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

George Selwyn

  • [An English gentleman; born 1719; held several sinecure offices, and was called “the receiver-general of wit and stray jokes;” a silent member of Parliament for many years; died 1791.]
  • Sir Joshua is the ablest man I know on a canvas.

  • When told that Reynolds intended to stand for Parliament.
  • Horace Walpole was one day complaining that the same indecision, irresolution, and want of system, existed in the reign of George III., as in that of Queen Anne; and remarked, of the continuance of the Duke of Newcastle as first lord of the treasury after the accession of George III., “There is nothing new under the sun.”—“Nor under the grandson,” added Selwyn, George III. being the grandson of George II.
  • When Fox’s friends were discussing a subscription they had raised for him, and were wondering how he would take it, “Take it?” interrupted Selwyn, “why, quarterly, of course!” Lord Brougham, speaking of the salary attached to a new judgeship, said it was all moonshine. “Maybe,” replied Lord Lyndhurst; “but I’ve a notion that, moonshine or not, you would like to see the first quarter of it.”
  • George III. alluded to Selwyn one day as “that rascal George;” who asked, “What does that mean?” and added, “Oh, I forgot: it is one of the hereditary titles of the Georges.”
  • The Duke of Cumberland asked him how a horse he had purchased answered. “I really don’t know,” coolly replied Selwyn to the royal duke: “I have never asked him a question.”
  • When a namesake of Fox was hanged at Tyburn, the orator asked Selwyn, who was generally present on such occasions, if he attended the execution: “No,” answered the latter, “I make it a point never to attend rehearsals.” During the trials of Lords Kilmarnock and Balmerino, rebels of 1745, Selwyn saw Mrs. Bethell, who had a “hatchet face,” looking intently at them; and, alluding to the custom of turning the edge of the axe towards prisoners while sentence is being pronounced, said, “What a shame it is to turn her face to the prisoners before they are condemned!”
  • He was reproached for witnessing the execution of Lord Lovat, who lost his head after the Jacobite rebellion; and defended himself by saying, “I am going to make amends by seeing it sewn on again at the undertaker’s.” It was in reference to this passion of Selwyn’s, which once caused him in Paris to be taken for an executioner on a vacation, that Lord Holland said on his death-bed, “If Mr. Selwyn calls, let him in: if I am alive I shall be very glad to see him, and if I am dead he will be very glad to see me.”
  • I am tired of seeing low life above stairs.

  • Saying he was going to see the new farce, “High Life below Stairs.”
  • When Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller, who was thought to draw heavily on the credulity of his hearers, was asked at a dinner-party what musical instruments were used in that country, he replied after a moment’s hesitation, “I think I saw one lyre there.”—“Yes,” remarked Selwyn, “and there is one less since he left the country.”