Notes on the text
(by Peter Keating)
The colonists called a Congress at Philadelphia; declared themselves to be independent; and in 1776 took the name of “The United States of America.” Blood had already been shed when this happened.
(A School History, pp. 200-201.)
Soon after the peace of 1763, we began to perceive one result of the conquest of Canada which few people had expected. Our American colonies, having no French to fear any longer, wanted to be free from our control altogether.This is the same line that Kipling takes in “Before” which contains no consideration – no mention even – of any issue other the ingratitude and deviousness of the American colonists. The poem centres entirely on this one point. Britain, her sword unsheathed, has put half the world to flight and left the Americans secure in their new-built cities, protected by Britain’s might.
(A School History, p. 199.)
... the Americans sought French help, and France was delighted at such a chance of avenging her losses in the former war. (A School History, p. 201).[Lines 15-16] To Freedom - and were bold! As with the last line of the first stanza, Kipling chooses a particularly scathing way to end the poem. The image is of the American colonists, hiding behind Britain’s strength, suddenly remembering the importance of Freedom and rushing out to show how bold they really are.
It has been pointed out several times that it was not Washington’s soldiers who suffered at Valley Forge, but the line has not been altered even in the Sussex Edition.Harbord recommends the reader to see Ralph Durand A Handbook to the Poetry of Rudyard Kipling, 1914, p. 287. This is the annotation offered by Durand:
Valley Forge is a small village in Chester County, Pennsylvania. On the 19th of December 1777, after the battles of Brandywine and Germantown and the evacuation of Philadelphia by the British, Washington’s army, numbering about ten thousand men, went into camp there. Commissariat arrangements were so badly managed that by 1st of February nearly four thousand men were unfit for duty owing to illnesses caused by lack of proper food and clothing.[Line 2] The ice on the Delaware. The harsh winter conditions on the North-East Atlantic coast, where the estuary to the Delaware River is situated, caused great suffering and logistical problems for both armies. It is notable that this is the aspect of the war that Kipling most emphasises. In poetic terms, he does so in order to contrast a wartime of winter with a spring and summer peace, but he has an historical point to make as well. On Christmas night 1776, the Americans led by General George Washington made a spectacular crossing of the Delaware River just before it froze completely over. Washington’s daring led to an early morale-boosting victory over Britain’s key mercenary troops, the Hessians, at Trenton in New Jersey.