Punch, or the London Charivari, Volume 152, June 6, 1917 online

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Hot blasts of _sherki_ are our daily treat,
And toasted sandhills full of Johnny Turk
And almost anything that looks like work,
And thirst and flies and marches that would irk
A cast-iron soldier with asbestos feet."

Know, then, the thought was fathered by the wish
We oldsters feel, that you and everyone
Who through the heat and flies conspire to dish
The "_Drang nach Osten_" of the beastly Hun
Shall win their strenuous virtue's modest wage.
And if at Nishapur and Babylon
The cup runs dry, we'll fill it later on,
And here where Cherwell soothes the fretful don
In flowing sherbet pledge our easeful sage.


* * * * *


At a time when not a potato was to be found in all Kensington, the Food
Controller decided to form the Potato Appropriations Department. I was
put at its head and received my orders direct from that supreme

Up to the moment of being called upon to take up this important post I
was a Captain on the Staff of an Artillery Headquarters, and my
ignorance of the finer points of the potato was profound. It was
therefore with some trepidation that I proceeded to hold a lengthy
consultation with the Controller on the subject of the organisation and
general duties of my department. My official title, I was told, was
Appropriator of Tubers. I was further informed that, until the
department got into the swing of routine, it had better work under the
direct supervision of the Food Controller. I agreed.

I was then taken into the Controller's confidence with regard to a
certain matter, and it was suggested that I should see to it.

I demurred on the ground that I did not yet feel myself a sufficient
authority on the potato to carry out this particular duty; but the
Controller overcame my objection by sending for a Mrs. Marrow, an expert
on the Potato Utilisation Board. She appeared, a plump middle-aged lady,
attired appropriately in a costume of workmanlike simplicity.

Thus reinforced, I ordered the car and drove to Whitechapel. At the end
of a street, whose gutters were full of vegetable garbage I stopped,
and, descending, beckoned imperiously to an adjacent policeman.

"On duty for the Food Controller, constable," I said. "Take me to the
nearest greengrocer, please."

He saluted respectfully and led the way to where a long queue, armed
with a varied assortment of baskets and bags, waited impatiently and
clamoured. A hush fell on our approach. Two more policemen who now
appeared on the scene constituted themselves my retinue. Through a lane
opened in the throng I made a stately entrance, Mrs. Marrow and the
police bringing up the rear. I was confronted by a large flabby
individual, who grasped a cabbage in one hand and a number of
mangel-wurzels in the other.

"Good morning, Sir," I remarked courteously but firmly. "You are the
proprietor of this shop, I presume?"

His reply left no room for doubt.

"I am the A.T.," I said impressively, indicating the red brassard of
office presented to me by the Food Controller. "In case you do not know
what that means, I am the Appropriator of Tubers. A tuber, Sir, is a
potato. Now it has been brought to the notice of my chief, the Food
Controller, that certain vendors of vegetables are seeking to defraud
the public by selling as potatoes a totally different kind of vegetable
disguised with colouring matter and rubbed with earth."

I paused to allow this weighty announcement to sink in. My audience
gaped. I continued -

"Acting on orders received from the Controller I am making a series of
surprise inspections with a view to discovering the guilty parties, who
will be proceeded against under section A, subsection 2, paragraph 1,769
of Part III. of King's Reg's. - I mean, the Defence of the Realm Act. I
particularly wish you to understand," I went on ruthlessly, nipping an
indignant protest in the bud, "that I do not for a moment allege,
suggest or insinuate that you specifically are one of these
potato-swindlers; nevertheless I have my duty to do, and I must ask you
here and now to lay out your entire stock for inspection."

The flabby individual wiped his forehead and signed to a trembling

"Get 'em art," he said. "Fer Gawd's sake, get 'em art!"

Six bushel baskets of the precious vegetables were brought and laid in a
row at my feet.

"Perhaps, Madam," I said, turning to Mrs. Marrow, "you will be so kind
as to inspect these - ah, tubers. Mrs. Marrow," I explained to the
greengrocer, "the famous tuber expert."

In silence Mrs. Marrow began to overhaul the contents of the baskets,
every now and then picking out a particularly choice specimen, which she
added to an accumulating pile on the floor.

"Aha! Suspects!" I exclaimed grimly. "I shall take all these to the
laboratory at the Food Controller's Headquarters, where Mrs. Marrow will
submit each tuber to a meticulous test in order to satisfy herself as to
its _bona fides_. You will be gratified to hear that, should your
potatoes prove to be all they seem, the Controller will issue you a blue
card, registering you as a certified vendor of Government-tested
potatoes. This you may place in your window for the information of your
customers. If the test proves unsatisfactory" - I paused. In the deathly
silence the heavy breathing of Mrs. Marrow was distinctly audible - "you
will hear further," I concluded. "Weigh these suspects."

They turned the scale at eighteen pounds.

"Since in any case the potatoes will be rendered unfit for consumption
by the rigorous process through which they will be passed, I am
empowered by the Food Controller to compensate you in advance, at a rate
not exceeding sevenpence per pound, out of the special appropriation
funds, this sum to be returned in the event of the test proving

So saying I handed him ten-and-sixpence. The basket was carried out to
the car by one of the guardians of law and order. Then I headed for

The Food Controller met us breathlessly at the door.

"Oh, what darlings!" she exclaimed. "Do you think they will last out the
master's leave?"

"They've jolly well got to," declared the master promptly. "There are
limits, Elsie, to the elasticity of conscience. Besides, my ability to
maintain a flow of official phraseology is exhausted."

The Food Controller kissed me very sweetly. It was cheap at

* * * * *


[According to "a distinguished neutral" there is a great demand
in Constantinople just now for pianos.]

Of all occasions to unfaithful scoffers
Given by Turkey in this year of grace,
The unexpected homage that she offers
To the piano holds the foremost place.

For Turkish music, _vide_ GROVE and others,
Meant in the past the cymbals and big drum,
And piccolo, a group which wholly smothers
All other instruments and strikes them dumb.

Compared with this barbaric combination
The tinkling of the keys, so soft and clear,
Is lacking in explosive concentration,
And yet there's more in them than meets the ear.

At least, one reason for this revolution
Is plain; the keyboard, though its tones are cold,
Viewed as a means of rapid "execution"
Endears itself to Turks both Young and Old.

* * * * *

"M. Bratiano, Rumanian Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign
Affairs, has returned to Bukarest from Petrograd." - _The Times_.

The force of habit, we presume. How surprised the German Governor must
have been to see him.

* * * * *


_Artist_. "I RATHER LIKE THAT." _Super-Critic._ "BAH! PRETTY-PRETTY!

* * * * *


I have been examining a book by the POET LAUREATE, in which that learned
and painstaking man puts forward for general acceptance a new theory and
a new practice of metre in English poetry. It seems that our verse is
accentual, whereas it ought to be quantitative - or it may be the other
way about; my brain is in such a whirl with it all that I can't be
certain which is right, but I am sure that one of them is, and so I
leave you to take your choice. Failing that, you can buy Dr. BRIDGES'
book, which is entitled _Ibant Obscuri_ (Oxford University Press), and
thus expresses my inmost convictions about our great official poet and
his followers. We are henceforth to write hexameters in English on an
entirely new plan, of which the result is that they lose all likeness to
any hexameters previously encountered on the slopes of Parnassus or
anywhere else and become something so blind and staggering and
dreadfully amorphous that the whole mind of the reader rises up in
revolt against them.

That, at any rate, is my condition at this moment after going through a
course of them. I notice that the reviewers have been a little shy of
these hexametric efforts. They have mostly described them as
"interesting experiments" and have applauded Dr. BRIDGES for his
adventurous industry and his careful scholarship, and thereafter they
have skirmished on the outskirts and have shown a disinclination to come
to grips with the LAUREATE on the main question whether these hexameters
are a success or a failure. Now I have no hesitation whatever in
admitting my metrical ignorance and at the same time in denouncing as a
fiasco the experiment of Dr. BRIDGES. I have spent some time in
struggling with his hexameters; I have attempted to track his dactyls to
their lair; I have followed up what I took to be his spondees, and I am
thankful to say that I have managed to survive.

Let me now give some examples, not composed, it is true, by the
LAUREATE, but by myself. This is not an unfair proceeding, for it will
serve to show the effect of _Ibant Obscuri_ on a mind not too obtuse. I
promise that the rules shall be observed. There shall be six feet in
each line, dactyls or spondees, and the fifth foot shall be a dactyl and
the sixth a spondee or a trochee. Are you ready? Go!

Apollo now came forth his course through the sky to fulfil;
In other words it was morning and most people got out of bed;
And fathers of families munched and grumbled at their breakfasts,
Denouncing their bacon and not to be mollified with their
Coffee or tea, as the case might be, and the housewives reproved them,
Saying 'twas impossible to control them with such an example.

Beyond the above I cannot go, but I must add that the lines are of the
most perfect metrical lucidity and the purest melody when compared with
some written by the LAUREATE in _Ibant Obscuri_.

* * * * *


(_By Mr. Punch's Staff of Learned Clerks._)

Mr. H.G. WELLS also among the New Theologians is not an entirely
unexpected event. We have all had intimation in his later writings of
the coming of some such thesis as _God, The Invisible King_ (CASSELL). I
can see the deans making mincemeat of the rash author. All's well if
they'll eat some of the meat. And they may. At least this is no
super-subtle modernist divine dealing out old coins surreptitiously
stamped with a new image and superscription, but a plain blunt heretic
who knows his mind (or, rather, mood). But it is a reverent, indeed, I
dare to say, a noble book. The sanely and securely orthodox may read it
with profit if with shock. It should brace their faith, and will rob
them of nothing but a too-ready doubt that so forthright a house-breaker
may be a builder in his own way. There is indeed more faith in these
honest denials than in half the assents of the conformists. Just because
it is not a subtle book it should not be "dangerous." It is romantic,
rather; inspired, you might loosely say. The _Index Expurgatorius_ will
of course list it when they learn of it; but foolishly, because while
the philosophy, the cosmology, the metaphysics may be advanced (so
advanced as to be called hasty and apt to run into the theological
barrages), the religion, the mysticism, the "conviction of sin," the
vision of the invisibles, the perception of the imponderables, are
positive, vivid, sincere, passionate in phrasing and in intention.
Sincere as Mr. WELLS is always sincere; sincere rather than stable,
patient, learned and so forth. I rather wonder that he insists so much
on his _finite_ God. The postulate hardly touches his real thesis. And I
find it easier to believe that there may be some things behind "this
round world" that Mr. WELLS cannot fully understand because he (the
author) is finite - and busy - than accept what seems a contradiction in
terms to no particular end.

* * * * *

The author of _Grand Chain_ (NISBET) is profoundly aware that man is not
the master of his fate (though he may be the captain of his soul, which
is quite a different matter), and that the claim so universally put
forward, that the leopard can change his spots, is simply an excuse for
criticising the superficial pigmentation of other leopards. _Dermod
Randall_, Miss G.B. STERN'S hero, is certainly not the master of his
fate, which is inexorably moulded by the belief of his relatives,
ascendant and descendant, that he must inherit the vices of his father,
a particularly pard-like specimen, and may be expected at any minute to
come out in spots himself. As a matter of fact his only failings were a
young heart and a sense of humour; but, as these qualities were as out
of place in the _Randall_ family as a hornpipe at a funeral, _Dermod_
lives under a perpetual cloud of unmerited suspicion. How he is
compressed into a life groove, of which an ineffably turgid
respectability provides the chronic atmosphere, is the theme of _Grand
Chain_. And because the author possesses a wonderfully delicate gift of
satire and a power of character delineation that never gets out of hand,
she has written a novel deserving of more praise than the usual
reviewer, all too timid of superlatives, may venture to give.
Comparisons in criticism are dangerous, but Miss STERN'S philosophy
strongly calls to mind BUTLER'S _The Way of All Flesh_. At least there
is the same mordant and rather hopeless analysis of the power for evil
in a too complicated world of impeccable people with no sense of humour.
And in _Dermod's_ case the effect is heightened by the feeling that if
he had really been the irresponsible creature he was suspected of being
he would have come much nearer to controlling his own destinies. He
sowed a decent regard for his obligations, and reaped a perfect
whirlwind of well-to-do respectability. _Grand Chain_ is a really
remarkable novel, and no discriminating reader will overlook it.

* * * * *

Was it not Mr. ALBERT CHEVALIER who used to sing some hortatory lyrics
upon the inadvisability of introducing your donah to a pal? Something of
this sort, _mutatis mutandis_ in the matter of sex, might stand as the
moral of _That Red-headed Girl_(JENKINS). Because no sooner had _Julia_,
the heroine, got herself engaged to _Dick_ than the arrival of
auburn-tressed _Sheila_ so dazzled the youth that in less time than it
takes to write he had called the engagement off and prepared to marry
the new-comer. However, to square matters, _Sheila_ now jilted him;
whereupon he fled back to _Julia_ (meanwhile, though he knew it not,
legatee of twelve thousand a year) and promptly married her. Which was
entirely satisfactory, save from the view-point of Miss LOUISE HEILGERS,
who was left with her hero and heroine united and the whole affair at an
end before she had passed Chapter XII. Here however intervened a very
touching instance of filial piety. Springing to the rescue of her
author, and with no other possible motive or excuse than that of helping
Miss HEILGERS towards a publishable six-bobs-worth, the resourceful
_Julia_ determined to think that _Dick_ had married her for the money of
whose existence he was palpably unaware. He, on his part, not to be
outdone, played up to the situation thus created with a lunatic
behaviour that gave it the support it wanted. I need not, of course,
insult your intelligence with any indication of the end. A happy,
flagrantly artificial little comedy of manners, as exhibited by the
characters in polite pre-war fiction, and nowhere else.

* * * * *

[Illustration: _Resigned Patriot_. "DO WE DRAW FOR THIS, MY DEAR?"]

* * * * *


"On a front of fourteen yards, this position extends by a series of
redoubts and trenches eleven miles south-east of Gaza." - _Isle of
Man Times_.

* * * * *

"Lord Devonport ... hoped their Lordships would realise that the
stable necessaries of life had been brought under Government
control." - _Belfast News-Letter_.

They do realise it. You should hear their language about oats.

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Online LibraryVariousPunch, or the London Charivari, Volume 152, June 6, 1917 → online text (page 3 of 3)