Very soon after joining The Tablet, Michael published a poem in it. The Far-Sighted Drunkard (With apologies to G.K.C.) was signed J.M.D. and printed on 13 July 1940, at the beginning of the Battle of Britain. It was a very young man’s adaptation of Chesterton and had been stimulated by a comment by a Major Oliver Stewart in The Observer:
One possible reason for the inaccuracy of the bombing is the difficulty of finding objectives in the United Kingdom. Great Britain is one of the most difficult countries for the air navigator in the world. The winding roads are poor landmarks relative to the long, straight roads of the continent. Great Britain is a puzzle country for the airman.
Here is Michael’s poem, which alludes to GK’s The Rolling English Road.
Before the Pirate went to Prague, or into Warsaw rode,
Far-sighted English drunkards made the rolling English road.
A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire
To baffle German raiders, to defeat the German flier.
A merry road, a mazy road, to lead the Boche a dance
When he tried to come to England by way of conquered France.
They made them straight in Picardy, and straighter in
They sent them straight through Normandy and over Flanders
And so the towns of France became much easier to find;
But no one really understood why English roads should wind.
God pardon us, nor harden us; we did not see so clear
The night we went to Bannockburn by way of Brighton Pier.
If Dorian Wimpole did not know, nor guess the reason why,
The man had guessed it long before who said that pigs might fly.
Less pleasant than the Flying Inn, the flying Nazis came
To sow the fields of Christendom with carnage and with flame;
When you and I went down the road with rifles in our hands,
And Hitler went to Hades by way of many lands.
Dorian Wimpole is an avant-garde poet in Chesterton’s 1914 novel The Flying Inn (which contained the poem): a kind of reverse aesthete. He refuses to use the language of the high aesthetes of the 80s and 90s, but sings the virtues of oysters, sharks, and other “creatures that man forgets” instead, including the one Chesterton felt the aesthetes forgot most completely: Man.
Michael may never have known the sequel. That winter of 1940 in San Francisco, a bibulous Irish bookseller named David Magee, who presumably took The Tablet, reprinted the poem as a Christmas greeting to his friends and customers. He probably didn’t bother to get permission. The folded quarto sheet was printed by the Grabhorn Press.
Around 1960 Magee published a Catalogue of Some Five Hundred Examples of the Printing of Edwin & Robert Grabhorn, 1917-1960, Two Gentlemen from Indiana, now Resident in California. Later he published other tributes to them. How fine really was their printing, compared with the best examples from English private presses?
Second sequel: I discovered the greeting on abebooks in late 2000 and gave it to the Santa Barbarians J and LD for Christmas. Laid into the copy I bought was a letter from Maryvonne (“Zucki”) Butcher, literary editor of The Tablet, dated 19 May 1967, to one Constance Spencer in San Francisco.
(I last saw a rather hoarse and chain-smoking Zucki Butcher at Marcham Priory in the late 80s.)