They had great fun at the Union [Oxford’s debating society] last week. Birkenhead [F. E. Smith] came to speak. The first thing that worried him was the private business in which two gentlemen got up and discussed the library list—additions to the library of the Union being a subject which naturally comes up in private business. On this occasion the merits of Psmith Journalist by P. G. Wodehouse, That Ass Psmith by the same author, and The Wreck of the Birkenhead were hotly canvassed. The noble lord was understood to make some observations to those around him in which the word “schoolboys” figured.
Then the debate began. The first speaker produced the good old ancient Wadham story of how Smith and Simon had decided what parties they were to follow in their political careers by the toss of a coin the night before they took schools. You will hardly believe me when I tell you that Smith jumped up: “baseless fabrication”—“silly, stale story”—“hoped that even the home of lost causes had abandoned that chestnut, etc. etc.”—and allowed himself to be sidetracked and leg pulled to such an extent that he never reached his real subject at all. It seems to me impossible that a man of his experience could fall to such frivolous tactics: unless we accept the accompanying story that he was drunk at the time, or the even subtler explanation that he was not…
C. S. Lewis, letter to his father from Magdalen College, 29? November 1927
Stumbled across this on Google. Several items of note:
- Into the 1920s Psmith was apparently still a recognizable pop culture reference.
- These students were familiar enough with the character to attempt tactics reminiscent of the ones at Bickersdyke’s political rally in Psmith in the City.
- The collection of Lewis’s letters that this is quoted in has an index, which lists, under Wodehouse’s name, all his works referred to in the letters…including, with apparently utter seriousness, That Ass Psmith (which, if anyone is wondering, is not a real book, as much as I’d like a lost Psmith story to exist).