Wodehouse Quotations

Joy in The Morning

 

PREFACE

the world of which I have been writing ever since I was so high, the world of the Drones Club and the lads who congregate there was always a small world - one of the smallest I ever met, as Bertie Wooster would say. It was bounded on the east by St. James's Street, on the west by Hyde Park Corner, by Oxford Street on the north and by Piccadilly on the south. And now it is not even small, it is non-existent. It has gone with the wind and is one with Nineveh and Tyre. In a word, it has had it.

This is pointed out to me every time a new book of mine dealing with the Drones Club of Jeeves and Bertie is published in England. "Edwardian!" the critics hiss at me. (It is not easy to hiss the word Edwardian, containing as it does no sibilant, but they manage it.) And I shuffle my feet and blush a good deal and say, "Yes, I suppose you're right". After all, I tell myself, there has been no generic term for the type of young man who figures in my stories since he used to be called a knut in the pre-first-war days, which certainly seems to suggest that the species has died out like the macaronis of the Regency and the whiskered mashers of the Victorian age.

But sometimes I am in more defiant mood. Mine, I protest, are historical novels. Nobody objects when an author writes the sort of things that begin, "More skilled though I am at wielding the broadsword than the pen, I will set down for all to read the tale of how I, plain John Blunt, did follow my dear liege to the wars when Harry, yclept the Fifth, sat on our English throne". Then why am I not to be allowed to set down for all to read the tale of how the Hon. J. Blunt got fined five pounds by the beak at Bosher Street Police Court for disorderly conduct on Boat Race Night? Unfair discrimination is the phrase that springs to the lips.

I suppose one thing that makes these drones of mine seem creatures of a dead past is that with the exception of Oofy Prosser, the club millionaire, they are genial and good tempered friends of all the world. In these days when everybody hates everybody else, anyone who is not snarling at something - or at everything - is an anachronism. The Edwardian knut was never an angry young man. He would get a little cross, perhaps, if his man Meadowes sent him out some morning with odd spats on, but his normal outlook on life was sunny. He was humble, kindly soul, who knew he was a silly ass but hoped you wouldn't mind. He liked everybody, and most people like him. Portrayed on the stage by George Grossmith and G. P, Huntley, he was a lovable figure, warming the hearts of all. You might disapprove of him not being a world's worker, but you could not help being fond of him.

Though, as a matter of fact, many of the members of my Drones Club are world's workers. Freddie Threepwood is a vice-president at Donaldson's Dog Joy Inc. of Long Island City, U.S.A., and sells as smart a dog-biscuit as the best of them. Bingo Little edits Wee Tots, the popular journal for the nursery and the home, Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright has played the juvenile in a number of West End comedies, generally coming on early in Act One with a cheery "Tennis, anyone?", and even Bertie Wooster once wrote an article on "What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing" for his Aunt Dahlia's weekly. Milady's Boudoir.

Two things caused the decline of the drone or knut, the first of which was that hard times hit younger sons. Most knuts were younger sons, and in the reign of good King Edward the position of the younger son in aristocratic families was . . . what's the word, Jeeves?,Anomolous? You're sure? Right ho, anomolous. Thank you, Jeeves. Putting it another way, he was a trifle the superfluous side, his standing about that of the litter kittens which the household cat deposits in the drawer where you keep your clean shirts.

What generally happened was this. An Earl, let us say, began an heir. So far, so good. One can always do with an heir. But then - these Earls never know when to stop - he absent-mindedly, as it were, begat a second son and this time was not any too pleased about the state of affairs. It was difficult to see how, to fit him in. But there he was, requiring his calories just the same as if he had been first in succession. It made the Earl feel hat he was up against something hard to handle.

'Can't let Algy starve,' he said to himself, and forked out a monthly allowance. And so there came into being a group of ornamental young men whom the ravens fed. Like the lilies of the field, they toiled not neither did they spin but lived quite contentedly on the paternal dole. Their wants were few. Provided they could secure the services of a tailor who was prepared to accept charm of manner as a substitute for ready cash - and it was extraordinary how full London was of altruistic tailors in the early nineteen hundreds - they asked for little more. In short, so long as the ravens continued to do their stuff, they were in that blissful condition known as sitting pretty.

Then the economic factor reared its ugly head. Income tax and super-tax shot up like rocketing pheasants, and the Earl found himself doing some constructive thinking. A bright idea occurred to him and the more he turned it over in his mind, the better he liked it.

'Why can't I?' he said to his Countess as they sat one night trying to balance the budget.

'Why can't you what?' said the Countess.

'Let Algy starve.'

'Algy who?'

'Our Algy.'

'You mean our second son, the Hon. Algernon Blair Wor-thington ffinch-ffinch?'

'That's right. He's getting into my ribs to the tune of a cool thousand a year because I felt I couldn't let him starve. The point I'm making is why not let the young blighter starve?'

'It's a thought,' the Countess agreed. 'Yes, a very sound scheme. We all eat too much these days, anyway.'

So the ravens were retired from active duty, and Algy, faced with the prospect of not getting his three square meals a day unless he worked for them, hurried out and found a job, with the result that as of even date any poor hack like myself who, wishing to turn an honest penny, writes stories about him and all the other Algys, Freddies, Claudes and Berties, automatically becomes Edwardian.

The second thing that led to the elimination of the knut was the passing of the spat. In the brave old days spats were the hallmark or the young-feller-me-lad-about-town, the foundation stone on which his whole policy was based, and it is sad to reflect that a generation has arisen which does not know what spats were. I once wrote a book called Young Men in Spats. could not use that title today.

Spatterdashes was, I believe, their full name, and they were made of white cloth and buttoned round the ankles, partly no doubt to protect the socks from getting dashed with spatter but principally because they lent a sort of gay diablerie to the wearer's appearance. The monocle might or might not be worn according to taste, but spats, like the tightly rolled umbrella, were obligatory. I was never myself by knut standards really dressy as a young man (circa 1905), for a certain anaemia of the exchequer compelled me to go about my social duties in my brother's cast-off frock coat and trousers, neither of which fitted me, and a top hat bequeathed to me by an uncle with head some sizes larger than mine, but my umbrella was always rolled tight as a drum and though spats cost money 1 had mine all right. There they were, white and gleaming, fascinating the passers-by and causing seedy strangers who hoped for largesse to address me as "Captain" and sometimes even as "M'lord" Many a butler at the turn of the century, opening the door to me and wincing visibly at the sight of my topper, would lower his eyes, see the spats and give a little sigh of relief, as much a to say, "Not quite what we are accustomed to at the northern end, perhaps, but unexceptionable to the south".

Naturally, if you cut off a fellow's allowance, he cannot afford spats, and without spats he is a spent force. Deprived of these indispensable adjuncts, the knut threw in the towel and called it a day.

But I have not altogether lost hope of a sensational revival of knuttery. Already one sees signs of a coming renaissance. To take but one instance, the butler is creeping back. Extinct, seemed, only a few short years ago, he is now repeatedly see in his old haunts like some shy bird which, driven from it native marshes by alarums and excursions, stiffens the sinew summons up the blood and decides to give the old home another try. True, he wants a bit more than in the golden age, but pay his price and he will buttle. In hundreds of homes there is buttling going on just as of yore. Who can say that ere long spats and knuts and all the old bung-ho-ing will not be flourishing again?

When that happens, I shall look my critics in the eye and say, 'Edwardian? Where do you get that "Edwardian" stuff? I write of life as it is lived today.'

P. G. Wodehouse


 

Leave It to Psmith

To my daughter Leonora

Queen of her species

 


 

Over Seventy (Wodehouse on Wodehouse)

 

Foreword

There is a rare treat in store for the reader (1) of this book. Except in the Foreword, (2) which will soon be over, it is entirely free from footnotes.

I am not, I think, an irascible man, (3) but after reading a number of recent biographies and histories I have begun to feel pretty sore about these footnotes and not in the mood to be put upon much longer.(4) It is high time,(5) in my opinion, that this nuisance was abated and biographers and essayists restrained from strewing these unsightly blemishes (6) through their pages as if they were ploughing the fields and scattering the good seed o'er the land.(7)

I see no need for the bally things. (8) I have just finished reading Carl Sandburg's Abraham Lincoln, The War Years, and Carl manages to fill four fat volumes without once resorting to this exasperating practice. (9) If he can do it, why can't everyone? (10)

Frank Sullivan, the American writer,(11) has already raised his voice (12) on this subject, (13) being particularly severe on the historian Gibbon for his habit of getting you all worked up, thinking now that you are going to hear full details of the vices of the later Roman emperors, and then switching you off to a Latin footnote which defies translation for the ordinary man who forgot all the Latin he ever knew back in 1920. (14)

I know just how Frank feels. It is the same with me. When I read a book I am like someone strolling across a level lawn thinking how jolly it all is, and when I am suddenly confronted with a (1) or a (2) it is as though I had stepped on the teeth of a rake and had the handle spring up and hit me on the bridge of the nose. I stop dead and my eyes flicker and swivel. I tell myself that this time I will not be fooled into looking at the beastly thing, (15) but I always am, and it nearly always maddens me by beginning with the word 'see'. 'See the Reader's Digest, April 1950,' says one writer on page (7) of his latest work, and again on page 181, 'See the Reader's Digest, October 1940.'

How do you mean, 'See' it, my good fellow? (16) Are you under the impression that I am a regular subscriber to the Reader's Digest and save up all the back numbers? Let me tell you that if in the waiting-room of my dentist or some such place my eye falls on a copy of this widely circulated little periodical, I wince away from it like a salted snail, knowing that in it lurks some ghastly Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met.

Slightly, but not much, better than the footnotes which jerk your eye to the bottom of the page arc those which are lumped together somewhere in the back of the book. These allow of continuous reading, or at any rate are supposed to, but it is only a man of iron will who, coming on a (6) or a (7), can keep from dropping everything and bounding off after it like a basset hound after a basset. (17)

This involves turning back to ascertain which chapter you are on, turning forward and finding yourself in the Index, turning bark and fetching up on Sources, turning forward and getting entangled in Bibliography and only at long last hooking (he Notes; and how seldom the result is worth the trouble. I was reading the other day that bit in Carrington's Life of Rudyard Kipling where Kipling and his uncle Fred Macdonald go to America and Kipling tries to sneak in incog, and Fred Macdonald gives him away to the reporters. When I saw a (7) appended to this I was all keyed up. Now, I felt, we're going to get something good. The footnote, I told myself, will reveal in detail what Kipling said to Fred Macdonald about his fatheadedness and I shall pick up some powerful epithets invaluable for use in conversations with taxi-drivers and traffic policemen. Here is (7) in toto:

F. W. MACDONALD

 

If that is not asking for bread and being given a stone, it would be interesting to know what it is. The only thing you can say for a footnote like that is that it is not dragged in, as are most footnotes, just to show off the writer's erudition, as when the author of- say - The Life of Sir Leonard Hutton says:

It was in the pavilion at Leeds - not, as has sometimes been stated, at Manchester - that Sir Leonard first uttered those memorable words, 'I've been having a spot of trouble with my lumbago'

and then with a (6) directs you to the foot of the page, where you find:

Unlike Giraldus Cambrensis, who in Happy Days at Bognor Regis men lions suffering from measles and chickenpox as a child but says that he never had lumbago. See also Caecilius Status, Dio Chrysostom and Abu Mohammed Kasim Ben All Hariri.

Which is intolerable. (18)

No footnotes, then, in this book of mine, and I think on the whole no Dedication

Nobody seems to be doing these now, and it just shows how things have changed since the days when I was starting out to give a shot in the arm to English Literature. At the turn of the century the Dedication was the thing on which we authors all spread ourselves. It was the bonne bouche and the sine qua non.

We went in for variety in those days. When you opened a novel, you never knew what you were going to get. It might be the curt, take-it-or-leave-it dedication:

To J. Smith

and the somewhat warmer:

To My friend Percy Brown

one of those cryptic things with a bit of poetry in italics:

To F.B.O.

Stark winds

And sunset over the moors

Why?

Whither?

Whence?

And the roll of distant drums

or possibly the nasty dedication, intended to sting:

To J. Alastair Frisby Who

Told Me I Would Never Have A Book Published And Advised me To Get a job selling jellied eels

SUCKSTOYOU,FRISBY

It was all great fun and kept our pores open and our blood circulating, but it is not difficult to see why the custom died out. Inevitably a time came when there crept into authors' minds the question, 'What is there in this for me?' I know it was so in my own case. 'What is Wodehouse getting out of this?' I asked myself, and the answer, as far as I could see, was, 'Islot a thing.'

When the eighteenth-century author inserted on page I something like

To

The Most Noble and Puissant Lord Knubble of Knopp This book is dedicated By His very Humble Servant, the Author

My Lord,

It is with inexpressible admiration for your lordships transcendent gifts, that the poor slob who now addresses your lordship presents to your lordship this trifling work, so unworthy of your lordships distinguished consideration,

he expected to do himself a bit of good. Lord Knubble was his patron and could be relied on, unless having one of his attacks of gout, to come through with at least a couple of guineas. But where does a modern author like myself get off? I pluck - let us say - P. B. Biffen from the ranks of the unsung millions and make him immortal, and what docs Biffen do in return? He does nothing. He just stands there. I probably won't get so much as a lunch out of it.

So no Dedication and, as I say, none of those obscene little fly-specks scattered about all over the page. (19)

I must conclude by expressing my gratitude to Mr P. G. Wodehouse for giving me permission to include in these pages an extract from his book, Louder and Funnier. Pretty decent of him, I call it. (20)

Here ends the Foreword. Now we're off.

 1 Or readers. Let's be optimistic.

2 Sometimes called Preface. See Romeo and Juliet, Act Two, Scene One - 'A rose by any other name would smell as sweet'.

3 Sunny Jim, many people call me.

4 See King Lear, Act One, Scene Two - 'Some villain hath done me wrong'.

5 Greenwich Mean or, in America, Eastern Standard.

6 Footnotes.

7 Hymns A. and M.

8 Footnotes.

9 Bunging in a footnote every second paragraph. 10 Answer me that.

11 One of the Saratoga, N.Y., Sirilivans.

12 A light baritone, a little uncertain in the upper register.

13 Footnotes.

14 Or, in my case, earlier. The sort of tiling Sullivan dislikes is when Gibbon say you simply wouldn't believe the things the Empress Theodora used to get up to, and tells you in the footnote that she was in Ires partes dirisa and much given to the argumentum ad hominem el usque ad hoc.

15 The footnote.

16 The man's an ass.

17 What is a basset? I've often wondered.

18 It is what Shakespeare would have called a fardel. See Hamlet, Act Three, Scene One - 'Who would fardels bear?'

19 Footnotes.

20 The whitest man I know.

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Index from book Wodehouse on Wodehouse. | Article "About Stories" | Dedications1 | Dedications 2 | Prefaces1 | Prefaces2 | Prefaces3 | Prefaces4 | "Facts from Usborn" (forewords from Vintage Wodehouse)

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