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.↩
‘How the Pelletan of the Mediterranean Lost His Voice’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 9 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-21 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.