Punch, December 12, 1906
The scene is the Strand, the time some few years hence, when our leading authors shall have adopted Miss Gertrude Atherton’s suggestion, in her recent letter to the Press, that authors should print their own books and sell them from barrows in the street. The pavement, as far as the eye can reach, is lined with brainy men of letters. One recognizes among them Mr. Bernard Shaw, faultlessly dressed as usual in the conventional costume of the man about town; Mr. Frank Richardson, his face almost completely obscured by a full set of chinchilla whisker-fittings; Mr. Guy Thorne, trying not to look like Mr. Ranger Gull; Mr. A. E. W. Mason, in feathers; and numerous others. In the foreground are Prospective Purchasers.
First P. P. (consulting a list). I always think books make such capital Christmas presents, don’t you? Now, let me see——
Second P. P. And this new arrangement is so much better than having to go into a shop. And it’s so nice to think of the dear author getting the 800 per cent. profit instead of the publishers. Now, let me see——
Mr. Hall Caine (with startling suddenness). Here you are! Here you are! Buy! Buy! Buy! All genuine Manx, and genius in every syllable. We are the old firm. Here you are, lady. The Eternal City. All about the great city of Rome, of which you have doubtless heard. Eternal City, lady? Highly recommended.
First P. P. Would the dear Duchess like that, do you think? It sounds nice.
Second P. P. I think she would prefer something a little more in the movement. Rome is so very musty, isn’t it? I wonder which is Hope’s barrow.
Mr. Anthony Hope Hawker. Hope, lady? Here you are. I’ve got ’em! I’ve got ’em! Pick ’em where you like, and choose ’em where you like. This lot is in the old style, dialogue highly spoken of in the best circles, also Ruritanian adventures, a mode to which we have recently recurred. These others are of the middle period. A problem given away with each volume. You prefer the easier kind? Certainly, Madam. Make it up into a parcel for you. George, one Sophy, and look slippy about it. Anything else to— No? Thank you, Madam. Good-day, Madam.
First P. P. Well, that disposes of that. Now——
Second P. P. My little nephew is just going to school. I must buy him a book. What he wants, I suppose, is——
Mr. Rider Haggard. Blood! Walk this way, walk this way! Buy the boy blood! Try our new thriller. Starts with a fight, and not a let-up till the finish.
Mr. Kipling. Instruction with amusement! We blend ’em. We blend ’em! Give the kiddy our last, and see him take in English history till he swells. Do you want, best-beloved, to think ’scruciatingly imperially? This is the place for you. Here we are! Here we are!!
Mr. H. G. Wells. Stop. You must picture me writing this book with a certain passion and pleasure, a little forlorn figure with a taste for sporting prophecy . . . or perhaps . . . I wonder . . . to us who move athwart the great . . . Change, Madam? Yes, Madam!—Roll up! Roll up! If you like sentences that break off in the middle into three full-stops, roll up! I’m the qualitee!
Mr. Henry James. If you want sentences that never break off at all——
Mr. Bernard Shaw. Does your face hurt you when you try to smile? Are you weary of the Old Humour? This way for the new cure. Our last! Our last! Full of rollicking death scenes. Tragedy the only true farce. Here you are! Fun and tuberculosis! Comic consumption for all!
Mr. A. E. W. Mason. Mr. Speaker, Sir, I spy strangers. I mean, look here! Look here! Where does Mr. Mason get his lovely fiction? Buy! buy! buy!
Mr. Guy Thorne. What is it master likes so much? Who gets mentioned in sermons by the Bishop of London? Me! Me! Me! Here you are! Religion and Patchouli. Rally round. Rally round.
Confused Chorus of Authors. Here you are . . . Buy! buy! buy! Mediæval Romance . . . Dips into the future, four-and-six a go . . . If you can’t afford to winter in Egypt, do the next best thing, and buy our . . . Sicilian scenery . . . Come on! . . . Buy! Buy!! Buy!!!
First Purchaser (as she drives away. The floor and seat of the carriage are completely covered with books. More are coming on in a cab). Oh, dear, I’ve such a headache.
Second Purchaser. So have I. And I’m certain we’ve both bought dozens and dozens more books than we wanted. I came out meaning to buy four, and I must have got four hundred.
First P. It’s so hard to resist the poor things. They did look so hungry, they were so grateful when you bought anything. I thought I should have cried when that pathetic man wanted to give us what he called a dead snip for the Aeroplane Derby of 1950.
Second P. Well, after all, though we have bought so much more than we intended, I suppose we’ve done some good.
[They drive off.
Mr. Kipling. Not bad. Eighty-three Pucks gone since lunch. Have to be printing another edition soon.
Mr. Caine. This is no new job for me. Been doing my own booming for years!
Mr. H. G. Wells. Prophecy is all right. Comets are moving.
Mr. A. E. W. Mason. I’ve sold pounds and pounds of Feathers.
Mr. E. W. Hornung. My brochure One Hundred Handy Ways of Killing a Policeman is going strong.
Mr. Guy Thorne. Ah, my dear friends, ought we not to feel as we look around us how blessed——
Constable X 15. ’Op it, there, ’op it! You’ve been ’anging about here long enough, you authors. ’Op off, now.
[They ’op off, as scene closes.
Unsigned article as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 131 of Punch.
Gertrude Atherton was an American feminist and author of some sixty books of social and historical fiction. She visited England to meet Suffragettes and turned her experience into the novel “Julia France.” Many of her novels featured the “New Woman.” Her comment, quoted here, relates to the “London Book War,” in which authors and publishers railed against the Times Book Club, a lending library which circulated newly-published books.
Bernard Shaw, of course, was known for his unconventional habits of dress, as well as for his didactic plays; his 1906 play The Doctor’s Dilemma deals with tuberculosis (consumption).
Frank Richardson (1870–1917) was a British-born humorist who became a failure as a barrister but a hit as a comic author. His jibes at whiskers were a long-running theme of his work; he seems to have invented the term “face-fungus” which influenced Wodehouse. The Pall Mall Gazette noted on 2 August 1917 that “By the death of Mr. Frank Richardson the great reading public is the poorer, for in him it has lost a cheerful and kindly humorist, whose fun, never difficult or elaborate, was a very pleasant element in the light literature of the day.” The Yorkshire Evening Post, same date: “With an amazing ingenuity in resource, he laid himself out to exhaust the last drop of the comic from the idea of whiskers.” See his The Bayswater Miracle (1903) for references to chinchilla whiskers.
Guy Thorne’s real name was Cyril Arthur Edward Justice Waggoner Ranger Gull; he wrote controversial novels of mystery and horror, some with religious themes.
A. E. W. Mason wrote The Four Feathers as well as many other novels and plays, mostly of adventurous character.
Hall Caine was a prolific author of fiction, much of it romantic, which sold well in its day but was criticized for its lack of literary quality; his works are mostly forgotten today except on the Isle of Man, where he lived and set many stories (hence ‘Manx’ above). Wodehouse joked about him dozens of times; use the search box on our Home page to find links to articles and commentary mentioning him.
Anthony Hope started off the genre of Ruritanian romance with The Prisoner of Zenda; his full name was Anthony Hope Hawkins, which PGW amends to ‘Hawker’ for the purposes of this piece.
H. Rider Haggard is still read for his blood-and-thunder adventures, including King Solomon’s Mines and She.
E. W. Hornung created Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman and its sequels about a gentleman burglar and cricketer; he was the brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and played on his cricket team, as did Wodehouse.
I don’t need to tell you anything about Kipling, H. G. Wells, or Henry James, do I?