You are currently browsing the daily archive for October 12, 2010.

So this past Sunday at Robbo’s Former Episcopal Church, the yoot choir served up a setting (contemporary, alas) of “All Things Bright And Beautiful” with the middle of the port-swiller daughters getting a solo.

It is probably a sign that my own soul is, in fact, beyond any hope of redemption that every time I hear this particular hymn (in whatever setting), I always half expect the last line to come out, “The Church Fuzz nicked them all.”

(By the bye, for you Python fans out there, I’ve always felt that the “Dead Bishop on the Landing” sketch was one of those done far better on record than in its other incarnations.  But that’s just me, Mr. Raymond Luxury-Yacht.)

Over this long hol weekend, I have had some time to peruse a collection of the letters of P.G. Wodehouse that I recently picked up somewhere or other.  One thing that struck me in particular is Plum’s occassional comments on the works of other authors, with many of which  I am familiar.  Por ejemplo, in a letter dated November 12, 1934 to his beloved step-daughter Leonora, Plum writes, in part:

BOOKS.  Yes, do send me the two Claudius books.  I’d love to have them.

I had a letter from Denis Mackail, laughing heartily at me for saying I liked Goodbye, Mr. Chips.  I still stick to it that it’s a jolly good book.  I was on the eve of getting the author’s last one, Lost Horizon, but mercifully found out in time it was a tender, wistful story of Tibet.  Gosh darn these writers who leap from one spot to another.

Have you read Evelyn Waugh’s Handful of Dust? Excellent in spots, but he ought to have you read over his stuff before he publishes it.  You would have told him (a) that he couldn’t have a sort of Mr. Mulliner farce chapter about the man going to Brighton if he wanted the story to be taken seriously and (b) for goodness sake to keep away from Brazil.

What a snare this travelling business is to the young writer.  He goes to some blasted jungle or other and imagines that everybody will be interested in it.

Also that Dickens stuff.  Marvellous as a short story, but much too dragged in.

If you have not read Evelyn Waugh’s Handful of Dust, by the way, not a little of the above will be lost on you.

As it happens, Handful is one of my very favorite of Waugh’s novels.  Having knocked off The Loved One in one evening this weekend, I intend to start in on it again tomorrow.  I’ll keep Plum’s advice in mind.  As for the works of James Hilton, I never read either book cited, although I’ve always meant to tackle Mr. Chips.  I once saw the old movie version of Lost Horizon and thought it pretty durn silly.

And as for Robert Graves?  On December 19, 1934, Plum mentions his books in another letter to Leonora:

Isn’t it amazing what a few books there are that one wants to read.  Mummie sent me a list yesterday to choose from, and the only one I could even contemplate reading was Moss Rose by Joseph Shearer.  One of them was that book of Phyllis Bottome’s – I forget the title – which is about lunatic asylums.  It simply beats me why anybody would want to read it.

I must say the same thing rather applies to those Claudius books.  I read I, Claudius and was interested, but I felt almost looney when I had finished.  I haven’t been able to bring myself to start the second one yet.

Plum also has some interesting things to say about other authors themselves.  For example, in a letter of November 14, 1923 to Leonora, he has this to say:

Oh yes, I was forgetting.  I have also met Scott Fitzgerald.  In fact, I met him again this morning.  He was off to New York with Truex, who is doing his play, The Vegetable.  I believe those stories you hear about his drinking are exaggerated.  He seems quite normal, and is a very nice chap indeed.  You would like him.  The only thing is, he goes into New York with a scrubby chin, looking perfectly foul.  I suppose he gets a shave when he arrives there, but it doesn’t show him at his best in Great Neck.  I would like to see more of him.

Of one of the great smart-asses of the 20th Century, Plum has this to say in a letter to Denis Mackail of May 24, 1951:

I have just been reading Hesketh Pearson’s little book supplementary to his book on Bernard Shaw.  What a repulsive man Shaw was.  At least, that is how he comes through in print.  I believe people who knew him said he was charming.  But what a damned Smart Alec.  Don’t you hate the sort of man who can never give a straight answer to a question?  If you had said, “Good morning” to Shaw, he would have said, “Who are you to say whether a morning is good?”  By the way, just for the record, he wanted to call one of his plays Bee, Beezy Bee.


Oh, and Mothe? Here is one you would find especially innurestin’.   In a letter of August 1, 1945 to William Townend, Plum says:

I withdraw what I said about Anthony Trollope!  He is too slow.  I liked the characters in Popenjay, but oh my aunt the way they loitered along.  I don’t think I shall ever be able to read him until life gets calmer and more settled.  I find now I can’t read a book unless it has action.

And then there is this about the father of Winnie the Pooh, in a letter to Denis Mackail dated November 27, 1945:

I don’t know if it is a proof of my saintlike nature, but I find that my personal animosity against a writer never affects my opinion of what he writes.  Nobody could be more anxious than myself, for instance, that Alan Alexander Milne should trip over a loose boot lace and break his bloody neck, yet I re-read his early stuff at regular intervals with all the old enjoyment and still maintain that in The Dover Road he produces about the best comedy in English.

(For those of you who don’t know, Wodehouse and Milne were pals when younger, but Milne developed a jealous streak when Plum started to gain notoriety.  The above was written after Milne published a letter in the newspapers supporting the (false) accusation that Plum collaborated with the Nazis during WWII.) 

There are other tidbits, too.  For instance, Wodehouse has some rayther cruel things to say about Angela Thirkell, whom I have not read.  But it’s most fun when he’s airing opinions about somebody with whom one is passing familiar.

And in that vein, I offer this final example in toto.  On November 24, 1948, Wodehouse wrote to Guy Bolton:

I take it you will come back with the company.  I shall meet you at the pier and immediately start to discuss Bysshe Shelley.  I went out and blew three dollars on a book containing all his poems and Keats’s, and I want you to tip me off as to which are his winners.  I have always liked ‘Epipsychidion’ and ‘Ozymandias’, but last night I tackled ‘The Revolt of Islam’ and it was like being beaten over the head with a sandbag.  I’m afraid I’ve got one of those secondrate minds, because, while I realize that Shelley is in the Shakespeare and Milton class, I much prefer Tennyson, who isn’t.

Incidentally, what lousy prose Shelley wrote.  I do hate the way people wrote in those days. ‘It is an experiment on the temper of the public mind, as to how far a thirst for a happier conditions of moral and political society survives, among the enlightened and refined, the tempests which have shaken the age in which we live.  I have sought to enlist the harmony of metrical language, the ethereal combination of the fancy, the rapid and sublte transitions of human passion, all those elements which essentially compose a Poem, in the cause of a liberal and comprehensive morality.’  Block those double adjectives, Perce!

Why will people collect ALL a poet’s work into a volume instead of burying the bad stuff?  It’s a nasty jar, after reading ‘The Nightingale’, to come on the following little effort of Keats:

There was a naughty boy,

And a naughty boy was he,

He kept little fishes

In washing tubs three

In spite

Of the might

Of the maid

Nor afraid

Of his Granny-good –

He often would

Hurly burly

Get up early…..

I can see Keats shoving that one away in a drawer and saying to himself, ‘Thank God no-one will ever see that baby!’ And then along comes some damned fool and publishes it.

Double heh.   What do you suppose Plum would have made of the blogsphere and the ability to publish instantaniously any damned fool thought that floats across one’s brain?


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October 2010