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BEFORE GUTENBERG'S INVENTION of movable type, of course, it was very difficult to disseminate jokes on a large scale. In the Middle Ages, often by the time that a scriptorium or monastery finished copying and illuminating a joke, several years had passed, the subject of the joke had been beheaded, and the whole premise was sadly dated. Still, the gentry of that time seem to have done whatever they could to continue the tradition. Here is John of Wolesley's account of a visit he made to Lord Bittleham's estate, circa 1345:
and there came a Mesenger on Horse-backe, exceeding Tir'd, who gave my Lady a Lettre, inscribed withal, The Top Ten Wayes by Wich a Maiden may be Beguil'd of Her Virtu. My Lady study'd the Lettre, and, laughing most Wantonlie, cried out, O, this is the most pleasant Jeste, that ever I New. My Lord, desiring to Peruse the same Paper, Ror'd out with Laughter, and swore a grate Oathe, that this was the finest Jape he had Herd in his Life, and gave out Orders, that two Score of Scribes, be gotten from the Monastery, and, by their worthy Arte, might copy out the Jape, as meny Times as my Lord Wish'd, so that none of his Frends in the County might lack a view of this Jape, which made her Ladyship and himself so exceeding Merrie.

(Parchment courtesy of the Bodleian library, Oxford)

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