Vanity Fair (UK), December 14, 1905



Dramatis Personæ.
            King Arthur’s Court.
King Arthur....................................... Mr. A. J. Balfour.
Queen Guinevere.............................. The Unionist Party.
Sir Lancelot....................................... The Tariff Reform League.
Merlin (out of a job)......................... The Duke of Devonshire.
Sir Kaye............................................. The Marquis of Londonderry.
Free Fooders, Retaliators, Tariff Reformers, and other retainers.
Sir Campbell (a noted Scot)............ Sir H. Campbell-Bannerman.
Sir Primrose (a cultivated Pict)...... The Earl of Rosebery.
Sir Lloyd (a Cymric)........................ Mr. Lloyd-George.
Sir Redmond (The Irish Chief)........ Mr. Redmond.
Sir Grey (a patriotic Goth).............. Sir Edward Grey.
Sir Keir (an advanced Hun)............ Mr. Keir Hardie.
Sir Winston (a conspirator)............ Mr. Winston Churchill.
Passive Resisters, Anti-Vaccinators, Members of the Humanitarian League, Contributors to The Daily News, Members of the National Liberal Club, and other retainers.



     (A forest near King Arthur’s Castle. On the right, upon a grassy mound, Sir Primrose is discovered unarmed, clothed in white samite, crowned with flowers, and solacing his solitude upon a viol. In the centre is an open glade, giving a distant view of King Arthur’s Castle, yclept “Ye Government,” which is surrounded by the tents of the Barbarian Army, consisting of Picts, Scots, Rads, Cymrics, Celts, and other outlandish tribes who are besieging it. To the left is a perspective of tree-trunks.)


Sir Primrose:

  There may be some in yon outlandish host
  (Who once, upraising me on lifted shields,
  Proclaimed me Leader) that declare me base,
  Neglectful of my party and my cause,
  Neglectful of my chance to trip the heels
  Of Arthur in his day of trial sore.
  Yet how can I, a cultivated man,
  A perfect stylist and a connoisseur,
  A critic, too, a student of the men
  Who made the nations, stoop to join a band
  Or rebel Irish, Welshmen from the hills,
  Rads from Londinium, Picts from mine own land?
  Such men, forsooth, as would disjoin the kingdoms,
  In peace I will remain, apart from strife,
  Forgetting care in music:—

Song: Sir Primrose.

The political arena was at one time just as clean a
 Place as anyone could ever wish to see;
But it’s suffered changes lately: it’s deteriorated greatly
 Till it’s really quite unsuitable for me.
Oh, the chatter and the babble of this unimperial rabble
 Is more than a philosopher can bear,
So, although it has annoyed them, I consistently avoid them,
 For politics are nothing like they were.

When the trumpet sounds for action there is much dissatisfaction
 (Which they seldom try their hardest to conceal)
For, instead of keenly leaping to the conflict, I am sleeping,
 Quite oblivious to their passionate appeal.
There are some who say I’m skulking; not a few who call it sulking;
 But for trifles such as these I do not care:
At the cost of irritation I preserve my isolation,
 For politics are nothing like they were.

I can hear the din and rattle of an energetic battle,
 I can hear the shouts of stormers at the breach;
But it seems at such a distance that I don’t provide assistance
 (With the possible exception of a speech).
In a gentlemanly manner, as they rally round the banner,
 I recommend the troops to do and dare;
But of course I never heed them when they shout to me to lead them,
 For politics are nothing like they were.

In the good old days when I myself was fighting
 We did things in a cultured sort of style;
We made the fray sufficiently exciting,
 But stuck to flag and Empire all the while.
We hadn’t any faction in our army,
 By discipline each warrior was tied:
But the state of things at present is so thoroughly unpleasant
 That I think it best to stay away outside.

(A drum heard without. Enter the Barbarian Army of Rads, Celts, Cymrics, &c., preceded by large banners, after the fashion of a Trade Union demonstration.)

Marching Song of Barbarian Army.

The Army (all together):

A host with but a single aim
 We fight in perfect unity;
No foe upon the earth can claim
 To treat us with impunity:
Each man regards the others
As something more than brothers.

The enemy don’t relish it
 When we detect his whereabouts.
We never have a jar or split,
 We’re always chums (or thereabouts);
In fair and stormy weather
We always march together.

Sir Grey (leading detachment of Respectable Imperial Liberals):

Our loyalty’s free from defect,
Our morals are highly correct;
 We put down our foot
 On proposals to loot,
For Property’s rights we respect.
We stick with a firmness intense
To Imperial views (which are Sense).
 Whatever we pay
 We must lead the way:
Our motto is “Blow the expense!”

Sir Lloyd (leading detachment of earnest and advanced Rads):

We act on a different plan,
Imperial notions we ban:
 When the foe we defeat
 Both the army and fleet
We propose to cut down (if we can).
With shrewd, economical glance
We watch o’er affairs of finance,
 We’ve a wonderful sense
 For the value of pence,
And save them whene’er we’ve a chance.

Sir Keir (leading detachment of Unemployed):

We cawn’t siy we ’olds very much
With these aristocratics and such.
 The pore son of toil
 ’As a right to the spoil;
We sticks to wotever we touch.
Wot we ses is, this Chivalry’s rot,
Let’s beat ’em, and tike orl they’ve got.
 Let the ’ard-working man
 Gavver orl that he can,
And not ’ave no scruples. Thet’s wot.

Sir Redmond (leading detachment of “pure-minded” Celts):

Ah, shtop all this terruble noise!
Go aisy, that’s what I advoise:
 For it’s little we heed
 If we fail or succeed;
Bedad, it’s all wan to the bhoys.
We don’t care which side we assist.
Is ut upset the Monarchy? Whist!
 We’ll just march with the host
 Which’ll pay us the most:
Them’s our sintiments, nately exprissed.

(The Barbarian Army march round the stage, and then line up left and right. The leaders gather in the centre to welcome that gentle Knight, Sir Campbell, who advances on foot, followed by a drummer carrying the Party drum.)

Sir Campbell:

Fair and dear friends, right strongly did you sing,
And though I noticed, scattered here and there,
A note that broke the general consonance;
Yet on the whole the noise was very great,
And doubtless will affright the Knights that laze
About the Table Round within the Castle
Of proud King Arthur (where I shortly hope
We shall be dining). Yet in common cause
Must we be bound, with single heart and hand
Must we strike home if victory is to gild
Our spreading pinions. Firstly let us storm
The castle walls; hereafter can we heal
The little rifts that in the Party lute
Now threaten discords.

(Sir Grey steps forward.)

           Ah, my lusty knight,
What have you for your leader’s longing ears?

Sir Grey:

My gentle leader. Though I would not loose
The dogs of dark contention, yet Sir Redmond
And I have had some bickerings on the way.
May not the army pause the while I thrust
His black opinions down his baneful throat?

Sir Primrose (descending the mound, and entering the arena):

           Alas! my comrades,
It seems to me that I must make a speech.

All: Oh, woeful day!

Sir Primrose:

           Sir Campbell, I remain
Your very humble and obedient servant,
Yet must I warn you, list not to the chief
Of Ireland’s levies. Think of him no more,
Hark to Sir Grey, who tries as best he can
To voice my sentiments——

Sir Redmond:

           Bedad, I’ll tache
You manners wid a club.

Sir Lloyd and Sir Keir:

           Nay, let us speak.

Sir Campbell:

Now drummer haste and do your noisy duty.

(A long and thunderous roll on the Party drum drowns the turmoil. As it, at last, concludes Sir Campbell steps forward.)

Song: Sir Campbell.

When my party’s every action
Tends to drive me to distraction
 And affairs begin to hum,
 I beat my drum.
When they call for an effective
And immediate corrective
 Then I play, until they’re dumb
 Upon the drum.

It doesn’t matter much about the meaning or the air,
So long as I play something people never seem to care,
I initiate a panic or alleviate a scare
     With my drum.

I’ve reduced it to a science:
When the foemen shriek defiance
 And my army’s looking glum,
 I beat my drum.
When my party in a fix is,
All at sevens and at sixes,
 To reorganise the scrum
 I beat the drum.

It is simply sound and fury, and it’s meaning isn’t clear,
But I fancy it encourages my men to persevere;
So I still continue playing, though the enemy may sneer,
     On the drum.

So my tip to young tacticians,
If they get in tight positions
 And the prospect’s rather rum,
 Is “Beat the drum.”
For the squabblings and the hootings
And the brawlings and disputings
 May be neatly overcome
 With the drum.

Dissension in your forces it infallibly destroys,
It soothes your own supporters, while the foemen it annoys;
Don’t try to play a tune: you only need a lot of noise
     From the drum.

Sir Primrose:

And this is leadership! Now Heaven defend
The shrieking rabble and their captain, who
Is but a drummer—save the Yankee term—
But, hist, whom have we here?

(Enter Sir Winston and friends, carrying a white flag.)

             Now, can it be
They are a sub-committee of surrender?

Sir Winston:

My friends, I bid you greeting. We have fled
From Arthur’s Castle, which can never be
A home again—save chance should spin around
Her mocking wheel. For in its splendid halls
Is dire confusion. ’Neath King Arthur’s nose
Does Lancelot make eyes at Guinevere.
So that the lady sits in dire distress,
Not knowing what is what nor who is who.
And while the knights with gossip fill the days
There’s none that pays attention to our claims
To high advancement, none that are so poor
To do us reverence, to observe our words;
Write of us in the papers—to be brief,
We are neglected, treated, sirs, like boys.
So here we are, your fond and keen allies.
Hark, for I much desire to sing to you.

Song: Sir Winston.

From my childhood I’ve nourished ambition,
 I made up my mind in my cot
To climb to the highest position,
 Whether people approved me or not.
So I cut some remarkable capers,
 Went out with the army to war,
And wrote myself up in the papers:
 (That’s all that the papers are for.)

With Arthur I next was connected,
 For Arthur was then in his prime:
When greybeards in council collected,
 I gave them advice every time.
A youth who’s determined to preach is
 Regarded, I know, as a bore,
But I got myself known by my speeches:
 (That’s all that my speeches were for.)

For months with allegiance unaltered
 I stuck to him closer than glue;
Nor ever in battle I faltered;
 I fought with the vigour of two.
No fierce opposition dismayed me,
 I yearned to be shedding my gore;
I fancied that loyalty paid me:
 (That’s all that my loyalty’s for.)

But my monarch is now a back number,
 He seems to be quite up a tree,
And Arthur can only encumber
 A pushing young fellow like me.
So, though it’s a bit of a gamble,
 I fancy I stand to gain more
If I throw in my lot with Sir Campbell:
 (That’s all that Sir Campbell is for.)

Sir Campbell:

 Your words sound strangely to my simple ears.

Sir Lloyd:

 Strange bedfellows does Opposition bring.

Sir Redmond:

 Silence, ye grumblers. Does he know a way
 To storm the castle, plant our banner proud
 Upon the inner wall?

Sir Winston:

             In truth I do.

Sir Redmond:

 Expound, my gentle sir.

Sir Winston:

             Appoint me leader
 And you shall win the day without a doubt.

(Intense and prolonged uproar. Finally, Sir Campbell calls upon the Party drum to do its duty. Silence is at last restored.)

Sir Campbell:

 Patience, young man. The steps to office high
 Are steep and many. In some thirty years
 You may, perchance, I say you may, perhaps,
 Attain some small emolument. Enough.
 A flank attack is what we now intend
 On our disordered foes. Come, forward, march,
 Advance our banners, let the policeman clear
 A way for this, our army. Victory waits
 To crown us as we storm the Castle gates.

(Exeunt, singing “A host with but a single aim.”)



(Midnight; Moonlight.Sir Lancelot (the Tariff Reform League) is discovered with guitar beneath the window of Guinevere (the Unionist Party). In a neighbouring corner of the battlements a group of Free Fooders, headed by Merlin (the Duke of Devonshire), are watching him.)

Sir Lancelot (the Tariff Reform League):

Of dear little parties on earth,
     No dearth,
I’ve noted; they’ve not been a few.
Their charms I do not underrate,
     They’re great.
But they can’t hold a candle to you,
     To you.
They can’t hold a candle to you.

Can you hear,
   What I’m saying, my dear?
Your window is open, besides being near.
   Can you hear?

Chorus of Free Fooders (ironically):

Hear! Hear!

Sir Lancelot:

Can you hear?

Chorus of Free Fooders:

Oh, Lancelot, oh, Lancelot,
Your captivating glance a lot
   Of damage has effected, it is clear.
It’s a puzzle what she sees
In your visage that can please,
   But the fact remains, you wheedle Guinevere.

Sir Lancelot:

Oh say, have I won you or not?
     Eh, what?
Oh, give me some sort of a sign.
For months I’ve been trying to woo
     Just you;
My angel, do say you’ll be mine.
     Be mine,
My angel, do say you’ll be mine.
It is queer,
But I reckon small beer
Other parties, and pass them all by with a sneer.
Can you hear?

Chorus of Free Fooders (ironically):

Hear! Hear!

Sir Lancelot:

Can you hear?

Chorus of Free Fooders:

Oh, Lancelot, oh, Lancelot,
In gay and giddy France a lot
 Of people act like this, but still it’s queer
That in England you should seek
In this shameful way to speak.
 Please remember she’s King Arthur’s Guinevere.

(Guinevere (the Unionist Party) appears at the window.)


As fast asleep just now I lay,
   Asleep and gently dreaming,
I thought I heard, far, far away,
   The sound of someone screaming.
It may have been the nightingales
   Those shrill, nocturnal gurglers,
Just practising their notes and scales.
   Or possibly it’s burglars.

(She sees Lancelot.)

Oh, Lancelot! You there! What next!
You know that Arthur would be vexed.

Sir Lancelot:

Yes, yes, ’tis I. I know it’s wrong.
   But how could I resist it?
A brief synopsis of my song
   I’ll give you as you missed it.
In (though I say it) neatish verse
   I told the love I bore you.
Oh, Guinevere, my doubt disperse;
   You know that I adore you.


The blood to my embarrassed cheek
   With sudden quickness rushes:
Look close if you my answer seek;
   You’ll read it in my blushes.
I know the vows you make are true,
   All other kinds are spurious:
I’d like to run away with you,
   But Arthur would be furious.

Sir Lancelot:

Nay, hear me, Guinevere, your heart
   No worn-out bonds must fetter:
We’ve got to make another start,
   The sooner done, the better.
For ancient shibboleths who cares?
   Our lives they must not tether:
And we must manage our affairs
   On new lines altogether.

Chorus of Free Fooders:

Oh Lancelot, oh, Lancelot,
We stamp our feet, and dance a lot
   With rage and disapproval when we hear
The matrimonial change
Which you callously arrange
   For your poor, misguided victim, Guinevere.

Sir Kaye (the Marquis of Londonderry), rushing violently in, and speaking in recitative):

Ha! What is this! Beneath the Royal window
I see a man.

(Exit Sir Lancelot by rope. They all rush forward, and stand shaking their heads sadly.)



(The interior of King Arthur’s Castle, “Ye Government.” In the centre at back of stage is a daïs, on which are placed two thrones, in the occupation of King Arthur (Mr. A. J. Balfour) and Guinevere (the Unionist Party). Behind them are grouped Sir Lancelot, Sir Kaye (Lord Londonderry), and other officials. Below the daïs is the Round Table, at which a number of knights are seated.)

King Arthur:

 My comrades, we have heard without our walls
 Rumour of strife in the Barbarian hordes
 That think to pillage this, our citadel,
 Where we for many years have held our court
 Despite the flouts and sneers of evil men.
 Let us be careful not to emulate
 Their rude alarms and indiscreet excursions,
 I ask you then to fill your beakers up
 And drink to this our Cause.

(The assembly rise to their feet with much cheering.)

A Voice:          What cause?

King Arthur (in great annoyance):

 What knight is this who breaks the general joy
 With such a question? ’Tis enough, we know
 Each in our hearts what iswhat is our Cause.


 Dear Arthur, now for many loving years
 Have I obeyed you, followed every move,
 Accepted explanations, borne myself
 As should a true and virtuous British matron.
 Yet even I would rather like to know,
 Being perplexed by doubts and general fears,
 What is the Cause for which we fight to-day.

King Arthur:

 You, too, my Guinevere!

Song: King Arthur.

Oh, the life of a king is not skittles and beer at all;
 Worries pursue him wherever he flies,
Chase him, and face him, and won’t disappear at all,
 Worries! He’s in them right up to the eyes.
Everyone seems to delight in perplexing him,
 Asking him questions he can’t understand,
Boring and heckling and teasing and vexing him,
 Making him show all the cards in his hand,
Robbing his brain of all snap and lucidity,
Bleaching his locks with a frightful rapidity,
Into his confidence artfully burrowing,
Giving him shocks till his forehead is furrowing,
   Threatening mutiny every day—
   That is his subjects’ unvarying way.

  How can a monarch preserve his urbanity,
  Feeling himself on the verge of insanity?
  Common folk grumble, and that sort of thing,
  But their woes can’t compare with the woes of a king.

Oh! vitæ (to quote from the Classical) tædia!
 Life (to translate) is a poor sort of show.
Treated, by gad! as an Encyclopædia,
 All things on earth I’m expected to know.
I’ve got to answer with unimpaired bonhomie
 Questions of every kind they may ask:
Posers abstruse on the nation’s Economy—
 That’s but a tithe, so to speak, of my task.
Where are our Army Corps? Can I confirm any
Rumours of war with the Sultan or Germany?
Are the Chinese on the Rand flogged diurnally?
Why should the Straphanger suffer eternally?
   Do the “All Blacks” play quite fair in the scrum?
   Daily the questions continue to come.

  How can a monarch go beaming with cheerfulness,
  When in a state that’s approaching to tearfulness?
  Common folk grumble, and that sort of thing,
  But the man who is really oppressed is the king.

A Messenger (rushing in):

 Arm, arm! The enemy have climbed the wall.

(A confused noise without. Shouts, alarums, and cheap excursions. Headed by Sir Campbell, the Barbarians rush into the hall. The Knights of the Round Table draw their swords and gather round the daïs.)

Sir Campbell:

 We ask

Sir Primrose:


Sir Keir:


Sir Redmond:

          demand that you

All Together:

 Deliver up this castle to our powers.

King Arthur:

 Nay, gentlemen, I charge you, tell me this,
 Whom must I answer, who, in short, is chief?

Sir Campbell:

 I, by the sanction of the general voice
 Of all the Rads throughout my territories.

Sir Primrose:

 I, by the right and art of criticism,
 Which gives me power to irritate Sir Campbell.

Sir Keir:

 I, by the right of any artisan,
 To take what is not his if so he choose.

Sir Redmond:

 I, by the force of fear, for in my hand
 I hold the fortune of the clans allied.

King Arthur:

 Thanks, gentle sirs, for this your explanation.
 My answer is——

Sir Lancelot:

         Forgive me, noble Arthur.
 But e’er you give some absolute decision,
 Some utterance firm, complete, irrevocable,
 I would suggest——


         My liege, or, rather, he
 Who was my liege, for I am still confused
 In these distressful times, I beg that Lancelot
 Be sat upon, and——

Sir Kaye:

         Oh, my Royal King,
 Whose words have ever been to me as laws,
 Whose arguments are mine, whose thoughts are mine,
 I beg you——

King Arthur:

         Pray you, give me leave to speak.
 These interruptions are mal apropos.

Duet: Sir Campbell and King Arthur.

Sir C.:     Misfortune’s dogged me from the first,
          As you may plainly see:
        Of luckless men I am the worst—

King A.: (aside):   You are, excepting me.

Sir C.:     My troops cause endless toil before
          I get them into line,
        And when I do, there’s civil war—

King A. (aside):   It’s just the same with mine.

Sir C.:     They start at early morning, and
          They quarrel all the day;
        With “Traitor!” they each other brand—

King A. (aside):   That’s just what my men say.

Sir C.:     Their reverence for my words is small,
          We always disagree:
        They say I’m not their chief at all—

King A. (aside):   Some say the same of me!

King Arthur:

  Sir Campbell, we’ll adjourn this conference.
  To you I leave this castle, on the plain.
  We’ll presently conjoin in battle dire,
  So shall we know who’s master, if it be
  That any man can ever know who’s master.

(Exit King Arthur, leading the way from the Castle of “Ye Government.” Guinevere follows on the arm of Sir Lancelot, with Merlin and Sir Kaye gloomily regarding them. As the curtain falls the Barbarians have fallen to fighting desperately amongst themselves, and Sir Campbell is calling for the Party drum.)

B. Fletcher Robinson.
P. G. Wodehouse.