PLUM PUNCH: THE LIFE OF WRITERS
P. G. Wodehouse
A silence had fallen upon the smoking-room. The warrior just back from the front had enquired after GEORGE VANDERPOOP, and we, who knew that GEORGE'S gentle spirit had, to use a metaphor after his own heart, long since been withdrawn from circulation, were feeling uncomfortable and wondering how to break the news.
SMITHSON is our specialist in tact, and we looked to him to be spokesman.
"GEORGE," said SMITHSON at last, "the late GEORGE VANDERPOOP—"
"Late!" exclaimed the warrior; "is he dead?"
"As any doornail," replied SMITHSON sadly. "Perhaps you would care to hear the story. It is sad, but interesting. You may recollect that, when you sailed, he was starting his journalistic career. For a young writer he had done remarkably well. The Daily Telephone had printed two of his contributions to their correspondence column, and a bright pen picture of his, describing how LEE'S Lozenges for the Liver had snatched him from almost certain death, had quite a vogue. LEE, I believe, actually commissioned him to do a series on the subject."
"Well?" said the warrior.
"Well, he was, as I say, prospering very fairly, when in an unlucky moment he began to make a collection of editorial rejection forms. He had always been a somewhat easy prey to scourges of that description. But when he had passed safely through a sharp attack of Philatelism and a rather nasty bout of Autographomania, everyone hoped and believed that he had turned the corner. The progress of his last illness was very rapid. Within a year he wanted but one specimen to make the complete set. This was the one published from the offices of the Scrutinizer. All the rest he had obtained with the greatest ease. I remember his telling me that a single short story of his, called The Vengeance of Vera Dalrymple, had been instrumental in securing no less than thirty perfect specimens. Poor GEORGE! I was with him when he made his first attempt on the Scrutinizer. He had baited his hook with an essay on Evolution. He read me one or two passages from it. I stopped him at the third paragraph, and congratulated him in advance, little thinking that it was sympathy rather than congratulations that he needed. When I saw him a week afterwards he was looking haggard. I questioned him, and by slow degrees drew out the story. The article on Evolution had been printed.
"'Never say die, GEORGE,' I said. 'Send them Vera Dalrymple. No paper can take that.'
"He sent it. The Scrutinizer, which had been running for nearly a century without publishing a line of fiction, took it and asked for more. It was as if there were an editorial conspiracy against him."
"Well?" said the man of war.
"Then," said SMITHSON, "GEORGE pulled himself together. He wrote a parody of 'The Minstrel Boy.' I have seen a good many parodies, but never such a parody as that. By return of post came a long envelope bearing the crest of the Scrutinizer. 'At last,' he said, as he tore it open.
"'GEORGE, old man,' I said, 'your hand.'
"He looked at me a full minute. Then with a horrible, mirthless laugh he fell to the ground, and expired almost instantly. You will readily guess what killed him. The poem had been returned, but without a rejection form!"
MR. PUNCH, SIR,—It is the custom, I believe, in theatrical circles, for
dramatists to submit a scenario of their threatened effort to the Manager whom
they have marked down as their quarry. The Manager then extracts the best
ideas, hands them over to a friend to work up, and returns the scenario to its
gratified author as unsuitable for production. It is with a view to avoiding
this fate that I send the following notes to you instead of to the usual
address. My drama is based on the following paragraph, which has appeared in
some of the papers:—"SOCIETY CRAZE FOR TATTOOING.—
The hero of my drama, EMERSON P. ROCKITT, a young but rising candy
manufacturer of unimpeachable morals and appearance, has fallen
a victim to the charms of MAGNOLIA J. KEGGS, the daughter of an eminent
pork-packer. Her beautiful form and profuse illustrations have conquered a
heart previously adamant in its dealings with the tattooed sex. At the
beginning of the play the course of true love appears to be running smooth. The
happy pair are engaged, and the inauguration of the
connubial orgies is only delayed by the non-arrival of the bride's trousseau.
Unhappily, however, my hero has a rival, JASPER W. MORGAN, a rich but
unscrupulous scoundrel residing in the immediate vicinity. JASPER is the
proprietor of a peripatetic
The one flaw in EMERSON P. ROCKITT'S nature is a proneness to jealousy which is often found even in the best regulated bosoms. He lifts the curl—this will be a great scene—and starts back with a stifled groan. On the temple is tattooed a heart, and in the heart the initials S.B.P. "Farewell," he cries. "Stay," shrieks MAGNOLIA, "I can explain all." "'Tis useless," says he, "I can't wait." Off he goes, MAGNOLIA faints, and the curtain comes down on a powerful situation. End of Act One.
The rest of the play is, I am afraid, at present in a less completely
thought-out condition. In Act Two, to give scope for scenic effects, I depict
my hero's wanderings. I may make him go to
But it is the last Act that will be the hardest. Briefly, what happens is
this. Somehow or other EMERSON gets to find out that he has wronged MAGNOLIA.
Of course, the initials on her brow are not those of a man at all. They were
tattooed by her girlhood's earliest friend, SADIE B. POLKINGHORNE, of New
Birmingham, Va., when they were at school together. How the hero is to find
this out is at present unsettled. But he does find it out, and hurries back to
That is the plot, a little ragged at present, but with some judicious overhauling capable of being developed into a drama that will astonish nations and charm crowned heads.
Yours, HENRY WILLIAM-JONES.
MR. PUNCH, SIR,—Greatly stimulated and encouraged by the kindly spirit of
hospitality in which you received my projected Society drama, I venture to
submit to you some notes in connection with a novel which I now have in hand.
When an editor rejects a manuscript of mine, I send that manuscript to another
editor. When he accepts one, I send another manuscript to that editor. This is
the strenuous life. The purpose of my romance is to revive the type so popular
a few years back, in the manufacture of which there has lately been something
of a lull. I refer to the Inspired-Prophecy kind of novel, in which
After years of secret preparation,
In Book Two, Wake up,
Dear Mr. Punch, — Always on the lookout for long-felt wants, I
have noticed signs of public feeling on the subject of English Opera. If
Your obedient servant,
The opening scene of the drama is laid on the terrace in front of the ancestral castle of his Grace the Duke of PENGE. As the curtain rises, the entire domestic staff of the castle, together with all the gardeners but one, and a number of guests, are discovered singing, having evidently suspended work en masse for the purpose. The subject of their song is the missing gardener. Why has he not joined their merry throng? Once his reedy tenor was the mainstay of these choral celebrations. Now he walks apart, moody and silent. They repeat — why is it? But soft — he comes. "'Tis he — young RUPERT. But why so sad?" He bursts into song:
My friends, there are maids and to spare
On the face of this globular planet,
But none are so neat, so astoundingly sweet,
As his Grace's fair child Lady JANET,
And I love her. Nay more, she loves me.
To some it may scarce appear seemly.
It's presumption, alas! in a man of my class,
Still, we worship each other extremely.
And if Marquis or Earl drop a card on
She feels that their rank has but jarred on her;
From the earliest date
She has known that her fate
Is to marry a poor under-gardener.
And I trust that you will not be hard on her
For loving a poor under-gardener;
My face and my form
Simply took her by storm;
She couldn't resist me. So pardon her.
After which he goes on to explain that marriage is at present impossible, owing to the fact that the Duke, if he knew, would disapprove. Hence his melancholy. The Duke and the Duchess accompanied by their deliriously beautiful daughter, now appear, and after some spirited dialogue go off (L), Lady JANET remaining to join RUPERT in a duet, which is overheard by the villain of the piece, one Lord JASPER MURGLESHAW, a most unpleasant man. As he himself is a suitor for the hand of Lady JANET, the duet, couched as it is in the most impassioned terms, has no small significance for him. RUPERT now goes off (R) to resume his horticultural duties, and JANET renders a sentimental number. Re-enter Lord JASPER. He reveals the fact that he has overheard all, but promises, on condition that JANET will accept his bi-weekly proposal of marriage (now due), not to let the matter go any further. Otherwise, he says, conscience will compel him to reveal everything to the Duke. Dared to do so by JANET, he obligingly gives her away in a vindictive solo. RUPERT, returning at this juncture, clasps JANET to his bosom, and prepares for the worst. The worst happens. The Duchess begins to sing:
Oh, man of spuds and flowers,
With thoughts your rank above,
Why waste your working hours
In hopeless dreams of love?
In vain within the minster
His book the vicar scans;
To you my child's a spinster,
For I forbid the banns.
To which RUPERT —
Nay, pardon us, your Graces,
'Twere idle to deny
We should have known our places,
Her ladyship and
A gardener of gumption
Should fly at lowlier game;
Still, pardon my presumption,
And bless us all the same.
Then the Duke has his say:
I think on due reflection,
Considering who you are,
You let your young affection
Go very much too far.
The salient point to touch on,
Your blood is far from blue;
'Twould tarnish our escutcheon
Were she to marry you.
All is apparently over, when JANET puts the matter from her point of view:
Nay, father, hear your daughter.
Your heart, I'm much afraid,
Of bricks and stone and mortar
Must certainly be made.
Love is the only mentor
On whose advice I lean.
You give us your consent or
I'm off to
A scene of indescribable confusion follows. Everybody present sings the melody, choosing his or her own words. JANET is extracted from RUPERT'S arms, and retreats in disgrace, and at the most interesting point of the whole discussion the curtain falls. End of Act One.
Act Two takes place in the drawing-room of the Duke's
And now we come to the more strictly medical part of the opera. The gentleman is a celebrated doctor. It seems that the Duke has fallen ill. A habit of drinking only one bottle of port after dinner, instead of the three prescribed by his medical adviser, has induced anaemia, and his life is despaired of.
But at the last minute a distinguished-looking but mysterious stranger is shown in. It is RUPERT disguised in a pasteboard nose, a red beard and large blue spectacles. He desires to see the Duke. There is a brief interval, and then the door opens once more, and RUPERT re- enters, the Duke leaning on his arm, practically recovered. The Duke explains his remarkable recovery in the following song: —
Just now the doctors gave me up
I was so very ill;
In vain I quaffed the bitter cup,
And gulped the azure pill.
Transfusion of blood was my only hope!
I sighed with resignation;
For I couldn't see who was likely to
Submit to the operation.
No, he could not see
Who on earth would agree
To submit to the operation.
My frame was reduced to bones and skin,
I felt extremely weak,
And when they showed this gentleman in
I hadn't the strength to speak.
Consider then my surprise and joy,
When I heard him say "I'll chance it;
Ye shrewd M.D.'s, step this way, please,
And kindly bring your lancet."
With a fortitude rarely, if e'er, surpassed,
The process he endured,
Till, to put it briefly, I found at last
That I was completely cured.
And, by the way (for we ought to pay
Rewards to those who serve us),
Come, name your fee: whatever it be,
I'll grant it: don't be nervous.
All fears eschew,
Your fee is due,
So ask it: don't be nervous.
RUPERT snatches off his disguise, explains to the Duke that, owing to lucky ventures on the Stock Exchange, he is now a wealthy man, points out that as the same blood runs in their veins they are practically equals, obtains from him a courteous consent, and clasps JANET to his bosom. JASPER, re-entering at the moment, recoils in anguish, and marries a housemaid.
Finale, rendered by the Duke:
Go, ring the bells of the local
In a rollicking sort of way.
For the nearest clergyman up and search,
He shall marry you off to-day.
Yes, as soon as he can shall the clergyman
Proceed to make you one in law.
It's settled quite.
The gent on my right
Is my excellent future son-in-law.
My excellent future son-in-law.
And I'd like to suggest
That he's one of the best
My future son-in-law.
Quick Curtain, followed by deafening calls for the Author.
[A writer in The Globe has recently pointed out that the man who curdles blood must first curdle his own. The life of any one who turns out three sensational novels a year must be a perfect misery to him. He can never feel safe.]
Monday.—A strenuous day. Finished
Chapter Eleven of The Blood that Dripped on the Doormat. Rather
big scene where hero is lured into cellar and bitten by trained gazeka (poisonous) belonging to villain. (Mem.: Is this too much like the cobra incident in LE
QUEUX'S latest?) Writing this took it out of me very much. Went
for stroll along the
SCENE—A room at the Gaiety Theatre. The time is some weeks prior to the production of "The New Aladdin." The authors of that piece are gathered in a dense crowd at one end of the room. They are all talking at the same time, and the noise is deafening. Enter Mr. GEORGE EDWARDES, smiling paternally. His smile changes to a look of consternation as he surveys the excited mob before him. The authors rush towards him in a body, talking and gesticulating.
Mr. Edwardes (deprecatingly). Gentlemen! Gentlemen! (Confused shouting from the multitude.) Gentlemen, this is too much. You are not the Angry Mob in one of Mr. BEERBOHM TREE'S productions. You are gifted men of letters. Kindly behave as such.
The Authors (somewhat cowed by this severity). Well, but——
Mr. Edwardes. Well, but what? What's the trouble?
Mr. Tanner. It's like this. We—
Mr. Risque. It's this way. They—
Mr. Adrian Ross. This is the position. Everybody—
Mr. Grossmith. Listen to me. I—
Mr. Greenbank. I can explain in a—
Mr. Edwardes. Stop! Stop! One at a time. One at a time. TANNER! What's your trouble, TANNER?
Mr. Tanner. It's like this. We can't make any headway at all. We've been fighting ever since lunch. We—
Mr. Risque. It's your fault. You're so unreasonable.
Mr. Greenbank. You're just as bad.
Mr. Grossmith. I—
Mr. Edwardes. Stop! Stop! Stop! (The noise dies away gradually to a sullen murmur). Now, TANNER?
Mr. Tanner. It's like this. My idea is that we want something absolutely new—something perfectly fresh.
Mr. Risque. And then you go on to suggest EDMUND PAYNE as a page-boy?
Mr. Grossmith. Why drag in PAYNE? I—
Mr. Tanner. My idea is—something Gilbertian.
Mr. Risque. Well,
you've got it, haven't you. Your stout fairy who nestles in a buttercup is
copied from Iolanthe; your genie who has to
talk in rhyme comes from The Fairy's Dilemma; your chorus of policemen
from The Pirates of Penzance; and your
policeman lost in
Mr. Grossmith. Now I—
Mr. Tanner. What I say is, why not have a plot in the Second Act as well as the First?
All (scornfully). Shame! Shame!
Mr. Edwardes (more in sorrow than in anger). I never thought those words from JAMES TANNER!
[Mr. TANNER blushes, and hangs his head.]
Mr. Edwardes (breaking an awkward silence.) Well? Has anybody else any suggestion to make?
Mr. Grossmith. I've a notion, GEORGE, that you made a mistake in overcrowding your stage. Of course it gives a certain air of liveliness to a scene to have a lot of people about, but the audience soon gets tired of it. What you want is to drop all that, and strike out a new line altogether. Now, how about turning the Second Act into a humorous monologue? I shouldn't mind doing it. I must get off and change my clothes every now and then, of course; but the orchestra could play 'em a tune or two while I was away. How does that strike you?
Mr. Edwardes (doubtfully). Ye-es. And yet—
Mr. Adrian Ross. The secret of success in musical comedy—
Mr. Edwardes (coldly). I beg your pardon?
Mr. Adrian Ross. The secret of success in musical comedy, to my mind,- -
Mr. Edwardes (with frigid politeness). At any other time, my dear fellow, I should be more than glad to listen to your doubtless sound views on that obsolete form of entertainment; but time presses, and we have not yet settled the details of our new—(with icy emphasis)— extravaganza.
[Mr. ADRIAN ROSS starts and colours uncomfortably.]
Mr. Greenbank. I say—lyrics. That's what you want—good lyrics. And (complacently) we've got those all right.
Mr. Grossmith (effusively). Thank you, PERCY, thank you!
Mr. Tanner (who has been slowly recovering during the preceding remarks). I have a bright idea. Why not try writing the part of a comic foreigner for ROBERT NAINBY?
Mr. Edwardes. Excellent. Do it.
Mr. Grossmith (doubtfully). Must he have a part? It crowds up the stage, you know, it crowds up the stage.
Mr. Tanner. We must have a comic foreigner, you know. It's the Gaiety.
Mr. Grossmith. Then how about me doubling the part with my own? I should want to get off and change my clothes every now—
Mr. Risque. Something in the SHAW style would be my notion of extravaganza. Leave it to me, and I'll turn you out another Major Barbara.
Mr. Tanner. GILBERT would be my model, as I have said. You'd much better leave the whole thing to me.
Mr. Grossmith. Tell you what. Don't either of you Johnnies write anything. Simply let me come on and gag. How would that do?
Mr. Adrian Ross. Why not turn the thing into a concert? Nobody really wants to hear dialogue. What they want is to get on to the songs. I'll write you a dozen lyrics, and you can dole them out among the company. Then TANNER and RISQUE could take a holiday. I'm sure they want it. They're looking quite flushed.
All the authors (simultaneously). Nonsense! Why— That's absurd! I— Rot! Look here— And then, you see— I mean, it's this way—
Mr. Edwardes (waving his hands agitatedly). Stop! Stop!
All. Sh—h! Sh—h!
Mr. Tanner. Can't you be quiet, ROSS?
Mr. Risque. Do shut up, GROSSMITH!
Mr. Grossmith. Just for one moment, TANNER.
Mr. Adrian Ross. You talk such a lot, GREENBANK. That's your trouble.
Mr. Greenbank. RISQUE, Mr. EDWARDES is speaking.
Mr. Edwardes. Please listen to me. I see now that I was wrong to let you meet together like this to talk things over. It was a mistake. The only wonder to me is that you are all still alive. What you must do now is to separate, and work apart from one another. Each of you peg away exactly as you think fit, irrespective of the others. Then, when you've finished, we'll lump the whole lot together, and have it acted.
Mr. Tanner. And if the gallery don't like it, why, they must lump it.
Mr. Edwardes. And boo to the inevitable? Just so.
TIME: Some sixty years hence. SCENE: the
When I was young I used to think,
Perhaps a little oddly,
That men might be as black as ink
So long as they were godly.
But wisdom comes, as years progress,
And Youth's ideals shatters:
And now I see that cleanliness
Is the only thing that matters.
The youth who would succeed in life,
All opposition squashing,
Who'd make a name, and win a wife,
Must never scamp his washing.
A girl who's sensible will feel
No diffidence in snubbing
A suitor who cannot conceal
His urgent need of tubbing.
Having touched thus on the brighter side of his position, Lord SUNLIGHT
comes to the single fly in his ointment. There is one man in
LUX goes out, and enter Lord JASPER, who propounds a devilish scheme. It should be mentioned that he loves Lady LUX (in his own vile way). He proposes that LUX shall lead AUBREY to fall in love with her, tell him that she cannot marry anyone who does not use soap regularly and in large quantities, and so induce AUBREY to spend his money. As a reward, he, JASPER, is to marry her. Lord SUNLIGHT consents. None of LUX'S suitors have any money, and JASPER is as eligible as any in point of rank. The scheme is mentioned to LUX. The dutiful daughter reluctantly agrees to play the part.
Act II. TIME: three months later. SCENE: the terrace in front of
Now who was the man whose face to scan would have taken you all
your time, Because it was so concealed, you know, behind a mask of grime?
Who was the chap who cared not a scrap for what the people said? Who is the man who, if he can, should hide his shamefaced head?
It's AUBREY JELLICOE, it's
I said, "to wash is simply bosh!"
But now I know
That my views were most unsound;
So now I've changed my ground,
And I'm your clean, keen, AUBREY JELLICOE.
I said that I hoped that, if ever I soaped, you'd write me down
an ass: I felt no shame when the moment came to see myself in the glass. I never cared when people stared. It didn't "amount to shucks," (As Americans say) until one day I fell in love with LUX;
And I'm AUBREY JELLICOE, the speckless JELLICOE!
No spot or stain can now remain
On me. Oh, no!
Though all my money's spent,
Yet I am quite content
To be your clean, keen, AUBREY JELLICOE.
Exit. Enter LUX. It appears that a hitch has occurred in the scheme. She has made AUBREY love her, and spend all his fortune on soap; but now she, in turn, loves him. Will her father give his consent? Never. She asks him.
Lord SUNLIGHT. My child would wed a commoner without a penny!
Can I believe you? Lady LUX. Is there no hope then? Lord SUNLIGHT. Child, I won't deceive you.
Big scene now. Enter JASPER. JASPER (sings):—
Jasper. With the guile of a snake I have sought
And now may I claim my reward?
I worship your beautiful daughter:
Consent to our union, my Lord.
Lord Sunlight. Yes, I think you may fittingly clasp her.
My boy, here's my blessing. She's yours.
And, 'pon honour, you're lucky, young JASPER!
She's jilted her suitors in scores.
But since such a thorough success is
The neat little scheme that you planned,
I hereby approve your addresses,
And formally give you her hand.
Enter AUBREY. He sees JASPER about to embrace Lady LUX, and overhearing Lord SUNLIGHT'S last words, breaks in:—
Aubrey. Hullo, what's this little drama?
Hullo, what is this that I see?
You blot on this sweet panorama,
This Lady's engaged, Sir, to me.
The Earl explains. Dramatic pause. Then LUX plays the trump card which she has been holding back, which is that many years ago, quite by accident, she discovered an excellent substitute for soap. It is efficient and can be manufactured at an infinitesimal cost. Will her father give his consent to her marriage with AUBREY, or must she resort to the last, dread expedient of giving her secret to the world? JASPER slinks off R., Lord SUNLIGHT takes the centre of the stage, and with a hand on each of their heads, says in a low voice, as they kneel before him, "My children, bless you!"