- Wise Men of Gotham
Wise Men of Gotham, the early name given to the people of the village of
Gotham, Nottinghamshire, in allusion to their reputed simplicity. But if tradition is to be believed the Gothamites were not so very simple.
The story is that King John intended to live in the neighbourhood, but that the villagers, foreseeing ruin as the cost of supporting the court, feigned imbecility when the royal messengers arrived. Wherever the latter went they saw the rustics engaged in some absurd task. John, on this report, determined to have his hunting lodge elsewhere, and the wise men boasted, "we ween there are more fools pass through Gotham than remain in it".
The "foles of Gotham" are mentioned as early as the
15th centuryin the "Towneley Mysteries"; and a collection of their jests was published in the 16th centuryunder the title "Merrie Tales of the Mad Men of Gotham, gathered together by A.B. of Phisicke Doctour". The AB was supposed to represent Andrew Bordeor Boorde (1490?-1549), famous among other things for his wit, but he probably had nothing to do with the compilation.
As typical of the Gothamite folly is usually quoted the story of the villagers joining hands round a thornbush to shut in a cuckoo so that it would sing all the year. The localizing of fools is common to most countries, and there are many other reputed imbecile centres in England besides Gotham. Thus there are the people of
Coggeshall, Essex, the "carles" of Austwick, Yorkshire, the "gowks" of Gordon, Berwickshire, and for many centuries the charge of folly has been made against silly Suffolkand Norfolk("Descriptio Norfolciensium" about 12th century, printed in Wright's "Early Mysteries and other Latin Poems").
Germanythere are the "Schildbürger", from the town of "Schilda"; in the Netherlands, the people of Kampen, in the Bohemia, the people of Kocourkov, in Moraviathe people of Šimperk. Among the ancient Greeks Boeotiawas the home of fools; among the Thracians, Abdera; among the Jews, Chelm; among the ancient Asiatics, Phrygia.
The Wise Men of Gotham are recalled in a
Three wise men of Gotham
Went to sea in a bowl.
If the bowl had been stronger
My tale had been longer.
Ship of fools
The Praise of Folly
Schildbürger( Schilda, from Schildau), Schildbürger (German)
* [http://www.gothamvillage.co.uk/tales.htm Gotham Tales]
*WA Clouston, "Book of Noodles" (London, 1888)
*RH Cunningham, "Amusing Prose Chap-books" (1889).----
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