(A repeat from August 30, 2011)
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 Swift’s prediction and the false 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 for that very special dinner. . . .