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A short story by Stephen Leacock

Aristocratic Anecdotes Or Little Stories Of Great People

Title:     Aristocratic Anecdotes Or Little Stories Of Great People
Author: Stephen Leacock [More Titles by Leacock]

I have been much struck lately by the many excellent little anecdotes of celebrated people that have appeared in recent memoirs and found their way thence into the columns of the daily press. There is something about them so deliciously pointed, their humour is so exquisite, that I think we ought to have more of them. To this end I am trying to circulate on my own account a few anecdotes which seem somehow to have been overlooked.

Here, for example, is an excellent thing which comes, if I remember rightly, from the vivacious Memoir of Lady Ranelagh de Chit Chat.


Lady Ranelagh writes:

"The Duke of Strathythan (I am writing of course of the seventeenth Duke, not of his present Grace) was, as everybody knows, famous for his hospitality. It was not perhaps generally known that the Duke was as witty as he was hospitable. I recall a most amusing incident that happened the last time but two that I was staying at Strathythan Towers. As we sat down to lunch (we were a very small and intimate party, there being only forty-three of us) the Duke, who was at the head of the table, looked up from the roast of beef that he was carving, and running his eye about the guests was heard to murmur, 'I'm afraid there isn't enough beef to go round.'

"There was nothing to do, of course, but to roar with laughter and the incident passed off with perfect savoir faire."

Here is another story which I think has not had all the publicity that it ought to. I found it in the book "Shot, Shell and Shrapnell or Sixty Years as a War Correspondent," recently written by Mr. Maxim Catling whose exploits are familiar to all readers.


"I was standing," writes Mr. Maxim, "immediately between Lord Kitchener and Lord Wolsley (with Lord Roberts a little to the rear of us), and we were laughing and chatting as we always did when the enemy were about to open fire on us. Suddenly we found ourselves the object of the most terrific hail of bullets. For a few moments the air was black with them. As they went past I could not refrain from exchanging a quiet smile with Lord Kitchener, and another with Lord Wolsley. Indeed I have never, except perhaps on twenty or thirty occasions, found myself exposed to such an awful fusillade.

"Kitchener, who habitually uses an eye-glass (among his friends), watched the bullets go singing by, and then, with that inimitable sangfroid which he reserves for his intimates, said,

"'I'm afraid if we stay here we may get hit.'

"We all moved away laughing heartily.

"To add to the joke, Lord Roberts' aide-de-camp was shot in the pit of the stomach as we went."

The next anecdote which I reproduce may be already too well known to my readers. The career of Baron Snorch filled so large a page in the history of European diplomacy that the publication of his recent memoirs was awaited with profound interest by half the chancelleries of Europe. (Even the other half were half excited over them.) The tangled skein in which the politics of Europe are enveloped was perhaps never better illustrated than in this fascinating volume. Even at the risk of repeating what is already familiar, I offer the following for what it is worth--or even less.


"I have always regarded Count Cavour," writes the Baron, "as one of the most impenetrable diplomatists whom it has been my lot to meet. I distinctly recall an incident in connection with the famous Congress of Paris of 1856 which rises before my mind as vividly as if it were yesterday. I was seated in one of the large salons of the Elysee Palace (I often used to sit there) playing vingt-et-un together with Count Cavour, the Duc de Magenta, the Marquese di Casa Mombasa, the Conte di Piccolo Pochito and others whose names I do not recollect. The stakes had been, as usual, very high, and there was a large pile of gold on the table. No one of us, however, paid any attention to it, so absorbed were we all in the thought of the momentous crises that were impending. At intervals the Emperor Napoleon III passed in and out of the room, and paused to say a word or two, with well-feigned eloignement, to the players, who replied with such degagement as they could.

"While the play was at its height a servant appeared with a telegram on a silver tray. He handed it to Count Cavour. The Count paused in his play, opened the telegram, read it and then with the most inconceivable nonchalance, put it in his pocket. We stared at him in amazement for a moment, and then the Duc, with the infinite ease of a trained diplomat, quietly resumed his play.

"Two days afterward, meeting Count Cavour at a reception of the Empress Eugenie, I was able, unobserved, to whisper in his ear, 'What was in the telegram?' 'Nothing of any consequence,' he answered. From that day to this I have never known what it contained. My readers," concludes Baron Snorch, "may believe this or not as they like, but I give them my word that it is true.

"Probably they will not believe it."

I cannot resist appending to these anecdotes a charming little story from that well-known book, "Sorrows of a Queen". The writer, Lady de Weary, was an English gentlewoman who was for many years Mistress of the Robes at one of the best known German courts. Her affection for her royal mistress is evident on every page of her memoirs.


Lady de W. writes:

"My dear mistress, the late Queen of Saxe-Covia-Slitz- in-Mein, was of a most tender and sympathetic disposition. The goodness of her heart broke forth on all occasions. I well remember how one day, on seeing a cabman in the Poodel Platz kicking his horse in the stomach, she stopped in her walk and said, 'Oh, poor horse! if he goes on kicking it like that he'll hurt it.'"

I may say in conclusion that I think if people would only take a little more pains to resuscitate anecdotes of this sort, there might be a lot more of them found.

[The end]
Stephen Leacock's short story: Aristocratic Anecdotes Or Little Stories Of Great People