I might have a go at tracking down the translator. I’ve so many questions about how this project came about, which particular stories were chosen and what Munro’s status or reputation is in Iran. Watch this space, as they say.
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 with 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 →
[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”
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.
In a great piece of literary detective work, Lora A Sifurova has managed to track down the source for a quote from a Russian periodical that Saki refers to in ‘Birds on the Western Front’. She has written about it here:
“It would be jolly to spend Easter in Vienna this year,” said Strudwarden, “and look up some of my old friends there. It’s about the jolliest place I know of to be at for Easter—”
“I thought we had made up our minds to spend Easter at Brighton,” interrupted Lena Strudwarden, with an air of aggrieved surprise.
“You mean that you had made up your mind that we should spend Easter there,” said her husband; “we spent last Easter there, and Whitsuntide as well, and the year before that we were at Worthing, and Brighton again before that. I think it would be just as well to have a real change of scene while we are about it.”
“The journey to Vienna would be very expensive,” said Lena.
“You are not often concerned about economy,” said Strudwarden, “and in any case the trip to Vienna won’t cost a bit more than the rather meaningless luncheon parties we usually give to quite meaningless acquaintances at Brighton. To escape from all that set would be a holiday in itself.” Continue reading →
“To my mind, education is an absurdly over-rated affair. At least, one never took it very seriously at school, where everything was done to bring it prominently under one’s notice. Anything that is worth knowing one practically teaches oneself, and the rest obtrudes itself sooner or later.”
― ‘Reginald on Worries’