‘Reginald’s Peace Poem’

“I’m writing a poem on Peace,”1 said Reginald, emerging from a sweeping operation through a tin of mixed biscuits, in whose depths a macaroon or two might yet be lurking.

“Something of the kind seems to have been attempted already,” said the Other.

“Oh, I know; but I may never have the chance again. Besides, I’ve got a new fountain pen. I don’t pretend to have gone on any very original lines; in writing about Peace the thing is to say what everybody else is saying, only to say it better. It begins with the usual ornithological emotion:

‘When the widgeon westward winging
Heard the folk Vereeniginging,2
Heard the shouting and the singing—’”

“Vereeniginging is good, but why widgeon?”

“Why not? Anything that winged westward would naturally begin with a w.”

“Need it wing westward?”

“The bird must go somewhere. You wouldn’t have it hang around and look foolish. Then I’ve brought in something about the heedless hartebeest3 galloping over the deserted veldt.”

“Of course you know it’s practically extinct in those regions?”

“I can’t help that, it gallops so nicely. I make it have all sorts of unexpected yearnings:

‘Mother, may I go and maffick,4
Tear around and hinder traffic?’

Of course you’ll say there would be no traffic worth bothering about on the bare and sun-scorched veldt, but there’s no other word that rhymes with maffick.”

“Seraphic?”

Reginald considered. “It might do, but I’ve got a lot about angels later on. You must have angels in a Peace poem; I know dreadfully little about their habits.”

“They can do unexpected things, like the hartebeest.”

“Of course. Then I turn on London, the City of Dreadful Nocturnes,5 resonant with hymns of joy and thanksgiving:

‘And the sleeper, eye unlidding,
Heard a voice for ever bidding
Much farewell to Dolly Gray;6
Turning weary on his truckle-
Bed he heard the honey-suckle
Lauded in apiarian lay.’

Longfellow7 at his best wrote nothing like that.”

“I agree with you.”

“I wish you wouldn’t. I’ve a sweet temper, but I can’t stand being agreed with. And I’m so worried about the aasvogel.”8

Reginald stared dismally at the biscuit-tin, which now presented an unattractive array of rejected cracknels.

“I believe,” he murmured, “if I could find a woman with an unsatisfied craving for cracknels, I should marry her.”

“What is the tragedy of the aasvogel?” asked the Other sympathetically.

“Oh, simply that there’s no rhyme for it. I thought about it all the time I was dressing—it’s dreadfully bad for one to think whilst one’s dressing—and all lunch-time, and I’m still hung up over it. I feel like those unfortunate automobilists who achieve an unenviable notoriety by coming to a hopeless stop with their cars in the most crowded thoroughfares. I’m afraid I shall have to drop the aasvogel, and it did give such lovely local colour to the thing.”

“Still you’ve got the heedless hartebeest.”

“And quite a decorative bit of moral admonition—when you’ve worried the meaning out:

‘Cease, War, thy bubbling madness that the wine shares,
And bid thy legions turn their swords to mine shares.’

Mine shares seems to fit the case better than ploughshares.9 There’s lots more about the blessings of Peace, shall I go on reading it?”

“If I must make a choice, I think I would rather they went on with the war.”


  1. The recently concluded Boer War (1899-1902).
  2. Vereeniging is a city in South Africa. At the time it was part of the Transvaal province. The city’s name derives from the Dutch for “union”. The Treaty of Vereeniging ended the Boer War.
  3. A type of large antelope.
  4. The town of Mefeking held out against a siege by the Boers for 215 days (1899—1900). News of its relief was greeted in Britain with such joy that it led to the coinage of a short-lived verbal noun ‘mafficking’, meaning ‘celebrating loudly and extravagantly’.
  5. Punning on the title of Scottish poet James Thomson’s long poem The City of Dreadful Night (1874). (Rudyard Kipling also wrote a ‘sketch’ with the same title, published 1888.) “Nocturnes” probably refers here not to musical pieces but to the paintings of night-time London by James Abbott McNeill Whistler (1834–1903), which attracted a great deal of criticism at the time.
  6. “Goodbye Dolly Gray” was a song written by Will D. Cobb (lyrics) and Paul Barnes (music), ventriloquising the feelings of a soldier going off to war. It was popular in the USA during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and (after a few changes to the lyrics) in the UK during the Boer War.
  7. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882), American poet.
  8. Vulture.
  9. A reference to “they shall beat their swords into plowshares” in Isaiah 2:3-4; control of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State brought with it the right to exploit their mineral riches, such as their gold and diamond mines.

‘Reginald’s Peace Poem’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from Reginald (public domain). Notes © 2019-20 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Which Version of FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát Did Munro Know?

The Quatrains of Uttar Al Ghibe Part I, from The Westminster Gazette, March 4, 1901. My thanks to Brian Gibson (author of Reading Saki) for sending me a copy.

Possibly I am the only person in the world to care about this question, but what the heck…

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Munro’s work can hardly miss its references to that nineteenth-century poetic sensation, Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.[1]

The most obvious link is Munro’s pen-name. The FitzGerald versions contain the word “Sákí” (meaning “cupbearer”). One of Munro’s earliest published pieces were some quatrains supposedly by a Middle Eastern poet named “Uttar Al Ghibe” in which he mocked the politicians of the time:

In marvel at each man’s allotted sphere
I mused “We know not wherefore we are here”;
Said One who ruled o’er markets and bazaars
“I had an Uncle once.” His case was clear.[2]

Munro’s biographer A. J. Langguth conjectures that it was this early work that led Munro to pick “Saki” as his nom de plume.[3]

There are other obvious references too, such as ‘Reginald’s Rubaiyat’,[4] or the reference in ‘A Young Turkish Catastrophe’ to “the heretic poet of Persia”. The Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton’s invented poet Ghurab in ‘For the Duration of the War’ is inspired by (and compared to) Omar Khayyám, as well as Persia’s other great poet Hafiz.[5]

Fitzgerald revised and expanded his translation throughout his life. There were five editions (the last being published posthumously based on his notes):

  1. 1st edition – 1859 (75 quatrains)
  2. 2nd edition – 1868 (110 quatrains)
  3. 3rd edition – 1872 (101 quatrains)
  4. 4th edition – 1879 (101 quatrains)
  5. 5th edition – 1889 (101 quatrains)[6]

When checking references to the work in Munro’s writings, I’ve often wondered which edition I should consult. From that question came the idea for this article.

As a young man, Munro copied some lines from FitzGerald into his commonplace book, including the quatrain that contains his future nom de plume:

Yet ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Yon rising Moon that looks for us again
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden—and for one in vain!

And when like her, oh Sákí, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in your blissful errand reach the spot
Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!

Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

So when that Angel of the Darker Drink,
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff—you shall not shrink.

Oddly, Munro has shuffled the order: he copied the quatrains in the order 96, 100, 101, 41, 43. More significantly for my inquiry, these versions were only found from the third edition onwards.

However, a few other allusions in other stories muddy the waters:

For example, in the early satire ‘The Angel and his Lost Michael’ (1903), the line “The Tabernacle is prepared within, why lags the lazy worshipper outside?” parodies a quatrain (number 2) that was added in the second edition and which runs “When all the Temple is prepared within,/Why lags the lazy worshipper outside?”. In the fifth edition, however, this has been changed to “When all the Temple is prepared within,/Why nods the lazy worshipper outside?”.

In addition, in ‘Reginald’s Rubaiyat’ Reginald pens the lines:

“The hen that laid thee moons ago, who knows
In what Dead Yesterday her shades repose;
To some election turn thy waning span
And rain thy rottenness on fiscal foes.”

The phrase “Dead Yesterday” is taken directly from FitzGerald, in lines which occur only in the first edition (ruba’i[7] no. 37, to be exact).

In the same story, Reginald (or Munro?) misunderstands or misremembers a reference in the Rubáiyát:

“Hast thou the pen that once the gardener had?
I have it not; and know, these pears are bad.
Oh, larger than the horses of the Prince
Are those the general drives in Kaikobad.”

There is no place called Kaikobad: it is the name of a king of ancient Persia. The references can be found in rubáiyát 8 and 9 of the first edition, 9 and 10 of second (with slight alterations) and 9 and 10 of the fifth (again with small changes).

I had hoped that perhaps one of the versions would be more ambiguous, allowing me to identify which version it was that misled Munro, but as far as I can see they are all more or less equal: if you read fairly attentively you can see that the various names mentioned are those of people rather than of places (especially if you note the reference to Rustum, which ought to be well known to readers of English poetry because of Matthew Arnold’s 1853 poem Sohrab and Rustum).

So, in the end, there is no clear answer to my questions. Maybe that’s not so surprising, as Fitzgerald’s work was so enormously well known and widely quoted that there are over 130 separate references to it in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, encompassing around half the work.[8]

Or perhaps Reginald’s terse comment “I am not collecting copies of the cheaper editions of Omar Khayyám”[9] was inspired by something Munro wanted to tell his acquaintances?

References:

I worked from a 1953 Collins edition of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and Other Writings by Edward FitzGerald, which contains the first, second and fifth editions in full. I also found the following website useful: http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/verse_by_verse_notes.htm


  1. FitzGerald (1809–1883), a gentleman poet and scholar, had discovered a set of Persian four-line poems (the technical name is ‘rubáiyát’) which had been written by an 11th century polymath named Omar Khayyám. FitzGerald translated and arranged a selection of these, publishing them in 1859. Taken up by Rossetti and Swinburne, among others, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám became—after a slow start—extremely popular. (Quoted from the introduction to The Complete Annotated Reginald Stories.)  ↩
  2. Short historical note: “Al Ghibe” means A.J.B. (which was how Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was sometimes referred to); Balfour’s predecessor in the job was his uncle, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury.  ↩
  3. Langguth also suggests that the difficulty of typesetting foreign accent marks was what led to “Sákí” becoming just “Saki” (pp. 60–64).  ↩
  4. Again, printed without accents.  ↩
  5. These stories can be found in the collections Reginald (obviously), Reginald in Russia and The Toys of Peace, respectively.  ↩
  6. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam#Editions  ↩
  7. The singular form of rubáiyát, apparently.  ↩
  8. Sources: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3668163/An-enthusiasts-reading-of-the-Rubaiyat.html and http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180111-the-rubaiyat-historys-most-luxurious-book-of-poetry  ↩
  9. ‘Reginald on Christmas Presents’.  ↩

‘The Easter Egg’

It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never he imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of lifebelts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son’s prevailing weakness; with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.

Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks, was a favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as often as possible. Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim,1 an upland township in one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.

A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her a personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the Burgomaster,2 and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of coming in person to open a sanatorium outside the town. All the usual items in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and commonplace, others quaint and charming, had been arranged for, but the Burgomaster hoped that the resourceful English lady might have something new and tasteful to suggest in the way of loyal greeting. The Prince was known to the outside world, if at all, as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating modern progress, as it were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he was known as a kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing stateliness which had nothing of standoffishness about it. Knobaltheim was anxious to do its best. Lady Barbara discussed the matter with Lester and one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were difficult to come by.

“Might I suggest something to the Gnädige Frau?”3 asked a sallow high-cheek-boned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a Southern Slav.4

“Might I suggest something for the Reception Fest?” she went on, with a certain shy eagerness. “Our little child here, our baby, we will dress him in little white coat, with small wings, as an Easter angel, and he will carry a large white Easter egg, and inside shall be a basket of plover eggs, of which the Prince is so fond, and he shall give it to his Highness as Easter offering. It is so pretty an idea; we have seen it done once in Styria.”

Lady Barbara looked dubiously at the proposed Easter angel, a fair, wooden-faced child of about four years old. She had noticed it the day before in the hotel, and wondered rather how such a towheaded child could belong to such a dark-visaged couple as the woman and her husband; probably, she thought, an adopted baby, especially as the couple were not young.

“Of course Gnädige Frau will escort the little child up to the Prince,” pursued the woman; but he will be quite good, and do as he is told.”

“We haf some pluffers’ eggs shall come fresh from Wien,”5 said the husband.

The small child and Lady Barbara seemed equally unenthusiastic about the pretty idea; Lester was openly discouraging, but when the Burgomaster heard of it he was enchanted. The combination of sentiment and plovers’ eggs appealed strongly to his Teutonic mind.

On the eventful day the Easter angel, really quite prettily and quaintly dressed, was a centre of kindly interest to the gala crowd marshalled to receive his Highness. The mother was unobtrusive and less fussy than most parents would have been under the circumstances, merely stipulating that she should place the Easter egg herself in the arms that had been carefully schooled how to hold the precious burden. Then Lady Barbara moved forward, the child marching stolidly and with grim determination at her side. It had been promised cakes and sweeties galore if it gave the egg well and truly to the kind old gentleman who was waiting to receive it. Lester had tried to convey to it privately that horrible smackings would attend any failure in its share of the proceedings, but it is doubtful if his German caused more than an immediate distress. Lady Barbara had thoughtfully provided herself with an emergency supply of chocolate sweetmeats; children may sometimes be time-servers, but they do not encourage long accounts. As they approached nearer to the princely daïs Lady Barbara stood discreetly aside, and the stolid-faced infant walked forward alone, with staggering but steadfast gait, encouraged by a murmur of elderly approval. Lester, standing in the front row of the onlookers, turned to scan the crowd for the beaming faces of the happy parents. In a side-road which led to the railway station he saw a cab; entering the cab with every appearance of furtive haste were the dark-visaged couple who had been so plausibly eager for the “pretty idea.” The sharpened instinct of cowardice lit up the situation to him in one swift flash. The blood roared and surged to his head as though thousands of floodgates had been opened in his veins and arteries, and his brain was the common sluice in which all the torrents met. He saw nothing but a blur around him. Then the blood ebbed away in quick waves, till his very heart seemed drained and empty, and he stood nervelessly, helplessly, dumbly watching the child, bearing its accursed burden with slow, relentless steps nearer and nearer to the group that waited sheep-like to receive him. A fascinated curiosity compelled Lester to turn his head towards the fugitives; the cab had started at hot pace in the direction of the station.

The next moment Lester was running, running faster than any of those present had ever seen a man run, and—he was not running away. For that stray fraction of his life some unwonted impulse beset him, some hint of the stock he came from, and he ran unflinchingly towards danger. He stooped and clutched at the Easter egg as one tries to scoop up the ball in Rugby football. What he meant to do with it he had not considered, the thing was to get it. But the child had been promised cakes and sweetmeats if it safely gave the egg into the hands of the kindly old gentleman; it uttered no scream, but it held to its charge with limpet grip. Lester sank to his knees, tugging savagely at the tightly clasped burden, and angry cries rose from the scandalized onlookers. A questioning, threatening ring formed round him, then shrank back in recoil as he shrieked out one hideous word. Lady Barbara heard the word and saw the crowd race away like scattered sheep, saw the Prince forcibly hustled away by his attendants; also she saw her son lying prone in an agony of overmastering terror, his spasm of daring shattered by the child’s unexpected resistance, still clutching frantically, as though for safety, at that white-satin gew-gaw, unable to crawl even from its deadly neighbourhood, able only to scream and scream and scream. In her brain she was dimly conscious of balancing, or striving to balance, the abject shame which had him now in thrall against the one compelling act of courage which had flung him grandly and madly on to the point of danger. It was only for the fraction of a minute that she stood watching the two entangled figures, the infant with its woodenly obstinate face and body tense with dogged resistance, and the boy limp and already nearly dead with a terror that almost stifled his screams; and over them the long gala streamers flapping gaily in the sunshine. She never forgot the scene; but then, it was the last she ever saw.

Lady Barbara carries her scarred face with its sightless eyes as bravely as ever in the world, but at Eastertide her friends are careful to keep from her ears any mention of the children’s Easter symbol.


  1. Invented.
  2. Mayor.
  3. Literally “Gracious Lady”: polite form of address (German).
  4. At the time, most of the countries that later made up Yugoslavia (the ‘Land of the Southern Slavs’) were incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
  5. Vienna (German).

‘The Easter Egg’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Chronicles of Clovis (public domain). Notes © 2019-20 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

‘The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat’

Jocantha Bessbury was in the mood to be serenely and graciously happy. Her world was a pleasant place, and it was wearing one of its pleasantest aspects. Gregory had managed to get home for a hurried lunch and a smoke afterwards in the little snuggery; the lunch had been a good one, and there was just time to do justice to the coffee and cigarettes. Both were excellent in their way, and Gregory was, in his way, an excellent husband. Jocantha rather suspected herself of making him a very charming wife, and more than suspected herself of having a first-rate dressmaker.

“I don’t suppose a more thoroughly contented personality is to be found in all Chelsea,”1 observed Jocantha in allusion to herself; “except perhaps Attab,”2 she continued, glancing towards the large tabby-marked cat that lay in considerable ease in a corner of the divan. “He lies there, purring and dreaming, shifting his limbs now and then in an ecstasy of cushioned comfort. He seems the incarnation of everything soft and silky and velvety, without a sharp edge in his composition, a dreamer whose philosophy is sleep and let sleep; and then, as evening draws on, he goes out into the garden with a red glint in his eyes and slays a drowsy sparrow.”

“As every pair of sparrows hatches out ten or more young ones in the year, while their food supply remains stationary, it is just as well that the Attabs of the community should have that idea of how to pass an amusing afternoon,” said Gregory. Having delivered himself of this sage comment he lit another cigarette, bade Jocantha a playfully affectionate good-bye, and departed into the outer world.

“Remember, dinner’s a wee bit earlier to-night, as we’re going to the Haymarket,”3 she called after him.

Left to herself, Jocantha continued the process of looking at her life with placid, introspective eyes. If she had not everything she wanted in this world, at least she was very well pleased with what she had got. She was very well pleased, for instance, with the snuggery, which contrived somehow to be cosy and dainty and expensive all at once. The porcelain was rare and beautiful, the Chinese enamels took on wonderful tints in the firelight, the rugs and hangings led the eye through sumptuous harmonies of colouring. It was a room in which one might have suitably entertained an ambassador or an archbishop, but it was also a room in which one could cut out pictures for a scrap-book without feeling that one was scandalising the deities of the place with one’s litter. And as with the snuggery, so with the rest of the house, and as with the house, so with the other departments of Jocantha’s life; she really had good reason for being one of the most contented women in Chelsea.

From being in a mood of simmering satisfaction with her lot she passed to the phase of being generously commiserating for those thousands around her whose lives and circumstances were dull, cheap, pleasureless, and empty. Work girls, shop assistants and so forth, the class that have neither the happy-go-lucky freedom of the poor nor the leisured freedom of the rich, came specially within the range of her sympathy. It was sad to think that there were young people who, after a long day’s work, had to sit alone in chill, dreary bedrooms because they could not afford the price of a cup of coffee and a sandwich in a restaurant, still less a shilling for a theatre gallery.

Jocantha’s mind was still dwelling on this theme when she started forth on an afternoon campaign of desultory shopping; it would be rather a comforting thing, she told herself, if she could do something, on the spur of the moment, to bring a gleam of pleasure and interest into the life of even one or two wistful-hearted, empty-pocketed workers; it would add a good deal to her sense of enjoyment at the theatre that night. She would get two upper circle tickets for a popular play, make her way into some cheap tea-shop, and present the tickets to the first couple of interesting work girls with whom she could casually drop into conversation. She could explain matters by saying that she was unable to use the tickets herself and did not want them to be wasted, and, on the other hand, did not want the trouble of sending them back. On further reflection she decided that it might be better to get only one ticket and give it to some lonely-looking girl sitting eating her frugal meal by herself; the girl might scrape acquaintance with her next-seat neighbour at the theatre and lay the foundations of a lasting friendship.

With the Fairy Godmother impulse strong upon her, Jocantha marched into a ticket agency and selected with immense care an upper circle seat for the “Yellow Peacock,” a play that was attracting a considerable amount of discussion and criticism.4 Then she went forth in search of a tea-shop and philanthropic adventure, at about the same time that Attab sauntered into the garden with a mind attuned to sparrow stalking. In a corner of an A.B.C. shop5 she found an unoccupied table, whereat she promptly installed herself, impelled by the fact that at the next table was sitting a young girl, rather plain of feature, with tired, listless eyes, and a general air of uncomplaining forlornness. Her dress was of poor material, but aimed at being in the fashion, her hair was pretty, and her complexion bad; she was finishing a modest meal of tea and scone, and she was not very different in her way from thousands of other girls who were finishing, or beginning, or continuing their teas in London tea-shops at that exact moment. The odds were enormously in favour of the supposition that she had never seen the “Yellow Peacock”; obviously she supplied excellent material for Jocantha’s first experiment in haphazard benefaction.

Jocantha ordered some tea and a muffin, and then turned a friendly scrutiny on her neighbour with a view to catching her eye. At that precise moment the girl’s face lit up with sudden pleasure, her eyes sparkled, a flush came into her cheeks, and she looked almost pretty. A young man, whom she greeted with an affectionate “Hullo, Bertie,” came up to her table and took his seat in a chair facing her. Jocantha looked hard at the new-comer; he was in appearance a few years younger than herself, very much better looking than Gregory, rather better looking, in fact, than any of the young men of her set. She guessed him to be a well-mannered young clerk in some wholesale warehouse, existing and amusing himself as best he might on a tiny salary, and commanding a holiday of about two weeks in the year. He was aware, of course, of his good looks, but with the shy self-consciousness of the Anglo-Saxon, not the blatant complacency of the Latin or Semite. He was obviously on terms of friendly intimacy with the girl he was talking to, probably they were drifting towards a formal engagement. Jocantha pictured the boy’s home, in a rather narrow circle, with a tiresome mother who always wanted to know how and where he spent his evenings. He would exchange that humdrum thraldom in due course for a home of his own, dominated by a chronic scarcity of pounds, shillings, and pence, and a dearth of most of the things that made life attractive or comfortable. Jocantha felt extremely sorry for him. She wondered if he had seen the “Yellow Peacock”; the odds were enormously in favour of the supposition that he had not. The girl had finished her tea and would shortly be going back to her work; when the boy was alone it would be quite easy for Jocantha to say: “My husband has made other arrangements for me this evening; would you care to make use of this ticket, which would otherwise be wasted?” Then she could come there again one afternoon for tea, and, if she saw him, ask him how he liked the play. If he was a nice boy and improved on acquaintance he could be given more theatre tickets, and perhaps asked to come one Sunday to tea at Chelsea. Jocantha made up her mind that he would improve on acquaintance, and that Gregory would like him, and that the Fairy Godmother business would prove far more entertaining than she had originally anticipated. The boy was distinctly presentable; he knew how to brush his hair, which was possibly an imitative faculty; he knew what colour of tie suited him, which might be intuition; he was exactly the type that Jocantha admired, which of course was accident. Altogether she was rather pleased when the girl looked at the clock and bade a friendly but hurried farewell to her companion. Bertie nodded “good-bye,” gulped down a mouthful of tea, and then produced from his overcoat pocket a paper-covered book, bearing the title “Sepoy and Sahib, a tale of the great Mutiny.”6

The laws of tea-shop etiquette forbid that you should offer theatre tickets to a stranger without having first caught the stranger’s eye. It is even better if you can ask to have a sugar basin passed to you, having previously concealed the fact that you have a large and well-filled sugar basin on your own table; this is not difficult to manage, as the printed menu is generally nearly as large as the table, and can be made to stand on end. Jocantha set to work hopefully; she had a long and rather high-pitched discussion with the waitress concerning alleged defects in an altogether blameless muffin, she made loud and plaintive inquiries about the tube service to some impossibly remote suburb, she talked with brilliant insincerity to the tea-shop kitten, and as a last resort she upset a milk-jug and swore at it daintily. Altogether she attracted a good deal of attention, but never for a moment did she attract the attention of the boy with the beautifully-brushed hair, who was some thousands of miles away in the baking plains of Hindostan, amid deserted bungalows, seething bazaars, and riotous barrack squares, listening to the throbbing of tom-toms and the distant rattle of musketry.

Jocantha went back to her house in Chelsea, which struck her for the first time as looking dull and over-furnished. She had a resentful conviction that Gregory would be uninteresting at dinner, and that the play would be stupid after dinner. On the whole her frame of mind showed a marked divergence from the purring complacency of Attab, who was again curled up in his corner of the divan with a great peace radiating from every curve of his body.

But then he had killed his sparrow.


  1. At the time, the London borough of Chelsea had the reputation of being a cultured area: many artists and writers lived there.
  2. The word “tabby” is believed to derive from this Arabic name.
  3. Theatre in London’s West End.
  4. The name is invented.
  5. The Aerated Bread Company ran a chain of teashops selling its product. They provided a place women could eat unaccompanied without fear of censure.
  6. The Indian Mutiny (against the British colonial rulers) of 1857-58.

‘The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from Beasts and Super-Beasts (public domain). Notes © 2019-20 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Saki and the Leinsters’ Magazine

The-Journal-of-the-Leinster-Regiment-vol.1-no.4-1910-frontispiece

The Journal of the Leinster Regiment vol.1, no.4 (1910) frontispiece

It’s fairly well known that Munro published most of his short stories in newspapers and periodicals first; only later were they collected and published in book form. Principal recipients were the Westminster Gazette and the Bystander. The acknowledgements to his third collection, The Chronicles of Clovis, also mention a journal I’d never heard of:

‘The Background’ originally appeared in the ‘Leinsters’ Magazine’.

So, of course, I decided to look it up.

Slightly surpisingly, the magazine was the ‘in-house’ newspaper of a regiment of the British Army. The Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians), to give it its full name, was an infantry regiment formed in 1881 by merging the 100th (Prince of Wales’s Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot and the 109th Regiment of Foot (Bombay Infantry). I managed to find a history of the regiment online  which has the following to say about its magazine:

It while the Battalion was at Devonport [i.e. from 1909] that its second regimental paper was born. The Journal of the Leinster Regiment, or as it was called later, the Leinsters’ Magazine owed its success to the ability and demoniac energy of its editor, Captain R. F. Legge, assisted by Captain R. M. Raynsford as its sub-editor. It struck a completely new note in regimental journalism by subordinating regimental intelligence to general articles grave and gay, and, speaking with that impartiality which only the lapse of years can ensure, the opinion may be hazarded that neither before nor since has the Leinsters’ Magazine had a serious rival. It enlisted some distinguished outside writers, including the present Lord Rawlinson, Hilaire Belloc, C. B. Fry, the late Frank Richardson, Stephen Gwynn, Major Drury, L. S. Amery, Aliph Cheem, Saki, and many others. It was splendidly illustrated, turned out in Messrs. Gale & Polden’s very best style, and the amount of advertisements was the despair of rival regimental journals. It made a feature in each issue of humorous verse and was the only regimental paper which ever published a comic opera on the subject of manoeuvres. Alas! when the Battalion  was ordered abroad the editor got a home job and the inevitable upheaval caused by the change to India killed the magazine which perished after just two years’ brilliant existence.

I wonder what exactly were the circumstances behind Munro’s involvement? Why not go with one of his more regular ‘customers’? There’s nothing military about ‘The Background’ that would have made the Leinsters’ Magazine a particularly suitable place for it. Langguth’s biography doesn’t mention it at all, nor is there anything in Byrne or Gibson’s books. With so many of Saki’s papers lost forever, perhaps we’ll never know.

[Edit]

I subsequently noticed that ‘The Baker’s Dozen’ in Reginald in Russia also originally appeared in the same magazine, though in this case it is credited with its full title The Journal of the Leinster Regiment.

[Second edit]

A student of mine kindly sent me scans from the copy in Trinity College Dublins libary so I added one as an illustration to this post.

Sources

The History of the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, Volume 1, by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ernest Whitton, p. 156.

The Leinster Regiment Association website at http://www.leinster-regiment-association.org.uk/regiment.html

‘The Wolves of Cernogratz’

“Are they any old legends attached to the castle?” asked Conrad of his sister. Conrad was a prosperous Hamburg merchant, but he was the one poetically-dispositioned member of an eminently practical family.

The Baroness Gruebel shrugged her plump shoulders.

“There are always legends hanging about these old places. They are not difficult to invent and they cost nothing. In this case there is a story that when any one dies in the castle all the dogs in the village and the wild beasts in forest howl the night long. It would not be pleasant to listen to, would it?”

“It would be weird and romantic,” said the Hamburg merchant.

“Anyhow, it isn’t true,” said the Baroness complacently; “since we bought the place we have had proof that nothing of the sort happens. When the old mother-in-law died last springtime we all listened, but there was no howling. It is just a story that lends dignity to the place without costing anything.”

“The story is not as you have told it,” said Amalie, the grey old governess. Every one turned and looked at her in astonishment. She was wont to sit silent and prim and faded in her place at table, never speaking unless some one spoke to her, and there were few who troubled themselves to make conversation with her. To-day a sudden volubility had descended on her; she continued to talk, rapidly and nervously, looking straight in front of her and seeming to address no one in particular.

“It is not when any one dies in the castle that the howling is heard. It was when one of the Cernogratz family died here that the wolves came from far and near and howled at the edge of the forest just before the death hour. There were only a few couple of wolves that had their lairs in this part of the forest, but at such a time the keepers say there would be scores of them, gliding about in the shadows and howling in chorus, and the dogs of the castle and the village and all the farms round would bay and howl in fear and anger at the wolf chorus, and as the soul of the dying one left its body a tree would crash down in the park. That is what happened when a Cernogratz died in his family castle. But for a stranger dying here, of course no wolf would howl and no tree would fall. Oh, no.” Continue reading

F.C. Gould and Joseph Chamberlain

I wanted to some cartoons for teaching about the European politics in the 1930s so I naturally searched first for anything by David Low, the pre-eminent cartoonist in Britain from the end of the First World War till the early 1960s.

David Low, self-portrait

David Low, self-portrait [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Low_self_portrait.jpg

I discovered only one David Low book in our library: British Cartoonists, Caricaturists and Comic Artists (Collins: London, 1942) but this turned out not to be a book of Low’s cartoons as I’d hoped but instead a short history of “pictorial satire”, starting off with William Hogarth and reviewing the most important artists and developments in the art of caricature up to Low’s day. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the topic, the book’s value is in revealing what a practitioner of the art has to say about others working in the same field.

Among these, there’s a page on Francis Carruthers Gould, mostly forgotten these days (if you compare him with Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank or George du Maurier) but hopefully familiar to readers of Saki as the illustrator of some of Munro’s earliest publications. Apparently Gould was the first cartoonist to commit to producing a daily cartoon for the newspaper he worked for. According to Low, Gould’s particular bent was for drawing Joseph Chamberlain, whom he depicted in over a hundred different guises. The illustration in the book (reproduced here) shows a few of these. Observant readers will spot the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter from The Westminster Alice (blogged about elsewhere on this website).

Caricatures of Joseph Chamberlain by F.C. Gould

Taken from British Cartoonists, Caricaturists and Comic Artists, by David Low (William Collins, 1942)

Here’s a drawing of Chamberlain, as “Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox”, from the first of Saki’s “The Political Jungle Book” stories (which I may post here some day).

Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox, as drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould

Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox, as drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould in the Westminster Gazette.