First Lines

In her anthology entitled First Lines (1985) Gemma O’Connor declared that few celebrated writers in English opened their novels and memoirs with arresting first lines. Dickens, Joyce, and Jane Austen were a handful that did, but others, like Hardy and De Quincey, managed to keep the readers’ attention without providing intriguing first lines. Perhaps it’s gift that certain writers of fiction (O’Connor  excludes poets from her anthology) had, regardless of their eminence. Short story writers, like James Stephens and Saki, were masters of this art and indeed most writers of this type of fiction were aware that they needed to start well. Here are some of the most memorable first lines selected by Ms O’Connor. Guessing the authors of them might make an amusing party game.

This book is largely concerned with Hobbits.

J. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings.

I hate to read new books.

William Hazlitt, One Reading Old Books.

It is difficult for a man to speak long of himself without vanity; therefore I shall be short.

David Hume, Life, written by himself.

Let me tell you the story of my life.

Maxim Gorky, A Confession.

Once upon a time, and I very good time it was….

James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities.

Ours is essentially a tragic age….

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The Encyclopedia of Insulting Behaviour  (Anonymous 1981).

Forget the Season of Good Will. Behaving insultingly is much more fun. Over Christmas why not try out some of these stunts.

Abroad.

Insist on paying for everything in sterling.

Ask for local delicacies and leave them on your plate.

Drink Guinness or Scotch everywhere.

Wear your military decorations at all customs checks

Order a cup of tea at 9.00 p.m. in a pavement café on a Saturday night and sit over it for as long as you dare.

Wave back at policemen who whistle at you and wave their truncheons. ( Have your number plates covered in mud first!)

In banks

If there isn’t a queue form one by asking the cashier as many questions as you can think of  until the people get fed up and either go out or move to another window.( Questions about holiday money just before Christmas are always a success.) 

If there is a queue make it longer by writing your cheque incorrectly. Get the date wrong. Write another name by mistake and appear to see the fraud, enter a huge sum, say £10,000, and then change it to £10.00. Drop your pen, or lose it in your handbag while this is going on.

On the Beach.

Play your transistor very loud, but play Radio 3.

Take elaborate picnics with iced wine and proper cutlery, especially if you’ve noticed that everyone else is eating corned beef out of a tin.

At Christmas

Refuse to give any guests a drink on the grounds that it’s for their own good not to drink and drive. Have plenty of soft drinks to offer them though. Then pour yourself a large Scotch on the grounds that you aren’t going anywhere and don’t have to worry.

Send no Christmas cards at all.

Send the television set to be serviced on Christmas Eve.

Fill the children’s stockings with ‘useful presents’—O level revision cards, that sort of thing.

Turn up the television when the carol singers arrive and turn off the lights until they go away.

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When writers attack

We at Jot 101 are always looking for new examples of bilious, scornful or downright libellous remarks. A number of collections have been scoured and selections made, but in Matthew Parris’s Scorn with extra bile ( 1998) we seem to have found a truly impressive collection of insults, including a very well known one from my own uncle, the first Baron Riddlesden ( aka Denis Healey ).

Some of the better insults are, alas, too long for inclusion, but here are some by writers that are equally entertaining, but pithier. There is also a hilarious semi-parody of the somewhat overrated children’s writer A.A. Milne by Dorothy Parker (photo above).

…an umbrella left behind at a picnic.

George Moore on W. B. Yeats.

A church lit but without a congregation to distract you, with every light and line focused on the high altar. And on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string.

H.G. Wells on a book by Henry James.

A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tried out a few of the old proven ‘ sure-fire’ literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

William Faulkner on Mark Twain

I wish her characters would talk a little less like the heroes and heroines of police reports

George Eliot on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

I cannot abide Conrad’s souvenir shop style and bottled ships and necklaces of romanticist clichés.

Vladimir Nabokov on Joseph Conrad

Tell me, when you are alone with Max, does he take off his face and reveal his mask ?

Oscar Wilde on Max Beerbohm.

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Gilbert Harding’s Treasury of Insult

Gilbert Harding

When we last discussed the late great broadcasting personality Gilbert Harding we focused on how his studied rudeness was in most cases utterly defensible. He ensured that those people who annoyed him and were duly given the treatment they deserved, were the same kind of people that were likely to annoy most other thinking people. Thus he became a sort of hero to many who could only fantasise about emulating  Harding’s rudeness. 

There is a general perception today that Harding  reserved this brutal honesty for TV and radio appearances, but like so many ‘ celebrities ‘ of our own times, he added to his earnings by bringing out books that encapsulated the Harding personality. In a previous Jot we looked at a book of his musings on the inanities of everyday life. This time we are going to pick some of the best bits from Harding’s Treasury of Insult (1953), which is not so much an anthology of invective as  a distinctly superior miscellany of quotations and anecdotes from the sixteenth century to the nineteen  fifties. .

Some of the extracts are prefaced by a piece of Harding scorn. Others need no such introduction. We will begin with what we now call the ‘ hospitality sector’. Harding’s love of dining out and his attraction to pubs was almost wholly responsible for his corpulence, which led to his suddenly death in a taxi aged just 54 ?

We could start with Dr Tobias Smollett, the eighteenth century novelist:

‘The bread I eat in London is a deleterious paste, mixed up with chalk, alum and bone ashes; insipid to the taste and destructive to the constitution. The good people are not ignorant of this adulteration; but they prefer it to wholesome bread because it  is whiter than the meal of corn; thus they sacrifice their taste and their health, and the lives of their tender infants to a most absurd gratification…I shall conclude this catalogue of London dainties, with that table-beer, guiltless of hops and malt, vapid and nauseous; much fitter to facilitate the operation of a vomit, than to quench thirst and promote digestion…’

As Smollett pointed out, shoppers and diners knew about adulteration, but it took a German chemist, Dr Frederic Accum, to tell the whole shocking story in his classic expose, Death in the Pot (1820). Nowadays, of course, we much prefer wholemeal bread to the white loaves made by the infamous Chorleywood process that gave us ‘Mother’s Pride ‘, which though it contained none of the deleterious additives detailed by Smollett and Accum, doubtless tasted little better than eighteenth century white bread. 

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More hilarious bits from Denys Parsons’ Much Too Funny for Words

Detectives making last-minute enquiries went to a stable in Berkshire yesterday. They wanted to interview the occupier.

Evening Standard.

Miss Y—, the well known singer was nearly poisoned at one time. So she said at the meeting on Tuesday. When she stated that she had been nearly poisoned , the features of the members expressed regret.

Irish Paper.

This policy offers absolute security in the event of any kind of fatal accident.

Insurance advert

London firemen with rescue gear were called early yesterday to Dorset Street, Marylebone, where a man fell into a basement yard. He was lifted to road level, injured, and taken to hospital.

Daily Mail.

The young woman, with a baby in her arms, appeared at the window amidst flames and smoke and yelled quick proof to the editor.

Sunday Paper.

The lad was described as lazy, and when his mother asked him to go to work he threatened to smash her brains out. The case was adjourned for three weeks in order to give the lad another chance.

Manchester Paper.

The service was conducted by te Rev. Charles H—–MA, the bridegroom. The service was of a quiet nature owing to the recent death of the bride.

Blackpool Times.

WANTED, a Gent’s or Lady’s Bicycle for a Pure Bred Sable and White Collie.

Lincolnshire Paper.

There is a sub-department at Scotland Yard which looks after Kings and visiting potentates, Cabinet Ministers, spies, anarchists, and other undesirables.

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Fun with Puns

Fun with Puns

Found at Jot HQ the other day, a small booklet of 48 pages entitled  A Pennyworth of Puns, which in its references to Home Rule and The New Woman,  can be dated to the close of the nineteenth century. In its attempts to describe various types of pun, to date its origin to Ancient Greece and to comment on its place in the history of English humour, this is more a disquisition on the pun than a mere list of examples of it. Perhaps we should begin with some punning book titles.   

In a previous Jot we listed some witty book titles which one writer had concocted for books in his library. Thomas Hood was asked by the Duke of Devonshire to come up with titles that he could place on the spines of a ‘ blind door ‘ in his library at Chatsworth. Not all can be appreciated today, but the following are some of the best.

Book titles

Cooke’s Specimens of the Sandwich Tongue 

Wolfe’s Treatment of Sheep

Boyle on the Gums

Bunyan on the Foot: by a Pilgrim

Walker’s Excursions to the Birthplaces of distinguished Travellers.

Conundrums

Why is a postage stamp like a naughty boy?

Because it’s licked and put in a corner.

What makes Treason reason, and Ireland wretched ?

The absentee (T)

Why is it a dangerous thing to sit in the free seats at church?

Because you learn to be good for nothing

Why is a novelist the most extraordinary of animals?

Because his tale comes out of his head.

Why is blindman’s buff like sympathy ?

Because it is a fellow feeling for a fellow creature.

When is a ship in love ?

When she is attached to a buoy

When is her love serious?

When she wants a mate.

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John Buchan parody by AI and a Clo-Kepp attendee

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Illustration from DALL-E when asked for a book cover for Buchan’s The Three Hostages. It doesnt seem to understand his name..

I asked Chat GPT to come up with a John Buchan parody. The brief was to write a piece with the context of rain outside, a man and wife inside and an unexpected visit by a friend. This had been the brief for a parody found in the annual school magazine of Clovelly-Kepplestone (1930) a private boarding school for girls in Eastbourne, Sussex. It flourished from 1908 until 1934 and was familiarly known to staff and pupils as “Clo-Kepp”. There is a very comprehensive piece on it at Wikipedia.

The Clo-Kepp John Buchan parody, probably by a school girl, is an amusing and well tuned effort:

    “The night was wild and rainy and reminded me of the time when old Hatiron and I were engaged in that business of the Forty-second Psalm. My wife, who was busily employed in the stitching and repairing of one of my shirts, torn during the day’s shooting at Clan Haggis, remarked upon the persistently bad weather we had been experiencing of late, and wondered, the streams being then in spate, whether I should not take a week off to try the mettle of the fish in the Ben Slioch burns.

    I opened The Times, and, glancing casually through its pages, noted with surprise that Flaxman had resigned his post in the Ministry. He was always pretty keen on politics, though strangely recondite in his views on Empire Policy, which he declared was sheer jingoism and inflated proletarianism.  However, it seemed strange that he should leave the Ministry at a time when Burton was intent on seeing that England got what she wanted.

    ” Well, what’s the news ? ” inquired my wife.

    ” Oh, very little,” I replied, ” the usual things ;  I see Flaxman has retired.  I can’t help thinking there must be something to it.”

    Just then the bell rang, and after a moment Breeves came in to ask if we were at home to Mr. Thoughtnot.

    ” Why, Jimmy,” I cried, ” this is a marvellous surprise.”  The last time I had heard of him he had been wandering about Samarkand disguised as a Shiari ; and had you spoken of him in a certain hovel where the mountains dip down beside the valley, which runs towards Tashkent, you would have heard strange things of him.  For Jimmy was a Lawrence in those parts, and there is not a wandering pedlar on the Kirgiz Steppe who will not give a night’s lodging to him who mentions Raskashpol.

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John Buchan and AI

As a lover of the works of John Buchan and one not unconcerned about the precarious future of this planet I consulted ChatGPT using a famous and prescient quote by Buchan from his thriller The Power House (1916).

I asked them this: “John Buchan wrote in 1916 “ ..you think that a wall as solid as the Earth separates civilisation from barbarism. I tell you, the division is a thread,a sheet of glass. a touch here, a push there, and you bring back the reignof Saturn.” Is this still true in 2023?” 

25 seconds later they replied: “The quote by John Buchan is certainly still relevant in 2023, as the line between civilization and barbarism remains thin and fragile. Though the world has made great strides in terms of technological advancements, social progress, and global connectivity, there are still forces that work to destabilize these achievements and push society back towards chaos and conflict. Whether it’s geopolitical tensions, economic inequality, racial divides, or environmental degradation, the challenges facing humanity require us to remain vigilant and work together to maintain and strengthen the bonds of common humanity that hold us together. In short, the quote from John Buchan remains a timeless reminder of the need for vigilance, empathy, and unity in the face of adversity.”

A good answer. He/she / it is definitely more Bernie Sanders than Logan Roy. I went on to ask it for a parody of John Buchan. In a past Jot we have a very good Buchan parody by a young girl at boarding school in the 1930s. It is many miles better than Chat’s brave effort. As the old unreconstructed Dr Samuel Johnson said (in about 1760) of women preachers: “Sir…(it)is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.” Tune in again soon to see both parodies..

Stephen Potter’s Relaxmanship (1965)

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Steohen Potter. From the National Portrait Gallery (many thanks)

Books sponsored by companies, particularly drug companies, were more common in the nineteenth or early twentieth century, than they are now. A few years ago we featured one sponsor –a manufacturer of a tonic for those lacking energy—on Jot 101. The book they sponsored was a self-help treatise aimed at those high-fliers whose jobs overloaded them with work to the detriment of their health. We were reminded of this when, while   looking at a pile of books at Jot 101 HQ the other day, we found a rare example of a mid-twentieth book sponsored by another drug company, in this case Roche, a multinational  concern. By putting their name to Stephen Potter’s relaxmanship (1965) the company hoped to sell bucket loads of Libraxin, a drug sold to alleviate the symptoms of ‘ nervous dyspepsia ‘—a digestive condition brought about by stress and anxiety.

But let the advertising executives acting for Roche ( or even Potter himself) tell you about the benefits of Libraxin:

‘You may regard relaxation as an art. Not all of us, perhaps, are able to cultivate it to meet Mr Potter’s high requirements. But if properly approached , the holiday season can provide a real opportunity to unwind and to forget day-to-day worries for a short time.

Clearly this is excellent therapy for the nervous dyspeptic; his lack of anxiety reduces his dyspepsia. Sooner or later, however, he will have to return to work and to all his old problems and anxieties. This is the time when Libraxin  can be of particular value. Libraxin, which combines the anti-anxiety properties of Librium with the anti-secretory properties of clidinium, is most effective on the treatment of nervous dyspepsia.

It is possible that Potter’s booklet was aimed at GPs or psychiatrists rather than members of the public, for printed on the back flap were the following words:

Basic NHS cost 25 tablets: 

3/10 ½  (500 rate)

4/8d. (100 rate)

5/4d.(25 rate)

Potter is an interesting writer. Born in London on 1 February 1900, just a week after the death of Queen Victoria, he also missed action in the First World War, it having ended while he was training to be an officer. He then went on to study English at Oxford. On graduating he was offered a job as a Talks Producer for the fledgling BBC, but turned it down because it was based in Birmingham, where he didn’t want to live. Instead he established himself as an elocution teacher in London, advertising ‘Cockney accents cured ‘. He was then a tutor and schoolmaster before becoming private secretary to the playwright Henry Arthur Jones.

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Bluff Your Way in Literature

Found in a cupboard at Jot HQ is this very slim (66 pages), pocket sized guide on how to ‘ get on ‘ in the literary world by surely the one man qualified to help you. By 1966, when the booklet appeared from Wolfe Publishing, who had hitherto brought out other bluffer’s guides to Finance, Music and Marketing,  Martin, Seymour- Smith was already the best-known and most industrious compiler of literary reference works in Britain. But unlike many literary critics he came to this point in a meandering way. Having started auspiciously as the undergraduate editor of both Oxford University’s Isis Magazine and Oxford Poetry, he subsequently sailed off to Majorca to tutor the son of Robert Graves, then spent six years as a schoolmaster in Sussex, and it was only from 1960 that he was able to support himself as a freelance writer.

His poetry had already impressed many critics, including C. H .Sisson and Geoffrey Grigson. Robert Nye dubbed him ‘the best British poet after 1945’, but to most readers of novels, he was , with a reading knowledge of twenty languages, simply the most wide-ranging critic of world fiction in the UK. Like Grigson, he was not afraid to court notoriety by his outspoken views on certain modish writers. For instance, he criticized the work of John Fowles, Muriel Spark, C. P.Snow, Malcolm Bradbury and Ted Hughes. He also felt that Shaw, Pinter, Attwood, Auden and Tom Stoppard were over-rated. On the other hand he argued that Hardy, Laura Riding, Wyndham Lewis and Rayner Heppenstall were severely underrated. Even more controversially, he called Wyndham Lewis ‘ the greatest British writer of the twentieth century ‘.

Grigson felt the same about the lack of attention given to Lewis by fashionable critics. In many ways the two critics shared certain traits: Seymour-Smith described himself as ‘ tense, malarial, angry as a bull when roused, ugly, clownish…and a compulsive talker’. Like Grigson, he kept himself away from the literary establishment, ‘mistrusting its machinations and self-importance’.  According to the reviewer of Seymour-Smith’s Who’s Who in Twentieth Century Literature, he ‘wasn’t for everyone’. He could be over harsh and mean spirited. His many ‘put downs and undercooked psychoanalysis’ might alienate some readers. However, he compensated for some hilariously biased judgments by his willingness to challenge received wisdom and established reputations. Such a book, the reviewer concluded ‘would be impossible to write today’. Times change. In the current  literary world, where diversity and Wokeness count for more than talent and originality, we perhaps could do with someone like Seymour –Smith to kick over the ant-hill.

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Leonard Rossiter

The Lowest Form of Wit

Now that the season of good will to all men is behind us Jot 101 can safely tackle the art of sarcasm, examples of which can be found in a compilation published by the gifted comic actor  Leonard Rossiter ( The Rise and Fall of Reginald Perrin, Rising Damp) in The Lowest Form of Wit (1981).

Now I ‘ didn’t get where I am today ‘ by insisting that all the items   included in his book are good or even funny examples of sarcasm, but here are some of the better ones:-

The novelist James Joyce had an encounter with a fan, a woman who grabbed his hand and asked him fervently:

‘ May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses ?’

‘ No’, Joyce told her. ‘ It did other things too.’

Fred Keating once remarked of the actress Tallulah Bankhead:

‘I’ve just spend an hour talking to Tallulah for a few minutes.’

Of Hollywood Rex Reed remarked:

‘Hollywood is where if you don’t have happiness you send out for it.’

Margaret Kendal called Sarah Bernhardt:

‘ A great actress from the waist down.’

And Somerset Maugham , watching Spencer Tracy on set during the filming of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde asked a friend beside him:

‘Which is he playing now?’ 

Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree was nothing if not dramatic in his entrances on stage, always contriving to make the greatest impact on an audience when he appeared for the first time. So, on the opening might of his latest play, he flung open a pair of double- doors centre-stage, at the back of the set, and stood there for a moment holding an impressive attitude and looking straight out into the house. He was just about to launch into his first speech when he was pre—empted by a voice from the goods shouting:

‘Next station Marble Arch!’

Horace Walpole commented on the on the works of Samuel Richardson:

‘The works of Richardson …are pictures of high life as conceived by a bookseller, and romances as they would be spiritualized by a Methodist preacher.’

Oscar Wilde on Hall Caine:

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More anecdotes of famous writers and two others

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil Hunt

( extracted from Fun with the Famous by H. Cecil Hunt (1928)

 

Sir James Barrie

 When asked to give his recipe for successful writing, his  reply was typical of the man, and, of course, it was scribbled on a crumpled sheet of tobacco wrapping:

 

Journalism: 2 pipes      = 1 hour

2 hours      = 1 idea

1 idea        = 3 paragraphs

3 pars         = I leader.

 

Fiction:      8 pipes         = 1 ounce

7 ounces       = 1 week

2 weeks        = 1 chapter

20 chapters   = 1 nib

2 nibs            = I novel

 

Winston Churchill (the novelist)

 

Mr Churchill has a namesake, an American novelist who is his senior by a few years. It is said that when the American writer first published a novel he received a notes from the British Winston Churchill protesting against the unwarranted use of his distinguished and uncommon name. To this protest came this amusing reply:

“Dear Sir, How interesting ! Is there really another Winston Churchill ? Yours truly, Winston Churchill.”

 

Dr Samuel Johnson

 

A characteristic but little known Johnson story must be included, because Johnson means so much in British humour. At a dinner party in London the little man held the table by his brilliant talk and ready wit. During a pause in the conversation he took a rather generous mouthful of hot potato, which he rapidly returned to his plate by the quickest, if not the most polite method. Without a moment’s hesitation he looked round at the circle of somewhat startled countenances, and said quite calmly:

“A fool would have swallowed that “. Continue reading

Yet more ‘Howlers’

Jot 101 howlers pic of Cecil HuntCecil Hunt ( 1902 – 54)  was a journalist, editor, novelist and anthologist best known throughout the English-speaking world for his compendiums of schoolboy ‘ howlers’. His first collection appeared in 1928 and proved to be a best-seller. At various times afterwards he produced other anthologies of howlers as well as guides to journalism, which he had studied at King’s College, London,  and creative writing, books on the origins of words and a collection of unintentionally funny letters. He also wrote novels under two pseudonyms ( Robert Payne and John Devon). Interestingly, Hunt was President of the London Writers’ Circle and was instrumental in establishing Swanwick Writers’ Summer School. He died at just 51, but ironically his wife lived to be 107.

Hunt always denied the charge that he concocted many of the howlers that made him famous, explaining that there was no need to cheat, as ‘the genuine supply is ample ‘.

We must take him at his word, though reading some of the following examples from Science and Nature, taken from the second (1957) edition of My Favourite Howlers, it is sometimes easier to believe that they are product of a witty and inventive man rather than a ignorant schoolboy.

 

Science and Nature

The Solar System is a way of teaching singing

 

An herbaceous border is one who boards all the week and goes home on Saturdays and Sundays

 

Iron filings are always attracted by a magnate

 

An aorta is a man who makes very long speeches. Continue reading

Selhurst—The Public School that never was

 

Jot 101 Selhurst Humphry Berkeley pic

Hoaxes, if done well, often fool people—even those who are generally regarded as reasonably intelligent. One that caught out some Oxbridge educated people who ought to have known better, was the piece of tom foolery dreamt up in 1948 by a  twenty-two year old Cambridge undergraduate who later became an MP. His name was Humphry Berkeley and he invented a public school called Selhurst whose head was a certain H. Rochester Sneath.

 

Berkeley tried an experiment with any undergraduates he came across. Steering the conversation towards the subject of where he went to school, Berkeley, when asked would reply: ‘Well, as a matter of fact I went to a school called Selhurst. The name was brilliant chosen. It had a plausibility about it, unless, of course, you knew that Selhurst Park was the home of Crystal Palace football club. Had you this knowledge you may have asked some probing questions, but doubtless in 1948 most Oxbridge undergraduates would not have been football fans. Anyway, Richard Boston takes up the story:

 

‘ Registering his questioner’s non-recognition of the name he would follow up with ‘ Haven’t you hard of Selhurst?’ Anxious not to cause offence his acquaintance would reply,’ Of course I’ve heard of it my dear fellow.’ After various such successful experiments Berkeley knew that he had found the perfect name for what he calls a minor public school of ‘ the third degree’.

 

The next move was to have some letter headings printed with words at the top reading ‘Selhurst School, Near Petworth, Sussex. From the Headmaster H. Rochester Sneath.’ At small expense but with considerable ingenuity, Berkeley was able to make a forwarding arrangement with the Post Office.  ( Another ruse was to pretend that he was on staying holiday with an imaginary sister to whom letters should be sent .) Now he was in business.

 

The first letter was to the Master of Marlborough College. H. Rochester Sneath announced that the three–hundreth anniversary of the foundation of Selhurst was coming up , and that he was anxious to have the opportunity of entertaining Their Majesties on the occasion. ‘Perhaps you would be kind enough to let me know how you managed to engineer a visit recently from   the King and Queen’. He also asked for any helpful tips about how to treat royalty. Continue reading

Little known historical facts

(for use in pub quizzes)

 

Henry the First was drowned in the wreck of the Channel Steamer called the White Star Line

 

When Englishmen on one side fight Englishmen on the other it is called a General Election.

 

Another name for Tories is Preservatives.

 

Karl Marx is a character in “The Third Round “by Sapper

 

The chief work of the British in Egypt since 1880 has been the extermination of the sphinxes and the evacuation of old caves

 

When Wolsey was young he was the son of a butcher.

 

The Battle of Trafalgar was fought on sea, and therefore it is sometimes called Waterloo

 

“ Bring out your dead”, was what the judges said when a prisoner was brought from his cells for trial.

 

Childe Harold was defeated at Hastings by William the Conqueror.

 

Garibaldi was a maker of biscuits

 

Henry the Seventh did not allow retainers to have livers

 

William the Second met his death by stepping on a hot coal while riding in the New Forest

 

Mussolini is a type of material used for ladies’ stockings

 

James the Fourth of Scotland afterwards became James the Fourth of England because his mother, Margaret of Norway, had died childless.

 

After the Battle of Worcester, Charles the Second fled disguised as a pheasant

 

Nelson was born a weak and sickly man. He grew up to be a weak and sickly boy. Unfortunately the had his eye shot out by Napoleon. He is now a statue in Trafalgar Square, and he has his hand out saying, “Lest we forget “. Continue reading

Patience Strong

Jot 101 Patience Strong Calendat pic 001Found amongst a pile of books at Jot HQ, the pocket-sized ‘Patience Strong ‘Quiet Corner ‘calendar for 1955 with its sepia photographs of ‘ picturesque ‘ spots in England. We had almost forgotten that publishers still used sepia photographs as late as this, but then remembered the lifeless and dispiriting photographs of landscapes and empty streets in Arthur Mee’s ‘King’s England’ series of county guide books. No wonder the county   guides  published by Shell from 1934 were regarded as such a welcome change from these  dreary volumes. Mee’s totally predictable descriptions of towns and villages in each county were matched by Strong’s trite and cliché-ridden verse formatted as prose in her calendar and exemplified  in ‘ The Sunlit Way ‘which accompanied a traffic-free photo of a ‘ quiet corner of old Warwick ‘ on the page for January 1955.

The Sunlit Way

‘May the way that lies ahead be lit with sunny gleams—and prove to be the road to the fulfilment of your dream…And may it lead you to the place where lost hopes are restored—where love is true and life is good and faith has its reward.’

Tumpty-tum …tumpety tum

England’s Treasures (October)

‘All along the roads of England treasures can be seen. Little old world villages with church and pond and green . Gems of beauty—cherish them and guard them jealously—and let no vandal touch the sacred scenes of history.’

Not sure about the scansion there, Patience.

 

The Glorious Month (May)

May is the month of bloom and blossom.

     May is the month of song and light.

Of tulips by the garden path

      And hawthorn hedges, snowy white.

May brings the bluebells to the wood

      And paints the cowslips by the stream.

May makes this sad old bad old world

      As lovely as a poet’s dream.

 

Which poet would that be?
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Max  Beerbohm and The Age of Improvement

In a recent Jot we looked at the way Sir Max Beerbohm ‘ improved ‘ certain books in his library by adding illustrations to them or altering their printed illustrations to make a point about the authors. Some of these books were inscribed to him by the authors, but that didn’t seem to bother Beerbohm. On occasion he would also add false inscriptions from famous people, such as Queen Victoria.

The source of information concerning these amusing interventions may have been the catalogue of ‘ The Library and Literary Manuscripts of the late Sir Max Beerbohm ‘that Sotheby & Co issued to accompany the sale of the author and artist’s library on 12 and 13thDecember 1960. Beerbohm had died in (  ) and his widow followed him on (  ).

Anyone wishing to obtain some idea of Beerbohm’s literary likes and dislikes could hardly do better than to study this catalogue, which is profusely illustrated. It is quite obvious that he didn’t take to Rudyard Kipling and the feeling was probably mutual.

Jot 101 Beerbohm Kipling improvement 001

Here is a description of Lot 136.

KIPLING ( RUDYARD) BARRACK-ROOM BALLADS and other verse; the illustration on the title-page altered by Max Beerbohm  into a portrait of Kipling, blood dripping from his red fingernails; signature of Beerbohm and an inscription: ‘H.M.B. from F.H.H. on fly-leaves, original cloth.                                                                                                                            8vo 1892

And here is Lot 137.

KIPLING (RUDYARD)  A Diversity of Creatures , Max Beerbohm has introduced a pen-and-ink caricature portrait of Kipling, behind bars, into the design facing the title-page, and under the author’s name has written: ‘the Apocalypic (sic) Bounder who can do such fine things but mostly prefers to stand ( on tip-toe and stridently) for all that is cheap and nasty’; pen-scoring on last page, original limp red calf gilt                                                                                                                                                                                                               8vo Macmillan and Co., 1917

And Lot 139

Le Gallienne (Richard) RUDYARD KIPLING, A CRITICISM, inscribed on fly-leaf by the author : ‘ For Max from Dick. June 1900’, the portrait of Kipling altered by Max Beerbohm into a bitterly satiric caricature, and the title changed from ‘ Rudyard Kipling ‘ to ‘Rudyard Kipling’s soul’, original cloth, the leaf bearing the portrait detached and fore-edge frayed. 8vo 1900.

And lot 239

To the frontispiece of Frederick Whyte’s A Bachelor‘s London(1931), which features a drawing by Josephine Harrison entitled ‘ The House of the Light that Failed ‘, Beerbohm has added a pencil caricature of Kipling and four lines of verse parodying the poet:

Fred Whyte ‘e done me bloody proud,

So to Je’ovah Thunder-browed

Says I, “ O Jah, be with me yet,

Lest I forget, lest I forget.” 
Continue reading

Some anecdotes from ‘Fun with the Famous’ by H. Cecil Hunt (1928)

Jot 101 Kipling's home in sussex

 

Funny book titles in Prince Edward’s Library.

 

In the library of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII) at Marlborough House were many false book spines inscribed with amusing titles, most dating from the Victorian age. The following particularly amused the Prince.

 

Boyle on Steam.

 

Lady Godiva on the Horse

 

Constable’s notes on motoring.

 

Bacon’s History of Greece

 

Nine Tales of a Cat

 

The Voyage of Noah by Arkwright.

 

Payne’s Dentistry

 

Warm Receptions by Burns

 

First Sight by Lovett.

 

Spare the Tree by Hewett

 

Cochin’s Lays of China.

 

‘The Prince is often amused at visitors who cannot find their way out of this quaint library. There is no apparent exit, but one of the morocco volumes bears the title “ The Passage Out “, and it is in the centre of the door, so that the discerning explorer soon has a clue to his escape.’

 

Charles Wesley meets ‘ Beau’ Nash.

 

The great Wesley once had an encounter with the pompous Beau Nash. The meeting was in a narrow street, and the right of way obviously belonged to the divine. The dandy, drawing himself up proudly, said in his most haughty manner:

“I never make way for fools.”. I always do”, said Wesley, quickly stepping aside.

 

Kipling’s autographs

 

A comical situation arose some years ago when the writer made a habit of paying even small bills by cheque. He found that his balance was much larger than the counterfoils of his cheque-book warranted. It was discovered that local tradesmen never cashed his cheques. They found that admiring visitors would often willingly but them for much more than the values for which they were drawn. [Above is Kipling’s house in Sussex] Continue reading

Some lesser known geographical facts ( useful for quizzes)

 

More from From The Howlers Omnibus(1928)

Jot 101 howlers lyons-mapThe cold at the North Pole is so great that the towns there are not inhabited

 

Oxo is the capital of Norway

 

Lipton is the capital of Ceylon

 

The population of London is a bit too thick

 

China is called China because the first china was made there

 

Persian cats is the chief industry of Persia, hence the word “ purr”.

 

Africa is called the Dark Continent because the negroes in it are black

 

In Holland the people make use of water to drive their windmills.

 

The people in Iceland are called Equinoxes

 

Volcanoes  throw out saliva

 

The valley of the Rhone grows tea, which is packed at Lyons.

 

A mountain range is a cooking stove used at high altitudes.

 

The Menai straits are crossed by a tubercular bridge Continue reading

Max Beerbohm—practical joker

Max Beerbohm young picIn The C. O. Jones Compendium of Practical Jokes(1982) Richard Boston narrates some entertaining anecdotes concerning the humorist Max Beerbohm. Most of those involving the ‘ alteration ‘ of books remind us of the hilarious alterations  made in the ‘50s and 60s by Joe Orton and Kenneth Halliwell on books borrowed from Islington Public Library, where they are still displayed. It is possible that the two men got their idea from Beerbohm.

One joke, according to Boston, was played on ‘a volume of exceptionally solemn poems by a dullard called Herbert Trench ‘. Boston doesn’t identify  the collection, but since it contained a ‘ romantic dialogue between Apollo and a mariner ‘ it was definitely Apollo and the Seaman(1908).This is what Beerbohm did.

With a sharp knife and painstaking care Max scraped out the aspirates at the beginning of every word beginning with ‘h’ spoken by the mariner, and substituted an apostrophe. The result was that a speech intended to be of a classical dignity was turned into straight Cockney. Max then sent the book to the author, commenting that he had notpreviously come across this edition of the book.

The work had been done so carefully that it appeared to be perfectly genuine. At first Trench was horrified. When he tumbled, he was offended. Max made it up by explaining to Trench that he considered him to be a true poet —-‘Otherwise there wouldn’t be any fun in making fun of you’.

 Some lines altered by Beerbohm may have appeared thus:

Apollo:    “ And whence did that craft hail, sailor,

Of which you seem so fond ?”

Seaman:   “ It was some ‘ arbour of the East

Back o‘ beyond, back o’ beyond. Continue reading