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:
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.↩
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).↩
[This is the first of Munro’s five parodies of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Just So Stories’ (1902). Once again, the stories were complemented by illustrations by Francis Carruthers Gould. I plan on publishing them all here.]
How the Pelletan of the Mediterranean Lost His Voice
Once, Best Beloved, there was a Pelletan of the Mediterranean, who in his spare moments was also a responsible Minister.1 He was incorrigibly and uncontrovertibly innocuous, but he had one great fault which tormented his otherwise epidermical subconsciousness day and night, but especially after meals. He was too quiet.
“The pity of it,” he said to himself; “I might be so different.”
So the incorrigibly innocuous Pelletan fell into the Mediterranean with a loud splash and said, to all whom it might concern:
“In spite of unpreventable circumstances over which I have no control, this is not a lake.”2
But it didn’t seem to concern anybody, so he flew off to a conveniently adjacent island and remarked, “From here I could peck straight at my neighbour’s heart.”3
All responsible Ministers do not talk in this fashion, but this one did.4
There are others.
But only a few eyebrows went up, and Foreign Stocks remained normal. So the burlesquely belligerent but quite innocuous Pelletan flew off in another direction and peeped across the frontier and said, “Just you wait!” and “So there!” and other remarks that people make when they are in the right and don’t care who knows it.5
Then his friends got round him and asked him, “What are you after?”
“I’m after luncheon,” he explained, “and I simply must.”
So they collected perfectly unambiguous [p]ress notices in several languages, and thrust them into his beak, and into his mouth, and half-way down his throat, so that he became too full for articulate utterance, and could only say “Squawk!”
“Go and digest those,” they said.
And that, Best Beloved, is how the Pelletan of the Mediterranean lost his voice.
Charles Camille Pelletan (1846–1915), French left-wing politician and journalist, Minister of Marine 1902–1905.↩
The French colonies in north Africa led to the Mediterranean being described by nationalistic Frenchmen in the nineteenth century as a “French lake”. The description was reportedly coined by Napoleon. Pelletan alluded to it in a speeches he made in 1902 at Bizerta (Tunisia) and Ajaccio (Corsica).↩
Pelletan also recommended fortifying Corsica, whose eastern coast, he said, “aims straight at the heart of Italy”.↩
Pelletan was much criticised for making radical and undiplomatic speeches that were considered incompatible with his position as a cabinet member.↩
Germany: the target of much French rancour after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 led to the loss of the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine to the newly formed German Empire.↩
Brian Gibson, well known to readers of this website as the author of Reading Saki, has published an article on Munro’s writings during the First World War. It can be found in the journal First World War Studies and is entitled “‘For the duration of the war’: The radical self-abnegation and anti-anthropocentrism of Munro/Saki’s front-line writings”.
With the advent of the First World War, H. H. Munro (1870–1916), eagerly enlisting at 43, attempted to patriotically simplify his selves, conscripting his authorial persona, Saki – whose fiction usually shimmers with metamorphosis and surprise – for jingoistic exhortations and denunciations of unmanly non-soldiers in ‘An Old Love’ (in the Morning Post) and four pieces for the 22nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers’ Fortnightly Gazette, April to June 1915. Yet this reductively pro-Empire, pro-military stance turned into a self-distancing retreat from the front lines after Lance-Sergeant Munro arrived in Northern France in late 1915. In the radically self-reflexive and self-reflective story ‘For the Duration of the War’, Saki parodies the poem from which his pseudonym-persona had sprung, pokes fun at his fiction’s dominant themes – especially Fate and savage nature – and even questions the point of literature at a time of war. And in his final two works, set near the front, Munro and/or Saki muddies the genre, removes himself far more from events (as if anticipating his death), and questions the artifice of writing itself amid his species’ ravaging of the natural landscape. In ‘The Square Egg’, Munro/Saki offers one-part essay and one-part story, with the former written at a marked remove and the latter told by an unidentified ‘Acquaintance’. In ‘Birds of the Western Front’, Munro/Saki relates a detached study of bird-life in and around the trenches, the ‘one’ of the narrative-voice no unitary, pro-England spokesman but a barely human observer of winged wild creatures. These final writings by Munro and/or Saki are both radical and transcendent, looking beyond the soldier-self and the author-self at the non-human world to offer a pointed, poignant selflessness at a time of mass European self-annihilation. There is a profound generosity through self-effacement that is not seen in any of the works by the major English writers of the war.
Munro was fortunate as a freelance writer because he did not have to hawk around his stories. As you can see from the “first publication” table, the vast majority of them were printed in one of three outlets. In order of Munro’s connection with them, they were:
1. The Westminster Gazette
The front page of the Westminster Gazette, 25 September 1901, with Saki’s first Reginald story.
Founded in 1893, it quickly became one of the pre-eminent Liberal daily newspapers. In Munro’s day it supported the Asquith/Grey wing of party. It was an evening paper, printed on green paper to make it easier on the eyes when read under artificial light.1 A prestigious newspaper with a wide influence despite its small circulation (20,000 copies sold but read by an estimated 100,000),2 it never made a profit, relying instead on subsidies from wealthy Liberal supporters. It was required reading in “clubland” and political circles. It also published sketches and short stories and could make a writer’s reputation. Munro was introduced to the paper’s editor J.A. Spender by its renowned cartoonist Francis Carruthers Gould; the result was the collaboration The Westminster Alice. It was owned by George Newnes till 1908, then sold to a consortium headed by Alfred Mond/Sir John Brunner/Weetman Pearson (different sources name different men as the key mover behind the purchase).
2. The Morning Post
Founded in 1772, it first supported the Whigs but reoriented to the Tories from 1795 when bought by Daniel Stuart. From 1876 it belonged to the Borthwick family. It is said to have been the first daily newspaper in London to regularly feature notices of plays and concerts (from the early 20th century.) It was highly respected and had a tradition of publishing good writing: Dr. Johnson, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Charles Lamb, George Meredith, Thomas Hardy and Rudyard Kipling were all contributors. It employed Munro as a foreign correspondent in the Balkans, eastern Europe, Russia, and Paris from 1902 to 1909.
3. The Bystander
Advertisment in the Daily Mail for The Bystander.
This was a magazine of about eighty pages established in 1903 by the proprietors of the Graphic. Published weekly on Wednesdays in ‘tabloid’ form, it was targeted at “persons of refinement and taste” (according to its advertisements). It was attractively produced, being printed on high-quality, glossy paper, and included a colour supplement. Illustrations, photos and cartoons complemented its coverage of social, literary and theatrical news, as well as of sport (“for both sexes”, the Daily Mail noted), travel and fiction. It also printed short stories; Daphne du Maurier was another prominent author featured early in its pages. At the time of Munro’s connection with it its editor was William Comyns Beaumont.
Boyce, George, et al., editors. Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day. Constable; Sage Publications, 1978.
“El ala este” incluye tres relatos inéditos en español del genial autor inglés, con un estudio preliminar de Facundo Araujo y una elegante selección anotada de cuentos, ilustrados por los artistas Néstor Martín y Pablo Castillo.
This was published a good number of years ago but I’ve only got around to reading it now.
Although there is no mention of Munro at all, the book provides useful and entertaining background information about the period when he was writing and publishing. Hattersley begins with the death of Queen Victoria and continues with a panoramic sweep across politics, society, culture and science, ending (inevitably) with the outbreak of the First World War.
The author (who I should perhaps explain for non-UK readers was for many years a Labour MP and served as a member of the government in the 1970s) is particularly good on the politics and personalities of the time. Such knowledge is really indispensable if you want to properly appreciate early satires such as The Westminster Alice. His treatment of the trade union movement and the founding of his own party is similarly well-informed (though less relevant to readers of Munro).
The whole story is told in an engaging and lively way. He has some nice turns of phrase and a good eye for an interesting detail. A highlight was the section on the pioneers of motoring, from which I can’t resist quoting the following, describing one episode in the Automobile Club of Britain’s first attempt at “what, today, would be called a rally”:
Halfway to the summit of the Cumbrian Hills, the Ariel tricycle’s clutch failed and it began to roll backwards – accelerating as it descended towards the valley floor. It was then that the driver discovered, to his surprise, that the brakes only worked when the vehicle was going forwards. He managed to steer successfully to safety with his left hand while turned in his seat to watch the road over his right shoulder. Unfortunately that required him to push his passenger out on to the road. (p. 431)
I even found the section on cricket (a sport I have no understanding of or interest in) readable.
Years ago I read his sort-of-sequel Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars and I remember the chapters on literature in that being a real weakness, so it was a relief to find a more detailed and considered discussion of writers and their works in The Edwardians – one that actually gives the impression Hattersley had read the books and formed his own opinions on them rather than copying sections out of some undergraduate guide to Twentieth Century Eng. Lit.
Possibly he read a little too much Virginia Woolf, though. How else to explain his calling the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic “Harland and Woolf”? Coming from Northern Ireland, I feel I must put on record that it is Harland and Wolff. (One of the founders was a German, which is a little ironic when you consider that one of the big issues of the period was Anglo-German rivalry, particularly when it came to building ships.)
Despite that error (and the bizarre typo that has the Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Empire starting two years late in September 1914), this book is definitely to be recommended.
Recently acquired as part of my research into the context of Saki’s writings: biographies of two prominent politicians of the time: Joseph “Joe” Chamberlain and George Curzon (Lord Curzon).
Both were flamboyant politicians who never reached the absolute peak of the premiership. Chamberlain was a successful businessman and pioneering local politician in Birmingham before he went into national politics. He was first a liberal, then a Conservative, and had an independent personality strong enough to cause splits in both parties when he disagreed with their policies. Curzon showed extreme promise from early in life and as an undergraduate at Oxford inspired a poem which you still find sometimes in anthologies of light verse:
My name is George Nathaniel Curzon,
I am a most superior person.
My cheeks are pink, my hair is sleek,
I dine at Blenheim once a week.
Understandably, both were (along with the languid, golf-playing Arthur Balfour) favourite targets of satirists and caricaturists. Chamberlain appears in The Westminster Alice as the Red Queen and later as the Mad Hatter; in “John Bull’s Christmas Tree” he is drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould as a monocle-wearing machine gun. Curzon comes up less frequently in Munro’s works. He is “Kedzon” in “Ministers Of Grace” (The Chronicles of Clovis), a nom à clef made from his title “Lord Curzon of Kedleston”. I suspect he is also the butt of Clovis’s quip “My aunt has been known to learn humility from an ex-Viceroy”, Curzon having served as Viceroy of India from 1899–1905 (“The Jesting Of Arlington Stringham”, also in The Chronicles of Clovis).
Hopefully, reading these two books will deliver some more insights into Munro’s political satire.