E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Catch a Tartar.
The biter bit. Grose says an Irish soldier in the Imperial service, in a battle against the Turks, shouted to his comrade that he had caught a Tartar. Bring him along, then, said his mate. But he wont come, cried Paddy. Then come along yourself, said his comrade. Arrah! replied Paddy, I wish I could, but he wont let me.
We are like the man who boasted of having caught a Tartar, when the fact was that the Tartar had caught him.Cautions for the Times.