Chapter XIV. – Misapprehensions, pp.59-63.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

In another class of cases the mistake results from misapprehension. When the Bishop of Oxford sent round to the churchwardens in his diocese a circular of inquiries, including the question – 

   “Does your officiating clergyman preach the gospel, and is his conversation and carriage consistent therewith?” 

– the churchwarden of Wallingford replied – 

   “He preaches the gospel, but does not keep a carriage.” 

In 1769, a gentleman in London was returning home, late at night, along a dark, deserted alley near the river, carrying a lantern in his hand. A man suddenly appeared out of the darkness, put a slip of paper into his hand, and said, 

   “Read that!” 

The gentleman held it to his lantern, and read as follows:- 

“Speak not one word when this you’ve read, 

Give us your money, rings, and watch, 

Or in an instant you’ll be dead!” 

Fearing that the man had confederates, the terrified traveller gave up his money and watch, and hurried away. He gave the alarm to the first watchman he met, and within an hour the man was captured. 

But when brought before the magistrate he declared himself innocent. He said he had picked up the paper on the street; saw there was something on it, but not being able to read, had showed it to the first person he met (the gentleman with the lantern), thinking it might be something valuable. He was delighted when the gentleman, on reading it, handed him his money and watch, and hurried off with the paper. He concluded that the paper must be a bill, or something of great value, but was very well pleased with his reward. 

The following case of mutual mistake is somewhat similar:- A doctor, who had allowed himself one day to drink too much, was sent for to see a fashionable lady who was ailing. He sat down by the bedside, took out his watch and began to count her pulse; but he was not himself. He counted 


– then he got confused, and began again. 


confused, and began again. 


– no, he could not do it. Thoroughly ashamed of himself, he shut up his watch, muttering – 

   “Drunk, I declare, drunk”” 

He told the lady to keep her bed and take some hot lemonade to throw her into a perspiration, and he would see her next day. 

In the morning he received the following note from the lady, marked “Private:” – 

   “Dear Doctor, – You were right. I dare not deny it. But I am thoroughly ashamed of myself, and will be more careful for the future. Please accept the enclosed fee for your visit (a £10 note), and do not, I entreat of you, breathe a word about the state in which you found me.” 

The lady, in fact, had herself been drinking too much, and, catching the doctor’s murmured words, thought they referred to her. He was too far gone to see what the matter was with his patient, and she too far to observe that the doctor was in the same condition. 

The following story used to be told by the Rev. Mr McDougall of Paisley. One day he was taking a simple friend from the country to see Gartnavel; but passing the Exchange took him to the door to look in. The man, who thought this was the Asylum, stood behind Mr McDougall, and staring eagerly over his shoulder at the merchants stepping up and down, and gathering in eager groups, exclaimed, with surprise not unmingled with awe, 

   “Is’t safe, man? – they’re a’ loose!” 

An equally amusing mistake is said to have been made on one occasion by Dr Henderson of Galashiels. In the course of pastoral visitation, he called on a widow with a large family, and asked how all were, and how things were getting on. 

She said,  

   “All right, except Davie; he’s been troubled wi’ a sare leg, and no fit for wark.” 

Dr Henderson could not remember which one Davie was, but did not like to hurt the widow’s feelings by betraying his ignorance; and in his prayer prayed that David’s affliction might be blessed to him. 

On going home he said to his wife, referring to his call, 

   “Which of the sons is Davie?” 


she exclaimed, 

   “Davie no a son; Davie is the cuddy!” 

A writer in “St James’ Magazine” relates the following amusing mistake made by the Emperor of China. King George the Third, it seems, had selected a splendid carriage as a present to this monarch, and sent it by Lord Macartney, that ambassador of whose diplomatic stewardship so voluminous a record has been written. The Emperor received the gift very graciously, and when the embassy had departed, he determined on astonishing his flat-nosed subjects with this new addition to his magnificence. 

But there was a difficulty in the way. 

His celestial Majesty did not know in what part of the vehicle to deposit his celestial person. A council of Mandarins was called, and the question of the coach gravely put before them. After a long debate, the wise Ho-mi-hi, a very Ulysses, and (willow) pattern of sages, pronounced that the front place outside, covered with the gorgeous (hammer) cloth, was alone worthy of being pressed by the weight of the Brother of the Sun and Stars, and that as for the driver, the rascal should be put out of sight in the body of the carriage. This decision met with universal applause, and was pronounced worthy of the Ho-mi-hi; and the Emperor accordingly, amidst cheers, shouts and prayers of his admiring courtiers, majestically ascended the box-seat; but the excursion, for an obvious reason, was very brief, and of so unsatisfactory a nature, that the Brother of the Sun and Stars had scarce an appetite for his usual dinner of sucking pigs and birds’ nests. To relieve his mind, therefore, he sent for Ho-mi-hi, and remarking that he was far too clever a man to live any longer, had him beheaded on the spot, while the coach was converted into an ornament for a pagoda, where indeed it may still remain for aught I can affirm to the contrary.

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