The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, September 1907
Silly Season Correspondence.
Owing to the prolonged performances at the Westminster Theatre of Varieties, the wave of Silly Summer Correspondence has not yet swept over our newspapers with its accustomed force. We are semi-officially informed, however, that the following letters are shortly to be dispatched to various organs.
By Sir Henry Campbell-
Bannerman . . .‘What to do with the old bills.’
By La Milo . . . .‘Modern Equestrian Costume. Is it too ornate?’
By Mr. John O’Connor . .‘Puppies and their breeding.’
By Viscount Turnour . .‘Are idle men good-natured?’
By Mr. Algernon Ashton .‘Should there be an age limit for unpaid contributors to the Press?’
By Lord Northcliffe . . ‘Is soap too expensive?’
By Mr. Rockefeller . . ‘Are Rebates a mistake?’
By Lord Lansdowne . . ‘How to be happy though (on the point of being at some unspecified date) abolished.’
By Lord Elgin . . .‘Do we do enough to make our subordinates comfortable?’
By Raisuli . . . . ‘Kaid-collecting as a hobby.’
By Sir H. Maclean . . ‘Where to spend the Summer Holidays.’
By Mr. Haldane . . . ‘Is an army a mistake?’
By the Archbishop of
Canterbury . . .‘Should Mormons marry all their deceased wives’ sisters?’
By Mr. Joseph Lyons . . ‘The advisability of a special training for novelists.’
By Mr. John Burns . . ‘How to become popular with Socialists.’
By Mr. Percy Sherwell . ‘Should cricketers be taught to swim?’
By Mr. Grayson, M.P. . . ‘Pass the bottle: a brief treatise on marksmanship for beginners.’
By Mr. Quelch . . . ‘Are the Germans a hospitable nation?’
Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.
prolonged performances at the Westminster Theatre of Varieties: Parliament continued in session until August 28, 1907 (apparently later than usual; the previous year’s adjournment was on August 4 for comparison).
silly season: the slack news time in late summer, especially after the end of a parliamentary session, when political news is sparse and papers turn to more frivolous subjects.
Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the Liberal Prime Minister at the time.
La Milo: an Australian vaudeville performer named Pansy Montague who specialized in creating “living statues.” She reenacted Lady Godiva’s ride through Coventry in August 1907, clad in flesh-colored, tight-fitting apparel, much to the scandal of the countryside. (note by John Dawson)
“On Tuesday night an amazing scene occurred between Mr. John O’Connor and Viscount Turnour, which can only be excused on the ground that a series of all-night sittings have wrecked members’ nerves. Mr. O’Connor twice indulged in an exclamation which everyone interpreted to be a threat of physical violence towards the young Unionist member, and he ended by calling him ‘an impertinent puppy.’ This is without parallel in the records of the British Parliament.” (Western Gazette, Friday, August 23, 1907)
Lord Northcliffe: Alfred Harmsworth (1865–1922), founder of the Daily Mail and Daily Mirror. In 1906, Lever Brothers and other large soap manufacturers established a ‘monopoly soap trust’ in imitation of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. The British press, in particular the Daily Mail, was virulently opposed to the scheme and urged a boycott of trust brands.
John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company used its dominant size to negotiate sweetheart deals with the railroads that shipped its oil, raising shipping rates for all customers, and refunding the excess over the former price to Standard Oil—not only on their own shipments but on their competitors’ shipments too. This system of preferential rebates was finally ruled illegal by the Supreme Court in 1911.
Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne (1845–1927), was at this time leader of the Unionist (Conservative and Liberal Unionist) peers in the House of Lords, and attempted to block the Liberal proposals to reduce the power of the Peers to veto or amend legislation. Some more radical politicians were even calling for the abolition of the House of Lords.
Victor Bruce, 9th Earl of Elgin (1849–1917), was Secretary of State for the Colonies. Regarding financial shortfalls from the operation of British East Africa, “Lord Elgin expresses the hope that the taxable capacity of the Protectorate will in a short time increase sufficiently to relieve the British taxpayers of the heavy charge now imposed on them.” (Dundee Evening Telegraph, August 15, 1907)
Raisuli: more accurately Mulai Ahmed er Raisuni (1871–1925) a Moroccan tribal leader, described by one historian as “a combination Robin Hood, feudal baron and tyrannical bandit.”
Kaid Maclean: Sir Harry Aubrey de Vere Maclean (1848–1920), a Scottish soldier who instructed and advised the Moroccan army, who bestowed on him the title Kaïd, Arabic for “leader.” In August 1907, he was kidnapped by Raisuli and held for ransom.
Richard Haldane (1856–1928, later Viscount Haldane) was Secretary of State for War in the Liberal cabinet of the period. He implemented many reforms to the management structure of the army.
The Church of England had long prohibited marriage with a deceased wife’s sister, and this was given the force of civil law in the Marriage Act of 1835, although seen as unfair by many. Bills to revoke the prohibition were introduced annually beginning in 1842; Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe mentioned “that annual blister” in 1882. The bill finally passed on August 26, 1907.
Joseph Lyons (1848–1917) was the principal partner of J. Lyons & Co., caterers and proprietors of tea shops and restaurants; he collaborated with writer Cecil Raleigh in a series of novels, of which the first, The Master Crime, was published in September 1907.
John Burns (1858–1943) trade unionist, socialist and politician, called “The Man With the Red Flag.” His political interests included women’s suffrage, working hours and conditions, employment, pensions, poor laws, temperance, social conditions, local government, South African labour, and the Boer War. (note by John Dawson)
Percy Sherwell captained the South Africa cricket team against England in the Test Matches of 1907. Two events may have sparked this item. The first match at Lord’s was left incomplete due to rain all the third day, and the third and last match at the Oval was also interrupted on August 19 by a heavy downpour.
Victor Grayson, M.P. (1881–1920?) won a by-election seat in Parliament as an Independent Labour candidate in 1907. He spoke out on the side of striking workers in Belfast who were being suppressed by army troops, and was widely denounced in the press for advocating violence. In response, he told a Press Association reporter that “I had tried to compare the difficulties and unfairness in the struggle, there being on one side drilled men fully armed and on the other side poor wretches who could only use broken bottles.” (Lancashire Evening Post, August 17, 1907)
Harry Quelch (1858–1913), British Socialist, was a delegate of the Social Democratic Federation to the 1907 Stuttgart Conference of the “Second International.” In a speech he denounced a diplomatic summit then in progress at The Hague as a “thieves’ supper” and called the representatives “murderers.” In reaction, the German government expelled Quelch from the country.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff, with contributions from others as noted