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Children's Story Garden  >  Wise Rightly, Wisest Wrongly

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The Children's Story Garden

Wise Rightly, Wisest Wrongly


ONCE upon a time, there were two merchants whose names were Wise and Wisest. How they came to have such odd names, no one knows; but it is certain that Wisest, at least, believed that he was rightly called. For although Wise was his partner and was worth as much, no more and no less, Wisest usually acted as if he himself were older and wealthier and more important — in short, wisest, as his name implied.

Once it happened that they went into the country, each with five-hundred wagons full of things to sell. They had unusual luck, for they sold everything. There was left not even a kitchen spoon. They were driving back to the city, at the head of their long procession of empty wagons, when they began to talk about the money they had taken in and how they should divide it.

Wisest wanted a double share.

"It is because you are only Wise and I am Wisest, and Wise ought to have but one share to Wisest's two."

This seemed to Wise a most unjust proceeding. Had he not furnished as many wagons, full to the brim with goods, as Wisest? Had he not worked quite as hard persuading people to buy? He did not see why Wisest should have twice as much just because of his name, and he said so, over and over. But Wisest, who loved money and wanted all he could get, would not listen to Wise at all, and it looked as if they were to talk of nothing else all the way home.

At last, when they were in sight of the city, Wisest suggested that they put away their wagons and then go to a hollow tree they both knew and ask the Tree Sprite. Wise agreed, and for the present they said no more about the money.

No sooner was Wisest at home than he told his father all about it. He urged him to hide in the hollow trunk and, pretending to be the Tree Sprite, decide in Wisest's favor. The old man was more than willing, for he, too, loved money and would cheat anybody to get it.

Wise and Wisest went to the hollow tree. There was a large opening at the bottom, shaped like a fireplace, but above it the trunk was closed like a chimney, and it was in this closed part that the Tree Sprite was supposed to dwell.

Wise and Wisest stood side by side and said in concert:

"Lord Tree Sprite, decide our cause."

The Tree Sprite asked what it was all about, so each man told his side of the story.

The Tree Sprite then replied in solemn tones:

"Wise should have one share, Wisest two."

Wisest appeared delighted with this decision as if it were all settled, but something familiar in the voice made Wise wonder if it were really a Tree Sprite. He gathered an armful of straw, and piling it in the hole like a fireplace, set it to blazing. This was too much for Wisest's father. He came clambering out at the top of the trunk and jumped down in a hurry. Then he said:

Wise rightly, Wisest wrongly, got his name,
Wisest, I'm nigh roasted in the flame.

After that, Wisest was satisfied with half of the money, and Wise continued to show that he was well named by going into business for himself.

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In The Children's Story Garden. Stories collected by a committee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting — Anna Pettit Broomell, Emily Cooper Johnson, Elizabeth W. Collins, Alice Hall Paxson, Annie Hillborn, and Anna D. White. Illustrated by Katharine Richardson Wireman and Eugénie M. Wireman. Published in 1920 by J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia.

Notes and links

Wise Rightly, Wisest Wrongly
"In addition to credit elsewhere acknowledged we are indebted to Scattered Seeds for permission to reprint 'Wise Rightly, Wisest Wrongly,' adapted from 'The Jataka' by Frances M. Dadmun. (Introduction.)
The Jataka
"Jataka ('Birth Stories') — 547 tales that recount some of the Buddha's former lives during his long journey as a Bodhisatta aspiring to Awakening" - #10 on this list of Buddhist texts. The 500 wagons in the story above seems an especially odd element, but the number 500 appears in many of the Jataka stories.
According to the Foreward to More Jataka Tales, adapted by  Ellen C. Babbitt and published in 1925, "A 'Guild of Jataka Translators,' under Professor E. B. Cowell, professor of Sanskrit in the University of Cambridge, brought out the complete edition of the Jataka between 1895 and 1907."
Cowell's collection is available in print, and the summary of one story, entitled Kutavanija-Jataka, corresponds with the story above: "A rogue is hidden in a hollow tree, to feign to be the Tree-sprite who is to act as umpire in a dispute. A fire lighted at the bottom of the tree exposes the chest." (This story is apparently not available on the web.)
It may be noted that in most of the Jataka stories, tree-sprites and spirits are genuine.