Lucy Vickery

Spectator competition winners: lessons in citizenship from Oscar Wilde and P.G. Wodehouse

Credit: Archive Pics / Alamy Stock Photo

In Competition No. 3278, you were invited to supply a well-known writer’s response to the question what makes the perfect citizen?

In 1970, as part of a school project, a ten-year-old wrote to Charles M. Schulz to ask him a similar question. But the boy asked what makes a ‘good’ rather than ‘perfect’ citizen, and this is how the Peanuts creator replied: ‘I think it is more difficult these days to define what makes a good citizen than it has ever been before. Certainly all any of us can do is follow our own conscience and retain faith in our democracy…’.

Fifty years on, with our democratic institutions looking distinctly green around the gills, and faith in politicians at an all-time low, lessons in citizenship came pouring in from a pleasingly wide range of writers, from Ernest Hemingway to Bernadine Evaristo. Creditable Hemingways – from D.A. Prince, A.H. Harker and Paul D. Amer – were edged out by the winners, printed below, who are rewarded with £30 each.

If you can hymn the burden of the white man,
Yet earn a name for more than racist tropes;
If you know any tribe can birth the right man,
And any colour dash a nation’s hopes;
If you can gain the highest, richest prizes,
Yet hold yourself no whit above the rest;
If you know gold and ermine are disguises
That seldom show the wearers at their best;
If empire’s anthem swells within your heart,
Yet you revere the common Tommy’s voice;
If you know high and low aren’t far apart,
And public spirit’s shaped by private choice;
If you combine the values of the gentry
With older wisdom from the wolf-pack wild;
If you see diverse views as complementary,
You will be civic virtue’s poster child.

Chris O’Carroll/Rudyard Kipling

A first-rate citizen may be a chump of the premier class but must also be decently chummy with his species, a sort of Jeeves in intent if not execution, ever ready to supply a supportive cocktail, a bracing verbal riposte (from Shakespeare, or one of those brainy chaps) and bravely stand up to a rampaging horde of aunts.

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