The Parrot — modified from a cartoon in the Daily Express.
During the last three months of 1903, London’s Daily Express newspaper ran a series of satirical poems, collectively known as The Parrot. They were written against the background of a vigorous political debate about tariff reform (otherwise known as “the fiscal question"), which was to be one of the main polarising issues in British politics for the next few years and which played a major part in a change of government at the end of 1905.
All but one of the 48 poems in the series appeared on the newspaper’s front page. None carried a by-line, but there is evidence that P G Wodehouse contributed 19 of the poems. The authorship of the remaining poems is not known, though there are good reasons for believing that B Fletcher Robinson, then a staff writer for the Express, wrote some, if not all of them. Robinson had already written a song, “The John Bull Store”, on the topic of tariff reform, and two other pieces by him on the same subject appeared in the Express during December 1903, one—entitled “Ye Fiscal Crusoe”—a parody of the story of Robinson Crusoe, the other—co-authored with Wodehouse—a playlet entitled “The Sleeping Beauty” (subtitled “A Fiscal Pantomime”).
Although the primary focus of this section is the Parrot poems, it will, over time, include a great deal of other material, from the Express and other newspapers and periodicals of the period. The following is a tentative list of the contents: hyperlinked material is already available:
- The 48 Parrot poems, with detailed annotations and links to supporting material;
- A brief explanation of the “fiscal question”;
- Background information on the principal personalities and organisations involved in the debate;
- A chronology of the main events preceding the publication of the Parrot poems;
- A table identifying specific events that gave rise to Parrot poems;
- “The John Bull Store”;
- “Ye Fiscal Crusoe”, with annotations;
- “A Fiscal Pantomime: The Sleeping Beauty”, with annotations;
- Tariff Reform as seen by Punch;
- John Bull’s Adventures in the Fiscal Wonderland, a parody of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books;
- Tariff Reform and the caricaturists.
As well as numerous cross-references between the items listed, there are also links to other explanatory and illustrative material that is not listed above. If you get lost, clicking on the parrot at the top left of any page will return you here.
Note: The full texts of the Parrot poems and of “A Fiscal Pantomime” were first made available on Madame Eulalie’s Rare Plums, a site "devoted to the early works of P G Wodehouse", where the laborious task of transcribing the texts was undertaken by Ananth Kaitharam, with the assistance of Parthasarathy Uppilisrinivasan. The texts used here are, except for some minor changes in punctuation style, the same as the Madame Eulalie texts. A condensed version of my annotations, without the supporting material, can be found on the Madame Eulalie site, which is recommended for those who want to enjoy the texts without the distraction of copious explanations.