16 May 2017

But You Do Not Know Greek

Sir Joseph Pope, The Day of Sir John Macdonald (Toronto: Glasgow, Brook & Company, 1920), p. 116:
John's relations with Lord Dufferin had always been pleasant, though I think he considered the governor-general a bit of a humbug. Speaking to me one day of men's liking for flattery, Sir John said that 'almost anybody will take almost any amount of it,' but he thought that Lord Dufferin transgressed even those wide limits. 'He laid it on with a trowel.' Sir John added that Lord Dufferin was proud of his classical acquirements. He once delivered an address in Greek at the University of Toronto. A newspaper subsequently spoke of ' His Excellency's perfect command of the language.' 'I wonder who told the reporter that,' said a colleague to the chief. 'I did,' replied Sir John. 'But you do not know Greek.' 'No,' replied Sir John, 'but I know men.'
Pope is mistaken. Lord Dufferin delivered his Greek address at McGill University on February 13, 1878. The classics were not even on offer at the University of Toronto in the 1870s, the only courses of study at the time being Calvinist theology and livestock management.