E. Cobham Brewer 18101897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
Twisting the Lions Tail.
Seeing how far the Britishers will bear provocation. To give the lions tail another twist is to tax the British forbearance a little further. No doubt the kingdom is averse to war with civilised nations, and will put up with a deal rather than apply to the arbitration of arms. Even victory may be bought too dearly. Such provocation may provoke a growl, but there will the matter end.