(notes by Roberta Baldi. We have been grateful for critical comments and suggestions from Alastair Wilson)
...the volume has a unity which was lost to some extent in the subsequent enlargements. The series nature of the ditties was emphasised by the fact that the heading to "A Code of Morals" originally had: ‘ 'Tis my nineth/Unmitigated misstatement’ instead of ‘ 'Tis a most’ as in later editions. (F A Underwood, 'The Expansion of Departmental Ditties', the Kipling Journal 188, December 1973, page 6).We do not know whether this light-hearted piece was based on a true story, or whether Kipling, intrigued by the possibilities of intercepting heliograph messages, simply made up the incident. The heading suggests the latter, but his readers in Simla or Lahore may have known otherwise. The original heading ('...‘Tis my nineth...') implies that most of his verses were his own inventions, but in fact much of their appeal was that they echoed the scandals and rumours of the day.
'The heliograph is ... used to signal messages over distances too great to be covered by signalling with flags. Sunlight is caught on a mirror and flashed to those who wait to receive the message.[Line 8] The Code that sets the miles at naught Kipling reiterates here the second meaning of the title to indicate the heliographic language.
The message, which is sent in the Morse code, is spelt out in a series of long and short flashes, long flashes to represent ‘dashes’ and short to represent ‘dots’. Thus a long flash followed by two short ones – dash, dot, dot (see stanza 5) – spells D; a short flash – dot – spells E; a short followed by a long flash – dot, dash – is A; and dot, dash, dot, is R.
One operator wishing to call up and get into conversation with another will make the signal which means ‘are you there’ again and again until he sees the flash of a reply. Only those almost directly in the line of the flash can see it.”