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During a debate in the House of Lords on affairs in Morocco, at a moment when that country, for the fifth time in seven years, had brought half Europe to the verge of war, he had interpolated the remark “a little Moor and how much it is,” but in spite of the encouraging reception accorded to this one political utterance he was never tempted to a further display in that direction.

Source: Short Stories of Saki

Why did this political utterance get the encouraging reception?

  • It's a pun. A "Moor" in the parlance of that era was an inhabitant of Morocco. – P. E. Dant Jun 11 '17 at 7:46
  • @P.E.Dant It's specifically a pun on Browning's couplet "Oh, the little more, and how much it is! / And the little less, and what worlds away!" – StoneyB Jun 11 '17 at 11:30
  • Why did the author quote Browning to talk about Moor? – dancer Jun 11 '17 at 12:38
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    @StoneyB Ashamed to admit that I missed that entirely. And as luck would have it, there's an ELU colloquy on exactly that couplet here. – P. E. Dant Jun 11 '17 at 18:57
  • @dancer At one time, perhaps as recently as the 1960s, when to be 'educated' meant to have read a more or less standard literary 'canon', the apt or ingenious use of familiar quotations was regarded as witty. – StoneyB Jun 11 '17 at 19:24
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Just for the sake of this having an answer that's an answer, rather than a comment...

As StoneyB and P. E Dant Jun note in the comments, it is a pun on a Browning quotation, "Oh, the little more, and how much it is! / And the little less, and what worlds away!", but with "more" replaced with "Moor". Nowadays, "moor" is almost always a term for a sort of rough upland we have a lot of in Britain, but capitalised it's a now largely obsolete demonym for people of a certain ethnicity. Or several ethnicities. Sometimes we were a little confused about that.

Anyway, it's an ethnic identification that was closely associated with Morocco. Maybe the similarity of name isn't a coincidence, and maybe it is but that led to the closer association. Really, it mostly referred to the multiple ethnicities of Muslim who conquered and held what's now Spain and Portugal for quite some time (hence references in history to "Moorish Spain").

Hence the humour. To be educated for much of British history largely consisted of being forced to study a certain accepted canon of texts, both classical and comparatively modern. So educated men would be expected to get the Browning reference.

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