Quaint and Curious - Parodies and Pastiches of Poe's The Raven

The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Surplus

Truth Christmas Number, 1879

Lately on a midnight dreary, whilst I studied, though so weary,
Several sheets of close-writ figures I had gone through times before;
Whilst I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at the Treasury door.
“Is that Kempe?”[1] I slowly mutter’d. “If it is, pray leave the door—
I shall want you here no more!”
Oh! distinctly I remember, for it happen’d this December
And each separate, dying ember seem’d a figure on the floor.
Nervously I wish’d the morrow; for so far I’d failed to borrow—
From the Bank of England borrow — at the same rate as before—
At the same low rate of interest I had borrow’d at before—
They would lend at Two[2] no more.
And I had a sort of notion that this fact was known to Goschen,[3]
Whilst the dread of Childers[4] fill’d me with a fear not felt before,
So that now to still the beating of my heart I’d been repeating:
“P’rhaps some luck may yet befall you ere you stand upon the floor—
Stand next April with your Budget at the table on the floor—
And a Surplus yet restore!”
Presently the rap was stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Kempe!” said I, “or Law,[5] or Lingen,[6] is that you outside my door?”
If it be, pray cease your tapping; if you have no cause for rapping.
Cease, and let me strike my balance ere I sleep, I you implore.
Do come in if you are out there!” Here I open’d wide the door—
Darkness there, and nothing more.
Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Seeing ghosts of former Budgets — Gladstone’s[7] Budgets — o’er me soar;
But the silence was unbroken, and of Kempe I saw no token;
He had gone with Law and Lingen shortly after half-past four.
So I “H-s-s-h’d” — perchance assuming there were cats about the floor—
Merely cats, and nothing more.
Back into my room returning, where two composites were burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping, something louder than before.
“’Tis too soon for chimney-sweeper; can it be the office-keeper?”
This I said, and once more rising, tried the mystery to explore.
“I will go and try the window, for there’s no one at the door”—
This I said, and nothing more.
Open then I flung the shutter, when with quite a fussy flutter,
In there stalk’d a handsome Surplus of the Liberal years of yore;
Not the least obeisance made it, not a minute stopp’d or stay’d it,
But — nor tried I to dissuade it — hopp’d on something on the floor;
Hopp’d upon my rough-drawn Budget, which I’d thrown upon the floor—
Hopp’d, then sat; and nothing more!
Then this welcome guest beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the cheery and contented cast of countenance it wore;
“Welcome,” said I, “Surplus comely! though you have arrived so ‘rumly,’
For ’tis some years since a Budget drawn by me a Surplus bore;
Let this be a happy omen — that they’ll come as heretofore!”
Quoth the Surplus — “Nevermore!”
Much I marvell’d that so plainly it should answer, and so sanely;
Though in sooth I hoped its answer little relevancy bore.
For ’t had fill’d my heart with pleasure, and with ecstasy past measure
Once again to see a Surplus come within the Treasury door,
To observe a real Surplus on my Budget on the floor,
Like the one in ’Seventy-four.
But the Surplus, sitting lonely on my Budget draft, spake only
That one word already mention’d — I refer to “Nevermore.”
And not for its answer caring, and by no means yet despairing,
I took heart and said: “Six millions was there left in ’Seventy-four;
When shall I next get a Surplus large as that in ’Seventy-four?”
Quoth my guest: “Why, nevermore!”
But this time ’twas not contented with the word I so resented,
But went on and said; “Oh, Northcote, ruin is for you in store!
Thanks to your mysterious master, dearth will follow on disaster,
Ills will follow fast and faster, trade will wholly leave your shore;
And the people, so impoverish’d, will your taxes pay no more.
Debt will haunt you more and more!
“Now your revenue is sinking — it’s no use the matter blinking,
Every day, you know, Sir Stafford, your big deficit grows more,
And you have to borrow, borrow (three more millions, eh, to-morrow?)
You have now a floating debt that’s ten times what it was of yore;
Think upon the splendid Budget Gladstone left in ’Seventy-four,
And your muddle now deplore!”
As the Surplus thus declaiming, me to blushes deep was shaming,
Straight I wheel’d my cushion’d seat in front the Budget on the floor,
Sat on the morocco padding, and betook myself to adding
Figure unto figure, madding though the look the total bore;
Whilst that grim, ungainly, ghastly Surplus still upon the floor
Went on croaking: “Nevermore!”
“Surplus!” said I, “by thy figure, which methinks I see grow bigger,
Whether Gladstone sent, or whether Fate has toss’d thee here to bore,
Tell me, desperate and daunted, by a score of failures haunted,
Soon by Childers to be taunted, tell me, tell me, I implore,
Is there — can I — shall I — ever get things straight — say, I implore?”
Quoth the Surplus: “Nevermore!”
“Surplus!” said I, “much I question, if I don’t to indigestion
Owe the vision of thy presence; still I’d ask thee this once more:
In the name of Ewart Gladstone, whose finance I did adore,
Tell me, here with debt so laden, if, before I go to Aidenn,
I shall ever make a Budget with a Surplus, as of yore?
Shall I e’er announce a Surplus from my place upon the floor?”
Quoth the Surplus: “Nevermore!”
“Be that word our sign of parting, cruel thing!” I cried, upstarting;
“Get thee back to Mr. Gladstone, who created thee of yore;
Go, and leave behind no token of the words that thou hast spoken;
Leave my vigil here unbroken, quit my Budget on the floor!
Take thy figure off my Budget, lying there upon the floor.”
Quoth the Surplus: “Nevermore!”
“No, I will not think of flitting, but still sitting, ever sitting,
On thy wretched, feeble Budgets, on the table or the floor,
Will remind thee of the figure, sometimes less and sometimes bigger,
Of the noble Gladstone’s Surplus, always left in years of yore
Yes, I’ll always stay and haunt you — always stay and ever taunt you—
As you draw up hopeless Budgets, and then throw them on the floor;
And my figure you shall ever see upon your study floor—
I will leave you nevermore!”
And it doubtless had been sitting still, nor shown a sign of flitting—
Had I not with sudden impulse started, falling by the door,
And discover’d, slowly rising — what is not at all surprising—
That my composites were out, whilst daylight stream’d across the floor,
Then I knew I had been dreaming, but my brain continued teeming
With the vision, and the Surplus that had come from years of yore,
And my thoughts on what that Surplus said whilst there upon my floor
Will be fixed evermore!

The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the UK between 1874 and 1880 was Conservative politician Sir Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, (1818–1887).


  1. Kempe — Sir John Arrow Kempe (1846–1928) was private secretary to Sir Stafford Northcote during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer. (back to text)
  2. Two — i.e., two percent. (back to text)
  3. Goschen — George Joachim Goschen, 1st Viscount Goschen (1831–1907), at the time a Liberal politician, being an MP for the City of London, and, as a businessman, was Governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company. (back to text)
  4. Childers — Hugh Culling Eardley Childers (1827–1896), British Liberal politician. (back to text)
  5. Law — Hugh Law, member of parliament for Londonderry from 1874 to 1881, and later Lord Chancellor of Ireland. (back to text)
  6. Lingen — Ralph Robert Wheeler Lingen, 1st Baron Lingen (1819–1905), was permanent secretary to the treasury from 1869 to 1885. (back to text)
  7. Gladstone — Liberal politician William Ewart Gladstone (1809–1898) was Chancellor of the Exchequer 1852–1855, 1859–1866, 1873–1874, and 1880–1882, as well as being Prime Minister several times. (back to text)

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