Quotation Said By: David Lloyd George? Douglas Haig? Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook? Susan Riley? Alan Walters?
Barb Aimed At: Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby? John Turner? John Major?
Dear Quote Investigator: The opinions and responses of some people are easily swayed by domineering individuals with emphatic goals. Suggestable people may shift viewpoints repeatedly. Here are three pertinent expressions employing vivid similes:
(1) He’s like a feather pillow who always bears the imprint of the last person who has sat on him.
(2) She was like a cushion who bore the impress of the most recent person who sat on her.
(3) He’s like a bean-bag chair; he bears the impression of the last person who sat on him.
A statement of this type has been attributed to WWI British Field Marshal Douglas Haig and U.K. Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: In 1918 Douglas Haig wrote a letter to his wife which included a remarkably harsh assessment of Edward Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby 1
I am still corresponding with Derby over Trenchard. D. is a very weak-minded fellow I am afraid, and, like the feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him! I hear he is called in London “genial Judas”!
In 1952 the letter above was published together with other personal material in the collection “The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919”. The introduction to the book mentioned Haig’s caustic remark and noted that it was not publicly released until decades later: 2
He could use a cutting phrase even about someone whom he normally admired. “Lord Derby”, he once wrote in a moment of irritation, “like a feather pillow, bears the marks of the last person who has sat on him”. Such phrases were kept for the privacy of his letters or his diary. To all his guests, even those whom he knew to be enemies, he displayed the same unfailing courtesy.
Thus, the book contained two slightly different versions of the quotation. The phrase “like the feather pillow” appeared in the letter text, and the phrase “like a feather pillow” appeared in the introduction.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter 16: The Fall of Robertson, Date: January 14, 1918, Letter from: Douglas Haig, Letter to: Lady Haig, Quote Page 279, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans) ↩
- 1952, The Private Papers of Douglas Haig: 1914-1919, Edited by Robert Blake, Chapter: Introduction, Quote Page 29, Eyre & Spottiswoode, London. England. (Verified with scans) ↩