"In Partibus"

Notes on the text


(by David Page. The verse and line numbers below refer to pages 193-196 of the Authorised Edition of Abaft the Funnel published by Doubleday and Page, New York, in 1909.




[Nov 26 2006]

[Title] In Partibus in partibus infidelium means, in Latin, 'in the lands of the unbelievers'. Almost certainly also intended as a pun on ‘omnibus’.

[Verse 1, line 1 et seq.] ’bus abbreviation for 'omnibus'. In 1889 this was an open-topped double-decked horse-drawn conveyance for the general public, fare one penny. But see also Verse 14, line 5.

[Verse 1, lines 1-6 and Verse 14, lines 1-6] Battersea ... Bow ... Islington ... Highgate ... Kew are all districts which at one time were separate villages or small towns before becoming absorbed into Greater London.

[Verse 2, line 1] smut a particle of soot generated by the coal-burning fires in London.

[Verse 3, line 1] greasy soup-toureen a soup tureen is a large bowl from which soup would be ladled out to diners. The analogy suggests that the sky looked like an inverted unwashed tureen.

[Verse 3, line 6] row noise.

[Verse 4, line 5] four packed miles of seething vice see the headnote.

[Verse 5, line 3] Suez unto Sandy Hook Suez is the southern terminus of the Suez Canal. Sandy Hook is a promontory in New Jersey, U.S.A. about 15 miles south of the tip of Manhattan Island.

[Verse 5, line 4] Calais to Port Said Calais is a port on the northern coast of France opposite Dover in England, at about the narrowest point of the English Channel. Port Said is the northern terminus of the Suez Canal.

[Verse 6, line 3] gas In the 1880s, London was lit by gas-lamps in the streets.

[Verse 7, line 3] Pear’s balloon probably an advertising gimmick by the A. & F. Pears Soap Company, who made a high quality transparent soap, and secured an advertising coup by obtaining the rights to Sir John Everett Millais’ painting “Bubbles” (1829-1896). (http://www.bubbles.org/html/history/bubhistory.htm)

[Verse 7, line 4] Barnum’s
The celebrated circus created by Phineas T. Barnum (1810-1891) and James A. Bailey (1847-1906). The Barnum and Bailey circus was in London at Olympia in 1889. Kipling recorded in a letter to Mrs Edmonia Hill that on 14 November, three days after writing this poem,

Pip (his cousin Philip Burne Jones) ... carried me off to see Barnum’s which is close to The Grange. A howling jam—the monsters made me almost sick. I do not like people without legs or hands and I hate a two headed boy. But ‘tis a great show: tho’ I never saw the tenth of it.
(Letters, ed. T. Pinney, Vol.1, p.365)
[Verse 8, line 2] mango-tope a grove of mango trees.

[Verse 8, line 3] dewy cane sugar cane.

[Verse 8, line 6] New washed—with sunlight soap a pun on the light of the sun and the Sunlight soap manufactured by Lever & Co. By the end of 1887, Lever’s were making 450 tons a week of this soap in the north of England. (see the Unilever web-site.)

[Verse 11, line 2] liver pill thought to help ‘liverish’ conditions caused by such things as over-indulgence. Dr Carter’s Little Liver Pills were probably the best known brand.

[Verse 12, line 6] hogs his bristles short wears his hair cut short.

[Verse 14, line 5] “ ’Bus” meaning 'enough', 'finish', in Hindi. (usually said twice). In the later Sussex edition, this word is printed ‘Bus!’ which helps to make the pun more obvious.


[D. P.]

©David Page 2006 All rights reserved