As is our custom, we celebrate Tax Day 20161 with a apposite reading from A.P. Herbert. Today's reading is an extract from his story "Rex v. Haddock: Can a Worm Turn?", written in the form of the decision of a trial court. The author's protagonist, Albert Haddock, has been accused of knowingly filing an untrue income tax return, in which he stated that he expected his gross and net income for the coming year to be "nil," and in one instance "Absolutely nil." The Chairman of the Bench of the West London Police Court sums up Haddock's first defense, which is that Haddock could not make sense of an instruction on the form, as follows:
The evidence of the accused is that in this pronouncement (which is headed NOTE AS TO THE RELIEF WHICH MAY BE CLAIMED BY TAXPAYERS) there are nearly two hundred words; that, after reading the first fifty words, he laughed heartily; that he then began again and read the whole passage through from start to finish six or seven times, first silently, then aloud, and finally singing to a chant in B minor; that after these exhaustive experiments the words still conveyed no meaning to his mind whatever; that he concluded that not even a Government Department could with serious intent have issued to the whole body of income-tax payers two hundred words entirely devoid of sense or meaning;2 that therefore his first impression was probably correct and the whole Form a base practical joke, to which he replied in the same spirit and kind.
Having myself studied the Form in question, I find this defence a good one.
The Chairman describes Haddock's fourth defense with these sprightly words:
Fourthly, [Haddock] says that, as a professional man (if writing can be called a profession), he sees no reason why any professional man should in any way assist the officers of the Crown in the collection of Revenue; that the professional man is the dog's-body of the State; that he is constantly writing to The Times newspaper or to Ministers to protest against injustices, or to point out the errors of His Majesty's Government; that no notice is taken of these protests; that he is referred to in Parliament contemptuously as a direct taxpayer, as if he were somehow immune from the payment of indirect taxes; that in fact he pays the greater part of both; that the wine-tax is monstrous,3 the whisky-tax monstrous,4 and the tobacco-tax monstrous; that he sees no reason for the present ferocious treatment of these simple indulgences, while those poisonous pleasures with which women ruin their systems, such as tea, coffee, and sweets, are classed as 'necessaries' and go almost free; that beer is as much a necessity as tea; that there should be no representation without taxation; * * * that he (Haddock) has studied carefully the items of National Expenditure, and that from that eight hundred million pounds he (Haddock) received no benefit except the agreeable spectacle of the Changing of the Guard and an occasional view of a distant battleship; that if every Government Department were to collapse in ruins at this moment he (Haddock) would not be a penny the worse; that in these circumstances he does not propose to exhaust himself by any elaborate efforts to assist the Inland Revenue Department to collect his money; * * *; that the income-tax is intolerable; and that the Income-Tax Delayers' Association are paying his expenses in this case.
Our usual jovial support of the commercial-welfare state will return tomorrow.
1 I know the returns are actually due on April 18 this year, but I refuse to move Tax Day to a Monday as if it were the birthday of a President.
2 Later developments in tax law would disprove Haddock's argument.
3 Sound thinking.
4 Again, sound thinking.