Anecdote: King George II and the madness of General Wolfe

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sat Oct 1 13:06:32 UTC 2011

While exploring a quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln that is part
of a famous anecdote involving Lincoln, General Grant, and whiskey I
was introduced to another tale. The story of King George II and
General Wolfe functions as an anecdote nested within the Lincoln yarn.
The Yale Book of Quotations has an extended entry about the Lincoln
quotation, and it has a separate entry for the George II quotation.

This post focuses on the George II quotation and anecdote. I will send
a separate post about the Lincoln quote and anecdote soon. The YBQ
includes the George II quote and cites a 1909 book. YBQ also mentions
an 1845 edition of Joe Miller’s Complete Jest Book.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives the same 1909 citation:
Henry Beckles Willson Life and Letters of James Wolfe. George II lived
from 1683 to 1760. Here is a version of the story in 1786.

Cite: 1786, Letters and Poems By the Late Mr. John Henderson with
Anecdotes of His Life by John Ireland, Page 60, Printed for J.
Johnson, London. (Google Books full view)

<Begin excerpt>
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."
<End excerpt>

The 1786 citation gives neither the name of the officer nor the
destination of the military expedition. The 1791 cite below provides
this information.

Cite: 1791 November, The New-York Magazine; or, Literary Repository,
"Anecdotes", Page 662, Column 1, Printed and sold by Thomas and James
Swords, New York.

<Begin excerpt>
When George the Second proposed giving the command of the expedition
against Quebec to General Wolfe, great objections were raised; and the
Duke of Newcastle, in particular, begged his Majesty to consider, that
the man was actually mad-- 'If he is mad, so much the better,' replied
the King; 'and if he is mad, I hope to God he'll bite some of my
<End excerpt>

Below is the version of the story as given in an edition of the Jest
Book cited in YBQ.

Cite: 1840, Joe Miller's Complete Jest Book, Anecdote Number 1528,
Page 494, Published by Scott, Webster & Geary, London. (HathiTrust;
The date is difficult to read in the page image; HathiTrust specified
the 1840 date)

<Start excerpt>
When George II. was once expressing his admiration of General Wolfe,
some one observed that the general was mad. 'Oh! he is mad, is he!'
said the king with great quickness, 'then I wish he would bite some
other of my generals.'
<End excerpt>

Here is a link to The Life and Letters of James Wolfe (1909) by Beckles Willson


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