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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Harcourt Interpolation

Sometimes I see things on Wikipedia which are so great that they're worth simply cutting and pasting for your amusement....

The Harcourt interpolation was a minor scandal of Victorian London.

The 23 January 1882 edition of The Times included a report of a speech made at Burton upon Trent by Sir William Harcourt, then Home Secretary. Into this speech an unknown prankster inserted the parenthetical observation that "The speaker then said that he felt inclined for a bit of fucking". The piece read:

I saw in a Tory journal the other day a note of alarm, in which they said “Why, if a tenant-farmer is elected for the North Riding of Yorkshire the farmers will be a political power who will have to be reckoned with”. The speaker then said he felt inclined for a bit of fucking. I think that is very likely. (Laughter). But I think it is rather an extraordinary thing that the Tory party have not found that out before.
—The Times, 23 January 1882

Sir William Harcourt

The interpolation was not noticed until after the newspaper had been circulated. A revised copy was printed for subscribers, and an apology appeared in the issue for 27 January 1882:

No pains have been spared by the management of this journal to discover the author of a gross outrage committed by the interpolation of a line in the speech of Sir William Harcourt … and it is hoped that the perpetrator of this outrage will be brought to punishment.
—The Times, 27 January 1882

The culprit was apparently not immediately identified, because a similar addition was made to an advertisement for the book Everyday Life in Our Public Schools in the issue of The Times for 12 June 1882. This book was said to include "a glossary of some words used by Henry Irving in his disquisitions upon fucking, which is in common use in these schools". The Times maintained a dignified silence about this, but for many years after it was a rule on the Times that any compositor who was sacked left immediately and did not work out a period of notice.

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