"In Partibus"

(notes by
David Page)

notes on the text
the poem
[October 23 2006]

Publication history

First published in the Civil and Military Gazette, 23 December 1889. Collected Volume VIII, No. 56 of Turn-overs, 1889, and in Abaft the Funnel (Unauthorised and Authorised Editions), 1909. Andrew Rutherford in Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling: 1879-1889, p.470, records that it was also reprinted in the Pioneer on 25 December 1889, and The Week’s News 28 December 1889, having been composed on 11 November 1889. He also adds the information that these latter two printings carried the heading:

Mr Rudyard Kipling, who was understood not to be always satisfied with life in India, is apparently at times dissatisfied with England. The following amusing doggerel . . . will find many sympathetic readers.
The ORG speculates that Kipling may have written this caption.


After his journey from India via Burma, China, Japan, and the long excursion through the U.S.A., Kipling docked in Liverpool on 5 October 1889 and by 23 October had arranged to take up chambers in Villiers Street, London. These were almost directly opposite Gatti’s Music Hall which was located under the arches of the Charing Cross railway station, and they also looked out across the Embankment to the River Thames. Crossing the top of Villiers street is The Strand which debouches into Trafalgar Square at the western end and joins with Fleet Street at Temple Bar at its eastern end. Although the street changes name from place to place, this direct route runs through the City, passes the Tower of London, and goes on to the East End and London's dockland.

The Strand in the 1890s was not an overly salubrious area. In Something of Myself, Kipling noted that Villiers street ‘was primitive and passionate in its habits and population’ which accounts for the phrase in the poem of ‘four packed miles of seething vice’. The first issue of the Strand Magazine in January 1891 carries an article on “The Story of the Strand” and notes:

In Villiers Street both Evelyn and Steele lived: but it is now the haunt of anything rather than genius.
The gestation of the poem is recorded in a diary-letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill that was sent on 17 November 1889 (Letters, ed. T. Pinney, Vol.1, p. 361). The entry for 11 November begins:

An evil-evil day. Rose up in the morn at 9 and found the gloom of the Pit upon the land, a yellow fog through which the engines at Charing Cross whistled agonizedly one to the other and I could see the switch-boxes lit up with cheap and yellow gas when the electric light was manifestly needed. These English are fools which things so moved me to despair that I sat down and wrote a doleful ditty for nothing in particular which I later packed up for the C & M Gazette. It was called "In Partibus" and was the wail of a fog-bound exile howling for Sunlight. The last verse was particularly touching – Chaunt it slowly and note the effect.

The busses run to Islington
To Highgate and Soho,
To Hammersmith and Kew therewith
And Camberwell also
But I can only murmur bus
From Shepherds Bush to Bow.
Kipling was being exposed to literary circles in London and found that he did not care for most of their members. The 'Aesthetes' such as Oscar Wilde and Max Beerbohm disgusted him, and it seems that the feeling was reciprocated, particularly by the latter. “In Partibus” is the poem that became notorious for two stanzas out of the fourteen – numbers ten and twelve – which respectively contain the lines:

But I consort with long-haired things
In velvet collar-rolls ...

It’s Oh to meet an Army man,
Set up, and trimmed and taut ...
One suspects that much of the antagonism faced by Kipling could be put down to the arrival of a new, young, and successful, competitor who owed nothing to the 'literati' and also made it clear that he had no wish to do so. This part of the “In Partibus” message was repeated much later in the story “My Son’s Wife” (A Diversity of Creatures, 1917).

Further comment by Kipling on Villiers Street and its environs can be found in another story collected in Abaft the Funnel, “My Great and Only”.

Critical comments

This poem has generally been taken seriously by the critics as evidence of Kipling's sombre state of mind during his early months in London. Andrew Rutherford in his edited Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling: 1879-1889, comments:

In spite of the exhilaration of success and sudden recognition, and in spite of the fact that Rider Haggard was to prove a lifelong friend, Kipling was inclined to take a jaundiced view of some of the literary circles in which he now moved, and he was also suffering from loneliness and depression with the Hills’ (and [her sister] Caroline’s) departure for India on 25 October. (p.470)
Kipling’s biographers and critics, almost to a man, quote a couple of lines and sometimes several stanzas of “In Partibus” in their works.

Bonamy Dobrée, for example, writes on p.120:
For the ‘arty’ intellectual he had a special dislike, as he proclaimed very soon after he came to London, in a not very good poem expressing his home-sickness for India and the people whom he met there.
Later, on pp. 211-212, Dobrée points up parallels between “In Partibus” and “Mandalay” in that they both express disgust at London and homesickness for the East.

Lord Birkenhead in Chapter VIII “London Overture” (p.102), declares rather disparagingly:

In his attitude towards the decadent school, his own limitations, educational background, and middle-class prejudices are clearly revealed, and his feelings were perfectly mirrored in the lines he wrote a few weeks following his arrival in London, after an encounter with some of the despised ‘intellectuals’.
Charles Carrington (p.142), although commenting on homesickness for India, does remark in reference to “In Partibus” that:

Not many weeks after his arrival [in London], he sent a set of verses in the style of Lewis Carroll to the Civil and Military Gazette.
Angus Wilson (pp. 139 & 144) concentrates on the dislike of London expressed in the poem, rather than of the literati:

London, with its strangely mixed memories of seven years before, did not wear a happy guise. . . It is a London in its hateful aspect largely of streets and of literary or smart salons – the claustrophobia of the outsides of the buildings and their insides.
Philip Mallett (p.49) writes that:

Kipling’s excitement at his success was tempered by his mistrust of the London literary scene , where he was invited to dine by people who with equal politeness applauded his talent and disparaged his politics. London, he wrote to Mrs Hill, was a ‘vile place’. He complained about the weather, the folly of the English liberals regarding India, and about the long-haired literati of the Savile Club, whom he stigmatised in “In Partibus”.
Andrew Hagiioannu in The Man who would be Kipling, p.64, notes that: 'Kipling could not hide his disappointment at London intellectual society', citing "In Partibus".

Harry Ricketts (pp.150-154), explores in more than usual depth the reasons for Kipling’s growing dislike of many of the literati with their interest in ‘masculine love’. He cites John Addington Symonds, for example, who thought he had found evidence of this in Soldiers Three.

And Peter Keating in Kipling the Poet pp. 82-83, writes:

The poem, clearly a product of homesickness, included the Aesthetes as one of the causes of his dissatisfaction ... The antidote to this aesthetic biliousness is the man of action ...The contrast, however crudely drawn here [in the poem], truly expresses Kipling’s opposition to Aestheticism. The effete, epicene clothes and lifestyles affected by some of the Aesthetes, are symptomatic of their art which is over-refined, narrow, introverted, overly concerned with the minute exploration of their own feelings, and unconcerned with the wider world or any way of life outside themselves and their books. Two poems in the Barrack-Room Ballads volume pursue these issues: both are far removed from the crabbed verses of “In Partibus”.
Peter Keating identifies these two poems as “The Conundrum of the Workshops” and “Tomlinson”.

Some editorial thoughts in 2006

David Page writes: Reading the introductory verse in Kipling's letter to Mrs Hill, I was struck by its metrical similarity to Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, the first stanza of which runs:

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might:
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright—
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.
Following from this, I re-read the letter to check on Kipling’s activities the day before the diary entry, Sunday 10 November. First he wrote and polished a story for the St. James’s Gazette by 5 p.m., which was printed on 21 November 1889 under the title “The Comet of the Season” (uncollected). It is the:

. . . yarn of a young man who started in a literary career in London and wrote himself out in the desire to accumulate money. He used and reused his incidents all over again until the public sickened of him and he married a rich wife just in the nick of time.
Kipling realised that he hadn’t shaved and finally found a barber near Seven Dials, north of Trafalgar Square, before going off to dinner with his relatives, the Poynters. He left early, but his cousin came with him to his rooms in Villiers Street, and stayed talking until Kipling turned him out at 1 a.m. He then smoked a pipe and went to bed.

On the 11th, after writing “In Partibus”, he declared that he was ‘still feeling low’ but one of his Aunt Georgie’s housemaids brought him a bundle of letters from India and that cheered him up.

One needs to remember that the poem was destined for Kipling's Anglo-Indian readers in the Civil and Military Gazette, who were well used to his entertainingly satirical light-hearted verse. It is my suspicion that much of “In Partibus”, like much of Departmenal Ditties, was written by Kipling’s imp of mischief rather than his daemon, very much tongue-in-cheek. The tone of the letter, the poem, the metrical similarity to “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, and the fact that Kipling could turn out “My Great and Only”, including doing the research for it at Gatti’s, only five days after “In Partibus” suggests to this Editor that he was not as low as he pretended to be, even though most of the critics have taken the poem at its face value, and rather seriously.

[D. P.]

©David Page 2006 All rights reserved