T. Earle Welby first sets the task of composing a brief rhymed eulogy of a contemporary composer, to end with the ‘great line the late Eric Mackay produced on Beethoven’:
The sweetest soul that ever struck an octave in disaster
and the previous line had to end ‘master’.
The original is called ‘Beethoven At The Piano’ and is 40 lines long, in ten quatrains. Here are the last two in full:
An Angel by direct descent, a German by alliance,
Thou didst intone the wonder-chords which made Despair a science.
Yea, thou didst strike so grand a note that, in its large vibration,
It seemed the roaring of the sea in nature’s jubilation.
O Sire of Song! Sonata-King! Sublime and loving master;
The sweetest soul that ever struck an octave in disaster;
In thee were found the fires of thought–the splendours of endeavour,–
And thou shalt sway the minds of men for ever and for ever!
As Welby is not impressed by any bar two of the entries, and as it looks like he’s had some space cut, we can be brief. The surprise will be the choice of subject – Charlie Chaplin (Seacape on the film City Lights , which had come out in 1929). There is a very good article on the music in this and other Chaplin films here. The other choice is Sir Harry Lauder (Welby actually preferred this one, but complains that she hasn’t quoted a couple of significant lyrics!). The ‘she’ uses the pseudonym Chauve-Souris, has come close a few times, and her alias means ‘The Bat’.
54B requested a rhymed epigram on the ‘amenities’ of the electoral contest in the constituency of St. George’s. To our ears, ‘amenities’ will seem a strange word, but it is being used here as an ironic ‘pleasures of’, or perhaps even ‘events surrounding’. These are partly described in the Origins section, but I’ll recap. Beaverbrook and Rothermere, the sworn enemies of The Week-end Review, after the circumstances of its foundation, were desperate to get an ‘Empire’ candidate into Parliament. The St. George’s seat in Westminster was a safe Conservative seat, whose member had died. The Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin was, it seemed to him, at risk at the time – if the Conservative candidate was beaten (and the opponent was an Independent Conservative – neither the Liberals nor Labour put up a candidate), it would look very much as if Baldwin had lost hold of his natural supporters. Beaverbrook and Rothermere wanted an Empire loyalist, and the issue on which they campaigned most vigorously was India, which they did not wish to acquire Dominion status, let alone independence. Their particular target was Gandhi, who was, they knew, due to visit England in the second half of 1931. Rothermere and Beaverbrook had a very definite choice of man to replace Baldwin – Churchill. And Churchill, in an act which drove an even more solid wedge between himself and his party, stoked their flames by making a highly provocative speech at the Albert Hall, not long before the by-election. He does not mention the by-election, but he is particularly vicious about Gandhi. The speech is here. The same night, Baldwin made a speech comparing Beaverbrook and Rothermere to harlots (‘power without responsibility’) – a phrase nicked from Rudyard Kipling (who happened to be Baldwin’s cousin). The coincidence of the two speeches, widely reported, played in Baldwin’s favour, and, having lost the first candidate, won by about 60:40 when Duff Cooper stepped in. Cooper had been a Conservative MP until losing his seat in 1929, but he was also a Week-end Review contributor. His victory saved Baldwin (and Cooper held the seat until 1945).
But the competition (after all that!) was a wash-out. There were some pretty dreadful puns on Gandhi (‘propagandhist’), so Welby simply apologises for setting the contest, and acknowledges the disgust of the competitors with Beaverbrook, Rothermere and Churchill. ‘I should apologise for having offered an emetic subject, especially to those competitors who, naturally enough, rhymed St. George’s and gorges.’