Leave It to Psmith
P G Wodehouse
Literary and Cultural References
The following notes attempt to explain cultural, historical and literary allusions in Wodehouse’s text, to identify his sources, and to cross-reference similar references in the rest of the canon (as yet, links to other books may not work).
Leave It to Psmith was originally annotated for the Yahoo! discussion group, Blandings, by Mark Hodson (aka The Efficient Baxter). I have added a great many new entries, modified some of Mark’s comments (largely on the basis of material newly available online), and have re-cast the entirety in my own style, but credit goes to Mark for his original efforts, even while I bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation.
Leave It to Psmith was published in the UK by Herbert Jenkins, London, on 30 November 1923 and in the US by George H Doran, New York, on 14 March 1924.
These annotations relate to the UK version. Page references are to the Herbert Jenkins edition.
Leave It to Psmith is the second novel to be set at Blandings Castle (following Something Fresh) and the fourth and last to feature Psmith, who previously appeared in Mike (1909), Psmith in the City (1910), and Psmith Journalist (1915).
The book is dedicated to Wodehouse’s adopted daughter, Leonora, his wife Ethel’s daughter by her first (deceased) husband, Leonard Rowley. According to Wodehouse, it was at Leonora’s urging that he wrote Leave It to Psmith:
I was urged to the task by the importunity of my daughter Leonora . . . It was the fact that she kept after me like a bloodhound to write another Psmith story that at length induced me to set typewriter to paper. Psmith . . . was the hero of a book . . . which I wrote in 1909 . . . I had always intended some day to write of his after-school life, but never quite got down to it . . .
quoted in Jasen, P G Wodehouse: A Portrait of a Master, pp 98-99 (1975)
As so often with Wodehouse’s autobiographical comments, this one is highly inaccurate. He had “got down to it” twice before, and one of the two books, Psmith in the City, had been printed in the US; the other, Psmith Journalist, did not appear there because the plot was incorporated into the US version of The Prince and Betty, with a P-less Smith as the protagonist.
Chapter 1 (pp 7 - 37)
Dark Plottings at Blandings Castle
His brow was furrowed (p 7)
The brow was furrowed, the manner distrait, the stomach full of butterflies.
Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, ch 10
Her brow was furrowed, her lips drawn . . .
Service with a Smile, ch 1
His brow was furrowed and he had the indefinable look of one who has been smitten in the spiritual solar plexus.
"Rodney Fails to Qualify", in The Heart of a Goof
A writer, describing Blandings Castle (p 7)
Alan Dean (Notes & Queries, March 2008, pp 73-4) argues persuasively that the writer was Gertrude Jekyll. Wodehouse’s description of Blandings Castle closely mirrors Jekyll’s description of Berkeley Castle:
Its stones are carved and fretted by the wind and rain of centuries; tiny mosses have grown in their cavities . . . viewed from near at hand, the mighty walls and their sustaining buttresses are seen to be shaggy with vegetation.
Some English Gardens, Longmans, Green and Co, London (1904), p 24,
Fifty-odd years . . . (p 7)
In Something Fresh, Lord Emsworth was described as having been “at Eton, in the sixties”. If so, he cannot have been more than a year or two from his sixtieth birthday when that novel was written.
Beach (p 8)
In Something Fresh, Beach was a below-stairs autocrat, with an over-developed sense of his own dignity, and a tiresome bore on the subject of his health and ailments; in Leave It to Psmith and all the subsequent Blandings novels, he is a more benevolent and sympathetic character.
Murphy (In Search of Blandings) discovered that the house Wodehouse rented when he was living in Emsworth was situated in Beach Road, but whether this is the source of Beach’s name is uncertain; it is at least as likely that the name was suggested by that of Beach Thomas, who was one of Wodehouse’s masters at Dulwich and who later secured for him a post on The Globe newspaper.
Thomas and Charles . . . Stokes (p 8)
Thomas and Charles are conventional names for footmen:
The footman was addressed by his Christian name, or rather by a Christian name, not necessarily his own. The most usual names were Charles, James, John and John Thomas . . .
What the Butler Saw: 250 Years of the Servant Problem, Michael Joseph, London (1962), ch 11,
In Something Fresh, the footmen are named James and Alfred; it is impossible to say whether these are the same individuals as Thomas and Charles or the footmen in the later books. From his name, Stokes—who is also mentioned in Heavy Weather and Galahad at Blandings—may not be a footman.
non-success . . . re-dispatching (p 8)
These unconventional usages serve to emphasise Beach’s pomposity.
Master of the Hunt (p 8)
The Master of the Hunt, or Master of Foxhounds, is responsible for the overall management of a hunt. In many hunts, the duties of Master are shared by two or more joint masters. The Master is responsible for the care of the hunt’s hounds and for arrangements in the field, though some of these duties may be delegated to a professional Huntsman.
Wodehouse’s use of the foxhunting analogy serves to highlight the comical nature of the search for the Earl’s spectacles.
one of the oldest inhabited houses in England (p 8)
Wodehouse is again borrowing from Gertrude Jekyll, whose description of Berkeley Castle opens:
This venerable pile, one of the oldest continuously-inhabited houses in England, stands upon a knoll of rising ground at the southern end of the tract of rich alluvial land known as the Vale of Berkeley . . .
op cit, p 23,
. . . in the county of Shropshire (p 8)
In Something Fresh, the county was not stated, though such pointers as there were suggested Worcestershire. Murphy dissects the geographical evidence in In Search of Blandings.
Angus McAllister (p 9)
McAllister is new to his position since Something Fresh, in which the head gardener was called Thorne. And, though he and the Earl frequently disagree on matters pertaining to the Castle’s gardens, he is still the head gardener as late as Full Moon (1947).
In Agatha Christie’s One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940), there is a head gardener called MacAlister; this may be no more than coincidence, though Wodehouse and Christie each professed an admiration for the other’s books.
There are numerous variants on the name McAllister, which is an Anglicised form of the Gaelic Mac Alasdair, or son of Alasdair (Alexander). The name is widespread, though not very common, in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
the day being June the thirtieth (p 9)
Gertrude Jekyll again:
The end of June and beginning of July . . . This is the high tide time of the summer flowers.
op cit, p 26,
a section of books started to move (p 10)
A concealed door was a fairly common architectural device in country house libraries. Usually the “books” on the door are dummies, to keep the weight within reasonable limits.
Rupert Baxter (p 11)
The Efficient Baxter was introduced in Something Fresh. He appears again in Summer Lightning (1929), the short story "The Crime Wave at Blandings" and Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939), and is mentioned in Galahad at Blandings (1965).
the man at the switch (p 11)
The ‘switch’ referred to is the movable rail (also known as ‘points’) that can be shifted to switch a railway carriage or train from one track to another. Before railway systems were automated, it was necessary for a railwayman (usually one of the train’s crew) to operate the switch manually. This was an important responsibility because a mistake could result in a collision. In effect, “the man at the switch” controlled the destiny of the train and, by extension, the term came to be applied to any person holding an important position of trust or responsibility. The expression “asleep at the switch” has the same origin.
“. . . I hate London” (p 12)
See Something Fresh.
McTodd (p 12)
Lady Constance Keeble (p 14)
In Something Fresh, another of Emsworth’s sisters, Lady Anne Warblington, was the chatelaine at Blandings. Unlike Lady Anne, who spent most of her time in her bedroom, writing letters or nursing a headache, Lady Constance is made of much sterner stuff.
. . . in the middle forties (p 14)
If Emsworth is approaching sixty, Connie is close to fifteen years younger. So comments such as “ . . . there were times when the charm of her face was marred by a rather curious expression; and from nursery days onward his lordship had learned that this expression meant trouble” ("Pig-hoo-o-o-o-ey!", in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere) must refer to Constance’s nursery days, as Clarence would by then have been in his late teens (and away at Eton for much of the time).
literary fellows . . . in the house (p 15)
In Piccadilly Jim, the financier Mr Peter Pett suffers similarly at the hands of his wife, the novelist Nesta Ford Pett, who, to further her aim of establishing a salon, fills up the house with “novelists who had not yet started and poets who were about to begin”.
poetesses of the younger school (p 15)
The word ‘poetess’ had already fallen out of favour by the time of Leave It to Psmith. The March 2010 revision of the OED quotes a remark from 1903: “Jesse Berridge is a poet, not a poetess, to use a somewhat outmoded word.” Wodehouse is perhaps using the word to give Connie’s language an old-fashioned air, though he may also be hinting that Miss Peavey is to be seen as a dabbling amateur, not a real poet.
who is she? (p 15)
Rarely does Lord Emsworth show any indication of a snobbish attitude, and in the later books it is usually Constance who inquires into the social background of visitors to the Castle. On this occasion, Emsworth clearly is being pushed beyond the limits of his usual tolerance.
. . . the Rutlandshire Peaveys (p 16)
Historically, Rutlandshire—now more usually known as Rutland—was the smallest English county, though it lost that distinction to the Isle of Wight in 1890 and lost its county status altogether in 1974, when it was absorbed into the county of Leicestershire. In 1997, following a further bout of local government reorganisation, Rutland regained the status of a ‘ceremonial county’—an area to which a Lord Lieutenant is appointed—but slipped further up the list of counties, above the Cities of London and Bristol, both of which also have the status of ceremonial counties.
Prior to the social upheavals caused by two world wars and other changes in society, English upper class families tended to be identified by association with the particular county in which they owned land. Thus, for example, the Wodehouse family had long been associated with Norfolk. Wodehouse occasionally uses this for comic effect, usually to give a false sense of social status: for example, Psmith introduces himself in Mike (ch 34) as “one of the Shropshire Psmiths”, and in The Adventures of Sally a girl is said to be one of the “Kent Bassington-Bassingtons”. In describing Miss Peavey as “connected with the Rutlandshire Peaveys”, Wodehouse is perhaps hinting once again that she is not what (or who) she appears to be.
But his first careless rapture . . . (p 19)
See Something Fresh
looked out on to an Italian garden (p 18)
Gardens in the Italian style became popular in the mid-19th century, partly as a reaction against the picturesque style exemplified by landscape designers such as Capability Brown. Italian gardens are characterised by the use of built features—terraces, balustrades, staircases, footpaths, fountains and statuary—and a formalised design that usually employs geometric patterns and symmetry.
Winstone Court (p 19)
Murphy (In Search of Blandings) notes that the only Winstone in England is in Gloucestershire, “not ten miles” from Sudely Castle, which he proposes as one of the three sources for Blandings. He—and Joe Keeble—exaggerate slightly: the village of Winstone lies 8 miles due south of Cheltenham and some 16 miles south-west of Sudely, as the crow flies.
on our way to Scotland (p 19)
The Keebles are, no doubt, going to Scotland for the opening of the grouse-shooting season on August 12th. London is not exactly “on the way”, though it probably offers a better choice of railway services, as well as affording Joe an opportunity to attend to business and Connie a chance to enjoy the capital’s social occasions.
Phyllis . . . Jackson (p 21)
As Phyllis has not previously been mentioned, it seems likely that she and Mike Jackson met and married during the period of time since the events in Psmith Journalist.
Pygmalion and Galatea (p 21)
In Greek mythology, Pygmalion was a king of Cyprus who fell in love with an ivory statue; Ovid, in his Metamorphoses Book X, makes Pygmalion the sculptor of the statue. Pygmalion prays to the goddess Aphrodite that the sculpture might be changed into a real woman and Aphrodite sends Cupid to kiss the statue, bringing it life as a beautiful woman, whom Pygmalion then marries and by whom he has a son, Paphos: in ancient Greek mythology, Paphos, on the south-west coast of Cyprus, was the birthplace of Aphrodite.
In the Greek myth and in Ovid the statue is nameless: the name Galatea did not become associated with Pygmalion until the mid- to late-18th century.
The legend of Pygmalion and Galatea has inspired numerous works of art, among them operas by Rameau (Pigmalion) and Donizetti (Il Pigmalione), plays by W S Gilbert (Pygmalion and Galatea) and George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion, which was later adapted as the musical My Fair Lady), sculptures by Auguste Rodin, a sketch by Goya, and a series of paintings by Edward Burne-Jones.
obbligato on the keys (p 22)
Italian Obbligato: obligatory. As a musical term, it originally designated a part of a composition, especially an accompaniment, which, though subordinate to the principal melody, is nevertheless essential and should not be omitted; later, it came to designate any prominent instrumental part, usually one which is subordinate to the principal melody.
Wodehouse is punning on the word ‘keys’, which, though clearly referring to those in Joe’s pocket, may mis-direct the reader into thinking of the keys on a piano.
See also Summer Moonshine, where the same image is used in very similar circumstances.
a rip (p 22)
OED: A worthless, dissolute fellow; a rake.
With his “I’ve heard stories”, Joe is presumably suggesting that the man has a dubious reputation, even if nothing has actually been proved against him.
Gardening as a fine art (p 23)
Neither this title, nor anything similar, is to be found in the catalogues of the British Library or the Library of Congress, or in the WorldCat online bibliographic database. But any library that holds a hitherto-unknown copy of the Gutenberg Bible is surely entitled to house a non-existent book on gardening.
son of Belial (p 24)
a pinched Pomeranian (p 26)
. . . going to the mat (p 26)
‘To go to the mat’ is a colloquial expression that has its origin in the sport of wrestling, where it means ‘to take part in a bout’; the earliest example of this literal usage cited in the OED dates from 1908. Figuratively, it means ‘to engage in a vigorous dispute or argument’ (OED) and one of the earliest such usages cited in the OED is this one from Leave It to Psmith.
. . . trying to bite the guv’nor’ ear (p 26)
Not literally, of course; even the English upper classes have some standards! ‘To bite someone’s ear’ means to borrow money. According to Partidge (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 1937), the expression has been in cant usage since about 1850; Barrère & Leland (A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, 1889) describe it as “prison jargon”.
. . . like a will-o’-the-wisp (p 29)
Will-o’-the-wisp (and numerous variant spellings) is a name popularly given to the phenomenon, once common but now seemingly much rarer, of a phosphorescent light that hovers or flits over marshy ground and which is supposed to be caused by the spontaneous combustion of a gas given off by decaying organic matter. Because the phenomenon was attributed by countryfolk to the action of a mischievous sprite, the name came to be used figuratively to describe something that deludes or misleads by fugitive appearances. It is now used more generally to apply to something (or someone) that appears and disappears in a disconcerting manner.
“You want the best seats, we have ’em” (p 29)
This is the title of one of the musical numbers in Act 1 of The Cabaret Girl (1922), a musical comedy for which Wodehouse and George Grossmith wrote the lyrics and Jerome Kern provided the music.
It was also the advertising slogan of Keith Prowse & Co, a theatre ticketing business that was founded in 1830: the earliest example I have been able to locate is in The Times newspaper for 22 May 1911, in which Keith Prowse advertised seats to watch the coronation procession of King George V and Queen Mary with the slogan “YOU want best Seats! WE have them!” The seats were priced from 3 to 15 guineas, a very considerable sum 100 years ago.
. . . it isn’t stealing (p 30)
Whatever Freddie’s abilities as a film critic, he is a poor legal adviser. Prior to the Married Women’s Property Acts, 1882 to 1907, a husband acquired full rights over his wife’s property upon their marriage, but a succession of Acts, in 1882, 1884, 1893 and 1907, radically improved the status of married women, granting them inter alia control over any property they owned before the marriage, or obtained by inheritance or earned in their own right after the marriage. So, if Joe gave the necklace to Connie as a present after their marriage, he could probably avoid a charge of stealing it; but if he gifted it to her before the wedding, he lost any right to it and could be charged with stealing it.
. . . privily and by stealth (p 30)
Item, Because in the convents of women men come not but underhand, privily, and by stealth, it was therefore enacted that in this house there shall be no women in case there be not men, nor men in case there be not women.
and Pantagruel (translated by Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, 1653)
Bk 1, ch 52—"How Gargantua caused to be built for the Monk the Abbey of Theleme"
the Morning Globe (p 34)
The Morning Globe is fictitious, but the London Globe had been real. Founded in 1803, it ceased to exist in 1921, a few years before Leave It to Psmith, when it merged with the Pall Mall Gazette (which itself ceased to exist two years later, when it merged with the Evening Standard; the latter is still in existence).
The Globe was the newspaper on which Wodehouse started his journalistic career.
Captain Curb . . . (p 34)
These seem to be fictitious tipsters, though their names all have an equine connection: a curb chain is an item of harness; the Head Lad is the person in charge of a stable; and bright eyes are regarded as one sign of a healthy horse, as well as being a name given to animals since the days of ancient Greece.
advertisement on page one (p 34)
Until the end of the 19th century, English newspapers devoted their front page to classified advertisements. The Daily Express, founded in 1900, was the first national newspaper to put news stories on the front page, and was eventually followed by all the other major papers: when The Guardian made the change, in 1952, it left The Times as the only English newspaper still displaying advertisements on its front page. The Times finally adopted the new format with its issue of 3 May 1966, an editorial in that day’s issue noting that: “Uniqueness is not a virtue if it becomes mere eccentricity.”
Someone to Assassinate Your Aunt (p 35)
In the 1920s, no less than today, it is unlikely that such an advertisement would have been accepted for publication. The very act of publishing an advertisement that stated "crime not objected to" could be construed as criminal conspiracy and, even though most people would probably read it as a joke, no sober advertising editor would want to risk the possibility of prosecution.
Chapter 2 (pp 38 - 58)
a scaly neighbourhood (p 38)
scaly: (slang) poor, shabby, despicable
Wallingford Street, West Kensington (p 38)
There is no Wallingford Street in London. There is a Wallingford Avenue in North Kensington and there used to be a Wallingford House and Wallingford Garden between Charing Cross and Whitehall. The latter (certainly, and the former possibly) derived their name indirectly from the town of Wallingford in Oxfordshire (see Summer Moonshine), by way of Sir William Knollys (1547–1632), whose family had close connections with Oxfordshire and who took the title Viscount Wallingford in 1616.
buses and the Underground (p 38)
West Kensington lies roughly between Hammersmith Road to the north and Talgarth Road to the south. Several bus routes run along Hammersmith Road, providing access to South Kensington, Knightsbridge and Hyde Park Corner. There are no bus routes along Talgrath Road, but there are two London Underground stations, Barons Court and West Kensington; both are on the District Line, which began operating along this stretch in 1905, opening up access to Westminster and the City; Barons Court is also served by the Piccadilly Line, which began operations in December 1906 and provides access to Leicester Square and Holborn.
the artists’ colony up Holland Park way (p 39)
The district known as Holland Park lies about half a mile to the north-east of West Kensington; it occupies what was formerly the Holland estate (from Henry Fox, first Baron Holland, who bought the estate in 1768). Holland Park itself is a semi-wooded public park, part of which occupies the site of what was Holland House.
In the last quarter of the 19th century and the early 1900s, Melbury Road, at the southern end of the Park, became the focus of a small artists’ colony, as a number of successful painters and sculptors bought houses in the road. The first to do so was the painter and sculptor G F Watts (who had been befriended by Lord Holland while on a visit to Italy); others included sculptor Sir William "Hamo" Thornycroft (whose works include the statue of Oliver Cromwell that stands outside the Palace of Westminster), painter Marcus Stone (who had much early success as an illustrator of the works of Dickens and Trollope), architect William Burges (designer of the reconstructed Cardiff Castle, Wales), and painter and illustrator Sir Samuel Luke Fildes (who had been commissioned by Dickens to illustrate The Mystery of Edwin Drood). Other artists settled in the immediate vicinity, including Sir Frederick Leighton, who was president of the Royal Academy from 1878 until his death in 1896 (just one day after the issue of the patent that created him Baron Leighton).
“The name is Psmith, P-Smith.” (p 39)
Foreshadowing another famous introduction: “The name’s Bond. James Bond.”
Psmith makes his first appearance at the end of chap 31 of Mike (1909). He gives his name as “Smith”, but goes on to explain matters in much the same terms as here:
“If you ever have occasion to write to me, would you mind sticking a P at the beginning of my name? P‑s‑m‑i‑t‑h. See? There are too many Smiths, and I don’t care for Smythe . . . In conversation you may address me as . . . simply Smith, the P not being sounded.”
Mike, ch 32
“The p . . . is silent, as in phthisis, psychic, and ptarmigan.” (p 40)
Phthisis is a medical term for a wasting disease such as tuberculosis; except in opthalmology, it is now rare or obsolete. It is usually pronounced “thaisis” or “taisis” (the ‘ais’ rhyming with ‘ice’)—it is the ‘ph’, not just the ‘p’, that is silent.
“Psychic” (pronounced “seyekik”) describes phenomena that relate to, or are generated by, the human mind, or that are attributed to supernatural or paranormal influences.
The ptarmigan (pronounced “tarmigan”), Lagopus mutus is a bird of the grouse family; it is a sedentary species that inhabits rocky mountainsides and tundra throughout arctic and subarctic Eurasia and Northern America; isolated populations are also found at high altitudes in the Scottish Highlands, the Alps, and the Pyrenees. It is now officially known by its North American name, Rock Ptarmigan.
Psmith does not use these example in Mike. Instead he compares “Psmith” to “the name Zbysco, in which the Z is given a similar miss-in-baulk”: Stanislaus Zbyszko (real name Stanislaus Cyganiewicz) was a Polish-born wrestler who was at the height of his success in England just before Mike appeared.
Comrade Jackson (p 40)
When we first meet Mike Jackson, at the beginning of Mike, he is a conventional schoolboy hero of a conventional schoolboy story. When Psmith appears, halfway through that book, he immediately takes centre stage and, throughout the next two-and-a-half books, Mike is steadily relegated to being little more than Psmith’s sidekick. This process reaches its culmination in Leave It to Psmith, in which the worthy (but, ultimately, rather boring) Mike makes a mere token appearance.
. . . high road . . . low road. (p 41)
Oh! you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road
And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye;
For me and my true love will ne’er meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond.
Chorus from "The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond", a well-known Scottish song dating from c 1841
over the nuts and wine (p 42)
Psmith presumably intends to keep the news until the very end of the meal so as to avoid being thrown out hungry.
Nuts and Wine was the title of a revue which opened at the Empire Theatre, London, on 3 January 1914 and ran for 73 performances; Wodehouse and Charles Bovill wrote the book and lyrics.
Billingsgate Market (p 42)
Billingsgate, located on the north bank of the Thames just downstream from London Bridge, is the UK’s largest (and oldest) inland fish market. In 1327 the City of London was granted a royal charter giving it an exclusive right to set up markets and a further charter in 1400 gave citizens the right to collect tolls at Billingsgate and elsewhere. Billingsgate was originally a general market, trading in a wide range of commodities, but by the 16th century it had come to be associated exclusively with the fish trade and this was confirmed in an Act of Parliament of 1699. Until 1850, when the market moved into its first purpose-built home, trading took place from stalls and sheds around Billingsgate dock. The first building soon proved to be inadequate for the growing volume of trade and it was demolished in 1873, to be replaced by the current building, which opened in 1876.
Fish is delivered to Billingsgate from all parts of Great Britain, mostly by overnight road transport so that it arrives at the market in the early hours of the morning. The market is open for trading only between the hours of 5 and 8.30 am.
. . . on the knees of the gods (p 42)
Alternatively: in the lap of the gods. The meaning is that the outcome is beyond one’s control, that ‘fate’ will decide. The phrase comes from Homer and is found in both the Odyssey and Iliad, eg
ταῦτα θεῶν ἐν γούνασι κεῖται (transliteration: tauta theon en gounasi keitai)
Odyssey, Book 1, line 268,
The alternative English expressions arise from differing translations of the Greek, the literal word-for-word translation being "this of-the-gods on the-knees lies". It has been suggested that the phrase arose from the ancient custom of placing votive offerings on the knees of statues depicting seated gods.
. . . shoals of replies (p 42)
Psmith’s distate for fish clearly does not extend to fishy metaphors!
. . . winnowing the heap (p 43)
Winnowing is the process of separating grain from the chaff by exposing it to the wind, hence, figuratively, separating the good from the bad, eliminating the worthless.
. . . a cup of the steaming (p 44)
That is, a cup of tea.
whitebait (p 44)
Whitebait are very small fish, typically no more than an inch or two in length. Long thought to be a distinct species, they are now known to be the fry of several species, chiefly (in British waters) herring and sprats. Whitebait are recorded as a menu item as early as 1612 but it was in the 19th century that they became particularly popular, large numbers of Londoners making their way to Greenwich and Blackwall each July and August to eat the whitebait that were caught in the Thames estuary. Fresh whitebait are esteemed as a delicacy; they are eaten whole, usually after being deep-fried in a coating of flour or light batter.
Wayland House (p 46)
Wayland is a district in Norfolk, about 20 miles west of Norwich and 12 miles north of Thetford. Wodehouse used other place-names from this area: see, for example, Love Among the Chickens and A Damsel in Distress. There is even a Wayland House, in Watton, the town at the heart of the district, but this is a modern development. ‘Wayland’ is said to derive from ‘Wanelunt’, a name that described the wet, oozy soils that characterised the district.
A different version of ‘Wayland’ (in Old English, Wēland) is the English name for the Germanic smith-god, Völundr: a neolithic burial mound near Ashbury, Oxfordshire, is named Wayland’s Smithy (though the name was probably bestowed by Saxon settler some 4000 years after the burial chamber was constructed). The first episode of Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill is entitled “Weland’s Sword” and narrates the story of the god’s decline and eventual departure from England..
antimacassars (p 46)
See A Damsel in Distress.
Morning Post (p 47)
See Summer Moonshine.
Rollo Mountford (p 47)
There has not been a Lord Mountford in the Peerage of England. There was a Lord Montfort, however, and that title is variously mis-spelled as Montford, Mountfort and Mountford.
The first Lord Montfort was Henry Bromley (1705-1755), the MP for Cambridgeshire, who was raised to the peerage by George II in 1741 as Baron Montfort of Horseheath in the County of Cambridge. Bromley was a notorious gambler who was famous for organising cricket matches (at that time remarkable chiefly for the wagers they engendered); after suffering some heavy losses, he invited a number of friends to join him at White’s Club where they celebrated New Year’s Eve together, after which he retired to another room and shot himself. Horace Walpole, a contemporary of Bromley, described him in terms that would certainly fit Joe’s description of Rollo Mountford as “a rip”. The Montfort title died with the third baron in 1851.
Enter Lord Mountford with a coronet in his hand; with him the Earl of Salisbury.
(attrib) Edward III, Act IV, sc 1,
“Of Allan Quatermain of course I have heard. The natives told me that you were
trekking to those parts; and if you, sir, are one of Lord Mountford’s sons,
oddly enough I think I must have known your father in my youth. Indeed I served with
him in the Guards.”
“How very strange”, said Anscombe. “He’s dead now and my brother is Lord Mountford.”
Finished, ch 2 (1917),
he was agent on a place in the country (p 47)
Mike was presumably employed as Mr Smith’s land agent (not to be confused with the modern, and oft-despised, ‘estate agent’; in the US, ‘realtor’). Depending on the size of the Smith estate, his duties might include collecting rents, dealing with tenants, keeping the estate accounts, and organising and supervising estate maintenance and improvements. Because the agent occupied a position of trust, it was quite common for the post to be given to a relative or friend of the landowner.
the Edgelows (p 47)
‘Edgelow’ is an uncommon family name in England and has no obvious connection to Wodehouse or to Shropshire.
coal people from Wolverhampton (p 48)
Wolverhampton, historically part of the country of Staffordshire and now part of the metropolitan county of West Midlands, grew wealthy in the 19th century on the basis of industries associated with local deposits of ironstone and coal: the city lies on the edge of what was the thickest and richest seam of coal in Britain. While many Wolverhampton industrialists built large houses for themselves in the city—many have since been demolished, though a few survive— it is to be expected that some would prefer to acquire a home in the country.
And who is Aunt Constance? (p 49)
Echoes of Who is she?
Madeleine Sœurs (p 50)
In English, Madeleine Sœurs can be translated as ‘Magdalene Sisters’, which suggests the now-infamous Magdalene Asylums (or ‘Magdalene Laundries’), institutions that were originally established to ‘rehabilitate’ so-called ‘fallen women’. In most of these institutions the inmates were forced to do hard physical labour, such as laundering, and sewing, in conditions far removed from those of a (presumably) up-market establishment in London’s Regent Street, which suggests the possibility that Wodehouse is indulging in a slightly obscure social comment.
Another possibility is that Wodehouse has conflated the names of two renowned Parisian fashion houses of his day, Callot Sœurs and Madeleine Vionnet, both of which had an international clientele. Callot Sœurs opened in 1895 and by the mid-1910s had achieved such an international reputation that their creations were discussed in Vogue and the New York Times. Madeleine Viollet served an apprenticeship with Callot Sœurs before opening her own salon, Vionnet et Cie, in 1912. In April 1923, a few months before Leave It to Psmith was published, Vionnet had, to a fanfare of publicity, opened new premises (dubbed the “Temple of Fashion”) on the Avenue Montaigne, Paris.
Sandown (p 51)
Sandown Park is a racecourse which is situated on the edge of the North Downs, near Esher, Surrey, on the south-west fringes of London. The racecourse has been in existence since 1875.
Cadogan Hotel (p 52)
The Cadogan Hotel, in Sloane Street, Knightsbridge, was built in 1887, though it did not open as an hotel until 1895. One of its early guests was the Irish playwright Oscar Wilde. Facing criminal charges of gross indecency and advised by friends to flee the country, Wilde chose to remain at the hotel, where he was arrested in Room 118. The event was the subject of a poem by the poet laureate John Betjeman, The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel. It is ironic that though the arrest led to his conviction, imprisonment and subsequent exile, the hotel now memorialises the event in a “Wilde Suite”.
Also associated with the Cadogan Hotel was the actress Lillie Langtry, who had been a mistress of the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII). From 1892-97 she lived in a house in Pont Street; when it was absorbed into the hotel, in 1895, Langtry continued to live in her old bedroom. The hotel’s restaurant is now named Langtry’s in her honour, while Edward VII also has a suite named after him.
District Messenger (p 53)
District Messengers were an early form of courier service. The first organised messenger service in London was provided by the aptly-named Boy Messengers Company, which was established in September 1887 and claimed to be “more expeditious than the Post Office”. In June 1890 the District Messenger Service and News Company was established and in 1893 this absorbed Boy Messengers. Although the activities of these companies flouted the Post Office’s statutory monopoly, political pressure forced the latter to legalise the situation in 1891 by issuing licences to the companies.
The district messenger service reached its peak around the time of the coronation of King George V, in June 1910, when some 1100 boys were employed, but the business was never profitable and the company expanded into the theatre ticket business; in 1898 it changed its name to District Messenger and Theatre Ticket Company, and in 1943—by which time the messenger service had all but ceased to exist— it adopted its current name, Theatre Tickets and Messengers.
Carefully-worded letters were despatched by District Messenger boys to the other generals.
The Swoop!, ch 7
I will take him to an office of the District Messenger Boys. I will order a messenger to carry him at once to the Cats’ House, . . .
"The Man Who Disliked Cats", in The Man Upstair
I rather resented this seeming inability on the relative’s part to distinguish between a nephew and a district messenger boy.
Joy in the Morning, ch 5
chain myself to their railings (p 55)
This was a favourite technique of the suffragettes in the decade before World War 1.
He proposes early and often. (p 56)
the Inferno (p 56)
Hell (from Italian).
Chapter 3 (pp 59 - 65)
Eve Borrows an Umbrella
Thorpe & Briscoe (p 59)
Wodehouse is exaggerating for comic effect: a “fashionable shopping district” is an improbable location in which to find a coal merchant’s premises, which would, in any event, be an improbable source of ostentatious display.
In “Tried in the Furnace” (Young Men in Spats), Messrs Thorpe & Widgery run the grocer’s shop in Bridmouth-on-Sea in which Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and Pongo Twistleton-Twistleton first encounter Angela Briscoe.
Thorpe is a common West Country family name: more than 10 percent of the people in Great Britain named Thorpe live in Somerset or Devon. The name Briscoe is almost entirely confined to the counties of Oxfordshire and West Midlands, the latter being formerly one of the country’s major coal-mining districts (see above).
Sistine Chapel (p 59)
The Sistine Chapel, in Vatican City, takes its name from Pope Sixtus IV, who commissioned its construction in 1475 to provide a place of worship for the Papal Chapel, a body that includes the Pope’s household, members of the College of Cardinals and most of the senior ecclesiastics in the Vatican. The chapel was consecrated on the Feast of the Assumption, in August 1483. As well as its liturgical function, the Sistine Chapel has, since 1846, been used for Papal conclaves, the meetings of the College of Cardinals that take place, after the death of a pope, to elect a successor.
The interior walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel are decorated with frescoes and paintings by some of the greatest Italian artists of the 15th century, among them Raphael, Perugini, Botticelli, and, most famously, Michelangelo, who, between 1508 and 1512 painted over 12,000 square feet of the chapel’s ceiling and then spent another four years, from 1537-41, decorating the wall behind the altar with a huge fresco, The Last Judgment.
Taj Mahal (p 59)
Drones Club (p 59)
There are references to the Drones Club in Jill the Reckless (chap 8) and The Inimitable Jeeves ("Bingo and the Little Woman") but this is the first time that the club receives anything more than a passing mention. Murphy (In Search of Blandings) suggests that of the many clubs that had a real presence in Dover Street, the Bath Club, at No 34, was the most likely geographical source for the Drones.
In Cocktail Time, the Demosthenes Club is said to be immediately across the street from the Drones Club, in the position occupied here by the premises of Messrs Thorpe & Briscoe.
on her way to the Ada Clarkson Employment Bureau (p 60)
To be passing through Dover Street en route for Shaftesbury Avenue, Eve must be coming from somewhere in the Berkeley Square neighbourhood. Anyone coming from further afield would have taken Bond St or Regent St if coming from the North, or Piccadilly from the West.
Berkeley Square seems an unlikely sort of address for someone of her straitened means.
Starting at furthest south and proceeding northwards (p 60)
Wodehouse is making use of the convention that south is ‘down’ and north is ‘up’; in the context, therefore, “furthest south” refers to the feet.
a black bird of Paradise feather (p 60)
Birds of Paradise, members of the family Paradisaeidae, are mostly confined to the islands of the New Guinea archipelago. The males of most species have evolved highly decorative plumages, often involving elaborate elongated feathers. These feathers are often used by local tribesmen to decorate their ceremonial dress, and in the 19th and early 20th century they became much sought-after for the European millinery trade, leading to over-hunting and the threat of extinction. Most species are now protected, with limited exemptions to meet local cultural requirements, and destruction of their habitat has replaced hunting as the main threat to their survival.
his not to reason why (p 60)
See Money in the Bank.
the Honourable Mr Walderwick (p 61)
If Walderwick exists as a family name, it is exceedingly uncommon. Nor does it occur as a placename in England; the nearest to it is Walberswick, a small village on the Suffolk coast, which is sometimes mis-spelled as Walderswick (less often as Walderwick):
Southwould is a member of the port of Yarmouth; and Walberswick, commonly written Walderswick, is a creek to Southwould.
A Tour through the Island of Great Britain, 8th ed, vol 1 (1778),
The title “The Honourable” is the courtesy style of the younger sons of earls—the eldest son bears a courtesy title and daughters are styled “Lady”— and the sons and daughters of viscounts, barons and life peers. Thus, Mr Walderwick could be a younger son of an earl (like Freddie Threepwood) or the eldest son of a viscount or baron: we have no way of knowing.
Shaftesbury Avenue . . . Palace Theatre (p 62)
For Shaftesbury Avenue, see A Damsel in Distress.
The Palace Theatre is on the west side of Cambridge Circus, where Shaftesbury Avenue intersects Charing Cross Road. It was commissioned by Richard D’Oyly Carte, who intended it to be the home of English grand opera, much as his Savoy Theatre, with its programme of Gilbert and Sullivan works, had established itself as the home of light opera. The theatre opened in January 1891, with a performance of Sir Arthur Sullivan’s Ivanhoe, but within a year D’Oyly Carte had sold it and it was renamed the Palace Theatre of Varieties, becoming the Palace Theatre in 1911.
If Ada Clarkson’s offices are located “at the top of Shaftesbury Avenue”, they are rather more than just “a little way past the Palace Theatre”, as this is only about halfway along the Avenue.
blue paper (p 64)
This was almost certainly a county court summons, which is usually printed on blue paper. In England and Wales, actions to recover small debts (until 1991, amounts less than £5,000) are usually commenced in the county court. The creditor (or his lawyer) commences an action by filing a request for a court summons, which sets out the details of the claim. This county court summons is then served on the defendant, either by post or (as in the case recalled by Eve) in person (usually by a bailiff of the court).
one of the submerged tenth (p 65)
See Something Fresh.
Chapter 4 (pp 66 - 69)
Painful Scene at the Drones Club
Sir Philip Sidney (p 68)
See Sam the Sudden.
Sir Walter Ralegh (p 68)
Sir Walter Ralegh (c 1552-1618) was a soldier, seaman, courtier, explorer and author. [There are many alternate spellings of the name, ‘Raleigh’ being now most common, though he seems to have had a preference for ‘Ralegh’]
The incident involving the cloak is possibly the only thing that most people remember about Ralegh, but it is generally dismissed as apocryphal. The only source for the story is a piece of gossip recorded by Thomas Fuller, who suggests that the incident took place soon after Ralegh's return from Ireland; but that happened in December 1581, and Fuller was not born until 1608:
This captain Ralegh, coming out of Ireland to the English court in good habit (his clothes being then a considerable part of his estate) found the queen walking, till, meeting with a plashy place, she seemed to scruple going thereon. Presently Ralegh cast and spread his new plush cloak on the ground; whereon the queen trod gently, rewarding him afterwards with many suits, for his so free and seasonable tender of so fair a foot cloth.
The History of the Worthies of England (1662),
The Girl’s Pet (p 69)
This seems to be fictitious.
Chapter 5 (pp 70 - 79)
Psmith Applies for Employment
a very C3 intelligence (p 71)
The Military Service Act, 1916, introduced conscription for the first time in Britain. All unmarried men between the ages of 18 and 41 years were automatically “deemed to have enlisted”. Conscripts were given a medical examination and those not exempted as medically unfit for duty were assigned to a service category: A (general service, “able to march, see to shoot, hear well and stand active service conditions”); B (service abroad, “free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service on the lines of communication in France, or in garrisons in the tropics”); and C (service at home camps, “free from serious organic diseases, able to stand service conditions in garrison at home”). Categories B and C were sub-divided into: 1—garrison service; 2—labour service; and 3—sedentary service. Thus, category C3 meant that the conscript was fit only for sedentary service in a home camp.
The conscript categories had nothing to do with intelligence—indeed, one might think that a conscript who could secure a sedentary home posting was perhaps displaying more intelligence than one who allowed himself to be assigned to category A (‘cannon fodder’). Wodehouse is using “C3” figuratively, to denote the lowest grade.
in specie (p 75)
The Latin phrase in specie (literally ‘in kind’) was also used to mean (especially in legal parlance) ‘in the proper form’. In the 17th century it accrued the additional meaning ‘in the actual coin specified’, or, more generally, ‘in actual coin, in money’, from which arose the more general use of ‘specie’ to signify ‘coinage’.
raise Cain (p 75)
To ‘raise Cain’ (also ‘raise the Devil’, ‘raise the mischief’, and several other variants) is to make a disturbance, to cause uproar. The phrase is a fugurative use of one of the many meanings of ‘raise’, in this case to conjure up a spirit or demon.
For, as I trowe, I haue yow told ynowe
To reyse a feend, al looke he neuere so rowe.
[For, as I believe, I have told you enough,
to raise a fiend, though he look never so rough.]
The Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, lines 860-1 (c 1395),
The biblical Book of Genesis (4: 1-16) tells how Cain, the first-born son of Adam and Eve, killed his younger brother, Abel, in a jealous rage after Abel's offering to God was accepted and Cain's was not. The same story is told in the Qur’an (Sura 5: 27-32), though the brothers are not named.
“Why have we every reason to believe that Adam and Eve were both rowdies? Because they both raised Cain.”
St Louis Daily Pennant, 2 May 1840
Eton (p 75)
Eton College is the oldest public school in England. It was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI as ‘The King’s College of Our Lady of Eton beside Windsor’.
In Mike (chap 32), Psmith recounts his early history in much the same terms as here (though he says there that his sister was bribed with a shilling an hour and struck for one-and-six). He also tells Mike that he was “superannuated” from Eton and that his father decided to send him to Sedleigh School after learning that “a certain scug in the next village to ours happened last year to collar a Balliol” (ie gained a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford).
auto-suggestion (p 77)
Autosuggestion was a method of psychotherapy developed by French apothecary Emile Coué (1857-1926). Early in his career, Coué observed what later came to be known as the ‘placebo effect’—the tendency for a treatment to show positive results simply because the patient believes that it will—and this led him in time to the idea of treatment through autosuggestion. Coué identified the patient’s willpower as the main obstacle to autosuggestion and to overcome this he recommended patients to repeat the mantra “Every day, in every way, I'm getting better and better”.
Dante (p 78)
Dante Alighieri (c 1265-1321) was a Florentine poet. His epic poem, the Commedia, probably begun around 1608 and completed just before his death in 1321, is regarded as one of the greatest works in world literature. Dante departed from tradition by writing the poem in his native Tuscan dialect and was thus instrumental in establishing the Tuscan dialect as the basis of the modern Italian language. The poem’s three books, Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso, present an allegorical vision of the after-life from a medieval Christian perspective within the framework of Dante's imagined journey through the realms of Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.
peer into its eyes (p 78)
Despite much research and numerous suggested alternatives, the food industry still mostly grades fish using what is termed “sensory analysis”. Despite its grandiose name, this involves little more than simple indicators of appearance (are the eyes clear? is the flesh colour bright?), touch (is the flesh firm? does it spring back when pressed?) and smell (does it reek?). Fresh fish should, so it is claimed, yield positive answers to all except the last question: paradoxically, fish that smells fishy is unlikely to be fresh.
pshrimp (p 78)
The ‘p’ in pshrimp is not just silent, it is also invisible.
Jane Emmeline Moss (p 78)
This seems to be a Wodehouse invention. A few years later, he re-cycled the ‘Jane Emmeline’ part:
It seems to me that at least two-thirds of the stuff published nowadays is by one-book people. You know, A Stirring Revelation of a Young Girl’s Soul by Jane Emmeline Banks, who never writes another damn book in her life. The test is, can you write three?
Letter to Bill Townend, 27 April 1929
four o’clock race at Birmingham (p 79)
Birmingham used to have a racecourse, located at Bromford Bridge, between Birmingham and Sutton Coldfield, but it closed in June 1965 and the area was redeveloped for housing.
Chapter 6 (pp 80 - 111)
Lord Emsworth Meets a Poet
a little budget of literary matter (p 80)
‘Budget’ is being used here not in its usual modern sense, of an estimate of future finances, but in an earlier sense, meaning a bundle, or collection:
Your friends being abroad, I read, as you desired, the whole budget of papers you sent about the coals.
The Dublin Weekly Journal, 25 October 1729, "Letter upon Coals",
A nice bag. (p 81)
In a hunting or fishing context, a ‘bag’ is a game-bag, hence, more generally, its contents or the quantity of game shot or caught (‘bagged’). Metaphorically, Psmith’s advertisement is a hunting expedition and the replies are the game he has bagged.
Alistair MacDougall . . . (p 81)
See Something Fresh.
This paragraph is strikingly similar to a passage near the end of the first chapter of Something Fresh.
on his note of hand (p 81)
See Something Fresh.
twenty-first birthday (p 81)
See Something Fresh.
This Night Shall Thy Soul . . . (p 81)
This quotation from one of the parables in the New Testament was a favourite theme of evangelical preachers; in their journals, both John Wesley and his brother Charles mention sermons that they preached on this text in the 1750s.
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought
And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits?
And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.
And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry.
But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided?
Luke, xii, 16-20
bury him for eight pounds ten (p 81)
That is, eight pounds ten shillings (£8.50 in decimal currency).
Piccadilly Palace Hotel (p 82)
This fictional hotel also features in books by Anthony Berkeley (The Piccadilly Murder, 1929) and Agatha Christie (Lord Edgware Dies, 1933). In The Piccadilly Murder, the crime takes place in the “gilt and synthetic-marble” hotel lounge, identified by Dale & Hendershott (Mystery Reader’s Walking Guide to London, 1987) with the main dining room and carvery of the Regent Palace Hotel, which opened in 1915 on a site overlooking Piccadilly Circus.
chrysanthemum (p 83)
As a Shropshire Psmith should know, chrysanthemums have large, spherical flowers, generally about the size of a tennis ball.
Dunsinane (p 83)
Dunsinane in Perthshire was, at least according to Shakespeare, the site of the castle where Macbeth faced his final defeat. He had been told in a prophecy that he had nothing to worry about until “Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane” — inevitably, in Act V, Sc. v, the attacking army attach foliage from Birnam Wood to their clothing as camouflage before marching on Dunsinane.
as far east as . . . Charing Cross (p 84)
Charing Cross Station is close to Trafalgar Square, about half a mile south-east of Piccadilly Circus.
Zadkiel (p 84)
Zadkiel, as well as being the name of an archangel, was the pen-name of a certain Lt. Morrison, author of the Prophetic Almanac and well-known astrologer.
Goodwood Cup (p 84)
Horse races have been held on the Duke of Richmond’s estate on the Sussex Downs since 1802. The Goodwood Cup takes place at the beginning of August, and is one of the classic summer events for the fashionable world.
. . . sad words of tongue or pen (p 86)
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
[Whittier, John Greenleaf Maud Muller ]
deaf adder (p 87)
They are as venomous as the poison of a serpent: even like
the deaf adder which stoppeth her ears; Which refuseth to hear the voice
of the charmer: charm he never so wisely.
[Bible Psalm 58:4]
like Patience on a monument (p 88)
She never told her love,
But let concealment, like a worm i’th’bud,
Feed on her damask cheek: she pined in thought,
And with a green and yellow melancholy
She sat like patience on a monument,
Smiling at grief.
[Shakespeare, William (1564-1616) Twelfth Night II:iv,110]
Paddington Station (p 89)
In Something Fresh, the trains for Blandings left from Waterloo. Paddington, the Great Western Railway terminus, is more consistent with the idea of Blandings being in Shropshire.
as broke as the Ten Commandments (p 90)
It’s not clear whether this punning simile refers to Moses breaking the original set of stone tablets on which the commandments were written (Exodus 32:19), or to the way we have all been happily breaking those commandments ever since.
Colney Hatch (p 92)
Colney Hatch, at New Southgate, Middlesex, has been the site, since 1851, of the Middlesex (later London) County Lunatic Asylum. In 1937, it was renamed as Friern Hospital, taking its new name from the nearby hamlet of Friern Barnet.
luncheon-gong of the soul (p 92)
This seems to be an indirect reference to Byron’s Don Juan — the expression ‘tocsin of the soul’ also appears explicitly in Summer Lightning.
But I digress: of all appeals, — although
I grant the power of pathos, and of gold,
Of beauty, flattery, threats, a shilling, -- no
Method’s more sure at moments to take hold
Of the best feelings of mankind, which grow
More tender, as we every day behold,
Than that all-softening, overpowering knell,
The tocsin of the soul — the dinner-bell.
Turkey contains no bells, and yet men dine;
And Juan and his friend, albeit they heard
No Christian knoll to table, saw no line
Of lackeys usher to the feast prepared,
Yet smelt roast-meat, beheld a huge fire shine,
And cooks in motion with their clean arms bared,
And gazed around them to the left and right
With the prophetic eye of appetite.
[Byron, George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron (1788–1824) Don Juan Canto V: 49-50]
piano (p 92)
Musical term: quietly
Youth held carnival (p 92)
??? sounds like a quotation
lean years (p 92)
This proverbial expression probably has its origins in Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis 41, although the AV doesn’t actually use the phrase ‘lean years.’
17 And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, In my dream, behold, I stood upon the bank of the river:
18 and, behold, there came up out of the river seven kine, fat-fleshed and well-favored; and they fed in a meadow:
19 and, behold, seven other kine came up after them, poor and very ill-favored and lean-fleshed, such as I never saw in all the land of Egypt for badness:
20 and the lean and the ill-favored kine did eat up the first seven fat kine:
21 and when they had eaten them up, it could not be known that they had eaten them; but they were still ill-favored, as at the beginning. So I awoke.
22 And I saw in my dream, and, behold, seven ears came up in one stalk, full and good:
23 and, behold, seven ears, withered, thin, and blasted with the east wind, sprung up after them:
24 and the thin ears devoured the seven good ears: and I told this unto the magicians; but there was none that could declare it to me.
25 And Joseph said unto Pharaoh, The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath showed Pharaoh what he is about to do.
26 The seven good kine are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years: the dream is one.
27 And the seven thin and ill-favored kine that came up after them are seven years; and the seven empty ears blasted with the east wind shall be seven years of famine.
28 This is the thing which I have spoken unto Pharaoh: What God is about to do he showeth unto Pharaoh.
29 Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt:
30 and there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land;
31 and the plenty shall not be known in the land by reason of that famine following; for it shall be very grievous.
[Bible Genesis 41:17-31]
Senior Conservative (p 93)
This is London club first appeared in Psmith in the City.
Murphy identifies it convincingly as the Constitutional Club, formerly on Northumberland Avenue. Wodehouse became a member some time before 1908. It is mentioned by name in the preface to The Girl on the Boat.
[Murphy, N. T. P., In Search of Blandings (1986) 81-83]
country member . . . 1888 (p 93)
Clubs often have cheaper rates for members who live outside London. The date suggests that Emsworth was born before 1868, consistent with him being in his mid-to-late fifties in 1923.
. . . recent creations (p 93)
This phrase is normally used to refer to hereditary titles bestowed in the last century or so. Wodehouse is using it to suggest that being elected to the Senior Conservative implies the same sort of standing and dignity as being raised to the peerage. (In most London clubs, existing members voted on new applications for membership, so that ‘the wrong sort of people’ would be kept out.)
Downing Street (p 93)
A side-street off Whitehall. The Prime Minister’s official residence is No.10, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer lives at No.11. (The rest of the street is occupied by the Cabinet Office.)
by-election in the Little Wabsley Division (p 93)
Division is an old term for a parliamentary constituency. A by-election is an election that takes place in a single constituency because a seat in the House of Commons has become vacant between general elections (usually because a member has died or been elevated to the House of Lords).
The nearest real placenames to “Little Wabsley” are Little Walden and Little Warley, both in Essex. There is no Wabsley.
Ralston McTodd (p 95)
In C.J. Cutcliffe Hyne’s The Adventures of Captain Kettle (1898), the chief engineer is called Neil Angus McTodd. He reappears in several other stories by Cutcliffe Hyne.
McTodd seems to be a real name, although it is rather uncommon - most of the hits generated by an internet search on the name refer either to Wodehouse or to Cutcliffe Hyne.
Ralston clearly has Canadian associations — there is a town of that name, and it was the name of a distinguished Canadian army officer of the first world war, who later became defence minister. It is also — although this can’t be directly relevant to Leave it to Psmith — the middle name of the current Governor-General’s consort.
There have been suggestions [D.M.R. Bentley, Canadian Poetry, Vol.14 (see URL below)] that McTodd owes something to the Canadian poet Bliss Carman (1861-1929). Certainly, the one line of McTodd’s poetry we encounter sounds very like Carman. On the other hand, Carman would have ceased to be plausibly describable as ‘a gloomy-looking young man’ somewhere around 1900. We are also told that, although he wore his hair long, it was never ‘disordered,’ and he washed it daily [Mitchell Kennerly, quoted by H. Pearson Gundy, Canadian Poetry 14].
Another theory is that McTodd shares his origins with Bertie Wooster’s friend, the lazy poet Rocky Todd.
singer of Saskatoon (p 95)
Bliss Carman came from Fredericton, New Brunswick, around 2500km from Saskatoon.
Ian Michaud reports that city fathers in the Saskatchewan city have decided to erect a statue of The Singer of Saskatoon.
No, not Ralston McTodd. It will be a statue of folk singer/ song-writer Joni Mitchell. Judging by her quotes in today’s newspaper (under a headline reading ‘Joni Mitchell bewildered by plan for a statue of her’) she doesn’t know quite what to make of it all.
‘I guess it would be a good place for birds to perch. (. . .) It’s just such a strange suggestion to be woken up to. It would be a true honour. It really would. But is this not something usually done post-mortem? (. . .) I would hope it would be a decent likeness. My face caricatures easily. I can tell by my fan drawings.’
Ipsilanti Herald (p 95)
The Ypsilanti were a family of Phanariot (i.e. Istanbul Greek) princes, prominent in Balkan politics in the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in the struggle for Greek independence from 1820 onwards. The name is usually transliterated into English as Ypsilanti, Upsilanti, or even Hypsilanti, but in other languages (e.g. Romanian) it is Ipsilanti. Not surprising that Herbert Jenkins got confused about the spelling . . .
Ypsilanti is a town near Ann Arbor, Michigan, not far from the Canadian border (a gazeteer from 1880 gives the population of Ypsilanti as 5471; the name always seems to have been spelled with a ‘Y’).
The local papers today are the Courier and the Press.
Montreal Star (p 95)
Presumably a cross between the Montreal Gazette and the Toronto Star.
. . . a good listener (p 97)
Being rather short-sighted himself, Wodehouse had obviously had plenty of opportunities to discover the conversational advantages of not being able to see your listener clearly. Much the same applies to deafness. . .
Gladstone . . . in ‘78 (p 100)
W.E. Gladstone (1809-1898), leader of the Liberal Party, was Prime Minister three times. In 1878, he was between his first and second terms of office, and Disraeli was in power and busy forcing the Russians to back down at the Congress of Berlin. Gladstone, as a supporter of Bulgarian independence, opposed Disraeli’s Balkan policy.
National injustice is the surest road to national downfall.
[Gladstone, W.E. Speech at Plumstead, 1878]
Peri . . . Paradise (p 100)
In Persian mythology, peris were fallen angels who had to perform an act of penance before they could be re-admitted to Paradise. Lalla Rookh, a popular romance by the Irish poet Thomas Moore (1779-1852), includes the story of such a peri. Note also the sub-title of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, or The Peer and the Peri.
Corona (p 100)
A Corona is a long, straight-sided Havana cigar.
forming arbours (p 100)
In British usage, an arbour is a bower or covered seat in a garden.
hollyhocks (p 102)
Hollyhocks are tall perennial plants, with a mass of flowers running up a single stem, often thought of as the characteristic ‘cottage garden’ plant. The flowers come in a wide variety of shapes and colours.
Looking at the photos on the web sites of a few seedsmen, there seems to be a general preference for the floppy flower nowadays.
beaver (p 104)
In 1890s England, beaver was slang for a bearded man. Presumably Canadians, aware that beavers are no more likely to grow beards than other mammals, used the word differently.
feast of reason and the flow of soul (p 105)
There St. John mingles with my friendly bowl
The feast of reason and the flow of soul;
[Pope, Alexander Horace, Odes, Epistles and Satires 1st Satire, l127-128]
delphiniums . . . early phloxes (p 105)
Wodehouse seems to have set Roget aside and taken up an American seedsman’s catalogue:
Delphiniums are spiky plants with a cone of blue or white flowers (larkspur); Achilleas have yellow flowers on a tall stem; Coreopsis is a low, spreading North American plant with daisy-like flowers; Eryngiums (sea holly) have prickly leaves and thistle-like flowers; Geums are related to roses; Lupines (usually written ‘lupins’ in Britain) have spiky, pea-like flowers; Bergamot can mean several different things in a gardening context — in this case probably the American herb Monarda, which has salad-like leaves and wispy red flowers; Phloxes are ground-covering plants found in North American woodland, which flower early in spring.
Stronger Growing Clematis (p 105)
Presumably a real variety, although I can’t find any trace of it. Clematis is a familiar climbing plant.
changeling (p 106)
Normally a baby which has been surreptitiously exchanged for another in infancy.
Herbert the Turbot (p 108)
Many others, especially journalists, seem to have been weaker than Psmith and unable to resist the urge to rhyme ‘Herbert’ with ‘Turbot.’ A quick search on the web reveals any number of items with titles like ‘Herbert the Turbot survives night in fridge.’ No ballads, but there does seem to be one turbot limerick doing the rounds:
A sweet-loving fish is the Turbot
For one, that we all know as Herbert,
Has told us the truth,
That he has a sweet tooth,
Yes, Herbert the Turbot likes Sherbet.
[Chris Woods (Found on web, no date)]
John Drinkwater (p 108)
John Drinkwater (1882-1937). One of the circle of ‘Georgian’ poets, associated with Robert Graves and Walter de la Mare, but now somewhat out of fashion. Before the first world war he was involved in the creation of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre (see the link below for an Esperanto version of his verse play X=0, if that sort of thing amuses you). By the twenties he was best known as a biographer and distinguished philatelist. Wodehouse presumably picked him out for this little dig as far too serious a poet ever to rhyme ‘Herbert’ with ‘Turbot’. John Masefield, on the other hand, who sold 200,000 copies of his Collected Poems the year Leave it to Psmith was published, would probably have jumped at such a commission.
[Ian Hamilton (ed.), Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry, 1994, s.v. DRINKWATER]
Chapter 7 (pp 112 - 134)
It will be dark. . . (p 112)
The length of the journey to Market Blandings generally seems to be three to four hours. In late June, it stays light in England until around ten in the evening, so it will probably just be getting dark as they arrive.
Apollyon (p 112)
The Angel of the Bottomless Pit (Book of Revelation), with whom Christian has to fight in Pilgrim’s Progress.
fairies’ tear-drops (p 114)
Evidently Miss Peavey is a soul-sister of Madeline Bassett. Whimsical ideas about fairies seem to have more to do with the 1890s (J.M. Barrie, Conan-Doyle) than the 1920s: possibly Wodehouse had to put up with a certain amount of this sort of thing in his youth.
squashy mauve (p 116)
Sir William Perkin developed mauve, the first synthetic organic dye, in 1856. It became the fashionable colour of the late-Victorian period. Again, this sounds more like 1890s decadence than 1920s modernism.
Across the pale parabola of Joy (p 116)
This is one of only two lines of McTodd’s poetry we see in this book (see also Ch.9, p.174 below). Wodehouse somehow manages to convince us that we know about his entire canon on the basis of those few words.
If McTodd is based on Bliss Carman, this line would be evidence in support: it doesn’t seem to be an obvious parody of a specific poem, but Carman is fond of abstract nouns, and does use the word ‘joy’ rather a lot. It sounds rather like his style. If McTodd were an avant-garde poet of the twenties (Eliot, Pound, etc.) then he would not be likely to be writing metrical verse like this.
The line is an iambic pentameter — the most common meter for ‘serious’ verse in English, used for instance in sonnets. There is clever use of assonance (especialy the ‘a’ sounds in ‘across and ‘parabola’) and alliteration (‘pale parabola’), giving a nice flowing sound-pattern to lead the reader to the final stress on ‘Joy’.
Thus it is a perfectly respectable line of verse. Wodehouse’s joke is that, especially without a context, it is completely meaningless. A parabola is a curve in mathematics (a conic section, or a second-order polynomial, depending on how you look at it). Thus it doesn’t make much sense for it to be pale. Of course, it is also the path taken by an object thrown up into the air — with a proper supporting context, you could use this idea to make the parabola of joy a metaphor for hopes rising up and then falling again, perhaps. But Wodehouse makes sure that we can’t read this sort of sense into it, by leaving it forever in isolation.
Job (p 117)
In the Book of Job, in the Bible, Job is a respectable, god-fearing and reasonably wealthy man, upon whom God inflicts a remarkable series of catastrophes to prove a theological point.
Napoleon (p 118)
Napoleon Bonaparte died on St Helena in 1821, and certainly never had the chance to travel on a train. His nephew, Napoleon III (1808-1873), would have had rather more opportunities to discover this technique for dealing with snoring fellow-passengers.
Fangs of the Past (p 119)
Seems to be fictitious — although there are many films with ‘Fangs’ in the title, only In the Wolves’ Fangs (1941) and The Fangs of the Wolf (1922) seem to have been released before Leave It To Psmith appeared.
Bertha Blevitch (p 119)
It may be a coincidence, but the only occurrence of the name Blevitch I could find was in an essay by the American humourist Robert Benchley. Wodehouse doesn’t seem to have used Kenworthy, but there is a Kegworthy in “Fixing it for Freddie” (1926). The first Bodkin is a figure in the crowd at Waterloo in Hot Water (1932) — can anyone find a Shriner in Wodehouse? Benchley’s style is so close to Wodehouse’s that it almost reads like a parody.
“Call for Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Shriner—Mr, Bodkin—Mr. Blevitch—Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Bodkin—Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Shriner-call for Mr. Kenworthy—Mr. Blevitch—Mr. Kenworthy.”
Mr. Kenworthy seemed to be standing about a 20 per cent better chance of being located than any of the other contestants. Probably the boy was of a romantic temperament and liked the name. Sometimes that was the only name he would call for mile upon mile. It occurred to me that perhaps Mr. Kenworthy was the only one wanted, and that the other names were just put in to make it harder, or to give body to the thing.
[Benchley, Robert C. (1889-1945) Of All Things (1921) ‘Call for Mr Kenworthy’ ]
Maurice Heddlestone (p 119)
Heddlestone is a made-up name, presumably a variant of ‘Huddlestone’ (the late bishop of that name was obviously too young to have had anything to do with this).
Maxwell Bannister (p 119)
Bannister is a favourite Wodehouse name. Garrison lists nine, not including this one, the first being in the school story “The Manoeuvres of Charteris” (1903).
Claude Hepworth (p 119)
Hepworth is a village in West Yorkshire. Garrison does not list any Hepworths.
George Willard (p 121)
This seems to be the only reference to him. Other Willards in the canon include Peter Willard who appears in several golf stories starting with “A Woman is Only a Woman” (1919) and Jill in Do Butlers Burgle Banks?
There is also a George Willard in Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), which Wodehouse certainly knew — he is the Winesburg newspaper reporter.
stentorian tones (p 123)
Stentor is the Greek herald in Homer. His voice has the strength of fifty.
Keeble . . . Why . . . is that name familiar? (p 123)
This would have been a ridiculous question if Psmith had been at Oxford (where there is a college named after John Keble) rather than Cambridge.
cold beef . . . Sunday evenings (p 125)
Servants, especially in smaller households, normally had time off on Sunday evening to go to church. Thus the evening meal usually consisted of cold dishes, typically the meat from Sunday lunch served cold, and it would be an occasion which only very close friends (whom one did not need to impress) would be invited to share.
Wormwood Scrubbs (p 125)
(Normally written “Wormwood Scrubs”) Prison in West London, not far from West Kensington where the Jacksons live.
pick . . . oakum (p 125)
Oakum is loose fibre obtained by unpicking ropes, and formerly used for caulking the seams of ships. Picking oakum was a tedious and unpleasant type of work commonly given to prisoners in the 19th century. “Sewing mailbags” would be a more contemporary image.
half-Nelson (p 126)
A wrestling hold. Psmith also uses this image in Psmith in the City.
meau (p 126)
Obviously an error for “mean.” Inverting letters was a common compositor’s error in the days when type was set by hand, but it is unusual to find it in a book that was presumably set by machine.
non compos (p 126)
Non compos mentis — legal Latin for ‘of unsound mind’
daylight saving (p 126)
“Summer time” (one hour ahead of GMT) was first introduced in Britain in 1916, as a temporary wartime economy measure, the clocks reverting to GMT in the darker winter months. Apart from a short period of double summer time in World War II, and Harold Wilson’s abortive attempt to maintain summer time all year round (1968-1971), the pattern has remained in use ever since.
Wodehouse comments on this in a number of other places, notably Summer Lightning Ch.17. In fact it seems to be a useful element for an author, as he can use it (as here) to lengthen the day where needed, or forget it and have it get dark at dinner time if that is more appropriate for the plot.
sheep-bells (p 127)
Probably obsolete by this time in British farming (for example, Thomas Firbank’s account of running a Welsh sheep farm, I Bought a Mountain, published in 1940, doesn’t mention bells at all), but presumably Wodehouse must have remembered hearing them in his youth at Stableford.
Cf. Kipling’s ‘The sheep-bells and the ship bells ring / Along the hidden beach.’
Maître! (p 128)
A form of address a writer might conceivably use for a very senior and distinguished fellow artist.
harveyised steel (p 131)
The American steelmaker H. A. Harvey developed a process for case-hardening nickel-steel for armour-plating. It was extensively used during the naval arms race of the 1890s, but had been overtaken by other materials by the beginning of the first world war.
. . . any specific tort or malfeasance. (p 131)
Exactly the same expression is used in Something Fresh.
A tort is a negligent or intentional civil wrong not arising out of a contract or statute, an act that injures someone in some way, and for which the injured person may sue the wrongdoer for damages. Legally, a tort is a civil wrong, as opposed to a crime (though an act may constitute both a tort and a crime; for example, the crime of battery may also be a trespass against the person, which is a tort; the wrongdoer in such a case may face both civil and criminal penalties).
Malfeasance is the doing of a wrongful act, whether a tort or a crime, where the act itself is unlawful, as opposed to nonfeasance which is the omission of an act that a person is under a legal duty to do.
. . . a bit of top-spin (p 132)
In ball games, top-spin is the term for making the ball rotate in a forward direction as it travels. It is particularly used in cricket and tennis to make the ball curve unpredictably in flight, or in games like snooker and billiards to make the cue ball continue in a generally forward direction after striking the object ball.
Wodehouse is being careful not to allow Psmith to slip into the role of poet too easily.
Chapter 8 (pp 135 - 166)
Confidences on the Lake
three . . . twelve-fifty (p 135)
This seems to be a remarkably fast train - it does the journey in two hours ten minutes, while the five o’clock train takes four hours. Nowadays, if you left Paddington at 12:48, you would arrive in Shrewsbury (after two changes) at 16:27.
(This isn’t really a fair comparison, as the direct route via Worcester no longer exists: the shortest route today is from London Euston via Wolverhampton, and takes about three-and-a-half hours.)
I want coffee . . . Why have I no coffee? (p 135)
An echo, probably unintentional, of the text of Bach’s “Coffee Cantata” — “Kaffee, Kaffee, muss ich haben . . .”
kedgeree (p 136)
A traditional breakfast dish, made with rice, vegetables and left-over fish from the day before. It has its origins in an Indian dish of rice, pulses and onions.
the gowans fine (p 136)
Gowan is a Northern and Scottish dialect name for the common daisy. Apparently, in those days, people still knew the words of “Auld Lang Syne.”
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to min’?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days o’ lang syne?
We twa hae rin about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d monie a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’t i’ the burn,
Frae mornin’ sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.
And here ‘s a hand, my trusty fiere,
And gie’s a hand o’ thine;
And we’ll tak a right guid-willie waught
For auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp,
And surely I’ll be mine;
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne!
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.
[Robert Burns Auld Lang Syne ]
the ray from an oxy-acetylene blowpipe (p 137)
Wodehouse had a classical education, so he can be forgiven for not knowing that a ray is a mathematical representation of the direction of propagation of light. An oxy-acetylene torch radiates light more-or-less uniformly in all directions, so there is nothing special about any of the individual rays.
He probably means flame rather than ray here: the flame is highly directional, and it is the hot gas in the flame that does the work of cutting.
wearing it even shorter (p 138)
Another prison reference.
persiflage (p 140)
Banter, frivolous talk (a French word that entered English in the 18th century).
the course of true love (p 143)
Lys.Ay me! for aught that ever I could read,
Could ever hear by tale or history,
The course of true love never did run smooth;
But, either it was different in blood,—
Her.O cross! too high to be enthrall’d to low.
Lys.Or else misgraffed in respect of years,—
Her.O spite! too old to be engag’d to young.
Lys.Or else it stood upon the choice of friends,—
Her.O hell! to choose love by another’s eye.
[Shakespeare, William (1564-1616) Midsummer Night’s Dream I:i,137-145]
stick the gaff into (p 143)
In this context, a gaff is a barbed spear used in sport-fishing to land large fish. Thus to stick the gaff into something is to bring it to a definitive end.
not start proposing until after lunch . . . (p 143)
A parody of popular strategies for giving up drinking or smoking, of course.
slot machine . . . butter-scotch (p 144)
Market Blandings has clearly advanced since the days of Something Fresh, when the hungry traveller had to make do with chocolate (unless it had two slot machines all along, which seems unlikely).
why, Mr Bones . . . ? (p 145)
A reference to the ritualised repartee of ‘minstrel shows,’ then very popular in Britain. Cf. Thank You, Jeeves for more on these.
southern plesaunce or western home-park (p 148)
In this passage, Psmith is of course deliberately talking nonsense to put Eve at her ease.
A pleasaunce is a separate, enclosed part of a large garden, often in the form of a walled garden. The home-park would be the part of the park closest to the house itself.
Oliver Cromwell . . . 1550 (p 148)
Oliver Cromwell, who became the leader of the Parliamentary forces in the English Civil War and was appointed Lord Protector of the Commonwealth, was not born until 1599. ‘Oliver Cromwell went through here’ is something of a cliché of country-house history, of course, because in much of England there has been no armed conflict since the seventeenth century, and the Parliamentary forces did a thorough job of demolishing any castles or other fortifications that might later be used against them. Oliver Cromwell is also conventionally blamed for damage that actually took place under his great-great uncle, Henry VIII’s minister Thomas Cromwell, during the dissolution of the monasteries.
The record has since been lowered. (p 148)
‘Went through here in . . .’ could also be a conventional way to refer to a golf score.
dandelions . . . Egypt (p 148)
Dandelions do come originally from the middle East: they are supposed to be the origin of the ‘bitter herbs’ the Israelites ate at Passover. However, they were already common in Britain in ancient times. The joke is, of course, that dandelions, although a useful food plant for poor people, are generally treated as an undesirable weed by gardeners.
Psmith possibly does not realise that the current Lord Emsworth is the ninth Earl.
northern messuage (p 148)
Messuage is a term in land-law for the land occupied by a house and its immediate out-buildings; the term would not be used to refer to a part of the gardens or park. Having read law in Cambridge, Psmith ought to know this.
manorial rights over the mosquito-swatting (p 148)
The idea of treating mosquito-swatting as a field sport is a joke that appears many times in Wodehouse.
Jiu-jitsu (p 149)
(More usually written Ju-Jitsu) “The Gentle Art” — a Japanese system of wrestling, the primary unarmed combat method of the Samurai, introduced into the West around 1900. The Ju-jitsu instructor Shinzo Harade was in the USA from 1904-1910, explaining the technique to the US military and others. Also mentioned in Psmith in the City.
Blessed Damozel (p 149)
The blessed damozel leaned out
From the gold bar of Heaven:
Her eyes were deeper than the depth
Of waters stilled at even;
She had three lilies in her hand,
And the stars in her hair were seven.
[Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1828-1882) The Blessed Damozel ]
a remarkably growing country (p 154)
A curious choice of phrase — surely Canada had reached its present size by 1899? Perhaps he was referring to the population, or meant to say that it was ‘remarkable growing country’?
foeman worthy of his steel (p 154)
Fitz-James was brave:—Though to his heart
The life-blood thrill’d with sudden start,
He mann’d himself with dauntless air,
Return’d the Chief his haughty stare,
His back against a rock he bore,
And firmly placed his foot before:—
“Come one, come all! this rock shall fly
From its firm base as soon as I.”
Sir Roderick mark’d—and in his eyes
Respect was mingled with surprise,
And the stern joy which warriors feel
In foemen worthy of their steel.
[Scott, Sir Walter The Lady of the Lake Canto X: 228-239]
Snooks or Buggins (p 156)
Snooks is a name traditionally used for a hypothetical or non-existant person, apparently as a corruption of Noakes, the name formerly used by lawyers for a hypothetical person in certain kinds of action.
Buggins is a variant of Muggins/Juggins, used mainly in the expression Buggins’s turn, the principle of appointing people to a certain job in strict rotation, irrespective of merit. Also sometimes used as a self-deprecating way to refer to oneself.
The stag at eve (p 156)
Psmith starts off with the famous opening line of Scott’s Lady of the Lake, but the rest is parody. Adoon and beyint are made-up words, which do not exist in real Scottish dialect. Laird is a title traditionally given to the local lord of the manor in Scotland, roughly equivalent to ‘squire’ in England.
The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
Where danced the moon on Monan’s rill,
And deep his midnight lair had made,
In lone Glenartney’s hazel shade.
[Scott, Sir Walter The Lady of the Lake Canto I: 1-4]
one of the dry provinces (p 161)
Prohibition was introduced in all Canadian provinces in 1919, but did not last long (not least because of the economic opportunities for Canada when prohibition arrived in the USA). In 1922, all but Québec and B.C. were still dry.
Chapter 9 (pp 167 - 205)
Psmith Engages a Valet
happy and instructive afternoon (p 167)
Surely a foreshadowing of Uncle Fred’s ‘pleasant and instructive afternoons’ (cf. e.g. ‘Uncle Fred Flits By’).
The Man with the Missing Toe (p 168)
Seems to be fictitious. Beach is reading this same book in ‘The Crime Wave at Blandings.’
Richard Burgin and JM Alonso’s Man with missing parts only appeared in 1973. Beach inherits Freddie Threepwood’s thriller collection later in the saga.
Bridgeford and Shifley (p 169)
Fictitious: cf. the real Shropshire placenames Bridgenorth and Shifnal. Notice that Wodehouse uses widely separated places to avoid any too-direct clue as to where Blandings is . . .
Norman Murphy has identified Weston Park, five miles from Shifnal, as one of the main sources for Blandings.
The corresponding constituencies today would be The Wrekin (MP in 2002: Peter Bradley), Ludlow (Matthew Green), Telford (David Wright) and possibly also part of Shrewsbury and Atcham (Paul Marsden).
[Murphy, N. T. P., In Search of Blandings (1986) ]
Hartley Reddish, Esq., J.P. (p 169)
There don’t seem to be any other characters with similar names, except Sir Sutton Hartley-Wesping in ‘The Smile That Wins.’
Reddish is a Cheshire placename (and of course an elderly rural magistrate would be likely to be a bit reddish in the face); Hartley is a fairly common English surname. Esq[uire] is a courtesy title for a gentleman who does not have a title (originally it meant that you were at least a landowner, but by the mid-20th century it was used automatically when addressing envelopes to untitled men). J.P. (Justice of the Peace) means that as well as his parliamentary duties, Reddish also acted as a magistrate trying petty offenders in the local court.
sponge-bag trousers (p 169)
According to Christopher Hodge on the AFW FAQ, sponge-bags (toilet cases) were formerly made from a material with a houndstooth pattern, which resembled the pattern of the material later used for formal trousers.
telegraph-boy on a red bicycle (p 170)
This may be the last occasion on which Blandings Castle received a telegram by hand rather than by telephone.
Though much else has changed in the British GPO in recent years, its official bicycles were still painted red the last time I saw one.
A sort of female Casabianca (p 170)
Casabianca, a boy of thirteen, was the son of Vice-Admiral Brueys, the commander of the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. The Admiral and his son were on board the flagship, l’Orient. Casabianca remained at his post during the battle, even after the ship had caught fire and all the guns had been abandoned. He died when the ship exploded. Generations of young people forced to learn the poem by heart have been puzzled as to what his mind-boggling stupidity is supposed to teach them - see Elizabeth Bishop’s poem on the subject.
In The Luck of the Bodkins, Ivor Llewellyn sacks Ambrose Tennyson on discovering that he is not “the Tennyson who wrote ‘The Boy stood on the Burning Deck’”. In the same book, Monty Bodkin attributes Mrs Hemans’ poem to Shakespeare.
The Boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but him had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
Shone round him o’er the dead.
Yet beautiful and bright he stood,
As born to rule the storm;
A creature of heroic blood,
A proud though childlike form.
The flames rolled on; he would not go
Without his father’s word;
That father, faint in death below,
His voice no longer heard.
He called aloud, “Say, Father, say,
If yet my task be done!"
He knew not that the chieftain lay
Unconscious of his son.
“Speak, Father!” once again he cried,
“If I may yet be gone!”
And but the booming shots replied,
And fast the flames rolled on.
Upon his brow he felt their breath,
And in his waving hair,
And looked from that lone post of death
In still yet brave despair,
And shouted but once more aloud,
"My father! must I stay?”
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud,
The wreathing fires made way.
They wrapt the ship in splendour wild,
They caught the flag on high,
And streamed above the gallant child,
Like banners in the sky.
There came a burst of thunder sound;
The boy, - Oh! where was he?
Ask of the winds, that far around
With fragments strewed the sea,-
With shroud and mast and pennon fair,
That well had home their part,-
But the noblest thing that perished there
Was that young, faithful heart.
[Hemans, Felicia Dorothea Casabianca ]
Songs of Squalor (p 173)
Bliss Carman’s best-known collection was Songs of Vagabondage.
The sibilant, scented silence that shimmered where we sat (p 174)
This is a rather less orthodox line than ‘Across the pale . . .’ — it is an English version of a Latin hexameter, a very rare metre in English verse. By association with French alexandrines, it generally suggests a mood of decadent sensuality (we still seem to be in the 1890s, not the 1920s).
Again, alliteration (heavily over the top this time) gives the line a natural feel, and distracts us from the difficulties of the images. How can a silence be scented (smell) sibilant (sound) or shimmer (sight)?
Cootes (p 174)
The name perhaps is a play on the famous London bank, Coutt’s. ‘Looney’ Coote appears in a couple of Ukridge stories (the first, ‘The Long Arm of Looney Coote,’ appeared the same year as Leave It To Psmith ) and the name Cootes returns with Myrtle in ‘Freddie, Oofy and the Beef Trust’ (1948) and Ada in Do Butlers Burgle Banks? (1968).
Charing Cross (p 174)
The West End terminus of the South-Eastern Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway. Trains to Channel ports (Dover, Folkestone, Newhaven) for travellers to France would usually leave from either Charing Cross or Victoria.
. . . distinguish between the Unlikely and the Impossible (p 176)
This sounds like a Sherlock Holmes allusion, but as usual does not seem to appear anywhere in the Holmes stories.
a sorrow’s crown of sorrow . . . (p 178)
This is truth the poet sings,
That a sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.
Drug thy memories, lest thou learn it, lest thy heart be put to proof,
In the dead unhappy night, and when the rain is on the roof.
[Tennyson, Alfred Lord Locksley Hall 75-78]
. . . his lost Lizzie (p 179)
Wodehouse liked this idea — criminals separated from the loves of their lives and then reunited under surprising circumstances — so much that he used it twice in Hot Water.
Beale Street Blues (p 180)
The original Beale Street is in Memphis, Tennessee (assuming they haven’t taken it up and moved it into a theme park in the meantime). The Memphis bandleader W.C. Handy is generally regarded as the person who first defined the Blues as a separate musical genre.
If Beale Street could talk, if Beale Street could talk,
Married men would have to take their beds and walk,
Except one or two who never drink booze,
And the blind man on the corner singing “Beale Street Blues!”
[Handy, W.C. (1873-1958) Beale Street Blues (1916) ]
the cat’s whiskers (p 181)
The cat’s whiskers (sometimes cat’s pyjamas) is early 20th century slang for something particularly excellent or ingenious.
There may or may not be a connection with the ‘cat’s whisker’ diodes (a thin wire forming a Schottky contact with a selenium crystal) used in early crystal radio receivers.
hoodoo (p 183)
Hoodoo is a generic term for the fragments of West African traditional religions that found their way into the folk-magic of African-American culture in the USA through the slave-trade. There is a strong element of hoodoo in the language of the blues. In this case, Cootes is using hoodoo to mean a curse or malignant spell. Card-players are notoriously superstitious, of course.
We are told that Cootes has a ‘dark, intelligent face’ — possibly Wodehouse meant him to be African-American? If the reader is prepared to accept that an Etonian with a monocle and no trace of a Canadian accent can pass as the Singer of Saskatoon, there seems no reason to reject the idea of a black pseudo-McTodd. This is, after all, the era of the Harlem Renaissance.
tintype . . . mantlepiece (p 183)
The tintype, or ferrotype, photographic process forms a positive image directly in a light-sensitive film on a metal plate, avoiding the need for an intermediate printing step. It was formerly popular with seaside photographers and the like. It sounds as though ‘. . . only one tintype on my mantlepiece’ ought to be a fragment of a song, but if it is, I can’t find it.
the old Atlantic (p 184)
The White Star line, which retained its independent identity within the Cunard group until 1935, used names ending in ‘-ic’ for its ships (Britannic, Majestic, etc.). There doesn’t seem to have been a real Atlantic. This ship later plays a central role in The Luck of the Bodkins.
dude (p 187)
Nowadays dude is just a generic term like ‘bloke’ or ‘fellow,’ but in the late 19th and early 20th century it had a specific association with young men of the Freddie type (in the theatre, those who invariably enter through French windows waving tennis racket).
snake’s eyebrows (p 189)
A variant of cat’s whiskers — see above. Snakes do not have eyebrows, of course.
jellied eels (p 191)
Jellied eels are a famous speciality of the East End of London. Wodehouse frequently uses them to stand for working-class East End culture.
Fresh eels are skinned and boned, then stewed until tender and served cold in a jelly. There seem to be two, much-copied, recipes around on the internet, one of which uses added gelatine and one of which claims that the eels form their own jelly.
get it off your diaphragm (p 193)
More usually ‘get it off your chest.’ But of course the diaphragm is at least as important as the chest in producing speech.
animus (p 199)
Parks’ Pepsinine (p 199)
Seems to be fictitious, but sounds rather like Merck’s Pepcidine (trade-name for famotidine in some countries — in others it seems to be called Pepcid), which is often prescribed for people with peptic ulcers or heartburn. Pepsin is the digestive enzyme secreted in the stomach; Famotidine suppresses its production.
on the banks of the Saskatchewan (p 202)
The Saskatchewan river system drains most of the Canadian prairies. Saskatoon is actually on the South Saskatchewan River, which joins the North Saskatchewan to form the Saskatchewan further downstream near Prince Albert.
and lo! Psmith’s name led all the rest (p 205)
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:-
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
‘What writest thou?’ The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, ‘The names of those who love the Lord’
’And is mine one?’ said Abou. ‘Nay not so’
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, ‘I pray thee, then’
Write me as one who loves his fellow men’
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
[Hunt, James Leigh (1784-1859) Abou Ben Adhem (1835) ]
Chapter 10 (pp 206 - 238)
Sensational Occurrence at a Poetry Reading
British Museum catalogue (p 206)
The British Library, which in its capacity of copyright library holds a copy of every book published in Great Britain, used to be housed in the British Museum (it moved to a new building on Euston Road in the 1990s). The only literary Peavey in the current catalogue seems to be Hazel Peavey, author of a number of plays published in the 1940s.
whereabouts of her wandering boy (p 208)
An allusion to the popular ballad, words and music by the Reverend Robert Lowry, 1877.
Also the title of a 1922 film starring Cullen Landis as a young man who leaves home and sweetheart and becomes involved with a cynical chorus girl.
Where is my wandering boy tonight
The boy of my tenderest care
The boy that was once my joy and light
The child of my love and prayer
Where is my boy tonight
Where is my boy tonight
My heart o’erflows, for I love him, he knows
O where is my boy tonight
Once he was pure as morning dew
As he knelt at his mother’s knee
No face was so bright, no heart more true
And none was so sweet as he
O chould I see you now my boy
As fair as in olden time
When prattle and smile made home a joy
And life was a merry chime
Go for my wand’ring boy tonight
Go search for him where you will
But bring him to me with all his blight
And tell him I love him still
[Reverend Robert Lowry Where is my wandering boy tonight ]
gazooni (p 208)
This doesn’t seem to be a real slang term, although it could conceivably be an unrecorded variant of the words gazook/gazabo/gazob.
lalapaloosa (p 210)
(More usually lollapaloosa or lallapaloosa)
A US slang term, which seems to have originated around 1900, for something outstanding or excellent. Wodehouse also uses it in “Heart of a Goof.”
smoked glasses (p 210)
Sunglasses or welding goggles. Smoke was used to deposit a thin optically-absorbent coating of carbon on glass.
dogs (p 211)
Feet — from rhyming slang “dogs’-meat”.
electric-light works (p 211)
A country house in the 1920s would be relatively unlikely to be connected to mains electricity, but one as grand as Blandings might well have a private generator driven by a gas engine or a small water-powered turbine. Such generators were often backed up by accumulators so that the engine did not have to be left running all the time.
superman (p 213)
Nietzsche coined the term Übermensch in Also sprach Zarathustra (1883). The translation “superman” was established in English by George Bernard Shaw’s 1903 play Man and Superman.
The comic-book hero Superman did not appear until 1938.
Love or Mammon (p 216)
Fictitious, of course. Mammon (from the Hebrew word for money or wealth) is used in the New Testament as a personification of the desire for financial gain.
Beatrice Comely (p 216)
Could this be a subconscious echo of Much Ado About Nothing, where there is the most famous Beatrice outside Dante, and the word comely appears frequently?
Otherwise, it could be seen as a joke at the expense of the film actors who choose improbable stage names to boost their attractiveness to the public.
Brian Fraser (p 217)
By contrast, the male lead has a simple, manly, Scots name — equally implausible. There doesn’t seem to be a real film actor with this name.
Jno. Banks (p 221)
Jno. is a conventional abbreviation for John. Wodehouse is giving us the name as it would be written up on his sign.
There are several prominent members of the Banks family in the canon, not least the writer Rosie M. Banks, wife of Bingo Little. Possibly J. G. Banks, the vet called in to attend to the Empress in A Pelican at Blandings, is a relative of the hairdresser.
heliotrope-scented (p 222)
Heliotrope is a name given to flowers that turn to follow the sun, especially heliotropium, and to their rich purple colour (famous from Bertie’s pyjamas in Thank You, Jeeves, of course).
Charles Peace (p 222)
A celebrated English burglar, executed in Sheffield in 1878 for the murder of his girlfriend’s husband. He was also suspected of killing a policeman in Manchester, but is chiefly famous for the way he upset social norms by passing as a respectable householder and Methodist preacher while amassing a fortune by housebreaking.
Charles Peace has been the subject of much sensational literature and a famous early British film (Dir. William Haggar, 1905).
the James brothers (p 222)
Jesse James (1847-1882) and his brother Frank were the leaders of a gang of violent criminals who robbed trains and banks in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Like Charles Peace, they became heroes of popular fiction and cinema.
Bachelors’ Club (p 223)
A London club, popular in the 1890s, with premises at Hamilton Place, Piccadilly. Some of Wodehouse’s early young men — e.g. Reggie Pepper, Jimmy Crocker — are members, and it seems to have the role in later books of a more respectable counterpart of the Pelican Club.
Murphy explains that only bachelors were allowed to join; members who married were fined and had to apply for re-election.
[Murphy, N. T. P., In Search of Blandings (1986) ]
reign of Henry the Eighth (p 229)
1509 - 1547
Grammercy! . . . I’fackins! (p 229)
Gramercy (Old French grant merci) is an archaic expression equivalent in meaning to the modern “thank you” (cf. modern French merci). It seems to have gone out of use before the seventeenth century, but was revived, like so many other archaisms, by Sir Walter Scott.
I’fackins is one of the many playful variants of i’faith (in faith), an interjection that seems to have become popular in the 17th and 18th centuries, but would not have been known in the days of Henry VIII.
let us be up and doing (p 236)
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream! --
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each tomorrow
Find us farther than today.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our heats, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead
Act,- act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead.
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
a forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us then be up and doing,
with a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
[Longfellow, Henry Wadsworth (1807-1882) A Psalm of life ]
Chapter 11 (239 - 269)
Almost Entirely About Flowerpots
the tumult and the shouting . . . died (p 239)
The tumult and the shouting dies—
The captains and the kings depart—
Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,
An humble and a contrite heart.
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget, lest we forget!
[Kipling, Rudyard Recessional 7-12]
Nosey Parker (p 240)
See Something Fresh.
Susan . . . Miss Simmons (p 241)
There is a detective called Simmonds in the story “Bill the Bloodhound” (1915). Simmons is a fairly common name in Wodehouse, but the only one predating Leave It to Psmith is the floor-waiter in The Indiscretions of Archie. Detectives disguised as maids (or maids suspected of being detectives) appear in a number of other stories, notably Hot Water.
Sixteenth of December 1918 to January twelve 1919 . . . (p 242)
Miss Simmons is clearly as much of an Atlantic-hopper as Wodehouse, combining British and American-style dates in the same sentence.
Also interesting in that it suggests that Baxter left Lord Emsworth’s employment after the events of Something Fresh (1915) and has subsequently returned. Perhaps he was called up for military service, then went to work with Jevons after being demobbed.
Horace Jevons (p 242)
Also mentioned in “The Crime Wave at Blandings” (1936) and Summer Lightning. In the latter, he is called “J. Horace Jevons.”
Garrison wonders whether he might be related to Jevons, the manservant in “Creatures of Impulse” (1914).
It could be coincidence, but there is a character called Jevons in the short story “Regulus” (1908) by Rudyard Kipling, in which a school class is studying the odes of Horace . . .
Lord Bosham (p 247)
Viscount Bosham appears in person in Uncle Fred In The Springtime. Bosham is a village in West Sussex, near Wodehouse’s house at Emsworth.
No Blandings story is complete without the demise of an occasional table in the hall — it’s a wonder there are any ornaments left to display.
volplaning (p 248)
Volplane (French: vol plané) is an early aviation term, used to describe a controlled dive made with the engine switched off. Perhaps not quite technically accurate when used to describe Baxter’s uncontrolled descent of the stairs.
Safety first (p 248)
The Blandings staircase had claimed the first of its many victims in Something Fresh, when George Emerson and Ashe Marson got tangled up with Baxter in the dark. Memories of that nocturnal encounter no doubt also influenced Baxter’s decision to switch the light on.
Lucifer (p 248)
Lucifer (light-bearer) is the Latin term used to translate the Hebrew epithet for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the book of Isaiah. By extension, it has come to be used in the Christian tradition as a personification of the devil, in particular in association with sinful pride (especially in Milton).
How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!
[Bible Isaiah 14:12]
white plume of Navarre (p 251)
Henri of Navarre (1553-1610), later Henri IV, king of France. At the battle of Ivry (14 March 1590) he urged his troops to follow the white plumes on his helmet: “Mes amis, vous êtes Français, voilà l’ennemi. A eux! et si vous perdez vos cornettes, ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc, vous le trouverez toujours au chemin de l’honneur et de la victoire!”
Arabian author . . . acorn (p 251)
??? I haven’t found the source for this - perhaps it is one of the stories in the Thousand and One Nights?
say it with flower-pots (p 256)
The idea of transmitting coded messages, especially to lovers, using arrangements of flowers, is supposed to have been popularised in western Europe by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who learnt of the “language of flowers” current in Turkey during a stay in Constantinople in 1716. The slogan “Say it with Flowers” was adopted by the Society of American Florists in 1918.
It’s raining vi-o-lets (p 258)
This song was made famous by Al Jolson. The lyrics seem to owe a little to Wordsworth.
Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here’s the point that you should never miss.
Chorus: Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain, you know,
It’s raining violets,
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird,
And list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.
I have learned to smile when skies are gloomy,
Smile although my heart’s about to break,
When I know that trouble’s coming to me,
Here’s the happy attitude I take.
[Silver, Louis and DeSilva, Bob April Showers (1921) ]
never before suspected his secretary of an unbalanced mind (Ch. 11; page 259)
The absent-minded Earl is forgetting that the events of Something Fresh had led him to just that suspicion, although all was later explained . . .
clouded cane (p 261)
A malacca cane with a mottled pattern, popular in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Awake, beloved! (p 262)
Onaway! Awake, beloved!
Thou the wild-flower of the forest!
Thou the wild-bird of the prairie!
Thou with eyes so soft and fawn-like!
[Longfellow, Charles Wadsworth Hiawatha XI (Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast)]
Awake, for morning . . . (p 262)
AWAKE! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultan’s Turret in a Noose of Light.
[Fitzgerald, Edward Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám I:1-4]
. . . next Olympic Games (p 263)
This would have been Paris, 1924.
Ah, there you take me into deep waters (p 263)
Another of Wodehouse’s favourite uncanonical Sherlock Holmes allusions.
“These are deep waters, Mr. Mason; deep and rather dirty.”
[Conan-Doyle, Sir Arthur The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place ]
Chapter 12 (270 - 281)
More on the Flower-pot Theme
God was in his heaven . . . (p 271)
THE YEAR’S at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven
All’s right with the world!
[Browning, Robert (1812-1889) Pippa Passes ]
rondel or ballade (p 275)
Both are complex medieval French verse forms, which were revived in English poetry in the nineteenth century under the influence of Swinburne and W.E. Henley. Attempting either form would require large amounts of concentration.
The rondel was originally an eight-line poem using only two rhymes, with a repeated refrain. English derivatives of the form extend it to thirteen or fourteen lines.
A ballade has three eight-line stanzas with an ababbcbc rhyme-scheme and an envoi rhyming bcbc. It uses a repeated refrain as the last line of each stanza.
[J.A. Cuddon, Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory (1992) ]
morceau (p 275)
French: fragment, tit-bit
Sunday rubbers (p 276)
The word rubbers has been used colloquially to stand for many common items made of rubber, so it isn’t easy to say precisely what it is that Miss Peavey proposes to eat: a waterproof coat is perhaps the most likely, or possibly overshoes.
recite ‘Gunga Din’ (p 281)
‘E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
‘E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
“I ‘ope you liked your drink”, sez Gunga Din.
So I’ll meet ‘im later on
At the place where ‘e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen;
‘E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!
[Kipling, Rudyard Gunga Din (last stanza)]
Chapter 13 (282 - 312)
Psmith Receives Guests
Expeditionary Force (p 282)
The party preparing to travel to the ball — in both world wars, the British army sent to France was officially known as the British Expeditionary Force.
housekeeper’s room (p 282)
This is the room in which senior members of the domestic staff dine (cf. Something Fresh), not the housekeeper’s private apartment.
Victrola (p 283)
Victrola was a trade name for phonographs made by the Victor Talking Machine Company in the USA from 1906. They differed from earlier machines in having the horn concealed in the cabinet, under the turntable, making them more acceptable as domestic furnishings.
Little cottage? (p 287)
It is odd that Freddie, who spent his childhood playing on the estate, doesn’t even know this cottage exists, while his cousin Ronnie Fish in Summer Lightning, as a mere nephew brought up in London, thinks of it at once.
Dangerous Dan McGrew (p 297)
For a change, a real Canadian poem!
Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns
blazed in the dark,
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.
[Service, Robert W. The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew Stanza 9]
Ronald Eustace (p 298)
Psmith’s first name in earlier books was Rupert — Wodehouse has presumably changed it to avoid confusion with Rupert Baxter.
sported on the green (p 299)
It was a summer evening,
Old Kaspar’s work was done,
And he before his cottage door
Was sitting in the sun;
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
[Southey, Robert After Blenheim 1-7]
like Marius among the ruins of Carthage (p 300)
Gaius Marius (157–86 BC) was a famous Roman military commander and politician, and an uncle by marriage of the future dictator, Julius Caesar. Between 107 and 100 BC he was elected consul six times and, during his consulships, achieved major military successes against Jugurtha, King of the Numidians, and against the Germanic tribes, the Cimbri and Teutoni.
In 88 BC, civil war broke out between supporters of Marius and the consul Lucius Cornelius Sulla, and Marius was forced to flee Rome. He was taken prisoner but his captors put him on a ship bound for North Africa. Marius landed at Carthage (which had been destroyed in 146 BC, at the end of the Third Punic War) but was ordered by a messenger from the Roman governor to leave the country on pain of death. According to Plutarch in his Lives, Marius sent back the messenger with the words ‘Go tell the praetor that you have seen Gaius Marius sitting in exile among the ruins of Carthage‘. Marius subsequently returned to Rome where he joined forces with the consul Cinna, who had also been driven from Rome by Sulla’s supporters. Together they entered Rome, slaughtering Sulla’s supporters, and named themselves consuls but, only eighteen days into his consulship, Marius died of pleurisy. [AGOL]
Rose du Barri (p 302)
A soft pink colour, originally developed as a ground colour by the Sèvres porcelain factory around 1757. The name is an allusion to the Comtesse du Barri, a patron of Sèvres.
hubbard squash (p 303)
A large American variety of squash or pumpkin, apparently first cultivated by a Mrs Hubbard in the mid-nineteenth century.
gat (p 304)
Slang for an automatic pistol. Often used in crime fiction, but its origins seem to be obscure.
pick up the Henries (p 309)
Obscure. From the context, Henries almost certainly means ‘feet,’ but I can’t find any other example of this. Just conceivably it is second-order rhyming slang (Henry the eighth > plates; plates of meat > feet) but this sounds a bit too tenuous to be likely.
Chapter 14 (313 - 327)
Psmith Accepts Employment
toiled not (p 324)
27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?
28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
29 and yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
[Bible Matthew 6:27-29]
bump-supper (p 324)
This is to do with “eights week,” the inter-college rowing competitions in Oxford and Cambridge Universities. As the rivers Isis and Cam are not wide enough for two eights to race side by side, the boats of all the various colleges set off equally spaced in line astern.
If the bow of your boat catches up with the stern of the boat ahead, you are said to have “bumped” them, and you move up one place in the line in the following day’s race. The aim is to end up at the “head of the river” at the end of the week. A bump-supper is a celebration of such a victory. Traditionally the winning boat is ceremonially burnt in the quad — these days they’re rather too expensive for that.
In Thank You Jeeves, Bertie is said to have bathed in the college fountain after a bump-supper.
Much Middlefold (p 324)
There is no town or village called Much Middlefold in Shropshire, though there is a Much Wenlock. ‘Much’ in this context means ‘great’ (from Middle English muche).
In Something Fresh, Ashe Marson comes from Much Middlefold (or Hayling, Massachusetts in Something New).
Jeremy Garnet (Love Among the Chickens) also claims Much Middlefold as his birthplace, while Lord Pershore (My Man Jeeves) lives there and Sally Nichols (The Adventures of Sally) admires its beauty.
Norman Murphy (In Search of Blandings) identifies Much Middlefold with Stableford, Shropshire, where Wodehouse’s father leased a house, ‘The Old House‘, from 1895 to 1902.
Corfby Hall (p 324)
There is no Corfby in Britain, but there is a village called Corfton in Corve Dale, under Wenlock Edge, about 20km from Stableford.
bite the bullet (p 326)
Said to come from the practice of giving wounded soldiers a bullet to bite on while surgery was performed.
holocaust (p 326)
Wodehouse is here using the word holocaust in its original Greek sense, of an all-consuming fire; it was also commonly used in English in the biblical sense of a burnt offering.