The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, November 1906
[Scene: A room not remote from Printing-House Square. A number of benevolent-looking gentlemen are gathered round a table, which is covered with an American flag. Round the walls are sets of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ and various mottoes, such as ‘Step lively,’ ‘Good-will towards men (and publishers),’ and ‘We give ’em away.’
1st Benevolent Man: Gentlemen, charge your glasses. The dear public!
All (drinking): The dear public!
1st Benevolent Man: I have a profound affection for the dear public.
All: We all have a profound affection for the dear public.
2nd Benevolent Man: Pretty this tablecloth is. I like the colours. What are they?
1st Benevolent Man: It’s the American flag. You’ve heard of America? It was Whooper’s idea.
[A College Yell is heard outside. The door opens.
All: Ah, Whooper! Welcome home!
Mr. Whooper: Say, boys, I take this kind of you. You’re all-wool right through. How’s things?
1st Benevolent Man: Well, the fact is—and why it should be so I can’t understand—the dear public seems a little suspicious of us. Says that we are Americans.
Mr. Whooper: Americans! Show me the low-down galoot that says I’m an American, and I’ll make him feel like thirty cents. Great Roosevelt, why, we’re Britishers of the good old school, we are.
All: And they say we want to corner the market.
Mr. Whooper: No! [Breaks down and sobs.
All: Cheer up, Whooper, cheer up. Be a man.
Mr. Whooper: Corner the market! Can’t they see we only have an eye to their interests?
1st Benevolent Man: They seem to think we have an eye to their capital, too. That’s the trouble.
Mr. Whooper: Have they no gratitude? I should have thought they would have remembered our Encyclopædia?
1st Benevolent Man: They do. That’s the trouble.
Mr. Whooper: Haven’t they read our statement of our case in the papers?
3rd Benevolent Man: They have. That’s the trouble.
1st Benevolent Man: The fact is—and it is most irregular—the public are beginning to use their wits.
Mr. Whooper: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
2nd Benevolent Man: And a lot of knowledge (which they seem to have acquired) is also a dangerous thing—to us. I don’t understand how it’s happened, but the public seem to know all about Trusts nowadays.
Mr. Whooper: They show a nasty, worldly spirit which I don’t like to see. Then, I take it, it’s no use trying to do them a kindness?
All: Apparently not.
Mr. Whooper (violently): Then all I can say is, I’m full up of this country. I’m going back to New York, back where they don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth, and where real, alabaster philanthropists like Mr. Rockefeller and myself can get a show. The British public are fools, sir. Fools!
All (doubtfully): ’M, yes. [Scene closes.
Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.
The subject is the Times Book Club, which is probably best explained by viewing this advertisement (in The Spectator, November 10, 1906, p. 741) and this description of the controversy it was causing among publishers (from Publishers’ Weekly, July 7, 1906, pp. 16-17; text moved onto one page for convenient viewing). (Both links are PDF images that open in a new window or tab.) The Times had also been the publishing sponsor of the Encyclopædia Brittanica since 1896 in a deal organized by American promoter Horace Everett Hooper (1859–1922), no doubt the “Mr. Whooper” of this item. The up-to-date sales methods (display ads, celebrity endorsements, installment purchase plans, and special short-term discount deals) were criticized as being beneath the dignity of both the newspaper and the encyclopedia, but the financial success was considerable.
Since Wodehouse was writing for The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, published by Messrs. Hatchards, a traditional bookselling firm, his stance against the Book Club may have been required to agree with the magazine’s editorial policy. I cannot evaluate the worth of the Book Club scheme other than to note that it was available only to those who could afford almost £4 per annum for the required subscription to The Times—almost five per cent of Wodehouse’s annual salary of £80 during 1900–02 at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank.
—Note by Neil Midkiff