More on Saki, Selfridge’s and the ‘Romance of Business’

Following on from the publication here of the lost Saki story ‘The Romance of Business’, Saki scholar Brian Gibson managed to turn up the following article about the series of ads of which Saki’s tale was but a part. I publish it in full below. Readers may think that the writer is taking his brief a bit too seriously and the prose gets bit purple as a result, but it gives an idea of the context.

OCTOBER 3, 1914 SELFRIDGE & CO, LTD, London, England.–A series of ads exploiting the store’s fifth anniversary. There are some twenty odd ads in the complete series. Three of them are reproduced on this page.

It is possible that no more remarkable ads than these have been produced in the entire history of retail advertising. It is certain that there has never been a more interesting and more constructive presentation of the institutional phase of retailing–the side of retailing that is too often submerged when the actual function of a store is under consideration.

It is not in technique and design that the Selfridge ads are out of the ordinary–although they are in reality works of art, on the one hand, and literature, on the other. Their chief novelty and merit lie in the point of view they reflect, a point of view that puts retailing as an enterprise, and trade as a vocation, on the high level on which they properly should stand.

While each ad of the entire series carries the signature of Selfridge & Co., the theme in the text is “the Retail Store as an Institution,” and the subject matter is composed not of what Selfridge & Co. think of themselves, but of what other people think of them. And, after all, is it not public opinion that makes any institution what it is–any institution, at least, the basis of whose work is service?

It is not easy to discuss advertising of this kind without discussing the store whose merchandise and whose business policy and ideals it exploits; yet a discussion of the store in this instance would be a discussion of its publicity, so closely does the theme of the series coincide with the activities of which Selfridge & Co. are typical exponents.

The themes of the three ads reproduced here are respectively: “The Dignity of Work,” “Imagination” and “The Romance of Business.”

The first ad is composed of a letter of congratulations to Selfridge & Co. from Mme. Sarah Bernhardt. The theme of the letter is contained in the caption–the dignity of work. What better theme for an advertisement of a store that has won respect and prestige in the world’s metropolis? Who is better fitted, by honors, and experience, to speak of work and its dignity than “the divine Sarah Bernhardt”?

The second ad opens with a quotation from Keats:

Then let wingèd fancy wander

Through the thought still spread beyond her;

Open wide the mind’s cage door,

She’ll dart forth and cloudward soar.

The paragraph following reads:

Imagination bulks so largely in all that conduces to the sum of human happiness from childhood to old age, that it comes as a shock to be sometimes told that imagination is entirely out of place in the plain, prosaic affairs of business life.

A fitting tribute to that great building traits of the mind–imagination. And a fitting vehicle for its presentation–an advertisement of one of the greatest monuments to vision, the store of Selfridge & Co.

The “Romance of Business” ad is composed of a letter from H. H. Munro (“Saki”), dealing with the great principle that all work worth doing has a broader appeal to the mind than mere mental exercise–has its spiritual side.

The ads reproduced are not the most remarkable of the series. It would be difficult to specify how one is better than another. But these three and a fourth, entitled “The Optimist,” are especially characteristic of the treatment of the entire campaign.

They put the indisputable stamp of high dignity on the business of retailing, and they are prophetic of the future important place which advertising must hold in commercial activities.

Primarily, a store, be it great or small, has for its function the selling of merchandise, the assembling and the distributing of commodities to those who need them. And primarily, the purpose of advertising is the selling of goods, with the additional function of establishing trade and building prestige. Yet it is notable in this series of anniversary ads, that merchandise as merchandise is dealt with only casually.

It is the ideals and the purposes behind the great institution whose signature appears on each ad that form the real theme. Plainly, it is an institution of service, of dignified endeavor, of creative thought, of constructive activities, of purposeful progress. Here are the chief captions of a part of the series:

“Moral Responsibility,” “The Favours of Progress,” “What of the Future?” “Markets of the World,” “Merchandise of the World,” “Romance of Commerce,” “Crystal Gazing” and “Charity.”

The theme of the “Crystal Gazing” ad is the educational value of commercial intercourse among nations and the far-reaching influence of commerce in the world’s betterment. The text of this ad is from a personal interview granted to a director of Selfridge’s by Prince Guido Henckel von Donnersmark, one of the foremost and wealthiest members of the German nobility, and who is eighty-four years of age.

The “Charity” ad was the announcement of a day of the store’s Anniversary Week when a proportion of its profits was set apart to augment the fund for Schools for Mothers in Poplar, Stepney and Westminster.

These anniversary ads are notable in certain points in particular: First, they are the heralds of progress of an American store in the British metropolis. Serond, they are typical of the highest development in retail publicity–the kind that deals with the human and institutional sides of retailing. Third, they are, for the most part, expressions of favorable opinion from people of note and station in the world’s work.

And still they are ads, designed to put before a public the goods, the policies and the service of a retail house.

Source: Dry Goods Economist, v.68:3, October 3, 1914, p. 205. Online here and here.

‘The Romance of Business’: A newly rediscovered Clovis story

[This story, forgotten until now, formed part of an almost full-page advertisement by the London department store Selfridge’s that was printed in the Daily News and Leader. Two thirds of it were taken up by an elaborate illustration of laden men, trucks and even elephants passing through an ornate classical archway on their way to a dock with ships. Selfridge’s commissioned several such illustrations from noted artists, complemented by short texts on subjects such as “The Dignity of Work”, “Imagination” and “Markets of the World”, and had them printed in a number of prominent newspapers as part of its fifth birthday celebrations. Munro’s contribution was prefaced by a short explanatory comment in bold print.]

Mr. H. H. MUNRO (“Saki”) in response to our request for an article on The Romance of Business, has, in his inimitable way, defined that text in the following: —

“Ring for some more tea,” said Margaret Sangrail to her nephew; “Sophie Chabhouse has just been here, and I always give her inferior tea in my most valuable tea service. The fact that she can neither drink the tea nor carry away the tea-cup fills her with acute anguish, which I find much more amusing than filling her with Lapsang Souchong.”

“I’m afraid you’re not very fond of Cousin Sophie,” said Clovis.

“I make it a rule to like my relations,” said Margaret; “I remember only their good qualities and forget their birthdays. Still, when a woman is as indecently rich and as incredibly mean and as unpardonably boastful as Sophie is, a little malicious tail-twisting becomes not merely a pleasure but an absolute duty.”

“The boasting is certainly rather unendurable,” admitted Clovis; “I met her at lunch yesterday at the Cuverings, and she could talk of nothing else but a fur stole she’d just bought, Lake Baikal beaver, cost her seventy guineas after a fortnight’s haggling, probably worth a hundred, and so on, all through lunch time.” Continue reading

Merry Christmas! (And don’t buy this!)

An e-book cover with a pirated picture of the film version of The Lion, The WItch and The Wardrobe, labelled as The Chronicles of Clovis.Here’s a suitably wintery book cover (which also happens to be entirely unsuitable in every other way).

This absolutely bizarre concoction is an e-book cover that I found on while researching various editions of The Chronicles of Clovis (see also this post).

For those of you who can’t quite identify it, the photo is a (pirated, naturally) picture from the poster for the 2005 film version of The Lion, The WItch and The Wardrobe.

I think if you set yourself the task of deliberately making a cover that in no way matches the contents of the book you’d still never come up with something so utterly inapt and inept.

The e-book itself has now disappeared from the website, but you can guess it was produced by one of those fly-by-night outfits that grab an out-of-copyright text from the Gutenberg Project (or a similar website), add the title to a similarly sourced picture, and copy-and-paste in enough extra text (often the Wikipedia article on that particular book) to fool the Kindle Direct Publishing algorithm into accepting it as a new edition. Production costs are minimal and as long as you process enough books and sell at least a few of each, you’re pretty much guaranteed to make a profit. (This is a topic I ought to blog about at more length, as this is the kind of garbage my edition of Reginald & Reginald in Russia has to compete against.)

Anyway, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers.

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Patriotism in the City Revisited

I’ve blogged before about the background to Reginald’s quip about “the City, where the patriotism comes from”. Reader Roger Allen sent me this poem by Herbert Asquith (son of the P.M.), which – as he writes – “shows something of the contemporary attitude”.

Herbert served with the Royal Artillery in the war; he survived, unlike his elder brother Raymond, killed at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette on 15 September 1916 (two months before Munro’s death).

The Volunteer

Here lies a clerk who half his life had spent
Toiling at ledgers in a city grey,
Thinking that so his days would drift away
With no lance broken in life’s tournament:
Yet ever ’twixt the books and his bright eyes
The gleaming eagles of the legions came,
And horsemen, charging under phantom skies,
Went thundering past beneath the oriflamme.

And now those waiting dreams are satisfied;
From twilight to the halls of dawn he went;
His lance is broken; but he lies content
With that high hour, in which he lived and died.
And falling thus he wants no recompense,
Who found his battle in the last resort;
Nor needs he any hearse to bear him hence,
Who goes to join the men of Agincourt.


Tehran Times announces translation of Saki into Persian

Now there’s a sentence I would never have imagined myself typing. A reader kindly sent me the following link:

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.


(With thanks to Roger Allen)


The Chronicles of Clovis – original cover

The Chronicles of Clovis original cover

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.

(letter of 13 August 1911)

Now if only I had a spare $400…

Original link at