Cars in songs

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Sir,

I have just been loaned, by the grandson of the author, a delightful book entitled “Songs of the Car (with ‘De Omnibus’ Rhymes)” by F. J. Cox. It was first published by Francis Griffiths in 1906 and contains illustrations by Howard Somerville, and verses typical of the period, many with a motoring content. F. J. Cox was a Fleet Street journalist who also wrote a novel called “A Stranger Within the Gates” and contributed several verses to Punch. This rare volume is too precious to send to you by post but I have copied two of the motoring poems to give you some idea of the general flavour:

Twenty miles an hour

By F. J. Cox.

Plunged is the helpless motorist in gloom,

For him Life’s like a dish that’s lost its savour.

Or like a peach denuded of its bloom, Or like—well, any metaphor you favour; The law’s dread hand has smote him with its power

Speed is reduced to twenty miles an hour.

No more upon the torpid countrysides

May he descend with speed that knows no fetter ;

So languidly the turbid petrol glides.

So slowly “cubs’ the lazy carburetter;

The wheels refuse the distant plains to scour

Speed is reduced to twenty miles an hour.

A load is lifted from the land to-day;

The village maiden, now of fear a scorner,

No longer cross the roadway picks her way,

Fearing a car will rush around the corner,

Shrieking and seeking whom it may devour

Speed is reduced to twenty miles an hour.

No more the winding of the strident horn

Shall herald havoc, death and devastation;

Not shall the cock that hath proclaimed the morn

Suffer next instant sharp annihilation;

Nor, deep in ditches, shall the mongrel cower

Speed is reduced to twenty miles an hour.

And yet .. . when every fibre of the car

Pulsates, and when the battery’s fiercely throbbing;

When sergeants with stop watches are afar,

Or, out of hedges, impotently bobbing,

How easy to forget, though perils lower,

Speed is reduced to twenty miles an hour.

The destruction of the scorcher.

By F. J. Cox.

The motor came down like a vehement gale,

The gigman he trembled, his cheek it grew pale;

The waggoner crouched very low in his wain

Well he knew what that terror would leave in its train.

At starting the gigman looked fresh as new paint,

When the motor had passed he lay mangled and faint;

‘The waggoner felt every nerve of him twitch,

As he dropped, very limp, in the lap of the ditch.

Like a field that is fruitful and flowery and green,

Was that fair Surrey track ere the motor was seen;

Like a field that is scorched by the death-dealing blast,

Was that fair Surrey track when the motor had passed.

The magnate of Surrey who sat on a Bench Exclaimed;

“Fore a pestilence why should we blench?

This hurricane speed I’ve determined shall cease,

We will call in the aid of the motor police.”

Thus the plague it was stayed, and in uniformed pride,

Like a god in the car did the constable ride;

With motor fierce pulsing and lightning-shod wheels,

He terrorised scorchers on automobiles.

Oh, the men in the motors are loud in their wail,

For they know that the courts are no temples of bail;

And the gigmen and carters can fare forth in peace.

All thanks to those excellent motor police.

I confess that I was rather surprised at the reference, in “The Destruction of the Scorcher”, to “motor police”. I was under the impression that in those early days police v. motorist battles were waged “out of hedges, impotently bobbing” as evocatively portrayed in “Twenty Miles an Hour”. The book also contains a poem called “Motoretta” which waxes lyrical about the woman driver of 1906. “She rides alone and knows no fear, For oh! her skill is such that wheels and brakes and valves and gear obey her slightest touch”. (Automatic? Power steering?)

Tony Cox (the author’s grandson) and I would be interested to hear of the existence of any other copies of “Songs of the Car”, or, indeed, of any other book or articles written by this commentator on the early motoring scene.

Stoulton P. BEVIS