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.

‘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

F.C. Gould and Joseph Chamberlain

I wanted to some cartoons for teaching about the European politics in the 1930s so I naturally searched first for anything by David Low, the pre-eminent cartoonist in Britain from the end of the First World War till the early 1960s.

David Low, self-portrait

David Low, self-portrait [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Low_self_portrait.jpg

I discovered only one David Low book in our library: British Cartoonists, Caricaturists and Comic Artists (Collins: London, 1942) but this turned out not to be a book of Low’s cartoons as I’d hoped but instead a short history of “pictorial satire”, starting off with William Hogarth and reviewing the most important artists and developments in the art of caricature up to Low’s day. Apart from the intrinsic interest of the topic, the book’s value is in revealing what a practitioner of the art has to say about others working in the same field.

Among these, there’s a page on Francis Carruthers Gould, mostly forgotten these days (if you compare him with Hogarth, Gillray, Cruikshank or George du Maurier) but hopefully familiar to readers of Saki as the illustrator of some of Munro’s earliest publications. Apparently Gould was the first cartoonist to commit to producing a daily cartoon for the newspaper he worked for. According to Low, Gould’s particular bent was for drawing Joseph Chamberlain, whom he depicted in over a hundred different guises. The illustration in the book (reproduced here) shows a few of these. Observant readers will spot the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter from The Westminster Alice (blogged about elsewhere on this website).

Caricatures of Joseph Chamberlain by F.C. Gould

Taken from British Cartoonists, Caricaturists and Comic Artists, by David Low (William Collins, 1942)

Here’s a drawing of Chamberlain, as “Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox”, from the first of Saki’s “The Political Jungle Book” stories (which I may post here some day).

Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox, as drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould

Brumbrumka, the Slim Fox, as drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould in the Westminster Gazette.

Review: The Edwardians by Roy Hattersley

Book cover of The Edwardians by Roy Hattersley

Image from goodreads.com

This was published a good number of years ago but I’ve only got around to reading it now.

Although there is no mention of Munro at all, the book provides useful and entertaining background information about the period when he was writing and publishing. Hattersley begins with the death of Queen Victoria and continues with a panoramic sweep across politics, society, culture and science, ending (inevitably) with the outbreak of the First World War.

The author (who I should perhaps explain for non-UK readers was for many years a Labour MP and served as a member of the government in the 1970s) is particularly good on the politics and personalities of the time. Such knowledge is really indispensable if you want to properly appreciate early satires such as The Westminster Alice. His treatment of the trade union movement and the founding of his own party is similarly well-informed (though less relevant to readers of Munro).

The whole story is told in an engaging and lively way. He has some nice turns of phrase and a good eye for an interesting detail. A highlight was the section on the pioneers of motoring, from which I can’t resist quoting the following, describing one episode in the Automobile Club of Britain’s first attempt at “what, today, would be called a rally”:

Halfway to the summit of the Cumbrian Hills, the Ariel tricycle’s clutch failed and it began to roll backwards – accelerating as it descended towards the valley floor. It was then that the driver discovered, to his surprise, that the brakes only worked when the vehicle was going forwards. He managed to steer successfully to safety with his left hand while turned in his seat to watch the road over his right shoulder. Unfortunately that required him to push his passenger out on to the road. (p. 431)

I even found the section on cricket (a sport I have no understanding of or interest in) readable.

Years ago I read his sort-of-sequel Borrowed Time: The Story of Britain Between the Wars  and I remember the chapters on literature in that being a real weakness, so it was a relief to find a more detailed and considered discussion of writers and their works in The Edwardians – one that actually gives the impression Hattersley had read the books and formed his own opinions on them rather than copying sections out of some undergraduate guide to Twentieth Century Eng. Lit.

Possibly he read a little too much Virginia Woolf, though. How else to explain his calling the Belfast shipyard that built the Titanic “Harland and Woolf”? Coming from Northern Ireland, I feel I must put on record that it is Harland and Wolff. (One of the founders was a German, which is a little ironic when you consider that one of the big issues of the period was Anglo-German rivalry, particularly when it came to building ships.)

Despite that error (and the bizarre typo that has the Balkan Wars against the Ottoman Empire starting two years late in September 1914), this book is definitely to be recommended.

‘The Woman Who Never Should’

The Prime Minister[1] sat in a deep, leather-lined chair in his new room, dreaming in the dusk of evening over the coming years and achievements of his Premiership as a brooding hen mothers in prospect the chickens she is yet to hatch. It was a long vista down which his fancy wandered, of peace and adroitness and delicate handlings, of careful managing and gentle rosewater revolutions, above all, of placid, unwavering majorities. A pleasant waking dream, through which the refrain “Toujours Balfour”[2] trickled with the soothing murmur of a meadow stream. A sigh at his elbow broke in upon his musings like a dead rook falling with insistent thud from the silence of a sleeping rookery, and he turned to find a woman standing beside him — a woman with pale, almost frightened face, but with an underlying air of resolution that bordered on defiance.

“Efficiency!” he said; “you here. Here, of all places!”

“You are displeased to see me here?”

“Not displeased, exactly, but I can scarcely believe it. You must see that you cannot possibly stay here.”

“Yet at one time you used to be proud to be seen with me. I suppose I was useful to you at election times, when things did not go so easily for you as they do now. You used to take me to your arms, then, and I think you really cared for me[,] just a little.”[3]

“Of course I admire you very much still, and I often talk about you[,] really I do, though we’ve seen so little of each other lately[.] But you can’t reasonably expect me to dislocate my whole career and habits.”[4]

“I might be so helpful to you. In times of crisis, for instance, the consciousness that you had me by your side—“

“In times of crisis and perplexity I simply get in a man from the street to act as caretaker, and I become again as a little child,[5] innocent of all things[.][6] I have always found that answer admirably hitherto[.] And it would never do, for many reasons, to take you into my establishment; you would inevitably make your presence felt in so many departments. There is my brother and other members of the family group[7] to be considered[—]they would never be able to fit into your ways.”

“You are keeping back the real reason from me, possibly because you wish to spare my feelings. You love another. Do I know her name?”

The Prime Minister hesitated for a moment, then answered softly, as one who caresses a tradition, “Laissez Faire.”[8]

“That old thing! I should have thought you were tired to death of her years ago.”

“Hush, don’t say spiteful things. She may not be brilliant or particularly modern, but you cannot think what a solace it is to a man, tired with his golf or jaded with his philosophical studies,[9] to turn to someone who asks little, exacts nothing.”

“And does nothing, knows nothing, and is dowdy without being cheap. So it is for her that I am put on one side!”

“And you, are you so very constant in your affections? Why do people couple your name so freely with that of my rival and sometime predecessor in the Premiership?”[10]

“Perhaps because he has shown me attention where you have only offered neglect. Remember, if I have no longer attractions for you, there are others.”

The Minister flushed with a sudden unreasoning jealousy. “He cannot give you what I can, a permanent home and a share in all that is going—“[5]

Then, checking himself, he added more gently, “What am I saying? Dear lady, I can never be more to you than a friend. You may come and drink tea with me sometimes on the Terrace,[11] and I shall always be glad to see you — at Manchester.[12] But you must never come here again. It is no place for you.”

Then he held the door open for his unbidden guest. Her foot-steps sounded down the staircase like the hollow menace of a receding drum, and he tried to fancy that its time-beat remotely harmonised with the lingering refrain “Toujours Balfour.”

With a sigh of relief he sank back into the depths of his armchair.

“It was dreadful” he murmured, “but how brave I was! That shall be the keynote of my Administration; we will be gently courageous. Every notable Administration gets a nickname: they will call us—yes, they will call us the League of the Poor Brave Things.”[13]

(First published in The Westminster Gazette, Tuesday, July 22, 1902. I have added a few pieces of punctuation that are either invisible or missing from the copy I worked from.)


  1. Arthur James Balfour (1848–1930), British Conservative politician, Prime Minister 1902–1905.  ↩
  2. ”Balfour for ever“ (French).  ↩
  3. The need for “national efficiency” had become a political watchword from the end of the nineteenth century, prompted by Britain’s military failures in the Second Boer War (1899–1902) and by increased competition from Germany. Demands for efficiency, i.e. modernisation, were made by politicians from all parties. Balfour’s 1902 Education Act was to be one product of this drive. 
  4. Balfour was often characterised as indolent and lacking passion or drive. Winston Churchill once commented “If you wanted nothing done, Arthur Balfour was the best man for the task. There was no equal to him”.  ↩
  5. Reference to Matthew 18:3.  ↩
  6. Was Munro perhaps remembering John Dryden’s Prologue to Joseph Harris’ The Mistakes (1690)? “’Tis innocent of all things–even of wit.”  ↩
  7. Balfour came from a political family: his father and grandfather had been MPs and his brother Gerald (1853–1945) also entered parliament. His maternal grandfather was the second Marquess of Salisbury, who was an MP before inheriting his title and later served as Lord Privy Seal and Lord President of the Council. His son (and consequently Arthur’s uncle), the 3rd Marquess, was Prime Minister three times in the later nineteenth century.  ↩
  8. Political ideology that governments should interfere as little as possible, especially in economic matters.  ↩
  9. Balfour made a name for himself with philosophical writings, including his The Foundations of Belief (1895) and Defence of Philosophic Doubt (1879); his love of golf was well known and often exploited by caricaturists and political sketch writers.  ↩
  10. Archibald Primrose, 5th Earl of Rosebery, (1847–1929), Liberal Prime Minister 1894–1895.  ↩
  11. Of the Houses of Parliament, overlooking the Thames.  ↩
  12. Balfour represented the constituency of Manchester East from 1885–1906.  ↩
  13. “The League of the Poor Brave Things” was the name of one of the many voluntary charitable organisations looking after deprived children.  ↩

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.