The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, March 1905
(Mr. Balfour has asked the next Baltic Fleet to be good enough
to be careful when crossing the North Sea.)
WHEN o’er the foaming waves you pass,
Ye Russian tars, be wary.
Avoid the over-frequent glass
(So bad for Little Mary).
Let not all vessels which you spy
Within a mile of your ships,
Appear to your excited eye
Insidious foreign warships.
And if the look-out men by chance,
After some festive spree, doze,
And gather from a hasty glance
That fish are fish-torpedoes,
Eschew the Maxim’s leaden hail,
With shells to follow after:
That merry jest is growing stale,
And causes little laughter.
And thus, when you have crossed the seas
And never made one widow,
And when you don’t for damages
A solitary quid owe,
Then see what comes of being good:
At peace with all your neighbours,
A glow of conscious rectitude
Will sweeten all your labours.
Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.
In the early hours of October 22, 1904, about fifty vessels in a British fishing fleet were trawling in the North Sea, steaming at three or four miles per hour with their nets down. The trawlers were lit up so that the workmen on deck could process a large haul of fish, so that even before the approaching Russian Baltic fleet turned on their own searchlights, it must have been apparent that the British ships were commercial and peaceful. Nevertheless, the Russian ships fired, killing three fishermen, wounding several others and sinking one British ship. The Baltic Fleet was on its way to North Pacific waters to participate in the Russo-Japanese War, and there had been rumors of Japanese torpedo boats sent to sink them before they could arrive at the war zone. (Account in the Scotsman of October 24, 1904; Wikipedia article about the Dogger Bank incident.)
For “Little Mary,” see the notes to one of the Parrot poems.