The Duke of Falvertoon was one of those human hors d'oeuvres that stimulate the public appetite for sensation without giving it much to feed on. As a mere child he had been precociously brilliant; he had declined the editorship of the Anglian Review at an age when most boys are content to have declined mensa, a table, and though he could not claim to have originated the Futurist movement in literature, his "Letters to a possible Grandson," written at the age of fourteen, had attracted considerable notice. In later days his brilliancy had been less conspicuously displayed. 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. It began to be generally understood that he did not intend to supplement his numerous town and country residences by living overmuch in the public eye.

from East of the Web

Why did the Duke of Falvertoon say "a little Moor and how much it is,"?

  • 4
    It’s a pun but I don’t understand the thrust. It’s a play on the fact that Moors (a type of people) are found in Morocco, and the couplet starting “a little more and how much it is” from the Robert Browning poem By The Fire-side: english.stackexchange.com/questions/294443/… . Maybe the joke is Morocco is Moorish and little, but despite its littleness, it is “much”, having brought half Europe to the brink of war multiple times. “It’s little and Moorish and yet we’ve had much ado about it”.
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 22, 2018 at 16:12
  • What I want to know is what is with that random “a table” after “mensa”???
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 22, 2018 at 16:15
  • 1
    @Dan Bron - mensa is Latin for "table", and was usually the first noun encountered by British children who were taught Latin at school, as I was starting in 1963. Mensa, mensa, mensam. To know mensa is not to know very much Latin. Mensa, a table; liber, a book; arbor, a tree. Dec 22, 2018 at 16:19
  • @MichaelHarvey Oh! Declined “mensa” the Latin noun, as in inflect it for number of gender or whatever. Not “decline Mensa”, “refuse an invitation to join the high IQ society”. That’s how I’d originally read it. Thank you!
    – Dan Bron
    Dec 22, 2018 at 16:21
  • Yes. As you have gathered, Saki is being witty about the two meanings of 'decline'. Declined an editorship when most boys his age were content to decline mensa. Dec 22, 2018 at 16:26

1 Answer 1


As people have noted in the comments, the Duke of Falvertoon is making a pun based on a misquotation of what was then probably a much better known quotation of a poem by Robert Browning. The poem is "By The Fire-Side" and can be read in full here

The orginal line by Browning is:

Oh, the little more, and how much it is!

Browning's original implication, as stated here, was to suggest that the final small step of fully loving someone ('the little more') makes a very large difference.

The joke depends on the fact that the words 'more' and 'Moor' are homophones. ('Moor' was then still a commonly used word to refer to any African in the English-speaking world.)

In essence Falvertoon, who never usually bothered to speak in parliament, and never did again, is making a literary in-joke about how Morocco, a small African nation, can bring the great powers of Europe to the brink of war.

The joke today, if it were not so obscure as to evade easy comprehension, would be considered in poor taste at best.

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