|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 cannot 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 not take 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
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 was a 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 him. I could not have been
more surprised if he has said the same thing about Nepoleon, or Socrates,
or Solomon. But I was sure of two things about the clergyman. He always
spoke the truth. And, his judgment 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 answered the 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 took him aside and found he knew a little about Julius Ceasar’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 Ceasar, 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 a thousand
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 would destroy 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
I felt guilty day and 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 protect the nation against him as far as I could. So, I
joined up with him. And anyway we went to the field.
And there – oh dear, it was terrible. Mistakes, fearful mistakes – why,
he never did anything that was right – nothing but mistakes. But, you
see, nobody knew the secret of how stupid he really was. Everybody
misunderstood his actions. They saw his stupid mistakes as works of
great intelligence. They did, honestly!
His smallest mistakes made a man in his right mind cry, and shout and
scream too – to himself, of course. And what kept me in a continual fear
was the fact that every mistake he made increased his glory and fame. I
kept saying to myself that when at last they found out about him, it
will be like the sun falling out of the sky.
He continued to climb up, over the dead bodies of his superiors. Then,
in the hottest moment of one battle down went our colonel. My heart
jumped into my mouth, for Scoresby was the next in line to take his
place. Now, we are in for it, I said…
The battle grew hotter. The English and their allies were steadily
retreating all over the field. Our regiment occupied a position that was
extremely important. One mistake now would bring total disaster. And
what did Scoresby do this time – he just mistook his left hand for his
right hand…that was all. An order came for him to fall back and support
our right. Instead, he moved forward and went over the hill to the left.
We were over the hill before this insane movement could be discovered
and stopped. And what did we find? A large and unsuspected Russian army
waiting! And what happened – were we all killed? That is exactly what
would have happened in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred. But no –
those surprised Russians thought that no one regiment by itself would
come around there at such a time.
It must be the whole British army, they thought. They turned tail, away
they went over the hill and down into the field in wild disorder, and we
after them. In no time, there was the greatest turn around you ever saw.
The allies turned defeat into a sweeping and shining victory.
The allied commander looked on, his head spinning with wonder, surprise
and joy. He sent right off for Scoresby, and put his arms around him and
hugged him on the field in front of all the armies. Scoresby became
famous that day as a great military leader – honored throughout the
world. That honor will never disappear while history books last.
He is just as nice and pleasant as ever, but he still does not know
enough to come in out of the rain. He is the stupidest man in the
Until now, nobody knew it but Scoresby and myself. He has been followed,
day by day, year by year, by a strange luck. He has been a shining
soldier in all our wars for years. He has filled his whole military life
with mistakes. Every one of them brought him another honorary title.
Look at his chest, flooded with British and foreign medals. Well, sir,
every one of them is the record of some great stupidity or other. They
are proof that the best thing that can happen to a man is to be born
lucky. I say again, as I did at the dinner, Scoresby’s a complete fool.