Friday, March 01, 2013


The excellent blog, “Futility Closet” has this interesting story:

The Treaty of Berlin was drafted in secrecy, so its framers were astonished to find it published in the London Times.. Journalist Henri de Blowitz at first refused to reveal his source, but at last relented near the end of his life. Well before the congress started he had attached a confederate to the clerical staff, but the man felt he was being watched, so the two could not dare to meet or talk. Finally de Blowitz noticed that they wore hats of the same type and color, and he hit on a plan of “childish simplicity.”

De Blowitz was staying at the Kaiserhof. Each day his confederate went there for lunch and dinner. The two never acknowledged one another, but they hung their hats on neighboring pegs. At the end of the meal the confederate departed with de Blowitz’s hat, and de Blowitz innocently took the confederate’s. The communications were hidden in the hat’s lining.

“Only twice were we forced to put off the communication till the following day,” de Blowitz wrote in his 1904 memoir. “Once, however, we had a scare.”

“One of my English colleagues, on leaving the dining-room, made a mistake and took my friend’s hat. Without looking at each other we felt, as he wrote me next day, that we turned pale. If the colleague in question had kept the hat, he might have discovered the third article of the treaty, which had been adopted at the previous day’s sitting, and also a hint of the difficulties that had arisen between Russia and England on the question of the boundaries of Bulgaria, and very disagreeable consequences for my friend might have been the result. Fortunately, on reaching the door, the Englishman put on the hat, which dropped over on his nose. He laughingly took it off and replaced it on its peg. I had risen to take the hat from him, but sat down again. I breathed freely, and my friend must have done the same.”

This immediately reminded me of P.G.Wodehouse’s short story “Amazing Hat Mystery”. The story has been well summarised in this article:

“Two gentlemen — one tall with a massive head, the other short with a little head — buy hats from London’s premier hat-maker; this is the king’s own hat-provider, we’re given to understand. The hats are delivered a short time later. There is a mix-up, with the small hat going to the big man and the big hat to the small. The gentlemen each head out to woo their respective love interests: the tall man is in love with the short woman, the short man with the tall. The respective ladies tell their respective gentlemen that their respective hats are vastly mis-sized: the one looks like a thimble atop the massive man’s head, while the other comes down to the small man’s knees. Both gentlemen take great umbrage at the shot that’s been fired across the bow of London’s premier hat-maker. Both assert the impossibility of a mis-sized hat. Both storm out of their partners’ company, declaring the end of each love affair. They retire to the same public house to drown their sorrows. They hang up their hats on the hat rack. As they leave, they each pick up the right hat. On the street, the tall man runs into the tall woman, the short man into the short woman. Each woman compliments each man on the perfection of his hat. Each man and each woman finds his or her proper mate. No one ever figures out why the hats initially failed to do the trick. The end.”

Do you see the connection too?

No comments: