There once lived a man, a joyful man, in an age of fear and sadness. A man, and nothing more – born of flesh, to return to dust, like all before him, and all who would follow. A man, and nothing less – with heart, and mind; with pulsing blood, and firing nerves: a being blessed, a being doubly blessed! Once, by his birth, and twice by the knowledge of his outrageous good fortune.
Ruling the land were strange men; who had never known joy, or love; and in not knowing these things, were fearful of them, and jealous, and wished that no other may know them. These men, these strange, sad men, driven by a hunger in in the soul, had built for themselves a terrible device to steal joy from the people. They had flung a great smothering shroud of fear over all the land, so that no sun could break through to warm the back, or lighten the heart, or drive the green vitality of youth; and so it was that the people were downcast, and worked with no joy, bore children with no love: they were frightened even of their own shadows, and no voice was raised in song. No passion was there; not even anger for the joy that had been stolen, for the people had known nothing else.
It happened on a day of days that one man gathered the courage to lift up a corner of the shroud , and he saw in an instant the flimsiness of it, and the wondrous prospect stretching as far as imagination beyond it; and piece of eternity jumped into his eyes and made of them shining beacons for all who came close enough to see.
This man became filled with joy, filled to overflowing; filled, till it rose up in a tremendous wave inside his chest and exploded from his cheeks in a great bellow of laughter. He laughed, and he sang, and he danced – until the tears rolled down his cheeks, the air trembled, and the ground shook under his feet. Such a sound had not been heard for generations; the people were frightened, and ran away from the laughing man, and called him mad.
The strange men, the fear-makers, soon heard about this madman, and were angered that they had not been able to steal his joy. So they called for their passionless doctors, who took the laughing man away and placed him in an asylum. But the man would not stop – and soon, he had all the doctors laughing, and all the nurses dancing, and all the patients singing.
So the strange men called for the police, and had the madman sent to prison; but still, he would not stop, and soon the gaolers had cast open the unhappy cells, and had run laughing into the streets with the prisoners dancing behind them.
So the strange men called for the army; but still, the man would not stop laughing, and the soldiers laid down their arms, and stripped off their uniforms, and ran naked and laughing to freedom.
The joy was spreading quickly now; one laughing man may be feared and ridiculed, but a thousand people laughing cannot be dismissed so easily. The strange men were worried. This man must be stopped , they thought. So they purposed to catch him themselves, and kill him before he spread his madness further. And so it happened that they caught him on a lonely hill, and circled round him so he could not escape. Still the man laughed. They drew their guns, and still he danced. They crowded closer, and still he sang. Even as they fired, his joy was unabated; even as he died, the gleam in his eyes still glittered.
For even as the strange men turned to go, they saw they were defeated. The shroud was tearing. All around the shroud was tearing, and the sun was streaming through. The people were laughing, and dancing, and singing in the light. The laughing man had shared his joy; a piece of eternity had leaped from eye to eye, from soul to soul, and had set a glorious song to sing in the heart of humanity.