"The Dream of
Duncan Parrenness"

Notes on the text

These notes, by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Life's Handicap, as published and frequently reprinted between 1891 and 1950.



[Nov 5 2006]

[Title] We have been unable to trace this name in any of the reference books consulted, and the Internet merely refers us to this story. This suggests that it is an invented name. Andrew Lycett (p. 100) comments: 'No great ingenuity is required to decipher his name as a play on ‘drunken barrenness’. Any further information would be appreciated.

[Page 399, line 1] Mr. Bunyan John Bunyan (1628-1688) sometime soldier, Baptist minister, powerful preacher; author of The Pilgrim’s Progress and many other religious works. See the verses “The Holy War”.

[Page 399, line 2] East India Company incorporated in 1600 and traded with India until 1831 when it became an administrative agency. In 1858 the government was vested in the Crown, and Queen Victoria became Empress of India. [See Niall Ferguson, Empire, How Britain Made the Modern World, Penguin 2004 p. 18.]

[Page 399, line 3] Calcutta an important commercial city on the River Hoogly (line 15 below) which runs into the Bay of Bengal, now spelt 'Kolkata'. It was the seat of government of British India from 1773 until the move to New Delhi in 1912. See “An Unqualified Pilot” (Land and Sea Tales) “The City of Dreadful Night” (From Sea to Sea, Volume 2) See also the verse “A Tale of Two Cities” and “The Song of the Cities.”

[Page 399, line 4] dreamed a dream

As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted upon a certain place where there was a Den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.
[The opening lines of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, 1678. ]
[Page 399, line 9] ink-horn an ink-pot made from the horn of a cow or other animal.

[Page 399, line 17] drunk Nor’-Nor’Easterly an echo of Hamlet’s words in Act 2, scene, 2 of the play of the same name: 'I am but mad north-north-west: when the wind is southerly I know a hawk from a handsaw.'

[Page 399, line 20] fluxes in this context, dysentery.

[Page 400, line 11] the Fort Fort William in Calcutta The Post Office (1860) now occupies the south-east corner of the site. [Archie Baron, An Indian Affair, Channel Four Books /Pan Macmillan, 2001, p. 35.] (The 'Black Hole of Calcutta' is underneath it.)

[Page 400, line 33] Chinsura town near Calcutta, established by the Dutch and exchanged for the island of Sumatra in 1825. (Niall Ferguson, Empire, How Britain Made the Modern World, Penguin 2004, pp. 18-19.)

[Page 401, line 1] factors in this context, agents who buy and sell goods on commission.

[Page 401, line 9] preux chevalier 'brave knight' (French) but here has a somewhat discreditable implication, as of a gallant and vigorous lover. The 'much worse' English word Kipling had in mind may have been 'gigolo'.

[Page 401, line 32] Castles in Spain visionary projects which have no substance in fact.

[Page 402, line 4] Mr. Hastings Warren Hastings (1732-1818) went out to India in 1750 as a Writer (a junior official) and rose to become a leading member of the Council of Madras. In February 1788, when he was Governor of Bengal, he was brought to trial before the House of Lords in London on impeachment charges brought by his political enemies. The trial continued until 1795, when Hastings was acquitted. He was later instrumental in consolidating Britain's Indian Empire. [Archie Baron, An Indian Affair, Channel Four Books /Pan Macmillan, 2001, passim.]

[Page 402, line 5.] Madeira a very palatable fortified wine produced in the island of the same name.

[Page 401, line 15] Great Bear in this context, Ursa Major or 'The Plough', a prominent constellation visible in the Northern Hemisphere.

[Page 403, line 12] five poor pagodas a month in this context, Indian coins of gold or silver. – see Hobson-Jobson, p. 652. A Writer was then paid only £5 a year plus £3 for living expenses [Baron, p. 24], and so needed to trade on his own account to increase his income.

[Page 403, lines 17-19] as I have seen the waters of great rivers etc. a phrase that impressed Dr Tompkins with its 'unquestioned appropriateness' (p. 254).

[Page 404, line 1] sicca rupees coins minted in the East India Company’s territories. (Hobson-Jobson p. 834).

[Page 404, line 14] ’Give me your trust in man' see page 407, line 7 below.

[Page 404, line 24] burnt in the hand offenders against English law were branded with red-hot irons for various offences until 1823. [Harmsworth].

[Page 404, line 31] ‘Give me your faith in women’ see page 407, line 7 below.

[Page 405, line 10] swept and garnished ' ... I will return into my house … and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept and garnished.' Matthew12,44. The phrase was also used by Kipling as the title of the thirteenth story in A Diversity of Creatures.

[Page 405, lines 28-31] from out of my own heart … my boy’s soul and conscience see page 407, line 7 below.

[Page 407, line 7] dry bread A piece of bread would be wrapped into a baby’s bib or clothes to protect the child from any witchcraft or evil demons. [Peter Lorie, Superstitions (Simon & Schuster, 1992, p. 127]

We have been unable to trace any other reference to what at first appears to be a worthless exchange for important personal faiths. Whether it was Kipling’s intention that the bread should imply worthlessness, or protection from other evils, would depend on whether he was aware of this superstition; that we shall never know.


[J H McG]

©John McGivering 2006 All rights reserved