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S.A. Bent, comp. Familiar Short Sayings of Great Men. 1887.

Bishop Wilberforce

  • [Samuel Wilberforce, son of William Wilberforce, born 1805; educated at Oxford; Bishop of Oxford, 1845; of Winchester, 1869; died 1873.]
  • Mors omnibus.

  • A conversation arose at a dinner-party, at which Bishop Wilberforce was present, as to the difficulty of rendering some English words into Latin. “You cannot put hearse into Latin,” said one. “Oh, yes! that is very easy,” replied the bishop: “mors omnibus.” Miss Burdett-Coutts was driving the bishop into the city, and the conversation turned on the origin of the designations of the various city companies. “I dare say, bishop,” Miss Coutts said, “you do not know the meaning of a Dry Salter.”—“Oh, yes!” was the answer: “Tate & Brady.”—Life of Wilberforce, iii. 273. Some one asked the bishop if a clergyman might smoke. “Perhaps the judicious Hookah,” he replied.
  • Lord Derby was once called to order for using the quotation, “A man may smile and smile, and be a villain” (“Hamlet,” i. 5). Bishop Wilberforce quoted in the House of Lords a remark of Burke, speaking on the “Canada Clergy Reserves,” that the Americans became intractable “whenever they saw the least attempt to wrest freedom from them by force, or shuffle it from them by chicane.” Lord Derby having taken exception to these expressions, the bishop explained that they could not have been made offensively, as the noble lord could have seen by his smile when using them; whereupon Lord Derby said that “a man might smile and smile, and be a villain,” and was called to order.—Life, chap. xv.; Diary of Henry Greville, ii. 54.
  • The bishop once said of an orthodox but wordy brother who was called “sound,” “Yes, vox et præterea nihil. I have never heard the north wind blow on Sunday, but it troubles me to think that poor —— is preaching.” When Brougham was made chancellor and a peer, under the title of Lord Brougham and Vaux, the more far-sighted of his acquaintances said that in taking office he sacrificed power. He was now “Vaux et præterea nihil.”
  • Carlyle called the bishop “shifty and cunning;” and Abraham Hayward wrote of him to Edmund Yates, that all Wilberforce’s agreeability was spoiled by his “palpable insincerity.”—YATES: Recollections, ii. 158. He was popularly known as “Soapy Sam;” and Lord Chancellor Westbury, in the House of Lords, July 15, 1864, in the debate on the power of Convocation to condemn books, after the condemnation by the Upper House of Convocation of “Essays and Reviews,” said, “The judgment is simply a series of well-lubricated terms,—a sentence so oily and saponaceous that no one could grasp it; like an eel, it slips through your fingers, and is simply nothing.” This remark occasioned a breach in the relations which had previously existed between the bishop and the lord chancellor. After the resignation of Lord Westbury in July, 1865, in consequence of a vote of the House of Commons attributing to him laxity and want of caution in filling appointments, and in granting pensions to retiring public officers over whose heads grave charges were impending, the bishop and Westbury met in the lobby of the House of Lords, and, having shaken hands, Westbury asked the bishop if he remembered the occasion when they last met: “It was in the hour of my humiliation, when I was leaving the Queen’s closet, having given up the Great Seal. I met you on the stairs, as I was coming out, and I felt inclined to say, ‘Hast thou found me, O mine enemy?’” The bishop in relating this, used to say he was never so tempted in his life to finish a quotation as this: “Yes, I have found thee, because thou hast sold thyself to work iniquity” (1 Kings xxi. 20).
  • Before this breach occurred, the bishop sent Lord Westbury the draught of a bill enabling clergymen to resign their livings when incapacitated by age or infirmity from performing their duties. The lord chancellor replied that he would cordially support the bill; but added that he perceived the bishop referred to “diseases of the mind.” This, he said, was a difficulty, because, in the first place, there could be no such thing as disease of the mind; and, secondly, if there were, he had never yet met a clergyman, “with the exception of your lordship,” who had a mind.—Life of Wilberforce, iii. 340. That recalls the reply, during a debate in the upper House, of Westbury to a noble lord, “who says he has turned it over in what he is pleased to term his mind.” The sarcasm was the more biting as addressed, according to tradition, by a “law lord” to the Duke of Somerset, descendant of the “proud dukes” of the St. Maur or Seymour family, one of whom is said to have pitied Adam because he had no ancestors. Lord Westbury once asked Sir William Erle, some time chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas, why he did not attend the meetings of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. “Oh, because I am old and deaf and stupid,” was the reply. “But that’s no reason at all,” said Westbury; “for I am old, and Williams is deaf, and Colonsay is stupid, and yet we make an excellent court of appeal.” Lord Westbury was reading in a newspaper an account of a prize-fight being interrupted by a swarm of wasps, whose nest the pugilists had disturbed. “Humph!” remarked his lordship, “a battle between the Hittites and the Hivites, in which the latter had decidedly the best of it.” Chief Justice Cockburn was staying with Lord Westbury when Mr. Bethell, and, in the course of a day’s shooting, Bethell managed to pepper one of the keepers with shot. Some time afterward, when the two were talking of business in the presence of others, Bethell forgot what had happened on a certain day, when Cockburn reminded him that they were together. “Yes,” said Bethell, with his usual drawl, “I remember that was the day, Cockburn, when you shot my keeper.”—A Generation of Judges, 15. Sir Alexander Cockburn, when attorney-general, at a dinner given by the Bar to Berryer, combating the opinion of Brougham that an advocate in the discharge of his duty regards only the interests of his client, even if he involve his country in confusion, uttered the famous phrase, “The weapon of the advocate is the sword of the soldier, not the dagger of the assassin.”—Do., 9.
  • A squarson.

  • Dr. Wilberforce, when bishop of Oxford, invented the word “squarson” to describe the combination in one person of squire and parson. But it is said to have been first used by the late Henry Merewether, Q.C., before a committee of the House of Commons, in 1861, applying it to a squire-parson who was giving evidence on a railway bill. Sydney Smith is also given as the author. After Bishop Wilberforce had succeeded to the estate of Lavington, a parish in the diocese of Oxford of which he had been rector, a friend said to him, “Why, Wilberforce, have you become a ‘squarson’?”—“No,” was the reply, “a squirshop” (squire-bishop). Carlyle wrote in his journal, Oct. 28, 1830, “The divine right of squires is equal to the divine right of kings.” The bishop was instantly killed by being thrown from his horse. Carlyle’s comment was, “What a glad surprise!”
  • Having given the origin of the familiar phrase, “circumstances over which he has no control,” it may be pertinent to trace the derivation of a few other common phrases or homely proverbs.
  • A shocking bad hat.

  • Capt. Gronow, in his “Recollections,” tells the story of the Duke of York, second son of George III., for many years commander-in-chief of the British army, who was on one occasion, about 1817, surrounded at Newmarket by several noblemen and gentlemen, when a little, insignificant man pushed his way into the ring, offering to bet against a horse in the race in question. The duke’s curiosity was aroused, and he asked who the stranger was. He was told it was Walpole. “Then the little man wears a shocking bad hat,” rejoined his Royal Highness. Capt. Gronow, who says that such was the origin of the phrase, adds that it was called forth, not by the condition but by the shape of the hat, Lord Walpole and his son wearing hats of low crown and wide rim.
  • To cook your goose for you.

  • King Eric of Norway coming to a town with a small force, the inhabitants, to express their contempt of him, hung out a goose upon the wall for him to shoot at; but before night the soldiers had entered the city, and set it on fire,—“to cook your goose for you,” said the king.
  • Some things can be done as well as others.

  • The late Rev. Dr. Bushnell was employed in 1828 as associate editor of the New-York “Journal of Commerce;” and his biographer (“Life and Letters of Horace Bushnell,” 52) mentions his quickness for a telling point, as shown in an article in which the saying of Sam Patch, “Some things can be done as well as others,” was caught up and made famous. Dr. Bushnell was wont to tell the story that he met Patch at Rochester, N.Y., just before his fatal attempt to jump the Genesee Falls, and that, in reply to his question why he wished to expose his life, Patch said, “To show people that some things can be done as well as others.”
  • A hasty plate of soup.

  • Gen. Scott, commander-in-chief, corresponding with Gov. Marcy, secretary of war, in 1846, during which he insisted on his right to be ordered to the scene of war in Mexico, wrote on one occasion: “Your letter of this date, received about six o’clock P.M., as I sat down to take a hasty plate of soup, demands a prompt reply,” etc. The expression “hasty plate of soup” struck popular fancy, and was always thereafter attached to the gallant general.
  • Illustrious predecessor.

  • This phrase was first used by President Martin Van Buren, who, in his inaugural address, March 4, 1837, complimented Gen. Jackson by assuring the country that “I shall tread in the footsteps of my illustrious predecessor.”
  • Russia is a despotism tempered by assassination.

  • This parody of a mot of Chamfort (vide) is derived from the remark of a Russian magnate to Count Münster, the Hanoverian minister, after the murder of the Emperor Paul in 1801: “Despotism tempered by assassination is our Magna Charta” [Le despotisme tempéré par l’assassinat, c’est notre Magna Charta]. Lanfrey (“Life of Napoleon,” ii. ch. 6) quotes a remark of Talleyrand’s upon this event: “Assassination is the ordinary method of succession to the Russian throne.”
  • A geographical expression.

  • Used as quoted of Italy (vide), it is found in the correspondence of Metternich with Gentz, published in Vienna, 1881, ii. 343, in a letter from the Prince to Count Prokesch-Osten, Nov. 19, 1849: “Deutschland ein geografischer Begriff.” He says in this letter that he had already applied the phrase to Italy in a correspondence with Lord Palmerston in the summer of 1847, in which he said in French, “L’Italie est un nom géographique.” It displeased the English Foreign Secretary, he adds, but was soon naturalized.
  • There are fathers and fathers.

  • This comparison between similar things, which has been repeated in a thousand different forms, may have been first used in conversation by Madame de Staël, who was once tormenting to dance a lady in mourning for her father, M. de Guichen, lieutenant-general of marine. Finally, to rid herself of these importunities, the lady said, “Consider, madame, if you had had the misfortune to lose your father, could you think of dancing so soon?”—“Oh,” replied Madame de Staël, with a haughty air, “there is such a difference between fathers and fathers.”—“True, madame,” replied the other; “my father served his king and country during sixty years: yours in a fortnight has ruined both.” This locution, however, is derived from Molière’s Médecin malgré lui (I. 6), where Sganarelle, the wood-cutter, refuses to lower the price of the wood chopped by him. It is possible to buy the wood cheaper elsewhere; but, il y a fagots et fagots. Another proverbial expression, generally used in French, occurs in this play (II. 6), where the same character, unwillingly assuming the rôle of a physician, transposes the position of the heart and liver, and excuses it by saying, “Nous avons changé tout cela.”
  • Whipping in.

  • On the hearing of the petition of the electors of Middlesex against allowing Henry Luttrell to take his seat in the House of Commons in 1768, the attendance, May 8, was the largest of the session. The ministers had brought back from Paris men who had anticipated the recess, and had summoned from the North those who had not yet left their country-houses; and it was an allusion which Mr. Burke made in the course of the evening to the industry of the treasury officials, that first rendered the term “whipping in” classical.—TREVELYAN, Early Life of C. J. Fox, 171.
  • The artillery of the law.

  • In speaking on one occasion, in 1770, of aspirants for legal promotion who were debating in the House of Commons with such promotion in view, Col. Barré said, “The artillery of the law has been brought down on both sides, but, like artillery, it has not done much hurt;” and on another occasion, says Trevelyan (“Early Life of Fox,” 329), he entertained an audience by comparing the law-officers of the crown “to the elephants in an Eastern army, which with their noise and dust bewilder their own troops a great deal more than they harm the enemy.” During the debate on John Wilkes, then Lord Mayor of London, in 1771, Barré quoted with great effect the lines of Addison’s Cato:—
  • “When vice prevails, and impious men bear sway,
  • The post of honor is a private station.”
  • Barré first used the phrase “sons of liberty,” in a speech on the Stamp Act, Feb. 7, 1765.
  • In a Pickwickian sense.

  • During a debate, April 17, 1823, on Roman-Catholic emancipation, the advocates of which were in a minority in the Cabinet, Brougham declared that Canning’s conduct in accepting office in a divided cabinet was “the most incredible specimen of monstrous truckling, for the purpose of obtaining office, that the whole history of political tergiversation could furnish.” Canning, without waiting for Brougham to finish his sentence, rose to say, “That is false.” Asked by the Speaker to withdraw the phrase, Canning declared that no consideration on earth should induce him to retract it. After an uneasy discussion, Sir Robert Wilson suggested that the words which had fallen from Brougham had reference to Canning’s official character, and that Canning’s interruption arose from the conviction that the imputation was intended to be personal. He thought that if Canning would only avow that he had understood the words in a personal sense, and Brougham would declare that he had used them in reference to Canning’s official capacity, both of them might be satisfied with these explanations. The suggestion was adopted, and the altercation was allowed to drop. A few years afterward, says Walpole in his “History of England,” Charles Dickens entered the reporters’ gallery of the House, at the age of nineteen, under his uncle, who started the “Mirror of Parliament” in opposition to Hansard, when the incident, which made a deep impression, must have been related to him. The quarrel of the Pickwick Club is but a literal paraphrase of the scene in the House. Words used “in a Pickwickian sense” have never since that time been followed by a hostile meeting.
  • Conspicuous by their absence.

  • In a letter to the electors of London, April 6, 1859, soliciting re-election, Lord John Russell alluded to Lord Derby’s Reform Bill, which had just been defeated: “Among the defects of the bill, which were numerous, one provision was conspicuous by its presence, and one by its absence.” In a speech to the electors at the London Tavern, April 15, he justified his use of the expression by saying, “It has been thought that by a misnomer, or a ‘bull,’ on my part, I alluded to a provision as ‘conspicuous by its absence,’ a turn of phraseology which is not an original expression of mine, but is taken from one of the greatest historians of antiquity.” Tacitus (“Annals,” Bk. iii. Ch. 76), mentioning the fact that images of Brutus and Cassius were not carried in the funeral procession of Junia, niece of Cato, sister of Brutus, and wife of Cassius, sixty-four years after the battle of Philippi, while those of many other members of the most illustrious families of Rome were seen, says, “Cassius and Brutus shone with pre-eminent lustre for the very reason that their images were not displayed” (præfulgebant C. et B. eo ipso quod effigies eorum non visebantur). J. Chénier in his tragedy of “Tiberius” (I. i.), translating the expression into French, gave it the form from which we derive the English proverb:—
  • “Brutus et Cassius brillaient par leur absence.”
  • But the French form, briller par son absence, had already been applied to the exclusion by the Jesuits of the lives of Arnauld and Pascal from the “Histoire des Hommes Illustres” of Perrault, and is thus alluded to in the journal of Camille Desmoulins.—C. D. and his Wife, 388.
  • A similar paradox was uttered by the Emperor Galerius (d. A.D. 311), who, seeing a soldier miss the target several times in succession, offered his congratulations, saying, “Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing.”—DE QUINCEY: Works, 1863, xiv. 161, n.
  • Who’s the woman?

  • All forms of the proverbial sentence, Cherchez la femme, or, Où est la femme? or, “Who’s the woman?” are derived from the Spanish, and it was a common question of Charles III., “What is her name?” when told of any mysterious affair, convinced, as he was, that a woman must be at the bottom of it.—Revue des Deux Mondes, xi. 822. St. Columba of Ireland made a law that neither a woman nor a cow should be allowed on the island of Iona; “for,” he said, “where there is a cow there will be a woman, and where there is a woman there will be mischief.” Juvenal says, “There is almost no cause in which a woman has not stirred up the suit” (“Satires,” vi. 242, 243); and Sir Charles Grandison (I. Letter 24) remarks, “Such a plot must have a woman in it.”
  • Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.

  • In a letter to Gay, Oct. 6, 1727, Alexander Pope wrote: “I have many years ago magnified in my own mind, and repeated to you, a ninth beatitude, added to the eight in the Scripture: Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”—ROSCOE: Life of Pope, x. 184. This has also been assigned to Dean Swift; and Bishop Heber once wrote, “I have no studies but Wagenseil’s Zela Ignea Satanæ, nor any anxiety so great as to conform myself to that truly golden rule, ‘Blessed are they that expect nothing,’” etc.