Fun With Hector

Just a short post to let you know that I've been having an almost shocking amount of fun reading that all-too-little-known English author Hector Hugh ("H. H.") Munro, a.k.a. "Saki". He was a chap who must have been fun to know; he was born in 1870 in Burma as the son of a British police commissioner, he was raised in England after his mother died. Later Hector travelled with his father in Europe and then followed in pater's vestigia (dad's footsteps, that is) and served in the Burma police before he contracted malaria. In 1914 he enlisted as a footsoldier in the British Army, refused the offer of a commission (several times), went to France in 1915, and was killed by a Kraut sniper in 1916 (his last words apparently were "Put that damned cigarette out!").

Paradoxically, as I read Saki (right now I'm on The Unbearable Bassington [1912]), I'm glad I no longer keep a commonplace book, because then I'd have so much to copy into it. Here are a few choice quotes (and bear in mind, I've only just begun the book):

In her brother Henry, who sat eating small cress sandwiches as solemnly as though they had been ordained in some immemorial Book of Observances, fate had been undisguisedly kind to her. He might so easily have married some pretty helpless little woman, and lived at Notting Hill Gate, and been the father of a long line of pale, clever, useless children, who would have had birthdays and the sort of illnesses that one is expected to send grapes to, and who whoul dhave painted fatuous objects in a South Kensington manner as Christmas offerings to an aunt whose cubic space for lumber was limited.... He had gone into Parliament, possibly with the idea of making his home life seem less dull; at any rate it redeemed his career from insignificance, for no man whose death can produce the term 'another by-election' on the news posters can be wholly a nonentity.

Serena had a harmless way of inviting a number of more or less public men and women to her house, and hoping that if you left them together long enough they would constitute a salon. In pursuance of the same instinct she planted the flower borders at her weekend cottage retreat in Surrey with a large mixture of bulbs, and called the result a Dutch garden.

The public missed in him that touch of blatancy which it loooks for in its rising public men; the decorative smoothness of his chestnut-golden hair, and the lively sparkle of his epigrams were counted to him for good, but the restrained sumptuousness of his waistcoats and cravats were as wasted efforts. If he had habitually smoked cigarettes in a pink coral mouthpiece, or worn spats of Mackenzie tartan, the great heart of the voting-man, and the gush of the paragraph-makers might have been unreservedly his. The art of public life consists to a great extent of knowing exactly where to stop and going a bit further.

It seems to me that Saki, while perhaps not as laughter-creating as Wodehouse or thought-provoking as Chesterton, nevertheless drank of the same delightful fonts.