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Stephen Goranson <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 31 Jul 2002 09:11:33 -0400
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Twain's Autobiography attribution of a remark about lies and statistics
to Disraeli is generally not accepted. Evidence is now available to
conclude that the phrase originally appeared in 1895 in an article by
Leonard H. Courtney.

It was previously known that J. A. Baines used the phrase in J. of the
Royal Statistical Society 59 (1895) 87. He quotes his friend and fellow
statistician, M.P., later Lord, Courtney, in "recent" use.

Leonard Courtney, "To My Fellow-Disciples at Saratoga Springs," The
National Review [London] (1895) 21-8 here 25.

Note that this line is put in the mouth of a generic, future, fictional
person--not a historical figure--in an "object lesson" about
insufficient Proportional Representation. "Wise Statesman" here is
playful. ("Statistics" originally had to do with accountings of state
matters.) Another quotation in the same long paragraph by "electors" is
also part of this play.

So Disraeli is not the source, nor any pre-1895 person; merely Courtney.
It would be unrealistic to suppose the English and American audiences
of Baines and Courtney would have recognized a particular past
statesman--otherwise vanished--who said this.  Note also the
punctuation differs from Twains' version (of gradations),
and allows (purported, in context) appositives, sputtering denial.
Courtney, in this case, was not criticising bad counting but election
laws he considered inadequate.

"Lies--damned lies--and statistics."

Stephen Goranson

P.S. The 1895 article is now available online at:
Note Courtney may have read Carlyle on statistics (also quoted at this
site); certainly, misuse of statistics was complained about before 1895.