June 1999
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A Lesson From History

By Philip Dore

Historical Note: This manuscript was found recently in the archives of medieval history. The writer is unknown but is believed to be a chronicler from the period.

Accurs'd news has of late been sent us from the provinces. It appears that a local simpleton nam'd Sidney Slimewart was recently brought to trial by the King's sherriffs. It transpires that the young Master Slimewart has been accus'd of slaying several young infants by slinging them into the air with a giant seige catapult. Tis not known why this ruffian embark'd on this foul course of action, but the magistrates of the town inform us that upon arrest he had remark'd that his actions had been "really cool." The relevance of temperature to these proceedings is mysterious and vexing.

Upon hearing the deadful news, the King has enquired of his courtiers why this obvious simpleton and lunatick was permitt'd possession of such a perilous item as a giant seige catapult. "Surely," His Gracious Majesty expounded, "Only the commanders of mine army will have legitimate usage of such an item? Or have my generals begun promoting village idiots to the rank of officer?" The King then pondered whether it might be considered prudent to restrict the possession of such items, lest a similar tragedy occur in times hence.

Such a suggestion was vigorously opposed by one Baggly Bottoms, a court jester of great repute, whose office had recently been bestowed with the title of patron for the National Guild for the Right to Own Bloody Great Siege Catapults. "Such a course of action would be disastrous for the people of our fair land," the worthy Bottoms exclaimed, "How can there exist a just and peaceful land unless every person therein is granted the means to horribly mutilate and slaughter whomsoever he pleases? Giant seige catapults do not smash down town walls and slay the occupants. People smash down town walls and slay the occupants."

At first, all present assumed that this was part of his jesting routine and laughed heartily, until it was realis'd that Mr Bottoms was most serious. A noted scholar, much renowned for his skill in the art of logic, then used his great skill to point out that while people do indeed commit acts of murder, they generally require some instrument to do so. "Or does Mr Bottoms presume that in a seige the attacking force may smash down the walls using only lumps of mud?" he enquired.

Curiously, Mr Bottoms did not presume to answer this last point, but instead declared that the problem was not the ready availability of instruments of destruction, but the prevalent forms of literature that were corrupting the morals of the youths in this land. "Consider, for example, that most obscene and repugnant work, the Bible," he declar'd. "Tis not literature or art as we civilized personnages know the term. Rather tis but a steady flow of smiting and begatting, intended only to disturb and titillate the reader. How can the minds of our youth not be affect'd, when they are told in lurid and unnecesssary detail of whole cities being engulf'd by fire, nay, even the world entire being covered by a deluge of water, with but a few being spared a horrib'l death. All this in the name of monstrous being nam'd Jehovah, clearly the work of an imagination addled by the Pox."

At this point, the Cardinal objected that such stories were intended as metaphor, not to be intended seriously, upon which several courtiers objected that this very Morn the same Cardinal had been explaining to all who would listen that such tales were the true word of God. On hearing this objection His Grace made a number of excuses and departed from the assembly with much haste.

Mr Bottoms continu'd with his argument thus, "Tis not only the Bible that issues this torrent of degeneracy, consider also the writings of that unprincipl'd rogue Mr Shakespeare. This same eventide all those who wish to see may visit our theatre and regard a play relating the tale of Romeo and Juliet, a most immoral performance containing a number of allusions to the carnal act, as well as scenes of violence, murder and suicide." Mr Bottoms conclud'd his argument by declaring that such literature as that by Mr Shakespeare and by the unnam'd author of the Bible should be immediately seized and all those possessing them should be burn'd at the stake, and that furthermore, all persons should be entitled to own whatever instruments of murder and torture they so wished, regardless of their age, character or state of mind.

The court was then silent for a moment, then one courtier exclaimed, "My Lords and Ladies, can you not see? The honourable Mr Bottoms is jesting with us after all! And what a wonderfully bizarre argument he has told us. Truly, your Majesty, this court is bless'd to receive the fine comedy talents of Baggly Bottoms." And thus the court was filled with much mirth, and everybody agreed that Baggly Bottoms was a genius to invent such a ridiculous suggestion.

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