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and has been adopted by Mr Wedgwood. There
is some reason to believe, however, that the term
6 dotterel ' was originally applicable to a person
conspicuously foolish and silly, and only in a secon-
dary sense to the bird of a similar character. 1

It was borrowed apparently from the Italian,
where dottorello is ' a silly clarke, a sir John lacke
Latine ' (Florio), and this is a contemptuous
diminutive of dottore, a doctor, a learned man.
Compare dottoruzzo, c a sillie or dunzicall Doctor '

That there is no greater fool than the learned
fool, and that the bookish pedant in the affairs of
practical life is no better than a solemn idiot, has
often been remarked ; and that opinion has found
utterance in the word < dotterel,' a doctorling.

6 A fool unless he knows Latin is never a great
fool,' is the witness of a Spanish proverb. 2

We are reminded here how the name of ' the
Subtle Doctor,' which was once suggestive of
nothing but intellectual acuteness and philosophic
discrimination, has in later times become a by-
word for crass ignorance and stupidity ; how Duns

1 So early as 1440 the * Promptorium Parvulorum' has the
word with both meanings, a ' byrde,' and also the same as
• dotarde. '

2 Cf. Trench, Proverbs and their Lessons, Lect. IV.; "Warter,
Parochial Fragments, p. 69 ; Overbury, Characteristics (Lib.
Old Authors), p. 269 ; H. Tooke, Diversions of Purley, p. li. (ed.

128 DUNCE.

Scotus, the glory of the Fransciscan order, the
oracle of the Realists, now lives only in the
mouths of men as the opprobrious epithet
t dunce.'

The reaction that took place at the time of the
Reformation against the elaborate quibbling and
hair-splitting of mediaeval theology aroused a feeling
of scornful impatience against the Schoolmen, and
chiefly against him who was their most conspicuous

Accordingly, when Dr Layton, with others, was
sent down to the University of Oxford in the
reign of Henry VIII. to introduce sundry improve-
ments into that seat of learning, we find him
reporting to Cromwell us one result of his visita-
tion —

' We have sett Dunce in Bocardo, and have utterly banisshede
hym Oxforde for ever, with all his blinde glosses, and is nowe
made a comon servant to evere man, faste nailede up upon
postes in all comon bowses of easment : id quod oculis meis
vidi. And the seconde tyme we came to New Colege, affter
we hade declarede your injunctions, we fownde all the gret
quadrant court full of the leiffes of Dunce, the wynde blowyng
them into evere corner.' 1

Dr Colet, the famous Dean of St Paul's, held
him and his followers in no higher estimation.

' The Scotists, to whom of all men the vulgar attribute
peculiar acumen, he used to say appeared to him slow and

1 Letter3 relating to the Suppression of Monasteries (Camcleu
Society), p. 71.

DUNCE. 129

dull, and anything but clever ; for to argue about the ex-
pressions and words of others, to object first to this and then
to that, and to divide everything into a thousand niceties, was
the part only of barren and poor talents/ l

Richard Stanihurst remarks that in his time
Duns had become so trivial and common a term
in schools, that s whoso surpasseth others either in
cavilling, sophistry, or subtle philosophy, is forth-
with nicknamed a Duns.' 2

1 JScotista, a follower of Scotus, as we say a Dunce/

Florio (1611).

The allusion, doubtless, is the same in a phrase

given by Cotgrave (s.v. Joannes) —

1 C'est un Joannes, He is a Pedant, or poor Schoolmaster/

A phrase of similar import in the English of a
former day was 6 a sir John.' Thus Latimer, in
the dedication of one of his sermons, speaks of
' a Sir John who had better skill in playing at
tables, or in keeping a garden, than in God's

6 Come nere thou preest/ said the host, in the

Prologue to * Nonnes Preestes Tale ' —

; Come hither, thou Sire John,
Telle us swiche thing as may our hertes glade/

6 1 praye thee,' demands Palinode of his fellow
in the ( Shepheards Calender ' —

1 Erasmus, Pilgrimage to St Mary of Walsingham, &c. (ed. J. G.
Nichols), p. 143.
s Description of Ireland, p. 2.


130 DUNCE.

c Lette me thy tale borrowe
For our Sir John to say to-morrowe
At the Kerke, when it is holliday ;
For well he meanes, but little can say.'

E. K. remarks in his note that this is spoken

6 to taunte unlearned Priestes.'

* Blind and ignorant consciences . . . love to live under
blind Sir Johns, seek dark corners, say they are not book-
learned.' Sam. Ward, Balm from Oilead.

This term ' Sir ' was once applied generally to
every parish priest, especially to one who had
graduated at one of the universities, and translates
the Latin title of dominus given to those who had
obtained the degree of Bachelor of Arts — e.g.. Sir
Hugh Evans, the curate in Shakspere. Sir Brown
or Sir Smith may still be heard used in this sense
in the University of Dublin, and Sira Fritzner in
Iceland. Compare the Scotch dominie, a contemptu-
ous name for a minister or pedagogue. Italian don,
' a word abridged of JDonno, it was a title wont to
be given to country priests or Munkes ' (Florio).
In early English this latter word took the form of
dan, and thus it comes to pass that we read in
Chaucer of dan Piers, dan Arcite, dan John, and
even of dan Salomon, dan Caton.

It is curious to find the same term turning up
in the far North with something of the sense of
6 dunce ' attached to it. For in Icelandic doni is
the name by which the students of the old colleges


call outsiders, as opposed to collegians, like the
Philister of German universities. 1 This use of the
word ' don,' dominus, is evidentally ironical, some-
what like that of the name ' literates ' among our-
selves. Thus, by a whimsical fate, the same
identical word which denotes for us the incarna-
tion of collegiate discipline and the pedantry of
the l gown,' denotes to the Icelander the despised
ignoramus of the 'town.'

< Coward.'— With but slight difference of form
this word is to be found in more than one lan-
guage of modern Europe, and in each the dif-
ference of forms seem to have arisen from an
attempt to trace a connection and educe a meaning
which did not really belong to it. For instance,
the French couard, 0. French coard, was regarded
as cognate with the 0. Spanish and Prove DQal coa
(Fr. queue) a tail, as if the original signification
was a tailer, one who flies to the rear or tail of
the army. Thus Cotgrave translates the phrase,

1 In the very valuable ' Icelandic Dictionary ' by Cleasby and
Vigfusson, doni is identified with a (supposed) early Eng. word
done, and there is adduced in confirmation these lines from the
' Boke of Curtesy ' (c. 1500)—

' In thi dysch sette not thi spone,
Nother on the brynke, as unlernyd done.'

These latter words are interpreted as an illiterate clown / The true
meaning of course is * do not as the unlearned do,' done or doen
being the old plural of do. There is no evidence of such a word as
done for a clown having ever existed in English, and the sentence
corresponds to this of Wiclif's — ' Thei snokiden not fro hous to
hous, and beggiden mete, as freris doon.'


'/aire la queue] ( to play the coward, come or drag
behind, march in the rere.'

The Italian codardo in like manner was brought
into connection with the verbs ' codare, to tail,
codiare, to follow one at the taile ' (coda)

The Portuguese form is cobarde, also covarde
(= couard), which seems to have resulted from an
imagined relationship with cova, It. covo, sil-cova,
Sp. alcoba, Arab, al-qobbah (the recess of a room,
' alcove '). A coward was so called, says Yieyra,
* from cova, a cave, because he hides himself.'
Identically the same account is given of the Spanish
cobarde in Stevens' Diet. (1706), s.v.

According to this explanation, when Benhadad,
after being defeated at Aphek, ' fled, and came
into the city into an inner chamber' (Heb. a
chamber within a chamber, 1 Kings xx. 30), he
might with strict etymological accuracy be described
as cobarde, a coward ; Zedekiah likewise, if ever he
fulfilled Micaiah's prediction in the day of invasion
by betaking himself i into an inner chamber to
hide himself (1 Kings xxii. 25). 1 As to our

1 Compare Macbeth's address to the ghost of Banquo —

' Be alive again,
And dare me to the desert with thy sword ;
If trembling I inhabit then, protest me
The baby of a girl. ' Act iii. sc. 4.

I.e., if I skulk within the house when challenged to the combat,
call me a coward.


English word, some persons, I would venture to
assert, have looked upon the coward as one who
has ignominiously cowered beneath the onslaught
of an enemy, comparing the Italian covone, c a
squatting or cowring fellow/ c from covare, to
squat or coure ' (Florio) ; just as the i craven ' was
supposed to be one who acknowledged himself
beaten, and craved for mercy. Both deriva-
tions, however, are equally incorrect. Another
origin, more improbable still, was once pretty
generally accepted, and the form of the word was
twisted so as to correspond. The coward, it
was thought, must surely be a cow-heart, one
who has no more spirit or courage than the
meek and mild-eyed favourite of the dairy-maid.
c Cowheart,' indeed, is still the word used in
Dorsetshire, and ( cow-hearted ' occurs in Lu-
dolph's Ethiopia, p. 83 (1682). Compare also
' corto de cor aeon, cow-hearted,' (Stevens' Sp.
Diet., 1706). l Couard, a coward, a dastard, a
cow ' (Cotgrave). ' The veriest cow in a com-
pany brags most' (Ibid., s.v. Crier), 6 Craven,
a cow ' (Bailey).

' It is the cowish terror of his spirit
That dares not undertake.' King Lear, iv. 2.

The French and Italians, though they erred in
their explanations, were certainly right in recog-
nising queue and coda respectively (Lat. cauda) as


the source of couard and coclardo. 1 It is not,
however, because he tails off to the rear that the
dastard was so called, nor yet — for this reason
also has been assigned — because he resembles a
terror-stricken cur who runs away with his tail
between his legs. It is true that c in heraldry a
lion borne in an escutcheon, with his tail doubled
or turned in between his legs, is called a lion
coward,' 2 still it was not the heraldic lion, nor
the fugacious dog, nor even the peaceful cow, but
a much more timid and un warlike animal, which
was selected as the emblem of a person deficient
in courage. It was the hare — ' the trembler,' as
the Greeks used to call her ; 3 ' timorous of heart/
as Thomson characterises her in the \ Seasons '
(Winter); ' the heartless hare,' as she is styled in
the ' Mirror for Magistrates,' ii. p. 74 (ed. Hasle-

1 As with us ' skinned/ ' boned/ mean bereft of skin and bone,
bo caudatus, * tailed/ in medieval Latin meant deprived of a tail.
1 Caudatos autem dicebant quibus ablata erat cauda/ says Du
Cange. He quotes from Matthew of Paris the expression, '
timidorum caudatorum formidilositas ! '

8 Bailey, s.v. Cf. ' Couard — se dit d'un lion qui porte sa queue
retrousse'e en dessona entre les jambes' (Armorial Universal, Paris,
1844. N. & Q., 2d S. V. 126, p. 442).

Cf. Icelandic draga halann (to drag the tail), to sneak away, play
the coward.

' Oft have I seen a hot o'erweening cur
Run back and bite because he was withheld ;
Who, being suffer'd with the bear's full paw,
Hath clapp'd his tail between his legs and cried.'

x 2d Pt. Henry VI^ t. 1.

3 PtCx, from ptossd, to crouch or cower from fear.


As the rabbit got its name of i bunny ' from its
short tail being its conspicuous feature (' bun/
Gael, bun), and the word ( rabbit' itself seems akin
to the Spanish rabo (a tail), rabadilla (the scut),
rabon (a curtal), so the hare appears to have been
familiarly known in days of yore by the nickname
of ' coward,' i.e., scutty or short-tail, and this is
her distinctive appellation in the popular ( Roman
de Renart.' 1 Compare i Kuwaerd, lepus, vulgo
cuardus . . . timidus ' (Kilian). 2

That the hare, being proverbially timid and
easily scared, 3 became an apt byword for a spirit-
less faint-hearted man, the following quotations
will suffice to show: —

1 Similarly the ' coot ' or water-rail, Welsh cwt-iar, owes her
name to the shortness of her tail ; cf. Welsh cwtyn, anything short or
bob-tailed, a plover ; cwta, bob-tailed ; cwt, a short tail or ' s-cut.'
1 Cutty ' is a provincial name for the wren. Other animals,
again, derived their names from their appendages being conspicu-
ously long and bushy, e.g., Hungarian farkas, a wolf, from farJc, a
tail ; Cymric llostawg, a fox, from Host, a tail.' ' Fox ' itself,
O. H. Ger. foha fuhs, Pictet connects with Sanskrit pu6c7ia, tail,
comparing its Scandinavian name dratthali, i.e., 'draw-tail.' So
' squirrel,' from the Lat. sciurulus, dim. of sciurus, Greek sciouros,
i.e., 'shadow-tail,' from its large bushy tail serving it as a
parasol !

2 In Wedgwood, s.v. Other forms of the name are coars, coart,
cuwaert. See Grimm, Reinhart Fuchs, pp. ccxxiii-ccxxvii.

3 Compare ' If fearefull immagination oppresse them, as they
oftentimes are very sad and melancholy, supposing to heare the
noise of dogges when there are none such sturring, then doe they
runne too and fro, fearing and trembling, as if they were fallen

Topsell, Of the Rare, Four-footed Beasts, fol. p. 269.


* Thone ungemetlice cargan thu miht hatan hara.' 1 The
immoderately timid thou mayest call hare.

1 The black and white monks are really brutes ; that is, lions
in pride, foxes in cunning, hogs in gluttony, goats in luxury,
asses in sloth, and hares in cowardice.*

Fables by Odo de Ceriton (12th cent.) 2

* Lievres morionnez [hares in armour], silly artificers or
cowardly tradesmen turned watchmen.'

Cotgrave, French Diet., s.v. Morionne.

1 This too, a covert shall insure

To shield thee from the storm;
And coward maukin sleep secure (hare)
Low in her grassy form.'

Burns, Humble Petition of Bruar Water.

1 If some such desp'rate hackster shall devise
To rouse thine hare's-heart from her cowardice,
As idle children striving to excell
In blowing bubbles from an empty shell .'

Hall's Satires, iv. 4 (1597).

' His base son, . . . called from his swiftness Harold
Harefoot — belike another Asahel in nimbleness, 2 Sam. ii. 18,
but hare's-heart had better befitted his nature, so cowardly his
disposition.' 3 Fuller, Church Hist., i. p. 216 (ed. Nichols).

1 The Saxons were no hare-hearted folk, their arms were as
stalwart and their thews as strong as those of the men whom
they met at Hastings.'

Dasent, Intro, to Burnt JVjal, i. p. clxxx.

1 Quoted in Rask's Anglo-Saxon Grammar.

2 Vide Douce, Illustrations of Shakspere, p. 526.

The Latin original of Odo's fable, 'De Ysingryno,' is given in Jacob
Grimm's 'Reinkart Fuchs,' p. 447 (Berlin, 1834), as follows : — In
magno conventu sunt bestie multe, videlicet, leones per superbiam,
vulpes per fraudulenciam, ursi per voracitatem, hirci fetentes per
luxuriam, asini per segniciem, hericii per asperitatem, lejoores per
metum, quia trepidaverunt timore, ubi non erat timer.

a Uase and Hasenherz in German are used in a similar sense.


* How do Ahitophel and Judas die the death, of cowardly
harts and hares, pursued with the full cry of their sins, that
makes them dead in their nest before they die. 5

Sam. Ward, Balm of Gilead.
i Plus coiiard qu'un lievre, More heartlesse than a hare!


( Manhood and honour
Should have but hare-hearts would they but fat their thoughts
With this cramm'd reason/

Shakspere, Tro. and Ores., ii. 2.

' He that trusts to you,
When he should find you lions, finds you hares ;
When foxes, geese.' Coriol, i. 1.

1 You are the hare of whom the proverb goes,
Whose valour plucks dead lions by the beard.'

King John, ii. 1.

* Edward and Richard, like a brace of greyhounds
Having the fearful flying hare in sight.'

2d Ft. Henry VI., ii. 5. 1

When a distinguished Polish patriot, who re-
cognised the uselessness and mischief of a projected
revolution in the year 1863, ventured to raise his
voice against it in warning, his indignant fellow-
countrywomen, who have always been the soul of
the national movement in Poland, sent him a pre-
sent of hare-skins as an emblem of cowardice.

Professor Pictet, comparing the Greek logos, a
hare, with the synonymous Persian word lagkun,

1 ' The Mourning of the Hare,' a poem describing the manifold
dangers that threaten this pretty animal, and her constitutional
timidity in consequence, is printed in Hartshorne's Ancient
Metrical Romances, p. 165.


observes that the latter is i allie sans doute a Idgh,
poltronnerie, legerete a fuir.' 1

The word l hare ' itself, A.-Sax. Kara, Ger. hase,
Fr. hase, 0. H. Ger. haso, means literally ' the
to-tener,' ' the jumper,' being the Sanskrit sasa,
from sas, to leap, a root which is also found in our
' haste,' Fr. haster, Ger. hasten.

So in the medieval beast epics the hare was
surnamed Galopins, the swift leaper, and Sauterez,
the jumper. 2 Its Latin name, lepus, seems to
correspond to the German laufer, Eng. 'leaper,'
and to be connected with the Greek elaphros,
Sans, lahgh, to jump. 3

i Poltroon,' which is generally given as a
synonym of * coward,' when submitted to the
philological crucible, is found to yield a residuum
essentially different. If ' coward ' is significant of a
person who is prone to take to flight at the first sus-
picion of danger, like the timorous hare, i poltroon,'
on the other hand, describes originally and properly
a lazy heavy-heeled rascal that can with difficulty
be aroused to any exertion, like the lethargic sloth.
For the French poltron, It. poltrone, is defined
to mean, not only ' a dastard or base coward ' in
the older dictionaries, but also 6 a sluggard, a

1 Orig. Indo-Europ., vol. i. p. 446.

2 Grimm, Reinhart Fuchs, pp. ccxsxv. ccxxxvi.

3 Benfey. Cf. Philological Soc. Trans., 1862, p. 30.


lazie-back, an idle fellow ; ' and that this is the
radical meaning we may see when we compare
these words with the Italian verbs poltrare, pol-
trire, poltroneggiare, ' to loll and wallow in sloth
and idleness, to lye lazilie in bed as a sluggard '
(Florio). All are derivatives of the Italian poltra,
a couch or bed, a word which is akin to the Ger-
man polster, A. -Sax. bolster, 0. H. Ger. polstar,
bolstar, Milanese poller} The correlative word
spoltrare, to spring from the bed, meant also ' to
shake off sloth or cowardize, and become valiant '

6 Poltroon,' therefore, according to its funda-
mental notion, denotes one who is too fond of his
pillow or bolster, a lazy day-dreamer, zfaindant, a
useless lounger ; a lown or lungis, as such a person
was called in early English ; a 'bed-presser,' 2 or l a
slug-a-bed,' 3 as he is still called in the provincial

1 'Bolster,' &c, are connected by Herbert Coleridge with Dut.
hoi, 0. Eng. poll and hall, the head, as if, like the Gk. proskepka-
laidn, it denoted the place of the head. Wedgwood sees its origin
in the Dut. hult, Sp. bulto. It can scarcely be doubted, however,
since poltro, poltra, signify a colt or filly, as well as a bed, that the
real etymon is pullus, Gk. polos, the common idea being 'that
which bears one.' See other instances under the word 'Hearse,'
infra. Compare

' Omai convien che tu cosi ti spoltre,
Disse '1 maestro ; che seggendo in piuma
In fama non si vien, ne sotto coltre. '

Dante, Inferno, xxiv.

2 "Wright, Provincial and Obsolete Dictionary.

3 Sternberg, Northampton Glossary.


Compare the A. -Saxon bedling, an effeminate
person, from which Maetzner very improbably de-
duces the word 'bad.'

Portuguese madraco, a sluggard, an idle rascal,
cognate with Fr. materas, It. materasso, Port, and
Sp. almadraque, a bed or mattress, Arab, al-mdtrdk

French loudier, c a leacherous knave ' (Cot-
grave), meant originally one who lies abed, be-
ing only another use of loudier, lodier, 6 a quilt
or counterpoint for a bed ' (Lat. lodix, A. -Sax.
lo%a, a blanket). Loudiere, sl woman of the same
class as Shakspere's Doll Tearskeet.

So in Italian pagliardo, 6 a filthie letchard '
(Florio), is from paglia, straw, pagliato, a straw
bed, a c pallet.'

The corresponding word in French, paillard,
1 a knave, rascall, varlet, scoundrell, filthy fel-
low ' (Cotgrave), is from paille, straw, paillasse,
a straw bed ; and paillarde, a drab, is own
cousin to Mistress Margery Daw of sluttish

The older theory, which is now generally given up,
was that as i cagot, 1 the pariah of Southern France,
was compounded of the two words cards Gothicus,
a dog of a Goth, similarly i pol-tron ' was made
up of the two first halves of pol-lice trun-catus,
maimed in the thumb, a term applied to a con-
script who wilfully lopped off that essential part of


the hand * in order that he might be exempted as
unfit for service, and so has shirked the war and
proclaimed himself a coward. 2

The French expression faucon poltron, denoting
a bird which has had its talons clipped, might seem
to lend some probability to this opinion. The
likelihood is, however, as M. Littre remarks, that
this name was given to it on account of the
cowardice which it was observed subsequently to
manifest as the result of that mutilation.

1 On the all importance of the thumb to man, see Kidd, Bridge-
water Treatise, Adaptation of External Nature to the Physical Con-
dition of Man, p. 17 (ed. Bohn).

2 Farrar, Chapters on Language, 1865, p. 238. Sullivan, Dic-
tionary of Derivations, s.v.

( 142 )



A common symptom of insanity well known to
medical men is the flitting of phantasms or
spectres before the eyes of the unhappy patient.
Dr Winslow, amongst other cases of persons
afflicted by these spectral illusions that came
under his notice, mentions that of a lady who
was constantly tormented by a number of singular
grotesque figures dressed in most fantastic cos-
tumes, which danced around her during the day,
and at night appeared about and in her bed. So
plain and distinct, indeed, were these ghostly
visitors, that sometimes she was able to make
sketches of them and show them to the doctor. 1
So intense was the illusion of vision, in another
instance referred to by the same authority, that

1 Obscure Diseases of the Mind and Brain, p. 238.


although the patient closed his eyelids, he could
not even then dispel the lively images of demons
that haunted his bed. 1 Now, the Latin word for
a ghost is larva, and the victim of such a dis-
eased imagination was termed larvatus, i ghost-
haunted/ and sometimes lymphatics, i.e., nym-
phatus, ' nymph-seized,' Gk. nympkoleptos. 2

Just as * bug/ the name of the noxious insect
the cimex, meant originally and properly a bogie,
hobgoblin, or phantom to scare children ; 3 as coco
in Spanish, a ' bugbeare,' meant also a c wevill '
(Minsheu) ; as baco in Italian, a i boe-peepe or
vainefeare,' is also a i silkworme ' (Florio) ; so
larva, originally expressive of the fantastic crea-
tion of the imagination, became subsequently
applicable to certain material objects of a hideous
and repulsive aspect, such as the ugly masks of
pantomime, and the grubs of insects. The A. -Sax.
grima (from grim, horrible) corresponds to larva
in all these significations, denoting a ghost, a
mask, and also a chrysalis or caterpillar. 4 Some-

i Id., p. 578, cf. pp. 309, 589, 607. Phantasmata, Dr R. R.
Madden, vol. ii. pp. 282, 357.

2 0. Eng. ' taken.' Compare Fr. fee, taken, bewitched (Cot-
grave). 0. Fr. faee, * taken as chyldernes lymmes be by the fayriea '

3 ' All that here on earth we dreadfull hold,
Ee but as bugs to fearen babes withall.'

Spenser, F. Q., II. sii. 25.
4 Fear boys with bugs.' Shakspere.

4 With ' bug ' compare Russ. buTcashha, a bugbear, a bug, maggot,


what similarly a certain insect, from having some-
thing gruesome and reverend in its appearance,
has been named ' the praying mantis ' — mantis
meaning a prophet — and Santa Caterina in Italian. 1
Larvatus, i ghostified/ and larvarum plenus,
c full of ghosts/ being terms applied to the insane

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