Anecdote: You shall either die upon the gallows or of a social disease

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 28 17:27:34 UTC 2012

A: You, sir, will certainly either die upon the gallows or of a social disease.
B: That depends, sir, upon whether I embrace your principles or your mistress.

There are many versions of the dialog above. Also, the supposed
participants in this verbal thrust and parry vary. Here are three
pairs of antagonists that have been proposed.

A: 4th Earl of Sandwich. B: Samuel Foote.
A: 4th Earl of Sandwich. B: John Wilkes.
A: William Ewart Gladstone. B: Benjamin Disraeli.

The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations has an interesting 1935 citation
with John Wilkes. The Yale Book of Quotations has a great 1809
citation with Samuel Foote.

Here is a cite in 1784 featuring Lord Sandwich and Samuel Foote. Cites
before this date would interest me.

Cite: 1784 January, The European magazine: and London Review, Bon Mot
of the late Sam. Foote, Page 16, Column 2, Philological Society of
London, Printed for John Fielding, London. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
Bon Mot of the late Sam. Foote - Sam. was invited to a convivial
meeting at the house of the late Sir Francis Blake Delaval. Lord
Sandwich was one of the guests upon the same occasion. When the
Comedian entered, the Peer exclaimed, "what are you alive still?"
"Yes, my Lord," replied Foote. "Pray Sam," retorted his Lordship,
"which do you think will happen to you first, the experience of a
certain disease, or an intimate acquaintance with the gallows?" "Why,"
rejoined the Comedian, "that depends upon circumstances, and they are
these, whether I prefer embracing your Lordship's mistress, or, your
[End excerpt]

Here are a few additional selected cites. The story above was printed
in a book of humor around 1790.

Cite: 1790 [Estimated date given by WorldCat], The Banquet Of Wit; Or,
A Feast For The Polite World, Quote Page 39, Printed for R. Randall,
Fleet Street, London. (Google Boks full view) link

By 1809 an altered version of the anecdote was in print. This cite was
given in the YBQ. In the excerpt below "p-x" referred to "pox" which
historically was used to designate the venereal disease syphilis. The
term "halter" referred to a rope with a noose used for hanging. The
setting of the tale was moved from the house of Francis Blake Delaval
to an eating establishment in the Convent Garden district of London.

Cite: 1809, The Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Percival Stockdale
by Percival Stockdale, Volume 1 of 2, Quote Page 317 and 318, Printed
for Longman, Hurst, Rees, and Orme, London. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
Foote was a good scholar, and a man of the most lively, and poignant
convivial humour. A striking instance of this talent, at this moment
occurs to me.-My lord Sandwich had dined, one day, in Foote's company,
in covent-garden, at the famous beef-steak club.-The glass had gone
profusely round; and at the unguarded time, when the bold idea of the
moment sallies forth, without any regard to good manners;-"Foote,"
(said lord Sandwich) "I have often wondered what catastrophe would
bring you to your end; but I think, that you must either die of the
p-x, or the halter."-"My lord," (replied Foote instantaneously) that
will depend upon one of two contingencies;-whether I embrace your
lordship's mistress, or your lordship's principles."
[End excerpt]

(Note: Typos possible. I am using hyphens for dashes throughout this
message because email transport sometimes does not handle dashes

In 1825 a streamlined version of the 1784 account was printed in a humor book
Cite: 1825, "The Laughing Philosopher; Or, Fun, Humour and Wit",
FOOTE, Quote Page 49, [Originated in or about "The Literary
Emporium"], Printed for the Publisher, Boston, Massachusetts. (Google
Books and HathiTrust full view)
[Begin excerpt]
Lord Sandwich said to Foote, "which do you think will happen to you
first, disease or acquaintance with the gallows." "That depends upon
circumstances, which are these, whether I embrace your Lordship's
mistress, or your principles."
[End excerpt]

In 1828 a version of the story that replaced Samuel Foote with John
Wilkes was presented in a book about the clubs of London. Because the
anecdote was deemed too ribald by the author it was only partially
described. The punchline was stated but the setup was not given.

Cite: 1828, "The Clubs of London; with Anecdotes of Their Members,
Sketches of Character, and Conversations", [WorldCat lists author:
Charles Marsh], Volume 2 of 2, Quote Page 17, Henry Colburn, London.
(Google Books full view) link
[Begin excerpt]
It must be remembered, that convivial societies then were less
restrained in particular points than at present. Coarseness of
expression was no objection to a witty saying, provided it was witty.
It was at one of these Saturnalia that Lord Sandwich received Wilkes's
answer to the indecent alternative he had put to him. "That depends,"
replied Wilkes, "upon this-whether I embrace your lordship's
principles or your mistress." We cannot now detail the whole anecdote;
it is, however, so well known, that a slight allusion will recall it.
[End excerpt]

In 1844 Baron Brougham published a collection of sketches of statesmen
that included a section on John Wilkes. Brougham said that he had been
told of the sharp dialog between Lord Sandwich and John Wilkes by the
Duke of Norfolk who had been present. But Brougham expressed doubt
about whether the words of Wilkes had been accurately transmitted.

Cite: 1844, "Historical Sketches of Statesmen Who Flourished in the
Time of George III" by Henry Brougham [Baron Brougham], Third Series,
Section: John Wilkes, Start Page 141, Quote Page 146, Lea and
Blanchard, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books full view)
[Begin excerpt]
Of his wit and drollery some passages are preserved in society; but of
these not many can with propriety be cited. We doubt if his retort to
Lord Sandwich be of this description, when being asked, coarsely
enough, "Whether he thought he should die by a halter or by a certain
disease?" he quickly said, "That depends on whether I embrace your
Lordship's principles or your mistress." We give this, in order to
contradict the French anecdote, which ascribes the mot to Mirabeau as
a retort to Cardinal Maury, while sitting by him in the National
Assembly. I heard it myself from the Duke of Norfolk, who was present
when the dialogue took place, many years before the French Revolution.
[End excerpt]

Jumping forward to 1950, here is one last cite presenting a variant in
circulation. In a book by George E. Allen the rivals William Gladstone
and Benjamin Disraeli were substituted into the roles of the jousters
in the anecdote.

Cite: 1950, Presidents Who Have Known Me by George E. Allen, Chapter
17, Quote Page 237, Simon and Schuster, New York. (Verified with
[Begin excerpt]
Infuriated by Disraeli in Parliamentary debate, Gladstone said: "Mr.
Disraeli, you will probably die by the hangman's noose or a vile
disease." Disraeli replied: "Sir, that depends upon whether I embrace
your principles or your mistress."
[End excerpt]


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