RARITY OF PERFECT ACCURACY. [TO THE EDITOR OF THE "SPECTATOR."]
'Sru,—Your correction of Sir Lyon Playfair's anecdote about Professor Bonamy Price is a good illustration of the difficulty of exact accuracy of memory. My version of the story, as re- lated to me by Bonamy Price himself, is as follows. In a paper of examination questions to a class of young ladies, the Pro- fessor demanded a short definition of the difference between man and the lower animals. One of the ladies answered, Progressive desire," a definition which Bonamy Price con- sidered the best he had ever seen or heard in so few words.
Another illustration of the rarity of exact accuracy I extract from the Times' obituary article on Lord Granville. The writer tells the following "authentic story :"— "Many years ago the captaincy of Deal Castle fell vacant, and Lord Granville appointed Lord Sydney to the post. But he had his doubts lest the Prime Minister—who at that time was Lord Beaconsfield—might think himself entitled to the nomination, and he therefore wrote to him, stating what he had done, and saying that he thought himself bound in courtesy to let the Prime Minister know. Lord Beaconsfield's answer was short, but very much to the point. It was : My dear Lord Granville,—Happy Sydney, to have you for a neighbour I had this story from Lord Granville's own lips six years ago, and the fact is that Lord Beaconsfield, on hearing of the appointment, wrote somewhat testily to Lord Granville to -claim the appointment as Prime Minister. Lord Granville replied that the appointment was unquestionably in the gift of the Warden of the Cinque Ports. Lord Beaconsfield was not satisfied, and still claimed the right to appoint the Captain of Deal Castle. Thereupon Lord Granville supplied him with an. array of facts and precedents which placed the matter beyond dispute. To that letter Lord Beaconsfield simply replied :—" My dear Lord Granville,—Happy Sidney, to have sou for a neighbour !"
One more illustration of inaccuracy in story-telling. During the heat of the controversy on the Eastern Question in the summer of 1878, I chanced to be one of a breakfast-party at which Browning and Mr. Gladstone were both present. The former, who was in great conversational force, expressed him- self vehemently against the pro-Turkish policy of Lord Beaconsfield. On some one referring to the Jingo song, "We don't want to fight," Sc,c., Browning exclaimed laughingly : Oh! I've made a version of that song which is much better than the original." He repeated his own version, which was very amusing, and probably impromptu; but I can only recall the first verse, which was as follows :— " I don't want to fight ; But, by Jingo ! if I do,
The man whose head I'd like to punch
Is Beaconsfield the Jew."
And then Browning proceeded to relate the following story. A few years previously, he had met Lord Beaconsfield (then Mr. Disraeli) at a Royal Academy dinner. In a picturesque speech, which many of your readers will remember, Mr. Disraeli -on that occasion expatiated on the extraordinary display of -" the imaginative faculty" which he observed in the pictures -of that year. After dinner he went up to Browning, and asked him suddenly what he thought of the pictures. "I was so taken aback," said Browning, "for we did not know each other personally, that, like a fool, instead of answering his question, I asked his opinion, forgetting that I had heard him express it -only half-an-hour before. Well,' replied Lord Beaconsfleld, if I had to make any special criticism, it would be to remark -on the extraordinary lack of the imaginative faculty which -characterises this year's pictures.' I was struck dumb. Had my ears deceived me ? Had I not just heard this man declare -that what particularly struck him in the pictures was the -extraordinary display of the imaginative faculty ?"
So far the story of Browning's first meeting with Disraeli has already appeared in print more than once, substantially ae I have told it, and then the following purely mythical .addition has been substituted for what really followed. Mr. :Gladstone is represented as exclaiming indignantly : "Do you call that amusing ? I call it devilish !" As a matter -of fact, Browning proceeded as follows :—" The following • year I net Lord Beaconsfield again at the Academy -dinner. After dinner he again came up to me, and said : "How do you do, Mr. Browning you remember you intro- Aimed yourself to me at the Academy dinner last year." I beg your pardon, Lord Beaconsfield,' I replied; 'it was you who intro- duced yourself to me." Ah ! yes,' he answered; now I remem- ben And I also remember your telling me that you were struck by the extraordinary display of the imaginative faculty in last year's pictures." I beg your pardon again,' I said. It was you who said that in your speech.' The rascal has doubtless heard that I have been telling the story against him, and now he is determined to father it on me. He is the greatest liar living." Mr. Gladstone laughed heartily over Browning's serio-comic vehemence, and then said :—" I don't agree with you, Mr. Browning, that Lord Beaconsfield is a deliberate liar. Certainly he does not always speak the exact truth." And then Mr. Gladstone gave his own explanation of Lord Beaconsfield's unconscious deviations (as Mr. Gladstone deemed them) from strict •accuracy, and related the following anecdote to show that Lord Beaconsfield took extraordinary liberties with facts when he could have no object in doing so, but, on the contrary, ran a risk of damaging him- self. Soon after the formation of the Aberdeen Ministry, Mr. Disraeli got up in a full House and made an elaborate attack on Mr. Gladstone, whom he accused, in a set speech, of jobbery in granting, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, a Crown lease of Montague House to the Duke of Buccleuch. "I was astonished," said Mr. Gladstone; "I knew that I had not granted the lease, and I had a strong impression that Disraeli himself had done so just before leaving office. But not being quite sure of the second point, I simply replied that I thought the right hon. gentleman was in error as to his facts, but I would let the House know on the following day how the matter stood. Sure enough, I found that Dieraeli himself had made out the lease. I came down to the House to state the facts, but found that Disraeli had preceded me and ex- plained briefly that he had made a mistake. Now what personal object could he have had in telling an untruth that was capable of instant exposure?"
This is the true story of what really happened. The usual version leaves out what led up to the story,—the casual reference to the Jingo song and Browning's humorous parody (which I wish I could remember in its entirety), and Mr. Gladstone's apology for Lord Beaconsfield's occasional devia- tions from accuracy, with the illustrative anecdote. The revised version of the story is inconsistent with its beginning and end. It was Browning who expressed indignation against what he considered Lord Beaconsfield's offences against veracity. It was Mr. Gladstone, enjoying the fun of Browning's story, who put another complexion on Lord Beaconsfield's free handling of facts.—I am, Sir, &e., MALCOLM MACCOLL.
Grand Hotel Brufami, Perugia, April 18th.