The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, January 1906
 

THE PHALANX.1

WE are a happy Cabinet, 3
Secure against attacks,
All bosom friends with self-same ends,
We stick like so much wax.
Our peaceful life no kind of strife
Has e’er been known to mar:
We are a happy Cabinet,
We are! We are!! We are!!! 4

Of course it’s true that some of us
Hold views that scarce agree
With those expressed by all the rest:
Still, hang it. Thought is free.
Besides, it’s not exactly what
You’d call a hitch or jar.
We are a happy Cabinet,
We are! We are!! We are!!!

If Winston Churchill 5 thought the same
As Asquith, 6 Burns, 7 or Grey: 8
If Asquith, too, affairs could view
In Herbert Gladstone’s 9 way:
And if Lloyd-George 10 could be suppressed,
We’d then do better far.
We are a happy Cabinet,
We are! We are!! We are!!!

’Twere well if we united minds
To Ireland 11 could apply,
On Rand Chinese, 12 and points like these,
Could see things eye to eye.
But as to details such as this
We’re not particular.
We are a happy Cabinet,
We are! We are!! We are!!!

 


 

Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.

 

1

In ancient warfare, a close formation of troops with overlapping shields and spears pointed in the same direction; hence, figuratively, a group united for a common aim. As will be seen from these notes, the title is ironically intended. [NM]

3

The Liberal Party, led by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (the “C-B” referred to in “All Over”), took office on 5 December 1905, following the collapse of the previous Unionist government and the resignation of its leader, Arthur Balfour. Campbell-Bannerman was the first Head of Government to be officially styled “Prime Minister,” previous incumbents having had the official title of First Lord of the Treasury. He held office until 3 April 1908, when he resigned owing to ill-health; he died less than three weeks later. In 1907, Campbell-Bannerman became the first (and, to date, only) Prime Minister to achieve the status of “Father of the House,” a title bestowed unofficially on the M.P. who has the longest unbroken period of service.

4

This poem is a parody of the song “We Are a Merry Family, We Are, We Are, We Are!” written by Frederick Bowyer and Gilbert Harrow about 1881 and popularized by music hall actor/singer Arthur Roberts. The first verse in the sheet music substitutes “happy” for “merry”; this is the form Wodehouse always quotes. See By the Way: 200 Verses, edited by Tony Ring, for other examples of Wodehouse’s parodies on the lyric. [NM]

5

Winston Spencer Churchill had been elected to Parliament in 1900 as a Conservative but “crossed the floor” of the House to become a Liberal in mid-1904. Campbell-Bannerman appointed him Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, a post that did not, in fact, have Cabinet status; Churchill did not join the Cabinet until 1908 when, under Asquith, he succeeded Lloyd-George as President of the Board of Trade.

6

H. H. (Herbert Henry) Asquith, later Earl of Oxford and Asquith, held the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer until April 1908, when he succeeded Campbell-Bannerman as Prime Minister, being replaced in turn by Lloyd George when disagreements over the conduct of the First World War split the Cabinet and forced his resignation. He and Lloyd George had previously disagreed over the second Boer War, which Asquith (and Edward Grey) supported and to which Lloyd George was vehemently opposed.

7

John Elliot Burns was a prominent trade union activist who, though espousing socialist views, remained aligned with the Liberal Party. He was appointed by Campbell-Bannerman to the office of President of the Local Government Board, in which capacity he served until 1914.

8

Sir Edward Grey, later Viscount Grey of Falloden, was Foreign Secretary until 1915; at exactly 11 years to the day, his period in office remains the longest ever by a Foreign Secretary.

9

Herbert John Gladstone, later Viscount Gladstone, was the youngest son of Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone. He was Home Secretary until 1910, when he was succeeded by Churchill.

10

David Lloyd George was Campbell-Bannerman’s President of the Board of Trade. When Asquith became Prime Minister, Lloyd George succeeded him as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He subsequently ousted Asquith as Prime Minister, a move that split the Liberal Party and ultimately led to its decline as a significant force in British politics.

11

Home Rule for Ireland had been an issue in British politics for several decades. Two attempts by Liberal Prime Minister W. E. Gladstone to introduce Home Rule Bills had foundered on the opposition of the predominantly-Conservative House of Lords, which did not lose some of its power to veto such legislation until 1911.

12

In order to deal with a shortage of labour after the Second Boer War, gold mines on the South African Witwatersrand began, from mid-1904, to import large numbers of Chinese labourers. These were employed on fixed-term contracts at very cheap rates, in conditions that Liberals in Britain claimed amounted to slavery. The “Rand Chinese” became a major political issue for the newly-formed Campbell-Bannerman government.

Notes by Terry Mordue, with additions by Neil Midkiff