T(homas) Earle Welby (‘Stet’)

Thomas Earle Welby, born in India in 1881, was brought up by eccentric (enlightened?)  parents not to speak English until he was six. He was educated in England but spent most of his years therafter working as a journalist in India, and in 1916, as a war correspondent in what we would now call Iraq (Mesopotamia). He was was best known for his literary criticism and literary journalism, especially under the pseudonym ‘Stet’, in which, both in ‘The Saturday Review’ and ‘The Week-end Review’ (he was to die in 1933, having filed his copy on the same day he died) he passed a thoughtful and lucid judgment on a wide variety of writers, although his specialities were Swinburne and Landor, and also poets like W.H.Davies. His life of Swinburne can be downloaded as a pdf file here. He produced two anthologies that tried to reclaim some forgotten poems for a new audience; and he was an enthusiast on the subject of Arthur Symons.

He was a highly readable columnist, but absorbed in reclaiming the minor writers of the late nineteenth century – he was not hostile to new writers (unless claims were made that they were better than the writers he knew best), but he was essentially a Victorian and Edwardian in his taste. New writers, according to a biographical piece by Edward Shanks, included Robert Bridges and Thomas Hardy. Politically, he was to the right – the biographical note that introduces his posthumous collection has a hard job explaining away Welby’s hostility to the idea of democracy (it might be noted that he was admired enough as a writer for it not to bother Barry that he continued to work for ‘The Saturday Review’).

Not unlike Robert Lynd, he was always late. He enjoyed conversation, and was known for a mannerism whereby he used a ‘sideways movement of his hand for emphasis, which, since it was often associated with his reminiscence of India, was described by a wit as “the Calcutta Sweep” ‘. A possibly apocryphal story circulated about him that he had once organised a lunch for a literary figure he admired, to which he (Welby) turned up late, and to which he forgot to invite the guest of honour. When going to ‘make a telephone call’ to the supposedly very late guest, he was observed by one of the hungry invitees simply standing by the phone for as long as it would take to make a call, before returning to say that there had been a mix-up.

However, he was just as interested in writing playful and facetious pieces, as in this brief extract from a survey of cheese (he was an enthusiastic cook, and had been a friend of Escoffier). It’s from The Dinner Knell (1932).

Roquefort

Homage to this fromage! Long hailed as le roi Roquefort, it has filled books and booklets beyond count. By the miracle of Penicillium Roqueforti a new cheese was made. It is placed historically back around the eighth century when Charlemagne was found picking out the green spots of Persillé with the point of his knife, thinking them decay. But the monks of Saint-Gall, who were his hosts, recorded in their annals that when they regaled him with Roquefort (because it was Friday and they had no fish) they also made bold to tell him he was wasting the best part of the cheese. So he tasted again, found the advice excellent and liked it so well he ordered two caisses of it sent every year to his palace at Aix-la-Chapelle. He also suggested that it be cut in half first, to make sure it was well veined with blue, and then bound up with a wooden fastening.

Perhaps he hoped the wood would protect the cheeses from mice and rats, for the good monks of Saint-Gall couldn’t be expected to send an escort of cats from their chalky caves to guard them—even for Charlemagne. There is no telling how many cats were mustered out in the caves, in those early days, but a recent census put the number at five hundred. We can readily imagine the head handler in the caves leading a night inspection with a candle, followed by his chief taster and a regiment of cats. While the Dutch and other makers of cheese also employ cats to patrol their storage caves, Roquefort holds the record for number. An interesting point in this connection is that as rats and mice pick only the prime cheeses, a gnawed one is not thrown away but greatly prized.

Sapsago, Schabziger or Swiss Green Cheese

The name Sapsago is a corruption of Schabziger, German for whey cheese. It’s a hay cheese, flavored heavily with melilot, a kind of clover that’s also grown for hay. It comes from Switzerland in a hard, truncated cone wrapped in a piece of paper that says:

To be used grated only

Genuine Swiss Green Cheese

Made of skimmed milk and herbs.

To the housewives! Do you want a change in your meals? Try the contents of this wrapper! Delicious as spreading mixed with butter, excellent for flavoring eggs, macaroni, spaghetti, potatoes, soup, etc. Can be used in place of any other cheese. Do not take too much, you might spoil the flavor.

We put this wrapper among our papers, sealed it tight in an envelope, and to this day, six months later, the scent of Sapsago clings ’round it still.

 Stilton: Honor for Cheeses

Literary and munching circles in London are putting quite a lot of thought into a proposed memorial to Stilton cheese. There is a Stilton Memorial Committee, with Sir John Squire at the head, and already the boys are fighting.

One side, led by Sir John, is all for a monument.

This, presumably, would not be a replica of Stilton itself, although Mr. Epstein could probably hack out a pretty effective cheese-shaped figure and call it “Dolorosa.”

The monument-boosters plan a figure of Mrs. Paulet, who first introduced Stilton to England. (Possibly a group showing Mrs. Paulet holding a young Stilton by the hand and introducing it, while the Stilton curtsies.)

T.S. Eliot does not think that anyone would look at a monument, but wants to establish a Foundation for the Preservation of Ancient Cheeses. The practicability of this plan would depend largely on the site selected for the treasure house and the cost of obtaining a curator who could, or would, give his whole time to the work …

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When Welby died in February 1933, Gerald Barry wrote an obituary for The Week-end Review, and also commissioned a piece by Desmond MacCarthy to give a summation of Welby’s career. Here they are:

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A further appreciation appeared in a letter from India a few weeks later:

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2 thoughts on “T(homas) Earle Welby (‘Stet’)

  1. Great stuff. It is curious that T Earle Welby is unrecorded by Wikipedia (so far.) I have John Gawsworth’s copy of his ‘Second Impressions’ with a note by him – ‘Dear Stet – so reasonable. Purchased for a shilling (1949) I have already had £10 worth of enjoyment in five minutes…’

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