask for these peas, telling them that the fathers are obliged to give some to every one who comes on that day. The joke is as much on the monks as on the peasants for there is often a perfect rush of applicants all day.
A more disagreeable custom prevails in Lisbon on the first of April, when the great object is to pour water on passers by, or, failing in that, to throw powder in their faces. If both can be done then the joker is happy.
I need not tell you the American style of joking: nailing a piece of silver to the side walk, tying a string to a purse and jerking it away from greedy fingers; leaving tempting looking packages filled with sand, and sawdust on door-steps; frying doughtnuts with an interlining of wool; putting salt into the sugar bowl, etc. You know too many already.
But this custom, with others, common in coarser and rougher times is fast dying out. Even now it is left to playful children and the uneducated classes. This sentiment, quoted from an English almanac of a hundred years ago, will, I'm sure, meet the approval of “grown ups” of the nineteenth century.”
“But 'tis a thing to be disputed,
Which is the greatest fool reputed,
The one that innocently went,
Or he that designedly was sent.”
10 April 1862
WHO IS AN APRIL FOOL.
He who waits for luck
To atone for want of pluck;–
Who hopes quite rich to get
By borrowing out of debt;–
He who looks for gains
Without expending pains:–
Where'er such men are found
They're fools the year around.