Whilst I Write This Letter, I Hold a Sword In One Hand, and a Pistol In the Other

Boyle Roche? Joe Miller? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: A comically incoherent or absurd statement is sometimes called a bull or an Irish bull. Here is an example:

I am writing this letter with a sword in one hand and a pistol in the other.

If the writer is not a three-handed alien then this statement is nonsensical. The Irish politician Boyle Roche has received credit for this remark. Would you please explore its provenance.

Quote Investigator: The earliest match located by QI appeared in the 1802 joke book titled “New Joe Miller, Or, The Tickler: Containing Near Two Thousand Good Things”. The book included a clearly fictional letter supposedly sent during an Irish rebellion from an unnamed Irish Member of Parliament to a friend in London. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

We are in a pretty mess—can get nothing to eat, nor any wine to drink, except whiskey; and when we sit down to dinner, we are obliged to keep both hands armed; whilst I write this letter, I hold a sword in one hand, and a pistol in the other. I concluded from the beginning that this would be the end of it; and I see I was right, for it is not half over yet.—At present, there are such goings on, that every thing is at a stand.

I should have answered your letter a fortnight ago, but I only received it this morning. Indeed, hardly a mail arrives safe, without being robbed.

The letter continued for a few more paragraphs and ended with the following:

P.S. If you do not receive this in course, it must have miscarried; therefore, I beg you will immediately write to let me know.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading Whilst I Write This Letter, I Hold a Sword In One Hand, and a Pistol In the Other

Notes:

  1. 1802, New Joe Miller, Or, The Tickler: Containing Near Two Thousand Good Things, Volume 2, Second Edition, (Copy of a Letter written during the late Rebellion by Sir ____ _______, an Irish Member of Parliament, to his Friend in London), Start Page 30, Quote Page 30 and 31, Printed for J. Ridgway, London. (Google Books Full View) link

I Hope He Will Bite My Other Generals and Make Them Mad, Too

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: 1

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.

Continue reading I Hope He Will Bite My Other Generals and Make Them Mad, Too

Notes:

  1. 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