Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

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.

Continue reading Like the Feather Pillow, He Bears the Marks of the Last Person Who Has Sat on Him

Notes:

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

Now We’re Just Haggling Over the Price

George Bernard Shaw? Winston Churchill? Groucho Marx? Max Aitken? Mark Twain? W. C. Fields? Bertrand Russell?

Dear Quote Investigator: There is a famous story about sex and money that I have heard in myriad variations. A man asks a woman if she would be willing to sleep with him if he pays her an exorbitant sum. She replies affirmatively. He then names a paltry amount and asks if she would still be willing to sleep with him for the revised fee. The woman is greatly offended and replies as follows:

She: What kind of woman do you think I am?
He: We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.

This joke is retold with different famous individuals filling the roles. Often Bernard Shaw is mentioned. Did anything like this ever happen? Who was involved?

Quote Investigator: The role of the character initiating the proposal in this anecdote has been assigned to George Bernard Shaw, Winston Churchill, Groucho Marx, Mark Twain, W.C. Fields, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, Woodrow Wilson and others. However, the earliest example of this basic story found by QI did not spotlight any of the persons just listed. In addition, the punch line was phrased differently.

In January 1937 the syndicated newspaper columnist O. O. McIntyre printed a version of the anecdote that he says was sent to him as a newspaper clipping. This tale featured a powerful Canadian-British media magnate and politician named Max Aitken who was also referred to as Lord Beaverbrook [MJLB]:

Someone sends me a clipping from Columnist Lyons with this honey:

“They are telling this of Lord Beaverbrook and a visiting Yankee actress. In a game of hypothetical questions, Beaverbrook asked the lady: ‘Would you live with a stranger if he paid you one million pounds?’ She said she would. ‘And if be paid you five pounds?’ The irate lady fumed: ‘Five pounds. What do you think I am?’ Beaverbrook replied: ‘We’ve already established that. Now we are trying to determine the degree.”

Note that this newspaper version does not use the blunt phrase “sleep with”. Instead, a more oblique expression, “live with”, is employed to conform to the conventions of the period.

Top-researcher Barry Popik has performed very valuable work tracing this tale, and we have incorporated some of his discoveries in this article. Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Now We’re Just Haggling Over the Price