Musings on Cecils (both deceased)

The lottery of life

The lion is lost and gone for ever.

RhodesUnprompted, I assume he was named in honour of the equally-late Cecil John Rhodes.

A long while ago I did prompt myself to hunt down the original of:

I think it was X who said that to be born an Englishman is to win first prize in the lottery of life.

Inevitably, in different variants “X” is Winston Churchill (the usual mouth of last resort) or Rudyard Kipling. Go to a dictionary of quotations and the version that often appears names Cecil Rhodes, usually addressing “a young friend”.

Clearly, from the infrequency of early occurrences, the expression only became a clichéd commonplace quite recently, and — sure enough — the earliest version I could locate was  quite commonly aforesaid Cecil Rhodes. After poking around I became convinced the source for all this was page 64 of Peter Ustinov’s 1977 memoir, Dear Me. There Rhodes (indeed, it is he) is responding to a nervous young officer, about to go off and Assistant-Divisional-Superintend a benighted corner of the British Empire (also deceased).

There was old Dunne …

… young Dunne,
And young Dunne’s youngest son.
Young Dunne will be a Dunne
When old Dunne is done.

My mother could rattle that off on many a barely-reliant occasion. The only “explanation” I’ve found for that appears as always good for kids (or drunk college crowds) if you do the hand gestures to go with the chorusThe best I can do is to adapt John Donne to the sad death of Cecil-the-younger:

Every lion’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind

Before I move on, allow me to acknowledge the many truths that Simon Jenkins included in his essay, yesterday, for The Guardian, not least:

I am appalled at the idea of killing any animals for pleasure. But animals get killed. I eat meat sometimes, and my garden is afflicted with vermin I would readily slaughter. But in Botswana I was mostly left wondering what would Britain’s reaction be if hundreds of well-heeled Africans arrived to abuse us for not protecting “the world’s” red squirrels and songbirds. We would think it most rude.

That piece opens with a nice inversion:

A dentist from Wisconsin goes hunting in Zimbabwe and bags its most famous lion, Cecil. In response, Cecil’s friends have gone hunting in Minnesota in the hope of bagging its most infamous dentist, Walter Palmer. Welcome to the world of charismatic mega-species, their predators and protectors. One thing only is for sure, the predators are winning.

Jenkins’s “solution”, so called sustainable ranching, is a sensible approach — but I’m sure I came across that one years ago in The Economist. Just because it may not be an original concept, doesn’t render it less sensible, of course.

Selective breeding

Perhaps we should take Sir Simon’s prescription a stage further?

Evolving a big cat, whose skin came pre-fitted with Velcro or zippers — like a sofa, would make it possible for the creature to lend its outer cover yet allow more to engage in the earthly delights:

Would you like to sin
With Elinor Glyn
On a tiger skin?
Or would you prefer
To err
With her
On some other fur?

Odd that the “dig” at Elinor Glyn (née Sutherland) has prevailed longer than any of her original torrid-verging-on-the-tepid writings. Anyone with an idle few seconds can sample her wares, for free, courtesy of Project Gutenberg, and what prompted that little ditty. Try Chapter 11 of Three Weeks:

The next day was Sunday, and even through the silk blinds they could hear the rain drip in monotonous fashion. Of what use to wake? Sleep is blissful and calm when the loved one is near.

Thus it was late when Paul at last opened his eyes. He found himself alone, and heard his lady’s voice singing softly from the sitting-room beyond, and through the open door he could perceive her stretched on the tiger, already dressed, reclining among the silk pillows, her guitar held in her hands.

“Hasten, hasten, lazy one. Thy breakfast awaits thee,” she called, and Paul bounded up without further delay…

The light of all the love in the world seemed to flood the lady’s face. She bent over and kissed him, and smoothed his cheek with her velvet cheek, she moved so that his curly lashes might touch her bare neck, and at last she slipped from under him, and laid his head gently down upon the pillows.

Then a madness of tender caressing seized her. She purred as a tiger might have done, while she undulated like a snake. She touched him with her finger-tips, she kissed his throat, his wrists, the palms of his hands, his eyelids, his hair. Strange, subtle kisses, unlike the kisses of women. And often, between her purrings, she murmured love-words in some strange fierce language of her own, brushing his ears and his eyes with her lips the while.

Might Cecil have such an after-life? Anyway, sic transit Gloria Monday, Elinor Glyn and Glenda Slagg.

And, of course, a genetically-adapted sesquipedalian (“foot-and-a-half”) pachyderm would solve the problem of just the four umbrella-stands to the standard elephant.

Umbrella stand

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Filed under Comment is Free, Economist, Guardian, reading, Simon Jenkins

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