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The Shyp of Folys of the Worlde (The Ship of Fools) - Barclay, Alexander 1509

This is the English adaptation of Brant’s Narrenschiff which satirises examples of late fifteenth century folly. Originally written by the distinguished humanist Sebastian Brant (1458-1521) in 1494 and published in Basel with Albrecht Dürer's woodcuts, the Narrenschiff was one of the most successful published works of its age. Often cited as being one of the first international bestsellers, the work’s comic woodcuts are considered a major contributor to its popularity.

One of these woodcuts depicts a backgammon game.

The english text refers to the Irish game (yresshe game).

Das Narrenschiff (Schlechtes Vorbild der Eltern) - First Edition 1494

Here begynneth the foles and first inprofytable bokes.

I am the firste fole of all the hole nauy
To kepe the pompe, the helme and eke the sayle
For this is my mynde, this one pleasoure haue I
Of bokes to haue grete plenty and aparayle
I take no wysdome by them : nor yet auayle
Nor them preceyue nat : and then I them despyse
Thus am I a foole and all that sewe that guyse

That in this shyp the chefe place I gouerne
By this wyde see with folys wanderynge
The cause is playne, and easy to dyscerne
Styll am I besy bokes assemblynge
For to haue plenty it is a plesaunt thynge
In my conceyt and to haue them ay in honde
But what they mene do I nat vnderstonde

But yet I haue them in great reuerence
And honoure sauynge them from fylth and ordure
By often brusshynge, and moche dylygence
Full goodly bounde in pleasaunt couerture
Of domas, satyn, or els of veluet pure
I kepe them sure ferynge lyst they sholde be lost
For in them is the connynge wherin I me bost.

But if it fortune that any lernyd men
Within my house fall to disputacion
I drawe the curtyns to shewe my bokes then
That they of my cunnynge sholde make probacion
I kepe nat to fall in altercacion
And whyle they comon my bokes I turne and wynde
For all is in them, and no thynge in my mynde.

Tholomeus the riche causyd longe agone
Ouer all the worlde good bokes to be sought
Done was his commaundement anone
These bokes he had and in his stody brought
Whiche passyd all erthly treasoure as he thought
But neuertheles he dyd hym nat aply
Unto theyr doctryne, but lyued unhappely.

Lo in lycke wyse of bokys I haue store
But fewe I rede, and fewer understande
I folowe nat theyr doctryne nor theyr lore
It is ynoughe to bere a boke in hande
It were to moche to be it suche a bande
For to be bounde to loke within the boke
I am content on the fayre couerynge to loke

Whe sholde I stody to hurt my wyt therby
Or trouble my mynde with stody excessyue
Sythe many ar whiche stody right besely
And yet thery shall they neuer thryue
The fruyt of wysdom cans they nat contryue
And many to stody so moche are inclynde
That utterly they fall out of theyr mynde

Eche is nat lettred that nowe is made a lorde
Nor eche a clerke that hath a benefyce
They are nat all lawyers that plees doth recorde
All that are promotyd are nat fully wyse
On suche chaunce nowe fortune throwys hir dyce
That thoughe one knowe but the yresshe game
Yet wolde he haue a gentyllmannys name

So in lyke wyse I am in suche case
Thoughe I nought can I wolde be callyd wyse
Also I may set another in my place
Whiche may for me my bokes excercyse
Or else I shall ensue the comon gyse
And say concedo to euery argument
Lyst by moche speche my laty sholde be spent

I am lyke other Clerkes whiche so frowardly them gyde.
That after they ar onys come vnto promocion
They gyue them to plesour theyr stody set asyde.
Theyr Auaryce couerynge with fayned deuocion.
Yet dayly they preche : and haue great derysyon
Against the rude Laymen : and al for Couetyse.
Though theyr owne Conscience be blynded wt that vyce.

But if I durts trouth playnely vtter and expresse.
This is the special cause of this Inconuenyence.
That greatests foles, and fullest of lewdnes
Hauynge least wyt : and symplest Science
Ar fyrst promoted : and haue greatest reuerence
For if one can flater, and bere a hawke on his Fyst
He shalbe made Person of Honyngton or of Clyst.

But he that is in Stody ay ferme and diligent.
And without al fauour prechyth Chrystys lore
Of al the Comontye nowe adayes is sore shent.
And by Estates thretened to Pryson oft therfore.
Thus what auayle is it, to us to Stody more :
To knowe outher scripture, trouth, wysedom, or vertue
Syns fewe, or none without fauour dare them shewe.

But O noble Doctours, that worthy ar of name :
Consyder our olde faders : note wel theyr diligence :
Ensue ye theyr steppes : obtayne ye such fame,
As they dyd lyuynge : and that by true Prudence.
Within theyr hartys they planted theyr scyence
And nat in plesaunt bokes. But nowe to fewe suche be.
Therefore in this Shyp let them come rowe with me.


Say worthy doctours and clerkes curious :
What moueth you of bokes to haue such nomber.
Syns dyuers doctrines throughe way contrarious.
Doth mannys mynde distract and sore encomber.
Alas blynde men awake, out of your slomber
And if ye wyl nedys your bokes multyplye
With diligence endeure you some to occupye.

Here begin the fools and first unprofitable books.

I am the first fool of all the whole navy,
To keep the poop, the helm and eke the sail.
For this is my mind, this one pleasure have I :
Of books to have great plenty and aparayle.
I take no wisdom by them : nor yet avail
Nor them preceive not : and then I them despise.
Thus am I a fool and all that sew that guise.

That in this ship the chief place I govern,
By this wide sea with fools wandering,
The cause is plain, and easy to discern ;
Still am I busy books assembling.
For to have plenty it is a pleasant thing,
In my conceit, and to have them ay in hand,
But what they mean do I not understand.

But yet I have them in great reverence
And honour, saving them from filth and ordure,
By often brushing, and much diligence,
Full goodly bound in pleasant coverture
Of damask, satin, or else of velvet pure :
I keep them sure, fearing lest they should be lost,
For in them is the cunning wherein I me boast.

But if it fortune that any learned men
Within my house fall to disputation
I draw the curtain to show my books then,
That they of my cunning should make probation
I care not to fall in altercation
And while they commune, my books I turn and wind
For all is in them, and nothing in my mind.

Ptolomeus the rich caused, long agone.
Over all the world good books to be sought ;
Done was his commandment anon.
These books he had and in his study brought
Which passed all earthly treasure as he thought
But nevertheless he did him not apply
Unto their doctrine, but lived unhappily.

Lo in lickewise of books I have store
But few I read, and fewer understand
I follow not their doctrine, nor their lore
It is enough to bear a booke in hand ;
It were too much to be in such a band
For to be bound to look within the book ;
I am content on the fair covering to look.

Why should I study to hurt my wit thereby,
Or trouble my mind with study excessive ?
Sith many are which study right busily
And yet thereby shall they never thrive :
The fruit of wisdom can they not contrive.
And many to study so much are inclined
That utterly they fall out of their mind.

Each is not lettered that now is made a lord,
Nor each a clerk that hath a benefice ;
They are not all lawyers that pleas do record,
All that are promoted are not fully wise ;
On such chance now fortune throws her dice,
That though one know but the Irish game
Yet would he have a gentleman's name.

So in likewise, I am in such case,
Though I naught can I would be called wise ;
Also I may set another in my place
Which may for me my books excercise ;
Or else I shall ensue the common guise.
And say concedo to every argument
Lest by much speech my Latin should be spent.

I am like other clerks which so frowardly them guide.
That after they are honest come unto promotion
They give them to pleasure their study set aside.
Their avarice covering with feigned devotion.
Yet daily they preach: and have great derision
Against the rude laymen: and all for covetyse.
Though their own conscience be blinded with that vice.

But if I durst trouth plainly utter and express.
This is the special cause of this inconvenience.
That greatest fools, and fullest of lewdness
Having least wit: and simplest science
Are first promoted: and have greatest reverence
For if one can flatter, and bear a hawk on his fist
He shall be made Parson of Honiton or of Clyst.

But he that is in study ay firm and diligent.
And without all favour preacheth Christus lore
Of all the comontye nowadays is sore shent.
And by estates threatened to prison oft therefore.
Thus what avail is it, to us to study more:
To know other scripture, truth, wisdom, or virtue
Since few, or none without favour dare them shew.

But O noble Doctors, that worthy are of name:
Consider our old fathers: note well their diligence:
Ensue ye their steps: obtain ye such fame,
As they did living: and that by true prudence.
Within their hearts they planted their science
And not in pleasant books. But now too few such be.
Therefore in this ship let them come row with me.


Say worthy doctors and clerks curious :
What moveth you of books to have such number.
Since divers doctrines through ways contrarious.
Doth man's mind distract and sore encumber.
Alas, blind men awake, out of your slumber
And if ye will needs your books multiply
With diligence endeavour you some to occupy.