This week’s choice is “Printer’s Error” by P.G. Wodehouse, showcasing the agony of an author whose work is muddled by a printer.
Prepare,’ I said, ‘to meet your GodP.G. Wodehouse (1881—1975)
Or, as you’d say, your Goo or Bod,
Or possibly your Gow.’
Poem 214. Printer’s Error
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 in lieu 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. Fire away.
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 did that once 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! Case dismissed.'
(Cheers, and a Voice 'Wow-wow!')
A statue stands against the sky, Lifelike and rather pretty. 'Twas recently erected by The P.E.N. committee. And many a passer-by 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".'
Wodehouse tells the story of an author who, having submitted his work to the printer, discovers a typo in the printed copy that completely reverses the sense of his description of a character. Having apparently suffered from this negligence before, he resolves to confront the malefactor and deal with him permanently, though accepting that this will mean trial and punishment.
On coming face to face with the culprit, he recounts the string of mishaps committed on his works before shooting the man. At the author’s trial, the judge allows him to make a statement before sentence is passed and he explains the whole sorry saga to the judge who suddenly exclaims that the same thing happened to him (“A dirty trick, I trow [believe]”) and that his sympathies are with the author, so he quashes the verdict and the author goes free, to be eventually commemorated by a statue.
I like this poem because it is written in the characteristic voice that Wodehouse used for so many of his Jeeves stories, which never fails to amuse me. The litany of complaint about misspellings is funny and I can’t really take the violence committed by the author seriously.
I hadn’t realised that Wodehouse wrote poetry as well as his legendary stories, though I remember that his biography describes his Broadway collaborations with the writer Guy Bolton after the First World War. Wodehouse’s lyrics were praised by contemporary critics and lyricists like Ira Gershwin according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
I recommend Stephen Fry’s reading of his favourite Jeeves stories—currently available through Audible—to anyone who enjoys light and entertaining reading.
- Listen to Stephen Fry reading five of his favourite Jeeves stories on Audible (membership required).