Captain Bud

It is said that he is hypochondriac, and that at different times he supposes himself a flame of fire, a stone, an oyster, and a cray fish, and that he even sometimes believes himself to be a heatherbell apt to be blown away at every blast on the wind…

– From the chapter entitled “Character of Captain Bud,” by Charlotte Bronte, in “Tales from Angria.”

Here come the parson and his wife
To talk of current trends:
The weather, clothes, parchial strife,
Scandal, and sudden ends.
Am I to waste the best of life
In taking tea with friends?

They fear me when my mood is black,
My eyes suffused with blood.
They call me hypochondriac-
My name is Captain Bud.

I call my fellow, and desire
That he should make it known
That I am now a flame of fire,
A cray fish, or a stone.
I see my baffled friends retire,
And I am left alone.

I am an oyster; all I lack
Is solitude and mud.
I am hypochondriac-
My name is Captain Bud.

My servant knows my humour well.
Lurking, I hear him say,
“The Captain, sir, has tooka spell
Right bad on him today;
He thinks he is a heatherbell
Apt to be blown away.”

The carriages go rolling back,
Fleeing, as from a flood,
That happy hypochondriac,
That blissful Captain Bud.

MAY 9, 1959

Captain Bud

A Shortfall of Bacon


A Shortfall of BaconI WAS meditating, as I often do after breakfast, on the shortfall in the overall throughput of bacon, when my hand happened to light on the works of Lord Verulam.

This man, Francis Bacon, Baron Verulam, Viscount St Albans, passed in his day for a person of considerable states- manlike sagacity. He was made Keeper of the Great Seal in 1617 and Lord Chancelor of England in 1618; though he ran into trouble and lost both these jobs in time. But he must have had something. I thought.

The essay I lighted on, after finishing my healthy breakfast of toast and tea, was called Of the True Greatness of Kingdoms. I approached it with reverence; but I was soon astonished by the wealth of wrong thinking contained in it. There is hardly a single statement made by the Sage of St Albans that has not since been proved wholly incorrect.

TAKE HIS views on fiscal matters.

‘No people overcharged with tribute’ [he declares roundly], ‘is fit for empire. Neither will it be, that a people overlaid with taxes should ever become valiant and martial.’

Now, the simplest backwoods Baron of our time would hardly make such a gross error as this. People may argue about a shilling more here or a shilling less there; but everybody knows that the only way to make people valiant and martial is to tax them nearly out of existence.

On rearmament Bacon is equally unsound.

‘Walled town, stored arsenals and armouries, goodly races of horse, chariots of war, elephants, ordnance and the like: all this is but a sheep in a lion’s skin, except the breed and disposition of the people be stout and warlike.’

Such is Bacon’s view; and it is easy to see that he is barking up the wrong tree. We are all agreed now that the essential thing is to pile up the chariots of war and the ordnance; the breed and disposition of the people can look after itself and, on the whole, the less stout and warlike it is, the more convenient for the painstaking administrators who have to deal with it. Nobody wants a world full of stout and warlike people, kicking up trouble in the queues and storming the Food Offices.

THERE IS no end to the follies and misconceptions of this lamentable Chancellor. ‘For empire, and greatness,’ says he, still obsessed with his antique militarism, ‘it importeth most, that a nation do profess arms as their principal honor, study and occupation. No nation, which doth not directly profess arms, may look to have greatness fall into their mouths.’

It is old-fashioned. It is very old-fashioned. In these days we do not look for empire at all; we find our greatness in a more noble fashion by giving our empire away and look for greatness to fall into our mouths as a result of doing so. If it does not fall into our mouths, at least we have a most delightful sense of self-righteousness to compensate for the lack of it. Such a sense goes a long way to wake up for the shortfall of bacon, which, in any case, as enlightened economists have proved, does not depend in any way on empire and greatness.

THE LAST slice of Bacon I have to offer to a curious though scandalized public is one I hardly dare to quote at all at the present time. Nevertheless, I make so bold as to put it down, knowing that nobody would accuse any writer, in a progressive paper such as this, of taking it seriously.

‘As for the wars’ [says this ineffably misguided man], ‘which were anciently made on the behalf of a kind of party, I do not see how they may well be justified; as when the Romans made a war for the liberty of Graecia; or when the Lacedaemonians and Athenians made wars to set up or pull down democracies and oligarchies; or when wars were made by foreigners, under the pretence of justice or protection, to deliver the subjects of others from tyranny and oppression; and the like.’

I had to read this outrageous paragraph three times before I could credit it. Well, really, Bacon, I thought. Is there any respectable justification for war except to set up or pull down democracies and oligarchies and the like? One might as well suggest to people that they should set up and pull down their own democracies and oligarchies, and be hanged to them.

If there are any among you who have thought of going to Bacon for wisdom, I counsel you to eschew him: to stick to toast and tea: and to enjoy the shortfalls in your overall throughputs, while you have them.


Winter Dawn

Fled the stars in all directions,
Leaving Heaven swept and clean.
Then the sun came up in sections,
Like a frozen tangerine.

He was cold but he was singing
As he put the stars to flight;
Then he shortly started flinging
Lariats of golden light.

First he caught St, Mary’s steeple,
Then he caught a dozen pubs;
Then he caught the taller people,
And at last the smaller shrubs.

– R. P. Lister

JANUARY 30, 1960

Winter Dawn

Epitaph for Harty

HERE’s the mortal part of Harty;
In this life he got his start
Forming of a charter party
Party of the second part.

Say not of him that he bartered,
Chaffered crudely in the mart,
He who sat apart and chartered
Parties with a loving heart.

To his parties he imparted
Charters that were works of art,
Till the dreadful day he darted
Underneath a dustman’s cart.
Here he lies, the dear departed
Party of the second part.

PUNCH, February 18 1959

Epitaph for Harty

In an Austrian Hospital

HERE in this Austrian town
I lie upon my bed
And watch the snow come floating down
Out of a sky of lead.

The crucifix upon the wall
Its silent figure bears.
I hear a clatter in the hall,
A murmur on the stairs,

And now the smiling nun is come.
“Grüss Gott,” she says to me,
And sets a little flask of rum
Beside my jug of tea.

Well, I am warm and dry, at least.
Clearly it is absurd
To think the blizzard on the piste
Was much to be preferred.

That, all the same, is what I think.
Well, this must be endured.
At least, they bring me rum to drink…
At least, I was insured.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 2

The crows are dressed as if for church;
They seem too staid to fly.
Like vultures on the roof they perch,
Waiting for me to die.

I think I shall not die as yet;
I do not hear the call.
I smoke an Austrian cigarette
And watch the snowflakes fall.

The windows of the Krankenhaus
Are blind with stony doom…
A sudden snatch of Josef Strauss
Sounds from a neighbouring room;

The crows adjust their sable hoods
And rise against the snow.
“More Tales from Vienne Woods!”
They grumble as they go.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 1

The snowflakes fall, and on the roof
Remains a single bird.
Suddenly, by him, as he sits
Racking his pinions and his wits,
The imprint of a cloven hoof
Appears, a trifle blurred.

The wicked crow, as black as sin,
Glares with astonished eyes.
Loosing with his departing toe
A little avalanche of snow,
He flaps away towards the Inn
With harsh, despairing cries.

Was it his master’s voice he heard,
His master’s form he saw?
Upon my wall the crucifix
Guards me from the ghastly bird
And his atrocious claw.

The bird was surely damned, and that
Is all I care to learn.
The snowflakes, trickling from the sky,
Smooth out the cloven print, and I
Read the Tiroler Tagesblatt
With stolid unconcern.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 3

MY soul, why art thou ill at ease?
Whence comes this sense of doom?
The old retainer takes mu skis
And bears them from the room.

Let him depart. They were not mine,
Those ancient skis he bore.
A bone is broken in my Bein,
And I shall ski no more.

He bears them to the shadowy shop,
And I shall be repaid.
Why is it, then, my heart goes hop,
As if I were dismayed?

When he returns at last- ah, then!
Then, should I tip him twenty,
Or should I only give him ten,
And would he think it plenty?

Here I must lie in bitter dole,
Racking my anguished brains
To penetrate the Austrian soul
And guess what it contains.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 4

THE doctor comes and says “Good-bye!”
A day or two ago
I puzzled out the reason why:
He means to say “Hello.”

He asks me if this leg is mine,
This plaster leg he sees.
I tell him it is doing fine,
And he, of course, agrees.

“Gut” he remarks; “doch, das ist gut.”
His face is wise and droll.
He asks, “Is this your other foot?”
And I reply, “fawohl.”

He asks me “Tut es Ihnen Weh?”
His eyes are kind, though small.
“Only the one I broke,” I say.
“The other one, not at all.”

As through the door I watch him go,
He turns to smile again,
And most politely says “Hello!”
Meaning “Auf wiederseh’n.”

In An Austrian Hospital pic 5

OH, how mysterious is this tall, dark maid!
She looks about her with a rueful glance
As if to seek some gem she has mislaid.
Mislaid a gem she has; its name was Hans.

She sent him packing, so she tells me, when
She found one day his morals were amiss.
Beaming, she tells me there are no good men…
The merest infant could have told her this.

And so, deluded girl, she lost her chance.
Now she will have to wait until, once more,
There dawns upon her life another Hans,
No worse, no better, than the one before.

Now she considers women are accurst;
An attitude most damping to romance.
She might as well have opted for the first,
Rather than waiting for the second Hans.

In An Austrian Hospital pic 6

I shall not see the Tyrolean spring.
I lie in bed and watch the snowflakes fall;
For months, as yet, the cuckoo will not call,
And I shall be in London when the swing
Of seasons brings the buttercups and all.

People who hear the thumping of my foot
Will cower against the wall and bite their thumbs,
Like Leporello when the statue comes.
My plaster, darkening with the London soot,
Will greet the springtime like a roll of drums.

And in the summer, when at last I shed
This heavy load, the gentle English rain
Will bring me, now and then, a twinge of pain-
And it will be as if I lay in bed
And watched the Austrian snowflakes fall again.


In An Austrian Hospital (1 of 2) In An Austrian Hospital (2 of 2)

Let No Man Say

LET no man say that I am nearly done for.
My head is bowed but not unduly bloody,
And though my trousers are a trifle muddy,
Mud, after all, is what the tweed was spun for.
I have an ounce of gold; what is a ton for?
The gem-encrusted Gaekwar on his gadi,
The swart director in his paneled study,
The general, wondering whom the war was won for,

The darlings of Society, bright with toppers,
The landed gent, who sees his acres shrinking,
Are no more blithe than I, who scrape for coppers,
And spend the few I get on eating, drinking,
Paraffin, income tax and electricity.
There’s no such thing as limitless felicity.

PUNCH, September 28 1955

Let No Man Say