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The Lord Mayor
by [?]

There is a story of a boy who was asked to name ten animals which inhabit the polar regions. After a little thought he answered, “Six penguins and four seals.” In the same way I suspect that, if you were asked to give the names of any three Lord Mayors of London, you would say, “Dick Whittington, and–er–Dick Whittington, and of course–er–Dick Whittington,” knowing that he held that high office three times, and being quite unable to think of anybody else. This is where I have the advantage of you. In my youth there was a joke which went like this: “Why does the Lord Mayor like pepper? Because without his K.N., he’d be ill.” I have an unfortunate habit of remembering even the worst joke, and so I can tell you, all these years after, that there was once a Lord Mayor called Knill. It is because I know the names of four Lord Mayors that I can write with such authority upon the subject.

To be a successful Lord Mayor demands years of training. Fortunately, the aspiring apprentice has time for preparation. From the moment when he is first elected a member of the Worshipful Company of Linendrapers he can see it coming. He can say with confidence that in 1944–or ’43, if old Sir Joshua has his stroke next year, as seems probable–he will become the first citizen of London; which gives him twenty-four years in which to acquire the manner. It would be more interesting if this were not so; it would be more interesting to you and me if there were something of a struggle each year for the Lord Mayorality, so that we could put our money on our respective fancies. If, towards the end of October, we could read the Haberdashers’ nominee had been for a stripped gallop on Hackney Downs and had pulled up sweating badly; if the Mayor could send a late wire from Aldgate to tell us that the candidate from the Drysalters’ stable was refusing his turtle soup; if we could all try our luck at spotting the winner for November 9, then it is possible that the name of the new Lord Mayor might be as familiar in our mouths as that of this year’s Derby favourite. As it is, there is no excitement at all about the business. We are told casually in a corner of the paper that Sir Tuttlebury Tupkins is to be the next Lord Mayor, and we gather that it was inevitable. The name conveys nothing to us, the face is the habitual face. He duly becomes Lord Mayor and loses his identity. We can still only think of Dick Whittington.

One cannot help wondering if it is worth it. He has his crowded year of glorious life, but it is a year without a name. He is never himself, he is just the Lord Mayor. He meets all the great people of the day, soldiers, sailors, statesmen, even artists, but they would never recognize him again. He cannot say that he knows them, even though he has given them the freedom of the City or a jewelled sword. He can do nothing to make his year of office memorable; nothing that is, which his predecessor did not do before, or his successor will not do again. If he raises a Mansion House Fund for the survivors of a flood, his predecessor had an earthquake, and his successor is safe for a famine. And nobody will remember whether it was in this year or in Sir Joshua Potts’ that the record was beaten.

For this one year of anonymous greatness the aspiring Lord Mayor has to sacrifice his whole personality. He is to be the first citizen of London, but he must be very careful that London has never heard of him before. He has to live the life of a hermit, resolute neither to know nor to be known. For a year he shakes hands mechanically, but in the years before and the years afterwards, nobody, I imagine, has ever smacked him on the back. Indeed, it is doubtful if anybody has even seen him, so remote is his life from ours. He was dedicated to this from birth, or anyhow from the moment when he was first elected a member of the Worshipful Company of Linendrapers, and he has been preparing that wooden expression ever since.