George Allan England: The Harvard Years

Two-Fifty An Hour - A Tragedy in One Act.

by George Allan England

Ordinarily, we don't reprint plays. After reading this short tragedy, however, we decided to break with that tradition. The work at hand is not only amusing on its own, but becomes a very pointed satire when one takes into account England's college experiences.

Throughout his life, whether it was in interviews or autobiographical writings, England stressed one point when recounting his time at Harvard:

“My health was undermined by my having to work my way through college, tutoring the sons of the rich...”

There seems to be no record as to how many years he worked as a tutor, but it is assumed that it was his main source of income throughout most of his college career. The reference to “sons of the rich” is not only an indicator of England’s Socialist beliefs—his college writings suggest he embraced Socialism while a student—but is also an oblique reference to the actual cost of his services as a tutor. If the “two-fifty” of the title means England’s rate as a tutor was two dollars and fifty cents (US) an hour, then his services were indeed rather pricey. Today, that two-fifty an hour would be the rough equivalent of just over sixty-seven (US) dollars an hour, making the hiring of a tutor expensive for the tutee and quite lucrative for the tutor...providing they had the patience.

England was a senior when he wrote “Two-Fifty” and one can imagine that he drew on a number of real experiences as a basis for this satiric work. As with many of his Harvard Illustrated pieces, his writing uses phrases and references that would have been familiar to his fellow students, but are unfamiliar to the reader of today. We have added an Afterword to explain many of these items and have also addressed Plethora’s mangling of both the German and English languages. While England was an English major, all students in the early 1900s, regardless of their major, were expected to be familiar with French, German and Latin, making Plethora’s blunders very humorous to the readers of the day.

Lastly, if we have divined the signature on the illustrations correctly, they are by England: a creative outlet he dabbled in throughout his entire career.

Constructed to mimic an Elizabethan play, “Two-Fifty An Hour - A Tragedy in One Act” originally appeared in the February, 1902 issue of The Harvard Illustrated Magazine. This is the first time it has been reprinted.

Bob Gay
August, 2015
Introduction © 2015 by Bob Gay

Title art for Two-Fifty an Hour
Dramatis Personae.
Randolph E. Plethora, '05.
Cram, His Tutor.
The action takes place in Haverley Hall. Time, 11 a.m.
Curtain, rising, discovers plethora in pajamas, asleep on Turkish couch.
Loud knockings. plethora stretches. Louder knockings are heard.

P. (waking). Oh come in there! Come in! What the deuce—
C. (entering). Ah, good day!
Glad to see that you’re up. The exam, comes—
P. I say,
Let me slip on some clothes and I’m with you. You know
Dreadful toothache—no sleep—plus an earache—
C. Just so;
But be quick as you can, for we’ve half of the grammar
Review for this hour—and exam, comes—
P. (aside).Oh d—— her!
She knew it was Midyears but—
C. —Friday P. M.
And it’s Wednesday today—
P. Dreadful ill! (exit).
C. Er.. . ahem!
CRAM, sol.
Even illness, it seems, has its own consolations;
These corks may have stopped Anodyne, or—Libations!
And then, as for the toothache—quite evident that’s
Helped by coyly extinguishing gas with Knox hats. . . .
But the lesson—let’s see—
P. (re-entering). I’m quite ready. If you
Don’t object I’ll sit here in the Morris. A few
Turkish Trophies are useful to clear up my brain
In the morning—
C.Our lesson begins, then,—
P.The pain
Of those earaches is frightful. They quite make me reel;
And I have to be helped in undressing.
C. I feel
Greatest sympathy, surely: but now, let me see. . .
Yes, the lesson begins here, on page 33.
What is “of,” if you please?
P. Of? Why, of. . . . Oh, I know!
It’s von. vones. . . . then vonem, then—how does that go? . . .
Oh yes, vonen, of course!
C.I’m afraid you’re astray
just a bit—er—let’s see; in this phrase, let us say,
"Some young men, it is said, taste all joys of the town.”
What is of?
P.Oh that’s easy! Why, of is the noun. . . .
C. Ah. indeed—well, you’d better review 33.
Now on page 35—
P.Would you mind handing me
That decant—er—that bottle, I mean, with the label
for toothache”?—Ah, thank you ! I’m really unable
To stir, after all I’ve endured—
Study “Those with the Dative”. . . .
P.Thank God I’m alive!
Dreadful time! By the way, do you think our Class Crew
C.Then learn the distinction of an, nach and zu.
And prepare—
P.Say, does Blearworth give still ones, or will
It be mutton, to drool on?
C.—Then study until
You reach Article 90. Now. will you recite
All those nouns of the First Class?
P.Er—er—, I can’t quite
Seem to think how you start ’em. Tom says if he lies
On his back he can think a lot clearer. The eyes
Should be shut to exclude all distractions. Ah, so! (lying down on couch.)
Now, then, ask me some hard ones!
C. Well, tell me what“wo
Is, in English?
P.What, “wo?” Why, that’s pie! It means WHERE!
Now I told you this couch was the thing. That old chair
Is too hard. By the way—
C.Yes, but tell if you can
What’s the German for “Where is the cow of the man ?”
P. “Where’s the cow. . . .?” er—let’s see! Wo’s de Koo von der Homme?
I guess that’s about right, isn’t it? Oh, and Tom
Says, Tom says—Jove! These Midyears are just
Absolutely the worst! But I’ll pass ’em or bust!
If I have to be tutored eight hours every day!
My, I’m tired, though! This study is wearing! I say,
Don’t you think. . . . (yawns.) don’t you think. . . .
C.Now, “The night it was fine.”
Can you say that?
P. Er? . . .
C. Night. Well, now can you decline
Any feminine noun in the singular? (no answer.) Snoring!
Well, well! (contemplating prostrate plethora). There goes the bell!
Well, his mind must he soaring
In search of Tom’s rules! Guess he’s trusting to them
For an “E” on this German—comes Friday P. M.! . . .
(Exit.P. continues to snore.)
G. A. E.
Closing picture


As mentioned in the introduction, England was writing for his fellow college students and used references that they would readily understand, particularly when it came to the grammar of both English and German. For those who wish to delve deeper into the meaning of the play, the following is a list of these items.

  • Both the names “Plethora” and “Cram” have extra meaning. Plethora is defined as an excess or overabundance of most anything. Cram means to fill something by force (an obvious meaning in this case), but also has a meaning very familiar to students, which is to intensly prepare before a test.
  • The Turkish couch mentioned at the beginning is a sort of a day bed, implying that Plethora is not only wealthy, but lazy as well—he is not only asleep on the couch, but in his pajamas, at eleven o'clock in the morning.
Scene I
  • There is no record of a Haverley Hall on the Harvard campus, nor does it seem to be one of the private dorms that surrounded the University in England’s day (for a short discussion of these private dorms, see the introduction to The Downfall of Reginald Pym).
Scene II
  • In Cram’s soliloquy (abbreviated “sol.”) there is mention of “these corks.” Cork stoppers were used to close bottles of liquid in the early 1900s, before the advent of screw-on tops. This phrase would also imply that there are a number of corks lying about.
  • Anodyne is defined as a pain reliever and, considering the time period, possibly laudanum, an opium extract.
  • Libations are any type of liquid refreshment, usually of an alcoholic nature.
  • The phrase “coyly extinguishing gas with Knox hats” is the most difficult portion of the entire play to reconstruct into modern English. Starting from the end of the phrase, “Knox hats” were a very popular (and upper class) brand at the time the play was written. An archaic form of “extinguishing” is “obscuring as if by superior brilliance,” while one definition of the word “gas” is “to talk nonsense to.” Lastly, there is an archaic definition of “coyly” that means “aloof.” Putting this all together, we find that Cram believes Plethora feigns brilliance, feels he is above others and hides behind his wealth, yet talks nonsense. The toothache then, is an excuse to hide his inadequacies.
Scene III
  • “Morris” - Short for a Morris chair, a type of recliner.
  • “Turkish Trophies” - A brand of cigarettes popular in the early 1900s.
  • The word of does mean von in German (where it is a preposition), but Plethora then begins to conjugate von as a verb using the rules of Latin (vones and vonem).
  • The word of is never a noun in the English language, but a preposition.
  • Translating from German to English—an is to, nach is after and zu is also to. German grammmar sets rules as to when each of the words can be used.
  • No record exists as to what Blearworth might be. A guess would be a fictitious restaurant created by England.
  • While the word wo does exist in German, the sentence Plethora constructs could not, as it combines a fanciful contraction (Wo’s) with a non-existent word (koo) and the French word for man (“Homme”). The sentence should read (providing Google Translate is correct), “Wo ist die Kuh des Mannes?”
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