Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 4

The Dalmeny Cat1 That Walked by Itself

The Dalmeny Cat

[In the picture, Beloved of Mine, you will see the Cat walking by its lone. In one corner there are some things which may be an Old-Age Pension Scheme or they may be Six New Army Corps; but I think they are Mushrooms or ’phemeral things like them which are born in the wild woods but don’t live long.]

There was once a Cat that walked by its lone. It knew where it wanted to go and it kept straight there, and after a while it wasn’t so very much by itself either.2

But the delicately didactic Woman3 who kept House from Monday to Friday and had her week-ends to herself couldn’t abide the Cat walking in and out of her premises.

“For better or for worse, probably for much, much better,” she declared, “I am the only possible occupant of this tenement. There can be no alternative.”4

But the Cat that walked not so very much by its lone went in and out and through and through just as it quite well wished, and made remarks as it went.

And the delicately didactic and faintly fractious Woman bubbled over with a pleasant peevishness that was sedative and enervating to behold, and called everything to witness that she was no worse than she need be: “And behold,” she said, “everything we do is for the second-best in this second-best of all possible Governments.5 Our troops are employed at enormous distances from home, and if they occasionally get into tight places the very fact that we were able to get them there at all reflects immense credit on us. And if we have done nothing particular at home in the past seven years, at least we have done it quietly and unobtrusively.”

Four out of every five proper Cecils6 will speak like that; the fifth proper Cecil would probably say it with equal shrillness at the wrong moment.

But the Cat that walked through the land not by any means by its lone came in and out and gave the Woman queer starts when she was working overtime to finish off her bills; and the Woman became hard and resolute as gelatine that has almost had time to cool, and flung a jar of Devonshire cream at the Cat that wouldn’t be silenced. It was the only thing she had had to hand for months and months, and she was glad to be able to throw it.23

But the Cat that mobilised as it walked wouldn’t stay away even when it saw “No Alternative” written on the door. And whenever the Woman was making a mess of things, which was sometimes, or whenever she was doing nothing, which was frequently, she would find the Cat looking on in a luminous manner which she considered unfeeling.

Four out of five proper Cecils would be vexed at such conduct, and the fifth proper Cecil would be righteously indignant.

The Cecils are indispensable for the government of the Empire. If there were no Cecils it would be necessary to invent them.8

That, Best Beloved, is an epigram. At least, I think so.


  1. 5th Earl of Rosebery (1847–1929), Liberal politician and Prime Minister 1894–5, whose courtesy title before inheriting the earldom was Lord Dalmeny.
  2. Despite his repeated avowals of his wish to leave poltics and go his own way, Rosebery attracted supporters such as Herbert Henry Asquith (1852–1928, Liberal Party politician, Prime Minister 1908–1916), Sir Edward Grey (1862–1933, Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1892–1895 and later Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs 1905–1916), Henry Fowler (1830–1911, Secretary of State for India in Rosebery’s cabinet), and Richard Haldane (1856–1928, philosopher, lawyer and Liberal M.P.), all of whom at various times hoped — or convinced themselves — that he would return to front–line politics.
  3. Arthur Balfour (1848–1930), British Conservative politician, Prime Minister 1902–1905.
  4. A reference to claims that people had voted for the Conservatives in the last general election (1900) because they saw no alternative.
  5. Parodying the optimist Professor Pangloss in Voltaire’s Candide (1759): “all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds”.
  6. The Cecils were a political dynasty. James Gascoyne-Cecil (1791-1868), the second Marquess of Salisbury, was an M.P. before inheriting his title and later served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. The Marquess’s son, the 3rd Marquess (1830-1903), was Prime Minister three times, the third being 1895–1902, after which he was succeeded by his nephew Arthur Balfour. Balfours father and grandfather had been M.P.s and his brother Gerald (1853–1945) also entered parliament. The 3rd Marquess’s son, Lord Hugh Cecil (1869–1956) was also an M.P.
  7. Spencer Cavendish (1833–1908), 8th Duke of Devonshire, who had made speeches mocking Rosebery’s “clean slate” proposals. He was a member of Liberal Unionist Party and therefore a coalition partner of Balfour rather than a party colleague.
  8. Cf. Voltaire: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him” (‘Epître à l’auteur du livre des Trois imposteurs’, 1798.

‘The Dalmeny Cat That Walked by Itself’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 31 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-22 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 3

How the Pallmallatherium Lost Its Weak Spots

The Pallmallatherium

The Pallmallatherium,1 Best Beloved, has no extraordinary qualities, but it was there at the time, and that is Why. For years it had been employed to stalk horses and watch their breeding-grounds and catch them a few at a time, just as they were wanted, and though it had no special grasp of things it managed to hold on. And then there arrived a Perfectly Unpremeditated Emergency and upset everything that was going on so nicely.

Emergencies always are upsetting, even if you have seen them emerging for years.

Everyone had talked about a morally inevitable war that was to be fought to a finish, but no one could have reasonably calculated that a war that was fought to a finish would require a beginning. So nobody was ready to begin at the same time as the morally inevitable but quite unprepared-for war, and there were no horses. Then they thought of the Pallmallatherium, and went to look for it, and there it was, Best
Beloved, working away without a particular ability and no special grasp of things, just as if nothing was going to happen. And then the Pallmallatherium had to get to work ever so much quicker and more muchly2 than before, and under conditions which had never been thought of and could hardly have been foreseen.3 Aren’t those beautiful words, and they come straight from a Report? You see, when you go to war with countries ever so many thousand miles away you naturally never contemplate having to send your horses so far from Victoria-street.4 That is why emergencies are so disturbing.

So the pardonably flabbergasted and quite undeservingly censured Pallmallatherium got hold of as many horses and mules as the Army could use—and a great many that it couldn’t—5and dealt with all imaginable sorts of people much more grasping than itself, and overworked itself generally, so that it came out in weak spots all over and contracted proboscial irritation from having paid so much through the nose.

Then they said, We can’t have this maculose and fearfully conspicuous object wandering about out of harmony with all its surroundings; let us make it into an albino. So they took the Pallmallatherium and whitewashed it from end to end as well as they knew how.6

And that is how the Pallmallatherium lost its spots.


  1. Pall Mall, in central London, was the location of the War Office. This story refers to (and even sometimes takes up phrases from) the report of an inquiry into the Army Remount Department, which supplied horses to the army but had proved wholly unprepared for the vastly increased demand when the Boer War began.
  2. Sic.
  3. This last part is a direct quotation.
  4. The Inspector-General of the Remount Department is described in the report as sitting “in a flat on the fourth floor” in Victoria-street [sic] in London.
  5. The poor quality of animals procured by the department was one point of criticism.
  6. The report was considered by many to be a whitewash. See for example, the Daily Mail, 10 October 1902, p. 4.

‘How the Pallmallatherium Lost Its Weak Spots’ by Saki (H.H. Munro), taken from The Westminster Gazette, 15 October 1902. Illustration by Francis Carruthers Gould. Notes © 2020-21 Bruce Gaston. No reproduction without permission.

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 2

How the Armydillo Lost Its Wool

The Armydillo and the Beech-Marten

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.


  1. William St John Fremantle Brodrick, 1st Earl of Midleton, (1856–1942), Secretary of State for War 1900–1903.
  2. Brodrick was both touchy and tactless.
  3. 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)
  4. Parodying “The Old Guard dies; it never surrenders” (attributed to General Pierre Cambronne, 1770-1842, at the Battle of Waterloo).
  5. 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.
  6. Capitalised in the original.
  7. 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).
  8. Possibly referring to the time between the previous two sets of major army reforms (Cardwell Reforms, 1868–1872, and Childers Reforms, early 1880s).

‘How the Armydillo Lost Its Wool’ 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.

Not So Stories (With apologies to R.K.) – 1

[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

The Pelletan of the MediterraneanOnce, 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.


  1. Charles Camille Pelletan (1846–1915), French left-wing politician and journalist, Minister of Marine 1902–1905.
  2. 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).
  3. Pelletan also recommended fortifying Corsica, whose eastern coast, he said, “aims straight at the heart of Italy”.
  4. Pelletan was much criticised for making radical and undiplomatic speeches that were considered incompatible with his position as a cabinet member.
  5. 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.

‘Angels of Grace’ and King Robert of Sicily

The following narrative poem by Longfellow provided the inspiration for Saki’s story ‘Ministers of Grace’ (originally published in The Bystander and later collected in The Chronicles of Clovis).

Robert of Sicily, brother of Pope Urbane
And Valmond, Emperor of Allemaine,
Apparelled in magnificent attire,
With retinue of many a knight and squire,
On St. John’s eve, at vespers, proudly sat
And heard the priests chant the Magnificat,
And as he listened, o’er and o’er again
Repeated, like a burden or refrain,
He caught the words, “Deposuit potentes
De sede, et exaltavit humiles”;
And slowly lifting up his kingly head
He to a learned clerk beside him said,
“What mean these words?” The clerk made answer meet,
“He has put down the mighty from their seat,
And has exalted them of low degree.”
Thereat King Robert muttered scornfully,
“’T is well that such seditious words are sung
Only by priests and in the Latin tongue;
For unto priests and people be it known,
There is no power can push me from my throne!”
And leaning back, he yawned and fell asleep,
Lulled by the chant monotonous and deep. Continue reading

Which Version of FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát Did Munro Know?

The Quatrains of Uttar Al Ghibe Part I, from The Westminster Gazette, March 4, 1901. My thanks to Brian Gibson (author of Reading Saki) for sending me a copy.

Possibly I am the only person in the world to care about this question, but what the heck…

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with Munro’s work can hardly miss its references to that nineteenth-century poetic sensation, Edward FitzGerald’s Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.[1]

The most obvious link is Munro’s pen-name. The FitzGerald versions contain the word “Sákí” (meaning “cupbearer”). One of Munro’s earliest published pieces were some quatrains supposedly by a Middle Eastern poet named “Uttar Al Ghibe” in which he mocked the politicians of the time:

In marvel at each man’s allotted sphere
I mused “We know not wherefore we are here”;
Said One who ruled o’er markets and bazaars
“I had an Uncle once.” His case was clear.[2]

Munro’s biographer A. J. Langguth conjectures that it was this early work that led Munro to pick “Saki” as his nom de plume.[3]

There are other obvious references too, such as ‘Reginald’s Rubaiyat’,[4] or the reference in ‘A Young Turkish Catastrophe’ to “the heretic poet of Persia”. The Rev. Wilfrid Gaspilton’s invented poet Ghurab in ‘For the Duration of the War’ is inspired by (and compared to) Omar Khayyám, as well as Persia’s other great poet Hafiz.[5]

Fitzgerald revised and expanded his translation throughout his life. There were five editions (the last being published posthumously based on his notes):

  1. 1st edition – 1859 (75 quatrains)
  2. 2nd edition – 1868 (110 quatrains)
  3. 3rd edition – 1872 (101 quatrains)
  4. 4th edition – 1879 (101 quatrains)
  5. 5th edition – 1889 (101 quatrains)[6]

When checking references to the work in Munro’s writings, I’ve often wondered which edition I should consult. From that question came the idea for this article.

As a young man, Munro copied some lines from FitzGerald into his commonplace book, including the quatrain that contains his future nom de plume:

Yet ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!

Yon rising Moon that looks for us again
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden—and for one in vain!

And when like her, oh Sákí, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter’d on the Grass,
And in your blissful errand reach the spot
Where I made One—turn down an empty Glass!

Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.

So when that Angel of the Darker Drink,
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff—you shall not shrink.

Oddly, Munro has shuffled the order: he copied the quatrains in the order 96, 100, 101, 41, 43. More significantly for my inquiry, these versions were only found from the third edition onwards.

However, a few other allusions in other stories muddy the waters:

For example, in the early satire ‘The Angel and his Lost Michael’ (1903), the line “The Tabernacle is prepared within, why lags the lazy worshipper outside?” parodies a quatrain (number 2) that was added in the second edition and which runs “When all the Temple is prepared within,/Why lags the lazy worshipper outside?”. In the fifth edition, however, this has been changed to “When all the Temple is prepared within,/Why nods the lazy worshipper outside?”.

In addition, in ‘Reginald’s Rubaiyat’ Reginald pens the lines:

“The hen that laid thee moons ago, who knows
In what Dead Yesterday her shades repose;
To some election turn thy waning span
And rain thy rottenness on fiscal foes.”

The phrase “Dead Yesterday” is taken directly from FitzGerald, in lines which occur only in the first edition (ruba’i[7] no. 37, to be exact).

In the same story, Reginald (or Munro?) misunderstands or misremembers a reference in the Rubáiyát:

“Hast thou the pen that once the gardener had?
I have it not; and know, these pears are bad.
Oh, larger than the horses of the Prince
Are those the general drives in Kaikobad.”

There is no place called Kaikobad: it is the name of a king of ancient Persia. The references can be found in rubáiyát 8 and 9 of the first edition, 9 and 10 of second (with slight alterations) and 9 and 10 of the fifth (again with small changes).

I had hoped that perhaps one of the versions would be more ambiguous, allowing me to identify which version it was that misled Munro, but as far as I can see they are all more or less equal: if you read fairly attentively you can see that the various names mentioned are those of people rather than of places (especially if you note the reference to Rustum, which ought to be well known to readers of English poetry because of Matthew Arnold’s 1853 poem Sohrab and Rustum).

So, in the end, there is no clear answer to my questions. Maybe that’s not so surprising, as Fitzgerald’s work was so enormously well known and widely quoted that there are over 130 separate references to it in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, encompassing around half the work.[8]

Or perhaps Reginald’s terse comment “I am not collecting copies of the cheaper editions of Omar Khayyám”[9] was inspired by something Munro wanted to tell his acquaintances?

References:

I worked from a 1953 Collins edition of Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám and Other Writings by Edward FitzGerald, which contains the first, second and fifth editions in full. I also found the following website useful: http://www.bobforrestweb.co.uk/The_Rubaiyat/verse_by_verse_notes.htm


  1. FitzGerald (1809–1883), a gentleman poet and scholar, had discovered a set of Persian four-line poems (the technical name is ‘rubáiyát’) which had been written by an 11th century polymath named Omar Khayyám. FitzGerald translated and arranged a selection of these, publishing them in 1859. Taken up by Rossetti and Swinburne, among others, Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám became—after a slow start—extremely popular. (Quoted from the introduction to The Complete Annotated Reginald Stories.)  ↩
  2. Short historical note: “Al Ghibe” means A.J.B. (which was how Prime Minister Arthur Balfour was sometimes referred to); Balfour’s predecessor in the job was his uncle, the 3rd Marquess of Salisbury.  ↩
  3. Langguth also suggests that the difficulty of typesetting foreign accent marks was what led to “Sákí” becoming just “Saki” (pp. 60–64).  ↩
  4. Again, printed without accents.  ↩
  5. These stories can be found in the collections Reginald (obviously), Reginald in Russia and The Toys of Peace, respectively.  ↩
  6. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubaiyat_of_Omar_Khayyam#Editions  ↩
  7. The singular form of rubáiyát, apparently.  ↩
  8. Sources: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/non_fictionreviews/3668163/An-enthusiasts-reading-of-the-Rubaiyat.html and http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20180111-the-rubaiyat-historys-most-luxurious-book-of-poetry  ↩
  9. ‘Reginald on Christmas Presents’.  ↩

‘A Jungle Story’

[In 1902 Saki followed up on his highly successful Alice in Wonderland parodies with a second series modelled on Rudyard Kipling’s short stories for children. They were first published in the Westminster Gazette as ‘The Political Jungle Book’ and later ‘Not-So Stories’ after Kipling’s ‘Just-So Stories’, which were published the same year.]

 

Mowgli the bare-limbed and immortal opened his eyes expectantly and spoke to the Other:

“I have told you of the Jungle and its laws. Tell me of the tangle that you call your political system.”

“Pardon me,” said the Other, “I never called it a system. Though perhaps,” he added, “it has fixed laws of an unobtrusive character.”

“But you must have a ruling Caste?”

“We are beginning to recognise the necessity, and one day no doubt we shall invent one. At present we are being looked after by a great course of politicians, some of whom will become statesmen in the course of time, if they don’t take up some useful employment in the meanwhile”

“Tell me,” said Mowgli, “how they grow into statesmen.”

“First, when they are about eighteen or twenty they read about Pitt and Burke and Talleyrand[1] and other real people; that is their hopeful, enquiring stage, and it is often their best. Then most of them go into the Parrot House of party politics and hear nothing but parrot cries from one year to another.”

“What are the parrot cries?” Continue reading