From The Saturday Evening Post, Volume 188, comes a short story by P. G. Wodehouse, entitled, The Aunt and the Sluggard. This is 1925. The rise of fascism is occurring in real time, a muddled mush of aspiration, intellectual irresponsibility, and dark intent. Related is the “Life is real, life is earnest,” school of thought regarding the purpose of art. (No offense to Longfellow.) All gentle things are eschewed. Everything is meant to be “fine,” and “splendid” and “severe” and “strong.” It seems a sort of code for, “Fascism and Communism sat down one day and decided to divide the human race’s sins between them in order to more efficiently set the moral outrage of their followers against one another, and they flipped a coin, and Communism got the feminine vices and Fascism got the masculine vices. And the gay fellows weren’t sure where they belonged at first, but then they all crowded into Fascism’s propaganda department at the last minute.”
Wodehouse, who is temperamentally unable to take anything in earnest, spoofs this school of art with a character of interest to us – a poet!
Wodehouse’s favorite character, Bertie Wooster, is here describing his country-dwelling chum, Rockmetteller “Rocky” Todd, whom he describes as “constitutionally the laziest young devil in North America” and who, he declares, can waste hours just watching a worm and wondering what it’s up to.
Rocky is a poet. Not a sincere one. To wit:
He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn’t know there was enough money in poetry to support a man, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don’t shove in any rimes, editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:
The past is dead.
Tomorrow is not born.
Be with every nerve,
With every muscle,
With every drop of your red blood!
It was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine, with a sort of scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly nude chappie with bulging muscles, giving the rising sun the once-over.
As regards the future, he had a moneyed aunt tucked away somewhere in Illinois; and, as he had been named Rockmetteller after her and was her only nephew, his position was pretty sound. He told me that when he did come into the money he meant to do no work at all, except perhaps an occasional poem recommending the young man with life opening out before him, with all its splendid possibilities, to light a pipe and shove his feet up on the mantelpiece.