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).↩
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:
[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.
“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’
Presented below for the first time since they originally appeared on 12 March 1913 in The Bystander are Saki’s satirical verses on a suffragette, with illustrations by ‘Pat’. The views expressed are in line with the tenor of stories such as ‘The Gala Programme’ (The Square Egg) and ‘Hermann the Irascible–A Story of the Great Weep’ (The Chronicles of Clovis).
Saki fans will no doubt also note parallels with ‘Laura’ (Beasts and Super-beasts), which also takes for its plot the repeated reincarnation of an annoying woman.
For the sake of the search engines, here is the text by itself. You can see the actual illustrated version if you scroll down.
A Suffragette Lobelia was,
She early left this life because
(She had the rottenest of luck)
She too sincerely hunger-struck.
Mere death her spirit could not tame,
A super-nuisance she became:
On every club she made her raids
–They slew her with the ace of spades.
She wrecked, with penetrating scorn,
the après-midi of the Faun;
And now another shape she wore,
She propaganda’d more and more.
Fierce androphobia winged her feet,
she bit three men in Downing Street.
The men were pasteurised – her bark,
was silenced in St. James’s Park.
Then took she yet another shape,
The larger, fiercer breed of ape.
She met a military man,
Who in the wrong direction ran.
It scarcely served her wrath to cool,
To find herself a boy at school;
She sought the other boys to vex
–And now she really loathes the sex.
The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette, p. 1
The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette, p. 2
My thanks are due to Brian Gibson for sending me a photocopy of the original. Interested readers are advised to consult pages 143–146 of his book Reading Saki: The Fiction of H.H. Munro for a discussion of this piece.
“Some confusion having arisen owing to the similarity of names, Mr. Hector H. Munro (who usually writes under the pen-name of ‘Saki’) asks us to state that he is not the author of the novel ‘Mrs. Elmsley,’ by Mr. Hector Munro, published by Messrs. Constable and Co.”
― ‘Notice in the Westminster Gazette, Monday 3 April 1911, p. 4.’