I was at a dinner in London given in honor of one of the most celebrated English military menof his time. I do not want to tell you his real name and titles. I will just call him LieutenantGeneral Lord Arthur Scoresby. I cannot describe my excitement when I saw this great andfamous man. There he sat, the man himself, in person, all covered with medals. I could not takemy eyes off him. He seemed to show the true mark of greatness. His fame had no effect onhim. The hundreds of eyes watching him, the worship of so many people did not seem to makeany 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 was astrange look in his eye as he leaned toward me and whispered – "Privately – he is a completefool." 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 hehas said the same thing about Nepoleon, or Socrates, or Solomon. But I was sure of two thingsabout 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 hisexact words:
About forty years ago, I was an instructor in the military academy at Woolwich, when youngScoresby 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 tospeak. He was a nice, pleasant young man. It was painful to see him stand there and giveanswers that were miracles of stupidity.I knew of course that when examined again he wouldfail and be thrown out. So, I said to myself, it would be a simple, harmless act to help him asmuch 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. Imade him work, over and over again, on a few questions about Ceasar, which I knew he wouldbe asked.If you will believe me, he came through very well on the day of the examination. Hegot high praise too, while others who knew a thousand times more than he were sharplycriticized. By some strange, lucky accident, he was asked no questions but those I made himstudy. Such an accident does not happen more than once in a hundred years. Well, all throughhis studies, I stood by him, with the feeling a mother has for a disabled child. And he alwayssaved himself by some miracle.
I thought that what in the end would destroy him would be the mathematics examination. Idecided to make his end as painless as possible. So, I pushed facts into his stupid head forhours. Finally, I let him go to the examination to experience what I was sure would be hisdismissal from school. Well, sir, try to imagine the result. I was shocked out of my mind. Hetook first prize! And he got the highest praise.
I felt guilty day and night – what I was doing was not right. But I only wanted to make hisdismissal a little less painful for him. I never dreamed it would lead to such strange, laughableresults. I thought that sooner or later one thing was sure to happen: The first real test once hewas through school would ruin him.
Then, the Crimean War broke out. I felt that sad for him that there had to be a war. Peacewould have given this donkey a chance to escape from ever being found out as being sostupid. Nervously, I waited for the worst to happen. It did. He was appointed an officer. Acaptain, of all things! Who could have dreamed that they would place such a responsibility onsuch weak shoulders as his.
I said to myself that I was responsible to the country for this. I must go with him and protectthe nation against him as far as I could. So, I joined up with him. And anyway we went to thefield.
And there – oh dear, it was terrible. Mistakes, fearful mistakes – why, he never did anythingthat was right – nothing but mistakes. But, you see, nobody knew the secret of how stupid hereally was. Everybody misunderstood his actions. They saw his stupid mistakes as works ofgreat 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 wasthe fact that every mistake he made increased his glory and fame. I kept saying to myself thatwhen 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 momentof one battle down went our colonel. My heart jumped into my mouth, for Scoresby was thenext 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. Ourregiment occupied a position that was extremely important. One mistake now would bringtotal disaster. And what did Scoresby do this time – he just mistook his left hand for his righthand…that was all. An order came for him to fall back and support our right. Instead, he movedforward and went over the hill to the left. We were over the hill before this insane movementcould be discovered and stopped. And what did we find? A large and unsuspected Russian armywaiting! And what happened – were we all killed? That is exactly what would have happened inninety-nine cases out of a hundred. But no – those surprised Russians thought that no oneregiment 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 hilland down into the field in wild disorder, and we after them. In no time, there was the greatestturn 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 sentright off for Scoresby, and put his arms around him and hugged him on the field in front of allthe armies. Scoresby became famous that day as a great military leader – honored throughoutthe 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 therain. He is the stupidest man in the universe. Until now, nobody knew it but Scoresby andmyself. He has been followed, day by day, year by year, by a strange luck. He has been ashining soldier in all our wars for years. He has filled his whole military life with mistakes. Everyone of them brought him another honorary title. Look at his chest, flooded with British andforeign 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, asI did at the dinner, Scoresby's a complete fool.