The Expansion of
Departmental Ditties


This article, by F. A. Underwood, was originally written for the Kipling Journal of December 1973. He has kindly agreed to its reproduction here as a contribution to the New Readers' Guide.




[January 11 2006]


According to T. S. Eliot the pieces in Departmental Ditties and Other Verses are juvenilia, and so he found no place for them in his selection of 1941, although he actually started it with "L'Envoi" and also included "Ave Imperatrix!" which dated from Kipling's schooldays. In his preface Eliot wrote:

The early work is juvenilia, but juvenilia which, having been published in its time, is essential reading for a full understanding of Kipling's progress. Most of it is what it was intended to be, light reading in an English newspaper in India . . . That he is gifted, that he is worth watching, is obvious when you know how young he is: but the gift appears to be only for the ephemeral, and the writer appears to aim at nothing higher.
[A Choice of Kipling's Verse made by T. S. Eliot with an essay on Rudyard Kipling, Faber and Faber, 1941]
It is fortunate that some of us can read light verse for fun. No doubt the literary critic has to make decisions such as Eliot's, but I still feel a guilty but unrepentant pleasure when I turn to these ephemeral productions, as I do now and then. Whilst acknowledging the correctness of the critics' judgement, I find it strange but perhaps significant that bitter-sweet verses written for an expatriate society a hundred years ago can still be read with enjoyment rather than as essential background for the student. Possibly the appeal lies in the fact that, leaving aside felicities of versification, there is much that is universal and timeless in the ditties. “Potiphar Gubbins”, “Exeter Battleby Tring”, “Pagett, M. P.”, “Delilah Aberystwyth” and others will always be with us, and, although the death-rate is not so high as it was amongst the Anglo-Indians:

'. . . Do those decline
The step that offers or the work resign?
Trust me, Today's Most Indispensables,
Five hundred men can take your place or mine.'
As Kipling himself concluded the "General Summary" which prefaced the collection:

'Thus the artless songs I sing
Do not deal with anything
New or never said before
As it was in the beginning
Is to-day official sinning
And shall be for ever more.'
Kipling wrote a great deal of light verse for his newspaper in his spare time and much of it was never collected because, naturally enough, its quality varied. A short series of 'Bungalow Ballads' in the Pioneer during 1885 was not very successful, so that only two survived to be collected : "Divided Destinies" and "The Mare's Nest". A group of poems on 'official' themes together with others went to make up Departmental Ditties and Other Verses as first published: Departmental Ditties originally appeared as a series of ten in the Civil and Military Gazette in 1886, and the 'other verses', including the two just mentioned, appeared there or in the Pioneer in 1885 or 1886. It is interesting to look through the early editions because the expansion of the book with each one makes it unique among Kipling's publications. As Louis L. Cornell put it:

'. . . in the course of its four earlier editions (1886-90) provided a conveniently elastic vehicle for putting Kipling's poems before the public'.
[Louis L. Cornell, Kipling in India, Macmillan, 1966].
The titles added to each edition are duly listed in the bibliographies, but I intend to discuss the effect of the additions rather than the numbers, and I shall also mention the minor changes which were made, in particular those for the English public.

I find it fascinating to handle the first edition of 1886, which was so ingeniously made up as an official envelope addressed to 'All Heads of Departments and all Anglo-Indians', and signed 'Rudyard Kipling, Assistant, Department of Public Journalism, Lahore District', although very few of us can own a copy in good condition with flap and tape. Even "A Code of Morals", the longest poem included, fitted on to one of the tall, narrow pages printed on one side only in newspaper type.

There is indeed something very personal about the little volume, for Kipling supervised its production and published it himself, as he told us in My First Book. [My First Book, Idler, December 1892; Sussex Edition, volume XXX; Kipling Journal No. 133, p6, March 1960]. He was surely correct, by the way, to describe Departmental Ditties as his first book because Schoolboy Lyrics was published by his parents and Echoes and Quartette were shared. Although the article was written only about six years after this first publication, much had happened to Kipling since then and from the tone one would suppose that the interval was of much longer duration. He described the publication of his verses in the newspapers with the approval of the Muslim foreman:

'Your poetry very good, sir; just coming proper length today. You giving more soon? One-third column just proper. Always can take on third page.'

Then the printing on the office plant and the publication:

'Of these "books" we made some hundreds, and as there was no necessity for advertising, my public being to my hand, I took reply-postcards, printed the news of the birth of the book on one side, the blank order-form on the other, and posted them up and down the Empire from Aden to Singapore, and from Quetta to Colombo. There was no trade discount, no reckoning twelves as thirteens, no commission, and no credit of any kind whatever. The money came back in poor but honest rupees, and was trans- ferred from the publisher, the left-hand pocket, direct to the author, the right-hand pocket. Every copy sold in a few weeks, and the ratio of expenses to profits, as I remember it, has since prevented my injuring my health by sympathising with publishers who talk of their risks and advertisements.'
The first page, which stated that 'The writer is indebted to the Pioneer and the Civil and Military Gazette for permission to reprint the papers contained in this docket', showed the contents as "General Summary", the ten ditties and fifteen other verses. Most of my own favourites were included already, for instance the ditties "Army Head- Quarters", "The Story of Uriah", "The Post that Fitted", "Pink Dominoes" and "A Code of Morals" and amongst the other verses, "Pagett, M.P." and "The Undertaker's Horse". I find it strange that I can still feel with the writer a trivial incident like the conversion of a ballroom to an office which is mourned in "The Plea of the Simla Dancers":

'To-night, the moon that watched our lightsome wiles —
That beamed upon us through the deodars —
Is wan with gazing on official files,
And desecrating desks disgust the stars.'
And so on, ending, 'Give us our ravished ball-room back again!' After all those years something comes through even to a reader who cannot hum "See Saw" and "Dream Faces", which, incidentally, was also mentioned in "Possibilities". With the exception of "The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal'vin", no poem refers specifically to a single political issue, and 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 ninth
Unmitigated misstatement'
instead of: ' 'Tis a most' as in later editions.

In the same year, 1886, a second edition was published in a more conventional manner and format by Thacker, Spink and Co. of Calcutta. As Kipling wrote:

'The wire binding cut the pages and the red tape tore the covers. This was not intentional, but Heaven helps those who help themselves. Consequently there arose a demand for a new edition, and this time I exchanged the pleasure of taking money over the counter for that of seeing a real publisher's imprint on the title-page.'
Five poems were added, including "A Ballade of Jakko Hill" and "A Ballad of Burial", both of which seem appropriate, whereas "The Over- land Mail" does not. Some relatively weak verses entitled "Lucifer" appeared only in this edition of the book, although they were included in the de Luxe and Sussex editions and the corresponding American ones. "Lucifer" tells of an Indian Civil Servant who was transferred to Simla because of family influence but became too proud and was sent back to the plains.

'St. Vincent Clare's Papa had lived before him —
Which always helps —
So early in official life. They bore him
From fellow-whelps,
Destined to die or sicken in the slough
Of Lower India, to the Mountain's brow.'


And after the fall:

'He sought the Plains,
And now behind his door, whoe'er so tappeth it,
Another reigns.
'While Vincent, as the punkah flickers o'er him,
Remembers — that his father lived before him.'
The verse beginning:
'I want you to see that Jenny and Me
Had barely exchanged our troth . . .'
was inserted in brackets in "Pink Dominoes", and some lines in "Pagett, M.P.", were altered for the better. These originally read:

'July was a trifle unhealthy, Pagett was ill with fear,
Called it the "cholera morbus"; hinted that life was dear —
Dearer than written agreements. So I suspected, and kept
Most of his kit in my godown locked, and he nearly wept.'

The last two lines were improved technically and made more telling as well:

'He babbled of "eastern exile", and mentioned his home with tears;
But I hadn't seen my children for close upon seven years.'

No. 4 of "Certain Maxims of Hafiz" was originally the strange couplet,

'Hearts that be seared with passion and
hocks that the iron sears,
Though they may irk their owner
last for a hundred years.'
The replacement beginning: 'The temper of chums . . .' was also a decided improvement.

For the third edition of 1888 ten poems were added, including "Delilah", "Christmas in India", "As the Bell Clinks" and "Diana of Ephesus". The last was making its only appearance except for those in the Sussex and Burwash editions, and this is not surprising for, like 'Lucifer' it is rather below standard. We are familiar with some lines which were used as a heading to "Venus Annodomini" in Plain Tales from the Hills, and the poem is of some interest in connection with this and other Simla stories:

'Ephesus stands — you may find it still —
On the lee of a verdurous, pine-clad hill,
And once in a twelve-month the folk below
Flock to the pines and the upland snow —
Flee from the sunshine, the glare and the dust,
For the good of their souls — as is right and just.'
The verses are an allegory which tells how when a beauty who had held sway for many years aged and was rejected a new one took her place and:

'The City is old as the pines above,
Old as the mountains, as old as Love;
And I am as old as a man may be
Ere he pass from the pines to the Unknown Sea,
And I serve, as I served in the years gone by,
The great Diana who fell from the sky.'
But the new Goddess herself 'must die in the eyes of men' and so on. The stanzas now numbered 14, 15, 18 and 19 were added to "Certain Maxims of Hafiz" and the final line to "Giffen's Debt", although probably few would have missed it if the whole poem had been omitted.

The second and third editions were printed as well as published in Calcutta, but the fourth of 1890 was printed in England, and so ranks as the first English edition although, as in the others, Calcutta appeared above London on the title page. There were again additional poems, notably, "Prelude", "The Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House" and "One Viceroy Resigns". "The Betrothed" was also collected at this stage, so that the lines which many have taken so seriously — I find them excellent fun — were a comparatively late addition: 'And a woman is only a woman, but a good cigar is a Smoke'.

Nos. 16 and 17 were added to complete 'Certain Maxims of Hafiz', and, as was usual with Kipling's revisions for the English public, a number of Anglo-Indian words were changed. For example, 'verdant doabs brown' became 'budding roses brown', carriage replaced gharri and horses replaced jhampan; monkey was substituted for hooluk and dam for bund.

As with Plain Tales from the Hills, however, a substantial number of Anglo-Indian words remained in this and subsequent editions, and these certainly add an exotic flavour to the verses. [F. A. Underwood, 'Indo-Pakistani Phrases', Kipling Journal, No. 172, p. 24, December 1969]. Some inverted commas were also removed from colloquialisms such as 'screw' and 'dibs', and also from 'buckles' in 'Study of an Elevation, in Indian Ink', although I cannot see why that word as applied to bridges needed them in the first place. "A Legend of the F. O." also became "A Legend of the Foreign Office" to make things clearer for the English reader. The most extensive alterations were made in "Municipal" which had only appeared with the third edition. Originally it began:

'It was an August evening and, in snowy garments clad,
I took my hawah-khana round the lines of Hezabad,
When, presently, my Waler saw, and did not like at all,
A Commissariat hathee, nautching gaily down the Mall.
I couldn't see the driver, and across my mind it rushed
That that Commissariat hathee had — forgive the rhyme — gone musth'.
The Waler originally jumped an ekka rather than a bullock, patent wheels were shisham wheels and, 'Before they called the drivers up' read, 'Before they got the muchnas up'.

The book was then complete in its present form for, although a drastic rearrangement of the order of the poems followed later, other changes were very minor. Several editions followed unchanged except for the addition of a 'Glossary for English Readers' with the sixth — I wonder who compiled it? Thacker published an illustrated edition and one to match Macmillan's de Luxe edition, although that set later included the text in Early Verse with "Lucifer" and a few uncollected poems from the same period added.

Eventually Kipling purchased the copyright from Newnes, to whom it had passed, and Methuen took over the publication in 1904, complete with the familiar vignette of Pagett, M.P. The verses were not in the first English Collected Verse of Rudyard Kipling (1912) but were included in Rudyard Kipling's Verse, Inclusive Edition 1885-1918 with footnotes added to explain some of the remaining Anglo-Indian words, and by the time of Rudyard Kipling's Verse, Definitive Edition in 1940, most of the blanks in names such as 'C - lv - n' and 'L - I' had been filled and 'Sir A -' had become 'Sir Auckland' (Colvin).

Being concerned chiefly with the growth and change of the book in this article, I have not quoted much from the better or the more characteristic poems, although I have mentioned most of their titles already. The reader will be familiar with them, or will perhaps thank me for sending him back to Departmental Ditties for light relief from the fashionable study of the complexities of Kipling's later works. After looking through the various editions my own conclusion is that, although some of the poems added in the second, third and fourth were in the spirit of the first, many were not, so that the result was a dilution of the effect of the original collection, in which even the Other Verses seem to go well with the Departmental Ditties.

As Cornell says: 'the original coherence of the 'Departmental' series become lost'. It is significant that the net result was that there was an increase of only three ditties whilst no less than eighteen other verses were added. It is true that "A Ballade of Jakko Hill", "Municipal", "As the Bell Clinks" and "The Betrothed" go well with the originals, but a significant number of additions seem to be out of tune with them, for instance "The Overland Mail", "What the People Said", "The Song of the Women", "Two Months" and "The Ballad of Fisher's Boarding House". "The Galley-Slave" can perhaps be excused on the grounds that it was Kipling's own farewell to India, and I certainly cannot suggest the omission of "One Viceroy Resigns" from the canon, but on the whole I tend to agree with the author himself that he:

'loved it best when it was a little brown baby with a pink string around its stomach'.



[F.A.U.]