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A Literary Light by A. A. Milne

 

ANNESLEY BUPP was born one of the Bupps of Hampshire—the Fighting Bupps, as they were called. A sudden death in the family left him destitute at the early age of thirty, and he decided to take seriously to journalism for a living. That was twelve years ago. He is now a member of the Authors' Club; a popular after-dinner speaker in reply to the toast of Literature; and one of the best-paid writers in Fleet Street. Who's Who tells the world that he has a flat at Knightsbridge and a cottage on the river. If you ask him to what he owes his success he will assure you, with the conscious modesty of all great men, that he has been lucky; pressed further, that Hard Work and Method have been his watchwords. But to the young aspirant he adds that of course if you have it in you it is bound to come out.

I

When Annesley started journalism he realized at once that it was necessary for him to specialize in some subject. Of such subjects two occurred to him—"George Herbert" and "Trams." For a time he hesitated, and it was only the sudden publication of a brief but authoritative life of the poet which led him finally to the study of one of the least explored of our transit systems. Meanwhile he had to support himself. For this purpose he bought a roll-top desk, a typewriter, and an almanac; he placed the almanac on top of the desk, seated himself at the typewriter, and began.

It was the month of February; the almanac told him that it wanted a week to Shrove Tuesday. In four days he had written as many articles, entitled respectively Shrovetide Customs, The Pancake, Lenten Observances, and Tuesdays Known to Fame. The Pancake, giving as it did the context of every reference in literature to pancakes, was the most scholarly of the four; the Tuesday article, which hazarded the opinion that Rome may at least have been begun on a Tuesday, the most daring. But all of them were published.

This early success showed Annesley the possibilities of the topical article; it led him also to construct a revised calendar for his own use. In the "Bupp Almanac" the events of the day were put back a fortnight; so that, if the Feast of St Simon and St Jude fell upon the 17th, Annesley's attention was called to it upon the 3rd, and upon the 3rd he surveyed the Famous Partnerships of the epoch. Similarly, The Origin of Lord Mayor's Day was put in hand on October 26th.

He did not, however, only glorify the past; current events claimed their meed of copy. In the days of his dependence Annesley had travelled, so that he could well provide the local colour for such sketches as Kimberley as I Knew It (1901) and Birmingham by Moonlight (1903). His Recollections of St Peter's at Rome were hazy, yet sufficient to furnish an article with that title at the time of the Coronation. But I must confess that Dashes for the Pole came entirely from his invaluable Encyclopaedia....

II

Annesley Bupp had devoted himself to literature for two years before his first article on trams was written. This was called Voltage, was highly technical, and convinced every editor to whom it was sent (and by whom it was returned) that the author knew his subject thoroughly. So when he followed it up with How to be a Tram Conductor, he had the satisfaction not only of seeing it in print within a week, but of reading an editorial reference to himself as "the noted expert on our overhead system." Two other articles in the same paper—Some Curious Tram Accidents and Tram or Bus: Which?— established his position.

Once recognized as the authority on trams, Bupp was never at a loss for a subject. In the first place there were certain articles, such as Tramways in 1904, Progress of Tramway Construction in the Past Year, Tramway Inventions of the Last Twelvemonth, and The Tram: Its Future in 1905, which flowed annually from his pen. From time to time there would arise the occasion for the topical article on trams—Trams as Army Transports and How our Trams fared during the Recent Snow, to give two obvious examples. And always there was a market for such staple articles as Trams in Fiction....

III

You will understand, then, that by the end of 1906 Annesley Bupp had a reputation; to be exact, he had two reputations. In Fleet Street he was known as a writer upon whom a sub-editor could depend; a furnisher of what got to be called "buppy"—matter which is paid at a slightly higher rate than ordinary copy, because the length and quality of it never vary. Outside Fleet Street he was regarded simply as a literary light; Annesley Bupp, the fellow whose name you saw in every paper; an accepted author.

It was not surprising, therefore, that at the beginning of 1907 public opinion forced Annesley into (sic) n wer fields of literature. It demanded from him, among other things, a weekly review of current fiction entitled Fireside Friends. He wrote this with extraordinary fluency; a few words of introduction, followed by a large fragment of the book before him, pasted beneath the line, "Take this, for instance." An opinion of any kind he rarely ventured; an adverse opinion, like a good friend, never.

About this time he was commissioned to write three paragraphs each day for an evening paper. The first of them always began: "Mr Asquith's admission in the House of Commons yesterday that he had never done so and so is not without parallel. In 1746 the elder Pitt ..." The second always began: "Mention of the elder Pitt recalls the fact that ..." The third always began: "It may not be generally known ..."

Until he began to write these paragraphs Annesley Bupp had no definite political views.

IV

Annesley Bupp is now at the zenith of his fame. The "buppy" of old days he still writes occasionally, but he no longer signs it in full. A modest "A. B." in the corner, supposed by the ignorant to stand for "Arthur Balfour," is the only evidence of the author. (I say "the only evidence," for he has had, like all great men, his countless imitators.) Trams also he deserted with the publication of his great work on the subject—Tramiana. But as a writer on Literature and Old London he has a European reputation, and his recent book, In the Track of Shakespeare: A Record of a Visit to Stratford-on-Avon, created no little stir.

He is in great request at public dinners, where his speech in reply to the toast of Literature is eagerly attended.

He contributes to every symposium in the popular magazines.

It is all the more to be regretted that his autobiography, The Last of the Bupps, is to be published posthumously.

LITTLE PLAYS FOR AMATEURS

"FAIR MISTRESS DOROTHY"

THE SCENE IS AN APARTMENT IN THE MANSION OF Sir Thomas Farthingale. THERE IS NO NEED TO DESCRIBE THE FURNITURE IN IT, AS REHEARSALS WILL GRADUALLY SHOW WHAT IS WANTED. A PICTURE OR TWO OF PREVIOUS Sir Thomas's MIGHT BE SEEN ON THE WALLS, IF YOU HAVE AN ARTISTIC FRIEND WHO COULD ARRANGE THIS; BUT IT IS A MISTAKE TO HANG UP YOUR OWN ANCESTORS AS SOME OF YOUR GUESTS MAY RECOGNIZE THEM, AND THUS PIERCE BENEATH THE VRAISEMBLANCE OF THE SCENE.

THE PERIOD IS THAT OF CROMWELL—SIXTEEN SOMETHING.

THE COSTUMES ARE, IF POSSIBLE, OF THE SAME PERIOD.

Mistress Dorothy Farthingale IS SEATED IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STAGE, READING A LETTER AND OCCASIONALLY SIGHING.

ENTER My Lord Carey.

CAREY. Mistress Dorothy alone! Truly Fortune smiles upon me.

DOROTHY (HIDING THE LETTER QUICKLY). An she smiles, my lord, I needs must frown.

CAREY (USED TO THIS SORT OF THING AND NO LONGER PUT OFF BY IT). Nay, give me but one smile, sweet mistress. (SHE SIGHS HEAVILY.) You sigh! Is't for me?

DOROTHY (FEELING THAT THE SOONER HE AND THE AUDIENCE UNDERSTAND THE SITUATION THE BETTER). I sigh for another, my lord, who is absent.

CAREY (ANNOYED). Zounds, and zounds again!

A pest upon the fellow! (He strides up and down the room, keeping out of the way of his sword as much as possible.) Would that I might pink the pesky knave!

DOROTHY (turning upon him a look of hate). Would that you might have the chance, my lord, so it were in fair fighting. Methinks Roger's sword-arm will not have lost its cunning in the wars.

CAREY. A traitor to fight against his King!

DOROTHY. He fights for what he thinks is right. (She takes out his letter and kisses it.)

CAREY (observing the action). You have a letter from him!

DOROTHY (hastily concealing it, and turning pale). How know you that?

CAREY. Give it to me! (She shrieks and rises.) By heavens, madam, I will have it! [He struggles with her and seizes it.

Enter Sir Thomas.

SIR THOMAS. Odds life, my lord, what means this?

CAREY (straightening himself). It means, Sir Thomas, that you harbour a rebel within your walls. Master Roger Dale, traitor, corresponds secretly with your daughter. [Who, I forgot to say, has swooned.

SIR THOMAS (sternly). Give me the letter. Ay, 'tis Roger's hand, I know it well. (He reads the letter, which is full of thoughtful metaphors about love, aloud to the audience. Suddenly his eyebrows go up and down to express surprise. He seizes Lord Carey by the arm.) Ha! Listen! "To-morrow, when the sun is upon the western window of the gallery, I will be with thee." The villain!

CAREY (who does not know the house very well). When is that?

SIR THOMAS. Why,'tis now, for I have but recently passed through the gallery and did mark the sun.

CAREY (FIERCELY). In the name of the King, Sir Thomas, I call upon you to arrest this traitor.

SIR THOMAS (sighing). I loved the boy well, yet—[He shrugs his shoulders expressively and goes out with Lord Carey to collect sufficient force for the arrest.

Enter Roger by a secret door, R.

ROGER. My love!

DOROTHY (opening her eyes). Roger!

ROGER. At last!

[For the moment they talk in short sentences like this. Then DOROTHY puts her hand to her brow as if she is remembering something horrible.

DOROTHY. Roger! Now I remember! It is not safe for you to stay!

ROGER (very brave). Am I a puling child to be afraid?

DOROTHY. My Lord Carey is here. He has read your letter.

ROGER. The black-livered dog! Would I had him at my sword's point to teach him manners.

[He puts his hand to his heart and staggers into a chair.

DOROTHY. Oh, you are wounded!

ROGER. Faugh,'tis but a scratch. Am I a puling—

[He faints. She binds up his ankle.

Enter Lord Carey with two soldiers.

CAREY. Arrest this traitor! (ROGER is led away by the soldiers.)

Dorothy (stretching out her hands to him). Roger! (She sinks into a chair.)

Carey (choosing quite the wrong moment for a proposal). Dorothy, I love you! Think no more of this traitor, for he will surely hang. 'Tis your father's wish that you and I should wed.

Dorothy (refusing him). Go, lest I call in the grooms to whip you.

Carey. By heaven—(thinking better of it) I go to fetch your father.

[Exit.

Enter Roger by secret door, L.

Dorothy. Roger! You have escaped!

Roger. Knowest not the secret passage from the wine cellar, where we so often played as children? 'Twas in that same cellar the thick-skulled knaves immured me.

Dorothy. Roger, you must fly! Wilt wear a cloak of mine to elude our enemies?

Roger (missing the point rather). Nay, if I die, let me die like a man, not like a puling girl. Yet, sweetheart—

Enter Lord Carey by ordinary door.

Carey (forgetting himself in his confusion). Odds my zounds, dod sink me! What murrain is this?

Roger (seizing Sir Thomas's sword, which had been accidentally left behind on the table, as I ought to have said before, and advancing threateningly). It means, my lord, that a villain's time has come. Wilt say a prayer?

[They fight, and Carey is disarmed before they can hurt each other.

Carey (dying game). Strike, Master Dale!

Roger. Nay, I cannot kill in cold blood.

[He throws down his sword. Lord Carey exhibits considerable emotion at this, and decides to turn over an entirely new leaf.

Enter two soldiers.

Carey. Arrest that man! (Roger is seized again.) Mistress Dorothy, it is for you to say what shall be done with the prisoner.

Dorothy (standing up if she was sitting down, and sitting down if she was standing up). Ah, give him to me, my lord!

Carey (joining the hands of Roger and Dorothy). I trust to you, sweet mistress, to see that the prisoner does not escape again.

[Dorothy and Roger embrace each other, if they can do it without causing a scandal in the neighbourhood, and the curtain goes down.

 
 
 

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