Pearson’s Magazine (UK), February 1906
It was the proudest moment of George Shakespere Smith’s life. On the table before him lay one dozen brand-new copies of the very first novel he had ever written. It was entitled, “Sordid Society,” and it was mostly about the Upper Ten and the quite shocking things they did without a blush. Smith knew nobody over the rank of an outside broker, but he had kept his eyes open, and, by jingo, there wasn’t much about Society that he didn’t know.
After inspecting the volumes for some time, he wrapped each of them in brown paper and sent them off to his six best friends and six relations, “With the author’s compliments.”
A week later he met one of the lucky twelve.
“I read that book of yours, Smith,” said the fortunate one, “and I must say you’ve hit off old Wilkins capitally. I recognised him at once, directly you brought Jasper Snorkley into the book. I roared over it. ’Gratulate you, Smith, ’gratulate you!”
Now Mr. Wilkins was the head partner in the firm which employed Smith. Smith had the greatest respect for him, and had certainly not intended Jasper Snorkley, the villain of the novel, who was purely a creation of his brain, for a satirical pen-picture of him. But he rather liked the idea of being looked on as a sort of literary scourge, so he smiled subtly and said nothing.
That afternoon he met another of the twelve. “Clever book that of yours, Smith,” said he. “That character-sketch of our mutual friend Simpson as Jasper Snorkley was particularly good. I recognised that scene where he gets run in. Capital, Smith, capital!”
Once more the author smiled subtly. Simpson had been a good friend to him, and nothing could have been further from his mind than to satirise him. But it was hardly worth while saying so.
“Read that book of Smith’s?” asked a third recipient of a friend. “Nothing much in it except rather a neat hit at a man he knows called Robinson. Brings him in under the name of Jasper Snorkley, and makes him do all sorts of rummy things. It’s old Robinson to the life.”
“Of course, it’s bad form,” said a fourth of those on the free list, “uncommonly bad form of Smith to chip his own father-in-law, but I must say that Jasper Snorkley is the most biting bit of satire on him. If you know the man it makes it most amusing to read.”
“Do you remember meeting a fellow of the name of Budwell?” said number five to a friend. “Baldish chap with a stutter. Smith has put him into his book under the name of Snorkley. A little cruel, but it makes capital reading. I sent Budwell a marked copy. He will be interested.”
“You know Culpepper, who married a Miss Green?” said number six. “Well, Smith has put him into his novel as a villain. You can’t help recognising him. What he’ll do when he reads the marked copy I sent him, I don’t know. He’s a most violent sort of chap. Glad I’m not Smith!”
The six relatives wrote letters. Smith’s only rich aunt criticised his taste in holding up to ridicule a man who, apart from the fact that he had been his uncle, should have been safe from such treatment owing to his very recent death.
The other five said that they could not think how he could have been so heartless as to lampoon his own father, and under such a hideous name as Snorkley.
It was when he received indignant letters from Simpson (who addressed him as “Sir”), from Robinson (who threatened legal proceedings), from Budwell (who stated significantly that he had been learning jiu-jitsu, and would call later), and from Culpepper (who mentioned horsewhips), that he began really to feel that the path of even the published author is lined with thorns.
A painful interview with Mr. Wilkins at the office ended in the severing of Smith’s connection with Messrs. Wilkins & Boodle.
His wife left him. Until a written apology reached her father, she stated in her brief and formal note, they must meet as strangers.
* * * * *
As Smith sat in his lonely drawing-room that evening, the servant knocked. “Mr. Simpson, Mr. Robinson, Mr. Budwell, and Mr. Culpepper, to see you, sir.”
“Tell them I’ve gone abroad,” said Smith, “indefinitely.”
In another quarter of an hour he left the house disguised, and caught a train at Cannon Street.