April Fooling

The idea of April Fools is nothing new. In the 18th century, bookseller William Creech, who published Burns’s poetry, responded to an April Fools’ joke with this retort:

I pardon, sir, the trick you’ve play’d me
When an April fool you made me ;
Since one day only I appear
What you, alas ! do all the year.

In Stubbs’ calendar, published monthly throughout 1839, William Makepeace Thackeray tells a comic tale of (as Longfellow put it) “the meanness of a mean man who doesn’t recognize his own defect.” In chapter four, Stubbs ditches the woman he has planned to marry, because her prospects of wealth have declined  and declares his devotion to a richer, but plainer and ill-tempered, lady. This illustration by Greorge Cruikshank, shows the scene of “April–Fooling” where he is discovered by his former love.

George Cruikshank, “April—Fooling.” 1839. Collection of the Rosenbach. 1954.1880.3637.

The tables are ultimately turned on Stubbs, when it turns out that he has cheated a family member of the rich bride-to-be and the wedding is called off. As he explains, “I thought I was a made man. Alas! I was only an April Fool!”

Hoaxes are a time-honored tradition on April 1, with newspapers printing fake news stories and  in the modern age crazy stories surfacing across the internet. We’ll close with a puzzle of our own. Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century authors came up with some pretty amazing titles (see our previous post on The Strange and Unaccountable Life of Daniel Dancer, Esquire, Who Died in a Sack, Though Worth Upward of £3000 a Year). Which of these are actual titles of books in the Rosenbach collection, and which are fakes?

  • The barren fig tree or, the doom and downfall of the fruitless professor
  • The comical revenge, or Love in a  tub
  • The true and disturbing tale of Samuel Salt or, The madness of a lion
  • Tumble-down Dick or, Phaeton in the suds. A dramatic entertainment of walking, in serious and foolish characters
  • The life of John Buncle, esq. containing various observation and reflections, made in several parts of the world, and many extraordinary relations
  • Vegetables too cheap, an account of the strange and surprising occurrence  in Leefwich