“A Brief Course in World Politics” (E59)

  • Originally printed:  Liberty Magazine, December 6, 1930
  • First reprinted in: Benchley Lost and Found
  • Unable to compare reprint with original text – Liberty Historical Archives not available at Toronto Public Library
  • Original Byline: unknown



Another smug entry that first saw the light of day in Liberty Magazine (a three-year gig that seldom brought out the best in Benchley). Whatever modicum of mirth the piece might have afforded readers at the time is very hard to discern beneath the intervening carnage of the 1930s and 1940s. Dulled by an admittedly brain-atrophying state of affairs on the domestic political front in 1930 (when Democrats and Republicans were even more anxious than usual to assure the electorate that neither entity could ever possibly stand for anything), Benchley’s decidedly anti-Fawkesian persona eschews any interest in trying to disentangle (or even take cognizance of) the political struggles and upheavals occurring elsewhere.

With its emphasis upon the author’s tendency to confuse and conflate various nation states with one another, to draw back in horror from ballots filled with multi-word party names, and to take offense at the very idea of national elections that don’t take place on regularly scheduled Tuesdays in November, the text does provide some ammunition for an against-the-grain reading of the essay as a satire of American ignorance and apathy, rather than of incomprehensible international squabbling. However, like “Back in Line” (E32), the predominant mode of address here appears to assume a readership afflicted with precisely those intellectual shortcomings.  

Favourite Moment:

As it stands now, I am likely to throw the whole thing up and go in for contract bridge. There, at least, you know who your partner is. You may not act as if you knew, and your partner may have grave doubts about your ever knowing, but, in your own mind, the issues are very clearly defined.

“Agenda” (E10)

  • Originally printed: The New Yorker, February 8, 1930
  • First reprinted in: Never Reprinted (for all practical purposes)
  • Original Byline: Guy Fawkes


Writing as Guy Fawkes, RB notes the failure of the London Naval Conference to make waves commensurate with the attention paid to it. Correctly identifying this supposed sea lane to everlasting world peace as yet another smug salvo in the USA and UK’s effort to maintain maritime supremacy at discount prices, the author chides the New York papers for sending half their collective staffs across the pond just to make wild, quasi-official-sounding guesses at the kinds of terms the talks might produce. Less dangerously, but more obnoxiously, the media’s thirst for naval-tinged news had led to the publication of pieces like the NY Times item clipped above, in which conference secretarial staff member Hurley Fisk’s impressions of London greenspaces were deemed page 3-worthy.

Fawkes looks more favorably upon The World’s deadpan daily dispatches from a Conference clearly headed nowhere, and not even nowhere fast. Nevertheless, with hundreds of pages to fill every day, the city’s sheets couldn’t help but cover a few matters of actual import. The Hearst papers, we hear, actually bucked the transatlantic trend, preferring to spotlight a home front hot war between telephone service providers. More civic mindedly, The Telegram took Harvard College to task over its vile treatment of its custodial workers, and The World did its best to tamp down the NYPD’s truncheons in its true blue zeal to take capital’s side against “reds”.

On the other hand, The World also appeared to be developing a very bad habit of printing their front page headlines verbatim from various Hollywood studio publicity dispatches – and the soon-to-be-defunct paper baffled Benchley by “revealing” that poet Edna St. Vincent Millay had once published articles under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd, about 5 years after the last person who cared about this transparent literary imposture had forgotten all about it.

Favourite moment:
“The big excitement in the newspaper offices during the past month has been the Naval Conference in London. The excitement did not spread. [NYC Fire] Chief Kenlon, at a late hour last night, gave out the statement that it was now confined to a small corner of the newspaper offices and that, by tomorrow, the department expects to have the whole thing out and wet down.”