"Old Johnny Grundy"

Kipling's Orphan Poem

By David Alan Richards


One of the apparent puzzles to Kipling collectors who consult both Flora Livingston's 1927 Bibliography and James McG. Stewart's 1959 Bibliography is why the first contains a book entitled Fame's Tribute to Children, published in Chicago in 1892 and identified as being the first edition of the poem "Old Johnny Grundy" (Livingston 87), and the second omits it entirely. The simple answer is that, in his later years, Kipling denied its authorship, although the poem's facsimile appearing in the book (see illustration below) was in his calligraphy and patently bore his autograph. The more complicated answer is that, in making the submission to the book editors' appeal for a poem for children, he appears to have forgotten that he first heard it from his father, John Lockwood Kipling.



The story starts with the world's fair - styled the World Columbian Exposition - held in Chicago in 1893.

The wife of the owner of that city's famous hotel The Palmer House, Mrs. Potter Palmer, chaired a women's committee of the Exposition seeking to raise funds for a Children's Home at the fair where visitors could temporarily leave their small children.

Under her direction, letters were sent to a number of contemporary writers and artists.

They were asked to submit "a collection of autograph sentiments contributed by famous men and women", to be reproduced in facsimile. Responses were received from Thomas Hardy, Henry James, A.C. Swinburne, Tchaikovsky, Oliver Wendell Holmes, President Benjamin Harrison, and other literary and political luminaries.

Kipling's own entry was first printed in facsimile in the Sunday Chicago Tribune for December 4, 1892 (one of only three facsimiles so printed to whet the public appetite).


Fame's Tribute to Children Being a Collection of Autograph Sentiments Contributed by Famous Men and Women for this Volume. Done in Facsimile and Published for the Benefit of the Children's Home, of the World's Columbian Exhibition [vignette] Chicago A.C.McClurg and Company 1892.

The entry in Livingston's Bibliography, 1927, (page 118)


The final product, produced in an edition of 500 copies by publisher A.C. McClurg and Company (according to company files) in December of 1892 (when the book received copyright protection by deposit in the Library of Congress in Washington), was first sold at $5.00 per copy on December 8-10 at a "Colombian Bazaar".

This event was held in Mrs. Palmer's own palatial mansion fronting Lake Michigan at a booth specially established, according to newspaper reports, in "the cozy place under the stairs".

All of the authors' original manuscripts were offered at auction at the Bazaar as a single lot with a reserve price of $500, but failed to sell; they were apparently later dispersed separately, with the Kipling manuscript eventually passing through Sotheby's in 1994 (it is presently owned by an American private collector).

According to a letter from Kipling's agent to Vincent Starrett (cited in the Kipling Journal for December, 1991, Kipling emphatically denied composing "Old Johnny Grundy" and forbade further ascription of authorship to himself.



Apparently aware of the repudiating author's position, Mrs. Livingston in her 1938 Supplement noted that Kipling "printed" and "signed it, although it was composed by his father, J. Lockwood Kipling", and Kipling's sister Alice ("Trix") Fleming said in a letter to the Kipling Journal (December 1938), written after her brother's death, that "Old Johnny Grundy" had been composed by their father in Bombay in 1871. In his personal marked copy of Lloyd Chandler's A Summary of the Work of Rudyard Kipling (New York, 1930), Kipling wrote "not mine RK" against the entry for "Old Johnny Grundy", and in his marked copy of Chandler's manuscript "Index of First Lines" for that book, the corollary marginal note reads simply: "The Father's".


No further personal Kipling commentary on this poem has surfaced, and it would seem the case that, faced with an overseas request that he provide a poem for a book to benefit a children's charitable cause, he remembered (or perhaps only half-remembered) his father's ditty of two decades before.

This kind of appropriation within the family was not unprecedented. There exist presentation copies of Echoes in which Kipling claimed to have written a poem he otherwise attributed to his sister.

And without crediting his mother Alice Macdonald Kipling's authorship, he used her poem "Rivals" from Quartette as a heading to "On Greenhow Hill" in Life's Handicap, published in 1891, the year just before "Fame's Tribute To Children".

In any event, "Old Johnny Grundy" would seem to be the only poem published with Kipling's authorization which he did not compose, although he wrote it out and signed it. And (pace Stewart) that should make it count for any Kipling bibliography and collector.

David Alan Richards, January 1999