THREE PARAGRAPHS BY WODEHOUSE
(among the following)
Punch, March 11, 1903
Wodehouse’s Money Received for Literary Work records that he received payment from Punch for four contributions that appeared in the issue of March 11, 1903: a poem called “Caution” and “three paragraphs” which he doesn’t otherwise identify. McIlvaine’s 1990 bibliography seems to have assumed that the three paragraphs immediately following the poem “Caution” are the ones referred to, but we know of no independent evidence to support that assumption. These are the three paragraphs named by McIlvaine, together with our notes on them. [Update, July 2017: Arthur Robinson has found evidence in the Punch Historical Archive from the magazine’s original contributors’ ledger, identifying “By your leaf, Gentlemen,” “A Grove of Blarney,” and “A Thundering Good Start” as by Wodehouse. I’ve left our earlier comments and notes in place here for the sake of completeness, and have placed the items by others on darker backgrounds to de-emphasize them. —NM]
“By your leaf, Gentlemen.” —Many eminent persons are considered as “pillars of the State.” Henceforth Lord Rosebery will be remembered as, on his own showing, a “Cater-pillar of the State.”
Archibald Philip Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, was a leading spokesman for the “Radicals”—a loose alliance of socialist and fringe groups which called for wide economic and societal reform in Great Britain. Both the Globe and Punch were old-line establishment publications and constantly ridiculed Lord Rosebery and his allies. In a February 27, 1903, speech, Rosebery described the ruling Liberal Party as a ‘caterpillar in search of a leaf ’—metaphorically, a party deprived of an ideal. The statement was widely lampooned in the press. The pun associates ‘cater’ with caterwauling, the long wailing howls of the cat, as in the oratory of a Radical politician. [JD]
“Not Taking any.” —After the recent trial, it is reported that to any invitation to a second helping or another glass of wine, Mr. George Edwardes (of the Daiety Galy’s and other theatres) invariably replies, “No Moore, thank you.”
George Edwardes was the lessee of the Gaiety, Daly’s, and other theatres. Augustus Moore sued him in February–March 1903 over plagiarism of a play Moore wrote for Edwardes which, he alleged, had been incorporated into James Tanner’s libretto for Edwardes’s successful production of The Country Girl without crediting him. Moore won £100 damages. I am unaware of other Wodehouse items in which the technique of reversing initials (the G and D of the theatre names) is used for comic effect, making this one seem a less likely candidate to me. [NM]
Wind in the Rushes.—“One excellent result of the multiplication of motor cars,” says Motoring Illustrated, “will be to put a perpetual ban on beards. A beard liable to blow up and obstruct the sight is too great a hazard for the chauffeur.” Motorists prefer close shaves, and statistics show that any blowing-up that may be considered necessary can be done by the car itself.
The first two sentences of “Wind in the Rushes” are taken verbatim from a standard press item that appeared in England’s newspapers as early as March 2, 1903, and was reprinted many times. (The item itself appears to be a facetious one; a newspaper search fails to reveal any news items relating incidents of beards actually blowing up into the faces of drivers and causing accidents.) in terms of attribution potential, only the final sentence can be considered. The clever “close shaves” pun would be worthy of Wodehouse; the secondary pun with both the car and the beard “blowing up” is more pedestrian (no pun intended). [JD]
Besides these three paragraphs, there are four other short unsigned and uncredited items in this issue, and so we turned to the attribution panel of the Globe Reclamation Project to determine, if possible, which three of the seven were contributed by Wodehouse. Short paragraphs are difficult to attribute with certainty, and the panel (which does not claim infallibility) was unable to reach unanimity in their ratings, though they consider that four of the seven (the three above and the next one) are quite possible Wodehouse items.
A Grove of Blarney.—Several people have written to complain that though their gardener’s little nephew heard the nightingale quite a fortnight ago, Spring has not yet begun. It cannot be too clearly impressed upon the public that, in matters of this kind, what the nightingale says is not evidence.
“A Grove of Blarney” perhaps displays a more recognizable Wodehousean touch than the other paragraphs. It is noticeably well constructed, has the sense of bemused and benign pedantry that he liked to employ, and personifies a creature—a Wodehouse trademark. From the Manchester Evening News, March 2, 1903: “The stories of nightingales and cuckoos being heard in mid-February may safely be put down to errors on the part of the listeners. No one who has heard the nightingale often enough to know the essential difference between its characteristic notes and those of every other British songster can possibly mistake it afterwards. It is always on Spring-like days in the very early year that village lads begin to think about this ‘evidence of the abnormal mildness of the season.’ ” [JD]
In the interests of completeness, the other three unsigned items in this issue of Punch are reproduced below, though no panel member voted to attribute any one of them to Wodehouse.
A Thundering good Start.—The first number of a new Japanese Buddhist journal has appeared. It is called The Thundering Dawn, and this is how the editor breaks the news to the public:—“This paper has come from the womb of eternity, just as we all came. It starts its circulation with millions and millions of numbers. The rays of the sun, the beams of the stars, the leaves of trees, the blades of grass, the grains of sand, the hearts of tigers, elephants, lamps, ants, men, and women are its subscribers. This journal will henceforth flow in the universe as the rivers flow and the oceans surge.” The report that The Thundering Dawn has a circulation five million times as large as that of any halfpenny morning paper has caused a profound sensation in Carmelite Street.
This item was deprecated by the panel on the grounds that it is too wordy; panel members felt that Wodehouse would have edited it into something tighter and funnier. Carmelite Street was the home of Associated Newspapers Ltd, publishers of the Evening News, the Daily Mail, and the London Magazine. It was common practice for journalists to poke jibes at other publications, so Wodehouse is not the only one who could have done this. The only real item of interest is that the owner of Associated Newspapers was Arthur Harmsworth, later Lord Northcliffe, who (after Northcliffe’s death) was the model for PGW’s Lord Tilbury of the Mammoth Publishing Company. [NM/JD, with thanks to Norman Murphy]
It seems that Mr. Brodrick, whose Army Corps have been likened to Minerva, new-sprung from the head of Jove, is not the only one who is advertising for someone to look after this kind of offspring. Such, apparently, is the interpretation to be put on the following advertisement, which appears in the Glasgow Herald:—
PRINTER’S Apprentice Machineman; also, Feeders for Minerva, male, female; constant.
St. John Brodrick, later 1st Earl of Midleton, was a Conservative Party politician and Secretary of State for War, 1900–1903. The mythological reference results from language he used in controversial Parliamentary hearings on army reform in February 1903. The advertisement refers to a common variety of printing press, illustrated here on the British Library website. [JD/NM]
Our Skeleton Army
The scarcity of suitable officers is well instanced in the following advertisement, in which the age limit has been greatly reduced and other allowances made.
GENERAL, from 18, 20; no boots or steps.
Despite its headline trying to cast doubt on military preparedness, the quoted advertisement is only for domestic “general help” that some wit has spotted and used for a rather belabored joke. [JD]