The following notes attempt to explain cultural, historical and literary allusions in Wodehouse’s text, to identify his sources, and to cross-reference similar references in the rest of the canon.

Leave It to Psmith was originally annotated for the Yahoo! Blandings discussion group by Mark Hodson (aka The Efficient Baxter). The late Terry Mordue ([TM] or [AGOL] for A Gentleman of Leisure) added a great many new entries, modified some of Mark’s comments (largely on the basis of material newly available online), and restyled the notes; his version is maintained on his web pages hosted here in his memory. The notes have been somewhat reformatted and substantially extended by others as credited below, notably Neil Midkiff [NM], but we give many thanks to Mark and Terry for their original efforts, even while we bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation.

Leave It to Psmith was originally serialized in the Saturday Evening Post in the US beginning 3 February 1923 and in the Grand magazine in the UK beginning June 1923. In book form it was published in the UK by Herbert Jenkins, London, on 30 November 1923 and in the US by George H. Doran, New York, on 14 March 1924.

These annotations relate to the UK version. Page references are to the Herbert Jenkins editions using the first edition plates, issued from 1923 until the Autograph Edition of 1961. Where new annotations have no page number, it has not been possible to consult an early edition. Conveniently, the modern Everyman/Outlook reprint edition has similar though not identical pagination; its text runs from pp. 11 to 328, so its page numbers differ by fewer than four from the ones cited here.


Dedication

Leave It to Psmith is the second novel to be set at Blandings Castle, following Something Fresh (1915) and the fourth and last to feature Psmith, who had previously appeared in Mike (1909), Psmith in the City (1910), and Psmith, Journalist (1915).

The book is dedicated to Wodehouse’s adopted daughter, Leonora, his wife Ethel’s daughter by her first (deceased) husband, Leonard Rowley. According to Wodehouse, it was at Leonora’s urging that he wrote Leave It to Psmith:

I was urged to the task by the importunity of my daughter Leonora . . . It was the fact that she kept after me like a bloodhound to write another Psmith story that at length induced me to set typewriter to paper. Psmith . . . was the hero of a book . . . which I wrote in 1909 . . . I had always intended some day to write of his after-school life, but never quite got down to it . . .

quoted in Jasen, P. G. Wodehouse: A Portrait of a Master, pp. 98–99 (1975)

As so often with Wodehouse’s autobiographical comments, this one is highly inaccurate. He had “got down to it” twice before, and one of the two books, Psmith in the City, had been printed in the US; the other, Psmith, Journalist, did not appear there because the plot was incorporated into the US version of The Prince and Betty, with a P-less Smith as the protagonist.


Chapter 1 (pp. 7–37)
Dark Plottings at Blandings Castle

Blandings Castle (p. 7)

We have visited Blandings only once before, in 1915 in Something Fresh (UK)/Something New (US). A similar great country home, Belpher Castle, appears in A Damsel in Distress (1919), but Wodehouse chose not to extend that saga, which may have been terminated due to Lord Marshmoreton’s marriage, just as the Psmith saga finishes with his marriage in the present novel. [NM]


His brow was furrowed (p. 7)

The brow was furrowed, the manner distrait, the stomach full of butterflies.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, ch. 10

Her brow was furrowed, her lips drawn . . .

Service with a Smile, ch. 1

His brow was furrowed and he had the indefinable look of one who has been smitten in the spiritual solar plexus.

“Rodney Fails to Qualify,” in The Heart of a Goof


A writer, describing Blandings Castle (p. 7)

Alan Dean (Notes & Queries, March 2008, pp. 73–4) argues persuasively that the writer was Gertrude Jekyll. Wodehouse’s description of Blandings Castle closely mirrors Jekyll’s description of Berkeley Castle:

Its stones are carved and fretted by the wind and rain of centuries; tiny mosses have grown in their cavities . . . viewed from near at hand, the mighty walls and their sustaining buttresses are seen to be shaggy with vegetation.

Gertrude Jekyll, Some English Gardens, Longmans, Green and Co, London (1904), p. 24


Fifty-odd years . . . (p. 7)

In Something Fresh, Lord Emsworth was described as having been “at Eton, in the sixties.” If so, he cannot have been more than a year or two from his sixtieth birthday when that novel was written.


The Hon. Freddie Threepwood

Younger sons of earls do not qualify for a named title of their own but must be content with the appellation of “The Honourable”; this style is shared with the sons and daughters of viscounts and barons. Freddie’s elder brother George has the courtesy title of Lord Bosham, one of his father’s subsidiary titles. Though Freddie was described as heavy and loutish-looking in Something Fresh, by this time he has managed to attain a slim figure, which he retains through the rest of the saga. He still is, though, “a young idiot who required perpetual restraint,” as his father considered him in the earlier novel. [NM]


pop he never so wisely (p. 8)

An archaic English way of saying “no matter how wisely he might pop”; compare

Which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely.

[Psalm 58:5, Book of Common Prayer version] [NM]


Beach (p. 8)

In Something Fresh, Beach was a below-stairs autocrat, with an over-developed sense of his own dignity, and a tiresome bore on the subject of his health and ailments; in Leave It to Psmith and all the subsequent Blandings novels, he is a more benevolent and sympathetic character.

Murphy (In Search of Blandings) discovered that the house Wodehouse rented when he was living in Emsworth was situated in Beach Road. Terry Mordue was uncertain whether this is the source of Beach’s name, considering it at least as likely that the name was suggested by that of Beach Thomas, who was one of Wodehouse’s masters at Dulwich and who later secured for him a post on The Globe newspaper.

[I think it likely that Murphy’s suggestion is the correct one, considering that other place names near Emsworth, including Warblington, Bosham, Havant, Hayling, Stockheath, and probably others contributed to Wodehouse’s cast of character names. —NM]

[Graeme Davidson comments that he finds it rather appealing to think that Wodehouse honoured Beach Thomas, not just through naming Beach after him, but also through naming Beach’s footman underling after him too.]


Thomas and Charles . . . Stokes (p. 8)

Thomas and Charles are conventional names for footmen:

The footman was addressed by his Christian name, or rather by a Christian name, not necessarily his own. The most usual names were Charles, James, John and John Thomas . . .

E. S. Turner, What the Butler Saw: 250 Years of the Servant Problem, Michael Joseph, London (1962), ch. 11

In Something Fresh, the footmen are named James and Alfred; these are probably not the same individuals as Thomas and Charles or the footmen in the later books. Stokes—who is mentioned as Thomas’s fellow footman in chapter 11, as first footman in Heavy Weather and still a footman in Galahad at Blandings—doesn’t conform to the Christian-name pattern for some reason. [TM/NM]


non-success . . . re-dispatching (p. 8)

These unconventional usages serve to emphasise Beach’s pomposity.


Master of the Hunt (p. 8)

The Master of the Hunt, or Master of Foxhounds, is responsible for the overall management of a hunt. In many hunts, the duties of Master are shared by two or more joint masters. The Master is responsible for the care of the hunt’s hounds and for arrangements in the field, though some of these duties may be delegated to a professional Huntsman.

Wodehouse’s use of the foxhunting analogy serves to highlight the comical nature of the search for the Earl’s spectacles.


one of the oldest inhabited houses in England (p. 8)

Wodehouse is again borrowing from Gertrude Jekyll, whose description of Berkeley Castle opens:

This venerable pile, one of the oldest continuously-inhabited houses in England, stands upon a knoll of rising ground at the southern end of the tract of rich alluvial land known as the Vale of Berkeley . . .

Jekyll, op cit, p 23


. . . in the county of Shropshire (p. 8)

In Something Fresh, the county was not stated, though such pointers as there were suggested Worcestershire. Murphy dissects the geographical evidence in In Search of Blandings.


Angus McAllister (p. 9)

McAllister is new to his position since Something Fresh, in which the head gardener was called Thorne. And, though he and the Earl frequently disagree on matters pertaining to the Castle’s gardens, he is still the head gardener as late as Full Moon (1947).

In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940), there is a head gardener called MacAlister; this may be no more than coincidence, though Wodehouse and Christie each professed an admiration for the other’s books.

There are numerous variants on the name McAllister, which is an Anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Alasdair, or son of Alasdair (Alexander). The name is widespread, though not very common, in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

[Ian Michaud discovered his literary source in Stephen Leacock’s Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich (1914), a Scotch gardener named McAlister, “a perfect character.” See Plum Lines, Autumn 2017.]


the day being June the thirtieth (p. 9)

Gertrude Jekyll again:

The end of June and beginning of July . . . This is the high tide time of the summer flowers.

Jekyll, op cit, p 26


roses, pinks, pansies … (p. 9)

Compare this with the even longer list of blossoms in “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” (1928):

[The gardens] were bright with Achillea, Bignonia Radicans, Campanula, Digitalis, Euphorbia, Funkia, Gypsophila, Helianthus, Iris, Liatris, Monarda, Phlox Drummondi, Salvia, Thalictrum, Vinca and Yucca.

[NM]


point with pride … view with concern (p. 9)

These two contrasting phrases are something of a cliché for journalists and speechwriters now, but no source prior to 1923 can currently be found in searches of online texts. Can Wodehouse have originated this trope? [NM]


brilliantined (p. 9)

Brilliantine, a fragrant, oily hairdressing liquid for men, was introduced at the 1900 Paris Exposition by French perfumer Édouard Pinaud. Brilliantined hair could be smoothed down into a tightly-controlled layer with a glossy shine. [NM]


five hundred pounds

To account for inflation from 1923 to 2018, this figure must be multipled by about 60, giving roughly £30,000 in today’s terms. [NM]


a section of books started to move (p. 10)

A concealed door was a fairly common architectural device in country house libraries. Usually the “books” on the door are dummies, to keep the weight within reasonable limits.


Rupert Baxter (p. 11)

The Efficient Baxter was introduced in Something Fresh. He appears again in Summer Lightning (1929), the short story “The Crime Wave at Blandings” (1936), and Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939), and is mentioned in Galahad at Blandings (1965).


the man at the switch (p. 11)

The ‘switch’ referred to is the movable rail (also known as ‘points’) that can be shifted to switch a railway carriage or train from one track to another. Before railway systems were automated, it was necessary for a railwayman (usually one of the train’s crew) to operate the switch manually. This was an important responsibility because a mistake could result in a collision. In effect, “the man at the switch” controlled the destiny of the train and, by extension, the term came to be applied to any person holding an important position of trust or responsibility. The expression “asleep at the switch” has the same origin.


“. . . I hate London” (p. 12)

See Something Fresh.


McTodd (p. 12)

See below.


Lady Constance Keeble (p. 14)

In Something Fresh, another of Emsworth’s sisters, Lady Ann Warblington, was the chatelaine at Blandings. Unlike Lady Ann, who spent most of her time in her bedroom, writing letters or nursing a headache, Lady Constance is made of much sterner stuff.

[A Keeble Road, Keeble Crescent, and Keeble Close may be found in Bournemouth, some forty miles away from Emsworth, though these are enough farther away than the other place names cited that the attribution must be tentative. —NM]


. . . in the middle forties (p. 14)

If Emsworth is approaching sixty, Connie is close to fifteen years younger. So comments such as “ . . . there were times when the charm of her face was marred by a rather curious expression; and from nursery days onward his lordship had learned that this expression meant trouble” (“Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!,” in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere) must refer to Constance’s nursery days, as Clarence would by then have been in his late teens (and away at Eton for much of the time).


literary fellows . . . in the house (p. 15)

In Piccadilly Jim, the financier Mr. Peter Pett suffers similarly at the hands of his wife, the novelist Nesta Ford Pett, who, to further her aim of establishing a salon, fills up the house with “novelists who had not yet started and poets who were about to begin.”


poetesses of the younger school (p. 15)

The word ‘poetess’ had already fallen out of favour by the time of Leave It to Psmith. The March 2010 revision of the OED quotes a remark from 1903: “Jesse Berridge is a poet, not a poetess, to use a somewhat outmoded word.” Wodehouse is perhaps using the word to give Connie’s language an old-fashioned air, though he may also be hinting that Miss Peavey is to be seen as a dabbling amateur, not a real poet.


who is she? (p. 15)

Rarely does Lord Emsworth show any indication of a snobbish attitude, and in the later books it is usually Constance who inquires into the social background of visitors to the Castle. On this occasion, Emsworth clearly is being pushed beyond the limits of his usual tolerance.


. . . the Rutlandshire Peaveys (p. 16)

Historically, Rutlandshire—now more usually known as Rutland—was the smallest English county, though it lost that distinction to the Isle of Wight in 1890 and lost its county status altogether in 1974, when it was absorbed into the county of Leicestershire. In 1997, following a further bout of local government reorganisation, Rutland regained the status of a ‘ceremonial county’—an area to which a Lord Lieutenant is appointed—but slipped further up the list of counties, above the Cities of London and Bristol, both of which also have the status of ceremonial counties.

Prior to the social upheavals caused by two world wars and other changes in society, English upper class families tended to be identified by association with the particular county in which they owned land. Thus, for example, the Wodehouse family had long been associated with Norfolk. Wodehouse occasionally uses this for comic effect, usually to give a false sense of social status: for example, Psmith introduces himself in Mike (ch. 34) as “one of the Shropshire Psmiths,” and in The Adventures of Sally a girl is said to be one of the “Kent Bassington-Bassingtons.” In describing Miss Peavey as “connected with the Rutlandshire Peaveys,” Wodehouse is perhaps hinting once again that she is not what (or who) she appears to be.


But his first careless rapture . . .

See Something Fresh.


looked out on to an Italian garden (p. 18)

Gardens in the Italian style became popular in the mid-19th century, partly as a reaction against the picturesque style exemplified by landscape designers such as Capability Brown. Italian gardens are characterised by the use of built features—terraces, balustrades, staircases, footpaths, fountains and statuary—and a formalised design that usually employs geometric patterns and symmetry.


Winstone Court (p. 19)

Murphy (In Search of Blandings) notes that the only Winstone in England is in Gloucestershire, “not ten miles” from Sudeley Castle, which he proposes as one of the three sources for Blandings. He—and Joe Keeble—exaggerate slightly: the village of Winstone lies 8 miles due south of Cheltenham and some 12 miles south-southwest of Sudeley, as the crow flies.


on our way to Scotland (p. 19)

The Keebles are, no doubt, going to Scotland for the opening of the grouse-shooting season on August 12th. London is not exactly “on the way,” though it probably offers a better choice of railway services, as well as affording Joe an opportunity to attend to business and Connie a chance to enjoy the capital’s social occasions.


He and Lady Constance had a mutual banking account

Wodehouse as a boy had heard his parents quarrelling about money, and he had then and there determined that, when he got married, his wife would be the Chancellor of his, and their joint, exchequer. And so it was.

Richard Usborne, Dr. Sir Pelham Wodehouse, Old Boy, p. 12 [NM]


Phyllis . . . Jackson (p. 21)

As Phyllis has not previously been mentioned, it seems likely that she and Mike Jackson met and married during the period of time since the events in Psmith, Journalist. [At this point in the tale, of course, the reader’s only clue that this might possibly be Mike is that Psmith is named in the book’s title. A few paragraphs later the possibility is stronger, since we know from Psmith in the City that Mike is looking forward to a rural life, with plenty of chances for cricket as well as estate management. —NM]


Pygmalion and Galatea (p. 21)

In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a king of Cyprus who fell in love with an ivory statue; Ovid, in his Metamorphoses, Book X, makes Pygmalion the sculptor of the statue. Pygmalion prays to the goddess Aphrodite that the sculpture might be changed into a real woman and Aphrodite sends Cupid to kiss the statue, bringing it life as a beautiful woman, whom Pygmalion then marries and by whom he has a son, Paphos: in ancient Greek mythology, Paphos, on the south-west coast of Cyprus, was the birthplace of Aphrodite.

In the Greek myth and in Ovid the statue is nameless: the name Galatea did not become associated with Pygmalion until the mid- to late-18th century.

The legend of Pygmalion and Galatea has inspired numerous works of art, among them operas by Rameau (Pigmalion) and Donizetti (Il Pigmalione), plays by W. S. Gilbert (Pygmalion and Galatea) and George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion, which was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady), sculptures by Auguste Rodin, a sketch by Goya, and a series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones.


obbligato on the keys (p. 22)

Italian Obbligato: obligatory. As a musical term, it originally designated a part of a composition, especially an accompaniment, which, though subordinate to the principal melody, is nevertheless essential and should not be omitted; later, it came to designate any prominent instrumental part, usually one which is subordinate to the principal melody.

Wodehouse is punning on the word ‘keys,’ which, though clearly referring to those in Joe’s pocket, may misdirect the reader into thinking of the keys on a piano.

See also Summer Moonshine, where the same image is used in very similar circumstances.


a rip (p. 22)

OED: A worthless, dissolute fellow; a rake.

With his “I’ve heard stories,” Joe is presumably suggesting that the man has a dubious reputation, even if nothing has actually been proved against him.


Gardening as a Fine Art (p. 23)

Neither this title, nor anything similar, is to be found in the catalogues of the British Library or the Library of Congress, or in the WorldCat online bibliographic database. But any library that holds a hitherto-unknown copy of the Gutenberg Bible is surely entitled to house a non-existent book on gardening.

[The title appears as a phrase in Andrew Jackson Downing’s influential Theory and Practice of Landscape Gardening from the 1840s, and in George William Johnson’s A Dictionary of Modern Gardening in 1847. A 1923 article by Flora Townsend Little in Art and Archaeology magazine, volume 15, is titled “Gardening as a Fine Art.” —NM]


son of Belial (p. 24)

See Love Among the Chickens


Angus McAllister is all wrong on the subject of hollyhocks (p. 24)

For more on the flower itself, see the note at p. 102 below. This is the first mention of Lord Emsworth’s ongoing battle with his head gardener on the subject; it continues in later books. [NM]

My head gardener, Angus McAllister, is a man with whom I do not always find myself seeing eye to eye, notably in the matter of hollyhocks, on which I consider his views subversive to a degree; but there is no denying that he understands roses.

“Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!” (1927), collected in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935)

I must tell you some time about the trouble I had with him regarding hollyhocks.

Heavy Weather (1933)


a pinched Pomeranian

See Love Among the Chickens


half a jiffy

One might have thought this was one of Freddie’s Jazz Age slang phrases, but “jiffy” for a short time dates from the late eighteenth century, and even “half a jiffy” can be found in Thomas Hood’s 1841 poem “A Tale of a Trumpet.” [NM]


psycho-analyst

This term for a practitioner of Freud’s theories of mental health was rarely used before 1920 outside of medical journals and textbooks, so it had only recently entered popular culture at the time of this writing. [NM]


mug’s game

Mug as slang for a fool or dupe dates from the mid-nineteenth century; mug’s game for a foolish or unprofitable activity is cited beginning in 1900 in the OED. [NM]


. . . going to the mat (p. 26)

‘To go to the mat’ is a colloquial expression that has its origin in the sport of wrestling, where it means ‘to take part in a bout’; the earliest example of this literal usage cited in the OED dates from 1908. Figuratively, it means ‘to engage in a vigorous dispute or argument’ [OED] and one of the earliest such usages cited in the OED is this one from Leave It to Psmith.


. . . trying to bite the guv’nor’s ear (p. 26)

Not literally, of course; even the English upper classes have some standards! ‘To bite someone’s ear’ means to borrow money. According to Partridge (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1937), the expression has been in cant usage since about 1850; Barrère & Leland (A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, 1889) describe it as “prison jargon.”

See also Sam the Sudden and The Inimitable Jeeves.


. . . like a will-o’-the-wisp (p. 29)

Will-o’-the-wisp (and numerous variant spellings) is a name popularly given to the phenomenon, once common but now seemingly much rarer, of a phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over marshy ground and which is supposed to be caused by the spontaneous combustion of a gas given off by decaying organic matter. Because the phenomenon was attributed by countryfolk to the action of a mischievous sprite, the name came to be used figuratively to describe something that deludes or misleads by fugitive appearances. It is now used more generally to apply to something (or someone) that appears and disappears in a disconcerting manner.


“You want the best seats, we have ’em” (p. 29)

This is the title of one of the musical numbers in Act 1 of The Cabaret Girl (1922), a musical comedy for which Wodehouse and George Grossmith wrote the lyrics and Jerome Kern provided the music. [The sheet music shows that this is one of Wodehouse’s lyrics. —NM]

It was also the advertising slogan of Keith, Prowse & Co., a theatre ticketing business that was founded in 1830: the earliest example Terry Mordue was able to locate was in The Times newspaper for 22 May 1911, in which Keith, Prowse advertised seats to watch the coronation procession of King George V and Queen Mary with the slogan “YOU want best Seats! WE have them!” The seats were priced from 3 to 15 guineas, a very considerable sum 100 years ago. [Older examples are now online, including a Keith, Prowse & Co. advertisement in the Globe, 24 December 1909, for seats at Christmas pantomimes. —NM]


makes it a bit fuggy

Fuggy is school slang from the 1880s describing a stuffy, smelly, unventilated room. [NM]


. . . it isn’t stealing (p. 30)

Whatever Freddie’s abilities as a film critic, he is a poor legal adviser. Prior to the Married Women’s Property Acts, 1882 to 1907, a husband acquired full rights over his wife’s property upon their marriage, but a succession of Acts, in 1882, 1884, 1893 and 1907, radically improved the status of married women, granting them inter alia control over any property they owned before the marriage, or obtained by inheritance or earned in their own right after the marriage. So, if Joe gave the necklace to Connie as a present after their marriage, he could probably avoid a charge of stealing it; but if he gifted it to her before the wedding, he lost any right to it and could be charged with stealing it. [We learn in Chapter II from Phyllis that her “stepfather gave it to her when they were married”; perhaps Freddie is correct after all. —NM]


super-super-film (p. 30)

As feature film production became big business in the mid- to late 1910s, motion picture advertisers competed with each other to trumpet the special virtues of their finest productions to the public, hopefully without denigrating their standard lines. I haven’t found “super-super” before this Wodehouse coinage, but he may have been parodying the advertisements of Universal Studios. [NM]

While a standard five- or six-reel feature may have gotten by with the simple declaration “It’s a Universal!,” the studio’s better features, seven and eight reels in length, became known as Universal Jewels. When the company began turning out longer, bigger-budget specials, the designation “Jewel” did not seem to convey how truly extraordinary these big films were, so they were called “Super Jewels.”

Robert S. Birchard, Early Universal City (Arcadia Publishing, 2009), p. 81


. . . privily and by stealth (p. 30)

Item, Because in the convents of women men come not but underhand, privily, and by stealth, it was therefore enacted that in this house there shall be no women in case there be not men, nor men in case there be not women.

François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, 1653)
Bk. 1, ch. 52—“How Gargantua caused to be built for the Monk the Abbey of Theleme”


In the soup, undoubtedly

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


the Morning Globe (p. 34)

The Morning Globe is fictitious, but the evening London Globe had been real. Founded in 1803, and advertised as London’s Oldest Evening Paper, it ceased to exist in 1921, a few years before Leave It to Psmith, when it merged with the Pall Mall Gazette (which itself ceased to exist two years later, when it merged with the Evening Standard; the latter is still in existence).

The Globe was the newspaper on which Wodehouse started his journalistic career.


Captain Curb . . . (p. 34)

These seem to be fictitious tipsters, though their names all have an equine connection: a curb chain is an item of harness; the Head Lad is the person in charge of a stable; and bright eyes are regarded as one sign of a healthy horse, as well as being a name given to animals since the days of ancient Greece.


advertisement on page one (p. 34)

Until the end of the 19th century, English newspapers devoted their front page to classified advertisements. The Daily Express, founded in 1900, was the first national newspaper to put news stories on the front page, and was eventually followed by all the other major papers: when The Guardian made the change, in 1952, it left The Times as the only English newspaper still displaying advertisements on its front page. The Times finally adopted the new format with its issue of 3 May 1966, an editorial in that day’s issue noting that: “Uniqueness is not a virtue if it becomes mere eccentricity.”


Someone to Assassinate Your Aunt (p. 35)

In the 1920s, no less than today, it is unlikely that such an advertisement would have been accepted for publication. The very act of publishing an advertisement that stated “crime not objected to” could be construed as criminal conspiracy and, even though most people would probably read it as a joke, no sober advertising editor would want to risk the possibility of prosecution.


snappers

The OED cites this story as the first usage of “snappers” to mean teeth, and Google Books citations prior to this date seem to refer only to fish or turtles. [NM]


Chapter 2 (pp. 38–58)
Enter Psmith

Wallingford Street, West Kensington (p. 38)

There is no Wallingford Street in London. There is a Wallingford Avenue in North Kensington and there used to be a Wallingford House and Wallingford Garden between Charing Cross and Whitehall. The latter (certainly, and the former possibly) derived their name indirectly from the town of Wallingford in Oxfordshire (see Summer Moonshine), by way of Sir William Knollys (1547–1632), whose family had close connections with Oxfordshire and who took the title Viscount Wallingford in 1616.


a scaly neighbourhood (p. 38)

scaly: (19th-century slang) poor, shabby, despicable. See The Inimitable Jeeves for a newer sense of the word.


buses and the Underground (p. 38)

West Kensington lies roughly between Hammersmith Road to the north and Talgarth Road to the south. Several bus routes run along Hammersmith Road, providing access to South Kensington, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner. There are no bus routes along Talgrath Road, but there are two London Underground stations, Barons Court and West Kensington; both are on the District Line, which began operating along this stretch in 1905, opening up access to Westminster and the City; Barons Court is also served by the Piccadilly Line, which began operations in December 1906 and provides access to Leicester Square and Holborn.


semi-detached villas

A pretentious real-estate term for two adjoining houses sharing a common dividing wall. Originally villa referred to a country estate with houses and farm buildings, so this usage is stretching the term a good deal. Still, though, the Jacksons are not doing all that badly if they can afford a “duplex” (in US terms) and a maid. [NM]


the artists’ colony up Holland Park way (p. 39)

The district known as Holland Park lies about half a mile to the north-east of West Kensington; it occupies what was formerly the Holland estate (from Henry Fox, first Baron Holland, who bought the estate in 1768). Holland Park itself is a semi-wooded public park, part of which occupies the site of what was Holland House.

In the last quarter of the 19th century and the early 1900s, Melbury Road, at the southern end of the Park, became the focus of a small artists’ colony, as a number of successful painters and sculptors bought houses in the road. The first to do so was the painter and sculptor G. F. Watts (who had been befriended by Lord Holland while on a visit to Italy); others included sculptor Sir William “Hamo” Thornycroft (whose works include the statue of Oliver Cromwell that stands outside the Palace of Westminster), painter Marcus Stone (who had much early success as an illustrator of the works of Dickens and Trollope), architect William Burges (designer of the reconstructed Cardiff Castle, Wales), and painter and illustrator Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (who had been commissioned by Dickens to illustrate The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Other artists settled in the immediate vicinity, including Sir Frederick Leighton, who was president of the Royal Academy from 1878 until his death in 1896 (just one day after the issue of the patent that created him Baron Leighton).


“The name is Psmith, P-smith.” (p. 39)

Foreshadowing another famous introduction: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Psmith makes his first appearance at the end of chap. 31 of Mike (1909). He gives his name as “Smith,” but goes on to explain matters in much the same terms as here:

“If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P‑s‑m‑i‑t‑h. See? There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe . . . In conversation you may address me as . . . simply Smith, the P not being sounded.”

Mike, ch. 32 (or ch. 3 of the Captain serial The Lost Lambs)


“The p . . . is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan.” (p. 40)

Phthisis is a medical term for a wasting disease such as tuberculosis; except in opthalmology, it is now rare or obsolete. It is usually pronounced “thysis” or “tysis” (the ‘ys’ rhyming with ‘ice’)—it is the ‘ph,’ not just the ‘p,’ that is silent.

“Psychic” (pronounced “seyekik”) describes phenomena that relate to, or are generated by, the human mind, or that are attributed to supernatural or paranormal influences.

The ptarmigan (pronounced “tarmigan”), Lagopus mutus, is a bird of the grouse family; it is a sedentary species that inhabits rocky mountainsides and tundra throughout arctic and subarctic Eurasia and Northern America; isolated populations are also found at high altitudes in the Scottish Highlands, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. It is now officially known by its North American name, Rock Ptarmigan.

Psmith does not use these examples in Mike. Instead he compares “Psmith” to “the name Zbysco, in which the Z is given a similar miss-in-baulk”: Stanislaus Zbyszko (real name Stanislaus Cyganiewicz) was a Polish-born wrestler who was at the height of his success in England just before Mike appeared.


flicking a speck of dust from his coat-sleeve (p. 40)

A subtle hint, perhaps, of Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel? See the notes for Right Ho, Jeeves, where Bertie talks about flicking a speck of dust from lace shirt-cuffs. [NM]


Comrade Jackson (p. 40)

When we first meet Mike Jackson, at the beginning of Mike, he is a conventional schoolboy hero of a conventional schoolboy story. When Psmith appears, halfway through that book, he immediately takes centre stage and, throughout the next two-and-a-half books, Mike is steadily relegated to being little more than Psmith’s sidekick. This process reaches its culmination in Leave It to Psmith, in which the worthy (but, ultimately, rather boring) Mike makes a mere token appearance.

[Psmith explains his use of Comrade at their first meeting: —NM]

“I am with you, Comrade Jackson. You won’t mind my calling you Comrade, will you? I’ve just become a Socialist. It’s a great scheme. You ought to be one. You work for the equal distribution of property, and start by collaring all you can and sitting on it.”

Mike, ch. 32 (or ch. 3 of the Captain serial The Lost Lambs)


given the bird

Originally 19th-century theatrical slang for being hissed by an audience (earlier usages had “goose” or “big bird”); later generalized to being turned away, dismissed, fired; having one’s engagement broken off, etc. [NM]


. . . high road . . . low road. (p. 41)

Oh! you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
For me and my true love will ne’er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.

Chorus from "The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond,” a well-known Scottish song dating from c. 1841


over the nuts and wine (p. 42)

Psmith presumably intends to keep the news until the very end of the meal so as to avoid being thrown out hungry.

Nuts and Wine was the title of a revue which opened at the Empire Theatre, London, on 3 January 1914 and ran for 73 performances; Wodehouse and Charles Bovill wrote the book and lyrics.


Billingsgate Market (p. 42)

Billingsgate, at this time located on the north bank of the Thames just downstream from London Bridge, is the UK’s largest (and oldest) inland fish market. In 1327 the City of London was granted a royal charter giving it an exclusive right to set up markets and a further charter in 1400 gave citizens the right to collect tolls at Billingsgate and elsewhere. Billingsgate was originally a general market, trading in a wide range of commodities, but by the 16th century it had come to be associated exclusively with the fish trade and this was confirmed in an Act of Parliament of 1699. Until 1850, when the market moved into its first purpose-built home, trading took place from stalls and sheds around Billingsgate dock. The first building soon proved to be inadequate for the growing volume of trade and it was demolished in 1873, to be replaced by an arcaded building designed by Horace Jones, which opened in 1877.

[Murray Hedgcock notes that Billingsgate Market moved in 1982 to the delightfully named Isle of Dogs—a peninsula on the North bank of the Thames, down-river from the old location in the City of London itself. Wikipedia describes the new site as close to Canary Wharf, and mentions that the 1877 building at the older site was refurbished by architect Richard Rogers for offices and an entertainment venue.]

Fish is delivered to Billingsgate from all parts of Great Britain, mostly by overnight road transport so that it arrives at the market in the early hours of the morning. The market is open for trading only between the hours of 4 and 8.30 am, Tuesday through Saturday.


. . . on the knees of the gods (p. 42)

Alternatively: in the lap of the gods. The meaning is that the outcome is beyond one’s control, that ‘fate’ will decide. The phrase comes from Homer and is found in both the Odyssey and Iliad, e.g.

ταῦτα θεῶν ἐν γούνασι κεῖται (transliteration: tauta theon en gounasi keitai)

Homer, Odyssey, Book 1, line 268

The alternative English expressions arise from differing translations of the Greek, the literal word-for-word translation being “this of-the-gods on the-knees lies.” It has been suggested that the phrase arose from the ancient custom of placing votive offerings on the knees of statues depicting seated gods.


. . . shoals of replies (p. 42)

Psmith’s distate for fish clearly does not extend to fishy metaphors!


. . . winnowing the heap (p. 43)

Winnowing is the process of separating grain from the chaff by exposing it to the wind, hence, figuratively, separating the good from the bad, eliminating the worthless.


manifesto

Usually this term refers to a formal public proclamation, as of a political party or an artistic movement; Psmith’s advertisement scarcely deserves this grandiose term. [NM]


. . . a cup of the steaming (p. 44)

That is, a cup of tea.


whitebait (p. 44)

Whitebait are very small fish, typically no more than an inch or two in length. Long thought to be a distinct species, they are now known to be the fry of several species, chiefly (in British waters) herring and sprats. Whitebait are recorded as a menu item as early as 1612 but it was in the 19th century that they became particularly popular, large numbers of Londoners making their way to Greenwich and Blackwall each July and August to eat the whitebait that were caught in the Thames estuary. Fresh whitebait are esteemed as a delicacy; they are eaten whole, usually after being deep-fried in a coating of flour or light batter.


Wayland House (p. 46)

Wayland is a district in Norfolk, about 20 miles west of Norwich and 12 miles north of Thetford. Wodehouse used other place-names from this area: see, for example, Love Among the Chickens and A Damsel in Distress. There is even a Wayland House, in Watton, the town at the heart of the district, but this is a modern development. ‘Wayland’ is said to derive from ‘Wanelunt,’ a name that described the wet, oozy soils that characterised the district.

A different version of ‘Wayland’ (in Old English, Wēland) is the English name for the Germanic smith-god, Völundr: a neolithic burial mound near Ashbury, Oxfordshire, is named Wayland’s Smithy (though the name was probably bestowed by Saxon settlers some 4000 years after the burial chamber was constructed). The first episode of Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill is entitled “Weland’s Sword” and narrates the story of the god’s decline and eventual departure from England..


once a fortnight … new maid (p. 46)

No need for an extended treatise on The Servant Problem; Wodehouse tosses it off here in half a sentence. [NM]


antimacassars (p. 46)

See A Damsel in Distress.


Morning Post (p. 47)

The Morning Post was a conservative London newspaper, founded in 1772, noted for its attentions to the activities of the powerful and wealthy, and recognized as “the medium for all London society announcements” (New York Times, Feb. 14, 1901). [NM]


Rollo Mountford (p. 47)

There has not been a Lord Mountford in the Peerage of England. There was a Lord Montfort, however, and that title is variously misspelled as Montford, Mountfort and Mountford.

The first Lord Montfort was Henry Bromley (1705–1755), the MP for Cambridgeshire, who was raised to the peerage by George II in 1741 as Baron Montfort of Horseheath in the County of Cambridge. Bromley was a notorious gambler who was famous for organising cricket matches (at that time remarkable chiefly for the wagers they engendered); after suffering some heavy losses, he invited a number of friends to join him at White’s Club where they celebrated New Year’s Eve together, after which he retired to another room and shot himself. Horace Walpole, a contemporary of Bromley, described him in terms that would certainly fit Joe’s description of Rollo Mountford as “a rip.” The Montfort title died with the third baron in 1851.

Enter Lord Mountford with a coronet in his hand; with him the Earl of Salisbury.

(attrib.) Shakespeare, Edward III, Act IV, sc. 1

“Of Allan Quatermain of course I have heard. The natives told me that you were trekking to those parts; and if you, sir, are one of Lord Mountford’s sons, oddly enough I think I must have known your father in my youth. Indeed I served with him in the Guards.”

“How very strange,” said Anscombe. “He’s dead now and my brother is Lord Mountford.”

H. Rider Haggard, Finished, ch. 2 (1917)


he was agent on a place in the country (p. 47)

Mike was employed as Mr. Smith’s land agent, a position not to be confused with the modern, and oft-despised, ‘[real-]estate agent’ or ‘realtor’ who assists in buying or selling property. Depending on the size of the Smith estate, Mike’s duties might include collecting rents, dealing with tenants, keeping the estate accounts, and organising and supervising estate maintenance and improvements. Because the agent occupied a position of trust, it was quite common for the post to be given to a relative or friend of the landowner.


the Edgelows (p. 47)

‘Edgelow’ is an uncommon family name in England and has no obvious connection to Wodehouse or to Shropshire.


coal people from Wolverhampton (p. 48)

Wolverhampton, historically part of the county of Staffordshire and now part of the metropolitan county of West Midlands, grew wealthy in the 19th century on the basis of industries associated with local deposits of ironstone and coal: the city lies on the edge of what was the thickest and richest seam of coal in Britain. While many Wolverhampton industrialists built large houses for themselves in the city—many have since been demolished, though a few survive— it is to be expected that some would prefer to acquire a home in the country.


And who is Aunt Constance? (p. 49)

Echoes of Who is she?


Madeleine Sœurs (p. 50)

In English, Madeleine Sœurs can be translated as ‘Magdalene Sisters,’ which suggests the now-infamous Magdalene Asylums (or ‘Magdalene Laundries’), institutions that were originally established to ‘rehabilitate’ so-called ‘fallen women.’ In most of these institutions the inmates were forced to do hard physical labour, such as laundering, and sewing, in conditions far removed from those of a (presumably) up-market establishment in London’s Regent Street, which suggests the possibility that Wodehouse is indulging in a slightly obscure social comment.

Another possibility is that Wodehouse has conflated the names of two renowned Parisian fashion houses of his day, Callot Sœurs and Madeleine Vionnet, both of which had an international clientele. Callot Sœurs opened in 1895 and by the mid-1910s had achieved such an international reputation that their creations were discussed in Vogue and the New York Times. Madeleine Vionnet (1876–1975) served an apprenticeship with Callot Sœurs before opening her own salon, Vionnet et Cie, in 1912. In April 1923, a few months before Leave It to Psmith was published, Vionnet had, to a fanfare of publicity, opened new premises (dubbed the “Temple of Fashion”) on the Avenue Montaigne, Paris.


improve the occasion

From the French profitons de l’occasion: to use a situation as an opportunity for pointing out a moral lesson [NM]


billet

Originally a written order carried by a soldier requiring the recipient to provide him with board and lodging; in the 19th century extended to mean the place where such a soldier lodges, or any dwelling place (e.g. George Bevan’s cottage in A Damsel in Distress, ch. 7). By transference, originally in Australian and New Zealand slang, extended to mean a job or position. [NM]


Sandown (p. 51)

Sandown Park is a racecourse which is situated on the edge of the North Downs, near Esher, Surrey, on the south-west fringes of London. The racecourse has been in existence since 1875.


Cadogan Hotel (p. 52)

The Cadogan Hotel, in Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, was built in 1887, though it did not open as an hotel until 1895. One of its early guests was the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Facing criminal charges of gross indecency and advised by friends to flee the country, Wilde chose to remain at the hotel, where he was arrested in Room 118. The event was the subject of a poem by the poet laureate John Betjeman, The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel. It is ironic that though the arrest led to his conviction, imprisonment and subsequent exile, the hotel now memorialises the event in a “Wilde Suite.”

Also associated with the Cadogan Hotel was the actress Lillie Langtry, who had been a mistress of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). From 1892–97 she lived in a house in Pont Street; when it was absorbed into the hotel, in 1895, Langtry continued to live in her old bedroom. The hotel’s restaurant is now named Langtry’s in her honour, while Edward VII also has a suite named after him.


District Messenger (p. 53)

District Messengers were an early form of courier service. The first organised messenger service in London was provided by the aptly-named Boy Messengers Company, which was established in September 1887 and claimed to be “more expeditious than the Post Office.” In June 1890 the District Messenger Service and News Company was established and in 1893 this absorbed Boy Messengers. Although the activities of these companies flouted the Post Office’s statutory monopoly, political pressure forced the latter to legalise the situation in 1891 by issuing licences to the companies.

The district messenger service reached its peak around the time of the coronation of King George V, in June 1910, when some 1100 boys were employed, but the business was never profitable and the company expanded into the theatre ticket business; in 1898 it changed its name to District Messenger and Theatre Ticket Company, and in 1943—by which time the messenger service had all but ceased to exist—it adopted its current name, Theatre Tickets and Messengers.

Carefully-worded letters were despatched by District Messenger boys to the other generals.

The Swoop!, ch. 7

I will take him to an office of the District Messenger Boys. I will order a messenger to carry him at once to the Cats’ House, . . .

“The Man Who Disliked Cats,” in The Man Upstairs and Other Stories

I rather resented this seeming inability on the relative’s part to distinguish between a nephew and a district messenger boy.

Joy in the Morning, ch. 5


chain myself to their railings (p. 55)

This was a favourite technique of the suffragettes in the decade before World War I. See also Wodehouse and the Suffragettes, especially 2/16/1906 note I and 12/22/1906.


He proposes early and often. (p. 56)

See notes to The Clicking of Cuthbert, on a similar phrase in the story “The Heel of Achilles” (1921).


the Inferno (p. 56)

Hell (from Italian). [One of the three books in Dante’s Divine Comedy. —NM]


miles of stately corridors

Eve makes a somewhat tactless joke about the lack of splendor of Phyllis’s home; it would indeed seem that she and Psmith have much in common, as Phyllis hints (“just your sort”) on the last page of the chapter. [NM]


Chapter 3 (pp. 59–65)
Eve Borrows an Umbrella

Thorpe & Briscoe (p. 59)

Wodehouse is exaggerating for comic effect: a “fashionable shopping district” is an improbable location in which to find a coal merchant’s premises, which would, in any event, be an improbable source of ostentatious display.

In “Tried in the Furnace” (Young Men in Spats), Messrs. Thorpe & Widgery run the grocer’s shop in Bridmouth-on-Sea in which Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton first encounter Angela Briscoe.

Thorpe is a common West Country family name: more than 10 percent of the people in Great Britain named Thorpe live in Somerset or Devon. The name Briscoe is almost entirely confined to the counties of Oxfordshire and West Midlands, the latter being formerly one of the country’s major coal-mining districts (see above).


Sistine Chapel (p. 59)

The Sistine Chapel, in Vatican City, takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned its construction in 1475 to provide a place of worship for the Papal Chapel, a body that includes the Pope’s household, members of the College of Cardinals and most of the senior ecclesiastics in the Vatican. The chapel was consecrated on the Feast of the Assumption, in August 1483. As well as its liturgical function, the Sistine Chapel has, since 1846, been used for Papal conclaves, the meetings of the College of Cardinals that take place, after the death of a pope, to elect a successor.

The interior walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are decorated with frescoes and paintings by some of the greatest Italian artists of the 15th century, among them Raphael, Perugini, Botticelli, and, most famously, Michelangelo, who, between 1508 and 1512 painted over 12,000 square feet of the chapel’s ceiling and then spent another four years, from 1537–41, decorating the wall behind the altar with a huge fresco, The Last Judgment.


Taj Mahal (p. 59)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert


Drones Club (p. 59)

There are references to the Drones Club in Jill the Reckless/The Little Warrior (ch. 8) and The Inimitable Jeeves (“Bingo and the Little Woman”) but this is the first time that the club receives anything more than a passing mention. Murphy (In Search of Blandings) suggests that of the many clubs that had a real presence in Dover Street, the Bath Club, at No. 34, was the most likely geographical source for the Drones.

In Cocktail Time, the Demosthenes Club is said to be immediately across the street from the Drones Club, in the position occupied here by the premises of Messrs. Thorpe & Briscoe.


on her way to the Ada Clarkson Employment Bureau (p. 60)

To be passing through Dover Street en route for Shaftesbury Avenue, Eve must be coming from somewhere in the Berkeley Square neighbourhood. Anyone coming from further afield would have taken Bond St. or Regent St. if coming from the North, or Piccadilly from the West.

Berkeley Square seems an unlikely sort of address for someone of her straitened means.


Starting at furthest south and proceeding northward (p. 60)

Wodehouse is making use of the convention that south is ‘down’ and north is ‘up’; in the context, therefore, “furthest south” refers to the feet.


a black bird of Paradise feather (p. 60)

Birds of Paradise, members of the family Paradisaeidae, are mostly confined to the islands of the New Guinea archipelago. The males of most species have evolved highly decorative plumages, often involving elaborate elongated feathers. These feathers are often used by local tribesmen to decorate their ceremonial dress, and in the 19th and early 20th century they became much sought-after for the European millinery trade, leading to over-hunting and the threat of extinction. Most species are now protected, with limited exemptions to meet local cultural requirements, and destruction of their habitat has replaced hunting as the main threat to their survival.


to seek in these matters (p. 60)

A somewhat archaic use of the infinitive “to seek” meaning “at a loss” or “without skill or learning” about these things. [NM]


driving her father the millionaire to the City (p. 60)

The City of London, also called the Square Mile or just the City, is the site of the original Roman settlement of Londinium, and is politically a city and county of its own. Most often, though, as here, “the City” is a nickname for London’s financial district, just as “Wall Street” refers to New York’s financial district. [NM]


his not to reason why (p. 60)

See Money in the Bank.


the Honourable Mr. Walderwick (p. 61)

If Walderwick exists as a family name, it is exceedingly uncommon. Nor does it occur as a placename in England; the nearest to it is Walberswick, a small village on the Suffolk coast, which is sometimes misspelled as Walderswick (less often as Walderwick):

Southwould is a member of the port of Yarmouth; and Walberswick, commonly written Walderswick, is a creek to Southwould.

Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the Island of Great Britain, 8th ed., vol. 1 (1778)

The title “The Honourable” is the courtesy style of the younger sons of earls—the eldest son bears a courtesy title and daughters are styled “Lady”—and the sons and daughters of viscounts, barons and life peers. Thus, Mr. Walderwick could be a younger son of an earl (like Freddie Threepwood) or the son of a viscount or baron: we have no way of knowing.


Ada Clarkson International Employment Bureau (p. 62)

From what we have seen of Miss Clarkson so far, the adjective “International” seems incongrously boastful. There are two “International” detective bureaus in Wodehouse, Stafford’s in “Bill the Bloodhound” and Mr. Sturgis’s in Piccadilly Jim, but these clearly have larger staffs than Miss Clarkson can command. [NM]


Shaftesbury Avenue . . . Palace Theatre (p. 62)

For Shaftesbury Avenue, see A Damsel in Distress.

The Palace Theatre is on the west side of Cambridge Circus, where Shaftesbury Avenue intersects Charing Cross Road. It was commissioned by Richard D’Oyly Carte, who intended it to be the home of English grand opera, much as his Savoy Theatre, with its programme of Gilbert and Sullivan works, had established itself as the home of light opera. The theatre opened in January 1891, with a performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, but within a year D’Oyly Carte had sold it and it was renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties, becoming the Palace Theatre in 1911.

If Ada Clarkson’s offices are located “at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue,” they are rather more than just “a little way past the Palace Theatre,” as this is only about halfway along the Avenue.


speaking-tube

A purely acoustic form of inter-office communication through pipes running from one room to another; a few feet of each end of the tube would be made of a flexible rubber hose with a wooden or metal cone-shaped end to serve alternately as mouthpiece and earpiece. [NM]


come croppers

A cropper was mid-nineteenth century slang for a heavy fall, as from a horse; to “get a cropper” or “come a cropper” soon was extended to refer to any notable failure or calamity. [NM]


brick

Mid-nineteenth century slang for a solid citizen, a worthy fellow. [NM]


blue paper (p. 64)

This was almost certainly a county court summons, which is usually printed on blue paper. In England and Wales, actions to recover small debts (until 1991, amounts less than £5,000) are usually commenced in the county court. The creditor (or his lawyer) commences an action by filing a request for a court summons, which sets out the details of the claim. This county court summons is then served on the defendant, either by post or (as in the case recalled by Eve) in person (usually by a bailiff of the court).


penny (p. 64)

A British coin worth 1/240 of a pound sterling, minted in bronze from 1860 to 1970. We don’t know the exact date of this tale, but inflation was low during the period before the First World War, so an approximate inflation factor to the present day would be in the range of 110–120; thus its worth in current terms would be just under half a pound (almost 50p in decimal coinage). [NM]


one of the submerged tenth (p. 65)

See Something Fresh.


a hundred and fifty pounds a year (p. 65)

Using the 1923–2018 inflation factor of 60, this would be roughly £9,000 in today’s terms — but of course the cost of renting in London has gone up faster than the average inflation of other goods and services, so this number seems incredibly small to us today for her to be “smugly opulent” upon. [NM]


not allowed to touch the capital (p. 65)

Assuming Uncle Thomas bought Consols, a type of government bond paying perpetual fixed interest of 2.5% if bought between 1903 and 1923, her capital would be £6,000; something like £360,000 in modern terms. [NM]


Chapter 4 (pp. 66–69)
Painful Scene at the Drones Club

The good man loves his umbrella (p. 66)

Two likely sources among other possibilities: “The good man loves his country” (a nineteenth-century code of ethics, quoted in 1907 by Chesterton) or “The good man loves his brothers” (an example phrase from a modern textbook of ancient Greek which might possibly come from an older book). [NM]


he desired the porter to procure him a cab

In her excellent set of notes to this chapter, “Rebekah” comments: “Psmith can’t afford a cab any more than Eve can, but he’s evidently finding it hard to give up his accustomed lifestyle. Besides, he can hardly show up to an employment agency soaked—it’s about a mile’s distance between Dover Street and the Palace Theatre area.” Her entire set of annotations combines her fresh and interesting take on early Wodehouse works with copious credited quotations from Terry Mordue’s earlier version of these notes. [NM]


a dashed good umbrella (p. 67)

The Hon. Hugo is moderate of speech even when indignant. From the Victorian printer’s habit of printing “d——” for “damn” arose the late-Victorian habit of pronouncing it as “dashed” (cited in print from 1881 on). [NM]


Sir Philip Sidney (p. 68)

See Sam the Sudden.


Sir Walter Ralegh (p. 68)

Sir Walter Ralegh (c.1552–1618) was a soldier, seaman, courtier, explorer and author. (There are many alternate spellings of the name, ‘Raleigh’ being now most common, though he seems to have had a preference for ‘Ralegh’)

The incident involving the cloak is possibly the only thing that most people remember about Ralegh, but it is generally dismissed as apocryphal. The only source for the story is a piece of gossip recorded by Thomas Fuller, who suggests that the incident took place soon after Ralegh’s return from Ireland; but that happened in December 1581, and Fuller was not born until 1608:

This captain Ralegh, coming out of Ireland to the English court in good habit (his clothes being then a considerable part of his estate) found the queen walking, till, meeting with a plashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Ralegh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground; whereon the queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits, for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a foot cloth.

Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England (1662)


The Girl’s Pet (p. 69)

This seems to be fictitious. [In the Saturday Evening Post serialization it was “the Girl’s Friend”—an actual pulp-fiction magazine founded in 1899, published in London by the Amalgamated Press. —NM]


Chapter 5 (pp. 70–79)
Psmith Applies for Employment

a very C3 intelligence (p. 71)

The Military Service Act 1916 introduced conscription for the first time in Britain. All unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41 years were automatically “deemed to have enlisted.” Conscripts were given a medical examination and those not exempted as medically unfit for duty were assigned to a service category: A (general service, “able to march, see to shoot, hear well and stand active service conditions”); B (service abroad, “free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service on the lines of communication in France, or in garrisons in the tropics”); and C (service at home camps, “free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service conditions in garrison at home”). Categories B and C were sub-divided into: 1—garrison service; 2—labour service; and 3—sedentary service. Thus, category C3 meant that the conscript was fit only for sedentary service in a home camp.

The conscript categories had nothing to do with intelligence—indeed, one might think that a conscript who could secure a sedentary home posting was perhaps displaying more intelligence than one who allowed himself to be assigned to category A (“cannon fodder”). Wodehouse is using “C3” figuratively, to denote the lowest grade.


practical Socialism

See the quotation at Comrade Jackson, above (p. 40). Note also this item in the Globe newspaper’s “By the Way” column, conducted by Wodehouse:

M. Lefèvre, the treasurer of the Radical Socialist Congress, found to-day, on rising to make a speech, that his pocket had been picked, and that he was the poorer by £64. M. Lefèvre is a stout upholder of the even distribution of wealth, but he did not want the thing to start quite so soon. (October 11, 1907)

This comment was sparked by an item in the Daily Express of that morning, headlined “Practical Socialism.” While the two words had long been used together in a positive sense, the Daily Express headline writer used them ironically in a way that must have influenced Psmith’s definition of it, which would first appear half a year later in the serialization of Mike as “The Lost Lambs” in The Captain, April 1908. [NM]


peeping into Volume Two

Victorian novels of romance were popular but expensive to buy; many readers relied on commercial lending libraries, paying an annual subscription fee to rent their reading matter. The libraries (Mudie’s being the most successful and famous) in turn coerced the publishers into keeping retail prices high and into dividing novels into three volumes so that one novel could be simultaneously loaned to three subscribers. [NM]

a zippy waistcoat

This Americanism (earliest OED citation is in 1904 from George Ade, an American humorist much admired by Wodehouse) for “bright, lively, energetic” seems a little unusual for such a correct dresser as Psmith; recall his disapproval of Comrade Bristow’s waistcoat, “a sort of woollen sunset,” in Psmith in the City (serialized as “The New Fold”). [NM]


in specie (p. 75)

The Latin phrase in specie (literally ‘in kind’) was also used to mean (especially in legal parlance) ‘in the proper form.’ In the 17th century it accrued the additional meaning ‘in the actual coin specified,’ or, more generally, ‘in actual coin, in money,’ from which arose the more general use of ‘specie’ to signify ‘coinage.’


raise Cain (p. 75)

To ‘raise Cain’ (also ‘raise the Devil,’ ‘raise the mischief,’ and several other variants) is to make a disturbance, to cause uproar. The phrase is a figurative use of one of the many meanings of ‘raise,’ in this case to conjure up a spirit or demon.

For, as I trowe, I haue yow told ynowe
To reyse a feend, al looke he neuere so rowe.

[For, as I believe, I have told you enough,
to raise a fiend, though he look never so rough.
]

Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, lines 860–1 (c. 1395)

The biblical Book of Genesis (4:1–16) tells how Cain, the first-born son of Adam and Eve, killed his younger brother, Abel, in a jealous rage after Abel’s offering to God was accepted and Cain’s was not. The same story is told in the Qur’an (Sura 5:27–32), though the brothers are not named.

“Why have we every reason to believe that Adam and Eve were both rowdies? Because they both raised Cain.”

St. Louis Daily Pennant, 2 May 1840


Eton (p. 75)

Eton College is the oldest public school in England. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as ‘The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor.’

In Mike (chap 32), Psmith recounts his early history in much the same terms as here (though he says there that his sister was bribed with a shilling an hour and struck for one-and-six). He also tells Mike that he was “superannuated” from Eton and that his father decided to send him to Sedleigh School after learning that “a certain scug in the next village to ours happened last year to collar a Balliol” (i.e. gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford).


unseemly wrangle

Though he was not the first to use the phrase, W. S. Gilbert popularized it in a lyric from The Gondoliers (1889):

Submit to Fate without unseemly wrangle:
 Such complications frequently occur—
Life is one closely complicated tangle:
 Death is the only true unraveller!

and such a dedicated Gilbert-and-Sullivan fan as Wodehouse can be presumed to be quoting from this source. [NM]


withdrawn his countenance from me

In other words, turned his face away, ceased to look with favor or protection. Said of God in commentaries on Bible verses such as Job 13:24; of monarchs and aristocrats who become displeased with former protégés. [NM]


auto-suggestion (p. 77)

Autosuggestion was a method of psychotherapy developed by French apothecary Emile Coué (1857–1926). Early in his career, Coué observed what later came to be known as the ‘placebo effect’—the tendency for a treatment to show positive results simply because the patient believes that it will—and this led him in time to the idea of treatment through autosuggestion. Coué identified the patient’s willpower as the main obstacle to autosuggestion and to overcome this he recommended patients to repeat the mantra “Every day, in every way, I am getting better and better.”

[Ian Michaud notes that John Hamilton Potter, in the 1926 short story “Mr. Potter Takes a Rest Cure” (collected in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, 1935), is a devotee of the Coué mantra, using it to calm his nerves when he is being chivvied by one of the Mad Gandles. Ian has also found a mention in a lyric from the 1924 musical comedy Sitting Pretty (with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern):
  I'd sit discussing Coué
  With my old pal Bat-eared Louie.
Wodehouse must have been confident that Coué was well enough known for this to draw a laugh from a Broadway audience.]


pilchards

small, edible, oily-fleshed fish of the herring family; when young and smaller than six inches, they are sold as sardines. [NM]


Dante (p. 78)

Dante Alighieri (c.1265–1321) was a Florentine poet. His epic poem, the Commedia, probably begun around 1308 and completed just before his death in 1321, is regarded as one of the greatest works in world literature. Dante departed from tradition by writing the poem in his native Tuscan dialect and was thus instrumental in establishing the Tuscan dialect as the basis of the modern Italian language. The poem’s three books, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso, present an allegorical vision of the afterlife from a medieval Christian perspective within the framework of Dante’s imagined journey through the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.


peer into its eyes (p. 78)

Despite much research and numerous suggested alternatives, the food industry still mostly grades fish using what is termed “sensory analysis.” Despite its grandiose name, this involves little more than simple indicators of appearance (are the eyes clear? is the flesh colour bright?), touch (is the flesh firm? does it spring back when pressed?) and smell (does it reek?). Fresh fish should, so it is claimed, yield positive answers to all except the last question: paradoxically, fish that smells fishy is unlikely to be fresh.


pshrimp (p. 78)

The ‘p’ in pshrimp is not just silent, it is also invisible.


Jane Emmeline Moss (p. 78)

This seems to be a Wodehouse invention. A few years later, he recycled the ‘Jane Emmeline’ part:

It seems to me that at least two-thirds of the stuff published nowadays is by one-book people. You know, A Stirring Revelation of a Young Girl’s Soul by Jane Emmeline Banks, who never writes another damn book in her life. The test is, can you write three?

Letter to Bill Townend, 27 April 1929


Sir Jasper’s rooms … compromising letters

Wodehouse’s Jaspers are often baronets and usually villains, whether financiers like Sir Jasper Addleton (“The Smile that Wins”) and Sir Jasper Todd (“Big Business”), wicked guardians like Sir Jasper ffinch-ffarrowmere (“A Slice of Life”), or just evildoers like Sir Jasper Murgleshaw (“The Baronet’s Redemption”). [NM]


four o’clock race at Birmingham (p. 79)

Birmingham used to have a racecourse, located at Bromford Bridge, between Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield, but it closed in June 1965 and the area was redeveloped for housing.


Chapter 6 (pp. 80–111)
Lord Emsworth Meets a Poet

pavements (p. 80)

North Americans use the term “sidewalk” for what the British call the “pavement.” [NM]


a little budget of literary matter (p. 80)

‘Budget’ is being used here not in its usual modern sense, of an estimate of future finances, but in an earlier sense, meaning a bundle, or collection:

Your friends being abroad, I read, as you desired, the whole budget of papers you sent about the coals.

Jonathan Swift, “Letter upon Coals,” The Dublin Weekly Journal, 25 October 1729


A nice bag (p. 81)

In a hunting or fishing context, a ‘bag’ is a game-bag, hence, more generally, its contents or the quantity of game shot or caught (‘bagged’). Metaphorically, Psmith’s advertisement is a hunting expedition and the replies are the game he has bagged.


Alistair MacDougall . . . (p. 81)

Moneylenders in Britain often assumed a Scottish name and maintained at least a nominal office in Scotland to take advantage of a provision in Scottish law called “summary diligence”; if the contract contained the proper language about this, a lender could order a sheriff to seize any of a defaulting borrower’s assets without the necessity of going to court. Minors (those under twenty-one) could not make a valid contract, so these lenders would not bother doing business with them. See this 1897 article. [NM]

This paragraph is strikingly similar to a passage near the end of the first chapter of Something Fresh.


on his note of hand (p. 81)

See Something Fresh.


twenty-first birthday (p. 81)

See Something Fresh.


This Night Shall Thy Soul . . . (p. 81)

This quotation from one of the parables in the New Testament was a favourite theme of evangelical preachers; in their journals, both John Wesley and his brother Charles mention sermons that they preached on this text in the 1750s.

And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?

Luke 12:16–20


bury him for eight pounds ten (p. 81)

That is, eight pounds ten shillings (roughly £510 in 2018 values [NM]).


Howard Hill, of Newmarket (p. 81)

No connection with the famous bookmaking firm founded in 1934 by William Hill (1903–1971); merely a coincidence of names. [NM]


Piccadilly Palace Hotel (p. 82)

This fictional hotel also features in books by Anthony Berkeley (The Piccadilly Murder, 1929) and Agatha Christie (Lord Edgware Dies, 1933). In The Piccadilly Murder, the crime takes place in the “gilt and synthetic-marble” hotel lounge, identified by Dale & Hendershott (Mystery Reader’s Walking Guide to London, 1987) with the main dining room and carvery of the Regent Palace Hotel, which opened in 1915 on a site overlooking Piccadilly Circus.


at twelve sharp, Friday, July 1

It is not explicitly stated in the opening chapters, but in Wodehouse’s introduction to a 1968 reprint of Something Fresh, he told us that the train journey from London to Blandings took about four hours. Without knowing that, at first reading one might think that the events of the first few chapters might all somehow happen in a single day, and wonder how Freddie’s letter could reach Box 365 before noon on the same day he wrote it at Blandings. But on closer examination, the story opens on June the thirtieth (chapter 1) and Baxter reminds him that the car will take him to the station at two sharp, so that he can travel to London that afternoon and meet McTodd the next day for lunch at his club. Freddie goes along that afternoon, ostensibly to see his London dentist the next morning, and is enjoined by his father to take the 12:50 train back on the next day. Thus both stay overnight in London, and it is surprising that Lord Emsworth doesn’t caution Freddie not to go out on the town that night. I don’t recall a town house in London ever being mentioned, so each may have stayed at his club. July 1 fell on a Friday in 1921, so if Wodehouse was trying to pin this story to the real calendar (which I doubt; his world and our world experience time at different rates) 1921 would be the best candidate. [NM]


pink chrysanthemum

chrysanthemum (p. 83)

As a Shropshire Psmith should know, chrysanthemums have large, spherical flowers, generally about the size of a tennis ball.


Dunsinane (p. 83)

Dunsinane in Perthshire was, at least according to Shakespeare, the site of the castle where Macbeth faced his final defeat. He had been told in a prophecy that he had nothing to worry about until “Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane” — inevitably, in Act V, Sc. v, the attacking army attach foliage from Birnam Wood to their clothing as camouflage before marching on Dunsinane.


as far east as . . . Charing Cross (p. 84)

Charing Cross Station is close to Trafalgar Square, about half a mile south-east of Piccadilly Circus.


Zadkiel (p. 84)

Zadkiel, as well as being the name of an archangel, was the pen-name of a certain Lt. Morrison, author of the Prophetic Almanac and well-known astrologer.


Goodwood Cup (p. 84)

Horse races have been held on the Duke of Richmond’s estate on the Sussex Downs since 1802. The Goodwood Cup takes place at the beginning of August, and is one of the classic summer events for the fashionable world.


a sort of journeys-end-in-lovers’-meeting look

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear! your true-love’s coming
That can sing both high and low;
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in lovers’ meeting—
Every wise man’s son doth know.

Shakespeare, the Clown’s song from Twelfth Night, II, iii.


. . . sad words of tongue or pen (p. 86)

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

John Greenleaf Whittier: Maud Muller


deaf adder (p. 87)

They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent: even like the deaf adder which stoppeth her ears;
Which refuseth to hear the voice of the charmer: charm he never so wisely.

Bible: Psalm 58:4


like Patience on a monument (p. 88)

She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’ th’ bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.

Shakespeare: Twelfth Night II:iv,110


Paddington Station (p. 89)

In Something Fresh, the trains for Blandings left from Waterloo. Paddington, the Great Western Railway terminus, is more consistent with the idea of Blandings being in Shropshire.


as broke as the Ten Commandments (p. 90)

It’s not clear whether this punning simile refers to Moses breaking the original set of stone tablets on which the commandments were written (Exodus 32:19), or to the way we have all been happily breaking those commandments ever since.


to touch you

to ask you for an informal personal loan or gift, as between friends. British slang cited from 1760 to modern times. [NM]


And meanwhile

We are in the era of silent films, where printed title cards were used not only for dialogue but also for explanatory phrases to introduce a change of scene or the passage of time. See “Came the dawn”. [NM]


Colney Hatch (p. 92)

Colney Hatch, at New Southgate, Middlesex, has been the site, since 1851, of the Middlesex (later London) County Lunatic Asylum. In 1937, it was renamed as Friern Hospital, taking its new name from the nearby hamlet of Friern Barnet.


luncheon-gong of the soul (p. 92)

This seems to be an indirect reference to Byron’s Don Juan — the expression ‘tocsin of the soul’ also appears explicitly in Summer Lightning.

XLIX

But I digress: of all appeals, — although
I grant the power of pathos, and of gold,
Of beauty, flattery, threats, a shilling, — no
Method’s more sure at moments to take hold
Of the best feelings of mankind, which grow
More tender, as we every day behold,
Than that all-softening, overpowering knell,
The tocsin of the soul — the dinner-bell.

L

Turkey contains no bells, and yet men dine;
And Juan and his friend, albeit they heard
No Christian knoll to table, saw no line
Of lackeys usher to the feast prepared,
Yet smelt roast-meat, beheld a huge fire shine,
And cooks in motion with their clean arms bared,
And gazed around them to the left and right
With the prophetic eye of appetite.

George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron (1788–1824): Don Juan Canto V: 49–50]


piano (p. 92)

This is the Italian musical term for “softly”—in sheet music it appears as p. The keyboard instrument usually called a piano is formally a pianoforte (soft-loud) because it plays softer or louder depending on the player’s touch on the keys. [NM]


lean years (p. 92)

This proverbial expression probably has its origins in Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis 41, although the AV doesn’t actually use the phrase ‘lean years.’

17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:

18 and, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fat-fleshed and well-favored; and they fed in a meadow:

19 and, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favored and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:

20 and the lean and the ill-favored kine did eat up the first seven fat kine:

21 and when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill-favored, as at the beginning. So I awoke.

22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good:

23 and, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them:

24 and the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.

25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do.

26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.

27 And the seven thin and ill-favored kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.

28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he showeth unto Pharaoh.

29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt:

30 and there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;

31 and the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.

[Bible: Genesis 41:17–31]


Youth held carnival (p. 92)

??? sounds like a quotation


Senior Conservative (p. 93)

This London club first appeared in Psmith in the City.

Murphy identifies it convincingly as the Constitutional Club, formerly on Northumberland Avenue. Wodehouse became a member some time before 1908. It is mentioned by name in the preface to The Girl on the Boat.

N. T. P. Murphy, In Search of Blandings (1986) 81–83


country member . . . 1888 (p. 93)

Clubs often have cheaper rates for members who live outside London. The date suggests that Emsworth was born before 1868, consistent with him being in his mid-to-late fifties in 1923.


. . . recent creations (p. 93)

This phrase is normally used to refer to hereditary titles bestowed in the last century or so. Wodehouse is using it to suggest that being elected to the Senior Conservative implies the same sort of standing and dignity as being raised to the peerage. (In most London clubs, existing members voted on new applications for membership, so that ‘the wrong sort of people’ would be kept out.)


Downing Street (p. 93)

A side-street off Whitehall. The Prime Minister’s official residence is No.10, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives at No.11. (The rest of the street is occupied by the Cabinet Office.)


by-election in the Little Wabsley Division (p. 93)

Division is an old term for a parliamentary constituency. A by-election is an election that takes place in a single constituency because a seat in the House of Commons has become vacant between general elections (usually because a member has died or been elevated to the House of Lords).

The nearest real placenames to “Little Wabsley” are Little Walden and Little Warley, both in Essex. There is no Wabsley.


Ralston McTodd (p. 95)

In C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne’s The Adventures of Captain Kettle (1898), the chief engineer is called Neil Angus McTodd. He reappears in several other stories by Cutcliffe Hyne.

McTodd seems to be a real name, although it is rather uncommon–most of the hits generated by an internet search on the name refer either to Wodehouse or to Cutcliffe Hyne.

Ralston clearly has Canadian associations — there is a town of that name, and it was the name of a distinguished Canadian army officer of the first world war, who later became defence minister.

There have been suggestions [D.M.R. Bentley, Canadian Poetry, Vol.14 (see URL below)] that McTodd owes something to the Canadian poet Bliss Carman (1861–1929). Certainly, the one line of McTodd’s poetry we encounter sounds very like Carman. On the other hand, Carman would have ceased to be plausibly describable as ‘a gloomy-looking young man’ somewhere around 1900. We are also told that, although he wore his hair long, it was never ‘disordered,’ and he washed it daily [Mitchell Kennerly, quoted by H. Pearson Gundy, Canadian Poetry 14].

Another theory is that McTodd shares his origins with Bertie Wooster’s friend, the lazy poet Rocky Todd.

http://www.arts.uwo.ca/canpoetry/cpjrn/vol14/bentley.htm

http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/authors/carman.html


singer of Saskatoon (p. 95)

Bliss Carman came from Fredericton, New Brunswick, around 2500km from Saskatoon.

Ian Michaud reports that city fathers in the Saskatchewan city have decided to erect a statue of The Singer of Saskatoon.

No, not Ralston McTodd. It will be a statue of folk singer/ song-writer Joni Mitchell. Judging by her quotes in today’s newspaper (under a headline reading ‘Joni Mitchell bewildered by plan for a statue of her’) she doesn’t know quite what to make of it all.

‘I guess it would be a good place for birds to perch. (. . .) It’s just such a strange suggestion to be woken up to. It would be a true honour. It really would. But is this not something usually done post-mortem? (. . .) I would hope it would be a decent likeness. My face caricatures easily. I can tell by my fan drawings.’


Ipsilanti Herald (p. 95)

The Ypsilanti were a family of Phanariot (i.e. Istanbul Greek) princes, prominent in Balkan politics in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in the struggle for Greek independence from 1820 onwards. The name is usually transliterated into English as Ypsilanti, Upsilanti, or even Hypsilanti, but in other languages (e.g. Romanian) it is Ipsilanti. Only the Saturday Evening Post serial spells it with a Y, so it must be assumed that Wodehouse was responsible for the I spelling in the UK serial in the Grand magazine and in both US and UK books.

Ypsilanti is a town near Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from the Canadian border (a gazeteer from 1880 gives the population of Ypsilanti as 5471; the name always seems to have been spelled with a ‘Y’).

The local papers today are the Courier and the Press.


Montreal Star (p. 95)

Presumably a cross between the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star.


. . . a good listener (p. 97)

Being rather short-sighted himself, Wodehouse had obviously had plenty of opportunities to discover the conversational advantages of not being able to see your listener clearly. Much the same applies to deafness. . .


“In large gardens where ample space permits …”

Lord Emsworth has clearly memorized a passage from Gertrude Jekyll’s Some English Gardens. His extended, interrupted quote is nearly verbatim from page 33 of the book (unfortunately left out of the Google Book scan at the link cited above, but available at archive.org). [NM]


spills

Spills are long thin strips of wood (like uncoated matchsticks) or twisted or folded paper, intended to be lit from a larger flame then used to light something else like a candle, pipe, cigar, etc. [NM]


Nature intended a yew alley to be carpeted with a mossy growth

Here Lord Emsworth paraphrases Jekyll, page 34.

Almost better it might have been if the path were green and grassy too—Nature herself seems to have thought so, for she greens the gravel with mossy growths. Perhaps this mossiness afflicts the gardener’s heart—let him take comfort in knowing how much it consoles the artist.

See also “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” (1927, collected in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, 1935), in which Angus is still trying to pave the yew alley with gravel. [NM]


Gladstone . . . in ’78 (p. 100)

W. E. Gladstone (1809–1898), leader of the Liberal Party, was Prime Minister three times. In 1878, he was between his first and second terms of office, and Disraeli was in power and busy forcing the Russians to back down at the Congress of Berlin. Gladstone, as a supporter of Bulgarian independence, opposed Disraeli’s Balkan policy.

National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.

W. E. Gladstone, Speech at Plumstead, 1878


Peri . . . Paradise (p. 100)

In Persian mythology, peris were fallen angels who had to perform an act of penance before they could be re-admitted to Paradise. Lalla Rookh, a popular romance by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779–1852), includes the story of such a peri. Note also the sub-title of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri.


Corona (p. 100)

A Corona is a long, straight-sided Havana cigar.


yews … turned chessmen … stemless mushroom finial (p. 100)

Lord Emsworth is now quoting from page 63 of Jekyll’s Some English Gardens. [NM]


forming arbours (p. 100)

In British usage, an arbour is a bower or covered seat in a garden.


hollyhocks (p. 102)

Hollyhocks are tall perennial plants, with a mass of flowers running up a single stem, often thought of as the characteristic ‘cottage garden’ plant. The flowers come in a wide variety of shapes and colours.

Looking at the photos on the web sites of a few seedsmen, there seems to be a general preference for the floppy flower nowadays.

http://www.swallowtailgardenseeds.com/perennials/hollyhocks.html

https://www.americanmeadows.com/wildflower-seeds/wildflower-species/hollyhock-seeds


beaver (p. 104)

In 1890s England, beaver was slang for a bearded man. Presumably Canadians, aware that beavers are no more likely to grow beards than other mammals, used the word differently.


delphiniums . . . early phloxes (p. 105)

Wodehouse seems to have set Roget aside and taken up an American seedsman’s catalogue:

Delphiniums are spiky plants with a cone of blue or white flowers (larkspur); Achilleas have yellow flowers on a tall stem; Coreopsis is a low, spreading North American plant with daisy-like flowers; Eryngiums (sea holly) have prickly leaves and thistle-like flowers; Geums are related to roses; Lupines (usually written ‘lupins’ in Britain) have spiky, pea-like flowers; Bergamot can mean several different things in a gardening context — in this case probably the American herb Monarda, which has salad-like leaves and wispy red flowers; Phloxes are ground-covering plants found in North American woodland, which flower early in spring.


feast of reason and the flow of soul (p. 105)

There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl
The feast of reason and the flow of soul;

Alexander Pope: Imitations of Horace, Satire I, Book II, lines 127–128


Stronger Growing Clematis (p. 105)

Clematis is a familiar climbing plant. [This page mentions stronger growing Clematis montana as a smaller-flowering vigorous climbing plant that needs to be pruned to stop them killing their host shrubs. —NM]


changeling (p. 106)

Normally a baby which has been surreptitiously exchanged for another in infancy.


Herbert the Turbot (p. 108)

Many others, especially journalists, seem to have been weaker than Psmith and unable to resist the urge to rhyme ‘Herbert’ with ‘Turbot.’ A quick search on the web reveals any number of items with titles like ‘Herbert the Turbot survives night in fridge.’ No ballads, but there does seem to be one turbot limerick doing the rounds:

A sweet-loving fish is the Turbot
For one, that we all know as Herbert,
 Has told us the truth,
 That he has a sweet tooth,
Yes, Herbert the Turbot likes Sherbet.

[Chris Woods (Found on web, no date)]


John Drinkwater (p. 108)

John Drinkwater (1882–1937). One of the circle of ‘Georgian’ poets, associated with Robert Graves and Walter de la Mare, but now somewhat out of fashion. Before the first world war he was involved in the creation of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (see the link below for an Esperanto version of his verse play X=0, if that sort of thing amuses you). By the twenties he was best known as a biographer and distinguished philatelist. Wodehouse presumably picked him out for this little dig as far too serious a poet ever to rhyme ‘Herbert’ with ‘Turbot.’ John Masefield, on the other hand, who sold 200,000 copies of his Collected Poems the year Leave It to Psmith was published, would probably have jumped at such a commission.

Ian Hamilton (ed.), Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry, 1994, s.v. Drinkwater

http://donh.best.vwh.net/Esperanto/Literaturo/Revuoj/nlr/nlr25/drinkwater.html


another one along in a minute

Punch line of an oft-told American anecdote: [NM]

Most Southerners are gallant. An exception is the Georgian who gave his son this advice:
 “My boy, never run after a woman or a street car—there will be another one along in a minute or two.”

Robert Rudd Whiting: Four Hundred Good Stories (1910), p. 172


Chapter 7 (pp. 112–134)
Baxter Suspects

Apollyon in Pilgrim’s Progress, ‘right across the way’ (p. 112)

The Angel of the Bottomless Pit, often depicted as a dragonlike demon as in the 1728 illustration at right by John Sturt. See Hot Water for an extended quotation from Bunyan’s allegory. [NM]


It will be dark. . . (p. 112)

On July 1 of any year from 1916 until the writing of this book, Britain was on British Summer Time, one hour ahead of GMT, just as now. In Shropshire, sunset on July 1 is about 9:38 p.m., so the sun would be very low in the western sky with a clear level horizon, and, in the Vale of Blandings, had apparently only just set beneath the hills to the west when the 5:00 train got to Blandings station “several minutes past nine” as mentioned in section 3 of this chapter, p. 126 below. [NM]


oojah-cum-spiff

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


nifty

The adjective sense is cited in OED as originally US slang (Bret Harte, 1865; Mark Twain, 1882) for smart, stylish, attractive; the first British OED citation is from Wodehouse in one of the stories collected in The Inimitable Jeeves, although he had used it as early as 1920 in an Archie story. See below for the noun sense of the word. [NM]


fairies’ tear-drops (p. 114)

Evidently Miss Peavey is a soul-sister of Madeline Bassett. Whimsical ideas about fairies seem to have more to do with the early 1900s (J. M. Barrie) and the late 1910s (Conan Doyle) than the 1920s: possibly Wodehouse had to put up with earlier instances of this sort of thing in his youth. [TM/NM]


speaking countenance

This term for a face which readily expresses the emotions can be traced as far back as 1765, but by far the most famous usage is in Dickens, who mentions it seven times in the dialogue beginning: [NM]

 “Comrade,” said Wegg, “take a seat. Comrade, what a speaking countenance is yours!”
 Mr. Venus involuntarily smoothed his countenance, and looked at his hand, as if to see whether any of its speaking properties came off.
 “For clearly do I know, mark you,” pursued Wegg, pointing his words with his forefinger, “clearly do I know what question your expressive features puts to me.”

Charles Dickens: Our Mutual Friend, ch. 7


squashy mauve (p. 116)

Sir William Perkin developed mauve, the first synthetic organic dye, in 1856. It became the fashionable colour of the late-Victorian period. Again, this sounds more like 1890s decadence than 1920s modernism.

[Other books of poetry bound in limp purple leather are mentioned in Bill the Conqueror (1924), Jeeves in the Offing/How Right You Are, Jeeves (1960), and Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen/The Cat-Nappers (1974). —NM]


Across the pale parabola of Joy (p. 116)

This is one of only two lines of McTodd’s poetry we see in this book (see also Ch.9, p. 174 below). Wodehouse somehow manages to convince us that we know about his entire canon on the basis of those few words.

If McTodd is based on Bliss Carman, this line would be evidence in support: it doesn’t seem to be an obvious parody of a specific poem, but Carman is fond of abstract nouns, and does use the word ‘joy’ rather a lot. It sounds rather like his style. If McTodd were an avant-garde poet of the twenties (Eliot, Pound, etc.) then he would not be likely to be writing metrical verse like this.

The line is an iambic pentameter — the most common meter for ‘serious’ verse in English, used for instance in sonnets. There is clever use of assonance (especialy the ‘a’ sounds in ‘across and ‘parabola’) and alliteration (‘pale parabola’), giving a nice flowing sound-pattern to lead the reader to the final stress on ‘Joy.’

Thus it is a perfectly respectable line of verse. Wodehouse’s joke is that, especially without a context, it is completely meaningless. A parabola is a curve in mathematics (a conic section, or a second-order polynomial, depending on how you look at it). Thus it doesn’t make much sense for it to be pale. Of course, it is also the path taken by an object thrown up into the air — with a proper supporting context, you could use this idea to make the parabola of joy a metaphor for hopes rising up and then falling again, perhaps. But Wodehouse makes sure that we can’t read this sort of sense into it, by leaving it forever in isolation.


Job (p. 117)

In the Book of Job, in the Bible, Job is a respectable, god-fearing and reasonably wealthy man, upon whom God inflicts a remarkable series of catastrophes to prove a theological point.


Napoleon (p. 118)

Napoleon Bonaparte died on St Helena in 1821, and certainly never had the chance to travel on a train. His nephew, Napoleon III (1808–1873), would have had rather more opportunities to discover this technique for dealing with snoring fellow-passengers.


points

See under the man at the switch (p. 11) above. [NM]


Fangs of the Past (p. 119)

Seems to be fictitious; although there are many films with ‘Fangs’ in the title, only In the Wolves’ Fangs (1914), The Fangs of the Tattler (1916), and The Wolf’s Fangs (1922) seem to have been released before Leave It to Psmith appeared. [TM/NM]


Bertha Blevitch (p. 119)

[Bertha Blevitch also starred in Tiny Hands, mentioned in “Fixing It for Freddie” (in Carry On, Jeeves!, 1925) —NM]

It may be a coincidence, but the only occurrence of the name Blevitch Terry Mordue could find was in “Call for Mr. Kenworthy!”, an essay by the American humourist Robert Benchley. Wodehouse doesn’t seem to have used Kenworthy, but there is a Kegworthy in “Fixing it for Freddie.”

Benchley’s style is so close to Wodehouse’s that it almost reads like a parody.

“Call for Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Shriner—Mr. Bodkin—Mr. Blevitch—Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Bodkin—Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Shriner—call for Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Blevitch—Mr. Kenworthy.”

Mr. Kenworthy seemed to be standing about a 20 per cent better chance of being located than any of the other contestants. Probably the boy was of a romantic temperament and liked the name. Sometimes that was the only name he would call for mile upon mile. It occurred to me that perhaps Mr. Kenworthy was the only one wanted, and that the other names were just put in to make it harder, or to give body to the thing.

[Terry could not find a Mr. Shriner in Wodehouse, nor can I, but there are earlier Bodkins than the one he cites from Hot Water (1932): Aubrey Bodkin in “How Kid Brady Joined the Press” (1906) and Harold and Hilda Bodkin in “The Test Case” (1915). —NM]

Robert C. Benchley (1889–1945): Of All Things (1921) ‘Call for Mr. Kenworthy!’


Maurice Heddlestone (p. 119)

Heddlestone is a made-up name, presumably a variant of ‘Huddlestone’ (the late bishop of that name was obviously too young to have had anything to do with this).


Maxwell Bannister (p. 119)

Bannister is a favourite Wodehouse name. Garrison lists nine, not including this one, the first being in the school story “The Manœuvres of Charteris” (1903).


Claude Hepworth (p. 119)

Hepworth is a village in West Yorkshire. Garrison does not list any Hepworths. [But Cecil Hepworth (1874–1953) was a pioneer British film producer and director, considered old-fashioned but still working in the early 1920s; was this a subtle in-joke by PGW? —NM]


hush-money

Not a recent coinage, as one might suspect; OED has citations back to 1709. [NM]


the Metropolis

With the capital letter, this most often means London in British literature since the sixteenth century. [NM]


dormouse

A small rodent, not technically a member of the mouse family, more closely related to the squirrel. Its name comes from the Latin root for “sleep” (as in dormitory), since it is a nocturnal animal which also has a long hibernation period of about half a year. [NM]


“We only met a moment ago.”

In the magazine serializations of this story, Psmith and Freddie had been at Eton together, though Psmith was a few years older. Earlier in the story there were hints of vague recognition, omitted when the serial was revised for book publication, but in this scene of the serials they remember events from school days. Psmith, though, still tells Lord Emsworth that they have just met, as quoted above from the book version. [NM]


George Willard (p. 121)

This seems to be the only reference to him. Other Willards in the canon include Peter Willard, who appears in several golf stories starting with “A Woman Is Only a Woman” (1919), and Jill Willard in Do Butlers Burgle Banks?

There is also a George Willard, the Winesburg newspaper reporter in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), which Wodehouse certainly knew.


stentorian tones (p. 123)

Stentor is the Greek herald in Homer. His voice has the strength of fifty.


Keeble . . . Why . . . is that name familiar? (p. 123)

This would have been a ridiculous question if Psmith had been at Oxford (where there is a college named after John Keble) rather than Cambridge.


maintain yourself in the position to which you are accustomed

Similar wording appears since the nineteenth century in court proceedings for marital separation or divorce in setting the amount of support or alimony to be paid to the spouse receiving support, or formerly, in cases of inheritance, in setting the income allowed by the trustees of a decedent’s estate to the widow. [NM]


cold beef . . . Sunday evenings (p. 125)

Servants, especially in smaller households, normally had time off on Sunday evening to go to church. Thus the evening meal usually consisted of cold dishes, typically the meat from Sunday lunch served cold, and it would be an occasion which only very close friends (whom one did not need to impress) would be invited to share.


Wormwood Scrubbs (p. 125)

(Normally written “Wormwood Scrubs” and corrected thus in the Everyman/Overlook modern reprints.) Prison in West London, not far from West Kensington where the Jacksons live.


pick . . . oakum (p. 125)

Oakum is loose fibre obtained by unpicking ropes, and formerly used for caulking the seams of ships. Picking oakum was a tedious and unpleasant type of work commonly given to prisoners in the 19th century. “Sewing mailbags” would be a more contemporary image.


half-Nelson (p. 126)

A wrestling hold. Psmith also uses this image in Psmith in the City.


meau (p. 126)

Obviously an error for “mean.” Inverting letters was a common compositor’s error in the days when type was set by hand, but it is unusual to find it in a book that was presumably set by machine.


non compos (p. 126)

Non compos mentis — legal Latin for ‘of unsound mind’


daylight saving (p. 126)

“Summer time” (one hour ahead of GMT) was first introduced in Britain in 1916, as a temporary wartime economy measure, the clocks reverting to GMT in the darker winter months from the last Sunday in October through the last Sunday in March. Apart from a short period of double summer time in World War II, and Harold Wilson’s abortive attempt to maintain summer time all year round (1968–1971), the pattern has remained in use ever since.

Wodehouse comments on this in a number of other places, notably Summer Lightning Ch. 17. In fact it seems to be a useful element for an author, as he can use it (as here) to lengthen the day where needed, or forget it and have it get dark at dinner time if that is more appropriate for the plot.


two miles of country road

Wodehouse mentions the distance between Market Blandings and the Castle often, as in Heavy Weather (1933), ch. 8, and Service With a Smile (1961), ch. 2; Bill Lister walks it in Full Moon (1947); Beach walks it on a hot day in Galahad at Blandings/The Brinkmanship of Galahad Threepwood (1965). [NM]


sheep-bells (p. 127)

Probably obsolete by this time in British farming (for example, Thomas Firbank’s account of running a Welsh sheep farm, I Bought a Mountain, published in 1940, doesn’t mention bells at all), but presumably Wodehouse must have remembered hearing them in his youth at Stableford.

Cf. Kipling’s “Sussex, 1902”: ‘The sheep-bells and the ship-bells ring / Along the hidden beach.’


Maître! (p. 128)

French: “master”

A form of address a writer might conceivably use for a very senior and distinguished fellow artist.

[Ian Michaud notes that in The Girl in Blue (1971), cartoonist Jerry West also loses his poise when a girl whom he has fallen in love with at first sight addresses him as maître, as she is a great fan of his cartoons.]


wisps of morning mist … elves’ bridal-veils

Not even Madeline Bassett reaches this height of whimsy. [NM]


a sort of ladylike shimmy

A neat balancing act between the demure and the depraved! Originally “shaking the shimmy” (informal variant of “chemise”), the dance involved wiggling the shoulders and upper body combined with a rhythmic walk or stomp. At least in upper-class circles, the dance was regarded as crude and suitable only for minorities or others of low social standing. It was banned in New York in 1919. [NM]


an eye that could pierce … and stick out on the other side

Wodehouse’s catalog of penetrating glances could fill an entire essay. Here are just a few: [NM]

[Phyllis] gazed through me for a moment at some object a couple of thousand miles away...

Love Among the Chickens (1909), ch. XVI

I ran across Mary at the Horse Show last week, and her eyes went through me like a couple of bullets through a pat of butter. And as they came out the other side, and I limped off to piece myself together again, there occurred to me the simple epitaph which, when I am no more, I intend to have inscribed on my tombstone.

Reggie Pepper, in “Absent Treatment” (1911)

Mrs. Porter wasted no time. She perforated Mr. Penway’s spine with her eyes, reduced it to the consistency of summer squash, and drove him before her into the studio, where she took a seat and motioned him to do the same.

The White Hope (1914), book II, ch. xi (also known as The Coming of Bill)

The Honorable Freddie hated piercing stares. One of the reasons why he objected to being left alone with his future father-in-law, Mr. J. Preston Peters, was that Nature had given the millionaire a penetrating pair of eyes, and the stress of business life in New York had developed in him a habit of boring holes in people with them.

Something Fresh, ch. XI (1915)

Mrs. Steptoe’s eyes were capable of dinting armour plate, and in the case of more yielding substances such as the soul of Howard Steptoe could go right through and come out on the other side.

Quick Service (1940), ch. 3

“Those eyes of hers sort of go through you and come out the other side.”

Soapy Molloy, speaking of Leila Yorke in Ice in the Bedroom (1961)


harveyised steel (p. 131)

The American steelmaker H. A. Harvey developed a process for case-hardening nickel-steel for armour-plating. It was extensively used during the naval arms race of the 1890s, but had been overtaken by other materials by the beginning of the first world war. [The adjective is spelled Harveyized in the Saturday Evening Post serialization.]


. . . any specific tort or malfeasance. (p. 131)

Exactly the same expression is used in Something Fresh.

A tort is a negligent or intentional civil wrong not arising out of a contract or statute, an act that injures someone in some way, and for which the injured person may sue the wrongdoer for damages. Legally, a tort is a civil wrong, as opposed to a crime (though an act may constitute both a tort and a crime; for example, the crime of battery may also be a trespass against the person, which is a tort; the wrongdoer in such a case may face both civil and criminal penalties).

Malfeasance is the doing of a wrongful act, whether a tort or a crime, where the act itself is unlawful, as opposed to nonfeasance which is the omission of an act that a person is under a legal duty to do.


. . . a bit of top-spin (p. 132)

In ball games, top-spin is the term for making the ball rotate in a forward direction as it travels. It is particularly used in cricket and tennis to make the ball curve unpredictably in flight, or in games like snooker and billiards to make the cue ball continue in a generally forward direction after striking the object ball.

Wodehouse is being careful not to allow Psmith to slip into the role of poet too easily.


men of affairs

A “man of affairs” is a businessman, especially an owner or executive. The term caught on in the late nineteenth century, especially in America. Nothing in the sense of romantic affairs is implied. [NM]


souls of little children … innocence

But (in contrast with the last line of the top-spin note above) he does pick up quickly on the squashily sentimental manner expected by Miss Peavey. [NM]


Chapter 8 (pp. 135–166)
Confidences on the Lake


three . . . twelve-fifty (p. 135)

This seems to be a remarkably fast train–it does the journey in two hours ten minutes, while the five o’clock train takes four hours. Nowadays, if you left Paddington at 12:48, you would arrive in Shrewsbury (after two changes) at 16:27.

(This isn’t really a fair comparison, as the direct route via Worcester no longer exists: the shortest route today is from London Euston via Wolverhampton, and takes about three-and-a-half hours.)

[Note that in section 3 of this chapter, Psmith calls Eve’s trip “a four-hour journey,” so there is still some confusion over the schedule. —NM]


decapitated an egg (p. 135)

For those like myself who didn’t grow up with this practice and were puzzled when first reading this phrase: Soft-boiled eggs are most elegantly served in the shell in a china or glass egg cup, which holds the egg upright. A quick horizontal stroke with a table knife (for the bold) or a series of taps around the top with a spoon (for the more timid) removes the upper end of the shell and allows the contents to be eaten out of the shell with a small spoon; strips of buttered toast are a traditional accompaniment. [NM]


I want coffee . . . Why have I no coffee? (p. 135)

An echo, probably unintentional, of the text of Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” — “Kaffee, Kaffee, muss ich haben . . .


kedgeree (p. 136)

A traditional breakfast dish, made with rice, vegetables, and left-over fish from the day before. It has its origins in an Indian dish of rice, pulses, and onions.


the gowans fine (p. 136)

Gowan is a Northern and Scottish dialect name for the common daisy. Apparently, in those days, people still knew the words of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
 And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
 And days o’ lang syne?

 For auld lang syne, my dear,
  For auld lang syne,
 We’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
  For auld lang syne.

We twa ha’e run about the braes,
 And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
 Sin’ auld lang syne.

We twa ha’e paidl’t i’ the burn,
 Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid ha’e roar’d,
 Sin’ auld lang syne.

And here’s a hand, my trusty fiere,
 And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
And we’ll tak’ a right guid-willie waught,
 For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,
 And surely I’ll be mine;
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet,
 For auld lang syne!

Robert Burns: Auld Lang Syne


the ray from an oxy-acetylene blowpipe (p. 137)

Wodehouse had a classical education, so he can be forgiven for not knowing that a ray is a mathematical representation of the direction of propagation of light. An oxy-acetylene torch radiates light more-or-less uniformly in all directions, so there is nothing special about any of the individual rays.

He probably means flame rather than ray here: the flame is highly directional, and it is the hot gas in the flame that does the work of cutting.


lobelias

The genus Lobelia covers hundreds of species of annual and perennial flowering plants, some growing in compact clusters, others with upright flowering stalks, others trailing over the edges of containers. Many have profuse clusters of small flowers in intense colors, such as the Lobelia erinus ‘Crystal Palace’ with deep blue flowers, a traditional favorite in England and America. [NM]


out there in the great open spaces where men are men

A quotation from the opening scene of Harry Leon Wilson’s Merton of the Movies, first appearing as a serial in the Saturday Evening Post, February 4, 1922. The phrase caught on quickly and was quoted in many articles and stories in the following months. (It is possible that this was a cliché of silent-film subtitles before appearing in Wilson’s story, but this is the earliest print appearance I can find.) [NM]


wearing it even shorter (p. 138)

Another prison reference.


a meditative cigarette

An example of the “transferred epithet” in which an adjective apparently qualifies another object rather than the person or thing that is the main subject of discussion, to whom or which it would normally apply. Wodehouse enjoyed this rhetorical figure, also called hypallage, and used it often; it can give an unexpected turn of lightness to a sentence, sometimes even an ironic distance from an emotion that might be uncomfortable if directly stated.

See Robert A. Hall, Jr., “The Transferred Epithet in P. G. Wodehouse” in Linguistic Inquiry, v.4, no.1 (Winter 1973) (only first page available without JSTOR subscription)
and this short article and link at The Inky Fool blog. [NM]


bring the blush of shame to the cheek of modesty

Part of a definition of indecency coined by William Gorman Wills (1828–1891); the phrase was popularized by W. S. Gilbert in the libretto of Patience (1881, with music by Arthur Sullivan). [NM]


persiflage (p. 140)

Banter, frivolous talk (a French word that entered English in the 18th century).


fishy

In the sense of being questionable or suspect, the term dates from the middle nineteenth century. [NM]


you interest me strangely

See Money in the Bank.


shovel it down with quite undisguised relish

At this point in the magazine serializations, this phrase read “get outside it with envious enjoyment” in the US serial (or, probably better, “obvious enjoyment” in the UK serial). Wodehouse often used the humorous inversion of “get outside” for the act of eating or drinking; see the endnote to “How Kid Brady Joined the Press” for the history of this term. [NM]


I believe that new housemaid is a detective

Compare the female detectives Miss Trimble, under cover as a parlor maid in Piccadilly Jim, and Miss Putnam, social secretary to Mrs. Gedge in Hot Water. [NM]


stick the gaff into (p. 143)

In this context, a gaff is a barbed spear used in sport-fishing to land large fish. Thus to stick the gaff into something is to bring it to a definitive end.


the course of true love (p. 143)

Lys. Ay me! for aught that I could ever read,
  Could ever hear by tale or history,
  The course of true love never did run smooth;
  But either it was different in blood,—
Her. O cross! too high to be enthrall’d to low.
Lys. Or else misgraffed in respect of years,—
Her. O spite! too old to be engag’d to young.
Lys. Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,—
Her. O hell! to choose love by another’s eye.

William Shakespeare (1564–1616): Midsummer Night’s Dream I:i,137–145


not start proposing until after lunch . . . (p. 143)

A parody of popular strategies for giving up drinking or smoking, of course. See also below. [In Over Seventy (1957), Wodehouse advises research scientists to wean themselves gradually from killing cats by putting nicotine on their tongues. “Conquer the impulse for the after-breakfast cat, and the battle is half won.” —NM]


slot machine . . . butter-scotch (p. 144)

Market Blandings has clearly advanced since the days of Something Fresh, when the hungry traveller had to make do with chocolate (unless it had two slot machines all along, which seems unlikely).


grow a honey-coloured beard

Reggie Byng has similar thoughts on seeing the cottage down by Platt’s where George Bevan is staying in A Damsel in Distress. [NM]


why, Mr. Bones . . . ? (p. 145)

A reference to the ritualised repartee of ‘minstrel shows,’ then very popular in Britain. Cf. the notes to Thank You, Jeeves for more on these.


southern plesaunce or western home-park (p. 148)

In this passage, Psmith is of course deliberately talking nonsense to put Eve at her ease.

A pleasaunce is a separate, enclosed part of a large garden, often in the form of a walled garden. The home-park would be the part of the park closest to the house itself.


Oliver Cromwell . . . 1550 (p. 148)

Oliver Cromwell, who became the leader of the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War and was appointed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was not born until 1599. ‘Oliver Cromwell went through here’ is something of a cliché of country-house history, of course, because in much of England there has been no armed conflict since the seventeenth century, and the Parliamentary forces did a thorough job of demolishing any castles or other fortifications that might later be used against them. Oliver Cromwell is also conventionally blamed for damage that actually took place under his great-great uncle, Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, during the dissolution of the monasteries.


The record has since been lowered. (p. 148)

When spoken aloud, “went through here in fifteen-fifty” could also sound like a sporting statistic, perhaps fifteen minutes and fifty seconds for a cross-country run of a few miles. [NM]


dandelions . . . Egypt (p. 148)

Dandelions do come originally from the middle East: they are supposed to be the origin of the ‘bitter herbs’ the Israelites ate at Passover. However, they were already common in Britain in ancient times. The joke is, of course, that dandelions, although a useful food plant for poor people, are generally treated as an undesirable weed by gardeners.

Psmith possibly does not realise that the current Lord Emsworth is the ninth Earl.


northern messuage (p. 148)

Messuage is a term in land-law for the land occupied by a house and its immediate out-buildings; the term would not be used to refer to a part of the gardens or park. Having read law in Cambridge, Psmith ought to know this.


manorial rights over the mosquito-swatting (p. 148)

The idea of treating mosquito-swatting as a field sport is a joke that appears many times in Wodehouse.


surprise, pain, and reproof were so nicely blended

Wodehouse often uses mixtures to help him accurately describe elusive qualities such as smells, expressions, and, as here, emotions. Echoes of the phrase can be found in many other stories and essays, including: [NM]

Psmith … regarded him through his eyeglass with a look in which pity and censure were nicely blended.

Psmith in the City, serialized as The New Fold (1909)

Mr. Peters emitted a stifled howl, in which wrath and self-pity were nicely blended.

Something Fresh (1915)

Then she uttered a cry in which relief, surprise, and indignation were so nicely blended that it would have been impossible to say which predominated.

“Wilton’s Holiday” (1915)

Women as a sex enjoy being photographed. It is second nature for them, on catching sight of a long-haired man in spectacles diving underneath a velvet nose-bag, to assume an expression in which sweetness, dignity, kittenishness, soul, and spontaneity are so nicely blended that broken sentences of admiration and esteem filter through the velvet in an excited torrent.

“On Being Photographed” in Vanity Fair (US), March 1916

Relief and disappointment were nicely blended in his next words: “No, it’s still there.”

Uneasy Money (1917)

Lord Tidmouth, during these exchanges, had been directing at his long-lost friend a look in which remorse and brotherly love were nicely blended.

Doctor Sally (1932)

a voice in which reproach and disappointment were nicely blended

Sam the Sudden (1925), ch. 2

a look in which remorse, apology, and a lifelong devotion were nicely blended

“Trouble Down at Tudsleigh” (1935, collected in Young Men in Spats, 1936)

She was staring at him, in her gaze awe, admiration, respect, homage and devotion nicely blended.

“Up from the Depths” (1950, in Nothing Serious and the Golf Omnibus, 1973)

another look in which scorn and animosity were nicely blended

Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971)


Jiu-jitsu (p. 149)

(More usually written Ju-Jitsu) “The Gentle Art” — a Japanese system of wrestling, the primary unarmed combat method of the Samurai, introduced into the West around 1900. The Ju-jitsu instructor Shinzo Harade was in the USA from 1904–1910, explaining the technique to the US military and others. Also mentioned in Mike, Psmith in the City, and several short pieces.


interest, elevate, and amuse

This phrase is found in a few minor naturalists’ field study articles aimed at young readers between 1899 and 1909; it possibly derives from a more famous book, perhaps on science pedagogy, not yet uncovered. Wodehouse’s usage is the first so far found in fictional works; he uses it again in “The Truth About George” (1926). [NM]


flower-pot … window

A foreshadowing of significant later events! [NM]


Blessed Damozel

The blessed damozel leaned out
 From the gold bar of Heaven:
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
 Of waters still’d at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
 And the stars in her hair were seven.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828–1882): The Blessed Damozel


a remarkably growing country (p. 154)

A curious choice of phrase — surely Canada had reached its present size by 1899? Perhaps he was referring to the population, or meant to say that it was ‘remarkable growing country’?


foeman worthy of their steel (p. 154)

Fitz-James was brave:—Though to his heart
The life-blood thrill’d with sudden start,
He mann’d himself with dauntless air,
Return’d the Chief his haughty stare,
His back against a rock he bore,
And firmly placed his foot before:—
“Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.”
Sir Roderick mark’d—and in his eyes
Respect was mingled with surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel.

Sir Walter Scott: The Lady of the Lake Canto X: 228–239


Snooks or Buggins (p. 156)

Snooks is a name traditionally used for a hypothetical or non-existant person, apparently as a corruption of Noakes, the name formerly used by lawyers for a hypothetical person in certain kinds of action.

[American comedienne Fanny Brice (1891–1951) created the character of “Baby Snooks” in vaudeville in 1912. —NM]

Buggins is a variant of Muggins/Juggins, used mainly in the expression Buggins’s turn, the principle of appointing people to a certain job in strict rotation, irrespective of merit. Also sometimes used as a self-deprecating way to refer to oneself.


The stag at eve (p. 156)

Psmith starts off with the famous opening line of Scott’s Lady of the Lake, but the rest is parody. Adoon and beyint are made-up words, which do not exist in real Scottish dialect. Laird is a title traditionally given to the local lord of the manor in Scotland, roughly equivalent to ‘squire’ in England.

The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made,
In lone Glenartney’s hazel shade.

Sir Walter Scott: The Lady of the Lake Canto I: 1–4


one of the dry provinces (p. 161)

Prohibition was introduced in all Canadian provinces in 1919, but did not last long (not least because of the economic opportunities for Canada when prohibition arrived in the USA). In 1922, all but Québec and B.C. were still dry.


keeps every letter … on a file

From the Latin fīlum for thread: a string or wire on which documents are strung for preservation, or any other contrivance for holding papers for reference (paraphrased from 1896 OED). Since Freddie says “skewered” we may surmise that Baxter uses a spike file, also known as a spindle (as in “do not fold, spindle, or mutilate” on computer punch cards), pictured at right. [NM]


Chapter 9 (pp. 167–205)
Psmith Engages a Valet

big cedar on the lawn (p. 167)

The Blandings cedar probably derives from a real one at Weston Park, according to Norman Murphy (In Search of Blandings). It shades the tea table in Summer Lightning, and Galahad Threepwood enjoys a drink in its shade in Heavy Weather. [NM]


happy and instructive afternoon (p. 167)

Surely a foreshadowing of Uncle Fred’s ‘pleasant and instructive afternoons’ (cf. e.g. “Uncle Fred Flits By” [1935, collected in Young Men in Spats]).


The Man with the Missing Toe (p. 168)

Seems to be fictitious. Beach is reading this same book in ‘The Crime Wave at Blandings.’ Beach inherits Freddie Threepwood’s thriller collection later in the saga. [A man with a hand which lacks three fingers is in John Buchan’s 1915 novel The Thirty-Nine Steps. —NM]


Bridgeford and Shifley (p. 169)

Fictitious: cf. the real Shropshire placenames Bridgnorth and Shifnal, some nine miles apart. Notice that Wodehouse uses widely separated places to avoid any too-direct clue as to where Blandings is . . .

Norman Murphy has identified Weston Park, five miles from Shifnal, as one of the main sources for Blandings, especially for its grounds.

N. T. P. Murphy: In Search of Blandings (1986)


Hartley Reddish, Esq., J.P. (p. 169)

There don’t seem to be any other characters with similar names, except Sir Sutton Hartley-Wesping in ‘The Smile That Wins.’

Reddish is a Cheshire placename (and of course an elderly rural magistrate would be likely to be a bit reddish in the face); Hartley is a fairly common English surname. Esq[uire] is a courtesy title for a gentleman who does not have a title (originally it meant that you were at least a landowner, but by the mid-20th century it was used automatically when addressing envelopes to untitled men). J.P. (Justice of the Peace) means that as well as his parliamentary duties, Reddish also acted as a magistrate trying petty offenders in the local court.


sponge-bag trousers (p. 169)

According to Christopher Hodge on the AFW FAQ, sponge-bags (toilet cases) were formerly made from a material with a houndstooth pattern, which resembled the pattern of the material later used for formal morning trousers.

[See also the Morning Dress Guide. —NM]


The time and the place … above criticism, … let down by the girl

An allusion to a 1907 Broadway musical (“Chatter by Will M. Hough and Frank R. Adams; Jingles and tunes by Joseph E. Howard”) The Time, the Place and the Girl, novelized in 1908 by John W. Harding. [NM]


telegraph-boy on a red bicycle (p. 170)

This may be the last occasion on which Blandings Castle received a telegram by hand rather than by telephone.

Though much else has changed in the British GPO in recent years, its official bicycles were still painted red the last time I saw one.


A sort of female Casabianca (p. 170)

Casabianca, a boy of thirteen, was the son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, the commander of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. The Admiral and his son were on board the flagship l’Orient. Casabianca remained at his post during the battle, even after the ship had caught fire and all the guns had been abandoned. He died when the ship exploded. Generations of young people forced to learn the poem by heart have been puzzled as to what his mind-boggling stupidity is supposed to teach them—see Elizabeth Bishop’s poem on the subject.

In The Luck of the Bodkins, Ivor Llewellyn sacks Ambrose Tennyson on discovering that he is not “the Tennyson who wrote ‘The Boy stood on the Burning Deck’ ”. In the same book, Monty Bodkin attributes Mrs. Hemans’s poem to Shakespeare.

The boy stood on the burning deck,
 Whence all but him had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
 Shone round him o’er the dead.

Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
 As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
 A proud though childlike form.

The flames rolled on; he would not go
 Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
 His voice no longer heard.

He called aloud, “Say, Father, say,
 If yet my task be done!"
He knew not that the chieftain lay
 Unconscious of his son.

“Speak, Father!” once again he cried,
 “If I may yet be gone!”
And but the booming shots replied,
 And fast the flames rolled on.

Upon his brow he felt their breath,
 And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
 In still yet brave despair;

And shouted but once more aloud,
 “My father! must I stay?”
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
 The wreathing fires made way.

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
 They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
 Like banners in the sky.

There came a burst of thunder sound;
 The boy,—Oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds, that far around
 With fragments strewed the sea,—

With shroud and mast and pennon fair,
 That well had home their part,—
But the noblest thing that perished there
 Was that young, faithful heart.

Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835): Casabianca


green-baize door

The swinging door between the servants’ part of the house (e.g. kitchen and butler’s pantry) and the main living areas was padded and upholstered, both for sound insulation and to protect the door while servants swung it open while carrying trays and other supplies. Traditionally, green baize (a heavy woolen cloth with a napped finish, as used in covering billiard tables) was used to cover the door. [NM]


Songs of Squalor (p. 173)

Bliss Carman’s best-known collection was Songs of Vagabondage.


The sibilant, scented silence that shimmered where we sat (p. 174)

This is a rather less orthodox line than ‘Across the pale . . .’ — it is an English version of a Latin hexameter, a very rare metre in English verse. By association with French alexandrines, it generally suggests a mood of decadent sensuality (we still seem to be in the 1890s, not the 1920s).

Again, alliteration (heavily over the top this time) gives the line a natural feel, and distracts us from the difficulties of the images. How can a silence be scented (smell) sibilant (sound) or shimmer (sight)?


Could you oblige me with a diagram of that one? (p. 174)

A common method of teaching grammar was diagramming sentences, using a graphical structure to show the syntactical relationship between the parts of a sentence. The most common systems were based on the 1877 work of Alonzo Reed and Brainerd Kellogg, Higher Lessons in English. More at Wikipedia. [NM]


Cootes (p. 174)

The name perhaps is a play on the famous London bank, Coutt’s. One Cootes is a partner in George Mackintosh’s firm in “The Salvation of George Mackintosh” (1921). ‘Looney’ Coote appears in a couple of Ukridge stories (the first, “The Long Arm of Looney Coote,” appeared the same year as Leave It to Psmith) and the name Cootes returns with Myrtle in “Freddie, Oofy and the Beef Trust” (1948), Lana (age 12) in Cocktail Time (1958), and Ada in Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968). [TM/NM]


Charing Cross (p. 174)

The West End terminus of the South-Eastern Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Trains to Channel ports (Dover, Folkestone, Newhaven) for travellers to France would usually leave from either Charing Cross or Victoria.


. . . distinguish between the Unlikely and the Impossible (p. 176)

This sounds like a Sherlock Holmes allusion, but as usual does not seem to appear anywhere in the Holmes stories.

[It is, however, closely related to a famous Holmesian dictum:

How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Sign of the Four (1890), ch. 6

[In “The Lost Lambs” (later the second half of Mike, then Mike and Psmith), Psmith says to Spiller:

In this life, Comrade Spiller, we must be prepared for every emergency. We must distinguish between the unusual and the impossible. It is unusual for people to go about the place bagging studies, so you have rashly ordered your life on the assumption that it is impossible. Error!

[Psmith reiterates his creed in Psmith, Journalist: —NM]

It is unusual for the substitute-editor of a weekly paper to do a Captain Kidd act and take entire command of the journal on his own account; but is it impossible? Alas no. Comrade Windsor has done it. That is where you, Comrade Asher, and you, gentlemen, have landed yourselves squarely in the broth. You have confused the unusual with the impossible.


a soft snap

Slang, originating in the US about 1840, for an easy job, an undertaking with light duties and pleasant rewards. One OED citation is from Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves! (1925). [NM]


on a plate with watercress round it

This image for something served up in elegant style is one that Wodehouse used many times over the years. The first I [NM] can find is in “Jackson Junior” (1907), the serialization of the first part of Mike:

Bob’s the sort of man who wouldn’t catch a ball if you handed it to him on a plate, with watercress round it.

As late as Service With a Smile (1961) Lord Ickenham tells Lord Emsworth:

I like George Cyril Wellbeloved and always enjoy exchanging ideas with him, but I wouldn’t believe his word if he brought it to me on a plate with watercress round it.

In Wodehouse’s preface to the 1974 collection The World of Psmith, he tells us that the character of Psmith himself was

the only thing in my literary career which was handed to me on a plate with watercress round it, thus enabling me to avoid the blood, sweat and tears inseparable from an author’s life.


a sorrow’s crown of sorrow . . . (p. 178)

                . . . this is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.
Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: Locksley Hall 75–78


. . . his lost Lizzie (p. 179)

Wodehouse liked this idea—criminals separated from the loves of their lives and then reunited under surprising circumstances—so much that he used it twice in Hot Water (1932).


humble and contrite spirit (p. 179)

Reminiscent of a number of Bible passages, including: [NM]

For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

Isaiah 57:15 [KJV]

All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

Isaiah 66:2 [ESV]


Beale Street Blues (p. 180)

The original Beale Street is in Memphis, Tennessee (assuming they haven’t taken it up and moved it into a theme park in the meantime). The Memphis bandleader W. C. Handy is generally regarded as the person who first defined the Blues as a separate musical genre.

If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk,
Except one or two who never drink booze,
And the blind man on the corner singing “Beale Street Blues!”

W. C. Handy (1873–1958): Beale Street Blues (1916)


the cat’s whiskers (p. 181)

The cat’s whiskers (sometimes cat’s pyjamas) is early 20th century slang for something particularly excellent or ingenious.

There may or may not be a connection with the ‘cat’s whisker’ diodes (a thin wire forming a Schottky contact with a selenium crystal) used in early crystal radio receivers.


crookedness … hide at will behind a spiral staircase

Wodehouse was fond of this one too and continued to use it in fiction up to the end of his career, also describing real-life theatrical producer Henry Savage in those terms in Bring On the Girls.

Many a man may look respectable, and yet be able to hide at will behind a spiral staircase.

“Success Story” (in Nothing Serious, 1950)

In Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1973), Chimp Twist considers Soapy and Dolly Molloy “as crooked as a spiral staircase.” [NM]


side-kick

Whether spelled as one word, two words, or hyphenated, the 1893–1906 citations of this term for a loyal associate or partner in crime in the OED all come from American sources, and no British source is mentioned prior to the date of this work. Wodehouse’s ear for American slang is as good as always here. [NM]


could of knocked me down

Unskilled writers often use this spelling for the contraction could’ve (short for could have), and style guides generally caution against the “of” spelling, though this page shows examples of it in professional fiction. Clearly Wodehouse is a skilled writer, so he is using the irregular spelling as an indication of Miss Peavey’s lower-class American vernacular native dialect, along with “I’ve saw” on p. 184 below. Both she and Cootes relax into informal grammar with each other (see his “behave no more” just before “hoodoo”), and Wodehouse uses the contrast between their natural way of talking and their elevated diction when in character as poets to help point out their imposture. [NM]


hoodoo (p. 183)

Hoodoo is a generic term for the fragments of West African traditional religions that found their way into the folk-magic of African-American culture in the USA through the slave-trade. There is a strong element of hoodoo in the language of the blues. In this case, Cootes is using hoodoo to mean a curse or malignant spell. Card-players are notoriously superstitious, of course.

[Mark and Terry’s annotations contain the following paragraph, which I think to be far-fetched, but am unwilling to delete completely. —NM]

We are told that Cootes has a ‘dark, intelligent face’ — possibly Wodehouse meant him to be African-American? If the reader is prepared to accept that an Etonian with a monocle and no trace of a Canadian accent can pass as the Singer of Saskatoon, there seems no reason to reject the idea of a black pseudo-McTodd. This is, after all, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.


dome

Slang for skull, first recorded in 1891. [NM]


threw a spanner into …

A spanner is British for a wrench; to throw one into the works (machinery) is figurative for causing a sudden disruption in some ongoing process or scheme. The OED’s first citation of it is from Wodehouse’s 1934 Right Ho, Jeeves; this instance precedes it by a decade, and Wodehouse had earlier used it in 1920 in “Mother’s Knee” and in 1922 in the book version of Three Men and a Maid. Google Books returns no earlier result for “throw a spanner” in this sense. The American equivalent, throwing a monkey wrench into the machinery, is even older, so one must assume that Wodehouse learned the American phrase and translated “wrench” into “spanner”. [NM]


tintype . . . mantelpiece (p. 183)

The tintype, or ferrotype, photographic process forms a positive image directly in a light-sensitive film on a metal plate coated with black enamel, avoiding the need for an intermediate printing step. It was formerly popular with seaside photographers and the like. It sounds as though ‘. . . only one tintype on my mantelpiece’ ought to be a fragment of a song, but if it is, I can’t find it.

[See this page for corroboration: “To say back then that you had someone’s tintype on your mantelpiece meant that this someone had won your heart.” —NM]


some of the best ice I’ve saw in years (p. 184)

The OED first cites “ice” as US criminal slang for diamonds from an 1896 book by George Ade, one of Wodehouse’s favorite American writers. The OED’s first citation from a British source is this one from Leave It to Psmith. Wodehouse would later use it in the title of his 1961 novel Ice in the Bedroom. [NM]


the old Atlantic (p. 184)

The White Star line, which retained its independent identity within the Cunard group until 1935, used names ending in ‘-ic’ for its ships (Britannic, Majestic, etc.). There doesn’t seem to have been a real Atlantic. This ship later plays a central role in The Luck of the Bodkins.


human horseshoe

A good-luck charm, of course. [NM]


gink

The OED calls this “frequently derogatory” slang, originally American, for a fellow, a guy; it gives US examples from 1906 and British examples beginning in 1919 with Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. In 1917, he had used it for a nifty rhyme in the lyric for “Cleopatterer” in Leave It to Jane: [NM]

She gave those old Egyptian ginks
Something else to watch beside the Sphinx.


dude (p. 187)

Nowadays dude is just a generic term like ‘bloke’ or ‘fellow,’ but in the late 19th and early 20th century it had a specific association with stylishly-dressed young men of the Freddie type (in the theatre, those who invariably enter through French windows waving tennis racket). The image at right is George Grossmith Jr. in 1909’s Our Miss Gibbs; he played dude parts on stage for thirty years, and collaborated with Wodehouse on The Cabaret Girl and The Beauty Prize as well as being London producer of some of his other shows. [TM/NM]


Cheese it!

Slang, often quoted in criminal contexts, for “stop it” or “be quiet.” OED suggests that it is perhaps an alteration of “cease it.” [NM]


snake’s eyebrows (p. 189)

A variant of cat’s whiskers — see above. Snakes do not have eyebrows, of course.


loony-bin

As Psmith explains it in his next speech, the lunatic asylum. The OED’s very first citation is from Wodehouse in 1919, the My Man Jeeves collection that includes the 1913 Reggie Pepper story “Doing Clarence a Bit of Good”; the spelling there is “luny-bin.” But they missed an earlier usage of the same spelling, by Psmith himself, in 1908 in “The Lost Lambs,” the serialization of Mike. [NM]


jellied eels (p. 191)

Jellied eels are a famous speciality of the East End of London. Wodehouse frequently uses them to stand for working-class East End culture.

Fresh eels are skinned and boned, then stewed until tender and served cold in a jelly. There seem to be two, much-copied, recipes around on the internet, one of which uses added gelatine and one of which claims that the eels form their own jelly.

http://members.aol.com/ukhostchef/recipes_www/jelliedeels.htm

http://www.psychogarage.freeserve.co.uk/clunkie/eels.htm


Swedish exercises

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


get it off your diaphragm (p. 193)

More usually ‘get it off your chest.’ But of course the diaphragm is at least as important as the chest in producing speech.


stately home of England

The stately Homes of England,
 How beautiful they stand!
Amidst their tall ancestral trees,
 O’er all the pleasant land;

Felicia Dorothea Hemans (1793–1835), The Homes of England (1827)

Noel Coward’s song on the same theme was written for Operette (1938). [NM]


moving high and disposedly

Wodehouse used the phrase “high and disposedly” in Psmith in the City (serialized as “The New Fold”) and was accused of plagiarizing it from Kipling in the correspondence column of The Captain, where he explains (in the voice of Psmith) that it is “a quotation—I rather fancy from Bacon, who used it to describe Queen Elizabeth’s dancing.” See also the Kenneth Grahame original (first edition 1895) and the Kipling original quotation. A search for an original from Bacon has been unfruitful, but Notes and Queries in 1895 gave an attribution to Sir James Melville, an envoy from Mary, Queen of Scots, to Queen Elizabeth. [NM]


something attempted, something done had earned a night’s repose

From Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “The Village Blacksmith”


gook

Wodehouse seems to be using this as a synonym for gink (see above); this is earlier than any OED citation at present. The later meaning of a foreigner, especially an Asian one, does not seem to be intended here. [NM]


animus (p. 199)

Enmity, hatred


I’ll tell the world

Eric Partridge, in A Dictionary of Catch Phrases, dates this phrase to 1917–18 US Army slang, and it begins showing up in popular song titles and popular literature in 1918, according to online searches. Though it may be surprising that it isn’t older, it is not surprising that Wodehouse picked up on it and used it in Cootes’s speech. [NM]


practically impossible to keep a good man down

“You can’t keep a good man down” was called “a popular, almost a slang, proverb of our own time” in a 1913 issue of The Church School Journal. The oldest joke on it so far discovered:

It has been rumored that the whale which swallowed Jonah a number of years ago was heard to remark: “You can’t keep a good man down.”

American Building Association News, December 1904, vol. 23, p. 242

A song with this title by M. F. Carey was published in 1900. A 1901 recording is at the Library of Congress. [NM]


Even the weariest river winds somewhere to the sea

From too much love of living,
 From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
 Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
 Winds somewhere safe to sea.

Algernon Charles Swinburne: “The Garden of Proserpine”


a moving period

That is, a convincing or emotionally affecting conclusion to his remarks, an eloquent peroration. [NM]


Parks’ Pepsinine

Pepsin is the digestive enzyme secreted in the stomach. Unlike highly-advertised modern medicines such as Pepcid or Pepcidine (Merck trademarks for famotidine), which suppress excess digestive juices in order to treat gastric ulcers and reflux disease, the patent pepsin medicines of the early twentieth century (as well as some over-the-counter supplements available today) apparently are designed to treat an insufficiency of the digestive enzyme. This particular name seems to be an invention by Wodehouse. [TM/NM]


specific

a remedy for a particular disease or symptom, especially a name-branded or patent medicine. [NM]


it’s a bird

American 19th-century slang for “it’s a first-rate thing” [OED]


on the banks of the Saskatchewan (p. 202)

The Saskatchewan river system drains most of the Canadian prairies. Saskatoon is actually on the South Saskatchewan River, which joins the North Saskatchewan to form the Saskatchewan further downstream near Prince Albert.


to write a nifty

For the noun sense, see Sam the Sudden.


Some little eyrie perched on the cliffs of Time

I agreed with George, and suggested that we should seek out some retired and old-world spot, far from the madding crowd, and dream away a sunny week among its drowsy lanes—some half-forgotten nook, hidden away by the fairies, out of reach of the noisy world—some quaint-perched eyrie on the cliffs of Time, from whence the surging waves of the nineteenth century would sound far-off and faint.

Jerome K. Jerome: Three Men in a Boat (1889) [NM]


Be it never so humble

’Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.

John Howard Payne: “Home, Sweet Home” (1823)


sun-baths … in the nood

The literary gentleman seems to have been a disciple of Walt Whitman. “Nood” is a marker for Beach’s native accent; though he has been educated well and has a fruity vocabulary, the occasional slip such as “nood” instead of “nyood” betrays his lower-class origins. [NM]


and lo! Psmith’s name led all the rest (p. 205)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

James Leigh Hunt (1784–1859) Abou Ben Adhem (1835)


Chapter 10 (pp. 206–238)
Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading

the links (p. 206)

Rebekah of The Annotated Psmith Project notes that the golf course is new since Something Fresh/Something New, in which “the absence of links in the neighborhood” is mentioned. [NM]


British Museum catalogue (p. 206)

The British Library, which in its capacity of copyright library holds a copy of every book published in Great Britain, used to be housed in the British Museum (it moved to a new building on Euston Road in the 1990s). The only literary Peavey in the current catalogue seems to be Hazel Peavey, author of a number of plays published in the 1940s.


genuine and unaided work

This phrase crops up in discussions of academic papers and prize submissions as early as 1866 and as recently as 2001. [NM]


whereabouts of her wandering boy (p. 208)

An allusion to the popular ballad hymn, words and music by the Reverend Robert Lowry, 1877. [A very early recording can be heard at the Library of Congress site.

Or it may refer to a 1914 song with the same title by Gene Buck and Dave Stamper, featured by Anna Held. —NM]

Also the title of a 1922 film starring Cullen Landis as a young man who leaves home and sweetheart and becomes involved with a cynical chorus girl.

Where is my wandering boy tonight,
The boy of my tenderest care,
The boy that was once my joy and light,
The child of my love and prayer?

Where is my boy tonight?
 Where is my boy tonight?
 My heart o’erflows, for I love him, he knows;
 O where is my boy tonight?

Once he was pure as morning dew,
As he knelt at his mother’s knee;
No face was so bright, no heart more true,
And none was so sweet as he.

O, could I see you now, my boy,
As fair as in olden time,
When prattle and smile made home a joy,
And life was a merry chime!

Go for my wand’ring boy tonight;
Go search for him where you will;
But bring him to me with all his blight,
And tell him I love him still.

Reverend Robert Lowry: Where is my wandering boy tonight?


gazooni (p. 208)

Robert L. Chapman’s New Dictionary of American Slang records several early 1900s usages of gazooney or gazoonie, all with the implication of someone young, inexperienced, or ignorant. [NM]


gat

A gun, especially a revolver; US slang from early 1900s. Chapman suggests it may be a derivation from Gatling gun. [NM]


Her Nibs

A woman in authority, in this case Lady Constance. Slang from 19th century, especially used in a mocking way to imply an exaggerated sense of superiority. Possibly derived from nob for nobility. [NM]


lalapaloosa (p. 210)

(More usually lollapaloosa or lallapaloosa, or with a z instead of the s)

A US slang term, which seems to have originated around 1900, for something outstanding or excellent. Wodehouse also uses it, as lallapaloosa, in “The Heart of a Goof” (1923).


smoked glasses (p. 210)

Sunglasses or welding goggles. Smoke was used to deposit a thin optically-absorbent coating of carbon on glass.


bimbo

Wodehouse uses this in the masculine sense, as in Italian bambino for baby boy. Usually a putdown, as here, or an informal reference to an insignificant or empty-headed fellow, as Bertie Wooster uses it. The usual modern usage referring to a woman, especially one of notable charms or questionable virtue, arose later in the 1920s and doesn’t seem to have influenced Wodehouse at all. [NM]


electric-light works (p. 211)

A country house in the 1920s would be relatively unlikely to be connected to mains electricity, but one as grand as Blandings might well have a private generator driven by a gas engine or a small water-powered turbine. Such generators were often backed up by accumulators so that the engine did not have to be left running all the time.


dogs (p. 211)

Feet — from rhyming slang “dogs’-meat”.


it isn’t real dark nights now

Shropshire is far enough north (52.7°N) that in the midsummer months (late May through late July) the nights are short and even at solar midnight (1 a.m. Summer Time) it never gets darker than “astronomical twilight”—meaning that the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the northern horizon. [NM]


superman (p. 213)

Nietzsche coined the term Übermensch in Also sprach Zarathustra (1883). The translation “superman” was established in English by George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 play Man and Superman.

The comic-book hero Superman did not appear until 1938.


human limpet

The limpet, a sea-water mollusk, clings tightly to rocks near the shore, and is often used as a metaphor for a person who tries to attach himself to another. [NM]


how can you marry anyone … who hasn’t plenty of money?

Remember that Freddie is Lord Emsworth’s younger son, and that his elder brother Lord Bosham will inherit the title and the estate. His uncle Galahad Threepwood, Lord Emsworth’s younger brother, mentions in later books the meager allowance on which a younger son has to subsist. [NM]


Cupid pines and sickens in a gilded cage

This sounds like the silent-film title it purports to be, but searches only find this passage, so it may be original with Wodehouse. The “gilded cage” metaphor probably derives from a very popular sentimental ballad from 1900, “A Bird in a Gilded Cage” by Arthur J. Lamb and Harry Von Tilzer, about a woman who has married for money instead of love. [NM]


six-reel wonder film

A reel of 35mm motion-picture film held a thousand feet of film. In the sound era, at 24 frames per second or ninety feet per minute, it would take 11 minutes to project. Silent film speeds varied over the years (don’t be fooled by the simple silent/sound speed switches on classroom 16mm projectors of days gone by; cameras were usually hand-cranked and projectors had variable-speed motors), but for the early 1920s, a reel might take thirteen to fifteen minutes to project, so even a “six-reel wonder film” would be shown in less than an hour and a half. [NM]


Love or Mammon (p. 216)

Fictitious, of course. Mammon (from the Hebrew word for money or wealth) is used in the New Testament as a personification of the desire for financial gain.


Beatrice Comely (p. 216)

Could this be a subconscious echo of Much Ado About Nothing, where there is the most famous Beatrice outside Dante, and the word comely appears frequently?

Otherwise, it could be seen as a joke at the expense of the film actors who choose improbable stage names to boost their attractiveness to the public.


Brian Fraser (p. 217)

By contrast, the male lead has a simple, manly, Scots name — equally implausible. There doesn’t seem to be a real film actor with this name.


second storeys bulged so comfortably out over the pavements

In order to build the largest house or inn on a given lot, medieval builders often jettied, or cantilevered, the upper floors forward over the pavement (US: sidewalk). [NM]


Jno. Banks (p. 221)

Jno. is a conventional abbreviation for John. Wodehouse is giving us the name as it would be written up on his sign.

There are several prominent members of the Banks family in the canon, not least the writer Rosie M. Banks, wife of Bingo Little. Possibly J. G. Banks, the vet called in to attend to the Empress in A Pelican at Blandings, is a relative of the hairdresser.


heliotrope-scented (p. 222)

Heliotrope is a name given to flowers that turn to follow the sun, especially heliotropium, and to their rich purple colour (famous from Bertie’s pyjamas in Thank You, Jeeves, of course).

https://www.bhg.com/gardening/plant-dictionary/annual/heliotrope/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliotropium_arborescens


Charles Peace (p. 222)

A celebrated English burglar, executed in Sheffield in 1878 for the murder of his girlfriend’s husband. He was also suspected of killing a policeman in Manchester, but is chiefly famous for the way he upset social norms by passing as a respectable householder and Methodist preacher while amassing a fortune by housebreaking.

Charles Peace has been the subject of much sensational literature and a famous early British film (Dir. William Haggar, 1905).


the James brothers (p. 222)

Jesse James (1847–1882) and his brother Frank were the leaders of a gang of violent criminals who robbed trains and banks in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Like Charles Peace, they became heroes of popular fiction and cinema.


Bachelors’ Club (p. 223)

A London club, popular in the 1890s, with premises at Hamilton Place, Piccadilly. Some of Wodehouse’s early young men — e.g. Reggie Pepper, Jimmy Crocker — are members, and it seems to have the role in later books of a more respectable counterpart of the Pelican Club.

Murphy explains that only bachelors were allowed to join; members who married were fined and had to apply for re-election.

N. T. P. Murphy: In Search of Blandings (1986)


so perfumed that the winds were love-sick

Like Cleopatra’s sails: [NM]

The barge she sat in, like a burnish’d throne,
Burnt on the water; the poop was beaten gold;
Purple the sails, and so perfumed, that
The winds were love-sick with them;

Enobarbus, in Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra, II, ii


talking-machine

a phonograph or gramophone, which at that era would be a purely mechanical device with a spring-driven turntable and a large conical horn to amplify the vibration of the needle in the record groove. [NM]


of the soulless sex

that is to say, men [NM]


Theosophy

A mystical philosophical movement founded by Helena Blavatsky in the late 19th century, first founded in New York then relocated to India; it incorporates concepts of karma and reincarnation from Asian religions but does not itself claim to be a religion. Wodehouse’s older brother Ernest Armine became a Theosophist teacher in India, and gentle jokes like this one pop up occasionally in the stories; Bertie Wooster claims to have a cousin who is a Theosophist in “Leave It to Jeeves” (1916). [NM]


King Charles’s Wain

A British traditional name (wain is an older form of wagon) for the seven bright stars of Ursa Major, also known as the Plough, and in the US most often known as the Big Dipper. [NM]


reign of Henry the Eighth (p. 229)

1509–1547


Grammercy! . . . I’fackins! (p. 229)

Gramercy (Old French grant merci) is an archaic expression equivalent in meaning to the modern “thank you” (cf. modern French merci). It seems to have gone out of use before the seventeenth century, but was revived, like so many other archaisms, by Sir Walter Scott.

I’fackins is one of the many playful variants of i’faith (in faith), an interjection that seems to have become popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, but would not have been known in the days of Henry VIII.


coming over the plate a bit too fast for him

If one needed proof that Wodehouse was already becoming Americanized at this stage of his career, his use of a baseball metaphor in this scene would provide such proof. [NM]


sighting shot

A shot from a firearm used to test whether the gunsight is properly adjusted; figuratively, a speech made in order to gauge the listener’s reaction. [NM]


man of sensibility and refinement

Wodehouse uses this phrase as Mr. Rayner’s self-description in the 1911 story “The Best Sauce” and to describe himself in a 1913 newspaper report of a rugby match. [NM]


scuttleful of modern poetry

Psmith shows his distaste for McTodd’s work by comparing it to a bucketful of lumps of coal. [NM]


let us be up and doing (p. 236)

Wodehouse’s characters all seem to know this Longfellow poem; Miss Milliken in Three Men and a Maid (The Girl on the Boat) quotes several stanzas from memory. [NM]

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!—
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our heats, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead.

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
a forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing,
with a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) A Psalm of Life


Chapter 11 (pp. 239–269)
Almost Entirely About Flowerpots


the tumult and the shouting . . . died (p. 239)

The tumult and the shouting dies—
The captains and the kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!

Rudyard Kipling: Recessional 7–12


Nosey Parker (p. 240)

See Something Fresh.


halfpenny nap

A simple card game of the bridge/whist/euchre family in which players are dealt hands of five cards and bid on how many tricks they expect to take, the winning bidder selecting the trump suit. Each trick bid and won (but not overtricks) earns a halfpenny from each other player. [NM]


Susan . . . Miss Simmons (p. 241)

There is a detective called Simmonds in the story “Bill the Bloodhound” (1915). Simmons is a fairly common name in Wodehouse, but the only one predating Leave It to Psmith is the floor-waiter in The Indiscretions of Archie. Detectives disguised as maids (or maids suspected of being detectives) appear in a number of other stories, notably Hot Water.


Sixteenth of December 1918 to January twelve 1919 . . . (p. 242)

Miss Simmons is clearly as much of an Atlantic-hopper as Wodehouse, combining British and American-style dates in the same sentence.

Also interesting in that it suggests that Baxter left Lord Emsworth’s employment after the events of Something Fresh (1915) and has subsequently returned. Perhaps he was called up for military service, then went to work with Jevons after being demobbed.


Horace Jevons (p. 242)

Also mentioned in “The Crime Wave at Blandings” (1936) and Summer Lightning. In the latter, he is called “J. Horace Jevons.”

Garrison wonders whether he might be related to Jevons, the manservant in “Creatures of Impulse” (1914).

It could be coincidence, but there is a character called Jevons in the short story “Regulus” (1908) by Rudyard Kipling, in which a school class is studying the odes of Horace . . .


cabinet-size photograph

About 4¼ by 6½ inches; typically a thin photographic print paper was mounted on a heavier card for stiffness. This size was popular for photographic portraits from before 1870 to after 1920, but declined with the rise of amateur roll-film cameras and the making of prints by enlargement from their negatives. [NM]


Lord Bosham (p. 247)

Viscount Bosham appears in person in Uncle Fred In The Springtime. Bosham is a village in West Sussex, near Wodehouse’s house at Emsworth.

No Blandings story is complete without the demise of an occasional table in the hall — it’s a wonder there are any ornaments left to display.


stopping, looking, and listening

The phrase “stop, look, and listen” has been commonly used on safety signs where a road crossed railroad tracks. In the US the sign often took the form of a crossbuck, two white bars crossed in a horizontal X shape. [NM]


dark doings were toward

When used as a predicate adjective with a form of the verb “to be,” toward means “in progress, going on; being done” [OED adjective sense A2c.] The US magazine serial replaced it with “afoot” here. Compare its use without the linking verb. [NM]


He, so to speak, did it now

Wodehouse was clearly impressed by self-help and success mottoes such as “Do It Now” (the title of a 1908 book by Peter Keary). In Psmith in the City (serialized as “The New Fold”, 1909), Psmith says this phrase to his father, and Wodehouse uses initial capital letters in recording his speech. See also Sam the Sudden. [NM]


volplaning (p. 248)

Volplane (French: vol plané) is an early aviation term, used to describe a controlled dive made with the engine switched off. Perhaps not quite technically accurate when used to describe Baxter’s uncontrolled descent of the stairs.


squattering

To squatter is to make one’s way through water or mud with much splashing, struggling, or flapping of wings as a duck does when taking off from water. [NM]


Lucifer (p. 248)

Lucifer (light-bearer) is the Latin term used to translate the Hebrew epithet for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Isaiah. By extension, it has come to be used in the Christian tradition as a personification of the devil, in particular in association with sinful pride (especially in Milton).

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!

Bible: Isaiah 14:12


Safety First (p. 248)

The Blandings staircase had claimed the first of its many victims in Something Fresh, chapter VIII, §4, when George Emerson and Ashe Marson got tangled up with Baxter in the dark. Memories of that nocturnal encounter no doubt also influenced Baxter’s decision to switch the light on.


little recking

The root of “reckless” is almost obsolete in modern English except in this phrase, and Google’s Ngram viewer shows its use to be rare since 1950. [NM]


white plume of Navarre (p. 251)

Henri of Navarre (1553–1610), later Henri IV, king of France. At the battle of Ivry (14 March 1590) he urged his troops to follow the white plumes on his helmet: “Mes amis, vous êtes Français, voilà l’ennemi. A eux! et si vous perdez vos cornettes, ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc, vous le trouverez toujours au chemin de l’honneur et de la victoire!”

[Variant versions of this speech are recorded in French books of history; a translation of this version is provided by Rebekah at The Annotated Psmith Project, note 13. —NM]


Arabian author . . . acorn (p. 251)

Rebekah also succeeded in finding this one where Terry and Mark failed; see note 14 at The Annotated Psmith Project.


peri … paradise

See above at p. 100.


Day dawns early in the summer months

“First light,” the start of nautical twilight when the sun is just 12 degrees below the horizon, is shortly before 3 a.m. during the first week of July in Shropshire, with civil twilight (dawn) shortly after 4 a.m. and sunrise shortly before 5 a.m. Summer Time. [NM]


men do not stand upon the order of their digging

Parallelling Shakespeare; see Something Fresh.


the work of a moment

See A Damsel in Distress.


say it with flower-pots (p. 256)

The idea of transmitting coded messages, especially to lovers, using arrangements of flowers, is supposed to have been popularised in western Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learnt of the “language of flowers” current in Turkey during a stay in Constantinople in 1716. The slogan “Say it with Flowers” was adopted by the Society of American Florists in 1918.

[Rebekah found that an ad featuring this very slogan appears alongside the text of the final installment of Leave It to Psmith in the Saturday Evening Post.]


spud

Not a potato, but a narrow-bladed spade used for digging and weeding. In “Jeeves Takes Charge” (1916), Bertie Wooster says that Lord Emsworth himself “doesn’t do a thing nowadays but dig in the garden with a spud.” [NM]


It’s raining vi-o-lets (p. 258)

This song was made famous by Al Jolson. The lyrics seem to owe a little to Wordsworth.

Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here’s the point that you should never miss.

Chorus: Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain, you know,
It’s raining violets,
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird,
And list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

I have learned to smile when skies are gloomy,
Smile although my heart’s about to break,
When I know that trouble’s coming to me,
Here’s the happy attitude I take.

Louis Silvers & B. G. DeSylva: “April Showers” (1921)


never before suspected his secretary of an unbalanced mind (p. 259)

The absent-minded Earl is forgetting that the events of Something Fresh had led him to just that suspicion, although all was later explained . . .


clouded cane (p. 261)

A malacca cane with a mottled pattern, popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.


Awake, beloved! (p. 262)

 “Onaway! Awake, beloved!
Thou the wild-flower of the forest!
Thou the wild-bird of the prairie!
Thou with eyes so soft and fawn-like!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Hiawatha, XI (Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast)


Awake, for morning . . . (p. 262)

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
 And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.

Edward Fitzgerald: Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám I:1–4


take it or leave it … can you stop at one? … that first … that does all the mischief

As before, Psmith uses the familiar language of overcoming addiction to tobacco and alcohol in a humorous way. [NM]


. . . next Olympic Games (p. 263)

This would have been Paris, 1924.


the terrier complex

Quite up-to-date use of psychological jargon in popular literature; see Right Ho, Jeeves. [NM]


beyond these voices there was peace

See Blandings Castle and Elsewhere.


Ah, there you take me into deep waters

Terry and Mark called this “another of Wodehouse’s favourite uncanonical Sherlock Holmes allusions” to “These are deep waters, Mr. Mason; deep and rather dirty” from “The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place”; that story, however, was not published until 1927, so could not have been Wodehouse’s intended reference in 1923.

Possibly a Biblical allusion:

Take me out of the mire, that I sink not:
O let me be delivered from them that hate me, and out of the deep waters.

Psalm 69:15, Book of Common Prayer

Remember that Wodehouse had titled an early story “Deep Waters” (1910). [NM]


for … concealment the most open place is the best place

Most famously in Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Purloined Letter”. [NM]


Chapter 12 (pp. 270–281)
More on the Flower-pot Theme

top-hole

British slang, from early 1900s, for first-rate; equivalent to US top-notch. [NM]


God was in his heaven . . . (p. 271)

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning (1812–1889): Pippa Passes


hearts bowed down

See Sam the Sudden.


a short outline of history

H. G. Wells had just published his two-volume work The Outline of History in 1920; it was a popular bestseller, and he capitalized on its fame with a one-volume A Short History of the World in 1922. [NM]


rannygazoo

See The Code of the Woosters.


rondel or ballade (p. 275)

Both are complex medieval French verse forms, which were revived in English poetry in the nineteenth century under the influence of Swinburne and W. E. Henley. Attempting either form would require large amounts of concentration.

The rondel was originally an eight-line poem using only two rhymes, with a repeated refrain. English derivatives of the form extend it to thirteen or fourteen lines.

A ballade has three eight-line stanzas with an ababbcbc rhyme-scheme and an envoi rhyming bcbc. It uses a repeated refrain as the last line of each stanza.

J. A. Cuddon: Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (1992)


morceau (p. 275)

French: fragment, tit-bit


Sunday rubbers (p. 276)

The word rubbers has been used colloquially to stand for many common items made of rubber, so it isn’t easy to say precisely what it is that Miss Peavey proposes to eat: a waterproof coat is perhaps the most likely, or possibly overshoes.

[Since Miss Peavey is American, it seems clear to me that she means overshoes. —NM]


plain living and high thinking

The title of an 1880 book by W. H. Davenport Adams, subtitled “Practical Self-Culture: Moral, Mental, and Physical.” [NM]


more or less wasting its sweetness

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

Thomas Gray (1716–1771): Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard (1751) [NM]


glanders

A contagious bacterial disease of horses, causing swelling of glands beneath the jaw and mucous nasal discharge; often fatal. It can be transmitted to other animals including humans, but would have no effect on a geranium. [NM]


recite ‘Gunga Din’ (p. 281)

’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
“I ’ope you liked your drink,” sez Gunga Din.
So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
   Yes, Din! Din! Din!
 You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
   Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
   By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
 You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

Rudyard Kipling: Gunga Din (1890) (last stanza)


Chapter 13 (pp. 282–312)
Psmith Receives Guests


Expeditionary Force (p. 282)

The party preparing to travel to the ball — in both world wars, the British army sent to France was officially known as the British Expeditionary Force.


housekeeper’s room (p. 282)

This is the room in which senior members of the domestic staff dine (cf. Something Fresh), not the housekeeper’s private apartment.


hop

One might think that this was another instance of Freddie’s mastery of Jazz Age slang, but this colloquial term for a dance goes back to the eighteenth century. [NM]


Victrola (p. 283)

Victrola was a trade name for phonographs made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the USA from 1906. They differed from earlier machines in having the horn concealed in the cabinet, under the turntable, making them more acceptable as domestic furnishings.

http://www.victor-victrola.com/

[The Saturday Evening Post substituted “phonograph” here in the US serial; their editorial policy seems to have been to avoid mentioning trademarks and company names. —NM]


registering renunciation

See Right Ho, Jeeves.


Little cottage? (p. 287)

It is odd that Freddie, who spent his childhood playing on the estate, doesn’t even know this cottage exists, while in Summer Lightning his cousin Ronnie Fish, as a mere nephew brought up in London, thinks of it at once.


Famous Players

Unusually, a reference to a real film company, founded in 1912 by Adolph Zukor and backed by the Frohman brothers of New York theatrical fame, first exhibiting European films starring Sarah Bernhardt and other stage stars, then making their own films with American actors. In 1916 it merged with the Jesse L. Lasky company to become Famous Players–Lasky, a predecessor of Paramount Pictures. The US serial, following Saturday Evening Post policy, just says “the motion-picture star” here. [NM]


more to be pitied than censured

“She Is More to Be Pitied Than Censured” is an 1898 song by William B. Gray, a “sensational pathetic song” about a young woman who has fallen from the straight and narrow path. When some youths taunt her, an older woman suggests that pity is the proper response and that they should “consider that a man was the cause of it all.” [NM]


Eve … left the craven

“Craven” as an adjective for “cowardly” is rare enough in modern literature; used as a noun for “coward” the last OED citation is from 1860. [NM]


second floor

Another indication that Wodehouse was becoming Americanized. A two-story cottage would have a ground floor and a first floor to a Briton, rather than a first floor and a second floor as in America. [NM]


Dangerous Dan McGrew (p. 297)

For a change, a real Canadian poem!

Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.

Robert W. Service: The Shooting of Dan McGrew, stanza 9


Ronald Eustace (p. 298)

Psmith’s first name in earlier books was Rupert — Wodehouse has presumably changed it to avoid confusion with Rupert Baxter.


sported on the green (p. 299)

It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun;
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.

Robert Southey: After Blenheim 1–7


like Marius among the ruins of Carthage (p. 300)

Gaius Marius (157–86 BC) was a famous Roman military commander and politician, and an uncle by marriage of the future dictator, Julius Caesar. Between 107 and 100 BC he was elected consul six times and, during his consulships, achieved major military successes against Jugurtha, King of the Numidians, and against the Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and Teutoni.

In 88 BC, civil war broke out between supporters of Marius and the consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and Marius was forced to flee Rome. He was taken prisoner but his captors put him on a ship bound for North Africa. Marius landed at Carthage (which had been destroyed in 146 BC, at the end of the Third Punic War) but was ordered by a messenger from the Roman governor to leave the country on pain of death. According to Plutarch in his Lives, Marius sent back the messenger with the words “Go tell the praetor that you have seen Gaius Marius sitting in exile among the ruins of Carthage.” Marius subsequently returned to Rome where he joined forces with the consul Cinna, who had also been driven from Rome by Sulla’s supporters. Together they entered Rome, slaughtering Sulla’s supporters, and named themselves consuls but, only eighteen days into his consulship, Marius died of pleurisy. [AGOL]


Husbands and Wives Who Work Together

The Christmas 1905 issue of Woman at Home magazine contained an article by “Ignota” with this title, mentioning explorers like the Pearys, scientists like the Curies, authors like the Tolstoys, and so forth. I have not yet found evidence that this became a series. [NM]


Rose du Barri (p. 302)

A soft pink colour, originally developed as a ground colour by the Sèvres porcelain factory around 1757. The name is an allusion to the Comtesse du Barri, a patron of Sèvres.


hubbard squash (p. 303)

A large American variety of squash, apparently first cultivated by a Mrs. Hubbard in the mid-nineteenth century.


gat (p. 304)

See above, after p. 208.


plated fish-slice

See Right Ho, Jeeves for this wedding gift; Psmith suggests that silver-plated ware is good enough for the Cootes, while the fish slices that Bertie would buy as wedding presents for his friends would have solid silver blades. [NM]


pick up the Henries (p. 309)

Obscure. From the context, Henries almost certainly means ‘feet,’ but we can’t find any other example of this. Just conceivably it is second-order rhyming slang (Henry the eighth > plates; plates of meat > feet) but this sounds a bit too tenuous to be likely.


Lady Psmith, Baroness Psmith, Duchess of Psmith

The wife of a knight or a baronet would be addressed as “Lady”; the wife of a baron would be a baroness (in her husband’s right) but would still be addressed as “Lady”; only a baroness in her own right would be addressed using the title. Psmith skips right over “Viscountess” and ”Countess” and “Marchioness” as these titles would be used when addressing envelopes but not to a peeress’s face. [NM]


Chapter 14 (313–327)
Psmith Accepts Employment

given toil the miss-in-baulk

Deliberately avoided work; see The Inimitable Jeeves.


toiled not (p. 324)

27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

29 and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Bible: Matthew 6:27–29


bump-supper (p. 324)

This is to do with “eights week,” the inter-college rowing competitions in Oxford and Cambridge Universities. As the rivers Isis and Cam are not wide enough for two eights to race side by side, the boats of all the various colleges set off equally spaced in line astern.

If the bow of your boat catches up with the stern of the boat ahead, you are said to have “bumped” them, and you move up one place in the line in the following day’s race. The aim is to end up at the “head of the river” at the end of the week. A bump-supper is a celebration of such a victory. Traditionally the winning boat is ceremonially burnt in the quad — these days they’re rather too expensive for that.

In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie is said to have bathed in the college fountain after a bump-supper.


Much Middlefold (p. 324)

There is no town or village called Much Middlefold in Shropshire, though there is a Much Wenlock. ‘Much’ in this context means ‘great’ (from Middle English muche).

In Something Fresh, Ashe Marson comes from Much Middlefold (or Hayling, Massachusetts in Something New).

Jeremy Garnet (Love Among the Chickens) also claims Much Middlefold as his birthplace, while Lord Pershore (My Man Jeeves) lives there and Sally Nichols (The Adventures of Sally) admires its beauty.

Norman Murphy (In Search of Blandings) identifies Much Middlefold with Stableford, Shropshire, where Wodehouse’s father leased a house, ‘The Old House,’ from 1895 to 1902.


Corfby Hall (p. 324)

There is no Corfby in Britain, but there is a village called Corfton in Corve Dale, under Wenlock Edge, about 20km from Stableford.


bite the bullet (p. 326)

Said to come from the practice of giving wounded soldiers a bullet to bite on while surgery was performed.


holocaust (p. 326)

Wodehouse is here using the word holocaust in its original Greek sense, of an all-consuming fire; it was also commonly used in English in the biblical sense of a burnt offering.

Wodehouse’s writings are copyright © Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate in most countries;
material published prior to 1923 is in USA public domain, used here with permission of the Estate.
Our editorial commentary and other added material are copyright © 2012–2018 www.MadamEulalie.org.