See caption
Right Reverend Host: “I’m afraid you’ve got a bad Egg, Mr Jones!”; The Curate: “Oh no, my Lord, I assure you! Parts of it are excellent!”
True Humility by George du Maurier, published in Punch, 9 November 1895.

Wikimedia Commons

A curate’s egg is an English language idiom used in reference to something that is partly good and partly bad,[1] which may in reality be entirely bad.[2]

In May 1895 the satirical British magazine JudyBritish satirical magazine published from 1867 until 1907. published a cartoon showing a timid curate and a fierce-looking bishop at breakfast in the bishop’s house. The bishop says, “Dear me, I’m afraid your egg’s not good!” The curate, desperate not to offend his host and superior, replies, “Oh, yes, my Lord, really – er – some parts of it are very good.”[3]

In November that same year, Judy‘s more successful rival, Punch, published a similar cartoon by staff illustrator George du Maurier. Titled True Humility, it also featured a timid-looking curate eating breakfast with his bishop, claiming that parts of his egg were “excellent”.[3]

But both cartoons are pre-dated by an anecdote in Our Bishops and Deans by the Reverend F. Arnold, as reported in an 1875 issue of The Academy: A Weekly Review of Literature, Science, and Art:

Without pledging our credence, we could afford a grin to the story of the “young Levite” who at a bishop’s breakfast-table, was so ‘umble as to decline the replacement of a bad egg by a good one with a “No thank you, my Lord, it’s good enough for me.”[3]