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

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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 Abebooks.com: https://www.abebooks.com/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=22900573745

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Article link: Reconstructing the Original Beasts and Super-Beasts by “Saki,” or How a Short Story Collection Took Shape

I completely forgot to mention that my article on the genesis of The Chronicles of Clovis (which was originally to be called 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.

The article can be found here, though access is unfortunately not free: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0895769X.2021.1979929

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)

Saki’s eastern Europe

Even many years ago, before I started seriously studying Saki, I was struck by the presence of central and eastern Europe, the Balkans and Russia in his stories. ‘Reginald in Russia’ is a very obvious example, but there are so many other stories set in that part of the world: ‘The Wolves of Cernogratz’, ‘The Easter Egg’, ‘The Name-Day’, ‘The Interlopers’ (just to name a few that spring to mind straightaway).

‘Wratislav’ is a particularly interesting example. Although it is clearly set in Vienna, as the reference to the Graben (one of the main shopping streets) makes clear, this setting has no real bearing on or importance in the story. Indeed, it is quite incongruous, given that it begins with a comment by Clovis (how he came to know two aristocratic Austrian families is left unexplained)[1] and ends with a play on the English saying ‘Conscience makes cowboys of us all’.

Cover picture of Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination

Image taken from amazon.com

I had therefore contemplated writing up something about the topic. As it turns out, someone has already gone some way down that path. Vesna Goldsworthy’s Inventing Ruritania: The Imperialism of the Imagination, however, is not specifically about Saki but looks at the works of a number of writers. According to the blurb:

Through much of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, writers and filmmakers in Western Europe and America have found in the Balkans a rich mine of images for literature and the movies. Bram Stoker’s Transylvania and Anthony Hope’s Ruritania are among the best known of these images. In this pioneering book, Vesna Goldsworthy explores the origins of the ideas that underpin Western perceptions of the “Wild East” region of Europe. She examines Western and East European letters, diaries, personal interviews, and a wide range of Balkan-inspired literature. She shows how the lucrative exploitation of Balkan history and geography for Western literature and for the entertainment industry has affected attitudes toward the countries of the region and the West’s political involvement.
I haven’t read it (yet) so I can’t comment on exactly what she has to say about Saki, but after examining the table of contents on amazon.com, I can tell you that there is a section called “Saki’s Lost Sanjak” (referring to the story ‘The Lost Sanjak’ in Reginald in Russia) in a chapter entitled “War and Diplomacy in the New Ruritania: Comic Visions of the Balkans”. Other writers dealt with include E.M. Forster, George Bernard Shaw, Evelyn Waugh as well as – of course – Anthony Hope, whose The Prisoner of Zenda is the key text in this genre (and a pretty good read if I remember correctly).

  1. I don’t have the facilities to check at the minute, but I wonder if Clovis was just inserted when the story came to be collected in book form? It’s possible: the same happened with ‘Tobermory’. (In the original, Bertie von Tahn gets most of Clovis’s dialogue.

A Pair of Politicians

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).

Joseph Chamberlain by Travis L Crosby - book cover

Curzon by David Gilmour - book cover

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.

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The Fashion for Turkish baths

Yahoo republishes an article in the Daily Telegraph about the Victorian bathhouse. While most of the article is about the fashion for orientalism in architecture and design in the nineteenth century, it does begin with a picture of the Jermyn Street Turkish bath where Saki set The Recessional.

Turkish baths occur occasionally in Sakis stories. (I speculated a bit about the reasons here.) The habit of going to such places also provoked the following bit of wisdom about human nature:

Spayley had grasped the fact that people will do things from a sense of duty which they would never attempt as a pleasure. There are thousands of respectable middle-class men who, if you found them unexpectedly in a Turkish bath, would explain in all sincerity that a doctor had ordered them to take Turkish baths; if you told them in return that you went there because you liked it, they would stare in pained wonder at the frivolity of your motive. (Filboid Studge)

Article link: https://uk.style.yahoo.com/curious-victorian-obsession-cleanliness-exotic-093234249.html

‘Mrs. Packletide’s Tiger’

It was Mrs. Packletide’s pleasure and intention that she should shoot a tiger. Not that the lust to kill had suddenly descended on her, or that she felt that she would leave India safer and more wholesome than she had found it, with one fraction less of wild beast per million of inhabitants. The compelling motive for her sudden deviation towards the footsteps of Nimrod[1] was the fact that Loona Bimberton had recently been carried eleven miles in an aeroplane by an Algerian aviator, and talked of nothing else; only a personally procured tiger-skin and a heavy harvest of Press photographs could successfully counter that sort of thing. Mrs. Packletide had already arranged in her mind the lunch she would give at her house in Curzon Street, ostensibly in Loona Bimberton’s honour, with a tiger-skin rug occupying most of the foreground and all of the conversation. She had also already designed in her mind the tiger-claw broach that she was going to give Loona Bimberton on her next birthday. In a world that is supposed to be chiefly swayed by hunger and by love Mrs. Packletide was an exception; her movements and motives were largely governed by dislike of Loona Bimberton.

Circumstances proved propitious. Mrs. Packletide had offered a thousand rupees for the opportunity of shooting a tiger without over-much risk or exertion, and it so happened that a neighbouring village could boast of being the favoured rendezvous of an animal of respectable antecedents, which had been driven by the increasing infirmities of age to abandon game-killing and confine its appetite to the smaller domestic animals. The prospect of earning the thousand rupees had stimulated the sporting and commercial instinct of the villagers; children were posted night and day on the outskirts of the local jungle to head the tiger back in the unlikely event of his attempting to roam away to fresh hunting-grounds, and the cheaper kinds of goats were left about with elaborate carelessness to keep him satisfied with his present quarters. The one great anxiety was lest he should die of old age before the date appointed for the memsahib’s[2] shoot. Mothers carrying their babies home through the jungle after the day’s work in the fields hushed their singing lest they might curtail the restful sleep of the venerable herd-robber.

Continue reading

‘The Stampeding Of Lady Bastable’

“It would be rather nice if you would put Clovis up for another six days while I go up north to the MacGregors’,” said Mrs. Sangrail sleepily across the breakfast-table. It was her invariable plan to speak in a sleepy, comfortable voice whenever she was unusually keen about anything; it put people off their guard, and they frequently fell in with her wishes before they had realized that she was really asking for anything. Lady Bastable, however, was not so easily taken unawares; possibly she knew that voice and what it betokened—at any rate, she knew Clovis.

She frowned at a piece of toast and ate it very slowly, as though she wished to convey the impression that the process hurt her more than it hurt the toast; but no extension of hospitality on Clovis’s behalf rose to her lips.

“It would be a great convenience to me,” pursued Mrs. Sangrail, abandoning the careless tone. “I particularly don’t want to take him to the MacGregors’, and it will only be for six days.”

“It will seem longer,” said Lady Bastable dismally.

“The last time he stayed here for a week—”

“I know,” interrupted the other hastily, “but that was nearly two years ago. He was younger then.”

“But he hasn’t improved,” said her hostess; “it’s no use growing older if you only learn new ways of misbehaving yourself.” Continue reading

‘Clovis On Parental Responsibilities’

Marion Eggelby sat talking to Clovis on the only subject that she ever willingly talked about — her offspring and their varied perfections and accomplishments. Clovis was not in what could be called a receptive mood; the younger generation of Eggelby, depicted in the glowing improbable colours of parent impressionism, aroused in him no enthusiasm. Mrs. Eggelby, on the other hand, was furnished with enthusiasm enough for two.

“You would like Eric,” she said, argumentatively rather than hopefully. Clovis had intimated very unmistakably that he was unlikely to care extravagantly for either Amy or Willie. “Yes, I feel sure you would like Eric. Every one takes to him at once. You know, he always reminds me of that famous picture of the youthful David — I forget who it’s by, but it’s very well known.”[1]

“That would be sufficient to set me against him, if I saw much of him,” said Clovis. “Just imagine at auction bridge, for instance, when one was trying to concentrate one’s mind on what one’s partner’s original declaration had been, and to remember what suits one’s opponents had originally discarded, what it would be like to have some one persistently reminding one of a picture of the youthful David. It would be simply maddening. If Eric did that I should detest him.”

“Eric doesn’t play bridge,” said Mrs. Eggelby with dignity.

“Doesn’t he?” asked Clovis; “why not?” Continue reading