BY Mark Twain
I was at a dinner in London given in honor of one of the most celebrated English military men of his time. I do not want to tell you his real name and titles. I will just call him Lieutenant General Lord Arthur Scoresby.
I can not describe my excitement when I saw this great and famous man. There he sat. The man himself, in person, all covered with medals. I could nottake my eyes off him. He seemed to show the true mark of greatness. His fame had no effect on him.
The hundreds of eyes watching him, the worship of so many people did not seem to make any difference to him.
Next to me sat a clergyman, who was an old friend of mine. He was not always a clergyman. During the first half of his life, he was a teacher in the military school at Woolwich. There wasa strange look in his eye as he leaned toward me and whispered, "Privately – he is a complete fool." He meant, of course, the hero of our dinner.
This came as a shock to me. I looked hard at my friend. I could not have been more surprised if he had said the same thing about Napoleon, or Socrates, or Solomon.
But I was sure of two things about the clergyman. He always spoke the truth. Andhis judgement of men was good. Therefore, I wanted to find out more about our hero as soon as I could.
Some days later I got a chance to talk with the clergyman and he told me more. These are his exact words:
"About forty years ago, I was an instructor in the military academy at Woolwich, when young Scoresby was given his first examination. I felt extremely sorry for him. Everybody answeredthe questions well, intelligently, while he – why, dear me – he did not know anything, so to speak. He was a nice, pleasant young man. It was painful to see him stand there and give answers that were miracles of stupidity.
"I knew of course that when examined again he would fail and be thrown out. So, I said to myself, it would be a simple, harmless act to help him, as much as I could.
"I tookhim aside and found he knew a little about Julius Caesar's history. But he did not know anything else. So I went to work and tested him and worked him like a slave. I made him work, over and over again, on a few questions about Caesar which I knew he would be asked.
"If you will believe me, he came through very well on the day of the examination. He got high praise, too, while others who knew athousand times more than he were sharply criticized. By some strange, lucky accident, he was asked no questions but those I made him study. Such an accident does not happen more than once in a hundred years.
"Well, all through his studies, I stood by him, with the feeling a mother has for a disabled child. And he always saved himself, by some miracle.
"I thought that what in the end woulddestroy him would be the mathematics examination. I decided to make his end as painless as possible. So, I pushed facts into his stupid head for hours. Finally, I let him go to the examination to experience what I was sure would be his dismissal from school. Well, sir, try to imagine the result. I was shocked out of my mind. He took first prize! And he got the highest praise.
"I felt guilty dayand night – what I was doing was not right. But I only wanted to make his dismissal a little less painful for him. I never dreamed it would lead to such strange, laughable results.
"I thought that sooner or later one thing was sure to happen: The first real test once he was through school would ruin him.
"Then, the Crimean War broke out. I felt that sad for him that there had to be a war.Peace would have given this donkey a chance to escape from ever being found out as being so stupid. Nervously, I waited for the worst to happen. It did. He was appointed an officer. A captain, of all things! Who could have dreamed that they would place such a responsibility on such weak shoulders as his.
"I said to myself that I was responsible to the country for this. I must go with him and...