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Comic Tales
The Witty Exploits of Mr. George Buchanan, The King's Fool


Mr. GEORGE BUCHANAN was a Scotsman born, and though of mean parentage, made great progress in learning. As for his understanding and ready wit, he excelled all men then alive in the age that ever proposed questions to him. He was servant or teacher to King James the Sixth, and one of his private counsellors, but publicly acted as his fool.

George happened one time to be in company with a bishop, and so they fell to dispute anent education, and he blanked the bishop remarkably, and the bishop himself owned he was worsted. Then one of the company addressed himself to him in these words: "Thou, Scot," said he, "should not have left thy country." "For what?" says he. "Because thou hast carried all the wisdom that is in it hither with thee." "No, no," says he; "the shepherds in Scotland will dispute with any bishop in London, and exceed them very far in education." The bishops then took this as an affront, and several noblemen affirmed it to be as the Scot had said: bets were laid on each side, and three of the bishops were chosen, and sent away to Scotland to dispute it with the shepherds, accompanied with several others, who were to bear witness of what they should hear pass between them. Now George, knowing which way they went, immediately took another road and was in Scotland before them. He then made an acquaintance with a shepherd on the border, whose pasture lay on the wayside where the bishops were to pass; and there he mounted himself in shepherd’s dress; and when he saw the bishops appear, he conveyed his flock to the roadside, and fell a-chanting at a Latin ballad. When the bishops came up to George, one of them asked him in French what o’clock it was? To which he answered in Hebrew, "It is directly about the time of day it was yesterday at this time." Another asked him, in Greek, what countryman he was? To which he answered in Flemish, "If ye knew that, you would be as wise as myself." A third asked him, in Dutch, "Where were you educated?" To which he answered, in Earse, "Herding my sheep between this and Lochaber." This they desired him to explain into English, which he immediately did. "Now," said they one to another, "we need not proceed any farther." "What," says George, "are you butchers? I’ll sell you a few sheep." To this they made no answer, but went away shamefully, and said they believed the Scots had been through all the nations in the world for their education, or the devil had taught them. Now, when George had ended this dispute with the bishops, he stripped off his shepherd’s dress, and up through England he goes, with all the haste imaginable, so that he arrived at the place from whence they set out three days before the judges, and went every day asking if they were come, so that he might not be suspected. As soon as they arrived, all that were concerned in the dispute, and many more, came crowding in, to hear what news from the Scottish shepherds, and to know what was done. No sooner had the three gentlemen declared what had passed between the bishops and the shepherds, whom they found on the Scots border, but the old bishop made answer, "And think you," said he, "that a shepherd could answer these questions? It has been none else but the devil; for the Scots ministers themselves could not do it; they are but ignorant of such matters, a parcel of beardless boys." Then George thought it was time to take speech in hand. "Well, my lord bishop," says George, "you call them a parcel of ignorant, beardless boys. You have a great long beard yourself, my lord bishop, and if grace were measured by beards, you bishops and the goats would have it all, and that would be quite averse to Scripture." "What," says the bishop, "are you a Scot?" "Yes," says George, "I am a Scot." "Well," says the bishop, "and what is the difference between a Scot and a sot?" "Nothing at present," says George, "but the breadth of the table,"—there being a table betwixt the bishop and George. So the bishop went off in a high passion, while the whole multitude were like to split their jaws with laughter.

II.

One night a Highland drover chanced to have a drinking bout with an English captain of a ship, and at last they came to be very hearty over their cups, so that they called in their servants to have a share of their liquor. The drover’s servant looked like a wild man, going without breeches, stockings, or shoes, not so much as a bonnet on his head, with a long peeled rung in his hand. The captain asked the drover how long it was since he catched him? He answered, "It is about two years since I hauled him out of the sea with a net, and afterwards ran into the mountains, where I catched him with a pack of hounds." The captain believed it was so. "But," says he, "I have a servant, the best swimmer in the world." "Oh, but," says the drover, "my servant will swim him to death." "No, he will not," says the captain; "I’ll lay two hundred crowns on it." "Then," says the drover, "I’ll hold it one to one," and staked directly, the day being appointed when trial was to be made. Now the drover, when he came to himself, thinking on what a bargain he had made did not know what to do, knowing very well that his servant could swim none. He hearing of George being in town, who was always a good friend to Scotsmen, went unto him and told him the whole story, and that he would be entirely broke, and durst never return home to his own country, for he was sure to lose it. Then George called the drover and his man aside, and instructed them how to behave, so that they should be safe and gain too. So accordingly they met at the place appointed. The captain’s man stripped directly and threw himself into the sea, taking a turn until the Highlandman was ready, for the drover took some time to put his servant in order. After he was stripped, his master took his plaid, and rolled a kebbuck of cheese, a big loaf. and a bottle of gin in it, and this he bound on his shoulder, giving him directions to tell his wife and children that he was well, and to be sure he returned with an answer against that day se’nnight. As he went into the sea, he looked back to his master, and called out to him for his claymore. "And what waits he for now?" says the captain’s servant "He wants his sword," says his master. "His sword," says the fellow; "what is he to do with a sword ?" "Why," says his master, "if he meets a whale or a monstrous beast, it is to defend his life; I know he will have to fight his way through the north seas, ere he get to Lochaber." "Then," cried the captain’s servant, "I’ll swim none with him, if he take his sword." "Ay, but," says his master, "you shall or lose the wager; take you another sword with you." "No," says the fellow; "I never did swim with a sword, nor any man else that ever I saw or heard of. I know not but that wild man will kill me in the deep water; I would not for the whole world venture myself with him and a sword." The captain seeing his servant afraid to venture, or if he did he would never see him again alive, therefore desired an agreement with the drover, who at first seemed unwilling; but the captain putting it in his will, the drover quit him for half the sum. This he came to through George’s advice.

III.

George was met one day by three bishops, who paid him the following compliments:—Says the first, "Good-morrow, Father Abraham;" says the second, "Good-morrow, Father Isaac;" says the third, "Good-morrow, Father Jacob." To which he replied, "I am neither Father Abraham, Father Isaac, nor Father Jacob; but I am Saul, the son of Kish, sent out to seek my father’s asses, and, lo! I have found three of them." Which answer fully convinced the bishops that they had mistaken their man.

IV.

A poor Scotchman dined one day at a public-house in London upon eggs, and not having money to pay, got credit till he should return. The man, being lucky in trade, acquired vast riches; and after some years, happening to pass that way, called at the house where he was owing the dinner of eggs. Having called for the innkeeper, he asked him what he had to pay for the dinner of eggs he got from him such a time. The landlord, seeing him now rich, gave him a bill of several pounds; telling him, as his reason for so extravagant a charge, that these eggs, had they been hatched, would have been chickens; and these laying more eggs, would have been more chickens; and so on, multiplying the eggs and their product, till such time as their value amounted to the sum charged. The man, refusing to comply with this demand, was charged before a judge. He then made his case known to George, his countryman, who promised to appear in the hour of cause, which he accordingly did, all in a sweat, with a great basket of boiled pease, which appearance surprised the judge, who asked him what he meant by these boiled pease? Says George, "I am going to sow them." "When will they grow?" said the judge. "They will grow," said George, "when sodden eggs grow chickens." Which answer convinced the judge of the extravagance of the innkeeper’s demand, and the Scotsman was acquitted for two-pence halfpenny.

V.

George was professor of the College of St. Andrews, and slipped out one day in his gown and slippers, and went on his travels through Italy and several other foreign countries, and after seven years returned with the same dress he went off in; and, entering the college, took possession of his seat there, but the professor in his room quarrelling him for so doing. "Ay," says George, "it is a very odd thing that a man cannot take a walk out in his slippers, but another will take up his seat" And so set the other professor about his business.

VI.

Two drunken fellows one day fell a-beating one another on the streets of London, which caused a great crowd of people to throng together to see what it was. A tailor being at work up in a garret, about three or four storeys high, and he hearing the noise in the street, looked over the window, but could not well see them. He began to stretch himself, making a long neck, until he fell down out of the window, and alighted on an old man who was walking on the street. The poor tailor was more afraid than hurt, but the man he fell on died directly. His son caused the tailor to be apprehended and tried for the murder of his father. The jury could not bring it in wilful murder, neither could they altogether free the tailor. The jury gave it over to the judges, and the judges to the king. The king asked George’s advice on this hard matter. "Why," says George, "I will give you my opinion in a minute: you must cause the tailor to stand in the street where the old gentleman was when he was killed by the tailor, and then let the old gentleman’s son, the tailor’s adversary, get up to the window from whence the tailor fell, and jump down, and so kill the tailor as he did his father." The tailor’s adversary hearing this sentence passed, would not venture to jump over the window, and so the tailor got clear off.


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