Pskoff

Sad to see the name Pskov come up in the news on the war in Ukraine (“Ukrainian drones attack six Russian regions and hit military planes”).

It will probably be familiar to Saki fans for his piece of reportage ‘The Old Town of Pskoff’ (published in the Morning Post on 27 July 1905 and republished in The Square Egg).

Pskov old photo.jpg
By CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Ethel Munro recalled that “Pskoff more than fulfilled [her brother’s] idea of what a mediæval town should be”. I wonder what Munro would have made of the Russian invasion. He knew the area, spoke Russian, and had reported for the Morning Post on conflicts in nearby regions.

The Old Town of Pskoff

Russia at the present crisis of its history not unnaturally suggests to the foreign mind a land pervaded with discontent and disorder and weighed down with depression, and it is certainly difficult to point to any quarter of the Imperial dominions from which troubles of one sort or another are not reported. In the Novoe Vremya1 and other papers a column is now devoted to the chronicling of disorders as regularly as a British news-sheet reports sporting events. It is the more agreeable therefore occasionally to make the acquaintance of another phase of Russian life where the sombreness of political mischance can be momentarily lost sight of or disbelieved in. Perhaps there are few spots in European Russia where one so thoroughly feels that one has passed into a new and unfamiliar atmosphere as the old town of Pskoff, once in its day a very important centre of Russian life. To the average modern Russian a desire to visit Pskoff is an inexplicable mental freak on the part of a foreigner who wishes to see something of the country he is living in; Petersburg, Moscow, Kieff, perhaps, and Nijni-Novgorod, or the Finnish watering-places if you want a country holiday, but why Pskoff? And thus happily an aversion to beaten tracks and localities where inspection is invited and industriously catered for turns one towards the old Great Russian border town, which probably gives as accurate a picture as can be obtained of a mediæval Russian burgh, untouched by Mongol influence, and only slightly affected by Byzantine-imported culture.

The little town has ample charm of situation and structure, standing astride of a bold scarp of land wedged into the fork of two rivers, and retaining yet much of the long lines of ramparts and towers that served for many a hundred years to keep out Pagan Lithuanians and marauding Teuton knights.2 The powers of Darkness were as carefully guarded against in those old days as more tangible human enemies, and from out of thick clusters of tree-tops there still arise the white walls and green roofs of many churches, monasteries, and bell-towers, quaint and fantastic in architecture, and delightfully harmonious in colouring. Steep winding streets lead down from the rampart-girt heart of the town to those parts which lie along the shores of the twin rivers, and two bridges, one a low, wide, wooden structure primitively planted on piles, give access to the further banks, where more towers and monasteries, with other humbler buildings, continue the outstraggling span of the township. On the rivers lie barges with high masts painted in wonderful bands of scarlet, green, white, and blue, topped with gilded wooden pennons figured somewhat like a child’s rattle, and fluttering strips of bunting at their ends. Up in the town one sees on all sides quaint old doorways, deep archways, wooden gable-ends, railed staircases, and a crowning touch of pleasing colour in the sage green or dull red of the roofs. But it is strangest of all to find a human population in complete picturesque harmony with its rich old-world setting. The scarlet or blue blouses that are worn by the working men in most Russian towns give way here to a variety of gorgeous-tinted garments, and the women-folk are similarly gay in their apparel, so that streets and wharves and market-place glow with wonderfully effective groupings of colour. Mulberry, orange, dull carmine, faded rose, hyacinth purple, greens, and lilacs and rich blues mingle their hues on shirts and shawls, skirts and breeches and waistbands. Nature competing with Percy Anderson3 was the frivolous comment that came to one’s mind, and certainly a mediæval crowd could scarcely have been more effectively staged. And the business of a town in which it seemed always market day went forward with an air of contented absorption on the part of the inhabitants. Strings of primitively fashioned carts went to and from the riverside, the horses wearing their bits for the most part hung negligently under the chin, a fashion that prevails in many parts of Russia and Poland.

Quaint little booths line the sides of some of the steeper streets, and here wooden toys and earthenware pottery of strange local patterns are set out for sale. On the broad market-place women sit gossiping by the side of large baskets of strawberries, one or two long-legged foals sprawl at full stretch under the shade of their parental market carts, and an extremely contented pig pursues his leisurely way under the guardianship of an elderly dame robed in a scheme of orange, mulberry, and white that would delight the soul of a colourist. A stalwart peasant strides across the uneven cobbles, leading his plough-horse, and carrying on his shoulder a small wooden plough, with iron-tipped shares, that must date back to some stage of agriculture that the West has long left behind. Down in the buoyant waters of the Velikaya, the larger of the two rivers, youths and men are disporting themselves and staider washerwomen are rinsing and smacking piles of many-hued garments. It is pleasant to swim well out into the stream of the river, and, with one’s chin on a level with the wide stretch of water, take in a “trout’s-eye view” of the little town, ascending in tiers of wharfage, trees, grey ramparts, more trees, and clustered roofs, with the old cathedral of the Trinity poised guardian-like above the crumbling walls of the Kremlin.4 The cathedral, on closer inspection, is a charming specimen of genuine old Russian architecture, full of rich carvings and aglow with scarlet pigment and gilded scrollwork, and stored with yet older relics or pseudo-relics of local hero-saints and hero-princes who helped in their day to make the history of the Pskoff Commonwealth. After an hour or two spent among these tombs and ikons and memorials of dead Russia, one feels that some time must elapse before one cares to enter again the drearily magnificent holy places of St. Petersburg, with their depressing nouveau riche atmosphere, their price-list tongued attendants, and general lack of historic interest.

The heart knoweth its own bitterness,5 and maybe the Pskoffskie,6 amid their seeming contentment and self-absorption, have their own hungerings for a new and happier era of national life. But the stranger does not ask to see so far; he is thankful to have found a picturesque and apparently well-contented corner of a weary land, a land where distress seems like a bird of passage that has hurt its wing and cannot fly away.


  1. Leading Russian newspaper published in St. Petersburg from 1868.
  2. German military crusading order, who in the Middle Ages conquered Prussia and parts of northern Poland and the Baltic countries.
  3. English stage designer, known for his costume designs.
  4. The Kremlin is the ancient fortress in the centre of the town.
  5. Proverbs 14:10; also used as a poem title by Christina Rossetti (1830–1894).
  6. Inhabitants of Pskoff.

‘The Old Town of Pskoff’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Square Egg (public domain). Notes © 2020-23 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

More on Saki and F. C. Gould’s Kipling parodies

I posted Munro’s Kipling parodies (‘The Political Jungle Book’ and ‘Not-So Stories’) here last year including the cartoons done by Francis Carruthers Gould. I hadn’t realised (until I came upon the following picture by chance) that the illustrations are also parodies of Kipling. (Kipling did the illustrations for the Just So Stories himself.)

Below is a picture from the British Library flickr account (Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11240828966/in/album-72157672074712488/). According to the webpage, the digitised image is from page 223 of “The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. (‘Outward Bound’ edition.) [With plates, including portraits.]”. Oddly, when you follow the link to the digitised book you get a collection of Kipling’s verse which definitely doesn’t contain this particular picture.

British Library digitised image from page 223 of "The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. ('Outward Bound' edition.) [With plates, including portraits.]"

British Library digitised image from page 223 of “The Writings in Prose and Verse of Rudyard Kipling. (‘Outward Bound’ edition.) [With plates, including portraits.]” Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/britishlibrary/11240828966/in/album-72157672074712488/

Nevertheless, it is from the Just So Stories (see page 213 of the book here), and the similarity between it and the FCG version (with Lord Rosebery’s face on the cat) should be obvious to all:

The Dalmeny Cat

FCG’s illustration to ‘The Dalmeny Cat’ (Westminster Gazette, 31 October 1902)

You can find Munro’s story to go with the picture here.

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

Link

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)

Where Saki was published

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.

Sources

Boyce, George, et al., editors. Newspaper History from the Seventeenth Century to the Present Day. Constable; Sage Publications, 1978.

https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/titles/the-bystander

The Edinburgh History of the British and Irish Press. Edinburgh University Press, 2020.

Hindle, Wilfried. The Morning Post 1772-1937: Portrait of a Newspaper. 1. publ., Routledge, 1937.

Koss, Stephen E.. The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain 1. – the Nineteenth Century. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1981.

Lee, Alan J. The Origins of the Popular Press in England: 1855-1914. Croom Helm, 1976.

“Multiple Classified Advertising Items.” Daily Mail, 9 Dec. 1903, p. 6. Daily Mail Historical Archive, link.gale.com/apps/doc/EE1862524833/DMHA?u=heidel&sid=bookmark-DMHA&xid=3293eaad. Accessed 9 Sept. 2021.

“The Bystander.” Daily Mail, 7 Dec. 1903, p. 5. Daily Mail Historical Archive, link.gale.com/apps/doc/EE1862524516/DMHA?u=heidel&sid=bookmark-DMHA&xid=30377c87. Accessed 9 Sept. 2021.

“The Bystander.” Daily Mail, 10 Dec. 1903, p. 3. Daily Mail Historical Archive, link.gale.com/apps/doc/ EE1862524964/DMHA?u=heidel&sid=bookmark-DMHA&xid=c95acde9. Accessed 9 Sept. 2021.


  1. See Whitaker, Brian (ed.). Notes & Queries. 3. London: Fourth Estate, 1992, p. 206.
  2. Lee p. 166; Langguth p. 60.

‘The Metamorphoses of Lobelia Jabb, Suffragette’

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.

Saki and the Leinsters’ Magazine

The-Journal-of-the-Leinster-Regiment-vol.1-no.4-1910-frontispiece

The Journal of the Leinster Regiment vol.1, no.4 (1910) frontispiece

It’s fairly well known that Munro published most of his short stories in newspapers and periodicals first; only later were they collected and published in book form. Principal recipients were the Westminster Gazette and the Bystander. The acknowledgements to his third collection, The Chronicles of Clovis, also mention a journal I’d never heard of:

‘The Background’ originally appeared in the ‘Leinsters’ Magazine’.

So, of course, I decided to look it up.

Slightly surpisingly, the magazine was the ‘in-house’ newspaper of a regiment of the British Army. The Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians), to give it its full name, was an infantry regiment formed in 1881 by merging the 100th (Prince of Wales’s Royal Canadian) Regiment of Foot and the 109th Regiment of Foot (Bombay Infantry). I managed to find a history of the regiment online  which has the following to say about its magazine:

It while the Battalion was at Devonport [i.e. from 1909] that its second regimental paper was born. The Journal of the Leinster Regiment, or as it was called later, the Leinsters’ Magazine owed its success to the ability and demoniac energy of its editor, Captain R. F. Legge, assisted by Captain R. M. Raynsford as its sub-editor. It struck a completely new note in regimental journalism by subordinating regimental intelligence to general articles grave and gay, and, speaking with that impartiality which only the lapse of years can ensure, the opinion may be hazarded that neither before nor since has the Leinsters’ Magazine had a serious rival. It enlisted some distinguished outside writers, including the present Lord Rawlinson, Hilaire Belloc, C. B. Fry, the late Frank Richardson, Stephen Gwynn, Major Drury, L. S. Amery, Aliph Cheem, Saki, and many others. It was splendidly illustrated, turned out in Messrs. Gale & Polden’s very best style, and the amount of advertisements was the despair of rival regimental journals. It made a feature in each issue of humorous verse and was the only regimental paper which ever published a comic opera on the subject of manoeuvres. Alas! when the Battalion  was ordered abroad the editor got a home job and the inevitable upheaval caused by the change to India killed the magazine which perished after just two years’ brilliant existence.

I wonder what exactly were the circumstances behind Munro’s involvement? Why not go with one of his more regular ‘customers’? There’s nothing military about ‘The Background’ that would have made the Leinsters’ Magazine a particularly suitable place for it. Langguth’s biography doesn’t mention it at all, nor is there anything in Byrne or Gibson’s books. With so many of Saki’s papers lost forever, perhaps we’ll never know.

[Edit]

I subsequently noticed that ‘The Baker’s Dozen’ in Reginald in Russia also originally appeared in the same magazine, though in this case it is credited with its full title The Journal of the Leinster Regiment.

[Second edit]

A student of mine kindly sent me scans from the copy in Trinity College Dublins libary so I added one as an illustration to this post.

Sources

The History of the Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment, Volume 1, by Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Ernest Whitton, p. 156.

The Leinster Regiment Association website at http://www.leinster-regiment-association.org.uk/regiment.html