The Books of To-day and the Books of To-morrow, April 1904


1.   JOHN met Henry in the Strand. ‘What is the time?’ he asked. He added that he was in a hurry. ‘The time,’ replied Henry in his best breakfast-problematical manner, ‘is briefly as follows. If it were five minutes later than it is, the number of seconds which have passed since twelve o’clock on Saturday would be exactly divisible by fourteen. If, on the other hand, it were ten minutes earlier, the square root of the number of seconds since eight o’clock on Mond—.’ What verdict did the Coroner’s jury bring in?


2.   ACCORDING to a daily paper the Cambridge crew, in one of their trial trips, rowed ‘a stroke a minute.’ Assuming that they do not increase their speed with practice, how long after the fall of Port Arthur 1 will the boat arrive at Mortlake? 2


3.   LIEUTENANT BILSE’S ‘Life in a Little Garrison Town’  3 has been followed by ‘Life in a Large Garrison Town,’ by a distinguished German General. When Colonel Donnerundblitzendorf has completed his ‘Life in a Garrison Town of More or Less Average Dimensions’ (on which he is now actively engaged), where will the German Army go for titles for its novels?


4.   TAKING into consideration the effects of Lord Rosebery’s attack on Pretty Fanny’s way, 4 how long will the country put up with Pretty Fanny’s sway?


5.   IF the war 5 continues to progress at its present leisurely speed, what are the chances of the Fiscal Question 6 being exhumed? And how many people will have forgotten which side they were on?



Printed unsigned; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.



The battle of Port Arthur began on 8 February 1904, with a surprise night attack by a squadron of Japanese destroyers on the Russian fleet anchored at Port Arthur, Manchuria. The battle continued the following morning, when the Japanese renewed their attack, only to be met by a strong Russian force, and the battle ended conclusively. The battle signalled the commencement of the Russo-Japanese War, though war was not officially declared until the following day (10 February). Further skirmishing continued until May 1904, as the Japanese attempted to besiege the port (to free the way for its army to land in Manchuria). The Russian fleet made two attempts to break out of the besieged port, after which it retired to the port, which, besieged by the Japanese Army and blockaded by the Japanese Navy, eventually surrendered on 2 January 1905.



Since 1845, the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race has finished just downstream of Chiswick Bridge, at Mortlake, on the south bank of the River Thames, in the London Borough of Richmond. The significance of the “stroke a minute” comment is that it is ludicrously low: even toward the end of the race, an exhausted crew usually manages to row at something in excess of 30 strokes per minute; a fresh crew, during a burst of acceleration, can approach 50 strokes per minute.



In 1903, 25-year-old Lieutenant Bilse, who was at the time serving with the German Army Service Corps at the frontier garrison at Forbach in Lorraine, published (under the nom-de-plume Fritz von der Kyrbug) a novel entitled Aus einer kleinen Garnison, which was a lightly-fictionalised account of abuses prevalent in the Forbach garrison. In November 1903, Bilse was tried by court-martial at Metz and was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and dismissal from the Army for libelling his superior officers and for a breach of military regulations; the court also ordered the destruction of all copies of the book, together with the printing plates and type. In the months following, all the officers who had formed the court-martial were, one by one, placed on the retired list, giving rise to a widespread belief that they were being punished by the authorities for having allowed criticisms of the Army to be aired in public. Nevertheless, the authorities were forced to act on Bilse’s allegations and, in December 1903, two officers from Bilse’s former battalion were allowed to resign on full pension and a further three were placed on half-pay; all had appeared in recognisable form in Bilse’s novel. In July 1904, First-Lieutenant Wirthe, another of the officers who had appeared, thinly disguised, in the novel, was convicted by court-martial (held in camera) of 17 cases of maltreating soldiers and was sentenced to a year’s penal servitude.



On 10 March 1904, in the House of Lords, Lord Rosebery asked the Foreign Secretary, the Marquis of Landsdowne, “what justification there is for the use of the word ‘calumny’ by the Prime Minister [Arthur Balfour, speaking in the House of Commons] with reference to [my] comments . . .” Not receiving a satisfactory answer, Lord Rosebery concluded that “the noble marquis has not in the least withdrawn the expression used by the Prime Minister. He has said that the Prime Minister used in the heat of debate the expression . . . You may say that it is ‘only pretty Fanny’s way’ . . . I say that if a man cannot curb his tongue better than that ‘pretty Fanny’ should not be First Lord of the Treasury” [the then official title of the Prime Minister].

The phrase “pretty Fanny’s way” derives from “An Elegy, to an Old Beauty” (c. 1718), by the poet Thomas Parnell:

And all that’s madly wild, or oddly gay,
We call it only pretty Fanny’s way.

According to the OED: it is (only) his way: often said of some perverse or annoying habit of behaviour which the friends of the person guilty of it are accustomed to regard with toleration. So proverbially, Pretty Fanny’s way.



See above. The Russian Army suffered a major defeat at the battle of Mudken (20 February – 10 March 1905) and was left in no condition to continue the war. On 27–28 May, in the Tsushima Straits, between Korea and Japan, the Japanese Navy, under Admiral Togo, annihilated a Russian fleet that was attempting to reach the Russian port of Vladivostok: the Russians lost eight battleships and numerous smaller vessels, the Japanese lost only three torpedo boats. With the war lost on land and at sea, and with internal revolution threatening the Tsar’s position, Russia was forced to negotiate a peace settlement, which was eventually concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth on 5 September 1905: US President Theodore Roosevelt was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to mediate the settlement.



The “Fiscal Question” refers to the issue of tariff reform. Joseph Chamberlain, one of the major proponents of tariff reform, had resigned as Colonial Secretary in September 1903 in order to be free to pursue the issue, which did not have the official support of Arthur Balfour’s Liberal-Unionist government.