Dyneley Hussey returns to the fray with a curious idea. Entrants are to imagine that they are dispossessed aristocrats who have been invited back to the family seat by the nouveau-riche owner. They have to sign the visitor’s book in verse. It’s such an odd competition that one suspects that it is a little marker being set half-unconsciously down about the decline of certain land-owning families. David Cannadine’s survey, The Decline And Fall Of The British Aristocracy effectively locates the change in the power of the landed gentry to the years between (especially) the marginalisation of the House of Lords by Lloyd George and the extension of the franchise – and we’re only looking at competitions set under two years after universal suffrage.
About a hundred people entered this one, mostly offering rude retorts from the former owner to the new incumbent. But Hussey is less than happy at this froth of witty bile. In fact he gives the top prize to H.C.M. (second week running for him!) precisely because ‘he alone has expressed himself in terms which the host would find flattering, and the guest a relief to outraged feelings’. He adds that new peers are not all ‘guttlers like Gnatho’, a phrase not often now heard (nor then – Gnatho is a parasitical companion in a play by the Latin writer Terence, but I guess Hussey is thinking of Rabelais, who borrows Gnatho in Pantagruel:
… Gnatho and others of a like Kidney, when in the Wine-shops and Taverns, in which Places
they ordinarily kept their Schools, seeing the Guests served with some good Meats and delicate
Morsels, they would villainously spit in the Dishes, so that the Guests, disgusted at their
infamous Spittings and Snivellings, might desist from eating the Meats set before them, and
the Whole should be left to these villainous Spitters and Snivellers.
A guttler means a glutton, and it’s a word that deserves a comeback.
After that, the winning entries may come as a let-down. James Hall sneaks second place from William Bliss.
22B – it is now the end of August 1930 – asks for the kinds of letters which would be good fodder for the silly season. One (not quoted) letter by a J.M. is about renaming the days of the week, and that sounds quite amusing, but the winners – nearly H.C.M again – but Fair-Play and G.D.Hadley instead, are a bit inconsequential for me. Hadley’s had a PS about Turkisg baths that I will restore when I relocate it, but don’t build your hopes up.
Neither of these would win a prize today, I am fairly sure.