Untold lives blog

29 October 2014

The Waste-Paper Basket of Verse

After our post on the fascination of newspaper notices, we turn to the gems found in the pages of official directories. The Calendar for the Royal Engineering College at Coopers Hill 1902-1903 has copious advertisements for clothing and equipment thought likely to appeal to young engineers embarking on a career in India. It also contains a list of books issued by Harrison and Sons, the publishers of the Calendar. This is a splendid assortment, including

• Bicycle Gymkhana and Musical Rides

• Crecy and Calais from the Public Records

• Dress Worn by Gentlemen at His Majesty’s Court

• The Service for the Consecration of a Church and Altar, according to the Coptic Rite

• Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing for the Labouring Classes

• Peeps at Portugal

• Protoplasm, Physical Law and Life

• The Waste-Paper Basket – a book of humorous verse by H J Jennings.


This last book caught my eye. Favourable reviews were quoted:

“The work is smart, learned in some places, and in almost every instance amusing and laughable” – Dundee Courier

“Mr Jennings is the possessor of a pretty wit” – The Outlook

“Clever fin de siècle poems” – The Citizen

“The contents of ‘The Waste-Paper Basket’ are wonderfully clever, and should make London chuckle and even roar with glee. Whoever is out of sorts should take a dive into it and be healed” – Glasgow Herald

Cover of The Waste-Paper Basket
Cover of The Waste-Paper Basket by H J Jennings

How could I resist looking at this book? Let me share with you the titles and opening lines of a few of the poems in The Waste-Paper Basket. 

Lines to a Boarding House Egg
Thou dubious feature of the morning meal!
Thou hesitating link ‘twixt new and old!
Not always downright bad like those that make
The candidate his nasal organ hold,
Or fragrant asafoetida suggest;
Yet never fresh as taken from the nest;
But hovering round uncertain age, -
Loath to assume too juvenile a look,
Or lag upon the gastronomic stage,
Filling with mirth the grim sardonic cook.

“Sweet Violets”
They talk of the perfume of roses, of jasmine and eau de Cologne,
But where is the perfume, my Onion, that ever surpasses thy own?
Distil me no ottos and extracts if I, with olfactory pride,
Can inhale thy beneficent odour, au naturel, roasted, or fried.

In Praise of Baldness
“Call no man fortunate until he’s dead,”
Or knows, at least, the joy of a bald head.
Luxuriant hair has had its vogue, no doubt,
And been by silly poets raved about;
‘Tis even true, that inexperienced girls
Will sometimes dote on hyacinthine curls;
Indifferent to the brains that cogitate,
They spurn the merits of a shiny pate.

Are you chuckling?  Feeling inclined to roar with glee? Or perhaps a baffled smile?

Margaret Makepeace
India Office Records

Further reading:

Calendar  -Royal Indian Engineering College, Coopers Hill

H J Jennings, The Waste-Paper Basket (1901)

Henry James Jennings (d.1921) was a newspaper editor and the author of a variety of books ranging from biography to poetry.  See Explore the British Library for his work.



This is marvellous - collapse of stout party. The Victorians had a wonderful way with comic verse.

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