Two Epigrams

Vanity Fair (UK), October 26, 1905

[The bandits who carried off the two Englishmen in Morocco are said to be deeply indebted to the Riffs, whom they have to bribe heavily to help them.]

The bandit’s is a dreary lot:
He finds it hard to earn his victuals.
His life is very seldom what
Might be described as beer and skittles.
Whene’er a capture he achieves
After a wearisome pursuit,
His jaw falls limp, for he perceives
The little Riff within the loot.


[There is a growing crusade among clergymen against rich members of their congregation who contribute merely pennies to the offertory.]

Though aurea mediocritas
Pleased the philosophers of Rome,
The doctrine does not seem to pass
With our philosophers at home.
The ancients we esteem as wise,
Yet here, as clearly may be seen,
Are men who state without disguise
That they dislike the Golden Mean.



Printed unsigned in Vanity Fair as items in the “Vanities” column; entered by Wodehouse as “Two Epigrams” for this issue in Money Received for Literary Work.


Editor’s notes:
Wodehouse’s “By the Way” column in the Globe on October 18, 1905, contained a similar item in prose:
  We read that the Riff bodyguards, who fled and left the two English officers to the mercy of the brigands, “were beyond question parties to the plot.” That little Riff within the loot again.
Two Light Infantry officers were captured October 17 in Morocco by associates of the Moorish brigand Valiente, after their escort of 21 Riffs abandoned them when attacked by bandits. (The Bystander, October 25, 1905) They were released unharmed in exchange for the release of Valiente from prison. (New Zealand Herald, December 9, 1905)
Riff or Rif: Berber tribesmen of the mountains of northern Morocco.
“It is the little rift within the lute / That by-and-by will make the music mute, / And ever widening, slowly silence all.” (Tennyson, Merlin and Vivien)


aurea mediocritas: golden mean; in Aristotelian philosophy, the ideal balance between too much and too little.


It should be noted that the “Vanities” column also contained two other short verses; the two above were attributed to Wodehouse by a panel from the Globe Reclamation Project. For the sake of completeness, here are the two not selected:

[Miss Pankhurst, the advocate of Woman's Suffrage, who was ejected from Sir Edward Grey's meeting at Manchester last week, had her skirt torn in two in the struggle.]

The garb those spinsters wear,
Who Women’s Rights assert,
Is, as a rule, a pair
Of—well, is not a skirt!
Small wonder if the crowd decided
Miss Pankhurst’s should be worn “divided.”


[It is stated that those responsible for the library scheme organised by the Times are well satisfied with their success.]

To those who read my simple rhymes
This paradox I dedicate.
The men who are behind the Times
Are yet distinctly up to date.


Notes by Neil Midkiff