I did dislike the cut of a certain courtier’s beard: he sent me word, if I said his beard was not cut mind it was: this is called the Retort Courteous. If I sent him word again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would send me word, he cut it to please himself: this is called the Quip Modest. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he disabled my judgment: this is called the Reply Churlish. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would answer, I spake not true: this is called the Reproof Valiant. If again ‘it was not well cut,’ he would say I lied: this is called the Counter-cheque Quarrelsome: and so to the Lie Circumstantial and the Lie Direct.
Even the Lie Direct:
… you may avoid that too, with an If.
Which brings us to the Arachnes of the PR-spinning business:
Let us revisit Arachne and her deserved fate.
We read her story in Metamorphoses VI and in the Georgic IV. She was the daughter of Idmon of Colophon. She became overweeningly proud of her skills, so much that she challenged the goddess Athene to a weaving competition. Athene depicted the gods and goddesses, in majesty: Arachne went for the sensational and sordid News of the (mythological) Screws — gods pursuing their amorous prey. Athene took affront, ripped up Arachne’s work, and transformed her into the spider.
Any modern parallels exist only in the imagination.
Which might bring us to …
… PR guru Matthew Freud’s 50th birthday on Saturday: he and his wife, Elisabeth Murdoch, hosted a fairly lavish party. But would Westminster’s finest attend?
Guests were struck to see the Prime Minister and the Chancellor both in attendance, evidently quite happy to rejoin the social set that they have both kept clear of in recent years. Tony and Cherie Blair were also tripping the light fantastic. It was, after all, a Noah’s Ark theme and they came in twos: PM and Osborne, Blairs, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss. Perhaps the Chancellor is so confident that his pre-Budget report will be a festival of good news that he feels he can start partying again.
Except that wasn’t the first draft of this little piece of history. The Daily Telegraph gossip, Mandrake, had a variant reading. Key members of the Chipping Norton set were not among the festive throng at Burford Priory:
Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of News International, who famously attended Freud’s last big bash in 2011, days before the Milly Dowler phone hacking scandal broke, was nowhere to be seen …
David Cameron, too, kept his distance from the group and was absent from the celebrations. Since the phone hacking scandal erupted the Prime Minister has gone to great lengths to diassociate himself from Brooks. Freud confirms to me that neither were present.
Note, carefully, that the “confirmation” allegedly came to the Torygraph from Freud himself. “Steerpike”, that Speccie observer of the passing social scene, was keen to put his record straight:
Elizabeth Murdoch’s husband Matthew Freud has ‘clarified’ that Cameron and Osborne were actually at his birthday party on Saturday, as described by Mr Steerpike yesterday. Initially, Mr Freud said that the PM had not attended.
Ditto Tim Walker at the Telegraph, just today:
When I asked Matthew Freud, Rupert Murdoch’s son-in-law, if David Cameron had attended his 50th birthday party in Oxfordshire over the weekend, the PR man answered: “no…. please let me know if you would like a more explicit clarification.”
“Clarification” came, however, 24 hours later, when, after I posed the question again, one of Freud’s associates got in touch to “clarify” that the PM, had, in fact, been there. He said that George Osborne was also a guest.
Walker’s tone may imply some asperity. He goes out of his way to dig a bit more dirt:
Among public relations professionals, there often appears to have been a reticence about talking about Murdoch-related matters: one thinks of the belated statement about the horse that Cameron rode that was lent to Miss Brooks by the police, and the Christmas party he attended at her home in 2010, along with James Murdoch, as News Corp was trying to take over BSkyB.
“Reticence” may be the Retort Courteous, but Freud went for the Lie Direct. Back to the punch-lines of As You Like It, Act V, scene 4:
Jaques: Is not this a rare fellow, my lord? he’s as good at any thing and yet a fool.
Duke Senior: He uses his folly like a stalking-horse and under the presentation of that he shoots his wit.