Daily Express, Wednesday, September 30, 1903
Poem 01 1
Where the Cobden Club 2 relaxes into grief
at “stomach taxes,” 3
A parrot perches daily just above the entrance door.
He doesn’t mind what’s said to him, or sung to him, or read to him,
For he can answer nothing but: “Your food will cost you more.” 4
He’s a bird of solid tissue and he meets each fiscal issue
With the tiring repetition of a venerable bore.
He never says “Explain to me,” or “Just repeat the same to me.”
He simply ends discussion with: “Your food will cost you more.”
When you show him that a duty is a thing of perfect beauty,
That it sets the mills a-buzzing with an ever-growing roar,
That our wages will be rising to an altitude surprising, 5
He offers the suggestion that: “Your food will cost you more.”
To the promise “Joe” 6 is giving—that
the cost of daily living
No farthing 7 will be higher than it ever was before— 8
He replies by calmly closing both his eyes as if in dozing, 9
And repeating quite distinctly that: “Your food will cost you more.”
When you prove that separation would destroy the Empire’s station,
That the Colonies are asking what their Mother can’t ignore, 10
That they’ll buy the things we’re making while their crops at home we’re taking, 11
He remarks without a tremor that: “Your food will cost you more.”
With a parrot thus repeating an invariable greeting,
The arguments are wasted that upon his head you pour.
When you cry “Oh, Free Food mummy!—can’t you once forget your tummy?”
He’s safe to say in answer that: “Your food will cost you more.”
This wonderful parrot will again give his opinions on fiscal matters to-morrow.
In its rhyming pattern and some of the phrasing, this poem has strong parallels with Edgar Allen Poe’s well-known poem The Raven, though the latter’s stanzas each have six lines, not four.2
The Cobden Club, founded in 1866, was a London gentlemen’s club, which took its name from Richard Cobden (1804–65), one of the chief architects of the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846. It was a vigorous opponent of tariff reform.3
The term “stomach tax” was coined by Alfred Harmsworth, founder and owner of the Daily Mail. The Daily Mail and other Harmsworth newspapers were among the most vocal critics of tariff reform.4
Rather than debate the details of tariff reform, its opponents sought to make political capital by branding it as “a tax on food.”5
Chamberlain (see below) promoted tariff reform for two main reasons: to redress what he considered to be an unfair balance between Britain’s policy of free imports and the protectionist tariff policies of other nations; and to strength ties between Britain and its colonies via a system of “imperial preference” on trade.6
“Joe” is Joseph Chamberlain (1836–1914), a charismatic orator and radical politician. From 1876 until his death, in July 1914, he was member of parliament for Birmingham. He served as Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1895 until September 1903, when he resigned, so as to be free to pursue a campaign for “tariff reform.” The Daily Express was one of Chamberlain’s staunchest supporters and the Parrot poems were part of that paper’s attempts to ridicule his opponents.7
The farthing was the smallest coin in Britain’s pre-decimal currency; there were 240 pence in one pound, and the farthing had the value of one-quarter of one pence (¼d).8
Chamberlain repeatedly made this assertion. For example, in a speech on 26 June 1903: “There is no working man in the kingdom, no man, however poor, who need fear under the system I propose that without his good will his cost of living will be increased by a single farthing.”9
This may allude to the Duke of Devonshire, whose lethargy often led onlookers to believe (mistakenly) that he was dozing.10
Colonial prime ministers, at a conference in London in July 1902, had asked Britain to grant preferential treatment to goods from the colonies. This request could not be granted as long as the British government adhered to the policy of free trade.11
Another resolution of the colonial prime ministers was that the colonies should reciprocate by granting preferential treatment to imports from the United Kingdom.