MOSCOW — By Russian standards, the few lines that Melania Trump used from Michelle Obama for her speech at the Republican National Convention this week would barely tip the plagiarism scale. — The New York Times, July 22, 2016
By Russian Standards, Melania Trump Would Be a Plagiarism Amateur
I had been hoping to awake in this state of mind. It is hours before 5 A.M. when I am scheduled to leave my bed, drink coffee, toast bread, smear the toast with butter and consider whether to add marmalade.
The truth is I found myself writing about Bashir Gemayel (given the odd situation the current Prime Minister of Lebanon is experiencing) and as a matter of course mentioned Evelyn Waugh. One thing led to another. I found myself searching the Internet for a public domain copy of Scoop, a truly wonderful book–although “wonderful” is a word I do not like using because doing so requires unnecessary elaboration. Here it is. Wonderful enough.
Even though Evelyn Waugh’s black comedy novel requires no introduction, I am introducing it anyway because doing so makes it possible to tell you about my romance with Pola Negri (clearly not her real name).
My story may have some truth in it. I am not the only one Scoop has influenced. Tina Brown was sufficiently influenced by the novel that she called her real news institution The Daily Beast based on the Scoop newspaper.
While still a young man, John Courteney Boot had, as
his publisher proclaimed, achieved an assured and enviable
position in contemporary letters. His novels sold fifteen
thousand copies in their first year and were read by the
people whose opinion John Boot respected.
Between novels he kept his name sweet in intellectual circles with un-profitable but modish works on history and travel His
signed first editions sometimes changed hands at a shilling
or two above their original price.
He had published eight books – (beginning with a life of Rimbaud written when he was eighteen, and concluding, at the moment, with
Waste of Time , a studiously modest description of some
harrowing months among the Patagonian Indians) – of
which most people who lunched with Lady Metroland could
remember the names of three or four.
He had many charming friends of whom the most valued was the lovely Mrs Algernon Stitch.
Like all m her circle John Boot habitually brought his
difficulties to her for solution. It was with this purpose, on
a biting-cold mid-June morning, that he crossed the Park
and called at her house (a superb creation by Nicholas
Hawksmoor modestly concealed in a cul-de-sac near Saint
Algernon Stitch was standing in the hall, his bowler hat
was on his head; his right hand, grasping a crimson, royally
emblazoned despatch case, emerged from the left sleeve of
his overcoat; his other hand burrowed petulantly in his
breast pocket. An umbrella under his left arm further in-
convenienced him. He spoke indistinctly, for he was holding
a folded copy of the morning paper between his teeth.
‘Not in Wasters. On Arthur’s ceiling I put it in the Prime
Minister’s bedroom ’
‘Did he read it?’
‘Well I don’t think he reads much.’
‘Terracotta is too long, madam, and there is no r.’
‘Try hottentot It’s that kind of word. I can never do
anagrams unless I can see them. No Twisbury , you must
have heard of it.’
‘Flonbus Austrum,’ Josephine chanted, ‘perditus et
liquidis immisi fontibus apros; having been lost with flowers in the South and sent into the liquid fountains* apros is
wild boars but I couldn’t quite make sense of that bit.’
‘We’ll do it tomorrow. I’ve got to go out now. Iis “hotten-
tot” any use?’
‘No madam,’ said Brittling with ineffable gloom.
‘Oh, dear. I must look at it in my bath. I shall only be
ten minutes. Stay and talk to Josephine.’
She was out of bed and out of the room. Brittling followed.
Miss Holloway collected the cheques and papers. The
young man on the ladder dabbed away industriously.
Josephine rolled to the head of the bed and stared up at
‘It’s very banal, isn’t it, Boot?’
‘I like it very much.’
‘Do you? I think all Arthur’s work is banal. I read your
book Waste of Time
‘Ah.’ John did not invite criticism.
‘I thought it very banal.’
‘You seem to find everything banal.’
‘It is a new word whose correct use I have only lately
learnt,’ said Josephine with dignity. ‘I find it applies to
nearly everything* Virgil and Miss Brittling and my gym-
‘How is the gymnasium going?’
‘I am by far the best of my class although there are
several girls older than me and two middle-class boys.’
When Mrs Stitch said ten minutes, she meant ten min-
utes. Sharp on time she was back, dressed for the street ; her
lovely face, scraped clean of clay, was now alive with
‘Sweet Josephine, has Mr Boot been boring you?’
‘It was all right really. I did most of the talking.’
‘Show him your imitation of the Prime Minister.’
‘Sing him your Neapolitan song ’
‘Stand on your head. Just once for Mr Boot.’
‘Oh dear. Well we must go at once if we are to get to
Bethnal Green and back before luncheon. The traffic’s
Algernon Stitch went to his office m a sombre and rather
antiquated Daimler; Julia always drove herself, in the latest
model of mass-produced, baby car, brand-new twice a year,
painted an invariable brilliant black, tiny and glossy as a
midget’s funeral hearse. She mounted the kerb and bowled
rapidly along the pavement to the corner of St James’s,
where a policeman took her number and ordered her into
‘Third time this week,’ said Mrs Stitch. ‘I wish they
wouldn’t. It’s such a nuisance for Algy.’
Once embedded in the traffic block, she stopped the
engine and turned her attention to the crossword.
‘It’s “detonated”,’ she said, filling it m.
East wind swept the street, carrying with it the exhaust
gas of a hundred motors and coarse particles of Regency
stucco from a once decent Nash facade that was being
demolished across the way. John shivered and rubbed some grit further into his eye. Eight minutes close application was
enough to finish the puzzle. Mrs Stitch folded the paper and
tossed it over her shoulder into the back seat, looked about
her resentfully at the stationary traffic.
‘This is too much,’ she said, started the engine, turned
sharp again onto the kerb and proceeded to Piccadilly, driv-
ing before her at a brisk pace, until he took refuge on the
step of Brook’s, a portly, bald young man; when he reached
safety, he turned to remonstrate, recognized Mrs Stitch, and
bowed profoundly to the tiny, black back as it shot the corner
of Arlington Street. ‘One of the things I like about these
absurd cars, 5 she said, ‘is that you can do things with them
that you couldn’t do in a real one.’
From Hyde Park Corner to Piccadilly Circus the line of
traffic was continuous and motionless, still as a photograph,
unbroken and undisturbed save at a few strategic corners
where barricaded navvies, like desperate outposts of some
proletarian defence, were rending the road with mechanical
drills, mining for the wires and tubes that controlled the
life of the city.
‘I want to get away from London,’ said John Boot.
‘So it’s come to that? All on account of your American
‘I warned you, before you began. Is she being fright-
‘My kps are sealed. But I’ve got to get far away or else
‘To my certain knowledge she’s driven three men into
the bin. Where are you going?’
‘That’s just what I wanted to talk about.’
The line of cars jerked forwards for ten yards and again
came to rest. The lunch-time edition of the evening papers
was already on the streets; placards announcing
ISHMA ELITE CRISIS and STRONG LEAGUE NOTE
were fluttering in the east wind.
‘Ishmaelia seems to be the place. I was wondering if
Algy would send me there as a spy.’
‘Not a chance/
‘Foregonners. Algy’s been sacking ten spies a day for
weeks. It’s a grossly overcrowded profession. Why don’t
you go as a war correspondent?’
‘Could you fix it?’
‘I don’t see why not. After all you’ve been to Patagonia.
I should think they would jump at you. You’re sure you
really want to go?’
‘Well, I’ll see what I can do. I’m meeting Lord Copper
at lunch today at Margot’s. I’ll try and bring the subject up.’
When Lady Metroland said half-past one she meant ten
minutes to two. It was precisely at this time, simultaneously
with her hostess, that Mrs Stitch arrived (having been
obliged by press of traffic to leave her little car in a garage
half way to Bethnal Green, and return to Curzon Street by
means of the Underground railway). Lord Copper, however,
who normally lunched at one, was waiting with some im-
patience. Various men and women who appeared to know
one another intimately and did not know Lord Copper, had
been admitted from time to time and had disregarded him.
His subordinates at the Megalopolitan Newspaper Corpora-
tion would have been at difficulties to recognize the uneasy
figure which stood up each time the door was opened and
sat down again unnoticed. He was a stranger m these parts;
it was a thoughtless benefaction to one of Lady Metroland’s
chanties that had exposed him, in the middle of a busy
day, to this harrowing experience, he would readily, now,
have doubled the sum to purchase his release. Thus when
Mrs Stitch directed upon him some of her piercing shafts
of charm she found him first numb, then dazzled, then
From the moment of her entrance the luncheon party was
transformed for Lord Copper; he had gotten a new angle
on it. He knew of Mrs Stitch; from time to time he had
seen her m the distance, now for the first time he found
himself riddled through and through, mesmerized, in-
ebriated Those at the table, witnessing the familiar pro-
cess, began to conjecture m tones which Lord Copper was
too much entranced to overhear, what Julia could possibly
want of him ‘It’s her model madhouse , 5 said some, ‘she
wants the caricaturists to lay off Algy , 5 said others; ‘Been
losing money , 5 thought the second footman (at Lady
Metroland’s orders he was on diet and lunch time always
found him in a cynical mood); ‘a job for someone or other , 5
came nearest the truth, but no one thought of John
Courteney Boot until Mrs Stitch brought him into the
conversation. Then they all played up loyally.
‘You know , 5 she said, after coaxing Lord Copper into
an uncompromising denunciation of the Prime Minister’s
public and private honesty, ‘I expect he 5 s all you say, but
he’s a man of far more taste than you’d suppose. He always
sleeps with a Boot by his bed . 5
‘A boot ? 5 asked Lord Copper, trustful but a little be-
‘One of John Boot’s books.’
The luncheon party had got their cue.
THE STITCH SERVICE
4 Dear John Boot/ said Lady Metroland, ‘ so clever and
amusing. I wish I could get him to come and see me more
‘Such a divine style/ said Lady Cockpurse
The table buzzed with praise of John Boot. It was a new
name to Lord Copper. He resolved to question his literary
secretary on the subject. He had become Boot-conscious.
Mrs Stitch changed her ground and began to ask him in
the most flattering way about the chances of peace in
Ishmaeha. Lord Copper gave it as his opinion that civil
war was inevitable. Mrs Stitch remaiked how few of the
famous war correspondents still survived.
‘Isn’t there one called Sir Something Hitchcock?’ asked
Lady Cockpurse (This was a false step since the knight m
question had lately left Lord Copper’s service, after an
acrimonious dispute about the date of the battle of Hastings,
and had transferred to the Daily Brute camp )
‘Who will you be sending to Ishmaeha?’ asked Mrs Stitch.
‘I am in consultation with my editors on the subject.
We think it a very promising little war. A microcosm as
you might say of world drama. We propose to give it
fullest publicity. The workings of a great n jwspaper/ said
Lord Copper, feeling at last thoroughly Rotarian, ‘are of
a complexity which the public seldom appreciates. The
citizen little realizes the vast machinery put into motion for
him in exchange for his morning penny.’ (‘Oh God/ said
Lady Metroland, faintly but audibly.) ‘We shall have our
naval, military and air experts, our squad of photographers,
our colour reporters, covering the war from every angle and
on every front,’
‘Yes/ said Mrs Stitch. ‘Yes, yes. I suppose you will . . .
If I were you I should send someone like Boot. I don’t
suppose you could persuade him to go, but someone like
‘It has been my experience, dear Mrs Stitch, that the
Daily Beast can command the talent of the world. Only last
week the Poet Laureate wrote us an ode to the seasonal
fluctuation of our net sales. We splashed it on the middle
page. He admitted it was the most poetic and highly paid
work he had ever done.’
‘Well, of course, if you could get him, Boot is your man.
He’s a brilliant writer, he’s travelled everywhere and
knows the whole Ishmaelite situation inside out.’
‘Boot would be divine,’ said Lady Cockpurse loyally.
Half an hour later Mrs Stitch rang up to say ‘O.K.,
John. I think it’s fixed. Don’t take a penny less than fifty
pounds a week.’
‘God bless you, Julia. You’ve saved my life.’
‘It’s just the Stitch Service,’ said Mrs Stitch cheerfully.
That evening Mr Salter, foreign editor of the Bea$t 9 was
summoned to dinner at his chief’s country seat at East
Finchley. It was a highly unwelcome invitation 5 Mr Salter
normally worked at the office until nine o’clock. That even-
ing he had planned a holiday at the opera; he and his wife
had been looking forward to it with keen enjoyment for
some weeks. As he drove out to Lord Copper’s frightful
mansion he thought sadly of those carefree days when he
had edited the Woman’s Page, or, better still, when he had
chosen the jokes for one of Lord Copper’s comic weeklies. It
was the policy of the Megalopolitan to keep the staff alert
by constant changes of occupation. Mr Salter’s ultimate
ambition was to take charge of the Competitions. Mean-
while he was Foreign Editor and found it a dog’s life.
The two men dined alone. They ate parsley soup, whiting,
roast veal, cabinet pudding, they drank whisky and soda.
THE STITCH SERVICE
Lord Copper explained Nazism, Fascism and Communism;
later, in his ghastly library, he outlined the situation m the
Far East* ‘The Beast stands for strong mutually antagonistic
governments everywhere, ’ he said. ‘Self sufficiency at home,
self assertion abroad.’
Mr Salter’s side of the conversation was limited to expres-
sions of assent. When Lord Copper was right, he said,
‘Definitely, Lord Copper’; when he was wrong, ‘Up to a
‘Let me see, what’s the name of the place I mean?
Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn’t it?’
‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’
‘And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn’t it?’
‘Definitely, Lord Copper.’
After a time* ‘Then there’s this civil war in Ishmaeha. I
propose to feature it. Who did you think of sending?’
‘Well, Lord Copper, the choice seems between sending
a staff reporter who will get the news but whose name the
public doesn’t know, or to get someone from outside with
a name as a military expert. You see since we lost Hitch-
cock . .
‘Yes, yes. He was our only man with a European repu-
tation. I know . Zinc will be sending him. I know . But he
was wrong about the battle of Hastings. It was 1066. 1 looked
it up. I won’t employ a man who isn’t big enough to admit
when he’s wrong.’
‘We might share one of the Americans?’
‘No, I tell you who I want; Boot.’
‘Yes, Boot. He’s a young man whose work I’m very much
interested in. He has the most remarkable style and he’s
been m Patagonia and the Prime Minister keeps his books
by his bed. Do you read him?’
‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’
‘Well get onto him tomorrow. Have him up to see you.
Be cordial Take him out to dinner. Get him at any price.
Well, at any reasonable price/ he added for there had lately
been a painful occurrence when instructions of this kind,
given in an expansive mood, had been too literally observed
and a trick-cyclist who had momentarily attracted Lord
Copper’s attention, had been engaged to edit the Sports Page
on a five years’ contract at five thousand a year.
Mr Salter went to work at mid-day. He found the Managing
Editor cast in gloom.
‘It’s a terrible paper this morning/ he said. ‘We paid
Professor Jellaby thirty guineas for the feature article and
there’s not a word in it one can understand. Beaten by
the Brute m every edition on the Zoo Mercy Slaying story.
And look at the Sports Page
Together, m shame, the two men read the tnck-cychst’s
‘Who’s Boot?’ asked Mr Salter at last.
‘I know the name/ said the Managing Editor.
‘The chief wants to send him to Ishmaelia. He’s the
Prime Minister’s favourite writer.’
‘Not the chap I was thinking of/ said the Managing Editor.
‘Well, I’ve got to find him.’ He listlessly turned the
pages of the morning paper. ‘Boot/ he said. ‘Boot. Boot.
Boot. Why! Boot — here he is. Why didn’t the chief say he
was a staff man?’
At the back of the paper, ignomimously sandwiched
between Pip and Pop, the Bedtime Pets, and the recipe for
a dish named ‘Waffle Scramble,’ lay the twice-weekly half-
column devoted to Nature. LUSH PLACES edited by
Wilham Boot 9 Countryman <
THE STITCH SERVICE
‘ Do you suppose that’s the right one?’
‘Sure of it The Prime Minister is nuts on rural England.’
‘He’s supposed to have a particularly high-class style*
‘ Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing
vole ’ . . . would that be it?’
‘Yes/ said the Managing Editor. ‘That must be good
style. At least it doesn’t sound like anything else to me. I
know the name well now you mention it. Never seen the
chap I don’t think he’s ever been to London Sends his
stuff in by post. All written out in pen and ink.’
‘I’ve got to ask him to dinner.’
‘Give him cider.’
‘Is that what countrymen like?’
‘Yes, cider and tinned salmon is the staple diet of the
‘I’ll send him a telegram. Funny the chief wanting to
send him to Ishmaelia.’
Given the Impact P.–decades later P would have (still has on my internal life—what surprises israel the casual nearly routine nature of our first meeting