In Evelyn Waugh's book _Decline and Fall_ his hero, applying for a post
as a schoolmaster, is told by the agent, "We class schools in four
grades--leading school, first-rate school, good school, and school."
Sedleigh in Mike and Psmith would, I suppose, come into the last-named
class, though not quite as low in it as Mr. Waugh's Llanabba. It is one
of those small English schools with aspirations one day to be able to
put the word "public" before their name and to have their headmaster
qualified to attend the annual Headmaster's Conference. All it needs is
a few more Adairs to get things going. And there is this to be noted,
that even at a "school" one gets an excellent education. Its only
drawback is that it does not play the leading schools or the first-rate
schools or even the good schools at cricket. But to Mike, fresh from
Wrykyn (a "first-rate school") and Psmith, coming from Eton (a "leading
school") Sedleigh naturally seemed something of a comedown. It took Mike
some time to adjust himself to it, though Psmith, the philosopher,
accepted the change of conditions with his customary equanimity.
This was the first appearance of Psmith. He came into two other books,
_Psmith in the City_ and _Psmith, Journalist_, before becoming happily
married in _Leave It to Psmith_, but I have always thought that he was
most at home in this story of English school life. To give full play to
his bland clashings with Authority he needs to have authority to clash
with, and there is none more absolute than that of the masters at an
Psmith has the distinction of being the only one of my numerous
characters to be drawn from a living model. A cousin of mine was at Eton
with the son of D'Oyly Carte, the man who produced the Gilbert and
Sullivan operettas, and one night he told me about this peculiar
schoolboy who dressed fastidiously and wore a monocle and who, when one
of the masters inquired after his health, replied "Sir, I grow thinnah
and thinnah." It was all the information I required in order to start
building him in a star part.
If anyone is curious as to what became of Mike and Psmith in later life,
I can supply the facts. Mike, always devoted to country life, ran a
prosperous farm. Psmith, inevitably perhaps, became an equally
prosperous counselor at the bar like Perry Mason, specializing, like
Perry, in appearing for the defense.
I must apologize, as I did in the preface to _Mike at Wrykyn,_ for all
the cricket in this book. It was unavoidable. There is, however, not
quite so much of it this time.