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    The Fool

    by Gilbert Keith Chesterton
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    For many years I had sought him, and at last I found him in a club. I had
    been told that he was everywhere; but I had almost begun to think that he
    was nowhere. I had been assured that there were millions of him; but
    before my late discovery I inclined to think that there were none of him.
    After my late discovery I am sure that there is one; and I incline to
    think that there are several, say, a few hundreds; but unfortunately most
    of them occupying important positions. When I say "him," I mean the
    entire idiot.

    I have never been able to discover that "stupid public" of which so many
    literary men complain. The people one actually meets in trains or at
    tea parties seem to me quite bright and interesting; certainly quite enough
    so to call for the full exertion of one's own wits. And even when I have
    heard brilliant "conversationalists" conversing with other people, the
    conversation had much more equality and give and take than this age of
    intellectual snobs will admit. I have sometimes felt tired, like other
    people; but rather tired with men's talk and variety than with their
    stolidity or sameness; therefore it was that I sometimes longed to find
    the refreshment of a single fool.

    But it was denied me. Turn where I would I found this monotonous
    brilliancy of the general intelligence, this ruthless, ceaseless sparkle
    of humour and good sense. The "mostly fools" theory has been used in an
    anti-democratic sense; but when I found at last my priceless ass, I did
    not find him in what is commonly called the democracy; nor in the
    aristocracy either. The man of the democracy generally talks quite
    rationally, sometimes on the anti-democratic side, but always with an idea
    of giving reasons for what he says and referring to the realities of his
    experience. Nor is it the aristocracy that is stupid; at least, not that
    section of the aristocracy which represents it in politics. They are
    often cynical, especially about money, but even their boredom tends to
    make them a little eager for any real information or originality. If a
    man like Mr. Winston Churchill or Mr. Wyndham made up his mind for any
    reason to attack Syndicalism he would find out what it was first. Not so
    the man I found in the club.

    He was very well dressed; he had a heavy but handsome face; his black
    clothes suggested the City and his gray moustaches the Army; but the whole
    suggested that he did not really belong to either, but was one of those
    who dabble in shares and who play at soldiers. There was some third
    element about him that was neither mercantile nor military. His manners
    were a shade too gentlemanly to be quite those of a gentleman. They
    involved an unction and over-emphasis of the club-man: then I suddenly
    remembered feeling the same thing in some old actors or old playgoers who
    had modelled themselves on actors. As I came in he said, "If I was the
    Government," and then put a cigar in his mouth which he lit carefully with
    long intakes of breath. Then he took the cigar out of his mouth again and
    said, "I'd give it 'em," as if it were quite a separate sentence. But
    even while his mouth was stopped with the cigar his companion or
    interlocutor leaped to his feet and said with great heartiness, snatching
    up a hat, "Well, I must be off. Tuesday!". I dislike these dark
    suspicions, but I certainly fancied I recognised the sudden geniality with
    which one takes leave of a bore.

    When, therefore, he removed the narcotic stopper from his mouth it was to
    me that he addressed the belated epigram. "I'd give it 'em."

    "What would you give them," I asked, "the minimum wage?"

    "I'd give them beans," he said. "I'd shoot 'em down shoot 'em down, every
    man Jack of them. I lost my best train yesterday, and here's the whole
    country paralysed, and here's a handful of obstinate fellows standing
    between the country and coal. I'd shoot 'em down!"

    "That would surely be a little harsh," I pleaded. "After all, they are
    not under martial law, though I suppose two or three of them have
    commissions in the Yeomanry."

    "Commissions in the Yeomanry!" he repeated, and his eyes and face, which
    became startling and separate, like those of a boiled lobster, made me
    feel sure that he had something of the kind himself.

    "Besides," I continued, "wouldn't it be quite enough to confiscate their
    money?"

    "Well, I'd send them all to penal servitude, anyhow," he said, "and I'd
    confiscate their funds as well."

    "The policy is daring and full of difficulty," I replied, "but I do not
    say that it is wholly outside the extreme rights of the republic. But you
    must remember that though the facts of property have become quite
    fantastic, yet the sentiment of property still exists. These coal-owners,
    though they have not earned the mines, though they could not work the
    mines, do quite honestly feel that they own the mines. Hence your
    suggestion of shooting them down, or even of confiscating their property,
    raises very--"

    "What do you mean?" asked the man with the cigar, with a bullying eye.
    "Who yer talking about?"

    "I'm talking about what you were talking about," I replied; "as you put it
    so perfectly, about the handful of obstinate fellows who are standing
    between the country and the coal. I mean the men who are selling their
    own coal for fancy prices, and who, as long as they can get those prices,
    care as little for national starvation as most merchant princes and
    pirates have cared for the provinces that were wasted or the peoples that
    were enslaved just before their ships came home. But though I am a bit of
    a revolutionist myself, I cannot quite go with you in the extreme violence
    you suggest. You say--"

    "I say," he cried, bursting through my speech with a really splendid
    energy like that of some noble beast, "I say I'd take all these blasted
    miners and--"

    I had risen slowly to my feet, for I was profoundly moved; and I stood
    staring at that mental monster.

    "Oh," I said, "so it is the miners who are all to be sent to penal
    servitude, so that we may get more coal. It is the miners who are to be
    shot dead, every man Jack of them; for if once they are all shot dead they
    will start mining again...You must forgive me, sir; I know I seem somewhat
    moved. The fact is, I have just found something. Something I have been
    looking for four years."

    "Well," he asked, with no unfriendly stare, "and what have you found?"

    "No," I answered, shaking my head sadly, "I do not think it would be quite
    kind to tell you what I have found."

    He had a hundred virtues, including the capital virtue of good humour, and
    we had no difficulty in changing the subject and forgetting the
    disagreement. He talked about society, his town friends and his country
    sports, and I discovered in the course of it that he was a county
    magistrate, a Member of Parliament, and a director of several important
    companies. He was also that other thing, which I did not tell him.

    The moral is that a certain sort of person does exist, to whose glory this
    article is dedicated. He is not the ordinary man. He is not the miner,
    who is sharp enough to ask for the necessities of existence. He is not
    the mine-owner, who is sharp enough to get a great deal more, by selling
    his coal at the best possible moment. He is not the aristocratic
    politician, who has a cynical but a fair sympathy with both economic
    opportunities. But he is the man who appears in scores of public places
    open to the upper middle class or (that less known but more powerful
    section) the lower upper class. Men like this all over the country are
    really saying whatever comes into their heads in their capacities of
    justice of the peace, candidate for Parliament, Colonel of the Yeomanry,
    old family doctor, Poor Law guardian, coroner, or above all, arbiter in
    trade disputes. He suffers, in the literal sense, from softening of the
    brain; he has softened it by always taking the view of everything most
    comfortable for his country, his class, and his private personality. He
    is a deadly public danger. But as I have given him his name at the
    beginning of this article there is no need for me to repeat it at the end.
    If you're writing a The Fool essay and need some advice, post your Gilbert Keith Chesterton essay question on our Facebook page where fellow bookworms are always glad to help!

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