Charles Riddell give the entrants to the A competition such a complex set of instructions that you sense it’s a bit doomed. He wants an epigram on any subject (‘on any subject’, a phrase hated by almost all competitors) in which a foreign language is used in the four-line rhymed piece, in the rhyming bit, but no more than two lines of this, got it? No, you’re getting confused as well. Riddell then tops the mess by illustrating what he wants with something that ‘is not itself an epigram’ but should illustrate what he’s after. Okay, let’s try it on you:
It foxes the entrants, although there are many who are given some credit. One of them is R(obert) J.V. Pulvertaft, who was to become one of the leading microbiologists of his generation. He became Professor of Pathology at Westminster Hospital, London. (He married Elizabeth Costello, who had survived the wartime sinking in 1918 of the SS. Leinster – there is an account by his daughter here.) Another, Helen Hawkesworth, is almost certainly the wife of the army officer ‘Ginger’ Hawkesworth, or, as he eventually became, Lieutenant General John Hawkesworth, one of the rare instances of a soldier who not only survived the whole of World War One in action, but played a key part in World War Two too.
ON A FATHER WHO FORBADE HIS SON FROM TAKING UP THE WRITING OF POETRY AS A PROFESSION
You son – when a green amateur we could class him –
You permitted to flirt with poemata passim;
But his project of wedding his Muse you taboo:
On pardonne a l’amant, mais on punit l’epoux.
I bet you spotted that the Latin was Horace, and the French was Forgest …
H.C.M. now, and really a lot better:
Let those who claim to be well read,
And use quotations, understand ’em,
Lest they be like the man who said
“De mortuis nil desperandum.”
One of near-winners was W.Hodgson Burnet, and another J.E.M.Gunning (about whom I can only tell you that he was later awarded an O.B.E.).
47B is bizarre (and complicated again). A letter breaking of an engagement (max 300 words) has to be written by a young lady of noble birth (why? was there some contemporary news story being satirised here?) on the grounds that (a) her husband-to-be trumped her winning ace at bridge, and (b) refused to lend her his copy of Joyce’s Ulysses.
Bemused competitors ‘dismissed’ the bridge and Ulysses in the first para, which Riddell admits was not what he intended. Some, including Gertrude Pitt, made plain that she’d already read Joyce’s novel (I’ve never got through it, even though I have tried four or five times, I confess). This means, says Riddell, that there are only three left in the frame. One of them has written an ‘ingenious nautical fantasia’, but he is, alas, left in the cold. You’ve guessed it. It’s T.E. Casson. The winners are L.V.Upward and Mrs. E.M. Waterhouse.
When you gave your famous imitation of an almost human chimpanzee at the card table last night it began to dawn on me that, if I brought you into the family, it would take more blotting-paper than I can afford to keep the old escutcheon clean. No, no, Monty! When you’re dealing with a Fitzffaulkon you simply can’t get away with that sort of thing. Our motto is, Nemo me impune lacessit, which means you can get far more fun out of slapping a gooseberry bush than out of putting my back up.
And there’s another thing: Cave-man stuff, as I told the tenth baron the other night when he told me to try and make my dress allowance last out a bit longer, is all very well in the right place; but the right place doesn’t happen to be twentieth-century England, and when it comes to refusing to lend me a book which everybody who is anybody is reading, just because it gets under the puritanical old epidermis a trifle, the limit has very definitely been reached and slightly over-stepped.
So, what with one thing and another, you may take it that the soul’s mate business between you and me is off, and I am returning the doings herewith. The tenth baron (not that I care for his opinion much) cordially agrees with my decision. He always hated the idea of you.
Don’t go in off the deep end about it, and better luck next time
Yours (not to be)
First there’s your Bridge. I said nothing at the time – I hate people who quarrel publicly at cards – so I believe you never realised that when I doubled John’s four hearts on Sunday, you, my partner – trumped my winning ace.I couldn’t face a life contract with such a partner. But your refusal yesterday to lend me ‘Ulysses’ finally does it. It could only mean that (a) you were afraid I should damage the book or (b) that it should damage me. I spent half the night wondering which was the greater insult. At 2 a.m. precisely, I decided that (b) was, and at 2.5 p.m. I decided that (b) was obviously your reason for refusing. You could easily replace the book if damaged.
Well, now you can replace me. I found this morning that Aunt has a copy and borrowed it. I read the end first (as usual), so you will realise that it is already too late. Incidentally, you, who buy no literature except for the evening paper, paid 25s for ‘Ulysses’, and read it from cover to cover. Why? Because it is the greatest literary achievement of our age? Oh, undoubtedly. But no proper-minded young man could respect a woman who had read such a book. So I have spared you the unpleasantness of explaining this, as you will see in tomorrow’s ‘Court and Personal’. You can console yourself (if necessary) with Tennyson’s encouraging remark that kind hearts are more than coronets (especially when they’re trumps) and simple faith (in womanly innocence) and Norman blood.
Yours more in sorrow than in anger
P.S. Do make sure that your eventual bride has not read the Bible. A most improper book, I assure you.
[Ulysses was first published in 1922, but not freely available in the UK until 1936, when it cost £3.3s. 0d, so any circulating copies at 25s must have been printed in France and brought over.]