Chapter XVII. – Mistakes as to Person, pp.68-75.

[Book of Blunders Contents]

THE mistaking of one person for another has often led people into very absurd positions. The proprietor of the National Hotel in Washington (Mr Guy) used to bear a striking resemblance to General Cass. During the sittings of Congress, when Cass was there, a gentleman from Baltimore, who had been put into an inferior room in the hotel, met the General on the stairs, took him for Mr Guy, whom he thought he knew very well, and broke out upon him about the room. 

   “And I’ll be hanged,” 

he said, 

   “if I stand this any longer. You must give me a room lower down.” 

   “Sir,” 

said the General, sternly, 

   “you are mistaken in the person you are addressing. I am General Cass of Michigan.” 

   “General Cass?” 

stammered the gentleman, with some confusion. 

   “I beg your pardon, General, I took you for my old friend Guy. I beg a thousand pardons, sir. I assure, you, sir, it was a most unintentional mistake!” 

The General passed out of the building, but had occasion to return a few minutes after, when the stranger, as fate would have it, came upon him again. His back was now to the light, his hat was on, and the Baltimore gentleman was sure he had met Guy this time, as he had seen General Cass go out; so, slapping him familiarly on the shoulder, he said, with a laugh – 

   “By thunder, Guy, I’ve got a rich joke to tell you. I met that darned old Cass upstairs just now, thought it was you, and began cussing him up and down about my room.” 

   “Well, young man,” 

said the General, more sternly than ever, 

   “you’ve met that darned old Cass again!” 

Equally awkward mistakes are apt to be made by those who express themselves over freely about other people without knowing to whom they are speaking. 

In one of the London theatres, a gentleman sitting in the same box with another, whom he did not know to be Lord North, asked him – 

   “Pray, sir, do you know who that monstrous woman is who has come into the box opposite?” 

   “Yes,” 

said his Lordship, pleasantly, 

   “she is my wife.” 

   “Pardon me, sir,” 

cried the gentleman, in horror, 

   “pardon me, but you mistake. I don’t mean that elegant lady, I mean that absurd-looking woman behind her.” 

   “That,”  

said his Lordship, 

   “is my daughter.” 

It is said that William the Fourth, who preceded our present Sovereign [Queen Victoria] on the throne, was once kept waiting outside a certain part of Windsor Castle, owing to a private entrance being that evening in charge of a substitute who did not know the King in his plain clothes. 

   “You can’t pass, old ‘un,” 

said the man cheerfully. 

   “No one is allowed to pass here after dark except the King and the lamplighter.” 

An odd mistake was made at Kew Conservatory about Professor Winslow, the eminent botanist. The Professor was a man of singular kindness and modesty, ready to show attention to the humblest person who took any interest in his favourite science. He once took a party of pupil teachers with his daughter to show them London and the gardens at Kew. When there, showing them through the conservatory, a lady and gentleman joined the party, supposing Winslow to be the regular guide. On emerging from the conservatory, the gentleman complimented the Professor on his intelligence, and slipped half-a-crown into his hand. 

The gift was of course declined; 

   “but I hadn’t the courage,” 

said Winslow afterwards, 

   “to tell him I was Professor of Botany at Cambridge.” 

The Emperor Joseph, of Austria, was one day taking a country drive, when there came on a heavy plump of rain. An old soldier, taking the Emperor for a plain gentleman, hailed the carriage and asked if he might get in, as he had on his uniform for the first time, and was loath to have it soiled. 

The Emperor, with great good-nature, took him in, and got into conversation with him. 

The old soldier happening to remark with peculiar gusto that he had had a capital breakfast that morning, the Emperor asked what it was. 

   “Guess,” 

said the soldier. 

The Emperor thought, and named a dish. 

   “No,”  

said the soldier; 

   “better than that.” 

The Emperor guessed another, and another; but still the soldier repeated, 

   “Better than that.” 

When the Emperor gave it up, the soldier told him, with much glee, that he had breakfasted upon a pheasant taken quietly out of the Imperial preserves. 

The Emperor seemed to consider it a good joke, and the subject changed. After recounting some of his fighting experience, the old soldier said, 

   “You look like a military man yourself, sir.” 

The Emperor smiled. 

   “I see you are, sir. What position may you hold?” 

   “Guess,” 

said the Emperor. 

   “Captain?” 

suggested the soldier. 

   “No,” 

said the Emperor, 

   “better than that.” 

The soldier named rank after rank up to Field-Marshal, but the answer always was – 

   “Better than that.” 

Suddenly it flashed upon the man’s mind that he was in the presence of the Emperor. His confusion was indescribable. The Emperor, however, pardoned him freely, and the story was long one of the favourite jokes at Court. 

A curious story is told of a mutual mistake made by Lord Guildford and a lady of quality in the house of Lord Melville. There was a dinner party, at which Lord Seaforth was to be present. As Seaforth was deaf and dumb, Lady Melville, before the company arrived, sent a lady friend, who was familiar with the dumb alphabet, into the drawing room, to be ready against his Lordship’s arrival. It happened, however, that Lord Guildford was the first to make his appearance; and the lady, taking for Lord Seaforth, began to sign to him nimbly with her fingers. He replied in the same way; and they went on talking in this noiseless manner on their fingers till Lady Melville entered, when her friend said aloud – 

   “Well, I have been talking my best to this dumb man!” 

   “Dumb!” 

cried Lord Guildford, 

   “bless me, I thought you were dumb.” 

Many curious arrests have been made from mistake as to person. The late lamented Robert Leighton, the poet, told me that when in Cork, during the days of the Fenian excitement, he was apprehended as [James] “Head-Centre” Stephens, to whom he bore a striking resemblance, and was marched off in triumph by the constabulary, who were full of exultation at having, as they thought, earned the thousand pounds’ reward. 

In Paris, on one occasion, Baron Rothschild was arrested for another man during a riot. 

On being brought before the police commissaire, he said:- 

   “I demand, sir, to be instantly set at liberty. I am Baron Alphonse de Rothschild, Consul-General of Austria.” 

   “Ah! only a baron,” 

said the commissaire, with a knowing look.  

   “Had you not as well call yourself a count, or a marquis, or a duke at once, while you are at it?” 

It was only when the indignant baron sent for some of his friends to prove his identity that he was released. 

A still more absurd mistake led on one occasion to the temporary confinement of the late Lord Chancellor of Ireland in a mad-house. His Lordship had received an unfavourable report of this particular asylum, and, being anxious to judge for himself, he drove up in a close car, without having sent any intimation of his coming. 

When the porter refused him admission, he said at last – 

   “I am the Lord Chancellor.” 

   “Oh, Lord Chancellor, eh?” 

said the porter, with a grin, as he opened the gate, 

   “step in; it’s all right. We have seven of you here already. One got loose last week with the Emperor of China, but I thought both of you were back.” 

By this time his Lordship was within the gate, and a batch of warders summoned by the porter took him in charge. It was not until he had sent for his secretary that he obtained release. 

A mistake that had nearly led to much more serious consequences is mentioned by Sir C. W. Dilke:- It was out West, in one of the rude frontier towns, where horse-stealing has to be carefully guarded against. A man riding down the street on a mule heard a shot behind him, and at the same instant his hat fell off into the mud. On picking it up, he found that a bullet had gone through it, leaving a small round hole in each side. Looking about in horror, he beheld a gaunt miner, revolver in hand, who said, grimly – 

   “I guess, stranger, that’s my mule!” 

The “stranger” politely explained when and where the mule was bought, whereupon the miner professed himself satisfied, with a  

   “Guess I was wrong, stranger; let’s liquor!” 

During the recent war in America, Confederate General Polk made a still narrower escape, owing to one of those mistakes which frequently occurred from the pale blue of the Federal uniform and the bluish grey of the Confederates being so much alike. Polk thus described the adventure to Colonel Fremantle:- 

   “Well, sir, it was at the battle of Perryville, late in the evening – in fact, it was almost dark, when Liddell’s Brigade came into action. Shortly after its arrival I observed a body of men, whom I believed to be Confederates, standing at an angle to this brigade and firing obliquely at the newly arrived troops. My adjutants being all away with messages to different parts of the field, I put spurs to my horse, and, cantering up to the colonel of the regiment that was firing, asked in angry tones what he meant by shooting at our own men. 

   “He said with surprise, ‘I don’t think there can be any mistake. I am sure they are the enemy.’ 

   “ ‘Enemy!’ I exclaimed, ‘I have just left them myself. Cease firing! What is your name, sir?’ 

   “ ‘My name is Colonel A———, of the Fifth Indiana. And who, sir, pray, are you?’ 

   “Then, for the first time, I discovered with a start that he was a Yankee officer, and that I was in rear of the enemy’s lines. I saw there was nothing for it but to brazen it out. My dark blouse and the increasing obscurity befriended me, so, shaking my fist in his face with the words, ‘I’ll soon show you, sir, who I am,’ I cantered slowly down the line, shouting in an authoritative tone to the Yankees to stop firing. As I did so, I experienced a disagreeable sensation, like screwing, up my back, expecting every moment a rush of bullets after me. I was afraid to increase my pace, until I got to a small copse, when I put my spurs in and galloped back to my men.”

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