[April 23rd 2020]
This poem was published in the Civil and Military Gazette on 9 November 1886, with the signature 'Kingcraft' and the subheading—See next Column. "Kingcraft", whose death had been reported in October, had been for years the finest pony in India. The Indian Planter’s Gazette and Sporting News had written:
'Full of age and honour, the best horse of his day has been gathered to his fathers'.The poem was not collected by Kipling, but is to be found in Rutherford (p. 344) and Pinney (p. 1829). Pinney notes (p. 2257) that the poem is among a collection of loose leaf manuscripts in the Kipling papers at the University of Sussex Special Collections; also that the CMG for November 9th reported that the steeple-chase course at Umballa had been 'altered and made easier'.
His Editor’s Critical Opinion
Though the poem was not signed or collected by Kipling, there is no doubt that he wrote it. Ten years later, E. Kay Robinson, his Editor at the CMG from the summer of 1886, published a memoir, Kipling in India, which discusses this poem and its reception at some length:
In sporting matters, for instance, I suppose nothing is more difficult than for a man who is no "sportsman" —in the exclusive sense of the men who carry the scent of the stables and the sawdust of the ring with them wherever they go—to speak to these in their own language, along their own lines of thought. Of a novelist who writes a good sporting story, it is considered praise to say that "none but a real sportsman could have written it." But Kipling was no sportsman and an indifferent horseman; yet his sporting verses always took the sporting world in India (where sport takes precedence of almost every other form of human activity) by storm.
The 'next column' in the CMG, referred to in the heading to the poem carried an item headed ‘A Sportsman's Lament'. It reported an advertisement for the Umballa Military and Hunt Meeting to be held on 16-18 December, with a assurance by the stewards, many of them officers of the Queen’s Bays, a prestigious cavalry regiment, that the steeplechase course had been altered and made easier:
'... the ditches are filled up, and all the rails removed. The fences are well sloped and bushed, and are well littered on the landing sides.'A correspondent, signing himself ‘One of the Old School’, and invoking the support of well-known gentlemen-riders of North India in his protest, deplores the degeneracy of the organisers:
When we wept over the departure of the 9th Lancers, it was a great consolation to us when a keen youth said ‘the Bays will fill their place’. He was right, and in their zeal for filling things, they have filled in the ditches on the steeple course..… ‘The course has been altered and made easier.’ Shades of the 9th Lancers! When we shook our lances and followed him who never returned, when we crashed over boulders and nullahs into ten thousand Afghans at Shahpur, it was not because we had been schooled over filled-in ditches.
The Queen's Bays were the 2nd Dragoon Guards, a celebrated cavalry regiment formed in 1685, which had fought in many campaigns over the years.
They were called 'Bays' because of their custom of riding only bay-coloured horses.
The 9th Lancers had been formed in 1715, and also had many battle honours, winning nine Victoria Crosses during the Sepoy rebellion of 1857.
The cavalry regiments saw themselves as the elite of the British army, with strong regimental pride, and a sense of superiority towards soldiers who fought on foot. The Royal Artillery, incidentally, saw themselves as superior to both, though they didn't go on about it.
See also "The Rout of the White Hussars" and "The Story of the Gadsbys".
[The Title] Ichabod 'The glory is departed.' 1 Samuel IV. 21
ulster an overcoat, here rolled up and used as padding.
pommel the front of a saddle.
Hanoverian Pelham A form of bit with curb and snaffle as one.
martingale a strap fastened at one end to the noseband, at the other to the girth, to prevent a horse from rearing or throwing back its head.
Dehra The capital of Dehra Dun district, in a mountain valley, hence the greenness of the grass.
brass effrontery, cheek.
clavicles collar-bones, often broken in a fall from a horse. The man of many fractures (below) had broken his eight times. And cf "The Maltese Cat" (The Day’s Work p. 270), where Lutyens’ pony falls in a hard-fought Polo match:
Lutyens had to be helped up.five-foot six five feet six inches, 1.68 metres. Fences so high would look like ramparts.
pecked pitched forward.
man of many fractures Lord William Beresford, (left) VC, 9th Lancers, and Military Secretary to the Viceroy, was a leading figure in sporting circles in India. An article in the CMG, 20 August 1888, in the series "Our Gentlemen Riders", described him as:
...an intrepid sportsman and daring rider who can boast a record of eight broken collar-bones, four concussions of the brain, and contusions innumerable.
Bertie … Johnston, Humphreys, Percy Vere well-known members of the racing fraternity whose names frequently appear in "Sporting Notes" from the Indian Planter’s Gazette and Sporting News.
bolter a horse running out of its rider’s control.
puller a horse pulling on the reins, unable to be slowed down.
blown and basted out of breath and well-whipped. He slows, and the rest - the ruck - run into him.
iron-bound ring-saddle We have not identified this saddle. It sounds heavy, while a racing saddle is as light as possible to spare the horse. Some saddles have rings sewn on to attach additional bits of harness or saddle-bags; they would be useful to 'strap an ulster on the pommel' as in verse 1. But considering the way Kipling absorbs and accurately employs technical terms, a ‘ring-saddle’ probably was a special design in those days. (Information from readers will be welcomed! Ed.)
safety stirrup a stirrup designed to release the rider’s foot in a fall. A rider may be dragged along the ground if his foot is caught in the stirrup.
©Philip Holberton 2020 All rights reserved