The first mention of “April Fools Day” as being on April 1st was in Chaucer’s Canturbury Tales in 1392 (in the “Nun’s Priest’s Tale”).
Jonathan Swift (1665-1745) was the foremost prose satirist for the English language. And he was also a twinkle-in-the-eye practical joker who authored a doozy of an April Fools’ prank bringing the tradition to a whole new level. In February 1708, using the name “Isaac Bickerstaff,” he published an article solemnly predicting that John Partridge, a local author of astrological almanacs, would die at 11:00 p.m. on March 29, 1708. All of London held its collective breath. When the fateful day arrived, Swift – still writing as Isaac Bickerstaff – penned a moving obituary announcing the death of Partridge at 7:05 p.m. — four hours earlier than predicted.
Of course Mr. Partridge was very much alive – and outraged over the prediction and reporting of his death. Because the story of John Partridge’s demise was printed on April 1st, there was ignition and lift off for a new – and more creative – breed of April Fool pranks. I think I’d like to have Jonathan Swift join Aristophanes and me at that dinner. . . . .