The following notes attempt to explain cultural, historical and literary allusions in Wodehouse’s text, to identify his sources, and to cross-reference similar references in the rest of the canon.

A Damsel in Distress was originally annotated for the Yahoo! discussion group, Blandings, by Mark Hodson (aka The Efficient Baxter). The late Terry Mordue added a great many new entries, modified some of Mark’s comments (largely on the basis of material newly available online), and re-cast the entirety in his own style. Terry also transcribed the UK edition of the book but modified the formatting and punctuation to 21st-century UK style, with links back and forth from his version of these notes (e.g. the “return to text” links).

Reformatting back to the original editions’ style and proofreading of the transcription and these notes, along with editing and expansion of the annotations, has been done for Madame Eulalie by Neil Midkiff [NM], Diego Seguí, and others as credited below, but credit goes to Mark and Terry for their original efforts, even while we bear the blame for errors of fact or interpretation.

A Damsel in Distress was published in the US by George H. Doran, New York, in October 1919 and in the UK by Herbert Jenkins, London, two weeks later. There are a few minor differences between the two editions.

The US edition bears a dedication “To Maud and Ivan Caryll”; Ivan Caryll was the pseudonym of Félix Marie Henri Tilkin (1861–1921), Belgian-born composer of operettas and musical comedies, with whom Wodehouse had collaborated on The Girl Behind the Gun (1918) and The Canary (1918).

These annotations relate principally to the UK version, although some US text differences are noted. Page references are to the 2003 Everyman/Overlook edition.

Chapter 1 (pp. 7–22)

Belpher Castle, in the county of Hampshire (p. 7)

There is a village named Belpher (or Belper) in Derbyshire, but no obvious link between that and Wodehouse’s choice of name.

The names of two other Wodehouse castles—Dreever Castle in A Gentleman of Leisure and Beevor Castle in Spring Fever—echo the names of well-known real-life castles: Belvoir (pronounced “Beaver”) in Leicestershire and Hever (pronounced “Heaver”) in Kent (the county in which Beevor Castle is placed); it is possible that the name Belpher may have been similarly inspired.

Murphy (In Search of Blandings) identifies the village of Belpher with Emsworth, a village on the Hampshire coast just east of Havant where Wodehouse lived for varying periods between 1903 and 1914; Belpher Castle he identifies with Stansted House, a stately home about two miles north of Emsworth which features in The Little Nugget as “Sanstead House.”

return to text

Earls of Marshmoreton (p. 7)

The similarity between Marshmoreton and Moreton-in-Marsh, a market town in Gloucestershire, is probably not coincidental. Moreton-in-Marsh lies less than 15 miles from Cheltenham, where Wodehouse’s parents lived from 1902.

return to text

jack-rabbit (p. 7)

Jack-rabbits are not rabbits, but hares, of the genus Lepus. They are most active at night, spending much of the day-time lying in a flattened spot of grass or other vegetation; if startled, they run at a speed that few animals can match. Hares occur throughout much of Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, but the name “jack rabbit” is usually applied only to some of the North American species.

[Diego Seguí notes that the US magazine and book versions specify “the Californian jack rabbit” here, so it would be the Lepus californicus, or black-tailed jackrabbit.]

return to text

picture-palaces (p. 7)

A (rather old-fashioned) term for cinema.

[The motion picture industry had advanced rapidly in importance during the 1910s, transitioning from mainly short subjects shown in improvised venues to mainly feature-length films often exhibited in purpose-built theatres with luxurious appointments and frequently exotic decorations. The best of these, the “picture palaces,” provided live music from orchestras and mighty organs, smartly uniformed ushers, atmospheric lighting effects, and other diversions designed to round out the entertainment effect of a visit to the cinema. —NM]

return to text

twenty-first birthday (p. 7)

At the time when A Damsel in Distress was written, twenty-one was, in the United Kingdom, the legal age of majority, the age at which one acquires the full legal rights of an adult. Under the Family Law Reform Act 1969, the age of majority in England and Wales was lowered to 18 years with effect from 1 January 1970.

return to text

Lord Belpher . . . Lady Patricia Maud Marsh . . . Lady Caroline Byng (p. 7)

The plethora of titles may be confusing. If, as is often the case, an English peer holds more than one title, his eldest son is customarily styled using one of the subsidiary titles; within the Wodehouse canon, the best-known example is Clarence, 9th Earl of Emsworth, whose elder son, George, is styled Viscount Bosham. In the present case, the Earl of Marshmoreton’s son, Percy, is styled using the courtesy title of Lord Belpher; his daughter, Maud, takes the honorific prefix “Lady,” hence is known as Lady Maud Marsh, Marsh being the family name; his sister, who, as a daughter of the 6th Earl, would have been styled Lady Caroline Marsh before her marriage, retains the honorific prefix with her married name.

The use of “Lord” or “Lady” by the Earl’s close relatives is solely a matter of courtesy and social usage; those so styled are regarded, in law, as commoners. Only the Earl has the legal status of a peer.

return to text

chatelaine (p. 8)

A woman who has charge of a large house (from French châtelaine, the feminine form of châtelain, a castellan, or governor of a castle).

return to text

a history of the family (p. 8)

Wodehouse’s formidable Aunt Mary Deane was the author of The Book of Dene, Deane, Adeane: A Genealogical History (1899); no doubt this influenced Wodehouse to include this task as an occupation for several of his characters. Lord Weeting, Florence Craye’s brother in “Disentangling Old Percy” (1912), begins writing a history of the family but abandons it when he is introduced to nightlife. In “Jeeves Takes Charge” (1916), Bertie’s Uncle Willoughby is supposed to be writing a history of the family, but Florence discovers that he has written his scandalous reminiscences including stories about her father and other eminent people. Lord Marshmoreton’s book appears to be the only one likely to make it to publication. [NM]

[Diego Seguí notes that in Uncle Fred in the Springtime the Duke of Dunstable too is writing his own Family History, assisted by Baxter.]

return to text

Keggs the butler (p. 8)

There are several butlers named Keggs in Wodehouse’s stories; it is an appropriate name considering that one of a butler’s duties is the care and serving of alcoholic refreshment. The first Keggs mentioned is at Strathpuffer Castle in “An Official Muddle” (1903); there is another Keggs at Corven Abbey in The Gem Collector (1909). Other Keggses are the Keiths’ butler in “The Good Angel” (1910) (collected in The Man Upstairs) and in “Love Me, Love My Dog” (a short story published in Strand Magazine in August 1910); John Bannister’s butler in The Coming of Bill/The White Hope; and Augustus Keggs, now retired but formerly in the employment of Lord Uffenham (see Money in the Bank, Something Fishy and Ice in the Bedroom).

The similarly-named Coggs is Lord Ickenham’s butler in Uncle Fred in the Springtime and Uncle Dynamite.

The Keggs of “The Good Angel” may be the same individual as Keggs in A Damsel in Distress: as David Jasen points out, both engage in organising matrimonial sweepstakes. [Note expanded by NM]

return to text

the voice of calumny (p. 8)

This personification of slander occurs frequently in 18th and 19th century literature, as, for example, in Walter Scott’s Kenilworth (ch. 11), Mary Wollstonecraft’s Maria (ch. 17), Fanny Burney’s Cecilia (bk 8, ch. 1) and Charles Dickens’s The Pickwick Papers (ch. 39), as well as in several theological works.

return to text

Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank (p. 8)

The Farmers and Merchants Bank (now absorbed into the Bank of America) was the first bank to be incorporated in Los Angeles, California, and it played a major role in the early economic development of the city. While there are many unrelated banks of the same name in towns and cities across the US, no bank of this name seems to have existed in England.

return to text

Oddfellows’ Hall (p. 8)

The Oddfellows is one of the largest and oldest friendly societies currently operating in the UK. Evolving from the mediaeval Trade Guilds, the Oddfellows began in the City of London in the late 17th and early 18th centuries and established local groups across England and Wales. In 1810 the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows was formed by a number of local groups joining together. As the idea caught on, more and more groups started up around the country, generally meeting in pubs and church halls and now many Branches own their own meeting place or Oddfellows hall.

The Oddfellows website

Although the Oddfellows have several branches in the Portsmouth and Southampton area, there is no record of a Lodge in Emsworth.

The origin of the name Oddfellows is uncertain. One suggestion is that in the mediaeval period the “Odd Fellows” were associations of “fellows” (journeymen) from an odd assortment of trades, as distinct from the socially more prestigious craftsmen’s guilds, which were associations of master craftsmen from a single trade.

return to text

inductive reasoning (p. 8)

“Yes, gentlemen,” said he, “it is the most famous pearl now existing in the world, and it has been my good fortune, by a connected chain of inductive reasoning, to trace it from the Prince of Colonna’s bedroom at the Dacre Hotel, where it was lost, to the interior of this, the last of the six busts of Napoleon which were manufactured by Gelder & Co., of Stepney.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes

Inductive reasoning is the process of drawing inferences from specific observations. For example, from previous experience that a guard dog does not usually bark at its owner and the fact that a particular guard dog did not bark during the night-time, one can reason inductively to the inference that the burglar may have been the dog’s owner. As Wodehouse clearly demonstrates, inductive reasoning yields inferences that are not necessarily true: another example of a false inference, based on countless observations of wild swans in Europe, is that all swans are white; it is immediately refuted by the sight of an Australian black swan.

Inductive reasoning is often contrasted with deductive reasoning, which derives a necessarily-true conclusion from previously known facts or premises; thus, if I am human and all humans are mortal, it necessarily follows, deductively, that I am mortal. (The premise that all humans are mortal is an inductive inference; the premise that I am human is occasionally questioned!)

return to text

whale-oil solution (p. 9)

Spraying with whale-oil solution, more precisely with a solution of whale-oil soap, used to be a recognised method for the control of insect pests on roses:

The Aphis (Aphis rosae), or Green Fly, is well known by all who have grown roses. . . Much the best destructive agent to use against them is tobacco smoke. . . Whale-oil soap, dissolved in water, is also a useful remedy.

Henry Brooks Ellwanger, The rose; a treatise on the cultivation, history, family characteristics, pp 88–9 (1906)

The first leaves have scarcely appeared ere they are beset by the thrip or rose-hopper, almost immediately succeeded by the green fly, leaf-roller, rose-chafer and rose-slug. Were the sparrow of any earthly use, he would not leave these to hellebore, whale-oil soap, and Paris green.

George Herman Ellwanger, The garden’s story, p 188 (1891)

return to text

Athenæum Club (p. 9)

The Athenæum Club was founded in 1824. While most of London’s gentlemen’s clubs at that period attracted mainly those of independent wealth and status, the Athenæum Club aimed additionally to attract men “of distinguished eminence in Science, Literature, or the Arts, or for Public Service.” It used to number among its members so many bishops and other clerics that it was long regarded as a clergymen’s club; continuing this tradition, the late Cardinal Basil Hume was a member.

The club’s first chairman was the distinguished scientist Sir Humphrey Davy; the first secretary was a scientist who achieved even greater distinction, Michael Faraday. Other members have included Sir Walter Scott, Charles Darwin, Charles Dickens, Cecil Rhodes, Walter de la Mare, Thackeray, Winston Churchill, Benjamin Disraeli, and Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington. Rudyard Kipling is just one of over 50 members of the club who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, including at least one in each category of the prize.

The Athenæum Club occupies a handsome neoclassical building on the corner of Pall Mall and Waterloo Place.

return to text

Hybrid teas (p. 9)

Hybrid teas are a group of rose cultivars, produced by crossing two other types, the Tea and the Hybrid Perpetual. The first hybrid teas were raised from the late 1860s. They are highly regarded for their colour and fragrance. The large flowers are usually borne singly on a long stem, which makes them particularly suitable as cut flowers.

Most hybrid teas are hardy plants and can withstand a relatively cold winter, but they do require protection from severe cold and this, together with a lack of resistance to disease, makes them difficult to grow in the home garden.

return to text

Temple Flower Show (p. 9)

The Temple Flower Show, then called the Great Spring Show, was an exhibition of the Royal Horticultural Society, held annually in the gardens of the Inner Temple in London from 1888 to 1911. In 1912, the show was cancelled to make way for the Royal International Horticultural Exhibition, which was held in the grounds of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea; when the Great Spring Show resumed, in 1913, it was held at Chelsea, where it remains today and is now known as the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

return to text

rose-slugs, rose-beetles . . . (p. 9–10)

Rose-slug is the name given to the larvae of certain sawflies which cause damage to rose bushes by eating away the fleshy part of the leaves, leaving only the veins and stalk untouched. Sawflies are the most primitive members of the insect order Hymenoptera, and are distantly related to bees and wasps. Over 400 species of sawfly have been recorded in Britain. Many feed on a specific type of plant, from which they derive their common name, such as Gooseberry sawfly, Pine sawfly, etc; those which show a partiality for roses include the Rose-slug sawfly, Endelomyia aethiops, and the Bristly rose slug, Cladius difformis.

Rose-beetle is another name for the rose chafer, Cetonia aurata, a member of the family Scarabaeidae and thus a relative of the dung beetles. The adult rose chafer is a bright metallic-green and measures 14–20 mm in length; it feeds mainly on the petals of roses and other plants. The larvae live in decaying plant material such as compost, peat and rotten wood; unlike the larvae of many other chafers, which do considerable economic damage to cereal crops and grassland, the larvae of the rose chafer do not feed on plant roots.

The rose-hopper, or rose leafhopper (Edwardsiana rosae, is a small yellowish-white insect, about four millimetres long, with transparent wings. While its behaviour is as Wodehouse describes it, there is some terminological confusion because the rose leafhopper is not a thrips and, indeed, belongs to a different insect order, the Hemiptera, or “true bugs.” According to H. B. Ellwanger (see above), a solution of whale-oil soap is an effective remedy for rose leafhoppers.

Thrips are tiny, slender insects with fringed wings; they comprise the order Thysanoptera (from the Greek thysanos: fringe + pteron: wing). Unlike the rose leafhopper, thrips are tiny black insects and are usually to be found deep within the flower head, rather than under the leaves. The word thrips is both singular and plural; thrip is erroneous.

return to text

Attila the Hun (p. 10)

Attila was born c. 406 AD. In 434, he became ruler of the Huns, jointly with his brother Bleda until the latter’s death, c. 445, thereafter sole ruler until his own death in 453. During his reign, Attila forged an empire that extended over much of Europe, from Germany and the Netherlands to the Ural river, and from the Danube to Poland and Estonia. In 451, Attila invaded Gaul, reaching Orleans before being repulsed by a coalition of Romans, Visigoths and Franks; the two armies met at a place usually assumed to be near Châlons-en-Champagne, where they fought the Battle of Chalons. Though the Visigoth king was killed during the battle, it was Attila who was forced to retreat. After an indecisive invasion of Italy in 452, Attila retreated across the Danube. He died the following year, in circumstances that are still debated. Following his death, his three sons fought over his legacy, the Huns became disunited, and within a year Attila’s empire had dissolved.

In western culture, Attila is a byword for barbarism and cruelty, though many historians now believe that this is partly due to a confusion with other so-called “barbarians” and that Attila, and the Huns in general, were far more civilised than they are usually depicted. In the Germanic epics, Attila appears as Etzel in the Nibelungenlied and as Atli in the Volsunga Saga and the Poetic Edda.

[Diego Seguí notes that Dahlia Travers once compared her nephew Bertie Wooster to Attila:]

 “Attila,” she said at length. “That’s the name. Attila, the Hun.”
 “I was trying to think who you reminded me of. Somebody who went about strewing ruin and desolation and breaking up homes which, until he came along, had been happy and peaceful. Attila is the man. It’s amazing,” she said, drinking me in once more. “To look at you, one would think you were just an ordinary sort of amiable idiot—certifiable, perhaps, but quite harmless. Yet, in reality, you are a worse scourge than the Black Death.”

Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 20

return to text

Genghis Khan (p. 10)

Temüjin, known to history as Genghis Khan, was born c. 1162 AD. He rose to become the undisputed leader of the Mongols and established the basis of the Mongol Empire. Temüjin took the name Genghis Khan in 1206 when, having succeeded, by a combination of war and diplomacy, in uniting all the tribes of the Mongolian plains, he was acknowledged by a council of Mongol chiefs as their “khan,” or leader. Having united the Mongols, Genghis Khan set about conquering their neighbours, and by the time he died, in 1227, the Mongol empire extended from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Sea of Japan in the east; Mongol armies had also raided as far west as the Crimea. Under Genghis Khan’s successors, the Mongol Empire was expanded to encompass the whole of China, Burma and the Korean peninsula, southern Russia from the Sea of Okhotsk to modern-day Belarus and Ukraine, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Tibet.

Like Attila, but with more justification, Genghis Khan has a reputation for savage cruelty. Though he usually offered his enemies relatively fair terms if they would submit without a fight, he and his successors were ruthless in exterminating those who resisted; cities, such as Samarkand, that opposed the Mongols were devastated and their inhabitants slaughtered. Accurate numbers for those killed by the Mongols during the 13th and 14th centuries cannot be established, but estimates range as high as tens of millions.

return to text

horny-handed toiler (p. 10)

The phrase “horny-handed toiler” appears in a pamphlet written, in 1865, by a Boston-based unionist, Ira Seward, as part of a campaign for reduced working hours. In modified form, as “horny-handed sons of toil,” it appears in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, attributed to Denis Kearney, an Irish-born political activist, in a speech he made at San Francisco around 1878. The spoonerism “tons of soil” is frequently, though without any evidence, attributed to William Spooner himself, while the (probably apocryphal) newspaper headline “Sons of toil buried under tons of soil,” as relating to a mining accident, is also frequently quoted, again without adequate citation.

return to text


This is one of the older senses of the word; the meaning here is “moldable” or easily shaped into a given form, like a sculptor’s clay. The modern sense of an artificial polymer material such as vinyl or polyethylene had only begun to be used in chemical engineering and had not reached general literature when this book was written. Still less should this be read in the modern pop-psychological sense of “insincere or artificial in emotional interactions”; that usage goes no further back than the 1960s. [NM]

return to text


We hear this in Bertie’s slang so often, as well as in the speech of his contemporaries, that it is surprising to find OED citations back to 1709 and through the nineteenth century to mean someone or something excellent. Of course it can mean a top hat as well; that sense goes back to 1820, and Wodehouse uses it that way too. But the ones below are in the “best in class” sense of the present quotation. [NM]

“You know, Jeeves, you’re by way of being rather a topper!”

“Jeeves Takes Charge”

“I think,” he proceeded a little feverishly, “that you are the most indescribable topper that ever—”

Ginger Kemp, in The Adventures of Sally

“They’ll give three hearty cheers and think you a topper.”

Archie Moffam, in Indiscretions of Archie

return to text

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. (p. 11)

The first to say so may have been the Latin poet Sextus Aurelius Propertius (c 50–15 BC):

semper in absentis felicior aestus amantis
(absence always increases lovers’ passion)

Elegies, Book 2, XXXIII

The phrase was popularised by the English poet and songwriter Thomas Haynes Bayly (1797–1839) in his poem “Isle of Beauty.” The poem was part of the collection “Songs to Rosa,” which, with a melody by Charles Chapland Whitmore and musical arrangement by Thomas A. Rawlings, was published in 1826:

When the waves are round me breaking,
As I pace the deck alone,
And my eye in vain is seeking
Some green leaf to rest upon,
What would I not give to wander,
Where my old companions dwell . . .
Absence makes the heart grow fonder;
Isle of Beauty “fare thee well”!

The song was sufficiently popular that it is mentioned in a letter dated 20 October 1831, written by Elizabeth Cleghorn Stevenson (Mrs. Gaskell) to her friend Harriet Carr.

In Wodehouse, the sentiment is endorsed by Jeremy Garnet in Love Among the Chickens, ch. 9; by the narrator of The White Hope in Book Two, Chapter III (1914); by Sam Shotter in Sam the Sudden, ch. 21.1 (1925; serialized as Sam in the Suburbs, ch. 26); and by Hamilton Beamish in The Small Bachelor, ch. 8 (1926). Doubters include Lady Caroline Byng, as here, and Bertie Wooster in “Jeeves and the Spot of Art” (1929; in Very Good, Jeeves, 1930). [NM]

return to text

Stuff! (p. 12)

Another form of the exclamation “Stuff and nonsense!”—which Lord Marshmoreton himself uses to George in Chapter 16. The combined phrase dates back to 1749 in Fielding’s Tom Jones; the one-word interjection is even older, in Farquhar’s Sir Henry Wildair (1701). The noun sense meaning worthless material, padding, rubbish is even older. [NM]

return to text

dashed affair (p. 12)

In less permissive times, “damned,” used as an oath, was usually printed as “d–––d,” from which arose the practice of substituting the descriptive “dashed” in its place.

return to text

Reggie … wabbled in his tracks

Wodehouse often uses this older form of wobble [OED derives both forms from Dutch wabbelen, to move to and fro] especially to describe people who are hesitating or having trouble making up their minds, or things such as golf clubs controlled by such people; sometimes editors would change this to wobble in books or in British magazines, as in the following cases among many others. [NM]

George Parsloe started. His club wabbled. It descended.

“The Heart of a Goof” in Redbook, 1923/09

For an instant, for a single long, sickening instant, I am compelled to admit that Archibald’s love, deep as the sea though it was, definitely wabbled.

“The Reverent Wooing of Archibald” in Cosmopolitan, 1928/09

“Well, that’s how it is with me. I wabble, and I vacillate—if that’s the word?”

The Code of the Woosters (1938/07/17 serial in Saturday Evening Post, and 1938 Doubleday, Doran US book edition)

return to text

incubus (p. 13)

Latin: nightmare. Hence, an oppressive person or thing.

return to text

stops at Belpher if signalled (p. 15)

Emsworth is served by the London (Victoria) to Portsmouth line, the coastal stretch of which also doubles as part of the Portsmouth to Brighton line. Nowadays, the service from Portsmouth to London Victoria makes a scheduled stop at Emsworth, from where the fastest journey takes approximately 2 hours, but at a time when express services made unscheduled stops on request, it is not improbable that Emsworth could have been a request stop. The journey time can be reduced by about 10 minutes by going one station west, to Havant, and joining the Portsmouth to London (Waterloo) express.

return to text

Social Progress League at Lewisham (p. 15)

Possibly from his time at Dulwich, Wodehouse would have known Lewisham, a suburb in South London just 2–3 miles to the east, as a largely working-class area and thus just the sort of place where a social reform movement might hope to be effective. Whether a real Social Progress League existed (in England: there was one in New Zealand) has not been established, but as a generic name it could cover a wide range of activities: Lady Caroline’s attitudes would tend to rule out socialism, women’s suffrage or anything else that might alter the existing social order; the temperance movement, welfare for “fallen women,” and similar worthy causes would seem more likely to attract her energies.

return to text

correct stance for his approach-shots (p. 15)

At the time he was writing A Damsel in Distress, Wodehouse was living at Great Neck, Long Island, near the Sound View Golf Course, which became the setting for many of his golf stories. Although he had already written a few stories with a golfing background (“A Woman is Only a Woman” was published just a few months before A Damsel in Distress), this is the first of his novels to make extensive use of the comic possibilities of golfing jargon such as “correct stance” and “approach shots.”

[NM notes that there is quite a bit of comic use of golf terms in both the 1906 and 1921 versions of Love Among the Chickens including “foozled a drive” and “decapitated his brassy on the occasion of his striking Dorsetshire instead of his ball.” Diego Seguí comments that the story “A Woman Is Only a Woman” appeared in the Saturday Evening Post of June 7, 1919, in the same issue as Part 5 of the serialization of A Damsel in Distress, which ran from May 10 through June 28, so most if not all the golf references in the novel came before the story appearance.]

return to text

troubled spirit (p. 15)

But they my troubled spirit rule,
For they controll’d me when a boy;
They bring me sorrow touch’d with joy,
The merry merry bells of Yule.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “In Memoriam,” stanza XXVIII

return to text

soul in torment (p. 15)

And there in the middle of it was the man himself, his face twisted like a lost soul in torment, and his great brindled beard stuck upwards in his agony.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Adventure of Black Peter,” in The Return of Sherlock Holmes

return to text

the mater (p. 16)

Latin: mother. As with “pater” (Latin: father), it became a popular expression in the slang of mid- to late-19th century public schoolboys; the earliest instance cited in the OED is from a book of reminiscences, Eton School Days, of 1864.

return to text

Simon Legree (p. 16)

See Money in the Bank.

return to text

all the world was sunshine (p. 16)

This phrase occurs in Jack London’s short story “The Faith of Men” (Macmillan, New York, 1904) and in a few works by other writers in the period 1910–19.

return to text

Prestwick (p. 17)

Prestwick Golf Club is on the Ayrshire coast, about a half-hour’s drive south-west of Glasgow. The club was founded in 1851 and from then until 1864 the Keeper of the Green was the legendary ”Old” Tom Morris. In 1860, Prestwick was the venue for the first Open Championship, which was played there each year until 1870, since when the venue has rotated among a small number of links courses. Prestwick was the venue in 1914, when Harry Vardon won the last Open before war brought the annual event to a temporary halt. Tam Duggan and Alec Fraser may be real people, but it is more probable that they are generic Scots names; there is no record of anyone of either name having won a tournament of any note, at Prestwick or any other venue, in the years preceding the writing of A Damsel in Distress.

[Three up and two to play indicates that the tournament was match play, scored by holes won rather than cumulative strokes taken. After playing sixteen holes (two to play) the score must have been 9½ to 6½, indicating that at least one hole had been halved (tied) along the way; the tournament could stop at this point because Fraser would have no way of winning or even tying, even if he won both the remaining holes. —NM]

return to text

Morning Post (p. 17)

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

I must trickle up to town (p. 17)

See The Inimitable Jeeves for this slang verb for dude-like movement. “Town” is of course London. [NM]

return to text

absolute pash (p. 17)

“pash” = passion, infatuation.

return to text

blue-eyed boy (p. 18)

Favoured (figuratively). The earliest use of the phrase noted in the OED is in chapter 19 of The Coming of Bill, which was published just a few months before A Damsel in Distress:

If ever there was a blue-eyed boy, you will be it, once he hears about this.

return to text


See The Mating Season.

return to text

about as much chance as a blind man with one arm trying to get out of a bunker with a tooth-pick

This imaginative phrase was later topped in “The Return of Battling Billson” (1923): [NM]

“Alf Todd,” said Ukridge, soaring to an impressive burst of imagery, “has about as much chance as a one-armed blind man in a dark room trying to shove a pound of melted butter into a wild-cat’s left ear with a red-hot needle.”

return to text


See The Inimitable Jeeves.

return to text

hunted fawn

Wodehouse is fond of this image for someone who feels pursued: [NM]

“We have got for our sins to be in this place for a whole term, and if we are going to do the Hunted Fawn business all the time, life in the true sense of the word will become an impossibility.”

Psmith, in The Lost Lambs (1908) (later as Mike, then Mike and Psmith)

“Dignity is impossible when one is compelled to be the Hunted Fawn.”

Psmith, in Psmith, Journalist (1909/1915)

It made him feel like a cross between a hunted fawn and a burglar.

Uneasy Money (1917)

The stoutest admirer of feminine beauty would become a trifle soured on the sex if every woman he met for eight weeks backed him into a corner and asked him for lines. After a brief spell of this kind of thing, one takes to whizzing about the theatre like a hunted fawn.

“Writing the Show at the Century” (1917)

“You can’t go on with this hunted-fawn business indefinitely.”

Bill the Conqueror, ch. 11.3 (1924)

return to text

everywhere the uncle went (p. 21)

Mary had a little lamb,
its fleece was white as snow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
the lamb was sure to go.

From a nursery rhyme published in May 1830 by Sarah Josepha Hale (1788–1879)

Thomas Edison recited, and successfuly played back, the first stanza of this poem to test his invention of the phonograph in 1877.

return to text

Belgrave Square (p. 22)

Belgrave Square was laid out in the 1820s on land owned by the Earl of Grosvenor (now the Duke of Westminster) and took its name from the village of Belgrave on the Grosvenor family estate in Cheshire. The houses surrounding the square are said to among the grandest ever built in London and were, from their construction until World War II, the homes of leading members of the British aristocracy and, latterly, of exceedingly wealthy individuals and some foreign embassies; after the War, most of the private residences were converted into offices.

No 11a Belgrave Square does not exist; no 11, situated close to the eastern corner of the square, houses the Embassy of Portugal.

return to text

Chapter 2 (pp. 23–35)

Little Gooch Street (p. 23)

Probably not “Gooch,” but “Goodge.” Little Goodge Street (since renamed as Goodge Place, though it was Little Goodge Street until at least 1915) is a narrow street off Goodge Street, immediately east of The Middlesex Hospital. It is a few minutes’ walk from Shaftesbury Avenue, and just about qualifies as “round the corner” (though it is, in fact, round two or three corners!); it is also south-facing and sheltered. The children playing in the street would not, however, be visible to someone standing at the entrance to the Regal Theatre.

return to text

support life in that backwater by selling each other vegetables and singing canaries

This reflexive system of economy is a variation on a traditional joke cited by Wodehouse in “The Man Upstairs”:

“Do you remember that story of the people on the island who eked out a precarious livelihood by taking in one another’s washing?” he asked, casually.

It was already a stock saying in 1876, as it appears verbatim in this article in the Saturday Review with reference to the Scilly Islands. A blog post talks of an 1866 citation about the Isle of Man.

Wodehouse employed other variations on it:

There are several million inhabitants of New York. Not all of them eke out a precarious livelihood by murdering one another, but there is a definite section of the population which murders – not casually, on the spur of the moment, but on definitely commercial lines at so many dollars per murder.

Introduction to Psmith, Journalist (1915)

The inhabitants of this district appeared to eke out a precarious existence, not by taking in one another’s washing, but by selling one another second-hand clothes.

“First Aid for Looney Biddle” (1920, also in Indiscretions of Archie, 1921)

[Note by Diego Seguí and NM]

return to text

Lucretia Borgia (p. 23)

Lucrezia Borgia (1480–1519) was the bastard daughter of Rodrigo Borgia (later Pope Alexander VI) and sister of the notorious despot Cesare Borgia. Whether the stories about her are true or not, history has given her a reputation as one whose cocktails had such a deadly kick that guests rarely had time for a second.

return to text

Shaftesbury Avenue (p. 23)

Shaftesbury Avenue runs north-east from Piccadilly Circus as far as New Oxford Street. It was constructed between 1877 and 1886 to improve communications across London’s busy West End, and was named after the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury, a prominent social reformer. Shaftesbury Avenue soon acquired a reputation as the heart of London’s theatreland. By the time the New Princes Theatre (see below) opened, in 1911, it was the seventh theatre to have been erected on the thoroughfare; six of them are still active today.

return to text

Regal Theatre (p. 23)

Murphy identifies the Regal with Princes Theatre (originally New Princes Theatre, now the Shaftesbury), which is situated toward the northern end of Shaftesbury Avenue, at the junction with High Holborn. The Regal and Mac, the guardian of its stage door, also appear in Summer Lightning (1929) and Bachelors Anonymous (1973).

return to text

George Bevan (p. 24)

George Bevan shares the same initials as Wodehouse’s life-long friend, Guy Bolton, his collaborator in many theatrical enterprises (though Bolton was a writer, not a composer). Murphy believes that George Bevan, George Benham (a playwright in Indiscretions of Archie) and George Caffyn (also a playwright, in “Jeeves and the Chump Cyril”) were all based on, and are a compliment to, Bolton.

[On the other hand, McCrum states that George Gershwin “was convinced that the character of George Bevan, the American composer in the original novel, was based on him” and was instrumental in convincing RKO to adapt the book as a screen musical, for which he and his brother Ira wrote the songs. —NM]

[George Bevan reappears the next year in The Little Warrior, chapter 4.1:

 “Then I came across a man named Bevan at a music-publisher’s. He was just starting to write music, and we got together and turned out some vaudeville sketches, and then a manager sent for us to fix up a show that was dying on the road and we had the good luck to turn it into a success, and after that it was pretty good going. [...] George Bevan got married the other day – you probably read about it – he married Lord Marshmoreton’s daughter. Lucky devil!”

The corresponding passage in Jill the Reckless (the UK version) is shorter, and does not mention “Lord Marshmoreton’s daughter.” —Diego Seguí]

return to text

a labour of Hercules (p. 24)

Hercules is the latinised name of the greatest of mythical Greek heroes, Herakles. According to the myths, Herakles killed his wife and children in a fit of passion and, as penance, was required to undertake a series of ten tasks (later increased to twelve, because he had assistance for two of them). Because of the difficult nature of the twelve tasks, a “labour of Hercules” has come to signify a particularly arduous undertaking.

return to text

dried over a barrel (p. 24)

Before modern methods of resuscitation were developed, one method of treating a victim of drowning was to lay the victim over a barrel, which was then rolled back and forth in the hope that this would dislodge water from the lungs.

Say, I rode for an hour in a rickshaw at Nagoya to see the most beautiful girl in Japan and when we got to the teahouse they trotted out a little shrimp that looked as if she’d been dried over a barrel—you know, stood bent all the time, as if she was getting ready to jump.

George Ade, The Slim Princess, ch. 5 (1907)

By their united strength they pulled Silver up the bank so that his limp head hung downward. Then they began to work over him exactly as if he had been a drowned man, except that they did not, of course, roll him over a barrel.

B. M. Bower, The Flying U’s Last Stand, ch. 3 (1915)

return to text

Jermyn Street (p. 25)

Jermyn Street runs parallel to, and immediately to the south of, Piccadilly, not far from Shaftesbury Avenue. It is famous for the number of high-quality shirtmakers who have premises there. Past residents of the street include the Duke of Marlborough, Sir Isaac Newton and Prince Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, later Emperor Napoléon III of France, who lived in an hotel on Jermyn Street, under the alias of Count d’Arenberg, after his escape from imprisonment.

return to text

serviette (p. 25)

A borrowed word from French for a table napkin, used more in Britain than America, possibly to avoid the association with babies’ nappies (originally napkins, what Americans call diapers). [NM]

return to text

click (p. 25)

Mac’s anglicized pronunciation of clique, a small, exclusive group. If they are as critical as Mac says, then they don’t qualify as a claque, a group paid by a producer or performer to applaud in the theatre. [NM]

return to text

The Morning Leader (p. 25)

The Morning Leader was founded in 1892. It ceased publication in 1912, after being amalgamated into The Daily News, a newspaper whose first editor, in 1846, had been Charles Dickens. In 1930, The Daily News was itself absorbed into The Daily Chronicle, which thereafter appeared as The News Chronicle until 1960, when it ceased publication.

return to text

tragic mask

The theatrical aura of the scene extends even to the grocer, whose face is described in terms of the iconic masks of Comedy and Tragedy which decorate many a theatre. [NM]

return to text

better four-fifths (p. 27)

Wife. The more usual expression is “better half.”

Diego Seguí finds more on this:

Archie Moffam in Indiscretions of Archie ch. 23 calls his wife “my dear old better four-fifths.”

But the expression is not original with Wodehouse. (At a conservative estimate, I would say it appeared some five to ten seconds after someone first said “my better half.”) The earliest example I can find is in French: H. de Balzac in Les Paysans (1844, completed and published posthumously 1855) book I ch. 4 wrote:

Mame Vermichel a-t-elle aperçu trop de poussière sur ton dos, que tu fuis tes quatre cinquièmes, car on ne peut pas l’appeler ta moitié, c’te femme?

This was rendered in similar ways by the first three English translators:

Has Mam Vermichel spied too much dust on your back, that you’re running away from your four-fifths,—for I can’t call her your better half, that woman!

tr. K. P. Wormely, Sons of the Soil (1890) p. 70

Did your missus see too much dust on your jacket, and are you running away from your four-fifths? (for you can’t call that wife of yours your better half.)

tr. E. Marriage, The Peasantry (1896) p. 63

Did Mame Vermichel spy too much dust on your back, that you run away from your better four-fifths, for you can’t call that woman your better half?

tr. G. B. Ives, The Peasants (1899) p. 90

In English the first identical example I can find is:

There was a preliminary difficulty between himself and his better four-fifths as to which of them had the greater claim to be entitled “Head of the Family.”

A. M. Forrester, An Irish crazy-quilt. Smiles and tears, woven into song and story (1891) p. 256

But of course other fractions have been used, some of them much earlier:

        To a young bridegroom.
Ho, ho! thou descendant of Adam (don’t laugh),
    Who hast now married one of his daughters:
You think that your wife’s your inferior half,
    But you’ll find she’s your better three quarters.

F. K. Harford, Epigrammatica (1890) p. 61

We call it “supper” in our chateau, but I knew what he meant, ’cause my better five-sixths cautions me to call it “dinner” when we have callers present. It sounds wealthy.

Drill Chips, 1918

The earliest English example found illustrates how the husband’s stock can go down in a matter of seconds, and suggests that the joke was already old:

            CARE OF YOUR TEETH.
    “What a fine face!” I exclaimed; “What a very beautiful girl!” By and bye I whispered to my wife, to ask who that young lady was?—pointing to the left. While she was looking, I remarked, “What a very plain face she has!” My better two-thirds replied, with the slightest possible sneer:
    “It seems to me that you men haven’t five grains of common sense about women. Now you don’t pretend that you have forgotten that very beautiful girl!
    “But you don’t mean to say that that is the same one I was admiring?”
    “The same,” quietly observed my better three-quarters. In a moment a bit of humor came from the platform; the large mouth flew open, and thirty magnificent pearls darted into view.
    “Oh, yes, to be sure; why of course, who couldn’t tell that?” I remarked, as brave as a sheep.
    My better seven-eighths quietly suggested, from behind her fan, “Now, suppose you attend to the lecture, and stop looking at the girls; how would you like it if you were lecturing, and one of your auditors should be looking all over the house?”

D. Lewis, Our Girls (1871) pp. 338-40

But the holder of the all-time record is:

    My better one-half was ubiquitous. She seemed to be in the attic, in the chambers, in the parlor, kitchen, and cellar all at the same time, directing the hired help, doing a little of everything, but especially bossing, praising, and scolding me. Poor me! I was the most frightened, forlorn, submissive, not-knowing-what-to-do, God-forsaken man you ever saw in all your life. Ordered, praised, directed, and made fun of by three women at the same time, all of whom I was vainly striving to please, and prominent among them was my own better nine-tenths, is it any wonder that I felt like a stray dog with a tin pan tied to his tail?
    Did I swear? Not a bit of it. No amount of swearing could have begun to do the subject justice. I shook carpet till my shoulders ached; I whipped carpet till my arms were sore for a week, only to be told by my better nineteen-twentieths that it was half done! I lifted beds, bureaus, book-cases, sinks, cupboards, heaters, and stoves until my back was almost broke! I was so long on my knees (not praying, for prayer would not reach the case) tacking down carpet that for nearly a week each knee felt as if it were afflicted with one of Josh Billings’ “biles.” At night I would retire to my couch (hastily and temporarily thrown together), not to sleep, for I was too tired to do that, but to muse over the woes and miseries to which we poor men are subjected at house-cleaning time, and to thank a merciful Providence for having ordained that the calamity shall not strike us oftener than twice a year. Well, it is over, and my better forty-nine-fiftieths is as happy as a cricket again. She says it was just a splendid time; that we had such good weather; that the hired help did so well; that the whitewashing is excellent, and that, in spite of my awkwardness, I did almost as well as I had ever done before. Of course, I am glad she is pleased and happy, but for three mortal days I have been vainly striving to ascertain whether the bit of praise she gives me is really a compliment or not. Can you tell? But I guess it is all right. You know women have such a queer way of expressing themselves. But, in spite of myself, it does creep up my back that she might have been a little more definite in saying that I had done first rate. You know we men like to be praised, too.
    Well, my chief consolation now is that there are at least five long months between us and another house-cleaning; and if, when that time comes, I am not away from home for a week on very important business, you may put me down for an idiot. But come to see us now, soon, while the house is clean. You will find my better ninety-nine-one-hundredths in a splendid humor—provided you come before the house gets dirty.

C. J. Kephart and W. R. Funk, Life of Rev. Isaiah L. Kephart, D.D. (1909)

return to text

festive hams (p. 27)

A “ham” (shortened from US slang “ham-fatter”) is a poor actor. The OED cites its first occurrence in 1882; a later citation is from Wodehouse’s Laughing Gas. More literally, a “festive ham” is a meat dish that is served on festive occasions.

In this instance, Wodehouse seems to be combining the two usages to imply that the actors (“hams,” here used jocularly) dined well.

return to text

Little Eva (p. 27)

Little Eva—full name Evangeline St Clare—is a character in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Aged between 5 and 6 years, she is rescued from drowning by Uncle Tom, who is on his way to be sold at a slave auction. Eva persuades her father, Augustine St Clare, to buy Tom and he becomes coachman to the St Clare family.

Her form was the perfection of childish beauty, without its usual chubbiness and squareness of outline. There was about it an undulating and aerial grace, such as one might dream of for some mythic and allegorical being. . . She was always in motion, always with a half smile on her rosy mouth, flying hither and thither, with an undulating and cloud-like tread, singing to herself as she moved as in a happy dream.

Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, ch. 14 (1852)

return to text

Hicks Corners (p. 28)

Wodehouse several times uses the name Hicks Corners to suggest a small rural town:

 “Say, I got married since I saw you last.”
 “You did, did you?” I said. “Then what are you doing, may I ask, dancing on Broadway like a gay bachelor? I suppose you have left your wife at Hicks’ Corners, singing ‘Where is my wandering boy tonight’?”

“At Geisenheimer’s,” in The Man With Two Left Feet

 “Well, she comes from the Middle West, and seems to be trying to be twice as Bohemian as the rest of the girls down in Greenwich Village. She wears her hair bobbed and goes about in a kimono. She’s probably read magazine stories about Greenwich Village, and has modelled herself on them. It’s so silly, when you can see Hicks Corners sticking out of her all the time.”

“Mother’s Knee,” in Indiscretions of Archie, ch. 23

There is a real Hicks Corners in Illinois, USA. The name seems to derive from a combination of hick—an ignorant rustic—and Hickscorner, a 16th century word for a scoffer (from the eponymous libertine character who scoffs at religion in the morality play of that name, written some time between 1497 and 1512).

Diego Seguí finds more, and a parallel:

In “The Expulsion from Eden”:

When the rustic wants intellectual refreshment, he takes it back home at the Hicks Corners Colonial or the Bodville Center Gaiety…

“Bodville Center” is used in place of “Hicks’ Corners” in the Saturday Evening Post version of “At Geisenheimer’s” in the first quotation above, although “Hicks Corners” appears in the first sentence of that version of the story. The two names are merged as “Bodville Corners” in “Perfectly Furious”. They were apparently interchangeable for PGW.

return to text

Bide a Wee Home (p. 28)

The Bide-A-Wee Home Association was established in 1903 by Mrs. Flora D’Auby Jenkins Kibbe to provide care and shelter for stray and unwanted animals. The first shelter was in Manhattan; two others were opened later, both on Long Island, at Wantagh and Westhampton. Barry Phelps notes that in 1966 the Wodehouses donated US$20,000 to the Bide-A-Wee Association to build the “P. G. Wodehouse Shelter” for stray animals at Westhampton and that six of their pets are buried there.

return to text

Covent Garden (p. 28)

Covent Garden, situated just north of Strand, in central London, was the site of London’s principal fruit and vegetable market from the 1600s until 1974, when it moved to a new site at Nine Elms, south of the river Thames.

return to text

Spenser Gray (p. 29)

The name is possibly coined from the poets Edmund Spenser (1552–99, author of The Faerie Queen) and Thomas Gray (1716–71, famous for his Elegy written in a country churchyard). The first husband of Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha was named Spenser Gregson.

return to text

this gink (p. 29)

The OED defines “gink” as US slang meaning “a fellow, a guy” and notes that it is frequently used derogatorily (as it is here). The earliest citation in the OED is from the National Police Gazette in May 1906; the third citation is this instance. [updated by NM]

return to text

Mr. Arbuckle . . . Fatty (p. 29)

Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle (1887–1933) was a famously overweight comic actor in the era of silent films. He was a star of the Keystone Cops films, gave Buster Keaton his first screen opportunity (in the 1917 short film “The Butcher Boy”), and mentored the young Charles Chaplin.

In 1921, two years after the publication of A Damsel in Distress, Arbuckle was falsely accused of rape and manslaughter; after two mistrials, he was eventually acquitted—and received a written apology from the jury—but by then his career and reputation had been destroyed. He died of a heart attack just hours after signing a contract with Warner Brothers to make a feature-length film that would have been his first since the scandal broke 12 years earlier.

[We learn in Summer Lightning (1929) that Mac weighs seventeen stone, or 238 pounds. Arbuckle told Photoplay in 1916 that he weighed 385 pounds, but biographers suggest 260–300 as a more likely estimate. —NM]

return to text

What ho, within there (p. 29)


 “Ha?” Mr. Sturge drew back in dark surprise. “ ’Tis the language of delirium. He raves. What ho, without there!” he called aloud.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, The Mayor of Troy, ch. 14 (1906)

 Halting beneath this outer gate, the youth winded the horn which hung at his side in mimicry of the custom of the times.
 “What ho, without there!” challenged the old man entering grimly into the spirit of the play.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Outlaw of Torn, ch. 4 (1927)

I stopped singing and opened the door an inch.
 “What ho without there!"
 “Lady Malvern wishes to see you, sir,” said Jeeves.

“Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,” in My Man Jeeves (1919)

return to text

“Put me among the G’s.” (p. 29)

“Put Me Amongst the Girls” was a popular 1907 music-hall song by C. W. Murphy and Dan Lipton. There may also be an echo of it in ch. 1: “A simple soul, Lord Marshmoreton — mild and pleasant. Yet put him among the thrips, and he became a dealer-out of death and slaughter, a destroyer in the class of Attila the Hun and Genghis Khan.” The chorus goes:

Put me amongst the girls
Put me amongst the girls
Do me a favour, do
You know I’d do as much for you
Put me amongst the girls
Those with the curly curls
They’ll enjoy themselves, and so will I
If you put me amongst the girls.

Sung by Will Terry here and by Davy Jones (!) here. Other references:

Sloper had just requested some person unknown to put him amongst the girls, to which Binns had added explanatorily, anxious apparently that there should be no mistake, “those with the curly curls,” when the meeting descended upon the warblers in the usual manner, and the duet came to an end in a cloud of dust.”

The Luck Stone, ch. 11

“Put Me Among the Pigs.”

Galahad at Blandings ch. 7.2 and 11.3

“Put Me Among the Earls.”

America, I Like You (chapter title)

[Note by Diego Seguí]

return to text

mash notes (p. 29)

Love letters.

To “mash” someone is defined by the OED as “to fascinate or excite sentimental admiration in (one of the opposite sex)”:

About the year 1860 mash was a word found only in theatrical parlance in the United States. When an actress or any girl on the stage smiled at or ogled a friend in the audience, she was said to mash him, and “mashing” was always punishable by a fine deducted from the wages of the offender. It occurred to the writer that it must have been derived from the gypsy mash (masher-ava) to allure, to entice. This was suggested to Mr. Palmer, a well-known impresario, who said that the conjecture was not only correct, but that he could confirm it, for the term had originated with the C—— family, who were all comic actors and actresses, of Romany stock, who spoke gypsy familiarly among themselves.”

Barrère & Leland, A Dictionary of Slang, Jargon & Cant, v. 2 (1890)

[Updated: DS/NM]

return to text


A word with many meanings, originally referring to a relationship based on marriage rather than blood ties. The OED seems to neglect the noun sense used in popular literature to mean “the one person in the world to whom one is attracted romantically, one’s destined spouse.” The phrase “You are my affinity” goes back at least as far as 1869. [NM]

return to text

blarzy (p. 30)

blasé—bored through over-familiarity (French)

return to text

Tin Pan Alley (p. 31)

“Tin Pan Alley” was originally the name given to a block in Manhattan, New York, on West 28th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue, where, from the mid–1880s, there developed a high concentration of music publishers. The name was subsequently extended to any area within a major city that has a high concentration of music publishers and musical instrument stores, such as Denmark Street, near Covent Garden, London, which has been known since the 1920s as “Britain’s Tin Pan Alley.” Later still, “Tin Pan Alley” came to be used as a colloquial term for the world of music composing and publishing, and for popular music generally (usually—as in this instance—with a slightly derogatory reference to the commercial and unadventurous nature of the music).

The origin of the phrase is uncertain: the OED cites the use, in 1885, of “tin-panning” to refer to “a great uproar being caused by the beating of old trays, kettles, etc.” and it is often suggested that “Tin Pan Alley” referred to the cacophony produced by many musical instruments playing different tunes in a small area. The first use of the phrase cited in the OED is in the October 1908 issue of Hampton’s Broadway Magazine; by 1926, the OED cites a statement that “as a matter of fact, Tin Pan Alley exists now only as a tradition.”

return to text

become one of the Mendelssohn’s March Daughters (p. 31)

Get married.

The reference is to the “Wedding March” composed by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809–47) as part of his incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Op 61 (1843). Together with the “Bridal Chorus” from Act 3 of Richard Wagner’s opera Lohengrin, WWV 75 (1850), it has traditionally been one of the most popular pieces of wedding music, the Wagner usually being played as a processional, heralding the arrival of the bride at the church, and the Mendelssohn being played as a recessional, as the newly-wed couple depart.

return to text

a rehearsal at two-thirty for cuts (p. 31)

This is tossed off lightly, but anyone with theatrical experience knows that nearly every new play or musical runs too long on its first night, and audiences don’t always react with approval to every scene, joke, or musical number, so it is extremely common for a show to be tightened by removing the less-effective portions, sometimes as soon as after one performance, as here. In ch. 8 below we learn of another cut made after the second night. See “Launching a Popular Song” and “The Barrymores, and Others” for more on the subject from Wodehouse himself. [NM]

return to text

meet at Philippi (p. 31)

There is a tide in the affairs of men
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
and we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
Then, with your will, go on;
We’ll along ourselves and meet them at Philippi.

Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act IV, sc 3 (1599 ?)

The plain to the west of the Greek city of Philippi was the scene, in 42 BC, of the final battle of the Roman civil war, fought between Julius Caesar’s heirs, Marcus Antonius and Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus, and his assassins, Marcus Junius Brutus and Gaius Cassius Longinus. Brutus and Cassius were defeated and committed suicide; Octavian went on to become the ruler of Italy and, after defeating Antony at the battle of Actium, in 31 BC, became de facto emperor, though he never used the title.

return to text

poor geek (p. 31)

“Geek” is here being used to mean a simpleton or dupe. The use of “geek” to describe “an unsociable person obsessively devoted to a particular pursuit” (OED) or “a person who is extremely devoted to and knowledgeable about computers or related technology” (OED) came much later.

return to text

stenographer (p. 32)

Originally, a shorthand writer (from Greek stenos: narrow + graphos: written), later also a shorthand typist, and sometimes, more loosely, any sort of secretary.

[Life would imitate art in a few years; Ethel Merman was working as a stenographer in the mid-1920s when she began singing in nightclubs, later giving up her day job as her career expanded to musical comedies and films. —NM]

return to text

interpolated numbers (p. 32)

In the musical theatre, an interpolated number is a song, most often written by someone other than the main composer of a show, that is added between the numbers of the original work. Before he achieved success as a lyricist, Wodehouse frequently did work of this nature. Ironically, what is probably his best-known song, “Bill,” only became popular as an interpolated number. Originally written for the 1918 production of Oh, Lady! Lady, the last of the five musicals by the trio of Wodehouse, Guy Bolton, and Jerome Kern that were staged at the Princess Theatre, New York, it was dropped from the show and not used until 1927, when it found a home in Show Boat, a work for which the book and lyrics were written by Oscar Hammerstein to music by Kern.

return to text

write it on your cuff (p. 32)

This refers to the fashion, common among “white-collar” workers of the time, for wearing shirts with detachable, disposable cuffs and collars made out of paper or celluloid. Such cuffs were a convenient place to jot down notes, a practice which gave rise to the phrase “off the cuff” (as also “white-collar”).

return to text

acquired a liver (p. 32)

George has, of course, always had a liver; here he is using “liver” in its sense of “liver-complaint”:

He suffered from ague for the first time since boyhood, and later came liver.

Archibald Forbes, Chinese Gordon, ch. 3 (1884)

[Many symptoms such as bloating, nausea, headache, stomach ache, lassitude, dry mouth, depression, irritability, even coughs, asthma, and tuberculosis, were often attributed to a disorder of the liver in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Even in the mid-20th century, when Olivia de Havilland married Frenchman Pierre Galante, she was astonished at the range of complaints that the French attributed to mal au foie; her 1962 memoir is titled Every Frenchman Has One (a liver, that is). —NM]

return to text

In and Out Club (p. 33)

This is not, as one might think, one of Wodehouse’s fictional clubs; rather, it is the nickname of the Naval & Military Club, a gentlemen’s club that was founded in 1862. The name derives from the signs that were prominently displayed on the entrance and exit gates of the Club’s original home at 94 Piccadilly; although the Club moved, in 1999, to premises in St James Square that have only one gate, the tradition is maintained by “In” and “Out” signs on either side of the entrance.

return to text

moment of clear vision (p. 33)

This phrase is associated with the teachings of Theosophy, a mystical movement of which Wodehouse’s older brother Ernest Armine was a professor and author.

When the time comes for his return to earth there comes to each Ego a moment of clear vision.

John Schofield, “Death and After” in Theosophical Quarterly vol. 4, p. 268 (1906)

Wodehouse used the phrase in a more prosaic sense, as here and elsewhere:

In a moment of clear vision he saw that sooner or later, behaving in this limp way, he must lose her.

“The Golden Flaw” (1920)

She only knew that now for the first time she had been granted a moment of clear vision and was seeing things truly.

The Little Warrior (1920)

In Chapter 26 of the present book, Maud has a flash of clear vision.

Wodehouse also uses the phrase “hour of clear vision” frequently; Chapter 28 in The Intrusion of Jimmy is titled “Spennie’s Hour of Clear Vision” for example. [NM]

return to text

aid and comfort

See The Mating Season.

return to text

parting from someone we have never met

This phrase seems to be original and unique with Wodehouse; unfortunately the first UK edition spoiled it somewhat by misprinting “ever” instead of “never” here. [NM]

return to text

Chapter 3 (pp. 36–44)

the work of a moment (p. 36)

“It is all very strange. So suddenly to be gone! It seems but the work of a moment. . .”

Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ch. 15 (1811)

It is now but the work of a moment to lift the saucepan of peas from the fire, strain them through a colander, pass them thence into a net or bag, rinse them in cold water and then spread the whole appetising mass on a platter and carry it on a fireshovel to the dining-room.

Stephen Leacock, Further Foolishness, ch. 7 (1916)

The charging of his enemy was but the work of a moment.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, Part 1, Book 1, ch. 8
quoted in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, 10th ed (1919)

[Diego Seguí comments: The quotation from the Quixote is of course a translation, from the Motteux edition of 1700. It may well have been the first usage of the English expression. It follows Cervantes’ 1605 original Spanish very closely:

El decir esto, y el apretar la espada, y el cubrirse bien de su rodela, y el arremeter al vizcaíno, todo fue en un tiempo.

The breathing out of this short Prayer, the griping fast of his Sword, the covering of himself with his shield, and the Charging of his Enemy, was but the work of a moment.

The History of the Renown’d Don Quixote De la Mancha (1700) p. 73

In this exact form the phrase “todo fue en un tiempo” (lit. “it was all at the same time”) occurs only here, but with a slight variation “fue todo en un tiempo” it was a regular Spanish expression at the time (8 cases between 1555 and 1615 according to the Diachronic Corpus of Spanish).]

As is clear, this phrase is not original to Wodehouse, but it was one that he made his own:

I had often wondered how those Johnnies in books did it—I mean the fellows with whom it was the work of a moment to do about a dozen things that ought to have taken them about ten minutes. But, as a matter of fact, it was the work of a moment with me to chuck away my cigarette, swear a bit, leap about ten yards, dive into a bush that stood near the library window, and stand there with my ears flapping.

“Jeeves Takes Charge,” in Carry On, Jeeves

To leap up, lick Flick’s face, leap back, kick Bill in the eye, leap up again, knock Mr. Hammond’s hat off, and plunge, panting stertorously, toward Flick once more was with him the work of a moment.

Bob, the Sealyham, in Bill the Conqueror (1924)

In his prime it would have been with [Jeeves] the work of a moment to have told Aunt Agatha that I was not at home.

“Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit” in Very Good, Jeeves!

To tiptoe backwards, holding his breath, was with Montrose Mulliner the work of a moment.

“Monkey Business,” in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere

. . . and to pour into a glass an inch or so of the raw spirit and shoosh some soda-water on top of it was with me the work of a moment.

Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 10

There was a sheet lying on the bed . . . and to snatch this up and envelop Spode in it was with me the work of a moment.

The Code of the Woosters, ch. 7

The phrase is also found in The Clicking of Cuthbert, Indiscretions of Archie, The Girl on the Boat/Three Men and a Maid, Summer Lightning, Thank You, Jeeves, Meet Mr. Mulliner, Mr. Mulliner Speaking, and The Inimitable Jeeves, among others.

Also compare the work of an instant:

The decanter was still on the drawing-room table, fully half of its precious contents intact. To seize it and take a long, invigorating snort was with Tipton the work of an instant.

Full Moon, ch. 4.4 (1947)

To advance and seize Percy by the left ear was with him the work of an instant, to lead him to the door and speed him on his way with a swift kick the work of another.

Uncle Dynamite, ch. 9.1 (1948)

To do a backward jump of some eleven feet and install myself behind the sofa was the work of an instant…

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, ch. 17 (1954)

One of the first to notice it was J. P. Boots of Boots and Brewer, and it was the work of an instant for him, on arriving at his office in St. Mary Axe, to summon the young man to his presence and inform him that his services, such as they were, would no longer be required.

Cocktail Time, ch. 6 (UK edition, 1958)

return to text

eyes from which the scales had fallen (p. 37)

And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.

And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.

Acts, ix, 17–18

return to text

the days of the Tudors (p. 37)

The days of the Tudors lasted from 1485 to 1603. The Tudor dynasty began when Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, became King Henry VII of England after defeating the last Plantagenet king, Richard III, at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. The dynasty came to an end with the death of Henry’s granddaughter, Elizabeth I, who left no direct heir and was succeeded (as James I of England) by King James VI of Scotland, son of Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots).

return to text

taking it by and large

The phrase began as two nautical terms, by meaning sailing as nearly in the direction of the wind as possible, and large meaning sailing crosswise to the wind. Hence by and large originally meaning in one way and another, in every circumstance; taking it by and large: on the whole; regarding the general situation without going into details. [NM]

return to text

didn’t care if it snowed

The phrase pops up from 1903 on in discussions of the weather, but the first figurative use of the phrase so far found is in a 1908 review of a music-hall sketch by an American actress, Carrie DeMar, working in London:

...Flossie stood herself a whole bottle [of champagne], and as she drank it, in clever pantomime, sang of, and simulated, its effects glass by glass. When it had all gone, Flossie did not care if it snowed—but retained common sense enough [to take a cab home].

London Sunday Chronicle, quoted in a column datelined London, Dec. 22, in New York Star, January 2, 1909, p. 28.

Another 1919 usage makes it clear that it was a popular saying:

Adventure is shyly lurking for those who will seek her out. What about it? So I drew five pounds from the cash-box, stuffed it into my waistcoat-pocket, and let myself loose, feeling, as the phrase goes, that I didn’t care if it snowed.

Thomas Burke, Out and About London, p. 4

[Note by NM]

return to text


See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

Already a second edition of his chin had been published

Wodehouse, ever thrifty, found this one too good not to re-use, in 1957’s The Butler Did It/Something Fishy:

There was rather a lot of Roscoe Bunyan. . . . His face was red, the back of his neck overflowed his collar, and there had recently been published a second edition of his chin.

[Note by NM]

return to text

touched in the wind (p. 38)

“Touched in the wind” describes a horse whose breathing is disordered, usually as the result of an ailment rather than by over-exertion.

return to text

Take him for all in all

See Ukridge.

return to text

Lawrenceville and Harvard (p. 38)

Lawrenceville is one of the oldest and most elite prep schools in the US. It was originally founded in 1810 as the Maidenhead Academy and went through several changes of name before its current name, “The Lawrenceville School,” was adopted during its refounding in 1883. The school is located in Lawrence, New Jersey, just a few miles from Princeton. Lawrenceville featured in several novels written by one of its alumni, Owen Johnson (class of 1895); one of the novels, The Varmint was made into a motion picture in 1950. The novelist and playwright Thornton Wilder taught French at the school in the 1920s (he received his MA in French from nearby Princeton in 1926).

Harvard University is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is one of the eight institutions (Princeton and Yale are others) that collectively comprise the Ivy League. Founded in 1636, Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States; it adopted the name Harvard College in 1639 in recognition of its first major donor, clergyman John Harvard.

return to text

theatrical managers (p. 38)

That Wodehouse probably intends no compliment to New York theatrical managers can be judged from the following comments (from Bring on the Girls) on three prominent New York impresarios:

“Tell me about Erlanger. . . . What’s he like? . . .”
“He’s rather like a toad.”

Colonel Savage . . . walked with a slight limp, having probably in the course of his career been bitten in the leg by some indignant author.

They found Ray [Comstock] seated at his desk with a bottle of whisky beside him for purposes of reference.

return to text

Vere de Vere (p. 38)

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
Of me you shall not win renown:
You thought to break a country heart
For pastime, ere you went to town.
At me you smiled, but unbeguiled
I saw the snare, and I retired;
The daughter of a hundred earls,
You are not one to be desired.

. . . .

Lady Clara Vere de Vere,
When thus he met his mother’s view,
She had the passion of her kind,
She spake some certain truths of you.
Indeed I heard one bitter word
That scarce is fit for you to hear;
Her manners had not that repose
Which stamps the caste of Vere de Vere.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Lady Clara Vere de Vere,” in The Lady of Shalott, and Other Poems (1842)

See also Love Among the Chickens and Sam the Sudden.

return to text

non-essential industries (p. 38)

A phrase with a very recent topical application when this was written. In 1916, as Britain’s engagement in the First World War was becoming even more intense, and as the USA entered the war in 1917, governments in both countries suggested reductions in “non-essential industries” in order to free up manpower, materials, fuel, transport, and so forth for the war effort. See this Parliamentary question and this November 1917 article from a New York State industrial magazine.

Of course Wodehouse was using the phrase joshingly to characterize a pair of loafers. [NM]

return to text

Time was not of the essence (p. 38)

“Time is of the essence” is an expression commonly used in contract law. Unless it is expressly agreed by the parties or implied by the nature of the contract, the time allowed for performance of a contract is not of the essence and the contracting parties are allowed a reasonable amount of time in which to fulfil their obligations. If it is important that performance of the contract take place as quickly as possible, it is usual to insert a clause stating that “time is of the essence.” Alternatively, if one party to a contract has failed to perform its obligations, the other party can issue a notice making time of the essence and, if non-performance continues, will become entitled to terminate the contract and sue for damages.

return to text

getting to some public house and leaning against the wall

Bottleton East, down Limehouse way, was one of those primitive communities where the native sons, largely recruited from the costermongering and leaning-up-against-the-walls-of-public-houses industries, have a primitive sense of humour and think things funny which are not funny at all.

Cocktail Time, ch. 2 (1958) [NM]

return to text

the two Bohemians (p. 39)

It is unlikely that the pair are, in fact, natives of Bohemia. More probably, Wodehouse is stretching the term beyond its colloquial usage as a description of “one who either cuts himself off, or is by his habits cut off, from society for which he is otherwise fitted; especially an artist, literary man, or actor, who leads a free, vagabond, or irregular life, not being particular as to the society he frequents, and despising conventionalities generally” (OED).

return to text

too few goes of gin (p. 40)

“The score!” he burst out. “Three goes o’ rum! Why, shiver my timbers if I hadn’t forgotten my score.”

Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, Part II, ch. viii (1883)

I have tickled the captain too; I have made him dance to some tune; he must have pledged his half pay to keep open house for you, and now, like the other half-pays in London, he must live on plates of beef and goes of gin for the next seven years.

William Cobbett, addressing the electors of Preston, Lancashire, after unsuccessfully standing as a candidate in the general election of June 1826 (quoted in The Life of William Cobbett, Esq, 1835)

return to text


Toff is lower-class slang, first recorded 1851, for a gentleman, one who is smartly dressed, a member of the upper class. [NM]

return to text

a tray of collar-studs (p. 41)

Detachable shirt collars (see above) were held in place by two collar-studs.

[Another such unofficial vendor approaches Lord Dawlish at the start of Uneasy Money: —NM]

As he stood there, gazing into the middle distance, an individual of disheveled aspect sidled up, a vagrant of almost the maximum seediness, from whose midriff there protruded a trayful of a strange welter of collar studs, shoe laces, rubber rings, buttonhooks and dying roosters.

return to text

portable Woolworth-bargain-counter

A comparison of the collar-stud vendor to the five-and-ten-cent stores founded in America in 1878 by F. W. Woolworth, among the first self-service retail stores. The first UK store opened in Liverpool in 1909 with threepence and sixpence pricing, and within a few years Woolworth stores had opened throughout England. [NM]

return to text

the many-headed (p. 41)

First Citizen:
And to make us no better thought of, a little help
will serve; for once we stood up about the corn, he
himself stuck not to call us the many-headed multitude.
Third Citizen:
We have been called so of many; not that our heads
are some brown, some black, some auburn, some bald,
but that our wits are so diversely coloured:

Shakespeare, The Tragedy of Coriolanus, Act II, sc 3 (1608/9 ?)

Shakespeare was not the first to refer to a mob as the “many-headed multitude,” as the following commentary on his Julius Caesar shows:

The many-headed multitude were drawne
By Brutus speech, that Caesar was ambitious,
When eloquent Mark Antonie had showne
His vertues, who but Brutus shell was vicious?
Mans memorie, with new, forgets the old,
One tale is good, untill another’s told.

John Weever, The Mirror of Martyrs, s 4 (1601)

return to text

“You can’t do that sort of thing, you know.” (p. 42)

This passage mirrors very closely the exchange between Psmith and Spiller in chap 33 of Mike [chap 4 of Mike and Psmith and of the serial “The Lost Lambs”], when the latter objects to the usurpation of his study:

 “You can’t go about the place bagging studies.”
 “But we do,” said Psmith. “In this life, Comrade Spiller, we must be prepared for every emergency. We must distinguish between the unusual and the impossible. It is unusual for people to go about the place bagging studies, so you have rashly ordered your life on the assumption that it is impossible. Error! Ah, Spiller, Spiller, let this be a lesson to you.”
 “Look here, I tell you what it——”
 “[. . .] The advice I give to every young man starting life is: ‘Never confuse the unusual and the impossible.’ Take the present case. If you had only realised the possibility of somebody some day collaring your study, you might have thought out dozens of sound schemes for dealing with the matter. As it is, you are unprepared. The thing comes on you as a surprise. The cry goes round: ‘Spiller has been taken unawares. He cannot cope with the situation.’ ”

See also Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

berserk frame of mind (p. 43)

The Beserks (or Beserkers) were Norse warriors who fought in an uncontrollable rage; the mechanism by which the warriors induced such a rage is unclear. In 1015, Eiríkr Hákonarson, the ruler of Norway, outlawed Beserkers, and by the 1100s organised Berserker warbands had disappeared.

Today, the term “beserk” (usually uncapitalised) is used to refer to any person who acts in a wild rage or in an uncontrolled and irrational manner.

return to text

technical battery (p. 43)

Battery is a common law offence (though subject to the jurisdiction of the criminal court) and consists in the unlawful touching of another person.

Common assault is a crime and occurs when one person causes another to apprehend or fear that force is about to be used to cause some degree of personal contact and possible injury.

Technical battery is a term used in US jurisprudence to describe cases of unlawful touching that stop short of actual physical harm—for example, the provision of medical treatment, no matter how well-intentioned, without the consent of the patient has been ruled to constitute “technical battery.”

Under English law, George’s threat to “bust you one on the jaw” is a common assault in so far as he has raised in the stout young man an apprehension of immediate personal violence. And should he, in the course of removing the young man’s silk hat, inflict even the most minor injury, he could be charged with the offence of battery. If he were to carry out his threat and break the young man’s jaw, he could be charged with the crime of assault occasioning actual bodily harm, which carries a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

Under §42 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, charges of common assault or battery could be heard by two magistrates (acting without a jury) and, if found guilty, the offender could be fined a maximum of £200 or imprisoned in the common gaol for up to two months.

§39 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 essentially retained this status by defining common assault and battery as “summary offences,” which means that they can be dealt with summarily, without the need for an indictment and with no right to trial by jury. It also raised the maximum penalties on conviction to £5000 fine or six months’ imprisonment.

return to text

Achilles heel (p. 43)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

popped up into the infield (p. 44)

In baseball, the infield is an area that includes the square formed by the bases and extending out to a distance of 95 feet from the centre of the pitcher’s mound. In certain clearly-defined situations, a ball that is popped up into the infield is subject to what is known as the Infield Fly Rule, whereby if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball is catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort, the batter is out regardless of whether the ball is actually caught in flight.

return to text

Chapter 4 (pp. 45–54)

tilting very slightly at the tip

A great many of Wodehouse’s heroines have tip-tilted noses. A partial list includes Violet in “Out of School” (1910), Peggy Norton in “In Alcala” (1911), Bessie March in “The Episode of the Live Weekly” (1916, part of A Man of Means), Molly Waddington in The Small Bachelor (1926/27), Pat Wyvern in Money for Nothing (1928), Prudence Whittaker in Summer Moonshine (1937), Lady Teresa Cobbold in Spring Fever (1948), Daphne Dolores Morehead in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit/Bertie Wooster Sees It Through (1954), Sally Foster in Ice in the Bedroom (1961), and Kay Christopher in Biffen’s Millions/Frozen Assets (1964).

The OED defines “tip-tilted” as having the tip turned up, so we can include those described as having turned-up noses, including Prudence Carroway in “Trouble Down at Tudsleigh” (1935; in Young Men in Spats, 1936), Elsie Bean in Uncle Dynamite (1948), and Mabel Case in “Joy Bells for Walter” (in A Few Quick Ones, 1959). [NM]

return to text

Carlton (p. 48)

The Carlton Hotel, once one of London’s smartest hotels, was situated at the corner of Pall Mall and Haymarket. It was opened in 1899, operated by César Ritz with head chef Auguste Escoffier. The hotel was damaged by bombing during World War II, and in the mid–1950s the site was acquired by the New Zealand Government, the old building was demolished, and a new tower block, the first to be built in central London after the war, was erected to house the offices of the New Zealand High Commission.

Although it seems that there is no evidence to support the claim, a blue plaque on the present building commemorates a pastry cook who, it is said, worked at the hotel in 1913; the cook was named Ho Chi Minh and is better known as the first president of modern Vietnam.

return to text

the manners of a ring-tailed chimpanzee (p. 48)

We can only guess at the manners of the ring-tailed chimpanzee, as no such animal has yet been seen. Nor is a sighting at all imminent, as neither of the two known species of chimpanzee—the Common Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes, and the Bonobo, or “Pygmy Chimpanzee,” Pan paniscus—possesses a tail!

Perhaps George has in mind the Ring-tailed Lemur, Lemur catta, which, although a primate, is only distantly related to the “great apes” (which include Man and the chimpanzees).

[Diego Seguí comments: I’d put it even more strongly: it is part of the definition of “ape” that they don’t have tails.

But there is something to learn about the r.-t. c.’s manners:

    “By heaven, I will not stir until I have your promise! I cannot live without it!” cried Lord Belfleur. “See me writhing at your feet, where I will be your abject slave as much as if I lived in South Carolina.”
    “Pray rise, Lord Belfleur,” cried Mdlle. D’Arlincourt; “think what a position you are placing me in.”
    “Never! I will not rise; I will cling to you like the twining boa, or the ring-tailed chimpanzee, until you give me your promise.”

Ch. J. Collins, Sackville Chase, vol. III (1863) p. 15

I can’t believe PGW would have read this, but the plain truth is that clinging to George Bevan “like the twining boa, or the ring-tailed chimpanzee” is precisely what Lord Belpher, like Lord Belfleur in the 1863 book, intends to do.]

return to text


See Hot Water.

return to text

a Lothario (p. 52)

In Nicholas Rowe’s play The Fair Penitent (1703), Lothario, a handsome but unprincipled young nobleman, seduces and betrays Calista, the intended spouse of his enemy, Altamont. The play was so popular that the name Lothario has subsequently come to denote the type of a libertine or rake.

return to text

the Holy Grail sliding athwart a sunbeam (p. 53)

And then the king and all estates went home unto Camelot, and so went to evensong to the great minster, and so after upon that to supper, and every knight sat in his own place as they were toforehand. Then anon they heard cracking and crying of thunder, that them thought the place should all to-drive. In the midst of this blast entered a sunbeam more clearer by seven times than ever they saw day, and all they were alighted of the grace of the Holy Ghost. Then began every knight to behold other, and either saw other, by their seeming, fairer than ever they saw afore. Not for then there was no knight might speak one word a great while, and so they looked every man on other as they had been dumb. Then there entered into the hall the Holy Grail covered with white samite, but there was none might see it, nor who bare it. And there was all the hall fulfilled with good odours, and every knight had such meats and drinks as he best loved in this world. And when the Holy Grail had been borne through the hall, then the holy vessel departed suddenly, that they wist not where it became: then had they all breath to speak.

Sir Thomas Malory (ed Caxton), Le morte d’Arthur, Book 2, ch. 7 (1470)

. . . for a brief space things were mixed and chaotic and Arthurian. The silvery sound of the luncheon-bell restored an instant peace, even in the teeth of clenched antagonisms like ours. The Holy Grail itself, “sliding athwart a sunbeam,” never so effectually stilled a riot of warring passions into sweet and quiet accord.

Kenneth Grahame, “Snowbound,” in The Golden Age (1895)

return to text

C-division (p. 53)

London’s Metropolitan Police Force was established in 1829, and originally consisted of 17 divisions, designated alphabetically. Over time, further divisions were added, before the alphabetic designations were finally abolished in the 1990s. The Metropolitan Police is now organised geographically into 33 Borough Operational Command Units, one dedicated to Heathrow Airport and the rest aligned with the boundaries of the 32 London borough councils.

“C” Division, headquartered, until 1939, at Little Vine Street, Piccadilly, and thereafter at Savile Row Police Station, traditionally covered the areas of Mayfair and Soho.

return to text

the Olympian brow. . . thunderbolts. (p. 53)

In Roman mythology, Jove, or Jupiter, was the leader of the gods, the ruler of Mount Olympus, the god of the sky and thunder, and the patron deity of the Roman state. He was often depicted hurling thunderbolts.

Mount Olympus is the highest mountain in Greece and in Greek mythology was the home of the Twelve Olympians, the principal gods of the Greek pantheon, hence “Olympian” became a synonym for “god-like.”

Wodehouse is facetiously endowing the police constable with the awe-inspiring majesty of a god.

return to text

fell from him like a garment (p. 54)

While there does not seem to be a specific source for this phrase, variants on it are quite common:

 They whispered one another “He is dying.”
 And he said, “I am. My age is falling from me like a garment . . .”

Charles Dickens, “A Child’s Dream of a Star,” in Household Words I, 25 (6 April 1850)

For a moment, perhaps, I could not clearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen from me like a garment.

H. G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, ch. 7 (1898)

His indifference fell from him like a garment.

Edith Wharton, The Valley of Decision, Book IV, ch. 11 (1901)

The rough hardihood of the ring fell from him like a garment:

George Bernard Shaw, Cashel Byron’s Profession, ch. 14 (1886)

It was then . . . that fear dropped from her like a garment, and her trembling ceased.

Bret Harte, “High-Water Mark,” in The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Tales (1870)

Wodehouse himself employed the phrase in a number of different ways, e.g.:

Nutty’s fatigue fell from him like a garment.

Uneasy Money, ch. 8 (1916)

Mr. Peters, recalled to his professional duties, shed his sinister front like a garment.

The Girl on the Boat/Three Men and a Maid, ch. 9 (1922)

Mr. Previn’s exuberance fell from him like a garment.

“The Exit of Battling Billson” (1923)

Hugo’s air of the superior critic fell from him like a garment.

Summer Lightning, ch. 6 (1929)

My lethargy slipped from me like a garment.

Laughing Gas, ch. 16 (1936)

It was as though the butler in him had fallen from him like a garment, revealing the natural man beneath.

The Old Reliable, ch. 10 (1951)

See also Ukridge, Hot Water, Money in the Bank and below (p. 195).

Closely related:

Mr. Crocker looked about him cautiously. Then his priestly manner fell from him like a robe, and he bounded forward.

Piccadilly Jim, ch. 19 (1919)

return to text

Vine Street Police Station (p. 54)

Vine Street lies just off Regent Street, close to Piccadilly Circus. The police station, formerly the headquarters of “C” Division, is no longer in use.

As an historical footnote, one of the (not necessarily better) men who had made the journey to Vine Street police station was the Marquess of Queensberry, who was taken there in March 1895 to be charged with criminal libel against Oscar Wilde, thus precipitating the series of trials that eventually led to Wilde’s imprisonment.

See also Money in the Bank.

return to text

the middle of a perfect day

Probably a humorous alteration of the phrase “the end of a perfect day” popularized in the song “A Perfect Day” by Carrie Jacobs-Bond. [NM]

return to text

Chapter 5 (pp. 55–61)

Everything was emphatically for the best (p. 55)

See Something Fresh. See also below

return to text

turned on the cold tap in the bathroom

Later literature and folklore may cause us to associate a cold shower with attempts to cool off one’s purely physical ardor, but for Wodehouse a cold bath, as here, is associated with health and strength just as the morning “daily dozen” calisthenic exercises are: as a stimulant to the body. See “The Physical Culture Peril” for a somewhat cynical mention of it, as well as:

 Samuel Marlowe, muffled in a bathrobe, came back to the stateroom from his tub. His manner had the offensive jauntiness of the man who has had a cold bath when he might just as easily have had a hot one. He felt strong and happy and exuberant.
 It was not merely the spiritual pride induced by a cold bath that was uplifting this young man.

Three Men and a Maid/The Girl on the Boat (1921/22)

Five brisk rounds with Steve, a cold bath, and a rub-down took him pleasantly on to lunch, after which it amused him to play at painting.

Kirk Winfield, in The White Hope, ch. 3 (1914), later published as The Coming of Bill

There is magic in a cold shower. In combination with Youth few ills of the flesh can stand against it.

Bill the Conqueror (1924), ch. 2, §1

Remembering after a while that he was a Mulliner, he checked the unmanly tears and, creeping to the bathroom, took a cold shower and felt a little better.

“The Man Who Gave Up Smoking” (1929; in Mr. Mulliner Speaking, 1929/30)

Even Reggie Byng takes a cold bath in ch. 15 of the present book. [NM]

return to text

Booth Tarkington (p. 55)

Newton Booth Tarkington (1869–1946) was an American novelist and dramatist. He is best remembered for his novel The Magnificent Ambersons (1918), which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1919 and was filmed by Orson Welles in 1941. The reference here is to his novel Seventeen, published in 1917.

return to text

During the last five years . . . (p. 56)

Ignoring the fact that Wodehouse had been married since September 1914, this passage reads like autobiography, even to the reference to one of his well-known habits—gliding swiftly away from awkward social encounters.

[Wodehouse had begun working in the theatre sporadically from 1904, but beginning in 1914 he became more steadily involved with musical comedy, as well as with writing dramatic criticism and other essays for the US Vanity Fair magazine. So the “five years” refers to his professional life rather than his private life.—NM]

return to text

disposition to kick

The OED shows figurative uses of kick meaning to rebel, defy, complain going back as far as the Wycliffe Bible of c.1400. For a perfect example of a theatrical female with a disposition to kick, see Mabel Hobson in ch. 6 of The Adventures of Sally (1921/22) [NM]

return to text

trinitrotoluol (p. 57)

Trinitrotoluol, or trinitrotoluene (TNT), is a chemical reagent and explosive. It is one of the most commonly-used military and commercial explosives, not least because it is insensitive to shocks and friction, is comparatively stable, neither absorbs nor dissolves in water, and can be melted and poured at temperatures well below those at which it will spontaneously detonate. First produced in 1863, it was originally used as a dye and, because it is so difficult to detonate, its explosive qualities were not immediately recognised.

The amount of energy released in an explosion of a unit quantity (e.g., kiloton or megaton) of TNT is frequently used to quantify the energy released in large explosions, such as nuclear weapon tests and asteroid impacts.

return to text

troubadour of the Middle Ages (p. 57)

Troubadours were composers and performers of lyric poetry during the High Middle Ages (1100–1350). The troubador tradition began in the Occitan-speaking region of southern and south-western France, from where it spread to Spain and Italy. The art of the troubadors declined during the early 14th century and died out around the time of the Black Death (1348), which killed an estimated 30–60% of the population of Europe.

The troubadors were professional entertainers, some of whom wandered from court to court. More typically, a troubador would gain the patronage of a wealthy noble and would become part of the noble’s household, staying in the one place as long as the patronage continued. While many troubador songs dealt with themes such as chivalry and courtly love, many were also comic or satirical, and a troubador who sang of unrequited love was not necessarily any more troubled in love than a modern-day pop singer.

return to text

in a cuppy lie (p. 57)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

“Ships that pass in the night!” (p. 58)

Ships that pass in the night and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Tales of a Wayside Inn, Part III, “The Theologian’s Tale: Elizabeth,” iv (1863)

return to text

Piccadilly Grill-room (p. 59)

The Piccadilly Hotel, on Piccadilly Circus, was built in 1905–08 on the site of the former St James’s Hall. The hotel’s grill-room became a very popular eating-place, especially in the evening, when a small orchestra entertained the diners, its performances often being broadcast live on radio. The hotel is now known as Le Méridien Piccadilly.

return to text

Evening News (p. 59)

The Evening News was launched in London in July 1881. In 1960 it absorbed the Star, which had been published since 1888. The Evening News ceased publication in 1980 after merging with the Evening Standard; the latter, originally known simply as the Standard, has been published continuously since 1827.

return to text

that admirable slop (p. 60)

“Slop” here means “policeman”; it is an example of “back slang,” where a word is written backwards and a new word coined from the result, in this case “ecilop” or “esclop,” hence “slop” — another example is “yobbo,” or “yob,” which originated as back-slang for “boy.”

See also The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

Burke’s Peerage (p. 61)

Burke’s Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage is a guide to the titled families of Great Britain and Ireland. It was first published in 1826 by a British genealogist, John Burke, under the title Burke’s Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the United Kingdom. It was revised annually between 1840 and 1940, except for a hiatus from 1917 to 1923, but subsequent revisions were infrequent(there were none between 1970 and 1999); the last print edition was published in 2003, since when further revisions are being made available only online.

When “A Damsel in Distress” was written, Burke’s Peerage was still recognised as a major authority on genealogical matters. In recent years that status has been eroded somewhat by a rash of publications, some of very inferior quality, bearing the name “Burke’s,” though unconnected with Burke’s Peerage.

return to text

Chapter 6 (pp. 62–79)

Boots (p. 62)

Slang: “An appellation given to the youngest officer in a regiment, junior member of a club, etc.” (OED).

return to text

Not so dusty (p. 62)

In the 17th century, one meaning of “dusty” was “mean, worthless, vile” (OED), a usage that has survived only in this slang expression, meaning “not so bad.”

return to text

Bow Street Police Court (p. 63)

More correctly, Bow Street Magistrates’ Court.

Bow Street is in central London, close to Covent Garden. It has been home to a magistrates’ court since c. 1739, when Colonel Thomas de Veil sat as a magistrate in his home at No 4. In 1747, the novelist Henry Fielding was appointed a Justice of the Peace (i.e. magistrate) and held court in the same house. A purpose-built magistrates’ court was opened in Bow Street in 1881 and continued in operation until 2006.

As well as dealing with summary offences (such as Lord Belpher’s), Bow Street Magistrates’ Court was, for much of its history, the office of the Senior District Judge (Magistrates’ Courts) and, as such, was the venue for the preliminary hearings of many famous cases that were eventually transferred, on indictment, to the Central Criminal Court (“Old Bailey”). Among those who passed through the Bow Street court are: Roger Casement and William Joyce (“Lord Haw-Haw”), both subsequently executed for treason; Dr. Crippen, who was hanged for murder; the suffragette sisters, Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst; and Oscar Wilde.

return to text

the raspberry (p. 64)

A “raspberry” is a derisive sound made by keeping the lips closed and forcing air over the tongue; it derives from rhyming slang (“raspberry tart” = fart) and has been dated to 1875 by Eric Partridge (A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English). The US equivalent is the “Bronx cheer” (which Wodehouse uses in Hot Water).

According to the OED, the first recorded use of “raspberry” in a figurative sense, to signify “a refusal; a reprimand, disapproval; dismissal” is from W. A. Lathrop, also from 1919; earlier OED editions listed this sentence from the current book and the one quoted below from a short story, dated 1923 from its book collection, which should have been dated to its original 1918 magazine appearance:

He would seem . . . to have blown in one morning at seven-forty-five . . . He was given the respectful raspberry by Jeeves, and told to try again about three hours later . . .

The Inimitable Jeeves, ch. 9, “A Letter of Introduction” (originally the short story “Jeeves and the Chump Cyril”, 1918)

return to text

blot on the family escutcheon (p. 64)

In heraldry, an escutcheon is a shield, or an emblem in the shape of a shield, bearing a coat of arms. Figuratively, to “blot one’s escutcheon” is to stain one’s reputation.

. . . your uncle by marriage, Ebenezer, popularly supposed to be the one blot on your family escutcheon, may turn out to be an angel unawares with a sovereign to bestow.

“Concerning Relations” in Public School Magazine, March 1901

My late Uncle Henry, you see, was by way of being the blot on the Wooster escutcheon.

“Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch” (1922, also in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)

See also Sam the Sudden, Heavy Weather, Lord Emsworth and Others.

return to text

shame and agony and what not

The phrase “and what not” is of course standard English, especially as the final item of a list, meaning “and anything else”—a native equivalent to et cetera. But Wodehouse seems to use it also as a marker for the speech of his knuts and dudes. Eleven of the twelve instances in the present book are in the words or thoughts of Reggie Byng, and many of them are at the end of a “list” of one item, especially when advice is being given or something potentially embarrassing is being discussed; the usage seems self-deprecatory, as if to say “Here’s what I think, but I might have chosen a better word.”

“I say, mater, dear old soul,” said Reggie hastily, “I think you’d better tear yourself away and what not.”

Chapter 1

“Well, what I mean to say is—family row and what not—if you see what I mean—I’ve one or two things I ought to do——”

Later in Chapter 6

And so forth. The phrase is also very frequent in the speech of Archie Moffam, beginning with the first Archie story:

“Bit embarrassing, all this, what!” said Archie, chattily. “I mean to say, having met before in less happy circs and what not. Rum coincidence and so forth!”

“The Man Who Married an Hotel” (1920, also in Indiscretions of Archie, 1921)

And of course Bertie Wooster says it early and often; sometimes it just means et cetera but it can also show the detachment of the dude who is unwilling to commit himself to a straight statement:

I couldn’t help feeling that this visit of his to America was going to be one of those times that try men’s souls and what not.

One of eight instances in “Jeeves and the Chump Cyril” (1918, also in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)

His [Bingo’s] finely-chiselled features were twisted with agony and what not, and he asked me what the dickens I thought I was playing at.

“Scoring Off Jeeves” (1922, also in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)


Diego Seguí adds:
Wodehouse is also fond of its use as a noun: “a whatnot” or “what-not”, meaning “something undefined, a what-is-it” or as a euphemism (often “son of a what-not”).

NM also finds its use as a noun simply referring to an item of furniture in Bill the Conqueror.

return to text

filled his cup of pleasure (p. 64)

They, too, added their quota to my cup of pleasure by being distinctly frigid.

Not George Washington, ch. 26

return to text

“His Nibs” (p. 65)

Nibs (or Nabs), subst (colloquial) — Self: His Nibs = the person referred to; Your Nibs = yourself; My Nibs = myself.

Farmer & Henley, Slang and Its Analogues, Past and Present, vol 5 (1902)

According to the OED, “now chiefly: the person in authority, as an employer, superior, etc. (frequently used ironically or with the implication that the person referred to has an excessive sense of his or her own importance) . . . usually with possessive adjective as a mock title, as his nibs, her nibs, etc.”

return to text

a Socialist (p. 65)

In 1919, when A Damsel in Distress was published, English politics was still dominated by the Liberal and Conservative parties and Socialists were viewed by many as revolutionaries who, left to themselves, would bring upon the country the sort of turmoil still, at that time, being experienced in revolutionary Russia.

return to text

intellectually he considered him negligible (p. 65)

Shades of Jeeves and Wooster!

“You will find Mr. Wooster,” he was saying to the substitute chappie, “an exceedingly pleasant and amiable young gentleman, but not intelligent. By no means intelligent. Mentally he is negligible—quite negligible.”

“Scoring Off Jeeves” (1922; in The Inimitable Jeeves, ch. 5, 1923)

I am not saying that in the course of our long association I have always found myself able to view Jeeves with approval. . . he has been known to allude to me as “mentally negligible.”

Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 22

“Oh, yes, he thinks a lot of you. I remember his very words. “Mr. Wooster, miss,” he said, “is, perhaps, mentally somewhat negligible, but he has a heart of gold.”

Thank You, Jeeves, ch. 7

return to text

the green baize door

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

The cross marks the spot (p. 67)

The notion that “X marks the spot” can be traced to the fictional map in Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883) on which an X marks the location of the pirates’ buried treasure.

[With the rise of illustrated newspapers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the phrase became common in captions to drawings and photographs of crime scenes. The earliest instance so far found is a caption to a drawing from the South Wales Daily Post of 22 January 1894: “The smaller cross marks the spot where the struggle commenced; the larger cross is the spot where the body was found.” —NM]

return to text

and then—zing.

This is the earliest use cited in the OED of zing as an interjection “representing the sudden advent of a new situation or emotion.” The noun sense, as of a sharp ringing sound, is first cited from Damon Runyon in 1911. [NM]

return to text

walked between with gyves upon his wrists (p. 67)

That very night while gentle sleep
The urchin’s eyelids kissed,
Two stern-faced men set out from Lynn,
Through the cold and heavy mist;
And Eugene Aram walked between,
With gyves upon his wrist.

Thomas Hood, “The Dream of Eugene Aram” (1829)

Other works that allude to this poem include Cocktail Time (ch. 11), Uncle Fred in the Springtime (ch. 14), Carry On, Jeeves (“Jeeves Takes Charge”), Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (ch. 1), The Mating Season, Uncle Dynamite (ch. 14), and Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (ch. 5).

[Wodehouse used it as early as 1902 in “Rural Hooligans”, and as late as 1961 in Ice in the Bedroom. —NM]

return to text

beak (p. 67)

A magistrate or justice of the peace.

 “I suppose you don’t know what a beak is, my flash com-pan-i-on.”
 Oliver mildly replied, that he had always heard a bird’s mouth described by the term in question.
 “My eyes, how green!” exclaimed the young gentleman. “Why, a beak’s a madgst’rate; . . .”

Charles Dickens, The Adventures of Oliver Twist, ch. 8 (1837–9)

return to text

National Sporting Club (p. 67)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

letting a champion middleweight blush unseen

See Gray’s Elegy at Love Among the Chickens. [—Diego Seguí]

return to text

Oysters garrulous and tombs chatty (p. 67)

Wodehouse is inverting two common English similes, “silent as an oyster” and “silent as a tomb.”

return to text

“Lo, Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.” (p. 69)

Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—

Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one who loves his fellow men.”

The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.

James Leigh Hunt, “Abou Ben Adhem” (1835)

See also The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

entertain the County (p. 69)

The “county” is a shorthand way of referring to those families of the nobility or gentry with an ancestral home or estate in the county and who are on terms of social familiarity with Lord Marshmoreton.

See also Summer Moonshine.

return to text

like a frenzied Hottentot (p. 70)

The Khoikhoi or “Hottentots” (the latter is now regarded as an offensive epithet) were a pastoral people, closely related to the San (or “Bushmen”), who occupied much of the Cape region of southern Africa from about the 5th century AD. Ships sailing to the Dutch East Indies were attracted to the Cape by the prospect of provisioning their vessels from the Khoi cattle herds, and this led to the establishment of a permanent white presence at what is now Capetown from 1652 onward. Over the next few hundred years, wars and disease slowly destroyed the social cohesion of the Khoikhoi. Those Khoi who did not flee the Cape colony mostly became farm workers for the white settlers; their descendants are found among that part of the population which, under Apartheid, was classified as “Cape coloured.”

Hottentots were probably no more frenzied than other people; indeed, they were possibly far less frenzied than many people who now call London their home!

return to text

Mumbo Jumbo

An anglicization of an African word apparently referring to a character portrayed in native religious ceremonies; in common usage, probably inaccurate, it refers to a deity considered by outsiders as an object of superstitious veneration. [NM]

return to text

prowling about London like a lion, seeking whom you may devour

Fr. Rob Bovendeaard pointed out that this alludes to 1 Peter 5:8 [KJV]:

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

return to text

Burlington Arcade (p. 71)

Burlington Arcade is a covered shopping gallery that runs from the north side of Piccadilly as far as Burlington Gardens. It was built in 1819 to the order of Lord George Cavendish, younger brother of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, who had inherited the adjacent Burlington House (now home to the Royal Academy); the Arcade occupies what was formerly the side garden of the house.

return to text

nothing in Percy’s life so became him (p. 71)

Nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it: he died
As one that had been studied in his death,
To throw away the dearest thing he owed,
As ’twere a careless trifle.

Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act I, sc 4 (1603–6 ?)

return to text

You wear flannel next your skin (p. 71)

Flannel is a warm fabric, usually made from loosely-spun yarn, traditionally of carded wool. The wearing of flannel cloth next to the skin was often recommended as a means of avoiding colds, pleurisy, and other ailments. In 1803, for example, Meriwether Lewis, one of the leaders of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, was advised to wear flannel next to the skin during the expedition; a few years earlier, Admiral Sir John Jervis, Earl of St Vincent, had ordered British seamen to do likewise, to avoid chills.

Aunt Rachel charged him to remember his principles of religion, to take care of his health, to beware of Scotch mists, which, she had heard, would wet an Englishman through and through, never to go out at night without his great-coat, and, above all, to wear flannel next to his skin.

Sir Walter Scott, Waverley, ch. 25 (1814)

Not everyone shared this view:

I’d rather have my head cut off than wear flannel next the skin.

Virginia Woolf, The Voyage Out, ch. 3 (1915)

return to text


Bertie Wooster remembers the same joke in Chapter V of Thank You, Jeeves but does not think it the time nor place to say it aloud. [NM]

return to text

insolent jacks in office (p. 73)

A “jack in office” is a petty official who abuses his position by behaving imperiously.

As the noble Lord well knows, I am instinctively sympathetic to what he says. I have spent all my life complaining about the abuse of authority—of Jacks-in-office, as they may be called. The fact that I am now a Jack-in-office myself has not stopped my objecting to the practice.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey, speaking in a debate in the House of Lords, 22 July 2002

“Go out of the passage, sir.”
 “You’re a Jack-in-office, sir.”
 “A what?” ejaculates he of the boots.
 “A Jack-in-office, sir, and a very insolent fellow,” reiterates the stranger, now completely in a passion.

Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz, ch. 18 (1836)

return to text

Tell me, what this man was like? (p. 73)

American texts read “Tell me, what was this man like?” here, which seems a more likely reading. [NM]

return to text

Apollo (p. 73)

In Greek and Roman mythology, Apollo was the god of medicine and healing and one of the Olympian deities. He was usually depicted by artists as a handsome beardless youth and his name came to epitomise the ideal of male beauty.

return to text

the royal and ancient game (p. 74)

i.e., golf, from its association with the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.

return to text

the Lie Direct (p. 75)

Can you nominate in order now the degrees of the lie?
O sir, we quarrel in print, by the book;
As you have books for good manners:
I will name you the degrees.
The first, the Retort Courteous;
The second, the Quip Modest;
The third, the Reply Churlish;
The fourth, the Reproof Valiant;
The fifth, the Countercheque Quarrelsome;
The sixth, the Lie with Circumstance;
The seventh, the Lie Direct.
All these you may avoid but the Lie Direct;
And you may avoid that too, with an If.

Shakespeare, As You Like It, Act V, sc 4 (1599 ?)

return to text

suppression of the true or suggestion of the false

Direct English equivalents of Latin terms commonly used in law and rhetoric: suppressio veri and suggestio falsi. [NM]

return to text

technical assault (p. 76)

See note on battery above.

return to text

Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage (p. 78)

Stone walls do not a prison make,
 Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
 That for an hermitage;
If I have freedom in my love
 And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
 Enjoy such liberty.

Richard Lovelace (1618–58), “To Althea, from Prison”

[Wodehouse used this twice in his school stories: —NM]

“ ‘Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.’ That’s what the man said who wrote the libretto for the last set of Latin Verses we had to do. I shall manage it.”

Wyatt, in “Jackson Junior” (1907, in book form as Mike (1909) and later as Mike at Wrykyn)

There had appeared to him something rather fine in his policy of refusing to identify himself in any way with Sedleigh, a touch of the stone-walls-do-not-a-prison-make sort of thing.

“The Lost Lambs” (1908, in book form as Mike (1909) and later as Mike and Psmith)

return to text

love laughs at locksmiths (p. 79)

But it must end, she felt. If she saw that magic lure in his eyes there would be no holding back for her. Love laughs at locksmiths. She would make the great sacrifice.

James Joyce, Ulysses, “Nausicaa"

As well as being an old proverb, Love Laughs at Locksmiths is the title of a musical farce in two acts by George Colman the younger (1762–1836), with music by Michael Kelly (1762–1826). It was first performed at the Haymarket Theatre, London, on 25 July 1803. One of the songs from Act 2, “Unfortunate Miss Bailey,” is alluded to by Charles Dickens in chapter 9 of The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit (1843–4):

At the period of which we write, he was generally known among the gentlemen as Bailey Junior, a name bestowed upon him in contradistinction, perhaps, to Old Bailey, and possibly as involving the recollection of an unfortunate lady of the same name, who perished by her own hand early in life, and has been immortalized in a ballad.

return to text

Chapter 7 (pp. 80–89)

plutocrats (p. 80)

The term usually denotes those who govern or exercise power because of their immense wealth—captains of industry and the like. See for instance “The Pitcher and the Plutocrat” in which the plutocrat is a Tainted Millionaire. Wodehouse is using the word humorously here in relation to the merchants and professionals of Belpher village to emphasize the generally humble nature of the local society. [NM]

Diego Seguí adds:
Sometimes it means just someone with more funds than usual, or with any money at all. For example, in The Pothunters K. St. H. Grey boasts: “I’m a plutocrat,” on the strength of having been tipped a sovereign by his uncle (ch. 9); and in The Adventures of Sally those who can afford fifty cents to attend the prominent pugilist’s training activities are “plutocrats” too (ch. 13.2). Also shortened to “plute”, like at the end of The Coming of Bill:

 “I think it will be rather fun being poor again.”
 “Who’s poor?” said Kirk stoutly. “I’m not. I’ve got you and I’ve got Bill. Do you remember – ages ago – what that Vince girl, the model, you know, said that her friend had called me? A plute. That’s me. I’m the richest man in the world.”

return to text

it pays to advertise (p. 80)

[The phrase dates from 1876, when the Scientific American magazine advertised itself as a useful channel for business communication to readers interested in technical subjects. Many other journals used the same phrase to tout the effectiveness of their advertising columns. —NM]

It Pays to Advertise is a farce by Roi Cooper Megrue (1883–1927) and Walter C. Hackett (c. 1876–1944). It opened in New York in 1914 and ran for 399 performances. It was filmed as a silent movie in 1919 with Megrue and Hackett as scriptwriters, and was re-made in 1931, with a cast that included Carole Lombard and Louise Brooks.

In context here, it describes a strong-smelling cheese.

return to text

Rocky Mountains, that traditional stamping-ground for the heart-broken

It was the same spirit which has often moved other men in similar circumstances to go off to the Rockies to shoot grizzlies.

The Girl on the Boat/Three Men and a Maid, ch. 8.1 (1922)

[Archibald Mulliner] had learned that his romance was definitely blue round the edges. It was a shattering blow. He wondered dully how the trains ran to the Rocky Mountains. A spot of grizzly-bear shooting seemed indicated.

“The Reverent Wooing of Archibald” (1928)

He relapsed into silence, standing with folded arms, staring before him rather like a strong, silent man in a novel when he’s just been given the bird by the girl and is thinking of looking in at the Rocky Mountains and bumping off a few bears.

Bertie speaking of Tuppy Glossop in Right Ho, Jeeves, ch. 15 (1934)

“In my day we used to go to the Rocky Mountains and shoot grizzlies.”

Lord Ickenham in Uncle Dynamite, ch. 1 (1948)

“He gave me the impression that it wouldn’t take much to make him go off to the Rocky Mountains and shoot grizzly bears.”

Bertie speaking of Stilton Cheesewright in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, ch. 5 (1954)

The conventional thing for hopeless lovers in England had always been to go to the Rocky Mountains and shoot grizzly bears, but meeting editors and publishers would be an excellent substitute.

Company for Henry/The Purloined Paperweight, ch. 9.4 (1967)

See also Ice in the Bedroom. [NM]

return to text

an annoyed cinnamon bear (p. 81)

Unlike the ring-tailed chimpanzee, the cinnamon bear does exist. Named for the colour of its coat, which is cinnamon yellow, it is a subspecies (cinnamomum) of the American Black Bear, Ursus americanus. It is a resident of the Rocky Mountains, its range extending from eastern Washington and Oregon through Idaho to western Montana and Wyoming and northeastern Utah. Black Bears tend to avoid contact with humans, but—like the Grizzly Bear, Ursus arctos—will attack if cornered or threatened. And, unlike the Grizzly Bear—which hardly ever attacks except in self-defence—Black Bears do, on rare occasions, make unprovoked predatory attacks on humans.

return to text

New York Public Library (p. 81)

The Main Branch (more properly, the Humanities and Social Sciences Library) of the New York Public Library occupies two blocks on Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, between 40th and 42nd Streets. It was opened in 1911. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1956.

return to text

South of England oyster trade (p. 81)

It is clear from the ensuing description of its geography and history that “Belpher” is the village of Emsworth, where Wodehouse lived for several years in the early 1900s. Hayling Island is given its real-life name, for instance. The collapse of the Emsworth oyster industry owed more to over-exploitation, disease and predation, than to a 1902 typhoid scare. See this report for an analysis of the causes of enteric fever (typhoid) suffered by guests at mayoral banquets at Winchester (four of ten patients died) and at Southampton, in which oysters from Emsworth were implicated.

See also “Avenged!” (1903).

[Note expanded by NM]

return to text

Long Island (p. 81)

Wodehouse had a summer residence on Long Island from 1914, and was living at Great Neck, Long Island, in 1918. When he returned to the USA in 1945, he again took up residence on Long Island and lived there for the rest of his life.

return to text

the Savoy (p. 81)

The Savoy Hotel is one of London’s most prestigious hotels. It was built by Richard D’Oyly Carte, the owner of the nearby Savoy Theatre, and opened in 1889; its first manager was César Ritz, who later established the renowned hotel that bears his name. Claude Monet and James Whistler both stayed at the Savoy and painted the view of the River Thames from their rooms.

The hotel and theatre take their name from the Savoy Palace, which once stood on the site. The palace was built in 1246 by Peter, Count of Savoy, uncle of King Henry III’s queen, Eleanor of Provence. It later became the home of John of Gaunt, Richard II’s uncle. During the king’s minority, John of Gaunt was the major power behind the throne and was blamed for the introduction of the poll tax that triggered the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381; the rioting peasants took their revenge by totally demolishing the palace and destroying its contents.

For the Carlton, see above.

return to text

Romano’s (p. 81)

Romano’s restaurant was situated at 399–400 Strand. It was opened in the 1840s by Alfonso Nicolino Romano (“the Roman,” d. 1901). He had been a headwaiter at the Café Royal and invested his savings in a little shop and bar that he called the Café Vaudeville. The establishment achieved popularity thanks in part to the efforts of John Corlett, the editor of The Sporting Times (better known as “The Pink ’Un”), who promoted it in his paper. It became a favourite resort of the members of the Pelican Club, one of whom, George Edwardes, took over the Gaiety Theatre in 1885. Edwardes increased the popularity of his theatre by introducing a chorus (the “Gaiety Girls”) of the prettiest girls he could find, and enhanced the popularity of Romano’s by arranging for his girls to dine there at half-price: young men flocked to the restaurant, which became one of the most popular centres of London’s night-life in the 1890s and early 1900s.

Romano’s survived the 1914–18 war, but the society that had made it famous did not. It continued to thrive, however, until the Second World War, when it was damaged by bombing. In 1956, the old building was demolished and replaced by an office block.

“. . . I’ve engaged a table at Romano’s. That’s more in my line. Get your coat, and let’s be going.”

“Ahead of Schedule,” (1910) in The Man Upstairs (1914)

On the fifth night, when the place was fairly packed and looked for all the world like Oddy’s or Romano’s, . . .

“The Making of Mac’s,” (1915) in The Man with Two Left Feet (1917)

For Galahad in his day had been a notable lad about town. A beau sabreur of Romano’s. A Pink ’Un. A Pelican.

Summer Lightning, ch. 1

“Wilfrid Slingsby. . .”, explained Pilbeam. Sort of man you’re always seeing at Romano’s and that sort of place.”

Bill the Conqueror, ch. 8

“The last time I saw you must have been that night at Romano’s, when Plug Basham started throwing bread and got a little over-excited, . . .”

Heavy Weather, ch. 7

return to text

The glory . . . Ichabod (p. 82)

And she named the child Ichabod, saying, The glory is departed from Israel:

1 Samuel, iv, 21

In Hebrew, ichabod (a closer transliteration is iy-kabowd) means “no glory” (or “inglorious”). As a sentence it can be understood as meaning “the glory has gone.”

return to text

one kissed by a goddess in a dream (p. 83)

This probably alludes to the story of Endymion in Greek mythology:

Endymion was a beautiful youth who fed his flock on Mount Latmos. One calm, clear night Diana, the moon, looked down and saw him sleeping. The cold heart of the virgin goddess was warmed by his surpassing beauty, and she came down to him, kissed him, and watched over him while he slept.

Thomas Bulfinch (1796–1867), Bulfinch’s Mythology: Age of Fable, ch. 26 (1880)

On such a tranquil night as this,
She woke Endymion with a kiss,
When, sleeping in the grove,
He dreamed not of her love.

Like Dian’s kiss, unasked, unsought,
Love gives itself, but is not bought;
Nor voice, nor sound betrays
Its deep, impassioned gaze.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Endymion” (1842)

Bulfinch dedicated the 1880 edition of his Mythology to Longfellow.

Henceforth his life is saddened; as one kissed by a goddess in a dream, he goes thereafter, as one might say, in a sort of love-sickness.

Kenneth Grahame, “Of Smoking,” in Pagan Papers (1893)

return to text

walked on air (p. 83)

He had won a kiss and a confession, and he was transfigured and raised to a place among the lesser gods. He walked on air as he went home. He did a hop-step of happiness.

Ellis Parker Butler, “Romance,” in Saturday Evening Post, 10 May 1919

. . . all fear left him from that moment, replaced, it seemed, by a mild and exquisite surprise. His footsteps made no sound, he walked on air;

Algernon Blackwood, “The Other Wing,” in Day and Night Stories (1917)

Owen’s heart gave a jump. For a moment he walked on air.

“Pots o’ Money” (1911), in The Man Upstairs (1914)

return to text

sophomore from Yale (p. 83)

A second-year student at Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut. Yale was founded in 1701 and is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the US. Like Harvard, with which it has an intense academic and sporting rivalry, Yale is a member of the Ivy League.

return to text

Bedouin’s Love Song (p. 83)

“Bedouin Song” is a poem by the American writer and poet, Bayard Taylor (1825–78). As “Bedouin [or Bedouin’s] Love-song” it has been set to music by several composers, among them (according to the Library of Congress) Dudley Buck (1881), Ciro Pinsuti (1883) and Charles Whitney Coombs (1883). In 1907, the Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson was filmed singing Pinsuti’s version.

In 1916, the American pulp magazine All-Story Weekly published a short story by Harold Titus (1888–1967) which was inspired by Taylor’s poem. Its title, “On a Stallion Shod with Fire,” derived from the second line of the poem. The story was adapted in 1920 for a silent movie entitled “Shod with Fire.”

From the desert I come to thee
On my Arab shod with fire.
And the winds are left behind
In the speed of my desire.
Under thy window I stand
And the midnight hears my cry
I love thee! I love but thee!
With a love that shall not die!
With a love that shall not die!

Bayard Taylor, “Bedouin Song” (1853)

return to text

Poor Butterfly (p. 83)

“Poor Butterfly” was a popular song of 1916, composed by Raymond Hubbell with lyrics by John L. Golden. It featured in the musical revue, “The Big Show,” which opened at the Hippodrome Theatre, New York, in August 1916 and ran for 425 performances.

There’s a story told of a little Japanese
sitting demurely ’neath the cherry-blossom trees
Miss Butterfly her name
A sweet little innocent child was she
Till a fine young American from the sea
To her garden came.
They met ’neath the cherry-blossoms every day
and he taught her how to love in the ’Merican way
To love with her soul! ’twas easy to learn
Then he sailed away with a promise to return.

Those who recognise this as the plot of Giacomo Puccini’s opera, Madame Butterfly (1904), will not be surprised to learn that her lover won’t return! The opera had been turned into a film, directed by Sidney Olcott and starring Mary Pickford, in 1915, the year before “The Big Show.”

return to text

on the map (p. 83)

The OED cites this example as an illustration of figurative usage: the meaning here is that one is in a position to act, unlike George, who faces numerous obstacles.

return to text

Moses on Pisgah (p. 84)

Mount Pisgah (identified with Mount Nebo, a prominent peak in the Abarim Range, east of the Dead Sea) is where Jehovah sent Moses to view the Promised Land, and where he died.

And the Lord said unto Moses, get thee up into this mount Abarim, and see the land which I have given unto the children of Israel.

And when thou hast seen it, thou also shalt be gathered unto thy people, as Aaron thy brother was gathered.

Numbers, xxvii, 12–13

And Moses went up from the plains of Moab unto the mountain of Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, that is over against Jericho. And the Lord shewed him all the land of Gilead, unto Dan

And the Lord said unto him, This is the land which I swore unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, saying, I will give it unto thy seed: I have caused thee to see it with thine eyes, but thou shalt not go over thither.

Deuteronomy, xxxiv, 1 & 4

See also Sam the Sudden and Summer Moonshine. There are further references in Ukridge (“Ukridge’s Accident Syndicate”), The Man Upstairs (“Ruth in Exile”), The Adventures of Sally (ch. 2, book version only), The Little Warrior/Jill the Reckless (ch. 10), and Uncle Fred in the Springtime (ch. 19).

return to text

marauders of old . . . top of this very hill (p. 85)

On the contrary, the marauders of old must have been cheered to see the castle nestling in a valley, surrounded by trees, rather than commanding the heights of a windswept hill, a position which would have made it far easier to defend.

return to text

furnished cottage (p. 86)

Wodehouse had himself rented a cottage at Emsworth soon after his first visit (see Something Fresh).

return to text

dispute about a right-of-way (p. 86)

In England & Wales, a public right-of-way (PRoW) is a highway over which the public has a right of passage. Many PRoWs are footpaths, open only to walkers; others, known as bridleways, can also be used by horse-riders and pedal-cyclists; a further category, usually referred to as byways, is also open to motor traffic, though in practice this is often restricted to motor-cycles and off-road vehicles.

PRoWs can arise in a number of ways. The clearest is where a landowner has expressly dedicated a public right of way over his land. Alternatively, a PRoW may be presumed to exist if it has been used as a right-of-way for a time beyond anyone’s memory, or deemed to exist if it has been in use for 20 years or more. As there may be disagreement about the facts in these last two cases, disputes between landowners and bodies representing public interest groups are not uncommon.

return to text

a sort of Nero (p. 86)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

the ghila monster of Arizona (p. 86)

The Gila monster, Heloderma suspectum, is one of only two species of venomous lizard. It is a large lizard, its length sometimes exceeding 50 cm. The Gila is found in the Mojave, Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts, and its range extends beyond Arizona into parts of Utah, Nevada, California, and New Mexico, as well as into Mexico, but the core of its range is the Sonoran desert of Arizona.

Gila Monsters spend much of their time under rocks, in the burrows of other animals, or in holes that they dig for themselves. They hunt, often at night, using their keen senses of smell and hearing to locate small rodents, juvenile birds, insects, carrion, and the eggs of birds and reptiles: an adult can consume enough in three or four meals to satisfy its entire annual energy requirement. The Gila monster injects venom into its victim through grooves in the teeth of its lower jaw; the venom is not usually fatal to humans, but it can bite quickly and holds on tenaciously, causing an unpleasant wound.

return to text

might have found a worse billet

See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

antimacassars (p. 87)

Macassar oil is a vegetable oil, obtained from the seeds of the Ceylon oak, Schleichera oleosa.

In the early 19th century, a London merchant named Rowland advertised a gentlemen’s hair preparation that he claimed was based on sweet oils imported from Makassar, a seaport on the island of Celebes (now Sulawesi, a province of modern Indonesia). Rowland’s product became popular among the nobility—Lord Byron mentioned it in his poem Don Juan in 1819—and started a fashion for oiled hair that continued throughout Victorian and Edwardian times.

Because the oil tended to transfer itself to the backs of chairs and sofas, housewives were forced to use removable, washable cloths to protect the fabric coverings of their furniture. From around 1850, these covers—at first made of stiff white crochet-work, but later of soft, coloured materials, such as embroidered wools or silks—started to be known as antimacassars.

By the early 20th century, antimacassars had become associated with the outmoded fashions of the Victorian era and their popularity waned; they survive today mainly in the form of the detachable piece of fabric that can be found on the headrests of the seats in many passenger aircraft.

return to text

statuette of the Infant Samuel (p. 87)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

It is unusual for a statuette of the Infant Samuel to survive an encounter with a Wodehouse character!

return to text

greased lightning

This is apparently the only usage in Wodehouse of this term for near-instantaneous motion, which first shows up in British sources of 1832 quoting an American paper, the Norfolk Herald, slightly earlier than the first OED citation. Other British sources through the 1840s seem to treat it as US slang as well. [NM]

return to text

business of repairing breakdown

Business is theatrical jargon for the actions and gestures performed by an actor, as in “lines and business.” Reggie Byng, like Bertie Wooster, is apparently familiar with backstage slang. [NM]

return to text

vanished . . . like the Cheshire cat (p. 89)

The Cheshire Cat appears (and disappears) in chapter 6 of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

 “You’ll see me there,” said the Cat, and vanished.
 . . . While she was still looking at the place where it had been, it suddenly appeared again.
 . . . “I thought it would,” said the Cat, and vanished again.

The Cheshire cat also appears (or disappears) in Money in the Bank, Cocktail Time (ch. 1), The Little Nugget (ch. 12), and Uncle Dynamite (ch. 11).

return to text

Chapter 8 (pp. 90–98)

open to the general public (p. 90)

As long ago as the 18th century, it was not unusual for respectable visitors to a country house whose owner was absent to be shown around by the housekeeper or butler—Elizabeth Bennet’s visit to Mr. Darcy’s house at Pemberley (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice) is a well-known example. But while we can be sure that the servants would be rewarded for their courtesy, this was a far cry from the modern practice of opening one’s country house as an organised venture. The first to do so may have been Horace Walpole, who, embarassed by the flood of people wanting to see his house, “Strawberry Hill,” at Twickenham, wrote guides to the house and published a list of opening times and rules for visitors to follow; he is reputed to have retreated to a “cottage in the woods” when visitors were expected, a habit that would no doubt have earned Wodehouse’s approval! In a letter to George Montagu (3 September 1763), he wrote:

My house is full of people and has been so from the instant I breakfasted, and more are coming—in short I keep an inn: the sign “The Gothic Castle.” Since my gallery was finished I have not been in it a quarter of an hour together; my whole time is passed in giving tickets for seeing it and hiding myself while it is seen.

return to text

rolling periods

In rhetoric, a period is a complete sentence, especially a complex one with well-balanced rhythm of clauses; periods refers to a speech made up of this formal, ornamental language, so rolling periods must refer to a particularly smooth delivery of such a speech. “Rolling periods were meat and drink” to old Mr. Faucitt in ch. 1 of The Adventures of Sally. [NM]

return to text

half a crown (p. 91)

Prior to 1970, a year before Britain adopted a decimalised currency, one of the coins in circulation was the half-crown, which was worth two shillings and sixpence, or one-eighth of a pound: there was also a crown coin, worth five shillings, but it was minted in far smaller numbers than the half-crown and was struck chiefly in commemorative issues. Until 1919, the half-crown was a silver coin; between 1919 and 1946, the silver content was reduced to 50%, the balance being cupro-nickel; from 1946, the coin was entirely cupro-nickel.

return to text

mistook him for one of the gardeners (p. 91)

In being mistaken for a gardener, Lord Marshmoreton is following a notable tradition:

And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.

Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

John, xx, 14–15

[Similar mistakes occur elsewhere in Wodehouse; in ch. 3 of Piccadilly Jim Mrs. Pett mistakes Bingley Crocker for a butler; see also the note at Give this to Lady Maud below. —NM]

return to text

Sir Peter Lely (p. 91)

Sir Peter Lely (1618–80) was a painter of Dutch origin. He arrived in London in the early 1640s and soon established himself as the successor to Anthony Van Dyck as the most fashionable portrait artist in England, a reputation that he maintained until his death, despite the turmoil of the Civil War and the Restoration: he worked in turn for Charles I, Oliver Cromwell, Richard Cromwell, and Charles II, but his talent ensured that he did not suffer as one regime replaced another.

Lely was born Pieter van der Faes to Dutch parents in Soest in Westphalia, where his father was an officer serving in the armed forces of the Elector of Brandenburg. He is reputed to have adopted the surname “Lely” (occasionally spelled Lilly) from a heraldic lily on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

return to text

the sprockets or the differential gear

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

on the level (p. 92)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

fire when ready, Gridley (p. 93)

Capt. Charles Vernon Gridley USN commanded the USS Olympia, the flagship of Commodore George Dewey, at the Battle of Manila Bay in the Spanish-American War (1 May 1898). As the US squadron sailed into the Bay, Gridley was at his station in the Olympia’s armored conning tower, from where he could direct the ship’s fire and control the actions of the vessel, and it was here that he received Commodore Dewey’s order, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” The order assured Gridley’s fame, though he did not live to enjoy it: already sick before the battle, he was dead less than a month later.

One can only speculate as to whether Keggs would have recognised such a specifically American allusion.

return to text

Sir Peter Lely’s portrait of the fifth countess

Despite the experts quoted by Keggs in the next sentence, the conclusion seems inevitable that the portrait must be misattributed. We learn in chapter 1 that Lord Marshmoreton is the seventh Earl and that he is forty-eight, so was born circa 1871. The fifth countess must then be his paternal grandmother, who could hardly have been born much before 1800. As noted above, Sir Peter Lely died in 1680. [NM]

return to text

flopped on the second night

See discussion above about cuts. [NM]

return to text

Dook of Lochlane (p. 94)

There no record of a Duke of Lochlane. Even if such a titled existed, the eldest son would not be known as Lord Leonard Forth, a style that is only used by the younger sons of Dukes and Marquesses; the eldest son of a Duke customarily adopts as a courtesy title one of his father’s “lesser” titles (e.g., the Duke of Norfolk is also the Earl of Arundel; his eldest son is therefore styled Earl of Arundel).

return to text

Steve Brodie (p. 94)

Steve Brodie (1863–1901) was a bookmaker from Brooklyn who achieved considerable publicity by claiming to have jumped off the 135-foot high Brooklyn Bridge on 23 July 1886; another man, Robert E. Odlum, had jumped from the bridge a year earlier and been killed. It is now believed that Brodie faked the stunt for publicity purposes, using a dummy for the “jump,” while he hid under the bridge; certainly the notoriety that he gained was helpful when he opened a tavern in the Bowery shortly after the incident.

return to text

taking forkfuls of soup to the deserving villagers (p. 94)

The villagers would probably prefer to receive the soup by the spoonful: eating soup using a fork is an activity that can only be recommended to those with plenty of time on their hands (and an old shirt on their chest).

return to text

Gobelin Tapestries (p. 94)

The Gobelins were a family of dyers and clothmakers. In the middle of the 15th century, Jehan Gobelin (d. 1476), who had discovered a scarlet dyestuff, established a factory in the Faubourg Saint Marcel, Paris, to exploit his creation. His later descendants were less interested in dyeing, preferring to buy noble titles and offices in the financial administration or in royal councils. In 1601, Balthasar Gobelin, newly created seigneur de Brie-Comte-Robert, lent the factory to King Henry IV, under whose patronage the factory devoted itself to making tapestries. In 1652, the factory was purchased on behalf of King Louis XIV and under the superintendence of the royal painter, Charles Le Brun, all the artisans who worked for the royal court were brought together in one place. Work at the factory was suspended during the Revolutionary and Napoleon eras, but was revived by the Bourbons, under whom, from 1826, the factory began making carpets as well as tapestry. Today, the Manufacture nationale des Gobelins is a state-run institution, operating under the Ministry of Culture.

return to text

all the fifty-seven varieties (p. 95)

Our corporate history tells us that, in 1896, Henry John Heinz noticed an advertisement for “21 styles of shoes.” He decided that his own products were not styles, but varieties. Although there were many more than 57 foods in production at the time, because the numbers “5” and “7” held a special significance for him and his wife, he adopted the slogan “57 Varieties.”

H. J. Heinz Company website

Mr. Heinz, while in an elevated railroad train in New York, saw among the car-advertising cards one about shoes with the expression “21 Styles.” It set him to thinking, and as he told it: “I said to myself, “we do not have styles of products, but we do have varieties of products.” Counting up how many we had, I counted well beyond 57, but “57” kept coming back into my mind. “Seven, seven”—there are so many illustrations of the psychological influence of that figure and of its alluring significance to people of all ages and races that “58 Varieties” or “59 Varieties” did not appeal at all to me as being equally strong.”

E. D. McCafferty, Henry J. Heinz: a biography (1923)

See also “ ’Spurs’ Mistaken Tactics” (1913); Hot Water (1932); for other 57s in Wodehouse see Ice in the Bedroom.

return to text

Ayrshires (p. 95)

Ayrshire roses are hybrids and cultivars of the wild field rose, Rosa arvensis. They are popular with gardeners, both for their hardiness and because their “rambling” habit lends itself to a variety of uses, e.g. as ground cover, as climbers, or to form a “rose fountain.” The first Ayrshire roses were bred in the late 18th – early 19th century, possibly in southern Scotland (hence the name “Ayrshire”).

Ayrshire roses should not be confused with Ayrshire cattle, which, because of the damage they can cause, are not popular with gardeners.

return to text

among those present

Although the phrase is common in all forms of English, it is frequently employed in journalism, introducing a list of the persons attending an event who do not rate a longer description, and especially in dramatic criticism, referring to subsidiary actors who earn a mere mention in a review. Here the implication is that George is not one of the stars of the current conversation. [NM]

“As a sleuth you are poor. You couldn’t detect a bass-drum in a telephone-booth. You have no future. You are merely among those present. But as a mascot—my boy, you’re the only thing in sight. You can’t help succeeding on the stage.”

“Bill the Bloodhound” (1915)

It saddens me a good deal now and then when I realize how little influence for good I have upon managers and promoters of theatrical enterprises. Instead of being a Force and all that sort of thing, I am merely among those present.

“The Good Old Summertime” (Wodehouse as drama critic for Vanity Fair, August 1917)

return to text

Those—them— (p. 96)

Lord Marshmoreton (for, of course, it is he!) is attempting to maintain the character of an uneducated rustic by changing the correct “those” to the ungrammatical “them.”

return to text

went to earth (p. 96)

The hole or hiding-place of certain animals, such as the badger or fox, is known as its “earth.” When a fox is being hunted and seeks the (apparent) security of its earth, it is said to have “gone to earth.”

[See also The Inimitable Jeeves. —NM]

return to text

Give this to Lady Maud (p. 97)

There is a similar case of mistaken identity in Full Moon (ch. 6 pt IV), where Bill Lister, labouring under the misapprehension that Lady Hermione Wedge is actually the Blandings Castle cook, asks her to pass on a billet-doux to Prudence Garland, while warning her not to let “this blighted Wedge woman” see her do it.

return to text

sovereign . . . half a crown (p. 97–8)

A sovereign was a gold coin worth one pound sterling. See also above.

return to text

many-buttoned uniform of a page

See Bill the Conqueror and the note on Dickens from Diego Seguí below at Alphonso.

return to text

bitten his half-crown

A crude test for counterfeit coins, though one had to remember that real gold coins were softer than most counterfeits (e.g. brass), while real silver coins were harder than most counterfeits (e.g. pewter). See also above. [NM]

return to text

Chapter 9 (pp. 99–108)

stucco (p. 99)

Stucco is a fine plaster which is used for covering walls, ceilings, and floors, and for making cornices, mouldings, and other decorations. The term is also used for a coarser form of plaster that, applied to exterior walls, imitates the appearance of stone.

return to text

the Regency (p. 99)

Historically, the “Regency” refers to the period, from 1811 to 1820, when George III was deemed unfit to rule and his son was installed as Prince Regent. The Regency ended with the death of George III, in January 1820, and his son’s accession to the throne as George IV.

The term “Regency” is also applied more generally to the years from 1800 to 1830, a period which was characterised by distinctive fashions in costume, architecture and culture.

return to text


A hand-held device for propelling small pellets, made from a Y-shaped stick and an elastic band; equivalent to American slingshot. [NM]

return to text

Ingoldsby Legends (p. 100)

The Ingoldsby Legends are a collection of humorous parodies or pastiches of the myths, legends and ghost stories of medieval folklore and poetry. They were written by Richard Harris Barham (1788–1845), a clergyman, who adopted the pen-name Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappington Manor. The Legends first appeared, in magazines, in 1837 and quickly became immensely popular; they were collected and reprinted in book form in 1840.

The awkward part . . . was that the punishment . . . was not expulsion, but flogging. And Farnie resembled the lady in The Ingoldsby Legends who “didn’t mind death, but who couldn’t stand pinching.” He didn’t mind expulsion—he was used to it, but he could not stand flogging.

A Prefect’s Uncle, ch. 5

return to text

Wiv bleckest morss . . . (p. 102)

With blackest moss the flower-plots
Were thickly crusted, one and all:
The rusted nails fell from the knots
That held the pear to the gable-wall.
The broken sheds look’d sad and strange:
Unlifted was the clinking latch;
Weeded and worn the ancient thatch
Upon the lonely moated grange.
She only said, “My life is dreary,
He cometh not,” she said;
She said, “I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!”

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Mariana” (1830), stanza 1

[Original editions of Wodehouse’s version differ in the spelling of Albert’s enunciation; our transcription is a “majority” opinion of US magazine, US book, and UK book (which has many obvious typos, including omitting “thickly” in line 2). But even when Maud repeats the lines to herself later and thinks about them, the last word of the first line is “flowerpots” where Tennyson seems to have written “flower-plots”—that is, the beds of ground in which the flowers grow. Was Wodehouse working from imperfect memory here? Or did he have a flowerpot fixation, like Baxter in Leave It to Psmith? —NM]

return to text

an acolyte’s at the sight of the censer

In the more ceremonial branches of Christianity, an acolyte assists the celebrant in such duties as lighting candles or, as here, carrying an incense-burner. In the Church of England at the time an acolyte could be a boy as young as ten. This is one of Wodehouse’s few references to High Church Anglican ritual practice, and the only mention so far found of incense. [NM]

return to text


Another marker of Albert’s lower-class diction. Maud would have been taught to say it as “Tyoosday.” [NM]

return to text


In the sense of “unspiritual; concentrating on coarse, material things” here. UK first edition has typo “earthly” here. [NM]

return to text

like billy-o

OED (1933) defines this as “like the devil” and gives citations from 1885 onward; the origin is obscure, and many unreliable folk etymologies are debunked at World Wide Words. [NM]

return to text

like an east wind

Possibly an echo of Jeremiah 18:17? [NM]

I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will shew them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.

return to text

The sun was setting . . . all Nature smiled (p. 106)

Not, as suggested in the Handbook, a mere newspaper cliché:

It was a glorious summer’s eve—with beams of rosy red
The Sun went down—all Nature smiled—but Nelly shook her head!
Full softly to the balmy breeze rang out the Vesper bell—
—Upon the Canon’s startled ear it sounded like a knell!

“Nell Cook,” in The Ingoldsby Legends (1840)

See also The Girl on the Boat for many other Wodehouse examples.

return to text

Chapter 10 (pp. 109–116)

romance might have sealed him for her own

From the “Epitaph” of Thomas Gray’s Elegy:

Here rests his head upon the lap of Earth
 A youth to Fortune and to Fame unknown;
Fair Science frowned not on his humble birth,
 And Melancholy marked him for her own.

Wodehouse uses variations of this often:

But now moodiness had claimed him for its own.

“Washy Makes His Presence Felt” (1920); in Indiscretions of Archie (1921), ch. 21

Gloom once more claimed Hugo for its own.

Money for Nothing (1928), ch. 7.3

As I stood there with my ear against the door, listening to what was filtering through the woodwork, it is not too much to say that melancholy marked me for its own.

Joy in the Morning (1946), ch. 28

And Melancholy was marking her for its own when along came Prudence with her sensational story of his wish to meet her behind the rhododendrons.

Full Moon (1947), ch. 6.3

Melancholy had marked him for her own, and each leaden moment that dragged itself by took on the semblance of an hour.

The Old Reliable, ch. 17 (1951)

It was not the fact that Mrs. Bingo was off to London to attend the annual dinner of the Pen and Ink Club that had caused melancholy to mark him for its own, sorely though he always missed her when she went away.

“Leave It to Algy” in A Few Quick Ones (1959)

His cold, on the previous night a mere tickling in the throat, had so increased in virulence as to make it injudicious for him to go to the office, and when he was unable to go to the office melancholy marked him for its own.

Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin (1972), ch. 11

[Note by Diego Seguí. See also:]

Depression claimed Sam for its own.

Sam in the Suburbs/Sam the Sudden (1925), ch. 4

Querulousness and self-pity had marked him for their own.

Hot Water (1932), ch. 7

As carefree a bunch as I’ve ever struck, and it gave me the pip to listen to them, for melancholy had marked me for her own, as the fellow said

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, ch. 13 (1963)

I remember Jeeves once saying of my friend Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright—it was when a long shot he had backed had come in first by a head, only to be disqualified owing to some infringement of the rules by its jockey—that melancholy had marked him for her own…

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974), ch. 14

return to text

Shall we stagger forth?

See The Inimitable Jeeves.

return to text

hot stuff

Originally mid-nineteenth-century US slang for strong liquor such as whisky; later used descriptively (after a linking verb) for anything or anyone of high quality or exceptional ability; OED has US citations from 1884 for cowboys and 1898 for golfers. The alternate sense of “stolen goods” arose later, first cited in 1924, so is not to be considered here.

Wodehouse in his early school stories used it literally, as for a red-pepper ointment in “An Affair of Boats” (1905), but he soon adopted the American sense, first in New York–set stories like “How Kid Brady Joined the Press” (1906) and then in his British school stories like Mike (first half serialized as “Jackson Junior” in 1907), ch. 17. Wodehouse’s dramatic criticism in the 1910s for the US Vanity Fair used the term often, too. [NM]

return to text

give me a stroke or two (p. 110)

This refers to the system of handicaps that allows golfers of differing abilities to enjoy a competitive game together.

return to text

honey-coloured beard (p. 111)

Psmith expresses a similar desire in Leave It to Psmith. Probably derived from Browning’s description of Ivàn Ivànovitch. [NM]

return to text

squirting seltzer (p. 111)

Seltzer is an artificial “mineral” water, made by passing pressurized carbon dioxide gas through water; other names for the same product are: soda water, sparkling water, fizzy water, and club soda. The name “selzer” derives from Selterser—German for “from Selters”—because the product resembles a naturally-occurring mineral water from Selters im Taunus, in the Limburg-Weilburg province of Germany.

return to text

the intellectual pressure of the conversation (p. 112)

As it is a point of great sensitiveness with me on such occasions to be equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation, I deeply considered the meaning of this speech . . .

Charles Dickens, The Uncommercial Traveller, ch. 3 (1860)

DON ALHAMBRA (puzzled): I’m afraid I’m not quite equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

W. S. Gilbert, The Gondoliers, Act II (1889)

LUDWIG: Nothing is more annoying than to feel that you’re not equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation. I wish he’d say something intelligible.

W. S. Gilbert, The Grand Duke, Act II (1896)

Wodehouse used this phrase frequently, e.g.:

Bertie grinned politely. He always grinned when he was not quite equal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

The Gold Bat, ch. 5

Fenn was still unequal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

The Head of Kay’s, ch. 21

The earl looked a little dazed, as if he were unequal to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

Something New, ch. 9

It was a wide-eyed, gaping gaze, speaking eloquently of a mind imperfectly adjusted to the intellectual pressure of the conversation.

Uncle Dynamite, ch. 6.2 (1948)

See also “In Alcala”, Piccadilly Jim, The Girl on the Boat, Sam the Sudden, Spring Fever, and The Old Reliable. The phrase also occurs in the US edition only of Cocktail Time.

return to text

angry passion rising (p. 111–12)

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

languishes in chokey (p. 112)

Chokey (or choky) is slang for prison. It derives from Hindi chauki, a police-station or lock-up.

return to text

the meeting’s tiled (p. 113)

In freemasonry, the doorkeeper who prevents unauthorised persons from entering or disturbing the proceedings of a lodge is known as a “tyler” (OED), hence a “tiled” meeting is one that is secure from interruption or whose proceedings are secret.

return to text

and all that sort of rot

Like Reggie’s use of “and what not” (as noted above), this phrase is part of the slang of Wodehouse’s casual young men, including Archie Moffam and Bertie Wooster. But unlike “and what not” which has a long history in standard English, this is a recent turn of phrase from the era of the late-Victorian dude; Google Books finds the earliest instance in 1892. [Diego Seguí and NM]

return to text


A pointed tool used to make a starting hole in wood before driving a small nail (brad). First UK edition has the misprint “bradlaw” here. [NM]

return to text

whisky and seltzer

This is the reading of the first UK edition; some later editions substitute “whisky and soda” here. US magazine and US book have “highball” instead here. [NM]

return to text

more to be pitied than censured (p. 114?)

See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

Alphonso (p. 116)

This may be an allusion to one of W. S. Gilbert’s “Bab Ballads”:

Alphonso, who in cool assurance all creation licks,
He up and said to Emmie (who had impudence for six),
Miss Emily, I love you—will you marry? Say the word!”
And Emily said, “Certainly, Alphonso, like a bird!"

W. S. Gilbert, “The Modest Couple,” Fun, 8 August 1868

Wodehouse quotes this stanza in full in The Girl on the Boat, ch. 4 (alternately titled Three Men and a Maid).

Diego Seguí points out that this could be a reference to Dickens’ “Nicholas Nickleby”:

Upon this doubtful ground, lived Mrs. Wititterly, and at Mrs. Wititterly’s door Kate Nickleby knocked with trembling hand. The door was opened by a big footman with his head floured, or chalked, or painted in some way (it didn’t look genuine powder), and the big footman, receiving the card of introduction, gave it to a little page; so little, indeed, that his body would not hold, in ordinary array, the number of small buttons which are indispensable to a page’s costume, and they were consequently obliged to be stuck on four abreast. [...]
 “Place chairs.”
 The page placed them.
 “Leave the room, Alphonse.”
 The page left it; but if ever an Alphonse carried plain Bill in his face and figure, that page was the boy.

[Note that Albert had been previously described as “a small boy in the many-buttoned uniform of a page” (ch. 8), and that Maud (though George can’t be aware of this) “wanted him to be as like as he could to a medieval page, one of those silk-and-satined little treasures she had read about in the Ingoldsby Legends” (ch. 9).]

return to text

Chapter 11 (pp. 117–125)

an ant-eater (p. 117)

“Anteater” is the name given to four species of mammal belonging of the suborder Vermilingua. Their nearest relatives are the sloths and armadillos. Anteaters are native to Central America and tropical South America. They live almost entirely on ants and termites, which they collect using a very long, flexible tongue that is coated with sticky saliva.

return to text

“Swank!” (p. 119)

“Swank” is “ostentatious or pretentious behaviour or talk; swagger; pretence” (OED), hence also someone who displays such behaviour.

He was a pariah, outside the pale, one of the “swanks” who lived in big houses and talked soft.

Richmal Crompton, William Again, ch. 5 (1923)

return to text

The thoughts of Youth are long, long thoughts (p. 119)

Often I think of the beautiful town
That is seated by the sea;
Often in thought go up and down
The pleasant streets of that dear old town,
And my youth comes back to me.
And a verse of a Lapland song
Is haunting my memory still:
“A boy’s will is the wind’s will,
And the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “My Lost Youth” (1858)

return to text

the late King Herod (p. 119)

Herod the Great (73–4 BC) was Roman client king of Judaea from 37 BC until his death. George is alluding to his alleged role in what is known as “the Massacre of the Innocents”:

Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently inquired of the wise men.

Matthew, ii, 16

The only other mention of this supposed event is in one of the Apocryphal Gospels, the Protoevangelium of James. While Herod was no innocent himself—he had his wife and two of his sons executed, for example, and was ruthless in punishing enemies, real or perceived—there is no other historical or archaeological evidence of such an event.

return to text

cigaroot (p. 120)

This hybrid of “cigarette” and “cheroot” is probably one of Albert’s inimitable contributions to the English language.

return to text

know the ropes . . . and smoke them (p. 121)

To “know the ropes”: “to understand the way to do something, to be acquainted with all the dodges” (OED). It originated as a nautical expression, the first usage recorded by the OED being in Richard Henry Dana’s classic account of life as a common sailor on a sailing ship:

The captain, who had been on the coast before, and knew the ropes, took the steering oar.

Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast, ch. 9 (1840)

George’s reference to smoking ropes may mean nothing more than that Albert’s tobacco smells as rank as burning rope. “Rope” does have two related slang usages: a cigar (US); and marijuana. But the OED cites no examples earlier than 1934 and 1944 respectively.

return to text

sweepstake (p. 121)

A sweepstake has much in common with a raffle—participants each contribute an equal amount as a stake and success is determined by an event that is beyond the control of the participants—but there are differences. In a raffle, participants buy a number that will be entered into a draw and they are often able to select the number they wish to purchase; the winner is the person whose number is drawn and there is usually a non-monetary prize. In a sweepstake, participants draw a ticket at random, the winner is the person whose ticket corresponds with some external event (e.g., the name of the winning horse in a major race) and the prize is the accumulated pool of stake money. Sweepstakes are popular in the work place and in social clubs, and there are several other examples in Wodehouse’s work.

[The most relevant example is “The Matrimonial Sweepstakes” / “The Good Angel” (1910), in which a butler named Keggs runs a similar sweepstakes. See also “Bill the Bloodhound” for an informal sweep among a theatrical company, and A Man of Means for a major sweepstakes on a racing event. —NM]

return to text

stately homes of England

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

blowing the gaff (p. 122)

To blow the gaff: (figuratively) to let out a secret; to reveal a plot, or give convicting evidence. (OED)

return to text

the punch

From the original meaning of a blow delivered with the fist as in boxing, a figurative use developed in early 20th-century US slang for a marked quality of forcefulness or vigor. Wodehouse used it often in his drama criticism for the US Vanity Fair (examples here, here, and here.) [NM]

return to text

handed to him on a plate with watercress round them

See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

Machiavelli (p. 125)

Nicoló Machiavelli (1469–1527) was a Florentine historian and statesman. Though he wrote several works, including a history of Florence and several plays, he is now remembered chiefly for Il Principe (“The Prince”), a political treatise in which he attempted to give practical advice to the Medici family, the rulers of Florence, on how best to establish and maintain their rule. Essentially, Machiavelli advocated that a ruler should be amoral, putting the interests of the state above personal virtues, but his views (and, more especially, the reasons for them) have been so often misrepresented that “Machiavellism” is now synonymous with treachery, intrigue, subterfuge, and tyranny, and a treacherous or deceitful person is often described as “a Machiavelli.”

See also The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

quid (p. 125)

Slang: one pound sterling. The term is still current, though the modern waiter, however occasional, would probably be more than a little dissatisfied if offered a mere quid for an evening’s work.

return to text

Chapter 12 (pp. 126–131)

coming-of-age (p. 126)

See above.

return to text

tout ensemble (p. 126)

The general appearance, or effect (French: all together).

return to text

fair women and brave men (p. 126)

There was a sound of revelry by night,
And Belgium’s capital had gather’d then
Her Beauty and her Chivalry, and bright
The lamps shone o’er fair women and brave men.

Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Canto III: 21 (1812–18)

return to text

Roses Red and Roses White (p. 126)

This is the opening line of Rudyard Kipling’s poem “Blue Roses,” which prefaces chapter 7 of The Light that Failed (1891):

Roses red and roses white
Plucked I for my love’s delight.

W. S. Gilbert’s libretto for The Gondoliers opens similarly (but with the colours switched):

List and learn, ye dainty roses,
Roses white and roses red
Why we bind you into posies
Ere your morning bloom has fled.

return to text

Popgood, Crooly & Co. (p. 126)

“Popgood, Crooly and Co.” appear elsewhere (e.g., “The Battle of Squashy Hollow”) as “Popgood and Grooly.”

Boodels’ letter informs me that his printing and publishing was an exceptional affair as his publisher was a distant connection of his family’s by his mother’s side . . . but he is sure, that if I know any respectable firm, they would be most happy to do it for me. If it is a work of a philosophical and scientific character, why not go (says the letter) to Popgood and Groolly? He incloses Popgood and Groolly’s address (cut out of a newspaper) and wishes me luck.

F. C. Burnand, More Happy Thoughts, ch. 3 (1871)

Sir Francis Cowley Burnand (1836–1917) was a playwright and humorist. He joined the staff of Punch in 1861 and became the magazine’s editor in 1880, holding the post until his retirement, in 1906. It was Burnand who, as editor, accepted Wodehouse’s first contributions to Punch.

The Handbook gives Burnand’s version as “Popgood and Groolley,” which is a misprint; there is no “e” in the original (1871) edition. And on the first reference, in the 10 July 1869 issue of Punch magazine, there was no “Grooll(e)y” at all: the publishers on that occasion were called Popgood and Spritt.

[But later in the Punch serial, when the narrator corresponds with, then meets the publishers, beginning with the August 21, 1869 issue, the names are Popgood and Groolly. In the US first edition of A Damsel in Distress the publisher of Roses Red and Roses White is Popgood, Grooly & Co., as the names are spelled in other Wodehouse works. —NM]

return to text

stearine sentimentality (p. 126)

Stearine is a waxy substance that is the chief constituent of beef tallow and suet. Its principal commercial uses are in the manufacture of candles and soap.

The OED cites only one example of the use of “stearine” as an adjective, in 1848: “His pictures possess that peculiar stearine substance found in the works of Watteau.” Wodehouse’s usage is a variant of the more usual “saccharine (that is, overly-sweet) sentimentality.”

[Other Wodehouse usages: —NM]

…Susan Blake, the vicar’s daughter, who had also taken up the solving of crossword puzzles and was the first girl in Worcestershire to find out the meaning of “stearine” and “crepuscular.”

“The Truth About George” (1926, in Meet Mr. Mulliner, 1927)

“Before I saw the light, I, too, used to write stearine bilge just like Parted Ways.”

“Best Seller” (1930, in Mulliner Nights, 1933)

…Bingo…went and married the eminent female novelist Rosie M. Banks, authoress of Only a Factory Girl; Mervyn Keene, Clubman; ’Twas Once in May and other stearine works of fiction…

“The Word in Season” in A Few Quick Ones (1959)

return to text

an artist named Claude

Other artists in Wodehouse who share this given name include Lady Chloe Downblotton’s fiancé in “The Story of Cedric” (1929) and the late Claude Robichaux, Barbizon-group painter of the nude portrait which causes all the trouble in A Pelican at Blandings/No Nudes Is Good Nudes (1969). [NM]

return to text

Grantchester Towers (p. 127)

Grantchester is a village on the river Cam near Cambridge. At the date of A Damsel in Distress it had recently achieved a measure of fame thanks to Rupert Brooke’s nostalgic poem “The Old Vicarage, Grantchester,” which had appeared in 1912:

Ah God! to see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
      . . .
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?

The name also carries overtones of Barchester Towers (1857), the second novel in Anthony Trollope’s Chronicles of Barsetshire series.

return to text

for one night only

Stock phrase from theatrical advertisements and posters for a special event, such as a celebrity on a personal-appearance tour, as distinguished from a play with a continued run of performances. In “Mother’s Knee” (1920, in Indiscretions of Archie, 1921), Archie Moffam promises his brother-in-law Bill that “This wheeze is for one night only”—the scheme to advertise Bill’s girlfriend’s singing talents and a composer friend’s song by having her sing it in his father’s hotel. [NM]

return to text

to take a curtain-call on a first night

Performing artists take bows at the end of every show after the closing of the curtain on the last act, but traditionally directors, writers, composers, and other production staff are only so honored at the first performance. [NM]

return to text


A highly-regarded and expensive brand of Champagne, founded in 1829 in Ay, France. Rollo Finch enjoys it in “Ahead of Schedule” (1911). [NM]

return to text

to put his fortune to the test

See The Girl on the Boat.

return to text

Truly rural . . . British constitution (p. 129)

Breathalysers were not introduced into Britain until 1960. Before that, verbal tests such as these were employed by the police to assess a suspect’s state of sobriety.

[The first UK edition has the misprint “reveal” for “rural” here; also, it puts quotation marks around “Pretty mean feat.” That has the unfortunate effect of giving Reggie two speeches in succession. Our transcription here follows the American text in making the tongue twisters an internal monologue for Reggie. For other tongue-twisting sobriety tests, see three examples from Laughing Gas and the endnotes to “The Privileged Class.” —NM]

return to text

a ministering angel (p. 130)

Lay her i’ th’ earth,
And from her fair and unpolluted flesh
May violets spring. I tell thee, churlish priest,
A ministering angel shall my sister be
When thou liest howling.

Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act V, sc 1 (1603)

O, Woman! in our hours of ease,
Uncertain, coy, and hard to please,
And variable as the shade
By the light quivering aspen made;
When pain and anguish wring the brow,
A ministering angel thou!—

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto 6: 30 (1808)

See also Summer Moonshine.

return to text

Chapter 13 (pp. 132–140)

water beetle (p. 132)

A large number of beetles are adapted to living in water, predominantly fresh-water, and are referred to as “water beetles.” In Britain, one of the commonest is Gyrinus substriatus, the common whirligig beetle, so called because of its habit of skimming round and round on the surface of ponds and slow-moving rivers in search of prey. The middle and back legs of whirligig beetles are flattened and hairy, which helps them to skate over the surface of the water. Unusually, also, each eye is divided into two parts, an upper part for seeing over the surface and a lower part for seeing below the surface.

return to text

Mexican horned toad (p. 133)

The Mexican horned toad, Phrynosoma orbiculare, is not, in fact, a toad, but a lizard. Found only in the high plateau country of northern Mexico, it is also known as the Mexican plateau (or Chihuahua desert) horned lizard.

Horned lizards rarely make satisfactory bed-mates, not least because their back and sides are covered in spines.

return to text

the night of the Yale football game (p. 133)

Rivalry between Harvard (George’s alma mater) and Yale on the football field dates back to November 1875 and, with the exception of breaks during the two World Wars, the two have met every year since 1897. The annual meeting is usually referred to as simply “the Game” and, within the two colleges, it has much the same significance as the Boat Race does to Oxford and Cambridge, and, traditionally, is an occasion for pranks and “high jinks” (cf Wodehouse’s many references to events on Boat Race night, especially in the Jeeves & Wooster stories).

return to text


Here “stuff” is not the cheap padding material of “stuff and nonsense” as above, but in the sense of any woven material used to make clothing [OED noun 1, sense 5a].

return to text

the coming of the Millennium (p. 135)

The “Millennium” refers to a passage in the Bible:

And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.

And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,

And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.

But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.

Revelation, xx, 1–5

Belief in the imminence of the Millennium (millenialism) was particularly strong among the poorer classes during the later Middle Ages. It resurfaced after the Reformation among radical Anabaptists, and traces of the millennialist tradition can still be found in the beliefs of some modern-day sects.

return to text

what man has done, man can do (p. 137)

A proverb.

 Over the head of the bed, for example, where good folks hang texts, these truths asserted themselves, written in a clear, bold, youthfully florid hand:—“Knowledge is Power,” and “What man has done man can do,”—man in the second instance referring to Mr. Lewisham.

H. G. Wells, Love and Mr. Lewisham, ch. 1 (1900)

 Then a look of grim determination came into his eyes. With the air of one who might have been quoting Keats, but possibly wasn’t, he said firmly:
 “What man has done, man can do.”

A. A. Milne, The Sunny Side, ch. 6 (1921)

 I hold the old mystical dogma that what Man has done, Man can do.

G. K. Chesterton, “The Beginning of the Quarrel,” in The Outline of Sanity (1925)

Diego Seguí finds earlier examples:
The standard dictionaries of proverbs give mid-19th century dates for this saying (1856 in Dictionary of American Proverbs, 1840 in Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs), but it can be found with almost the same wording in two unrelated texts from 1805, which suggests that the phrase was even older.

What Man has done, man can still do.

E. Butcher, Sermons for the Use of Families, vol II, p. 239

Whatever man has done man still may do,
If similarly placed.

The Literary Miscellany, vol. I, p. 101

return to text

Madison Square Garden (p. 137)

Madison Square Garden is a sports and entertainment arena in central New York City. The original Madison Square Garden was situated on the corner of Madison Square and 26th Street and opened in 1879. In 1890 it was replaced by a new arena, which was in use until 1925, when it was demolished to make way for an insurance building. There have been two further Madison Square Garden arenas: the third was on 8th Avenue and 50th Street; the most recent, on the site of the former Pennsylvania Station (and built over the top of the new station), is on 7th Avenue, between 31st and 33rd Streets.

return to text

that breach-of-promise case (p. 137)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

No wedding-bells for Plummer

“No Wedding Bells for Her” was an 1898 song, words by George A. Norton and music by James W. Casey (score available online; see lyrics below).

A melodrama “No Wedding Bells for Her, or, A Bride’s Confession” by Theodore Kremer was first produced in 1903 at the New York Grand Opera House (according to IBDB), with a different story:

The scenes of the play are laid in the coal mining district of Pennsylvania during the great anthracite strike, and there are said to be strenuous situations in plenty. The story tells of the unselfish love of the daughter of a wealthy coal operator for a young employee of her father, who is also a labor leader. Through the machinations of her father’s partner, who is the energetic villain of the play, the couple are estranged for the time being. There is also a second plot in which the villain figures and in which the innocent victims of his treachery are separated even as the church bells are pealing forth their wedding chimes. In the end, however, all things are righted even to meting out of severe punishment to the villain, and the happy reunion of both the love-lorn couples.

The Courier Journal (Louisville), November 20, 1904

Then the phrase became commonplace. Wodehouse first used it in “The Pitcher and the Plutocrat” (1910) and after that repeatedly, including the story titles “No Wedding Bells for Him” (1923; in Ukridge, 1924) and “No Wedding Bells for Bingo” (chapter title in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923).

          No Wedding Bells for Her

A maiden pure and trusting loved a lad so fond and true,
He’d spoken hasty words of youth and whispered “I love you;”
But as he distant grew she knew she had misplaced her trust,
Her dream of love was over, and her idol turned to dust.

And then a pained expression came into her fair, young face,
Sweet signs of resignation and the holy look of peace
Although her heart was broken, she had faith in heav’n above,
She took the veil as token of, her first unhappy love.

 There’ll be no wedding bells for her,
 Past are her days to love.
 No one can claim her worthy hand
 giv’n to the cause above.
 Her’s is a holy, peaceful life,
 Her praise the Angels sing;
 But she’ll ne’er bear the name of wife,
 For her no wedding bells shall ring.

The months and years rolled slowly on, gray hair and wrinkles came,
She strived for sake of charity, her efforts were not vain.
Once on her rounds to help the poor, she met a person grand,
’Twas her sweetheart of days gone by, and now he claimed her hand.

“I left you not in anger, but to brave this wordly strife,
I’ve been successful, now I’m rich, so be my loving wife,”
But she replied “you broke my heart, tho’ time the wound has healed,
“Let the past be past, ’tis better so, for me no bells shall peal.”

 There’ll be no wedding bells for her, ...

[Note by Diego Seguí]

return to text

more sinned against than sinning (p. 137)

I am a man
 More sinn’d against than sinning.

Shakespeare, The Tragedy of King Lear, Act III, sc 2 (1605)

return to text

a great general

We permit the great general, confronted suddenly with a mad bull, to turn and run, without forfeiting his reputation for courage.

“The Little Nugget” (1913)

It began to come home to him that he had not planned out this expedition with that thoroughness which marks the great general.

“The White Hope” (1914)

Like some great general forming his plan of campaign on the eve of battle, Archie had the whole binge neatly worked out inside a minute.

“The Wigmore Venus” (1921, also in Indiscretions of Archie)

return to text

scullery (p. 137)

Originally, the scullery was “the department of a household concerned with the care of the plates, dishes, and kitchen utensils. Also the room or rooms in which the work of this department is carried on.” (OED) In modern usage, it describes a small room attached to the kitchen, in which the washing of dishes and other dirty work is done.

return to text

Chapter 14 (pp. 141–151)

boys who stood on burning decks (p. 142)

The boy stood on the burning deck
 Whence all but he had fled;
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck
 Shone round him o’er the dead.

Felicia Hemans (1793–1835), “Casabianca”

The poem commemorates an incident during the naval battle of Aboukir Bay (the Battle of the Nile). On the evening of 1 August 1798, the French fleet was at anchor in Aboukir Bay. The French commander, Vice-Admiral François-Paul Brueys d’Aigalliers, Count de Brueys, knew that a British fleet, under Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson, was nearby, but did not envisage an attack before daylight on 2 August. Nelson, however, chose to risk an attack under cover of darkness, taking advantage of the fact that, as the French ships were at anchor, they would be unable to assist one another. The attack was so successful that only two of the thirteen French ships of the line escaped, nine being captured and two burnt and sunk, including Admiral de Brueys’ flagship, L’Orient, which caught fire and exploded. The Admiral had already been killed during the battle and his flag-captain, Captain de Casa Bianca, had assumed command until he too was killed. Casa Bianca’s young son was on board L’Orient but refused to leave his father’s body when the rest of the crew (of whom about a hundred survived) abandoned the doomed vessel.

See also Love Among the Chickens (1909), ch. xxi; The Adventures of Sally (1921/22), ch. ix; The Luck of the Bodkins (1935), ch. 15; The Code of the Woosters (1938), ch. 11; Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939), ch. 2; Full Moon (1947), ch. 8.2; The Mating Season (1949), ch. 25.

return to text

reproof and pain were nicely mingled

See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

a bright light had shone (p. 145)

The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

Isaiah, ix, 2

return to text

Napoleon . . . his Cuirassiers . . . the sunken road (p. 148)

The incident alluded to took place at an early stage in the Battle of Waterloo (18 June 1815). During the first attack by the French infantry, the Allied left wing began to crumble. Wellington’s second in command, the Earl of Uxbridge, who commanded the cavalry, ordered a charge by two brigades of British heavy cavalry. Led by Uxbridge himself, the heavy brigades attacked a brigade of cuirassiers which was protecting the left flank of the French infantry. The cuirassiers were driven back upon a sunken road, where they found themselves hemmed and were routed.

It is unfair to describe this as a mistake by Napoleon. It is true that one brigade of cuirassiers was routed, but a counter-attack by two more brigades of cuirassiers and two regiments of lancers inflicted heavy losses on the British cavalry, before the French cavalry were in turn driven back by a counter-charge.

Wodehouse is probably confusing this affair with what happened some hours later when, mistaking the movement of casualties to the rear as an Allied retreat, Napoleon sought to break Wellington’s centre using unsupported cavalry, including an entire reserve corps of cuirassiers. Such a massed cavalry attack relied for its effect largely on psychological shock, but the British infantry, deployed in hollow squares, successfully withstood repeated charges by the French cavalry, which eventually had to withdraw, exhausted. Napoleon’s gamble had failed and the British troops had bought enough time to allow their Prussian allies to reach the field.

The Battle of Waterloo was Napoleon’s last battle and his defeat brought to an end his reign as Emperor; he abdicated six days later and, foiled in an attempt to escape to North America, surrendered to the Royal Navy on 15 July.

Cuirassiers were heavy cavalry, taking their name from the cuirass (breastplate armour) that they wore. Though it no longer serves any useful function, the British Household Cavalry still wear a cuirass as part of their ceremonial dress when they attend the sovereign on formal occasions.

return to text

a white flag (p. 148)

The white flag is an internationally recognised symbol of surrender and is also used to request a truce or ceasefire. The white flag has been used to indicate surrender for over 2,000 years and its use is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions.

return to text

truth, though crushed to earth (p. 149–50)

Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
The eternal years of God are her’s;
But Error, wounded, writhes with pain,
And dies among his worshippers.

William Cullen Bryant, “The Battlefield” (1837)

See also Sam the Sudden and Summer Moonshine.

return to text

Fante hart never won fair lady

A very old proverb, familiar to Gilbertians like Wodehouse from Gilbert & Sullivan’s Iolanthe (1882), in the second-act trio “If you go in.” Diego Seguí finds older sources:

Faint hart Philautus neither winneth Castell nor Lady

Lyly, Euphues & his England (1580), among others quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs

Additional early citations are in Morris Palmer Tilley, A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (1950). More recent uses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century popular culture are listed in A Dictionary of Anglo-American Proverbs & Proverbial Phrases (2005).

See also the discussion at

return to text

watch your futur progres with considurable interest

Wodehouse seems to imply that this is a stock phrase, but Google Books doesn’t find “watch your future” and “considerable interest” together before this book. He certainly turned it into a stock phrase, with either “progress” or “career”: [NM]

“Pip pip, old cake. Let me know how you get on. I shall watch your future progress with considerable interest. Cheerio!”

Bingo to Bertie in “Jeeves in the Springtime” (1921, in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)

“I shall watch your future career with some considerable interest,” said Bingo.

“Bingo and the Little Woman” (1922, in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)

“I shall watch his future progress with considerable interest.”

“The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace” (1922, in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923)

“Inform Frederick that he has my best wishes. … Mention that I shall watch his future progress with considerable interest.”

“The Custody of the Pumpkin” (1924; in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, 1935)

“Carry on, Waterbury. I shall watch your future progress with considerable interest.”

Oliver Sipperley in “The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy” (1926, in Very Good, Jeeves, 1930)

He added that he was pleased to have made her acquaintance and that if, as seemed probable, they never saw each other again, he would always watch her future career with considerable interest.

“The Ordeal of Osbert Mulliner” (1928; in Mr. Mulliner Speaking, 1929/30)

“You can push a Wooster just so far. ‘Very good, Jeeves,’ I said to him. ‘I shall watch your future career with considerable interest.’ And that was that.”

Thank You, Jeeves (1934)

“Well, pip-pip, toodle-oo, cheerio, and God bless you. I shall watch your future career with considerable interest.”

Archibald Mulliner to Yvonne Maltravers, in “The Code of the Mulliners” (1935)

“In fact, I don’t mind telling you, McMurdo,” proceeded Harold Pickering, still in that genial and ingratiating manner, “that I shall watch your future progress with considerable interest.”

“Tee for Two” (1940, also known as “Scratch Man”)

“I wish you luck, young Bean, and I shall follow your future career with considerable interest, but don’t count on me for anything more than heartfelt sympathy.”

Pongo to Elsie Bean in Uncle Dynamite, ch. 8.1 (1948)

“I shall watch your future progress with considerable interest.”

Bertie to Catsmeat in The Mating Season, ch. 11 (1949)

“Well, I shall follow your future career with considerable interest.”

Bill Shannon to Phipps in The Old Reliable, ch. 10 (1951)

“Well, I shall watch your progress with considerable interest.”

Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin, ch. 2.3 (1972)

Norman Murphy considered Wodehouse’s use of this phrase to be an equivalent of “I never want to see you again” (see The Mating Season) but as these examples show, it is not always ironic nor even always valedictory. Albert’s Sunday-school teacher seems to have used it in the sense of continued interest, for example. And Bertie uses it positively as well:

I was all set to follow this Pinker’s career with considerable interest, but the way things were shaping it began to look as if there wasn’t going to be a career to follow.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), ch. 3

Diego Seguí notes that the expression would have commonly appeared in business correspondence after a dismissal or accepting a resignation; he has also found positive examples in the third person, such as in a laudatory review of a writer’s first novel. Diego adds:

After a new round of searching I couldn’t find another ironical example before PGW, so perhaps he was the first to see its potential for comedy. He definitely set the pattern for others. My favorite post-PGW example is T. Pratchett, Feet of Clay: “I shall watch your career with interest”, but here Commander Vimes actually intends to watch a hired assassin run for his life after the assassin has failed to kill him.

return to text

Chapter 15 (pp. 152–167)

a cold bath

See the cold tap above.

return to text

He was not saddest when he sang. Others were.

An echo of a bon mot variously quoted and usually attributed to Artemus Ward. [NM]

Artemus Ward was wont to say that he was saddest when he sang, and so were those who listened.

“The Only Jones” in Judy, or the London Serio-Comic Journal, Dec. 21, 1887, p. 292.

I always liked Artemus Ward, perhaps because I found a point of similarity between him and myself. It was not he but his friend who “was saddest when he sang,” as the old song has it.

Andrew Carnegie, in An American Four-in-Hand in Britain (1886), p. 41.

Diego Seguí has found the original:

I like Music.——I can’t sing. As a singist I am not a success. I am saddest when I sing. So are those who hear me. They are sadder even than I am.

Artemus Ward’s Lecture (1869)

Diego notes that Ward was alluding to a verse by Thomas Haynes Bayly, “I’m Saddest When I Sing” from Fifty Lyrical Ballads (1829). That ballad was set to music by Giovanni Paggi in 1840.

return to text

twenty-one today (p. 152)

The song “I’m Twenty-One Today” was composed by comedian and songwriter Alec Kendal* (d. 1945) and became a popular musical-hall song: it was recorded in 1911 by Jack Pleasants (1874–1924), a Bradford-born variety performer who appeared frequently at the major London variety theatres, usually billed as “The Shy Comedian” because of his association with another popular song of the day, “I’m shy, Mary Ellen, I’m shy.”

Being given a key to the door of the family home was, traditionally, one way of recognising a coming-of-age.

* Not, as stated in the Handbook, Kendall.

return to text

your liver … like a crumpled oak-leaf studded with hob-nails

One side effect of cirrhosis of the liver is that the organ becomes “studded with projections like nail-heads.” [OED]

Many a young man, in the springtime of life, has developed hob-nailed liver simply through reading the New Year’s article in the Encyclopædia.

“All About New Year’s Day” (1917)

return to text

“I also … was perhaps a shade polluted during the evening.”

The OED finds this colloquial synonym for “intoxicated” first in George Ade, and no doubt that is where Wodehouse found it too:

 “It may be that I was a mite Polluted,” he suggested.
 “You were a teeny bit Pickled about Two, when you tried to upset the Lunch Wagon, but I don’t think anyone Noticed it,” said Mr. Byrd.

“The Fable of the Regular Customer and the Copper-Lined Entertainer” in More Fables (1900), p. 171

I was helping a pal to celebrate the happy conclusion of love’s young dream, and it may be that I became a mite polluted.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (1974), ch. 3

return to text

a Bishop’s Beano (p. 153)

Originally, “beano” was used by printers as an abbreviation of “bean-feast,” an annual dinner given by an employer to his workers. Both “bean-feast” and “beano” later became colloquialisms for any festive entertainment, “beano” especially signifying one that ends in rowdyism. The first reference cited in the OED to its use in the original sense dates from 1888.

return to text

Exeter Hall (p. 153)

Exeter Hall was a large meeting place on the north side of Strand, where the Strand Palace Hotel now stands. It was officially opened in March 1831; it was torn down in 1907.

The hall could hold about 3,000 people, and was often used for religious and philanthropic meetings; because of the hall’s association with meetings of the Anti-Slavery Society, the phrase “Exeter Hall” became a synonym for the Anti-Slavery lobby.

return to text

feasts of reason and flows of soul (p. 154)

There St. John mingles with my Friendly Bowl,
The Feast of Reason, and the Flow of Soul:

Alexander Pope, “The First Satire of the Second Book of Horace” (1733)

See also Sam the Sudden.

return to text

joie-de-vivre (p. 154)

French: joy of living—hence a feeling of healthy enjoyment of life; exuberance, high spirits (OED).

return to text


See The Inimitable Jeeves.

return to text


A very great mistake. OED cites Barrère & Leland’s slang dictionary (1889): prison slang for a mistake, originally Australian, from “a blooming error”. The third OED citation is this sentence from Wodehouse. See also “Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer”, the source for chapters 3–4 of The Inimitable Jeeves. [NM]

return to text

stout fellow

See The Inimitable Jeeves.

return to text

didn’t foozle a single drive (p. 154)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

adopted by David towards Jonathan (p. 156)

See The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

a pair of Indian clubs (p. 157)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

college eight

The crew of a rowing boat designed for eight oarsmen, of the type used in the intercollegiate rowing competitions at Oxford and elsewhere. See “bump-supper” in the notes for Leave It to Psmith for more. [NM]

return to text

swinging of police-rattles

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

Moresby-in-the-Vale (p. 158)

One of the characters in “Something Squishy” (Mr. Mulliner Speaking) is a magistrate, Sir Joseph Moresby. He returns in “The Word in Season” (1940 magazine versions); his wife Emily and her adopted daughter Lucy appear in the first story and his niece Mabel plays a prominent role in the second (she becomes Mabel Murgatroyd in the 1958 rewrite collected in A Few Quick Ones).

In Sunset at Blandings (1977), we meet one of the last of Lord Emsworth’s ten sisters to be mentioned, Lady Florence Moresby, estranged from her second husband Kevin Moresby.

The only place called Moresby in England is a village between Whitehaven and Workington in Cumbria.

[Note expanded by NM]

return to text

Little Weeting (p. 158)

Weeting is in west Norfolk, a few miles north-west of Thetford and a similar distance to the north-east of Lakenheath, which gave its name to Lady Lakenheath in Love Among the Chickens.

[In “Disentangling Old Percy” (1912), the elder of Lady Florence Craye’s younger brothers has the courtesy title of Lord Weeting. —NM]

return to text

vicar . . . curate (p. 160–1)

In the Church of England, “vicar” is the title given to a clergyman who has charge of a parish; “curate” (strictly, “assistant curate”) is the title given to one who assists the vicar. All vicars are appointed by patrons, who range from private individuals to the Crown; a curate is usually appointed by the vicar of the parish.

Historically, a vicar received his income in the form of a share of the parish tithes (taxes levied on the agricultural output of the parish), which varied in value from parish to parish; curates were paid by the parish or diocese. Since the mid-19th century, there have been moves to equalise this situation, and clergy within a diocese now receive standard stipends which are paid out of the diocesan funds.

In Wodehouse’s stories, a curate is typically a young man, usually of a hearty athletic disposition, who seeks an appointment from the local vicar so as to be able to marry the girl he loves.

[Examples of athletic curates: Cuthbert “Bill” Bailey in Service With a Smile (1961); Blenkinsop in “Blenkinsop’s Benefit” (1904); Joseph Dacre in “The Lost Bowlers” (1905); Henry Drew in “Tom, Dick—and Harry” (1905); Mr. Parminter in “Personally Conducted” (1907, in which an old Punch joke about cricketing curates is mentioned); Harold “Stinker” Pinker in The Code of the Woosters, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (in which he gets a vicarage so as to marry Stiffy Byng), and Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (still playing rugger as a vicar); Randall in “The Fifteenth Man” (1906); and Travers in “Against the Clock” (1909). —NM]

return to text

a pair of gold-rimmed pince-nez (p. 162)

See The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

seeing ourselves as others see us (p. 162)

O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

Robert Burns, “To a Louse, On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church” (1786)

return to text

king of Brixton (p. 163)

Brixton is an inner-city district of south London, some 5 km south of Charing Cross. Administratively, it forms part of the London Borough of Lambeth.

return to text

Groping in Egyptian darkness (p. 165)

And the Lord said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.

And Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven; and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days:

Exodus, x, 21–2

return to text

seeking whom he might devour

See above.

return to text

more celebrated village blacksmith (p. 166)

Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Village Blacksmith” (1842)

See also Sam the Sudden.

return to text

a more speaking eye (p. 166)

And still, and pale, and silently
Did Parisina wait her doom;
How changed since last her speaking eye
Glanced gladness round the glittering room,
Where high-born men were proud to wait—

Lord Byron, “Parisina” (1816)

return to text

Like one that on a lonely road (p. 167)

The verse comes from Part VI of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1817).

return to text

Chapter 16 (pp. 168–182)

House of Lords (p. 171)

As a peer, Lord Marshmoreton would have a seat in the House of Lords, the upper house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom. As Lord Marshmoreton has displayed no interest in anything beyond the confines of his garden, it is probable that his visits to Westminster would be confined to such occasions as the State Opening of Parliament and occasional debates in which, as a landowner, he might have a personal interest.

In 1999, the House of Lords underwent radical reform. The House of Lords Act 1999 stipulates that: “No-one shall be a member of the House of Lords by virtue of a hereditary peerage.” Exceptions were made for the Earl Marshal and Lord Great Chamberlain and, as a compromise, 90 hereditary peers (chosen by election) were allowed to retain their seats. The present Earl of Marshmoreton was not among those who put themselves forward for election, which suggests that he has as little interest in politics as his noble ancestor, the 5th Earl.

return to text

love-feast (p. 172)

“Love-feast” is the usual interpretation of the Greek phrase hai agapai in the Biblical Epistle of Jude and is thought to refer to a communal meal shared by members of the early Christian Church, possibly as a celebration of Christ’s Last Supper. The term was revived by the Moravian and Methodist churches in the 18th century, by which time it was also acquiring a figurative meaning in reference to any meal or gathering that fosters fellowship or goodwill between the participants: according to the OED, this extended usage is found chiefly in North America, frequently in a political context.

See also The Clicking of Cuthbert.

return to text

War of the Roses (p. 173)

The “Wars of the Roses” was a period of civil war and dynastic struggle in 15th-century England between adherents of the Houses of Lancaster and of York. Though private wars between powerful nobles were frequent in the first half of the century, following the overthrow of King Richard II and usurpation of the throne by Henry IV (Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster) in 1399, the Crown was not directly involved in armed hostilities until 1455, when Richard, Duke of York, led a small army toward London and was met by forces loyal to the King, Henry VI, at the First Battle of St. Albans.

The next three decades were marked by sporadic fighting and shifting alliances, as first one side, then the other, triumphed. The struggle was effectively brought to an end in 1485, when Henry Tudor’s Lancastrian forces defeated Richard III’s Yorkist army at the the Battle of Bosworth Field and Henry ascended the throne as Henry VII. A year later, he united the two warring factions, when he married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV.

The name “Wars of the Roses” refers to the badges sometimes associated with the opposing factions, a white rose for the House of York, a red rose for the House of Lancaster, and which were united in the Tudor Rose, adopted by Henry VII as his heraldic emblem after his marriage, though Henry’s forces at Bosworth fought under the banner of a red dragon while Richard’s army used his personal symbol, a white boar. The name “Wars of the Roses” did not come into common use until the nineteenth century, after the publication of Anne of Geierstein (1829) by Sir Walter Scott, who based the name on a fictitious scene in Shakespeare’s Henry VI Part 1 (Act II, scene 4).

return to text

B.R.T. (p. 173)

The Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company (BRT) was formed in 1896 to acquire the assets of several rapid transit and tramcar companies in Brooklyn and Queens, New York City. By 1913, the BRT had, through a succession of acquisitions, acquired all the rapid transit and streetcar operations in its target area, and in that year it signed contracts with the City of New York to construct and operate new subways and other rapid transit lines. A line from Brooklyn to Manhattan was opened in 1915 but inflation during World War I created financial problems and the BRT became insolvent in 1919. In 1923 the BRT was restructured and released from bankruptcy as the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Corporation, which is now the BMT division of the New York City Subway.

return to text

“New York’s one of the outlying suburbs.” (p. 173)

This is how the text reads in all original editions: US magazine serial, US first edition, and in the various UK editions published by Herbert Jenkins and Penguin. For some reason, the Everyman/Overlook edition renders it as “Brooklyn’s one of the outlying suburbs,” which is no more geographically accurate than the original—a mere glance at a map will show that Brooklyn is not an outlying suburb of New York—and manages to destroy Wodehouse’s joke: we are supposed to infer from George’s comment that he is such a fervent Brooklyner that, for him, the rest of New York City is merely peripheral; in much the same way might a Cockney describe London as an outlying suburb of Shoreditch.

return to text


This is the reading of US editions; the original UK book substitutes “suppositious” here, which is a near but not an exact synonym in all shades of its meaning. Wodehouse is using the longer word in the OED’s sense 2: “pretended or imagined to exist; … fancied, imaginary.” Sense 3, of “hypothetical, conjectural,” is equated to one sense of “suppositious” in the OED. Wodehouse used the longer word in the opening of Uneasy Money (1915/16) as Lord Dawlish is playing a game of mental golf in London: [NM]

…Lord Dawlish turned, it being his intention to inspect the fountain in Piccadilly Circus and estimate whether a supposititious hole beneath it could be reached with a single putt, or whether, as he suspected, a preliminary use of the iron would be necessary.

return to text

Romeo (p. 174)

One of the leading characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. His efforts to woo Juliet are hindered by the enmity that exists between their two families.

return to text

a first night at the Gaiety (p. 179)

The Gaiety Theatre, which opened in 1864, occupied a site in the Strand until 1903, when it was forced to close to make way for the redevelopment of that part of London. The original site is now part of the Aldwych.

From 1868, under the management of John Hollingshead, the Gaiety achieved celebrity as a theatre of light entertainment, and in 1871 it was the venue for the premiere of Thespis, the first stage collaboration of Gilbert and Sullivan. In 1886, the management was taken over by George Edwardes (1852–1918), who continued the tradition of light entertainment and musical comedy (and, who, in the early 1900s, provided employment for Jerome D. Kern while the composer was visiting London, a visit during which he first met Wodehouse).

See also Money in the Bank and above.

return to text

Nellie Farren . . . Florence St. John (p. 179)

Ellen “Nellie” Farren (1848–1904) was born into a theatrical family; her great-grandfather, William Farren, had created the part of Careless in Sheridan’s The School for Scandal at Drury Lane in 1777, his son was famed for his performances as Sir Peter Teazle in the same play, and his grandson, Ellen’s father, was a theatrical manager. Nellie Farren made her first London stage appearance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in December 1862. In December 1867 she married Robert Soutar, another actor, with whom, a year later, she joined the company for the opening of the Gaiety Theatre. For nearly 25 years, she was the star of the Gaiety, performing in a variety of roles, but especially “principal boy” roles (which were extremely popular with the young men in the audience, because they allowed the actress to show her legs in tights). In 1891, while performing in Melbourne, Australia, she was stricken with cardiac gout, which ultimately ended her career and from which she finally died. In March 1898, George Edwardes organized a benefit for her at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; it was attended by a standing-room-only crowd of 3,000 people (including the Prince of Wales) and included a performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, in which W. S. Gilbert played one of the roles. Her portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Kate Vaughan (real name Catherine Candelon) (1852–1903) began her theatrical career in 1870 when she and her sister, performing as the Sisters Vaughan, appeared at the Metropolitan music-hall. In 1873 she inaugurated the skirt-dance, “a sedate forerunner of the can-can, in which the manipulation of voluminous gossamer draperies played a part just as important as the actual steps” (DNB); William Gladstone mentioned her in his Diary for 1 December 1873. In 1876 she began an association with the Gaiety Theatre which ended in 1883. The following year she became the second wife of Colonel the Hon. Frederick Arthur Wellesley, a younger son of the first Earl Cowley and grand-nephew of the first Duke of Wellington; they were divorced in 1897. She returned to the stage in 1885 and soon formed her own provincial touring company. Ill health forced her to seek better climates, in Australia in 1896 and South Africa in 1902; she died at Johannesburg in February 1903. The DNB described her as “in point of grace, magnetism, and spirituality, . . . the greatest English dancer of her century.”

Florence St. John (1855–1912) was a popular singer and actress who had a varied career in operetta, musical burlesque, music-hall, opera and, later, comic plays. She achieved her first major success when she created the title role in the English-language version of Offenbach’s Madame Favart at the Strand Theatre in 1879. In October 1888 she joined the Gaiety company, playing Marguerite in Faust up to Date, subsequently touring the United States and the English provinces in the same work. She later joined the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, for whom she created the role of Rita in Arthur Sullivan and F. C. Burnand’s The Chieftain. In June 1896, she returned briefly to the Gaiety Theatre, to played the plaintiff in Trial by Jury at a benefit performance for Kate Vaughan. In her last decade, she turned to “straight” theatre, though she made one last appearance at the Gaiety, in the final performance at the old theatre on 4 July 1903.

return to text

Faust up to Date (p. 179)

Faust up to Date was a burlesque of Gounod’s opera, Faust, with a libretto by George R. Sims and Henry Pettitt and music by W. Meyer Lutz. It received its premiere at the Gaiety Theatre on 30 October 1888 and was revived in 1892. The Times, reviewing the first night performance, commented that “it is many years since the name of Miss Nellie Farren has been absent from the bill of the Gaiety upon an occasion of such importance. As Miss Farren is now touring in America, the authors have had to do without her assistance in the part of Faust” and went on to note that “whatever shortcoming there may be here . . . is amply compensated for by the presence in the cast of Miss Florence St. John as Margaret. Such a Margaret, both as a singer and as a comic actress, would insure the success of a much inferior piece.”

return to text

Meyer Lutz (p. 179)

Wilhelm Meyer Lutz (c. 1828–1903) was a Bavarian-born composer and conductor. He moved to England in 1848 and was for many years employed as a church and cathedral organist. From 1851–55 he was musical director at the Surrey Theatre, where he demonstrated his talents in the field of light music and, in 1855, produced his own opera, Faust and Marguerite. In February 1869 he was appointed resident musical director and conductor at the Gaiety Theatre where, for the next 25 years he produced and conducted the music for a host of operettas and musical burlesques.

return to text

Johnnie Toole . . . Partners (p. 179)

John Lawrence Toole (1832–1906) was an English comic actor and theatrical producer. He made his his first professional appearance in London in 1854 at the St. James’s Theatre, playing the part of Samuel Pepys in The King’s Rival. In 1858, he joined the company at the Adelphi Theatre, where he established his popularity as a comedian. In 1868, he was engaged at the Gaiety Theatre, where his many appearances included a part in Thespis, the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. He took over the Folly Theatre in 1879, renaming it “Toole’s Theatre” a few years later, but illness forced him to retire from the stage in 1893; he eventually retired to Brighton, where, in July 1906, he died after a long illness. Toole was noted for his comic delivery and excelled in roles that combined humour and pathos. Unlike many actors of the time, he was a good businessman and left a considerable fortune on his death.

A five-act comedy-drama entitled Partners opened at the Haymarket Theatre on 5 January 1888. Written by Robert Buchanan, it featured Henry Beerbohm-Tree in the leading role. Lord Marshmoreton’s judgment that it was “not a good play” is borne out by the reviews, one of which stated that “the simple story . . . is not equal to five acts, and so, five acts being considered necessary, the interest is weakened by being long drawn out, and something like weariness comes of vain repetitions . . .” (The Era, 7 January 1888), while another critic remarked that “it is a pity to see so much clever acting bestowed on a piece of so little true interest” (The Graphic, 14 January 1888). But his memory has played him false about Toole’s connection with the play.

return to text

Yeomen of the Guard (p. 179)

The Yeomen of the Guard, or The Merryman and His Maid is a tragi-comic opera by Gilbert and Sullivan. It was first performed at the Savoy Theatre, London, on 3 October 1888, the same month that Faust up to Date opened. It was revived at the Savoy in May 1897 and continues to be performed frequently.

return to text

stage heavy father

In theatrical jargon, the heavy is the antagonist, the one who stands in the way of the leading characters’ plans and desires. In a romance, the heavy father is “stern, repressive, unbending” (OED; their first citation is from Thackeray’s Pendennis, 1849). [NM]

return to text

my sisters—my sons-in-law (p. 180–1)

In chapter 1, we learned that Lord Marshmoreton had one sister and two (unmarried) children, one of them a son. Quite how he has acquired additional sisters, plus at least two more (married) daughters, is a mystery. Perhaps Wodehouse is not as familiar with the Marshmoretons as he would have us believe. [US first edition book has “my sisters, my cousins” here, apparently to avoid the mystery. —NM]

Diego Seguí notes that it is never said that Lady Caroline is Lord Marshmoreton’s only sister; Maud has an Aunt Augusta, for example. He adds, “Besides, it is in the nature of sisters/aunts not to come single spies but in battalions.”

return to text

in letters of one syllable

Lord Marshmoreton is so upset that he mangles the common phrase “in words of one syllable” for plain speech. [NM]

Bows had taught her the tricks of acting, and she went faithfully through the movements when on the stage, but directly she was in her home again she became herself, unable to speak except in words of one syllable.

“Our Slack and Slothful Playwrights” (1916)

“This young man is new,” he bellowed carefully, keeping to words of one syllable.

The Little Warrior (1920), ch. xiv

“It’s rummy about these blighters, but they never seem able to understand a damn thing. It’s hard! You put things in words of one syllable for them, and they just goggle and wonder what it all means.”

Ukridge, in Love Among the Chickens (1921), ch. xv

return to text

Chapter 17 (pp. 183–188)

a widely press-agented boy in Sparta . . . fox (p. 183)

This story is related in Plutarch’s The Life of Lycurgus (75 AD). According to Plutarch, the male youth of ancient Sparta underwent harsh training to prepare them for life as soldiers. As part of this regimen, and to teach them to be bold and cunning, they were given a very spare diet and were encouraged to learn to steal whatever else they needed; those that were caught stealing were whipped, not for stealing but for being caught! Plutarch then relates the story of a boy who stole a fox (why, and from where, he does not trouble to explain) and hid it under his cloak; rather than let the fox be seen, he suffered the animal to tear out his bowels with its teeth and claws, and so died.

[Wodehouse turns to the recently-coined American term “press-agented” (first cited by OED from 1906 Chicago Tribune) for humorous effect; the more usual synonym “publicized” would have been almost as breezy when referring to a classical historian like Plutarch. —NM]

return to text

a record never subsequently lowered

Wodehouse seems to have record times for track running in mind when he mentions “lowering” records; many other field events like jumps, pole vault, and so forth break records by increasing the old mark, as do most sporting records like home runs or goals. Some of his mentions, like the first below, have to do with speed; others, like the second, have nothing to do with speed. The third is one of the field events in which a new record is an increase. The fourth is pure badinage from Psmith, wordplay on a phrase that sounds when spoken aloud as if it might be a sporting statistic. [NM]

When he next woke, the bell was ringing for school. He lowered the world’s record for rapid dressing, and was just in time to accompany the tail of the procession into the form-room.

“The Politeness of Princes” (1905)

Mr. Shute had lowered with ease the record for gay badinage, hitherto held by the red-faced customer…

“When Doctors Disagree” (1910)

With one sharp yell he lowered the amateur record for the standing broad jump.…

“The Awful Gladness of the Mater” (1925; in Mr. Mulliner Speaking, 1929/30

“Oliver Cromwell went through here in 1550. The record has since been lowered.”

Leave It to Psmith (1923), ch. 8

return to text

the beasts of the field (p. 183)

This phrase recurs many times in the Bible, e.g.:

But the seventh year thou shalt let it rest and lie still; that the poor of thy people may eat: and what they leave the beasts of the field shall eat. In like manner thou shalt deal with thy vineyard, and with thy oliveyard.

Exodus, xxiii, 11

For thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field: and the beasts of the field shall be at peace with thee.

Job, v, 23

See also Summer Moonshine.

return to text

Bertram the Bull (and others)

Reminiscent of Wodehouse’s lyrics to “Bungalow in Quogue” from The Riviera Girl (1917) (also interpolated into later productions and recordings of Very Good, Eddie), in which Bill the bull, Hildebrand the hog, Reginald the rooster, and Wilberforce the whippoorwill are named.

return to text

frown on the practice of murdering bishops (p. 184)

A convention that Henry II ignored (see Money in the Bank).

return to text

No Man’s Land (p. 185)

In the 14th century, “Nomanneslonde” was a piece of ground outside the north wall of London that was used as a place of execution (OED). In modern military parlance, it refers to the terrain between two opposing (usually entrenched) armies or to a stretch of disputed territory.

return to text

advice to the Lovelorn (p. 186)

Columns of “Advice to the Lovelorn” began to appear in newspapers in the late 19th century. Though critics complained that the press was feeding a depraved public taste, this did nothing to stem their increasing popularity. In “Black for Luck,” one of the stories in The Man with Two Left Feet (1917), Elizabeth gets the job of writing a column of “Advice to the Lovelorn” for the Evening Chronicle.

[Like Elizabeth’s predecessor at the Chronicle, many of Wodehouse’s advice columnists are men writing under female pseudonyms. Aunt Jane in The Cosy Corner is written by Smythe in “The Last Instance” (1903). Aunt Ysobel’s column of advice in Pyke’s Home Companion in Sam the Sudden is conducted by Matthew Wrenn and Sam Shotter, and was once Percy Pilbeam’s job. Aunt Phyllis in The Girl in Blue is a fat man in his fifties with a passion for lager beer and a ribald outlook on life. —NM]

return to text

Forget-Me-Not . . . Home Chat (p. 186)

Forget-Me-Not was one of the early magazines founded by the press magnate Alfred Harmsworth, later 1st Viscount Northcliffe. It ran from 1891 until 1918.

Home Chat was another weekly magazine founded by Harmsworth. The first issue appeared on 19 March 1895 and it ran until 1959, when it was absorbed into Women’s Weekly. Subtitled “A Weekly Magazine for the Home,” it provided a mixture of stories, general interest articles, and advice; a typical early issue had articles on “Behind the Footlights,” “How to Love Your Husband,” “What a Girl Should Not Do,” and “The Husband in the Household.”

I have been unable to establish whether “Aunt Charlotte” and “Doctor Cupid” were columnists for the two magazines. “Doctor Cupid” was the title of a novel published in 1886 by Rhoda Broughton (1840–1920), a popular novelist in the late 1800s, and of a silent movie produced in 1911; it is also the English title of Wolf-Ferrari’s opera L’amore medico, which was first performed in 1913, at Dresden. A three-act comedy entitled That Doctor Cupid, by Robert Buchanan, who also wrote Partners, opened at the Vaudeville Theatre, London, on 14 January 1889.

return to text

this best of all possible worlds (p. 187)

See above

return to text

Ta-ra-ra boom-de-ay (p. 188)

“Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay” is a vaudeville and music hall song. As “Ta-ra-ra Boom-der-e” it was copyrighted by Henry J. Sayers and published in October 1891 in New York and London. It was performed, reportedly with little success, by Mamie Gilroy in a minstrel comedy in 1891. Sayers then sent the song to the popular English vaudeville singer Lottie Collins, who later described her connection with the song:

“It has been a popular volkslied, or song of the people, in Europe for years. I did not get it from the Continent, however; it was sent to me from America. I liked the air of the refrain and I thought I would have the thing written up in my own style. . . I gave it to Mr. Richard Morton, who wrote the words, while Mr. [Angelo A.] Asher of the Tivoli put the music into shape. . . I sang it for the first time at a Tivoli matinée a few weeks before Christmas [1891].”

“An Interview with Miss Lottie Collins,” The Pall Mall Gazette, 12 March 1892

So popular did the song become, in a very short time, that the interview with Miss Collins began with the following editorial comments:

“Tara-ra Boom-de-ay! Tara-ra Boom-de-ay! Tara-ra Boom-de-ay! Tara-ra Boom-de-ay!” There is no escaping from it; it is as universally prevalent as an east wind in March. In every part of London, and at every hour of the day and night, the words quoted and the air to which they have been wedded are an obvious and occasionally a painful fact.

“An Interview with Miss Lottie Collins,” op cit

The following words are as quoted in the interview; there have been numerous variants.

A smart and stylish girl you see,
Belle of good society:
Not too strict, but rather free,
Yet as right as right can be!
Never forward, never bold—
Not too hot, and not too cold,
But the very thing, I’m told,
That in your arms you’d like to hold!


Ta-ra-ra Boom-de-ay! (sung 8 times)

NB: According to the Handbook, “this rousing music-hall song was written by Metz in 1891”: as evidenced above, this was not the case.

return to text

made the Great Change

Mme. Blavatsky, founder of Theosophy (see under vision, above), wrote of “the moment of the great change that man calls death” in “Memory in the Dying” (1889). [NM]

return to text

Chapter 18 (pp. 189–196)

high priest

Aside from such dignitaries as golf professionals, Wodehouse generally reserves the comparison to a high priest for his most skilled servitors: [NM]

[John Barton] had suffered terribly under the butler’s dignified gaze, until one morning the latter, with the air of a high priest conferring with an underling on some point of ritual, had asked him whether, in his opinion, he would be doing rightly in putting his shirt on Mumblin’ Mose in a forthcoming handicap…

Possibly the same Keggs (see Keggs, above), possibly another, at the Keiths’ in “Love Me, Love My Dog” (1910)

The Butler (with the air of a high priest who condescends for once to unbend and frolic with lesser mortals). Ah, it’ll be your turn next, Miss Jane.

Love Among the Chickens (US book, 1909, Epilogue: In the Servants’ Hall)

“You should see the way Vosper stood behind the Duke’s chair. Like a high priest presiding over some mystic religious ceremony.”

“High Stakes” (1925; in The Heart of a Goof, 1926)

[McAllister] was standing gazing at the moss like a high priest of some ancient religion about to stick the gaff into the human sacrifice.

“Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend” (1928; collected in Blandings Castle and Elsewhere, 1935)

Beach was a man who invested all his actions with something of the impressiveness of a high priest conducting an intricate service at some romantic altar.

“The Crime Wave at Blandings” (1936)

[Jeeves] might have been … the youngish High Priest of some refined and dignified religion.

Ring for Jeeves (1953), ch. 4

return to text


The imperative use of shoot as a command to proceed with speaking is first noted in the OED as a US colloquialism, recorded in 1915 in Dialect Notes as college slang. Once again Wodehouse proves that he pays attention to American turns of phrase not yet common in Britain. [NM]

return to text

knowledge of form

In horse racing, “form” is a short way of referring to fitness for running, condition, style, and speed. Thus one who has knowledge of form is equipped to assess the relative chances of the competitors. [NM]

“Why, dash it, Jeeves, nobody has a greater respect for your knowledge of form than I have, but I’m hanged if I can see Harold catching the judge’s eye.”

“The Purity of the Turf” (1922)

return to text

trysting-place (p. 194)

To “tryst” (originally, and still chiefly, Scottish) was “to make an agreement to do something, with a person; especially to fix or arrange time and place of meeting with some one” (OED), from which a “trysting place” was the place arranged for the meeting. Although now chiefly used in a romantic context, it can refer to any pre-arranged meeting-place.

return to text

Depression fell from him like a garment (p. 195)

See above (p. 54).

return to text

Chapter 19 (pp. 197–205)

upon the leaky roof (p. 197)

UK book editions mostly retain the misprint “leafy” found in the original Herbert Jenkins edition here, despite the clear indication in ch. 18 that “an intermittent dripping betrayed the presence of a gap in its ancient roof.” US editions correctly read “leaky” here, and we have adopted that reading in our transcription. [Thanks to Diego Seguí for suggesting this note.]

return to text

Somewhere in the distance a dog howled dismally

Reminiscent of Mr. Pickering’s uncertain wait in an earlier book: [NM]

Away in the distance a dog began to howl.

Uneasy Money (1916), ch. xvii

return to text

I haven’t the slightest intention of apologizing

George seems to hold the opinion stated in Wodehouse’s narration in an earlier story: [NM]

It is a good rule in life never to apologize. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them.

“The Man Upstairs” (1910; in The Man Upstairs and Other Stories, 1914)

return to text

tinker in the play (p. 199)

In the Induction of The Taming of the Shrew, the tinker Christopher Sly is deluded into believing that he is a king.

Sirs, I will practise on this drunken man.
What think you, if he were convey’d to bed,
Wrapp’d in sweet clothes, rings put upon his fingers,
A most delicious banquet by his bed,
And brave attendants near him when he wakes,
Would not the beggar then forget himself?

Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Induction, sc 1 (1590–94)

return to text

“If it isn’t criminal. Or, for that matter, if it is.”

Reminiscent of Psmith’s advertisement: [NM]


Leave It to Psmith (1923), ch. iv

return to text

Chapter 20 (pp. 206–215)

finished his toilet

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

Stop your tickling, Jock (p. 207)

“Stop Yer Tickling, Jock” (1905) was a song popularised by the Scottish entertainer Harry Lauder, who composed the music and co-wrote the words with Frank Folloy, an Irish comedian. In 1907 the Gaumont Company produced a short film, directed by Arthur Gilbert, of Lauder singing this song.

Will you stop yer tickling, Jock!
Oh! stop yer tickling, Jock!
Dinna mak’ me laugh so hairty or you’ll mak’ me choke.
Oh! I wish you’d stop yer nonsense,
Just look at all the folk.
Will you stop yer tic-kle-ing, tickle, ickle, ickleing
Stop yer tickling Jock! Will you Jock!

[A recording of Lauder’s performance is at YouTube. —NM]

return to text

God this morning was in His heaven (p. 207)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

A sorrow’s crown of sorrow (p. 207)

See Something Fresh.

return to text

a Fool’s Paradise (p. 207)

Now, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about me quivers.
Scurvy knave! Pray you, sir, a word: and as I told you, my young
lady bid me enquire you out; what she bid me say, I will keep to
myself. But first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her in a fool’s
paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behaviour, as they
say; for the gentlewoman is young; and therefore, if you should deal
double with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered to any
gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.

Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, Act II, sc 3 (1591–5)

return to text

borne a weight of care (p. 207–8)

Of all the goddesses, did Jove prepare
For Thetis only such a weight of care?

Alexander Pope, “The Iliad of Homer,” Book xviii (1715–20)

. . . great was the delight of his friends when they saw him enter as a man from whose bosom, to all human seeming, a weight of care had been just removed.

Sir Walter Scott, Kenilworth, ch. 37 (1821)

. . . he bowed his head upon his hands like a man borne down below a weight of care.

Robert Louis Stevenson, The Black Arrow, ch. 4 (1888)

return to text

“I feel like a two-year-old!”

See Carry On, Jeeves.

return to text

taking it by and large

See above. UK original edition and some reprints have the misprint “big and large” here; our transcription follows US magazine serial and US first edition book. [NM]

return to text

leap off the dock (p. 208)

See Love Among the Chickens.

The suggestion that this phrase may be connected with dock-side executions is given some support by the reference, a page later, to “the execution-squad.”

return to text

form a flying wedge and bust up the proceedings (p. 209)

Originally, the “flying wedge” was a tactic employed by American football teams during the early development of the game; in it, the ball-carrier was surrounded by a wedge of his team-mates, who sometimes clasped hands. The tactic was so dangerous that it was outlawed in 1894.

The phrase is now used to describe similar formations employed, for example, by the police when attempting to break up crowds of demonstrators.

See also Money in the Bank.

return to text

one of those hollow, mirthless laughs

See The Mating Season.

[There are many of “those” in Wodehouse, listed below, as well as many other “mirthless” or “mirthlessly” references without “hollow.” —NM]

Stifling a mad inclination to call out “Boundary!” or something to that effect, he laughed a hollow, mirthless laugh, and replaced the errant fowl.

“The Babe and the Dragon” (1902; in Tales of St. Austin’s, 1903)

“Don’t try to work off the hollow, mirthless laugh dodge on me,” I said, “because it won’t do. You’re a blackguard, and you know it.”

Not George Washington (1907)

Mr. Blake laughed one of those hollow, mirthless laughs.

“Washy Makes His Presence Felt” (1920; in Indiscretions of Archie, 1921)

“Ah, you wouldn’t speak in that light, careless tone if you knew what was in it,” I said with a hollow, mirthless laugh. “The curse has come upon us, Jeeves.”

“Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer” (1922; in The Inimitable Jeeves as chs. 3–4)

Then he uttered a hollow, mirthless laugh—a dreadful sound like the last gargle of a dying moose.

Ukridge, in “Ukridge’s Accident Syndicate” (1923)

[Eve] assumed that the odd sound which greeted her remark was a hollow, mirthless laugh.

Leave It to Psmith (1923), ch. X

Bill Oakshott laughed one of those hollow, mirthless laughs.

Uncle Dynamite, ch. 6.2 (1948)

I laughed. One of those hollow, mirthless ones.

The Mating Season, ch. 4 (1949)

Joe laughed one of those hollow, mirthless laughs.

The Old Reliable, ch. 3 (1951)

Bill, who had risen some six inches into the air, diagnosed it correctly as a hollow, mirthless laugh.

Ring for Jeeves/The Return of Jeeves, ch. 8 (1953/54)

I laughed a hollow, mirthless laugh.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, ch. 14 (1954)

What sounded like the bursting of a paper bag competed with the din of the Festival. It was Jo laughing a hollow, mirthless laugh.

French Leave, ch. 4.4 (1956)

Freddie laughed a hollow, mirthless laugh.

“Oofy, Freddie and the Beef Trust” (in A Few Quick Ones, 1959)

I laughed one of those hollow, mirthless ones.

Much Obliged, Jeeves, ch. 15 (1971)

In response to Monty’s courteous hope that he had enjoyed his lunch he uttered the sort of laugh sometimes described as hollow, sometimes as mirthless.

Pearls, Girls and Monty Bodkin, ch. 6.2 (1972)

Joe laughed one of those hollow, mirthless ones.

Bachelors Anonymous, ch. 14 (1973)

And a similarly-described noise of another kind:

Bingo uttered one of those hollow, mirthless yelps.

“Bingo and the Little Woman” (1922; in The Inimitable Jeeves as chs. 17–18)

Even a noise made by Wodehouse himself:

As you were passing 62nd Street the first week in November—the week before “Miss 1917” opened at the Century Theatre, did you hear a kind of hollow, rasping sound? That was me, laughing a mirthless laugh up in the Cocoanut Grove at the Century, where we were going through the concluding spasms of the rehearsals of “Miss 1917.”

“Writing the Show at the Century” (1917)

return to text


See The Inimitable Jeeves.

return to text

a hummer (p. 210)

From the late 17th century, “hummer” was a colloquial term for “a person or thing characterized by extreme activity, energy, etc” (OED). From the early 20th century, it also described “a person or thing of extraordinary excellence.” The earliest citation in the OED for this second usage dates from 1908; this occurrence in A Damsel in Distress is the next.

[Of course this has no relation to the late 20th- and early 21st-century Hummer vehicles, a line of trucks and sport-utility vehicles which began as civilian adaptations of the US military Humvee. —NM]

return to text

a scheme for laying the jolly old family a stymie (p. 210)

A metaphor derived from golf, meaning a scheme for frustrating the family’s wishes.

return to text

after a certain hour (p. 211)

Until 1886, it was a felony to solemnise a marriage outside the hours from 8 am to 12 noon, except by Special Licence. The Marriage Act 1886 extended the period until 3 pm, and it was further extended in 1936 until 6 pm. This last restriction was abolished in 2012.

In Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (1874), Sergeant Troy and Fanny Robins are to be married at 11.30 am, but Fanny mistakenly goes to the wrong church; the Sergeant is left waiting at the church until the clock strikes 12 noon, when, the time for weddings having expired, the clergyman and his clerk both leave.

“ ‘The Church of St. Monica,’ said I, ‘and half a sovereign if you reach it in twenty minutes.’ It was twenty-five minutes to twelve, and of course it was clear enough what was in the wind.”

“ ‘Come, man, come, only three minutes, or it won’t be legal.’ ”

Sherlock Holmes recounting Irene Adler’s wedding to Godfrey Norton, in “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Arthur Conan Doyle [published 1891, but internally dated 1888—so Doyle may not have realized the effect of the Marriage Act 1886. —NM]

return to text

gives you the miss-in-baulk (p. 211)

See Love Among the Chickens.

return to text

sound in wind and limb

The phrase is found in specifications of horses fit for military service, e.g. “sound in wind and limb and free from all blemishes.” (Duguid, Official History of the Canadian Forces in the Great War 1914–1919). It was used as a newspaper headline for a short report of a YMCA track meet (New York Times, October 21, 1888, p. 2), so could be applied, possibly humorously, to human athletes as well. [NM]

When I did, he appeared sound in wind and limb, and reported that married life was all to the velvet, and that he regarded bachelors like myself as so many excrescences on the social system.

Reggie Pepper, of Archie, in “Concealed Art” (1915)

“You’re an excellent chap, sound in wind and limb, and didn’t you once tell me that, if you married, you came into a pretty sizeable bit of money?”

Ukridge to Garnet in Love Among the Chickens, ch. xviii (1921 revision)

return to text

one of the mugs

See Heavy Weather.

return to text

the Man who Knows! (p. 211)

 “Do you know that gentleman,” asked Frank.
 The constable smiled.
 “O, yes, sir; that is Mr. Mann. At the Yard we call him ‘The Man Who Knows!’ ”

Edgar Wallace, The Man Who Knew, ch. 3 (1918)

return to text

when I was a bachelor (p. 211)

Reggie still is a bachelor. While slightly anticipating the wedded state, he seems to be distinguishing his present situation, as a soon-to-be-married man, with the days before he gave up the habits of a bachelor.

return to text

filling the radiator (p. 212)

That is, drinking. Reggie, who is as enthusiastic about motoring as about golf, regularly employs metaphors derived from those two activities.

As well as “filling the radiator,” in this one paragraph Reggie employs four other expressions to describe his drunken state—pickled; submerged; below the surface; woozled—and adds another two a few paragraphs later—up to the gills; oiled.

[The OED cites this paragraph under colloquial uses of pickled for “drunk,” among citations going back to 1842, including the George Ade quote under polluted above; their entry under submerged doesn’t include any usage for drunkenness. Wodehouse’s 1948 Spring Fever is cited under oiled for drunk, with a history back to 1701 for that sense. “Woozled” doesn’t appear in the OED at all. —NM]

However woozled he might be, it was impossible to detect it with the naked eye.

“Dear Old Squiffy” (1920; in Indiscretions of Archie, 1921, as chs. 7–8)

return to text

the dry States of America (p. 212)

“Dry” refers to the legal ban on the manufacture, importation, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors; even before the ban became national, the temperance movement had prevailed in individual states and localities. At the time this story was written, almost half the states of the USA were “dry” and others allowed local bans in counties. A national ban was ratified by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution, and given legal effect through the Volstead Act, passed by Congress on October 18, 1919, after this story was published. “Prohibition” came into effect in January 1920 and lasted, in law, until December 1933, when the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment. Some states remained “dry” long after the 21st Amendment took effect: Mississippi, the last to do so, remained “dry” until 1966. [updated by NM]

return to text

your twin brother (p. 212)

Compare the structure of this passage with the following, from “The Salvation of George Mackintosh” (The Clicking of Cuthbert):

 “I tell you, I played on them as on a stringed instrument. . .”
 “Can you play on a stringed instrument?"
 “As it happens, no. But as I would have played on a stringed instrument if I could play on a stringed instrument.”

return to text

pluck brands from the burning (p. 213)

The phrase “a brand plucked from the burning” is particularly associated with the Methodist theologian John Wesley who, in 1709, aged six, was saved from a fire at Epworth Rectory, Lincolnshire, his family’s home, and thereafter frequently referred to himself in such a fashion. In an entry in his Journal for 26 November 1753, he described how he sat down and wrote his own epitaph, which included the epithet “A Brand Plucked Out of the Burning.” The phrase carries strong echoes of two Biblical passages:

And the Lord said unto Satan, The Lord rebuke thee, O Satan; even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire?

Zechariah, iii, 2

I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the Lord.

Amos, iv, 11

return to text

the good seed was definitely sown (p. 213)

This is presumably a reference to the Biblical parable of the sower:

A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.

And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit a hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Luke, viii, 5–8

The parable is also related in Mark iv 3–9 and Matthew xiii 3–9.

return to text


See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

The Yeoman’s Wedding Song (p. 195)

“The Yeoman’s Wedding Song” dates from early 1871: The Manchester Times for 11 February 1871, reviewing a concert three days earlier, described it as “a new song,” while The Era for 2 July 1871 described it as “decidedly the most attractive baritone song published this year.” The music was composed by the Polish-born operatic tenor and composer, Prince Josef Poniatowski; the words were by Maria Ximena Hayes.

Ding dong ding dong ding dong, I love the song,
For it is my wedding morning,
And the bride so gay in fine array,
For the day will be now adorning.


Ding dong, ding dong, we’ll gallop along
All fears and doubting scorning,
Through the valley we’ll haste, for we’ve no time to waste,
As this is my wedding morning.

The song is also mentioned in Jeeves in the Offing (ch. 1) and Much Obliged, Jeeves (ch. 10).

[And in The Luck of the Bodkins (ch. 15) and The Mating Season (ch. 2). —NM]

return to text

bring some rice (p. 215)

This refers to the long-established custom of throwing rice over a newly-wed couple. The custom is said to be related to similar practices among the ancient Romans and Egyptians and is explained as symbolising fertility.

return to text

Chapter 21 (pp. 216–231)

the Regent Grill-Room (p. 216)

See Ukridge.

return to text

the Wedding Glide (p. 217)

“The Wedding Glide,” with words and music by Louis A. Hirsch, was performed by Shirley Kellogg in “The Passing Show of 1912,” which opened at the Winter Garden Theatre, New York, on 22 July 1912, and in “Hullo, Ragtime!,” which opened at the London Hippodrome on 23 December that year.

Come on, we’re goin’ to have a little raggy wedding
Come on, come down where all the classy folks are heading;
I’ve got the preacher and here’s the ring,
I’ve got the girl, I’ve got everything,
And there’s a band to play a wedding rag.
. . .


Oh! hear the band a-playing the wedding glide
Oh! honey come to my side
. . .

The song is also mentioned in Thank You, Jeeves (ch. 1), Uneasy Money (ch. 9), “Doing Clarence a Bit of Good” (1913; in My Man Jeeves, 1919), and Summer Lightning (ch. 12.3).

return to text

coronas (p. 217)

A Corona is a brand of Havana cigar (from the Spanish proprietary name La Corona—the Crown). The term “corona” is also used in the modern classification of cigars, when it describes a straight-shaped cigar with rounded top, about 5½ inches long.

[US magazine and book editions omit this reference, merely saying: “Join our simple meal, and we will discuss many things.” This was long before the US embargo on Cuban cigars, instituted in 1962, so the omission is puzzling, especially since the “Over the cigars” sentence a couple of pages later is present in all versions. —NM]

return to text

discuss many things (p. 217)

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:”

Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and The Carpenter,” in Through the Looking-Glass (1872)

return to text

stout bottle

Referring to the heavy glass bottle which contains the gas pressure of champagne, of course. Not to be misread as a bottle of stout, the dark strong beer of which Guinness is a well-known brand. [NM]

return to text

Maddest, merriest day (p. 217)

You must wake and call me early, call me early, mother dear;
To-morrow’ll be the happiest time of all the glad New-year;
Of all the glad New-year, mother, the maddest merriest day,
For I’m to be Queen o’ the May, mother, I’m to be Queen o’ the May.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “The May Queen” (1833)

He took the hilt of his ashplant, lunging with it softly, dallying still. Yes, evening will find itself in me, without me. All days make their end By the way next when is it Tuesday will be the longest day. Of all the glad new year, mother, the rum tum tiddledy tum. Lawn Tennyson, gentleman poet.

James Joyce, Ulysses, ch. 3 (“Proteus”) (1922)

This is a phrase that recurs throughout the canon, e.g., Mike (1907/09), ch. xxii; A Gentleman of Leisure/The Intrusion of Jimmy (1910), ch. xxviii; Psmith, Journalist (1910/15), ch. xxiv; “Doing Clarence a Bit of Good” (1913; in My Man Jeeves, 1919); “Brother Fans” (1914, as “One Touch of Nature” in The Man with Two Left Feet); Indiscretions of Archie (1920/21); Ukridge; Sam the Sudden; Laughing Gas; Full Moon; Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit; Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves; and memorably as the source of the name of the mixed beverage known for short as May Queen in Uncle Fred in the Springtime.

return to text

breaking the news to mother

An echo of a sentimental American ballad; see Lord Emsworth and Others.

return to text

scribbling industriously

Both US and UK first editions read “industrially” here, but our transcription follows the US magazine serialization, which seems a better reading. [NM]

return to text

doubloons . . . pieces of eight (p. 218)

The doubloon (from Spanish doblón—double) was a gold coin that was first minted in Spain and its American colonies in the late 15th century, during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella; the last Spanish doubloons (with a value of 80 reales) were minted in 1849. The doubloon ceased to be legal tender in 1869, when it was replaced by the peseta.

The piece of eight (Spanish: real del ocho), also the Spanish dollar, was a silver coin, so called because it was worth eight reales; it was first minted around the same time as the doubloon.

Doubloons and pieces of eight are popularly associated with pirates and the Spanish Main, thanks largely to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island (1883), which featured a pirate, Long John Silver, whose parrot was wont to cry “Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight! Pieces of eight!”; see also above.

return to text

the frightful weight of the mater

This is the reading of UK book and US magazine serial; US book has “matter” here, which is a plausible alternate reading. [NM]

return to text

Time the Great Healer

See the notes for Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

Nice and Bordighera and Mentone (p. 220)

Nice, Mentone and Monte Carlo are towns on the Mediterranean coast of France; Bordighera lies just over the border in Italy.

Monte Carlo, which is actually in the independent principality of Monaco, is particularly noted for its casino (hence Alice’s firm “No!”).

Before it become urbanised, Nice was famed for its coastal panoramas and was a popular wintering resort, especially among the wealthier class of English visitor.

Menton (Mentone is its Italian name) lies close to the Italian border; it is popularly known as la perle de la France (“the pearl of France”) and is famous for its gardens.

Bordighera was another popular winter resort for English visitors and is noted for its beautiful coastal scenery.

return to text

“My sainted aunt!”

See The Mating Season.

return to text

He’s gassing away sixteen to the dozen to a frightfully pretty girl with gold hair.

Gas in its colloquial noun sense of “empty talk; ‘hot air’ ” is cited as early as 1793 in the OED; gassing in its verb sense of talking idly or at length, from the 1840s in the USA.

Sixteen to the dozen originally referred to a merchant’s offer of a quantity discount: sixteen for the price of twelve, but colloquially took on the sense of “more than is asked for or needed”; the first Google Books example of talking that way is in this 1903 American story.

The UK first edition has the typo “rightfully” for “frightfully” here. [NM]

return to text

you’re on to him

The colloquial sense of the phrase on to meaning “aware of; knowing the facts about” is cited in the OED from American sources in 1877 and 1880; Wodehouse’s use of it in “Jeeves and the Chump Cyril” (1918; in The Inimitable Jeeves, 1923, as chs. 9–10) is also cited by the OED:

I knew there wasn’t a chance of my being able to work this stage wheeze in London without somebody getting on to it and tipping off the guv’nor…

US book of A Damsel in Distress has the single-word form of the preposition: “you’re onto him” at this point. [NM]

return to text

whisk-broom (p. 223)

A whisk broom is a light broom, consisting of a bundle of bristles, twigs, feathers, or hair, bound to a handle. The more usual expression is “knocked me down with a feather,” but the meaning is the same: that one is too shocked to resist even the lightest blow.

return to text

Henry W. Methuselah (p. 223)

Methuselah, son of Enoch, is said to have lived to be 969 years old; the Bible makes no mention of his forenames.

And Enoch lived sixty and five years, and begat Methuselah:

And Enoch walked with God after he begat Methuselah three hundred years, and begat sons and daughters:

And all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty and five years:

And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

And Methuselah lived an hundred eighty and seven years, and begat Lamech.

And Methuselah lived after he begat Lamech seven hundred eighty and two years, and begat sons and daughters:

And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died.

Genesis, v, 21–27

[Wodehouse uses the American style of a full first name together with a middle initial, sometimes fictitious, as a marker for American speech. The jocular oath “Jesus H. Christ” is the best-known example of this pattern (but not in Wodehouse!). See “Sherlock P. Holmes” in “The Prodigal” and “Emerson K. Washington” and “Sadie Q. Van Pott” in “The Happy Marriage” for other PGW examples. A fuller list is in the Money for Nothing notes. —NM]

return to text

juveniles in the shows I’ve been in

In theatrical terms, the “juvenile” is an actor who plays youthful parts, often the male half of the second or comic romantic couple. Many stories are told about aging actors whose vanity compels them to continue playing young parts with the assistance of wigs, corsets, and makeup long past their sell-by date for such roles. Jerome K. Jerome tells one such story in his memoir On the Stage—and Off (1885). [NM]

return to text

Willard Filmore (p. 225)

Billie is probably thinking of Millard Fillmore (1800–74), who served as Vice-President of the United States from 4 March 1849 until 9 July 1850, when he became the thirteenth president of the United States following the sudden death of President Zachary Taylor. Fillmore served out the remainder of Taylor’s term, until March 1853, but failed to gain nomination as a candidate in the presidential election in 1852 and again in 1856. The state of California was admitted to the Union during Fillmore’s presidency.

return to text

gets discouraged and quits cold

The earliest OED citation for quit cold meaning to stop abruptly is from George Ade in 1896. UK first edition has the typo “quite cold” here; our transcription follows US magazine and book. [NM]

return to text

great-great-great grandmother (p. 225)

Elizabeth I was Queen of England from 1533 to 1603. Assuming an average generation gap of around 30 years, Billie’s ancestor would need another five or six “greats” to have been born in time to help Elizabeth with the rent.

return to text

spirit of ’76 (p. 225)

The spirit which drove the American Declaration of Independence of 1776:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, In Congress, 4 July 1776

return to text

I.W.W. stuff . . . Bolsheviki (p. 225)

The Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) was founded in Chicago in June 1905; despite its grand name, it originally drew its members only from the United States. Those attending the inaugural convention were a mix of socialists, anarchists, and radical trade unionists, mainly from the Western Federation of Miners, who were opposed to the policies of the American Federation of Labor. The I.W.W. was strongly opposed to American involvement in World War I, which it viewed as a struggle between capitalist factions, and it became a target for government action, over one hundred of its members being imprisoned for anti-war activities.

The Bolsheviki (or Bolsheviks) were one of the two factions into which the Russian Social-Democratic Party split at the Second Party Congress in 1903. Unlike the smaller, Menshevik, faction, which favoured a gradual move to socialism through bourgeois democracy, the Bolsheviks were a tightly-organised, disciplined group of revolutionaries. Led by Lenin, the Bolsheviks seized power in Russia during the October Revolution of 1917, and ultimately became the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

The stout girl would hear no defence. She said it was Bolsheviki like George who caused half the trouble in the world.

“The Spring Suit,” The Saturday Evening Post, 12 July 1919

See also Love Among the Chickens.

return to text

Rockefeller . . . Carnegie (p. 228)

For Rockefeller, see Something Fresh.

Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) was a Scottish-born industrialist, businessman and philanthropist. He founded the Carnegie Steel Company in Pittsburgh and built it up into such a major enterprise that by the time he sold it, for US$250 million, in 1901, it controlled a quarter of the US steel market. After his retirement, Carnegie turned to philanthropy; he donated over US$350 million to good causes during his lifetime—especially the endowment of over 3,000 public libraries—and left charitable bequests of over US$30 million in his will.

return to text

Noah . . . before the Flood (p. 228)

The Biblical story of Noah and the Flood is recounted in chapters 6–8 of the book of Genesis.

return to text

one of the whitest men (p. 229)

Whitest: (slang or colloquially) Honourable; square-dealing. (originally US) (OED) No reference to skin color is intended; the reference is to purity of soul.

 “. . . The quixotic thing is the first that it occurs to you to do, because you’re like that, because you’re the straightest, whitest man I’ve ever known or shall know. . .”

Uneasy Money, ch. 22

“Your name … will be mud if you pass up an excellent bet like good old Horace Davenport—the whitest man I know—simply because his great love made him want to keep an eye on you during Drones Club weekend.”

Uncle Fred in the Springtime, ch. 1

 “Well, well. An impulsive girl would be touched by a thing like that. Yes, indeed. ‘The whitest man I know,’ one can hear her saying. I believe, if you played your cards right, you could still marry her, Pongo.”

Uncle Dynamite, ch. 2

 “Tell me all about waffles.”
 “I won’t tell you all about waffles. I’m telling you about Mr. Cardinal. The whitest man I know.”
 “Do you know many white men?”

Spring Fever, ch. 17

Also in Money in the Bank.

return to text

dizzy blonde

In the sense of “giddy, morally unstable,” the OED has citations for dizzy going back to the sixteenth century; an 1888 Texas paper is quoted for “professional beauties or maidens, commonly called dizzy blondes.” [NM]

return to text

“Damn the family!”

 Bruce Carmyle’s patience snapped, and he sank like a stone to absolutely Gingerian depths of plain-spokenness.
 “Oh, damn the Family!” he cried.

The Adventures of Sally/Mostly Sally (1922)

return to text

glitter in the fighting-top (p. 231)

In the days of sailing ships, the top was originally a form of crow’s-nest which housed a lookout. In sailing warships, marine sharpshooters were stationed in the tops during fights at close quarters: ironically, while Nelson disliked the practice, and never stationed musketeers in the fighting tops, he was killed by a musket ball fired from just such a position on the French warship Redoubtable.

Billie is using the term metaphorically to describe her hair, her meaning being that she is a natural blonde.

return to text

a regular little tow-head

Having hair of a pale color; see tow-coloured in the notes for Sam the Sudden. [NM]

return to text

“Boys will be boys” (p. 231)

According to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, this derives from a Latin proverb, first recorded in English in 1589 as “children [boys] are children [boys] and do childish things,” but it cites no source. While the Handbook gives no source for the statement that it is a 17th century English proverb, the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs does cite a variant from early in that century:

Oh! Sir, you must bear with youth: youth you know is frail; and youth will be youthful, when you have said all that you can.

Arthur Dent, “Whoredom and Adultery,” in The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven (1601)

In the form “boys will be boys,” the earliest occurrence cited in the OED dates from 1848:

And as for the pink bonnets (here from under the heavy eyebrows there came a knowing and not very pleasing leer)—why boys will be boys.

William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, ch. 13 (1848)

Wodehouse uses the phrase several times; the example from Frozen Assets is cited in the OED.

He would have notified the police, and considered that all that remained for him personally to do was to stay in his room at night with his revolver. But boys will be boys.

Uneasy Money, ch. 17

“You done a murder?” enquired the voice of the proprietor, mildly interested, filtering through a wall of cloth. “Well, boys will be boys!” he said, philosophically.

Indiscretions of Archie, ch. 15

I tried to tell him that boys will be boys and you’re only young once.

Frozen Assets, ch. 3

Diego Seguí found sources in German and Dutch that quote medieval Latin hexameters such as Sunt pueri pueri; pueri puerilia tractant (“boys are boys and do childish things”), or Sunt pueri pueri vivunt pueriliter illi (“live childishly”); the influence of I Corinthians 13:11 (“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child”) is evident. In English, he found proverbs from 1621 and 1672 (see item C337).

Diego also suggests comparing these Wodehouse variations:

“Cats Will Be Cats”

story title in Mulliner Nights (1933)

Girls will be girls.

“The Rough Stuff” (1920)
Uncle Dynamite (1948), ch. 14, §4
Jeeves in the Offing/How Right You Are, Jeeves (1960), ch. 10
Much Obliged, Jeeves/Jeeves and the Tie that Binds (1971), ch. 5

“Girls,” argued Roland, “will be girls.”
“Not while I’m sitting at Bosher Street police-court, they won’t,” said his uncle, with decision.

“Something Squishy” (1924)

Girls will be girls, Frederick Mullett seemed to say, but how few girls could be as clever as his little wife.

The Small Bachelor (1926/27), ch.16, §5

“Oh, well, girls will be girls. Forget it, Tuppy.”

Right Ho, Jeeves (1934), ch. 8

Personally, for the animal niffed to heaven, I would have preferred to use my cambric handkerchief, but girls will be girls.

The Mating Season (1949), ch. 3

I weighed the idea of saying something to the effect that girls would be girls and must be expected to have their simple enthusiasms, but decided better not.

Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954), ch. 4

However, one of the first lessons life teaches us is that aunts will be aunts, so I merely shrugged a couple of shoulders.

Jeeves in the Offing/How Right You Are, Jeeves (1960), ch. 1

I felt a natural resentment at being considered capable of falling under the influence of the sauce at ten in the morning, but I reminded myself that aunts will be aunts.

Much Obliged, Jeeves/Jeeves and the Tie that Binds (1971), ch. 2

return to text

Chapter 22 (pp. 232–241)

Five shillings what you might have spent on some good book

Keggs is perhaps not aware of postwar price rises; the original UK edition of A Damsel in Distress was priced at six shillings in 1919. [NM]

return to text

like a grampus (p. 233)

“Grampus” is the popular name for various whales noted for spouting and blowing and, by transference, describes “a person given to puffing and blowing” OED.

 “. . . and the boy breathes so very hard while he’s eating, that we found it impossible to sit at table with him.”
 “Young grampus!” said Mr. Weller.

Charles Dickens, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club, ch. 25 (1836–7)

return to text

’ock or sherry

See below, ch. 23.

return to text

the butler’s moon-like face

Another such butler: [NM]

…it was with the expectation of watching a similar parade [of emotions] on the moon-like countenance of Ferris, the butler, that [Mrs. Waddington] pressed the bell outside the door of the apartment of Mr. Lancelot Biffen…

The Small Bachelor (spelled “moonlike” in 1926 serial; “moon-like” in 1927 book), ch. 17

return to text

go and eat coke (p. 235)

This seems to have been a common exhortation of dismissal in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, akin to the modern “get lost!” (and worse!):

 “. . . If that’s the Newcastle Nobbler’s ‘theory’ of fair-play, ’e may jest go ’ome and eat coke!"

“Below the Belt,” Punch, 7 November 1891, p 227

 Only a short time before, he had written rudely to the same person in answer to a demand for surrender, telling the Riff leader in Arabic vernacular to go and eat coke;

“Captured,” Time Magazine, 16 February 1925

 “Go chase yourself” may be understood in England but it will be more significant if the exhortation takes the form “Go and eat coke” or “Go and fry your face.”

Claude de Crespigny, “American and English,” American Speech, vol 1 no 9 (June 1926), pp 490–4

In Frank Richards’s Greyfriars School stories, which began appearing in the boys’ weekly magazine The Magnet in February 1908, Harry Wharton, the Head of the Remove, frequently tells Billy Bunter to “Go and eat coke!”

I can trace no connection with “coke,” the drink or drug, or with the phrase usually attributed to Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake.”

[In this sense, coke is a byproduct of coal after its volatile components have been extracted by heating for use as “town gas” (a manufactured alternative to natural gas for heating, cooking, etc.); coke is a hard, gray rocky substance, mostly carbon in content, used as a fuel, especially for its nearly smokeless combustion. The OED cites J. S. Farmer’s 1891 Slang and Its Analogues for a definition of “go and eat coke” as a vulgar phrase of contempt. —NM]

return to text

prosecuting attorney

Wodehouse seems to be showing the effects of his residence in the USA; this is principally an American term for what in the UK would be prosecuting counsel, or counsel for the Crown, to the best of my knowledge. [NM]

return to text

Kempton Park or some other race-course (p. 236–7)

Kempton Park is a horse-racing course at Sunbury-on-Thames, to the south-west of London. It takes its name from Kempton Manor, on the site of which the racecourse was constructed. Kempton Park opened in 1878. Its most famous race is the King George VI Chase, which is held every Boxing Day.

return to text

opposition in matters of the ’eart is useless

Compare “The Good Angel” (or its American counterpart “The Matrimonial Sweepstakes”) in which a butler named Keggs opines:

With certain types of ’igh-spirited young lady hopposition is useless.

The extended passage has many points in common with the present discussion, and together with the matrimonial sweepstakes run by Keggs in both, the suggestion that the two butlers may be the same man is further strengthened. [NM]

return to text

Lord Worlingham (p. 238)

Worlingham Hall lies just to the east of Beccles in Suffolk. Wodehouse frequently named his characters after place-names in districts with which he was familiar, but in this case he seems to have been unaware that there was a real Lord Worlingham. The second Earl of Gosford (1776–1849), whose title had been created in the Peerage of Ireland, married Mary, daughter of Robert Sparrow of Worlingham Hall, in 1805 and, through her, became the owner of Worlingham Hall on her father’s death; when, in 1835, Gosford was created a peer of the United Kingdom, he took the title Baron Worlingham, of Beccles in the County of Suffolk. This remains one of the subsidiary titles of the Earls of Gosford (the present Earl is the 7th) and Lord Worlingham is customarily used as a courtesy title by the Earl’s eldest son.

return to text

Honourable Aubrey Pershore (p. 238)

The title signifies that he is either a son of a viscount or baron, or a younger son of an earl.

In “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest” (My Man Jeeves and Carry On, Jeeves), the “unbidden guest” is Lord Pershore (Wilmot, or “Motty”), the son of Lady Malvern.

Though no relationship is implied, it is a possibility, if we assume that Lady Malvern is the wife of the Earl of Malvern (albeit the Earl is conspicuously absent). If the family name is Pershore, that would explain Aubrey’s honorific title. Also, while Motty’s title, Lord Pershore, could be one of the Earl’s subsidiary titles (Viscount or Baron), it is customary, in the absence of a substantive subsidiary title, for an eldest son to use an invented courtesy title of the form “Lord Surname.”

Pershore is a small town in Worcestershire, a few miles due east of Malvern.

return to text

Earl of Ackleton (p. 238)

The village of Ackleton, in Shropshire, lies less than a mile east of Stableford, where Wodehouse’s parents lived from 1895–1902. The school in The Head of Kay’s is called Eckleton.

return to text

Lady Catherine Duseby (p. 238–9)

There is no place in the UK called Duseby. There is, however, a Dowsby in Lincolnshire, which appears in Domesday Book as Dusebi and in later mediaeval documents as Duseby:

Dowsby, a parish in Bourn district, Lincoln, 3½ miles SE by S of Folkingham, and 6 NNE of Bourn railway station. Post town, Rippingale, under Bourn. Acres, 1,809. Real property, £3,618. Pop 195. Houses 38. The property is divided among nine. The living is a rectory in the diocese of Lincoln. Value, £424. Patron, the Rev K Foster. The church is old but good, and has an embattled tower.

John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870–2)

return to text

Lord Bridgefield (p. 239)

While there are villages called Bridgefield in northern England and Scotland, the name may as easily be explained as a conflation of “Bridgnorth” and “Worfield,” both of which are no more than a few miles south-west of Stableford.

return to text

toy Pomeranian (p. 239)

See Love Among the Chickens.

return to text

Lord Ronald Spofforth (p. 239)

This is the style used by the younger son of a duke or marquess.

Spofforth is a village is North Yorkshire, about 5 miles south of Harrogate. Wodehouse may have been more influenced by Fred Spofforth, “the demon bowler,” whom many regard as the finest Australian pace bowler of the 19th century: in 1996 he was posthumously included as one of the ten inaugural inductees in the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame. With his keen interest in cricket, and as a fast bowler himself, Wodehouse would undoubtedly have heard of Spofforth, who, among his other achievements, was the first bowler to complete a “hat-trick” (three wickets from consecutive deliveries) in Test cricket.

return to text

the Duke of Gorbals and Strathbungo (p. 239)

The Gorbals and Strathbungo are both districts on the south bank of the Clyde in Glasgow, Scotland. In the 1980s, the prevalence of street gangs in the Gorbals gave it a reputation as the most dangerous place in Britain; the district is now in the process of being “gentrified.” The dukedom of Gorbals and Strathbungo is a Wodehouse creation.

return to text

took a steel knife to the ontray (p. 239)

Silver fish-knives will now always be met with at the best tables; but where there are none, a piece of crust should be taken in the left hand, and the fork in the right. There is no exception to this rule in eating fish.

George Routledge (1812–88), “Etiquette for Gentlemen: X - The Dinner Table,” in Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette

Don’t use a steel knife with fish. A silver knife is now placed by the side of each plate for the fish course.

Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes and Improprieties More or Less Prevalent in Conduct and Speech [1880?]; quoted in: Natalie Kapetanios Meir, “A Fashionable Dinner Is Arranged As Follows,” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol 33, pp 133–148 (2005)

return to text

Chapter 23 (pp. 242–252)

From the cradle to the grave (p. 242)

A common idiom to describe the whole of life, from birth to death:

Man, who wert once a despot and a slave;
A dupe and a deceiver; a decay;
A traveller from the cradle to the grave
Through the dim night of this immortal day.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, Prometheus Unbound, Act IV, sc l, 549–52 (1820)

But they were scarcely less beautiful in their slow decline, than they had been in their prime; for nature gives to every time and season some beauties of its own; and from morning to night, as from the cradle to the grave, is but a succession of changes so gentle and easy, that we can scarcely mark their progress.

Charles Dickens, The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, ch. 22 (1838–9)

return to text

Sargasso Sea (p. 242)

The Sargasso Sea is an elongated region in the North Atlantic Ocean, between 40 and 70 degrees West, 25 and 35 degrees North. It lies at the centre of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre, a vortex of ocean currents formed by the Gulf Stream to the west, the North Atlantic Current to the north, the Canary Current to the east, and the North Atlantic Equatorial Current to the south. The region is noted for the large masses of seaweed that float on the surface and for the frequent absence of winds: sailing ships were often becalmed in the area for long periods:

Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, everywhere,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, everywhere,
Nor any drop to drink.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part II

Wodehouse several times refers to the Sargasso Sea, sometimes using it as a metaphor for uniform monotony:

Peter, in his boyhood, had been thrilled once by a narrative of a man who got stuck in the Sargasso Sea. It seemed to him now that the monotony of the Sargasso Sea had been greatly exaggerated.

“The Best Sauce,” Strand Magazine, July 1911

The place was a cloth morgue, a Sargasso Sea of serge.

“First Aid for Loony Biddle,” in Indiscretions of Archie, ch. 15

To Mike . . . it seemed about the most dismal spot he had ever struck. A sort of Sargasso Sea among bedrooms.

Psmith in the City, ch. 3 (serialized as The New Fold)

return to text

he was to take her in (p. 242)

At formal dinners, it is customary for each gentleman to “take in” a lady, the precise arrangement being dictated by arcane and complex rules of precedence.

Franching said he was sorry he had no lady for me to take in to dinner. I replied that I preferred it, which I afterwards thought was a very uncomplimentary observation to make.

George Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody, ch. 20 (1892)

return to text

the youngest Devenish girl (p. 243)

Devenish is an old English family name: one William le Devenish is reported as having been slain in battle at Waterford, Ireland, in 1368.

It may be coincidence, but the name occurs in a story that appeared in Punch some six months before the publication of A Damsel in Distress:

In the year 1907 John Fanshawe Dawnay-Devenish arrived in a certain Far Eastern port, deck passenger aboard a Dutch tramp out of Batavia.

Crosbie Garstin, “The Mud Larks,” in Punch, vol 156, 16 April 1919, p 300

return to text

O.P. end (p. 243)

A theatrical term: in an English theatre, the prompter’s desk is usually situated off-stage on the actor’s left side (right as viewed from the audience). Thus, Prompt Side (PS) is to the right, and Opposite Prompt (OP) to the left, as viewed from the audience.

return to text

Summertime is Kissing-time (p. 243)

“Any Time’s Kissing Time” was a hit song from from the outstandingly successful musical comedy Chu Chin Chow, written by Oscar Asche, with music by Frederick Norton, which opened at His Majesty’s Theatre, London, on 3 August 1916: it ran for five years and a total of 2,238 performances—more than twice as many as any previous musical—setting a record that stood for nearly forty years.

When the Wodehouse/Bolton/Caryll show The Girl Behind the Gun (New Amsterdam Theatre, New York, 1918) transferred to London in May 1919, it was retitled Kissing Time.

return to text

Alhambra revue (p. 243)

The Alhambra was a popular theatre and music hall located on the east side of Leicester Square, in London’s West End. Originally known as The Royal Panopticon, it became the Alhambra Circus in 1854 and the Alhambra Music Hall in 1864. John Hollingshead managed the theatre from 1865 until 1868, when he left to establish the Gaiety Theatre. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1882; it was rebuilt in a more restrained style and reopened in 1884 as the Alhambra Theatre. During World War I, the Alhambra hosted a series of hit revues, including The Bing Boys Are Here (1916), which featured the first performances of the song “If You Were the Only Girl in the World,” performed by Violet Lorraine and George Robey. The Alhambra was demolished in 1936 to make way for the Odeon Theatre which, as a cinema, the Odeon Leicester Square, still stands on the site.

return to text

Sherry or ’ock, sir? (p. 244)

Originally a still white wine from the region of Xeres (now Jerez de la Fontera) in Andalusia, southern Spain, “sherry” later came to denote a class of Spanish fortified white wines. “Hock” (from Hochheimer, a wine originating from Hochheim on the Main) was at one time used in Britain as a generic name for German white wines.

return to text

The prophet Daniel . . . lions (p. 244)

Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee.

And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that the purpose might not be changed concerning Daniel.

Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting: neither were instruments of music brought before him: and his sleep went from him.

Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions.

And when he came to the den, he cried with a lamentable voice unto Daniel: and the king spake and said to Daniel, O Daniel, servant of the living God, is thy God, whom thou servest continually, able to deliver thee from the lions?

Then said Daniel unto the king, O king, live for ever.

My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.

Then was the king exceedingly glad for him, and commanded that they should take Daniel up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no manner of hurt was found upon him, because he believed in his God.

Daniel, vi, 16–23

return to text

every season since I came out (p. 247)

“Coming out” was a rite of passage for the daughters of the upper classes. At the age of 18, the daughters of the aristocracy would be “presented” at Court (a practice that only ended in 1958) and would then attend a “debutantes’ ball” that marked their “coming out” into society.

return to text

Lord Peebles . . . made his money in whisky (p. 247)

Though Caroline Norton’s novel Stuart of Dunleath (1851) has a character named Lord Peebles, Wodehouse probably chose the name solely because it is Scottish and suits the notion of a whisky industrialist whose peerage is a recent creation.

As it happens, Peebles—a small market town in the Borders region of southern Scotland, some 23 miles south of Edinburgh—has no direct association with the whisky industry, most of the distilleries being located well to the north, in the Highlands or Western Isles.

return to text

Hubert Broadleigh . . . Cynthia Dane (p. 249)

If these actors, and the titles of the plays in which they performed, are not fictitious, they were too minor to feature in reviews in the major newspapers of the late 19th/early 20th century.

return to text

the Victrola at home (p. 249)

The Victrola was a design of record player that was introduced in 1906 by the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey. It was designed to look like a piece of furniture, the turntable and amplifying horn being hidden away in a wooden cabinet. Victrolas achieved immediate popularity and were one of the most popular brands of home phonographs through the 1920s.

return to text


See Leave It to Psmith.

return to text

wished on me by the lyrist

Although “lyricist” is by far the more common term nowadays, its first citation in the OED meaning a writer of song-lyrics is from 1909, well after Wodehouse began his theatrical career. Wodehouse seems to have continued to prefer the older term, originally meaning one who sings to his own accompaniment on the lyre, later a lyric poet.

The implication is that George Bevan wrote his tunes first and that the words came afterward; this is the way that Wodehouse worked, fitting words to melodies by Jerome Kern and others.

W. S. Gilbert always said that a lyrist can’t do decent stuff that way, but I don’t agree with him, not as far as I’m concerned, anyway. If I write a lyric without having to fit it to a tune, I always make it too much like a set of light verse, much too regular in meter. I think you get the best results by giving the composer his head and having the lyrist follow him . . . when you have the melody, you can see which are the musical high spots and can fit the high spots of the lyric to them. Anyway, that’s how I like working. . . .

Author! Author! (1962), p. 15; purportedly from a 1920 letter to Bill Townend

Early UK editions of the book have the misprint “whisked” instead of wished here. [NM]

return to text

ballyhooing (p. 249)

Originally, “ballyhoo” (origin uncertain) was the name given to a showman’s touting speech, or a performance advertising a show, e.g. at a carnival, from which it came to mean extravagant or brash publicity; “to ballyhoo” is “to advertise with ballyhoo, to promote or praise extravagantly” (OED).

In George’s case, “ballyhooing” refers to the excessive attention that is embarrassing him.

return to text

Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego (p. 249)

Then was Nebuchadnez′zar full of fury, and the form of his visage was changed against Sha′drach, Me′shach, and Abed′nego: therefore he spake, and commanded that they should heat the furnace one seven times more than it was wont to be heated.

And he commanded the most mighty men that were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and to cast them into the burning fiery furnace.

Then these men were bound in their coats, their hose, and their hats, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

Therefore because the king’s commandment was urgent, and the furnace exceeding hot, the flame of the fire slew those men that took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace.

Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste, and spake, and said unto his counselors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True, O king.

He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

Daniel, iii, 19–25

See also The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

one glance, fresh from the refrigerator (p. 250)

Domestic refrigerators had begun to be introduced just a few years before A Damsel in Distress was written (see Summer Moonshine). Wodehouse’s meaning is that Lady Caroline’s glance is icy.

return to text

Douglas Fairbanks (p. 250)

Douglas Fairbanks (1883–1939) was an American actor who was famous for his swashbuckling roles in silent films such as The Mask of Zorro (1920) and The Three Musketeers (1921). In 1920 he married actress Mary Pickford in what was Hollywood’s first celebrity marriage. The couple quickly attained the status of “Hollywood royalty” and were famous for entertaining at their Beverly Hills mansion: the Wodehouses met them when PGW was working in Hollywood in 1931; in a letter to Bill Townend (September 14, 1931), Wodehouse mentioned dining with them.

[Fairbanks had played the title role of A Gentleman of Leisure, adapted by John Stapleton and Wodehouse from the Wodehouse book (also known as The Intrusion of Jimmy, 1910); the play opened August 24, 1911, at The Playhouse, New York, and ran for 76 performances. When Herbert Jenkins took over the publication of A Gentleman of Leisure in 1921, the book was dedicated to Fairbanks. —NM]

return to text

Francis X. Bushman (p. 250)

Francis X. Bushman (1883–1966) was an American film actor and one of the first “matinee idols.” He achieved great success during the era of silent movies, but his career did not survive the coming of talking pictures and he turned to radio acting, later making guest appearances on television.

return to text

Ajax had in his eyes when he defied the lightning (p. 252)

Ajax of Locris, called the “lesser” to destinguish him from Ajax, son of Telamon, was the leader of the Locrian contingent at the siege of Troy. He is mentioned in several classical works, which give differing accounts of his death. In the version alluded to here, the goddess Athena caused his ship to be wrecked on the way home from Troy; Ajax was saved from drowning by the god Poseidon but boasted that he would escape the dangers of the sea in defiance of the gods, whereupon Athena struck him dead with a bolt of lightning.

return to text

a soldier going over the top (p. 252)

In World War I, which had ended less than a year earlier, soldiers went “over the top” when they emerged from their trenches at the start of an attack: as this left them exposed to enemy fire, the casualty rate was usually very high, and soldiers viewed “going over the top” with extreme apprehension.

return to text

Chapter 24 (pp. 253–261)

Out on the terrace

Early UK editions of this book have the large initial capital B here, reading “But on the terrace”; our transcription goes along with the US magazine serial and US book in reading “Out” here. [NM]

return to text

the cry of a corncrake (p. 253)

The corncrake, Crex crex, is a small bird in the family Rallidae. It breeds on damp meadows and hayfields and, as a result of changing farming practices, is now very scarce across most of its breeding range, which extends from the British Isles, through central Europe, to southern Russia. At the time when A Damsel in Distress was written, its occurrence in Hampshire would probably have occasioned no surprise; today one would have to travel several hundred miles to the north, to the Outer Hebrides, to have a realistic chance of hearing one: it is a secretive little bird and is far more often heard than seen.

The corncrake is rather silent, except during courtship, when its display call is usually heard between dusk and daybreak, occasionally during the daytime. The call is a persistently repeated, hoarse and mechanical, sharp rasping “ehrp-ehrp” (like two notched sticks being rubbed together), once per second and for hours on end, with only brief rests.

return to text

Morning Post

See Right Ho, Jeeves.

return to text

Tosti’s “Goodbye” (p. 255)

Sir Francesco Paolo Tosti (1846–1916) was born at Ortona, Italy. When 14 years old he was sent to study music at the Naples Conservatory. He became a protegé of the composer Giovanni Sgambati, who helped him begin his career as a composer and singer. From 1875, Tosti made regular visits to London, where, in 1880, he was appointed singing master to the Royal Family. In 1894 he became a professor at the Royal Academy of Music. Tosti took British citizenship in 1906 and was knighted in 1908. When he died, The Times obituarist wrote (4 December 1916): “His music has had in this country a wide rather than a deep appeal. There are few who do not know ‘Good-bye,’ ‘Ask Me No More’ . . . and there are many to whom these . . . offer all that they require of a song—facile melody, an absence of subtleties, and the charm which springs from the secure manipulation of effects.”

“Goodbye,” composed in 1881, to words by the Scottish poet George John Whyte-Melville (1821–78), was one of Tosti’s most popular songs, though not, it seems with everybody:

 “Is Mr. Mortimer playing that—that damned gas-engine in the drawing-room?"
 “Yes, sir. Tosti’s ‘Good-bye.’ A charming air, sir.”
 “Go and tell him to stop it!"

The Girl on the Boat, ch. 10 (alternate title Three Men and a Maid)

return to text

Chapter 25 (pp. 262–265)

seared by the flame of her wrath (p. 262)

This echoes a passage in the Old Testament:

And thou, even thyself, shalt discontinue from thine heritage that I gave thee; and I will cause thee to serve thine enemies in the land which thou knowest not: for ye have kindled a fire in mine anger, which shall burn for ever.

Jeremiah, xvii, 4

The pairing of wrath and flame occurs in a hymn by the prolific hymnwriter Isaac Watts (1674–1748), who also wrote the popular hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and the Christmas carol “Joy to the world!”:

Once more, my soul, the rising day
Salutes thy waking eyes;
Once more, my voice, thy tribute pay
To Him who rules the skies.
. . .
’Tis He supports my mortal frame,
My tongue shall speak His praise;
My sins would rouse His wrath to flame,
And yet His wrath delays.

Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spiritual Songs, Book II (1709)

return to text

to bring her erring brother to bay (p. 262)

To “bring to bay” is a hunting term, meaning to bring the hunted animal into a position from which it cannot flee and must turn and defend itself. The hunting metaphor is made even clearer in the succeeding sentence.

return to text

a man of Chicago named Young

This limerick (for so it proves to be in the succeeding lines) may well be original with Wodehouse; at least, a Google search on the words “unstrung,” “canned,” and “tongue” finds no publication prior to the serialization of this novel, though adaptations of it in subsequent collections are frequent.

Wodehouse certainly did not invent the journalistic trick of printing light verse as if it were prose, but he obviously enjoyed it greatly. The account in Chapter 5 of this book, titled “The Peer and the Policeman,” is another example; others that come to mind are the pie-eating contest in “Washy Makes His Presence Felt” and the account of Empress of Blandings winning another silver medal in chapter 13, section vi of Pigs Have Wings (1952).

Wodehouse may have learned the trick from Canadian-born poet and journalist Walt Mason, famous for rhyming prose. See The Girl on the Boat [NM].

return to text

in the days of the seventh Henry (p. 263)

See earlier. Henry VII was king of England from 1485–1509.

return to text

Chapter 26 (pp. 266–278)

Ye Cosy Nooke (p. 266)

Tea shops, in the sense of cafés where tea is served, first appeared in Edwardian times. Their popularity owed much to the fact that they were seen as places where ladies could go unescorted to eat.

The OED refers to “the affected spelling tea-shoppe” which is “applied (frequently disparagingly) to a tea-shop with sham antique decoration”: Wodehouse’s use of “Nooke” may be assumed to be similarly disparaging. Indeed, the OED is equally scathing about “Ye,” which, it says in the entry for ye olde, is used “to suggest (spurious) antiquity”; and it quotes much of Wodehouse’s next paragraph in illustration.

“Ye” (for “The”) is, in fact, a mistake, arising from a misreading as “Y” of the Old English runic letter þ, which was commonly used in mediaeval manuscripts and printed works until the 15th century. In fact, þ represented what we now write as “th” (hence its name, “thorn,” which came, as did the names of other runic characters, from a word of which it was the initial). The character which was used to represent “y” was actually a variant of the Greek letter upsilon (υ) which, when written, appeared identical with debased forms of þ.

return to text

establishments of Lyons and Co. (p. 267)

J. Lyons & Co. operated a chain of up-market tea shops, the first of which, at 213 Piccadilly, opened in September 1894: by 1923, there were 200 tea-shops in London alone. Until the Second World War, customers were served by waitresses who wore a maid-like uniform with matching hat. From 1909, Lyons also ran a number of “Corner Houses” in London’s West End. These were large establishments, extending to four or five floors, with a food hall, hairdressing salons, etc, on the ground floor and differently-themed restaurants, each with its own musicians, on the other floors. In the 1960s, the Lyons company ran into increasing financial difficulties and over the next few decades its various businesses were sold off; the last Corner House closed in 1977 and the last tea shop in 1981.

return to text

Rumpelmayer’s (p. 267)

Rumpelmayer’s was a fashionable salon de thé, which occupied the ground floor and basement at 72 & 73 St James’s Street, from 1909 until the late 1920s; in 1935, a French restaurant, Prunier’s, opened on the site. Rumpelmayer’s was the brainchild of Antoine Rumpelmayer, an Austrian gourmand, who, having already established three successful tea-rooms on the French Riviera (including one each at Cannes and Menton), opened an establishment on Paris’s Rue de Rivoli in 1903. It quickly attracted the “smart set,” including fashion designer Coco Chanel, novelist Marcel Proust and King George V of England, its success encouraging Rumpelmayer’s to set up a similar salon in London.

Rumpelmayer’s is mentioned on the first page of Virginia Woolf’s novel, Mrs. Dalloway (1925), though the reference there is to the firm’s delivery service, not to the tea-rooms and restaurant.

return to text

the body upstairs

Reminiscent of the not-so-cheery dance of the Pen and Ink Club: [NM]

The few couples dancing on the broad acres of floor appeared sombre and introspective, as if they were meditating on the body upstairs and realizing that all flesh is as grass.

“Ukridge Sees Her Through” (1923)

return to text

the Florida pompano (p. 271)

The Florida pompano, Trachinotus carolinus, is a marine fish of the family Carangidae. It usually reaches a length of about 18 inches and a weight of no more than three pounds, though larger specimens are sometimes caught. The Florida pompano is highly esteemed as a gourmet food and consistently attracts the highest prices of any saltwater fish found off the continental United States. Despite its name, the Florida pompano ranges from Massachusetts to Brazil, though it is more commonly found from the Carolinas to the Gulf of Mexico. Though it can be cooked in a number of ways, it is, as Geoffrey advises, best broiled with butter.

return to text

the funeral bakemeats

A reference to Hamlet (I, ii) describing the speed of his uncle’s marriage to his widowed mother:

Thrift, thrift, Horatio! the funeral baked meats
Did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables.

Wodehouse manages to combine the gloom of the tea-shop with the coldness of the toast in this apt allusion to Shakespeare. [NM]

return to text

Lyme Regis down Devonshire way (p. 272)

Lyme Regis is in Dorset, not Devon: see Love Among the Chickens.

return to text

a sort of leit motif (p. 272)

From German (leit—leading + motiv—motive, or theme), a leitmotif is a theme that recurs throughout a work, usually musical, and is associated with a particular person, situation, or sentiment. The leitmotif as a musical device is particularly associated with the music-dramas of Richard Wagner and his imitators, though it is now used more generally (as here).

“With one shout and with one cry” Prout’s juniors hurled themselves into the war, and through the interval between first and second lesson some fifty twelve-year-olds were embroiled on the gravel outside King’s windows to a tune whose leit-motif was the word “stinker.”

Rudyard Kipling, “An Unsavoury Interlude,” in Stalky & Co (1899)

The name Scobell had been recurring like a leit-motif in Mr. Crump’s conversation.

The Prince and Betty (US ed), ch. 4 (1912)

return to text

a flash of clear vision

See moment of clear vision above.

return to text

He wore a bowler hat (p. 274)

The US edition has “Derby hat.”

return to text

Messrs. Willoughby and Son, Solicitors (p. 275)

The US magazine serial and US book edition have “Morris Willoughby.”

return to text

between me and you and the lamp-post

This is the OED’s first citation for the phrase (more commonly between you and me and the lamp-post), meaning “in strict confidence” colloquially. [NM]

Diego Seguí finds the older form “between you and me and the post” as early as 1808 and through the 19th century, as in Dickens (chapter 10 of Nicholas Nickleby), and as a song title in Punch, April 20, 1889.

Another more intimate form of the phrase, cited by the OED from 1830 on, refers to the bed-post.

return to text

haven’t an earthly!

The OED labels the noun usage of earthly as a British colloquial short form of “an earthly chance”—any hope in this world of success, with citations dating from 1897. The more recent usage meaning “any idea at all” is cited beginning in the 1990s. [NM]

return to text

“If you please, Mabel!”

The US magazine serial and US book edition have young Mr. Willoughby say a polite “Gangway, if you please, Mabel!” here.

return to text

a half-sovereign

A British gold coin worth ten shillings, minted in ordinary issue from 1817 to 1926, bearing a portrait of the reigning monarch. When Britain went off the gold standard it was replaced by the ten-shilling currency note. The Bank of England inflation calculator suggests a factor of 50.7 from 1919 to 2018 prices, so the coin’s purchasing power would be the equivalent of over £25 in modern times. [NM]

return to text

All flesh is as grass (p. 278)

The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:

Isaiah, xl, 6

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away:

But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

1 Peter, i, 24–25

See also The Code of the Woosters.

return to text

Chapter 27 (pp. 279–284)

steamer-trunk (p. 279)

In the days when long journeys were accomplished by steamship, rather than aeroplane, a steamer-trunk was used to hold articles needed for the voyage. They were usually covered in canvas or leather.

return to text

all female voices sound the same over the telephone

Early telephone carbon microphones had their greatest sensitivity around 1 kHz and rolled off sharply, with little response above 3 kHz. Since female voices generally have their fundamental frequency in the 250-500 Hz range (roughly the octave from middle C upwards) this means that the higher overtones (harmonics, multiples of the fundamental frequency) which allow the ear to distinguish specific timbres are relatively less present than for male voices, which are based at lower frequencies and so can be better-reproduced in a low-fidelity system. [NM]

All female voices sound very much alike over the telephone, but this was one which his heart would never allow him to mistake. It was She!

Bill the Conqueror, ch. 2.1 (1924)

return to text

thirteen stone (p. 279)

George, as an American, automatically gives his weight in pounds. Maud, being English, converts this to stones: one stone = 14 lb. Despite the widespread adoption of the metric system in Britain, this usage continues today: an athlete’s weight, for example, is customarily expressed in pounds in the US, in stones and pounds in Britain, and in kilograms in many other countries.

return to text

Wodehouse’s writings are copyright © Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate in most countries;
material published prior to 1929 is in USA public domain, used here with permission of the Estate.
Our editorial commentary and other added material are copyright © 2012–2024