Nonfiction > Lionel Strachey, et al., eds. > The World’s Wit and Humor > British
The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes.  1906.
Vols. VI–IX: British
Lords and Commons
By William Schwenck Gilbert (1836–1911)
From “Iolanthe”

PRIVATE WILLIS, on sentry duty in front of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster.


WHEN all night long a chap remains
  On sentry-go, to chase monotony
He exercises of his brains,
  That is, assuming that he’s got any.
Though never nurtured in the lap        5
  Of luxury, yet I admonish you,
I am an intellectual chap,
  And think of things that would astonish you.
I often think it’s comical—Fal lal la!
How Nature always does contrive—Fal lal la!        10
    That every boy and every gal
      That’s born into the world alive,
    Is either a little Liberal,
      Or else a little Conservative!
                Fal lal la!        15
When in that House M. P.’s divide,
  If they’ve a brain and cerebellum, too,
They’ve got to leave that brain outside,
  And vote just as their leaders tell ’em to.
But then the prospect of a lot        20
  Of dull M. P.’s in close proximity,
All thinking for themselves, is what
  No man can face with equanimity.
      Then let’s rejoice with loud Fal lal—Fal lal la!
      That Nature wisely does contrive—Fal lal la!        25
          That every boy and every gal
            That’s born into the world alive,
          Is either a little Liberal,
            Or else a little Conservative!
                Fal lal la!        30

  Celia.  You seem annoyed.
  Mount.  Annoyed! I should think so! Why, this ridiculous protégé of yours is playing the deuce with everything! To-night is the second reading of his bill to throw the peerage open to competitive examination!
  Lord Toll.  And he’ll carry it too!
  Mount.  Carry it? Of course he will! He’s a Parliamentary Pickford—he carries everything!
  Leila.  Yes. If you please, that’s our fault!        35
  Mount.  The deuce it is!
  Celia.  Yes; we influence the members, and compel them to vote just as he wishes them to.
  Leila.  It’s our system. It shortens the debates.
  Lord Toll.  Well, but think what it all means. I don’t so much mind for myself, but with a House of Peers with no grandfathers worth mentioning, the country must go to the dogs!
  Leila.  I suppose it must!        40
  Mount.  I don’t want to say a word against brains—I’ve a great respect for brains—I often wish I had some myself. But with a House of Peers composed exclusively of people of intellect, what’s to become of the House of Commons?
  Leila.  I never thought of that!
  Mount.  This comes of women interfering in politics. It so happens that if there is an institution in Great Britain which is not susceptible of any improvement at all, it is the House of Peers!

When Britain really ruled the waves,
  In good Queen Bess’s time,        45
The House of Peers made no pretence
To intellectual eminence
  Or scholarship sublime.
Yet Britain won her proudest bays
In good Queen Bess’s glorious days!        50

Yes, Britain won, etc.

When Wellington thrashed Bonaparte,
  As every child can tell,
The House of Peers, throughout the war.
Did nothing in particular,
  And did it very well.        55
Yet Britain set the world ablaze
In good King George’s glorious days!

Yes, Britain set, etc.

And while the House of Peers withholds
  Its legislative hand,
And noble statesmen do not itch        60
To interfere with matters which
  They do not understand,
As bright will shine Great Britain’s rays,
As in King George’s glorious days!

As bright will shine, etc.

  Leila  (who has been much attracted by the peers during this song).  Charming persons, are they not?
  Celia.  Distinctly. For self-contained dignity, combined with airy condescension, give me a British representative peer!

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