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Literature and Ideas



The Devil's Dictionary

Ambrose Bierce

An officer formerly attached to a king’s household, whose business it was to amuse the court by ludicrous actions and utterances, the absurdity being attested by his motley costume. The king himself being attired with dignity, it took the world some centuries to discover that his own conduct and decrees were sufficiently ridiculous for the amusement not only of his court but of all mankind. The jester was commonly called a fool, but the poets and romancers have ever delighted to represent him as a singularly wise and witty person. In the circus of to-day the melancholy ghost of the court fool effects the dejection of humbler audiences with the same jests wherewith in life he gloomed the marble hall, panged the patrician sense of humor and tapped the tank of royal tears.

The widow-queen of Portugal
    Had an audacious jester
Who entered the confessional
    Disguised, and there confessed her.

"Father," she said, "thine ear bend down —
    My sins are more than scarlet:
I love my fool — blaspheming clown,
    And common, base-born varlet."

"Daughter," the mimic priest replied,
    "That sin, indeed, is awful:
The church's pardon is denied
    To love that is unlawful.
"But since thy stubborn heart will be
    For him forever pleading,
Thou'dst better make him, by decree,
    A man of birth and breeding."

She made the fool a duke, in hope
    With Heaven's taboo to palter;
Then told a priest, who told the Pope,
    Who damned her from the altar!

Barel Dort