Gordon had a big job on hand at the moment. The Queen of Sheba Toilet Requisites Co. were sweeping the country with a monster campaign for their deodorant, April Dew. They had decided that BO and halitosis were worked out, or nearly, and had been racking their brains for a long time past to think of some new way of scaring the public. Then some bright spark had suggested, What about smelling feet? That field had never been exploited and had immense possibilities. The Queen of Sheba had turned the idea over to the New Albion. What they asked for was a really telling slogan; something in the class of ‘Night Starvation’ – something that would rankle the public consciousness like a poisoned arrow.
George Orwell, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, p.271
The similarities in the situations of Tessimond and the character of Gordon Comstock in George Orwell’s novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying are surprisingly close. Both worked in bookshops, and then as advertising copywriters, both struggled with becoming published poets. The joke of Orwell’s novel is that Comstock is a much better copywriter than he is a poet, but the similarities are still striking. Tessimond’s poem ‘Money’ could stand as a preface to the book: ‘I am your master and your master’s master, / I am the dragon’s teeth which you have shown’, and both Tessimond and Orwell take a similarly grim view of advertising:
You, without gleam or glint or fire,
You cannot know your own desire.
But I will tell you. I will look through your eyes. Now listen!
Here are the toys that please, the almost-gems that glisten! …
I am your wish and I its answer.
I am the drum and you the dancer.
I am the trumpet-voice, the Stentor.
I am temptation, I the Mentor
Who tells you that ten million men have long
Called a stone bread – and can ten million men be wrong?
I am the voice that bids you spend to save and save to spend,
But always spend that wheels may never end
Their turning and by turning let you spend to save
And save to spend, world without end, cradle to grave.
This trumpeter of nothingness, employed
To keep our reason full and null and void.
This man of wind and froth and flux will sell
The wares of any who reward him well.
Praising whatever he is paid to praise,
He hunts for ever-newer, smarter ways
To make the gilt seem gold; the shoddy, silk;
To cheat us legally; to bluff and bilk
By methods which no jury can prevent
Because the law's not broken, only bent.
This mind for hire, this mental prostitute
Can tell the half-lie hardest to refute;
Knows how to hide an inconvenient fact
And when to leave a doubtful claim unbacked;
Manipulates the truth, but not too much,
And if his patter needs the Human Touch
Then aptly artless, artlessly naive,
He wears his fickle heart upon his sleeve.
He takes ideas and trains them to engage
In the long little wars big combines wage.
He keeps his logic loose, his feelings flimsy;
Turns eloquence to cant and wit to whimsy;
Trims language till it fits his client's pattern,
And style's a glossy tart or limping slattern.
He uses words that once were strong and fine.
Primal as sun and moon and bread and wine,
True, honourable, honoured, clear and clean,
And leaves them shabby, worn, diminished, mean.
Where our defence is weakest, he attacks.
Encircling reason's fort, he finds the cracks,
He knows the hopes and fears on which to play.
We who at first rebel, at last obey.
We who have tried to choose accept his choice.
Tired, we succumb to his untiring voice.
The drip-drip-drip makes even granite soften.
We trust the brand-name we have heard so often
And join the queue of sheep that flock to buy;
We fools who know our folly, you and I.
A slightly more sympathetic view is put across in this later poem, not published during the poet’s lifetime:
Defence of the ad-man
He brings us aims and dreams and drugs; he tells
Us fairy-tales that half come true or might.
The patent panaceas that he sells
May be placebos, but placebos can
Act like elixirs; syrups have their spells,
And coloured water sometimes can assuage
A thirst for draughts from unattainable wells.
He binds us with a frayed but silver rope.
He peddles jewels false perhaps but bright.
He kindles flares that beckon eyes that grope.
His ‘you, you, you’ consoles the lonely man
And humble woman. With permitted dope
He medicines the sickness of our age;
Offers the ugly, glamour; the hopeless, hope.