PG Wodehouse, that unsurpassed master of the English language, was a complete revelation to me when I first opened one of his books at the age of 11. I recently came across this poem of his, when I found an anthology of poetry I’d compiled when I was 14, a very long time ago indeed! Best argument for the importance of proofreading that I’ve read in a long time!
As o’er my latest book I pored,
Enjoying it immensely
I suddenly exclaimed ‘Good Lord!’
And gripped the volume tensely.
‘Golly!’ I cried. I writhed in pain. ‘They’ve done it on me once again!’
And furrows creased my brow.
I’d written (which I thought quite good)
‘Ruth, ripening into womanhood,
Was now a girl who knocked men flat
And frequently got whistled at,’
And some vile, careless, casual gook
Had spoiled the best thing in the book
By printing ‘not’ (yes ‘not’, great Scott!)
When I had written ‘now’.
On murder in the first degree
The Law, I knew, is rigid:
Its attitude, if A kills B,
To A is always frigid.
It counts it not a trivial slip
If on behalf of authorship
You liquidate compositors.
This kind of conduct it abhors
And seldom will allow.
Nevertheless, I deemed it best
And in the public interest
To buy a gun, to oil it well,
Inserting what is called a shell,
And go and pot
With sudden shot
This printer who had printed ‘not’
When I had written ‘now’.
I tracked the bounder to his den
Through private information:
I said ‘Good afternoon’ and then
Explained the situation:
‘I’m not a fussy man,’ I said
‘I smile when you put “rid” for “red”
And “bad” for “bed” and “hoad” for “head”
And “bolge” instead of “bough”.
When “wone” appears instead of “wine”
Or if you alter “Cohn” to “Schine”,
I never make a row.
I know how easy errors are.
But this time you have gone too far
By printing ‘not’ when you knew what
I really wrote was ‘now’.
‘Prepare,’ I said, ‘to meet your God
Or,as you’d say your Goo or Bod
Or possibly your Gow.’
A few weeks later into court
I came to stand my trial.
The judge was quite a decent sort,
He said, ‘Well, cocky, I’ll
Be passing sentence in a jiff,
And so, my poor unhappy stiff,
If you have anything to say
Now is the moment.
I said ‘And how!
Me lud, the facts I don’t dispute.
I did, I own it freely, shoot
This printer through the collar stud.
What else could I have done, me lud?
He’d printed “not”…’
The judge said ‘What!
When you had written “now”?
God bless my soul!
Gadzooks!’ said he.
‘The blighters once did that to me.
A dirty trick, I trow
I hereby quash and override
The jury’s verdict. Gosh!’ he cried.
‘Give me your hand.
Yes I insist, you splendid fellow!
(Cheers, and a voice ‘Wow-wow!’)
A statue stands against the sky,
Lifelike and rather pretty.
‘Twas recently erected by
The PEN committee.
And many a passerby is stirred,
For on the plinth, if that’s the word,
In golden letters you may read
‘This is the man who did the deed.
His hand set to the plough,
He did not sheathe the sword, but got
A gun at great expense and shot
The human blot who’d printed “not”
When he had written “now”.
He acted with no thought of self,
Not for advancement, not for pelf,
But just because it made him hot
To think the man had printed “not”
When he had written “now“.’