Copy Book Archive

Little Rays of Sunshine ‘Alpha of the Plough’ wished that he had been born with the gift of a winning smile.

In two parts

King George V 1910-1936
Music: Euphemia Allen (‘de Lulli’), Ernest Tomlinson and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

By Eduard von Grützner (1846–1925), via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

Falstaff, by Eduard von Grützner (1846–1925).

About this picture …

Falstaff, by Eduard von Grützner (1846–1925). “Falstaff was neither brave nor honest,” wrote GK Chesterton, “nor chaste, nor temperate, nor clean, but he had the eighth cardinal virtue for which no name has ever been found.” If Gardiner is right and smiles reveal character, what do we make of the character of von Grützner’s Falstaff, as revealed by his smile?

Little Rays of Sunshine

Part 1 of 2

For many years, newspaper editor AG Gardiner wrote short essays for the Star under the pseudonym ‘Alpha of the Plough’. The following passage is taken from a reflection on the value of the smile, a reflection that ended with a warning. “Smiles,” he wrote, “like poets, are born, not made.”

IF I were to be born into this world again and had the choice of my endowments I should arrange very carefully about my smile.

There is nothing so irresistible as the right sort of smile. It is better than the silver spoon in the mouth. It will carry you anywhere and win you anything, including the silver spoon. It disarms your enemies and makes them forget that they have a grudge against you. “I have a great many reasons for disliking you” said a well-known public man to a friend of mine the other day, “but when I am with you I can never remember what they are.”

It was the flash of sunshine that did for him. He could not preserve his hostility in the presence of the other’s disarming smile and gay good-humour. He just yielded up his sword and sunned himself in the pleasant weather that the other carried with him like an atmosphere.

Jump to Part 2


Columnist A. G. Gardiner expressed some regret that he had not been born with one of those smiles that seem to work magic. He recalled how one friend of his had a smile so disarming that others invariably forget whatever bone they may have had to pick with him, and simply basked in its warmth. (55 / 60 words)

Part Two

By an anonymous photographer, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. Source

David Lloyd George in 1922.

About this picture …

David Lloyd George (1863-1945), Liberal Party politician and Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922. “In an estimate of the qualities that have contributed to Mr Lloyd George’s amazing success” wrote Gardiner “a high place would have to be given to the twinkling smile, so merry and mischievous, so engagingly frank and so essentially secret and calculating, with which, by the help of the photographer, he has irradiated his generation.”

Really first-rate smiles are rare. For the most part our smiles add little to our self-expression. If we are dull, they are dull. If we are sinister, they are only a little more sinister. If we are smug, they only emphasise our smugness. If, like the Lord High Everything Else, we were born sneering,* our smile is apt to be a sneer, too.

The most memorable smiles are those which have the quality of the unexpected. A smile that is habitual rarely pleases, for it suggests policy, and the essence of a smile is its spontaneity and lack of deliberation.

But it is no use for those of us who have only humdrum smiles to attempt to set up a smile that is an incantation. Smiles, like poets, are born, not made. If they are made, they are not smiles, but grimaces, and convict us on the spot. They are simply an attempt to circulate false news. There is no remedy for us of the negligible smile, but to be born again and to be born different, not outside but within, for the smile is only the publication of the inward spirit.

Copy Book

* A reference to Pooh-Bah in The Mikado (1885) by Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. “My family pride is something inconceivable” he told Nanky-Poo. “I can’t help it. I was born sneering.” He became Lord High Everything Else when all the other ministers resigned rather than serve under Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, and Pooh-Bah accepted their posts himself. “And the salaries attached to them?” Pish-Tush clarified. “You did.”


Gardiner conceded that smiles of this bewitching kind are uncommon. Spontaneous smiles inevitably advertise or betray our own natural character, and a contrived or conventional smile is seen through quickly. The only way to acquire a more winning smile, he said, is to acquire a more winning personality — to undergo an inner rebirth. (54 / 60 words)


Abridged from ‘Many Furrows’ (1924), a selection of essays by Alfred George Gardiner (1865-1946).

Suggested Music

1 2 3

‘Celebrated Waltz’ (‘Chopsticks’)

Euphemia Allen (‘de Lulli’) (1861-1948)

Performed by Stephanie McCallum and Kevin Hunt.

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Sweet and Dainty

Ernest Tomlinson (1924-2015)

Performed by the Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Murray Khouri.

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12 Variations on ‘Ah, vous dirai-je Maman’ in C Major, K. 265 (Arranged for Violin and Viola)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Performed by Suyoen Kim and Richard Yongjae O’Neill.

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How To Use This Passage

You can use this passage to help improve your command of English.

IRead it aloud, twice or more. IISummarise it in one sentence of up to 30 words. IIISummarise it in one paragraph of 40-80 words. IVMake notes on the passage, and reconstruct the original from them later on. VJot down any unfamiliar words, and make your own sentences with them later. VIMake a note of any words that surprise or impress you, and ask yourself what meaning they add to the words you would have expected to see. VIITurn any old-fashioned English into modern English. VIIITurn prose into verse, and verse into prose. IXAsk yourself what the author is trying to get you to feel or think. XHow would an artist or a photographer capture the scene? XIHow would a movie director shoot it, or a composer write incidental music for it?

For these and more ideas, see How to Use The Copy Book.

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