The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, June 1912
On my arrival in New York I received your letter offering to secure my nomination and election as Life Member of the Students' Association in consideration of an account "in my own bright unexpurgated style" of my wanderings under the Star-Spangled Banner . I am unable to accept your offer of a cheque for the full amount of your profits for the year, but I shall be glad if you will pay it into the C. U. Fund. I would ask you to remember that I am an amateur, if nothing else. Many thanks for the balance- sheet of last year, which arrived safely. It took me six days to reach this city, six days in which I learned and laboured; and let me say right here that Professor Mackenize himself would have grown haggard if he let loose certain flowers of speech which passed for Anglo-Saxon on the "Overland, Limited." A few of the select periods which the seventh and subsequent days brought forth I am saving for a night at the Heretics' Club—and for Von.
For the present I must accept the handicap which your columns place upon my thought and speech, though I must confess that the easy grasp of fact, the great variety and richness of colouring, and the cheerful political invective which are characteristic of the journalism of the "Pacific" Coast make even the gentle puerilities of a Times cartoon on Mr. Massey, or the restrained tenderness of the Dominion towards Sir John Findlay, appear rather flat and unsatisfying. Why the 'Frisco Democrat would have called Sir John * * * But I must not digress. Just another word before I start. Your name was an "open sesame" to every door, especially after had, in one of my celebrated in America who had not taken the Spike. I was told so without the slightest shame or hesitation. Uncle Jonathan adds to his linguistic enterprise a frankness which is surprising.page 12
As a private citizen I had hoped to pass incog. Through the land of Stars and Stripes. Your letter cast other duties and responsibilities upon me, and I set out at once for Philadelphia. (My account for travelling expenses you will receive by next mail.) On my way I took counsel with myself as to the disguise I should use to gain admittance to the President. I remembered the effect produced at a Tennis-Afternoon-Tea-Party when I masquerade as "Brookes." I remembered once, before my friend Cleghorn became Treasurer of the Hockey Club, "passing off" on the "Duchess" as the "Master of the Band, " and I had the liveliest recollection of creating quite a sensation on the "Aorangi " by stowing away as the "Wireless Spark." My subtle impersonation of "The Gentle Sausage" had created such a furore in Chicago that I had again to stow away, this time as a grape-nut, in order to evade the unsolicited tributes of the populace. Pondering, I trust with becoming modesty, on these small successes, you will not be surprised to hear that I determined to enter the White House as "Star and Tripe."
Armed, then, with my frock-coat, specially designed by David Milligan (advt.) a silk hat set at a slight yet perceptible angle to my diamond scarf-pin, and a moustache copied from nature by the famous Wahren, I looked a star indeed. In my left hand I carried a collected edition of my poems.
No sooner had I climbed the steps of the White House than I found I was expected. I was surrounded by pleasant officials, who seemed interested in my past life and future plans, and who passed me on to elevators and other officials, until at last. I was ushered into a large room, in the middle of which stood a huge desk. 'Behind it I saw a stout figure, and I heard what appeared to be the scratching of a pen. My training as lecturer in Anglo-Saxon now served me in good stead. My nerve did not desert me for a single moment. I eluded the official who stood by me, and, going up to the figure, proffered the right hand, which I had left ungloved for that purpose. " On behalf of the subscribers," I began but the figure was not moved by this fine flight of imagination. "That," said the official shortly, "is 'Mr. Sighter." Anarchists and other people page 13 in haste usually have their first (and incidentally their last) shot at 'Mr. Sighter.' " You will notice that even this trained officer had not yet penetrated the disguise.
However, I was now permitted to enter the next room, and quick and smoke rings which were chasing one another in quick and geometric succession to the ceiling, I felt that I was in the presence of greatness. The speech I had prepared faded before his easy and kindly greeting.
"Have a 'Teddy,' " he said, holding out a box of very stout and aggressive cigars. "I call them 'Teddies,' " he went on, in answer to my inquiring look, because each tries to give the impression that he is the one and only angel of light. I think you will find," he added without the least sign of embrassment, "that the ones you were kind enough to put into your breast pocket as mementos of your visit are not inferior to the one you are now smoking."
"They are matchless," I replied artlessly, dropping a ring over a coat peg on the wall opposite.
"On the contrary," said the President, notching my shaft (so to speak) with two rings in quick succession, "that is merely the 'Teddy' illusion. They will and their match, and end in smoke."
Feeling that he had the advantage of the ground, past not wishing to throw my weight on either side in the Presidential struggle, I skillfully changed the subject.
"Yes," he said, in answer to a question, "although I have given no close study to the details of your party fights, I keep in touch with your great names, and occasionally I have the pleasure of an official visit from one of the more distinguished of your citizens."
I had hardly returned his courteous bow, when he continued:
"It may surprise you to know that I have followed the careers of Sir Joseph Ward, Sir John Findlay, and Mr. Payne, with more than ordinary interest. The friendly intercourse between nations, and more especially between the public men of the foremost Powers, will leads to international understanding and sympathy, and ultimately to the fullest reciprocity. The first step in his direction page 14 must be taken by the great branches of the Anglo-Saxon race. It is for this reason that I see without jealousy that Mr. Rooseveldt has invited Mr. Payne to contribute to the Outlook an article on 'Election Pledges' or 'Home Truths for Foreign Consumption," while it is rumoured that Theodore himself has promised to write the introduction to a second edition of 'Humbugs and Homilies.'"
I was not able at that moment to penetrate the smoke which shrouded those inscrutable eyes, but I thought it wise to change the subject once more.
"I believe you are a pillar of the Unitarian Church," I observed. "My friend John Gammell——"
"Ah, yes," he interrupted and it did not escape me that he pressed a button. "Saint John, the Divine. I see you carry a Unitarian Hymnal in your left hand."
At this moment an unctuous official announced the Turkish Ambassador, and before I could make an explanation I found myself once more on the front steps.
Pressure of social engagement, the receiving of presentations, and a severe snowstorm kept me a prisoner for some few days. I had, however, planned a little trip to Harvard in the interests of your paper, and, as you will guess, I was not denied. It is well known that the President of Harvard is harder to approach than the President of the United States. However, a letter from our old friend Dicky Maclaurin, your august name, and the repute of the New Zealand LL. B., procured me the entrée. This time I assumed the part of the "Devil's Own," a rôle which I fill with a perfection which I attribute, not so much to my natural ability, as to the fact that for some years I was the chosen understudy of Charley Skerrett.
"I particurlarly wished to ask," I said, after the formal preliminaries had been negotiated, "whether you have any suggestions to make with regards to the Reforms proposed in the University of New Zealand."
"Ah," he replied without hesitation, "the presence of so distinguished an educationalist as Sir Robert Stout as Chancellor is sufficient guarantee of efficieny and progress." "Not only is this so, " he continued in his most page 15 impressive tones, "but we have the best evidence of its truth. The Judge himself has taken the witness-box, has submitted himself to cross-examination, and, returning to the Judgement Seat, has summed up in favour of the accused,"
"It is very cheering," I said, "to know that the outside world places so high a value on our Chancellor, said incidentally upon our degrees. Are there any other words of hope you would like me to take back with me?"
"The appointment of examiners," he said, again without hesitation, is a very important matter. The appointment of so great a jurist as Mr. Logan Stout by your University has done much to steady your LL.B. Stock. Do you take me?"
"You mean," I ventured, "that as the Chancellor sets the value the stock is just about 'par'."
"Precisely," he continued, "but apart from that a University which can turn out an 'Old Clay Patch' is in no need of Reform."
Feeling that I was clean bowled, I began to regret that I had not masqueraded as a "Pair of Specs," a character in which I had several times come before the home public, each time with complete success. However, I decided to try one more hit.
"It is difficult," I remarked, "for one who, like myself, fronting the world with an open mind unclouded by a priori conclusion, clothed, so to speak, in maiden innocence, to choose between the conflicting claims of Heretics'Clubs and Christian Unions, Hall-Jones and Professor Picken."
"Sounds rather a hopeless choice," he agreed, tapping gently on the floor. "Why discards the open minds and maiden innocence?"
At this moment a menial appeared. Behind him, in the doorway, I observed a deputation of millionaires preparing to offer huge sums if the University would accept them,"
"Good-bye, come again," chirruped the President, "sometime when I'm less busy."page 16
Before the mail closed I decided to pay one more call. Through Professor Starr Jordan, by the courtesy of Sir Robert Stout, I had obtained a letter to the Poet Riley. The letter with your card, I sent by post to herald my approach. They were entirely unnecessary. Disguised as "Spring," I approached his door. He was out .He had gone away that very morning for change and rest. On the day I left San Franciso, however, I received a note. No address was given, but it ran as follows:—
"Dear Sir,—I receive about 4,000 letters a year, containing in all about 36000 Spring peoms. The letters, as they are received, are noted and dealt with in order of receipt (Transfer system). I have just received your budget. To say that I am impressed is an understatement. I have, in fact, decided to publish all you sent me in my next book of poems. This is a triumph rare indeed. I make no charge, however, and my publisher will be instructed, on receipt from you of love five dollars, to send you a copy of my book specially bound in American hide. This is the only acknowledgement you will receive. I can promise you. However, that your work will be read and appreciated wherever the American Eagle spreads his talons, and that you will live in the minds of my countrymen under the same of your brother poet, Riley."
You will, I am sure, Sir, after such a tribute, find room for a little spasm which Bertie Church and myself concocted for our American contemporary. I have no doubt it will be published (almost contemporary) in the United States.
I Have an Oath. (A.S. adh.)
"An oath, an oath. I have an oath in Heaven."
I have on oath, a little thing from Stylee
("T was really 'Frisco. But of rhymes I'm chary,
For far away's my rhyming dictionary).
A very oath, I value it most highly.
Not such a flower as David Smith Might use,
But one of bright and variegated hues.
page 17 (I'd have you understand I hate puerilities,
And have distaste for unrelieved swer-ilities.)
An oath for high occasions planned, for life, death, providences, and—Riley.
Its breath is redolently roof-and-tiley,
Its tongue is forked, both serpentine and wily.
(The Rondeau much restricts the muse.
The special on that guides abuse
Likes something rather more diffuse).
I love its wondrous skewer-ilities.
I have an oath.
Time is not yet, for commonplace dogs fancy nighly,
But when I slip the leashes (note the figure) slyly,
When suddenly the pack its tongue lets loose.
(You will excuse these healthy doggerel-ities
When you shall see the rhyme how well-it-is).
Then shall blasphemers tremble (even Bertie), whispering shyly,
Mystic, thunderful ! it may, will, must, pulverize— that poet Riley.
I have an oath.
N.B.—As a matter of fact, in justice to myself, I must add that I have several. To put them altogether and describe them a one is, However, a legitimate use of Poet's License.
Aftermath.—It will be noted that a good deal has been left to the imagination. In fact, I have left out all I intended to say. This is quite common with the essayists of the English Class, and accounts for the popularity of most of the major poets. With poesy as with painting, the beauty often lies in what is suggested—and left out. Only those who know me and the purlieus of Chicago will realise how much I have left to the imagination.
Addenda.—I could supply (gratis) a few odds and ends which would describe the N.Z. Times trimming its sails for the impending fall of the "Great Liberal Party."
Give my love to Von, Kirk, and the Frog.
Your disrespectful correspondent,