King George II? Duke of Newcastle? Joe Miller? James Wolfe?
Dear Quote Investigator: When George II of Great Britain was planning to send General James Wolfe on a military expedition to Canada his close advisor told him that Wolfe was a poor selection for such an important assignment because he was a madman. The King famously replied:
Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals and make them mad, too.
The earliest citations I have seen for an instance of this humorous exchange appeared in the twentieth century. Is there any earlier evidence?
Quote Investigator: King George II lived from 1683 to 1760, and James Wolfe died in battle in 1759. The first citation QI has located was printed in a book in 1786 titled “Letters and Poems by the Late Mr. John Henderson with Anecdotes of His Life”. Wolfe was not identified by name, but the King’s advisor was identified as the Duke of Newcastle: 1786, Letters and Poems By the Late Mr. John Henderson with Anecdotes of His Life by John Ireland, Quote Page 60, Printed for J. Johnson, London. (Google Books full view) link
It brought to my recollection an anecdote I have heard of his late majesty, who, naming an officer that he intended should command in an expedition of some consequence, was told by the Duke of Newcastle that “the gentleman was by no means eligible for so important a station, being positively mad.” Is he, replied the king, he shall go for all that, and before he sets out I wish to my God he would bite some of my Generals, and make them mad too.”
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.