Where the Cobden Club 2 relaxes into grief at “stomach taxes”, 3
        A parrot perches daily just above the entrance door.
He doesn’t mind what’s said to him, or sung to him, or read to him,
        For he can answer nothing but: “Your food will cost you more.” 4

He’s a bird of solid tissue and he meets each fiscal issue
        With the tiring repetition of a venerable bore.
He never says “Explain to me”, or “Just repeat the same to me”.
        He simply ends discussion with: “Your food will cost you more.”

When you show him that a duty is a thing of perfect beauty,
        That it sets the mills a-buzzing with an ever-growing roar,
That our wages will be rising to an altitude surprising, 5
        He offers the suggestion that: “Your food will cost you more.”

To the promise “Joe” 6 is giving—that the cost of daily living
        No farthing 7 will be higher than it ever was before— 8
He replies by calmly closing both his eyes as if in dozing, 9
        And repeating quite distinctly that: “Your food will cost you more.”

When you prove that separation would destroy the Empire’s station,
        That the Colonies are asking what their Mother can’t ignore, 10
That they’ll buy the things we’re making while their crops at home we’re taking, 11
        He remarks without a tremor that: “Your food will cost you more.”

With a parrot thus repeating an invariable greeting,
        The arguments are wasted that upon his head you pour.
When you cry “Oh, Free Food mummy!—can’t you once forget your tummy?”
        He’s safe to say in answer that: “Your food will cost you more.”


This wonderful parrot will again give his opinions on fiscal matters to-morrow.


There are marked similarities between this poem and Edgar Allen Poe’s well-known poem, The Raven, but it is inaccurate to describe it as imitating Poe’s poem. The parrot, perching “just above the entrance door” and confining himself to a tedious repetition of the phrase, “Your food will cost you more”, clearly evokes the raven, which eventually settles “above my chamber door” and limits its utterances to the single “Nevermore”. And The Parrot’s rhyming pattern is similar to that of The Raven, taking the form AA B CC B, where the repeated letters relate to internal rhymes within a single line—eg ‘relaxes’ and ‘taxes’; ‘duty’ and ‘beauty’. But while The Raven is written in sestets (stanzas of six lines), The Parrot consists of quatrains (stanzas of four lines).


The Cobden Club, founded in 1866, was a London gentlemen’s club devoted to the principles of free trade. It was one of the most vigorous opponents of tariff reform.


The term “stomach tax” was coined by Alfred Harmsworth, founder and owner of the Daily Mail. Harmsworth greatly admired Chamberlain (see below), but disliked his proposals for tariff reform, and the Daily Mail and other Harmsworth newspapers were among his most vocal critics.


Chamberlain had stated that he wished for a debate about tariff reform, but his opponents concentrated largely on the immediate impact of his proposals on the cost of food—especially bread—and ignored the wider issues he had raised.


Chamberlain believed that British manufacturers faced two disadvantages that could be redressed via tariffs: at home, they had to compete against imports from countries such as Germany and the US, whose monopolistic producers (“trusts”) were “dumping” their products in Britain (ie selling at less than the cost of production, in order to utilise spare capacity); overseas, their products were rendered uncompetitive by other countries’ tariffs on imports. Chamberlain’s plan was for a system of “imperial preference” (whereby Britain would impose tariffs on imports from non-Empire countries but remit them in favour of the colonies, in return for a reduction, by the colonies, in their tariffs on British goods) and while he acknowledged that this would lead to an increase in the cost of food, he argued that an expansion in manufacturing output, and a consequent rise in wages, would more than compensate for this.


“Joe” is Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914), one of the leading members of the Liberal Unionist party and, between 1895 and 1903, Secretary of State for the Colonies in the governments of Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour. On 15 May 1903, in a speech to his Birmingham constituents, Chamberlain surprised both his colleagues and his opponents by questioning Britain's long-established policy of “free trade”. In September 1903, when it became clear that the Cabinet would not support his proposals for “tariff reform”, Chamberlain resigned, so as to be free to pursue a public campaign for his proposals. The political debate which ensued became one of the major issues in British politics for several years. The Parrot poems were a very minor element in this debate, the Daily Express being one of Chamberlain’s staunchest supporters.


The farthing was the smallest coin in Britain’s pre-decimal currency; there were 240 pence in one pound, and the farthing had the value of one-quarter of one pence (¼d).


On 26 June 1903, Chamberlain was a luncheon guest at the Constitutional Club, where he and Balfour addressed some 700 or 800 of the Club’s members. In his speech, Chamberlain told them:

There is no working man in the kingdom, no man, however poor, who need fear under the system I propose that without his good will his cost of living will be increased by a single farthing. . . I believe there never was a grosser imposture than the cry of the dear loaf.


This may allude to the Duke of Devonshire, who was frequently caricatured for his lethargic habit, which often led onlookers to believe (mistakenly) that he was dozing.


At a Colonial Conference held in London in July 1902, one of the resolutions passed was:

That the Prime Ministers of the colonies respectfully urge on His Majesty’s Government the expediency of granting, in the United Kingdom, preferential treatment to the products and manufactures of the colonies, either by exemption from or reduction of duties now or hereafter imposed.

This request could not be granted as long as the British government adhered to the policy of free trade.


Another resolution of the Colonial Conference was:

That with a view, however, to promoting the increase of trade within the Empire, it is desirable that those colonies which have not already adopted such a policy should, as far as their circumstances permit, give substantial preferential treatment to the products and manufactures of the United Kingdom.

Canada had already granted preference to British goods (prompting Germany to impose retaliatory tariffs on Canadian goods) and New Zealand and South Africa followed suit.

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