The pamphleteer Dobson had an idée fixe that anyone born on the first of April needs must be a fool, and an incorrigible and irredeemable fool at that. (It is pertinent to note that Dobson took great pains never to divulge his own date of birth and seems to have destroyed all records of it.) Challenged to provide evidence for his theory, Dobson embarked on the writing of a pamphlet. Putatively entitled A Compendium Of Foolishness, its subtitle gives a succinct summary of what we could have read had he ever written it: A Bumper Collection Of Anecdotes Regarding Acts Of Foolishness Committed By Fools Born On All Fools Day. As far as we know, he got no further than scribbling the title with his propelling pencil on a sheet of notepaper, at which point he sat gazing out of the window for hours, trying to think of appropriate tales of foolishness. Rummaging around in that capacious pamphleteering brain, he drew a blank.
Dobson was reluctant to abandon the project so soon, but felt unequal to conducting any research. He had only recently recovered from an attack of the spraingue, had one arm in a sling, was temporarily blind in one eye, and spent the best part of his waking hours with his feet submerged in a bowl of jelly water. Such was my pitiable condition, he wrote, That the very thought of conducting fool research risked a recurrence of the spraingue. I was at my wits’ end, and could only gaze out of the window for hours on end in hopeless despair, munching cake.
One wet Thursday morning during this period, Dobson was disturbed by a hammering at his door. He removed his feet from the bowl, slipped on a pair of Argentinian Public Baths Attendants’ pantoufles, and went to admit his visitor. It turned out to be the radio broadcaster Gilbert Viperhead, the very man who had demanded, on air, that Dobson prove his theory about fools. He was brandishing a horsewhip.
“You, sir, are a scoundrel and a cad!” cried the radio host, “And unless you provide me with conclusive proof that those of us born on All Fools Day are fools, I shall give you a damned good thrashing with this horsewhip I am brandishing!”
“As you can see,” replied Dobson, “I am a sick man. Allow me time to recover from my recent attack of the spraingue and I shall furnish you with so much evidence it will be pouring out of your ears.”
In spite of his florid face and the demeanour of an enraged retired colonel, Viperhead was a reasonable man. He unbrandished the horsewhip and accepted the cup of tea Dobson offered him. They spent an hour in almost pleasant conversation, discoursing on topics such as the spraingue, radio broadcasts, fools, jelly water, and horsewhips.
But when he had gone, Dobson realised his dilemma. Sooner or later, he was going to have to justify his fool theory, or remain in permanent convalescence. And then he had what was to prove a fateful idea. He scurried back to his escritoire, took off the pantoufles, plunged his feet back into the bowl, took his propelling pencil and some notepaper, and started scribbling away.
Dear Cicely Courtneidge, he wrote, You were born on the first of April and are therefore a fool. Please reply by return of post with two or three anecdotes of incidents or episodes in your life which demonstrate your utter foolishness. Yours sincerely, Dobson.
He stuffed this missive into an envelope, scribbled Cicely Courtneidge’s name and last known address on it, sealed it, and affixed a stamp. He then wrote identical letters to Emperor Go-Saga of Japan, William Harvey, John Wilmot, Otto von Bismarck, Ferruccio Busoni, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Edgar Wallace, Lon Chaney Senior, Wallace Beery, Whittaker Chambers, Lor Tok, Toshiro Mifune, Milan Kundera, Debbie Reynolds, Ali McGraw, Samuel R Delany, Annie Nightingale, Ronnie Lane, David Gower, Susan Boyle, Philip Schofield, and Dennis Kruppke. He would not need to track down anecdotes of foolery – the anecdotes would come to him! Dobson was not so foolish as to think that some of his correspondents were still alive, but he hoped that, by cleverly pre-dating some of his letters, their heirs might feel duty bound to reply. What he did not take into account was the fact that some of the living recipients might take exception to being called a fool by an obscure and penurious scribbler.
So it was that, on a wet Wednesday morning shortly after shoving all these letters into the postbox at the end of the lane, Dobson was disturbed by a hammering at his door. He removed his feet from the bowl of jelly water, slipped on a pair of Peruvian bordello keeper’s pantoufles, and went to admit his visitor. It turned out to to be Jack Hulbert, star of stage and screen and husband of Cicely Courtneidge. He was brandishing a horsewhip.
“You, sir, are a scoundrel and a cad!” he cried, “How dare you insult my dear wife by calling her a fool? I am going to give you a damned good thrashing with this horsewhip I am brandishing!”
“As you can see,” said Dobson, but before he could get another word out Jack Hulbert began thrashing him with the horsewhip. The pamphleteer learned that day that not all outraged gents are as amenable to reason and cups of tea as Gilbert Viperhead. It was not the only visit he received that week that left him battered and bruised and bewailing his own foolishness.
He never did write the pamphlet.