Daily Express, Tuesday, December 8, 1903

Poem 45

(By P. G. Wodehouse) 1



  [The “Daily News” uses the case of Hamburg, which it calls “a free port,” to support its contention that free trade makes for prosperity! Hamburg joined the German Zollverein in 1888! 2]


Though, oh Parrot journalistic,
We are not so optimistic
As to look for truthful statements
When a subject you explore,
There are certain rules, restrictions,
Which should govern even fictions—
These should influence you when proving
That “Our food will cost us more.”

Those who try this style of writing
Must not strive to be exciting
At the risk of telling falsehoods
(Says the wise unwritten law).
Recollect, this regulation
Calls for studious observation,
Though your theme be so absurd as
Food is going to cost you more.”

Falsehoods may be far more pleasant
Than the truth, I know, at present
(For a falsehood often brings you
In a temporary score),
But their purpose is defeated
When so carelessly they’re treated,
And you’ll find, or I’m mistaken,
That such “factswill cost you more.



This is the last of the Parrot poems to be entered by Wodehouse in his notebook Money Received for Literary Work. [NM]


Hamburg’s status was not quite as simple as the Daily Express suggested. When the German Empire was established, in 1871, special provision was made for the free cities of Hamburg and Bremen to remain outside the common customs frontier (the Zollverein) until such time as they chose to be included. Until the late 1870s this caused no great dissension, as the Empire operated largely as a free trade area anyway, but from the late 1870s Germany became more protectionist—in large part because customs duties were levied on behalf of the Empire and were thus a convenient way of increasing the revenues of the Imperial exchequer. This left the free cities in an anomalous position and the German chancellor (and Prussian Prime Minister), Otto von Bismarck, set out to coerce them into the customs union. Part of the Hamburg free port was actually on Prussian territory and in 1880 Bismarck threatened to include this area in the Zollverein. Under pressure, Hamburg agreed in 1881 that it would join the Zollverein, but one of the conditions it negotiated was that an area was to be delimited within which a new free port would be constructed; the new port was completed by 1888, and on 18 October 1888 Hamburg joined the Zollverein. Thus, while it was true, as the Daily Express asserted, that “Hamburg joined the German Zollverein in 1888”, it was also true, as the Daily News had stated, that Hamburg had a free port! In fact, Hamburg still has a free port.