Monday, 18 March 2013

Lost Talent

The young have aspirations that never come to pass, the old have reminiscences of what never happened.”
Saki, ‘Reginald

I don’t recall GB introducing me to many authors though I do remember learning a lot about British Constitution as he played tapes in the bedroom while learning about it for his A Level.  But it was certainly he who told me about Saki (Hector Hugh Munro 1870-1916). I must have been about thirteen and GB eighteen when he began raving about Saki and ‘The Unbearable Bassington’.  Not the foaming at the mouth type raving – just the being very enthusiastic type raving.  As a result I picked up ‘The Square Egg and other stories’ and was equally hooked.  I worked my way through many of his short stories. Even at that age I collected quotations and these were a couple of my favourites.

“There may have been many disillusionments in the lives of the medieval saints, but they would scarcely have been better pleased if they could have foreseen that their names would be associated chiefly with racehorses and the cheaper clarets.”  (from ‘Reginald at the Carlton’) 

“I'm living so far beyond my means that we may almost be said to be living apart." (from 'The Unbearable Bassington')

“What do you think of human intelligence?" asked Mavis Pellington lamely.
"Of whose intelligence in particular?" asked Tobermory coldly.
"Oh, well, mine for instance," said Mavis with a feeble laugh.
"You put me in an embarrassing position," said Tobermory, whose tone and attitude certainly did not suggest a shred of embarrassment. "When your inclusion in this house-party was suggested Sir Wilfrid protested that you were the most brainless woman of his acquaintance, and that there was a wide distinction between hospitality and the care of the feeble-minded. Lady Blemley replied that your lack of brain-power was the precise quality which had earned you your invitation, as you were the only person she could think of who might be idiotic enough to buy their old car. You know, the one they call 'The Envy of Sisyphus,' because it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”

 Sadly Munro was one of a number of authors who was killed in the trenches in World War One.  There is an anthology by Tim Cross called "The Lost Voices of World War I: An International Anthology of Writers, Poets & Playwrights" with works by more than fifty authors who died in the four years of fighting in the Great War.  It helps to make one aware of how much talent was lost when these young men died. To quote from a website on the subject 'Cross says, "A complete list of all poets, playwrights, writers, artists, architects and composers who died as a result of the First World War is an impossible task," but even so he has compiled a list of approximately 750 names. The list includes only people who had already accomplished something of note in their fields; we are left to ponder how many of the 9,000,000 young men lost in the war might have gone on to do great things in the arts, sciences, medicine, and politics.'

Only one week before the end of the war, whilst attempting to traverse the Sambre canal, the War Poet Wilfred Owen was shot and killed. The news of his death, on 4 November 1918, arrived at his parents' house in Shrewsbury on Armistice Day. For his courage and leadership in the October 1918 Joncourt action, Owen was awarded the Military Cross.


  1. I loved learning about these authors.
    British writers have the best way with words in my opinion, but I may be biased.
    Honestly, who could have put it any better?
    "it goes quite nicely up-hill if you push it.”

  2. Now that has really depressed me.
    The sad thing is little has changed.
    Make the head of state lead the troops is my suggestion. Our queen is a bit old now so Dithery Dave should take her place. There would be fewer battles and a bit more diplomacy.

  3. "The Schartz-Metterklume Method" was in my first reader in college, when I was eighteen. I was very much a "holy boy" (as I apparently remain) and I loved Munro's wry and almost innocent wickedness.

  4. Thanks for the tip. Don't think I ever heard of Saki... Just dowloaded two of them free for Kindle to add to my Classics list.

  5. Years ago there was a magazine called "This England." Don't know if it still exists, but I hope so. They published poems by several of the WWI poets who so tragically died in the trenches, Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen among them. WWI seems a particularly sad and pointless war, even more pointless than most wars. So many young men died, including Rob's great-aunt's fiance. Hilda never married and lived to the age of 90+, as an impoverished spinster and piano teacher.

  6. I remember the story 'Tobermory' quite well. The cat comes to a bad end, undeservedly I think. Once I started reading him, Saki became one of my favorite authors. I was about 10 years old at that time, and no one at my elementary school had heard of him, nor did they care to. The instructors weren't hired for their intelligence, you see.

  7. I had a dear friend named Leslie Norris – a Welsh poet. He spoke often of his father, a man who was formed, and in many ways ruined, by that war. When you mentioned artists lost, I immediately thought of Leslie, and poem he wrote titled “His Father, Singing.” It is worth Googling. I wonder if some artists were also created?

  8. I'll not start on my anti-war ranting but just concentrate on being grateful that I managed to introduce you to at least one author and such a wonderful one at that: Saki aka H H Munro has to be one of the wittiest and sometimes one of the most biting of authors (for those appreciating true English wit).

    1. Funnily enough, only yesterday I came across another one you introduced me to - Piet Hein. Have either of us blogged him I wonder?


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