Looking up Saki first editions online, I came across this picture of the wonderful artwork for the original edition of The Chronicles of Clovis, possibly inspired by the beginning of ‘The Quest’, in which Clovis is reclining in a hammock (though he’s described there as “dozing”, so the book and pencil don’t quite fit).
I’ve commented several times in this blog on Munro’s love of art, and we know from his letters to his publisher that he had some input into the design:
Your favour of the covers of “Clovis” to hand. The red with lettering (which I have marked I.) seems to me the best in all particulars save one, viz: the amended drawing of the leg in the green cover (marked II.) is a distinct improvement. on [sic] the other hand I think the extra touches of shading in that cover take away from the simplicity of the design and spoil the “white flannel” effect. So if we can have the No. I. cover wich the amended leg but with additional shadings of No. II. I think that will do very well.
In the gathering twilight Richard Duncombe rode a tired horse through a seemingly endless succession of fields in what he guessed to be a more or less homeward direction. After the crowd and movement and liveliness of a good day with the hounds there was something still and ghostly about this long, slow ride through a misty world of plough-land, grass-land, and fallow, in which he and his horse seemed to be the only living things. Even when he struck into a road it seemed a deserted highway bordered by long stretches of hedge and coppice, with never a farm-gate or signpost to break its reticence or relieve its sameness. It was with a sense of pleasure that he came suddenly into the glow of lighted windows and drew rein hopefully outside the garden gate of a substantial-sized dwelling. A tall, red-haired girl stood in the doorway of the house, as though keeping watch along what could be seen of the dusky roadway. She returned Duncombe’s greeting with a pleasant “Good evening.”
“I see you have a stable there,” he called out; “do you think you could let me put my horse up there for an hour’s rest and give him a little flour and water? He’s fairly done up, and I don’t think there’s an inn within five miles.”
“Mother will be delighted,” said the girl, and in a few minutes she had helped Duncombe to stable and water his tired animal.
“We are just sitting down to tea,” she said shyly, “and mother hopes you will kindly come in and take a cup.”
It was not the first time that Duncombe had partaken of pleasant wayside hospitality during homeward rides, and he gladly accepted the invitation. The house was evidently one belonging to fairly comfortable yeoman owners, and its mistress was a kindly faced woman, with quiet, friendly manners, who sat in her parlour at a table well laid out with the furnishing of a substantial middle-class tea. Seated also at the table when Duncombe entered was a red-haired boy of about seventeen, evidently the brother of the girl who had played the part of stable-help. Continue reading →
Following my blog post about a new translation of Saki into Spanish, I was contacted by Francisco Araujo da Costa, who has translated some of Saki’s stories into (Brazilian) Portuguese. It seems that Saki is known not just in Spanish-speaking South America!
Francisco had already translated 20 of the stories in 2008; they were published in a collection entitled Um Gato Indiscreto e Outros Contos. (Readers ought to have no difficult working out who the “Indiscreet Cat” is.)
That edition had gone out of print but has now been reissued with an additional seven stories. It’s already available for Kindle:
O Tigre de Mrs. Packletide e outros contos reúne uma série de histórias que satirizam a sociedade inglesa na primeira década do século XX, permeadas às vezes de um certo teor fantástico ou sobrenatural.
O humor ferino e politicamente incorreto de Saki está representado aqui em vinte e sete contos publicados originalmente em jornais e revistas britânicas e em seis coletâneas: Reginald (1904), Reginald in Russia (1910), The Chronicles of Clovis (1911), Beasts and Super-Beasts (1912), The Toys of Peace (1919) e The Square Egg and Other Sketches (1924).
Vinte dos contos foram publicados originalmente sob o título de Um Gato Indiscreto e Outros Contos (Editora Hedra, 2009). Os sete inéditos são A reticência de Lady Anne, O santo e o duende, A dúzia de frade, Hermann, o Irascível: Uma história do Grande Choro, Laura, O quarto de guardados e O ovo quadrado.
Francisco also translated Saki’s second novel When William Came, and you can find this on Amazon too:
[In the picture, Beloved of Mine, you will see the Cat walking by its lone. In one corner there are some things which may be an Old-Age Pension Scheme or they may be Six New Army Corps; but I think they are Mushrooms or ’phemeral things like them which are born in the wild woods but don’t live long.]
There was once a Cat that walked by its lone. It knew where it wanted to go and it kept straight there, and after a while it wasn’t so very much by itself either.2
But the delicately didactic Woman3 who kept House from Monday to Friday and had her week-ends to herself couldn’t abide the Cat walking in and out of her premises.
“For better or for worse, probably for much, much better,” she declared, “I am the only possible occupant of this tenement. There can be no alternative.”4
But the Cat that walked not so very much by its lone went in and out and through and through just as it quite well wished, and made remarks as it went.
And the delicately didactic and faintly fractious Woman bubbled over with a pleasant peevishness that was sedative and enervating to behold, and called everything to witness that she was no worse than she need be: “And behold,” she said, “everything we do is for the second-best in this second-best of all possible Governments.5 Our troops are employed at enormous distances from home, and if they occasionally get into tight places the very fact that we were able to get them there at all reflects immense credit on us. And if we have done nothing particular at home in the past seven years, at least we have done it quietly and unobtrusively.”
Four out of every five proper Cecils6 will speak like that; the fifth proper Cecil would probably say it with equal shrillness at the wrong moment.
But the Cat that walked through the land not by any means by its lone came in and out and gave the Woman queer starts when she was working overtime to finish off her bills; and the Woman became hard and resolute as gelatine that has almost had time to cool, and flung a jar of Devonshire cream at the Cat that wouldn’t be silenced. It was the only thing she had had to hand for months and months, and she was glad to be able to throw it.23
But the Cat that mobilised as it walked wouldn’t stay away even when it saw “No Alternative” written on the door. And whenever the Woman was making a mess of things, which was sometimes, or whenever she was doing nothing, which was frequently, she would find the Cat looking on in a luminous manner which she considered unfeeling.
Four out of five proper Cecils would be vexed at such conduct, and the fifth proper Cecil would be righteously indignant.
The Cecils are indispensable for the government of the Empire. If there were no Cecils it would be necessary to invent them.8
That, Best Beloved, is an epigram. At least, I think so.
5th Earl of Rosebery (1847–1929), Liberal politician and Prime Minister 1894–5, whose courtesy title before inheriting the earldom was Lord Dalmeny.↩
Despite his repeated avowals of his wish to leave poltics and go his own way, Rosebery attracted supporters such as Herbert Henry Asquith (1852–1928, Liberal Party politician, Prime Minister 1908–1916), Sir Edward Grey (1862–1933, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1892–1895 and later Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1905–1916), Henry Fowler (1830–1911, Secretary of State for India in Rosebery’s cabinet), and Richard Haldane (1856–1928, philosopher, lawyer and Liberal M.P.), all of whom at various times hoped — or convinced themselves — that he would return to front–line politics.↩
Arthur Balfour (1848–1930), British Conservative politician, Prime Minister 1902–1905.↩
A reference to claims that people had voted for the Conservatives in the last general election (1900) because they saw no alternative.↩
Parodying the optimist Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (1759): “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.↩
The Cecils were a political dynasty. James Gascoyne-Cecil (1791-1868), the second Marquess of Salisbury, was an M.P. before inheriting his title and later served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. The Marquess’s son, the 3rd Marquess (1830-1903), was Prime Minister three times, the third being 1895–1902, after which he was succeeded by his nephew Arthur Balfour. Balfour’s father and grandfather had been M.P.s and his brother Gerald (1853–1945) also entered parliament. The 3rd Marquess’s son, Lord Hugh Cecil (1869–1956) was also an M.P.↩
Spencer Cavendish (1833–1908), 8th Duke of Devonshire, who had made speeches mocking Rosebery’s “clean slate” proposals. He was a member of Liberal Unionist Party and therefore a coalition partner of Balfour rather than a party colleague.↩
Cf. Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” (‘Epître à l’auteur du livre des Trois imposteurs’, 1798.↩
“Her husband gardens in all weathers. When a man goes out in the pouring rain to brush caterpillars off rose-trees, I generally imagine his life indoors leaves something to be desired; anyway, it must be very unsettling for the caterpillars.”
― “Reginald’s Christmas Revel”
I completely forgot to mention that my article on the genesis of Beasts and Super-Beasts was published last October in the journal Articles, Notes and Queries (ANQ).
It examines the differences between the versions of stories published in periodicals and the revised versions collected in the book. I trace the writing and publication history and speculate a little on the reasons for the changes.
Gaston, Bruce. “Reconstructing the Original Beasts and Super-Beasts by ‘Saki,’ or How a Short Story Collection Took Shape.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. 12 Oct. 2021. Online: https://doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2021.1979929 (08.02.22)
The Pallmallatherium,1 Best Beloved, has no extraordinary qualities, but it was there at the time, and that is Why. For years it had been employed to stalk horses and watch their breeding-grounds and catch them a few at a time, just as they were wanted, and though it had no special grasp of things it managed to hold on. And then there arrived a Perfectly Unpremeditated Emergency and upset everything that was going on so nicely.
Emergencies always are upsetting, even if you have seen them emerging for years.
Everyone had talked about a morally inevitable war that was to be fought to a finish, but no one could have reasonably calculated that a war that was fought to a finish would require a beginning. So nobody was ready to begin at the same time as the morally inevitable but quite unprepared-for war, and there were no horses. Then they thought of the Pallmallatherium, and went to look for it, and there it was, Best Beloved, working away without a particular ability and no special grasp of things, just as if nothing was going to happen. And then the Pallmallatherium had to get to work ever so much quicker and more muchly2 than before, and under conditions which had never been thought of and could hardly have been foreseen.3 Aren’t those beautiful words, and they come straight from a Report? You see, when you go to war with countries ever so many thousand miles away you naturally never contemplate having to send your horses so far from Victoria-street.4 That is why emergencies are so disturbing.
So the pardonably flabbergasted and quite undeservingly censured Pallmallatherium got hold of as many horses and mules as the Army could use—and a great many that it couldn’t—5and dealt with all imaginable sorts of people much more grasping than itself, and overworked itself generally, so that it came out in weak spots all over and contracted proboscial irritation from having paid so much through the nose.
Then they said, We can’t have this maculose and fearfully conspicuous object wandering about out of harmony with all its surroundings; let us make it into an albino. So they took the Pallmallatherium and whitewashed it from end to end as well as they knew how.6
And that is how the Pallmallatherium lost its spots.
Pall Mall, in central London, was the location of the War Office. This story refers to (and even sometimes takes up phrases from) the report of an inquiry into the Army Remount Department, which supplied horses to the army but had proved wholly unprepared for the vastly increased demand when the Boer War began.↩
Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament, by Andrew Carrick Gow (1907)
[…]the poll is on Wednesday, and the poor man will have worked himself to a shadow by that time. Imagine what electioneering must be like in this awful soaking rain, going along slushy country roads and speaking to damp audiences in draughty schoolrooms, day after day for a fortnight. He’ll have to put in an appearance at some place of worship on Sunday morning, and he can come to us immediately afterwards and have a thorough respite from everything connected with politics. I won’t let him even think of them. I’ve had the picture of Cromwell dissolving the Long Parliament taken down from the staircase, and even the portrait of Lord Rosebery’s ‘Ladas’ removed from the smoking-room.
from ‘The Lull’
― Beasts and Super-Beasts
‘Ladas’, Winner of the 1894 Derby 2, by Emil Adam, 1894.
You would like to know, Best Beloved, how the Doubtless Well-meaning Armydillo lost its wool.
The Doubtless Well-meaning but somewhat stereotyped Armydillo1 lived in a perfect and past-definite system of pigeon-holes and shrank from observation,2 especially such observations as the Beech-Marten3
was addicted to making.
“The Old Guard retires, but it never stops talking,” said the Armydillo angrily.4
There was a Whip once that became a perfect Scourge, but that has nothing to do with the story.5
No self-respecting Armydillo is ever to blame for the time being; but there have been Armydillos in the past that have been simply scandalous.
So when the superfluous Beech-Marten came round talking about waste and extravagance and extraneous influences and other things that aren’t funny but only rude, the Doubtless Well-meaning Armydillo became virtuously indignant and tore its hair, and remembered a State of Things a quarter of a Century6 ago that would have sent it pallid and chattering into the Chiltern Hundreds.7 That is how all Armydilloes talk, and no doubt they mean it at the time; it is not so hard to be resigned at a distance of twenty-five years.8
The Beech-Marten didn’t care how angry the Armydillo got, because he had squeezed him so when they lived in the same burrow. No Beech-Marten likes being squeezed, it upsets their balance.
And that, Best Beloved, is how the Armydillo lost its wool.
William St John Fremantle Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, (1856–1942), Secretary of State for War 1900–1903.↩
Sir Michael Hicks Beach, (1837-1916), Chancellor of the Exchequer 1885-1886 and 1895-1902). He clashed with Brodrick over the costs of the latter’s planned army reforms. After his resignation from the front bench, Hicks Beach made a speech in his constituency on 29 September 1902 in which he criticised the way the War Office had conducted the Boer War and the influence “outside influences” wielded on it (although he specifically said he did not blame Brodrick)↩
Parodying “The Old Guard dies; it never surrenders” (attributed to General Pierre Cambronne, 1770-1842, at the Battle of Waterloo).↩
Probably referring to Rowland Winn, 1st Baron St Oswald (1820–1893), Conservative Party Chief Whip from 1880 to 1885. He was caricatured as “the lash” by ‘Ape’ in Vanity Fair in 1874; the reason remains unclear.↩
Being appointed “Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds” (an “office of profit under The Crown”, referring to management of this ancient administrative area) disqualifies an M.P. from sitting in the House of Commons, and thus allows him to resign his seat (which is otherwise legally impossible).↩
Possibly referring to the time between the previous two sets of major army reforms (Cardwell Reforms, 1868–1872, and Childers Reforms, early 1880s).↩