FOOD FOR THE MIND.
Punch, January 14, 1903
[“Teach boys to cook. A man who cannot cook his own dinner is but half educated.”—Daily Mail.]
On arriving at Choppun Taters, a sweetly picturesque little village, we inquired of an intelligent inhabitant the way to St. Savory’s College. A walk of five minutes brought us to the headmaster’s door. St. Savory’s is a handsome stone building, resembling a pork-pie in shape, and decorated in the Gorgian style of architecture.
“Kindly step this way,” said the Butler, as he answered our knock. We followed him. He halted before a door, through the keyhole of which floated an appetising smell of cooking.
“Er—if the headmaster is at lunch——” we began.
“Not at all, Sir,” replied the official. “The chef is merely correcting the Sixth Form Irish Stew.”
“Come in,” said a curiously muffled voice in answer to his knock, and we went in. The chef was standing at a long table, on which were ranged some thirty dishes of Irish stew. He wore a white cap and apron. As we entered he appeared to swallow something, and, turning to a bright, handsome lad of seventeen, remarked, “H’m. Better than last week, but still far from perfect. A false quantity of onions, and the entire composition inclined to be somewhat heavy. You may go.”
“Perhaps, as you are engaged——” we began tentatively.
“No, no. Certainly not. Pray be seated. You wished, I believe, to hear something of our educational methods at St. Savory’s. Of what use hitherto has a public-school education been to a boy? Well, yes, as you say, he has possibly learned to play with a straight bat. But what else? Nothing, Sir, nothing. All the Greek and Latin he learned he used to forget as soon as he left school. Quite so. Now we, on the other hand, instil knowledge that is really useful, and which cannot be forgotten. We have a large and able staff of under-chefs, and, beginning with theoretical work, the boys rise by regular gradations until, by the time they reach the sixth form, they are capable of turning out a very decent dinner indeed.”
“You mentioned theoretical work?” we said. “What exactly——?”
“Ah, yes. Well, they read short histories, such as the history of the Stewit dynasty, for instance, and write occasional essays. ‘The relations of Church and Steak’ is a good stock subject. But it is our practical work on which we pride ourselves. You see, it pays them to do their best. A boy who systematically fails to satisfy the examiners has to stay in after school and eat his work. Very few boys need this corporal punishment twice.”
“And the results?” I ventured.
“Wonderful. Simply wonderful. This year, which is neither above nor below our usual standard, we have won no less than fourteen important trophies at the Universities. I will not recount them all. Suffice it to say that at Cambridge Jones (a ripe scholar, Jones, one of the finest clear soup composers we have ever had at the school) won the Porkson prize for mutton cutlets, and Smith the Gravy Scholarship.
“While in the Tripeos, as usual, the name of St. Savory’s was well to the fore. As for our other triumphs, we have done well on the range. We were second in the contest for the Hashburton shield, and obtained the first five places in the Fry competition.”
“Then,” we said, “you would describe the new system as——”
“A colossal success. Go to the study of any of my boys. Once you would have found the shelves littered with dry Bohns. What do you find now? Meat. Good afternoon.”
This appetizing little spoof depends largely on puns, and it is always a risk in enjoyment to have to explain a pun. No doubt most readers will have caught many of these and missed a few, so pardon any apparent condescension in the following notes.
Choppun Taters: chop and potatoes
St. Savory’s College: a pun on St. Saviour’s, a translation of the Latin Sanctus Salvator in the name of many churches and religious schools dedicated in the name of Jesus Christ. Savory is the name of an herb of the mint family as well as an adjective meaning flavorful.
pork-pie: a firm pastry shell filled with cooked pork, vegetables, and seasonings, typically made in a squat round shape; a traditional British workingman’s lunch
Gorgian: combination of Georgian (referring to architecture of the 1714–1830 period, the reigns of Kings George I through George IV of England) with “gorge”: to eat to excess
false quantity: Poetic meter in Latin is marked principally by the length of syllables when spoken rather than by accent or loudness as in English poetry. In musical terms, an iambic line would be an alternation of short and long notes in Latin rather than soft and loud notes as in English. Quantity is the technical term in Latin prosody for the length of a syllable, and a false quantity is a mistake in reading poetry, either pronouncing a short syllable as long or vice versa.
Stewit: The Stuart (originally Stewart) dynasty originated in Scotland as the royal house from 1371 (Robert II of Scotland) and became the ruling family of England from 1603 (James VI of Scotland became James I of England) through 1714 (Queen Anne), with an interruption from 1649 to 1660 for the Commonwealth.
Church and Steak: USA readers may think that the Church and State controversy is exclusively about the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, but even though the UK has an established Church of England, the topic has been of great interest through history. Wodehouse makes references in the “By the Way” column in the Globe and other places to Passive Resisters, for example; this was a movement by nonmembers of the Church of England to withhold portions of taxes which would go to fund Anglican religious instruction in public schools.
Porkson Prize: Pun on the Porson Prize for Greek verse composition, established in 1817 at Cambridge in honor of classical scholar Richard Porson.
Gravy Scholarship: Pun on the Craven Scholarships at Cambridge founded by the will of John, Lord Craven, in 1647; originally there were two scholarships for the study of classical literature, tenable for seven years at £25 per annum; the number of scholars and their stipends increased over time along with the value of the Craven trust properties, and by 1883 there were six Craven scholars at £80 per annum.
Tripeos: Alteration of “Tripos”: the examinations qualifying a Cambridge undergraduate for a bachelor’s degree, with “tripe”: the culinary name for selected portions of a cow’s or sheep’s stomach used as meat.
range: The double meaning here is of a cooking surface and a shooting field or gallery.
Hashburton Shield: The Ashburton Shield prize competition for public school students in shooting, established in 1861 by Francis Baring, 3rd Lord Ashburton, obviously altered with “hash.”
The original of the Fry competition has not yet been identified.
dry Bohns: Henry George Bohn (1796–1884) published a series of English translations of classic works, often used as shortcuts by students. See, for instance, “Ruthless Reginald” and “Treating of Cribs” for more.
—Notes by Neil Midkiff
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.