Aristocratic Anecdotes

An edited excerpt from “Aristocratic Anecdotes: or, Little Stories of Great People,” chapter five of Moonbeams From the Larger Lunacy by Stephen Leacock (1915). The text is in the public domain.

I have been much struck lately by the many excellent little anecdotes of celebrated people that have appeared in recent memoirs and found their way thence into the columns of the daily press. There is something about them so deliciously pointed, their humour is so exquisite that I think we ought to have more of them. To this end I am trying to circulate on my own account a few anecdotes which seem somehow to have been overlooked.

Here, for example, is an excellent thing which comes, if I remember rightly, from the vivacious Memoir of Lady Ranelagh de Chit-Chat.

Lady Ranelagh writes: “The Duke of Strathythan—I am writing of course of the seventeenth Duke, not of his present Grace—was, as everybody knows, famous for his hospitality. It was not perhaps generally known that the Duke was as witty as he was hospitable. I recall a most amusing incident that happened the last time but two that I was staying at Strathythan Towers. As we sat down to lunch—we were a very small and intimate party, there being only forty-three of us—the Duke, who was at the head of the table, looked up from the roast of beef that he was carving, and running his eye about the guests was heard to murmur, ‘I’m afraid there isn’t enough beef to go round.’

“There was nothing to do, of course, but to roar with laughter, and the incident passed off with perfect savoir-faire.

Here is another story which I think has not had all the publicity that it ought to. I found it in the book Shot, Shell and Shrapnel, or Sixty Years as a War Correspondent, recently written by Mr. Maxim Gatling, whose exploits are familiar to all readers.

“I was standing,” writes Mr. Gatling, “immediately between Lord Kitchener and Lord Wolsley (with Lord Roberts a little to the rear of us), and we were laughing and chatting as we always did when the enemy were about to open fire on us. Suddenly we found ourselves the object of the most terrific hail of bullets. For a few moments the air was black with them. As they went past I could not refrain from exchanging a quiet smile with Lord Kitchener, and another with Lord Wolsley. Indeed I have never, except perhaps on twenty or thirty occasions, found myself exposed to such an awful fusillade.

“Kitchener, who habitually uses an eye-glass (among his friends), watched the bullets go singing by, and then, with that inimitable sangfroid which he reserves for his intimates, said: ‘I’m afraid if we stay here we may get hit.’

“We all moved away laughing heartily.

“To add to the joke, Lord Roberts’s aide-de-camp was shot in the pit of the stomach as we went.”

If people would only take a little more pains to resuscitate anecdotes of this sort, there might be a lot more of them found.