The Free Fooders have good reason to complain of the pantomimes. The ballad of the Cobden Club 3 has yet to be written, and instead of ditties in praise of the alien the “principal boys” in the various houses of entertainment are preparing songs suggesting that we should do by the Yank and German as they now do to us; that foreign dumping is not a thing to be encouraged when it throws the British workman out of a job at Christmas; and that Chamberlain is the man who will set our trade in order. 4

We are able to-day to make an exclusive announcement that should be received with enthusiasm by the Cobden Press. 5 The Free Food League have obtained leave to use the stage at Ch-tsw-rth (by the kind permission of the Duke of D-v-nsh-r-) 6 for their very own pantomime, which has been written to display the amazing conversion of the Duke to Free Food League principles by the agency of Sir Michael Hicks Beach and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. The foiling of the Tariff Reform League is also politely indicated.


A Pantomime in Two Acts


The Sleeping Beauty . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Duke of D-v-nsh-r- 7
Her Nurse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The “Standard” 8
Michael (principal boy) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sir M H-cks B--ch 9
Henry (second boy) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Sir H C-B 10
A Ploughman (first walking gentleman) . . . . Lord Ros-b-ry 11
A Ghost . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Parrot 12
A Dragon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Tariff Reform League 13
Member of Cobden Club . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Herr Spoofheimer 14
Chorus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Rest of the Cobden Club

Scene I—Outside the pavilion of the Sleeping Beauty.

Scene II—Inside the above pavilion.

Time—October 1, the day before the Duke resigned and on which pheasant shooting began.

Act I

To the right is the pavilion of the Sleeping Beauty, beside which the Tariff Reform League Dragon dozes with one eye open, Michael and Henry are discovered (badly) left.

Michael:  Frankly, my dear Henry, that dragon alarms me.

Henry:  True, sir knight, had you been but Lord George, then indeed——

Michael:  Why bring in the Lord George? A man with so marked an air of resignation as he wears would never tackle it. 15

Henry:  Pardon me, but it was to Lord George Sanger I referred as being a renowned wild beast tamer. 16

Michael:  Someone at the Hippodrome, I suppose. 17 The question is, Can we get into the place or not? If I can but pass that brute at the door I have a master word that will awake the Beauty from her slumbers. But, mark you, who comes here?

(Enter the Ploughman carrying implements of agriculture about him. He halts and gazes at the pavilion with a languishing glance.)

Michael:   Ha! S’death, a rival! 18

Henry:  I know the man. Trust him not.

Michael:  See, he directs a friendly look towards us. I want all the friends I can get, Henry—that’s why I love you so passionately. I will inquire of him as to his purpose. Fair bucolic (addressing the Ploughman), are you with us or against us? Does Chamberlain charm you, or art thou a Free Fooder in embryo?

The Ploughman (vaguely): What do you think of it all? 19

Michael:  That’s what I’m asking you. Come, confess, explain, define yourself.

The Ploughman:  I will sing it to you. 20


A wandering ploughman I
    Of habits literary. 22
    Through furrow solitary
My lonely plough I ply, 23
    Exposing Joseph’s sins
In quaint and courtly diction; 24
I hold not Fact, but Fiction,
    The quality that wins.

Are you in contemplative mood?
    I’ll jest with you. 25
        Oh, willow, willow.
O’er fiscal problems do you brood?
    I’ll do so, too.
            Oh, willow, willow.
Within the House of Peers
I charm attentive ears,
    My celebrated sneer’s surpassed by few. 26
            Oh, willow, willow.

But if strenuous activity is needed,
If my party calls their Rosebery to the fray,
I let their cries of “Lead us!” pass unheeded,
Or check them with a mild “some other day!”
The papers drop a hint that I am shirking;
    I really don’t care greatly if they do;
But at talking (as opposed to honest working)
    I yield, as I remarked before, to few.

So if you call for an empty jest,
    I’ll make one while you wait;
I’ll quip and quirk and pun and the rest
For as long as you please with infinite zest;
    But work is a thing I hate.
            Yeo-ho, heave-ho!
        Work is a thing I hate.

(The Tariff Reform League Dragon yawns, displaying excellent teeth.)

Michael (to the Ploughman):  In the name of Cobden, get out of this! Don’t you see the dragon?

(The Ploughman retires at the double, glancing nervously over his shoulder.)

Michael:  He’s no good to anybody, that chap. Yet he’s not without ability, and he looks a likely fellow with his hands. I can’t understand him.

Henry (quoting):  “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” 27

(The stage instantly becomes pitch dark; the pair huddle together in great alarm.)

Michael (irritably):  That comes from quoting Hamlet. What a silly ass you are, Henry!

(Enter the Ghost of the Parrot.)

Michael (trembling):  Oh, my prophetic soul! The Parrot!

Henry:  What would’st thou, bird?

The Ghost:  I will sing to you.


When I was alive you cried encore
To my squawk, “Your food will cost you more”,
And bread that you falsely named as free
Seemed just the very best bread to me.
An influential bird was I
’Mid Cobdenite inanity;
And every day was I wont to sing
Of woes that Tariff Reform would bring.
Repentance now on my head I pour,
For I know that food will not cost more.

And every day I raised that cry,
Though I couldn’t exactly tell you why,
For when they asked me how I knew
I only replied that it was true,
And I really didn’t know what to say
When Joe declared on a fateful day 29
That the reason our commerce had decayed
Was because we stuck to our Unfree Trade;
So I ended my life; but I now confess
That I know your food will cost you less!

Michael:  Out, serpent that I warmed in my jaegers! 30

Henry:  Aroint the wretch! 31

(Parrot disappears amid subdued laughter from the Dragon. The lights are switched on again.)

Henry:  Well, what are you going to do? You can’t stay here all day, you know.

Michael:  Yet I like not the Dragon the more from the contemplation of it. Isn’t there a way round?

Henry:  Not that I know of. But, hist, I have an idea. Yonder is a patriotic dragon that loves his country. Let us charm him with a patriotic song.

Michael:  Well, you sing it.

Henry:  I cannot remember one at the moment. Our party was never very strong on such things. 32 But here comes a member of the Cobden Club who may oblige us.

(Enter Herr Spoofheimer followed by other foreign members of the Cobden Club, 33 talking together in Volapuk—the only language in which they can communicate. 34)

Michael:  Well met, mein Herr. Canst thou tip us a stirring stave, some patriotic ballad that may conciliate this dragon here?

Henry:  Try “John Bull’s Store”. 35

Herr Spoofheimer:  Mein friends, I know him not—dot store. Und yet will I dry somewhat dot may suit your purpose.


    Let Britannia rule der sea
        And der land and air
    (Hans and Hermann, you and me
    Know goot cusdomers may be
        Best discovered dere).

Chorus by the Club—
    Vive der land of liberty!
    Hoch! Der beople ever free,
    Free to spend der coin they’ve made
    And uncommon Free in trade!

    Cheer, my boys, for Englant’s sake,
        Boast her glorious name
    (If she buys der things we make
    We will mooch goot money take),
        Honour Britain’s fame.

Chorus as before.

    Any nation could she thump
        If it came to fight
    (If she says we must not dump,
    Gott, it gives me quite der hump
        Joost to think she might!)

Chorus as before.

    Britons never fear a foe
        To our Empire’s realm
    (Brothers, you and I would go
    To der workhouse should this “Joe”
        Ever take the helm).

Chorus (with enthusiasm).
    Cheer for Englant, one and all,
    So her loyal Teutons bawl
    Englant long will rule der main
    If she keeps out Chamberlain!

(Dragon rushes at them with a snarl, and they fly in different directions amid cries of, “Ach so!” “Mille tonnerre!” “Guess not!” 37 As Henry runs in front of the pavilion a note is thrown from within. He reads it with joy.)

Henry (to Michael):  There is a way round, my dear Michael. A sure friend from within sends us word. Let’s away.


Act II

(Within the pavilion. The Sleeping Beauty (The Duke of D-v-nsh-r-) lies upon a couch in the centre of the stage, snoring pleasantly. Beside him sits the “Standard” Nurse, fanning him with a copy of that paper. Through the curtains (right) the tip of the T.R.L. Dragon’s tail is visible. The Nurse commences a slumber song to a tuneful melody.


Aristocratic creature,
Noble in more than feature,
Do not awake
Lest you make a mistake
Which might be quite a bore!
Now by your sheer inaction
You have confused each faction,
All are in doubt
What you’re thinking about
While you snore, dear, snore!

Trade! It is low, disgracing;
Do not, your blood debasing,
Stoop to inquire
If our imports are higher
Than they were e’er before.
Leave to the trader shoddy
Facts which that vulgar body
Loves to pore over.
For you are in clover
While you snore, dear, snore!

Let well alone, my dearest,
That which exists is clearest,
Be not a changer,
For dark is the danger
In what was not done of yore.
Naught but acutest worry
Rises from haste and hurry.
Sleep on in quiet;
We’ll ward off all riot
While you snore, dear , snore!

(As the “Standard” Nurse concludes Michael and Henry crawl in through a slit at the back of the tent.)

Michael:  This is deuced undignified, Henry. In short, it likes me not.

Henry:  Yet, my dear comrade, it was the only way.

Well, we’re here now, and there she lies,
The cynosure of Michael’s eyes.
If I can wake her, then, indeed,
She will be useful at our utmost need.
Allied great Beach and Cavendish, I ween, 38
Will place poor Joseph in the soup tureen.
How little thinks he——

Henry:  Look out. Isn’t that the tail of the Tariff Reform League Dragon at the door of the tent?

Michael:  So it is. Let us walk circumspectly lest we tread upon it. But, hist, we are observed!

The “Standard” Nurse:  Welcome, my bonny Michael. But who is this beside you? I like not his looks.

Michael:  Misery makes man acquainted with strange bed-fellows. ’Tis my old enemy, Henry, yclept C.-B.; yet now my friend. (Aside) For this night only if it please you, nurse.

Henry:  That’s not the proper way to talk about me. I will tell you who I am, and that right swiftly.


You may talk about your Wellingtons and Nelsons;
    You may rave about your Cannings and your Pitts; 39
        But ne’er did Nature plan a man
        So great as Campbell-Bannerman,
He beats the men I’ve mentioned into fits.
If you wish to take up arms against Protection,
    Go! follow where his standard is unfurled.
        Though his methods may be tentative,
        He’s grandly representative
    Of quite the greatest party in the world.

            Vote for C.-B.! Oh, vote for C.-B.!!
            For the loaf that is large and the trade that is free.
                He is going to crush Joe
                (Tho’ just when I don’t know),
            So do vote for our peerless C.-B.

He may not be a genius at statistics;
    But everyone knows figures are a bore;
        A man supremely pat I call
        In matters mathematical
    Who, adding two to two, can make it four.
He may not be so accurate as Joseph;
    He may serve up facts quite queerly now and then;
        But perfect truth’s a rarity,
        So exercise your charity;
    A genius is not like other men.

            So vote for C.-B.! Oh, vote for C.-B.!!
            For the loaf that is large and the trade that is free.
                Hurry home and peruse
                What they say in the “News”, 40
            And you’re certain to vote for C.-B.

“Standard” Nurse (aside):  A Radical, as I live! 41 My mind misgives me! (Addressing them.) May I ask which of you is the suitor to my dear lady here?

Michael:  I am, of course. Henry, get out of the limelight. You play second fiddle, you know, and don’t you forget it!

Henry (deeply offended):  Enough! I’m off.

(Henry crawls back through the slit in the tent with great dignity.)

Michael (regretfully):  Yet he was not without his uses. But now, dear nurse, to business. Allow me to approach yonder beauty. I hold the master word that may awake her.

“Standard” Nurse:  May fortune kind attend you!

(Michael approaches the Sleeping Beauty to slow music. Pausing by her ear he collects himself for an effort.)

Michael (crescendo):  Chamberlain is the man!

Sleeping Beauty (drowsily):  Hello—what’s that?

Michael:  Chamberlain is the leader of the Unionist party! 42

Sleepiing Beauty (waking up):  Not on your life, fair sir.

Michael:  He is it! The country acclaims him as its leader.

Sleeping Beauty (on her feet by now):  You don’t say so! And no one told me?

Michael:  He stole a march——

Sleeping Beauty:  The thief!

Michael:  He is! He stole a march upon you while you indulged in a well-merited repose. To arms, my ducal one!

Sleeping Beauty (confused):  Whose arms?

Michael:  Why, mine. (They embrace.)

Sleeping Beauty:  I will resign. I don’t care what they say. I’ll write letters to the papers. I don’t care for Joe. 43 Who’s afraid? I will be as bold as radium and twice as active. 44

Michael (aside):  I hope he’ll stick to it.

“Standard” Nurse:  Bless you, my children!


Sleeping Beauty, Michael, and “Standard” Nurse

Our troubles now are at an end; uncertainty is past.
How wonderful it is to think that she’s awake at last!
We’ll live together evermore without hitch or jar—

We are a happy Free Food League! We are! We are! We are! 45

“Standard” Nurse:
I never dreamed I should have been selected for this task.
My cup of joy is brimming o’er; I’ve nothing more to ask.
I do not think I ever felt so wholly up to par—

We are a happy Free Food League! We are! We are! We are!

Sleeping Beauty:  
I feel a little sleepy still. I cannot quite make out
Exactly what has happened, and just what it’s all about—

But still, in such a league as this, that’s not the slightest bar —

We are a happy Free Food League! We are! We are! We are!

We’ll stump the country end to end; from south to north we’ll go;
We will not leave a single soul to vote for poor old—

Sleeping Beauty:

“Standard” Nurse:
My leaders, too, I think, will make him curse his evil star—

We are a happy Free Food League! We are! We are! We are!

(As they dance round a roar is heard without.)

Sleeping Beauty:  I say, Michael, that’s a nasty noise. What is it?

Michael:  It is—er—a sort of—er—dragon. In short, the Tariff Reform League Dragon. It’s a vicious brute.

Sleeping Beauty:  Oh, dear! oh, dear! It’s so fond of Joe, too! What are we to do?

“Standard” Nurse:  If I might suggest—there is the hole at the back of the tent.

Michael:  The very thing!

(They crawl out through the back way as the curtain falls.)



This playlet is a sequel to the Parrot poems and deals with aspects of the same topic, though the action is set on 1 October 1903, nearly three months before the last of the poems. A fortnight earlier, Joseph Chamberlain had resigned from the Cabinet in order to pursue a campaign for tariff reform; three other Cabinet ministers, all free traders, had been manoeuvred into resigning at the same time. A fourth minister, the Duke of Devonshire, also a free trader, had submitted his resignation but the Prime Minister, Arthur Balfour, had persuaded him to withdraw it. On 2 October, the day following the ostensible action of “A Fiscal Pantomime”, Devonshire re-submitted his resignation and left the government.


This playlet—and three others co-written by B Fletcher Robinson and P G Wodehouse—was republished in 2009 in a collection compiled by Paul R Spiring under the title Bobbles & Plum: Four Satirical Playlets. In that book, the date of the original publication of “A Fiscal Pantomime” is given incorrectly as 25 December 1903; it actually appeared three days later, on Monday, 28 December 1903.


The Cobden Club, founded in 1866, was a London gentlemen’s club devoted to the principles of free trade: its motto was “Free Trade, Peace, Goodwill Among Nations”. It was one of the most vigorous opponents of tariff reform.


Since the repeal of the Corn Laws some 60 years earlier, Britain had followed a policy of free trade. In the intervening period, other countries, most notably the United States and the newly united Germany, had developed their industries to the extent that they now threatened Britain’s position as a major trading nation. The US and Germany followed free trade principles within their federated borders but had erected stiff tariff barriers to protect their industries from imports from Britain and elsewhere, while threatening to dump their products at less than cost in Britain’s markets.


The Cobden Club was unusual among London clubs in that it sponsored the publication of numerous essays, pamphlets and speeches. It did not, however, publish these works itself—most were published on its behalf by Cassell & Co, London—and the “Cobden Press” here almost certainly refers to that section of the London press that aligned itself with the Cobden Club in supporting free trade.

[Note: The textual annotations in Bobbles & Plum identify the Cobden Press as the publishing arm of the Cobden Club, which, it is stated, published Cobden’s collected speeches in 1870. This is a mistake. The Cobden Club did not have a publishing arm and though Cobden’s speeches were, as their preface stated, “selected and edited at the instance of the Club”, they were actually published by Macmillan & Co.]


Chatsworth House, in Derbyshire, has been the country seat of the Dukes of Devonshire since 1549. The 8th Duke had a number of other residences, including Hardwick Hall, also in Derbyshire, and an imposing London residence, Devonshire House, on Piccadilly. Hardwick Hall was handed over to the state in 1956 in lieu of part of the estate duties that arose on the death of the 10th Duke, while Devonshire House, which lay empty after World War 1, was sold to developers in 1920 and demolished in 1924.

In 1896, when theatre-going was particularly fashionable, the 8th Duke had a banqueting hall at Chatsworth converted into an auditorium, in which concerts and theatrical performances were presented for the enjoyment of guests, house staff and local villagers. The main floor could accommodate seating for up to 200 of the Duke’s guests, while 115 staff and villagers could be seated in the gallery. “A Fiscal Pantomime” appeared in the Daily Express alongside a social column which reported that on 4 January 1904 the King and Queen would be visiting Chatsworth where “amateur theatricals will be the chief evening amusement”.

Devonshire caricatured by F Carruthers Gould.

Spencer Compton Cavendish, 8th Duke of Devonshire, was the leader of the Liberal Unionist party. In 1886, when still known as Marquess of Hartington (he did not succeed to the dukedom until 1891), he and Joseph Chamberlain led a group of some 60 Liberal MPs who split from the party because of their opposition to Irish Home Rule. From 1895 to October 1903 he served as Lord President of the Council in the governments of Lord Salisbury and Arthur Balfour. As at the date on which the playlet takes place (1 October 1903), Devonshire was still a member of the government. He resigned on 2 October and, at the invitation of Sir Michael Hicks Beach, joined the Unionist Free Food League a few weeks later.

When bored, Devonshire frequently adopted an abstracted air, which gave the impression that he was dozing, and caricaturists and satirists regularly depicted him as being asleep, which is why he is cast here as the Sleeping Beauty.


The Standard was founded in 1827 as an evening newspaper in the Tory interest. In 1857 it became a morning paper and the following year it announced that it would adhere to no party but would follow a policy of “enlightened amelioration and progress”. Under G Byron Curtis, its editor from January 1900, the Standard took a strong line against tariff reform and this was its position at the time of the playlet. In November 1904, however, the paper was aquired by Arthur Pearson, owner of the Daily Express and a strong supporter of Joseph Chamberlain, and under a new editor, H A Gwynne, it changed its position to one of support for tariff reform.


Sir Michael Hicks Beach was a prominent Conservative politician. From 1895 until his retirement, in July 1902, he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Salisbury’s last administration. Hicks Beach was one of the founders of the Unionist Free Food League and it was he who, in mid-October 1903, persuaded the Duke of Devonshire joined the League.

Between 1899 and 1902, Hicks Beach had the task, as Chancellor, of finding the means to finance the Boer War in South Africa. Even though he believed in low taxation and free trade as the basis of British prosperity, the rising costs of the war forced him to adopt a combination of fresh borrowings, annual increases in the income tax and the introduction of duties on coal, sugar and, in 1902, corn. These measures made him unpopular on all sides: his own party viewed the increases in income tax as an electoral liability, while the Liberal opposition viewed the additional duties as a betrayal of Britain’s longstanding free trade policy.


Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (C-B) was the leader of the Liberal party and of the Opposition in the House of Commons, and subsequently served as Prime Minister. Contrary to what might be implied in this playlet, he made no direct attempt to secure the return of the Duke of Devonshire to the Liberal party, nor, so long as Irish Home Rule remained a Liberal party policy, is it likely that the Duke would have entertained such a move.


Lord Rosebery was a former Liberal prime minister and leader of the Liberal party. After resigning the Liberal party leadership in 1896, Rosebery increasingly distanced himself from the mainstream of the party, with which he disagreed over its opposition to the Boer War and support for Irish Home Rule. In July 1901, he dismissed suggestions that he might return to the Liberal party, telling his audience that

. . . for the present, at any rate, I must proceed alone. I must plough my furrow alone.

This comment—believed to be the first use of the image of “ploughing one’s own furrow”—is the reason why, in the playlet, he is cast as the Ploughman.


The death of the Parrot had been announced a week earlier, on 21 December 1903. This ghostly apparition is its last appearance. It may not be coincidence, however, that in the 1904 parody, John Bull’s Adventures in the Fiscal Wonderland, which satirises the tariff reform debate from a free trade perspective, two prominent Chamberlain supporters, Sir Howard Vincent and Henry Chaplin, are depicted as parrakeets.


The Tariff Reform League was inaugurated in July 1903 for the purpose of mobilising public support for Chamberlain’s tariff reform proposals. Its president was the Duke of Sutherland, and Arthur Pearson, proprietor of the Daily Express, was elected as a member (and subsequently chairman) of the executive committee. Chamberlain’s position as a Cabinet minister prevented him from direct association with the League, but he became one of its vice-presidents within weeks of resigning his ministerial office.


In Bobbles & Plum, the textual annotations identify Herr Spoofheimer as a likely reference to George, Viscount Goschen. There are several reasons for believing this to be mistaken. First, despite his German grandfather, George Goschen was English, educated at Rugby School and Oriel College, Oxford, and there is no reason to think that his speech would have merited the gross caricature that is Herr Spoofheimer. Second, if Goschen had been intended, it is probable that he would have been identified in the same manner as Ch-tsw-rth, D-v-nsh-r-, R-s-b-ry, and H-cks B--ch. Third, and most conclusive, the ‘stage directions’ state “Enter Herr Spoofheimer followed by other foreign members of the Cobden Club” (my emphasis)—a clear indication that Herr Spoofheimer is a foreign member of the Cobden Club, which Goschen was not.

It is, in fact, more likely, that ‘Herr Spoofheimer’ is nothing more than a generic (and mildly comic) foreign name and that, far from representing a specific English politician, he represents the generality of the foreign membership of the Cobden Club, which was the focus of criticism by some of the Club’s opponents (see Parrot poem 09 fn 01).


‘Michael’ thinks that ‘Henry’ is referring to Lord George Hamilton, formerly Secretary for India, who was one of the three free traders who resigned in September 1903. The “so marked an air of resignation” may refer to Hamilton’s subsequent complaint that he would not have resigned if he had known that Chamberlain had already submitted his letter of resignation.


“Lord” George Sanger (c 1825-1911) was a Victorian showman and impresario. Sanger, who began calling himself “Lord” in 1888, for publicity purposes, owned a large amphitheatre and menagerie south of the Thames, on Westminster Bridge Road, where, for nearly 30 years he ran a highly successful circus and menagerie and, each Christmas, put on an extravaganza that usually combined a traditional pantomime with circus acts and lavish displays of animals. Sanger’s Circus toured widely throughout Britain and the rest of Europe and on at least two occasions he was invited to give special performances at Windsor Castle for Queen Victoria and her family. Sanger, who claimed to have first gone “on the road” with his father at the age of 5 years, retired from the circus business in 1905; in 1911, one of his employees killed him with a hatchet and later threw himself in front of a train, leaving no explanation for his crime.


The Hippodrome, on the corner of Charing Cross Road and Leicester Square, opened in January 1900. It was built for theatre impresario Edward Moss as a venue for circus and variety acts. In 1909 it was remodelled as a music hall and variety theatre.


S’death: an oath, a shortened version of “By God’s death”. It is found in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, Act 1 scene 1, as ’Sdeath.

[Note: This line was omitted from the facsimile version of the playlet printed in Bobbles & Plum: Four Satirical Playlets.]


On 13 October 1903 Rosebery addressed a meeting of the Liberal League, of which he was president, at the Albert Hall in Sheffield. He opened his speech with: Well, what do you think of it all? What do you think of it all—that is what I want to know? (see Parrot poem 14 fn 05).


This may be an allusion to the passage of dialogue that introduces the song “A Magnet Hung in a Hardware Shop” in Act 2 of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera Patience (1881):

Angela (wildly):  But we don’t know the fable of the Magnet and the Churn!

Grosvenor:  Don’t you? Then I will sing it to you.


The Ploughman’s song is a close parody of Nanki-Poo’s song “A Wandering Minstrel”, in Act 1 of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera The Mikado (1885):

A wandering minstrel I—
        A thing of shreds and patches,
        Of ballads, songs and snatches,
And dreamy lullaby!

My catalogue is long,
        Through every passion ranging,
        And to your humours changing
I tune my supple song!

        Are you in sentimental mood?
                I’ll sigh with you,
                        Oh, willow,willow!
        On maiden’s coldness do you brood?
                I’ll do so, too—
                        Oh, willow,willow!
        I’ll charm your willing ears
        With songs of lovers’ fears,
        While sympathetic tears
                My cheeks bedew—
                        Oh, willow,willow!

But if patriotic sentiment is wanted,
    I’ve patriotic ballads cut and dried;
For where’er our country’s banner may be planted,
    All other local banners are defied!
Our warriors, in serried ranks assembled,
    Never quail—or they conceal it if they do—
And I shouldn’t be surprised if nations trembled
    Before the mighty troops of Titipu!

And if you call for a song of the sea,
        We’ll heave the capstan round,
With a yeo heave ho, for the wind is free,
Her anchor’s a-trip and her helm’s a-lee,
        Hurrah for the homeward bound!
            Yeo-ho—heave ho—
        Hurrah for the homeward bound!

The line “Oh, willow, willow!” follows the original libretto and it also appears in that form in Gilbert’s last work, a prose version, with illustrations, entitled The Story of The Mikado (1921), but it is now commonly given as “Oh, sorrow, sorrow!”.


As at the date of this playlet, Rosebery had already authored three political biographies, on William Pitt, Sir Robert Peel and the Emperor Napoleon.


See above.


The reference to “courtly diction” occurred in Rosebery’s speech at Sheffield on 13 October 1903. (see above and Parrot poem 14 fn 05).


Rosebery was known for his tendency to adopt a jesting tone on serious matters:

Worse still, he cannot always control a whimsical humour, and plays, with exasperating zest, round and about subjects of serious concern. His followers are awaiting a solemn pronouncement from the platform; suddenly, he withdraws, as it were, into his library, and produces an elegant essay on nothing in particular.

Samuel Henry Jeyes, The Earl of Rosebery (1906)


Rosebery often adopted a detached, ironic tone that was interpreted by his critics as sneering. It is possible that “my celebrated sneer” is another Gilbertian allusion:

I’ve an irritating chuckle, I’ve a celebrated sneer,
I’ve an entertaining snigger, I’ve a fascinating leer.

Gilbert & Sullivan, Princess Ida, Act 1 (1884)


As ‘Michael’ points out, the quote is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. It comes from Act 1 scene 5, just after Hamlet has been visited by the ghost of his murdered father.


This has echoes of the song “When I was a lad” from Act 1 of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic opera HMS Pinafore (1878):

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.

I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen’s Navee!


The ‘fateful day’ was 15 May 1903, when Chamberlain addressed his Birmingham constituents at a crowded meeting in the Bingley Hall.


Jaegers were a one-piece woollen undergarment with long arms and legs, often known as “woolly combinations”. They were popularised in Britain by the Dr Jaeger’s Sanitary Woollen System Company, which was established in December 1883 by Lewis Tomalin. The garments were promoted for their healthy properties, based on the findings of a German doctor, Gustav Jaeger, whose Essays on Health Culture Tomalin had translated into English. Jaeger’s theory was that woollen undergarments conducted heat better than those made of vegetable fibres and allowed bodily perspiration to escape, rather than to be trapped and reabsorbed by the body, with the result, he argued, that they were beneficial to health.


This is a Shakespearean allusion:

First Witch:

A sailor’s wife had chestnuts in her lap,
And munch’d, and munch’d, and munch’d:—
“Give me”, quoth I:
“Aroint thee, witch!” the rump-fed ronyon cries.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1 scene 3


And, aroint thee, witch, aroint thee!

Shakespeare, King Lear, Act 3 scene 4

While “Aroint the wretch” is a clear parody of Shakespeare’s line, the word “aroint” is not used here as Shakespeare used it—as an imperative, meaning “Begone!”—but follows the Brownings, Robert and Elizabeth, who borrowed it from Shakespeare but used it transitively with the sense of “drive away with a curse”. The etymology of the word is unknown.


This alludes to the Boer War (1899-1902), during which the Liberal party, under Campbell-Bannerman, was strongly critical of the Salisbury Government’s day-to-day handling of the war and was in turn accused by Government supporters of being “pro-Boer” and “unpatriotic”.


See above.


Volapuk was artificial language constructed by a German priest, Johann Martin Schleyer, in 1879-80. The language attracted a small number of enthusiasts but was rapidly displaced by Esperanto, which has a simpler orthography. By 1899, Volapuk was already being described in the English press as “moribund”.


“The John Bull Store” was written by B Fletcher Robinson and published in the Daily Express on 9 October 1903. It was set to music by Robert Eden.


This song does not appear to be based on a specific song but includes phrases that faintly echo at least two popular patriotic airs. The song’s opening line hints at “Rule, Britannia!”, the refrain of which begins “Rule, Britannia! Britannia rule the waves”, while the first lines of the second, third and fourth verses are suggestive of “Hearts of Oak”, which begins “Come, cheer up, my lads . . .” and includes such sentiments as “We ne’er see our foes but we wish them to stay” and “and drub them at shore as we drub them at sea”.


Parrot poem 09 uses the same device of having members of the Cobden Club speak in German, French and ‘American’.


Cavendish is the family name of the Dukes of Devonshire.


Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, and Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson were popular British heroes of the Napoleonic wars, the one on land, the other at sea. George Canning and the Pitts, William the elder and William the Younger, all served as Prime Minister in the period between 1766 and 1827; the Pitts, father and son, are considered to be among the great British prime ministers, while Canning was regarded as one of the ablest ministers of his day but had the misfortune to serve only 119 days as prime minister before dying in office.


The Daily News was a radical newspaper, founded in 1846. Between 1896 and 1901, the paper supported Lord Rosebery and the imperialist faction of the Liberal Party, but in 1901 it was aquired by George Cadbury, a Quaker industrialist who supported the anti-imperialist faction in the Liberal party and was opposed to the Boer War. Under Cadbury’s ownership, the News supported the Liberals under C-B in opposing the Boer War and defending the policy of free trade.


The Dictionary of National Biography describes C-B as “Britain’s first and only radical prime minister”.


As president of the Liberal Unionist Association, the Duke of Devonshire was officially the leader of the Liberal Unionists; Chamberlain was a vice-president of the Association. The Liberal Unionists had split from the Liberal party in 1886 because they opposed Gladstone’s plans for Irish Home Rule and in 1895 they joined a coalition government with the Conservatives under Lord Salisbury (and, after his retirement, Arthur Balfour).

Chamberlain’s proposals for tariff reform split the Liberal Unionists. The majority supported Chamberlain but some, like Devonshire, favoured free trade. Devonshire argued that the Liberal Unionist Association should not commit itself to either tariff reform or free trade, but was ignored by many of the local branches, which passed resolutions in favour of Chamberlain. As the Liberal Unionist Association became increasingly associated with Chamberlain’s campaign, Devonshire found himself isolated and, in early 1904, he formally severed his connection with the party.


It is not clear what resignation the Duke is referring to here. His resignation from the Government—which took place the day after that on which the playlet is set—had nothing to do with whether Chamberlain was, or was not, being seen as the leader of the Liberal Unionists, while his resignation as leader of the Liberal Unionists was still some six months in the future. In fact, as at the date on which the playlet is supposed to take place, the Duke’s difficulties with the Liberal Unionist Association had not yet become apparent.


The radioactive element radium was discovered by Marie Sklodowska-Curie and her husband Pierre Curie in December 1898. Radium, and its properties and potential uses, excited considerable interest in the English press, especially after Pierre Curie’s announcement (reported in the Times on 25 March 1903) that radium emitted heat without combustion and without any change in its chemical composition or molecular structure. A lengthy series of “Letters to the Editor” of the Times kept interest in the subject alive between late March and early September 1903, as did a lecture which Pierre Curie delivered at the Royal Institution in mid-June. So great was the interest (and understandable ignorance of the nature of radioactivity) that during the week of 14-19 December the Daily Mirror ran a competition for its readers for which one of the prizes was a tube of radium. On 12 November 1903 the Curies were awarded the Davy Medal by the Royal Society for their researches on radium and on 11 December it was announced that the Curies and Henri Becquerel had been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on radiation phenomena.


Wodehouse used this refrain on two other occasions:

From the basement I can hear faintly the murmur of innumerable fowls. We are a happy family; we are, we are, we ARE!

Love Among the Chickens, chap 5 (original 1906 version)

We are a happy Cabinet,
We are! We are!! We are!!!

"The Phalanx", The Books of To-day, January 1906

The line did not, however, originate with him. It forms part of the refrain of a song, “We are a merry family”, which was popular in the early 1880s and gave rise to numerous parodies, including one at the expense of Joseph Chamberlain and his family:

For we’re a clever family,
    From Arthur down to Dick;
My Nephews, cousins, quite by dozens,
    And brother-in-law Ken-rick
So who dares question aught we say,
    Or our advance to bar?
For we’re a clever family,
    We are! We are! We are!

Truth, 6 August 1886

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