This article has been transcribed from a copy of the Cardiff Times in the online collection of scanned Welsh newspapers 1804-1919 in the National Library of Wales, with grateful recognition of the free access accorded to all readers. Where necessary paragraph breaks have been introduced for easier reading. — David Skilton

Samuel is now locating himself firmly in the newspaper world. He continues to have a fictional exchange with the editor, and complicates his satire on ‘aspirants’ seeking to earn money from the paper, by continually petitioning the editor for a pay-rise or a loan for himself. He draws attention to the gulf between the wealthy and the ‘others’ in society by mentioning the biggest topical company flotation, that of Guinness the brewers, who went public in October 1886, when their shares were oversubscribed twenty times and closed the first day at a 60% premium. The illustration strengthens the verbal content by showing a petitioner with the manuscript of ‘a small poem of a thousand lines’. In a conventional, humorous twist, Samuel turns out to be writing to the editor just such a letter as he complains about receiving from others. — David Skilton

I am the recipient of many communications in the shape of letters, sir. Some of them are of a very usual and commonplace character in blue envelopes — letters which contain mysterious references to ‘last applications,’ and ‘solicitors,’ and ‘heavy payments to meet’ - and others of them are of an unusual, not to add puzzling, nature, and either make extraordinary requests, or propound for me the most astounding conundrums. I, the other day, received such an unusual letter as that I have been speaking of. It is from a literary aspirant in want of an introduction to the press. It was delivered by a hungry looking boy, who knocked in so authoritative a manner as made me suspect he had come from my landlord about the arrears of rent. Here is his letter, written, sir, on two sides of a penny account book: —

Words from Wm. Wheeler

‘Dear Samuel,— I suppose that it is usual to call you that, though I don't know you from Adam. The doctor says that I'm suffering from softening of the brain, so he advises me to take to writing; in fact, he says that no one who did not suffer from softening of the brain ever would take to writing. It is no compliment to you that I first offer my services in your direction, is it? But then, you know, as the poet (I don't know who it was, but it's quite immaterial) says, ‘Great wits to madness often are allied’ -- and they are often allied to liquids, too; I know that. Of course I shall ask to be paid for anything I may send (don't finger the office ruler), and shall require an early settlement — but not with the ruler, for I don't wish to take any shares — share, I mean -- in a cemetery company yet awhile. I feel convinced that were I on your editor's staff, I should soon be at the head of the pole — that is, poll. Staff, pole, poll, see, eh? I send you herewith an M.S., an M.S.-ary of my own bears it to you, and I trust that you'll bare it to the world. It is warranted to go off like Guinness's shares:[i] to make your readers twist like regulation bayonets, and to be as big a tissue (the great point at tissue) of lies as a company prospectus. I should say I'm a poet too. (I learnt the trade, sir, while in prison.) Were I to join the poet crew, old Tennyson would slit his wiz[z]en. I state this fact (it isn't flam by way of throwing out a feeler; and now chin, chin! Dear sir, I am, yours very truly,

WILLIAM WHEELER’                                          

Was ever such stuff written, sir? And fancy the bare-faced impudence of sending it to me. It strikes me that Mr Wheeler's medical adviser has spoken out too late, and that the case is a hopeless one. If Mr Wheeler has the price of a strait jacket, let him go straight and get it, as strait as ever be can, for he hasn't much time to lose. Why they didn't keep him in prison, I can't tell. Having read his impudent letters need I tell you that I have not had the courage to attack his article? Wheeler's communication, however, sir, has suggested to me that I might as well say a few words to that very numerous, and by no means diffident, body, the literary aspirants. In the first place, then, let me advise them not to write at all, but if they really must indulge in that kind of madness, and if they be of the male sex, better let them send their compositions, poetical or otherwise, to the Editor - who is not likely to read them and who can at least make something out of the waste paper sold — than to any demoiselle they may fancy lest learned counsel should be instructed to sub-edit their contributions in open court. I would also conjure the literary aspirant to by no means lay the flattering unction to his soul that he can ‘get over’ an editor by talking about ‘trespassing on the limited space of his (the editor's) valuable and most influential journal.’ That sort of thing won't ‘fizz’ nowadays, no, not even with editors whose papers only circulate about a thousand a week. Of course I would always countenance the literary aspirant to demand a high price for his valuable work - in fact, he generally does so without any suggestion from anybody. He ought always to demand about £10 a column. He is sure to get it - not. Should the tyro find that a contribution has been inserted, though in a much altered form, he should at once call on the editor to whom the matter has been submitted to complain of the ‘mutilation’ (that is the orthodox word in such cases, sir, I call you to witness) of his valuable manuscript. It would be exceedingly unwise of him, however, to go too far in his demands for redress, lest the football reporter should be hastily summoned and comm[a?]nded to keep his hand -- nay, I mean his foot -- in the drop kick business.

My own literary experiences, sir, have been many and varied. Never shall I forget my first contribution to the press. It was, of course, in verse - I have been going from bad to verse ever since - and was of the seared bosom, withering hopes, blighted affections, dust-and-ashes order. I don't suppose that it hurt anybody very much because I doubt whether anybody could make head or tail of it, and it certainly pleased me. I spent all the money that I had reserved for a new walking cane in purchasing copies of the paper. I gave one to my maiden aunt, Tabitha, who said it was evident that I was taking to evil courses, and who never invited me to tea thereafter; indeed, she stopped the sixpence a week she had been accustomed to allow me. The marvellous knowledge of the world, sir, displayed in those early verses may be best understood when I say that I was fourteen when they were written. Of course there was a maiden in them (maiden is the word; it is eminently unpoetical to talk of a ‘girl’ or ‘young woman’ in verses) — a maiden for whom I cherished a hopeless passion. Since then I’ve been very glad that it was a hopeless passion, for when I last saw the lady she had lost all her front teeth, had a very gingery sort of nose, suggestive of a chronic cold in the head, and was the mother of seven as ugly and contumacious brats as could possibly be found outside of a reformatory.

Well, sir, I subsequently became connected with a comic paper. I knew it was a comic paper from the fact that all the members of the staff were so exceedingly melancholy in private life - and so direfully ‘hard up withal. I was welcomed as a man and a brother, and a member of the staff immediately I showed my serious verses (and paid my ‘footing), and one regular contributor to the paper - a gentleman who did the dramatic criticisms - said that he had not heard anything funnier for a long tune. He said that I was turgid enough even to write pantomime, and then he burrowed half-a[-]crown of me, My experiences on that journal were many and varied. They extended from temporarily mor[t]gaging my watch in order to buy the railway stamps to send the parcels off, to having a stand-up fight in the office with a bloated town councillor — an inventor, sir - about whom I was alleged to have said that the only thing he never invented was something to enable him to keep himself sober. I couldn't ‘cotton’ to apologising for this yarn of mine, and in the fight I got worsted. At one stage of the battle, sir, I had that inventive member of the corporation in Chancery, as it is called, and I was somewhat nimbly punching his head, when he got my thumb into his mouth (base cannibal) and gave me an awful nip. We were separated immediately by the advertisement canvasser, who dashed a slab of Stickphast [paste] full in my adversary's face. In my capacity of sub-editor I was told off to receive all duns and bailiffs — and gentlemen with facetious contributions. If anything, I think that the little contributions left by the aforesaid bailiffs were more acceptable even than those deposited by the before-mentioned funny men.

As regards poets (or people who thought themselves poets), I had a most considerable experience of them — a sad experience, sir, indeed. Some of them even went so far as to attempt to read their awful lucubrations to me. But I was generally even with such as these. Whilst they were in the midst of their halting lines, it was my custom to slip quietly out by a side door, leaving them to read complacently on, whilst I slipped round the corner to partake of a little light refreshment. If I met on the landing an irate man thirsting for the gore of someone connected with the staff, it was my custom to send him in to the poet, at the same time representing that gentleman to be the author of the paragraph complained of. But this latter plan, sir, sometimes had its drawbacks, for had we not to pay out of the petty cash (when the staff had not already appropriated it) for the ambulance necessary to bear the battered form of a pulverised poet to the nearest hospital, the house surgeons of which lived in a state of constant anticipation in regard to casualties connected with the jocund journal I had the honour to represent? Unhappily too, the office furniture suffered grievously on such occasions as these; indeed, the rooms pertaining to the editorial department were a species of museum of dilapidated desks, three-legged chairs, bent and contorted fire-irons, and backless books of reference. In order to prevent accidents it was at length found necessary to remove the fire-irons entirely, the fire being subsequently stirred with the handle of a dismantled umbrella, and to chain the office ruler to the desk like an ill-conditioned watch-dog in a back yard. But my miseries in regard to obtrusive contributors were not com[f]ined to the office alone, for was I not the victim, wheresoever I might take my walks a broad, of the would-be jocular individuals who had ‘something so funny, you know’ to tell me —'something that would set everybody in a roar,’ and make the fortune of the paper. I generally found that these outside communications if I may I call them, were either grossly libellous. wholly unfit for publication on the score of delicacy, or completely lacking in anything like point. In fact there was generally in them either too much point or not point enough. But I bore up bravely, and ran the gauntlet of tragedians bent upon telling me that I was ‘a hireling cur; lady contributors on malice bent; men whose grievance was the dimness of the gas, or the impurity of the town's water, and half a hundred of the other torments which beset the path of the comic journalist. Since then, sir, my career is pretty well known to you. I am, as a member of your staff, Allah be thanked, on the high road to fame and fortune, though I am, to be candid with you, (but quite temporarily of course) in a slight monetary difficulty just at present; but if you could, on the faith of the brilliant future which you must know, beyond all other men, awaits me, send me some such insignificant trifle as a couple of pounds sterling by the bearer, I should naturally esteem it — but you know the rest. I shall await your favourable reply.

Last modified 21 October 2021